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Super 16: Three must buck metrics trend to win Cup

by Corey Masisak / NHL.com

There have been some crazy championship marches in the NHL in the past four seasons.

The Boston Bruins needed three Game 7s, including two decided by one goal and one that went overtime, to win the Stanley Cup in 2011. The Los Angeles Kings tore through the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2012 like no team had in the sport's history, and did so while becoming the first No. 8 seed to win a title.

Two years later, the Kings might have upped the ante, rallying from a 3-0 series deficit in the opening round and playing the full 21 games against a gauntlet of elite teams (San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks). Even in 2013 when the Blackhawks essentially went wire-to-wire in a shortened season, the Stanley Cup Final was filled with overtimes and incredible games.

All of that is a lead in to this: The 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs might get weird.

The best puck possession team in the League, the Kings, might not even make the tournament. The other team that began the season as essentially co-favorites, the Blackhawks, are short a world-class player, though he might return at some point if they win for long enough in the spring.

There is also this fascinating fact about the teams near the top of the standings: The three clubs with the best chance to win the Presidents' Trophy, the Anaheim Ducks, Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers, will all have to buck recent history to win the Stanley Cup.

The Kings and Blackhawks have been leaders in illuminating the general public about why certain metrics that most people didn't know existed until recently matter, and often more than the standings when trying to predict a champion.

In the past five seasons, four times the eventual Stanley Cup champion has been great at two things: possessing the puck and suppressing shot attempts by the opponent. These are two similar but distinct things. There have been several teams who are great at possessing the puck but do so in a more wide-open style, which leads to more shot attempts against.

They were also usually pretty good on the penalty kill, or got better once the postseason began.

Check out the accompanying table for a look at the Cup finalists and champions from the past five seasons, and compare those numbers to the Ducks, Canadiens and Rangers to this point in the 2014-15 season.

Team, Year SAT% SAT%, last 25 SATA/60, last 25 PK%
Los Angeles Kings, 2013-14 56.8% (1st) 57.2% (1st) 46.4 (4th) 83.1% (11th)
New York Rangers, 2013-14 52.4% (T-7th) 53.6% (9th) 52.7 (13th) 85.3% (3rd)
Chicago Blackhawks, 2012-13 54.1% (4th) 55.0% (3rd) 45.9 (T-2nd) 87.2% (3rd)
Boston Bruins, 2012-13 54.3% (3rd) 54.4% (5th) 51.8 (9th) 87.1% (4th)
Los Angeles Kings, 2011-12 54.7% (2nd) 58.1% (1st) 44.0 (2nd) 87.0 (4th)
New Jersey Devils, 2011-12 50.3% (T-12th) 52.3% (6th) 43.7 (1st) 89.6% (1st)
Boston Bruins, 2010-11 50.7% (14th) 51.3% (T-10th) 55.0 (15th) 82.6% (16th)
Vancouver Canucks, 2010-11 52.2% (5th) 53.7% (4th) 49.4 (T-3rd) 85.6% (3rd)
Chicago Blackhawks, 2009-10 56.4% (1st) 56.5% (1st) 46.3 (2nd) 85.3% (4th)
Philadelphia Flyers, 2009-10 50.9% (14th) 50.8% (16th) 56.8 (21st) 83.0% (T-11)
 
Anaheim Ducks, 2014-15 51.4% (T-13th) 51.7% (T-11th) 51.8 (9th) 80.9% (T-18th)
Montreal Canadiens, 2014-15 48.4% (23rd) 48.2% (23rd) 59.4 (26th) 84.4% (6th)
New York Rangers, 2014-15 49.9% (19th) 50.3% (17th) 587.7 (T-24th) 83.5% (8th)
KEY: SAT% = shot attempt percentage at even strength; SAT%, last 25 = shot atttempt percentage, last 25 games of the regular season; SATA/60 = shot attempts against per 60 minutes (League rank in paranthesis)

Even the fifth team that won, the 2011 Bruins, eventually was great at puck possession. They were steadily improving in the second half of the season, and from March 15 until the end of the season (14 games for Boston) the Bruins were fifth in shot attempt percentage (SAT%) and 10th in shot attempts against per 60 minutes.

What does this mean for the Ducks, Canadiens and Rangers? There is more time left in this season, and the Rangers and Ducks have been improving in puck possession (but not as much in shot suppression) of late. Last season Montreal added players at the NHL Trade Deadline and improved in these categories, and a bigger dose of Jeff Petry (and lesser doses of a few guys) would help.

Another thing working in their favor is some of the teams that have been great in these areas are slipping. The Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings were the two best at shot suppression early in the season but they're falling back. If the Kings do not make the playoffs, that's a good thing for these teams, particularly the Ducks, who would probably see them in the first or second round.

There is also the possibility this becomes known as a weird season. The three best teams in the NHL since Feb. 1 that could make the playoffs in score-adjusted SAT% are the Kings, Pittsburgh Penguins and Winnipeg Jets.

Is anyone going to pick the Penguins or Jets to win the Cup? What about the Kings, if they even make it?

It's certainly possible for the Ducks, Canadiens or Rangers to win the Stanley Cup, and plenty of pundits will pick one of them to do so. It appears they will need to reverse the recent course of NHL history in order to pull it off.

DISCLAIMER: While the Super 16 is NHL.com's weekly power rankings, it focuses more on the "power" than the "rankings" when determining the order. It's not always going to look like the League standings and likely will take more of a long view than a short one. If two teams are close the tiebreaker almost always is this: If the two teams started a seven-game series right now, who would prevail? Stop by to see where your favorite team ranks, but stay for the information. All rankings, records and statistics are through the games played Wednesday night.

1. Tampa Bay Lightning

Ondrej Palat has 120 points in 162 NHL games. He was a seventh-round pick (No. 208) in the 2011 NHL Draft. No seventh-round pick in the 2006-2010 drafts has as many career points as Palat. Patric Hornqvist, the last pick of the 2005 draft, has 261.

2. St. Louis Blues

No other Russian player besides Alex Ovechkin has scored 40 goals in the NHL since 2011-12, when Evgeni Malkin had 50. Vladimir Tarasenko needs five in the Blues' final eight games to get there.

3. Los Angeles Kings

Since 2007-08, no team that finished higher than fourth in score-adjusted shot attempt percentage (SAT%), according to www.war-on-ice.com failed to make the playoffs. Those teams are 21-for-21, but the streak is in jeopardy if the 2012 and 2014 champions do not make it.

4. Chicago Blackhawks

Here is the Blackhawks' ranking in goals per game since they first made the Stanley Cup Playoffs with this core of players in 2009: Fourth, third, fourth, tied for fifth, second, second. This season Chicago is 14th. The Blackhawks remain a strong goal prevention team, but they could use a few more goals too, obviously.

5. New York Rangers

Earlier in the season, the No. 3 center spot in the Rangers lineup was a big question mark. Is it possible Kevin Hayes is the best No. 3 center in the Eastern Conference right now? He has four goals and a team-leading 11 points in the past 15 games. During that time his points per 60 minutes is better than any East center except for Pavel Datsyuk, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Take away power-play time (because Hayes doesn't see a whole lot of it) and he's second to Malkin.

6. Pittsburgh Penguins

In a span of time that includes Pittsburgh's past 25 games, the Penguins are second in the NHL to the Kings in score-adjusted SAT%. They are sixth in scoring chance percentage at even strength, according to War on Ice. They are not scoring enough, but they also have the fourth-worst shooting percentage in the NHL in that span. If they control the puck, suppress shots and continue to have a strong penalty kill (third in the League this season), this is a Stanley Cup contender and one of the best bets to survive the tight Eastern Conference, even if it certainly doesn't seem like the Penguins are being perceived that way in a lot of places.

7. Anaheim Ducks

The Ducks have to pick a goaltender to start the postseason (though Bruce Boudreau has never been shy about calling an audible once it begins). They also have a decision to make on the defense corps. There are eight roster players for six spots, but let's assume Korbinian Holzer is an "in case of emergency, break glass" type option. Who else doesn't play? There are four options aged 23 or younger. Those four are among the six best defensemen on the team. Will Boudreau trust four kids and sit big offseason addition Clayton Stoner?

8. Detroit Red Wings

The Red Wings were the best team in the NHL at suppressing shot attempts at even strength on Feb. 1. Then they were fourth-best during the month during February. Now they are sixth-best in March. Jakub Kindl had great shot suppression numbers in an admittedly sheltered role through Feb. 1, but clearly doesn't have coach Mike Babcock's trust and has played six games since. The top pairing is yielding about 10 shot attempts per 60 minutes more since Feb.1. The bottom forward line is giving up about 5-6 more per 60 minutes as well.

9. New York Islanders

In the past 31 years, the Islanders have had a goaltender play in at least 30 games 43 times. Jaroslav Halak currently has a .914 save percentage, and counts as one of the 43. That would be the third-best for the Islanders in that span, and second-best to Rick DiPietro's .919 in 2006-07 among goalies who played in at least 40 games.

10. Ottawa Senators

Andrew Hammond and Craig Anderson have each played 16 games for the Senators since Dave Cameron was named coach Dec 8. Hammond has become a sensation and one of the stories of the 2014-15 season. Anderson had a better even-strength save percentage on low- and medium-danger shots, according to War on Ice, in his 16 games than Hammond, but the guy with the golden arch-inspired nickname has a League-leading .920 save percentage on high-danger shots since Cameron took over.

11. Washington Capitals

Nicklas Backstrom has been one of the most productive players from his native Sweden since joining the Capitals in 2007-08. His 566 points are one better than Daniel Sedin for second-most among Swedes in the past eight seasons. Henrik Sedin leads with 605 (in 33 more games). Take out Backstrom's rookie season, which he spent part of as a second-line wing, and he's averaging 1.02 points per game, the same as Henrik Sedin. His 497 points since 2008-09 are six more than Daniel Sedin and 32 behind his twin brother.

12. Minnesota Wild

Since Devan Dubnyk arrived, the Wild lead the League in goals allowed per 60 minutes (1.7) and team save percentage (.938). Dubnyk is fifth personally in save percentage since Jan. 15, but playing every game eliminates lesser results from a backup. While the Wild were a great possession team early in the season, they've declined over the course of the season. Since Dubnyk showed up, they're 20th in SAT%, and tied for 16th in score-adjusted SAT%. They're also fifth among the five teams from the Central Division that could make the playoffs.

13. Montreal Canadiens

Brendan Gallagher, like Palat in Tampa Bay, was a late draft pick who has already provided a huge return. He's tied for second in goals, fourth in points for Montreal and has the best puck possession numbers of any of the forwards with more than 20 games played. He has four more points in 5-on-5 play than P.K. Subban in 386 less minutes, and he has two more points despite 22 less minutes total and far less time playing with Subban and Max Pacioretty than David Desharnais.

14. Winnipeg Jets

It's been a crazy season for goaltenders, with Carey Price the likely MVP of the NHL and guys like Hammond, Dubnyk and Cam Talbot having lots of unexpected success. Ondrej Pavelec is authoring his own crazy tale. After years as the unquestioned No. 1 goaltender despite mediocre or worse results, Pavelec lost the starting job to Michael Hutchinson in 2014-15 but now he's trying to take it back.

Through Feb. 1, Hutchinson had a .940 save percentage at even strength, which was fourth in the NHL among goalies with at least 800 minutes played while Pavelec was 23rd out of 36 who qualified. Since Feb. 1, Pavelec is fourth in even-strength save percentage at .946 in 12 games played, while Hutchinson is 37th of 38 goalies with at least 400 minutes played in 14 games.

15. Nashville Predators

After having one of the highest SPSv% figures in the League in the first half of the season, the Predators are at 995 since Jan. 15 at even strength. This is still a borderline top-10 possession team, but Pekka Rinne not being at a Carey Price-type level, some luck regression and the rise of the Wild and the Jets has sort of made the Predators the forgotten team in the Central Division. Minnesota was that team last season, but the Wild reached the second round of the playoffs and outplayed the Blackhawks at points in that series, so don't count out a Nashville revival of sorts just yet.

16. Boston Bruins

On Feb. 17, the Bruins held a 10-point lead on the Senators. Since then, they have collected points at a pace that would yield 96 in a full season, and Tuukka Rask has a .937 save percentage at even strength. If the Bruins do not make the playoffs, some pundits will probably call it a collapse. That would be incorrect. If Boston doesn't make the playoffs, it will be because of points dropped earlier in the season, primarily when David Krejci and Zdeno Chara were out of the lineup.

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