Sunday, April 10, 2011

Playoff Preview: 1 Washington vs 8 New York Rangers

Rangers links: Blueshirt Banter Scotty Hockey Scoring Chances

I really, really, really wanted Carolina instead, but hey, at least it's not Buffalo the Caps are facing.

Washington: 1st in East. 43-28-11 = 97 points, 18-13 in Clear Games
New York: 8th in East. 35-35-12, 82 points, 17-12 in Clear Games

The records I put here try to minimize shootout importance by counting all shootouts, whether won or lost, as ties. I counted OT losses as simple losses. Clear Game records are compiled at the Copper and Blue (see here and here) and are victories or losses by 2 or more non-ENG goals.
In order to estimate a team's talent level (to predict future performance), we want to strike a balance between sample size--30 games are better than 5--and capturing only how the team is doing coming into the playoffs (the Caps pre-system change, for example, would be misleading if included in a discussion about how the team is playing right now). According to Behind the Net (seriously, read it daily if you don't already), that optimal balance is around 30 games from game 52-82. I'll approximate that to February 1. So I'll try to look at the sample from February 1 onward. That's Game 20753 for the Rangers, 20754 for the Caps.

Note: It looks like I'm not getting data for the Rangers' finale against New Jersey.

Start with these two comments I made the other day on Japers' Rink. They're close to each other in that same thread.

Opp save% is save percentage of the opponents (if I had used shooting%, the graph would have needed to be much bigger). The Rangers' goaltending should be safely around .920 at even strength (it is Henrik Lundqvist), but it is heartening to see that the Rangers on the season really haven't done much in terms of putting the puck in the net at a good rate offensively. The Caps' goaltending I think is slightly better than average, so in this series goaltending should be close enough to be considered a wash. If both goaltending tandems perform as they should, the difference may be one goal, if that. We all know, though, that hot goaltending wins playoff series.

The Caps' final ~30 games saw the team at 5on5 with a .934 save percentage, .922 opponent save percentage, and a 1.012 PDO.

You can see that shots, Fenwick, and zone starts are all roughly even, and Corsi follows the same trends, but at a lower number (the Capitals, on the other hand, tend to boast higher Corsi% than Fenwick%...pick which one you prefer).

By these measures the Rangers' true talent is around 50% to 52%. For much of the season they had been improving, but more recently have regressed. They are 11-13-6 in their last 30 games (counting regulation and overtime in the first two columns and any shootout as a tie). Their score-tied Fenwick% over their final 30 game stretch is only 49.7%. Not exactly awe-inspiring.

And neither is the Caps' number, either, just a hair above 50% Fenwick since February 1, and pretty much the same story with the score tied. By that count, this series looks like it will be pretty even.

I don't think this series will be all that even, however. Since the trade deadline (see first link above, to J.R. comment), the Caps have been a pretty solid 53% Fenwick team, which they hadn't been since Fedorov left. In the meantime, the Rangers have been a 47.5% team. Looking at the rosters, moreover, I don't think I can see a single area in which the Rangers have a definite advantage.


These guys will comprise New York's forward corps. Only Dubinsky, Gaborik, and Callahan get over 13 minutes of 5on5 time per game, and the TOI is Nashville-esque evenly distributed. Meanwhile, the Caps have four such players, and some players under 10 minutes as well (NYR has none).

Quality of competition rankings (these may not be actual line combinations). Dashed lines indicate a difference of 0.100 or greater between the player above the line and the player below the line. I also included zone start, if you scroll right, but those I separated more subjectively. Again, Torts' Rangers are much more extreme than the Capitals.

I used colors to indicate whether I think the player is doing a good job in his role or not. Red means bad, yellow is decent, and green means very good. I was probably harsher on the Capitals' side. These are full-season numbers, and more recently, at least for the Caps, utilization and performance have improved on the whole.

Torts looks like he puts his best players to do the most work, taking tough assignments and tough zone starts. Boudreau is a bit more of a mixed bag. Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Johansson, though, have seen their quality of competition creep up and have all seen increasing Corsi, as well. Johansson, in fact, is about 52% Fenwick over the Caps' last 30 games. Sturm and Arnott have been able to handle tougher assignments, too.

In terms of Corsi, the teams look close with full-season numbers, but I think that more recent numbers would indicate the Caps are clearly ahead. Offensive skill also is clear advantage to Washington.

Advantage Washington.


On defense, the Rangers and Capitals are close. The Rangers and Caps distribute zone starts fairly evenly. The Rangers do have a bit of a problem, though, when it comes to matchups. Take a look:

I refuse to believe Poti is actually a "red." If I'm right, that gives the Capitals 6 good defensemen, to 4 for the Rangers (and only 3 that are recently versed in playing tough minutes, compared to 6 for the Capitals). Marc Staal is as good as any Caps defenseman, but at very other place on the depth chart the Caps come out ahead, particularly after Girardi.

Advantage Washington.


The goaltending is close (that difference between Lundqvist and Neuvirth in ESSv% is only a goal over 5 or 6 games). Moreover, Lundqvist has played 68 games, not letting his backup Martin Biron play since February 7th (about 25 games). I think the slim advantage to New York here is negligible.


Special teams

There are a few ways to look at special teams: efficiency, shots, goals per game, and shots per game (which factor in drawing/taking penalty-ability).

Efficiency is the traditional metric. The Caps are slightly ahead in PP%, but the difference is pretty much negligible, 17.5% to 16.9%. Both teams are top-10 in penalty killing, with Washington at 85.6% and NYR at 83.7%.

The most repeatable part of special teams performance, though, is the shot rate. At 5-on-4, the Caps excel. Washington is more than 10 shots better per 60 minutes of 5-on-4 time than New York, a difference that, unfortunately, is not all that important over 7 games (I'm estimating an extra goal every 4 or 5 games), especially considering how many shorthanded goals New York scores (11 on the season, 5 by 2nd-unit PKer Brandon Prust). At 4-on-5, the teams are separated by less than 2 shots per 60, Washington 6th and New York 9th.

Adjusting for time spent at 5on4 and 4on5 per game, the teams are even closer. The difference is about 0.3 shots for per game on the power play, which, given that teams score on about 1 in 9 shots at 5on4, amounts to a single goal over the course of four full-length playoff rounds (if my math is right). Meanwhile, New York jumps to 0.4 fewer shots against per game at 4on5 than Washington.

The Rangers scored 5 more 5on4 goals and allowed one fewer 4on5 goal than Washington.

NYR: 49 PPGF, 5 SHGA, 42 PPGA, 11 SHGF, Difference +13
WSH: 46 PPGF, 5 SHGA, 43 PPGA, 7 SHGF, Difference +5

By these numbers, the difference in special teams is an extra goal every ten games for New York. I'd wager that the difference is even smaller, given that the Capitals have been missing Mike Green for a long time, and have added Jason Arnott (and Dennis Wideman; Rangers have added McCabe).



I like how Tortorella uses his players better than how Boudreau uses his. The one significant advantage I think New York has over Washington.

Advantage New York


Rangers are down Ryan Callahan, a loss that will hurt very, very much. From the outside, it seems like Mike Green and Tom Poti may be ready to return; Dennis Wideman will likely be out for at least another couple of weeks. NYR can't afford to lose its top forward; Washington can afford to lose its top defensemen.

Advantage Washington.


Expect to see Dubinsky-Anisimov and Staal-Girardi against Ovechkin-Backstrom-Knuble. That matchup in itself should come out even given playoff Ovechkin and no Callahan, and advantage goes to Washington whenever a puck-mover like Green, Carlson, or Poti is playing behind 8-19-22 as well. Even though Callahan and his comrades are some of my Selke picks, there's a reason Ovechkin and Backstrom are two of the best players in the world.

Expect to see Carlson and Alzner against Gaborik. I have little doubt Gaborik will score, but I doubt he'll get anything done at even strength. Carlson and Alzner will beat him territorially pretty handily, especially with either Laich or Semin playing with them up front.

Expect to see Sauer-McDonagh and Fedetenko-Boyle against Semin-Arnott. That will be interesting, as two big centers go head to head. I think Semin's line wins that matchup, as playoff Semin tends to dominate territorially.

In Sum

Callahan's loss cannot be understated. The Capitals' PP has been getting better since the deadline, all the key players are trending up (underlying numbers-wise as well as production-wise), the goaltending is healthy and trending up, and I think Bruce Boudreau and his squad have learned some valuable lessons over the past few years. Moreover, the Rangers have been trending in the opposite direction for a couple of months, and all season long have shown an inability to win, frankly. The entirety of their goal differential is pretty much shootouts (+6) and three huge wins (7-0 and 6-0 over Washington, 7-0 over Philadelphia). The Rangers are far from the Blackhawks (who sport a similar differential at the bottom of the Western Conference playoff picture). NYR is a team that just squeaked in--nothing more, nothing less. The 8th best team in the East (I'd actually say 9th, even, behind NJD too). The Capitals are in the conversation about the best team in the East.

In the playoffs, everything gets more extreme--line matching, zonestart allocation, intensity of play, time on ice, etc. Differences between teams get magnified as the best players play the most. The East is wide-open, but there are clearly two classes of teams present, and NYR is in the lower class.

I've picked Caps in 5 in the first round each of the past three seasons, and I'll do so again. Capitals in 5.

1 comment:

  1. I guess I should note that although the data mostly supports a long series, the caps come in hot, the rangers not. This isn't a case of winning your last five games or something; it's one team that has been improving all season and has been particularly good since adding two players with histories of being impact possession tough minutes players, plus getting a 1d back, versus a team that has been regressing over that same time and just lost it's best forward and third best player, a tough mintues guy, and has a very vulnerable third pairing. But hey, I've been wrong before.

    If I had to bet, probably caps in 7. I'll always bet on a team winning the series at home, and, given the parity in the league and the caliber of even the worst playoff teams, safe money is always on 6 or 7 games.