Importance of the special teams
In playoffs, special-teams play is often random and seldom as important as we think
(Note: All statistics used in this column are as of games ending May 15, 2011.)
Conventional wisdom is that strong special-teams performance is important, especially in the playoffs. While special teams do drive results, accounting for nearly 25 percent of goals in just more than 10 percent of the ice time, short samples like the playoffs tend to leave us with more questions than answers. The main questions: How much of the performance was real or luck, and how much is it a predictor of future performance?
In regard to special teams, the answer to the second question is "not much."
There have been many studies on the consistency of performance in the different situations. JLikens at Objective NHL has shown that power-play success and penalty-kill success for individual teams correlate at .347 and .332 rates respectively over consecutive regular seasons, meaning they vary quite a bit from season to season.
The main reason for that is due to the high amount of random variation and luck affecting the results. As Gabe Desjardins has shown, random chance affects 38 percent of a team's total regular-season performance. Adjust that figure for the 10-plus percent of that ice time accounted for by special teams and the results become even more random and even less dictated by skill.
Take that same small proportion of playing time and shrink it to just the playoffs, a much smaller sample to look at, and the skill aspect of special teams just about goes out the window. Teams do have special-teams skill, but given the nature of the playoffs it's almost impossible to prove that a team's performance is anything besides good or bad luck. So, what does that mean for the remaining four teams in the playoffs? Well for starters, Boston Bruins fans shouldn't get too discouraged by their brutally underperforming power play.
To read more about why the power play and penalty killing don't play a big role in playoff series, you must be an ESPN Insider.
MORE NHL HEADLINES
- Bruins' Bartkowski gets game misconduct for hit
- Canucks' Hansen expected to be OK after hit
- Pouliot scores in debut as Pens top Panthers
- Isles rally late, tally 3 in 3rd to stun Lightning
MOST SENT STORIES ON ESPN.COM
NHL Insider Content
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
Prospectus: Rating B's, Canucks' depth
CapGeek: Bs, Canucks provide cap blueprints Conn Smythe Watch: Thomas takes the lead
Greenberg: Projecting Tyler Seguin
Greenberg: Lapierre is Canucks' MVP
Prospectus: Special teams aren't that key
Conn Smythe Watch: Kesler's charge
Joyce: Sharks stars lack 'it'
Greenberg: Best Gs vs. the best shots
Conn Smythe Watch: Thomas rises
Button: Philly's crisis of crease confidence
Greenberg: Can blocks carry Bolts to Cup?
Prospectus: Ranking Caps' playoff failure
Prospectus: Top playoff rooks since 1998
Conn Smythe Watch: Roloson No. 1
Prospectus: Datsyuk remains underrated
Conn Smythe Watch: Neuvirth shines
Greenberg: Best D pairs vs. Alex Ovechkin
Prospectus: Thomas doesn't give B's big edge
Prospectus: Playoff team depth rankings
Cooper: Preds try to ditch Rd. 1 jinx
Prospectus: Team-by-team odds to win the Cup
Prospectus: Ranking the first-round netminders
Prospectus: These Sharks built to last
Prospectus: Puck luck could pluck Ducks
Cooper: Why playoff hockey is so different
Team Scouting Reports
How to beat the Boston Bruins
How to beat the Philadelphia Flyers
How to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins
How to beat the Washington Capitals
How to beat the Anaheim Ducks
How to beat the Detroit Red Wings
How to beat the San Jose Sharks
How to beat the Vancouver Canucks
May 11: Why Wings may soon fall off
April 28: Strome surges in Mock Draft 2.0
April 13: Nashville tries to overcome history
April 11: D. Sedin tops final player rankings
April 7: Coaches feeling the hot seat
April 6: How Caps' draft strategy has worked
March 30: Can Flyers win Cup with Bobrovsky?
March 9: Re-ranking Top 50 draft prospects
Feb. 28: Traded prospect evals
Feb. 28: Rating trades in the West
Feb. 28: Rating trades in the East
Feb. 17: Worst. Trades. Ever.
Feb. 17: NHL Mock Draft 1.0
NHL Rumor Central
Get news and rumblings before anyone
NHL Experts Blog
Daily ice shavings of insight
NHL Draft Blog
A look towards June 2011