Special Teams Plus/Minus: Or Another Way To See The Leafs' PP/PK Futility

An All Too Familiar Sight On The Penalty Kill - Jim McIsaac

Power play and penalty kill percentage do not always give an accurate picture of their effect on a team's fortunes. Special teams plus/minus seeks to look at the tangible effect on the most important statistic in hockey: goals.

Some of you may recall I introduced the concept of "Special Teams +/-" last year - the idea being to look at the total goal differential for the team while on the powerplay and the penalty kill as opposed to focusing on the ‘efficiency' (% success) of each.

I like this metric for a couple of reasons. First, it helps differentiate between teams that take more or draw more penalties. A team that has an 80% penalty kill and takes 4 penalties per game will be less negatively impacted by their penalty kill than a team with an 80% penalty kill that takes 5 penalties per game. The same would hold true for effective powerplays and teams that draw more penalties.

I also like it as it gives credit for shorthanded goals scored and penalizes you for shorthanded goals against. If you give up a shorthanded goal then go on to score a goal yourself, that's not a successful powerplay to me. In terms of the ‘efficiency' ranking, however, it's treated as one.

Special teams have obviously been a huge issue for the Leafs the last 5+ years especially when you look at their % success rates, and especially the penalty kill. Looking at their "+/-" in 2011/12 however the Leafs actually weren't as bad as you may assume. Their -7 ST +/- rating ranking them 22nd overall. The Leafs were helped by a fairly effective powerplay (9th on a % basis, +43 goal differential), and by their relative team discipline (perhaps one of the most positive impacts of the Ron Wilson era). The Leafs took the 5th fewest penalties in the league last year, being shorthanded 2.95 times per game. This definitely helped mitigate their miserable 77% penalty kill efficiency, 28th in the league. While they were much better than last place Tampa Bay with a -28 ST +/-, they were also well off first place PIT with a +25 rating. That's a 32-goal swing for the math-impaired.

An important concept to keep in mind as you are reading the tables below is that every six goals of goal differential represents one win. Remember that number as it will help you make the effect of special teams plus minus tangible. By that math, the Leafs' futility cost them one win in the standings while at the high end the Penguins picked up four wins because of their excellence.

(Note: I've quit trying to insert my nice looking excel charts here - it's futile. If you're interested in the pretty, properly formatted, easy-to-read version, you can download it here.)

2011/12

Power Play

GP PPO PPO/gm Rk PPG % Rk SHGA PP +/- Rk
PIT 82 289 3.52 6 57 19.7% 5 10 47 5
NJD 82 267 3.26 17 46 17.2% 14 13 33 26
VAN 82 288 3.51 8 57 19.8% 4 4 53 2
LAK 82 289 3.52 6 49 17.0% 16 2 47 5
NSH 82 250 3.05 25 54 21.6% 1 4 50 4
NYR 82 280 3.41 10 44 15.7% 23 4 40 15
MTL 82 301 3.67 3 43 14.3% 28 8 35 24
STL 82 270 3.29 13 45 16.7% 18 3 42 11
CAR 82 294 3.59 5 49 16.7% 18 4 45 9
BOS 82 250 3.05 25 43 17.2% 14 1 42 11
PHI 82 335 4.09 1 66 19.7% 5 9 57 1
SJS 82 270 3.29 13 57 21.1% 2 4 53 2
FLA 82 286 3.49 9 53 18.5% 7 6 47 5
CGY 82 260 3.17 20 46 17.7% 13 6 40 15
EDM 82 262 3.20 19 54 20.6% 3 8 46 8
NYI 82 243 2.96 29 45 18.5% 7 5 40 15
PHX 82 251 3.06 23 34 13.6% 29 6 28 30
CHI 82 277 3.38 11 42 15.2% 25 3 39 19
COL 82 223 2.72 30 41 18.4% 9 4 37 20
BUF 82 258 3.15 21 44 17.0% 16 7 37 20
OTT 82 270 3.29 13 49 18.2% 11 7 42 11
TOR 82 267 3.26 17 49 18.4% 9 6 43 10
ANA 82 271 3.30 12 45 16.6% 21 5 40 15
DET 82 298 3.63 4 48 16.1% 22 11 37 20
MIN 82 258 3.15 21 39 15.1% 27 4 35 24
WSH 82 245 2.99 27 41 16.7% 18 10 31 27
CBJ 82 317 3.87 2 49 15.5% 24 8 41 14
DAL 82 244 2.98 28 33 13.5% 30 3 30 28
WPG 82 251 3.06 23 45 17.9% 12 8 37 20
TBL 82 269 3.28 16 41 15.2% 25 12 29 29

[Legend: GP = Games Played, PPO = Power Play Opportunities, PPO/gm = Power Play Opportunities Per Game, Rk = Rank, PPG = Power Play Goals, % = Special Teams Efficiency, SHGA = Shorthanded Goals Against, PP +/- Power Play Plus Minus,

Penalty Kill

GP TSH TSH/gm Rk PPGA % Rk SHG PK +/- Rk
PIT 82 270 3.29 15 33 87.8% 3 11 -22 2
NJD 82 259 3.16 10 27 89.6% 1 15 -12 1
VAN 82 286 3.49 23 40 86.0% 6 7 -33 7
LAK 82 293 3.57 25 38 87.0% 4 9 -29 5
NSH 82 244 2.98 6 40 83.6% 10 5 -35 9
NYR 82 260 3.17 12 36 86.2% 5 8 -28 4
MTL 82 315 3.84 29 36 88.6% 2 10 -26 3
STL 82 282 3.44 19 40 85.8% 7 7 -33 7
CAR 82 252 3.07 8 49 80.6% 22 12 -37 11
BOS 82 260 3.17 12 43 83.5% 11 8 -35 9
PHI 82 319 3.89 30 58 81.8% 17 6 -52 27
SJS 82 225 2.74 1 52 76.9% 29 3 -49 25
FLA 82 239 2.91 4 49 79.5% 25 4 -45 17
CGY 82 268 3.27 14 42 84.3% 9 3 -39 12
EDM 82 296 3.61 26 52 82.4% 14 5 -47 20
NYI 82 236 2.88 3 46 80.5% 23 4 -42 13
PHX 82 249 3.04 7 36 85.5% 8 6 -30 6
CHI 82 233 2.84 2 51 78.1% 27 7 -44 16
COL 82 277 3.38 18 47 83.0% 12 5 -42 13
BUF 82 257 3.13 9 47 81.7% 19 5 -42 13
OTT 82 310 3.78 28 57 81.6% 20 9 -48 23
TOR 82 242 2.95 5 55 77.3% 28 5 -50 26
ANA 82 283 3.45 20 51 82.0% 16 4 -47 20
DET 82 274 3.34 17 50 81.8% 17 2 -48 23
MIN 82 285 3.48 22 51 82.1% 15 5 -46 18
WSH 82 266 3.24 13 49 81.6% 20 3 -46 18
CBJ 82 274 3.34 17 64 76.6% 30 7 -57 29
DAL 82 303 3.70 27 52 82.8% 13 5 -47 20
WPG 82 292 3.56 24 58 80.1% 24 3 -55 28
TBL 82 284 3.46 21 59 79.2% 26 2 -57 29

[Legend: GP = Games Played, TSH = Times Shorthanded, TSH/gm = Times Shorthanded Per Game, PPGA = Power Play Goals Against, PK +/- = Penalty Kill Percentage]

Special Teams Plus Minus

GP ST +/- Rk
PIT 82 25 1
NJD 82 21 2
VAN 82 20 3
LAK 82 18 4
NSH 82 15 5
NYR 82 12 6
MTL 82 9 7
STL 82 9 7
CAR 82 8 9
BOS 82 7 10
PHI 82 5 11
SJS 82 4 12
FLA 82 2 13
CGY 82 1 14
EDM 82 -1 15
NYI 82 -2 16
PHX 82 -2 16
CHI 82 -5 18
COL 82 -5 18
BUF 82 -5 18
OTT 82 -6 21
TOR 82 -7 22
ANA 82 -7 22
DET 82 -11 24
MIN 82 -11 24
WSH 82 -15 26
CBJ 82 -16 27
DAL 82 -17 28
WPG 82 -18 29
TBL 82 -28 30

2012/13 (end of day Tues Feb 5)

Power Play

GP PPO PPO/gm Rk PPG % Rk SHGA PP +/- Rk
SJS 10 53 5.30 3 13 24.5% 7 0 13 1
EDM 9 42 4.67 8 12 28.6% 3 0 12 2
NYI 9 38 4.22 14 9 23.7% 10 0 9 6
TBL 9 40 4.44 10 13 32.5% 2 1 12 2
OTT 10 33 3.30 28 9 27.3% 4 0 9 6
CHI 10 38 3.80 21 7 18.4% 15 1 6 16
PHX 10 42 4.20 17 9 21.4% 13 0 9 6
NJD 9 38 4.22 14 6 15.8% 19 0 6 16
MTL 8 46 5.75 1 11 23.9% 9 1 10 5
STL 9 36 4.00 18 12 33.3% 1 1 11 4
BOS 8 30 3.75 22 3 10.0% 28 0 3 28
PIT 10 37 3.70 23 9 24.3% 8 2 7 13
FLA 9 40 4.44 10 9 22.5% 12 0 9 6
CGY 7 30 4.29 13 8 26.7% 5 0 8 11
CBJ 10 44 4.40 12 6 13.6% 23 0 6 16
MIN 9 33 3.67 24 5 15.2% 21 0 5 20
LAK 8 40 5.00 4 5 12.5% 24 0 5 20
NSH 9 29 3.22 30 5 17.2% 17 0 5 20
ANA 8 27 3.38 27 7 25.9% 6 0 7 13
WPG 9 38 4.22 14 9 23.7% 10 0 9 6
VAN 9 45 5.00 4 7 15.6% 20 1 6 16
BUF 10 36 3.60 25 6 16.7% 18 1 5 20
DAL 10 33 3.30 28 4 12.1% 26 0 4 26
CAR 8 40 5.00 4 6 15.0% 22 1 5 20
PHI 10 45 4.50 9 8 17.8% 16 1 7 13
TOR 10 50 5.00 4 6 12.0% 27 1 5 20
WSH 10 40 4.00 18 8 20.0% 14 0 8 11
NYR 9 35 3.89 20 3 8.6% 30 0 3 28
COL 9 32 3.56 26 3 9.4% 29 0 3 28
DET 9 49 5.44 2 6 12.2% 25 2 4 26

[Legend: GP = Games Played, PPO = Power Play Opportunities, PPO/gm = Power Play Opportunities Per Game, Rk = Rank, PPG = Power Play Goals, % = Special Teams Efficiency, SHGA = Shorthanded Goals Against, PP +/- Power Play Plus Minus,

Penalty Kill

GP TSH TSH/gm Rk PPGA % Rk SHG PK +/- Rk
SJS 10 45 4.50 19 5 88.9% 5 0 -5 7
EDM 9 44 4.89 26 5 88.6% 6 1 -4 4
NYI 9 31 3.44 6 3 90.3% 4 1 -2 2
TBL 9 38 4.22 14 6 84.2% 9 0 -6 10
OTT 10 44 4.40 18 4 90.9% 3 0 -4 4
CHI 10 39 3.90 9 2 94.9% 1 0 -2 2
PHX 10 34 3.40 5 6 82.4% 13 0 -6 10
NJD 9 45 5.00 28 6 86.7% 7 2 -4 4
MTL 8 41 5.13 29 8 80.5% 15 0 -8 17
STL 9 38 4.22 14 10 73.7% 24 1 -9 21
BOS 8 34 4.25 15 2 94.1% 2 1 -1 1
PIT 10 40 4.00 11 6 85.0% 8 0 -6 10
FLA 9 39 4.33 17 9 76.9% 20 1 -8 17
CGY 7 23 3.29 4 7 69.6% 29 0 -7 13
CBJ 10 38 3.80 7 6 84.2% 9 1 -5 7
MIN 9 29 3.22 3 5 82.8% 12 0 -5 7
LAK 8 37 4.63 22 7 81.1% 14 0 -7 13
NSH 9 35 3.89 8 7 80.0% 16 0 -7 13
ANA 8 32 4.00 11 9 71.9% 26 0 -9 21
WPG 9 29 3.22 3 11 62.1% 30 0 -11 27
VAN 9 39 4.33 17 9 76.9% 20 0 -9 21
BUF 10 41 4.10 12 9 78.0% 18 1 -8 17
DAL 10 50 5.00 28 8 84.0% 11 1 -7 13
CAR 8 38 4.75 24 10 73.7% 24 1 -9 21
PHI 10 46 4.60 21 11 76.1% 22 0 -11 27
TOR 10 32 3.20 1 9 71.9% 26 0 -9 21
WSH 10 47 4.70 23 12 74.5% 23 0 -12 29
NYR 9 41 4.56 20 9 78.0% 18 1 -8 17
COL 9 47 5.22 30 10 78.7% 17 0 -10 26
DET 9 43 4.78 25 13 69.8% 28 1 -12 29

[Legend: GP = Games Played, TSH = Times Shorthanded, TSH/gm = Times Shorthanded Per Game, PPGA = Power Play Goals Against, PK +/- = Penalty Kill Percentage]

Special Teams Plus Minus

GP ST +/- Rk
SJS 10 8 1
EDM 9 8 1
NYI 9 7 3
TBL 9 6 4
OTT 10 5 5
CHI 10 4 6
PHX 10 3 7
NJD 9 2 8
MTL 8 2 8
STL 9 2 8
BOS 8 2 8
PIT 10 1 12
FLA 9 1 12
CGY 7 1 12
CBJ 10 1 12
MIN 9 0 16
LAK 8 -2 17
NSH 9 -2 17
ANA 8 -2 17
WPG 9 -2 17
VAN 9 -3 21
BUF 10 -3 21
DAL 10 -3 21
CAR 8 -4 24
PHI 10 -4 24
TOR 10 -4 24
WSH 10 -4 24
NYR 9 -5 28
COL 9 -7 29
DET 9 -8 30

Just under a quarter of the way through this shortened season things aren’t looking very good for the Leafs. Despite a promising start on both the PP and PK, and despite having the 4 most PP opportunities per game and being shorthanded the fewest times per game, the Leafs are already a -4 on special teams. This puts them in a tie for 4th worst in the league, and already a 12-goal spread versus first place San Jose and Edmonton, both at +8. (Aside: Interesting that Edmonton is +8 on special teams but -10 at even strength for a -2 overall).

While there may be an element of 'luck' or 'randomness' in special teams results - how does Tampa go from -28 last year to +6 through 9 games this year? - the impacts of special teams on team success is important. In 2011/12, 11 of the 16 playoff teams had a positive ST rating. More telling perhaps is that Pittsburgh’s +25 ST goal differential was almost 50% of their total goal differential for the year, and New Jersey’s +21 ST goal differential accounted for their entire goal differential (+11), as they were actually negative at even strength. Regardless of the amount of time played on the PP or the PK, clearly the influence on a team’s overall goal differential can be significant.

If the current penalty rates continue, the Leafs are squandering a huge opportunity. Not only are they being penalized less than any other team, they’re being given the fourth powerplays per game. The Leafs entire -4 goal differential on the year is due to special teams – they're actually even at 5 vs 5. If you’re a strong 5 v 5 team then perhaps you don’t have to worry as much about anemic special teams (Chicago, Detroit last year for example). The Leafs current lineup shows no evidence of being such a team however. If they’re going to have any success this year, it's imperative that their special teams improve.

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