Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Playoff Preview: Special Teams Edition

I knew this weekend that I was going to write a series of two playoff preview posts. What I didn't know until yesterday was that Winging it in Motown and Predators blog On the Forecheck had a similar idea. I wanted to break down the powerplay of both teams, as this was the one area I identified in my last post as a potential problem for Detroit (at least, compared to the 07/08 Wings).

First, check out the great article from On the Forecheck to see why Nashville's special teams is important in this series, and why their even strength play isn't on par with Detroit. Then head over to Winging it in Motown and read JJ's article about penalties taken and drawn in relation to our lines.

After reading the article at On the Forecheck my opinion has changed. No longer do I think that the powerplay will be the one factor we can point to when the series is over and say "That was the difference." Instead, it looks like it will be one of two key areas in the series. If the Wings powerplay falters, they will have to hope that their even strength play against a Nashville team that looks relatively weaker at 5 on 5 will pick up the slack. If the powerplay succeeds, then there's a good chance Detroit makes it to the second round.

Do the numbers agree? I headed over to behindthenet.ca and took a look at the numbers to see how the Detroit and Nashville special teams units compare.

           Det         Nsh
5v4 TOI Tot 466.4 390.2
5v4 GF 45 50
5v4 GA 11 4
5v4 GF/60 5.8 7.7
5v4 SF/60 50.3 45.7
5v4 Sh% 885 832
5v4 GA/60 1.4 0.6
5v4 SA/60 8.1 7.2
5v4 Sv% 825 915
5v4 +-per60 4.4 7.1

Nashville's success on the powerplay this season (they're ranked 1st in the league according to nhl.com) doesn't appear to be a fluke. They've scored more goals and allowed fewer shorthanded goals than Detroit in fewer powerplay minutes.

Detroit would outshoot Nashville if a full 60 minute game was played with the man advantage (50.3 vs 45.7, respectively), but the opponent save percentage explains why the Wings wouldn't score more. Detroit's opponents are saving 88.5% of their shots, while Nashville's opponents are only saving 83.2%. The Wings are likely taking worse shots than Nashville. My observations lead me to believe that it's because Detroit has tended to take a lot of shots from the outside, and puck movement hasn't created enough odd man opportunities on the powerplay. On the other side, Nashville has Shea Weber and his murderific point shot. If I was a goaltender I'd step out of the way of that as well, save percentage be damned.

           Det          Nsh
4v5 TOI Tot 427 373.1
4v5 GF 2 5
4v5 GA 47 38
4v5 GF/60 0.3 0.8
4v5 SF/60 8 6.6
4v5 Sh% 965 878
4v5 GA/60 6.6 6.1
4v5 SA/60 46.8 52.8
4v5 Sv% 859 884
4v5 +-per60 -6.3 -5.3

Detroit's penalty kill, though middling statistically, has been the lone strength for Detroit down the stretch. They've killed off something like 25 straight penalties and have been significantly benefited by Jonathan Ericsson's return to the lineup. That last part of the statement may make your brain contort, but it's true.

There's no denying that Detroit's shorthanded offense has been nonexistent, so there's no need to break down that portion of the 4v5 stats. It impacts the 4v5 +/- per 60, and that's about it.

What's worth looking at is GA/60 and SA/60. Detroit is allowing 0.5 more goals than Nashville per 60 minutes played on the penalty kill. Detroit is limiting opponent's shots better than Nashville, allowing 46.8 per 60 as opposed to 52.8 per 60. Overall, Nashville has allowed 40 goals over 244 times shorthanded, while Detroit has allowed 50 goals over 274 times shorthanded. What has been a strength for Detroit of late is still statistically bested by Nashville.

If Detroit is going to win this series, they're going to have to play better 5 on 5 hockey than Nashville. The Predators will have the advantage on special teams if things play out as they did over the regular season, making it important for the Wings to stay out of the box and hope to draw as many penalties as they can. For more on this, go check out JJ's aforementioned article.

The Wings are going to have to get second chance opportunities to beat Pekka Rinne and advance to the second round. They discussed this today with the Free Press' Helen St. James, and the article is worth reading for Datsyuk's quote alone. My initial impression from seeing the Wings play Nashville at the Joe on March 30th was that they didn't get set themselves up for any rebound opportunities, instead opting to take low percentage outside shots. Detroit could never get traffic in front of the net and lost the game 4-1. I fully expect the series to play out the same way if Detroit can't get second or third chances on Rinne, whether it be at even strength or on the powerplay.

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