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  • Writer's pictureRick Traugott

Chasing Meaningful Statistics

I have a love/hate relationship with hockey statistics. Now, don’t get me wrong. I can find my way around an Excel spreadsheet quite well but, I have two problems with the whole notion of hockey statistics. And, very much on two totally different levels.

First, if you don’t have a team of people (or some awesome artificial intelligence analyzing your video), it’s not that easy to collect a whole lot of data.

Second, you need a university degree in statistics to truly understand all the numbers that are coming out of the NHL these days. My new favourite stat? “Expected goals”! How is this calculated? The recent article Applying analytics to 2019 Women’s Worlds by Lucas Aykroyd on the IIHF website reports it comes from analyzing “shot distance, angle to the goal, shot type, goalie positioning, the preceding pass, rebounds, and more”. That’s easy to track from the stands (he says with dripping sarcasm)!

(Actually, the article is very much worth the read!!)

In short, my strategy on using analytics is to only track something that will make a difference in the way I coach the team, or for goal setting purposes. Currently, I use three different tools. One, the game sheet. Tracking goals, assists and point but also, my team has a “goals for” team goal (this year 4.1 per game), so the game sheet can very simply track that statistic for us. Two, I keep a card and pen in my jacket pocket and track all of the power play and penalty kill chances we have. This saves a lot of time going back over the game sheet figuring out how many chances and goals there were on special teams. We have two team goals with respect to special teams: a) win the plus/minus every game and b) keep the aggregate of the PP% and PK% over 105%.

The third thing I added this season was Cosco Hand Tally Counters for all my coaches. I counted all shots for and my defense coach counted shots against. Again, we had a team goal of keeping shots against to 27 or less per game.

Now, I am not too keen on going back and watching a full game on video. With no video coach to tag the game, I find it very time consuming to sit through an entire game looking for keys plays or statistics. But, there was one game this season that I felt compelled to do some analysis on. We had beaten one of our biggest league rivals 6-4 with an empty net goal. It was a terrific game for us and we played some of the best hockey of the season. Statistically, we lost the special teams 1-0. They were 1 for 5 on the power play, we were 0 for 3. But the real shocker for me was that we gave up 55 shots against…55!!!

So, I wanted to break down what the heck went wrong for us to give up so many shots. It took about 4 hours to break everything down and put it in presentation form. Here are the six slides I showed my team two days after the game with some comments below each one:

· 55 shots against in a 54 minute game is WAY too many

· 20 shots against on 5 PK’s is too high

· 12 even strength scoring chances is too high

· Gave up 9 shots and three scoring chances on even man (or better!) rushes - not acceptable

· Only gave up one shot on a rebound - that’s excellent

· Only gave up two scoring chances from defensive zone play - significant given that we play a strict man on man defensive zone coverage

· Opposition had 8 of 12 even strength scoring chances in the first period (This will be the biggest take away from this analysis!)

· Way too many shots from the “house” (14)

· This is a great chart of our penalty killing - keeping shots to the outside very effectively

· The most fascinating chart - what a difference from period 1 to period 3

When I showed this last slide to my team they were dumbfounded. We won the first period 4-1. We were all over them. Players made comments like “that was the best period we have played all year!”

In retrospect, what happened was we had exploded out of the dressing room and all played with a huge amount of energy. So much so, that we were pressuring too hard, both on the backcheck and our defensive zone coverage, without the control we should have had. We would ofetn have two players both pressure the same opposing player. We would leave men uncovered in the slot to chase an unwinnable loose puck on the boards. All of these great energy things ended up costing us on the shots and scoring chances against. Thank goodness our goalie stood on his head for the first period or we may not have been up three goals.

This turned out to be a great lesson for the team going into the playoffs. It’s great to be heat seeking missiles out of the gate but, we need to have the control as well to still execute our team tactics and system play.

The four hours of video work was, in this case, well worth the effort. Statistics were used to change the way we approached the game. And, it was great to have an initial reason to look at a certain subset of statistics. Coaches shouldn’t live and die by statistical analysis. There are WAY too many more important elements of the game. But sometimes, given the right lens, they can truly illuminate where watching solely from the bench may not.

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