Today over at Faceoff.com Mike Halford and Jason Brough look at the issue of penalties and how they've affected the Vancouver Canucks during the first two games of their playoff series against Chicago:
It's a stat that has a tendency to fly under the radar, unlike goals, assists or even plus-minuses. But it shouldn't, because it's often the difference between wins and losses.
It's minor penalties. [Canucks defenseman Willie] Mitchell has eight of them in six games. On Saturday, his delay-of-game minor in the second period resulted in a two-man advantage for Chicago and the tying goal by Patrick Kane.
The article goes on to discuss the approach of new general manager Mike Gillis, a self-described advocate of statistical analysis, and whether or not the propensity to take minor penalties is a factor in the player evaluation process. The article notes that
While Gillis has only been on the job one year, Halford and Brough point to the acquisition of Kyle Wellwood and Darcy Hordichuk as examples of players who take very few minor penalties. Notably, Hordichuk took no minors last year while acting as an enforcer for Nashville, and thus handled his physical duties while not forcing his teammates into PK situations.
This aspect of the game is something I follow regularly, by tracking what I call Penalty Plus/Minus, which looks at 2, 4, and 5 minute penalties (as well as those that result in Penalty Shots), to assign each player a +1 when they draw a penalty from an opponent, and a -1 when they take a penalty themselves. The sum total represents the net power play opportunities (or PK, if negative) that a player creates for his team.
Vancouver actually had the very worst performer in Penalty Plus/Minus this season in Mattias Ohlund, whose -33 rating was only slightly lower than his teammate Shane O'Brien (-30).
Outside of those individuals, however, how do the Canucks stack up as a team, if we look at the number of Power Play opportunities compared to the Penalty Kills?
|Team||PP Opps||PK Opps||Net|
|San Jose Sharks||360||306||+54|
|Detroit Red Wings||353||327||+26|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||330||308||+22|
|New York Rangers||346||329||+17|
|Los Angeles Kings||360||362||-2|
|St. Louis Blues||351||357||-6|
|New Jersey Devils||307||324||-17|
|Columbus Blue Jackets||322||346||-24|
|New York Islanders||320||361||-41|
|Tampa Bay Lightning||343||405||-62|
So far, I'd say the Canucks are a middle-of-the-road team in terms of discipline, but this will bear watching over time. In the 2007-8 season, the Canucks had 369 power plays and 368 penalty kills for a +1 net, so if anything, they've taken a slight step backwards in this regard.
One interesting note about the table above is that Philadelphia, with a league-worst -77 special teams differential, actually scored 15 shorthanded goals this season to lead the NHL, including the only goal scored while facing a 5-on-3 disadvantage. That production (which is more than twice what most teams managed) helped to mitigate the effect of all those penalties.
So will Penalty Plus/Minus play a significant role in player evaluation going forward? In my experience it seems like the mass bulk of players fall into a very similar range, with only a small minority significantly swinging the balance one way or the other. For those cases, it certainly merits consideration.