Former Flyers Head Coach John Stevens had a goal for his special teams: add the PK% and PP% and it should be above 103%. Pretty simple, easy to measure, and takes into account both the players who are supposed to put the puck in the net, as well as those who are supposed to keep it out of their own. Sure it has flaws, but it’s easier to talk about a stat like this during practice than someone’s COMPCORSI. Do your job better with your teammates, play better on the units you’re on, and these numbers will look better. I like simple stuff.
Obviously, there are going to be outliers. The Sharks, Wild, and Ducks have been fantastic on special teams (all in the Top 10 by Stevens’ measure), but they’re in the middle of the pack in the standings. On the other hand, teams like Dallas and Philadelphia have been thriving this year despite their substandard special teams.
But you know what? Good teams are usually good on special teams and bad teams are usually bad on special teams. How’s that for hard hitting analysis? Yeah, you’re welcome.
All mocking aside, take a look at some of the best teams in John Stevens’ measure of success. If you add Power Play percentage and Penalty Kill percentages together, 5 of the top 6 teams on special teams are in the top 6 in the NHL standings (Note: we’re talking about points earned per game to make it fair). Vancouver, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Washington, and Detroit lead the league in special teams play—and predictably lead the league in the standings as well.
Just imagine how good the Stars and Flyers would be if they could figure out how to play when it wasn’t 5 on 5? The Flyers are one of the elite teams in the league this season, yet they’re 19th on the PP and 16th on the PK. The Stars are one of the surprise teams in the tough Western Conference, but their PP has only been average and their PK was absolutely awful to begin the year. If they were as good on special teams as they are at regular strength it would be impossible for the national media to ignore them.
Then there are the Sharks, Wild, and Ducks. All three of these teams know they need to thrive on special teams to be successful. Each of them does, but unfortunately for their coaching staffs, the successful power plays and penalty kills aren’t translating to points in the standings with the same efficiency. Even though all are in the Top 10 of John Stevens’ special teams measure, each of them is struggling in the standings. As it stands today, the Sharks (21st), Wild (18th), and Ducks (20th) are all in the bottom half of the league. I guess it could be worse though. Just think if the Sharks, Wild, and Ducks were forced to play 5 on 5 all season? At least their special teams are carrying them to mediocrity.
On the flip side, teams that are struggling in the standings can usually look directly at their special teams as a contributing factor. It’s no secret that Florida, Calgary, and Edmonton have all had rough seasons thus far. Predictably, they are the three worst teams when you combine the special teams numbers. Florida’s 8th on the PK, which seems halfway decent until you realize they’re only converting on 8.8% of their power plays. You could put the Sedin twins out there with Derek Boogaard, Jody Shelley, and Paul Bissonnette and they’d be able to click at an 8.8% clip.
One theory for this is that ever since the lockout (and the new obstruction interpretation), it’s become even more important than ever to be good with the man-advantage and when a man down. Penalties have declined in every year since the lockout as the players figure out what the hell obstruction is (even though it seems to change on any given night), but it doesn’t change the fact that the game isn’t played 5 on 5 as much as it was before the lockout.
For a team to fulfill John Stevens’ 103% expectation, it would be 9th in the league in combined PP/PK. The average is actually right about 100% when you combine the average NHL power play (18.1%) and average NHL penalty kill (81.7%). When you break it down, it’s pretty simple what Stevens wants: a Top 10 Penalty Kill and a Top 10 Power Play. Sounds like a good goal for a team to have—and judging by the relationship between special teams and wins, it sounds like a smart goal, as well.
(All stats as of January 10, 2010)