Saturday, May 03, 2008

Why Goals Are Not Down In The 2008 Playoffs

James Mirtle wrote a post this week asking why goals have not been down in the 2008 playoffs (when compared to the regular season). It is a general rule of thumb that scoring declines as quality of play goes up and come playoff time the weakest teams are no longer active so usually scoring goes down. It hasn't this year. Why?

I think the answer is pretty simple to see when one looks at the individual statistics. The leading goalies in the 2008 playoffs have been Marc-Andre Fleury, Chris Osgood, Marty Turco and Martin Biron. While I am not arguing that these goalies are poor goalies, they are clearly not the elite NHL goaltenders. The elite NHL goalies are Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo, Jean-Sebastien Giguere and since they were Vezina nominees Henrik Lundqvist and Evgeni Nabokov (you may have a slightly different list but nevertheless the point is unchanged). None of them have been star goalies in the 2008 playoffs. Sure Lundqvist and Nabokov are still alive, but they have not played their best hockey. Brodeur and Giguere fell in the first round and Luongo missed the playoffs. The best goalies in the playoffs this year are second tier goalies.

If we look at the playoff top scorers, there are a few surprises like Johan Franzen, but for the most part they are a selection of the elite scorers in the NHL. Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Jaromir Jagr are all among the top ten scorers in the playoffs so far. Naturally, not all of the NHL's top scorers are represented. Some of the more prominent missing top scorers are Alexander Ovechkin and Jarome Iginla, but that is the nature of the playoffs. Some elite players will be on teams that lose early and do not get playoff runs. However, many of the elite scorers in the NHL are represented in the playoff top scorers list.

We have a situation where the elite goalies in the league have not been stars and many of the elite scorers have. That is enough to explain the lack of drop in scoring in the playoffs. Even with the worst teams in the league (typically the teams that allow the most goals) gone, scoring has not dropped. This is because many of the best scorers in the NHL are playing well and the best goalies in the league are either eliminated or not playing so well.

This leads to the question why the elite goalies are not the standout goalies in the 2008 playoffs. I think the best answer to this question is luck. There are about a handful of elite goalies. In a typical playoff year, two or three do not have good playoff runs. All that is needed is two or three more for whatever reason not having big playoffs. It is luck that these two or three goalies have not done well at the same time. I think there is no deeper longterm meaning for this result and it is highly unlikely to reoccur in next year's playoffs.

When you say a goalie is "elite" do you mean he is generally and has always been elite, or do you just mean he had an elite regular season?

Isn't the playoffs a completely different beast than the regular season altogether?
In this case, I am differentiating between an elite goalie who is clearly one of the best in the NHL and a second tier (or lower) goalie who is on a hot streak. None of the best goalies in the NHL have been the best goalies in the playoffs. Some of the best scorers in the NHL are also among the best scorers in the playoffs. That discrepancy is why scoring is not down. The best scorers against second tier goalies in this year's playoffs.
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