Black Box: Week 7



In today’s NHL it’s normally wise to keep scoring down. The lower the scoring, the greater the chance for shoot-out or overtime, leading to a lot more so-called loser points (plus a roughly 50% chance of a further point)  In fact, if you could arrange to end every regulation game tied you’d earn at least 82 points, plus likely another 41 from what is effectively a statistical coin toss, giving you 123 points and the President’s trophy. All of sudden Guy Boucher’s trap makes a great deal of sense!

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Unfortunately the low-scoring natures of Flames games haven’t earned the expected results, as only a single one of their 18 games has gone into overtime. Compare that with their divisional rivals like the Colorado Avalanche (6) and the Minnesota Wild (7). If the Flames could have carried 6 more of their 9 losses into overtime and won half then the gap between 26th-place Calgary and 1st-place Minnesota would vanish.

Let’s open this week’s black box and see where those six losses could have been converted into extra frames.

Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6

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OZQoC Charts (explanation)

Interest in OZQoC charts has really been picking up lately, recent sightings include the Copper and Blue and the Seven Sens.  The reason it’s so popular is because you can tell with just a glance how the players are being used, something that appeals even to the most stats-aversed fans.

In the four games since he’s been back Mikael Backlund has no points and is -5, but we’d like to present evidence of his excellent play, and this is Exhibit A. Not even Curtis Glencross and Olli Jokinen don’t even seem to be facing tougher opponents than Mikael Backlund (although Qual Comp can be skewed by small samples), and only Roman Horak is ever-so-slightly getting stuck with defensive zone start assignments.

On the flip side, coach Brent Sutter has about as much confidence using T.J. Brodie, Anton Babchuk and Derek Smith in tough situations as I have in wearing the old under-hockey-gear t-shirt on my next date.

If I extended the graph far enough to the bottom and left it would eventually include Paul Byron and Pierre-Luc Leblond too.  The Flames are very much a four-defenseman team, you can even see how they rotate the other three when one of them takes a penalty.

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Even-Strength Scoring (explanation)

Your honour, allow me to present Exhibit B in Backlund’s defense: our even-strength scoring data, atop of which the young Swede sits. Despite the tough nature of the situations in which he plays, the Calgary Flames control the play, dominate the shot count and get the higher proportion of scoring chances when Backlund is on the ice. 

Forward        ESP/60 CEF CEA  CE% SCF SCA SC%   GF   GA    G%
Mikael Backlund  0.0   62  50 55.1% 25 15 62.9% 1.14 6.87  14.2%
David Moss       1.9   55  49 53.0% 11 14 43.3% 1.85 1.48  55.6%
Matt Stajan      1.2   55  51 52.1% 12 14 46.0% 2.07 2.89  41.7%
Tim Jackman      0.8   47  43 52.1%  8 11 41.3% 1.23 2.45  33.3%
Lee Stempniak    2.2   56  55 50.4% 18 16 52.4% 3.24 2.70  54.5%
Brendan Morrison 0.0   52  53 49.7% 15 16 49.1% 1.17 0.00 100.0%
Curtis Glencross 2.7   54  56 49.2% 15 13 53.3% 3.22 3.22  50.0%
Jarome Iginla    0.8   54  56 48.8% 16 16 49.0% 1.26 2.73  31.6%
Tom Kostopoulos  1.9   46  48 48.6% 10 10 49.0% 1.90 1.52  55.6%
Olli Jokinen     2.2   53  56 48.5% 14 15 48.8% 2.87 2.87  50.0%
Alex Tanguay     2.2   54  57 48.4% 19 16 53.8% 2.18 2.91  42.8%
Rene Bourque     1.1   46  55 45.9% 10 16 38.1% 2.36 2.62  47.4%
P-L. Leblond     0.0   46  58 43.9%  8 12 40.0% 4.16 0.00 100.0%
Roman Horak      2.3   37  56 40.0% 12 13 48.7% 2.94 1.31  69.2%
Paul Byron       3.0   30  66 31.3% 15 15 50.0% 5.98 0.00 100.0% 

The problem is once again like if I wore my old beer league t-shirt on my next date: I’d have no luck at all. The Flames are scoring on just 3.3% of their shots with Backlund on the ice, the lowest on the team (though still higher than my “scoring” rate) – and yet Kipper has stopped just 76.0% of the shots behind him. No wonder he’s -5!

Now take a look at Paul Byron, your honour. Not only does he start in the offensive zone against weak opponents, but the Flames are getting dominated when he’s on the ice. Move to strike!

In his brief time this season Byron’s been riding the percentages as hard as the percentages have been riding Backlund.  The Flames have scored on a whopping 23.5% of shots with Byron on the ice, while Kipper has stopped opponents like a buffet table stopping Dustin Byfuglien.

While we’re at it, this is the same reason why Roman Horak can’t be expected to continue to lead the Flames with a +5, and his 7 points in 16 games. The Flames are also dominated with Horak on the ice (although he often starts in his own zone, in his defense), and his success is by virtue of a 15.0% on-ice shooting percentage, and a .951 save percentage. 

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A PDO (the sum of the two, named after its creator) of 1101 is not sustainable, it tends to regress to 1000 over time, at which point everyone will unfairly accuse Horak of being an inconsistent European who is clutching his stick too hard and doesn’t have heart. Everyone except those who have been looking inside the Black Box, that is.

If I was asked to name Calgary’s most pleasant surprise instead of Horak I’d choose Chris Butler. Given his usage in Buffalo I didn’t expect him to be able to step up and replace Robyn Regehr on the top line and keep up with top opposing lines. Clearly I was as wrong as the time I actually did wear that old shirt on a date.

Defense        ESP/60 CEF CEA  CE% SCF SCA SC%   GF   GA    G%
Chris Butler     0.4   54  49 52.1% 16 16 51.2% 2.56 2.56  50.0%
Derek Smith      0.4   52  48 51.9% 11 11 50.0% 1.76 1.41  55.5%
Jay Bouwmeester  0.7   54  51 51.5% 15 16 49.1% 2.51 2.51  50.0%
Cory Sarich      0.4   49  51 48.8% 12  9 55.9% 1.81 1.81  50.0%
Mark Giordano    0.6   49  59 45.6% 13 15 46.1% 2.22 2.42  47.8%
T.J. Brodie      1.2   43  54 44.5% 18 14 55.6% 3.58 1.19  75.1%
Scott Hannan     1.0   46  59 43.9% 13 15 46.3% 2.45 2.04  54.6%
Anton Babchuk    1.4   46  64 41.8% 10 17 36.8% 2.07 2.07  50.0%

It’s disappointing to see how much T. J. Brodie and Anton Babchuk are struggling despite the fluffiness of their assignments, but at least Derek Smith is making the most of it. It’s also been disappointing to see Mark Giordano and Scott Hannan sink further and further underwater despite Chris Butler and Jay Bouwmeester taking on the tougher time. While we’re talking about disappointments, let’s take that nice segue into Calgary’s power play.

Special teams (explanation)

The Calgary Flames are currently 28th with a power play as putrid as the Superstore yogourt I inadvisably bought at 50% off a month ago (there’s a reason those are marked down, folks). 

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While some fans may be puzzled by their drop to just 12.5% (and by my aforementioned purchase), but it comes as no surprise to anyone that’s been looking inside the Black Box every week.  They simply have not been taking enough shots.  This hasn’t been bad luck, it’s been bad performance.

Player              TOI/GP PTS/60 CE/60
T.J. Brodie          0.6     0.0   96.7
Anton Babchuk        2.2     3.4   94.7
Jay Bouwmeester      2.2     3.0   91.0
David Moss           1.3     0.0   88.7
Chris Butler         0.6     5.9   88.0
Roman Horak          1.2     0.0   80.0
Derek Smith          0.7     0.0   79.6
Mikael Backlund      2.3     0.0   79.4
Lee Stempniak        1.8     0.0   78.9
Olli Jokinen         3.1     3.2   78.6
Brendan Morrison     1.2     0.0   77.5
Jarome Iginla        3.4     4.9   74.6
Tim Jackman          0.8     0.0   73.5
Rene Bourque         3.0     2.2   71.0
Curtis Glencross     2.2     3.3   70.6
Mark Giordano        3.6     2.8   66.5
Alex Tanguay         3.5     3.8   62.2

Get Alex Tanguay off the point, and use Anton Babchuk and Jay Bouwmeester, and give guys like David Moss, Mikael Backlund and Lee Stempniak more of a try.

We’ve been looking at developing a new statistic called Quality Power Plays – which would be awarded to any 5-on-4 situation where at least four shots were attempted – but until then count along as you watch. Count any attempted shot whether it reaches the goalie or not, that includes blocked shots, goal posts, those deflected wide and those that missed the net entirely (we call those “Phaneufs”).  If they get four, don’t despair. I really rather wish that rhymed.

The same principle applies when killing penalties, but unfortunately even the best Flames penalty killers like Jay Bouwmeester are allowing almost four shots per two minutes.

Player           TOI/GP CE/60
Jay Bouwmeester   2.9   112.7
Scott Hannan      2.5   103.1
Mark Giordano     2.4    97.0
Chris Butler      2.3    99.8
Curtis Glencross  2.1    94.3
Lee Stempniak     1.7    96.8
Rene Bourque      1.7   100.3
David Moss        1.5   143.1
Tom Kostopoulos   1.4   110.9
Mikael Backlund   1.1    94.7
Brendan Morrison  0.8    84.6
Matt Stajan       0.8   149.3
Roman Horak       0.6   111.9
Cory Sarich       0.6   180.8

Lee Stempniak got a bit more time this week, and Mikael Backlund’s return (Exhibit C) should help reduce their reliance on those who are struggling the most short-handed, like Rene Bourque and David Moss.  On that note, let’s wrap this up with the goaltending.

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Goaltending (explanation)

You can’t ask much more of a goalie than to deliver Quality Starts 60% of the time, as Miikka Kiprusoff has done. He’s stopped 93% of the shots at even-strength, and it’s a shame that his solid start to the season couldn’t have resulted in more points. 

Goalie           GS QS  QS%  ESSV%
Miikka Kiprusoff 15  9 60.0%  .930
Henrik Karlsson   3  1 33.3%  .909

On the bright side you can expect Miikka Kiprusoff’s solid performance to continue for as long as the team isn’t generating enough offense for it to matter.

And that’s how it looks after seven weeks, thanks in advance to all my reader(s) for their kind words and comments!

  • All caveats of a small sample apply to Backlund’s number so far (good and bad), but his underlying numbers are really encouraging. Igina’s scoring chance differentials have improved since Backlund came aboard too.

  • OilFan

    I am somewhat overwhelmed by the data and am not 100% sure I understand it but it seems that Stempniak is doing well by the metrics. He has impressed me by his effort overall. Bourque’s numbers are disappointing but hopefully the Hrudey comments kicks him in the butt to up his game.

    • Thanks for reading and taking the time to figure it out and leave a comment Flipnip.

      I sympathize – I know how overwhelming it can look, but your strategy of finding a couple of things that stick out is a sound one. Keep reading from week to week, picking out a little more each time, and you’ll be talking like Kent Wilson in no time.

      You’re right about Stempniak – the Flames are most likely to get a shot, a scoring chance and a goal with Stempniak on the ice, which is why his personal scoring rate is 2nd only to Glencross.

      He’s also been one of the more effective players both killing penalties and playing with the man advantage – he’s definitely a do-it-all player.

      The only caveat is that he’s 8th in Quality of Competition among forwards (check the graph), meaning that he’s mostly playing 3rd lines, on average, so his success is partly to be expected.

      As for Bourque, there’s absolutely no question that he’s really struggling this year.

      • Thanks Robert, that puts Stempniak in perspective for me.

        The numbers on Backlund got me thinking about last year where he was used a lot with Jackman and Kostopolous. Looking at J & K with Stajan, they don’t look to be as dominant as last year where they seemed to be creating opportunities more often than not. I have to wonder if Jackman had such a good last year because he was playing with Backlund? While I don’t think that J and K have been horrible this year, they have been nothing worth writing home about.

        • Last season, Jackman’s corsi% was ~56%, this season so far it has been ~52%. A less than 10% change.

          A bigger change? His on-ice shooting percentage last season was 6.57% and this season it is 5.08%, a 22.6% change. That would keep in mind that the SF/60 while Jackman is on the ice this season is 23.0. His personal shooting percentage has gone from 7.6% to, umm, zero. If he shot this season at the same rate he did last season he would already have 1 or 2 goals and we probably wouldn’t be discussing this.

  • Nice to see Butler coming around and as he gets more games under his belt with the Flames it seems it’s not entirely JayBo carrying him either.

    Tanguay on the point is just frustrating. Can someone hand deliver those PP stats to Brent, please? I’m assuming he doesn’t email.

  • Super_Gio


    You will remember we discussed earlier in the season the possibility of Coach Sutter’s usage of his “top” line vis-a-vis zone starts, matchups etc. With Backlund back, I wanted to dig back back into that question and see what the usage has been of the Backlund-Iginla-Tanguay (BIT) line over the past 4 games and the results, basically by corsi. Here is what I came up with. (Numbers via which is conspiring to ruin my life)

    Game 20227, Chicago November 11, 2011

    Backlund: ZS%-40% Corsi- 0 (even)
    Iginla: ZS%-33% Corsi- -4 (44%)
    Tanguay: ZS%-40% Corsi- -9 (40%)
    Team: ZS%-37% Corsi- -13 (43%)
    Key Matchup for BIT line: Toews-Stalberg-Hossa + Keith-Seabrook (10-13 minutes of the 14-16 ES TOI for BIT)

    Synopsis: BIT were matched up against the 1st line of the Blackhawks (2nd line was Sharp-Kane-Carcillo, seriously?) Got proportionate ZS to the rest of the team and the results were about even with Backlund on, which was a little better than the rest of the team. The -9 corsi on Tanguay appears to have come at the back end of shifts where he came on with Bourque and Jokinen.

    Game 20237, Colorado November 12, 2011

    Backlund: ZS%-67% Corsi- 1 (52%)
    Iginla: ZS%-71% Corsi- -1 (48%)
    Tanguay: ZS% 67% Corsi- even
    Team: ZS% 71% Corsi- -17 (38%)
    Key Matchup for BIT line: Winnick-O’Reilly-Landeskog (about half of BIT’s ES TOI)

    Synopsis: Calgary got up early and then held on for the win, leading to the lopsided corsi. I can’t remember if BIT were killing it early and came back to earth, but compared to the rest of the team their corsi is solid, but given the level of competition, it should have been. Zone starts for this line same as other lines.

    Game 20255, Ottawa November 15, 2011

    Backlund: ZS%-29% Corsi- (even)
    Iginla: ZS%-40% Corsi- -4 (43%)
    Tanguay: ZS%-40% Corsi (even)
    Team: ZS%-42% Corsi -3 (48%)
    Key Matchup for BIT line: Foligno-Alfredsson and assorted others.

    Synopsis: Zone start is about the same as the other lines. I can’t tell who was working the matchup here, but it seems to me that the Ottawa top line would have been Spezza-Michalek-Greening who matched with the Jokinen line.

    Game 20273, Chicago November 18, 2011
    Backlund: ZS%-20% Corsi- 4 (58%)
    Iginla: ZS%-17% Corsi- 3 (55%)
    Tanguay: ZS%-17% Corsi- 4 (57%)
    Team: ZS%-34% Corsi- -6 (47%)
    Key Matchup for BIT line: Sharp-Carcillo-Kane ((9-10 of their ES minutes) + Hjalmarsson-Leddy (7 or so of their ES minutes)

    Synopsis: BIT gets second competition and beats them up badly. I interpret the ZS differential from the team as essentially this line ending their shifts after possession in the OZ, and other lines giving it back so they had to start in the DZ and/or Chicago’s 2nd line starting in Clagary’s end and Calgary line matching BIT against them.

    Conclusions: Sutter is not really giving BIT high ground by way of zone start, but he also is not burying them. The best we can say is they are getting zone starts in accordance with the team’s results. The only exception is the last Chicago game and I have explained how I think that happened.

    Sutter is not necessarily feeding BIT to top comp. The lone exception was the Chicago game in Chicago where I suspect Quenville hard matched Toews et al. and Sutter tried to ride it out, to predictably uneven consequences.

    Based on this, I would say that Sutter sees about what we see, but he still feels the need to get Iginla out there for his 14 to 16 ES TOI per game. If the results don’t start to match expectations, he may have to curtail these minutes. The problem with that is that no other Flame has shown that they are a better option, unless you think Lee Stempniak can pick up those minutes.

    • In this I’d say Brent’s coaching is conventional. Working to give guys high ZS ratios is rare and difficult for a couple of reasons – teams don’t necessarily have the personnel for it and it takes some aggressive bench management to do it, especially if you still want to get your scorers lots of ice.

      One thing I’d like to see more of is creativity though. For example, I think it was in the CHI game where Sutter had the Flames 4th out for an o-zone draw. Q countered with his 4th line. As soon as the puck got near the red line, though, Q switched them off for a scoring line.

      Also, there is literally zero reason an icing call by the other team should be followed by a shift by the Flames 4th line. That should just never happen, but I still see it now and then and Sutter made a habit out of it in his first season here.

      An icing call (particularly when the other line is tired) is like being given a mini power play. It should be treated as such.

      Thanks for all the work putting those numbers together BTW.

      • Conventional sounds like a kind way of saying “Boring, occassionally fatally so.”

        I think you are correct in the assessment of the ZS leveraging being difficult. I also don’t think it is nearly as important as match-ups.

        Here is how I think of it. Jarome is about an even ZS player so far this season (75 OZ, 78 DZ). In 18 GP he has taken 4.17 OZ draws per game and 4.33 DZ draws per game. If you assume the NEU draws stay the same, to get to Sedin levels he would need to be at 75% OZ draws. Assuming he was also on the ice for the same number of draws in either OZ or DZ per game, that would be 6.38 OZ draws and 2.13 DZ draws per game. Basically, you are looking at shifting 2 shifts per game starting in the DZ to the OZ. If you assume 50% FO win percentage, that is one of the Gabe’s little scramble situations you have created and one little scramble you have avoided – by moving from 50% to 75% ZS. As you pointed out, you have to work hard to get there.

        Take, on the other hand, match-ups. Say you get Iginla or BIT out on the ice for even 2 or 3 shifts against 3rd or 4th liners. I suspect that you would get a lot more mileage out of those 2 shifts than 2 OZ starts, the qualcomp being otherwise equal.

        This could result in a couple of shifts going back the other way in similar scenarios at your end, but that is what Bouwmeester, Giordano and Kiprusoff are paid the big bucks to help with.

  • Section205

    1. PP shot attempts per 60 is so brutal. Tanguay at the point is killing me. SHOOOOT!!

    2. I think we should be looking at 3rd and 4th lines to provide more offensive zone start opportunities for the Iginla-Tanguay-Backlund line. Our depth on 3rd and 4th lines should be outplaying opposition’s 3rd and 4th lines and finish more shifts in the offensive zone. Mind you, our depth was compromised by sitting (then waiving) Hagman, sitting Stajan, losing Morrison and Backlund to injuries, and playing Byron, Horak, Leblond. We should have been playing Hagman and Stajan every game against weaker competition in order to setup higher OZ% for Iggy and Tanguay.

    • Great analysis Section205.

      I was expecting Sutter to make a tough line out of Jokinen/Stempniak/Glencross to open up the ice for Iginla/Tanguay/Backlund which, coupled with 3rd/4th lines that can dominate opponents, ought to have really opened up their scoring. That’s what most NHL coaches would do, methinks.

      But I guess it was not to be.

      P.S. SHOOOOTT!!

  • Great question Filpnip and great answer Tach.

    My take? Jackman’s job is to keep the ice quiet while the real NHLers rest. In that sense he did his job last year, and is doing his job this year.

    Against no one else are opponents less likely to attempt a shot, get a scoring chance (*except Tom Kostpoulos) and only by virtue of good luck are they actually scoring against him.

    Of course I’m more impressed by David Moss, who is playing against legitimate NHLers, and keeping opposition scoring down. He may be getting murdered when killing penalties, but even subjectively you can see that he’s shutting them down at even-strength.