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Behind The Numbers

Ducks could have edge on special teams

Predators must stay disciplined to avoid facing Anaheim's top-ranked power play, penalty kill

by Rob Vollman / Correspondent

The Western Conference First Round series between the Anaheim Ducks and Nashville Predators should be tight defensively.

Based on some of the underlying numbers, this series could be decided by a couple of uncommon team characteristics: Anaheim's exceptional special-teams play or Nashville's unique player deployment strategy.

Here are five interesting stats about this series:

1. Defensive play

Anaheim and Nashville are two of the tightest defensive teams in the League.

In terms of average shots allowed per game, the Predators have the edge with 27.3 shots allowed per game, fewest in the NHL; the Ducks were fourth with 27.5 shots allowed per game.

Because of their superior goaltending, Anaheim ranked higher in terms of overall goals allowed. The 188 goals they allowed this season were the fewest in the League.

Video: ANA@LAK: Gibson snares Carter's shot, freezes puck

2. Special teams

This category will play a big role, and could be to the Ducks' advantage. Anaheim led the League with a power-play percentage of 23.1 percent and a penalty-killing percentage of 87.2 percent.

Given the Ducks' edge, key for the Predators is being more disciplined and taking fewer penalties. This season, Anaheim was shorthanded 290 times, second behind the Arizona Coyotes with 304. Nashville was shorthanded 245 times.

Video: DAL@ANA: Kesler scores a SHG 10 seconds into the 3rd

3. Ryan Kesler

One of the keys to the Ducks' special teams success was Kesler, who led Anaheim with an average shorthanded ice time of 2:45 per game, and averaged 2:02 per game on the power play.

Taking on top opponents in all manpower and score situations, Kesler will be the key player to watch. His faceoff winning percentage of 58.5 percent ranked second in the NHL behind Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks at 58.6 percent, and Kesler's 41 points in 43 games in the 2016 calendar year is tied with Blake Wheeler of the Winnipeg Jets and Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators for 11th.

4. Even-strength percentages

The Ducks had some difficulty converting opportunities at even-strength, especially early in the season. Overall, they scored on 6.7 percent of their shots, which ranked No. 28 in the NHL, and had a below-average save percentage of .924.

When added together, those two numbers produce an SPSV (Shooting Plus Save Percentage) of 990, which ranked 26th.

Video: NJD@NSH: Ribeiro nets a power-play goal

5. Zone-start percentage

Nashville coach Peter Laviolette has adopted one of the most extreme player deployment strategies in the League. In a fashion similar to how Alain Vigneault deployed the Vancouver Canucks on the way to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011, Laviolette has specific assignments for each of his lines.

One way to capture this with statistics was to calculate each player's zone start percentage, which is how often a player takes a faceoff in the offensive zone, relative to the defensive zone.

In this regard, the players with the three highest zone start percentages all play for Nashville: Mike Ribeiro, Craig Smith and Filip Forsberg. Furthermore, three of the players with the four lowest zone start percentages are also on the Predators: Paul Gaustad, Eric Nystrom, and Austin Watson.

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