Law: only one goaltender for a California team whose name is a synonym for "Speedy" can play well at any given time.

Law: only one goaltender for a California team whose name is a synonym for “Speedy” can play well at any given time.

Google News results for ‘Los Angeles Kings struggles’: 20,400.

Google News results for ‘St. Louis Blues struggles’: 11,300.

Google News results for ‘Los Angeles Kings PDO’: 5.

Google News results for ‘St. Louis Blues PDO’: 2.

I think it’s worth noting that both of the news results that look at ‘PDO’ for the St. Louis Blues, news items from Puck Daddy’s Harrison Mooney and Grantland’s Katie Baker show up as results for both of the latter two list items.

Once I think the whole hockey world and not just our corner of the blogosphere latch onto the concept of ‘PDO’, we can start to expand analysis to assume adjustments to tactical formations or personnel changes. I’m not good with Xs and Os, but I’m sure a few of them better at reading the game than your average beatwriter choking on a ham sandwich while waxing on topics like “adversity” or “complacency” would provide more insight into the causes of the struggles and possible solutions.

Somebody joked on Twitter a while ago that if they were a hockey player, they’d be able to answer about 90% of their questions with the single word “variance”.

Variance may not be the full answer to every single question about why the LA Kings are 4-5-2 and the St. Louis Blues are 7-5-1. The Blues are back in a playoff position even after losing five straight. In both cases, the extremely strong starting goaltenders from a year ago have taken steps backward: Per NHL.com, Jonathan Quick has an .890 even strength save percentage this season and Brian Elliott is just an .863. A year ago, the same goalies were .933 and .938.

With such little roster turnover for both clubs as well as the same coaches, you have to wonder how it could be conceivable that a team that was second place in the Conference last year, and a team that won the Stanley Cup, came out so flat to start the season.

Anybody can accept that the best team in a single game doesn’t always win. Once you reach that conclusion, you can also conclude that the best team in a single week, or a single month, won’t have the best record in the game. The losses on the part of the Blues and the Kings in a way present a challenge to the clubs: ‘We’re scoring not enough goals. We’re not getting good enough scoring chances. How can we rectify this without deviating far from the strategy that was successful for us last season?”

It’s true though. As much as a nerdling like me denies the existence of the mythical “shot quality” over a large stretch of games, the fact is that in a single game situation, scoring chances differ wildly from the traditional “Corsi” we use to measure shots and puck possession. The Toronto Maple Leafs, the team I track scoring chances for, generates far more chances than their puck-possession numbers would indicate. Not including last night’s game against Carolina, the Leafs had taken 52.6% of the scoring chances with the score tied in each of their games. According to BehindtheNet’s Fenwick Tied measure, which tracks all unblocked shots, they had earned just 43.0% of overall puck possession.

So there’s at least some explanation there for Toronto’s high, 104.0% PDO ranking going into last night’s game against Carolina. The Leafs, over a small stretch of games, have earned higher shooting percentages and higher save percentages. The problem with pointing to their defensive tendencies as a reason for their success is that their defensive tendencies are unsustainable. If rock-paper-scissors has given anything to Western culture, it’s the knowledge that every strength presents a weakness. The Leafs are competing against professional coaches and hockey players and video analysts who work full-time to break down aspects of the game that can expose the Leafs.

The important thing for them is that they aren’t a good enough team to have possession of the puck in the opponent’s end more than the opponent has possession in their end. By this time in the season, generally we know which teams are good at doing this. The Leafs’ “bend but don’t break” style of avoiding high quality shots while spending a majority of their time in their own end is not a viable way to play defence. It can’t work. We’ve seen it not work.

Los Angeles and St. Louis are No. 1 and No. 2 in the NHL in holding control of the puck with the score close. If they’re not winning games, it’s for different reasons than not doing the right things. I don’t know too much about the Kings, but I’m willing to bet that they aren’t doing poorly because they have yet to “rediscover the overflowing confidence [they] showed last spring.” The Blues, admittedly, aren’t doing as poorly as I think I described them above. They aren’t as interesting a case study as the current Kings, who were a consistently good possession team last spring before blossoming into an elite possession team with the acquisition of Jeff Carter at the trade deadline.

That said, their record isn’t a reflection of their play. Whatever factors led their teams’ even strength shooting percentage to be 7.1%, seventh worst in the league, and even strength goaltending save rate to be 87.6% second worst in the league, whether it’s luck or a few defensive zone breakdowns, those aren’t the plays that add up over the course of the season.

A team as good as the Blues with a PDO of 94.5% is absolutely scary, and even if they don’t regress all the way back up to 100, they are a club that ought to be competing for the Central Division crown even if Brian Elliott takes a much expected step back this season.

The Kings, who have the highest Fenwick close rate in the league, have a team shooting percentage of 7.1% and a team save percentage of 88.9%. Like Elliott, Quick was supposed to regress (his 2012 even strength save percentage was .933, but his career save percentage in his three previous years was .922) but he’s performing well below his talent-level. As much as I can accept that the Kings are giving up more scoring chances than expected and that’s leading to a few extra goals against, I think those extra scoring chances are thanks to a few uncharacteristic breakdowns, pucks off shin pads, and generally things an offence can’t prepare for. The Kings’ losing is not sustainable, and a quick glance at what happens to PDO after the quarter pole confirms that.

I think that whether Ken Hitchcock or Darryl Sutter introduce any tactical changes is more interesting than the story that will narrative that will surround either teams’ apparent turnaround and competition for their respective division crowns. I know it’s a shorter season than usual, but in 82-game terms, we’re not at “the quarter pole”. We’re effectively at the point where there are 35 or 36 games left in a teams’ season, which typically occurs around mid-January. At this time last season, the Maple Leafs were a point ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Phoenix Coyotes were eight points back in the Pacific Division—a division they ultimately won. Los Angeles are five back of the playoffs and nine in their division. There’s still a long ways to go.

Meanwhile, Chicago, who are third in league shooting (11.3%) and 11th in league save percentage (92.7%) are bound to come back to within striking distance of the Blues soon. These things happen every year.

(Possession data from BehindTheNet’s Fenwick and Team shots pages. Individual goaltender EV SV% data from NHL.com)

Comments (14)

  1. Good article.

    But people putting out ‘fancy stats’ would do better in the mainstream if they spent less time bitching about commentators using non mathematical rational to fill column/air space and more time just explaining what they see. It’s what a lot of people find very tiring about the whole topic.

    For every ““rediscover the overflowing confidence [they] showed last spring.” nonsense quote, I’m sure there were a dozen comments of “they are playing well, they just aren’t getting the goals and the goaltending has not been up to par” – which is exactly what you are saying.

    And lets’ face it, neither is science, it’s statistics, and for every silly commentator quote, there is also the fact that this: http://behindthenet.ca/fenwick_2012.php?sort=6&section=close
    also shows that the Flames are fourth place for Corsi when close!

    Good article though.

    • 1 – The Flames have an atrocious PDO

      2 – Maybe that indicates the Flames are better than you think they are.

      3 – But probably not, because they’ve played seven times at home and just four times on the road, unlike St. Louis (7 home 6 road) or Los Angeles (3 home 8 road).

      Carolina’s and Montreal’s possession stats cratered when they played a few road games. Either that’s coming up for the Flames, or they’re a better team you’ve given them credit for and ought to apologize to the team that’s just four points out of a playoff spot with the worst PDO in the league and 37 games to go.

      • “or they’re a better team you’ve given them credit for and ought to apologize to the team that’s just four points out of a playoff spot with the worst PDO in the league and 37 games to go.”

        Yup, they’re a .500 team whose starting goalie was recently a 3rd-string AHL goalie (He’s playing like a below-average NHL backup. i.e. He’s playing well, considering).

        The other reason their PDO is so bad is b/c of Iginla. 1 goal on 44 shots c’mon man.

  2. We’ve been having some discussion about this on a Kings forum, and the issue i can never seem to get past is how vague all of these stats can be. We look at a stat like PDO and say, “of they are way off the line, this isn’t sustainable”, but we don’t know why they are off the line to begin with. And we can’t say with much certainty when they will regress. Some call it luck, which could be the case in some instances, but is likely a synonym for “I have no idea”. We could look at two teams with excellent puck possession stats. We say that the team that is winning is doing so because of their excellent puck possession. The team that is losing must be losing because of… luck?

    I get that some of these stats are quite good at illustrating and predicting certain trends, but so far im unsure if were much better off if our answer, in many cases, as to why.. is luck.

    Maybe you could speak further on this?

    • Dunno, it’s either luck, or you think Jonathan Quick is legitimately a sub .900 goaltender. The Kings are outshooting the opposition by 8 shots per 60 min 5v5.

      If you watched a game where you outshot the opposition 30-22 but lost 0-2, then you would say “that team stole one” on the assumption that what you just witnessed is not reproducible consistently.

      • Or perhaps the Kings are taking poor shot options and giving up great shot options. Or maybe Quick is still recovering from back surgery. And if it’s just bad luck, how long until their luck changes? What im saying is, we already know, without the advanced stats, that they are outshooting other teams, yet still losing games. All the “advanced stats” suggest is that they shouldn’t be losing. So… why?

  3. The Kings suffer from having too many players (Richards, Stoll, Carter, Doughty) who enjoy being pro hockey players too much and are undisciplined professionals. As careers become longer, exercising and nutrition programs reveal who is prepared and who isn’t. The lifestyle of hard partying that Mike Richards has lived will catch up to anyone…even Lawrence Taylor couldn’t play well forever. If these guys don’t clean their off-ice lives up and visit the weight room and the jogging trail more often then the on-ice results will continue to reflect what we’ve seen. Not surprising that a team with little off-ice discipline has struggled under the adverse conditions of a lockout shortened season. I sure won’t want to be Deam Lombardi in a couple of years when this team is all dead weight.

    • RTFA.

    • Brett_35, what you have just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone on this site is now dumber for having read it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

    • It’s funny because he was probably saying the exact same thing this time last season, minus Carter.

    • Yes, they’re off to a slow start because they like hockey too much. You should write for ESPN.

    • You know this team won the cup 249 days ago right?

    • Lawrence Taylor did not, in fact, play forever.

      He just had 10.5 sacks in his 10th season in THE FRIGGIN NFL

  4. “I’m not good with Xs and Os, but I’m sure a few of them better at reading the game than your average beatwriter choking on a ham sandwich while waxing on topics like “adversity” or “complacency” would provide more insight into the causes of the struggles and possible solutions.”

    What the heck does this sentence even mean?

    Are you saying you have a better understanding of what’s going on by not understanding Xs and Os than beat writers who may or may not have? If so, I’d ask you to explain why you’re under the impression that Frans Nielsen’s game is synonymous with “excitement.”

    Are you trying to say that someone who understands X’s and O’s would buy into PDO as a theory for why the team’s struggling as opposed to how they do or do not deal with “adversity?” If so, you need to give an example of such a person doing exactly that, then rewrite it as an English sentence this time (drop the mixed metaphor, while you’re at it).

    If this website has an editorial process, your submissions need to undergo a Hell of a lot more scrutiny than they have been seeing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *