Stats and Such Heading into Game Seven

Game sevens are unpredictable. There’s really no way to know what will happen until it already has. Think of the Leafs/Bruins game seven that took place on this exact date last year. Anything can happen.

But that doesn’t stop people from trying to predict what will take place.

Credit to dannyjimmy in the comments of the last post for bringing this up. If you take a look at the possession stats for this series, you’ll see that the Penguins are doing quite well.

In 5 on 5, score close situations (where the score is tied in any period or within one goal in the first or second periods), the Pens’ Fenwick for percentage is 54.9% and their Corsi for is 55.9%. That means they’re directing a lot more pucks to the Rangers’ net than the Rangers are directing to theirs. In those same situations, Pens have had 95 shots on net in this series while the Rangers have only had 77. Despite this, looking at 5 on 5, score close situations, the Rangers have scored nine goals and the Pens have only scored five. The series is tied.

If the Penguins are outperforming their opponents at important parts of the game, why is this the case?

One reason could be luck. Having more shots on or towards the net generally leads to more goals, but not always. Another reason could be goaltending. Lundqvist has a .926 save percentage in these playoffs. Fleury has a .916. However, if you look into save percentage when the score is close you get some more information.

Save percentage during five-on-five play when the score is close shows that Lundqvist has stopped 95.5% percent of the shots against him while Fleury has stopped 90.9%.

But those stats aren’t all that you need to consider. Nate Sliver at Five Thirty Eight Sports has some good information on game sevens. (Thanks to @ThatTodd on Twitter for bringing this post to our attention.)

“While a game with no penalties at all is an outlier, referees routinely call fewer penalties in Game 7s. Since the 1987-88 playoffs, teams have accumulated an average of 8.6 penalty minutes per 60 minutes of ice time in Game 7s.3 The rate in the other six games of each playoff series is almost twice as high: 16.5 penalty minutes. It’s also almost twice as high — 16.1 penalty minutes — during the regular season.”

This shows what we knew all along, that the referees refuse to enforce the rules during game sevens. Apparently, when the games are the most important, there’s no need to follow the rules.

As Nate Silver says: “by Game 7, referees drop all pretense of calling the game as they usually would, despite the action remaining highly physical.”

So what could that mean for tonight?

“The Penguins and the Rangers ranked first and third among NHL teams for net special-teams goals during the regular season. The Rangers’ power play has been awful in the playoffs so far, but that’s probably just a function of a small sample size. Still, they probably won’t mind a game with fewer penalties, especially since the Penguins’ power play is so deadly. On the other hand, the Rangers are more of a finesse than a power hockey team, so it’s not likely that they’ll just be able to check Sidney Crosby into submission, even with laxer officiating.”

So, basically, there’s no way to know what will happen. Whether you care about “momentum” or “experience” or stats, game sevens are unpredictable. Stats can show you trends and the likelihood of certain things happening over time, but they can’t tell you exactly what will happen in a single game.

Fleury could be a brick wall tonight. Lundqvist could let in a weak goal or two. Either team could crumble on the power play. The winning goal could bounce off of a referee and into the net. For all of the talent and skill and strategy and effort that go into this game, there’s also a lot of randomness.

All we can do is watch and cheer.

Go Pens.