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Playoff trends: Who's hot, who's not as the NHL post-season begins

Advanced stats, and late season success, have been predictive of playoff success over the last eight seasons. These eight teams have the best chance of going on a Cup run based on their current play.
The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Over the past few years, advanced stats have exploded onto the scene and a big reason for that has been how good they’ve been in the playoffs.

In 2011-12 the juggernaut Canucks – fresh off a Stanley Cup final berth – were going up against an eighth seeded Kings team that was technically under .500. It was a true mismatch – the Kings needed only five games to dispose of the Canucks.

It was a huge surprise for some, but not so much for the number crunchers who noticed how much the Kings had controlled play since acquiring Jeff Carter. Their possession rating was hovering around 59 percent, a ludicrous number usually reserved only for the Red Wings of the time.

The Kings were essentially a sleeping giant and their Cup win doesn’t seem so surprising now. It also brought light to an interesting trend. What some analysts have found with regards to the playoffs is that coming in hot matters. How teams play down the stretch is pretty indicative of how they’ll do come playoff time.

Since 2007-08, the best score-adjusted Corsi playoff team over the last 25 games has won the Cup four of eight times, two more were top three, while the remaining two were seventh:

  • 2014-15: Chicago, 3rd
  • 2013-14: Los Angeles, 1st
  • 2012-13: Chicago, 1st
  • 2011-12: Los Angeles, 1st
  • 2010-11: Boston, 7th
  • 2009-10: Chicago, 1st
  • 2008-09: Pittsburgh, 7th
  • 2007-08: Detroit, 2nd

It’s not the be all end all, but it is telling that past Cup champions have typically excelled at possessing the puck, especially over the last two months of the season.

With that in mind, we took a look at some key stats for each playoff team over the last couple months to see which teams look poised to make a deep run this post-season, and which ones might falter.

Here’s a division-by-division breakdown at each team’s score-and-venue adjusted 5-on-5 Corsi and goal percentage, as well as their powerplay and penalty kill percentage over the last two months. Also of note is how much better (or worse) each team has been compared to how they start the season.

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Coming in hot: Tampa Bay, Florida

Tampa Bay is the closest thing to a contender in the Atlantic, but without Steven Stamkos, Anton Stralman and maybe even Tyler Johnson they’ll be vulnerable. The team was firing on all cylinders before the injury bug hit and looked like the clear cut favourites to make it out of the division, but the situation is much murkier now. They face the Red Wings who have been very unlucky of late and should bounce back to a level closer to their shot rates which have actually been pretty good. They may have needed all 82 games to make the playoffs, but they won’t be an easy out. The other matchup features the surprise division champ Panthers who have been red hot of late against a relatively weak and banged up Islanders team. The Panthers might actually be the biggest threat to come out of the division as they’ve scored as well as the Lightning while controlling the puck at a similar rate. At the start of the year the Panthers were looking like this years version of the Flames, Avalanche, or Maple Leafs, but they’ve turned a corner and are beginning to look like a real threat. They’ve been a team on the rise since the trade deadline when they acquired Jiri Hudler, Teddy Purcell and Jakub Kindl and their recent play is a testament to that. With Florida and Tampa Bay as favourites, it could mean the first ever playoff Battle of Florida in round two. The future is bright for both teams, so it wouldn’t be the last one either.

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Coming in hot: Pittsburgh, Philadelphia

The Metro appears to be a one team show, but not the team that you might think. Yes, the Capitals won the President’s Trophy with a staggering 120 points, but there’s no team in hockey that has been as dominant as the Penguins have been down the stretch. That they did it mostly without Evgeni Malkin is a testament to their depth and ability. Where Malkin was mostly missed was on the powerplay where the Penguins only converted on 15.7 percent of their chances. At 5-on-5 though, they outscored their opponents by 26 goals which is nine more than the next best team over the time frame. Some of that is great luck, but their possession has been Kings-esque meaning a lot of that goal difference was deserved, especially considering the talent level they have. Since Mike Sullivan took over, the Penguins have been very dangerous and they should be able to take on a lacklustre Rangers squad without too much stress. Washington on the other hand have wilted a bit since a hot start. Maybe they’ve let up off the gas thanks to a commanding lead over the rest of the league, but their numbers haven’t been impressive. They actually have the third lowest goals percentage of any Eastern playoff team over the last two months. That could spell trouble against a Flyers team that has been playing very well while fighting for a playoff spot. No team has improved as much as the Flyers have at every facet of the game over the last two months and they pose a very real threat to the President’s Trophy winners. The Capitals should still win, but even if they do, they’re probably not beating Pittsburgh considering how both teams have played.

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Coming in hot: St. Louis

Another year, another dominant Blues team, and all we have are questions about whether this will be another season of first round heartache. But is that really a fair characterization? Last year they lost to the Wild, one of the hottest teams in the league going into the playoffs. The year before they faced a Blackhawks team that took the eventual Cup champs into Game 7 overtime in round three. The year before that it was the Kings, who also went to round three before losing to the eventual Cup champs. And the year before that they lost in round two to the eventual Cup champion Kings. That’s four years in a row where they lost to very good and arguably better teams. The Blues were simply a notch below each time. This year is different though as they look like the top dog (in the Central at least). The numbers aren’t flattering to their first round opponent, Chicago, who are playing much below their usual standards. Maybe Chicago can flip a switch in the playoffs, but the Blues seem like the better bet this time around. If they win, they face a Dallas team whose drop in possession will make it difficult to mask their suspect goaltending or a Minnesota team whose possession play lately suggests they’re not a legitimate threat to go far. St. Louis is playing great hockey, the best in the Central, and this might be the year they prove their doubters wrong.

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Coming in hot: Los Angeles, San Jose, Anaheim

Last, but certainly not least, is the NHL’s version of the Group of Death. The Pacific is the only division where all four teams are above break-even in both Corsi and Goals at 5-on-5 over the last two months. The hottest team of the bunch is the Kings, but really their play hasn’t changed too much from the start of the season, they just finally had the scoring to match their insane shot rates. Their powerplay hit the skids, but that should bounce back during the playoffs. Anaheim on the other hand converted on nearly one-third of their powerplay opportunities down the stretch, and that’s simply not something that’ll last much longer. They’re still a great team at 5-on-5 and they’ll need to be if that powerplay dries up. San Jose is perhaps the most intriguing team here as they look solid across the board yet come in as underdogs in the division. Without the pressure of being everyone’s favourite, perhaps this is the year they make some noise. Then there’s Nashville, who isn’t controlling play as much as before, but still scoring a decent amount with a hot penalty kill. They’re a good team, but in this division they’re likely the weakest link, especially if Rinne plays the way he has all season. With the three California teams looking like legit contenders and Nashville being better than your typical wildcard, the first two rounds here will be a dog fight and the winner will have a good shot of representing the West in the Stanley Cup Final.

All data via and


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