Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
Follow PostSports on Twitter  |  Facebook  |  E-mail alerts: Redskins and Sports  |  RSS

Shot Differential: How one team dominated the 2009-10 NHL season

By Kareem El-Alaily

Last spring, one team went into the postseason after such a dominating regular season that, on paper, they might as well have been awarded the Cup in mid-April. Making it even more special was that they did it in the salary cap era, where the fiscal constraints of the post-lockout NHL have forced greater league-wide parity. Their demise in the playoffs would have simply been shocking. No, it wasn’t our 121-point Caps. It was the Chicago Blackhawks –- a team that lived up to their billing by winning the Stanley Cup.

The dominance I’m referring to is in the cumulative shot differential department. Chicago's +650 shot differential was the largest differential in the past eight seasons, and they were so far out in front that they beat the next best team by an overwhelming 381 shots. The only other recent team to come close to last year’s Blackhawks were the ‘07-08 Red Wings, who were +611 and also won the Cup.

Of the teams who posted the top 10 shot differentials in the past eight seasons, three won Cups while another made a Stanley Cup final appearance. Win this statistic and you have better odds of winning the Cup than if your team won the President’s Trophy or the goal differential race. The Blackhawks didn’t just win the stat, they lapped the field.

2009-10 NHL Shot Differentials by Team:

Rank
Team
Total Shots For
Total Shots Against
Shot Differential
1
CHI
2,297
1,647
650
2
PIT
2,110
1,841
269
3
TOR
2,167
1,932
235
4
DET
2,169
1,972
197
5
OTT
1,960
1,784
176
6
BOS
2,134
1,977
157
7
PHI
2,016
1,876
140
7
PHO
2,027
1,887
140
9
NJD
1,999
1,863
136
10
LAK
1,891
1,779
112
11
WAS
2,127
2,020
107
12
VAN
1,977
1,908
69
13
NSH
2,047
1,981
66
14
BUF
2,097
2,047
50
15
CGY
1,892
1,866
26
16
SJS
2,022
2,016
6
17
STL
1,920
1,917
3
18
NYR
1,934
1,980
-46
19
DAL
1,955
2,032
-77
20
NYI
1,961
2,096
-135
21
CLS
1,833
1,978
-145
22
CAR
1,883
2,032
-149
23
MIN
1,785
1,943
-158
24
TBL
1,826
1,988
-162
25
ATL
1,924
2,117
-193
26
ANA
1,922
2,143
-221
27
MON
1,856
2,119
-263
28
COL
1,804
2,086
-282
29
EDM
1,885
2,184
-299
30
FLA
1,859
2,268
-409

Notes: For you stat geeks, I’m using Shot Differential instead of Fenwick or CORSI Differential for simplicity’s sake. Data is courtesy of the impressive folks at behindthenet.ca, who use CORSI differential to determine their power rankings.

Cumulative Shot Differential is not a perfect predictive stat. Its first limitation is that it doesn’t account for goaltending. Goalies have a negligible impact in producing shots and a minimal impact in preventing shots. Their job is to simply stop shots, but with little to no control over how many they face. Therefore you can have a team that dominates in shot differential but still allows a disproportionate amount of goals. That’s usually a sign of weak goaltending.

That description accurately describes the 2009-10 Blackhawks regular seaso. They had an utterly dominating group of skaters but were getting sub-par performance in net from Antti Niemi and Cristobal Huet. (Had they gotten better performance from their goalies, they would have easily been a 120+-point team in the brutally tough Western Conference.)

The other limitation of the stat is that it doesn’t account for skill or, more precisely, shooting prowess. The Caps finished 14th in shot differential last season – we’ll get to that in a moment – but finished first in goal differential (+85) by a runaway margin. Why? Primarily because the Caps have such highly skilled forwards that are much more proficient at scoring goals than any other team in the NHL. So despite outshooting teams by a paltry 1.5 shots/game, they outscored other teams by a full goal per game. That’s an efficient use of skill!

Despite the two major limitations of the shot differential stat it still tells an important story, primarily what your team’s work ethic is. Work ethic is a fundamental foundation of any successful sports team. Over the course of a season teams with higher shot differential have demonstrated their willingness to hustle every night, play their system properly and maximize their (non-shooting) talents. Granted, in some cases you can have an excellent shot differential but still end up low in the standings. The Toronto Maple Leafs were third in the shot differential last season at +235 but were one of the league’s worst teams. Say what you want about the Leafs but one thing you can’t say is that they didn’t routinely outwork other teams. They were simply let down by their lack of skill. Now imagine what happens when you have a team with the Leafs work ethic and something close to the Caps dominating skill? You get the Chicago Blackhawks. It’s a perfect combination, and it’s why they won the Cup.

So you’re asking "what does this have to do with the Caps?" Despite the Caps most dominant season ever, their shot differential ranking fell from 4th in 2008, to 7th in 2009, to 11th in 2010. If you subscribe to the theory that this stat indicates work ethic then what does that tell you? It tells me that the 2010 Caps relied too much on skill and that things came too easy for them during the regular season. That led to a lot of coasting and not enough grinding. Even if the Caps had beaten Montreal last spring -- as they should have -- I'm skeptical that they would have fared positively against teams with much higher skill-sets and the willingness to outwork them. The same can’t be said about the Blackhawks though. They had the right combination of skill and work ethic, and thankfully for their long-suffering fanbase Antti Niemi stepped up to give them adequate post-season goaltending. Once that happened no one was going to beat the Hawks last year. And no one did.

By Box Seats blogger  | September 23, 2010; 1:57 PM ET
Categories:  Capitals, Kareem El-Alaily  | Tags:  2009-10 NHL season, Capitals  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Political Football: Bad memories of Rigginomics in St. Louis
Next: Santa Cruz: is he for real? Should I believe in him?

Comments

This is my first foray into hockey stats. Shot differential in hockey is interesting because it actually covers both offense and defense -- the ability to create and prevent shots. Interesting stuff.

Posted by: TheSecretWeapon | September 23, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

The stat analysis is interesting and raises some important issues. I would like to see the same analysis done for the playoffs. I know the sample size will be smaller, but it may reinforce the points made above.
Moreover, the blogger called it work ethic. I would call it heart. The Caps simply lacked the heart to win when it mattered most either by grinding or by skill.

Posted by: amoore64 | September 23, 2010 4:02 PM | Report abuse

While shot differential can certainly tell you a few things about a team/game/series, this analysis needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Chicago deserved the Cup last year, no question. And they did a great job of preventing shots which was a key component in helping them win it in the end. That said, the Caps outshot the Habs 292-194 (+98) in the first round of the playoffs last year, practically equaling their 82-game regular season total. That's not a lack of heart, as the last poster suggested, it's more that they were out coached, and perhaps ran into a bit of a hot goalie. The one game they were outshot, 39-38, the Caps won 6-3. The last two games, both Caps losses, the Caps were +58 in shots, but were outscored 6-2. Does anybody really want to tell me they lacked heart, or were out hustled now? No, they were out coached, simple as that. Until they get rid of Boudreau, I sincerely doubt we'll be seeing any parades down Pennsylvania Ave any time soon.

As for Chicago, does the author really think Niemi was a weak link for them last year? I'll give him Huet (2.5 GAA, .895 SV%), but Niemi (2.2 GAA, .912 SV%)? Seriously, a little research comes in handy from time to time. As for their playoff run, here's how Chicago fared shots-wise by round: +14 (in 6 games), +32 (6), -9 (4), +8 (6) = +47 (22) Total, which projects to about +180 over 82 games. Granted, the competition is better in the playoffs, and their playoff total is still VERY impressive, but clearly shots don't tell the entire story here either. For example, the Sharks outshot the Hawks in the series, and in 3 out of the 4 games, but were still swept out of the playoffs. The difference is that Joel Quenneville is a real NHL coach, and Boudreau is simply outmatched by his peers. Quenneville has won 7 playoff series the past 3 years, with arguably equivalent teams in talent to the Caps, to Boudreau's 1. The fact that Ted is still spouting off this nonsense about winning CUPS (multiple) is laughable as long as he sticks with his boy Gabby behind the bench. I agree the Caps have the talent to win, and the drive (see: Ovechkin, A.), but they lack the leadership, which starts at the top.

But back to the point of this post. Shots can tell you a few things in the NHL, but IMHO, they're more an indication of desperation than anything else. The fact that Chicago managed to maintain that sense of desperation throughout the regular season is a credit to Quenneville and his players. Conversely, the Caps shouldn't be chastised for their lack of drive or work ethic either. While their shooting% was exceptionally high last year, they would often jump to early leads and coast the rest of the way. Why go full bore when you simply risk injury as opposed to losing the game? To put things in perspective, apart from Toronto being 3rd in the stat, the Caps were out shot in 7 SE games last year and lost exactly one of them despite a 30-14 goal advantage. I dunno, I'm just sayin.

Posted by: glb8p | September 23, 2010 7:04 PM | Report abuse

glb8p,
I gotta disagree with you on Niemi. His 2.2 GAA is solid but it doesn't tell the whole story. Of the 30+ goalies who played more games than him, they faced an average of 27 shots per 60 minutes. Niemi faced an average of 22 shots per 60. Because of Chicago's dominance he faced 20% less shots than the average goaltender. I'm also going to subjectively assert that the quality of shot Niemi faced wasn't as high as, say, a Vokoun or Theodore, who played on teams that don't play well in their own zone. On an average team Niemi would have been a ~2.60 GAA goalie, if that. There's a reason Chicago didn't fight to keep him or that he didn't command much on the market this summer ($2M).

I don't disagree with your point that the Caps were out-coached. They were. Brutally. I also don't think they have the work ethic to play a full 60 every night against good teams, like the playoffs make you do. You said it best...why go "full bore" when you're up three goals? That's exactly the attitude they play with and that's exactly why they have a work ethic issue. It's not that they can't work hard, it's that they don't do it consistently.

Kareem

Posted by: topshelf_22304 | September 23, 2010 7:51 PM | Report abuse

These are the bloggers that "won"?

Posted by: capscapscaps2 | September 24, 2010 12:06 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, Kareem.

Admittedly, I was a little harsh in my comments that I threw your way re: Niemi. My apologies. I think we both hold the same opinion of him, it's just that I took exception to the fact that he's not necessarily "sub-par", but rather, "par". Certainly not in the Miller or Vokoun realm as his GAA might indicate, but he's not Huet or Toskala bad either. That's all.

I think I was more frustrated with the recent blogosphere coverage of the Caps, and perhaps I see hope in your blog since you're obviously willing to take an objective view of the team. We're all fans, I get it, but it seems like for all intents and purposes, Ted, Gabby and GMGM can do no wrong. They've done a lot right for sure, but why has nobody taken them to task on things like the Belanger situation, the Semin deal, their unwillingness to spend to the salary cap, or their inability to adjust to an inferior team in the playoffs? Boudreau's "hot goalie" excuse can only work so often, and if they lose in the 1st or 2nd round again, does anybody really think Boudreau will ever coach in the NHL ever again? I'm not sure how much access, if any, you'll have to the team in your new role, but these are the questions I have as a Caps fan if you get the chance to ask them.

Anyway, not to beat this whole shot differential discussion to death, but if you give Corsi Numbers any credence, the Caps were actually 4th in the league last year.

http://www.kuklaskorner.com/index.php/psh/comments/team_corsi_ratings/

By no means is this number the be all, end all hockey statistic, but it does help to partially explain why the Caps did so well in the standings when compared to their SOG differential. And, as I alluded to in my previous comment, the Caps spent the most time of any team leading in 5v5 situations, so perhaps their number was artificially deflated with teams shooting more in an effort to catch up.

And yes, the Caps were notorious for easing off the gas pedal at the end of games last year, but they weren’t known for blowing huge leads, entirely. If anything, they earned the reputation of being able to come back from large deficits AND win, just one example being against the Blackhawks, in Chicago, down 3 goals, without their best player. No team can play at 100% effort, 100% of the time over the course of an 82-game season. Even the 95-96 Bulls lost to the Knicks by 32 during the greatest season in NBA history.

As we all know though, the playoffs are the only thing that matter. Yes, the players made costly mistakes at times against Montreal, but it wasn't for lack of trying, or an unwillingness to work hard. Watch the desperation displayed in Game 7 after the Habs took the lead. These guys wanted it, they just weren't coached-up enough to achieve their goals. If fans want to point a finger at taking periods off during the regular season (yet still winning) as to why they lost to Montreal, fine. I'm just not buying it.

Posted by: glb8p | September 24, 2010 6:40 PM | Report abuse

Wow, excellent stuff Karem and glb8p both. I buy that teams playing catch up against us contributed to the shots against totals but we were 20th in shots against so this has to reflect poor D as well. I wonder how many teams won The Cup while being in the neighborhood of 20th in shots against? Probably none.

anyway, both of you mentioned us being horribly out coached. Since I am a relative hockey neophyte, albeit a passionate one, I was wondering if you could elaborate with examples of how we were out coached and in what areas BB is lacking as a coach and what needs to be improved? I never did buy the "we just ran into a hot goalie" excuse either.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who is curious about this. Thanks

Posted by: congero | September 24, 2010 11:51 PM | Report abuse

Post a Comment

We encourage users to analyze, comment on and even challenge washingtonpost.com's articles, blogs, reviews and multimedia features.

User reviews and comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions.




characters remaining

 
 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company