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Can Teams Suppress Shots Without Possession?

My sense of this is... no.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Tyler Dellow recently wrote about some comments from Bruce Boudreau wherein the coach said that his teams fare poorly in possession metrics because they block a lot of shots and force opponents to miss a lot of shots. Dellow's conclusion was that this was unlikely -- and I agree -- but perhaps the idea merits a more careful investigation.

First, we have a quick linear regression to check for a relationship between Corsi For % and % of shot attempts against that are blocked and missed:


It's important to note here that I used 5v5, score close CF% from Extra Skater for this one, and that the data comes from the last three seasons.

So. The above graph shows us that yes, some teams with poorer overall possession numbers did, in fact, block a proportionally larger number of shots and/or see more of them go wide. It's a weak correlation, and not one I'd put a lot of faith in, but it at least opens the door to the idea that perhaps specific individuals have managed to suppress more on-goal shot attempts than others.

The next logical step is to check to see if any of the low-Corsi For % teams who also blocked a lot of shots did so with any consistency. It may also be interesting to track the coaches who may have changed teams to see if there was a similar suppression of on-goal shots, but I'm getting ahead of myself, here.

Here are the top 10 teams over the last 3 seasons with the biggest percentage of blocked and missed shots. Any patterns?

Team CA SA CF% Blk/Mss Blk/Mss % Season
Anaheim Ducks 1361 637 46.90% 724 0.532 2012-13
Calgary Flames 2481 1201 45.80% 1280 0.516 2013-14
New York Islanders 1408 687 51.70% 721 0.512 2012-13
Philadelphia Flyers 1246 609 47.60% 637 0.511 2012-13
St. Louis Blues 1142 560 52.40% 582 0.510 2012-13
New York Rangers 1272 625 52.70% 647 0.509 2012-13
New York Islanders 2440 1216 48.00% 1224 0.502 2011-12
San Jose Sharks 1322 661 52.10% 661 0.500 2012-13
Montréal Canadiens 2394 1199 47.20% 1195 0.499 2013-14
Toronto Maple Leafs 1494 754 43.50% 740 0.495 2012-13
Pittsburgh Penguins 2179 1101 49.70% 1078 0.495 2013-14

The main pattern that I notice is that 7 of the top 10 teams were from the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, which suggests that this is a question of variance more than anything. After all, it seems that a smaller same size is the common link. Also, if any coach was particularly good at intentionally producing this result, you'd think the only team to do it twice in the top 10 would be someone other than the Islanders. Their most recent season finished 63rd in the group anyway, which also makes me think that it's not something particularly repeatable by a group of players.

For the sake of contrast, we can also have a quick look at how blocked and missed shots compare to shots against to see if there is some connection, there.


Again, this is 5v5 score close data from Extra Skater, also from 2011-14, even though I forgot to add that in the title.

I'd say that's a sliiiiightly stronger connection. Odds are, if your team is blocking more shots and having more shots miss your net, you're also allowing more shots on your actual goal. So far, this is the correlation you should be putting more faith in, folks. But let's entertain Boudreau's idea for a little longer. Maybe, just maybe, there are individual coaches (not just teams) who have been able to replicate success at blocking shots and forcing misses than other teams.

Boudreau's three teams since 2011:

Team CA SA CF% Blk/Mss Blk/Mss % Season
Anaheim Ducks 2234 1149 48.20% 1085 0.486 2011-12
Anaheim Ducks 1361 637 46.90% 724 0.532 2012-13
Anaheim Ducks 2086 1061 49.80% 1025 0.491 2013-14

Hm, nope. The only year his team did well at this was in the shortened season. Also, Randy Carlyle coached 24 games with the Ducks in 2011-12.

Hey, how about our friend Randy Carlyle? He's big on this stuff, too.

Team CA SA CF% Blk/Mss Blk/Mss % Season
Toronto Maple Leafs 2237 1139 47.90% 1098 0.491 2011-12
Toronto Maple Leafs 1494 754 43.50% 740 0.495 2012-13
Toronto Maple Leafs 2694 1395 42.10% 1299 0.482 2013-14

Carlyle's teams are all in the top third of the three-year group (which doesn't exactly say much), though again, his highest percentage is in the lockout-shortened season. More importantly, Ron Wilson coached the bulk of the 2011-12 season, which further compromises these numbers. It is curious though, that every season Carlyle has in any way been a part of has seen 48-49% of shots blocked. Let's look at the total numbers instead of just the 5v5 so we can look at his entire career (Extra Skater only has the past 3 seasons).

Year Team SA MsS BkS MsS + BkS MsS + BkS %
2013-14 Leafs 2945 1278 865 2143 0.421
2012-13 Leafs 1549 826 547 1373 0.470
2011-12* Leafs 560 234 234 468 0.455
2011-12** Ducks 754 342 309 651 0.463
2010-11 Ducks 2648 1248 885 2133 0.446
2009-10 Ducks 2737 943 950 1893 0.409
2008-09 Ducks 2499 801 984 1785 0.417
2007-08 Ducks 2300 720 901 1621 0.413
2006-07 Ducks 2248 728 963 1691 0.429
2005-06 Ducks 2431 918 616 1534 0.387

* Carlyle only coached the 18 final games of the 2011-12 season with the Leafs.

** Carlyle only coached the first 24 games of the 2011-12 season with the Ducks.

OK, so here Carlyle appears to have much more variation in his numbers, though it's true that these are from all situations, and not just from 5v5 score close. Still, the higher percentage blocks/misses seem to have come in more recent years -- years when he's had a generally poorer team to coach. Heck, maybe the man has adapted his coaching style, but I'm not sure we could necessarily link that to these kinds of figures. In any event, his numbers, when looked at over the course of several seasons, have only crept into the 46-47% range in the last three (very abbreviated) seasons.

42 games split between the Ducks and Leafs, 48 games with the Leafs, and then finally one full season in the 46-47% range is not what I'd call a reliable sample size, but you also can't say Carlyle's recent teams haven't blocked shots. In short, yes, the Leafs have blocked more shots recently, but I'm not convinced this is something Carlyle capable of coaching players to do for another full season.

A couple other problems for this "good at blocking shots and forcing missed shots" theory: wouldn't Fenwick numbers differ more than they do from Corsi numbers if shot blocking was a big deal? In fact, Fenwick numbers even MORE closely mirror actual puck possession time. If Boudreau's (or Carlyle's) argument rests on the idea that missed shots mess with possession numbers a lot, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that he can't make other teams miss his goal with any reliable frequency.

So to wrap up, we found very little connection between poor teams and high percentage misses/blocks, teams generally struggle to repeat their performances, and while Randy Carlyle has seen some consistency of small sample sizes (the story of the Leafs' life), it seems far more likely that allowing more shots is the biggest driver of blocking more shots. For Bruce Boudreau's part in this, may be a good coach, but I'm not sure he always knows why.