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Shot Differential: A Recipe for Success

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Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

It's been a little more than a year since Tony and I took over at the helm of Hockey Wilderness. With that we have adopted the use of analytics in our writing as well as the conventional stats and "eye test" to formulate our opinions. This, of course, was pioneered on this site by Ger Devine. Since then you've seen words like Fenwick, Corsi, Score Adjusted, War-on-Ice among other new lingo enter the Hockey Wilderness vocabulary.

A website called SportingCharts.com had an article posted that tries to explain team success when average team shot differential is a net positive. It's essentially an average shots for per game minus the average shots against per game. Except Sporting Charts is trying to show that those teams that have a positive shooting differential are legit Stanley Cup contenders.

In the last 20 seasons, not only have almost all Stanley Cup winning teams had a positive team shooting differential, they have consistently been in the Top 10. Here is how the Stanley Cup winners since 1993 have stacked up:

Los Angeles Kings (2012) - Ranked 6th overall with a +3.2 differential per game
Boston Bruins (2011) - Ranked 17th overall, but still had a +0.5 differential
Chicago Blackhawks (2010) - Ranked 1st overall, a +9.0 differential per game
Pittsburgh Penguins (2009) - Ranked 21st overall, the only SC winner with a negative differential -1.3
Detroit Red Wings (2008) - Ranked 1st overall, a huge +10.9 per game differential
Anaheim Ducks (2007) - Ranked 3rd overall, a +4.1 per game differential
Carolina Hurricanes (2006) - Ranked 10th overall, a +0.7 per game differential
Tampa Bay Lightening (2004) - Ranked 2nd overall, a +4.6 per game differential
New Jersey Devils (2003) - Ranked 1st overall, a +8.1 per game differential
Detroit Red Wings (2002) - Ranked 4th overall, a +4.6 per game differential
Colorado Avalanche (2001) - Ranked 4th overall, a +4.1 per game differential
New Jersey Devils (2000) - Ranked 2nd overall, a +7.5 per game differential
Dallas Stars (1999) - Ranked 6th overall, a +3.7 per game differential
Detroit Red Wings (1998) - Ranked 2nd overall, a +5.0 per game differential
Detroit Red Wings (1997) - Ranked 1st overall, a +7.9 per game differential
Colorado Avalanche (1996) - Ranked 6th overall, a +3.3 per game differential
New Jersey Devils (1995) - Ranked 5th overall, a +4.7 per game differential
New York Rangers (1994) - Ranked 3rd overall, a +8.2 per game differential
Montreal Canadians (1993) - Ranked 10th overall, a +1.8 per game differential

I then went game by game of the 2014-15 season and tallied the shots for and against.

Shots For / Shots Against Per Game

The Wild were one of the best in the league for shot differential through 15 games. In fact, the Wild didn't have a negative shot differential until Game 16 of the season. By Game 15 they had already a +145 in Corsi differential. Minnesota was downright dominant early in the season. They finished the season with a +255 shooting advantage over their opponents.

When you compare the shot differential with other the Corsi and Fenwick differential stats, it's almost identical.

Shot +/- Compared to Corsi and Fenwick +/-

More often than not, when the differential was on the plus side for all three categories, the Wild ended up being victorious. Note: There are some other anomalies in the data that show either a huge deficit or surplus of shots where the assumed outcome was not the case. To know what happened in those games, a look at shooting percentage and goalie save percentages would need to be done.

It's important to show the jump the Wild made in its possession metrics in just one season. We all know Mike Yeo was defensive first type of coach - and that's not a bad thing - it was the offensive system that wasn't working. The Wild can't play a dump and chase style in post-lockout NHL. In the 2013-14 season, the Wild ranked 21st in the league in shot differential.

Rank Team Games SF/G SA/G Avg S+/-
16 Carolina Hurricanes 82 31.2 30.9 0.3
17 Nashville Predators 82 29.0 28.9 0.1
18 Philadelphia Flyers 82 30.4 30.6 -0.2
19 Phoenix Coyotes 82 30.5 31.0 -0.5
20 Columbus Blue Jackets 82 29.6 30.8 -1.1
21 Minnesota Wild 82 26.6 27.7 -1.1
22 Florida Panthers 82 29.9 31.1 -1.2

When you look at the 2014-15 season, the change is dramatic.

Rank Team Games SF/G SA/G Avg S+/-
1 New York Islanders 82 33.8 28.3 5.5
2 Los Angeles Kings 82 30.9 27.0 3.9
3 St. Louis Blues 82 30.9 27.2 3.7
4 Chicago Blackhawks 82 33.9 30.2 3.7
5 Nashville Predators 82 31.9 28.3 3.6
6 Carolina Hurricanes 82 30.8 27.3 3.5
7 Minnesota Wild 82 30.8 27.6 3.1
8 Pittsburgh Penguins 82 31.6 29.3 2.4

Minnesota added four more shots per game, while staying nearly identical defensively. And then to point to Sporting Charts' assertion that teams that are in the top 10 of shooting differential, the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup after posting a +3.7 for the 2014-2015 season.

The Wild were 10th worst in the league in 2013-14 for Corsi differential with a -157. Compare those numbers with those of  the 2014-2015 season and that number jumps to +147. That's a +304 jump year over year. The Fenwick numbers, which correlates more with scoring chances and goal scoring, were a -94 in 13-14. That improved to +218. The Wild have made serious improvement. Puck possession is the way to play in today's NHL. Just look at the list of teams that make up the top of the list for Corsi and Fenwick: the Kings, Red Wings, Blackhawks, and the Lightning. All teams that have won the cup, or are considered real cup contenders.

Last season was a turn in the right direction. It was the first season in which Zach Parise even bought into analytics. With more emphasis on puck possession, the Wild were a really good team last year. Give it another year of full implementation, more buy-in from personnel, and coaching that places the players in the best situations to succeed, this Wild squad should be in the talk again as more than a playoff hopeful.