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The Playoffs And Power Play Opportunities

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Conventional wisdom holds that when hockey's second season starts, NHL officials swallow their whistles in favor of letting the teams - and not possibly questionable calls - decide critically important games.

The funny thing about conventional wisdom, though, is that it's often wrong. Dead wrong. Just ask Tom Poti on this one.

In fact, power play opportunities per game in last year's playoffs were actually up overall with respect to the regular season, by nearly three percent. That's not a big increase, of course, but given the popular belief that power play chances disappear come playoff time, that there was any increase is worth noting, and it becomes downright interesting when you look at the post-lockout trend:

Season Reg. Season PP/G Playoff PP/G
11.7 11.6 -0.8
2006-07 9.7 10.3 5.9
2007-08 8.6 8.8 2.6
8.4* - -

*Through Saturday

Besides the obvious decrease in power plays per game over the years ("The players are learning to play within the stricter enforcement of the rules," we're told, though our eyes tell us more obstruction is being permitted than was allowed in the early post-lockout NHL), power play opportunities per game have been holding relatively constant from regular season to the playoffs. Sure, calls per minute may be down given the longer overtimes, but this data certainly seems to buck that old conventional wisdom on whistle swallowing, which I would say died with the "old" NHL... except that in 2003-04, there were 8.5 power plays per game in both the regular and post seasons. [Sidenote: fewer power plays per game this season than in the last pre-lockout campaign? How'd that happen?]

So how does this impact the Caps? In a general sense, so long as the Caps are scoring on every fourth power play and killing roughly four out of every five penalties they commit, they stand to benefit from a constant or increased number of power play opportunities per game (so far on the season, they've averaged 4.09 PPs per game and 4.75 PKs per game, and have a +5 special teams goal differential). But in certain match ups, their power play might be better than others and/or their kill might be worse, so that is only so useful - if the Caps draw the Canadiens in the first round, they may very well be better off with a less tightly called series than if they face Florida.

More specifically, as the Caps (presumably) get more focused and motivated and demonstrate the kind of consistent effort at both ends of the ice that results in better discipline and more penalties drawn, it's good to know that that effort should be rewarded in the playoffs every bit as much as it is in the regular season, and it's equally important to be aware that no matter what they've heard, players shouldn't expect to get away with anything in late-April that they couldn't get away with in early-November.

Just ask Tom Poti.