Monday, April 13, 2009

Playoff Predictions -- Eastern Conference


(1) Boston vs Montreal (8)


I've written before about how I think that the Bruins are not as good as either their goal differential or record would suggest. Now that the season is over, my opinion hasn't really changed. That Boston has managed to post a goal differential of +80, despite having a negative 43 shot differential, suggests that they've been at least somewhat fortunate, and I don’t think that any reasonable person would deny that. Since my original post back in January, it appears that I've been somewhat vindicated. As per timeonice, the Bruins' EV shooting percentage had been 10.3% up to that point, but has only been 7.6% since then. However, their team EV save percentage has remained excellent and, considering that they also excelled in that regard last year, I think that they're the type of team that's going to reliably post a high EV save percentage over the large sample of games. Whether this is due to good goaltending, coaching/team strategy, or some combination thereof, I can't say. Interestingly, it seems that the Bruins have not been any better than the average team in terms of shot quality against this season, which implicates good goaltending as the causal factor (see here, for example).

While the difference between these two teams is not as large as the gap in goal differential would suggest, the Bruins still appear to be the superior club. Boston’s underlying numbers aren't impressive by any stretch of the imagination, but Montreal’s are even worse. A comparison:


For those that value the underlying numbers more than the results, special teams are a wash. But at even strength, the Bruins are much better any way you look at it.



The Habs were actually playing pretty well throughout the first part of the season, but since then they’ve fallen off the proverbial cliff. Both their goal and shot differential have dropped precipitously. I’d be inclined to attribute this to injuries, but they were also missing some guys during the first half and it didn’t seem to have too great of an impact upon their play.

Although I wouldn't necessarily be shocked if
Montreal were to win this series, I just can't think of a compelling reason to pick them. The fact that they'll be without the services of Markov -- who is arguably their best player -- doesn't help matters either.

Bruins in 5.


(2) Washington vs New York Rangers (7)

The Rangers are another team that I've written about over the course of the season. In hindsight, my appraisal may have been a tad harsh. I seemed to have overlooked the fact that the Rangers had given up a tonne of shorthanded goals at the time, which tends to suggest bad luck. Since then, the Rangers have undergone a coaching range which, like in the case of the Penguins, seems to have helped them to some degree -- though perhaps moreso in terms of their results than their actual play.

Even though the Rangers are respectable, the Capitals seem to be the better team. They're better than the Rangers at EV strength and much better on the powerplay. The Rangers appear to have the penalty kill but the advantage is too small for it to make up for their other deficiencies. Some may point out that the Rangers have the better goaltending, and while this probably true, goaltending is only really important to the extent that it contributes to goal differential. The Capitals have a much better GD than the Rangers. I realize that there's a tendency in the hockey world to treat goaltending as more important in the playoffs, but I've never seen any evidence that would support that notion. I suspect that it's neither more nor less important than during the regular season.

Capitals in 6.


(3) New Jersey vs Carolina (6)

A fairly strong argument can be made that the Devils are the class of the East. Their underlying numbers are fantastic, especially at EV and on the powerplay. Additionally, it's difficult on paper to find any source of weakness with the team.

In that sense, I think that
Carolina was a bit unfortunate to draw the Devils as a first round opponent. Assuming that the Canes are competent at distinguishing between the good teams from the not-so-good ones, they probably would have preferred to play Washington or Boston, and would much rather preferred Philadelphia. I don't think Carolina is a weak team by any stretch of the imagination. They're a reasonably dominant team territorially at EV, and have the best penalty differential in the league ( they've been among the league leaders in this category for several years running). If their special teams were better, I wouldn't hesitate to classify them as one of the best teams in the conference.

I realize that some might pick the Hurricanes on account of the fact that they’ve been ‘hot’ down the stretch, with the reverse being true for the Devils. However, I don’t think that there’s much value in this approach, considering that a team’s results will vary naturally over the course of a season. I prefer to look at how a team has performed over the season as a whole, rather than isolating recent stretches of games and attempting to infer team quality on that basis. The exception is when there’s a compelling reason to do so, such as in the event of a major trade, an injury to a star player, or a coaching change. Otherwise, it’s a dangerous practice.

Although there’s some evidence that Carolina’s play has improved over the course of the season, it’s not enough to confidently identify a genuine trend. There’s been some talk that Carolina has been a different team since the Cole trade. However, their EV shooting numbers prior to the trade are more or less identical to their post-trade numbers. It’s the percentages that have changed. Thus, picking the Canes on the basis of their recent play would seem to be a bit misguided.

My choice, therefore, is not a difficult one, and while
Carolina could certainly advance, there's no logical reason for anyone to expect that outcome.

Devils in 6.


(4) Pittsburgh vs Philadelphia (5)


I've been meaning to make a post about the turnaround that the Pens have experienced since their coaching change. Not only have they substantially improved their record, but -- and more importantly -- their underlying numbers as well. Observe:


I realize that this might appear a bit contradictory, given what I wrote above. However, unlike in the case with Carolina, there is a compelling reason to focus on the post-Therrien Pens, that being the coaching change (although it is perhaps arguable that the player personnel changes have contributed as well). The change in underlying numbers is sufficiently marked for one to make the argument that the current Pens are a different team then the one that was iced from October to Valentines Day.

The Flyers, on the other hand, I have a hard time accepting as legitimate. For a 4th seed team with +28 goal differential, their underlying numbers are awfully poor. The percentages have been very kind to the Flyers in nearly every game situation (EV, PP, PK). As far as I can tell, the Penguins are fundamentally the better team. The fact that they’ll be starting the series at home makes this pick that much easier.

Penguins in 5.

9 comments:

Kent W. said...

Fascinating to see the Penguins numbers improve like that. Yes...coaching matters.

sunnymehta.com said...

nice, here are my thoughts...



BOS vs. MTL

I'll reiterate the fact that Boston has not been very good in the second half. Since Feb 1, they've had a goal diff of 0 at ES with the game tied. Part of that, interestingly, is due to below average percentages. Regression is a bitch. I particularly find it interesting that their ES SV% with the game tied is below average. While Tim Thomas is likely an above average goalie, it makes you wonder how much his numbers are helped by the way his team helps him protect leads Julien-style.

However, Boston's es corsi with game tied is a solid +67 since Feb 1. Montreal, on the other hand, checks in at -77. Yikes. Not to mention, a brutal S% and a below average SV%. The two teams are much closer in skill on special teams, though. A pretty good strategy for Montreal would be to start gooning it up, take a bunch of penalties, hope for even-up calls, and turn the series into a huge 5-on-4 fest. Barring that, I can't see the Habs winning more than one or two games. Boston in 5.


WSH vs. NYR

This is an intriguing matchup. At es, both teams like to take a ton of shots. While everyone knows how brutal the Rags' es S% is, you might be surprised at how bad the Caps' is as well. A guy like Ovechkin is not a Crosby/Malkin type who finesses and wheels and deals. Ovie shoots the puck. A lot. From anywhere. His S% is not great. His goals come from his massive quantity of shots. The Caps have an advantage there. They simply rack up shots. While S%-wise there doesn't seem to be a big advantage for either team, SV% seems to be an advantage for the Rags. Lundqvist vs. Theodore - 'nuff said.

Special teams is also intriguing. The PP is where Ovie and the Caps really shine. They blow the doors off the Rags S%-wise (21% to 9%!). On the other hand, the Rags have an awesome PK, both in terms of shots and percentages. Interesting matchup - great Caps PP vs. great Rags PK. Terrible Rags PP vs. pretty mediocre Caps PK. Overall, I think it would behoove the Rags to stay out of the penalty box.

If Lundqvist plays really well and the Rags' PP doesn't utterly suck balls, I think the Rags can pull off an upset in 7 games. Otherwise, the Caps win in 6.


N.J vs CAR

Both are strong ES teams with solid corsis, solid S%, and solid SV%. The edge goes to the Devils though, for a few reasons. Their corsi is better by quite a bit, and they're better at protecting leads. Also, I gotta believe that Brodeur is an advantage over Cam Ward. I know Brodeur has looked inconsistent since coming back from his injury, and Ward is having an excellent season. Nevertheless, the Devils have posted a .942 ES SV% since Marty's been back. Brodeur is still Brodeur, and he could be a big asset in the playoffs. Plus, I think the Devs have a little more skill up front. They have had a better S% than the Canes all year long, and I think it's for good reason. Assuming Elias is healthy, those first two New Jersey lines are tough to match. (Parise, Zajac, Langenbrunner, Rolston, Gionta, etc)

Special teams advantage goes slightly to the Canes. The Devils PK has been kinda brutal lately, though I think it's partly variance related. As far as PP, the Canes have been good as of late, but shots-wise they're pretty similar to the Devs.

I think the Devils win this series in 6. For the Canes to win they'd need Brodeur to play poorly, Ward to play well, and the Devils to take a lot of penalties.


PIT vs. PHI

The Pens have had a much better goal diff than the Flyers at ES since Feb 1st. It's very related to S%. I think it's persistent though and not just running good. The Pens consistently have a very good shooting percentage, which makes sense given the quality and type of certain skill players they have. Crosby and Malkin are obvious, but you might be surprised at the kind of production they've gotten from guys like Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy. Philly is a pretty unimpressive team at ES. They get outshot badly, but they seem to have a few skilled guys who bring them back to even.

Both teams have very good powerplays. You'll see a lot of skill out on the ice. Their PK's are pretty similar, and both decent. A few months ago I would've said this series is damn even, but the Pens have really taken their game to another level in the past couple months. I think they win in 6, maybe even 5.

Anonymous said...

OMG ROFLMAO U think New Jersey over Canes GTFO!!! Cam Ward FTMFW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Kent W. said...

That anonymous comment has to be satire.

No WC predictions?

quain said...

Re: PIT v. PHI

I don't care nearly enough about the EC to have a horse in this series, but the comments you make seem a bit off.

Philly does have poor-ish underlying EV numbers, but their pecentages are a nearly spot on 100% S+SV%, which means they're taking full value from their failings...whereas the Pens are running at ~103% S+SV% since the new coach took over. Maybe Malkin and Crosby mean their number should be higher, but I'd think the same of Richards/Carter.

Philly maybe have better S/SV% on special teams, but they also do a better job preventing shots on the PK and getting shots on the PP, which means that, skill-level equal, Philly should have better special teams.

sunnymehta.com said...

quain,

good point.

though if you put any stock in the pens being a different team lately due to coaching/personnel change, etc, note that since Feb 1st the Pens are +43 in ES shots whereas the Flyers are -77

sunnymehta.com said...

Hey, also, I have a question for the panel.

Tyler posed that PDO post as looking at teams' S%+SV%. My question is why look at the two added together as opposed to evaluating them each separately? I.e. - is there any evidence that one influences the other?

For example, back when the Bruins were running at a 10+ percent S% clip, we all predicted regression. Should we not have predicted that if their SV% had been a paltry 90 percent (making their PDO an even 100)?

Perhaps there's something to the fact of "if you take risky chances to get high quality shots resulting in a higher S%, you leave yourself vulnerable for high quality shots against, thereby resulting in a lower SV%", but I don't know, I'm skeptical. I'd think the two in reality don't influence each other all that much, and should be viewed separately.

JLikens said...

Quain:

You're correct in that I've overlooked the fact that the Pens may have also been lucky at EV this season, going by the percentages. And that 103 PDO that they've posted since Therrien was fired is probably not sustainable.

What's important, I think, is that under Bylsma they've consistently outshot the opposition (both at EV and overall) and that this will lead to sustainable outscoring in the long run, even if by a narrower margin than what they've experienced recently.

As for special teams, Philly does not in fact do a better job of preventing shots on the PK than Pittsburgh, nor do they produce more shots on the PP (see: here). The Flyers have the second lowest 5-on-4 shot rate in the league, yet have the best 5-on-4 shooting percentage. The Pens PP shot rate is not at all impressive, but at one point this year they were last in the league (roughly 42 SF/60, presumably due to the absence of Gonchar. As their rate is now 47 SF/60, it's reasonable to assume that any problems that they had have been remedied.

They also have one of the better 4-on-5 save percentages in the league. What's more, they lead the league in shorthanded goals, while only having surrendered one.

One other thing that I forgot to mention. The Flyers are an undisciplined team and proportionally spend much more time on the PK than they do on the PP. The Pens, on the other hand, are about at the league average in this respect. So this tends to negate any perceived advantage that Philly might have in terms of special teams (although I would argue that they don't really have an advantage at all).

Sunny:

I agree with you about Montreal, in that they're likely going to have to turn the series into a special teams battle in order to have any reasonably chance. Again, without the presence of Markov on the PP, even this may be difficult.

Kent:

I plan on doing the Western predictions today, hopefully sometime before puckdrop.:)

JLikens said...

Sunny:

RE: PDO numbers and treating shooting/save percentage separately

I agree in that the two should generally be treated separately.

To me, PDO is useful in that it provides a measure of a team's 'aggregate luck' at EV. Of course, this is not strictly true, as EV S % is not purely random in its distribution, whereas EV SV % is repeatable via the influence of the goaltender. Nonetheless, it's a quick and easy to way to see which teams have benefited the most/the least from the percentages at EV.

As for whether EV S% and EV SV% influence one another or are independent, I think two factors are relevant.

Firstly, there's the influence of game situation. Playing with the lead tends to benefit both shooting and save percentage at EV, so a team that plays a disproportionate amount of time with the lead over the course of a season will, all else being equal, have both its EV save and EV shooting percentage increased. The reverse is true for a team that plays a disproportionate amount of time trailing.

Secondly, there's the influence of team strategy. As you said, a more wide open strategy would theoretically increase EV S % while depressing EV SV %. Likewise, a more defensive system will have the opposite effect.

Assuming the two effects are of equal magnitude, one would expect there to be little to no relationship between the two at the team level, as the two effects work against one another. And indeed, as far as I can tell, there is no correlation one way or the other.