by PuckStopsHere on 02/22/09 at 05:06 AM ET
I often look at the list of top power play teams and wonder what makes the leading team so great. I think the problem is often low sample size. The average team might get about 370 power play opportunities in a season. That works out to a little over twelve games on the power play. Twelve games are often not enough to prove anything. It is relatively easy to find a twelve game patch of the season where almost any team plays very well and a twelve game patch where almost any team stumbles. Most likely, the good teams will have good patches and the bad teams will have bad patches, but there should be a lot of volatility in team’s results due to small sample size alone.
Last year, the Montreal Canadiens were the best team on the power play. They had a 24.8% success rate. They had a history of success on the power play. Their success with driven for a large part by Alexei Kovalev, who was the top scorer on the power play last season. Kovalev had an unreal, unsustainable season on the power play. At age 35, he was bound to drop and he did. Montreal has fallen to a mid-range level on the power play (17th) and with that have dropped in the standings.
I often think (naively?) that the best team on the power play should be the team that can offer the most offensively star studded first unit power play. This season, I would imagine that might be the Detroit Red Wings. Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Marian Hossa, Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski are probably the most star studded power play unit one could put together right now. So it follows that probably Detroit should have the best power play. This year they do. They have a 27.8% success rate on the power play. That is well ahead of anyone last year. Given the lack of sample size, it is hard to say for certain that the Detroit power play is really that much better than anything that existed last year.
Power play numbers can be important to a team. A team with a good power play is usually a good team and a bad power play is usually a bad team, but we look too deeply into the power play percentages. If a team gets one extra power play goal a month that would add about six power play goals a season. With slightly over three hundred power play opportunities a year that is almost a 2% change in power play efficiency. That could move a mid range power play team about 10 points in the power play efficiency standings. A minor change that is essentially on the statistical noise level is seen as a big deal by many teams. That is an over-reading into the statistics.
Power play numbers are often very statistically uncertain because there is a limited amount of time spent on the power play. If a team spends only about 12 games on the power play in a season, it is very possible to get flukes. Generally, a good power play team should have a very good group of offensive players. This year’s Detroit Red Wings fit that mold a lot better than last year’s Montreal Canadiens. Assuming rosters do not change significantly (Hossa is a UFA this summer); it is more likely that Detroit maintains their power play success longer than Montreal did. They have more talent to back it up.
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