The playoffs are right around the corner and some teams are still trying to secure a spot.
In the East, Washington, Ottawa and Boston are vying for the remaining two wild-card slots while Winnipeg, Calgary and Los Angeles are determined to not be on the outside looking in out West.
However, it’s not too early to look at who are the contenders and pretenders for Lord Stanley’s Cup through the lens of puck possession.
One of the best tools for measuring possession is even-strength shot attempt differential, adjusted for score effects, which increases its predictive power. For example, if a team is trailing late in the third period, it will pressure the opponent more than it would if the score was tied early in the first. This would benefit an inferior team in the raw totals but not in the adjusted data.
Using the percentage of shots in a team’s favor after adjusting for score effects is more instructive of a team’s true talent level than wins and losses alone. One of the best examples is the 2012 Los Angeles Kings, who became the first No. 8 seed to win the Stanley Cup.
Despite finishing third in the Pacific division, the Kings were ranked No. 1 in shot-attempt percentage (55.2 percent). In fact, most NHL championship teams in the salary-cap era have been well over 50 percent and six of the last eight have ranked in the top three. The Penguins ranked 19th in their championship campaign of 2008-09, but ranked seventh (53.6 percent) from the time Dan Byslma was hired to replace Michel Therrien to the end of the season.
This season there is just one team above 55 percent in score-adjusted shot percentage: the Kings, and they have a 36 percent chance at missing the playoffs. The Calgary Flames, on the other hand, see just 44.2 percent of shots in their favor, third worst in the NHL behind the Buffalo Sabres (53.5 percent) and Colorado Avalanche (43.1 percent). If the season ended today, the Flames would be playing for the Cup, but the Kings would have a much better shot at actually claiming it.
If the Kings get in they are going to be dangerous once again. If it is the Flames, expect a first-round exit.
The Chicago Blackhawks are another team to watch: but for a completely different reason. They rank fifth in score-adjusted shot percentage (53.6 percent) but have been fading fast in the absence of injured star Patrick Kane. Meanwhile, the Nashville Predators (53.2 percent), a potential first-round opponent, have been surging.
What does this mean for the local club?
The Washington Capitals put 52 percent of shots in their favor after adjusting for score effects, which is an improvement over last season (47.4 percent). However, that is still short of a Cup-caliber performance based on past history.