Every fan seeks out psychological edges when the playoffs begin because, really, no one knows what is going to happen. Upsets derail high-flying teams, other squads get hot at the darndest times and injuries can crush the souls of a city.
While special-teams sturdiness has always been a fair barometer of post-season success (if you’re top five on the power play and penalty kill, you’re in good shape), what other stats can we break down for the purposes of crystal ball material?
I present to you the giveaways/takeaways corollary. Seems pretty simple, really. If your best players give away the puck more times than they take it off the other team, it’s not a good sign. Sure, some giveaways may be meaningless neutral-zone turnovers that don’t harm the team, but with goals at a premium in the playoffs, do you really want to take that chance?
A cursory glance at last year’s Stanley Cup champs gives a little insight on the impact of turnovers. Whereas most NHL players give the puck away more than they steal it, some of the Detroit Red Wings’ best players reversed the trend en route to the title.
Pavel Datsyuk, not surprisingly, led the pack, taking away the puck 15 times more than he dropped it in 22 playoff games. Conn Smythe winner Henrik Zetterberg also excelled with a plus-8 ratio. Stalwart defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom was just minus-1, which for a blueliner is exceptional, while even secondary players such as Jiri Hudler (plus-4) and Brett Lebda (plus-1 on defense) proved to be valiantly responsible.
On the flip side, check out some of the big guns on teams that didn’t quite live up to expectations last season: San Jose’s Brian Campbell had a minus-15 ratio in just 13 games, while teammate Patrick Marleau was minus-14. Big Joe Thornton was the exception as a plus-1, which is interesting, because he was a minus-48 over the course of the 2007-08 regular season.
Washington, technically a favorite in its first-round series against Philadelphia, nevertheless succumbed to the sixth-seeded Flyers in seven games and turnover ratio certainly didn’t do the Caps any favors. In a series that essentially came down to one Game 7 goal, Washington defenseman Tom Poti gave away the puck 14 times versus two takeaways, while rookie center Nicklas Backstrom had a minus-5 ratio. Big blueliner John Erskine had nine giveaways and no takeaways.
Montreal, which surprisingly fell to the Flyers in the second round, can look back at its defense corps as part of the problem: Roman Hamrlik (minus-9 ratio in 12 games), Mark Streit (minus-6) and Josh Gorges (minus-12, no takeaways) were among the leading offenders.
So what can we glean from this year’s turnover statistics? It may be another early exit for the Capitals. Alex Ovechkin leads the NHL in giveaways with 107 (versus 60 takeaways), while Mike Green is fourth with 94. True, you get a lot of offense between those two players, but you can also get a lot of offense from Datsyuk (a staggering plus-40 with 88 takeaways) and Lidstrom (just 46 giveaways). If the Habs make the playoffs, their defensemen once again are in for a world of hurt – and not just because Andrei Markov and Mathieu Schneider are on the IR.
Will these statistics bear out? We’ll know in a couple weeks.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his features, The Hot List and Prep Watch appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.