The Numbers Game
Penguins – Rangers is the classic series where you have the analytic crowd pegging the Penguins as heavy favorites as in that the Penguins should sweep the Rangers, while you have the more traditional crowd seeing the series as being closer to a 50-50 series, though, the Penguins still a slight favorite.
You have a club in Pittsburgh that plays with the puck a lot and one in the Rangers that is the worst possession team among all clubs in the playoffs despite being a 100 point team and being a team that has the talent where the possession numbers should be much better.
One of the biggest problems with the Rangers some scouts and opposing coaches see that might be a reason for their poor possession numbers is they haven’t adjusted to their personnel like they should. They are still trying to play the same style from 2013-2014 when they had the likes of Carl Hagelin, Benoit Pouliot and Anton Stralman.
How big of a favorite does the analytic crowd see the Penguins as?
One individual’s probability chart even has the Penguins as a 75/25 favorite. The same chart also has the Flyers beating the Capitals FWIW.
Post-season probabilities after the regular season, with matchups and home-ice advantage now set. pic.twitter.com/nJl6AP00YH
— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) April 11, 2016
Another data driven chart also has the Penguins around a 75/25 favorite but where these projections lose me a little is the Flyers being a 60/40 favorite over the Capitals. Understand what that data may say but come on.
Initial playoff predictions. PIT, PHI favourites in East, L.A, STL tops in West. Pens over Kings for the Cup. pic.twitter.com/HlR4Udahb6
— Matt Cane (@Cane_Matt) April 12, 2016
Nonetheless, Pittsburgh are the darlings of the analytic folks.
The Penguins being a stronger possession team than the Rangers is nothing new.
Last season, Pittsburgh was sixth in the NHL in CF% at 52.8, the Rangers were 20th at 49.5 and the President Trophy winners.
This season Pittsburgh is the second best team in the NHL at driving possession, 52.7 CF%. The Rangers are 26th in the NHL at 47.4%, the worst mark among all 16 playoff teams.
Since March 1, the Penguins have been a scoring machine and possession monster, controlling 55% percent of even-strength shot attempts in their games, while the Rangers have been a dismal 46 percent.
During that span Pittsburgh went 16-5 over their final 21 games, averaging 3.8 goals per game.
The Rangers by comparison faded down the stretch going 9-7-3 over their final 20 games. New York’s uneven finish handed Pittsburgh home-ice. What shouldn’t go unnoticed with the Rangers, they finished the season seventh in the NHL in goals per game at 2.84 and they’re a team with a talented top-9 that doesn’t need to be a great possession team to put the puck in the net.
The Penguins were a good possession team statistically last season under Mike Johnston but they were a classic case where the numbers didn’t meet the eye test as they were primarily a team that created shots outside the dots
You’re not going to beat Henrik Lundqvist consistently from the outside as evidenced by the Penguins scoring seven goals against him last post-season.
Creating high danger scoring chances inside the dots has been a dramatic improvement for the Penguins under Mike Sullivan compared to Mike Johnston and it could bode extremely well for beating the Rangers and putting together a deep run.
Creating on-ice high danger scoring chances, Pittsburgh is third in the NHL at 54.9%. The Rangers are 28th in the NHL at 48.3%.
That’s a 4.2 percent improvement for the Penguins compared to last season and over a 3% drop for the Rangers.
More importantly, Since January 1 the Penguins have been the second best team in the NHL in creating high danger scoring chances at 57.1%. Under Mike Johnston this season Pittsburgh was below 50%.
Those who buy into the analytics 100% and base their projections and probabilities, ect off them, it’s understandable why the Penguins are looked at as such heavy favorites from that side of the spectrum.
You don’t even have to just go off the advance stats. When you factor in the Rangers 26th ranked penalty kill, the numbers sure project a daunting series for the Rangers.
However, the Rangers are likely being overlooked to an extent coming into this series.
There’s always such a strong focus on possession numbers, but the even strength goal production is something that can’t be overlooked.
New York was fourth in the NHL in even strength goal production and tied for first in the NHL in 5 v 5 goals with 162 goals.
5 v 5 the Rangers also led the NHL with a 102.39 PDO 5 v 5 (shooting percentage+save percentage) for the second consecutive year.
The Rangers last season while under 50% in driving possession, still led the NHL in 5 v 5 goals (179) and even strength ratio.
This is a very formidable group offensively, especially in the top-9. Not a Montreal Canadiens type team from past years that has a bunch of third and fourth line grinders, bleeds shot attempts and is saved by the best goaltender in hockey.
Chris Kreider – Derek Stepan – Rick Nash
JT Miller – Derek Brassard – Mats Zuccarello
Kevin Hayes – Eric Staal – Jesper Fast
If the Rangers prove the analytic crowd wrong, it will likely be because of two reasons: Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access"