2020 NHL Playoffs goals by game state and scorer: Conference Finals

The Dallas Stars and the Tampa Bay Lightning will face off for the Stanley after respectively sending the Vegas Golden Knights and New York Islanders home from the Edmonton bubble. By visualising scoring tendencies by game state (5v5, 4v5, 5v4, etc.), we can analyse where a team’s scoring came from.

While previous posts in the series looked at just the teams that didn’t make it onto the next round, this one will look at the final four. Let’s break it all down and look at the goals that have come from these teams so far.

How to read the charts

In the left column, goals are sorted by game state; in the right column goals are sorted by scorer. Both columns are sorted from the greatest to least number of occurrences. Game states are defined based on the number of skaters on ice, and the colours represent skaters relative to the opponent at the time of the goal.

The limitation of this data presentation is that it technically omits information on whether a goal was scored with the goalie pulled for the extra skater or on an empty net. However, in most scenarios the skaters on ice would either be 6v5 or 5v6, respectively.

While that does serve as a proxy, it doesn’t account for situations where a player in the penalty box might cause a goalie pulled situation to be represented as 5v5. Those goals would be missed in the current method of data presentation.

The visualisation may be reworked in the future to contain goaltender and penalty status, but in the mean time, the focus is only on the skaters on ice, which still serves useful information to see how a team gets their goals.

All data from Visualisations created with R and modified with Adobe Illustrator. The R “tidyverse” and “ggalluvial” packages were used to create the visualisations. Colour palette adapted from Carto.

Related: Visualising team scoring across the NHL at the time of the COVID-19 pause

Western Conference

Both the Stars and Golden Knights faced off against each other after thrilling seven-game series from the second round. While most expected that the Golden Knights would have a good shot at advancing, it was ultimately the Stars who silenced the doubters.

These two teams had very different opponents and journeys to the Western Conference Final. Vegas saw a huge drop in their goals per game in the playoffs compared to the regular season, while the Stars enjoyed a large boost. It’s easy to point it out as obvious, but that’s the exact recipe that lead to the outcome of the Stars cruising their way past the Golden Knights.

Dallas Stars

So far in the playoffs, the Stars are led in scoring by veteran Joe Pavelski and ELC player Denis Gurianov, both with nine goals apiece. The duo of Alexander Radulov and Jamie Benn have found the back of the net eight times each, while Tyler Seguin has been limited to just two goals.

The Stars have one of the best power plays in the playoffs, and they’re getting goals up and down their lineup on the man-advantage. One thing about the Star’s power play is they’re willing to use the players that will score, no matter the experience. Nine different Stars have scored on the power play, making it tough for opponents to defend against any single player.

Gurianov, Miro Heiskanen, Joel Kiviranta, and Roope Hintz have all been used successfully on the power play along side the Star’s veterans. One thing these four players have in common is that they’re on entry-level contracts.

Khalid Keshavjee made note in his article breaking down contributions from entry-level players that the Stars have been one of the better teams so far these playoffs in getting offence from their youngest players.

Overall Dallas has gotten scoring from many players, and perhaps more importantly, they have top goal scorers in the playoffs right now too. They’re heading into the Stanley Cup Final hoping to continue their offensive outburst.

Vegas Golden Knights

The Golden Knights weren’t able to find their usual ways against the Stars and Vegas just wasn’t able to play to their usual style. Vegas had a plethora of goal scorers, led by Alex Tuck, Mark Stone, and Shea Theodore. Many models and analysts had them as Cup favourites, and the offence they boast is a big reason why.

However, while still offensively potent, one could argue that they ran into a hurdle and took steps back from their regular season performance. They had the lowest goal total among the remaining four teams, which given the teams involved. Given that the Stars and the Islanders were a part of the final four, it’s surprising to think Vegas would have the lowest scoring offence.

Three names that stand out as players with playoff woes were Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Paul Stastny. The trio combined for just nine goals in their playoff run, which was disappointing for them all.

The thing about the Golden Knights though, was that there isn’t much else they could change in their game. Sometimes pucks don’t go in and this might have been one of those times for Vegas. The series was really a lot more even than it looked despite it only lasting five games.

Eastern Conference

Similar to the West, there was a lopsided sense regarding which team was more capable of scoring goals. Tampa Bay bringing the offence was a given while New York didn’t have the same expectations. Yet, the Islanders exited the playoffs with the most goals for.

But you have to give credit where it’s due. Not many expected the Islanders to put together the on-ice product they were able to, yet they proved naysayers wrong and had a deep run that they should be able to build upon next season and beyond.

Tampa on the other hand, have cruised their way to the Stanley Cup Final, with just five losses so far (including the round robin). They’ve faced their fair share of adversity though, perhaps none bigger than Steven Stamkos being sidelined. One of the best all-around teams in the league, they finally made it back to the Stanley Cup Final after their loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015.

Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning are the most potent even-strength team of the playoffs, racking 46 goals in such those situations. They’re getting these goals from players throughout their lineup, as any of their lines could be used to score. Fourteen different players scored at 5v5 for the Lightning.

At all situations, Brayden Point and Victor Hedman have played stellar playoff hockey and lead the team in goals with nine each, while Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov closely follow with eight and six goals, respectively.

The Lightning power play has not been as effective compared to the regular season, but that will happen with Stamkos, their leading power play scorer, still not cleared to play yet. Hedman, Palat, and Alex Killorn each have two goals on the man-advantage, and that accounts for 60% of their 5v4 scoring already.

Heading into the Final, special teams will be critical and scoring on the power play will be an area the Lightning look to remedy. However, if they can keep things at even strength, they’ll be in good hands.

New York Islanders

A storied postseason came to an end for the Islanders, but they have a lot to look forward to. Their offence shone and amassed many goals along the way. Anthony Beauvillier and Brock Nelson both posted nine goals, while Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Anders Lee had eight and seven goals, respectively.

Three other players, Jordan Eberle, Mathew Barzal, and Matt Martin all had five goals apiece, and they had seven other multi-goal scorers in the playoffs, highlighted by Nick Leddy‘s three goals.

The Islanders scored seven goals at 5v6, which at a cursory glance might be an indicator that they played in situations with small leads late into games, but were at least effective at closing out games when given the opportunity.

However, let’s not forget that in three straight series against the Panthers, Capitals, and finally the Flyers, the elimination game was emphatically won by the Islanders, so in reality they were actually effective at closing out series when given the opportunity.

Conference finals overview

The spread in goals scored between the four teams was fairly narrow. All teams showed that they are capable of scoring. It can be seen that Dallas had one of the best power plays while the other three were less effective.

There was not much scoring from these teams when looking at shorthanded scenarios, but the Islanders did have the aforementioned success scoring on empty nets.

Heading in the Stanley Cup Final, the Lightning and Stars have fairly similar offensive outputs, and it can come down to whether Tampa Bay can remain disciplined and not give Dallas power plays, or if the Stars can continue to stifle their opponent’s offence.

Check out the rest of the series here:

2020 NHL Playoffs goals by game state and scorer: Qualifying Round

2020 NHL Playoffs goals by game state and scorer: First Round

2020 NHL Playoffs goals by game state and scorer: Second Round

Once the Stanley Cup Final is awarded, we will revisit these plots once more and look at the 2020 Playoffs on a whole as well as how Dallas and Tampa Bay did in their series.

Are there any other teams (regular season or playoffs from previous years) you’d like to see? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter at @mrbilltran.

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