Ranking the NHL's Best Special Teams Clubs Entering the Playoffs

Jonathan Willis@jonathanwillisNHL National ColumnistApril 4, 2014

Ranking the NHL's Best Special Teams Clubs Entering the Playoffs

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    Anybody who has ever watched a hockey game knows how critical special teams can be. The ability to convert on a power play—or conversely, to shut one down—at a critical moment can be the difference between winning and losing.

    Entering the playoffs, where individual games take on greater importance, which NHL teams are the best on special teams? The league offers a host of statistics, but no single unified special teams rating. Additionally, the NHL calculates power-play and penalty-killing efficiency without weighing for short-handed goals, which can have a sizable impact.

    What we've done here is imagined that each team were to both go on the man advantage and be shorthanded 100 times. Then we calculated their expected goal differential based on their performance in both situations this season to give a single number reflective of their special teams work.

    Read on to see which 10 teams have been the best in the NHL in these disciplines.

    Data courtesy of NHL.com and current through the start of action on April 4.

10. Philadelphia Flyers

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    Power play. Philadelphia's power play is well above average; with 53 goals on the man advantage, the Flyers are third in the league and only two points back of third place for total goals scored. In terms of goal differential, though, they're only middle of the pack thanks to 11 short-handed goals against (the second worst total in the NHL).


    Penalty kill. The better unit in Philly is the penalty kill. Not only is the team sixth in the NHL in efficiency, but it has also scored eight times shorthanded.


    Overall total: +2.7 goals/100 times

9. Montreal Canadiens

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    Power play. Despite some pretty potent offensive weapons, Michel Therrien's Canadiens aren't an especially effective power-play team. With just under a plus-15 goal differential per 100 opportunities, the Habs rank 18th in the NHL here. 


    Penalty kill. Montreal's saving grace is an incredibly effective penalty kill, one just over a minus-12 goal differential per 100 times shorthanded. 


    Overall total: +2.8 goals/100 times

8. Chicago Blackhawks

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    Power play. With weapons like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, it's no surprise that Chicago's power play is converting on better than one-in-five of its opportunities. The team is roughly middle of the pack in terms of allowing short-handed goals. 


    Penalty kill. The Blackhawks have lit the lamp nine times while down a man, making theirs one of the most offensively potent penalty kills in the league. That takes the the edge off a kill which is only middle-of-the-pack.


    Overall total: +3.2 goals/100 times

7. Washington Capitals

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    Power play. Alexander Ovechkin's willingness to shoot and ability to convert makes him one of (if not the) top snipers in the NHL, and the Caps have used him extremely well. No team has more power-play goals than Washington's 65. 


    Penalty kill. Washington's special teams prowess doesn't extend to the penalty kill, which is in the bottom-third of the NHL once short-handed goals are taken into account.


    Overall total: +3.6 goals/100 times

6. San Jose Sharks

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    Power play. The scary thing is that the Sharks' power play hasn't been all that good this season, despite a long track record of success. Bet heavily on it to rebound


    Penalty kill. Not only is San Jose one of the NHL's stingiest teams shorthanded, but it also boasts eight goals while down a man. Per 100 times killing penalties, the Sharks are one of only three teams in the NHL to end up with a goal differential better than minus-12.


    Overall total: +4.0 goals/100 times

5. New York Rangers

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    Power play. The Rangers' power play isn't bad; on goal differential it's just a touch above the NHL average. It scores at a decent, if unspectacular, clip and allows short-handed goals at roughly the same rate everyone else does.


    Penalty kill. Where New York really excels is on the penalty kill. The Rangers kill off 85 percent of their penalties and have 10 short-handed goals to boot, meaning that over an average 100 times shorthanded only one other NHL team has a better goal differential.  


    Overall total: +4.9 goals/100 times

4. Boston Bruins

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    Power play. The Bruins currently rank third in the NHL in power-play efficiency, which is a nice turnaround for a club that has traditionally struggled with the man advantage (incredibly, the team won the 2011 Stanley Cup with just an 11 percent conversion rate while up a player). They allow short-handed goals a little more often than other top clubs, but it's not a big problem. 


    Penalty kill. Boston's penalty kill rate is good (84.2 percent) but not extraordinary, but they also have nine short-handed goals, tied for fifth-best in the NHL. 


    Overall total: +5.9 goals/100 times

3. St. Louis Blues

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    Power play. The Blues score on better than one-in-five of their power play opportunities and overall have the fifth-best goal differential/power play number in the league. 


    Penalty kill. St. Louis also has an elite penalty-killing unit, hovering around minus-12/100 opportunities in a league where the median number is closer to minus-16.


    Overall total: +6.5 goals/100 times

2. Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Power play. The Penguins have the best power play in the NHL. Even after subtracting short-handed goals against, the team is plus-21/100 opportunities with the man advantage. 


    Penalty kill. The penalty kill isn't quite as good as the power play is in Pittsburgh. The team has only four short-handed goals this season, and that takes away a little bit from a unit that manages to kill better than 85 percent of opposition power plays. It's not a bad unit, but it isn't as special as their superb power play. 


    Overall total: +8.0 goals/100 times

1. New Jersey Devils

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    Power play. Lots has gone wrong for the Devils this year (including, spectacularly, an 0-for-11 run in the shootout), but the power play has been just fine. New Jersey rarely allows short-handed markers against and scores on better than 20 percent of its opportunities. 


    Penalty kill. The power play is good, but the penalty kill is ridiculous. No team has allowed fewer goals against while shorthanded, and the Devils are also among the league leaders in goals for in those situations. The upshot is that New Jersey (with a minus-nine goal differential/100 kills) is the only team in single digits while down a man. 


    Overall total: +9.1 goals/100 times