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Showing posts from December, 2006

Where's my Glowing Puck?

In case you've been wondering about that Fox Sports logo on the sidebar, I'm happy to announce that selected posts from this blog will now be featured at Fox Sports NHL, alongside the work of Spector and Mike Chen . All articles will still be posted here first, but hopefully this will provide another gateway to bring more hockey fans into what is a burgeoning online community of blogs. Thanks to all of you for your visits, comments, and constructive criticism, and have a Happy New Year...

"We Don't Need No Stinkin' Assists..."

After having recently looked at the NHL's leading assist makers , in an attempt to weed out those players loading up on 2nd Assists, I thought I'd take a look at the opposite end of the scoring formula. How often are Unassisted Goals scored, and which players get the most and least unassisted tallies? On an individual level, that could help us see who can create (and capitalize on) their own offensive chances, while on a team level, it might give us some insight into offensive style. For instance, a low-scoring team with a high proportion of "Solo Goals" might have goal-scoring talent on the roster, but not enough playmaking ability to set them up more often. Somewhat surprisingly, when we look back at the 2005-06 season, only 4.8% of non-empty net, non-penalty shot goals were scored without an assist. In terms of overall results, Eric Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes led the league with 6 such markers: Unassisted Goal Leaders 2005-06 Player Total Goals Unassisted P

Crease Crashing with Alan Ryder

Yesterday, Alan Ryder (of Hockey Analytics fame) posted an insightful piece over at the Globe and Mail about "Crease Crashers", those players and teams that take shots within 10 feet of the net. The basic idea is that close-in shots have a much higher likelihood of scoring, so teams able to generate those kinds of chances should score more as a result. He gathered his data from the 2005-06 play-by-play files, and presented player and team breakdowns. I thought I'd dig a little deeper into the question, and update it with this year's numbers so far as well. First off, I was relieved to run my own analysis and find that I came up with very close to the same percentages as Alan did (I exclude Empty Net goals, of which Minnesota had one from 9 feet last year). By bringing in the additional measure of Shot Quality , we might get a further clue as to why the teams at the top of this list scored at nearly twice the rate of those at the bottom. As a quick guide, if you ta

Holding Myself Accountable

Since we're not just getting ready to flip the calendar over to 2007, but we're also approaching the midpoint of the NHL Regular Season, I thought I'd check in on some of my pre-season predictions to publicly bolster or humiliate myself (probably some of both, I imagine). So here we go... MISCELLANEOUS PREDICTIONS First Coach To Be Fired ( Trent Yawney ): Ken Hitchcock and Gerard Gallant beat him to the street, but he didn't even make it into December, so I'll give myself partial credit on that one. Most Improved Team ( St. Louis Blues ): Whoops! The Blues were at the bottom of the heap last year, and they're 2nd worst in the NHL right now, with a winning percentage of .375. The most improved teams this year are the freakishly mighty Anaheim Ducks (who went from .598 to .795 WP), and the suddenly mediocre Pittsburgh Penguins (.354 to .514). Most Disappointing Team ( Tampa Bay Lightning ): Disappointing can be a relative term, based on expectations, but, t

Cheer up, it's the holidays...

Why is it that various media outlets continue trying to put their own spin on the "what's wrong with the NHL" story? Our latest example comes from The Hockey News , in a piece by Jay Greenburg entitled, "Excitement Level On The Decline." Take the opening sentence: Attendance is down and yet still up from before the lockout, leaving it arguable whether buildings in New Jersey and Florida are half-full or half empty. It's no surprise that attendance is down from last season, particularly if you compare the first half of 2005-06 to the first half of this year. Coming out of the lockout, there were legions of fans starved to see the on-ice product, particularly in light of the massive rule changes. This year is more indicative of business as usual, so the fact that the league is above pre-lockout levels is a positive. Toss in the projection that overall revenues are increasing despite a 1% decrease in attendance, and I'd say that paying fans have come back

Olde Tyme Defensive Hockey

You've gotta love this picture from David Guralnik of the Detroit News from the recent Red Wings/Wild game. The caption reads, Minnesota's Stephane Veileux lost his stick under the Red Wings bench during the game on December 22. He had a little trouble retrieving it and starting swinging, which landed him in the penalty box. And yes, that's future Hall of Fame pest Chris Chelios whose foot is on Veileux's stick.

Catching Up With PythagenPuck

As we approach the end of the year, I thought I'd look back at a previous post, and examine to what extent any (or all) of the predictions made are actually bearing fruit. Back in November, I looked at Expected Win % as a function of Goals For and Goals Against, comparing each team's actual winning percentage against what the PythagenPuck formula would predict. Typically, if you've got the team-by-team Goals For and Against numbers across an entire season, PythagenPuck calculates a winning percentage that is within 2-3% of actual results. As a simple example, if you have a team that's getting outscored on average, but is over .500 (by winning close games and losing by blowouts), it's a good bet that if that scoring trend holds, the win/loss record will sink below .500 over time. The numbers from last month (when teams had played 16-21 games) basically indicated that the disappointing Ottawa Senators were due for a rebound, as they were the runaway underperformers

Thursday Night Fights: Predators/Sabres

After pasting the Predators 7-2 last night, many on the Buffalo Sabres are calling for a suspension for Predators forward Scott Nichol, who sucker-punched Jaroslev Spacek late in the 3rd period. Basically, Spacek used his stick to drive Nichol into the Sabres' goalpost, and Nichol popped right back up, came at Spacek from behind and punched him right in the jaw, setting off a fracas that resulted in Nichol drawing 2, 5, 10 and a game, and the Sabres finishing the game with a major power play, on which they scored twice. If anyone can find a video link to post in here, I'd appreciate it ( this story at TSN has a highlight clip), because there's one question that nags at me coming out of this incident: Why, after driving Nichol into the goalpost and hearing the play whistled dead, does Spacek just stand there looking down the ice? You'd think he'd keep an eye on Nichol, first to see if he was OK, second to see if he was going to come after him like he did. At

Season's Greetings

The posts will be few and far between through the weekend, but I've got a couple ideas in the pipeline for tomorrow. For now, I wanted to let the Little Forecheckers send along our hopes that all of you enjoy a safe and happy holiday season:

Random late-night thoughts

No in-depth stats tonight, just a few scattered thoughts after having watched the Ducks wallop the Stars 4-1 : 1. What a traffic jam in the Northwest, where only 2 points separate the 5 teams, and only Calgary would even qualify as a playoff team in the East at this point. It may not be the best division in the NHL, but it sure will be fun to watch down the stretch... 2. Where did all this talk of expanding the goal net come from? Hockey fans don't need more goals, they need more up-and-down action, which is what the post-lockout NHL is delivering. I'd say keep things as they are for a couple more years before making any more big changes. The only minor change I'd recommend is to take another swipe at reducing goaltending equipment, but that's probably a pretty minor effect. 3. James Mirtle points us over to an automated tool for voting Rory Fitzpatrick into the All-Star Game. While I think the campaign is great, this aspect is troubling. It could turn the w

Don't miss out on Missed Shots

Following up on this morning's post regarding top shooters and how often they actually put shots on net, here's a table showing this year's results so far. Again, I've taken the Top 30 players by Shooting Percentage, brought in their Missed Shot totals, and calculated a Total Shooting Percentage for each. The original ranking is in the leftmost column, the new Total rankings are towards the right, and the final column shows the portion of a player's shots that miss, and thus aren't counted in the regular stat. Players with green shading moved up through the rankings based on the new measure, and put a higher proportion of their shots on goal. What jumps out looking at these numbers is the performance of Mike Comrie of the Phoenix Coyotes - only 4 Missed Shots in 18 games, along with a conventional shooting percentage of 18.2%! He's not getting a ton of chances, but it appears he's certainly making the most of them. On the downside, check out Chicago&#

A Look at Total Shooting Percentage

It seems that any time you try and discuss the most effective shooters in the NHL, people gravitate to how "hard" or "heavy" the shot is, at the expense of other considerations, like how quickly shots are released or how accurate they are. Booming slapshots are more impressive to most than a quick wrister, so the trend is somewhat understandable. Today's piece focuses on bringing in Missed Shots into the overall shooting percentage statistic. Normally, Shooting Percentage is defined as Goals divided by Shots on Goal. But what about shots that miss the net by three feet? Those aren't counted in the usual Shooting Percentage, so I've brought each players Missed Shots total and included that in a "Total Shots" column, which then yields "Total Shooting %" as well. Our data comes from the stats available at - pulling together summary stats for the top 830 players ranked by shots on goal (this takes us down to guys with only 1 shot

Desist with the assists...

Over at the Globe on Hockey blog, James Mirtle posited the natural question as to whether Sid Crosby is now the NHL's best player, given his showcase 6-point performance against Philadelphia the other night, and his ascension to the top of the NHL scoring race. Not to poo-poo what Sid the Kid has accomplished so far this year, but I thought I'd slice up one section of the scoring race, and present the results. To what extent it helps answer Mirtle's question I leave as an exercise for the reader. Below I've divided up the assist totals between "first" and "second" assists. The feeling among some is that 1st Assists are more directly linked to the creation of a goal, and that 2nd Assists are more often than not "cheapies" that are unrelated to the creation of an offensive chance. Actually, I recall a goal back in the 1990's where Bob Errey cut in front of the net just as Steve Yzerman let off a shot. Errey jumped in front of the goal

Long as in... short

Thanks, TSN, now I have to clean off my monitor, after reading the intro to this article about the latest Phoenix Coyotes debacle, and spewing my drink as a result: " Jeremy Roenick 's decision to walk out on the Phoenix Coyotes Tuesday night could have long term ramifications for his career in Arizona." Who said anything about Jeremy Roenick having any kind of "long term" career left in him? JR's been one of the great stars of the NHL for the last 15 years or so, but coming out of the lockout he didn't do anything for the Kings last year, and clearly is a step behind the modern game. If I was in his shoes and got scratched, I'd head out and get a nice dinner, too - why settle for lousy, overpriced arena food? It's (long past) time for JR to transition into being a TV analyst, which is probably something he could do rather well. He's also been a "good quote", and the NHL is desperately in need of entertaining, insightful (not to

Which teams are tickling the twine?

Nothing's more frustrating for a hockey fan than to see their team get a great opportunity, only to see them plug the puck squarely into the opposing goalie's chest. By continuing our use of the Shot Quality concept, we can look at what kinds of chances various NHL teams are creating, and how often they are scoring on them. Granted, the ability of a player to get a good shot off can be determined by the quality of a pass he receives, just as much as the strength and accuracy of his shot. By looking at this measure on a team-by-team basis, we put those factors into the same basket. Another issue which clouds this analysis somewhat is the unbalanced schedule. Getting to play Phoenix and Los Angeles all the time is going to work in the favor of teams like Anaheim, San Jose, and Dallas. That said, here's a slightly more detailed look at team offensive performance than you'll typically see looking only at Shots For and Goals For... First off, the columns: Shots For/G: Bas

In defense of Defense

So who are the best defensive teams in the NHL this year? A quick look at the Goals Allowed standings is a decent place to start, but if we dig into the details of shots given up by each team (both quantity and quality), we get a better picture of which teams are truly locking down their opponents, and which ones are getting bailed out by stellar goaltending. The folks over at Hockey Analytics first looked into this area back in 2004, and I'm taking a look at the 2006-7 NHL Regular Season to date here. First, a quick guide through the columns, then we'll get to the analysis: Team : A bunch of guys who get paid a king's ransom to play the greatest game on earth. If you actually needed to read this, I'm guessing your Googling has gone pretty far awry... Shots Against/G : Shots Against Per Game, straight off of as of Sunday night. SQ Allowed : This is the average Shot Quality allowed on each shot by a given team. I'm using my values which probably vary sl

Rocket Richard Trophy Contenders: Quick & Dirty

Over the last few days I've broken down the NHL's leading goal-scorers, in an attempt to see who will contend for the Rocket Richard Trophy this season. For clarity's sake, I thought I'd gather the results here so you can get an overall picture. As a reminder, this list is drawn from the Top 24 on the goal-scoring list as of last Sunday night. The Favorite Marian Hossa, Atlanta Thrashers Prime Contenders Ilya Kovalchuk, Atlanta Thrashers Brendan Shanahan & Jaromir Jagr, New York Rangers Simon Gagne, Philadelphia Flyers Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals Dark Horse Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning Second-Tier Contenders Teemu Selanne, Anaheim Ducks Eric Staal, Carolina Hurricanes Dany Heatley, Ottawa Senators Unlikely To Contend Chris Kunitz, Anaheim Ducks Glen Murray, Boston Bruins Chris Drury, Buffalo Sabres Brian Rolston, Minnesota Wild Expected To Fade Thomas Vanek, Buffalo Sabres Alexander Frolov, Los Angeles Kings Darcy Tucker, Toronto Ma

Our Final Richard Trophy Contestants...

And now, our review of the early-season goal scoring leaders concludes with our final seven contenders for the Rocket Richard Trophy, tied with 13 goals apiece (as of last Sunday night, from whence all these stats are taken). I'll follow up after this with another post summarizing the results, so you can come back months later and see whether this holds any water or not... Jaromir Jagr , New York Rangers: Yeah, like this guy ever led the league in anything! Jagr's shoulder trouble is the only forseeable obstacle to his contending for the goal-scoring lead this year. He's got enough talent around him to get the puck, and he's on pace once again to post somewhere around 350 shots. His shooting percentage has typically been in the 12-15% range over the last five years (sometimes even higher before that), and his average Shot Quality of 12.48% would indicate that he'll probably end up in the same range this season. He gets 6:30 of power play time per game, good

Get Out The Vote...

The crew over at On Frozen Blog are hosting an interesting exercise this month - they want your vote on an All-Time lineup: Imagine yourself as coach of a team tied late in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. There’s one minute left. At your disposal for the game’s final shift you have any five skaters from the NHL’s past or present. In their prime . Of course you’ll need a premiere backstopper as well. Use any criteria of your choosing, but the bottom line is: you’re trying to punch one home with one final push and earn Lord Stanley’s glory. For the record, I went with Bobby Hull/Wayne Gretzky/Gordie Howe up front, Bobby Orr and Nicklas Lidstrom on D, and Dominik Hasek in net. Get over there and leave your vote in the comments...

Keep Putting the Biscuit in the Basket...

Continuing our review of the NHL's leading goal scorers and their prospects for winning the Rocket Richard Trophy, it's time to look at our next five contestants... Martin Straka , New York Rangers: Playing in the shadow of Jaromir Jagr and Brendan Shanahan can either be a curse or a blessing (depending on a player's ego), but for Straka, he seems to like it just fine. 15 goals at this point gives him a good chance to exceed his personal high of 35 goals in 1998-9, but challenging for the league lead is probably not in the cards. While his average Shot Quality is an outstanding 14.07% (9th best among the 150 players with at least 50 shots), his shooting percentage is a lofty 22.06%, a rate that is unlikely to continue for the next 5 months. While he gets plenty of even-strength and power play time to load up on offensive chances, he's clearly not the #1 option in this offense and is unlikely to exceed the 200-shot plateau by much, if any. The only way I see Straka

More Super-Sniper Analysis

Here's the second installment of our look at Maurice Richard Trophy contenders, presenting the seven players tied with 16 goals apiece: Dany Heatley , Ottawa Senators: Heatley is already close to the pace he set last year while scoring 50 goals, so we know he's capable of putting up elite numbers over the long, 82-game haul. In fact, his numbers so far are almost a duplicate of 2005-6: total shots tracking towards 285 (vs. 300 last year), ice time per game at 20:32 vs. 21:09 last year, and roughly 5.5 minutes per game on the power play. The only real difference is that he's seeing virtually no penalty-killing time, and has picked up an additional minute per game of even-strength action. His shooting percentage stands at 17.02%, right in line with last year (16.67%), and not markedly different from his career mark of 15.68%. To Heatley's credit, he's keeping up the production in light of Ottawa's overall offensive decline. They're down to 3.52 goals p

Handicapping the Rocket Richard Trophy

Now that we're getting into the middle portion of the NHL Regular Season, it's time to take a look at the league's leading goal-scorers, and assess their chances of keeping up the pace in the battle for the Maurice Richard Trophy . All too often, we've seen players come charging out of the gate with monster numbers in October and November, only to fade in the winter as teams settle into their routines and learn how best to shut down thier opponents. For today, I'm including the current top 5 players in goal scoring, and will follow up over the course of the week with the rest of the top 24 (down to a seven-way tie at 13 goals). When I refer to Shot Quality here, I'm using my version of the stat (slightly cruder than Alan Ryder's , but good enough for our purposes here) as detailed here *. Marian Hossa , Atlanta Thrashers: Hossa quietly leads a diverse attack that's tearing up the Southeast along with Slava Kozlov and Ilya Kovalchuk, and Kovalchuk's

Well, whattaya know?

I just wanted to draw your attention to a wonderful piece over at The Checking Line by Peter Tessier, in which he tries to determine just how much hockey fans really "know" about what it takes to succeed at the NHL level. While it shouldn't get in the way of good old fashioned barstool hockey sophistry, it's a useful reminder that there's so much more to fixing the problems of a team than merely giving the hot rookie more ice time or trading for a better goaltender.