Dr. Strangepuck or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Tolerate the Penguins Power Play



So now that you've all fretted over my last post and perhaps even cried into your Iron City, I'm going to explain why what I said in that last post probably won't matter.

Gabe Desjardins of Behind the Net gave it away a little bit in one of Frank's comments to that post, but I took a slightly different angle.  While he looked at shot differential, I looked at even-strength goal ratios, similar to what Richard Pollock did in this Puck Prospectus article.  (Disclaimer:  I hadn't read that article until I was already working on this mini-series of posts.)

While it is true that a team's PP% is important, it's absolutely vital to a team to be at its strongest at even strength.  Even thinking about this without numbers, it's intuitively true.  Teams spend comparatively little time on special teams compared to the time they spend at even strength, so it only serves to reason that even strength would be more important.

The first item of order is to explain what I mean by even-strength goal ratios.  In essence, it's the number of even strength goals for divided by the even strength goals against.  Specifically, this is in 5-on-5 play, not 4-on-4 or 3-on-3.  Thankfully, has this information right on their stats page, called 5-5 F/A.

Using that information and correlating it to regular season points gives us a correlation coefficient of 0.81, which is in the "why doesn't anyone other than statheads ever talk about this" realm.  That is, it's of utterly vital importance to a team's success.  It's obvious, right?  Giving up fewer goals than you score during the vast majority of the time in the game is probably a good idea.

For those of you who are more visual, here comes another scatterplot:


via (click for larger image)

So, visually, as strong as the PP% trend was, this one is even more tightly defined with very few outlying data points to qualify with statements like, "Team X managed to score a lot of points despite being a poor even-strength team."  That isn't to say it's perfect, again; the 2006-2007 Montreal Canadiens managed to score 90 points with a putrid 0.75 EV F/A.  That they missed the playoffs by a hair is irrelevant in this case, and the odd result can be explained by their league-leading 22.75 PP% and league leading 17 shorthanded goals, shared with Ottawa.

With all that out of the way, the Penguins' current EV F/A mark is 1.14.  That's right in line with the other Cup winners since the lockout.  Carolina had 1.02 (which is probably lower than you'd expect for a Cup winner), Anaheim 1.12, and Pittsburgh 1.18.  Detroit's the only oddball here with an EV F/A at an insane 1.41, but then again, they seem to do that every single season.  Last year was the first time they didn't post a crazy number like that, and just look what happened!

As we've seen lately, though, life for the Penguins is not all a bowl of cherries.  Why not?  If I can successfully crunch my next set of numbers, there will be more to follow.

EDIT:  Because a couple people asked for it, here's the scatterplot again with the playoff teams in blue and the lottery teams in green.


via (click for larger image)

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