Breaking down expected goal differential rates of playoff players

Expected goals are a great way to get a sense of what happens in a game when any single player is on the ice. Of the 24 teams slated to play in the 2020 playoffs, which teams boast the best players and which teams have the worst? Let’s find out.

Using expected goal differentials here can be useful as it can give more context on whether a player’s effect is net positive or negative for their team. To start, expected goals for and against rates per 60 minutes (xGF/60 and xGA/60, respectively) are obtained for all players at 5v5, score-and-venue adjusted from NaturalStatTrick. The differentials are simply calculated by taking the difference between a player’s xGF/60 and xGA/60.

By using differentials, relative comparisons can be made without the context of a player being on a high-scoring or low-scoring team. Rather, all the matters is whether a player can expect to score more than they are scored on when they’re on the ice.

Among the 24 playoff teams, 390 total players have logged at least 500 minutes of 5v5 ice-time this season. So which players find themselves atop the league and which ones find themselves at the bottom looking up? Let’s take a look.

For additional context before looking at the chart, the highest xG differential was +1.21 xG/60 and the lowest was -1.09 xG/60. Context on shot attempts is included using colour, where the highest and lowest corsi differentials were +25.9 corsi/60 and -27.4 corsi/60, respectively.

Expect nothing but the best

The Vegas Golden Knights had two of the most dominant 5v5 players this season in Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone. Frequent linemates, the duo also elevated the games of Paul Stastny and Chandler Stephenson. It’s no surprise the defencemen on the Golden Knights also enjoyed strong xG differentials, with Shea Theodore and Nick Holden being top defenders in the league in this regard.

Outside of Vegas, the Montreal Canadiens had a dominant line with Brendan Gallagher, Tomas Tatar, and Phillip Danault. The trio also boasted some of the best corsi differential rates to boot. If that line is utilised properly and are able to convert on their chances, Montreal could easily by a dark horse force to reckon with.

Some other players that standout are Evgeni Malkin, Dougie Hamilton, and Garnet Hathaway. Malkin elevated his game once again, being the player the Pittsburgh Penguins needed him to be. Hamilton returns after his leg injury that had him sidelined, it remains to be seen whether his offensive contributions will continue. Hathaway was a surprise as his first season with the Washington Capitals was a relatively quiet one when it came to scoring, but lo and behold, perhaps he should have had a better campaign than luck had him faring.

Curb your expectations

On the other side of the spectrum, the league’s worst players mostly down in shot attempts against and consequently expected goals against.

For starters, 19-year-old rookie (who played much of the season as an 18-year-old) Kaapo Kakko was one of the worst forwards in the league this season when it comes to metrics like expected goals and goals above replacement. However, he might not be eligible to play in the playoffs anyway. Kakko’s frequent linemate Brett Howden also finds himself right at the bottom of the list.

The Winnipeg Jets standout for the wrong reasons. They have quite a few names in the bottom-24, including Nathan Beaulieu, Dmitry Kulikov, Jack Roslovic, Anthony Bitetto, Luca Sbisa, Mathieu Perreault, Mark Scheifele, Josh Morrissey, Adam Lowry, Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, and Tucker Poolman.

Having 12 of your regular skaters slot in at the bottom of the league for expected goals is not a good omen for playoff success. The Jets have been buoyed by the goaltending of Connor Hellebuyck (who really should be the front-runner for the Vezina this season), and will have to change their on-ice product if they want to stop relying on their goaltender to win games.


Do expected goal differentials give some more insight on the on-ice products of some teams or players? Who stands out the most? Which other players are you curious about? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @wincolumnblog.

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