The NHL concluded the first round of the 2021 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs with a classic Game 7 in the North Division featuring the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens. The second round got underway south of the border while the North Division finished up, being one of only two series that needed a Game 7 to see a victor. With the Canadiens topping the Leafs, two underdogs come face to face between Montreal and Winnipeg.
During the 2020 NHL Playoffs, I made a data visualisation series to see how teams got their goals as they were eliminated. When goals are scored, the visualisation breaks it down into the game state (i.e. the number of players on the ice per team), as well as the goal scorer. The resulting charts gives insight into how goals were scored by all the teams involved in the playoffs.
How to read the goals by game state and scorer 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 connections between the left and right columns gives a visual breakdown of a team’s goal scoring tendencies.
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 MoneyPuck.com. 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. Click on each image to see the full size visual.
Featuring a tale of two series, the North Division saw a sweep as well as a series going the distance. The Edmonton Oilers lost four straight to the Winnipeg Jets, while the aforementioned Game 7—and series—upset by the Canadiens left the Leafs cleaning out their lockers earlier than anyone could have foresaw.
The sweep by the Jets featured three games going to overtime with Game 4 reaching triple overtime before the series was ultimately won by Kyle Connor. The Canadiens fought back on a 3–1 series deficit to win three straight over the Leafs, two of which were overtime victories.
The Oilers managed to score eight goals on Connor Hellebuyck over the course of four games. Leon Draisaitl led the Oilers with two goals, one at 5v5 and one at 5v3 on a two-man advantage. Six other Oilers were held to a goal apiece, including Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Jesse Puljujarvi. Alex Chiasson was the only other Oiler to convert on the power play at 5v4.
The offence just wasn’t there for Edmonton, who finished the regular season seventh in the league for total team points. Holding the Art Ross Trophy winner McDavid to just four points when he nearly had two points per game in the regular season was a big reason why Edmonton ended up getting swept.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs scored the most goals out of any team that was eliminated with 18, spread out among 11 skaters. Two-thirds of their total goals were scored at 5v5, while they also struck at 5v4 three times, scored once with their goalie pulled, and once on Montreal’s empty net.
William Nylander was their most effective scorer in the series, potting three even strength goals, a power play marker, and also converting once at 6v5. Only two other Leafs scored at least two goals in the series, with Jason Spezza and Jake Muzzin scoring three and two goals at 5v5, respectively.
Similar to Edmonton and McDavid, the Maurice Richard Trophy winner Auston Matthews was limited to just one goal scored at 5v5. On top of that, Mitch Marner was held off the scoresheet completely while John Tavares was out of essentially the whole series with his Game 1 injury. When the offence doesn’t click for one of the league’s top offensive teams, it makes seven game series lean much closer to being a coin toss, and the Leafs were on the wrong side of it.
Mirroring the North, the only other sweep and only other Game 7 in the first round came out of the West Division, where the Colorado Avalanche cruised past the St. Louis Blues and the Vegas Golden Knights were challenged but prevailed over the Minnesota Wild.
Colorado posted 20 goals in a display of total dominance with no game being remotely close for the St. Louis. The Wild fought back from a 3–1 series deficit but weren’t able to complete the comeback in the winner-advances game to finish their playoff run.
St. Louis Blues
The Blues looked like a minor team playing against the Avalanche, much to their own disapproval and despair. They were limited to just seven goals, the lowest total of any team in the first round. Vladimir Tarasenko led with two goals, one at 5v5 and one at 5v4, while Tyler Bozak managed to score a 4v5 shorthanded goal.
The Blues’ top two goal scorers from the regular season—Ryan O’Reilly and David Perron—had zero goals to show for in the playoffs, while their next three leading goal scorers—Mike Hoffman, Brayden Schenn, and Jordan Kyrou—combined for just three goals, each scoring once.
The Wild definitely made things interesting against the Golden Knights. Four players put up two goals apiece over the span of the series for Minnesota, including Joel Eriksson Ek, Ryan Hartman, Zach Parise, and rookie sensation Kirill Kaprizov. Of the eight goals scored by the four, all but one goal came at 5v5, the other was a power play goal from Kaprizov.
Five other players had goals for the Wild, which included 5v5, 5v4, and 5v6 goals, with Nico Sturm being the one to nab the empty goal in Game 5 off of a bank off the board from his own zone that went right into the vacated net.
Both series in the Central went to six games, with the Florida Panthers bested by the Tampa Bay Lightning, and likewise the Nashville Predators by the Carolina Hurricanes. The Lightning were never at risk in the series, as they established an early 2–0 lead and did not let the Panthers tie it up. However, the Hurricanes were up 2–0 but then saw the Predators tie the series in two straight double overtime games. The final two games also went to overtime, but the Hurricanes won both to advance.
The Panthers had a mixed bag of offence in their games, scoring as many as six goals in their overtime win in Game 3, while also getting shutout as they faced elimination in Game 6. Florida scored 10 goals at 5v5, but also had a highly impressive six 5v4 power play goals.
Four Panthers had two goals apiece to lead the team in the playoffs. Jonathan Huberdeau posted two goals with eight assists for the team scoring lead, and his goals came once at 5v5 and once at 5v4. Carter Verhaeghe had similar goal outputs with the same situations, whereas Patric Hornqvist scored both of his goals on the power play and Mason Marchment scored both of his at 5v5.
Nine other Panthers contributed a goal apiece, notably Aleksander Barkov with a single power play marker, Frank Vatrano with an empty-netter, and trade deadline acquisition Sam Bennett, who was arguably on the lower end of the goal scoring tally in spite of him earning the moniker of Playoffs Sam Bennett with the Flames.
A lot of hockey was played by the Predators and Hurricanes in their series. With four straight games requiring extra time to solve, the series was captivatingly close. For the Panthers, they excelled at 5v5, as their 13 goals was tops among the eliminated teams. Their power play also converted twice at 5v3 and once at 5v4.
Six different skaters had at least two goals in the series, but Ryan Johansen led with three himself. Filip Forsberg and Mikael Granlund were among those who scored two, while Matt Duchene was limited to one goal.
Finally, the two series in the East Division featured the Boston Bruins winning four straight games after giving up a 1–0 series lead to the the Washington Capitals, while the Penguins and Islanders were tied twice at 1–1 and 2–2 before the Islanders closed out the series by taking Games 5 and 6.
Both series also featured a handful of overtime games, with each seeing a game going to double overtime as well. The Bruins and Islanders emerged victorious from the marathon overtime games they were a part of, with Craig Smith and Josh Bailey being the double over time heroes in their respective games.
The Capitals were promptly eliminated by ceding four straight games after winning Game 1. Their offence just wasn’t firing as one of the season’s most potent scoring teams—being tied third for goals for with the Golden Knights in the regular season. Scoring an average of two goals per game was well below their rate of 3.4 goals in 2021.
Alex Ovechkin led with two power play goals, while Garnet Hathaway and Nic Dowd each had a pair of 5v5 goals. Four other players each had a goal, but when the list of Capitals goal scorers is that sparse, the early exit doesn’t seem as surprising. Nicklas Backstrom scored zero goals with just one assist, despite being their top point scorer in the regular season.
The Penguins were involved in quite a few close games with the Islanders, with four being decided by just one goal (in which two of them featured overtime). Scoring 16 goals over the course of six games, the Penguins did their best work at event strength with 75% of their goals coming at 5v5.
Jeff Carter led the team with four goals, while Sidney Crosby was limited to just one. Zach Aston-Reese picked up a 4v5 shorthanded goal late in Game 4 to avoid being shutout, but the loss led to New York tying the series back up in their first of three straight wins over Pittsburgh.
First round overview
Looking at all eight teams that exited in the first round, the plots are first rescaled to have equal sizing for each goal. Comparing the group, the two teams that were eliminated in the Central Division—Florida and Nashville—were both able to find the back of the net quite frequently. In the other three divisions, there were lopsided outcomes where one team had offence, while the trio of St. Louis, Edmonton, and Washington were completely stifled in the scoring front.
It’s interesting to see how Nashville had 5v5 success compared to Florida’s 5v4 scoring, while Toronto was the only team to score a goal at 6v5. Also, the Predators were the only team that scored twice on the 5v3 power play while the Oilers managed one.
The first round featured some displays of dominance in some series, and hard-fought battles in others. From teams being completely dominated by their opponent, to a couple of surprising series taking it to the limit with Game 7 drama, the first round had it all. At the end of the day—or rather, season—these eight teams had their run in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs cut short. It’ll be interesting to see which ones stick to their playbook and which ones start making drastic changes heading into their offseasons.
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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