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The Numbers Game: Who The Stats Say Will Win The Stanley Cup

 

[originally post for www.betonhockey.com on May 29th, 2012]

However unlikely it may have seemed at the beginning of this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, the Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils will meet in a seven game series to determine which team has earned the right to have their names etched on hockey’s greatest chalice.

I see the series boiling down to six main factors: goaltending, overtime, shots, scoring, special teams, and experience. Here’s a statistical rundown of how both teams have done in those categories up until now.

GOALTENDING

Jonathan Quick has had to appear in four less games than Martin Brodeur (14 to Brodeur’s 18), and has only felt the sting of losing twice, whereas Brodeur and the Devils have dropped five. Quick has also only had to be on the ice for 857:48 minutes of play, while Brodeur has had 1,089:40 – that’s 3 hours, 51 minutes, and 52 seconds more work than Quick has had to do. Quick also has 2 shutouts to Brodeur’s 1.

Advantage: LA

OVERTIME

Quick remains perfect in overtime through two showings, while Brodeur has lost one of five appearances (game one of round two versus Philadelphia). Jarret Stoll and Dustin Penner of LA and Alexi Ponikarovsky, Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique (2) have been the overtime scorers.

Advantage: LA

SHOTS

Shots are scoring opportunities, and both teams will have to maximize and make the most of theirs if they are to beat either elite goaltender. Quick has faced 73 less shots than Brodeur (406/479), having to make less saves (384/442) and has let in 15 less goals (22/37), posting a better GAA (1.54%/2.04%) and save percentage (.946%/.923%) along the way. Zach Parise is second in the playoffs for shots (68) while Dustin Brown is LA’s leader (49). New Jersey’s Adam Larsson has 1 goal on 3 shots, for the highest shooting percentage of remaining players in the playoffs (33.3%), and Dwight King has LA’s best (25.0%), scoring 5 goals on 20 shots. LA has averaged slightly more shots on goal (32.9/30.4), but has given up slightly more shots against (29.0/27.6) on average.

Advantage: LA

SCORING

Hockey ultimately comes down to scoring more goals than the other team, and the Kings have a slightly higher goals scored average (2.93/2.83) than the Devils; scoring 41 goals in 14 games to New Jersey’s 51 goals in 18 games. LA has also have let in significantly less goals per game on average (1.57/2.33) and in total (22/42).

Ilya Kovalchuk now leads the playoffs in points (18), but Dustin Brown is not far behind (16) and Anze Kopitar rounds out the Top 5 (15). Kovalchuk and Brown are tied with New Jersey’s Zack Parise and Travis Zajac for third in goals (7). Kovalchuk leads the playoffs in assists (11), while Brown, Kopitar, and LA’s Justin Williams all tie for second (9). Brown and Kopitar lead the playoffs in +/- (+13). Brown and New Jersey’s David Clarkson are tied for the playoffs lead in GWG with 3 apiece.

Interestingly, Martin Brodeur has tallied 4 assists through these playoffs, which is good enough for 88th overall in points. That ties him with LA’s Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene, and teammates Petr Sykora, Peter Harrold. It’s also better than 345 other players that are allowed to move outside of a 15’x28’ area every game; including LA’s Slava Voynov, Willie Mitchell, Jordan Nolan, Brad Richardson, Rob Scuderi, Alec Martinez, Colin Fraser, Kyle Clifford, and Andrei Loktionov, and New Jersey teammates Mark Fayne, Adam Larsson, Andy Greene, Anton Volchenkov, Jacob Joesefson, and Tim Sestito.

Advantage: DRAW

SPECIAL TEAMS

Special teams wise, New Jersey annihilates LA in power play percentage (18.2%/8.1%), and in power play goals scored (12 goals on 66 chances/6 goals on 74 chances). Ilya Kovalchuk leads the playoffs with 5 PPG, and LA’s best, Mike Richards, only has 2.

The Devils are outmatched on the penalty kill (74.2%/91.2%) though, giving up 16 goals on 62 penalty kill attempts, while LA has only given up 5 goals on 57. Being a man down almost doesn’t seem like a deficit for the Kings, as they’ve even managed to score 5 short-handed goals (Brown -2, Kopitar -2, Greene -1) and not give up any, while New Jersey has only mustered 1 (Salvador) and allowed 2.

The Kings have taken 80 penalties and received 196 PIM (including 4 majors and 3 misconducts) for an average of 14 PIM/G, while New Jersey has taken 77 penalties and 175 PIM (1 major and 2 misconducts), averaging 9.7 PIM/G. If averages hold true, it seems LA will have even less opportunity to improve on their one overbearing weakness. Their penalty kill prowess will have to remain impeccable if they are to continue defusing power plays, especially against a team that can score with the man advantage as often as New Jersey has. Dustin Penner has taken the bulk of LA’s PIM (26), and David Clarkson has the Devils’ highest total (20). Discipline would be in the best interest of both parties.

Advantage: New Jersey

EXPERIENCE

When it comes to championship showdowns, Brodeur’s experience has resulted in 3 Stanley Cups and 2 Olympic gold medals — heads above all other individuals in this series. He also holds the NHL record for most shutouts in a Stanley Cup final (3 in 2003), amongst a slough of other NHL records and awards. Quick is only in his fifth NHL season to Brodeur’s more than 20; and Quick hasn’t won any awards or set any records to date, plus it’s only his third appearance in the playoffs. Quick is 26 years younger than the 40 year old Brodeur, though age hasn’t seemed to be a negative factor for the elder statesman… yet.

Teamwise, The Devils are 3-1 historically in the Stanley Cup Finals, while the Kings are 0-1. LA’s Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene have all appeared in a Stanley Cup final before… and lost. While winning the Stanley Cup is unquestionably every hockey player’s greatest motivation, players like those may be hungrier to not lose again, and to earn LA its first ever championship; whereas the satisfaction of winning is nothing new for the Devils, and may even be something that is taken for granted by them. Head to head this season, New Jersey won both meetings.

Advantage: New Jersey

CONCLUSION

By the six categories outlined, I have LA winning 3, New Jersey winning 2, and them drawing 1; thusly, by the numbers I have to give the Los Angeles Kings the nod for the Cup win. As early as June 6 and as late as June 13, we will see if the numbers game matters, or it doesn’t.

Predicted Stanley Cup Champions: LA Kings

Los_Angeles_Kings_BetOnHockey.gif

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