(Note from Rossi: Jesse Marshall, a local hockey blogger, has agreed to share his unique brand of analytical insight on this blog. His contributions will appear on an as-we-think-of-it basis. Enjoy.)
>> THE FACEOFF FACTOR: Possession Dip
One of the more important advanced metrics making its way into the mainstream hockey media is Corsi. It is a statistic that accounts for possession throughout the course of a game or season. Simplified, it is a plus/minus number that tracks shooting attempts on net at even strength.
Think of this outside the traditional understanding of what a shot on goal is; with Corsi, a player receives a plus for any shooting attempt on net while that player is on the ice (missed shots, blocked shots, deflected shots, saves, etc) and a minus for any shot attempt on his own net.
An example: If Sidney Crosby is on the ice for 20 shooting attempts on net by the Penguins in a given game, but is also on the ice for 10 shooting attempts against, his Corsi for the game would be +10.
We would look at this number with the general understanding that Crosby’s line generated more offense and possessed the puck more than the opposition did. This statistic is expressed at a rate of 60 minutes of even strength ice time.
Within this key metric, we can take a look at the dip in offensive production the Penguins are experiencing this year.
At the end of the truncated 2013 season, both Crosby and Evgeni Malkin paced the Penguins with on-ice Corsi numbers of 16.10 and 16.04 respectively. They ranked 17th and 18th in the NHL among forwards who had played in at least 20 games.
Their respective primary wingers, Chris Kunitz and James Neal, weren’t far behind. For 2013, Kunitz was at 12.62 and Neal at 10.85.
The eye test tells us that the offensive production of the Penguins flows through the top two lines. With Crosby, Malkin and their aforementioned partners posting such good possession numbers in the 2013 regular season, the results also reflected in the goals category. The Penguins topped the NHL with 107 even-strength goals last year – a true testament to the number of shots they launched at the net.
This season has been a much different story.
Crosby’s on-ice Corsi has dipped to 10.57. Malkin has dropped low to 5.46. Their linemates have, predictably, suffered considerable drops as well. Kunitz now rings in at 8.61 and Neal at 8.09.
These drops may not seem that significant, but they’ve seemingly affected the Penguins ability to score goals at even strength. The Penguins scored 3.0 goals per 60 minutes of even strength ice time last season, a number that’s dipped to 2.7 this year.
With all expectations pointing to the Penguins being on a collision course with the Boston Bruins this postseason, a quick glance at their numbers show an exaggerated difference in the tale that Corsi tells. The average on-ice Corsi between Brad Marchand, Loui Eriksson, and Patrice Bergeron is 22.60, a number that is triple what Crosby is averaging right now.
While the Penguins may have scored 11 more goals than the Bruins at even strength this year, the Bruins have allowed 32 fewer goals than the Penguins. That is a testament to the possession numbers put up by Boston’s top forwards. It’s hard for other teams to score when they do not have the puck.
So what’s the cause of all this? Dan Bylsma’s coaching staff adding a focus to defensive zone play has also been mentioned as a possibility, but the Penguins are on pace to allow more goals against per game on average than they did last year.
Injuries might play the biggest role of all. Pascal Dupuis has lead the Penguins in attempts on net each of the last two years, and he has been out for a month and likely will not play again this season.
Also, the Penguins still appear to be in a feeling out process with the return of their stars to the lineup.
We’ll do a temperature check on these numbers later this year. After all, Bylsma’s mantra is 60/40 hockey – 60 percent of the game expected to be played in the offensive zone. Right now, the numbers say it’s more of a 50/50 split.
That is a number the Penguins need to correct heading into the postseason.
Jesse Marshall is co-founder of Faceoff-Factor, a site that breaks down the Penguins by using nontraditional methods such as the study of advanced statistics. Read his work at www.faceoff-factor.com. Follow him on Twitter @jmarshfof
>> Josh Yohe recaps the Penguins’ blanking of Buffalo: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5487641-74/penguins-fleury-game#axzz2riMIEHmz
>> Chris Adamski with the notes from Monday: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5484610-74/penguins-gibbons-monday
Yohe is with the club Tuesday.
Presuming I kick this flu that followed me back from Dallas, I’m headed to California than Phoenix for the road trip.
It’s cold, so have some coffee – or tea; always better is the tea – ready for those postal workers.
Be EXCELLENT to each other,