This is the first in a series of two posts; the first will look at the Wings and the second the Predators. For the Detroit portion of the playoff preview, I expanded on a post from the All Star break in which I compared this year's team to the 07-08 Stanley Cup Champions. With a full regular season's worth of data, it's worth taking a second look at what's working and what's going to make us head to Twitter and write angry things in all caps.
We'll start with even strength data. This seems to be the bright spot for this year's team, the thing that you can point to when asked how a team that was so streaky on special teams can still rack up over 100 points. Both this year's team and the 07/08 team finished with +/- per 60 minutes of +0.80, which means they scored 0.8 more goals than they allowed per 60 even strength minutes played.
A note on reading the graphs: the 07/08 team is on the left, the 11/12 team on the right. Read straight up and down the graphs to get the data points corresponding to the teams. For example, the 07/08 team scored 160 goals and allowed 110. The 11/12 team scored 184 goals and allowed 131. The graphs help show whether there's been an increase or decrease in an area between the two teams. In this instance, the current Wings both scored more and allowed more goals at even strength.
If you look at shots for and against as a metric for puck possession, this year's team isn't playing the way the 07/08 team did. That team had 32.8 shots for per 60 minutes and allowed 23.2, while this year's team averaged 31.8 shots for and allowed 26.2 per 60 even strength minutes.
The power play will be the key to this season's playoff run. The most critical difference between the 07/08 team and this year's team is the number of powerplay goals scored. The Cup champs scored 64 powerplay goals, while this year's team scored only 45 times with the man advantage. This graph provides the most visibly striking decline, and that's a terrible thing on a graph where you'd want to see a straight or upward sloping line.
Context is given to the chart above by looking at powerplay shots for per 60 minutes. If a full game with the man advantage was played, the 07/08 Wings would average 61.9 shots while the 11/12 Wings would average only 50.3 shots. There's been a significant drop off in the production of the powerplay, a drop that is inexcusable considering four of the five from the top unit in 07/08 are still on the top unit for 11/12.
The penalty kill has been the saving grace of the 11/12 Red Wings, and that's not a bad thing to have going well. They've allowed 3 less goals than the 07/08 team (47 vs 50, respectively) despite allowing more shots on average. If a full 60 minute game was played on the penalty kill, the Wings would expect to face an average of 46.8 shots this year and 39.9 shots in 07/08. Less goals on more shots is especially impressive in its reflection on Jimmy Howard and his strong performance this season.
I know what this team has looked like and recently, and I also know what they should be capable of. They have an excellent balance of veteran know-how and youthful energy. They have a captain who may be lacing up the skates for his last postseason as a Winged Wheeler. They have a spark plug of a third liner who's about to return from injury, and a goaltender who's starting to look like he's regained form after his. They have a true difference maker who only seems to engage when something's on the line, and has shown every indication over the past three games that he's reached the point of engagement. The pieces are here, and the time is now. There's no guarantee that Mike Babcock will be able to write in the name of the second best defesenman of all time on his lineup card next season. Does there need to be more of a reason to get motivated than that? This is the best team in the league at even strength, and a team with a strong penalty kill. Improve the powerplay and get past Nashville in the first round and I like our chances of hanging another banner from the rafters of Joe Louis Arena. Remember, 12 is better than 11.
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