Friday, October 30, 2009

Wild Chances - Games 1 to 10

For those who are unfamiliar with the scoring chance metric, a player is awarded a chance any time someone on the ice has a chance to score. He is awarded a “chance for” if someone on his team has a chance and awarded a “chance against” if someone on the opposing team has a chance to score. The results are broken down into three game states, EV (even strength), PP (Power Play, not including 5v3 situations) and SH (Short-Handed, not including 5v3 situations) and the players are organized according to their jersey numbers. At EV I've also included a scoring chance percentage which is the number of chances for divided by the total number of chances for both teams when any individual player is on the ice. JLikens has been tracking chances for the Minnesota Wild this year and the data that follows is dependent on those results.

The missing game is the October 16th game against the Edmonton Oilers. Although Dennis King is scoring chances for the Oilers and did score that game, I decided to only use JLikens' data here. Having already summed the chances for the Avalanche and Oilers, it's interesting to note that all three teams had a scoring chance percentage between 45 and 46.5. They've all had similar performances in terms of chance volume but I don't need to tell fans of the Wild that it hasn't translated into similar records. Not. Even. Close. The biggest reason for that is the giant gap in save and shooting percentage between the Minnesota and the other two clubs. The Avalanche in particular have been rescued by making their shots (and some shoddy goaltending by teams like the Red Wings) and some top shelf work from Craig Anderson. The Wild, on the other hand had a save percentage under .900 and a shooting percentage well below league norms. If it wasn't for great play on special teams things may have even looked worse. So the percentages should normalize and the Wild should improve. But how much?

Gabe Desjardins points out that over their first nine games the Wild allowed shots that closer to the goalie than any nine game stretch since the lockout. Shot distance is often used as a proxy for shot quality and these chance numbers seem to bear that out. Although we don't have chance numbers for the Wild last season, we do know that their goal and shot differential suggested that they were a pretty good team. So far this season that hasn't been the case. The Wild have done a poor job at even strength generating chances and they've generally been getting outshot as well.

So who's not as bad as he looks? Well, Johnsson and Schultz look terrible by this measure, as they do with most shot differential measures. But as with those other measures these numbers are going to be dependent on things like what kind of opposition you're facing and what end of the rink you're playing in. Last season, coach Jacques Lemaire used that pairing extensively in the defensive zone against the other team's best players. His usage was some of the most extreme in the entire league. I was expecting that to change this year but so far their role is exactly the same, taking many more draws in the defensive end than in the offensive end and taking on the other team's best. It's a virtual guarantee that these guys will be under 50% in scoring chance differential.

And where might the Wild be able to look for hope? I think the Wild need to rely on their best players to be better. Martin Havlat has had a very tough start to the year at EV (43.5%), as has
Mikko Koivu (45.0%). These are by far their two best forwards and two players that have had strong outscoring results against the big guns of the NHL for a number of years. I think it's reasonable to think these two players started the year in a slump and will improve. The addition of Chuck Kobasew will help. The goaltending will improve. Pierre-Marc Bouchard is likely not out for the year. They have more home games left than road games. There are good reasons to think this team can pull themselves back to 50.0% in scoring chance percentage the rest of the way. Will that be enough to get them to the playoffs? Only if lady luck is on their side. Uh oh.


JLikens said...

Awesome. This is great work.

Thanks for doing this.

A couple points:

1. I'm not sure if the Wild are any worse this year than they were last season. I know it sounds crazy, but they might actually be better.

While they did do pretty well in terms of goal differential in 08-09, that was almost entirely due to good goaltending, heroic special teams, and taking very few penalties. They were among the worst teams in the league in terms of Corsi and Zonestart at EV, and their overall shot differential was well in the red (~ - 300).

This year, the team's shot differential has improved, and they're essentially treading water in terms of scoring chances. To me, that suggests some improvement (although, as you correctly pointed, they're EV performance has been underwhelming, and they're quite reliant on special teams/taking few penalties).

2. Havlat has indeed looked terrible, and it shows in his (EV) numbers. I'm thinking that he's playing injured.

3. I agree with you that there are some compelling reasons to believe that the team's fortunes are to improve (having certain key players return to form, having certain regulars return to the lineup, having their goaltending improve, having the luck equalize, and the schedule). But that might not be enough.

Scott Reynolds said...

The one area that they're doing worse relative to the last several years is shot distance (which is something that Gabe pointed out). It suggests that they're playing a different system than they have in the past and it's possible that it's resulting in higher quality shots. If that's the case, that should show up in the scoring chances to shot ratio. It would be a neat comparison if we had last year's scoring chances for the Wild.