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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Analytics From 80 Feet: A Closer Look at the Flames 'Rich Kids vs. Poor Kids' Power Play

Thirty-two games.

Seventy-one days.

That's how long it's been since the Flames second power-play unit has collaborated for a goal. It's a funk that goes back to mid-February.

David Jones against the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 12 was the last time it happened.

While it sure sounds like a bad skid on paper, I set out to determine exactly how bad it's actually been for that second forward unit made up of players not named Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan or Jiri Hudler.


The Second Unit Cast

Beyond that clear-cut top unit, there are six other forwards that have seen a reasonable amount of time on the man advantage over this stretch. Here they are including their power-play ice time:

1. Monahan, 85:46
2. Hudler, 85:30
3. Gaudreau, 85:00
4. Backlund, 44:01
5. Raymond, 35:20
6. Colborne, 31:31
7. Bennett, 10:04
8. Jones, 9:55
9. Jooris, 6:58


While the sample size is small for Jones and Jooris, I am leaving them in for comparison. Also, Curtis Glencross would have been part of this list but I excluded him for obvious reasons.


Comparing Shot Attempts - As a Unit

Any way you slice it, an attempted shot on goal is a good thing as it means you're in the right end of the ice. You don't generate shots if you can't get out of your own end. You don't get them if you are failing to gain the attacking zone. You also generally won't get them if you can't get set up once you do get in that offensize zone.

Shot attempts (aka Corsi) is the sum of three things:
  1. Shots on goal
  2. Shots that are blocked
  3. Shots that miss the net

Here are the shot attempts accumulated for the team while each of the forwards have been on the ice on the power play. To level the playing field in terms of ice time, I've broken it down to average shot attempts per two minutes.

1. Monahan, 3.85
2. Hudler, 3.77
3. Gaudreau, 3.72
4. Raymond, 3.34
5. Colborne, 3.30
6. Backlund, 2.91
7. Jones, 2.82
8. Bennett, 2.38
9. Jooris, 2.30


As you can see, the top unit generates the most. The second unit is a ways back but it's not like they're getting skunked. They're still creating opportunities.


Comparing Scoring Chances - As a Unit

First, an explanation for those not familiar with how this works.

Not all shot attempts are considered scoring chances even though they may result in a goal. Yes, any shot could go in the net -- even a shot from centre ice, but I think it's a fair to have a minimum requirement for what constitutes a legit scoring chance. In a perfect world, scoring chances would be identified manually where some subjectivity could be applied. However, we have all have better things to do. So instead, I'm using the criteria for scoring chances as applied at the stats website war-on-ice (where all of this article's data has come from).

The war-on-ice folks identify scoring chances automatically based on criteria such as shot type/shot distance/timing, all details gleaned from the NHL's detailed play-by-play summaries. It's not perfect but for my purposes, it's close enough. Deferring to the folks that have put a lot more time into analyzing this than me, their criteria is a good-enough proxy to eye-tracked scoring chances so I'm going with it. Here's their definition if you want to know all the grisly details behind their formula.

Based on power play ice time and the number of scoring chances that happen while each player is on the ice, here are the Flames leaders going back to Feb. 14. The number shown is the average number of scoring chances the team generates per two minutes of power-play time while that player is on the ice:

1. Colborne 2.03
2. Hudler 1.99
3. Gaudreau 1.98
    Monahan 1.98
    Raymond 1.98
6. Backlund 1.82
7. Bennett 1.59
8. Jones 1.41
9. Jooris 0.86


Comparing Scoring Chances - Individually

If you drill down further into the number of scoring chances the team is generating while a player is on the ice, you can separate out how many scoring chances each player individually is actually getting.

Again, to level the playing field, the scoring chance numbers I list below are based on two minutes of power play ice time. (Included in parentheses is shot attempts per two minutes)

1. Colborne, 0.57 (0.63)
2. Monahan, 0.56 (0.56)
3. Hudler, 0.49 (0.61)
4. Bennett, 0.40 (0.60)
    Raymond, 0.40 (0.68)
6. Gaudreau, 0.35 (0.42)
7. Backlund, 0.32 (0.41)
8. Jooris, 0.29 (0.86)
9. Jones, 0.20 (0.20)


Seeing Gaudreau tumble down the list is not a surprise considering he's often passing and usually setting up Monahan and Hudler. Colborne at the top again, may surprise you, but it's a sign he's getting chances.

One observation is every one of Monahan's shot attempts has also been considered a scoring chance. That confirms what my eyes have seen and that's him shooting only from close-range. e.g. The low slot or at the side of the net.

Of note, the disparity in Raymond's shot attempts compared to scoring chances suggests many of his shots are coming from the perimeter and are not considered dangerous. This is also something that many of you have likely observed with the eye-test.


What We Have Learned So Far

What we know is approximately two-thirds of every power play goes to the top unit. We've also learned that the team produces more shot attempts while that top line is out there. That line is made up of three very skilled players so this is not a surprise.

However, you might be surprised to see that the relative number of scoring chances generated by that second unit isn't that far below the top three. Colborne is a bit above, Raymond is right at the same level and Backlund is a little bit further down. From this, one could conclude the No. 2 unit is putting less rubber towards the net but when they do get chances, they're quite often decent scoring chances.


Production vs. Pressure

While pressure is nice and chances are great, ultimately it's the most goals that wins hockey games and the most wins that results in taking a playoff series.

Actual production versus mere pressure is where things vary differently with the top unit compared to the second unit. Here are the percentage of scoring chances the team has converted while each player has been on the ice.

1. Gaudreau, 22.6 (19 of 84)
2. Monahan, 21.2 (18 of 85)
    Hudler, 21.2 (18 of 85)
4. Colborne, 3.1 (1* of 32)
5. Raymond, 2.9 (1* of 35)
6. Backlund, 0.0 (0 of 40)
7. Bennett, 0.0 (0 of 8)
8. Jones, 0.0 (0 of 7)
9. Jooris 0.0 (0 of 3)

* Note: If you're wondering why Colborne and Raymond each have one goal scored on the PP yet I'm calling the second unit as 0-for-32 games, it's because on the one goal those two were on the ice for, the goal was ultimately created by Gaudreau, who set up Dennis Wideman. I'm not including that goal as it wasn't the full second unit on the ice nor were the two players that were on the ice integral to the goal going in.


These numbers would suggest that Monahan-Hudler-Gaudreau have been very opportunistic while the second unit has squandered numerous good scoring chances. Based on the figures above, had that second trio been as opportunistic as the top line, they should have scored 8 or 9 power play goals over the past two months instead of none.

While I believe the real truth lies somewhere in the middle, I do think it would be over-generalizing to assume all forwards are created equal. I'd argue Monahan, Hudler and Gaudreau are more offensively-skilled and are simply more dangerous and more accurate shooters than the likes of Colborne, Raymond and Backlund. I wouldn't expect that second unit to ever convert scoring chances at the same rate.

However, I'd still argue that the second unit could very well have produced 5 or 6 goals during that time.


Conclusion

It's just a matter of time before the second unit will click and perhaps the power play goals will come in bunches once that first one goes in.

While no goals in 32 games sounds awful, as you can see, they haven't been nearly as bad as that stat suggests. This is a good thing. Also, while it's a small sample size for Bennett, I have no doubt that his presence will bolster that second unit. I'd also argue that Jones should be in line for some power play time. However, Colborne-Backlund-Bennett would be my second unit at this time and with them being an even-strength line already, that existing chemistry should further help on the man advantage.

Maybe it will be tonight in a crucial game six that the second unit finally get rewarded for their efforts as they're long, long over due. Considering the Flames are one win away from reaching the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, that timing to break out of this funk would be perfect.



By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.

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