Sunday, September 20, 2009
Season Preview: Colorado Avalanche
Colorado was a terrible team last season in terms of goal differential and their placement in the standings. However, to what extent they were bad, and to what extent they were unlucky, remains unclear.
At first glance, the latter appears to be true. The Avalanche were absolutely screwed by the percentages in 08-09. At even strength, they ranked 27th in shooting percentage and 26th in save percentage. On special teams, they ranked 25th in shooting percentage and 24th in save percentage. Overall, they ranked 29th in shooting percentage and 28th in save percentage. That’s undeniably rough.
However, the above data doesn’t quite tell the entire story. For one, it’s been demonstrated that shot ratio and shot differential at EV varies according to goal state. Whereas playing from behind tends to increase shot ratio, playing with the lead tends to decrease it. Therefore, shot differential per se may not be indicative of the balance of play for a team that plays a disproportionate amount of time with the lead or while trailing in any given season.
Colorado qualifies as one such team. No team played from behind more than the Avalanche did in 08-09. Not surprisingly, this is reflected in the team’s underlying numbers. Whereas the Avalanche ranked 16th in the league in terms of overall EV shot differential, they were 24th in terms of EV shot differential when the score was tied.
Secondly, while the Avalanche may have been respectable in terms of shot differential itself, they fared quite poorly in terms of Fenwick and Corsi. For reasons that remain unknown, the Avalanche tended to surrender many more missed and blocked shots than their opponents last season. In other words, the Avalanche had many more shots directed at their own goal than they directed at the opposition’s net.
Admittedly, I’m not quite sure what to make of the fact that the Avalanche fared so much worse in terms of Fenwick and Corsi relative to their shot differential. No other team in the league exhibited such an unusual discrepancy. On the one hand, it may suggest that Colorado tended to spend much more time in their end of the rink than in the other team’s end at EV. Such is the mark of a poor even strength team. If the Avalanche were in fact territorially dominated at EV last season, their results may have less to with poor luck and more to do with poor play.
Interestingly, the 07-08 Avalanche were characterized by the exact same profile. Like the 07-08 team, their EV shot differential was much better than their Fenwick and Corsi. Unlike the 08-09 team, however, the 07-08 Avalanche performed quite well at even strength, outscoring the opposition 160 to 143. Unless the 07-08 Avalanche were simply lucky – which I think is unlikely, it’s possible that shot differential is more indicative of Colorado’s EV ability than are Fenwick or Corsi.
Additionally, even if the Avalanche are evaluated on the basis of Fenwick and Corsi, and even if one controls for the fact that the Avalanche tended to disproportionately play from behind last season, it remains apparent that they were an unlucky team. To illustrate this, I’ve prepared a chart below, based on data kindly supplied to me by frequent poster Sunny Mehta several months ago, that shows how each team performed last season in terms of Corsi when the score was tied at EV.
In this chart, I've included two columns that show each team’s shooting and save percentage in terms of shots directed at the net with the score tied. Thus, shooting percentage is calculated by taking the number of goals that a team scored at EV with the score tied, and dividing it by the number of total shots directed at the other team's net. Save percentage is calculated in the exact same fashion, except with goals against and shots against. As depicted in the chart, the Avalanche ranked 22nd in shooting percentage and 24th in save percentage. The point is this: the Avalanche were an unlucky team any way you look at it, regardless of the particular approach or method of analysis.
All things considered, the Avalanche were likely a below average team that also happened to be subjected to an inordinate amount of bad luck. I suspect that they’ll be less awful this year just on account of the fact that they couldn’t possibly have a worse year with the percentages than they did last season. For the exact same reason, they’ll likely do better than most people expect them to. That said, the team lost one of its best forwards in Ryan Smyth in the offseason and had its second line centre retire. They’re worse on paper than they were at the beginning of last season and I’d be surprised if they made the playoffs.