Correlation is not causation. It is important to remember this when evaluating statistical evidence. The St. Louis Blues won game three in the first round of the playoffs today against the Minnesota Wild. With three games in the book the series is starting to take shape, statistically speaking. One important statistic has emerged thus far overlooked in evaluations of this year’s playoff matchups.
Photo: Jeff Curry/USA Today Sports
In any given Stanley Cup Playoffs, there are fifteen total matchups: 8 in round one, 4 in round two, 2 in round three, and the final. Last year defensemen in the league played an important role on successful teams. In nearly every series, the winning team’s defensive core outscored the losing team’s defensive core in terms of total points. Of the 15 total matchups in the 2016 playoffs, only one series (round 1 between the Stars and Wild) did not follow this pattern. The average difference between winning and losing teams’ defensive scoring was 2.87 points.
Notably, the Blues’ defense last year had a +5 differential over the Blackhawks in round 1, a +6 differential over the Stars in round 2, and a -5 differential against the Sharks in round 3 when they lost. When the Blues’ defense is outplaying and outscoring the opponent’s defense, they win the series. This was a pattern for 14 of the 15 matchups last year, though in 2 of those it should be noted that the point differential was 0 (round 1 Lightning over Red Wings, and round 3 Penguins over Lightning).
Over 3 games so far against the Wild, the Blues defense has accumulated 4 points (2 goals from Edmundson, 1 goal from Parayko, and an assist from Pietrangelo) while the Wild defense has accumulated 2 (2 assists from Suter).
Again, correlation is not causation. There are far too many variables in any model of playoff series success that time and space limitations do not allow me to account for here. However, a correlate of success in the 2016 playoffs was higher point production among defensive players relative to the opposing team. The Penguins’ D-core outscored the Sharks’ D-core by +4 in the finals. In a 5-game series in round 2, the Lightning D-core outscored the Islanders D-core +8. The Capitals’ D-core outscored the Flyers’ D-core +7 in round 1. So on and so forth.
If the Blues’ defense continues this pattern of providing offensive production, and finds a way to outscore the opponent’s defense, I like our chances of a deep playoff run this year. With the return of Bortuzzo to create space (and the occasional offensive chance like he had repeatedly today), and the rock-solid play by Pietrangelo, Bouwmeester, and Parayko, the loss of Shattenkirk at the trade deadline seems to be something that should have, but did not, significantly affect defensive production relative to the opponent.
Let’s see if the Blues can continue this type of play. Every Blues fan should be ecstatic about the unlikely sources of scoring in St. Louis right now.
by Kellen Gracey