Last post we looked at how Toronto actually scores its goals.
Rather than simply relying on my gut impressions from watching games or by rehashing existing statistics, I went to NHL.com and watched videos of all the Leaf goals. Each goal was then categorized based on what types of play or systems were used to actually generate the goal. [And with the categories and descriptions used intended to be more hockey-fan friendly than technically-precise.]
While far from a perfect approach [the videos clips were limited in time, and my categories are far from a neat fit], this approach turned up some useful insights. More importantly, it gave us an empirical basis for them. I know others have done it before this - and done it better - but this sort of approach should, I believe, get more air-time in the world of hockey-talk and analysis.
In the first post we reported that:
1st. Toronto scores more than 90% of its goals off of just two types of attack - from its special teams, and off the rush. This is an enormous percentage, and beyond what almost any analyst would have predicted.
2nd. Fewer than 10% of Leaf goals come from all other methods of attack combined - dumping the puck in, the cycle game, the forecheck, point shots, etc.
Here is the original chart, showing how extreme is Toronto's goal-scoring reliance on just 2 the methods.
People suggested that a 2nd NHL team should be studied using the same method. I chose Boston. And sure, they're gonna make their Game 7 jokes. [And oh, how we shall laugh! What mirth!] In fact, there are very good reasons to study the Bruins next:
1st. Boston's style of play is regarded as the opposite of Toronto's. The Bruins have a strong cycle game, they get bodies in front of the net and into the crease, they take a lot of point-shots, etc. They would therefore be expected to show very different results.
2nd. Boston scores consistently well in advanced statistics such as "Team Corsi" and "Fenwick Close," where the Leafs score dreadfully. If you want more a Old Time Hockey stat, then Boston has also done well recently in the category called "Winning Stanley Cups." But again, a good contrast.
3rd. And finally, the Bruins - and in this, I'd like to include everyone from the owners down through management, the Bruins players and coaches and even on out through their fan base - are evil. Which gives us a nice frame:
"The Forces of Good, Wearing the Blessed Blue and White vs. Totally Frigging Evil Guys, Adorned in the Orange and Black drapery Preferred by Jeremy Jacobs, and Sourced exclusively from the Dorchester Home for Wayward Dogs with Dysentery."
[Ok, that was mean. And we mustn't be mean to Boston. So. I offer this video, of a band that should be bigger in Boston. Peace offering.]
PART I - HOW BOSTON SCORES VS HOW TORONTO SCORES.
This expanded study looked at the first 22 games of each team, during which Boston scored 60 goals, and Toronto 62. We begin by looking at goals scored by Special Teams and from "Special Situations" [i.e. a 6th man on, and in the first seconds after a Power-play has lapsed.]
1. In the chart below, we can see that Toronto has done noticeably better on the Power-play [by 17 goals to 10.]
2. Moving on to look at the eight types of Even Strength Goals reviewed, the largest single difference is the 24-to-16 gap for Toronto in goals scored Off The Rush. This gap is then matched by Boston's ability to score more goals using a wider variety of methods. e.g. Goals scored off the Cycle Game [6-1], from Point Shots [4-1], from the Dirty Areas [3-1], off the Forecheck [5-2] and so on.
Ok, it's early in the day here, people. And I need pie if I'm gonna make it. Pie-chart, that is. Same info - just tastier. Below we see a pie-chart of a... ummm... well, that would be a Boston
Cream Ugly-Ass pie. Anyway. That's how they like their goals too. Ugly. But to Boston's credit, their styles of attack are spread-out, diverse. Sure, 38% of Even-Strength goals still come off the Rush. But 62% are coming from 6 other methods.
And yes, children, the ugly ones count too.
Whereas Toronto pie [below] is pretty much cherry-red, thanks to 67% of all our Even-Strength goals being scored Off The Rush! Mmmmm. And deliciously flavoured too, from the tears of defencemen everywhere, provided by Phil Kessel. [Thank! You! Boston! Clap! Clap! ClapClapClap!][Wow. That's a lotta clap coming outta Boston.][Bada-Bing, lighten up Francis.]
3. The contrast between the two teams becomes even more marked when we group all those goals scored off of quick offensive attacks. e.g. Off The Rush plus quick neutral zone turnovers and those coming right off a face-off. In all, Toronto generates a substantial "Quick Hit" Goals advantage of 30 to 18.
4. Going the other way, Boston counters by expanding its advantage in goals scored off extended offensive "Zone Time," by including goals scored off corner/board-work following face-offs. Boston's lead here is now 24 to 6.
Our 1st conclusion, then, is that Boston generates its goals from a wider range of methods and attacks. A full 40% of their goals are scored with systems that utilize extended periods of offensive Zone Time; 30% come from Special Teams; and 30% Off the Rush and other Quick Hit methods. And do note that no one method dominates amongst Boston's In-Zone goals - they use a lot of methods here.
Our 2nd conclusion is that while Toronto uses fewer methods to score its goals, it excels in Quick Hit attacks [a 12 goal advantage] and Power-play & Special Teams goals [up by 8.] And although less diversified, it's worth noting that this attack has nonetheless generated more goals than Boston's over the last two seasons.
PART II - FURTHER DIFFERENCES IN HOW THE TEAMS SCORE.
1. Defencemen On The Power-Play.
Digging below the surface of Boston's diverse attack, one aspect that jumped out was the very different role Boston's defencemen play on their Power-play compared to Toronto's. This is perhaps a surprise given that both teams have offensive-defencemen such as Chara, Krug and Hamilton vs Phaneuf, Franson and Gardiner. But the chart below shows a dramatic difference.
Boston's defencemen have scored 8 of the team's 10 total Power-play goals, while Toronto's have scored 0. [And while Toronto's forwards have 17 Power-play goals, Boston's have just 2.]
This would appear to chime in with what a lot of Toronto hockey commentators have said lately - that the Leafs could improve their Power-play further by loading up the guns at the Point, and blasting away more often.
However, it turns out that - after video review - only 1 of these 8 Boston PP goals actually came from a Point blast. The rest come from Boston's use of Chara as a screen [and rebound man] in front of the net, and from Krug and Hamilton jumping down into the slot to shoot [which they do, a lot.]
I decided to look more closely at Boston's defencemen and how they scored during Even Strength minutes. And again, they're up on Toronto's, by 6-2. So... something's happening there.
But once again, it's not simply more blasts from the Point. Rather, it is wrist-shot after wrist-shot that is making it through. These shots are generating goals because they are arriving in time with forwards acting as screens, mucking with the goalie and looking for rebounds and tips [jobs which would be made much harder, and more dangerous, if done in front of full-scale howitzers from the Point.]
This little video has a number of things worth noting. The wrist-shots from the point... the traffic in front ["Iginla mugs Daley"] ... the almost criminally-insane commentary ["one magical pass?" Holy McShit, what is this announcer on?] Anyway, worth watching. This is Boston doing Boston.
Turning back to the role of Toronto's defencemen on the PP, the flip-side is that they have racked up a whopping 17 assists on the Power-play (vs just 5 for Boston.) After all, Toronto's 25% success rate is 2nd in the league, and compares well to Boston's 18% conversion rate [18th in the league.]
So, while wholesale change in the role of our defencemen on the PP may not be desirable, if Toronto wants to try out a different look, one possibility might be Boston's use of its defencemen. [And the Bruins coaches might want to look at any area of activity during which Toronto's forwards have scored 17 goals to the Bruins 2. That could maybe use some oil.]
2. Boston's Success In Combining Methods Of Attack.
You'll often hear Leaf fans and hockey analysts say that Toronto "just needs to dump the puck in more, like Boston. Or go to the dirty areas more, like Boston. Or shoot more from the point... or get a cycle going... or just put the puck on net more, like... you know. Them guys." And almost always, the idea is that if the idiot coaches would just add this one, single little tweak to the Leaf game, then... voila! Goals!"
However. The reality is that a lot of Boston's more "hard-earned" goals are scored not by the use of a singular technique, but by a combination of methods. For example, while just 4 Bruins goals were scored primarily as a result of Point Shots, Point Shots were involved - at some stage in the goal-scoring play - a whopping 13 times at Even Strength. For example, Boston will frequently run a Cycle which will kick the puck back to the Point for a shot. Similarly, successful Face-Off wins will often utilize the Point, and even Boston's Rushes will often halt inside the offensive zone to set up Point shots.
Likewise, once the Point Shot is taken, almost none go into the net unaided. Rather, Boston's forwards may entangle themselves with opposing defencemen to form a screen. Or grab a rebound or tip the shot. Or completely unintentionally and inadvertently bump the goalie. Or bowl him over. A couple of times. Per shift.
More seriously, Boston has a tremendous ability to combine a wide range of methods, and to do so across pretty much all the Even-Strength goal categories we looked at.
e.g. Boston tends not to just "Throw Pucks on Net." They try to get a player in front of the opposing net, in the goalie's line of sight, or physically in contact with the goalie or a defenceman, and then... they throw the puck on net. Not surprisingly, more goals result that way.
e.g. While Boston will use the "Dump In," on its own it does nothing except hand over the puck. But combined with a strong Forecheck, and then channelled to a Point man for a shot, or thrown into the Crease, its chances rise.
e.g. While the need for a "Cycle Game" is often cited, the fact is that the puck ultimately has to get shot on net. And again, it helps if someone has been discombobulating the goalie and the defencemen around in the crease. Watch this one once for the cycle. Then a second time, paying attention to Iggy and his hard work. Dude's a natural Bruin.
In sum, Boston uses all these tools, it uses them in combination, and it uses them well. Of 24 Even Strength goals that saw extended Zone Time, a full 13 involved Point Shots. i.e. The Points were worked into a pile of goals. If you look at players getting into the "Dirty Areas," at least 11 goals saw players actively engaged in the paint. i.e. Players got into the crease during a pile of goals. And at least 8 saw a shorter or longer Cycle game help the build-up to a goal. etc.
It's a bit like the Chowder they eat down there. Bostonians throw everything in. Hell, half the Harbour's been Chowder at some point, coming or going. You know it's true. Well, it's the same with Bruins hockey. All kinds of shit goes into making it work. But... it works. And they're proud of it. True fact.
Now, to compare these results to Toronto's Even Strength goal stack is to show just how extraordinary - and in this case, I definitely mean it in the negative sense - the Leafs results are [in the yellow column]:
This is what we call Toronto Ugly:
* The Leafs have had only 1 goal that in any way involved a Cycle [and that turned out not to involve any actual physical contact.]
* It took until Game 22 for a long-distance goal to be scored by just Throwing a Puck On Net [with a Colton Orr screen helping Kadri's shot find it's way home in Nashville.]
* Just 2 relevant Point Shots during Even Strength play [Ranger to Bolland for a goal, and Franson to JVR off a Face-Off recently.]
* There was 1 goal in which a Dump-In featured [but again, only in a support role.]
* And 1 goal off a good forecheck and turnover [by Kulemin, potted by Clarkson vs the Isles.]
* And goals from the Dirty Areas? Just Lupul's, against Colorado.
3. Can The Leafs Successfully Combine These Activities & Diversify Their Scoring?
"Do the Leafs have the right personnel, playing the right lines, and using the right systems, to put together the multiple steps required to make these tools work? And do the likely gains these changed methods would bring equal the costs and the risks?"
Well, for starters, Carlyle has been working the team to get them creating more traffic, throwing the puck on net more, cycling, taking point shots, etc. So, a start. But as Randy says... "thick heads."
But there are also questions around whether or not existing personnel fit with these tasks. And questions of whether the costs/risks to those players outweigh potential gains. For example:
#1. Yes, Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren can dump the puck in. Yes, they can act as a screen. Yes, they can hit defencemen from time to time. So, there are individual techniques they can do successfully. But. The discussion needs to go beyond these single-step actions, since goals will only result from multiple moves strung together.
So... better questions are whether these two players are quick enough to follow-up a Dump-In with a high-speed forecheck of the type a McClement or Bolland might lead? Or if they manage to shake loose a puck in the corner, do they have sufficient balance and strength on their skates to be effective at Cycling it? And if they get in front and act as Screens, do they have good enough hands to actually pot the goals themselves? I have to say, I'm not convinced.
#2. Yes, we can tell Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul we want them to Cycle more, and get into the Dirty Areas more often. But they will now be in the line of fire of shots coming from Dion, Franson and two young defencemen in Gardiner and Rielly, often off-balance and placed at obvious risk. Likewise on the Cycle, they will often be relatively immobile and facing the boards where various 4th liners [think Scott x 29] can take runs at them.
Using the Bruin goal totals above as an upper-bound [and assuming the Leafs will not achieve these], can the possible benefits from using these two players in Cycling and Screening equal the possible goal loss from injury? Think it can't happen? I am not convinced.
#3. If the Leafs hope to use Nikolai Kulemin and David Clarkson on one line that is expected to take on a more aggressive Forechecking and Cycling role, and go to the net more, then their defencemen have put the puck on net, but in very particular ways. A Dion-esque blast is not useful, and actually highly-risky if players are expected to be there night after night.
Rather, Jake Gardiner's floating wrister of a point shot on the PP against the Caps the other night was almost perfect [Video below. Turn off the sound though. It's Healy.] Can the other Leaf defencemen make these adjustments as the offensive lines change, and get blended? No seriously, I'm talking to you Dion. Stop killing people or you're going to Columbus. In November.
#4. I've been noting for some time that a large part of Toronto's shot gap [and its depressed Corsi For numbers] actually stem from the roles being given to our Bottom 6 and defencemen. For example, Toronto has generated roughly 75 shots and 150 shot attempts fewer than Boston to date. Checking the numbers further, lo and behold, Toronto's defence has taken roughly 75 shots and 150 shot attempts fewer than Boston.
Easy fix? Well, I think we are better able to answer now that maybe it'll take a bit more than just nudging Gunnar to shot more [though Gunnar should.... shoot more.] It'll also take a forecheck and cycle game that kicks the puck back. A number of forwards who will create traffic in front. A willingness to use the wrist shot. Defence partners quick enough to get back if the shot is blocked. All things which require more than a simple "Shooooooot!"
Though next game, when Gunnar gets it, let's all shout Shoooooooot! Only maybe in Swedish, so he'll understand. Their word [weird] is apparently "Skjuta!" or "Arkebusera!" So how about we just go with "Skjuta!" then. Cause on the whole, Swedish words are just silly .
4. Bottom 6 Scoring.
A final note. We noted in the previous post that Toronto's [weak] Bottom 6 scoring has actually consisted entirely of goals scored Off the Rush. I think most Leaf fans would picture Boston's Bottom 6 players, of any team in the league, scoring off of hard forechecks, a cycle game, and after energetically pinning other teams in their own end.
Except, it hasn't quite been that way this year. Boston's Bottom 6 players have a solid 18 goals, a major improvement on Toronto's 6 goals. However, of the goals I've counted to date, 5 came off the Rush [led by Shawn Thornton, who has pulled off some... no other word for it but... snipes]; another 3 off of face-offs; and another 2 on PK breaks. In fact, there have only been 3 so far off off the Cycle and the Forecheck, plus a couple of long-distance "putting the puck on net" goals.
1. Toronto's Rush play and Power-play systems continue to generate more than 90% of Toronto's goals, an extremely high percentage.
2. Boston's more diversified set of tools include many which utilize extended Offensive Zone Time - something completely missing from Toronto's arsenal.
3. However, since Toronto has out-scored Boston both last year and this, it is not clear that one of these systems is "better" overall than the other.
4. Boston's defencemen shoot much more from the point, both at Even Strength and on the PP, but wrist shots are the order of the day.
5. Many of these Even Strength scoring methods require the use of multiple components in order to succeed. Thus, fans - and commentators such as Glenn Healy - who suggest that the Leafs simply need to "Dump It In," or "Just Put The Puck On Net" may actually be as dumb as they sound.
6. Leaf Coaches face real trade-offs - and may in the end need to consider real trades - as they look to diversify Toronto's attack.
7. A good Bottom 6 today may in fact score most of their goals Off the Rush, from Face-Offs, etc., rather than the Cycle or Forecheck. Personnel selection may need to keep this in mind.
8. Looking ahead [and yes, it's as hard to say goodbye to fabulous Boston as it is to take leave of a quality bowel movement] the next post in the series will explore whether what we have learned here affects how we use existing statistics, and whether or not we can't buff things up a bit, without too much expenditure of labour, ladder-time and paint.
9. And to any Bruins fans who have the good humour to read through this to the end, God bless you. I've got family all through Boston and environs, and other than complete envy at the city's sporting success, love the people and the place. That said...
10. Go Leafs Go.