Friday Focus: October 25th
Welcome to the third edition of AFP Analytics’ Friday Focus section. In the Friday Focus post I hope to highlight some of the most interesting events from a numbers perspective during the past week in the NHL. If something catches my eye from other sports, I might mention it here as well. I am intending on this being more of a quick hitter type of read that I hope everyone enjoys. I would also invite any readers to shoot us questions (@afpanalytics) and we will try to answer them every week. We are starting to get to the point where teams are playing enough games to have their data settle in. Teams certainly can have good or bad 10 game stretches but with most playing around that number, we begin to learn what the team are about.
Last Week’s Players to Watch – Oliver Wahlstrom
Last week I highlighted Oliver Wahlstrom because he had two strong games to start his NHL career but had not yet scored. This week saw him play two more decent games. Against the Blue Jackets on October 19th, the Islanders dominated the shot counter when he was on the ice but did not take many quality shots and allowed Columbus to take quality shots. Against the Coyotes last night, the Islanders and Coyotes split shots but the Islanders’ shots were of higher quality but did not see much ice time in the game. Wahlstrom’s numbers have remained strong and it is likely only a matter of time before he finally gets on the scoresheet and it will be well deserved.
Last Week’s Game to Watch
In last week’s post, I highlighted Colorado playing at Tampa Bay as the game to watch. Colorado dominated the score sheet and did so by taking higher quality shots than they allowed because Tampa Bay dominated the shot counter. Even though there are adjustments made for score state, which certainly apply in this 6-2 game, blowouts might skew things even more. Colorado’s underlying metrics weren’t great in this game but them getting a 6-2 win on no rest over the preseason Stanley Cup favorite is incredibly impressive. I do want to mention that Colorado’s loss of Mikko Rantanen cannot be understated. I’ll be interested to see how Colorado can hold up without him. If they can stay atop the Central Division until Rantanen returns, I would look at them as the possible Stanley Cup favorite.
What’s Up With the Minnesota Wild?
Last week, Jason Zucker publicly called out his team and even coach because the team has not been getting results. Wild fans predictably are upset. This past week, they were able to secure wins over Montreal and the still surging Oilers before being shut out by their division rival, Nashville Predators. The question is are they as bad as their points show or should we expect them to start performing better? Good news Wild fans, things should get better. The Wild have had decent underlying metrics with both their Corsi For (CF)% and expected goals for (xGF)% both above 50%. Teams with those underlying metrics should be in or very close to a playoff position. So why are the Wild bottom dwellers? The Wild have the worst 5v5 shooting percentage and the seventh worst save percentage for the league’s third worst PDO, which is the sum of those two percentages. Over the course of a season, most teams should regress toward a PDO of 1. The Wild are currently at .970. I will guarantee the team’s fortune will start to improve as long as they can maintain thei strong CF% and xGF%. These are the type of performances that traditionally get coaches fired and allow the subsequent replacement to excel. With a recent turnover in general manager (GM), I don’t want to speculate over Bruce Boudreau’s future because he is a good coach and it appears the team’s new GM, Bill Guerin, is willing to be patient. However, this slow start would also give Guerin an easy excuse to move on from Boudreau so he can eventually bring in “his own guy.” If I was in charge, I would stay the course.
Speaking of Zucker, I know many Wild fans were unhappy with him calling the team out because he hasn’t exactly been lighting up the scoresheet. However, the underlying metrics tell a different story. Yes Zucker has been on the ice for only two goals for and six against during 5v5 play but his CF% (54.26%) and xGF% (58.98%) have been awesome. The team has a .929 PDO while he has been on the ice during 5v5 play. I don’t usually give fantasy hockey advice but now might be the time to buy low on Zucker. He is going to start getting some points.
Watch Out for the Flyers and Coyotes
The Flyers have the best underlying metrics in the league with a CF% of 55% and xGF% of 60%. Those numbers are very similar to what the Hurricanes were posted at the beginning of last season before catching fire and making a run to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Flyers are getting decent results to start this season but aren’t in the top tier of the league just yet.The Coyotes also been on a tear lately as well. They are fourth in the league in CF% at 54% and second in xGF% at 58%. If you have been reading this column regularly, you will know that I think the Flyers and Coyotes will likely start winning more games as long as they continue to perform at this high level.
What Should we make of the Sabres?
The Sabres lead the league in points but recently lost to the lowly New York Rangers by a score of 6-2. Sabre fans are starting to get nervous after last season and it’s valid to wonder if they are going to fall to the same fate again. I think it is still a little premature to panic though they aren’t heading in a great direction. Their adjusted CF% and xGF% are both still above 50%, but barely. The loss to the Rangers isn’t surprising as the team was due for some regression as they had been winning some games they probably didn’t deserve. With more tape on how they are playing, teams seem to be adjusting to their aggressive, pressuring style of play. I still think the team will be ok, especially considering their division rivals haven’t got rolling yet either.
Fans of teams from around the league should keep a close eye on Buffalo as they are likely going to have to decide on their defense with Brandon Montour getting close to returning. I am just speculating here but I wonder if the team may consider playing seven defensemen and 11 forwards, especially considering most of the two defenders who are most likely to come out of the lineup, Marco Scandella and Henri Jokiharju, are playing the best. With Rasmus Dahlin struggling in his own zone, rolling seven defensemen would allow the team to use him more strategically for a few games to see if they can get him rolling again.
Player(s) to Watch
Previously I had highlighted players that have been playing well in this section. This week I am going to highlight three players who have been struggling by different standards. I earlier discussed Jason Zucker’s strong underlying 5v5 metrics but poor scoring results. I also predicted that he would soon start scoring. I will be keeping my eye on him to see if the results start to come. I also want to watch the Sabres’ two Rasmi (Rasmus Ristolainen and Rasmus Dahlin). Ristolainen had a strong start to the season but is quickly regressing back to where he has previously been: one of the worst possession players on the Buffalo Sabres. Rasmus Dahlin has had an interesting start to the season. He had 10 points through 10 games but seven of those have come on the Sabres’ lethal power play. Last season, Dahlin was a positive possession player on a negative possession team, which is phenomenal for a 18 year old defenseman. However, this season he has been below 50% on a better team. Too often he has also looked uncomfortable. Last night, he was leaving his feet far too often. Under no circumstances should he be a healthy scratch but maybe reducing his minutes or play at forward but using him more strategically would be smart for a few games. I also wonder if he is dealing with some injury that isn’t known about.
Game to Watch
Once again, there are some intriguing matchups this week. Tonight, we see Colorado at Vegas, which is certainly an intriguing matchup. On Saturday we see St. Louis return to Boston, Toronto at Montreal, and Nashville at Tampa. On Monday, we see Arizona at Buffalo. On Tuesday, there is Washington at Toronto and Philadelphia at Pittsburgh, which should be good more so because both are good hockey teams and not because of their rivalry. I am going to go off the book with this week’s pick and go with Arizona at Buffalo. Buffalo has been trending down but may still be at the top of the standings when the game takes place while Arizona has been trending upward. Buffalo needs a quality 5v5 performance and doing it against a strong Arizona team would be just what the doctor ordered to get them back on track.
If you have any thoughts or would like to submit questions for next week’s Friday Focus, tweet us, @afpanalytics, or me, @k_sticher.
All data is courtesy of naturalstattrick.com and capfriendly.com
KYLE STICH is the Director of AFP Analytics. In addition, Mr. Stich is a tax specialist and Director of Operations at AFP Consulting LLC, whose clientele include professional athletes performing services on three separate continents. Mr. Stich earned his Master of Science in Sport Management with a Concentration in Sport Analytics from Columbia University in 2017. He earned his undergraduate degrees in Accounting and Sport Management from St. John Fisher College in 2015, where he has served as an adjunct professor teaching Sport Finance and Baseball Analytics.