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Game 2 between the Canucks and Predators shows why advanced stats matter…and why they don’t

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
1 month ago
Good news, everyone!
The advanced and underlying statistics state that the Vancouver Canucks were the better team in Game 2 of Round One of the Stanley Cup Playoffs!
Sure, the Nashville Predators and their fans can celebrate silly little things like “scoring four goals” and “only allowing one goal against” and “winning the actual game.”
But the Canucks totally dominated in shot attempts, Corsi, expected goals, high-danger chances, and all those other big-ticket buzzwords.
So, in other words, both teams can walk away from this one feeling good and celebratory.
Wait, what?! No one is celebrating all those attempted shots? But that can’t be right. The advanced and underlying statistics are what really matter, right?
Right…until they don’t.
Here’s what we mean by that. It is true that the Canucks dominated Tuesday night in every capacity that wasn’t officially measured on the Rogers Arena jumbotron.
The Canucks made 18 shots on goal to the Predators’ 16.
The Canucks controlled a ridiculous 74.42% of the Corsi (actual shots and blocked/missed shot attempts), including an 88.1% share in the third period as they made their big push.
The Canucks controlled 69.05% of the scoring chances, including a preposterous 90.48% share in the third.
And when it came to high-danger chances specifically, the Canucks controlled 66.67% overall and 100% of them in the third. That’s right, the Canucks notched ten scoring chances deemed “high-danger” in the third period, and the Predators had none of their own.
Just take a look at this chart of expected goals from Tuesday, and take in the visual tale that it spins:
From NaturalStatTrick, representing 5v5 play
It’s a tale of a game that the Canucks were in control of from the get-go, only letting that control slip a little in the middle (resulting in two Nashville goals) and then cranking up that control as the game moved closer to its conclusion.
For an even clearer visual indicator of what we mean, cast your gaze upon MoneyPuck’s “Deserve To Win O’Meter.”
 
From MoneyPuck.com
According to their number-crunching, would Game 2 have been played 1000 times over, the Canucks would win approximately 80% of the time, with the Predators winning just 20%.
And yet…
Even with all these statistical indicators of success, no one feels very good about what happened on Tuesday today. And it’s not that difficult to figure out why.
The answer is hiding on that “Deserve To Win O’Meter.” It’s the bit about the game being played “1000 times.”
These are the playoffs. The games aren’t played 1000 times. They’re played once. And in the tight bounds of competitive postseason hockey, the only thing that really matters is winning the actual games as they come.
We’re not being intentionally obtuse here. We realize that notion is a fairly obvious one. But there’s more to it than that.
Canucks fans heard a lot about regression this season. And while in many ways they overcame the concept, the general tenet still stands true that anomalous stats tend to even out and return to means over a long enough sample size of time.
Were the Canucks dominating teams like they did on Tuesday earlier in the regular season, but still weren’t winning games, one might reasonably conclude that the wins would start to come eventually given enough time.
But these are the playoffs. Games are only a maximum of seven games long, and that’s nowhere near a large enough sample size to really matter. Great teams go home early every year. Goaltenders steal series. Teams dominate scoring chances and Corsi and all that, and still lose out on the scoreboard four times and find their seasons at an end.
It’s the beauty, and the tragedy, of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In the regular season, one can assume that expected goals will eventually turn into actual goals. In the playoffs, the actual goals are the only thing that can be counted on.
Playoff games are won and lost by individuals within a team structure, not “isolated impacts as measured by independent stat-trackers.”
And Tuesday’s Game 2 was a perfect example of that.
The fancy stats will say that the Canucks absolutely plastered the Predators in shot attempts. But the good ol’ eye-test will tell you that this was not because of bad puck-luck or anything like that, but because the Predators were throwing their bodies in front of pucks with reckless abandon on each and every shift.
Again, the numbers say that shot attempts eventually become shots, and that over time, some of those blocked shots will inevitably sneak through. But the Canucks don’t exactly have “over time” to wait around, now three losses away from elimination.
We can count on the Predators continuing to block shots with the exact same fortitude. We can’t count on those shots making through on the schedule the Canucks need them to in order to reclaim control of the series.
The notion works the other way, too. As we mentioned earlier, Corsi measures all shot attempts, including those that were blocked and missed the net.
Which means that this counts as a Corsi (albeit, not at 5v5)…
But anyone watching at home could tell you that Elias Pettersson missing the net in this scenario was not a positive thing for the Canucks, nor was it a result of statistical anomaly. Pettersson either flubbed or choked on that shot, as he has all too often lately. Him missing may increase the statistical odds that his next one goes in, but in real practice, it’s just as likely to hurt his confidence or have him squeezing his stick, which easily compounds into his missing the next one, too.
It’s not all bad. Chances like these two, missed on by Pius Suter and Dakota Joshua, are of the variety that will go in more often that not…
…even if it’s just in the form of the puck bouncing off one of them and into the net.
But until those pucks actually start finding their way home, it all counts for naught. Just ask the Predators, who did score one at least one such bounce.
Which is not to say that one can’t take any hope from the underlying numbers. The Canucks were, in many ways, the better team on Tuesday. If they can maintain that same level of effort, and clean up some of the mental mistakes, chances are good they can still win the next few games and thus the series.
But “chances are good” only goes so far in the playoffs.
It’s undoubtedly a positive that the Canucks held advantages in shot attempts, scoring chances, possession, and everything else. But what Game 2 really proved is the same thing that gets proved this time of year every year: teams can hold all those advantages on paper…and still lose the game out on the ice.
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