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Shot Plots: A Study in Quality of Possession (Part 3)

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The finale is upon us. In this third part to my study on quality of possession by using the invaluable War-on-Ice shot-plot tools, I take a much quicker look at the remaining games of the Ducks long road trip and present my conclusions and how they relate to the Anaheim defense.

War On Ice

Welcome back once again. In Part One I laid out my thesis and explained the parameters of this study. In Part two, I went into some significant details as to how these foundation applied to a few examples of games where the Anaheim Ducks were particularly good defensively, and some where they were particularly not.

Now in part three I will go over the final games of the road trip (in far less detail) as well as the two games since then, and then present my conclusions.

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3/26/15 - Anaheim Ducks 3, Boston Bruins 2 (OT)

SOG

SAF (CF)

USAF (FF)

DA-SAF

DA-USAF

HDA-SAF

HDA-USAF

ANA

32

55

44

35

25

13

12

BOS

29

50

38

27

17

12

7

I don't have too much to say about this one, really. A pretty good performance by the Ducks in terms of preventing penetration into the danger areas of the ice, and they did a bang-up job blocking the shots that did come through. The Bruins' only goal from the danger area of the ice came off a rebound that more or less went to the wrong place at the wrong time; can't do too much there.

But as for the game, it was mean, it was edgy, it had a snarl to it that felt like a bona-fide playoff atmosphere, and it's pretty fun to watch two teams that are built similarly and have a similarly short-tempers get together. It was about as close to old-time hockey as you're going to see nowadays. And above all... man it was fun.

(Sidenote: should the B's go on to miss the playoffs, you can probably count this as yet another arena that wants Corey Perry dead.)

3/28/15 - Anaheim Ducks 3, New York Islanders 2

SOG

SAF (CF)

USAF (FF)

DA-SAF

DA-USAF

HDA-SAF

HDA-USAF

ANA

24

49

35

25

17

10

7

NYI

31

69

47

25

20

11

11

Yet another game that finished by the Anaheim Ducks' favorite 3-2 score, but for once this one didn't go to the extra session as the Ducks held on to their lead all the way to the end. I didn't see much of this game as I was in Vegas for the weekend, but what I did see was a Ducks team that appeared to be once again getting run ragged by a young, fast team with a good amount of young talent. Had Ryan Kesler not been so good against John Tavares, this one likely would have been different.

Overall Anaheim did a pretty decent job holding the Isles to lower-percentage shots, but New York had their way entirely in the high-danger area. In fact it was either shoot from the high-danger area, or from outside on the point it seems. The Isles got a goal from both locations.

As for the goal from the high-danger area... downright infuriating, but not from a defensive coverage perspective. Instead, it's rather infuriating because Clayton Stoner dished the puck without looking from behind his own net right into his low-slot onto the waiting stick of Casey Cizikas with nobody around him. Yet another egregious mistake that would have a pee-wee coach bag skating his team, yet Clayton Stoner makes in an NHL game and continues to collect $13 million over three years *sobs uncontrollably.* And I didn't think he could get much worse after the one which cost the Ducks their perfect record in one goal games in regulation.

3/29/15 - Anaheim Ducks 2, New Jersey Devils 1

SOG

SAF (CF)

USAF (FF)

DA-SAF

DA-USAF

HDA-SAF

HDA-USAF

ANA

25

41

31

26

17

7

4

NJ

27

44

37

29

22

11

9

Uhh... tail end of back-to-back's on a long road-trip against a team desperate to stave off elimination for one more game?

Despite being pretty badly out-possessed, Anaheim never really looked like it was in too much trouble in terms of winning, but they also were by no means playing well. The quality of some of the chances they were giving up wasn't good, but there's a reason the Devils aren't in the playoffs—they're bad at scoring goals. Had they been even slightly better, they probably would have won this game in regulation, because the Ducks weren't really all that great.

The vast majority of New Jersey's attempts came from within the danger area, with only two being blocked at the top of the high-danger area.

The goal against was on a nice power-move from Danius Zubris, who used his size to get just inside of Ryan Getzlaf and tip the puck on a perfect shot-pass. Honestly, no fault here really. Good goal.

No real complaints in terms of defense on goals, but a few too many dandy saves from Andersen in this one to make me really happy with the effort.

4/1/15 - Anaheim Ducks 5, Edmonton Oilers 1

SOG

SAF (CF)

USAF (FF)

DA-SAF

DA-USAF

HDA-SAF

HDA-USAF

ANA

27

49

43

26

20

15

12

EDM

23

50

34

31

15

10

7

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that the Edmonton Oilers are pretty bad.

They only managed to get a whopping six shot attempts through the Anaheim blockers from anywhere inside the danger area. The vast majority of their shots on goal for this game were limited to low-percentage areas of the ice, which made this a pretty comfortable win for Freddo. Likewise, just goes to show how defending your danger areas can render an opponent's offense nearly completely useless.

Though once again, take that with a grain of salt because this was the Oilers.

(Addendum: Despite how bad the Oilers are, congratulations to them for putting the Los Angeles Kings on the brink of elimination with the most improbable of wins mere days after getting blown out by them 8-2.)

4/3/15 - Anaheim Ducks 2, Colorado Avalanche 4

SOG

SAF (CF)

USAF (FF)

DA-SAF

DA-USAF

HDA-SAF

HDA-USAF

ANA

37

65

55

27

19

10

7

COL

23

44

37

21

16

7

7

I genuinely don't think I've cared about a loss this little possibly ever. And it really didn't look like the Ducks did either. And you know what, I don't blame them.

Because to be honest, if they were to play this game exactly the same way nine more times, the Ducks would probably win all of them. They outright destroyed Colorado in pretty much every aspect of this game except on the scoreboard.

All three of Colorado's goals that came with someone standing in the Anaheim net were from dangerous spots on the ice, but they were largely the result of what was overall a pretty lackluster effort defensively. The first goal was a hesitation/miscommunication between Francois Beauchemin and Hampus Lindholm that led to a wide open chance when they scrambled to recover. The second was an over-commitment to one man from the penalty killers, but likewise came on Colorado's fourth powerplay opportunity of the night so it was bound to happen at some point. The third was an awful decision to pinch from Sami Vatanen, showing his offense-first mentality isn't always the best.

But nonetheless, no Getzlaf, no Maroon, no Beleskey, and a fourth line that consisted of Chris Wagner, Stefan Noesen, and Emerson Etem. Meh... whatever.

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So my conclusions from this study thus far are this:

1.) Anaheim's defense, while above average in terms of the pure number of shots it allows from the danger area on the ice, still has a good number of flaws in terms of its defense of the most critical areas of the ice, and consistently gives up high-quality scoring chances due to glaring mistakes in the defensive system. Many of these can be attributed to the team's go-to breakout strategy that involves running the puck through the middle of the ice immediately in front of their own goal crease.

2.) Frederik Andersen and John Gibson are both very good goaltenders, but both struggle heavily on shots taken from these areas of the ice, so they aren't definitively reliable yet in terms of their ability to really bail Anaheim out of a tight spot. Both are excellent young goaltenders with spectacular skills, but neither is a big-game, big-save goaltender yet. And that's fine. They have time to go. But the defense needs to step up their game in terms of helping them out. This must also be taken with a grain of salt, however, as neither Andersen nor Gibson have faced over 1,000 shots from the danger and/or high-danger areas yet, so the sample size is still a bit small compared to some other netminders who have had lengthier careers. The numbers may be a bit skewed as a result. (S/t to Kid Ish for pointing this out to me.)

3.) There is a small sample size here, but from what I've detailed thus far, Anaheim's ability to win games has depended tremendously on its ability to keep its opponents from getting chances in the danger area of the ice. Not exactly ground-breaking when you think about it, but nonetheless the quality of the possession Anaheim grants its opponents on a night-to-night basis determines its chances of winning.

Consider this chart, which shows the percentage of opposition shot attempts that were taken from both the danger area and the high danger area in each of the games studied here:

Opponent

FF - Total

% UB SATF - DA

% UB SATF - HDA

Result

Los Angeles

36

19.4%

8.3%

3-2 OT Win

Colorado (3/20)

31

51.6%

25.8%

3-2 OT Win

New York Rangers

41

51.2%

19.5%

2-7 Loss

Columbus

29

62.1%

37.9%

3-5 Loss

Boston

38

44.7%

18.4%

3-2 OT Win

New York Islanders

47

42.6%

23.4%

3-2 Win

New Jersey

37

59.4%

24.3%

2-1 Win

Edmonton

34

44.1%

20.6%

5-1 Win

Colorado (4/3)

37

43.2%

18.9%

4-2 Loss

Totals:

330

46.1%

21.5%

6-3-0 Record (12 of 18 pts.)

Goal Differential: Even

The key number that sticks out to me here: over this nine-game stretch, 46.1% of all unblocked shot attempt events (Fenwick) against Anaheim in all situations have come from inside the danger area; almost half of all unblocked shot attempt events each game on average.

Nights when Anaheim is able to contain their opponents in terms of possession in the danger areas, they almost always win (the obvious exceptions being the New York Rangers game and the second Colorado Avalanche game, in both of which Anaheim badly out-possessed their opponents). Nights where they don't, they usually lose, and more often than not it's pretty gruesome. Likewise, the Ducks can have an excellent game in terms of containing opposition possession, only to follow it up with a second or third period in which they try to turtle, play "safe" and immediately begin giving up so much possession from these danger areas, leading to so many goals against, narrow or come-from-behind wins, and OT games. Hence the crappy goal differential; the Ducks got 12 of a possible 18 points over this seven-game stretch, and yet surrendered just as many goals as they scored.

4.) Blocking shots is not a reliable method of defending. While the Ducks do a pretty good job of getting in the shooting lanes and preventing shots from ever making it to their goaltender, nights where the blockers just can't get in between the shooter and goaltender are nights the Ducks struggle. Teams who pass well with a structured offense and attack with speed (in this study the Rangers, Blue Jackets, and Islanders) find their way around blockers with relative ease and put a boatload of quality chances on the Anaheim net from high-percentage areas. As you can probably imagine, this is why the Ducks frequently lose to these teams, some by appalling blowout margins. In cases like this, Bruce Boudreau needs to adapt his defensive strategy to focus more on keeping opponents to the low-percentage areas of the ice, utilizing his smooth-skating defense corps to force shots from the perimeter, or to stop the offensive momentum that may come in from a rush. This can be done first and foremost by closing off the soft spots on the ice crossing the blueline, but also by paying particularly close attention to players attacking the high-danger area of the ice, which Anaheim seems to lose track of far too easily.

************

This concludes my study. For those of you who have stuck with me this far, thank you. I hope what I've written here can spark some form of a debate or maybe advance the usage of these shot-plot charts a little further, as I believe them to be a valuable tool.

Obviously I do not believe the evidence here to be bulletproof or definitive in any way and I welcome the feedback of anybody who may see things in a different light or with a different perspective. You can always reach me on Twitter at @ACKyleNicolas and I'd be happy to hear your feedback. I know I certainly haven't thought of every way of looking at this.