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Possession Does Matter: Score-Adjusted Fenwick and the Playoffs

December 15, 2014, 10:23 AM ET [10 Comments]
Tim Chiasson
San Jose Sharks Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
In the last five seasons – excluding this year for obvious playoff reasons – 81.3% of teams that finished in the top-16 for Score-Adjusted Fenwick made the playoffs (Sharks are currently 10th), so as long as you hang around there is a good chance you’ll see extended time in April. There are your 18.7% worth of oddities, though, which translates to an average of three teams per playoffs.

Last year four teams (NJ/WPG/VAN/OTT) that finished top-16 5v5 SAF missed the playoffs – the highest total in the five year spread – and they all struggled in Sh% and Sv%, so while their possession was up they lacked a finish and couldn't keep the puck out of their own net despite controlling the play with shot attempts – a game plan that works for 13/16 playoff teams on average.

History, over the last five years, says we shouldn't be too concerned with teams that finish outside the top-16 SAF and make the postseason.

Of the four teams last year three of them bowed out as soon as they played a team that finished in the top-16 SAF. Montreal was the lone oddity, making it all the way to the Eastern Conference Final. How did they get there? On the back of Carey Price who finished the playoffs 3rd in Sv%. They rode their goaltender until he broke, literally.

If you include all five years there were only 15 teams (out of 80 total playoff teams) that managed to get themselves to the dance without being in the top-16 SAF. Of those 15 teams only 6 of them actually won a playoff round. Further, two of those six won their playoff round against another team that finished outside the top-16 SAF for that season and then bowed out against a playoff SAF team in the very next series.

Who were the four teams that won against a top-16 SAF team? Washington (Holtby – 94.0 Sv%), Nashville (Rinne – 94.4 Sv%), Montreal (Price – 92.6 Sv% through 2Rds – 3rd in Playoffs), Montreal (Halak – 92.5 Sv% 1st In Playoffs).

Montreal in 09-10, with Halak, did the same thing they did last year with Price, they rode him throughout the postseason to the East Finals. It may have taken analytics an extended period of time to catch up with them, but they did in both cases. In Washington and Nashville’s case they lost the very next round.

All four teams that won a playoff series against a ‘playoff SAF team’ rode extremely hot goaltenders, and when they cooled (or became broken) the team was doomed.

How you play throughout the year will adjust the probability that you make the playoffs but, generally, if you’re in the top-16 SAF you will make the playoffs. That’s where the Sharks stand right now and there’s no reason to believe they won’t be in that 16-team group at the end of the year. The Sharks talent level should be good enough to keep PDO even and avoid being one of those three unlucky teams, so rest easy Sharks fans.

One last fun fact for the five year spread: The team that finished 1st in SAF at the end of the year won the Stanley Cup in three of the five years.

If the Sharks continue to play the way they’re playing – and don’t go into an 18 game skid again – the odds are that they will make the playoffs. We’re already starting to see things begin to even out in the West. Calgary is on their way down - which was inevitable – and Vancouver has stumbled a bit on the ladder lately as well. There’s a five year sample size with proven percentages. Puckon.net has all the information you need to back up my heathen claims of the devil’s statistics.

The stretch of death started against Nashville – with favorable results - and will continue to be a real test for the Sharks as they look to maintain a playoff position and climb up the Pacific Division. As long as they stick to their game plan and don’t jumble lines mid-game they should continue to play good possession hockey and get desired results more often than not.

They were well on their way to being one of those averaged three teams to miss the playoffs but now that the ship has been righted they have reclaimed their position in the standings and can focus on playing their style of hockey and prove to the league they are still a top Western team.

Thanks for reading.

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