Playoff Power Outage?

Everyone's been saying special teams lose some importance in the playoffs. I'm on board with that. Once the postseason starts there are fewer PP opportunities and PPs are less effective (or are PKs more effective?). But special teams don't become completely irrelevant. If you want to compare one team to another, it's easy to take these factors into consideration.

Real quick and dirty: Last year in the playoffs, the league wide PP rate was 78% of what it was in the reg. season (14.5% vs. 18.6%). Let's throw in another 8% (that number is straight out of my ass) to account for the reduced number of PP opportunities. That's almost certainly a gross overestimate. There were actually 5.1 PP opportunities per team per game in last year's playoffs, compared to 4.9 in the reg. season, but that doesn't account for overtime. I'd rather err on the side of caution and say special teams in the playoffs are only 70% as important as they are in the regular season.

Looking at the real numbers from behindthenet...

I never do anything simple or straightforward, so here is the explanation for the table.

The first column is just the 5-on-5 goal differential per 60, straight from the source. This is how the teams are sorted.

The second column is the special teams goal differential per 60 of special teams icetime. It's the total of all PPGs and SHGs minus all PPGs/SHGs against divided by the team's icetime in all PP/PK situations. If you broke down 60 minutes of hockey for each team, divvying up the minutes proportionally to their regular season 5-on-4, 5-on-3, 4-on-5 and 3-on-5 icetime, this is the average goal differential they would produce. Measuring special teams this way conveniently incorporates penalty differential, SHGs and PPGs in all situations. Note the incredible season the Habs had on special teams. Obviously, that huge number is the point of this post.

The third column is a net goal differential per game over the regular season. Figuring 75% of the game to be 5-on-5 and the rest to be special teams, this number is 3/4 column 1 plus 1/4 column 2. This number should be a touchstone for the team's total goal differential (not including shootout goals, 4-on-4, and whatever else isn't included in the behindthenet numbers). The Habs apparently doubling the Pens here is a bit of a statistical fluke due to rounding.

The fourth column is where we take into account the dropoff in PP scoring in the playoffs. It's the same as column #3, only the special teams factor is reduced by 30%. 3/4 column 1 plus 1/4 (column 2 * 0.70).

As you can see, even if special teams play loses 30% of its importance in the playoffs *and* if you assume 5-on-5 rates stay the same (they generally drop), the Canadiens' goal differential is still the best in the East. Pretty impressive when you consider that their 5-on-5 play is flat. The PP has been that good.

A caveat: Because special teams are still only 25% of the game (smaller sample size), relying on them can make your team more susceptible to luck. That sword cuts both ways: a cold streak on the PP can kill you against an underdog; with a hot run can you can upset a better club.

It just wouldn't be a post of mine without some negativity, so I added a 5th column to show the 5-on-5 shot differentials. The Habs are bad by this measure, but so are the Pens.


Matt at BoA sees four tiers of teams in the East: 1) Pittsburgh, 2) Habs, Rangers, Devils, Caps, 3) Bruins, Flyers and 4) Sens. I don't have that fine a resolution - I see the Pens, Habs, Rangers and Caps in the first tier and the other four in the second tier.

The four tier 1 teams should beat the second four and after that it's a toss-up. The good news here is the Habs' top seed. If any of the other top four are upset the Habs get to play another bottom four club in round two. That is, if they get past Boston.


East: Habs, Pens, Caps, Rags
West: Wings, Sharks, Avs, Ducks

I wrote those down before last night's games. Honest.



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