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LAXMetrics Week 20: Panther City’s Playoff Potential

With one week left to play in the regular season, the number of possible scenarios for the final two playoff positions is staggering. Panther City, Vancouver, Saskatchewan, Rochester and New York all have pathways to the postseason. But which team would be the most dangerous should they sneak into the playoff field?

Conventional wisdom says that Vancouver’s late-season surge makes them an undesirable first-round match up for any team. The Warriors are playing exceptionally good lacrosse and appear capable of beating any team on any night. But being dangerous in a one-game playoff is different from having serious potential to make a deep playoff run. Yes, the Warriors are a nightmare first-round match up for any team, but the numbers point toward a different club being the likeliest of the remaining five to make a deep run into the postseason.

From a statistical perspective, the Panther City Lacrosse Club is the squad that every team in the field should hope to avoid. They may be 9-8 and still fighting for a playoff spot, but the non-traditional numbers tell an interesting story about the guys from Fort Worth.

Using stats provided by LaxMetrics.com, this piece will explore the reasons that Panther City may end up being the likeliest of the remaining five playoff contenders to make a deep run should the team make the playoffs. They may not be the hottest team in the field at the moment, but their season’s worth of work makes them the best candidate for a Cinderella run.

Let’s begin by examining the defenses of the teams still in play for the final two playoff spots.

Of the five teams still in the running for the final two playoff spots, Panther City boasts the best defense of the group by a fairly wide margin. While Vancouver, New York, Saskatchewan, and Rochester rank 11th, 13th, 14th, and 15th respectively in overall Defensive Shooting Percentage, Panther City ranks 4th among all NLL teams. PCLC isn’t just the best of the bunch defensively, they’re one of the best and most consistent defensive teams in the NLL this season. While Panther City has allowed an average of 11.2 goals per game, it has posted a Defensive Shooting Percentage of 16.5% overall and has limited its opponents to less than 20% shooting in 11 of its 17 games. Even when they surrender goals, they make life difficult on opposing offenses.

In the context of sustainability and predicting future results, Defensive Shooting Percentage is a much better indicator of defensive quality than goals against average. A team that consistently stymies a high percentage of opponent shots is likely to succeed in a playoff environment in which scoring is markedly more difficult than the regular season. Yes, Panther City has had a small handful of defensive debacles, highlighted by their 19-goal calamity against Rochester. But across the squad’s full body of work, its defense has been one of the best in the NLL.

This is further supported by Panther City’s ability to limit opposing teams’ transition offenses and to prevent 1-v-1 shots on goaltender Nick Damude. Panther City has allowed just 14 total breakaways this season, which is the second-fewest in the league. Only Buffalo (11) has allowed fewer breakaways. Panther City’s success in preventing breakaways has contributed to the team’s excellent work protecting Damude from having to face an unreasonable volume of 1-v-1 shots. Among the 10 goaltenders in the NLL to start 17 games this season, Damude has seen the fewest 1-v-1 shots (116), which is massively important because he hasn’t been particularly good at stopping them (.621 – 8th).

While the other four contenders for the final two playoff spots have consistently been burned out the back door, Panther City has developed an encouraging defensive resume that is well-suited for playoff lacrosse.

Offensively, the story is similarly interesting.

Panther City has averaged 11.5 goals per game this season, which is good but unspectacular. Saskatchewan, Rochester, and New York have all posted better scoring averages this season, and Vancouver has blown past that clip during the Warriors’ recent winning streak. This is where things get really fascinating.

Panther City has been the second-least effective offense in the NLL when it comes to converting quality scoring chances into goals. First Order Conversion Rate (FoCR) is a statistic that expresses how frequently a team converts its best chances into goals. The league average FoCR is 25%, which means that we expect most or all teams to finish the season within a range of 24-26%. Through 17 games, Panther City has managed a FoCR of just 21.7%—only Calgary (18.5%) has managed to convert fewer quality chances into goals.

While it might seem that a low conversion rate reflects poorly on Panther City’s offense, it actually is reason for optimism. Statistically, it is highly unlikely that Panther City continues to convert chances into goals at the same low rate. The law of large numbers demands that PCLC’s First Order Conversion Rate will climb over time. Should PCLC be granted the benefit of multiple postseason games, the likelihood that the law of large numbers comes into effect becomes significantly more pronounced. In other words, the longer Panther City stays alive, the more likely its offense is to explode and start converting chances at a higher rate. In fact, there is evidence that the trend has already begun to shift for Panther City.

Over the last three games, Panther City has converted 23.4% of its First Order Chances into goals. It’s a rate that is still unimpressive and below the league average of 25%, but it also is higher than PCLC’s season mark of 21.7%. The pattern seems to be coming into effect for Panther City—the more games PCLC plays, the likelier scoring luck is to fall in their favor.

Baseball fans understand this concept well. Batting average is a classic indicator of hitting success. But in reality, a batter has no power over what happens to the ball once he hits it. The same idea applies to lacrosse. Once a forward has released a pass, he has no control over what will follow. Great passes are just as likely to end in goals as they are to end in saves, depending on how good or bad the goaltending and shooting are at that moment. Right now, Panther City’s offense is collectively falling victim to bad shooting luck in the same way that a slumping hitter seems to hit the ball right into the defense each time up to the plate. It’s only a matter of time until fortunes shift.

Now none of this is to say that the other four teams still in the running should be discounted. Each is dangerous in its own way. After all, anything can happen in a one-game first-round playoff game. But when we consult the numbers, it’s clear that Panther City is the likeliest of the five teams to benefit from a drawn out run deep into the postseason.