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Cullen: Shots, save percentages into Conference Finals

Scott Cullen
5/31/2013 12:17:31 AM
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Before each round of the NHL Playoffs, Scott Cullen crunches a few numbers and comes up with an expected goals for and against for each team, based on shot differentials and save percentages.

In the first round, the team with the higher expected goals, using these calculations, won seven of the eight series, with the Los Angeles Kings' win over the St. Louis Blues upsetting the bid for perfection.

Round Two brought middle of the road results, 2-2, with two goaltenders providing dramatically different results than their previous play.

The Kings' Jonathan Quick had the worst save percentage among starting goaltenders going into the playoffs (.902) and Ottawa's Craig Anderson had the league's best save percentage (.941) during the regular season. so, naturally, Quick had a .951 save percentage against San Jose in Round Two and the Kings needed every one of the saves he provided. Anderson was overpowered by Pittsburgh's high-powered offence in the second round, posting an .884 save percentage.

Since I'm the first one to emphasize that overall statistics (or standings) are not necessarily representative of the current value for a team, especially with respect to injuries, these statistics merely provide a baseline for the series, perhaps providing an idea what a team needs to do in order to emerge victorious.

In some cases, teams will simply need to keep doing what they've been doing throughout the regular season; in others, they might need better goaltending, or fewer shots against, or more shots for -- just something -- to provide better expected results in a seven-game series.

The calculations below are simple and the expected goals for each team in the series are determined by taking each team's shots for and against over the course of the season and splitting the difference.

So, Chicago has 31.8 shots on goal per game through the regular season and second round of the playoffs and Los Angeles has allowed 25.9 shots on goal per game; the average of those two numbers is 28.8 shots, so that's the number that is then multiplied by (1 - the opposing goaltenders' save percentage) to determine an expected goals per game.

Finally, the number is multiplied by seven to indicate an expected goal total for a seven-game series. There's no guarantee that scoring more goals in a series will result in winning four games first, but the odds certainly favour the team that scores more.

Team SF SA Goaltender SV% Expected GF/Series
Chicago 31.8 26.7 Corey Crawford 0.929 16.96
Los Angeles 28.7 25.9 Jonathan Quick 0.916 13.77

Verdict: If Quick is going to keep playing in the unconscious manner that he has through the first two rounds, it's going to be awfully tough for the Blackhawks to score enough to win the series. Corey Crawford has played well in goal for Chicago, and the Blackhawks have a positive shot differential (+5.1) that, if it holds up, gives them a chance.

Team SF SA Goaltender SV% Expected GF/Series
Pittsburgh 30.6 30.0 Tomas Vokoun 0.921 14.91
Boston 33.6 29.4 Tuukka Rask 0.929 17.59

Verdict: Just as Jonathan Quick has upset the apple cart for this model, so too have the Pittsburgh Penguins, in part because of their playoff-leading power play that has counted for 13 goals in 11 games this postseason. With marginal shot differentials this season, the Penguins have needed to fare better on the percentages and lighting up the power play sure helps in that regard so, if we make the assumption that Boston can win the shots on goal battle, they will still need to find a way to slow down the Penguins' power play.

Boston's penalty killing during the regular season was great (87.1%), ranking fourth in the league, but Ottawa's penalty killing was the best in the league (88.0%) during the regular season and the Penguins still went 6-for-25 (24.0%). Since the Penguins are also getting very good goaltending now that Tomas Vokoun has taken over in net, that means Tuukka Rask has to be nothing short of excellent for the Bruins.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen.  For more, check out TSN Fantasy Sports on Facebook.




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