Microanalyzing Canucks faceoffs issues

Cam Charron
May 03 2013 12:30PM

Quick observation on faceoffs based on Game 1. This seems to be the target for Vancouver Canucks observers and I don't particularly get why. Any microanalysis on faceoffs I don't like to trust. For one, the NHL is inconsistent in properly rewarding winners and losers of draws. For two, virtually anybody who looks at faceoffs on a macro-level usually finds inconclusive evidence that teams that are good at winning and losing draws help teams win a lot of games.

There's some evidence to indicate that faceoffs have a hand in puck-possession, but it's not the thing. Vancouver, New Jersey and Ottawa all seemed to do well at overall possession, calculated by shot differential statistics, this season without being particularly proficient on faceoffs. Boston, San Jose and Chicago are good at draws.

It's a thing but it's not the thing.

The series preview at Nucks Misconduct:

Look at the Sharks' faceoff winning percentage. Now look at the Canucks' faceoff winning percentage. Teams can win games without being stellar in the faceoff circle, but if this trend continues, the Canucks will have to work hard to take possession away from the Sharks after a faceoff...a lot.

There's this controversy drummed up by Alain Vigneault:

Vigneault, meanwhile, was in a message-sending mood to the officials. The Canucks were whipped in the faceoff circle in Game 1 — winning just 30 of 70 draws — and he accused the Sharks of, well, bending the rules.

“They cheat and they're allowed to cheat,” stated the Canucks coach. “It makes it more challenging.”

And Steve Ewen's analysis:

Faceoffs were a noteworthy item going into this series, since the San Jose Sharks finished second in the league (53.4 per cent) in the regular season and the Vancouver Canucks were 25th (47.6 per cent), out of the 30 NHL teams.

It popped up again after Game 1, with a 57 per cent (40-of-70) win percentage for the Sharks, helping them to the 3-1 decision.

All you young statistical analysts out there, listen up…

The way to do statistical analysis isn't to look at the Event Summary after a game, and if the team lost, find the column they were the worst in and say that's why the reason they lost. Sometimes the better team loses. I don't think that happened on Wednesday night, but it was an even game determined by a couple of coin flip goals in the third period. One bad shift and one bad bounce.

Here are the Canucks' faceoffs broken down by period:

Period FO W FO L FO%
1st 11 13 45.8%
2nd: 9 14 39.1%
3rd: 10 13 43.9%
       
Game: 30 40 42.9%

And scoring chances:

Period VAN SJS FO%
1st 1 5 45.8%
2nd: 7 4 39.1%
3rd: 0 2 43.9%

Note that the Canucks' best period in scoring-chances was their worst period in faceoffs, and the period they gave up the most chances was the one they won the most faceoffs.

It's pretty tough to conclude that faceoffs are anything more than a passing concern. The Canucks dominated puck-possession in Game 1 of the series. They took the majority of the shots and attempts. The problem was that they didn't turn their possession into scoring chances, and that's not something fixed by faceoffs.

It's not just Vancouver. Faceoff statistics are dissected everywhere. They're easy to count and have a hand in the game, but they're not the thing and they're certainly talked about more than they deserve given their limited meaning on puck-possession and even more limited meaning on the winner or loser of the game.

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Cam Charron is a BC hockey fan that writes about hockey on many different websites including this one.
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#1 py
May 03 2013, 01:03PM
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The paper by M. Schuckers et al. was very interesting. They write that "...on average, it takes 76.5 faceoff wins to gain an additional goal differential."

It seems like each playoff game so far has about 60 faceoffs. So winning 43% of those would be 26 wins and 34 losses. A faceoff differential of 4 per game.

That's encouraging for the Canucks - for the rest of the playoffs and this season as a whole - as it seems like winning only 43% of faceoffs won't bite them very hard.

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#2 Peachy
May 03 2013, 01:08PM
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One of these days, guys like yourself, Drance, Dellows et al are going to be able to look back and see (with pride) the effect you had on the popular understanding of hockey.

Keep it up.

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#3 Peachy
May 03 2013, 01:18PM
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@py

Indeed - there's also the bit that the effect of a faceoff is really only to enable shot attempts in the first few seconds after a win (in the offensive zone).

I think the next level of analysis to occur will be to identify how different types of players are better able to capitalize on possession post faceoff win to generate multiple shot attempts. I'm going to hazard a guess that this is one of the big reasons the Sedins are so successful at puck possession, particularly when started in the offensive zone. Game one aside.

If that's true, imagine what the Sedins' possession numbers would look like in the event that Hank was actually a decent faceoff guy. Dare to dream...

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#5 billm
May 03 2013, 03:01PM
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@Cam

It's interesting you bring up the PP. Overall I think you are probably right about how much or little face off wins effect the overall game. I do think though they can have a bigger effect in special team situations.

A face of win on the PP allows the team to set up more often than not, more zone time creates more shots and scoring chances. Conversely, a win when a team is in on the PK allows for a dump down the length of the ice. Kills time and allows the PK team to try and enforce a harder entry or scramble to try and set up the PP scheme.

Can you have a good PP or PK without being good in the face off dot. I'm sure, but one has to think being good situationally in the face off circle can effect the performance of special teams.

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#6 Locky
May 03 2013, 05:54PM
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@billm

This is a question I was going to ask, is it possible to analyse face-offs in PPs and PKs separately, given they are highly time sensitive situations? I would guess a PK faceoff is especially valuable, given the PK team is down a player - possession is harder to obtain.

It might be the case only for unambiguous wins however.

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