Saturday, April 17, 2010

Secret Success Factors in the Stanley Cup Playoffs - Are the Caps Doomed?

With the Caps having a historically good regular season, but finding themselves down 1-0 in the 1st round, I thought it was worth finding out what factors have led to success in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I specifically want to find the predictors of playoff success, characteristics of a Stanley Cup winner, and why the other 2 best teams of the past 13+ years lost in the 1st round of the playoffs.

Don't you wish you were that Cup? Although it should be noted her boyfriend is the heavyweight champion of the world....

My objective would be best achieved by regression analysis of all playoff teams of the past 13 years, but that would take waaaaayyyyy too long, so I have opted to do some research from other writers' work, as well as researching Stanley Cup winners on Let the bullet points fly!

There really isn't much here, except that better regular season teams are better in the playoffs, big freaking suprise.

To examine the characteristics of a Stanley Cup winner, I went through the champions of the past 12 seasons and examined regular season points, goal differential, 5-on-5 ratio, and special teams goal differential. Here are the brief results:

  • Every champion was in the top-3 in regular season points, except for last year's Pittsburgh team, which was 9th.
  • Every champion was in the top-6 in regular season goal differential, except last year's Pittsburgh team, which was 9th. I'm sensing a theme here........
  • 9 of the 12 champions had a 5-on-5 scoring rate in the top-8 in the league, with one team 12th, one team 19th, and one team 26th (dead last!).
  • Every champion had a positive special teams goal differential, and aside from 2 teams, every team was at least +14 over the course of the regular season. The worst team here was Pittsburgh last year, which was only +2. If it walks like a fluke, and smells like a fluke......

This simple research tells me the following:

  • Last year's Penguins winning the Cup was a fluke. I think I'm internally bleeding.
  • We can likely eliminate the following teams as true cup contenders due to low regular season point total: Montreal, Philadelphia, Boston, Ottawa, Buffalo, and Colorado.
  • We can likely eliminate the following teams as true cup contenders due to poor regular season goal differential: Nashville, Montreal, Ottawa, Detroit, Boston, Philadelphia, Colorado.
  • We can likely eliminate the following teams as true cup contenders due to poor special teams play: Phoenix, Colorado, Nashville, and Ottawa.

This leaves the following teams: Washington, New Jersey, Pittsburgh, San Jose, Chicago, Vancouver, Los Angeles. That is 3 of the top 4 seeds in the East, and the top 3 seeds in the West plus LA, which is the 6th seed.

The final question is why the '99-'00 Blues and '05-'06 Red Wings had such epic meltdowns. The '99-'00 Blues were only the 23rd-best 5-on-5 team, but were great in almost every other aspect. The only minor holes I can find are in number of penalties taken, giveaways, takeaways, and having fewer power plays than penalty kills. Detroit in '05-'06 is much the same in that their resume looks pretty immaculate, with their only flaw appearing to be giveaways (7th-most in the league, with the Blues ranking 8th in '99-'00). Examing these stats for Cup winners indicates that the only red flags are having fewer power plays than penalty kills (only 1 champion) and having such a high number of giveaways (only 1 champion).

One would assume that elite teams have the puck more than their opponents and thus have a high number of total giveaways, but every Cup winner in the past 12 seasons was in the top-half of the league except for the '01-'02 Red Wings. Not all of the Cup winners were great in this aspect, but none of the other teams were terrible. I do realize that giveaways are highly subjective and that there is a lot more research that could be done, but giveaways could quite possibly be the secret to playoff failure, in addition to having more more penalty kills than powerplays.

So what does this mean for this year's playoffs? The teams with a high number of giveaways are: Montreal, Buffalo, Los Angeles, San Jose, Detroit, Nashville, Washington, Ottawa, and New Jersey. The Caps were the 10th-worst giveaway team in the league this year, uh-oh....

The teams with more penalty kills than powerplays: Montreal, Philadelphia, Boston, Ottawa, Pittsburgh, Phoenix, San Jose, and Washington. The Caps have had 3 fewer powerplays than penalty kills, tied for 6th-worst in the playoffs. Double uh-oh......

The problem with this analysis is that I didn't go into the depth of using regressions and I only examined Stanley Cup winners, not which teams generally have playoff success. There are also exceptions to every rule, so even though the Canadians do not look like Cup contenders, and the Caps have a relatively high number of giveaways, does not mean we can confidently leap to any conclusions. Looking at the numbers from a gambling perspective? Chicago and Vancouver are the only teams without holes from this analysis. Maybe I should stop while I'm ahead......

(Stats courtesy of,, and Image courtesy of

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Caps vs. Canadiens: Five Bold Predictions

Perhaps not all of these are bold predictions, but a lot of them are baseless! So I'll format them in bold just in case the distinction isn't clear.

1. The Caps PK unit will surprise you - in a good way.

Second best PP at 21.8% versus 25th ranked PK at 78.8%. Allowing 5 PP goals in 14 opportunities in head to head matchups with the Canadiens on the year. Mismatch, you say? On paper, yes. But something tells me the Caps PK unit will buckle down. It has to. Bruce Boudreau will make the adjustments necessary to thwart the Habs' power play, which will most likely be missing the services of former Cap and PP specialist Glen Metropolit for the entire series, out with a separated shoulder. Jose Theodore will be the Caps' best penalty killer, a little extra motivation not hurting his cause. Which brings me to my next point...

2. Semyon Varlamov will start at least one game.

Not because Theodore will struggle; rather, because Bruce Boudreau has stuck with a system all year, rotating his goalies in and out even during hot streaks, and that system led to 54 wins and a team record 121 points. If it ain't broke, why try to fix it? If I'm a betting man, Varlamov starts Game 3 in Montreal, the site of his NHL debut, a 2-1 Caps victory.

3. Eric Belanger will be a healthy scratch at some point.

He's currently slotted as the 3rd line center between Eric Fehr and Jason Chimera, a role he's well suited for. But Belanger never got into an offensive groove with the Caps, aside from his sweet goal in the last game of the season and a nice cross ice pass to Tomas Fleischman in OT against the Canes. Six points in 17 games while logging over 14 minutes of ice time is a massive underachievement for a guy like Belanger, even if the Caps offense does not necessarily need him to score. With Brendan Morrison likely on the bench for Game 1, Belanger is replaceable should he struggle.

4. The "other Alex" will be the most dominant player on the ice.

Alex Semin's career playoff numbers: 21 games played, 8 goals, 14 assists. The maddening inconsistencies we're accustomed to seeing from Sasha in the regular season usually dissipate in the postseason. As strange as it sounds, he almost seems to relish the physical play in the playoffs. It brings out the best in him because it focuses him. Alex Ovechkin will garner most of the attention, and rightfully so, but Alex Semin will quietly be the Caps best offensive player. Count on it.

5. John Carlson will play like a seasoned veteran.

He has been for quite some time. You'd suspect a rookie in his first playoff experience, especially one with only 22 NHL games to his credit, to make a few mistakes that you simply attribute to youth and nerves. Don't expect this from Carlson. He plays with maturity well beyond his years and is already one of the Caps' top four defensemen (if not higher), even if his minutes don't necessarily reflect this. Without any power play time, don't expect many points. What you should expect are crisp passes, solid defensive positioning, and physical play that make you scratch your head and say, "Why the hell is Tom Poti skating 6 more minutes per night than John Carlson?!" Oh, and maybe just one unbelievably clutch goal.

Bonus Prediction: Caps in 6.

Let's do this. Hanta yo.

Nats/O's: Draft this kid!

Forget Bryce Harper. He's too old. Over the hill. Washed up. Past his prime.

Enter Ariel Antigua, the future of major league baseball. He's only 5 years old (via Deadspin, h/t Doc):

And you're trying to tell me that either of our two area baseball teams wouldn't drastically improve right now with this kid's services? Didn't think so.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Not Your Regular President's Trophy Winner

Was anyone else dissapointed when Obama didn't hand out the President's trophy to the Caps? Talk about misleading.....but I digress and want to put the Caps historic regular season in perspective now that the playoffs are finally here.

Run of the mill stuff for this team

As I posted about 2 weeks ago, the Caps were within the realm of being historically good, and despite a finish that appeared befitting of a team that wasn't trying against teams 'trying their faces off' (in the words of Red Rover), we actually ended pretty well. The result is simple, this Caps team had a historically good regular season. Here are some numbers:

  • As I mentioned in my last post, getting up to 120 points and +84 in goal differential would give the Caps a strong case as the 2nd best regular season team of the past 13+ years, behind the 'o5-'06 Red Wings. We were on pace for 119 points at the time, but our late surge pushed us to 121 points and a +85 goal differential. The only problem with this 'accomplishment' is that the '05-'06 Red Wings and the #3 team by points and goal differential, the '99-'00 Blues, both lost in the first round.........
  • Our 5-on-5 scoring ratio actually improved up to 1.57, which is the best figure by any team in at least the past 13 yrs. This statistic is relative to the league, so the Caps were the best 5-on-5 team relative to the league in at least 13 years.
  • We ended up scoring 3.82 goals per game, making us the most prolific offensive team of at least the past 13 years. Behind the Net did a great feature on whether this was lucky or not, but also shows that relative to league average, the Caps had the 7th most prolific offense in league history. If you remove the teams from the 70's that played in a league lacking any sort of parity, the Caps trail only the '95-'96 Penguins and '83-'84 Oilers (also questionably for league parity questions) in relative offensive production. Given the salary cap and overall league parity, this may indeed be the best offensive season in league history.
  • Although our powerplay dropped from 25.9% to 25.2% since my last post, our margin over the 2nd-best powerplay increased from 2.6% to 3.4%. This means a couple things, firstly, we had the biggest margin between best and 2nd-best powerplay in the league in the last 13+ seasons. Secondly, although many fans are concerned with the Canadians giving the Caps trouble by having the 2nd ranked powerplay in the league, but that unit has clearly not been playing up to its previous standards the past couple weeks. The league average powerplay ended up at 18.2%, so the Caps were 38% above the league average, which is still below the 44% mark posted by the '02-'03 Red Wings, but historically good nonetheless. This is great for the Caps, as the perception of there being fewer penalties in playoffs games does not appear to be true.

Overall, this team has been the 2nd best regular season team of the last 13+ seasons by point total and goal differential. When taking into account parity, this Caps team has had possibly the best offense in league history, fueled by historically great 5-on-5 and powerplay performances.

As we all know though, the slate gets wiped clean in the playoffs, so let's hope that this President's Trophy winner can live up to the lofty expectations.

(Stats courtesy of and, image courtesy of

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Evander Kane: My New Favorite Non-Cap

Because I hate Pittsburgh so much. And because Matt Cooke is a clown. And because karma is a BITCH.

[Note: I am in no way applauding injury here. Cooke skated off on his own power. I am, however, acknowledging a wicked right from one badass hockey player.]