Those Especially Special Teams

There I was, idly clicking my way around the hockey blogosphere, when, like the Bat Signal cast against the cloudy skies of Gotham, I spied a call for help. At the end of a post covering the All-Star Game and how perhaps it might be improved, Ritch from American Hockey Fan had a question...

Why not have the best Powerplay in the league face off against the best PK? Who would that be, I wonder? San Jose vs. Montreal, maybe? Perhaps the Forechecker will come to my aid again.

Fear not, good netizen - I'm always in need of topical inspiration, so let's take a look...

The NHL stat in this area merely covers percentage of opportunities converted. On that front, San Jose has the top power play (25.8%), and Vancouver the top penalty kill (88.4%). There, we have our answer, right? If we did, this would be an awfully short piece, that's for sure.

A great source of special teams statistics can be found over at, where you can find a breakdown of teams on a 60-minute basis (note: mc79hockey's stats are currently updated through Game 472, which is a few weeks old). In other words, given 60 minutes of power play time, it shows how many shots and goals are being racked up (for and against) by the various teams. Looking at power play numbers as an example, if you take Goals For/60 Minutes, and subtract Goals Against/60 Minutes (due to shorthanded goals allowed), you get a Goal Differential/60 Minutes. This gets us past the two major flaws in the NHL's basic power play figures, which only reflect percentage of opportunities converted. First, due to penalties being called at different times, you can have a PP lasting only a few seconds, but it counts in the NHL figure just as if it was a full five-minute major. Therefore, normalizing the power play output against a standard time period gives a better picture of actual production. Secondly, there is no consideration for a sloppy power play that gives up shorthanded goals, or an opportunistic PK that scores some of their own. I took the liberty of updating the Goal Differential/60 Minutes figure, which is indicated in the table below:

Team PP Goals For PP Goals Against PP Time PP Diff/ 60 Min
San Jose Sharks 63 2 391:54 9.34
Montreal Canadiens 51 3 347:04 8.30
Anaheim Ducks 55 1 407:24 7.95
New York Rangers 44 1 407:23 6.33
Florida Panthers 41 3 360:23 6.33
Toronto Maple Leafs 50 5 431:11 6.26
Dallas Stars 47 4 429:43 6.00
Pittsburgh Penguins 53 7 462:12 5.97
Boston Bruins 45 8 372:29 5.96
Colorado Avalanche 44 6 391:19 5.83
Nashville Predators 45 2 444:30 5.80
Los Angeles Kings 47 4 444:35 5.80
Washington Capitals 45 5 430:23 5.58
Tampa Bay Lightning 47 7 436:29 5.50
Detroit Red Wings 42 5 404:20 5.49
Vancouver Canucks 45 6 431:35 5.42
New York Islanders 35 4 344:47 5.39
New Jersey Devils 42 7 390:12 5.38
Carolina Hurricanes 46 5 471:08 5.22
Edmonton Oilers 38 3 418:18 5.02
Columbus Blue Jackets 45 6 466:22 5.02
Ottawa Senators 45 10 422:37 4.97
Atlanta Thrashers 42 7 437:54 4.80
Minnesota Wild 41 7 427:18 4.77
Calgary Flames 36 4 413:47 4.64
Buffalo Sabres 42 7 457:26 4.59
St. Louis Blues 31 3 373:55 4.49
Phoenix Coyotes 38 8 415:45 4.33
Philadelphia Flyers 33 7 390:19 4.00
Chicago Blackhawks 23 3 395:59 3.03

Indeed, San Jose is way out in front with the man advantage, followed by Montreal, Anaheim, and then the bulk of the NHL grouped in a range from just under 5.00 to 6.33 Goals per 60 Minutes. You really see the Goal Differential factor come into play towards the bottom of these standings, where a team like Edmonton jumps several places compared to their typical NHL Power Play ranking, because the other teams around them give up so many more shorthanded goals. Similarly, those young Pittsburgh Penguins have given up seven shorthanded scores against, which drops them behind four other teams with fewer PP Goals For.

On the PK side, we see Montreal on top (1st in PK, 2nd in PP, no wonder they're doing so well), followed by Minnesota and Vancouver as the only teams with a Goal Differential/60 Minutes better than -4.00. According to the typical Penalty Killing percentage, the Canadiens would only be third, but on the strength of 10* shorthanded goals, they, along with the Wild (with 8 SH goals) pull ahead of the Canucks, who only have two such scores.

Team PK Goals Against PK Goals For PK Time Goal Diff/ 60 Min
Montreal Canadiens 35 10 444:26 -3.38
Minnesota Wild 31 8 386:43 -3.57
Vancouver Canucks 32 2 466:25 -3.86
Edmonton Oilers 30 3 399:29 -4.06
Nashville Predators 35 7 413:03 -4.07
New Jersey Devils 22 1 287:06 -4.39
Anaheim Ducks 36 3 425:16 -4.66
Philadelphia Flyers 39 6 417:57 -4.74
Carolina Hurricanes 40 6 429:17 -4.75
Chicago Blackhawks 45 7 459:30 -4.96
Ottawa Senators 39 6 392:08 -5.05
Detroit Red Wings 46 8 429:13 -5.31
Florida Panthers 46 4 472:36 -5.33
San Jose Sharks 33 3 330:14 -5.45
New York Rangers 44 5 425:14 -5.50
St. Louis Blues 46 4 450:33 -5.59
Calgary Flames 50 11 416:00 -5.63
Columbus Blue Jackets 46 4 447:11 -5.64
Washington Capitals 47 8 413:09 -5.66
Dallas Stars 42 2 417:36 -5.75
Pittsburgh Penguins 51 8 413:57 -6.23
Boston Bruins 47 5 394:24 -6.39
Buffalo Sabres 46 2 403:04 -6.55
Atlanta Thrashers 54 6 438:03 -6.57
Colorado Avalanche 44 3 368:36 -6.67
New York Islanders 54 2 454:10 -6.87
Phoenix Coyotes 56 3 446:57 -7.11
Toronto Maple Leafs 58 3 447:39 -7.37
Tampa Bay Lightning 47 6 316:28 -7.77
Los Angeles Kings 60 4 412:17 -8.15

So, Ritch, in your dream matchup of top power play vs. top penalty kill, I'd indeed recommend pitting San Jose against Montreal. A possible extension of this analysis could look into the Shot Quality produced during these situations, to help separate the performance of the goaltender from that of the forwards and defense. For example, even though the Nashville Predators are fifth in this PK Ranking, I'd suspect much of the credit should go to Tomas Vokoun and Chris Mason, who have been spectacular all season long. On the opposite end of that scale, we may find that there are skaters on teams at the bottom of these rankings that are giving up relatively few scoring opportunities, but goaltending (hello, L.A.) is letting them down - and a savvy GM might want to look for that kind of player to help complement a team that hopes to make a run in the playoffs this spring.

*remember, I tend not to count empty-net scores in my analysis.

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