After losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in his second game as the Capitals’ head coach, Dale Hunter was asked if being outshot was indicative of poor play. “We worry about scoring chances more than anything else,” Hunter explained. “That's the key to the game. Anybody can shoot from the blue line or something, you know, but when they're barreling right down on you, scoring chances are the key.”
A scoring chance is defined as a clear play directed toward the opposing net from a dangerous scoring area — loosely defined as the top of the circle in and inside the faceoff dots, though sometimes it's a slightly more generous definition, depending on the amount of immediately-preceding puck movement or screens in front of the net. Blocked shots are generally not included, but missed shots are. A player is awarded a scoring chance anytime he is on the ice and someone from either team has a chance to score. He is awarded a “chance for” if someone on his team has a chance to score and a “chance against” if the opposing team has a chance to score.
With a third of the season in the books, we can look at four key advanced metrics during 5-on-5 play to see how each skater has contributed to the team outchancing the opposition so far:
1. Scoring chance percentage (SC%), which tells you who is driving play and helping the team spend more time in the offensive zone. The higher the better.
2. Offensive zone start percentage (OZstart%), which is the percentage of faceoffs players are on the ice for in the offensive zone. Neutral zone faceoffs are not counted. This gives a sense of how players are being used. For example, you would expect a shutdown line to start in the offensive zone less than half the time, while a scoring line should be above 55 percent.
3. PDO, which is the summation of shooting percentage and save percentage when a player is on the ice. A player with a very high or low PDO (over/under 1000) is considered improbable to be able to sustain that level of success or failure over time. Also known as a proxy for “puck luck.”
4. Rank of competition played based on Corsi, which indicates the quality of opponents players face in a game. The lower the rank, the more difficult the competition faced.
This post will focus on the forwards and next week the blueliners, but feel free to check out the individual scoring chance data for all Washington skaters here, which will be updated each week.
(Note: All stats are through Friday, Dec. 9.)
What immediately stands out is how sheltered the youngsters, Mathieu Perreault and Cody Eakin, have been. They've been given the high ground with more than 58 percent of their starts in the offensive zone, against some of the weakest talent the opposition has to offer. They are also getting a tremendous amount of “puck luck,” as evidenced by their high PDO.
In terms of offensive production, Alexander Semin has been disappointing. He has more minor penalties (18) than points (11) and is on pace for a sub-20 goal season, which would be his first since his rookie year in 2003-04. The silver lining is that when Semin has managed to stay out of the penalty box he has been driving play. His scoring chance differential of plus-16 leads the team and when he is on the ice Washington sees 56 percent of scoring chances go in its favor. His PDO is also a low 968 — and that's a sign he should be able to turn things around if given the chance.
Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom have seen a slight increase in their starts originating in the offensive zone and have driven play to some degree, but as I mentioned above, there is opportunity to increase it even more. They are both at a below-average PDO, which suggests that as good as Backstrom's season has been so far (11 goals and 20 assists in 28 games) it could get better.
The Ward-Laich-Chimera line is typically starting its shifts during a defensive-zone faceoff against the other team's top offensive threats. That helps put some of the trio’s struggles at driving scoring chances in perspective, but especially troubling is Joel Ward's scoring chance percentage (44.2), the team's worst. Both Brooks Laich (46.4 percent) and Jason Chimera (49.7 percent) are higher, and when they are separated from Ward the team sees more scoring chances in its favor, albeit against weaker competition.
Another oddity of the Ward-Laich-Chimera trio: they have gotten the same amount of defensive zone starts as the Brouwer-Backstrom-Ovechkin line (62). With Laich and Jeff Halpern available to take those draws, I would have expected the scorers to get more time in the offensive zone. After all, it's a lot easier to put the puck in the net when starting from only 45 feet away than it is when starting in your own end. And with Ovechkin and Semin on pace for career lows in scoring, what do you have to lose?
Follow Neil on Twitter: @ngreenberg.