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Shots and Territorial Possession

I know that the biggest story the last couple of days has been free agency and all its glory, so I figured I'd switch it up a bit and take a look at which Penguins this year were driving play in the right direction. I'll be looking at shots and Corsi statistics to see which players were doing exactly what Bylsma wants -- out-shooting their opponents. This analysis was inspired by John Fischer's wonderful series on Paul Martin, and all of my data was pulled from Gabriel Desjardins' fantastic site Behind the Net.

The best way to achieve long-term success is to out-shoot and out-possess your opponents. The last three Cup winners were all at the top in terms of 5-on-5 Shot% [SF/(SF+SA)], and a look at the top 10 teams in this category over the last three years is a compilation of hockey's elite clubs. This makes sense when you consider that shooting percentage doesn't vary a whole lot between teams, which leaves shot volume as the primary variable through which teams influence their winning percentage. A look at the numbers over the last three years:


07-08 8.91 9.33 24.7 32.8
08-09 8.98 9.36 26.2 34.8
09-10 8.95 9.28 26.6 33.2


You can see that ES S% varies very little among teams, so no one has a real advantage in terms of scoring rates. What does vary quite a bit is SF/60. The average difference in SF/60 over the three years in question is  7.8/60. Since teams see about 3,800 minutes at even strength each year, that translates into a difference of 494 shots between the highest shooting teams and lowest shooting teams.

Hopefully by now you're convinced that the teams that consistently out-shoot their opponents by a wide margin are the teams that are the most successful in the long-run. With that in mind, let's look at which Penguins were the most effective at out-shooting their opponents at even strength this year:


You can see that the Penguins' first line of Crosby-Kunitz-Guerin led all forward lines in terms of out-shooting opponents. They were far and away the three best forwards on the team in this category, and demonstrated that they were a very effective unit. At the other end, the guys who played on the 4th line the most (Adams and Rupp) were consistently out-shot and not driving play in the right direction. As to the defensemen, Letang and Gogo lead the way while on the ice. While some (including myself) complained during the year about their lack of defensive integrity, it's very impressive for those two young guys to finish an 82 game season as the leaders in shot differential among Pittsburgh defensemen.

Next, I'm going to compare ES attempts for per 60 and ES attempts against per 60, which is going to give a CorsiON/60 number. Attempts include shots on goal, missed shots, and blocked shots. This is going to give us a better idea of which players are controlling possession and playing in the opponent's territory while on the ice. The numbers:


Here we see a very similar story, as Crosby, Guerin and Kunitz lead forwards in Corsi. They're out-attempting the opposition by a wide margin while on the ice and controlling play very effectively. And again, we see that Letang and Gogo are leading the way in Corsi among defensemen, while Rupp and Adams still can't find a way to get the puck moving in the right direction.

As John talked about in his Paul Martin piece, Corsi, just like every other hockey stat, should be taken in context. Derek Zona of Copper and Blue has shown that which zone a player starts in the most will have an effect on his Corsi. If a player sees a lot of zone starts in the offensise zone, then it will be much easier for that player to have a high Corsi since he gets to start so close to the opponent's net. On the other hand, if a player sees a lot of defensive zone starts, then he's on the ice a lot while the other team is very close to his net, and thus more likely to take shot attempts. Working the adjustment in generates these adjusted Corsi numbers:


The zone start change is very slight for most players. I would have expected the biggest change to be for Crosby, Guerin and Kunitz since they start in the offensive zone much more often than in the defensive zone, but it wasn't too significant after all.

Overall, the Penguins as a whole did a very good job of out-shooting and out-attempting the opponent while on the ice. It's no surprise that they've been wildly successful under Dan Bylsma, as he has gotten the players to move the puck in the right direction and park themselves in the opponent's zone. As for individual players, Kunitz's numbers stand out quite a bit, and if he can remain healthy for the entire year next year, he's going to put up a solid campaign if his adj CorsiON/60 stays at that level. On the defensive front, Gogo and Letang led the way in all categories, which is pretty awesome considering their age. This bodes really well for the Penguins' blue line in the future.

Update: The shooting percentage data in the first table is incorrect. For the record, ES S% does vary from team to team, and it is significant. However, this does not change the point that the teams that out-shoot and out-possess their opponents stand the best chance to win.