The Montreal Canadiens Really Are the Underdogs. But….

I find it fascinating how winning changes people’s perceptions of a team’s actual strengths. Take the 2014-15 Montreal Canadiens, for instance. They won 50 games, the Atlantic Division title, and a first-round series. And somehow, it gets forgotten that they have been, at least over the long haul, not very good as a team.

You’d think they were good, looking at their roster. They should be good. And yet, there is virtually no measure by which the Montreal Canadiens are actually a better team than the Tampa Bay Lightning. In every single measure of process, they are worse. [All data and graphs are from War On Ice and are 5v5 Score-Adjusted, including playoffs.]

They are worse in possession…


whether you look at their possession for

MTL vs TB CF60

or possession against.

MTL vs TB CA60

They are worse at scoring chances,


–again, whether for


or against.


They are worse at scoring, whether you look at goal differential

MTL vs TB GDiff

or shooting percentage.

MTL vs TB SH% for

So how did the Canadiens get where they are? Carey Price. The one area where the Canadiens have been better than the Lightning is in goal.


But then, they’ve been better than everyone in goal.

The Canadiens got where they are on percentages.


They rode Carey Price’s banner season and got enough scoring between December and January to make up for their terrible possession. They rode Carey Price in the playoffs the same way. There is simply no measure except goaltending by which the Canadiens are not a worse team than the Tampa Bay Lightning. None.

The thing is that none of this season-long stuff — no 82-game measurement — is predictive of any seven game series. The Canadiens are the underdogs, but they’ve got Carey Price, and a few days of rest on their side. And as they showed last year, they are quite capable of stopping the Lightning in the neutral zone and preventing Tampa Bay from using its speed and skill.

It’s the playoffs. Anything can happen. Underdogs usually lose, but not always. And goaltending is an extraordinary equalizer in a seven-game series.

But home ice doesn’t make the Habs a better team than the Lightning.

CWHL/NWHL: Competition is Good, War is not

Not even a month ago, on March 26, a new women’s professional hockey league was announced: the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL). The arrival of this new, US-based league had sparked intense interest and discussion among women’s hockey fans. It has also sparked anxiety and hostility in some quarters. While the former is positive, the latter is not.

Continue reading

Adjusting for Shot Quality: Gudlevskis and the Syracuse Crunch, Pt. II

Last time I looked briefly at some elements of shot quality and their effect on Kristers Gudlevskis’s statistics. I used Steve Valiquette’s Red/Green shot criteria as a baseline, though I did add my own twist to it. Rather than repeat all of that again, I’ll recommend that if you’re unfamiliar or need a refresher you take a moment to look that over as the following is based on concepts explained there.

In the meantime, I have added three more games from the early part of the Crunch’s season and Steve Valiquette has also added a few more tidbits of trends at the NHL level that help give context to the numbers I’ve uncovered for the Crunch.Two of these games were Gudlevskis’s games. One was Andrei Vasilevskiy’s. This gives me a sample that is mostly concerned with the kinds of shots seen by Gudlevskis. Continue reading

The Nashville Predators and On the Forecheck are Wrong on Mike Ribeiro

I haven’t commented publicly about the whole Mike Ribeiro thing. That has been for a number of reasons, but my silence has been an uncomfortable one. It’s over now.

I firmly believe that the Nashville Predators are within their rights to suspend a player while they investigate whether he committed a heinous act. As more than one person has noted, it would not be some great miscarriage of justice. They are a private enterprise and he is an employee with a high public profile. I firmly believe that it is—or used to be—within their character to understand that higher principles come first.

As a Predators fan and a survivor of domestic violence and rape, I am angry and ashamed to have Mike Ribeiro on the active roster. It’s a betrayal, a punch in my face and I’ve had quite enough of those to last a lifetime. The Predators care more about him than about me.

And it is a betrayal for the writers at On the Forecheck to have acted the way they have towards those who have critiqued their position. I am angry and ashamed over this as well. On the Forecheck has shown more interest in their damaged pride than in justice.

I don’t think the staff members there (or Dirk Hoag, for that matter) are malicious when it comes to these issues. Or at least I don’t think that they started out as malicious. By now, this has gone beyond its initial forms.

Instead they are entrenched in a system that rewards them in ways they are unable to relinquish. They are rewarded for being white, male, heterosexual, middle class, educated, and “clean cut.”  They are what the system is designed to foster.

It is no surprise that even while acknowledging that the justice system is horribly, terribly broken, these men turn to it for sense and comfort. To do otherwise would be to admit to themselves that they’ve been participating in and benefitting from constant and never-redressed injustice against the most vulnerable. It would necessitate understanding their own guilt.

It would turn the entire world upside down.

The system that they claim should be left alone to produce justice will never produce justice. It is incapable of justice. It punishes victims for being abused. This is a system that gives zero protection to victims and massive protections to abusers. It is a system that has allowed TENS OF THOUSANDS of rape kits to go untested. TENS OF THOUSANDS  of victims, mostly poor women and children of color, who have been told by this very system to fuck off.

This is a system that equates a man’s reputation with justice but not a woman’s safety. It is a system that bends over backwards not to inconvenience those accused, not to believe their accusers, not to hear the testimony or see the reality of abuse. It is a system that didn’t believe Ray Rice when he said he hit his wife until they actually saw him hit his wife.

Someone said to me that it would be unfair to Mike Ribeiro to damage his reputation because he might be innocent. I still don’t think that person understands the implication of that position. It requires preferring the virtual certainty of major injustice against a young woman in order to avoid inconveniencing a prominent man. It’s not a position any sane person would take in regards to any investigation that didn’t involve sexual or gendered violence.

“Thank you for reporting this theft. We will investigate this matter as fully as possible as long as no one in the general public finds out about our investigation. Once someone starts gossiping, though, we’ll have to stop because they might be innocent.”

Is this the ideal of justice we’re pursuing?

For any other species of wrongdoing we are willing to accept the necessary pains of investigation. For domestic and sexual violence, we demand that a man’s prospects never be diminished no matter the cost to the accuser, society, or the concept of justice.

This system will remain profoundly broken until we are willing to accept that fixing the system means not doing things the way we’ve always done them. It will mean accepting that those accused of domestic and sexual violence will have to undergo the same treatment as those accused of other kinds of wrongdoing. It will mean facing up to this case—this one right here in front of us right now.

And Dirk Hoag, the staff at On the Forecheck, and most importantly the Nashville Predators and the National Hockey League have all shown themselves completely unwilling to do that.

Kristers Gudlevskis, the Syracuse Crunch, and Shot Quality

When the Tampa Bay Lightning assigned Kristers Gudlevskis to the Syracuse Crunch this past September, it was with the intention that he work on his consistency from game to game. They wanted him to learn how to be good even when he was not at his personal best.

There’s another caveat here, however, and that is that Gudlevskis has to learn how to be good even when the team in front of him is playing at their worst. The particular mix of chances that the Syracuse Crunch are allowing does affect Gudlevskis’s overall save percentage and Gudlevskis’s particular vulnerabilities are reinforcing that. Thus, when defense is good, goaltending is good and when defense falters, goaltending falters. Continue reading

Just Give Pekka Rinne the Vezina Already

You could be forgiven for doubting. It wasn’t at all clear whether Pekka Rinne would be able to return to the form that had garnered him two Vezina nominations. A lingering hip problem in 2012-13 that probably led him to put up his lowest save percentage in five years. Surgery, followed by post-surgical complications followed by even worse performance in March and into April. And he turned 32 this November. Everyone had questions.

Thankfully for Predators fans—not to mention goalie fans—Rinne is showing that he’s still one of the very best in the league. He may even be playing better than he was before.

It began to show in the World Championships in May, when Rinne’s performance dragged an otherwise mediocre Finnish team to the silver medal.


It has continued through the season, where Rinne has been at the top of the leaderboard in save percentage, goals against, and wins throughout from the beginning. His only real competition this season has been Carey Price. And that’s a tight race. My colleague Paul Campbell (@Paul_G_Campbell) has made the case for Price, but let’s be honest, we haven’t seen a Vezina race this close in a long time.

As of Feb 18, Rinne holds a very slight lead over Price in 5v5 save percentage (via War-On-Ice): Rinne’s .9456 is barely better than Price’s .9425. Rinne is second to Price (again, just barely—.9455 to .9433) in Adjusted Save Percentage (goalies with 750+ 5v5 minutes). Rinne has been very slightly better at stopping pucks in the high and medium danger zones. Price has been better at stopping them in the low danger zone. [Note that whenever possible, stats cited here are through Feb. 18, so that Paul and I are using the same set of data.]

They are first and second in Fenwick and Corsi Save Percentage. Rinne gets 1.11 minutes per shot attempt; Price gets 1.04 minutes. Both are outperforming their Opponents’ On-Ice Goals For/60, Rinne by 0.69 goals per 60 minutes at 5v5 and Price by 0.60. Rinne’s .773 Quality Start rate puts him solidly above his competition. Price’s .652 is sixth among goalies with more than 20 games. They are first and second in GSAA (Goals Saved Above Average), with Price leading there.

In short, going by the numbers, Price and Rinne are currently neck and neck. The differences in most of these numbers are negligible. Which one is ahead in any of the categories changes from day to day. Only the quality start rate and GSAA show much differentiation. This indicates that while Rinne has been more consistent, Price has been behind a worse team.

And that consistency is remarkable. Rinne has simply been dominating all season and has never dropped below .935 in four months. It took Price half a season to catch up.

Rinne v Price over time 201415

The next 20 games will be telling, but I don’t expect to see significant separation in these numbers develop. There simply isn’t enough time left in the season to overcome what has happened so far. It would take a complete collapse by one of the two to really make a winner clear by the numbers. Thus it will almost certainly come down to other factors.

At 32 years old, with a new goalie coach, Rinne has been refining his technical game. He’s playing a bit deeper and a lot calmer, so much so that he makes the whole business look simple. And he’s done this without losing that trademark reactivity. Adding structure without losing creativity. It has been a joy to watch.


Rinne tracks the puck better than almost everyone else. He catches the puck better than anyone else. Positioning, footwork. It’s all there. Night after night, Rinne puts it all together and makes magic happen.

And consider this: Pekka Rinne is more than keeping up with a man 5 years his junior who plays more conservatively. He has been and remains the guy to beat. It’s a remarkable feat for the big Finn. Take the play of teammates out of the equation. This isn’t an award for being the best player on the team. This is an award for goaltending. Unlike Price, Pekka Rinne has been astonishing from day one and hasn’t slowed down yet.

This is his year.

How the Lightning can Be Good at Possession and STILL Mess up their Goalies’ Stats

I was having a great discussion with Kyle Alexander and Dan Stewart on twitter today. Kyle was talking about a comment by the coaches of the Tampa Bay Lightning that cited Goals Against per Game as evidence of the team’s defensive troubles. His point was that the team was by other measures much better defensively.

Because everything’s really about goaltending if you try hard enough, I happily hijacked Kyle’s point and we started talking about how the defense affected Bishop instead of talking about how Bishop was affecting the defense. Hahahah. See what I did there? Continue reading

The Value of Failure

“If you spend your life only learning from survivors, buying books about successful people and poring over the history of companies that shook the planet, your knowledge of the world will be strongly biased and enormously incomplete. As best I can tell, here is the trick: When looking for advice, you should look for what not to do, for what is missing as Phil Plait suggested, but don’t expect to find it among the quotes and biographical records of people whose signals rose above the noise. They may have no idea how or if they lucked up. What you can’t see, and what they can’t see, is that the successful tend to make it more probable that unlikely events will happen to them while trying to steer themselves into the positive side of randomness. They stick with it, remaining open to better opportunities that may require abandoning their current paths, and that’s something you can start doing right now without reading a single self-help proverb, maxim, or aphorism. Also, keep in mind that those who fail rarely get paid for advice on how not to fail, which is too bad because despite how it may seem, success boils down to serially avoiding catastrophic failure while routinely absorbing manageable damage.”

–David McRaney, You Are Not So Smart: Survivorship Bias [emphasis added]

I’ve been playing with the ideas from this passage for more than a year now and I’m still not sure how to get a handle on it, at least as far as hockey analysis is concerned.

We do tend to focus almost exclusively on success in our analysis. It is, in fact, a core principle to do so. Remove anyone from your analysis who hasn’t seen enough success, who doesn’t have enough time.

By doing so, unfortunately, we prevent ourselves from seeing the things the successful and the unsuccessful have in common. Which means we’re assuming that the things that all successful players have in common are things that unsuccessful players do not share, when we don’t know that. We can’t see what kinds of failure are manageable and what kinds are catastrophic. Which means we may be missing out on some very important information.

The problem is that there’s an important reason why we do it that way. Randomness has a huge effect on the measures of process we use for hockey, so we have to somehow escape that somehow. The most straightforward way to do that is to have ice time/shots faced minimums. I’m not sure how to do it any other way, but I am concerned, from working with goaltending career data of all stripes, that the method hides a lot of players from view. And a lot of what those players do—at least as far as we’re able to see it right now—is very similar to what successful players do.

How, then, do we make visible the difference between success and failure? I have to admit that I don’t have a good answer to this question. But I do wonder how much the invisibility of failure has affected our answers to important questions about what hockey teams ought to do to have success.

A Message to Sam Fels and the Committed Indian: It’s not okay

I attempted to send Sam Fels this through The Committed Indian’s “contact us” page, but kept getting failure messages. I decided to just do it this way instead, because I keep having the same discussion over and over and it’s very frustrating.

There’s a lot of messages by now on your post about the name of the magazine. Thank you for opening this up to discussion; it’s a discussion that needs to happen.

At this point, however, I fear that some important messages are going to get lost in the noise that’s going on there. And there’s a lot of misinformation being spouted about where Native people stand on this issue. Continue reading