On Wednesday night in Buffalo, the Philadelphia Flyers came out of the first period of their game against the Sabres down 3-1, the sixth time in their last eight games that they have trailed after 20 minutes. It was at that point that Claude Giroux put the entire team on his back, recording points on all four of the Flyers remaining goals, including scoring the game winner in overtime, his third gamewinner in as many games. When I say that he put the team on his back, I mean it: no other Flyer recorded more than a single point in that game.
Those four points vaulted him past Phil Kessel for the league lead in points and put him on pace for 113 points. This is pretty remarkable for a player whose career high in points, recorded just last season, is 76. Kessel, for his part, is on pace for 103 points, a big step up from last season’s career-high 64.
They’re not the only two surprising names among the top scorers. Jonathan Toews may have a Conn Smythe trophy, but his career high in points is 76. This season, he’s on pace for 94. Joffrey Lupul’s career high of 53 points came six seasons ago, but he’s also on pace for 94 points this season. Then there’s the Panthers’ top line of Stephen Weiss, Kris Versteeg, and Tomas Fleischmann, with career highs of 61, 53, and 51 points respectively, who are each on pace for point totals in the high 80s. Heck, Johan Franzen, who has never reached 60 points in his career is on a point-per-game pace.
It makes me wonder why these players are scoring so much. In what context are they scoring?
I am a blogger of modest means who is currently attending grad school. I can’t afford to watch every single game in the NHL, either in terms of time or money. I watch what I can and catch the highlights of everything else while trying to write papers and help take care of a newborn baby. That’s not the best way to do analysis. This is why advanced statistics are fantastic. They allow me to take a whole bunch of information compiled by people paying very close attention to every single game and use it to build a context.
So I took the top 30 scorers in the NHL as of Wednesday night from NHL.com and took a look at four advanced statistics from Behindthenet.ca to provide some context to their performance. I will provide the complete chart at the bottom of the post for perusal, but I will highlight a few interesting results first.
The four advanced statistics I’ll be using are Offensive Zone Start Percentage (OZone%), Corsi Relative Quality of Competition (Corsi Rel QoC), Relative Corsi (Corsi Rel), and PDO, which doesn’t actually stand for anything for those of you who were wondering.
OZone% is the percentage of times that a player’s shifts start in the offensive zone as compared to the defensive zone, with neutral zone starts omitted. Two types of players tend to get higher percentages of offensive zone starts: fourth liners who are a complete liability in their own zone and first liners getting prime opportunities to score. Starting a shift in the offensive zone has obvious advantages for offensive-minded players. Alain Vigneault in Vancouver is the coach whose zone starts are the most skewed. Other than George Parros, Alex Burrows and the Sedins have the highest percentage of offensive zone starts, while four Canucks, including defensive centres Manny Malhotra and Maxim Lapierre have the lowest percentage in the NHL.
Corsi is a measurement of puck possession that is essentially a plus/minus of attempted shots. Relative Corsi compares the team’s Corsi rating when a player is on the ice to the team’s Corsi rating when that player is off the ice. Corsi Rel QoC takes the Corsi Rel ratings of the opposition’s players to give an indication of whether a player is facing offensive dynamos or pylons.
I covered PDO extensively in a previous post - it’s essentially a measurement of whether or not a player is getting the bounces – but I’d like to clarify one thing. PDO trends towards 1000 on a team level, but individual players will frequently have PDO numbers that are a little bit higher or lower based on their level of skill. Certain players tend to create opportunities for higher shooting percentages when they are on the ice. Once again, the Sedins are a good example as they frequently leave the shooter with a wide open net at the end of a passing play.
One final caveat is necessary: all four of these statistics are at even-strength only. A number of forwards on this list scored a significant number of their points on the powerplay, such as the Sedins, Giroux, Nugent-Hopkins, Backstrom, and Selanne.
The first thing that jumps out at me is that Claude Giroux starts more often in the defensive zone than he does in the offensive zone. Giroux has started 47.1% of his shifts in the offensive zone. This makes his Corsi Rel and scoring pace particularly impressive: Giroux has been able to consistently push possession into the offensive zone while starting in his own end and he’s been able to turn those offensive zone possessions into goals for the Flyers. And it’s not because he’s been enjoying the bounces: his PDO is a perfectly normal 1005. While his personal shooting percentage is well above his career average – meaning he won’t continue scoring goals at his current pace – it seems entirely likely that he will in fact top 100 points this season.
The only player with a lower percentage of offensive zone starts in the top 30 is Ryan Smyth and it’s worth looking at him with his teammate Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Smyth has started only 46.1% of his shifts in the offensive zone compared to defensive zone, while Nugent-Hopkins is behind only the Sedins for the top OZone% in the top 30 in league scoring. Smyth is also facing the second toughest competition in the top 30, while Nugent-Hopkins has faced the easiest competition, just ahead of Jordan Eberle.
Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle (along with Taylor Hall) are being extremely sheltered, while Smyth and Shawn Horcoff take the tough defensive zone starts and tougher competition. With that said, it’s hard to argue with the results for the Oilers. It’s been a while since they’ve had three players in the top-30 in scoring. Heck, it’s been a while since they had one. Smyth isn’t likely to stay in this elite company, however: his PDO of 1060 is unsustainable judging from previous years.
Speaking of unsustainable PDOs, let’s come back to the Florida Panthers’ top line. Cam Charron previously posted about how impressed he has been by the Panthers, and they are performing remarkably well as a team. Their individual numbers, however, are a bit concerning. Weiss, Versteeg, and Fleischmann have the second, third, and fourth highest PDO ratings among the top 30 scorers. Weiss and Fleischmann are also two of only seven players in the top 30 with negative Corsi Rel numbers, indicating that they aren’t that good at moving the puck up ice with possession.
Of the three, Weiss is the only one with a consistent history of a high PDO, suggesting that his performance might not fall off quite as much over the rest of the season, but it seems likely that Versteeg and Fleischmann won’t be able to keep up their scoring pace. Will the Panthers falter if their top line can’t produce at the same clip?
There are five players in the top 30 who have abnormally low PDO numbers, however, and will potentially perform even better throughout the rest of the season. Backstrom, Spezza, Datsyuk, Neal, and Kopitar all have PDO numbers below 990, with all but Kopitar falling below 980. Backstrom is already scoring at over a point-per-game, but has a minus-6 plus/minus thanks to a low on-ice save percentage. His on-ice shooting percentage is also lower than his previous seasons, and his scoring pace could pick up, particularly if Ovechkin gets his game back on track.
Spezza has been lauded for his improved two-way play, but he’s still seeing mostly offensive zone starts and has a minus-8 plus/minus because of some mediocre goaltending when he’s on the ice. Datsyuk and Kopitar have struggled at times this season, but some of those struggles have simply been because they’re not getting the bounces. Quite frankly, Kopitar is very impressive: his OZone% is only 48.1%, but he pushes possession into the offensive zone with great effectiveness, with a Corsi Rel of 14.0, fourth among players in the top 30. He does this while facing the toughest Corsi Rel QoC of any player in the top 30 in scoring. Kopitar is drastically underrated.
The most interesting name among those five is James Neal, as he’s not a player that is necessarily expected to be among the top scorers in the league. His career high in points is 55, but he’s currently on pace for 73 points despite having a surprisingly low PDO. With Crosby back in the lineup (at least, once he returns again to the lineup), Neal could potentially have a massive season.
Then there are the Sedins, who have the highest Corsi Rel in the top 30. In fact, it’s not even close. What also isn’t close, however, is their percentage of offensive zone starts, which greatly influences their Corsi Rel. This isn’t too surprising: the Sedins had similar numbers last season. What is surprising is that their scoring at even-strength isn’t anywhere near as high as might be expected from their underlying numbers. Daniel and Henrik have 18 and 17 points respectively at even-strength, with 15 and 13 points each on the powerplay helping them round out their point totals.
The leader in even-strength scoring is Phil Kessel, whose PDO has significantly regressed, indicating that he may in fact be able to continue at his current pace and finish near 100 points. The future is not so bright for Lupul, however: while his PDO is no longer unsustainably high, he has the worst Corsi Rel among the top 30 scorers. At some point, that will catch up to him. On the plus side, he has a healthy head start on setting a career-high in points.
Here is the complete chart of top 30 scorers with their advanced statistical context. Does anything stand out to you that I haven’t mentioned?
|Player||Team||Pos||GP||G||A||P||+/-||P/G||Ozone%||Corsi Rel QoC||Corsi Rel||PDO|