Monday, November 10, 2008


Meet Shawnomir Viscoff. This cat can play hockey.

There was an interesting comment in the game day thread at the Lowetide blog yesterday. Someone remarked that the trio of Horcoff, Hemsky and Visnovsky had not been on the ice together for a goal against at even strength (EV) this season.

Now they've all looked terrific for most of the season, so we'd expect them to have done well on the ice together. But of course that could be just a bit of luck as well, so I thought I'd check the underlying numbers. If you enter the following url at, you can see how the shots flowed when these three were on the ice together.

Where the bit in red can be changed to the official abbreviation for any NHL team, and the bits in green are the jersey numbers of the players you want to lump together. This to see what happened when they were all three on the ice together.

In the resulting table their joint ice time is shown as fictional player #99. And in this case it's damn impressive.

Equally impressive is Viscoff, the joint ice time of Visnovsky and Horcoff. (just lop &kesler=83 off of the end of the url above).

They've outshot the bad guys by a bunch when they are on the ice together at even strength. The rate they are going, for every 100 shots the opponent gets, we'd see them get 171. And they are EV+4 and EV-0 to boot.

And if you look at where the faceoffs started for them, and where they ended (not including goals) ... it's Bobby-Orr-style goodness in terms of driving the play towards the offensive zone. They started in the offensive zone 2 more times than in their own end, and finished in the offensive end of the rink a whopping 14 times more. I'll make up a word called ZoneShift, and their score is +12.
Shots Rate: 171/100
ZoneShift: +12

And this with 81:33 played together at EV, that's just a bit less than half of Horcoff's icetime.

Viscoff is the bomb, folks.

Though Lidsterberg can play a bit as well:
Shots Rate: 169/100
ZoneShift: +12

Lidsterberg is eerily close to Viscoff's numbers so far. The ZoneShift is even more impressive considering they've played just 52 minutes together at EV so far. Unless you hold Lidsterberg responsible for the .808 even strength save percantage (EVsave%) behind them and the resulting EV+/- 0. Personally, I don't, just a bit of misfortune so far I think.

And at this moment Thornoyle just might be the best player in the game.
Shots Rate: 173/100
ZoneShift: +15
This in about 80 minutes together. The percentages have been cruel to Thornoyle as well, so far they manage to be EV+/- -1 despite clearly outplaying the hell out of their opponents.

These are the only two-headed monsters that I checked. I hope that some of you folks look up other guys. As much as anything that's the reason for this post, to let people know that this app is out there, and that it's really not hard to use. So if you want to see how Moreau and Pisani have done with either Cole or Penner on the starboard side ... easy peasy. Same for where their shifts started and ended.

I also have a point regarding Viscoff and the Oilers: The Oilers have some problems right now, most teams do, but their best players are very good, and they've been their best players to date. That is clearly not a problem.

Monday, November 03, 2008

A year ago in Oilerville

Well, not exactly a year ago, but after 11 games of the 07/08 season.

The Oilers had won four games and racked up eight points, and had played 5 of the games on home ice. The goaltending had been shaky, or the pucks weren't hitting them as much, or some combination of the two. In any case the team EVsave% (even strength save percentage) was .887. When you consider that the league average ended up around .920, well that's just not good.

The 5 on 4 powerplay had been rotten, only scoring three goals. On the other hand the PK had been terrific, surrendering only five 5v4 PP goals.

At even strength the Oilers had been dominated territorially. Their shifts had ended in their own end a cracking 23 more times than they had ended in the offensive zone. The rookies in general, and Gagner and Cogliano in particular, were eating up a lot of good offensive ice time and getting destroyed by this metric, and obviously by the shots+/- and Corsi +/- as well.

So the team was three points below .500 in a league where .500 is a lot less than average. And the underlying numbers were all pointing decisively in the wrong direction. It wasn't a good time to be an Oiler fan, even if you were a prospophile.

Contrast that with this year (click on the image to enlarge it):

And this with a much tougher schedule this fall. And they got out of the gate poorly in terms of play, and lucked into a better result on the standings page (4W, 0L) than they deserved. But since the debacle in Chicago this team has played pretty well in some tough buildings, with two back to back sets, and always against opponents with at least a game's rest.

At this point Horcoff and Hemsky are eating up a big chunk of the ice time against the other team's best players, and are now leading the field with shots+/- levels of +31 and +19 respectively. That's not quite the levels of the Hossa (+39) and Thornton (+41), but it's the same neighbourhood and the gap has been narrowing. And while they are both probably going to become better hockey players yet, they have been good in previous seasons too.

The real swing comes from the kid line. They never did manage a stretch with positive underlying numbers until the tail end of last season. But they've carried that forward to this season, and these are obviously guys that still have a lot of room to get better. Taking Gagner as being representative of that line, he has an EV+/- of 0, shots+/- of +6, Fenwick+/- of +10 and Corsi+/- of +16. And they've had some good opposition run at them on the road at times as well. Now they aren't playing a whole lot against the other teams best, and they are starting in the good end more than the bad. But it's a dramatic swing from last fall.

The real difference is that they are keeping it the good end a lot more this year. Some games are better than others of course, that's just the way it goes. On the whole Gagner has started in the offensive zone a team leading 23 more times than in the defensive zone. And on the whole Gagner's shifts have ended in the offensive zone a team leading 19 times. That's good for anyone, and damn impressive for young players. And life for the guys playing the shift after the kids is now a hell of a lot easier. When the guys who were responsible for much of your team's territorial asskicking become players who start driving possession the good way for you ... well the swing in fortunes is going to be significant.

I've never checked Kovalchuk's numbers at this, but I've seen him play enough to know that he may never have had an 11 game stretch this good in his career.

The kid line players are going to start finishing more of their chances soon, probably at close to twice the rate that they are now, and they are going to become better at winning battles and avoiding turn overs at the blue lines. It probably won't happen overnight, or even steadily, but it will happen. All the arrows are pointing in the right direction here, methinks.

The fourth line guys are just fine I think. When Brodziak played with Glencross in the winter of '08, he was barely taking an own zone draw, and starting a bunch in the offensive zone from faceoffs and coming onto the ice with the puck going the right direction. And often with the other team's depth on the ice. This season he's taken an absurd number of own zone draws, and damn few in the good end. 29 more of the bad than the good kind. Pouliot with 16 more, then Stortini with 6 more, MacIntyre (seriously) with 4 more, and Horcoff with 2 more. All other Oiler players have started more shifts in the offensive zone than in their own end.

There may be a planet where this makes sense, but it's not this one. And it's not fair on any level to compare last winter's 4th line to this fall's 4th line, not when the context of the ice time has changed so dramatically.

The reason for that shift in responsibility, of course, is because the 3rd line can't be trusted. I love Pisani, but he shouldn't be playing centre, and it's not just the face offs, it's everything.

It's hard to imagine a problem that's easier for a coach to fix, and surely he will eventually. I can't get to worried about the PK either, they have a strong history at that. And with the players they have now you'd think that the PP will come around, but even if it doesn't they should be fine.

Lots of reasons for optimism, folks.


Blogroll update: Gospel of Hockey is back in business, and is terrific. And After The Green Light is highly recommended as well.