By Kate Crowder – DCSportsFan.com
We all know that the game isn’t played on paper. But if it was, it wouldn’t be so much about comparing stats and percentages, even lines and goalie match-ups before the game, as it would be about two very important summaries produced at the end of each NHL game. A record that accounts for every minute of play, the Event and Game Summaries that hit the books after the game’s final minute are what reporters use to generate stats and track trends for their articles and features. And if you don’t happen have a talent for keeping track of every shot that Alex Ovechkin takes during the game (it’s a rare talent), then right there, in the Event Summary, it’s been recorded for you. How handy. These summaries are available to anyone – not just media – by clicking on the stats tab in any online game report, and it’s a really great tool for fans interested in the statistical breakdown of a game. But sometimes, there can be a lot of information in these summaries, and the sheer number of figures can be overwhelming. And aside from the simple Goals (G), Assists (A) and Points (P), there is a lot of information that speaks to the way any given player used his minutes if you know what to look for. So today, I’m going to help break down some of the key things to look for in a Game or Event Summary.
Let’s start with the Event Summary, a breakdown of every minute and every action by any active roster player during the course of the game. Let’s take the Capitals overtime win over the Blackhawks on Sunday to use as our example. Find a copy of the Event Summary here: http://www.nhl.com/scores/htmlreports/20092010/ES021022.HTM
Number 1: TOI (Time on Ice) and TOT (Total Ice Time)
This is always the first thing I look for – who led the team in minutes, and who had the fewest. Usually, you can expect to see a defenseman lead all skaters (which does not include goalies) in minutes. The same is true for the Capitals – Mike Green typically leads the team in minutes, and Sunday, he again led the
team with 30 minutes and 23 seconds. Mike Green plays on both the Capitals’ power play and the Capitals penalty kill, and Sunday’s stats list that, in fact, he did play on both, with 6 minutes and 56 seconds of work with the extra man ("PP"), and 2 minutes and 16 seconds of work shorthanded ("SH") (either 5 on 4 or 5 on 3). Green can normally expect to clock in at about 26 minutes, so anything above 30 is too many for the rover ‘D’ man. But, given that the Capitals were playing a difficult opponent in the Chicago Blackhawks, and that Alex Ovechkin had been assessed a game misconduct and that his some odd 22 or 23 minutes had to be redistributed, it’s remarkable that Green didn’t skate more. And Green is in good enough shape that he can absorb the extra minutes.
The next thing you want to look for is the ice time leader among forwards – usually Alex Ovechkin or Nick Backstrom on the Caps. Obviously, these two guys are not just among the best (or the best) players on the team, but they play in special in situations, such as power plays, or consider that they are the ones who are double-shifted in the final minutes of a must-win game when the Caps are down by a goal. Also, if perhaps the Caps are in need of offense, you might see a spike in the ice time for the other Caps goal scorers, such as Alex Semin, Brooks Laich and Tomas Fleischmann. On Sunday, for instance, Brooks Laich led all forwards in ice time – partially a result of his strong play throughout the game and the fact that another forward who usually eats up a fair number of minutes – Alex Ovechkin – was tossed from the game in the opening period. Laich skated 23 minutes and 9 seconds, scoring the go-ahead goal for the Caps early in the 3rd period. You want to see the top line for the Caps skate anywhere between 20 and 23 minutes per game, so given the fact that Boudreau was without the services of Ovechkin, he did a great job managing the minutes of his other top line players.
Number 2: S (Shot Total), A/B (Attempts Blocked) and MS (Missed Shots): Shot Report
This is always a good indicator of who is generating the most scoring opportunities. A/B, Attempts Blocked, and MS, Missed Shots, also account for the shot total for any given player. On the Capitals, it’s almost a sure thing that Ovechkin will lead the team in shots. His philosophy is shoot the puck whenever you get a chance, from wherever you get the chance, and something will be bound to go into the net. Now, he’s lucky, because that’s actually the case, and he scores so many goals not just because he has a special talent for putting the puck in the net but because he generates so many chances for himself. But on Sunday, Ovechkin only played for 4 minutes and 50 seconds, taking a total of 4 shifts, and he registered just one shot on net. Brooks Laich actually led all skaters in shots with 5.
What’s a lot of shots? Well, it depends on the player, how well they are defended and the number of minutes they ultimately play – 5 is great number, and it shows real determination to get pucks to the net. For comparison’s sake, Ovechkin routinely leads the League in shots on goal, and he fired 13 shots once this year – in just 20 minutes and 53 seconds of ice time – against San Jose. That’s a lot. It’s surprising his arms didn’t arms fall off. He has 10 shots on goal 3 times this season (vs. Senators, Islanders and Stars). Mostly, though, you want to look for balance – are all the forwards getting chances, even if there are fewer total shots? What about the top six forwards – how many chances are they getting? Balance is key, and while it’s impressive to see Ovechkin take something like 13 shots, he shouldn’t have to do that (even if he wants to). Against Chicago, every skater on the Caps except 2 defensemen and one forward put at least one shot on net. Now that’s balance.
Keep in mind too that the number of shots is also the number of pucks the goaltender must turn away lest he should fall victim to a goal. So what’s a lot of shots, for a team? Chicago takes a League leading 34.1 shots per game, followed closely by Washington with 33.1. Both of these numbers reflect trends that we have seen post-Lockout (rule changes now encourage more shooting), but consider that Washington sometimes throws 52 shots at an opposing netminder (Marty Turco, Dallas Stars). That’s an ungodly number of shots, although anywhere in the low 30’s range demonstrates a lot of strength and firepower upfront.
Number 3: F% (Faceoff Win Percentage)
This is something that really only concerns the centermen, but you want to pay special attention to the numbers for the top line guys – i.e. Nick Backstrom. For the Capitals, also watch the faceoff percentages for other centers, such as Brendan Morrison, Eric Belanger and even more importantly, David Steckel who is one of the better faceoff men in the League (currently ranked #2, on average, winning his faceoffs 60.4% of the time). The F% (Faceoff Win Percentage) is a testament to how effective you are at the faceoff dot. In today’s NHL where puck possession is key, and you have to win faceoffs in order to possess the puck. Anything below 50% means you didn’t really do your job, but numbers anywhere between the 55% and 65% are typical for good, reliable faceoff masters. Anything above 70% is pretty impressive, but you have to take into account how many faceoffs any given player takes. For instance, you could take one faceoff, win it, and then have your faceoff percentage on the night be 100%. Let’s look at Sunday’s numbers against the Hawks. Nick Backstrom – top line center – was 31%. Um, not good. Newcomer Eric Belanger boasted the best numbers at the dot, winning 10 of the 17 faceoffs he took or 59%. Not bad, could be better though.
Number 4: HT (Hits Given)
For hits, you usually look for high numbers from defensemen, anywhere in the 3-5 range. Think for example, that Cal Clutterbuck (one of the greatest names in all sports…ever) leads the NHL in hits this season with 266. That means, that in his 61 games played, he averages roughly 4 hits per game. Hockey is a physical game – a collision sport even – and when a player registers a hit, it shows that he is actively involved in the play, using the body to eliminate space and opportunities for his opponent. On the Capitals, however, you always have to look and see how many hits Ovechkin (a forward) registers on the night. Ovechkin always plays a physical game, and most of the time, he uses his strength and size to his advantage. Other times however, when he becomes frustrated with his lack of scoring chances, he will ramp up his physical game, so you will see a spike in his hit total.
On Sunday however, it was David Steckel who led all skaters in hits with an astonishing 7. That’s amazing. And consider that Steckel skated for just 15 minutes and 53 seconds. Again, that’s amazing. Ice bath! Nevertheless, you want to look for balance among the defense corps. Not all ‘D’-men rely on a dominating physical presence to defend against an attacker (i.e. future Hall of Famer Nick Lidstrom), but the guys you expect to hit, you want to see show up on the score sheet. And among the Caps blue line, physicality is a asset, so, on a good night, look for everyone to be involved.
Number 5: PN (Number of Penalties) and PIM (Penalty Minutes)
The obvious. Penalties translate to shorthanded ice time, which all teams look to avoid unless penalties are taken as a way of breaking up a scoring opportunity for an opponent, or appear to be "penalties of effort." Other "acceptable" penalties might be ones taken in defense of a teammate, although there is a fine line between standing up for your fellow teammate and taking a careless instigator or retaliatory penalty. Look down the PN and PIM columns – who took the greatest number of penalties throughout 60 minutes of play? Who had to sit in the sin bin for the longest period of time? You never want to see the same player take more than one penalty in the same game, unless one or both of the infractions could be classified as "penalties of effort."
Against the Blackhawks, Alex Semin took two penalties, one for hooking and one for goaltender interference. Again, one too many, especially from a player that has a track record of taking untimely penalties all too often. And then there’s Ovechkin. Ovechkin was whistled for a boarding major after giving Chicago defenseman Brain Campbell a little more than a forceful shove on national television. (Now, was it Campbell’s own fault that the crash into the boards looked as bad as it did? You be the judge.) That accounted for 5 of his 15 total PIMs. The other 10, well, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know they are from the resulting game misconduct that accompanies some major calls.
Keep in mind too that points are so valuable to some teams that constantly find themselves on the playoff bubble that taking a penalty and then perhaps giving up a resulting power play goal could be difference between playing hockey in May and hitting the links in sunny Florida.
An excellent penalty kill operates with a high percentage; anything above 80% is good, and anything between 83% and 90% (wow!) is pretty darn good. Everything is relative of course, but 83 to 90% is a good benchmark, no matter the season or flavor of competition. Take for instance the Buffalo Sabres. They currently have the best penalty kill numbers in the NHL, operating at 85.9%. That means they kill off 85.9% percent of their shorthanded situations. The Capitals penalty kill currently ranks at 24th in the League (strange for a team that sits atop the NHL in points), operating at a measly 78.7%. It might not seem like there is a lot of difference between 85.9% and 78.7% but consider that this really means the difference between 38 goals allowed on the penalty kill and 58 goals allowed on the penalty kill, and, that there are 23 teams doing the job better than Washington. One guess why that Buffalo penalty kill is so good? It rhymes with Brain Pillar.
Number 6: GV (Giveaways)
As a coach, these are the numbers that make you cringe, especially if they prove to be costly turnovers that lead to goals against. "Giveaways" simply refer to a player’s inability to control the puck, thus giving it away or losing it to a member of the opposing team. And again, since the game today is all about puck possession (you can thank the Detroit Red Wings for that), maintaining control of the puck is key to creating scoring chances for yourself and limiting scoring chances for your opponent. Giveaways are not just bad because you lose possession of the puck, but because giveaways (or turnovers) can spring an odd man rush for the opposing team, or create the need for forwards to backcheck (i.e play defense) in their own zone, which, of course, is less than ideal.
Look down the GV column – who had the greatest number of giveaways, and who had none. Giveaways speak to many things, although they can point to laziness on the part of a veteran NHLer or inexperience on the part of a rookie. On Sunday, John Carlson led the team with 2 giveaways, although again, this probably speaks more to his inexperience than his laziness or lack of attention. One giveaway can reflect a mistake, perhaps a sudden miscalculation or lapse in attention, but anything above 1, especially when it leads to a goal or scoring chance is downright dumb.
Number 7: +/- (Plus/Minus)
A lot of people have no idea what this means or why it is important, or for that matter, how it is calculated. Well, a plus/minus is essentially an indicator of whether or not good things happen when you are on the ice. Pluses, good; minuses, bad. If you are on the ice for a goal that your team scores, that’s a "plus 1." If you are on the ice for a goal that the other team scores, that’s a "minus 1". And as the game continues, you keep track, adding and subtracting until the game is over.
Let’s look at Mike Green. He finished Sunday’s game with a plus-2, a team high. Green had a plus-2 because he was on the ice for two of Washington’s goals, (starting at 0+1+1), and he wasn’t on the ice for any of Chicago’s goals. Now, Nick Backstrom was a 0 because he was on the ice for 3 of Chicago’s goals (starting at 0-1-1-1 = -3), as well as for 3 of Washington’s goals (-3+1+1+1 = 0).
The numbers are recorded for each game and are added up, or subtracted as the case may be, as the season progresses. So, when we say that Alex Ovechkin has a League leading plus-41, it means that 41 is the total of all his pluses and minuses (as a player….) to date this season. And although plus/minus is relative, a plus-41 is insanely good. So, basically all this means is that good things happen when Ovechkin is on the ice. Like, good things happen a lot. A lot a lot. Teams, as well as skaters can finish with a plus/minus. The team plus/minus is the addition of all the players plus and minus tallies.
Number 8: Shots Summary, PP (Power Play Shots)
Unless you’ve been taking your own notes, or perhaps you have a broadcaster telling you how many power plays we’ve seen throughout the course of a game, you have to look at the Game Summary to find a rundown of the nights special teams action. But the Event Summary does list the number of power play shots, and this can tell us a lot about the success of the power play (PP).
Why is the power play important? The power play is important because it’s a gifted opportunity to work with an extra player, taking advantage perhaps of the other teams’ stupidity and/or mistakes. Washington currently has the number one power play, which operates at 26.2%. This means they score with the extra man 26.2% of the time. And while a 26.2% would most definitely be a failing grade in school, in the NHL, this is an amazing stat. Funny how that works. Any power play that operates above 20% is a good one. Any power play that operates between 22 and 23% is a great one. And any power play that operates above 24 or 25%, well, that’s a power play that makes you pay, big time. And it’s no coincidence that the Caps have the number one power play and find themselves sitting atop the NHL standings either.
But let’s return to the shot total. Shots mean opportunities, and since the power play is a chance to work with one or perhaps two more skaters than your opponent, it is critical that your team use that time to generate scoring opportunities. A power play typically lasts 2 minutes, so a shot total that adds up to either 4 or 5 is pretty impressive. Consider too that power plays have set formations and passing plays, and very rarely is the philosophy of a power play ‘fire at will.’ There’s a method to the madness as they say, and unless systems break down or run into a great penalty kill (PK), it takes time to set up quality shots. A power play that fires 4 or 5 shots on net is one that is cycling the puck well, and keeping the puck inside the offensive zone for extended periods of time – all good news.
So, on Sunday, the shot total for the power play is listed at 6. The Caps had 5 power plays, one which was an abbreviated 5 on 3. It would have been better to see more than 6 shots from the number one power play unit. But the ‘Hawks have a great PK (6th overall), so just the fact that they managed to even score one goal on 6 shots is acceptable. The 6 represents the total number of shots, while the 1 represents the number of shots that were successful (i.e. power play goals).
Be sure to check out my other Caps articles at dcsportsfan.com or http://www.dcsportsfan.com/Staff/writers.aspx?aid=117!