Having played organized hockey for the better part of my life, I’ve heard my share of pre-game speeches from coaches urging the team to "pay attention to the details" such as watching the points, backchecking, and driving the net hard on rushes. On the ice, the downsides of letting opposing defensemen walk into the slot with the puck, leaving your man unattended on a three-on-two against or not going after rebounds with enough enthusiasm can have obvious short-term consequences on the scoreboard.
But what about at the macro level? What are some things which normally go undetected that can affect a team’s win-loss balance at the end of the year? Let’s look at two metrics and how they affect the 2014-15 Canadiens team.
Team Zone Start Ratio
Readers well-versed with fancystats know the importance of using Zone Start Ratios in providing context for a player’s performance. Manny Malhotra is currently carrying bottom-feeding a 35.9% Corsi at even-strength, while David Desharnais’ Corsi is a sterling 53.5%, which is understandable once you realize that number 51 starts his shifts near the opposing netminder 68% of the time and Malhotra, only 15%.
If Zone Starts is an important contextual clue for puck possession at the individual level, then perhaps it could help explain why certain teams do better than others at generating a better Corsi rating.
Graph 1: 5vs5 Zone Start Ratio (2012-13)
Graph 2: 5vs5 Zone Start Ratio (2013-14)
Graph 3: 5vs5 Zone Start Ratio (2014-15)
Generally speaking, we see a very strong relationship between offensively-tilted zone starts and positive team Corsi ratings. Past research has indicated that an average NHL team can expect to gain over 60% of shot attempts in the 30 seconds following an offensive-zone faceoff, so teams which seldom ice the puck or get hemmed in their own end can expect to be rewarded. Your Stanley Cup contenders are at the upper-right corner of the graph, and also likely in red (for being really good at shot prevention).
On the Habs’ part, we can see that the team did very well at creating a territorial advantage in 2012-13, completely cratered in 2013-14, and is close to league average this season. The Habs like the stretch pass as a breakout play and, consequently, ice the puck quite a bit. Further research into the matter may give a better idea of how much the negative externalities of the long bomb (an automatic icing, among other things) is hurting the team overall.
80% of an NHL game is played at even strength, which gives a serious edge to teams which can hold their own at 5vs5 and 4vs4. However, playing with a man advantage more often than a skater down can also boost a team’s bottom line.
Graph 4: Penalties drawn/taken at 5vs5 (2012-13)
Graph 5: Penalties drawn/taken at 5vs5 (2013-14)
Graph 6: Penalties drawn/taken at 5vs5 (2014-15)
On the one hand, the Habs have been consistently one of the most penalized teams in the NHL since the 2012 lockout. On the other hand, prior to this season, they have also had a knack for drawing infractions from opposing teams. Unfortunately, the refs have not been overly friendly with Montreal this year, causing the team to move from the upper-right corner of the graph to the bottom-right, where you definitely don’t want to be. If this trend persists, then look for the Habs to underachieve by as much as -10 goals in the remaining games, the difference between a division title and a wildcard spot, or between a trip to the playoffs and an early trip to the links.