I've seen horrors... horrors that you've seen. UPI/Gary C. Caskey Photo via Newscom Content © 2010 Newscom All rights reserved. via cdn.picapp.com
Over the course of tracking scoring chances for this series, I poked a bit of fun at the Avalanche. A number of Avs fans responded by emailing me and calling me a variety of names, most of which were fit for only Ben to print. A couple of the emails asked the same question: "Why do you hate the Avs?" Hate the Avs? I don't hate the Avs at all. The jokes I made at the expense of the Avs were mostly born out of exasperation at watching them play. Yes, I know the Avs were a nice story, surprising the hockey world with their amazing start. But, when I was forced to watch them night in and night out, I realized that this was really a lottery team disguised by the play of a goalie in the midst of a fantastic year. How Scott was able to do this for every game is something I'll never know.
Watching the Avs is like watching the Oilers, only the puck doesn't go in the net so much. If you've watched the Oilers for any amount of time, you know how excruciating that can be. If you're a regular reader, you know how much fun I've had at the expense of the Oilers, and you know how many jokes I've made concerning the Oilers play. To expect anything less when I write about a team that's just as bad is unreasonable. And yes, the Avs are a bad hockey team. I suspect that when Scott is done with the Avs scoring chance project for the full season that we'll find a team that is not all that far away from the Oilers when it comes to even strength play. Yes, the Colorado Avalanche are Edmonton Oilers bad.
Colorado goes home to the adoration of their fans. They were "fast", "plucky", "too young to know what they were playing for", "selfless", and "motivated", and it their goaltending just couldn't hold them in the series at the end. San Jose moves on, thanks to "luck" even though Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley "underperformed", Joe Pavelski "stepped up" and is now "clutch". It's not surprising that the numbers tell a different story than those in the print and broadcast media have been pushing, it is surprising how much different the two stories really are.
For those of you who are new to the concept of tracking scoring chances, a scoring chance is defined as a clear play directed toward the opposing net from a dangerous scoring area - loosely defined as the top of the circle in and inside the faceoff dots, though sometimes slightly more generous than that depending on the amount of immediately-preceding puck movement or screens in front of the net. Blocked shots are generally not included but missed shots are. A player is awarded a scoring chance anytime he is on the ice and someone from either team has a chance to score. He is awarded a "chance for" if someone on his team has a chance to score and a "chance against" if the opposing team has a chance to score. Vic Ferrari makes this all possible with his tools to evaluate Corsi, head-to-head ice time and scoring chances.
The first table are the totals for the series by period. For each game state, the first column represents the Avs' numbers, the second column represents the Sharks' chances.
The Avalanche were outchanced by 2-1 overall and just short of 2-1 at even strength. The Avs best play at even strength came in the first period and they got progressively worse after that. For the entire series, the Avs were outchanced 36-79 at even strength in the second and third periods.
The second table is a breakdown of scoring chances for each Avs skater at even strength. The last three columns show the chances numbers broken down per sixty minutes of even strength time on the ice.
As I noted during each recap, this series was a strict power-versus-power matchup as both coaches chose to match Paul Stastny against Joe Thornton and Matt Duchene against Joe Pavelski. Neither Duchene nor Stastny could handle this. Whether this was related to the play of their wingers is another story. Look at the scoring chance numbers and consider the reverse. If Stastny was matched against Thornton at even strength, then Thornton outchanced his opponents by something in the range of 2-1, or ten chances per sixty. Yet, according to the scribes who write and stick to the narrative, Thornton was darned lucky that Pavelski was there to pick up the slack.
Another constant in my game reviews was the brutal play of Brandon Yip. By the chances numbers Yip was the worst forward on the team and it wasn't close. In the comments of one of Gabe Desjardins' posts on the subject, an Avs fan mentioned that Yip was pressed into service in the top six because of injuries. There had to be better options on the team.
The other thing that sticks out is the terrible play of Darcy Tucker. Tucker spent 71% of his even strength time playing against San Jose's third and fourth lines and did not do well, a -12.55 chance differential per sixty is essentially a -22 at even strength over the course of a season -- against third and fourth level minutes.
The bright spot for the Avs, if you can call it that, was the play of Scott Hannan and Kyle Quincey. The pair spent 60% of their even strength time in this series matched against Joe Thornton and another 25% matched against Joe Pavelski. Even though 85% of their even strength time came against the Sharks' top two lines, they posted the best chances differential among all Colorado defenders. This is a real indictment of Colorado's other defenders, and the other two pairings had the luxury of taking on lesser minutes and were absolutely drilled in doing so, especially Adam Foote and Kyle Cumiskey.
There are some that take issue with the use of Corsi or advanced stats, and for them this series should be instructive. First the full team even strength stats:
Compare the chances differential per sixty to the Corsi per sixty or Fenwick per sixty. When someone says "Corsi is irrelevant" as many of Gabe Desjardins' commenters have done recently, they really have no idea what they're talking about. Corsi is a close estimation of zone time, or as everyone likes to say "puck possession". Scoring chances are generated through zone time, and goals come from scoring chances. In other words, when Corsi is spoken of as a measure of a player or team's effectiveness, there is math to back it up. Of course we have to look at those numbers in context, and when we don't we might say foolish things, but most people that use Corsi as a measuring stick use context. As we saw in this series, crazy things can happen in the short run -- goalies can get hot, bad teams can shoot 22%. But over time, the events that are mostly luck-driven, goals, regress. The events that aren't luck driven, also known as zone time and shot quantities, are more predictable and predictive. Even a single playoff series is much too small of a sample size to determine the above relationships, unless of course there is total domination, as we witnessed in this series.
Now look at the individual stats comparisons:
Ryan Stoa, Kevin Porter, Brett Clark, Marek Svatos, Milan Hejduk and Chris Durno didn't play nearly enough minutes for any of their ratios to be relevant. Even though the sample size is still small the rest of the team's numbers begin to converge. Hannan and Quincey have the best Fenwick and Corsi to match the best chances differential. Cumiskey and Yip are the worst by all measures.