Does Having A Good Penalty Kill Increase Cup Chances?

A few months ago, we asked if it was possible to win the Cup with a below-average power play and found that, while it certainly doesn't hurt to have a good power play, it's not essential to bring home Lord Stanley's drinking gourd. Today we're going to explore the opposite question: will an excellent penalty kill significantly increase our chances of winning it all?

A few rules for this game before we delve into a very lengthy post. We're examining the PK's of the top 4 seeds from each conference for every year since the lockout. Why only the top 4 seeds? Because no 5-8 seed has won the Cup since the lockout. Each year, teams will be organized by their regular season PK ranking, and each chart also chows how that team did on the PK come playoff time for comparison's sake. All 2009-10 stats are current as of 4/2/10, and stats are courtesy of NHL.com. Ready? Hit the jump and here we go!

2005-06
Team NHL Rank PK % Playoff PK % % Change Made It To:
 Buffalo Sabres 2 86.6 82.6 -4 Conf. Finals
 Detroit Red Wings 3 85.5 78.4 -7.1 1st Round
 Ottawa Senators 4 84.7 87.3 2.8 Conf. Semis
 Nashville Predators 5 84.6 75.7 -8.9 1st Round
 Calgary Flames 7 84.2 86.4 2.2 1st Round
 Dallas Stars 11 83.7 82.1 -1.6 1st Round
 New Jersey Devils 16 81.9 75.6 -6.3 Conf. Semis
 Carolina Hurricanes 19 81.8 85.4 3.6 Championship
Final 4 Reg. Season Rank Reg. Season Average % Playoff Rank Playoff Average %
 Carolina (19), Buffalo (2), Edmonton (8), Anaheim (13) 84  Carolina (6), Buffalo (8), Edmonton (4), Anaheim (1) 85.65

 

2005-06 Analysis: The Cup champions (name left unsaid) had the worst PK of the top 8 teams, but they did step it up in the playoffs, increasing their PK % by 3.6%. Other than that, I think there's not too much we can glean from this, since some teams that got better in the playoffs got knocked out quickly (Calgary) and some teams that got much worse advanced (Buffalo, New Jersey). One trend that begins in this year is that the final four teams left in the playoffs had a general improvement, though small, in their playoff PK. The importance of keeping a strong PK strong or improving your PK come playoff time cannot be understated if you're looking to make a deep playoff run.

The team that played they-who-shall-not-be-named in the Finals, the 8th seeded Edmonton Oilers, went from an 84.1% PK in the regular season to 86.1% in the playoffs, meaning both of the Cup Finals teams improved by a few points in the postseason.

 

2006-07
Team NHL Rank PK % Playoff PK % % Change Made It To:
 Vancouver Canucks 1 86.9 89.5 2.6 Conf. Semis
 Nashville Predators 3 85.8 93.3 7.5 1st Round
 New Jersey Devils 4 85.2 82.6 -2.6 Conf. Semis
 Anaheim Ducks 5 85.1 86.8 1.7 Championship
 Detroit Red Wings 6 84.6 86.8 2.2 Conf. Finals
 Ottawa Senators 10 84.5 87.9 3.4 Cup Finals
 Buffalo Sabres 20 81.4 81.3 -0.1 Conf. Finals
 Atlanta Thrashers 26 79.8 79.2 -0.6 1st Round
Final 4 Reg. Season Rank Reg. Season Average Playoff Rank Playoff Average
 Sabres (20), Senators (10), Wings (6), Ducks (5) 83.9  Sabres (12), Senators (5), Wings (7), Ducks (8) 85.7

 

2006-07 Analysis: Again, the Cup champion (Ducks) improved in the playoffs, but this time they went into the tournament as a top-5 PK team. The top 8 playoff seeds held 6 of the top 10 PK spots this year, and we're starting to see more of a correlation between PK improvement (or staying basically the same) in the playoffs and how far each team went, with Nashville as the only anomaly. Also encouraging for Sabres fans is that most of the teams with excellent PK's in the regular season at least made it to round 2, and both Cup Finals teams were in the top 10 in regular season PK. Finally, we again see the final four teams making a general improvement in their postseason PK.

 

2007-08
Team NHL Rank PK % Playoff PK % % Change Made It To:
 San Jose Sharks 1 85.8 75 -10.8 Conf. Semis
 Minnesota Wild 4 85.2 80 -5.2 1st Round
 Detroit Red Wings 8 84 85.7 1.7 Championship
 Anaheim Ducks 12 83.1 73.7 -9.4 1st Round
 New Jersey Devils 13 82.8 76.5 -6.3 1st Round
 Montreal Canadiens 15 82.5 84.1 1.6 Conf. Semis
 Pittsburgh Penguins 23 81 87.1 6.1 Cup Finals
 Washington Capitals 25 80.5 77.8 -2.7 1st Round
Final 4 Reg. Season Rank Reg. Season Average Playoff Rank Playoff Average
 Wings (8), Stars (2), Penguins (23), Flyers (10) 83.45  Wings (4), Stars (6), Penguins (3), Flyers (13) 82.93

 

2007-08 Analysis: 2008 was another year where the Cup champions (and both Cup finalists) improved their postseason PK, Though one got to the Finals with a good regular season PK and the other did not. Every top-8 team whose PK got worse in the playoffs was out in Round 1 this year with the exception of San Jose, but let's chalk that one up to a world-beating offense making up for a bad PK - *cough*Washington*cough*. This is also the first year that the final four teams trended downwards in the playoffs, but only by a half a percent.

The trend I'm starting to see is that regular season PK doesn't matter all that much; look at where Detroit, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, and San Jose ended up with their respective regular season numbers.

 

2008-09
Team NHL Rank PK % Playoff PK % % Change Made It To:
 San Jose Sharks 5 83.3 78.3 -5 1st round
 Pittsburgh Penguins 8 82.7 83.3 0.6 Championship
 Boston Bruins 12 82.4 88.9 6.5 Conf. Semis
 Vancouver Canucks 16 81.4 82.4 1 Conf. Semis
 Washington Capitals 17 80.6 80 -0.6 Conf. Semis
 Chicago Blackhawks 18 80.6 78.5 -2.1 Conf. Finals
 New Jersey Devils 20 79.9 93.1 13.2 1st Round
 Detroit Red Wings 25 78.3 73.2 -5.1 Cup Finals
Final 4 Reg. Season Rank Reg. Season Average Playoff Rank Playoff Average
 Wings (25), Blackhawks (18), Penguins (8), Hurricanes (19) 80.5  Wings (14), Blackhawks (10), Penguins (5), Hurricanes (3) 80.93

 

2008-09 Analysis: Regular season PK's didn't seem to matter to these teams, with 5 of the top 8 teams residing in the bottom half of the league. Also totally screwy were the playoff changes: some teams that were great such as New Jersey got knocked out early, while Chicago and Detroit both got worse but still managed to battle for the Western Conference crown. At least the final four playoff teams trended towards improvement, even if it was only by another half percent. The Cup champion Penguins kept their rock-solid PK rock-solid.

So, where do things stand this year?

 

2009-10
Team NHL Rank PK % Playoff Position
 Buffalo Sabres 2 86.2 EC 2
 San Jose Sharks 4 85 WC 1
 Chicago Blackhawks 5 84.7 WC 2
 Phoenix Coyotes 7 84.4 WC 4
 Pittsburgh Penguins 7 84.4 EC 3
 New Jersey Devils 13 82.5 EC 4
 Vancouver Canucks 18 81.4 WC 3
 Washington Capitals 25 78.4 EC 1
Top 4 Reg. Season Rank Reg. Season Average NHL Rank
 Capitals (25), Sabres (2), Blackhawks (5), Sharks (4) 83.6 Would be good for 10th

 

2009-10 Analysis: The top teams this year are back to having good regular season numbers, with 5 of 8 in the top 10. We can see the Caps are terrible, but when you have guys like Ovechkin, Backstrom, Knuble, Green and Semin you can make up those power play goals against in a hurry, so I'm not worried about them.

Final Analysis:

So, it looks like after another lengthy, intensely-researched post, all we figured out is that having a great regular season penalty kill doesn't improve your chances of winning a Cup any more than having a great power play did. That's not to say it doesn't hurt, but like all phases of the game the real test comes in the playoffs. Want the proof? Since the lockout, nobody except Pittsburgh has won the Cup with a playoff PK% of less than 85.4%, and the Pens were still a very respectable 83.3%. That bodes very well for Buffalo, if we can keep our PK rocking at 86% throughout the playoffs.

Though there were some exceptions, the teams that improved their PK in the playoffs or kept great PK's great generally went on to have greater success than those that got worse. So Buffalo, keep that #2 PK cooking at 86% or above in the postseason, and you'll have a better chance of making a deep run.

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