Hockey 101

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Hockey 101

Postby Steve Spurrier III » Tue Mar 25, 2008 2:11 pm

I'm a Caps fan, but not an expert on the game by any stretch. I was hoping that some of our technically sound posters could give me some insights on some things. And if anyone else has questions, please throw them in so I don't stand out as the only ignoramus.

1: What's the general consensus of usefulness of the the +/- statistic? It strikes me as a incredibly valuable metric, as over an eighty-two game season it should help show the relative impact of one player over another, and it's something that I think ought to be integrated into basketball. But I see that Ovechkin was -20 last season, so clearly it can't be an end-all be-all. I suppose at the very least, you'd have to compare the +/- per minute to the team's overall +/- per minute. Anyone have any insight?

2: What are the pros and cons of packing in the defense on the penalty kill versus a more aggressive defense that forces passes? I think it was the Blackhawks game where it seemed like Chicago had so much success by forcing the issue while the Capitals let the Hawks make their passes and choose their shots. But there must be another side to that coin.

Thanks for any help.
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Re: Hockey 101

Postby GSPODS » Tue Mar 25, 2008 2:43 pm

Steve Spurrier III wrote:I'm a Caps fan, but not an expert on the game by any stretch. I was hoping that some of our technically sound posters could give me some insights on some things. And if anyone else has questions, please throw them in so I don't stand out as the only ignoramus.

1: What's the general consensus of usefulness of the the +/- statistic? It strikes me as a incredibly valuable metric, as over an eighty-two game season it should help show the relative impact of one player over another, and it's something that I think ought to be integrated into basketball. But I see that Ovechkin was -20 last season, so clearly it can't be an end-all be-all. I suppose at the very least, you'd have to compare the +/- per minute to the team's overall +/- per minute. Anyone have any insight?

2: What are the pros and cons of packing in the defense on the penalty kill versus a more aggressive defense that forces passes? I think it was the Blackhawks game where it seemed like Chicago had so much success by forcing the issue while the Capitals let the Hawks make their passes and choose their shots. But there must be another side to that coin.

Thanks for any help.


It probably goes without saying that BossHog has forgotten more about hockey than most of us will ever know. But, in his absence, I'll give this a try and maybe JansenFan can also weigh in to make certain I don't go off-base.

The Plus / Minus rating in hockey is all about actual time on the ice. It is the number of goals your line scores versus the number of goals your line gives up. A Plus 5 rating would mean that your team has scored five more goals with you on the ice than it has allowed with you on the ice. Nick Lidstrom is usually among the league leaders at the Plus side of this category.

Packing the defense into a "Diamond" or a "Triangle plus 1" leaves much less space for the opposing team to get the puck to the front of the net. Blocked shots and steals are two advantages of this strategy.

The negatives are the puck moves faster than any skater, so side to side and point to point passes are effective, and often unobstructed. This makes it easier to have the goal tender either screened by his own defensemen or out of position entirely. One-timers and slap shots through screens are much harder to see and to stop than are shots the goaltender can see before they occur. Another negative of the Diamond Penalty Kill is that, rarely, if ever, does a team get a short-handed goal scoring chance from this defense.

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Re: Hockey 101

Postby Steve Spurrier III » Tue Mar 25, 2008 2:51 pm

I know what the +/- is and how it's calculated, I was asking about it's usefulness as a means of player evaluation.

Thanks for the penalty kill breakdown, that was very helpful.
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Re: Hockey 101

Postby GSPODS » Tue Mar 25, 2008 3:08 pm

Steve Spurrier III wrote:I know what the +/- is and how it's calculated, I was asking about it's usefulness as a means of player evaluation.

Thanks for the penalty kill breakdown, that was very helpful.


My fault. I half-answered the question. To continue with Niklas Lidstrom, who is an excellent example of the usefulness of the plus / minus rating, Lidstrom has won the award for best defenseman several years. In each of those years, he led the entire NHL in the plus / minus category.

The usefulness is that a player who scores 50 goals, like Peter Bondra, would seem like a great thing, but if his plus / minus rating is -10, it indicates that his offense is fabulous but his defense is non-existent.

Ideally, different hockey positions have different plus / minus ratings. You would hope and expect your defensemen to have positive plus / minus ratings because they log the most minutes of ice time in most cases. And, of course, the sole purpose of defensemen is to prevent the other team from scoring. Sergei Gonchar and other "offensive defensemen" excepted.

Because Centers usually have more assists than goals, you would hope their assists would give them a positive rating, but more often than not, centers seem to break even, even the best centers.

Your forwards often end up negative because many are scorers but not many are two-way players. It is not unusual for forwards to be on the bottom of the plus / minus ratings list.

In terms of player evaluation, I think you have to evaluate a player's skating, speed, stick handling, passing, durability and several other areas before plus / minus would even be a consideration. If Alex Ovechkin were a minus 25 this season with his current stats and the Caps looking at the playoffs, would anyone care about the plus / minus rating? Would anyone waive or trade a 60 goal scorer because of a plus / minus rating? I doubt it.

Hopefully, this is a little closer to what you were asking.

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Re: Hockey 101

Postby GSPODS » Tue Mar 25, 2008 3:08 pm

Steve Spurrier III wrote:I know what the +/- is and how it's calculated, I was asking about it's usefulness as a means of player evaluation.

Thanks for the penalty kill breakdown, that was very helpful.


My fault. I half-answered the question. To continue with Niklas Lidstrom, who is an excellent example of the usefulness of the plus / minus rating, Lidstrom has won the award for best defenseman several years. In each of those years, he led the entire NHL in the plus / minus category.

The usefulness is that a player who scores 50 goals, like Peter Bondra, would seem like a great thing, but if his plus / minus rating is -10, it indicates that his offense is fabulous but his defense is non-existent.

Ideally, different hockey positions have different plus / minus ratings. You would hope and expect your defensemen to have positive plus / minus ratings because they log the most minutes of ice time in most cases. And, of course, the sole purpose of defensemen is to prevent the other team from scoring. Sergei Gonchar and other "offensive defensemen" excepted.

Because Centers usually have more assists than goals, you would hope their assists would give them a positive rating, but more often than not, centers seem to break even, even the best centers.

Your forwards often end up negative because many are scorers but not many are two-way players. It is not unusual for forwards to be on the bottom of the plus / minus ratings list.

In terms of player evaluation, I think you have to evaluate a player's skating, speed, stick handling, passing, durability and several other areas before plus / minus would even be a consideration. If Alex Ovechkin were a minus 25 this season with his current stats and the Caps looking at the playoffs, would anyone care about the plus / minus rating? Would anyone waive or trade a 60 goal scorer because of a plus / minus rating? I doubt it.

Hopefully, this is a little closer to what you were asking.

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Re: Hockey 101

Postby GSPODS » Tue Mar 25, 2008 3:14 pm

Steve Spurrier III wrote:I know what the +/- is and how it's calculated, I was asking about it's usefulness as a means of player evaluation.

Thanks for the penalty kill breakdown, that was very helpful.


My fault. I half-answered the question. To continue with Niklas Lidstrom, who is an excellent example of the usefulness of the plus / minus rating, Lidstrom has won the award for best defenseman several years. In each of those years, he led the entire NHL in the plus / minus category.

The usefulness is that a player who scores 50 goals, like Peter Bondra, would seem like a great thing, but if his plus / minus rating is -10, it indicates that his offense is fabulous but his defense is non-existent.

Ideally, different hockey positions have different plus / minus ratings. You would hope and expect your defensemen to have positive plus / minus ratings because they log the most minutes of ice time in most cases. And, of course, the sole purpose of defensemen is to prevent the other team from scoring. Sergei Gonchar and other "offensive defensemen" excepted.

Because Centers usually have more assists than goals, you would hope their assists would give them a positive rating, but more often than not, centers seem to break even, even the best centers.

Your forwards often end up negative because many are scorers but not many are two-way players. It is not unusual for forwards to be on the bottom of the plus / minus ratings list.

In terms of player evaluation, I think you have to evaluate a player's skating, speed, stick handling, passing, durability and several other areas before plus / minus would even be a consideration. If Alex Ovechkin were a minus 25 this season with his current stats and the Caps looking at the playoffs, would anyone care about the plus / minus rating? Would anyone waive or trade a 60 goal scorer because of a plus / minus rating? I doubt it.

Hopefully, this is a little closer to what you were asking.

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Postby Steve Spurrier III » Tue Mar 25, 2008 5:46 pm

All right. Ovechkin is usually described as well-rounded player - a guy who can not only score, but hit and play defense. If that's not a fair representation, let me know.

Ovechkin went from -19 last season to +23 this season. His offensive production has increased (14 more goals and assists), but that still leaves twenty-seven unaccounted for. So has he made an adjustment defensively, or is that number a function of the play of his teammates?

I don't see how it could be his teammates. Last season, the Capitals were -41 on the season; -.5 per game. Ovechkin was -.653 per game (adjusting for a full sixty minutes). The team was weaker with him on the ice. This season, Ovechkin is +.732 per game, and the team is virtually break even (-1 on the entire season). So Ovechkin's pulling a larger load this season.

So is Ovechkin a drastically better player this season, or is there another explanation as to why his +/- moved so much?

I also don't really follow why different positions would yield different +/-. Of course different players fill different roles, but as a unit, the objectives are one and the same. The numbers seem to bear that out, as the top 10 this season include four defensemen, three centers and three wings.

Would the fact that certain players are slotted on the power play/kill play a role?
Last edited by Steve Spurrier III on Tue Mar 25, 2008 11:40 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby KazooSkinsFan » Tue Mar 25, 2008 7:47 pm

Steve Spurrier III wrote:Ovechkin went from -19 last season to +23 this season. His offensive production has increased (14 more goals and assists), but that still leaves twenty-seven unaccounted for. So has he made an adjustment defensively, or is that number a function of the play of his teammates?

You can't answer that question without more information. +/- is a great indicator, but you can't look at it alone. You have to consider:

- How is the team playing as you pointed out? As a Wings fan and huge Lidstrom fan, I have to admit playing on a team that had at my last check the #1 and #2 goaltenders in the league and a monster D and some of the greatest O players in the league (Datsuk, Zetterberg), he has a huge tide under him. +/- between teams or even on the same team from year to year still has to be taken with a grain of salt. The same works for bad teams. Would Lidstrom have the same +/- if he played on the Kings this year? I don't think so.

- A better comparison is how players are doing compared to their teammates. The Wings dominate +/- for that reason, so would the best player on the Wings have the best +/- on the team? Not necessarily, when Zetterberg and Datsuk are on the ice together, they score a lot of goals but depress the scoring of the other lines. Is a guy on the 4th line going to get the scoring opportunities? No. What about guys who play on the penalty kill (doesn't count against them but is tiring) versus guys who play power plays (does count)?

- Another factor is D. Lidstrom, who again last I checked, which was awhile ago, was WAY ahead again in +/- this year. But for a team like the Wings that are #1 in goals scored and #1 in goals allowed, D players are on the ice more then Centers and Forwards, is it fair to compare them? Also, what about players on lines that just play more, there's no time played in the equation.

Still, I think +/- is probably the best stat with my point being no stat can be taken on face value.
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Postby Sir_Monk » Tue Mar 25, 2008 9:03 pm

I am not sure if this is strictly a discussion about the +/- statistic, sorry if this hijacks the thread. Since the NHL went to the shootout I have never understood why the home team choses to shoot first, is it because the opportunity to score first gives an advantage? I guess from watching baseball from so many years it is just ingrained that it is better to have the last at bat or shot if you will.
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Postby JansenFan » Tue Mar 25, 2008 10:19 pm

There is some good content in this thread. I will say a lot of things have been answered. I will also say that Ovechkin by all accounts, from coaching staff to teammates, to observers, to Ovechkin himself have said that Ovie worked on his defensive game almost exclusively during the offseason and is one of the most improved defensive forwards in the NHL. Ovechkin in 06-07 would be on the bench for defensve stands. This season he is on the ice in all situations, as his defensive play is no longer a weakness.

Obviously stats can be worked and massaged to make any point wanted and no one stat is the be-all end-all, but the +/- is one of my favorites. It is a stat that gives you an overall idea of the type of player Ovechkin is.

For the shootouts, I think scoring first puts pressure on the opponent in an already pressure packed situation. I just think the mindset in hockey is different than that of baseball.

Now for the power play, I think gspods pretty well summed that up.
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Postby Steve Spurrier III » Wed Mar 26, 2008 12:07 am

Interesting. So anecdotally, the twenty-seven goals can be at least partially explained by an improvement on defense. Of course, Ovechkin was +2 his rookie season, so that raises more questions still.

Comparing a player's +/- to the team's +/- strikes me as much more useful. Or even better, the team's +/- with the player on the bench.

As far as the shootout goes, there's no advantage to be gained from shooting first or second, so I'd stick with whatever the players prefer - if they think shooting first is an advantage, then maybe it is on some level.

I did find this interesting - teams are 611-414-122 at home, which makes sense. Obviously playing home games provides a big advantage. Teams have also lost a total of 248 games in overtime, and 122 of those have been on the road, compared to 126 at home. The home-ice advantage almost completely disappeared. It makes me wonder if home teams actually had a losing record in shootouts, and if that was true, would that be evidence that shooting first was a mistake? Unfortunately, I can't seem to find a good way of figuring that team's home/road shootout records without going through each team's schedule. Maybe tomorrow.
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Postby GSPODS » Wed Mar 26, 2008 5:35 am

Try Lenovo or Stats LLC. You might save yourself a lot of time researching each team individually.

As far as the shootout is concerned, I think knowing the opposing goaltender's weakness(es) is more improtant than who shoots first, although shooting first should, in theory, show the other shooters on your team where to shoot the puck. I'll be curious to see what stats you are able to find on the shootout home and away records versus the shootout first shot versus last shot records.

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Postby JansenFan » Wed Mar 26, 2008 9:26 am

JansenFan wrote:For the shootouts, I think scoring first puts pressure on the opponent in an already pressure packed situation. I just think the mindset in hockey is different than that of baseball.


For the record, I should say that I think they think. I'm of the mindset in all sports that going first or last is irrelevant. You're either going to win or not. It mostly superstition or perception. Then again, maybe your statistical analysis will turn up a trend.

My biggest conundrum as it pertains to shootouts is how Ovie can score 61 goals with 5 or 6 games left and is terrible in the shootouts. I know his strength is really his deadly accurate and highly powerful shot, but seeing him score on his back looking away from the goal with a defenseman draped over him seems much harder than scoring 50% of the time in a one-on-one with the goalie. Maybe he should try the trick shot from the all-star skills challenge next time.
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Postby KazooSkinsFan » Wed Mar 26, 2008 9:51 am

JansenFan wrote:
JansenFan wrote:For the shootouts, I think scoring first puts pressure on the opponent in an already pressure packed situation. I just think the mindset in hockey is different than that of baseball.


For the record, I should say that I think they think. I'm of the mindset in all sports that going first or last is irrelevant. You're either going to win or not. It mostly superstition or perception. Then again, maybe your statistical analysis will turn up a trend.

My biggest conundrum as it pertains to shootouts is how Ovie can score 61 goals with 5 or 6 games left and is terrible in the shootouts. I know his strength is really his deadly accurate and highly powerful shot, but seeing him score on his back looking away from the goal with a defenseman draped over him seems much harder than scoring 50% of the time in a one-on-one with the goalie. Maybe he should try the trick shot from the all-star skills challenge next time.

There is accuracy, that is true. But when you refer to someone draped over him, in the shootout by the same account there's no one blocking the goalie. So besides shooting accuracy there is recognizing the flow of the game and the players and putting it in the right spot to score that way, not just 1-1 with the goalie. 1-1 in basketball by the same token is NOTHING like 5-5 basketball.
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Postby JansenFan » Wed Mar 26, 2008 10:01 am

KazooSkinsFan wrote:
JansenFan wrote:
JansenFan wrote:For the shootouts, I think scoring first puts pressure on the opponent in an already pressure packed situation. I just think the mindset in hockey is different than that of baseball.


For the record, I should say that I think they think. I'm of the mindset in all sports that going first or last is irrelevant. You're either going to win or not. It mostly superstition or perception. Then again, maybe your statistical analysis will turn up a trend.

My biggest conundrum as it pertains to shootouts is how Ovie can score 61 goals with 5 or 6 games left and is terrible in the shootouts. I know his strength is really his deadly accurate and highly powerful shot, but seeing him score on his back looking away from the goal with a defenseman draped over him seems much harder than scoring 50% of the time in a one-on-one with the goalie. Maybe he should try the trick shot from the all-star skills challenge next time.

There is accuracy, that is true. But when you refer to someone draped over him, in the shootout by the same account there's no one blocking the goalie. So besides shooting accuracy there is recognizing the flow of the game and the players and putting it in the right spot to score that way, not just 1-1 with the goalie. 1-1 in basketball by the same token is NOTHING like 5-5 basketball.


I completely agree that it is much different. I am just surprised that he's not very successful at it.
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