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Goals For and Goals Against Rankings For Stanley Cup Finalists

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Does a simple statistic like goals for and goals against ranking predict playoff success?

NHL: Nashville Predators at Winnipeg Jets James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports

We do so much analytics now. You’ve got all of these things that tell you how great it is. We entered the zone this many times, won this many faceoffs, had this many attempts. I like goals. -Mike Babcock – Feb 23, 2019

Hockey analytics are fun. However, (obvious statement alert), all fancy statistics aside, the team that scores more than the other team, or allows fewer goals than the other team, wins. Every single time. I know, cutting edge analysis, right? I enjoy analytics, but I also concur with Mike Babcock – I like goals. In addition, I love when the other team scores very few or no goals against the Jets.

So, taking this very simple statistical measurement, goals for and goals against ranking compared to other teams, can we see any patterns with previous Stanley Cup finalists?

Below are the last five Stanley Cup finalists and their regular season rankings for goals for (GF) and goals against (GA):

Goals For and Goals Against Rankings

TEAM SEASON GOALS FOR RANKING GOALS AGAINST RANKING
TEAM SEASON GOALS FOR RANKING GOALS AGAINST RANKING
Washington 2018 9 15
Vegas 2018 4 8
Pittsburgh 2017 1 17
Nashville 2017 11 15
Pittsburgh 2016 3 6
San Jose 2016 4 11
Chicago 2015 16 1
Tampa Bay 2015 1 11
Los Angeles 2014 25 1
New York Rangers 2014 18 4

Teams with higher ranking GF won twice. Teams with higher ranking GA won twice. Washington was outlier and had lower rankings in both than Vegas. Every winner also had an elite ranking (top 10% of NHL) in either GF or GA, with the exception of Washington.

Does this tell us anything? First, it appears that if a team is truly elite in either GF or GA, they are tough to beat in the playoffs and Stanley Cup Finals. Tampa Bay, Toronto, San Jose, Calgary are some of the teams that fit this profile. The Jets as of March 15 rank 7th in GF, 14th in GA. The team is profiling similar to Washington last season. The good news is Washington ended up winning the Stanley Cup. The bad news is that if the Jets face a truly elite team in terms of GF or GA, the odds are stacked against them.

However, using the sandwich approach, and ending on a positive note, I believe that the Jets rankings in both GF and GA are not a true reflection of the teams’ ability. In terms of goals for, I’d suggest that they are capable of more. Players like Nikolaj Ehlers, Patrik Laine and even Jack Roslovic have under performed in terms of scoring goals. Veterans like Bryan Little, Brandon Tanev and Adam Lowry are also capable of scoring more in the playoffs. Kevin Hayes, while primarily a playmaker, adds some goal scoring potential to the line up as well.

In terms of goals against, Connor Hellebuyck has under performed this season. This is not entirely his fault as he has been without his two best defenseman for much of the season. Assuming Dustin Byfuglien and Josh Morrissey are back for the playoffs, and Hellebuyck can attain his previous level, I believe that the Jets can play better than 14th ranking overall for GA.

The playoff question is will the Jets step up like Washington did last year? I believe they can. It’s glass half full time Jets fans – drink some of the Jets playoff Kool Aid!