Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The power of the power play
Where the NHL's scoring 'explosion' came from

Normally I'd leave the math portion of my analysis to our friend The Calculator, but the discussion in the comments section at Tom Benjamin's place got me thinking.

(Unlike some of my industry peers, I don't have an aversion to math. Still, I'm not going to be able to get anywhere near as in-depth as Tyler does.)

After making some adjustments for the number of penalties there have been this season, Tom Benjamin determines that goal scoring in the NHL increased from 5.14 goals per game in 2003-04 to 5.62 per game this season — just more than a nine-per-cent increase.

How much of that is due to a more 'wide-open' game? It's impossible to say, but what we can tell is how many more of the goals scored this season simply came from the power play, where the impact of the way obstruction is called is lessened (there's little neutral-zone play during a power play).

Total scoring
In 2003-04, there were a total of 6,318 goals scored in all NHL games. This season, that number was up 1,125 goals to 7,443 — a 17.8-per-cent increase.

Power-play scoring
In 2003-04, there were a total of 1,717 goals scored on the power play in all NHL games. This season, that number was up to 2,545. In all, the new NHL produced 828 more goals for teams with the man advantage — a 48.2-per-cent increase.

Power-play scoring as a percentage of scoring increase
So, we've got 1,125 'new' goals this season, 828 of those coming on the power play, which would make up 73.6 per cent of this season's total increase.

(Short-handed goal scoring increased from 244 goals to 318, a 74-goal difference and 30.3-per-cent increase. This number makes up 6.57 per cent of the total 'new' goals, meaning that increased scoring on special teams accounted for 80.2 per cent in total.)

In all, even-strength scoring increased from 4,357 to 4,580 — a mighty 223 goals or just 5.12 per cent.

In conclusion
No wonder Jaromir Jagr had 123 points this year.

It's also no wonder Gary Bettman wants to keep the number of penalties called per game high for the postseason — without the increased scoring generated on the power play, the notion of a radically transformed, higher-scoring (read: better) league goes up in smoke.

That's not to say I disagree with how the games are being called — for the most part, I've liked what I see. Still, it's important to know where these 'new' goals are — and aren't — coming from.

10 Comments:

At 7:31 AM, April 25, 2006, Anonymous David Johnson said...

This is a case of the surface numbers not telling the whole story. When accounting for the difference in time being played at even strength (down 11.7%), even strength goals are actually up 19% as I just explained on my website.

 
At 8:59 AM, April 25, 2006, Blogger Black Dog Hates Skunks said...

To me I could care less if scoring is up but are scoring chances? I have no tables showing me the math but anyone who has watched NHL hockey this year has to admit that games have more flow at even strength - players are actually allowed to skate with speed.

This to me is the difference and why I am a big fan of the crackdown. Players are allowed to play and create. Danny Briere can skate without having Wade Belak slowing him down.

A game doesn't have to be 6-5 to be exciting. A 2-1 game can be exceptional if the scoring chances and flow of the game are there.

 
At 9:09 AM, April 25, 2006, Blogger mudcrutch79 said...

This seems to be a hot topic right now. I'll have to update my TOI stats through the end of the season come the weekend.

 
At 9:20 AM, April 25, 2006, Anonymous Ben said...

David Johnson just schooled you James.

 
At 11:20 AM, April 25, 2006, Blogger Matt said...

A couple of problems there, David. Firstly, I don't know that you can just prorate the Time-on-Ice stats from the Olympic break. Scoring dropped throughout the season: is that because PP time decreased, or some other reason?

Secondly, from a non-statistical perspective, James' observation is important. I've heard many, many pundits describe this year's game as better because there's more end-to-end skating, back & forth action, etc.. If the raw number of even strength goals is the same, this take isn't really defensible.

And lastly, we did do these calculations back in January using up-to-date stats on goals and ToI. Then too, ES scoring was up 19% on a per-minute basis, yet when you correct for 5-on-3 chances, PP scoring was identical on a per-minute basis. Why is this? Why are rule changes that are sold as letting skill players perform helping them a lot at ES, but not on the PP?

A few more questions to mull over (Analyze! :) ) for you, I guess.

 
At 11:44 AM, April 25, 2006, Blogger sacamano said...

Why are rule changes that are sold as letting skill players perform helping them a lot at ES, but not on the PP?

Because powerplays don't usually take place in the neutral zone?

 
At 11:44 AM, April 25, 2006, Anonymous Earl Sleek said...

Why are rule changes that are sold as letting skill players perform helping them a lot at ES, but not on the PP?

This I think stems to how the game is approached defensively on a PK. The box defense with 4 men back, given the ability to freely ice the puck, generally plays in a formation that doesn't need to necessarily hold or hook, but rather can position sticks in passing lanes and other non-fouls.

Power plays (even the good ones) also tend to spend a fair amount of time moving the puck side-to-side, setting up an eventual scoring chance. There is a sense of patience on a power play that might not factor so well into even-strength play.

Basically, coaching has given man-advantage play a distinctly different feel and strategy than even-strength, so I am not surprised that we would observe distinct scoring effects. It is almost a different game being played.

 
At 12:53 PM, April 25, 2006, Anonymous David Johnson said...

A couple of problems there, David. Firstly, I don't know that you can just prorate the Time-on-Ice stats from the Olympic break. Scoring dropped throughout the season: is that because PP time decreased, or some other reason?

I don't think scoring dropped significantly enough to make a serious impact on the analysis but yes, updating the analysis with the full seasons numbers should be done.

Secondly, from a non-statistical perspective, James' observation is important. I've heard many, many pundits describe this year's game as better because there's more end-to-end skating, back & forth action, etc.. If the raw number of even strength goals is the same, this take isn't really defensible.

Yes and no. When there is even strenght hockey it is more interesting. There is just less of it. So it is a bit of a good and bad news story. And generally I don't find PP hockey all that interesting as it is usually just guys passing it around a box and occassionally shooting it on goal and then chasing it down the to retrieve the puck after the other team manages to get control. So the goal of the NHL should be to reduce the number of PPs without impacting the quality of the play through the neutral zone. You can probably do this by being a bit less stringent on penalty calls in the battles in the corners. I've seen some pretty chintzy calls be made.

 
At 2:01 PM, April 25, 2006, Blogger James Mirtle said...

David Johnson just schooled you James.

Both of the conclusions we're drawing are correct, so I'd tend to think of what David cooked up as something that complements what I did. Based on just the numbers, the fact there are more penalties is accounting for almost all of the league's goal increase.

 
At 2:17 PM, April 25, 2006, Anonymous David Johnson said...

Both of the conclusions we're drawing are correct, so I'd tend to think of what David cooked up as something that complements what I did. Based on just the numbers, the fact there are more penalties is accounting for almost all of the league's goal increase.

Yes, this is true and I certainly wasn't intending to take you to school on the issue. We just have to be careful not to conclude that even strength hockey hasn't change. What actually surprises me is that the majority of the extra PP goals can be accounted for by the increase in power plays and the increase in 5-on-3 advantages which seems to indicate that some rule changes such as reducing the size of goalie equipment and moving the goals back and blue lines out probably are having minimal effect. One must wonder if moving the blue lines back in might open up the neutral zone even more creating even more even strength offense with little or no effect on PP offense.

 

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