[Wild About Numbers]: Do The Wild Win More Games When They Lose The Possession Battle?

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

This season it has often seemed like whenever the Wild play really well, they end up losing because the other goalie plays a blinder, their special teams completely fail or their goalie has a stinker. Yet when the Wild get dominated and spend a lot of the game in their own end, they seem to somehow make all their shots while their goalie stands on his head. Let's look into the numbers on this one.

This is old news at this point, but here's a quick recap of how the Wild's puck possession game has progressed this season:

  • Early Season: Elite puck possession+No Shooting Luck=Decent results in the standings.
  • December: Bad puck possession+No puck luck=Terrible results.
  • January-February: Bad puck possession+Great goaltending=Good Results
  • Post-Trade Deadline: Great puck possession+Very little puck luck=Average results.


On Tuesday night in New York, the Wild eased some of the pressure on Mike Yeo with a 6-0 thumping of the injury-ravaged Islanders. While the result was great, the Wild didn't look so good in the 1st period and the Islanders had plenty of chances to score. Luckily, Bryzgalov stood strong and the Islanders had a Anders Nilsson in net at the other end. Nilsson is a young goalie having a very bad season (barely above 90% in the AHL) and he really looked awful on Tuesday night. He shipped two goals in the final quarter of the 1st period and after that the Islanders just gave up (not urprising considering how this season has gone for them).

The point is that the Wild didn't exactly bring the heat against a terrible team. Starting like that against a better team, on a night when the goaltending wasn't so mis-matched could have seen the Wild trailing going into the 1st intermission. This one goes down as another game where the Wild lost the puck possession battle while the game was close, but came out as winners.

So is this a thing that happens as much as we think it does? The tables below show their Fenwick For% (FF%) when the score is "Close".

The Wild Out-Possess The Opposition...

W

L

SO

W%

≥50%

15

10

8

45.4%

50%-54.99%

4

1

4

44.4%

55%-59.99%

2

6

2

20.0%

≥60%

9

3

2

64.2%

  • The Wild are winning less than half of their games when they have at least 50% puck possession. A lot of games are going to the shoot-out.
  • Their winning percentage is much more convincing when they have over 60% possession.
  • Weirdly, when they have over 55% and less than 60% they really struggle to win. This is probably just randomness, but it's strange all the same.


The Opposition Out-Possess The Wild...

W

L

SO

W%

<50%

13

17

6

36.1%

45%-49.9%

7

4

3

50%

30%-44.9%

3

11

2

18.75%

≤30%

3

2

1

50%

  • As you can see, the winning percentage is 9.3% lower when they are being out-possessed.
  • Strangely. when they have been dramatically out-possessed (FF% of below 45%) they've had excellent success.

PDO Effects

Sh%

Sv%

PDO

≥50%

6%

93.25%

99.25%

<50%

9.83%

93.56%

103.39%

  • You can see the major reason they're winning more than they should while being out-possessed and losing more than they should while winning the possession battle is because of PDO or, more specifically, shooting percentage.
  • The Wild have had consistently great goaltending this year, but their shooting percentage has been all over the place and, to their misfortune, it has deserted them when they have played their most dominant hockey.

*

So you might ask, why does any of this matter? Surely all that matters is winning, and even if they aren't getting more of the puck, as long as they're scoring on the chances they get then it's fine, right? What you need to remember is:

  • You can argue that teams can defy the importance of puck possession by taking higher quality shots, but these "shot quality" arguments have been dismissed over and over again.
  • The other factor that comes into winning a game, outside of puck possession, shooting and goaltending, is special teams.Great special teams can carry an average team very far, but they are still nowhere near as important as strong 5v5 play.

Sorry for the mountain of links but if you're interested in finding out why all this stuff is taken seriously, it's worth reading them. If they don't provide you with any answers, search Google for more, because there has been plenty of material written on these subjects over the last few years.



What do you think, Wilderness? Leave a comment below and please share on Facebook/Twitter.



Follow me @GerDevine.


[P.s. Major props to SomeKindOfNinja, the site I used for all the shot location data and some of the player usage charts. Also, thanks to Stats.HockeyAnalysisBehindTheNetExtraSkater and Hockey Abstract for various other numbers.]

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