Earlier this week, I wrote a post about Rob Vollman’s Player Usage Charts, and introduced you to the idea using the regular season charts for the New Jersey Devils and Los Angeles Kings. The charts are useful for quickly seeing what role a player filled in comparison to his teammates and roughly how well they performed in that role. Sometimes making comparisons between individual players can be difficult just using a list of names and numbers: the player usage charts make this task a lot easier.
The only problem is that the regular season charts aren’t necessarily all that applicable to the playoffs, where some players get used in more highly specialized roles (particularly defensively), players with questionable defensive skills get more sheltered, and some players struggle where they previously thrived. So I took it upon myself to put together playoff player usage charts for both the Devils and the Kings.
Anze Kopitar's reaction when I asked him to look at charts. They're fun charts, I swear! (Christian Petersen, Getty Images)
One of the issues with advanced statistics in hockey is that the material can sometimes be quite dry or difficult to grasp. They’re frequently presented in lists of names and numbers that can make your vision go blurry. The statistics have odd, counter-intuitive names that frequently act as a barrier to understanding. Sometimes, it feels like we need a new way to present the information.
On Friday, Robert Vollman of HockeyAbstract.com and ESPN Insider released the 2011-12 Player Usage Charts, which are a graphical representation of the Zone Starts, Quality of Competition, and Relative Corsi statistics, with a separate chart for each team. The charts are a visually interesting way to immediately see how a player was used by a particular team and how well they did in that role. They’re not perfect, but they are useful.
The PDF of the charts complete with expert analysis is available for free here. After the jump, I’ll do a brief rundown of how the charts work and take a look at the regular season charts for our Stanley Cup Finalists, the New Jersey Devils and Los Angeles Kings.
During the regular season, Patrik Elias was second on the New Jersey Devils in points, coming just short of a point-per-game. He finished the year with 78 points in 81 games, a strong season from the 36-year-old. In the playoffs, however, his offence has dried up: he has just 6 points in 18 playoff games and is a team-worst minus-5. His only point during the Eastern Conference Final was a goal that deflected off his skate, then Artem Anisimov’s skate and in.
He’s gone from an essential offensive leader to a “cog in the machine,” lauded more for his leadership in the room than his contributions on the ice. The fourth line is contributing more offensively than Elias. Puck Daddy has him nominated for the hypothetical Non Smythe Award for the least impressive player in the playoffs. Since the Devils have made it to the Final, he hasn’t faced much criticism for his play, but it seems likely that they’ll need more from him against the steamrolling Kings.
One theory is that Elias is getting older and is slowing down as the grind of the long season and playoff run begins to wear on him. While his 8 points in the final 5 games of the regular season might put that to rest, the distinct difference in regular season and playoff hockey calls that argument into question.
So what is the difference between Elias’s regular season and playoff performance? Is it a matter of puck luck? Is he being used differently in the playoffs? Or is he actually performing worse?
One of the unexpected storylines in this year’s playoffs has been Alex Ovechkin’s ice time. Previously, Ovechkin has been the prototypical workhorse for the Capitals, taking long shifts and playing big minutes. There are some suggesting that Dale Hunter has put Ovechkin out to pasture, frequently putting him on the ice for just 15 minutes or even less per game.
What I’m curious about is how Hunter is using Ovechkin. It’s one thing to talk about his ice time being down, but it’s another to see what situations Ovechkin is being used in and whether this is the best use of his skillset. It’s worth exploring whether the reduction in ice time is limiting Ovechkin or whether it is putting him in the best possible position to succeed.
The ageless wonder, Ray “Wizard” Whitney is getting a lot of attention after scoring the gamewinning goal in overtime of the first game of round one, and for good reason. Whitney is just shy of his 40th birthday, yet is coming off one of the best seasons of his career and is an offensive leader for the hard-working Coyotes. It’s tough to imagine Whitney retiring after putting up 77 points while playing all 82 games, but a long playoff run would be a fine culmination of his career.
Whitney’s two-point night on Friday was capped off by the OT winner, where he made like a savvy veteran and slipped to the front of the net off a faceoff, kicked Martin Hanzal’s pass up to his stick and tipped the puck past Pekka Rinne. The goal happened so quickly that it was almost unbelievable the game was over.
He wasn’t the only player with 2 points for the Coyotes, however. Rostislav “Rusty” Klesla also put up a goal and an assist, increasing his point total in the postseason to 6 points in 7 games, leading not only the Coyotes in scoring, but all NHL defencemen. As Michael Bluth might say, “Him?”
Defensive hockey has become a sad reality these playoffs. If you equate defensive hockey and lack of goals. Sometimes it's just offensive inefficiency.
Hey, here’s some good news for fans of high-scoring hockey: four of five top goal-scoring teams from the Western Conference all had the chance to make up the Western Conference Final Four this year.
Hey, here’s some bad news for fans of high-scoring hockey: their opponents have all taken 3-1 leads. Vancouver, San Jose, Chicago and Detroit have been seen over the last few years as puck possession teams that score a lot of goals, while their opponents: Los Angeles, St. Louis, Phoenix and Nashville, are seen as more defensive, trap teams.
(Nashville are a bit of a wild-card. They’re actually 7th in the Conference in goals against [they've given up more than both San Jose and Detroit for some reason] and fourth in goals for, behind the Canucks, Blackhawks and Red Wings. So you could make the argument that the Wings are actually the more defensive hockey club, but for the purpose of symmetry in the above paragraph, let’s not.)
After four games in each of the series’, five of eight have a 3-1 leader. In three of those five series’, the team with a better goals against record from the regular season is leading. Not in any of those series is the team with the highest goals for average leading. Theory: to beat defensive hockey, you can’t just open yourself up and try and trade chances. To beat defensive hockey, you must close down your system. Quick thought on that:
No wonder Jeff Skinner drew a penalty; have you seen how evil Tomas Kopecky looks? (Phil Ellsworth, Getty Images)
Early in the season, I wrote a post about Penalty Plus/Minus, which is the difference between the number of penalties drawn and taken by a single player. Midway through the season, I ran an update on the leaders in penalty plus/minus, with Jeff Skinner and Rick Nash leading the way. With just a week and a half remaining in the NHL regular season, it seemed an appropriate time to run an end-of-season update.
Okay, so it’s slightly inappropriate to run it now since it’s not actually the end of the season, but the numbers won’t change too much in the few games remaining. I’ll likely tally the final numbers after the playoffs are over and have some fun with team totals and such then.
For now, here are the top and bottom 20 in penalty plus/minus for forwards and defencemen, along with some observations.