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Penguins Defied Predictive Advanced Statistics, May Continue To Do So

Photo via Tribalingua website

Pioneers such as the late Roger Neilson have been looking at advanced statistics since the 1970’s.  Statistics beyond shots, saves, goals, and plus/minus really had not been examined in-depth by mainstream media and fans until the past few years. While trendsetters like Neilson would have to conduct hours of analysis to figure out advanced statistics, today’s coaches and fans have all of this information available to them right at their fingertips on the NHL website, as well as many other websites.

One of the most studied of the advanced statistics is the Corsi stat, which is calculated as follows: (Shots on Goal For + Missed Shots For + Blocked Shots Against) – (Shots on Goal Against + Missed Shots Against + Blocked Shots For).  What this stat is essentially measuring is puck possession. In layman’s terms, Corsi is offensive chances created minus offensive chances surrendered.

An example of an individual player’s Corsi would be as follows:

If Sidney Crosby is on the ice for 11 shots/attempted shots by his team, but he is also on the ice for 10 opposition shots/attempted shots, his Corsi on the night would be +1.

Another very popular statistic amongst NHL stat geeks is Fenwick, which is similar to Corsi, but does not take into account blocked shots.  Fenwick is calculated as follows:

Fenwick For (FF) = On Ice Shots For + On Ice Missed Shots For
Fenwick Against (FA) = On Ice Shots Against + On Ice Missed Shots Against
FF % = FF ÷ (FF + FA)

Using the formula above, let’s say that Evgeni Malkin was on the ice for 10 shots/attempted shots by his team, but two were blocked by players on the opposing team. Meanwhile, the opposing team had nine shots/attempted shots while Malkin was on the ice, but three were blocked.  Because Fenwick excludes blocked shots, Malkin’s Fenwick numbers would look like this:

Fenwick For (FF) = 8

Fenwick Against (FA) = 6

Malkin would be a +2 Fenwick (8 – 6 = 2) for the game.  If you were using Corsi, he would be a zero for the game (10+2) – (9+3).

The thought behind using these stats is that plus/minus, goals, and assists are not the most accurate measure of a player’s performance because over the course of a game there are more shots and shot attempts in a game than goals. Therefore, the theory is that the larger sample size of Corsi events is a more accurate reflection of performance than whether a player is on the ice for something like an unlucky bounce off a skate or shin pad that leads to a goal.

To this point, for years many have argued that the plus/minus statistic can be extremely misleading.  Consider that in 2013-14 Alex Ovechkin finished the season at -35, but nobody questioned who Washington’s best player was that season, as he finished with 51 goals and 79 total points. Also consider that a player like Ovechkin or Kris Letang, who averages over 20 minutes of ice time a game, is going to have a greater chance of being on the ice for a goal against than a fourth-line player who plays only five minutes a game.

These advanced statistics are used by analysts and writers alike to predict the outcome of games and of playoff series. Given this, it makes what the Penguins did in their run to a second-consecutive Stanley Cup championship all the more impressive. You see, the Penguins went very much against the grain of what advanced statistics say make teams successful. In fact, if you look at each of the Penguins’ four playoff series, they were out-advanced-statistic’ed in every series.

Consider that the Penguins led the NHL in regular-season goals with 278, however they only ranked 16th in the league in Corsi. Additionally, the Penguins’ team shooting percentage in the regular season was 10.1 percent, versus the league average of 9 percent. In other words, the Penguins did not need to take the amount of shots to be successful as the advanced statistics would suggest they needed.

This trend continued right into the playoffs where the Penguins were routinely outshot and gave up “high danger chances”, but relied on the superb goaltending of Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray, while getting just enough timely goals. Going into the Stanley Cup Final, every advanced statistic favored Nashville. Corsi, Fenwick, high danger chances, even plus/minus saw the Penguins at a disadvantage. Once the Stanley Cup Final got underway, who could forget how the Penguins won Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, despite going 37 minutes without a shot on goal? The Penguins only managed 12 total shots on goal in that game, but managed to get five of them past Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne.

While advanced statistics have proven to be very useful for coaches and fans alike, they don’t always tell the whole story or accurately predict outcomes.  It’s also important to remember sample sizes.  Just because a team loses the advanced stats battle in one game or one series does not mean they were outplayed.  With all stats, it’s best to look at them in a long timeframe.  The one stat that has remained the most important since hockey’s inception is wins and the past two seasons the Penguins have finished with more of them than any other team.

About Vince Comunale (7 Articles)
Professional sports writer, fluent in sarcasm and other humorous arts. Bachelor and Master degrees from Duquesne University. Member of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association. Have previously written for many outlets, including the AP, Sports Xchange, PA SportsTicker, etc. Regularly appear as a guest on local sports radio. Expert at Name That Tune and proficient in many other areas of useless knowledge.
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