Friday, November 06, 2009

Outshooting in Toronto

Gabe Desjardins recently listed the five worst teams that outshot their opponents in the history of the modern NHL. He ranked the post lockout Leafs as #2 on that list.

It's worth looking into why that happened, beyond the obvious (poor goaltending and PK, shooters who couldn't finish, bad luck). How the hell did the Leafs manage to outshoot their opponents at even strength last season?

Teams play differently when they are leading than when they are trailing. We saw that in the third period of game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals. With the two goal deficit Detroit was pressing and taking more risks, Pittsburgh was sitting back and playing safe hockey. Now obviously this strategy would have been disasterous for the Penguins if they had played the whole game that way, they got badly out-chanced in the third period, and even more badly outshot (7 to 1) and territorially dominated (22 to 3 in terms of Corsi). They did manage a couple of odd man rushes, capitalizing on Detroit's risky tactics, but they didn't score on either, only got a chance off of one if my memory is right.

The most likely outcome of that period, given Bylsma's tactics, was 1-0 for Detroit, which is what happened. And that's fine, because they had the two goal cushion.

During a Hockey Night In Canada broadcast, late in a game in which the Oilers held a one goal lead, Marc Crawford remarked that they should play a bit more conservative because of the score "the third forward should stay above the puck". I should freaking hope so. Hitchcock would have the third forward so high in that situation that he wouldn't have been able to read the advertising on the boards behind the net. Clearly there is a difference in the way that coaches have their teams play to the score.

So lets look at the breakdown for the Leafs last season.

Overall, at even strength and with both team's goalies on the ice, they fired 1968 shots at the other teams goalies and their netminders faced 1916 shots. So they owned 50.7% of the shots taken at even strength.


At EV when the score was TIED:
656 shots for, 705 shots against.
48.2% of the shots. (About the same as the Oilers, and the Leafs play in a weaker conference).

At EV when the Leafs were TRAILING BY ONE GOAL on the scoreboard:
364 shots for, 314 shots against.
53.7% of the shots.

At EV when the Leafs were TRAILING BY TWO OR MORE GOALS on the scoreboard:
445 shots for, 359 shots against.
55.3% of the shots.

At EV when the Leafs were LEADING on the scoreboard:
503 shots for, 538 shots against.
48.3% of the shots.


So, the Leafs overall even strength shot totals, for and against, are not an indication of a good skating team. Rather they are a reflection of the fact that they:
1. Didn't play to the score at all when they had the lead.
2. Trailed in hockey games a lot more often than they were leading.

That might have something to do with Wilson's philosophy, we didn't see that in San Jose though. More likely it speaks to a team that had no notions of being competitive, starting right from training camp. If we look at the teams this year that are out of the playoffs and are selling at the trade deadline ... for the rest of the year they'll all probably stop playing to the score. Both by eye and by the numbers.


Blogger JLikens said...

Nice post.

I've found the Leafs to be an intriguing team ever since the 06-07 season.

As you alluded to, their shot ratio has been much better than their goal differential in each of the last four seasons (if 09-10 is included).

I think that your explanation, at least inasmuch as it concerns last years team, is spot on.

I'm left wondering, however, about the 06-07 squad. That team had the 2nd best EV shot ratio in the league when the score was tied. Their overall shot ratio was pretty good, too (not sure about the specific ranking, but it was surely top five).

I'm inclined to think that, unlike the 08-09 Leafs, whose underlying numbers were illusory, the 06-07 team was a legitimately good yet unlucky team.

Of course, I could be wrong on that. Teams coached by Paul Maurice have a history of performing much better in terms of shot differential relative to goal differential (the 0304 Hurricanes come to mind here). I'm reluctant to read anything into that, but there might be something there.

Anyway, I'm not sure if you're familiar with the 06-07 Leafs, but I'd be interested to hear your thoughts in any event.

11/07/2009 11:57 pm  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...

I had Center Ice that year, which was a bad idea, I watched way to much hockey. I started following the East after the Oilers fell apart after the trade deadline. It' more entertaining hockey IMO, I was watching quite a bit of the Isles, Smyth was there and I have a soft spot for that team anyways.

I thought that Toronto looked like a good team that year, I'm surprised that they missed the dance. Missed on the last day of the season when the Isles beat the Devils in a shootout iirc.

They had Raycroft in net, that dude lets in a lot of bad goals. That and maybe some bad luck? I dunno. Tyler, Pat and a few others live in Toronto, they probably have stronger opinions and better memories.

Just generally I'm leaning away from the notion of 'shot happy' teams. Even though I was a big believer in that idea a couple of years ago. Before there are score effects in play ... there just doesn't seem to be much evidence there to suggest that exists in a meaningful way. You're the one who drove that point with a hammer. If the there was a difference in team shot quality at EV with the score tied, we'd see a spread in score-tied-EV-shooting% much wider than we'd expect from random chance. And we don't see any at all. There's just nothing there.

When teams are leading by a goal in the third period ... that's when there is a madass difference in team shot quality. The shooting%s spread out a tonne wider than chance variation can explain.

11/08/2009 8:47 am  
Blogger JLikens said...

Yeah, I tend to agree that they were an above average team, held back only by their goaltending and penalty killing.

What's I find surprising, though, is how much better their shot ratio was under Maurice (in 06-07) as compared to Quinn (in 05-06). (I'm not sure how the Leafs did in 05-06 in terms of shot EV differential with the scored tied, but I assume it was bad based on their overall EV numbers and overall shot differential). They basically went from a below average team in terms of shot differential to one of the best teams at outshooting without any substantial change in roster composition.

Either Maurice is a much better coach at EV than Quinn, or the increase in shot differential was partially the result of team strategy. Given that shot quality effects at EV with the score tied are negligible, I think that the former explanation is more plausible.

11/09/2009 1:01 pm  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...

Yeah, regrettably I agree, we're starting to see that here. Quinn is an entertaining interview though.

Quinn also hard trapped all year with the 05/06 Leafs. The fact that the TO media were oblivious to that fact is immaterial. Perhaps Pat was overthinking the impact of the rule changes? I dunno. A strange decision in any case.

In 06/07 the Leafs played a much more aggressive style of play under Maurice. That suited the roster better.

I'm leaning more and more towards coaching making a difference. More specifically, I think that there are more bad coaches out there than we realize.

Seeing the Oilers in Boston a week or two ago drove that point home. Julien and Ward were coach/asst of the Bulldogs when they were a shared affiliate of the Habs/Oilers iirc. Ward is a big scoring chance +/- guy, I assume that Julien is as well, hell that may be where Ward got into that. Ramsay (after a breif disasterous run as a head coach for BUF in the mid eighties) worked as an associate for Roger Neilson in FLA. "Associate" usually means "stat man", so we can assume that Ramsay has forgotten more technical stuff than we'll ever figure out.

I think Ruff changed Jim Corsi's role from goaltending coach to "Administrative Associate Coach" or some such. The year they turfed their scouts and went hard to video, I think, or thereabouts.

I don't know any of the details of what BUF is up to, but I suspect they are ahead of the curve.

11/09/2009 1:58 pm  
Blogger Sunny Mehta said...

Ironically, the Leafs, despite their results this season, actually seem to have improved compared to last season.

I just got some good Corsi data from JLikens, and the Leafs are currently 7th in the league in overall EV corsi, and 12th in EV corsi w/score tied.

Get this: their Sh% at EV w/score tied is currently 1.1%


I don't know what the hell someone over there did to anger the hockey gods, but it worked.

Then again, maybe it was actually me that jinxed them. Before the season I bet them at 12-to-1 to win their division, and I'm pretty sure I uttered the phrase "This has to be the best bet I've made in months."

11/13/2009 9:57 pm  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...

Yeah, the hockey gods have been cruel to the Leafs. Couldn't happen to a nicer coach and GM :)

I like BUF in the NE, at least in the unlikely event that their key guys stay healthy. Most of them seem to be made of glass, though.

The B's have deserved better as well, just by the numbers. And in the two games I've seen them play (in DAL and vs EDM) they've looked very good. Their EVshooting% with the score close isn't much better than TOR's. Screw 'em, though. They caught all the bounces last year.

11/14/2009 10:56 am  
Blogger Hawerchuk said...

The first three post-lockout Leafs teams seemed to behave rationally when they had the lead - their SF/SA dropped 18.4, 15.7 and 15.0% when they went up one.

What looks really weird to me now is the 2003-04 Leafs. They increased their SF/SA 9-10% with a 1- or 2-goal lead, and it resulted in almost 2:1 GF/GA ratios. The actually got outshot when they were down. That was a good team - but there was a limit to how much Quinn could ride McCabe and Leetch in the playoffs...

11/14/2009 4:19 pm  
Blogger Sunny Mehta said...


Yeah, I obv didn't expect Buffalo to come out looking this strong. (And from the little I've seen of them, they're exciting to watch, too. Relentless forecheck. When they played the Devils a couple weeks ago, basically anytime they had three forwards controlling the puck down low, one of the defensemen would pinch down to make sure it stayed there.)

Before the season started I really thought that division was a tossup. All 5 teams played pretty similarly in the second half of last season, and to boot Kessel moved from Boston to Toronto. Assuming no difference in skill, the Leafs would be 4-to-1 to win. Even if they're slightly the worst of the bunch I thought no way in hell are they 12-to-1 (three times worse than average.)

Oh well, not over yet, baby!

11/14/2009 5:16 pm  
Blogger Sunny Mehta said...

totally random, but...

do you guys remember that playoff game back in 2000 when the Devils held the Leafs to 6 shots THE ENTIRE GAME. talk about protecting a lead lol.

(god i forgot how fkn sick that devils roster was.)

11/14/2009 5:17 pm  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...


The Devils had some terrific players. They were like the New England Patriots before the New England Patriots. Every TV commentator in the history of the game had pinned team success on the most famous player on the squad ... the Devils didn't have a superstar, so they were baffled. Then they heaped praise on the coach, then they heaped praise on the goalie.

Both were good, but that might be the deepest group of quality forwards on any team ever. Damn.

I would like to have seen what they could have done with a more assertive coach. The Wild played some pretty entertaining hockey in recent years under Lemaire, there were at least a dozen teams less aggressive in the NHL every season, but that wasn't always the case. I don't know how closely you followed the NHL back then, but the mid 90s Devils really were conservative.

11/14/2009 6:38 pm  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...


That is weird. Maybe they just happened to get the lead on crap teams that year, and ended up trailing games to good opp a lot more than chance was expecting? I dunno.

Leafs were assertive in 03/04, though. Like the Oilers now.

11/14/2009 6:42 pm  
Blogger Sunny Mehta said...

"Every TV commentator in the history of the game had pinned team success on the most famous player on the squad ... the Devils didn't have a superstar, so they were baffled. Then they heaped praise on the coach, then they heaped praise on the goalie."

Haha, spot on. Overall the Devs have probably been one of the more underappreciated juggernauts/dynasties in sports. Nobody even cares about them in their own New York area. I've been following them since I was a little kid, and I remember circa 1986 they practiced at a public skating rink, and there were way more people in rink 1 for free skate than there were in rink 2 for the Devils practices. (Lol, one time my mom literally picked me up and held me over the glass and Chico Resch came over and gave me a puck.)

As for the style of play thing, it's been too long for me to remember explicitly, so I could be totally wrong, but I always thought the Devils got a bad rap on the whole "boring hockey" issue. Sure Lemaire came in the mid-90's and the Devils got known for trapping. But within a few years the whole league changed to a more defensive style. Whether the causality of that was the Lemaire/Devils, I have no idea, but imo the change was for the better. It might sound like heresy to you Oiler fans, but whenever I watch NHL games on ESPN Classic from the early-mid '80s, I'm always amazed because it's like nobody is playing defense! Imo the play of forwards and defensemen is way more interesting to watch nowadays. (The league just needs to lessen the impact of goaltending a bit.)

Also, by 1998 the Devils were a pretty offensive-minded bunch relative to the rest of the league, even though people still cried "boring hockey."

1998: they were 2nd in shots on goal, 1st in shot differential

1999: 2nd in SOG, 3rd in shot diff, 2nd in goals

2000: 1st in SOG, 2nd in shot diff, 2nd in goals

2001: 2nd in SOG, 1st in shot diff, 2nd in goals


Of course, that doesn't mean they might not have been even MORE impressive under a more aggressive coach, which may have been your point.

11/14/2009 7:56 pm  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...

Chico Resch. Very cool. Do you still have the puck?

I'm on board with what you're saying as well. Colorado, for the years under Hartley, would get the lead and then choke the life out of the game as much as anyone. I went to a bunch of COL games through that era before I gave up on them. It was always dead easy to give away Avs tix though. Famous players are a draw, I guess.

The Preds back then were a young team thin on talent, but they played hockey that was fun to watch. You couldn't give away Preds tickets though.

Minny and Lemaire have both gotten a bad rap for 'boring hockey' though. Plenty of teams in this league are just as conservative. Ever see Carlyle's Ducks play Wilson's Sharks ... a slow grind. Jeez.

COL vs MIN in he playoffs a couple of years ago was one of the most entertaining series I've seen in ages. Terrific hockey.

11/14/2009 9:12 pm  

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