I love playoff hockey.
I am also not alone in this. However it is surprising that I love it as much as I do because statistics fly out the window. I love statistics, but I love good hard-fought hockey games much more.
Interestingly, I believe that the average sports fan’s interest in any given sport, game or even moment is often driven not by what happens on the ice, but in the storyline that surrounds it. That is a column for another day though.
Despite that, it is undeniable that playoff hockey is just better to watch. The three aspects of the actual gameplay that I assume make the actual games more enjoyable;
3. The battles for the puck.
2. The hitting.
1. Scrambles in front of the net.
Now there is obviously no stat that measures what I feel is the most important aspect . . . scrambles in front of the net, but it seems there are more of them in the playoffs and they are better than their regular season counterparts.
Battles for the puck won, also, currently isn’t a stat available to the general public. However, they are usually won by the determination first and strength second. This makes them very dramatic to watch and even though they exist in the regular season I have to believe they are more ferocious and important in the second season.
The second point, however, does have a stat for it. You can look here for Coach Brouwer’s list of the Top 5 hitters in this year’s playoffs. This list inspired me. Although it measures the incalculable “impact” players and their hits deliver and not the stat based numbers behind them. In a format where hitting is vital to controlling the flow of a game, wearing down a team mentally and physically as well as resulting in turnovers and scoring chances. Who throws the most hits?
You will notice that Ryan Callahan, Matt Hendricks, Shane Doan leading the way. When you look at that list you will notice that Brandon Prust of the Rangers is tied for 10th (although not shown) with 31 hits so far. You will also notice that out of the top 10 only one player’s team failed to make it through the first round. As a matter of fact of the top 25 only 7 players made the list on teams that were eliminated in the first round. Of those seven there were five players whose team’s lost by a single goal in Game 7 of the first round (Milan Lucic, 30, Dennis Seidenberg, 29, Jared Cowen, 28, Chris Neil, 27, and Zdeno Chara, 26).
However, this approach doesn’t tell the true story. If a team were destroy their opposition (looking at you Los Angeles Kings) in the first round they are benefiting from less games played. So I calculated Hits per Game Played (HpGP). It looks like this:
Surprisingly, somewhat different with three players in the top 10 in total hits not making the top 10 in HpGP. The thing that surprises me out of this list is that no Nashville player makes the list. As a matter of fact the highest hitting player is Mike Fisher with 22 hits ranking 35th. Shea Weber, 15 hits, and Ryan Suter, 10 hits, are 36th and 56th . . . among defensemen so far in the 2012 playoffs.
As a matter of fact when you look at the teams on paper you’d think the team based in “Smashville” would be out hitting their second round opposition so far in the playoffs. However, it isn’t so. In the first and second round Phoenix players make up six of the top 50 hitters in the NHL (two in the Top 10). The Predators have one, the aforementioned Fisher, well below the halfway point.
If Nashville wants to have any chance against Phoenix and the rest of the playoffs I think this could be an area of their game plan that they can adjust and have some success. However, it could be that the Coyote's style defend and counter-attack make it hard to play the body. This could be the biggest challenge for Barry Trotz and his team as I think it will be a key to their success in the series and beyond.
Do you think hitting wins series? If not what do you think is the most important thing? Let me know in the comments.