The Montreal Canadiens and the Tampa Bay Lightning are facing off against each other for the Stanley Cup after beating the Vegas Golden Knights and New York Islanders, respectively. One team was pretty much written off by every body while the other is making back-to-back Stanley Cup Final appearances.
Game 1 went in favour of the Lightning as the home team took the early series lead with a 5–1 victory. As the dust settles from the series opener, we can look back at how the third round of the playoffs went for the teams involved by looking at the goals scored by game state and scorer using data visualisations to break down how the teams found their offence.
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.
Check out the visualisations from the previous rounds here:
2021 NHL playoffs goals by game state and scorer — First Round
2021 NHL Playoffs goals by game state and scorer — Second Round
Vegas Golden Knights versus Montreal Canadiens
Having a team in North Division making it out of the Western Conference was laughable by pundits and fans alike, as many predicted that the winner of the Vegas/Colarado series would easily bulldoze through the North’s finest. However, the Canadiens showed up when it mattered, proved doubters wrong, and shut down the Golden Knights’ best players en route to a series victory and securing their first trip to the Final since 1993.
Over six games, not only were the Golden Knights severely limited on offence—scoring just 13 goals—they were also held to scoring exclusively at 5v5. With their special teams entirely unable to convert, they were stymied. The Montreal Canadiens penalty kill operated at a 100% efficiency despite Vegas having 29:03 of power play time (compared to Montreal’s 17:21).
This level of penalty killing might translate well for Montreal heading into the Final too, as per Sports Betting Dime, their Cup odds on June 26 (heading into the winner-take-all series) was +210 as the underdog compared to the Lightning’s -250 as the favourites. However, the Lightning converted once on the power play already in the final minutes of Game 1, and their power play will test Montreal’s penalty kill more than the Golden Knights did.
Vegas’ top forwards were all notably absent from the scoresheet—with Mark Stone, Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, Chandler Stephenson, and Alex Tuch all netting zero goals in the series—while Max Pacioretty and Reilly Smith each managed just one goal apiece.
They were instead led by Alex Pietrangelo who scored three goals, while Alec Martinez had two along with Nicholas Roy. Martinez was playing with a broken foot for the whole series to boot.
Montreal didn’t exactly win with high offence, they just scored more goals when it mattered. The series saw 20-year-old Cole Caufield make his mark, who netted his first through fourth career playoff goals against Vegas after being held scoreless in the first two series against Toronto and Winnipeg. Two of his goals came at 5v4 on the power play.
Shea Weber scored the other power play goal for Montreal, making it highly efficient given how the other three teams in the third round all had over ten more minutes on the man advantage compared to the Canadiens (as per NaturalStatTrick.com). Josh Anderson and Paul Byron joined Caufield as the only other multi-goal scorers with two apiece, and Nick Suzuki netted a 5v6 empty net goal that secured Montreal’s 4–1 win in Game 6.
New York Islanders versus Tampa Bay Lightning
Taking the series to the limit, the Islanders and Lightning saw the series tied thrice before reaching the dramatic Game 7 win-or-go-home game. In every Islanders win, the margin of victory was just one goal. The same was only true for two of the Lightning’s wins as they also had a 4–2 victory in Game 2 and the 8–0 drubbing in Game 5.
The Islanders were held to even less offence than the Golden Knights, scoring the least goals in the third round with 11, in which 10 came at 5v5. Besides Mathew Barzal and his three goals, all other scorers were limited to one goal each. Brock Nelson scored the only non-5v5 goal for New York in Game 2.
With Nelson, Anthony Beauvillier, Josh Bailey, and Jordan Eberle each scoring just one goal, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau not scoring at all, their best scorers were effectively contained by Tampa Bay. The absence of Anders Lee was felt most in the series as he could have provided some offence, but trade deadline additions Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac were held off the scoresheet in the series too—with more emphasis toward Palmieri who had a big impact in scoring in the first two rounds.
The Lightning were led by Brayden Point‘s obscene total of six goals in the series, where he nearly made history with a nine-game goal scoring streak that ended in Game 7. One of his goals game at 6v4 where the Lightning tried to no avail to tie up Game 1 but the two goal deficit was too much to overcome in the late game.
Yanni Gourde netted three goals while Alex Killorn, Ondrej Palat, and Steven Stamkos each had two goals. Nikita Kucherov was held to zero goals in the series, but it did not matter as the Lightning still had the best offence in the third round, totalling 20 goals spread over 10 scorers.
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Third round exits
While the Final continues with Game 2 coming up on Wednesday, June 30, two teams had their quest for the Cup come to an end. For the Golden Knights and Islanders, their aggregate playoff goals by game state and scorer can now be visualised too. This tallies all of the goals scored in their playoff runs over the three rounds to get a complete picture.
Vegas Golden Knights
The Golden Knights had a plethora of goals at 5v5, scoring 44 of their 53 total playoff goals at even strength. A good chunk of players were able to score too, with depth scoring clearly present for Vegas. Their downfall in the playoffs was their power play. In their 19 games, scoring just four goals at 5v4 is abysmal and is not going to setup many teams for prolonged success.
Vegas equaled themselves between power play goals and empty net goals, which speaks volumes about their power play woes. Stone did however, score one shorthanded goal to at least dampen the sting on their special teams.
When looking at the whole Golden Knights playoff run, seeing Marchessault, Pacioretty, Stone take the top-three spots for goals scored makes all too much sense. Knowing that they were stifled in the third round points a few fingers in their direction for what went wrong for Vegas.
New York Islanders
Similarly to the Golden Knights, their overall playoff run saw Nelson, Palmieri, Bailey, and Barzal tallying the most goals for the team, yet the first three combined for two goals in the third round despite scoring 18 in the previous two.
Interestingly, the Islanders had a lot of different skaters scoring at 5v4 on the man-advantage with seven different scorers tallying nine total goals. Likewise, four different players each scored one empty net goal apiece. This spreads the plot out in a rather pleasing fashion. Oliver Wahlstrom scored one goal in his five playoff games, with a special marking coming during the rare 4v3 power play.
Overview of third round exits
Between the Golden Knights and Islanders, there were some shared similarities in their third round exits. Both teams saw their top offensive drivers struggling to score when it mattered most. They paralleled each other in more ways as well, as the Islanders tallied 54 total playoff goals to the Golden Knights’ 53.
I’m not sure which number was more surprising for which team, as the Golden Knights had one of the most potent regular season offences compared to the Islanders who relied more on defence and goaltending to win. Seeing the two teams being so comparable in their playoff runs was unexpected, to say the least.
While both teams reset, it’ll be interesting to see what they do in their offseasons to tweak their rosters, as both have strong arguments about being right on the cusp of Stanley Cup glory.
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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