With the playoff race heating up in both the Western and Eastern Conferences, there are a few teams that having been heating up on their own over the past weeks. Following the All Star Break, teams looked to gain an edge by acquiring new pieces through trades or by finding a new spark plug (possibly in the form of a new goaltender). For two specific teams, this has been the exact case. Both the Ottawa Senators and the Minnesota Wild have gotten help in the net to catapult them right into the playoff picture. Currently, Minnesota holds the first Wild Card spot in the West after falling to 12th in the conference earlier in the year, while the Senators find themselves only two points back of the 8th place Boston Bruins after being 11 points out of the playoffs at the beginning of February. So, what has been the driving force behind the surge of these two teams?
First, let’s take a look at their results since the All Star Break. Below you can see the chart that illustrates the hot run that each team has been on since January 26th. Minnesota has gotten 78% off possible points, allowing them to get into a playoff spot, and Ottawa has been able to get 70.8% of points available, including 17 points in their last 10 games. Prior to the All Star break, Minnesota has a points% of 50% and the Sens had gotten 51.1% of possible points. It’s safe to say that these teams have changed something since the break, and both will look to give credit to one single position: the goaltender.
Both teams have found a new life in net which has given them a chance to extend their seasons. The Wild acquired Devan Dubnyk from the Arizona Coyotes on January 14th, and he has been nothing but great since throwing on the Wild jersey. In desperate need of help in net, the Wild were able to strike gold with their acquisition of Dubnyk, only relinquishing a third-round pick in the transaction. Prior to the All-Star break, the Wild were getting a .898 save percentage at 5v5 while driving a strong score-adjusted corsi-for of 52.2%. Since then, the Wild have gotten a .939 5v5 save percentage from Dubnyk, who has played every single game since arriving in Minnesota. It’s safe to say that Dubnyk has provided a new light for the Wild and given them hope for this year’s playoffs.
The Senators were not able to find their star until a few weeks after the All-Star break. Struggling out of the break, the Sens were in dire need of a change in order to save their season and make a run. Enter Andrew Hammond. After relieving Robin Lehner on February 16th, Hammond has played in 13 subsequent games and won all but one, where they lost in a shootout to the streaking Wild. Hammond has allowed more than two goals only once, and posted two shutouts in his tenure. As evident, the Wild’s run has been greatly influenced by their spiked save percentage. But is this the case for the Sens?
The above graph shows each team’s on-ice save percentage at 5v5 on a rolling average of ten games, courtesy of war-on-ice.com. The dotted line is the All Star Break, and it is clear that each team has benefitted from an increase in save percentage since that point. The Wild seen a big spike, which launched them into a playoff spot. Since Hammond’s arrival on February 16th, the Senators have been able to climb back in the playoff hunt thanks to the climb in save percentage.
Prior to the break, Ottawa had a .927 save percentage, which is not bad by any means. After the break, Hammond has been able to post 5v5 save percentage to .953 and has gone 12-0-1. Minnesota, who has been strong possession-wise, was being dragged down by poor goaltending which put them in a hole. The Senators seen a spike to their save percentage as well, and have seen a great increase in the standings as well. But, what is the true force driving these team’s hot streaks?
With hot streaks such as this, teams should be hesitant to give all the credit to their goalie. It is important to look at the teams in terms of possession and scoring chances, as defined by war-on-ice. Spikes in save percentage can be derived from a number of different things. A goalie could truly be the reason behind the winning streak, or the goaltender could have been fortunate enough to come in when the team was heating up offensively. If a team can limit Corsi events against, the goalie has an easier job, considering that they are not facing a lot of action. Also, if the team can tighten up defensively and limit the number of scoring chances (or high quality opportunities) of their opponent, the goaltender’s job becomes considerably easier.
The graphs below show both the Senators and Wild and their respective corsi per 60 and scoring chances per 60 rates. These numbers are at 5v5 and score-adjusted from war-on-ice.com. Minnesota had a hot possession start and was a top-5 corsi team at the beginning of the year. Their CF60 has dropped significantly, and their CA60 has decreased slightly as well. This is mostly likely the Wild regressing to their average rates, and is not a major result of anything else. The Wild’s scoring chance numbers have seen significant improvement. They have been able to drop their SCA60 number from 24.3 pre-break to 21.6 post-break. While it is a smaller sample size, the ability of the Wild to limit quality shot attempts can be directly linked to their drastic change in save percentage. Dubnyk has played well, but Minnesota has seemed to be tightening up defensively and making his job easier.
The Senators, on the other hand, have made great improvements in their possession game. Prior to the break, they were posting a 49.4% score-adjusted corsi percentage (CF60: 53, CA60: 54.3). After the break, and with the arrival of Hammond, Ottawa has been improved its corsi-for percentage to 52.4%, and seen improvements both for and against (CF60: 56.1, CA60: 51). As a team, the Senators have been able to control possession at a higher rate and they have seen the results.
Seen in the graphs, Ottawa’s offense has made great strides. Relative to pre-break, the Senators have produced 3.1 more shot attempts and 3.1 more scoring chances per 60 minutes of 5v5 play. This is a major factor in their recent success. Ottawa struggled to produce offensively early, and were typically touted as a weak possession team. With their new goaltender, they seem to be driving offense at a top-tier rate. The increase seen in production offensively is definitely a factor to their ongoing success, and the question remains, is Andrew Hammond really their saving grace?
Both this season and the last, the league average save percentage has been .914 according to hockey-reference.com. Prior to Hammond being in the net, the Senators were above that (at .927 as previously mentioned). The Wild, however, were below the average at .898, and have seen their save percentage climb to .939 with Dubnyk in the cage. From this data, and the possession changes mentioned above, the Senators’ winning streak cannot be directly linked to Hammond. They were getting above-average goaltending before the all-star break, yet still struggled in the standings. Their improved in possession has led to them finding their way back in the playoff hunt and looking to play for the Cup. For the Wild, Dubnyk clearly gave them what they needed to be successful. A good possession team with depth and offensive threats, the Wild needed steady goaltending in order to get points on a regular basis.
The chart above shows both Minnesota’s and Ottawa’s PDO on a rolling 10-game average. The dotted line once again represents the All-Star break. It is clear that the Wild were not getting the goaltending they needed, which has already been stated. This PDO graph just reinforces the issue. The Wild are a good team, and need average to above-average goaltending to at least make the playoffs. Their save percentage spiked, but their shooting percentage also did, driving their PDO up to over 106 for a 10-game period at one point. Obviously, this high of a PDO is not going to be sustainable down the stretch. But it is clear that when the Wild starting to get average goaltending in the net, they were able to win and show their true colors.
Ottawa’s PDO path is a little different than the Wild’s. Up until the All-Star break, the Senators followed a fairly common trend in the PDO: hovering around 100, with 10-game streaks between 98 and 102. After the break, their PDO has been steadily climbing, which is right in-line with their streak. A lot of the times, teams that go on winning streaks have a high and unsustainable PDO, so this is not unusual. In fact, it can explain the reason for their success. The Sens have seen a slight increase in save percentage since the break, but their shooting percentage has climbed from 7.6% to 9.5%. With this, it can be said that Ottawa’s streak is not related to their goaltending, but is a result of their increased offensive prowess.
Minnesota has clearly received a great improvement from acquiring Dubnyk in mid-January, and has been able to benefit greatly in the standings. Their game has tightened up, limiting scoring chances against and keeping a high possession level. Dubnyk has been a big factor, driving up their PDO and giving them the confidence to win. Ottawa has been riding a wave of wins with Hammond in the net, but their increase in possession at 5v5 should be the root of much of the discussion. Their average PDO (100.3) and above-average save percentage (.924) before the All-Star break should have been enough for a talented team to produce points. The efforts from the core group of the Senators has them pushing for the final playoff spot in the East.
Both the Wild and the Senators have a PDO of greater than 102 over their past 10 games, which has proven to be unsustainable over time. The two goaltenders’ adjusted save percentages (Dubnyk: .9393; Hammond: .9542) are most likely going to fade in the long run. But the burning question now: with just over 10 games to play in the regular season, can both of these teams ride their hot goaltenders and streaky PDO’s to the promise land? With both teams in great position, the race to the playoffs will be more exciting than ever for these two franchises.