Postseason Thoughts: Isles 2, Caps 1 – Score and Playoff Effects in this series.

Sorry for the long absence from this blog.  I’ll be adding short posts hopefully throughout the playoffs.

A pretty basic hockey analytics concept is that of “Score Effects.”  Basically, when teams go up, they start playing more defensively and pull back, resulting in less offensive presence as the team focuses on holding a lead.  Incidentally, this results in more shots against than playing normally (although the idea is that in theory, you allow worse off shots*).  And teams that are losing naturally take more shots as a result (and as a result of them being more desperate).

*Some work I’ve done suggests this doesn’t actually work.

None of score effects is particularly surprising to any hockey fan – especially Islanders fans, who have seen the team sit back on third period leads constantly this season (and past seasons).

The Capitals exhibit this score effect pattern as well, although their pattern is pretty….well extreme:

The above graph shows the Capitals’ shots for and against in different score situations, courtesy of Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath on twitter).  The Caps are better than average by a little bit when the score is tied or within 1 goal (or up 2 goals), but during these situations, their numbers are pretty normal.

But when the Caps are down 2, they go INSANE.  The average team takes around 5 more shots per 60 minutes when down 2 than when tied – the Caps instead take nearly 15! more shots per 60.

So why does this matter?  Well Arik Parnass (@arikparnass on twitter) suggested in a Hockey Prospectus article recently (and his presentation at the DC Hockey Analytics Convention) that these effects also are felt in the playoffs based upon a team’s standing in a series – if a team is down in games, they act closer to if they’re down a goal in a hockey game and take more shots and if they’re up, they do the reverse.

I wonder if the Caps-Isles series has been a prime example of that – the Isles have dominated both games where the series was tied (games 1 and game 3), but were dominated themselves the game in which they had a 1-0 series lead (don’t let the score confuse you, that game was dominated by Washington).  And Washington is normally extremely affected by being down – is that why they were such a better team in game 2?

Well game 4 puts the Caps back in that situation.  If this is the case, the Isles better be ready, as a much better Caps team is about to come out of the gate.

Midseason Individual Islander Review: Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk

Nick Leddy

Leddy WOWYs

The chart above really tells the story with Nick Leddy. That’s a WOWY chart – with or without you – showing how each players’ possession #s (corsi) are affected by playing with Leddy on the ice. And as should be immediately apparent: EVERYONE is MASSIVELY improved by playing with Leddy. This pattern holds true whether or not Johnny Boychuk is on leddy’s right side, although Boychuk has been the best D Partner for Leddy this year. The end result is that whatever metric you choose: whether it be simple possession metrics such as corsi or fenwick, or context-adjusted regression based measures such as Steve Burtch’s dCorsi or Domenic Galamini’s usage-adjusted corsi, Leddy has been the best Isles’ D man at driving play and one of the best in the ENTIRE NHL.

And Nick Leddy is only TWENTY THREE. He’s younger than fellow “kids” Anders Lee and Matt Donovan and the same age as Brock Nelson and Calvin de Haan. Hockey players tend to peak earlier than most people think, around age 25, and Leddy ISN’T EVEN THERE YET. It’s possible he could get even better. And if he doesn’t, well, this is a pretty amazing place he’s at already.

Leddy is an RFA after this year, coming off his second contract already somehow – victim of the Hawks being cheap and going for a bridge contract instead of a long term one after his ELC. So he’s going to get paid and paid long term. Fortunately, RFAs don’t get offer sheets, so the odds of the Isles’ losing him is null. The only hope here is that the contract is for a long time – 7 years or the max 8 would be fitting for him – you hang on to elite D-Men, and Leddy has been one this year.

*For More info about why Leddy is great, check out my 34 game neutral zone data recap at Lighthouse Hockey HERE:  http://www.lighthousehockey.com/2014/12/26/7449417/new-york-islanders-neutral-zone-analysis-2014-34-games  .You’ll note Leddy is the Isles’ best neutral zone D Man, an elite puck-carrier through the neutral zone and excellent at defending entries as well.

Johnny Boychuk

It’s a bit harder to statistically evaluate Johnny Boychuk than Leddy – Leddy has played a good number of games without Boychuk as his D-partner due to injury, so we have a way of seeing how well Leddy has played without Boychuk’s assistance. The reverse is not true: Boychuk has played 558 minutes at 5-on-5 this year, and only 59 of them have been without Leddy alongside him (10.5%) – so pay no attention to Boychuk’s poor #s without Leddy on the chart above, they’re a pretty small sample. So while we know Leddy is still clearly the Isles best D man without Boychuk (excluding Boychuk himself), we can’t tell how much of Boychuk’s also excellent possession numbers are just the benefit of playing on Leddy’s right side. He certainly LOOKS good, but statistically it’s hard to tell.

Individually, Boychuk’s offensive output really isn’t that spectacular, despite his hot start – so basically when we said that the Isles weren’t getting a great offensive D man in Boychuk, that appears to be true. Boychuk is 3rd amongst the D in points per 60 at 5-on-5, and his power play #s aren’t really that spectacular honestly (and the on-ice #s on the PP basically have him equivalent to Leddy and Lubo in that regard). That said, Leddy does have his best numbers with Boychuk than without and Boychuk certainly isn’t harming that pair.

And Boychuk, unlike Leddy, isnt young. He’s 31 years old, well past his prime at this point and only getting further away. He’s unlikely to develop much further and is likely to decline over the next few years.

So where do you go from here with Boychuk? The Isles have expressed interest in an extension naturally, but strip away his great reputation and how he physically looks, is it worth it? That’s a tough question. You’re essentially paying for maintaining the status quo of the Leddy-Boychuk pairing, which is certainly worth it if it can continue. But Boychuk himself should get worse over the next few years, and almost certainly will be not living up to his next deal 4-5 years down the line, (and he’s almost certain to get 5+ years).

If you could get a Cody Franson, who’s a younger player with clear possession driving skills and offensive talent for cheaper, I’d prefer that of course. Still, there’s something to be said about a bird in the hand – barring an unlikely trade for a guy like Franson (arguably better than Boychuk) or Jeff Petry (who’s closer to Boychuk in statistical profile albeit without the same reputation) – the ability to negotiate with Boychuk NOW without any other suitors is very appealing. If this sounds wishy-washy, it is. Overpaying for the status quo is hard to stomach, especially when you know itll get worse. But the status quo is really really good…(this is why, contrary to what would happen, I’d try and get Leddy’s deal done first, but the opposite will happen).

Announcing Midseason Individual Islander Reviews!

Since we’re now over halfway through the season, I’m going to start doing quick reviews of the players who have played for the Islanders in meaningful minutes this season (sorry Matt Carkner). The goal of these reviews is to look at the fancystats of each Isles’ player, as well as the conventional metrics when appropriate, to see who has been doing well, where each player can improve if at all, and what should these players’ futures be on the Isles for years to come.

For expediency, we’re going to do this line by line and pair by pair, rather than focusing upon each individual.

Don’t Panic Part 2: It’s still not really time to worry about the goaltending.

The Islanders blew a 3-0 lead to Buffalo last night.  Let’s be clear about this – the Isles lost because of goaltending.  Yes, two of the three shots were scoring chances, but a good goalie has to make at least one of those saves and the Sabres actually had more of those chances in the first period – they just couldn’t get by Poulin (Moulson had 2 of those alone, naturally). And of course, the Girgenson shorty was awful.  The Isles outplayed the Sabres that period, but Enroth and Poulin made it look the reverse.

That said, it’s really still not time to worry about the goaltending.  The Isles, after a meh first period, outplayed the Sabres as you would expect the final two periods, resulting in significant outshooting despite multiple Sabres power plays.  If you play like that, you can get slightly inferior goaltending and still win a lot of games.

Now most opponents aren’t the Sabres, so it’ll be hard to do that vs everyone, but the Isles have managed to do so anyhow.  And to be honest, even a Poulin/Johnson tandem probably isn’t going to give you horrible horrible goaltending.

No, I’m not kidding with that statement.  Poulin looked bad yesterday, but he was stupidly playing the day after playing in the AHL, which means he was not only Kevin Poulin in the NHL, but Kevin Poulin with a .010 or more penalty to his SV% – a huge drop not indicative of his talent.  My Marcel projection system last offseason had Poulin projected as a .905 goalie – that’s a bad goalie, but allowing one more goal per 100 shots than an average goalie isn’t going to kill the Isles every game (it’ll hurt once every 3 or 4).  And Johnson is a career .913 goalie – applying Marcel principles and remembering his AHL #s, he’s probably also around the .905-.907 range.

These are bad numbers, but they aren’t epicly bad.  And if you allow 27.8 Shots against per game (5th best in the league!) it won’t burn you that often, and this O can easily make up for it.

And then of course odds are Halak isn’t out long term given he was skating yesterday.  So yeah, it’s really not time to worry about the goaltending, and again, STOP PANICKING.

Neutral Zone Analysis: 2014-2015 Season: Game 34 vs Montreal

G34

This game was a tale of 3 stretches, which the #s above don’t make clear. In the first period, the Islanders were close to dominant in the neutral zone – entries were 23-17 Isles, but the Habs only had one carry-in to the Isles 9. By the 10 minute mark of the second period however, not only were the Islanders now trailing, but the Habs had nearly evened the neutral zone #s.

And then the Habs decided to defensive shell. HARD. For the remaining 30 minutes, the Isles were as dominant in the neutral zone as they had been all year, rivaling the game vs the Flyers. In the final 20, entries were 37-20 Isles, with 18 of those Isles entries by carry-in (to the Habs 6). That is ridiculously dominant and basically reflected the Habs’ reliance on Carry Price.

Unfortunately, Carey Price succeeded. Oh well – odds are he won’t if the Habs do this in the next meeting of these teams.

Neutral Zone Analysis: 2014-15 Season: Game 33 vs Tampa Bay

G33

The Islanders dominated Tampa Bay in this game, particularly in the final two periods, but it wasn’t really through the Neutral Zone.  The Isles out-entered the Bolts by a good amount, but the Bolts held the Isles to carry-ins on only 37% of entries, which is really impressive vs this team.  Unfortunately for the Bolts, the Isles got .6 unblocked shot attempts per DUMP IN, which is twice the average amount.

In short, while the Bolts were preventing the Isles from carrying in with speed, they did an awful job winning board battles for the puck after dumps, leading to multiple Islander chances after uncontrolled entries.  Excellent offensive zone performance by the Islanders this game, which is what turned this game from a game where the Islanders outplayed the Bolts by a decent amount to utter domination.

Neutral Zone Analysis: 2014-2015 Season: Game 32 @ Detroit

G32

Detroit, like Chicago, has a bunch of guys who are deadly carrying the puck in.  So like Chicago, the Isles allowed a good # of carry ins – 47% of Detroit’s entries were with control.  Course the Isles did even better, with 51% of their entries into the offensive zone via carry-in or pass-in. And the Isles out-entered the Wings significantly as well, with most of that coming in the first period.

An example of why carry-ins matter.  The Isles’ game winning goal happened when Johnny Boychuk of all people, carried the puck in by himself. Now nearly all of Boychuk’s controlled entries are by pass-in – he isn’t really a great skating D.  But here, with the Isles forwards changing, he carried in, took a shot, recovered the puck, wrapped around the net for another shot, at which point the Kid line had hit the ice and forced a turnover for the Anders Lee goal.  That doesn’t happen on a dump and change, or even a dump and entry most of the time…Carry ins cause teams to get more chances at the net than dumps, and as it showed here, the fourth chance led to the goal, all started by Boychuk’s simple refusal to chip it in.