Benmocha: Rangers Showing Sustainable Characteristics Of A Champion

by David Benmocha | Posted on Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

New-York-Rangers-4The valued characteristics of a Stanley Cup Champion have always been measured by heart, will, perseverance, determination and fantastic goaltending. However, in this new age of data we are able to dig deeper using statistics to validate what our eyes tells us about a team’s strengths and weaknesses. Since the 2005 lockout, the NHL has put forth an effort of penalizing players for clutching, grabbing and any other form of restricting a player’s progress forward. Through these efforts, referees have called more penalties in the playoffs than in prior years. This resulted in a change of valued characteristics of a Stanley Cup champion. The typical Stanley Cup champion used to have a higher power play percentage than the finalist, while having a lower even strength goals for percentage. Since referees called fewer penalties before the CBA rule change, teams knew that scoring on the power play could be a game changer, especially since goals were harder to score. The average Stanley Cup champion scored 2.76 goals per game while the average finalist scored 2.26 goals per game. After the CBA rule change, the average Stanley Cup champion scores 3.16 goals per game while the average finalist scores 2.89 goals per game.

Surprisingly, a majority of these goals are coming from even strength situations rather than the power play. Since the referees have called more penalties now than before, it has become more important to value counteracting these penalties by having a very good penalty kill percentage.

In fact, over the past 13 years, the Stanley Cup champion has posted a better penalty kill than their opponent nine times.  

That’s not to say that penalty kill percentage wasn’t important before the CBA rule change, but its value has risen since. Whereas the Stanley Cup finalist has had a better power play percentage than the champion six out of the past eight years. The value of a power play has decreased significantly since the CBA rule change.

The characteristics of a Stanley Cup champion are no longer a strong power play and a solid penalty kill. It comes down to sustainability and countering the increase in penalties.  

The average Stanley Cup champion’s power play percentage is 15.70 and their penalty kill percentage is 86.00, while maintaining discipline at only 11.6 penalty minutes per game. The average Stanley Cup finalist’s power play percentage is 20.50 and their penalty kill percentage is 81.00, while garnering an average of 12.4 penalties minutes per game (Slightly less disciplined). Since the new NHL is based on increased scoring and more penalties, countering those components with a high even strengths goals for percentage and a tight knit penalty kill percentage of around 86 will likely bring the Stanley Cup home to Los Angeles or New York.

June 2 – Last day of Third Round

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May 18 – First day of Third Round

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Failed teams in Third Round

Chicago Blackhawks

The Chicago Blackhawks were a team built to win the Stanley Cup. They have skilled veteran players such as Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Duncan Keith. With the addition of a dynamic core and a youthful group of Ben Smith, Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad they seemed poised for a return to the Stanley Cup Final. However, there were some warning signs that could have predicted their failure in the round three. The first sign was a declining penalty kill percentage that started at 91.70 before their series with the Kings and increased to 84.60% by the end.

 Failure to counteract penalties called against them was a huge disappointment for a team that possessed the best penalty kill percentage in the league until the third round. 

The second sign was poor goaltending from Corey Crawford. During the St. Louis Blues series, Crawford let in an average of 2.3 goals per game. That number dropped to 2.1 goals per game versus the Minnesota Wild. Unfortunately, Crawford could not sustain those averages, giving up an average of four goals per game against the Los Angeles Kings.

According to the record of Stanley Cup champions/finalists the past six years, the average team had final scores between 2.89 and 3.16 goals, therefore keeping three goals out of their net, holding substantial value towards success, which Crawford was unable to accomplish. Chicago’s greatest strength was offense, yet the best offensive team could not score enough goals to counter their goaltender’s flaws and that is why they will not move on to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014.

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Montreal Canadians

The Montreal Canadiens were a well-balanced team with three solid forward lines and a dynamic defenseman by the name of P.K. Subban who posed a great offensive threat. Unlike Chicago, Montreal’s penalty kill percentage actually increased from 77.50 to 80.40, which was great news for them. Although Montreal lost their starting goaltender, Carey Price, to injury after the first game of the series, their goaltending wasn’t the issue, as young Dustin Tokarski was quite impressive with a 2.60 goals against average for the rest of the series. Montreal’s biggest problem was goal scoring on the man advantage.

 They relied on their red hot power play to produce a majority of their goals, but they were unsuccessful versus the New York Rangers penalty kill, which led to their demise. 

Montreal stepped into this series with a 24.40 power play percentage and it eventually declined to 19.70%. To put it into context, the Canadiens were used to scoring a power play goal once every four chances, but versus the Rangers they declined to one goal every five chances. Montreal’s greatest strength was scoring on the power play, yet they could not sustain their high powered play percentage versus a defensive minded New York Rangers club, which is the reason why they will not be participating in this year’s Stanley Cup Final.

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Preview of the Stanley Cup Final

Los Angeles Kings

This Los Angeles Kings team is very different from the one that won the Stanley Cup in the 2012 season versus the New Jersey Devils. The Los Angeles Kings of 2012 had the characteristics of a Stanley Cup champion, with a penalty kill of 91.20% and a power play that only produced 12.80% goals on the man advantage. They had excellent discipline allowing only 11.9 penalty minutes per game. Their strengths were defense, great goaltending and a discipline style of hockey. This year, the Los Angeles Kings look similar to the Montreal Canadians, having a high power play percentage of 25.40 and a low penalty kill percentage of 81.20. They are still relatively disciplined with only 13 penalty minutes per game, but their discipline will need to increase if they want to win the Stanley Cup.

 Looking at this year’s Los Angeles Kings, we see that they share characteristics closer to a Stanley Cup finalist rather than their former Stanley Cup champion selves. 

Goalie Jonathan Quick was also spectacular throughout the Stanley Cup run of 2012, whereas he has not been quite as good this year in the playoffs. There is no doubt that the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner could find himself stealing the show once again, but without the help of his defense and penalty kill units stepping up, the outcome could prove to be an unpleasant one for the King’s starting goaltender and his team.

New York Rangers

This year’s New York Rangers return to the Stanley Cup Final will mark a 20-year anniversary from the last time they won the Stanley Cup. With the addition of Martin St. Louis at the trade deadline, they sought to improve their depth at the forward position as well as bringing in a veteran leader who could provide scoring on the power play. St. Louis’ transition to the Rangers started off rocky, but he picked up steam in the second round of the playoffs, earning 13 points in the past 20 games. The Rangers’ great strength is their penalty kill, which has seen an increase from 84.10% to 85.90% in round three versus Montreal. Their power play has decreased from 14.50% to 13.60%, but there shouldn’t be concern for their inability to score on the power play as they pride themselves on a high even strength goals for percentage of 74.00. The Rangers also are quite disciplined, accumulating only ten penalty minutes per game, accounting for an average of five penalties per game. Henrik Lundqvist has been brilliant, with a 2.03 goals against average and a .928 save percentage. He will have to continue his stunning performance to counter Los Angeles’ high powered attack.

 Looking strictly at the characteristics of penalty kill percentage, power play percentage, even strength goals for, even strength goals against and penalty minutes per game, the New York Rangers have the valued characteristics of a Stanley Cup champion. 

Conclusion

What is sustainability? By definition it is the ability to last or continue for a long time. Teams that rise to the top of the hockey world are the built to sustain success. In the new NHL. sustainable patterns are distinct with teams relying on solid even strength situational play, strong discipline and a dynamic penalty kill. Now that both Los Angeles and New York have played 20 playoff games or more, the statistics will change even less the more games they play. At this juncture in the playoffs, team’s strengths and weaknesses are transparent with limited ability to change dramatically.

It appears the New York Rangers have sustainable characteristics that have them primed to win a Stanley Cup, even though the Las Vegas sports betting lines have clearly labeled them the big underdog. 

While some people will argue the Los Angeles Kings have a better offense, veteran experience and a former Conn Smythe winner in net; I would counter with the old fashion saying, “Defense wins championships.” (Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant Jr. Former Alabama football coach) If you don’t believe me, I would add that “Numbers don’t lie.” And the numbers indicate that teams with sustainable characteristics should be valued above gut feelings, logic and superstar names on the roster. Hockey is a team sport that requires the functionality and contributions of every player that touches the ice. In this sport, individual statistics are put aside in favor of a common goal, The Stanley Cup. This is why in the search for success we judge the playoffs not on individual accomplishments, but rather on team sustainability.

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Feature Box Photo/Matthew Suppert)

Follow me on Twitter @bennymochs9 and please “like” LightningShout on Facebook. You can email us at Info@LightningShout.com.

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David Benmocha
About the Author

Writer, David Benmocha, attended South Kent Prep School and graduated from Manhattanville College with a degree in Finance. He is involved with the Tampa Elite Hockey Club and takes classes at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Biostatistics. He is interested in sports history and predictive analytics. His goal is to be the GM of a sports franchise.

Displaying 5 Comments
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  1. ITMAN says:

    A really good read for the stat freaks. I find your comparison of the Cup winning Kings and this years Kings very interesting. Nice job.

  2. BigKahuna BigKahuna says:

    Wow! Most look at Rangers as a huge dog, but statistics really seem to favor them. Looks like PK is really important., plus I think the Rangers can keep up with the Kings speed. Nice article.

  3. ITMAN says:

    Rangers just ran into a hot goalie? What’s your take?

  4. BigKahuna BigKahuna says:

    Too many Ranger giveaways! Quick is just too good when it counts.

  5. David Benmocha David Benmocha says:

    Through the numbers, it seemed like a probable victory for the New York Rangers. In fact, some may argue that they controlled much of Games 1 & 2 using their speed as well as athleticism to win battles and score early. The difference maker was certainly Jonathan Quick who had his best series yet, averaging only 2 goals against per game. His defenseman improved in the Stanley Cup Finals series raising their Penalty Kill percentage from 81.2% to 83.3%. The Kings weakness was definitely on the Penalty Kill, but the Rangers could not cash in on their Power play opportunities going from 13.6% before the series to 12.6% after the series.

    Another reason why the Kings won the Stanley Cup is because they got the lucky bounces, they took advantage of mistakes from the Rangers and were simply better in overtime each time it required additional time. These factors cannot be determined through numbers nor should anyone try. This is why sports are played and underdogs are rooted for. Although many would agree that the Kings were the favorites to start with, I would suggest that a Hot Goalie can certainly reverse trends unforeseen by even the best Data scientist in the world. Gotta love the uncertainy of sports and the entertainment we seek as Fans.

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