False Narratives

PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 20: A Penguins fan cheers against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on April 20, 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Unfortunately, false narratives are all too common in sports. People avoid statistics, evidence, and arguments in favor of a feel good story or something that "just sounds right." I'd like to look at one particular false narrative which is coming out of this series so far.

The false narrative I had in mind is the play of Sean Couturier. Many in the mainstream media have marveled at his play against Evgeni Malkin this series, claiming he's been able to shut down or control Geno. Even Geoff over at BSH bought into the hype, as he said this tonight:

Evgeni Malkin has been shut down by your 19 year old rookie

To see if this is true, I'd like to look at two things. The first are the ol' box car stats. While these aren't that useful or statistically reliable, these are the numbers those in the mainstream hockey media focus on. Thus far this series, Malkin has 2 goals, 5 assists, an even plus minus rating, and a faceoff clip of nearly 55%. Seven points in five games and a faceoff percentage well above his career average doesn't even remotely indicate Malkin has been shut down.

But that's not even the end of the story. The best evidence we can get to see the match up between these two is the possession metrics for the five games in this series so far. Here are the stats for game 1, game 2, game 3, game 4, and game 5. I've compiled the relevant information in chart form below:

Malkin Fenwick Malkin Corsi Couturier Fenwick Couturier Corsi
Game 1 +7 +8 -1 0
Game 2 -3 +1 +2 +3
Game 3 +9 +10 -5 -9
Game 4 +10 +9 -5 -7
Game 5 +4 +2 -5 -4
Total +27 +30 -14 -17

These numbers are clear: Malkin is dominating in possession while he is on the ice, and Couturier is getting spanked. Other than in game 2, Couturier has had negative numbers across the board the entire series. The only reason his boxcars aren't worse is because of the extreme variance in shooting percentage and save percentage we've seen in this series.

So the next time someone talks about how Malkin has been "shut down" this series by a rookie, please be sure to tell them that narrative has no basis in logic, evidence, or statistics.

UPDATE - Lappy has brought up a nice point in the comment thread. He mentioned that we'd get a more accurate picture if we adjust for zone start. Since Couturier has been getting a lot of defensive zone draws, it's not fair to count raw Corsi and Fenwick against him. There is merit to this argument, though I think it's still instructive to look at the raw numbers to see that this match-up has been anything but domination by Couturier.

Anyways, JLikens has posted the formula for making this adjustment:

Adjusted Corsi=


JLikens multiples by 1000 to make the data more presentable, but I think 100 is a fair coefficient given the small sample of games thus far. Doing that, we get the following results:

Malkin Couturier
Adjusted Corsi +25.85 -3.2

So even after adjusting for zone starts based on this formula, it still looks like Malkin is winning.

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