While we watch the clock and wish it could move faster so that the puck drop gets here quicker for the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, we thought we’d give you another piece of analysis to help determine who might win when the Dallas Stars face off against the Nashville Predators.
Let’s look at both sides of special teams - the power play and the penalty kill, and admire the very pretty charts that shows how each team has looked this season.
Here’s a look at the Predators’ special teams over time this season:
Not only is Nashville’s power play the worst among playoff teams, it’s the worst in the league this season at an abysmal 12.9% conversion rate. As shown in the chart above, it’s been relatively consistently bad, though it has been converting at a respectable rate over the last month or so of the season - the highest it had been, actually.
Even with that uptick at the end of the season, the power play is only middling. When you look at the underlying shooting percentages, I think I can see why it’s not great: they don’t get to the high danger chances on the man advantage. Nashville had a 15.25% high-danger shooting percentage prior to the All-Star break. After that time, it’s been an absurdly low 4%. Basically, Nashville has gotten production on the power play down the stretch because they’re a team that has drawn the most penalties in the league. It’s a quantity thing because their quality most assuredly isn’t there.
At the trade deadline, the Predators acquired Wayne Simmonds from the Philadelphia Flyers. Simmonds has had a I’d say that acquisition hasn’t panned out, much like we predicted when we looked at him as a potential target for the Stars and came to the conclusion that his time as a power play specialist might be over.
This is the side of special teams that Nashville has actually been very good at. Their penalty kill rate of 82.1% is the 6th best in the league. A lot of that is due to the team in front of Pekka Rinne. They’re allowing a lot of shots to get through but limiting them to some of the less dangerous variety.
Which is probably good, because Rinne is not doing them much favors on the high danger chances. His high danger save percentage of 77.53% ranks just 22nd in the league though his overall save percentage when the team is down a man is 86.65%, ranking 15th in the league.
Here’s a look at the Stars’ special teams over time this season:
Man did November suck on special teams for the Stars. (Gee, could that have been because John Klingberg got injured at that time? Seems too coincidental to not see some kind of causation there.) However, they’ve been relatively consistent outside of that span. Much like the Predators, the Stars roll into the playoffs on their best special teams conversions of the season.
Overall, the power play ranked 11th in league at 21%. For all the frustrations Dallas fans have had at how stationary the power play can be at times, the Stars are doing a lot of good things on the man advantage. Prior to the All-Star break, Dallas sported a 27.21% high danger shooting percentage. It’s only dropped off a touch after that time, down to 26.74%. In other words, Dallas has been much better at converting shots from the high danger areas on the ice compared to Nashville — and by a significant margin.
Here’s also where the Stars’ x-factor of Mats Zuccarello in the lineup could come into play. Small sample size disclaimer as usual, but in the two regular season games the Stars had Zuccarello in the power play they converted at a 37.5% rate. However, those were against two non-playoff teams, so it’s not likely to continue at that rate. What Zuccarello does do on the man advantage is give the Stars more puck movement. His short, crisp passes gives Dallas the chance to change the direction of the attack. Because of that, the Stars keep the puck in the offensive zone for much longer and that leads to tired penalty killers on the other side. If he can continue that style of play, both power play units of Dallas should be legitimate threats.
However, Dallas will need to actually get on the man advantage to make this an area where they can outmatch Nashville — they’re one of the worst teams at drawing penalties this season.
On the surface level, there doesn’t appear to be a real edge to be gained by either team in this series on the penalty kill. The Stars rock the 5th best save percentage in the league, killing at an 82.8% rate.
Here is where Ben Bishop comes in. His high danger save percentage of 85.71% is the best in the league this season and his overall save percentage when the team is down a man is 88.39%, good for 3rd best in the league. When you combine the abysmal shooting percentage in high danger areas Nashville has had on the power play with a goaltender that is stopping most of those opportunities anyway, the Stars seem to have a decided advantage in the special teams category.
Statistical Models Like Dallas
So there are a lot of statistical models that like Dallas’ chances over Nashville in this series. Here is one that actually shows them as the team with the highest likelihood to win the Stanley Cup:
Day 0— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) April 10, 2019
Stanley Cup chances for 2018-2019. Percentages for each team indicate their chance of winning each round, chances under 5% not labelled. Lower seeds are shown closer to their division name. pic.twitter.com/mRbR9XqRX3
If you trust that sort of thing...