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Using Shot Differential to Predict the 2013-14 Stanley Cup Winner


More and more there are general and situational statistics for every thing in hockey.  And while I don't subscribe to all of them, some stats are certainties.  For example, to score you have to shoot!

Yes I'm leaving out goal differentials, quality of scoring chances, Fenwick and many other advanced stats.  Last year I took a detailed look at shooting differentials among all playoff teams as an emperical way to fill out my NHL pool picks.  It worked out suprisingly well, predicting almost every series correctly, including the early exit of the 3rd seed (and favored) Canucks.

Team Shooting Differential (per game)

This statistic takes a look at the 'average shots for' versus the 'average shots against' for a particular team over 82 games.  The theory is a team with a positive differential gets more shots on net, allows fewer shots against (with strong defense and blocked shots), and hence has proportionately more scoring chances than their opponent.

In the last 20 seasons, not only have almost all Stanley Cup winning teams had a positive team shooting differential, they have consistently been in the Top 10.  Here is how the Stanley Cup winners since 1993 have stacked up:

  • Chicago Blackhawks (2013) - Ranked 2nd overall with a +4.9 differential per game
  • Los Angeles Kings (2012) – Ranked 6th overall with a +3.2 differential per game
  • Boston Bruins (2011) – Ranked 17th overall, but still had a +0.5 differential
  • Chicago Blackhawks (2010) – Ranked 1st overall, a +9.0 differential per game
  • Pittsburgh Penguins (2009) – Ranked 21st overall, the only SC winner with a negative differential -1.3
  • Detroit Red Wings (2008) – Ranked 1st overall, a huge +10.9 per game differential
  • Anaheim Ducks (2007) – Ranked 3rd overall, a +4.1 per game differential
  • Carolina Hurricanes (2006) – Ranked 10th overall, a +0.7 per game differential
  • Tampa Bay Lightening (2004) – Ranked 2nd overall, a +4.6 per game differential
  • New Jersey Devils (2003) – Ranked 1st overall, a +8.1 per game differential
  • Detroit Red Wings (2002) – Ranked 4th overall, a +4.6 per game differential
  • Colorado Avalanche (2001) – Ranked 4th overall, a +4.1 per game differential
  • New Jersey Devils (2000) – Ranked 2nd overall, a +7.5 per game differential
  • Dallas Stars (1999) – Ranked 6th overall, a +3.7 per game differential
  • Detroit Red Wings (1998) – Ranked 2nd overall, a +5.0 per game differential
  • Detroit Red Wings (1997) – Ranked 1st overall, a +7.9 per game differential
  • Colorado Avalanche (1996) – Ranked 6th overall, a +3.3 per game differential
  • New Jersey Devils (1995) – Ranked 5th overall, a +4.7 per game differential
  • New York Rangers (1994) – Ranked 3rd overall, a +8.2 per game differential
  • Montreal Canadians (1993) – Ranked 10th overall, a +1.8 per game differential


In the last 20 years, only the 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins have had a negative differential and gone on to win the Stanley Cup.  65% of Stanley Cup winning teams have been in the Top 5, and 90% of winning teams have been in the Top 10 when it comes to overall shooting differential.

Now that the NHL is back to a full 82 game season, I'm more confident in the numbers than last year's lock-out shortened season:

(See past year's shot differential)


Looking at this year’s differentials, the following three playoff bound teams have a negative differential:

  • Colorado Avalanche – Ranked 26th overall with a -3.1 differential per game
  • Montreal Canadiens – Ranked 25th overall with a -2.6 differential per game
  • Minnesota Wild – Ranked 20th overall with a -1.1 differential per game
  • Columbus Blue Jackets – Ranked 20th overall with a -1.1 differential per game
  • Philadelphia Flyers - Ranked 18th overall with a -0.2 differential per game


Twenty years of historical data would indicate with a 95% certainty you can throw out these 5 teams from winning the Stanley Cup.  Taking it a step further, there are only 4 teams since the 1992-93 season that have had a differential below +2.0.  This year’s fringe playoff teams are the Tampa Bay Lightning (+0.6), Detroit Red Wings (+0.7), Pittsburgh Penguins (+1.2), and the Dallas Stars (+1.3). 

Looking for Value or an Upset?

There is no doubting the fact that teams in the regular season that shoot the puck more, and prevent shots against, tend to win more games and have better records.  At this point we’ve essentially ruled out 9 of the 16 playoff teams this season, where is there value?  When the LA Kings won the Cup so dominantly in 2012 they finished 8th in the Western Conference, but they were a Top 6 team in shooting differential.  There isn't a ton of value in round one because the bad shot differential teams play each other, but here are a couple that jump out at us:

  1. 1) New York Rangers (+3.7) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (-0.2) – The Rangers have home ice advantage and have a 3.9 SPG advantage.  NYR is slight favorite at 1.71 to win the series.
  2. 2) Tampa Bay Lighning (+0.6) vs. Montreal Canadiens (-2.6) – A 3.6 SPG advantage isn't huge, but couple that with home ice advantage and Montreal might be in tough.  TB is a very slight favorite at 1.87 to win the series.
  3. 3) Minesota Wild (-1.1) vs. Colorado Avalanche (-3.1) – This series is a virtual deadlock according to the odds makers, yet the Rangers have a 6.8 shot per game advantage.  MIN is a 2.08 underdog to win the series.

I'm paying special attention to the Sharks vs Kings series, both teams are top 3 in shot differential and play in the first round. Meanwhile for your East bracket, there are only two teams in the Top 10...the Bruins and Rangers.  I'm shortlisting those two to come out of the East.

Good luck hockey fans with your selections for this year’s playoffs, while shooting differential isn’t a crystal ball for picking the Stanley Cup winner, hopefully it has helped narrow down and eliminate certain teams from contention.  If you're looking for more data driven analysis, check out my other article on Using Goal Differential to Predict the 2013-14 Stanley Cup Winner

 



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