With two games to go before the end of the regular season, here’s a look at the potential first round playoff opponents for your Boston Bruins:
There’s already quite a bit of chatter out there as to which team might be the preferred opponent, and we’re all looking at record vs opponent, how each team has been playing this year, and how the Bruins seem to be limping into the playoffs.
One consideration that should not be overlooked, however, is Fenwick Close.
What Is Fenwick Close?
For those not familiar with this fancy stat, here’s a handy summation from the good folks at Sportsnet Magazine:
Fenwick is a differential between shots (minus blocked shots) directed at the opponent’s net versus those directed at your own, and the “close” means only stats in tight games (within two in the first and second period, and tied in the third) are taken into account. For example: if both Team A and Team B take exactly 30 shots in a 0-0 game wire-to-wire, each team will have a .500 Fenwick close.
Hockey … is all about possession – the team that has the puck more than their opponents and gets more shots on goal (i.e., owns a plus-.500 Fenwick) is going to have more success in the long run.
(Sportsnet Magazine, May 6, 2013, “100 Reasons Why The NHL Has Never Been Better“)
So what does this mean for the Bruins and the four teams pictured above?
Fenwick Close and Bruins Playoff Opponents
For that information, there’s no better place to look than BehindTheNet.ca, which offers up a wealth of valuable fancy stat information.
Consider the following Fenwick Close numbers, as of the morning of April 26th, 2013:
Despite how the Bruins have been perceived this year, their very real and tangible success is built on a healthy Fenwick number, good for 4th overall in the NHL (behind the Los Angeles Kings, Chicago Blackhawks and New Jersey Devils.) The New York Rangers, New York Islanders and Ottawa Senators are all up in or near the top 3rd in the league, with the Maple Leafs coming in next to last, ahead of only the Buffalo Sabres and behind the likes of the Edmonton Oilers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Colorado Avalanche, Columbus Blue Jackets, Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars – all non-playoff teams, with the possible exception of #Lumbus.
If the above definition from SN Magazine is accurate, then the Bruins are well positioned to compete with any team in the league, with the possibility of a 4 vs 5 matchup with Toronto being more beneficial than a 2 vs 7 series against any of the other 3 teams.
Does This Mean Anything In the Playoffs?
The prevailing feeling is that all bets are off when the playoffs begin; anything can happen, fancy stats be damned. At the same time, there’s wisdom in looking at the evidence and believing that, in the end, the better team can and should prevail.
Cam Charron qualifies it this way:
Seven games is enough of a sample that a decent team can beat a top team with two good goaltending performances and two home wins. It’s also a large-enough sample that generally, the best team will win a series. (Backhand Shelf)
Look, I’m willing to admit that I’m no fancy stat expert, and that this information may or may not mean anything once the puck drops for the “second season.” The numbers tell us that Bruins routinely out shoot their opponents, and if 7 games is enough of a sample size for the better time to rise to the top, Boston has as good a shot as anybody to succeed in the playoffs, whoever their first round opponent may be. Having said that, anything CAN happen, and the unpredictable WILL happen at some point. One just has to look at last year’s playoffs and remember how Braden Holtby and the Caps stymied the Bruins in 7 closely contested games to advance to the second round, despite Boston (52.6) having a better Fenwick number than Washington (49.71) during the regular season.
What we do know is that the Bruins are a top-level possession team, and generate more shots on net than any of their potential first round opponents. And given the way Tuukka has played this season, that certainly bodes well for the Bruins, regardless of their perceived shortcomings.
If you don’t buy the Fenwick argument, take it from the Great One, who once famously said “You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take.”
Or, to put it another way, if you ain’t shooting, you probably ain’t winning.
End Note: FWIW, the Bruins ranked 14th in Fenwick Close during the 2010-11 regular season, and the Canucks came in at 4th. During the playoffs, they were 6th & 4th respectively. Last season, the Kings ranked 4th during the regular season, and 6th in the playoffs.
Follow Ian on Twitter for more hockey updates and commentary.