By: Jim Meinecke
The NHL season is winding down, and that means the playoffs are right around the corner. The Penguins have had a forgettable March so far and many folks are writing off any chance for a cup run with their recent play. It is normal to hear that a team “cannot turn it on” for the playoffs if they are playing poorly in March and April. I decided to take a look at the last nine cup winners since the lockout of 2004-05 to see what exactly a cup winning team looks like in the final two months of the regular season and how far off the Penguins are from the pace.
It was fun to gather all of the data and see just how different every team has been in the last nine years. Many times the teams winning percentage were in the 60’s, but three teams were only at or slightly above 50% (Bruins in 2010-11, Blackhawks in 2009-10, and Carolina in 2005-06). It also shows just how dominant the Red Wings (75%) and Penguins (73.68%) were in 2007-08, and 2008-09. Generally, teams were around a 60% winning percentage, and the Penguins are far from that at 45% for March, but there is still time to turn that around with ten games remaining.
Power play percentages were generally lower than I expected. 20% or greater only happened in four of the seasons with Anaheim maxing out at 27.85% in 2006-07. On the flip side, the Bruins were an abysmal 10.91% in their cup winning season. The Penguins are a shade under the average currently with a 16.67% power play so far in March. With how bad the power play has been and has looked, they really are not that far behind the pace set by these teams.
The Penalty Kill percentages were closer to what I expected for these teams. The mid-80’s were the norm with two teams topping out over 90% (2008-09 Penguins, and the 2006-07 Ducks). The Penguins are just behind the average of 86.24% at 85.71%, which as a fun side note is the exact penalty kill percentage of the Kings last season during these two months.
Moving on to goal differential, I stumbled upon a team that won the cup after having a negative goal differential for the months of March and April. I had to double-check my math a couple of times because I did not think this was very likely, but the 2005-06 Carolina Hurricanes had a -4 goal differential, and generally bad statistics all around, but managed to pull it together for a cup run that season. They are the only team with a negative differential. The Bruins were only at a +5 and the Blackhawks in 2009-10 were only at a +9, but every other team was in the positive by double digits. Not surprisingly, the Penguins are at a -2 so far in March. I am guessing scoring two goals in four games may have had a little to do with that.
Finally, we get to goals for per game (GFPG) and goals against per game (GAPG). All of the winning teams except for two (2013-14 Kings and the 2010-11 Bruins) had a GFPG over 3. Conversely, all of the winning teams had a GAPG of under 2.4 except the 2009-10 Blackhawks (3 GAPG) and the 2005-06 Hurricanes (3.36 GAPG). The Penguins are almost a full goal lower in GFPG than the average of 3.17 with a 2.18 so far this month, but they are beating the average GAPG only allowing 2.36 GAPG against the average of 2.45 GAPG.
(As a side note before I move on, I have absolutely no idea how the Hurricanes won in 2005-06. None of their statistics leading up to the playoffs would have suggested that result.)
Takeaways from the data
The numbers were a bit all over the place, but generally speaking, the Penguins really need to pick up their offense over the final ten games. Their defense is Stanley Cup worthy, so kudos to Fleury and the defensive staff. I would imagine once Hornqvist and Malkin are healthy that the offensive numbers may come closer to what these teams have done in the past. Additionally, their power play needs to raise their game a bit as well. These are not really things you didn’t know already, but it is funny to see on paper that there is not a winning formula, per say, for teams leading up to the playoffs. Teams that have been hot the final two months of the season have continued that success at times, and teams that have faltered toward the end of the season have found a way to turn it on from April to June. The main takeaway from what I researched is that you never know what can happen as long as you find a way to make it to the playoffs. If the 2010-11 Bruins, and much more so the 2005-06 Hurricanes, could win the cup, there is no doubt these Penguins could get hot for sixteen games to bring another cup to Pittsburgh.
Thanks for reading!