People often talk about ‘momentum’ heading into playoffs. Momentum is an interesting concept. You can often see it shifting within a game when a big save on one end leads to a big goal at the other end. Momentum also can affect a series, as the Anaheim Ducks proved to us in 2003 as they took out nearly everyone in their path. (Yeah it was goaltending, but the players had to make a few good plays too).
You also hear people talk about a team ‘having momentum’ heading into the playoffs. I don’t buy it. Here are a few examples to support my case.
In 2008, Washington finished the season by going 11-1-0! Ovechkin was unstoppable, Huet was playing lights out, and most people expected them to make a bit of a run. They played Philadelphia and lost 1st round. Last year, Detroit finished the year 17-4-1. In round 1, they squeaked by Phoenix in 7 games, then lost to San Jose in 5 only games. (Though San Jose won each game by only 1 goal).
Here are the post-lockout cup champions, along with a note on how they ended the season:
2006-Carolina – Won only 4 of their last 9 games
2007-Anaheim – Won only 6 of their last 12 regular season games
2008-Detroit – ended season 7-3-1 (standard for a President’s Trophy winner), but lost 6 straight in February
2009-Pittsburgh – Out of the playoff picture in January, turned it around and carried it through to victory
2010-Chicago – ended the season 6-0-1, but lost 7 of 9 in March (4 to non-playoff teams)
I think it’s important to separate the concept of momentum from the reality of sheer talent. All the teams that have won the Stanley Cup in the post-lockout era (and throughout history) were very good teams. While Detroit and Chicago finished the year well, they still had some late season struggles. And even though they technically ended the year well, and could attribute some ‘momentum’ to them, a more accurate explanation is that they were simply great teams playing up to their established level of talent. Conversely, the 2008 Capitals and 2010 Red Wings finished the year incredibly well, but weren’t able to sustain that level come playoff time.
(NOTE: The one anomaly from above, the ’09 Penguins, can be explained by a few things. Firstly Sergei Gonchar played on 25 games that season, but came back for the entire playoff run. Furthermore, the late-season additions of Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz gave Crosby some decent linemates, and gave the Pens the additional scoring they were missing earlier in the year.)
When it comes down to it, a good team is a good team. The following data helps to establish a measure of ‘good’.
As you’ll note from these recent cup champions, apart from Pittsburgh, all have finished in the top two in their conference, and top 3 overall. Furthermore, while one would expect high-placing teams to have a great goals differential, it seems that the goals-for category is a particularly telling stat. Apart from Anaheim in ’07 (which had two fall-of-fame defencemen and a very solid goalie), the other four cup winners finished in the top-4 overall in goals for.
These are the four teams I picked to have a shot at the cup:
Based on past data, I feel confident that one of Vancouver or Philadelphia will come through and take it all, though Boston does have a small resemblance to the ’07 Ducks, albeit a poor man’s version (Giguere, Pronger, Niedermayer, lots of size and skill up front, defensive minded coach vs. Thomas, Chara, Kaberle, lots of size and skill up front, defensive minded coach). Detroit meanwhile scored quite a few goals this year, but struggled to keep them out, which is explained in part by the poor goaltending they had part of the year. (Osgood was hurt almost all year, and when Howard missed a few stretches, Joey MacDonald was the defacto starter…).
Here are the top 5 teams in terms of goal differential and goals for:
|5||San Jose/New York||+35|
-Pittsburgh has played great despite losing Crosby and Malkin, but doesn’t have the offence to go all the way.
-Chicago still has the offence, but their 1st round match-up against Vancouver makes them tough to pick.
-New York makes a surprise appearance in goal differential. Will give Washington a fight
-San Jose looking strong as usual, but that leadership group must have nightmares come playoff time…
1ST ROUND PREDICTIONS COMING TOMORROW