Sunday, November 25, 2007

Token Grey Cup Post

Having the opportunity to watch my Bisons claim national glory this weekend and my city's Bombers fail to do so, I have had some time to think about Vic's excellent post here about the likelihood of scoring a goal within a minute of a faceoff varies depending on where that faceoff was taken. On first impression, Vic again does a fantastic job of applying evidence to "common" sense and in this case proves intuition to be correct: you are way f*cking more likely to score when you start in the opposition's zone.

Combine Vic's post with the football I've been watching all weekend (with surprisingly little accompaniment from alcohol, go figure) I pretty much have the idea of field position as a driving force behind points scored firmly ingrained into my skull. After a quick scan through that thread's comments I realize that no one has yet suggested the obvious: what if a hockey team actually applied the notion of where play starts to a real, breathing, game? After all, assuming your team is good enough to have the puck every once in a while during a hockey game, you can dictate to a certain degree how many offensive zone faceoffs you get.

On a team like the Oilers that has Horcoff and Penner as the only two guys who can successfully retrieve a puck on the forecheck, it sometimes seems like a waste of effort to dump and chase at all. What if, instead of chipping the puck into the corner and futilely chasing after it, Edmonton just chipped the puck on goal and skated it down? I would suggest saying this method could earn you a deep faceoff 3/4 of the time wouldn't be a stretch - as long as you didn't get trigger happy and were content to loft a one or two hopper towards the opposing tender.

Is it such a crazy idea? Why wouldn't it work? What percentage of games are won by the team that has more faceoffs in the offensive zone? Would fans get bored, would players get offended, etc - what am I missing? I really, sincerely think that playing a hockey game for "field position" during faceoffs would actually be a viable strategy. I ask again, am I crazy? It just seems so simple.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Goalpost Luck

I really like goalposts/crossbars as a statistic. They seem to happen randomly, I mean Detroit is bound to hit more posts than their opponents, because most of the scoring chances are happening at that end of the rink, but on the whole these seem to fall out of the sky. Teams have stretches of both terrible and terrific post luck, for no rhyme or reason.

Last year's poster children for this phenomenon were the Avalanche, who in spite of being a poor team in the first half of the season, had hit one more post than they had save them. Then they went on a ridiculous tear that saw them get saved by the iron regularly, a whopping 19 more times than they clanged the bell themselves. That valiant dash for the last playoff berth simply wouldn't have happened if not for the significant interference of the goalpost gods.

This year the NHL seems to have tightened up their requirements for "goalpost", they are down about 25%. I'm guessing that they have redefined them to exclude the ones that just glance off of the outside of the iron, probably because they are seriously looking at increasing net size. I never saw the Oilers season opener, but Dennis, mudcrutch and others mentioned that San Jose hit the posts three times, the NHL only qualified one of those as an official goalpost. Does anyone remember those San Jose misses? Of course it could have just been a mistake by the scorer, but the fact that it is a league-wide trend makes me wonder.

In any case, below is a list that shows how the goalpost justice has been meted out this season so far. The unfortunates are listed at the top, and the teams in the middle that are within a one or two of null ... they have little to complain about. We should all be thankful that the Flames have been hurt by the iron seven more times than it has helped them. Because if the opposite were true, then Calgary would be well up the standings, we would be reading articles about Mike Keenan's genius every day, and Flames fans would be insufferable. Be thankful for small blessings, Oiler fans.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Driving Possession

This is a chart of all shots directed at net while a player was on the ice at even strength, excluding blocked shots. And since that takes a long time to say, I'll call these Fenwick Numbers from now on, since he was the lone lobbyist for this metric. This for all guys who have played three hours of EV ice time so far this year, and to keep it fair, everyone's ice time has been prorated to Staiosian levels.

It says a lot about which end of the rink the puck was at, and which direction the scoring chances were coming from.

Now clearly a guy like Hemsky is more likely to create high quality scoring chances, so he could be evens at this and still make a really positive difference. And a guy like Staios plays a lot of the shifts after Oiler PPs, has been out on the ice for a tonne of own zone draws, and has usually played a fairly high quality of opposition. And the same goes for most of the veteran players to one extent or another.

Regular Oilogosphere commenter Bruce recently quipped that Cogliano and Gagner create some great moments in the offensive end of the rink, and some bad minutes in their own end. There is a lot of truth in that methinks. And the people who agreed with him will feel vindicated by the graphic above. And considering that these two are the Oilers which are more likely to take an offensive zone draw than a defensive zone one, and MacTavish is loathe to play them against talent, and likes to get them on the ice with the puck moving north, and they are getting the primo "shifts after the opposition's PP" more often than not ... well they just aren't helping the Oilers win hockey games. Just aren't. The opposite in fact.

Terrific to watch though, if you can overlook the terrible giveaways going forward. And Gagner is barely 18 and has obvious skill, if you can play in this league at that age without embarrassing yourself, chances are you are going to be a damn good NHL player one day.

And like Lowetide, I'm really impressed with Cogliano, I think he's only a few years away from being a Horcoff type of player, in style and quality.

And while most of the Dmen are bunched together in the middle, Gilbert is driving zone time. He's like Pronger in the sense that he never dazzles you with a single play the way that Jovanovski does, he just never screws up, and like Pronger, because of this he separates himself from the pack in this measure. I'm expecting the bubble to burst to be honest, but lately he's been taking on more than his share of tough opposition and own zone draws, and he just keeps ticking along. Good night on the PP too in the last game. It's too early to start building statues, but damn, he's a rookie defenceman in this league and should be taking a pounding at this, especially considering the context of his ice time. But he keeps getting it done in an all steak and no sizzle kind of way. And even this stretch of results, I doubt that Eric Brewer will ever have a streak like it in his career. So even though I might regret saying this out loud; I think that the Oilers have fallen backwards into a real difference-maker here.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Goal Differential vs. Standings

I took a minute to pull these off of TSN's standings tonight. Pretty basic stuff - You've got actual standings, goal differential, goal differential per game, new standings, and the difference between new and old rank. I'll mostly leave people to draw their own conclusions.

Is Ottawa really that good? Probably yes, though the kind of rate they're putting together is likely unsustainable long term. The Rangers' poor GD rating can likely be attributed to their complete lack of offense, so even though they might be lucky to be ranked 3rd in the conference you'd have to think they're going to improve as the year goes on as well. Finally, Buffalo may not be quite as bad as they look while Atlanta is probably even worse.

And of course, the West: where Detroit is great again, Edmonton is as bad as they look, and the only inconsistencies come in the form of flattering standings for both Anaheim and Nashville, where of course the former is a team that I would be delighted to have join Edmonton in the league's basement.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Fun Games To Watch

Lindsay Ruff has been complaining about the state of the game lately, essentially bemoaning the fact that teams are playing an increasingly passive style of hockey. In fairness to him, he doesn't deny that the Sabres have been doing the same.

I decided to check and see if Lindsay was right. Just by using the Sabres own measure, that being total shots directed at net during a game. I'm not completely convinced that this is the best way to quantify the flow of a hockey game, but I can't come up with anything better, so I'll stick with it.

It does pass the basic sense test. I mean in hockey there are two basic philosphies of defense:
  • take away the puck carrier's time by pressuring him
  • take away the puck carrier's options by backing off and covering off his shooting and passing options
The same thinking exactly applies on the forecheck, or lack thereof. And if you're doing more of the former and less of the latter, well one way or another the puck is going to end up in dangerous areas a lot more often.

Unfortunately for hockey fans, passive hockey is as effective now as it was in 2004. And the success of the Ducks last season drives that point home. If we trust this Corsi metric as a measure of the entertainment value in a game, then Ruff is absolutely right. It's dropping noticeably. Though Ruff should be grateful that he's in the Eastern Conference, so far this season the West is averaging just 88 shots directed at net (by either team) in a game, the East down around 96.5. At this time in 2005, the leaguewide average was 109.5, the East was still wilder of course.

As part of the world's least scientific test of the Corsi metric, I wrote a script to list off the games in descending order of how many shots were directed at net in the game (goals, saves, goalposts, wide shots, blocked shots). Then I just scrolled through the list for games that I'd seen, and by and large it works, to my mind at least. Some wild and woolly games near the top, and a whole bunch of games that only hardcore CI subscribers would consider watching near the bottom.

I saw the first and third games off this list, Rangers/Islanders contests both. Wonderful hockey games, very physical, scoring chances galore, great goaltending, OT, a shootout in one, and just terrific flow to the games. 161 and 153 totals in those ones, and big numbers in this regard for all Isles/Rags games, these are fun teams to watch.

A Pittsburgh/Leafs matchup at second overall. Looks like Sundin and Crosby went head to head in that one. Kaberle with the 5-4 winner in OT. Sounds like a game you wish you'd seen, no?

To my eye games with over 125 shots directed at net, they were good games. Often high scoring, but not always. And almost always games I remember.

So, on the left is a 'best guess' list of the funnest teams to watch in the league for the 06/07 season, broken up by conference. A point given for every game that a team played in that had 125 or more shots directed at net.

Feel free to apply common sense of course. I mean the Minny game at Rexall a couple of weeks ago was great, but that doesn't mean that the Wild and Oilers don't have a bunch of yawners in them over the coming weeks. And some of these games were stompings, not many of them, but some.

My rambling thoughts on the list:

Tampa is an odd one, Corsi madness in both directions when Vinny or St.Louis are on the ice, and the rest of the time it's like they are channeling Mike Peca.

Chicago was as boring as hell by this metric, they have played some tedious games against the Oilers for sure, glossed over by the fact that the Oil have usually got the W.

I think that Buffalo and Pittsburgh probably deserve to be higher. I'll guess that's because both tend to try for the higher quality scoring chance, and don't shoot as much as they could.

Dallas has played a grand total of 4 regular season games since the lockout with a Corsi of 125 or more. Carolina 41. Montreal has 6 already this season. That seems right to me, and I don't know how Hull will do as a GM, but he couldn't possibly make that team less exciting.

So, for the people that saw a lot of non-Oiler games last season ... does that list mesh with your memory?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Too Early for a Goaltending Controversy?

Mathieu Garon G 7

4 2 0


.915 1
Dwayne Roloson G 13

3 8 1


.894 0

Monday, November 12, 2007

Tomas Vanek Revisited: Near Miss Number One

Last season Tomas Vanek posted stellar counting numbers, and a plus-minus that was through the roof. Leading enough journalists to cast a Selke vote in his direction for him to finish 14th, just ahead of the rightful winner, Joe Sakic*. The fact that Tomas usually played sheltered ice time, and couldn't check his hat ... clearly not important for these voters.

Vanek, playing mostly with Derek Roy so far this season, is struggling mightily. Buffalo fans, which are an oddly knowledgeable bunch when it comes to context in a hockey game, are split cleanly on whether this is a function of playing against better opposition, or because, and I quote, "he's not giving 110%".

Lindy Ruff weighed in on the subject in the Buffalo News on Friday.
“He’s fighting a mental battle,” Ruff said. “He’s in a whole new situation. That line is in a whole new situation. They’ve got a tough challenge. They’re playing against good lines now, they’re pulling assignments against other teams’ top lines, and it isn’t as easy as last year.”
There were several Buffalo fans who predicted this, though most of those people didn't expect such a severe impact. Apparently it never occurred to Kevin Lowe at all.

I think that Vanek, like Roy, is a good player. But not as good as his LupulAsADuck-like season made him appear. And certainly he is not a great player.

And to be fair, his EV+9 EV-15 looks worse than it is. The EVsave% behind #26 has been a horrific .815 so far, and last year he was lucky in this regard with .940 behind him during his icetime.

The fact is that there is precious little considered evidence that suggests that Vanek is a real difference-maker. And I find it hard to believe that the Oilers would be in a different place in the standings if Lowe's RFA offer sheet had been successful. The only difference is that the team would not have a first round draft pick for five more Junes.

As far as anecdotal evidence goes, when the Minnesota Gophers coaching staff comment on the difference between current #26 Jay Barriball, and former #26 Tomas Vanek ... the alarm with "Yashin" dyno-taped on it rings loudly.

As dodged bullets go, this one was cannon-size.

* It would have been hard to complain if Pahlsson (2nd), Drury (4th) or one of the New Jersey tandem had won the thing last season. The Brind'Amour selection is indefensible.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Starting in Your Own End of the Rink

This is obviously a bad thing. Whether you come onto the ice on the fly with the other team already in (or taking) your zone, or you come out for an own zone faceoff, it's not favourite. The latter is easy to measure because shows who was out on the ice for every faceoff and every goal.

I tend to paint with a big brush, and this is no different. All I've done here is write a simple script to scroll up the play-by-play sheets from the bottom.
* If it hits a goal, it checks to make sure that there were five skaters and one goalie on the ice for each team, if true then it stores that info and the clock time.
* Then it continues to scroll up looking for the last even strength faceoff before the goal, and if it finds one within a minute of the goal ... it records everyone who was on the ice for the faceoff, the clock time, and the zone that the faceoff was in.

I'm just looking at 5v5 goals here, and there aren't that many of those in an NHL game to begin with, and most of them come off of changes on the fly of course. If we were able to track "shifts after a turnover at one one of the bluelines", I think we'd have a bigger number to use, and the obsession of coaches with this aspect would seem more reasonable.


If a 5v5 NHL shift starts in a team's own end, and a 5v5 goal is scored within a minute, and at least 2 of the players are still on the ice from the faceoff, so far this season the team with the defensive draw has seen:
* 84 goals-for
* 144 goals-against

That's a hell of a swing.

If a 5v5 NHL shift starts in a team's own end, and a 5v5 goal is scored within a minute, and ALL of the players, for both teams, are still on the ice from the faceoff, the team with the defensive draw has seen:
* 43 goals-for
* 90 goals-against

Hell, even Detroit is a typical +3, -6 by this last metric, and they favour Zetterberg and Datsyuk for that gig.

As for the Oilers, going just by when all the same Oiler players are still on the ice from the faceoff in their own end:
* 1 goals-for
* 9 goals-against

A post below shows that the Oilers have leaned towards the centres and the veterans for this gig. But it's the rookies that have taken the shit-kicking, Horcoff was only on the ice for a pair of these. Schremp was on the ice for one own zone draw, and it ended up in the Oiler net. Poor bastard. He can commiserate with Bryan Young in Springfield.

The Oiler plus came vs PHI with Penner, Horcoff, Hemsky, Staios and Pitkanen starting in their own zone at the faceoff circle. And another happened that didn't quite match the criterion, it came when the Torres - Horcoff - Hemsky troika started in their own end, but subbed off for Gagner-Stoll-Penner really quickly (presumably after getting the puck going the right way). The Oilers scored with the opposition's original six players still on the ice.

And for the Oilers, going just by when all the same Oiler players are still on the ice from the faceoff in the opposition's end:
* 5 goals-for
* 2 goals-against

And for the two against. One time there were three rookies on the ice, and one time it was just Reasoner and four rookies.

The larger problem is how most Oiler shifts are starting with the bad guys in solid possession, and how they are taking more own zone draws than ones in the good end of the rink. And short of drastic changes to the roster, there is no easy answer to that.

As an aside: Someone should send poor Marty a card, there's been a lot of similar stuff with him. Plus he's been taking the shift after the Oilers PP pretty regular, with some dubious defencemen and linemates at times. If he gets hurt this season could really spin sideways for the Oilers. Horcoff even moreso.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Tocchet Back In The Game

I'm going to choose to believe that this title for Dan Barnes' latest blog post is accidental. If it isn't, it's brilliant.

My comment there from this morning hasn't been posted yet, it seems that there is an approval process. The Journal should change this, if they look at the papers that are making real scratch from this medium, they'll spot that trend quickly enough. Then again, those papers don't own a piece of the local team ... it's easy for me to say.

Our man Tocchet has been reinstated by Vince McMahon Gary Bettman, the same man who believes that there is no steroid abuse in the WWF NHL. If Bettman and Selig were both gay, they would be married by now, it would be better that way, at least we could all take solace in the fact that they could never have children.

I mean sweet Jesus, this is Edmonton, surely everyone who posts here probably knows a few guys in the league, or agents or coaches, and has noticed some pretty severe dimensional and personality changes in the folks they used to like.

But I digress. Back to topic, I don't care that hockey players gamble. I think that it's a shame that this money leaves the local economy in the current landscape, with all this offshore shit, but it's same-old. I'm guessing, but I doubt it was any different in Eddie Shore's day. Besides that ,I don't care.

I hope that one day a journalist decides to take a look at NHL referees on this subject, you don't need to be Bob Woodward here, folks. I'm just talking out loud here. As a fan of the game that Gary Bettman is caretaking.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Out for the Defensive Zone Draw

This is a simple list of who the Oilers coaching staff sent over the boards for faceoffs. MacTavish likes to send out two forwards for these if the other team will have good players on the ice, so it is not surprising that the top three forwards are centers.

By way of example:
Stoll has been on the ice for 81 faceoffs in the Oiler's end of the rink, 64 in the neutral zone and another 49 on neutral ice. And 81 minus 49 = 32, that's the last column.

You would expect the guys who lead at this to be the best faceoffs guys and also the same guys that get the tough minutes. But this year, not so much for the Oilers. I'm unclear on the thinking from the Oilers coaches, especially with regards to the defencemen. These own-zone draw guys on D aren't the same guys that are sent to carry the mail when they're changing on the fly.

I think maybe it's a bit like diving off of the high board at the public swimming pool when you were a kid. When you were climbing the ladder you planned to dive head first, and if you just roared off of the edge once you get to the top, you probably did. If you had time to think about it, if you stood at the edge of the board, it seemed even higher than it did from below, and you probably did the safe thing and just jumped in feet first.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Nothing But The Hits

I know you're wondering "What does that picture of Dennis' favourite band have to do with the Oilers?" Well, bear with me for a second...

If you watched the Oilers in the late 1990's under Ron Low, you'd swear they were more interested in wearing out the boards than actually worrying about the puck. Obviously Ronny Low loved the hitting and figured that was how the Oilers were going to win hockey games back in those days. I always thought Low was a little crazy, or drunk, or both.

MacTavish, on the other hand, seems to have a very different view of the bodycheck and how it should be used. His teams have never been hit happy. I can recall more than a few Oiler fans pointing out that the Oilers under MacT tend to shy away from finishing their checks vigorously. Well, who's right?
I have no idea.

This was brought on by a totally sidetracked discussion over at LT's site about Bryan Young of all things. (If you're talking about anything over there, it usually starts with a hockey dinosaur or a hockey zit-popper, there is no in-between) A couple of posters over there (PDO and Bruce) think hits have particular value to winning hockey games. The idea being that somehow the total number of hits a team has is somehow a partial indicator of how good they are. (To be fair to these guys, they're not going to the wall over this one, but I get the impression they do think hitting is important. I'm sure they'll comment if they think I'm being unfair.)

Personally, I think hitting is a means to an end. Some players find it to be a very useful part of their toolkit, while others tend to find it a waste of time. It's interesting to me that players like Zetterberg and Lidstrom are wildly effective without going out of their way to hit anybody. Heck, even Chris Pronger picks his spots pretty carefully in my honest opinion. So do hits have any real universal value to winning hockey games?

As Bruce pointed out over at Lowetide, the Oilers are last in the league in number of hits according to the NHL's RTSS stats. On the current roster, Shawn Horcoff is an effective defender and all-round hockey player who is not afraid to block shots with his face. How come he has posted a paltry 47 hits in his last 173 games since the lockout? On the flipside, his bash brother at centre Jarret Stoll has had 182 hits in 147 games since the lockout and his number is is only on the rise. Stoll's a much more physical player the past two years than I remember him and the totals seem to bear that out - 71 in 82 games in 05/06, 89 in 51 games last year and 22 in 14 games this year.

This is going to be a truly unsatisfying post because I don't have any answers but I think I have a pretty good question:

What if you track shots that closely follow hits on the NHL play-by-play?

(First, the assumptions: The RTSS stats measured by the NHL are independent of the building in which they occur and the record keepers generally do a good job of recording them. This is a whopper and pretty much not true, but c'est la vie)

You could choose goals, actual shots, or the IOF darling "shots directed at net", whatever, just as long as it happens within 5-10 seconds after a hit. I choose 5-10 seconds because you have to cut it off somewhere.

If hits are of particular defensive value, you won't find many shots against immediately after a hit in the defensive zone by a defender. If they have particular value for forwards, then we should see a decent number of shots for/goals for immediately following hits by attackers on the forecheck.
If it works we can get together and write Zetterberg a heartfelt email to "man up" and perhaps "grow a pair." Maybe I'll send Ron Low a bottle of scotch as an apology.

Personally, I think the whole thing is a red herring, but does this sound like a reasonable way to get closer to a real answer? Has someone like Alan Ryder or Gabriel Desjardins already done it? Does anyone want to check it out?

Diamond Dan

I track former Oilers sometimes, can't help myself. In the picture to the right is unheralded former Oiler Jan Hejda. The Oilers managed to pull him out of thin air** last season, and though he sat in favour of the kids early, as the season wore on he got ice time, on the top pairing no less, and became popular on the Oilogosphere as a defender who could take on the tough opposition along side Jason Smith, and hold his own.

When former Oilers asst. GM, and current Columbus GM, Scott Howson acquired Hejda, it seemed obvious that he was a GM's pick. Hitchcock couldn't be expected to know the player well at all. Generally you expect the coach to take a while to trust a new player in this instance, ten games is a good guess. Hell, it took MacTavish a couple of months with Hejda in his first season.

Not so with Hitchcock and our man Dan. It seems to have been love at first sight. He's played with Foote, and against the other team's best right from the start. And it's a love that's been growing. At this point Hejda has taken the lead, and is more likely to be sent over the boards for an own zone draw at evens than any other Jacket player, edging out Hitchcock faves Foote, Chimera, Malhotra and Peca even. And young Klesla has been bumped down into a situation where he can enjoy more personal success.

The forwards that Hejda has played the most with are Nash, Peca and Zherdev. Go figure. And he is EV+/- +3. And that unfamiliar tingly feeling that Zherdev and Nash are experiencing for the first time ... well that's even strength plusness in November.

Sensibly, only so much credit can go to Hejda here. Much of the credit has to go to Nash and Zherdev, who seem to have started to turn a corner. And to Hitchcock, who has lured them around to that side when many before him had failed.

Still, if you were to argue that Hejda was NOT a high quality NHL defender ... then you'd have to rely on "anecdotal evidence", a.k.a. "making shit up". Because the facts won't be your friend.

Here are the CBJ game numbers for the keeners out there. Check the H2H's for Hejda. In terms of quality of opposition faced, that's just all kinds of impressive for Jan. The Oilers could do with a guy like this.

20016 20030 20042 20072 20085 20098 20115 20122 20133 20145 20171 20181

** Thin Air = High quality European league where several other defenders of Hejda's quality are doubtlessly playing.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Joy Division

I'm still kicking at this Corsi stuff. This more back to the original intent of it, it's use as a measure of the activity in a hockey game. It's entertainment value, so to speak.

Really we should be looking at a comparison to the pre-lockout era. But for now I just thought I'd throw them up on a 'by team' basis for the season so far.

Eastern Conference teams are in yellow, Western Conference in purple. The challenge is to spot the pattern. There will be no prizes today.

This is purely a measure of the number of shots directed at net, by either team, in the games that the listed team has played in.

So, by way of example, and trusting memory:
OTT games average 45 shots directed at net in either direction. OTT probably creates the better of the chances with those shots, and probably have better finishers than their oppoinents as well. But all we're looking at here is the amount of shit happening, the "flow", if you will. And clearly in OTT games, TOR, MTL, CAR, etc as well ... the puck isn't spending much time bouncing around in the neutral zone or being ground along the boards while a patient D watches. Because it just can't be.

ANA, on the other hand, are clearly getting the better of the shots-directed-at-net (34-29). Plus they have a lot of good finishers. But there is a whole helluva lot of hockey being played in ANA games where there isn't any rubber headed towards the goalie, not at either end.

Makes sense, no?

Friday, November 02, 2007

Slipper's Song

If you haven't read the comments in the post below, you should. And if you have, you will have read some terrific commentary on breakouts by slipper.

This is a thread to discuss the topic, and just generally tactics. I'm sure we're all wrong a lot, but still have a lot to learn from each other.

I'm not sure how popular this subject will be, but I really hope it appeals to at least a few. And if you have something to say, but you're feeling a bit reticent about throwing in your opinion for fear of being off the mark; always remember, it's just the fucking internet. Have at 'er.