The Penguins Powerplay In The 2013 Playoffs

My goal in writing this post is to paint a clearer picture of what exactly happened to the Penguins powerplay in the playoffs when they played the Bruins. Part of the shock related to scoring no PP goals is due to the fact that the PP was clicking at such a high rate in both the Senators series and the Isles series. I'm sure other people are incensed because they see this PP failure as yet another example of Dan Bylsma being unable to "adjust." So the key, then, is breaking down the numbers for the PP in each of the three playoff series to see what went differently the third time around.

Some might say this analysis is simple. We scored goals against the Sens and the Isles but didn't against the Bruins. That means we didn't work as hard, or didn't game plan as well, or simply didn't do something entirely within our control to beat the Bruins' PK setup. This would make sense if goals were common and predictable, but they're instead very rare, meaning that scoring goals involves much more luck/randomness/variability than simply maintaining puck possession and directing shots toward the opposing goalie. With this in mind, looking strictly at goal totals to evaluate performance means you might simply pick up random noise swamped by a small sample size and mistake that for actual talent. These ideas underlie much of the research behind PDO.

So instead of looking at goals on the PP, I want to look at the much bigger sample of total shots directed toward the net when the Penguins were on the PP during the playoffs. Since the results between the NYI and the OTT series are so different from the BOS series, I'm going to compare the numbers to actually see if the Bruins were able to "solve" our PP.

I'm looking for two things. First, were the Bruins able to actually limit the Penguins chances by holding them to a lower rate of shots than in the previous two series? Second, were the Bruins able to lower the quality of the chances by forcing the Penguins to take shots from farther away? Both of these things are much more within the players' and coaches' control, so if we saw a marked difference in these metrics versus the Bruins, I think it's likely that we didn't actually play well or simply got out-coached. On the other hand, if our underlying numbers were still the same, then I think it's more likely that we simply ran out of puck luck for four games.

To get this rolling, I went into the play-by-play reports and looked at how many shots on goal, missed shots, and blocked shots were directed at the net during our power plays in all three series. I then added up the total minutes we were on a PP and converted the shot statistics into rates, i.e. shots per minute. I also got the distance for shots on goal and missed shots and averaged them for that particular series. The reports do not report a shot distance for blocked shots.

Two important caveats before we get to the data. First, I limited this to 5 on 4 time because I believe all of our PP time versus the Bruins was 5 on 4 time. Second, I ignored the powerplays at the end of games 1 and 5 versus the Islanders when we had Craig Adams, Doug Murray, etc on the ice for us. I thought that would just skew the results.

For the Islanders series, I counted 24 minutes and 35 seconds of 5 on 4 time. Here's a chart with the rates and shot distances:


There isn't a ton to say about this without comparing it to the performance in the Ottawa and Boston series. Then we'll know how significant this is.

For the Ottawa series, I counted 35 minutes and 31 seconds of 5 on 4 time. Here is the chart:


There are a few differences between the powerplay's performance versus Ottawa as compared to the Islanders, but there are still many similarities. The overall shot rate (Corsi or Fenwick) is very similar, though the shots in the Ottawa series seemed on average to be coming from further out. This could explain the fact that our PP versus Ottawa was not as effective as it was versus the Islanders, but still that difference was not huge. Nevertheless, it seemed like not much changed between rounds one and two.

So here comes the really important stuff: the stats versus the Bruins. If the Penguins truly failed in their PP preparation, then we will see one of either two things: a lower shot rate or a higher average shot distance. These would mean that the Bruins successfully limited the Penguins chances or kept them overwhelmingly to the perimeter. But if the numbers are roughly the same, then the Penguins did exactly what brought them success in the earlier rounds and simply didn't find the same bounces this time.

For the Bruins series, I counted 28 minutes of 5 on 4 time. The chart:


The biggest thing I think we can take away from this is that the Penguins really did do the same thing. Their Corsi and Fenwick rates were right in line with what happened in the earlier rounds, and their shot distance was not abnormal either. Indeed, their average shot on goal in the Bruins series was nearly three feet closer to the net than in the Ottawa series. And yet the cruelty of the hockey gods was revealed for all to see: though the Penguins broke through before, they would fail to score even once this time around.

Crosby had a quote on Sunday regarding the powerplay that I think drives this point home:

Should you have used different personnel on the power play which was 0 for 14 in the series?

"You look at our power play, probably at different points, we probably got more chances than we did in the other series. We generated, if not the same amount, maybe more. The puck didn’t find its way in the net for whatever reason. We hit posts or it bounced over our stick. We didn’t execute. That’s not an excuse. At the end of the day, we’ve got to find a way to score. When the chances are there, it’s hard to think you would really change certain things. How can you justify changing something if you’re getting a ton of chances? Usually you kind of rely on the fact that those are usually going to go in."

That emphasis is mine. Crosby isn't just misremembering things or sugarcoating it for the press. We really did have the same chances, but they didn't go in, which really sucks for us. Such is the fate of certain teams in the tournament of small sample sizes that is the playoffs. Hopefully the Hockey Gods will pay us back next year in June.

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