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Three Important 2015 NHL Playoff Questions Answered - Week 4


The Conference Finals have begun and not much has changed: The New York Rangers are still on the winning end of tight 2-1 battles, the Anaheim Ducks continue to light the Honda Center lamp with regularity and Tyler Johnson is maintaining his electric goal scoring pace for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

A whole new set of questions have surfaced with the elimination of four teams. Can Devan Dubnyk replicate his unexpected 2014-15 performance again next year? Speaking of unforeseen events, will the Calgary Flames prove that their not one hit wonders and return to the postseason again next year. And are the Montreal Canadiens and Washington Capitals capable of building a championship team around their Hart Trophy finalists (Carey Price and Alex Ovechkin)?

These questions and more are better suited for offseason analysis. Right now, the hockey world is focused on the final four teams battling it out for a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals. Most of the trends I analyzed during the playoffs have been based on team data. This week, I answer three important questions involving the players who remain alive and unshaven.

1. WITH SO MANY EXPERIENCED PLAYOFF PERFORMERS, WHICH BLACKAWKS AND DUCKS HAVE HAD THE MOST OFFENSIVE PRODUCTION IN THEIR PLAYOFF CAREER?

It’s been nearly a decade since a couple of sophomores named Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf helped Anaheim hoist their first and only Stanley Cup in 2007. From then until now, these two superstars have been the only constant in Orange County. Until this year’s run to the Conference Final, the Ducks have had minimal playoff success in five previous appearances – only twice advancing a single round. 

From 1998 until 2008, the Chicago Blackhawks only reached the second season once – a quick five game exit at the hands of the St. Louis Blues. But Joel Quenneville took the helm five games into the 2008-09 season and a consistent brand of hockey excellence was reborn in the Windy City. Through seven consecutive playoffs (including this year), the Blackhawks advanced to the Conference Finals five times, twice winning the Stanley Cup. 

In this year’s highly anticipated clash of Western juggernauts, Anaheim’s dynamic duo faces off against Chicago’s group of seasoned playoff veterans. The Blackhawks core has been built from within (Kane, Keith, Seabrook, Toews, etc.) as much as it has been brought together inorganically through trades and free agency (Hossa, Richards, Sharp, etc.). By now, all these Chicago players have accumulated quite the playoff résumé. But how do they compare to Perry and Getzlaf?

The chart below compares the career playoff offensive production for all players in the Ducks/Blackhawks series with at least 50 career playoff points. The results are sorted by total career points and lines have been added to view the breakdown of each player’s postseason goals and assists.

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The red bars belong to the Blackhawks and the orange bars are in respect of Anaheim’s Perry and Getzlaf. Marian Hossa brought his Ottawa, Pittsburgh and Detroit playoff experience to Chicago in time for the 2010 Cup win. In fact, that was Hossa’s third consecutive Cup Final appearance – but, his first win. Brad Richards has also added further playoff pedigree – the former Tampa Bay star was the Conn Smythe winner during their 2004 championship season.

The chart above displays a combination of production and experience. But which players make the most of each trip to the playoffs. The following graphic charts the player’s reviewed above and focuses solely on their per game point production. 

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Patrick Kane has been much more to Chicago than simply their 2010 Game 6 overtime hero. He has managed a point per game pace during his playoff career. But despite less team success in recent years, Getzlaf doesn’t trail too far behind Kane on a per game basis. And, likewise, Perry is only slightly back of Chicago captain Jonathan Toews. These four superstars will be leaned on heavily to push their respective squads into the Final.

2. WHICH GOALTENDERS HAVE THE ADVANTAGE IN THEIR CONFERENCE FINAL BASED ON RECENT HISTORICAL PERFORMANCE VERSUS THEIR OPPONENT? 

Approaching Tampa Bay’s series with Montreal, everyone was bringing up Ben Bishop’s dominance over the Canadiens during the 2014-15 regular season. In this case, the recent historical trend was a good predictor of actual events. The Canadiens could only win two after accumulating a mere single point in five contests versus Bishop and the Lightning during the regular season. So, with the Conference Finals underway, I wondered what recent history could tell us about the goaltending matchups in these series.

I analyzed the regular season and playoff data since 2012-13 involving each starting goalie and their opposing team in this series. The results shown below exclude any 2015 playoff games. The first table below examines the clash between Bishop and New York’s Henrik Lundqvist.                            

2014-15 NHL Playoffs – Goaltender Matchup Results vs. Eastern Conference Final Opponent
Since 2012-13 (excludes 2014-15 Playoffs)

Goaltender Team Record G.A.A. SV%
Ben Bishop Lightning 7-0 1.57 0.944
Henrik Lundqvist Rangers 3-5 3.29 0.882

Coincidentally, as a member of the Lightning, Bishop entered the Conference Finals with the same 5-0 career record versus the Rangers as he had this regular season against Montreal. If you look back to his time in Ottawa, Bishop has been an incredible 7-0 versus New York since 2012-13. Further, his paltry 1.57 goals against average (GAA) and sturdy 0.944 save percentage echo a certain confidence that surely helped him rebound with a great Game 2.

On the other hand, Lundqvist’s uncharacteristically poor numbers versus Tampa Bay over the past few seasons has me wondering if Alain Vigneault would ever respond with 2014-15’s unsung hero Cam Talbot (21-9-4) if the Lightning were to get to Lundqvist again in Game 3.

The next table focuses on the Western Conference Final’s showdown between former Stanley Cup champion Corey Crawford and Anaheim’s Danish backstop Frederik Andersen. Similar to the Bishop v. Lundqvist matchup, the West has one clear frontrunner.

                            

2014-15 NHL Playoffs – Goaltender Matchup Results vs. Western Conference Final Opponent
Since 2012-13 (excludes 2014-15 Playoffs)

Goaltender Team Record G.A.A. SV%
Corey Crawford Blackhawks 4-1-1 1.48 0.941
Frederik Andersen Ducks 0-2 3.52 0.900

Since 2012-13, Corey Crawford has practically owned the Ducks by posting a 1.48 GAA and a 0.941 save percentage as the Blackhawks earned nine out of a possible 12 points. In limited action since last season, Andersen hadn’t beaten Chicago until  Game 1 of this year’s playoffs and his numbers are below average. Andersen’s sample size is small, but we shall see how his past performance will hold up as the series progresses. Crawford’s track record should give the netminder some confidence as the Blackhawks aim to even the series on Tuesday night. 

3. WHEN DO THE TOP GOAL SCORERS PUT THE PUCK IN THE NET?

Is your top guy going to get you that tone-setting early goal? Or is he the one who ices the game or sends everyone home after an overtime epic? I thought it would be fun and informative to look this playoff’s top goal scorers and identify when they tend to bulge the twine.

There are five players with at least six goals remaining alive in the playoffs: Tampa Bay’s Tyler Johnson (11) and Nikita Kucherov (6), New York’s Chris Kreider (6), Chicago’s Patrick Kane (7) and Anaheim’s Corey Perry (7).

The chart below is divided into three color-coded periods: red (first period), blue (second period) and green (third period). The lines indicate the average game time each sniper scores his goals. Note that I used 60 minutes in the average if the goal was deposited in OT.

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Kreider is the only top goal getter whose average sits in the first period. Four of Kreider’s six goals have come in the first and twice he scored in the game’s first minute. Over the course of a full season, these results will all tend towards the midway point of the game. However, despite his playoff leading 11 goals, it seems too coincidental and too small of a sample for Johnson to be right at the 30:00 midpoint. His goals burn both ends of the candles – he has scored three in the first six minutes and three in the final six minutes if you include his one overtime winner.

While Johnson leads the postseason with four game winners, Kane, Perry and Kucherov each have two themselves which explains why their average sits further into the typical game. These three have each scored two goals in either the final ten minutes or in the extra frame. This type of time-weighted analysis can help defenses key in on certain players at specific times of the game. But, ever more important, this will help you prognosticate the overtime heroes over a beer with your buddies. Me? I’ll take Kucherov. 

I will be back next week amid the crunch of the Conference Finals. In the meantime, let me know what burning questions you have and I will try my best to include them in upcoming analyses. 

Bob Sullivan writes periodically for SportingCharts.com and can be followed on Twitter at @mrbobsullivan.



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