Numbers Game: Team Shot Differentials

Posted by Richard Pollock in Columns,Numbers Game on January 30, 2009 — 1 Comment

After examining team goal differential on Tuesday, I thought it would be interesting to examine each team’s average shot differential per game and compare the statistics.

Teams with the best differential will appear from top to bottom (Where teams rank in goal differential will be in parenthesis):

1.       Detroit Red Wings: +8.0 (3)

2.       San Jose Sharks: +7.6 (2)

3.       Washington Capitals: +2.6 (7)

4.       Calgary Flames: +2.5 (9)

5.       Toronto Maple Leafs: +2.5 (29)

6.       Los Angeles Kings: +2.1 (21)

7.       Chicago Blackhawks: +2.0 (4)

8.       New Jersey Devils: +1.8 (5)

9.       Carolina Hurricanes: +1.8 (23)

10.   Columbus Blue Jackets: +1.3 (17)

11.   Dallas Stars: +1.3 (25)

12.   New York Rangers: +0.9 (12)

13.   Ottawa Senators: +0.9 (23)

14.   Montreal Canadiens: +0.6 (6)

15.   Nashville Predators: +0.6 (26)

16.   Colorado Avalanche: +0.1 (20)

17.   Buffalo Sabres: -0.7 (11)

18.   Anaheim Ducks: -0.9 (14)

19.   Boston Bruins: -1.5 (1)

20.   Vancouver Canucks: -1.8 (13)

21.   St. Louis Blues: -1.8 (22)

22.   Philadelphia Flyers: -2.4 (8)

23.   Minnesota Wild: -2.6 (10)

24.   Pittsburgh Penguins: -3.3 (15)

25.   Tampa Bay Lightning: -3.4 (27)

26.   Edmonton Oilers: -3.4 (18)

27.   New York Islanders: -3.8 (30)

28.   Phoenix Coyotes: -4.2 (19)

29.   Atlanta Thrashers: -4.5 (28)

30.   Florida Panthers: -5.3 (16)

First, let’s establish that these shot counts obviously do not take into account scoring chances/quality of shots, but even so, I think something can be taken from these stats; especially in relation to the goal differential numbers put together on Tuesday.

Looking at success in both categories, there are six teams that sit in the top ten in goal differential that also find themselves in the top ten in goal differential.  Is that a coincidence? I would say most certainly not.  Generally, teams that have the puck in the other team’s end, get more shots on net and consequently score.  I know that is a simplification of the game but it really does hold true.

Now, I’m sure you are asking about the team’s at the top that have horrible goal differentials (Los Angeles and Toronto).  Well, since the Kings have had Jonathan Quick (7 wins and 5 losses) manning the net in SoCal, that team has actually been playing quite well.  His save percentage is .918 and his G.A.A. 2.42.  Contrast that with the poor numbers of Jason LaBarbera and Erik Ersberg and you can see how important Quick has been.  Simply, goaltending can sure make a significant difference. 

That, of course, leads us to the Maple Leafs.  Goaltending has certainly not been a strong point for that team this season.  Look at Vesa Toskala’s numbers: He is a horrible 43rd in the entire NHL in save percentage at .884.  Meanwhile, his G.A.A. is 3.31.  So, as much as shot differential will help, at the end of the day you still need somebody between the pipes to stop the puck.

Conversely, let’s look at the teams that are in the top ten in goal differential but are in the bottom ten in shot differential.  Philadelphia gives up almost 2.5 shots more per game than they produce.  Generally, that is not a good sign (as you can see by the teams surrounding them in the bottom ten).  However, the Flyers have some of the top scorers in the entire NHL.  More importantly, they have some of the most efficient shooters in the NHL.  Mike Knuble, Simon Gagne, Joffrey Lupul Jeff Carter and Scott Hartnell are all in the top 60 in the NHL in shooting percentage.  Considering there are 30 NHL teams that means that the Flyers have three more players than average sitting in the top 60 in shooting percentage.

Okay, so now you are probably asking where Minnesota fits into this rationale.  Well, that is difficult to say.  They don’t shoot particularly well, but one thing they do extremely well is stop the puck.  Looking at the two goaltenders there, leaves us with a fair idea for why Minnesota still succeeds while giving up just over 2.5 shots-per-game than they put on net.  The team’s starting netminder Niklas Backstrom is fourth in the league in shooting percentage (.927) and fifth in G.A.A. (2.19).  Further, the team’s backup netminder Josh Harding has a .929 save percentage and a 2.17 G.A.A.  Sure the team’s netminding is a significant factor in team success, but let’s not think that these particular goaltenders are the simple reason for that success.  The Wild has been successful in between the pipes consistently for a few years now.  As our friend James Mirtle pointed out, Minnesota has won a number of goaltending awards with different netminders at the helm.  Therefore, the Minnesota system is as much, or more, a reason for the team’s success as the team’s netminders are.

In the end, I’d say the NHL’s best teams are the ones that able to both outshoot and outscore their opponents on a nightly basis.  In my opinion, those lower seeded playoff teams better try and avoid facing the Wings, Sharks, Flames, Devils, Capitals and Blackhawks in the playoffs. Obvious you say? Maybe so, but, at least in this writer’s opinion, Boston doesn’t look as scary as it once did.

  • http://www.illegalcurve.com Kyle

    Interesting post. I think the Corsi stat is similar, but concerns shots directed at the net (not necessarily on net) and their differential.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I find this somewhat of an interesting stat.