WASHINGTON DC, DC - APRIL 23:  Alexander Semin #28 of the Washington Capitals is stopped by Jaroslav Halak #41 of the Montreal Canadiens in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Verizon Center on April 23, 2010 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

We’ve already established that Alexander Semin, pictured above refusing to pay the price and playing a perimeter game, had a lot of shots in the Capitals’ first round series against Montreal.  In fact, he shot pucks at nearly twice his career rate.


However, I had that point countered in a discussion this morning with two other excellent hockey bloggers: J.P. of Japers Rink and Derek Zona of Copper & Blue.  J.P. countered my argument by raising shot quality, arguing that Semin may have had many shots but they weren’t the same calibre of shots that he fired during the regular season.  Beyond my personal opinion from watching the game, I had no data to back up my argument, so I was going to let it slide, but then Derek reminded me that the NHL keeps track of where shots are fired from on their play-by-play sheets, and Gabriel Desjardins totals them for us.


The results are interesting.


Season Type Goals/Gm Shots/Gm SH% Shot Dist.
06-07 Season 0.494 3.16 15.6% Unavail.
07-08 Season 0.413 2.94 14.1% 31.4’
07-08 Playoff 0.429 4.00 10.7% 34.0’
08-09 Season 0.548 3.60 15.2% 34.1’
08-09 Playoff 0.357 3.00 11.9% 32.5’
09-10 Season 0.548 3.05 15.2% 34.5’
09-10 Playoff 0.000 6.29 0.0% 32.3’


It’s interesting that we see a slight negative correlation between shot distance and shooting percentage (i.e. Semin has a better SH% from further away), which is at odds with both what we would expect and with the overall NHL pattern.


That said, if Montreal had truly managed to keep Semin to the outside, to the perimeter where he couldn’t be effective, we’d surely see that in the shot distances.  Instead, we see that Semin was nearly 2.5’ closer for his average playoff shot than he was for an average regular season shot.


What I’m getting at here should be obvious: outside of Jaroslav Halak, there’s no reason to give the Canadiens team a ton of credit for keeping Semin off the scoreboard; he had plenty of opportunities, and on average they were from closer to the net than they were during the season.

Comments (11)

  1. Wow! this is awesome.
    This chart is absolutely point, set and match for the argument I was having this lunch time with some co-workers who were arguing that Semin firing blanks 44 times on the series wasn’t bad luck on his part. They kept telling me exactly that, the Habs had a great defensive system in place and forced him to take shots from the outside.

    Thanks for that!

  2. Game 7 is the perfect game to debate shots vs shot quality. Or rather,to debate whether all shots are made equally. Or something like that. Give Halak credit but this was a team effort; Montreal was in control all night.
    My point is,that while watching that game; I had almost no doubt that Montreal was going to win. I also had no doubt that statistically,they were being killed (at least in terms of shots against and territory metrics).
    What I saw was a Montreal team that was way too fast for the opposition to handle. They beat Washington to every single loose puck and with the exception of a handful of situations (the dis-allowed goal for instance), had a wall of defenders between the net and the shot.
    Washington would shoot from all angles but rarely out-manned Montreal near the net. No rebounds, no isolation on the goalie down low and probably most important; almost no lateral passing or switching (ie.cycling,give and go etc- Bruce Boudreau should be fired for his complete lack of tactical competency).
    So,how do you capture that statistically*? This is my problem with current statistics (or, more likely; my inability to decipher the available statistics). If it’s just luck then what is the point of playing? What is the purpose of a coach or a strategy if luck trumps all? It can’t be luck. There has to be some method to the madness.
    What is needed is a way to contextualize shots. Too many times, a team will lose while having a massive shot lead. It cannot be luck so there must be a way to explain it. The goalie is a good place to start but as a team, Montreal just showed the world the blueprint on how to handle an offensively minded team.

    *I tried the following (shots+takeaways : blocked shots+attempts blocked+giveaways) to try and capture a sense of the game I watched-Montreal playing a box+1 and out hustling Washington for every puck.
    For game 7, the result was MTL 0.7407—WSH 0.548.

  3. noskillgill:

    I dunno. I watched Game 7 too, and I came away with an entirely different feeling than you. Montreal did a good job containing Washington in the defensive zone, but they spent so much time there I figured the Capitals would win for sure.

    When Ovechkin scored (waved off after) I just nodded to myself because I figured it was coming.

    Then Moore scored the other way on an ugly breakdown and I decided Montreal might just be able to squeak out the win, which they did. I had very different feelings throughout on the course of the game than you did, however.

  4. @noskillgill

    There are two problems with your observations, just as with Jonathan’s.

    1. Confirmation Bias
    2. Anecdotal information

    Point 1: You see the evidence you want and interpret it the way that it fits your conclusion
    Point 2: Your memory is notoriously unreliable. So are your emotions.

    All observers are affected by this, which is why a statement like: “I had almost no doubt that Montreal was going to win.” Is absolutely worthless. What you *knew* was that the Habs were being crushed in every measurable way except goals, but your brain created a happy narrative for you to make you feel good. Score one for self delusions.

    Of course, this doesn’t mean that the Habs couldn’t win (they obviously did, because the hockey gods smiled on their game plan), but that the way you solved the cognitive dissonance of being crushed and wanting MTL to win was to create a narrative to resolve it so as not to have to hold two obviously contradictory thoughts (which I will admit is damn hard) or to have to ascribe it luck, which is something our brain doesn’t like to do either – we prefer agency and control.

    This is not a critique of you, this happens to me all observers, and all the time to me with sports and other things, and I have to slap myself to stop it. It’s easier with sports on the radio, because I can ascribe the narrative to the color guy and focus my attention on the actual game by filtering the color out.

  5. @rsm- I am not a Habs fan, I’m a Leafs fan and I didn’t really care who won (aside from a marginal preference for the Canadian squad).
    The reason for my feeling was quite simple.
    Montreal was insanely fast last night. They were 10 feet ahead of any Capital for almost every single loose puck up for grabs. They were blocking almost everything and disrupting Washington’s flow constantly.
    Watching the game,it seemed like the only thing Washington could do was try and shoot through bodies. They hardly ever got a chance inside Montreal’s box and when they did, they had no time to do anything.
    My feeling on the game was caused by watching one team play hockey and another team essentially ignore most of the coaching points I’ve ever been taught (back-check, head man the puck, support the puck carrier and protect the puck).
    Honestly, if it were up to me; I’d fire Boudreau yesterday.
    Confirmation bias is an double edged sword, you seem to accept my statement of statistical dominance in favour of the Caps at face value but, how accurate is that assumption?
    Sure, the Caps had a massive shot lead but they were dominated in shots blocked and shots disrupted (82 total for Caps, 22 total for Habs) and goals.
    If they tracked cross-ice passes, effective cycling and odd-man rushes, I would think the Habs won those metrics (although,memory being what it is and beer being what it is…maybe not).
    So, you see shots and activity and conclude that one team is dominating; I saw one team play insane defense, out-skate the opposition and head man the puck all night long. I figured they would win because of it and they did (not to say I didn’t think it was possible that Washington might tie it up at which point, who knows what might have happened).
    I’ve been pilloried on this comment board for being a bit of a contrarian when it comes to the one size fits all application of statistical interpretation of hockey.
    My argument isn’t against stats but is more about the bias laden values associated with certain stats. Shots are good because they lead to scoring chances. No argument there.
    But what happens when the vast majority of the shots attempted don’t lead to chances for but chances against? And, are all scoring chances of equal value? Does a shot from the outside slot with 5 defenders guarding any lateral movement merit the same consideration as a break-away? I would say no. Teams get out chanced all the time and there isn’t a high degree of correlation of winning when out-chancing a team. Why is that?
    Teams that mindlessly blast the puck from everywhere are generally in panic mode and panicked hockey is generally losing hockey. NHL Goalies can handle all but a perfect shot when the lane is isolated and the rebounds are cleared. Perfect shots are very hard to execute when you have less than 1/4 of a second to take it.
    You aren’t wrong to suggest possible bias in interpretation (I would however suggest using words like ‘worthless’ and ‘self-delusion’ indicate a bias on your side) but it doesn’t apply to me in this case.
    I’m glad to see I wasn’t the only one paying attention in Psych 101.

  6. @noskillgill

    That was a thorough response to my assertions and you do an excellent job of pointing out a lot of the things I have a hard time reconciling with stats as well.

    It’s hard for me to discuss game events outside of the stats in this case, as the Montreal English language radio broadcasters were terrible at keeping track of the game and game situations as well as being biased. If I ‘where is the puck’ on the radio one more time I’m going to smack someone.

    As for bias, I’m heavily biased against anecdotes. But I heard a couple more analyses today from fairly reliable sources that match yours, so I’ll accept your game analysis at face value. Albeit I’ll temper that with the the fact is that Washington would still have won if it weren’t for some serious amount of chance going against them. Washington probably didn’t do themselves any favours during the series, but Montreal having to count on Semin going 0-44 isn’t exactly a good game plan.

    >Honestly, if it were up to me; I’d fire Boudreau yesterday.
    After the results of the Penguins game I think you may be right. The lack of PP might be the most damning, although rolling the lines might qualify as well. The loss of Markov may have had something to do with that too… At this point I wish someone would dress McSorely for a game against Cooke.

  7. noskillgill

    If Montreal was whopping the Caps to the pucks all night long, how come the majority of the play was inside the Habs zone?

    You’d think that if a team was winning puck battles as easily as you claim, they could do a significantly better job of moving the puck out of their end and into the oppositions end.

    That was far from the case.

    And yeah, the whole “kept the shots to the outside” argument is nonsense in the highest form and it’s a cop-out for any legit analyst to use that. There’s this desire amonst hockey people to have a reason for everything.

    It’s never luck, it’s always one team doing something to another team. Well no it isn’t and it’s amazing how many people just aren’t bright enough to see that.

    This is coming from Semin himself: http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-7375-Washington-Capitals-Examiner~y2010m4d30-Alexander-Semin-At-times-I-didnt-play-the-way-I-was-supposed-to

    He’s not displeased at all with his shot selection, they just don’t fall. I’ll take his word over some guy trying to look smart on TV while ignoring the obvious.

  8. @dawgbone so we disagree. I’m not a legit analyst,I’m just a dude with an opinion but I didn’t go to the “shots from the outside” well. I said they were trying to shoot through bodies and they were (41 blocked shots,42 shots, 41 disrupted shot attempts). Do you believe in unicorns? I don’t.

  9. The thing is, is that some people’s opinions kinda suck balls.

  10. @RO-you won’t get any argument from me.

  11. No Skill:

    I wouldn’t call what you put forth “arguments” anyway.

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