Archive for the ‘Inside the Numbers’ Category

I finally finished data entry for this Minnesota Wild Zone Entry project, so I now have all 81 games of the 2011-12 season that were available through the Game Vault. For detailed methodology, check out my recent post with a specific rundown of all the work that went in to collecting the data, including the Mystery Game that disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle of teh interwebs.

Now comes the fun part, which is an arduous and thorough statistical analysis…a-yep that’s what’s fun to us stat heads. Now you know why the ladies are just throwing themselves at us.

I have way too much to cover in just one results post, so I will be choosing a few research questions per week and looking at outcomes based on particular themes. To start, I wanted to look at team-level results. Specifically, the questions for this week are:

1) What were the overall outcomes for the Wild?

1) Do the Wild perform significantly better or worse on the road compared to at home?

2) How do the Wild perform against the other teams in the Western Conference, and specifically the Northwest Division?

Mean Greenies

The first thing to do when making sense of a dataset is to look at basic descriptive statistics. From the Philadelphia Flyers research done by the boys over at Broadstreet Hockey and my research on the Wild, here’s the 10,000 foot look at what we know:

  • A team generates 0.6 Fenwick shots (shots on goal plus missed shots) per controlled entry (carry-in or pass-in).
  • A team generates 0.3 shots per controlled entry (dump-in, tip-in, or other).
  • The Wild, on average, had a ratio of 46% controlled entries to 54% uncontolled entries.

These are very interesting findings, and it is remarkable to note that for the Wild and Flyers, those numbers are almost identical over the course of a season. However, they are also a bit reductive–to boil them down to simply an average does not tell the whole story. As they say, “The average Canadian citizen has one breast and one testicle.” On the first day of Stats class, they teach you that any look at a distribution of data should include two parameters: mean and variance. That is, where is the average, and how spread out are the data?

The distribution of the Wild’s entry count is pretty normal–they had a handful of games where they got up into the low-seventies, but for the most part, they settled in around 50-65. There are a couple of games down into the 40s and even mid-30s…ouch. The club was more consistent on the number of controlled entries, and you can clearly see a few games where they chucked the puck down the ice upwards of 40 times. The spreadsheets that we have do break down the entries for score effects (close games vs blowouts) but I’ll have to dig into that data another day. The ratio chart is pretty well grouped, but you can see how often they were favoring uncontrolled entries, there are just a few games where they were north of the 50-50 mark. For a club that is trying to shake off their neutral-zone trapping reputation, they are still reliant on regaining possession after a dump-in.

Home Sweet Home

It is generally regarded that the home-ice advantage is less prevalent in hockey than other sports. Still, it’s always a good idea to look at the numbers to see how the data shakes out. How to read the following tables: mean values are presented in each cell, with standard distribution presented below in italics. The ‘Sig?’ column represents whether the home and away performance was significantly different (t-test, p < .05 benchmark.)

Home Away Sig?
Total Entries 59.5
Controlled Entries 27.6
Uncontrolled Entries 31.9
Ratio 0.467

The Wild played better in the neutral zone at home than on the road, and while they were able to possess the puck into their offensive zone more at the Xcel Energy Center, the number of dump-ins and the ratio of controlled-to-uncontrolled entries was not significantly different. My first thought is that these numbers reflect the youth of the team–when in front of a friendly crowd, they seem to play more confidently and look to carry or pass the puck into the zone rather than letting it fly. In a future post, I will add in the shots generated data and do some more thorough analysis to see if there is anything more to be learned about the club’s home/road tendencies. I am also interested in an extra bit of data collection where I track dump-in recovery rates in addition to just zone entry tracking.

We Sucked, But At Least We Beat Edmonton

One of the main questions I have wanted to look at for a while has been whether and how the Wild change their strategy or perform differently against different teams. I know I have mentioned a couple times some things I will get to in future posts, but definitively my next one later this week will be to do a power analysis to determine whether we can look at single-season opponent performances–the Wild played the Canucks, Flames, Avalanche, and Oilers six times, other teams in the Western Conference four times, and a couple teams from the Eastern Conference twice. Particularly for division opponents but also conference opponents, is that enough of a sample size to draw conclusions? Even though six games is a pretty small sample, I’ll have to wait and see what the tests say. For now, it is important to interpret the following charts as snapshots of one season. We’ll know in a week if there is more to be learned. **Click on these charts to see full-size versions.

There, did you see it!? The Wild played on their heels against every single team in the National Hockey League…except for one, they of the three consecutive first-overall picks, the Seattle Edmonton Oilers. They did play a 40-60 controlled game, but they ended the season with a 4-2 record against the Oil. The Wild had an easier time gaining the zone with control vs the Avalanche, against whom they managed to play a 50-50 controlled game on their way to a 3-3 record. Considering the Canucks won the President’s Cup, I think the Wild held their own in the zone entry portion of the game. They managed to almost match the Nucks in number and ratio of entries, but wound up with a 2-3-1 record. From the Pacific Division, the Coyotes and Sharks were interesting opponents, as each heavily favored a dump-and-chase game vs Minnesota. Although they only played twice, the Jets proved to be a very even opponent for the Wild, though both games went to Winnipeg.

So what have we learned? The only significance tests I ran for this post have revealed that the Wild are better able to gain entry with control while at home, but their uncontrolled entries and ratio of entries are the same. Breaking down performance versus specific opponents is interesting to look at, but more tests are needed before I can say anything definitive.

I am *always* interested to hear how others interpret the results, so please let me know your thoughts! I would be very happy for any comments left on this page, but you can always reach me through e-mail, hashtaghockey [at] gee mail [dot] com, or through Twitter, @Hashtag_Hockey. Thanks for reading!

Inside the Numbers: Jaroslav Halak

Position: Goalie
Team: St. Louis Blues
2011-12 Regular Season Stats: 46 GS, 26 W, 1.97 GAA, .926 Sv%
Quality Starts: 31 (67.4% of GS)
Terrible Starts: 5 (10.9% of QS)
Quality Starts Wasted: 10 (32.3% of GS)
Bail-outs: 6 (13.0% of GS)

The St. Louis Blues were the stingiest team in the NHL this season, and while Brian Elliott got a lot of attention at the end of the year for his single season Sv% record and breakout-of-the-year candidacy, Jaroslav Halak was certainly no slouch himself. Halak will start the Blues first playoff game on Thursday, so let’s go inside the numbers and look at his performance this year. Halak finished the year with a sparkling 1.97 GAA and .926 Sv%, which is definitely impressive, but Jaro posted an amazing .938 even-strength Sv%, second in the NHL only to…you guessed it…Brian Elliott. While Elliott’s amazing numbers came out of nowhere, Halak has a track record of turning away a high proportion of pucks.

Halak did not have such a great year in 2010-11, his first campaign with the Blues, but in 2009-10, he maintained a .930+ Ev Sv% with the Canadiens. They say once is a fluke, twice is a trend…and Halak certainly seems like the genuine article. While he and Elliott maintained a timeshare this season, Halak still posted a very impressive ratio of Quality Starts, hanging 31 QS of his 46 starts, good for 67.4%.

A look at Halak’s game log shows that three of his five Terrible Starts came in the first five starts of the season, and after October 18, he only had two more blow-up games. Halak certainly righted the ship and found his groove after that. If we throw out the month of October, Halak’s rate stats would be 1.74 and .935, so if he can avoid that cluster of grenade games next year, he could be poised for an even more impressive season.

NHL Playoff Implication: Halak will start between the pipes for the Blues while Elliott nurses his “unspecified upper-body injury,” and the big questions will be 1) when will Elliott return, 2) when he does return, how will Ken Hitchcock split the starts between the two, and 3) if Halak plays great while Elliott is out, how will that affect the split? Of course, Elliott could very well get the start in game 2, and they could continue to split the starts the same way they did in the regular season. However, one of the best known tropes of the NHL postseason is that of the “hot goalie,” so how will the timeshare between Elliott and Halak play out? Statistically, they have both been playing out of their minds, and it is reasonable to think that whomever starts in goal, the Blues will be extremely hard to score on. San Jose’s lineup is rather potent, so St. Louis will have their work cut out for them, but Defense Wins Championships, and the Blues have the best defense anyone has seen in a long time.

By the Numbers: Jimmy Howard

Position: Goalie
Team: Detroit Red Wings
2011-12 Stats: 57 GS, 35 W, 2.12 GAA, .920 Sv%.
Quality Starts: 37 (64.9% of GS)
Terrible Starts: 5 (8.8% of GS)
Quality Starts Wasted: 7 (18.9% of QS)
Bail-Outs: 5 (14.3% of GS)

Click Here for a glossary of statistical terms used in this article.

Jimmy Howard just finished his third season as the full-time goalie for the Red Wings. He had a great rookie season in 2009-10, and finished as the runner-up for the Calder Trophy. Then, in 2010-11, he went through a sophomore slump, but this year he seems to have returned to form, and actually improved on his rookie numbers in some areas. In fact, a closer look at the statistics reveals some remarkable similarities between his 2009-10 rookie campaign and his recent 2011-12 season. While Howard’s overall Sv% was .920 this year, his Ev Sv% of .929 was the highest in his career, just edging out his .925 from 2009 in very nearly the same amount of starts (he had 61 GS in his rookie campaign compared to 57 this year.)

Howard’s performance when the Wings were shorthanded this year was not so great (27 PPGA on 243 S, or .889,) compared to 2009 when he let in 28 PPGA on 296 S, for .905. This is the reason that although his Ev Sv% was the highest of his career this year, his Ov Sv% was lower than when he was a rookie. However, special teams Sv% is not consistent from year to year, so if Detroit can bolster their PK unit or if Howard essentially has a lucky season on special teams, his full-season Sv% could end up in the upper .920s or even .930.

An examination of Howard’s Quality Starts over the last three years reveals an uncanny similarity between this year and his rookie year. This year, he posted 37 QS out of 57 GS (64.9%), with 5 Terrible Starts (8.8%).

In 2009-10, he had exactly the same number of QS, but started a handful more games that year. His terrible starts over the past three years have been nearly identical, and during his sophomore year, he had more “mediocre games” (neither QS nor TS) while only having 7 blow-up games.

2009-10 2010-11 2011-12




















A look at Quality Starts Wasted and Bail-outs by the Wings shows some interesting findings. The Winged Wheels actually wasted less of Howard’s QS in his “down year,” and wasted less this year than his rookie year, but they bailed him out less this year, and posted a very high number of bailouts last year when Howard was slumping…lesson being, I guess, that it’s good to play on one of the league’s perennial powerhouses. Who knew?

So what can we glean from looking at all this data? Well, with a great year followed by a down year followed by another good year, it is a little difficult to confidently predict which Howard will show up next year? I would tend to think he is closer to what he showed us this year, because his great Ev Sv% gives me reason to be optimistic. That number may come down slightly next year, but even so, that would still point to a reliable netminder. Howard played his age 27 season this year, so while he is no spring chicken, athletes tend to find that sweet spot between athleticism and experience in their late-twenties. I would guess that what we’ve seen from Howard this year is basically who he is, and I would feel confident projecting a similar season next year, though if he doesn’t break any of his digits or limbs, he will certainly be expected to contend for the league lead in Wins. It is also possible that we haven’t seen Howard’s best season, and if he puts everything together and gets a little lucky, he could put up numbers that would rival the very best goalies in the league (obviously this is a best-case scenario, but the reason we love sports is that anything can happen.)

Bottom Line: With two good years and one decent year under his belt, I would not reach for Howard over other, more proven netminders. I would classify him as a middle- or low-end No. 1 option, and certainly as a No. 2 fantasy goalie he would make a great option. To pair Howard’s Win potential with another goalie who can be counted on to put up great ratio stats would certainly make a very formidable fantasy duo. I wouldn’t bank on him repeating his .929 Ev Sv% necessarily, not until we see it again, but for the fantasy owner that likes to gamble, Howard could be drafted as a 6-10 goaltender who could return a great deal of value if he does get that best-case season. We will let the playoffs and offseason dust settle before reassessing Howard’s fantasy value for 2012-13.

NHL Playoff Implications: The Red Wings certainly have the star power to make a good run at Lord Stanley’s Hardware, though many are talking up the “this is their last shot to win a Cup with this group” angle. I really like the Wings’ chances this postseason, and if they do come out of the Western Conference, I wouldn’t be surprised. It helps to have a stellar offense in front of you as a goalie, though that offense will definitely be tested by the Predators’ great defense and some guy named Pekka Rinne. Will Howard be up to the challenge? There’s only one way to find out…

P.S. For what it’s worth, I have the Red Wings beating the Predators in a tough series, and actually coming out of the Western Conference to face Pittsburgh. I know they are old but I put a high value on experience in the playoffs. Plus, it helps to have guys named Datsuyk and Zetterberg on your team. The Wings will need Howard to be on top of his game if they hope to beat Nashville or St. Lous if they can topple San Jose.

Inside the Numbers: Pekka Rinne

Position: Goalie
Team: Nashville Predators
2011-12 Stats: 72 GS, 43 W, 2.39 GAA, .923 Sv%, 5 SO
Quality Starts: 44 (61.1% of GS)
Terrible Starts: 11 (15.3% of GS)
Quality Starts Wasted: 9 (20.5% of QS)
Bail-outs: 9 (20.9% of GS)

Click Here for a glossary of statistical terms used in this article.

Let’s play the fantasy hockey dating game. Which player would you rather have on your squad? Goalie A made 28 starts, had a GAA of 4.228 and a Sv% of just .852. Goalie B made 44 starts, with a 1.39 GAA and a .957 Sv%. Trick question—these lines are Pekka Rinne’s quality starts vs. his non-quality starts in 2011-12. But you probably already guessed that…nothing gets by you. You’re the Sheldon Cooper of hockey.

No goaltender in the National Hockey League faced more vulcanized rubber this year than Pekka Rinne. He played in the most games, made the most starts, and made more saves than anyone else. He posted 44 quality starts (61.1%,) but also had 11 starts (15.3%) where he got shellacked (<.850 Sv%). Three of his terrible starts came right in a row just before Christmas, and then two more came in back-to-back games March 20th and 22nd. He finished the year with a solid combination of a 2.39 GAA and .923 Sv%. However, his fantasy owners selected him very high on draft day (ADP 29.2 ESPN, 18.7 Y!) and were probably hoping for a return closer to his 2010-11 numbers of .930 and 2.12. As our dating game suggested, in his quality starts he was amazing, but in the other 30 games, frankly, he stunk. This may surprise fantasy players who consider Rinne to be on the Mt. Rushmore of goalies, but what is more surprising is that in four of his terrible starts, the Predators bailed out Rinne in a big way and he was credited with a win! By comparison, most goalies will be lucky to get bailed out even once when they have a Terrible Start.

Rinne’s even-strength Sv% has been pretty consistent over the last four campaigns, while his overall Sv% has moved around a bit more. While he didn’t replicate his outstanding numbers from last season, it is good to see that consistency, particularly for Ev Sv%. Going forward, I would fully expect Rinne to be among the NHL’s best between the pipes. I would not bank on him necessarily surpassing his 2010-11 numbers, but if we view him as a solid and consistent player, we can expect him to be in the ballpark of the upper .920s for saves.

Certainly that type of production will help any fantasy team. However, if you have to invest a second- or third-round pick to acquire Rinne, you are putting a lot of stock in him and if he fails to return the expected production, you could be looking at a negative value. Personally, I prefer to wait a little later to grab my number one goalie, but I would not begrudge anyone who selects Rinne. However, the sheer volume of starts he has made makes me a little nervous. Could his dip in production this year be related to his superhuman workload? Perhaps…or maybe his true skillset is closer to what he showed this year, and last year’s results were slightly over his actual level.

Another consideration is that the data presented here are just for the regular season. This is Nashville’s third year in a row making the playoffs, and Rinne played in six postseason games in 2009-10 and a dozen more in 2010-11. He will certainly tack on a few more this year, and many people seem to think the Predators are serious contenders, so depending on how far they advance, his workload could just keep going up and up. I’m not suggesting there is any particular reason to doubt that Rinne can handle that amount of work, but it’s not unreasonable to say that sooner or later the grueling pace will catch up to him.

Bottom Line: Pekka Rinne is a great goalie, there is no doubt about that. His QS/Non-QS splits this year are definitely food for thought, but until he shows us that he can’t continue to perform at a high level, there is no reason to expect a dropoff. However, the sheer workload is definitely a little bit of a red flag for me, especially considering you will need to spend a very high draft pick to get him on your team. I wouldn’t steer anyone away from selecting him, but personally, I am risk averse and I am afraid that the huge number of games he is playing will catch up to him sooner rather than later.

NHL Playoff Implications: The Predators are finally getting some respect this year, and with Weber, Suter, and Rinne, they will be a formidable matchup for the Red Wings. The late-season addition of Alexander Radulov has many believing the Preds are serious contenders this year, especially if Rinne gets hot. He is nothing short of a force of nature when he is on his game, and the Detroit/Nashville matchup is perhaps one of the more interesting pairings in the first round, especially given that Nashville has home ice advantage. Will this be the year the Predators do some serious damage in the postseason? Only time will tell.

Inside the Numbers: Mike Smith

Position: Goalie
Team: Phoenix Coyotes
2011-12 Stats: 67 GS, 38 W, 2.21 GAA, 930 Sv%.
Quality Starts: 41 (61.2% of GS)
Terrible Starts: 7 (10.4% of GS)
Quality Starts Wasted: 10 (24.4% of QS)
Bail-Outs: 6 (9% of GS)

Click Here for a glossary of statistical terms used in this article.

Mike Smith enjoyed a breakout year in 2011-12 as he propelled the Coyotes to their first Pacific Division title while posting one of the best save percentages in the League (T-3 with King Henrik Lundqvist.) He returned exceptional value this season compared to where he was drafted (ADP 157.5 Y!, 191.9 ESPN,) and was a workhorse for the Yotes, starting 67 games. He finished the season with 38 wins, a 2.21 GAA and a .930 Sv%, and was particularly effective in the fantasy playoffs, winning his last five decisions to end the season, including a 54-save shutout of the Blue Jackets on April 3rd.

Smith posted 41 quality starts this season, good for 61% of all his starts, though he also had seven “terrible starts,” where his Sv% was less than .850. The fact that he came close to 40 wins is particularly impressive considering the Coyotes could not be mistaken for an offensive juggernaut this year. They averaged 2.56 G/gm (18th in the league,) and posted a 13.6% PP rate, just a hair above Dalls (13.5%) for worst in the league. The Coyotes lost 10 of Smith’s quality starts, though they did bail him out seven times, so with a little more luck he could have broken the 40-win barrier. Everyone loves a breakout season, particularly between the pipes, and Smith will enjoy a nice bump in the fantasy rankings of netminders next year.

MIke Smith GS Breakdown 2011-12

However, a look at some advanced metrics hints that his success this year might not be repeatable in future campaigns. In particular, his even-strength save percentage—which has been shown to be a better indicator of success than overall Sv%—was higher this year than any in his career except one, that in 2008-09. The past two seasons, his Ev Sv% was barely over .900, and this year it jumped to .936. Here is a breakdown of Smith’s Ev Sv% vs. Overall Sv% for his career:

Mike Smith Sv pct Over Time

Though he did have one other year where his Ev Sv% was above .930, in his last two seasons, both his Ev Sv% and Overall Sv% were right around .900. Considering Smith turned 30 this March, I’m willing to bet that he sees some regression next year. If nothing else, his up-and-down history suggests he is no sure thing to repeat his .930 season. He may also suffer some fatigue from the increased workload—his 67 starts in the regular season are more than his last two years combined and a 67% jump from his previous season high of 40 starts in 2008-09. (This article was written before the playoffs started, so it remains to be seen how much time he sees in the postseason.) It is interesting to note that his two seasons with .930 or higher Ev Sv% were his heavy-workload seasons…perhaps he is the type of player who performs better when he sees a great deal of action. However, it is also very likely that it’s just a coincidence.

It is very early to look at rankings for next fantasy season, but it is well within reason that most players could have Smith as a top-10 goaltender. Call me cynical (statheads are often given that label,) but I am just not that confident that Smith will repeat his great performance. How often do we see goalies break out after their 30th birthday? Tim Thomas comes to mind, but he should certainly be viewed as the exception and not the rule. If we anticipate some regression to the mean, and Smith’s Sv% comes back down into the .920s, he would not be considered as an elite option. Plus, the franchise will need to bolster their offense if they want to make another run at a division title. Factor in the age of the current roster—the Yotes’ two leading scorers, Ray Whitney and Radim Vrbata, are 39 and 30 years old at season’s end, —and Phoenix will certainly have a challenge scoring enough goals to help out Smith.

Bottom Line: No one can take away Smith’s excellent season this year, and he will long be remembered in Phoenix for his heroics. As they say, Flags Fly Forever, but I will not be drafting him in my leagues next year. I would certainly take him as a no. 2, but I would expect other owners to pay for his 2011-12 numbers. One of my rules is “never pay for a career year,” and it certainly looks like this is Smith’s best year. If he proves me wrong I will gladly admit it, but for now, remember that discretion is the better part of valor, and choose a more proven option.

Playoff Implications: The Coyotes will live or die by Smith’s performance this postseason. The fact that his save percentages this year—both even-strength and when his team is shorthanded—are some of the highest in his career leads me to believe that he has played a bit over his head. Plus, the Coyotes anemic power play and low goal production means if Smith is even mediocre, Phoenix will have very little margin for error. Their first round opponent, Chicago, is not known for their defense, so perhaps the Coyotes will be able to put up some goals, but the Hawks have an abundance of offensive talent. Jonathan Toews’ may not be 100%, but even if he doesn’t play, Chicago can still find a lot of ways to create offense. No goalie finished the season hotter than Smith, so if he can manage to continue his incredible performance, the Yotes might have a chance to steal some games. Personally, I’d give them a snowball’s chance, but that’s why they play the games!