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Charts & Graphs: the Minnesota Wild

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I think the following chart does the best job I’ve seen representing what we’ve seen so far this season from the Minnesota Wild. It was posted by Sean Tierney @ChartingHockey on January 12th, so it’s a little out of date. But a more-current version would look much the same. Through the game against the Edmonton Oilers, this post was completed during the Wild’s game at Calgary last night, the Wild’s CF% was at 49.7%, 19th in the league, the ScF% was ranked first at 58.4%, the GF% was 61.1%, good for 2nd in the league, the xGF% is 54.4%, also second, and, finally, the Wild’s PDO is second in the league at 103.8.

Sean Tierney @ChartingHockey 1/12/2017.

Tierney followed his tweet with this chart with the following tweet, “The Minnesota Wild. Probably the clearest instance going right now of a team that seems to forego some shots in favour of closer shots.

PDO is fire here but xGF% is still very strong. SCF% too. The Wild are doing an interesting thing.”

The traditional fancy stats analysis would note that the Wild look pretty average according to the shot share. The team isn’t controlling play. And the sky high PDO suggests a run of good shooting and great goaltending that is not sustainable over the course of a full season. Once the SH% and SV% dries up, the Wild’s likely to see the GF% share drop and that will lead to fewer tallies in the win column.

We can pick at this analysis. It seems like each of the writers on the staff has taken a look at Dubnyk’s performance over the past two/three years and, at some point, we’re all going to have to recognize that his play is legit. (And Deryk Engelland just scored from the point on a wrister past Dubnyk. Goalies, man.) As for the SH%, sure, Koivu’s 5v5 SH% will regress. I wrote about that. And, the other top shooters via 5v5 SH% are Stewart, Graovac and Schroeder, who comprise the fourth line. That won’t last. But, will Pominville and Parise finish third from last and last of forwards in 5v5 SH% by the end of the season? My guess is, no.

So, back to the chart at the top. What do we make of the ScF% and the xGF%? The Wild look first class. ThatGuy22 wrote a great Fan Post here at the HW about ScF%. My problem with scoring chances is that I don’t always understand how a scoring chance is defined. How is a scoring chance defined and how does that definition differ between Corsica or NaturalStatTrick or Tortorella? I couldn’t find the definition on Corsica.hockey, but that’s probably my failure. If you see it, post it in the comments. Also, scoring chances, by definition, are simply a subset of the shot-attempt data we already use with CF% and those percentages tend to trend together.

What is well-defined at Corsica.hockey are expected goals. Here’s a link to the explanation from Emmanuel Perry.

Instead of the zones War-on-Ice used to define the “dangerousness” of shots on goal, Perry uses the shooting percentage from different areas of the ice for which we have data. The result is the following graphic.

So, you can see that the most dangerous shots in yellow are in the slot directly in front of the net. And the least dangerous shots in red are coming from the blue line. That makes intuitive sense. If the Wild is winning the ScF% and xGF%, the Wild is getting more shots from the more dangerous areas of the ice than the Wild’s opponents.

So, here’s another graphic from Micah Blake McCurdy at hockeyviz.com. This shows the unblocked shot rates against the Wild this season. The Wild gives up a higher rate of shots from both points and along the boards compared to the other teams in the league. But the Wild also gives up far fewer shots in the dangerous zones defined by Perry, outside of the leakage on the back door near the left post.

That image may look familiar. TSN’s Scott Cullen used a very similar image in an article about the Wild this week. Here’s a link. One, I started this article during my work meeting last week from a hotel room in Philadelphia. No, it had nothing to do with politics. I tried to finish the post last week from the hotel, but ended up falling asleep midway through. Sorry about that. The HW editors probably weren’t pleased. And, two, true attribution belongs to IneffectiveMath, who does incredible work. I’m sure Cullen would agree.

Finally, this isn’t intended to be an argument for shot quality over quantity. The Wild is slightly above average in scoring chances for (SCF/60: 8.05 (13thin the league)) and expected goals for (xGF/60: 2.57 (11th in the league)). What the Wild is really good at is preventing shots/scoring chances from the areas of the ice where teams have tended to score a higher percentage of goals (SCA/60: 5.72 (1st) and xGA/60: 2.15 (2nd)).

The question isn’t really whether the Wild’s play this season is sustainable over the course of the season. After the loss against the Flames, the Wild is already 50 games into the season. Even if the Wild fall off the table, the team is going to make the playoffs. The question is whether the Wild’s play should be expected to repeat the regular season success in the playoffs. Can a team that regularly loses the overall shot battle make up for that by preventing shots in the most dangerous areas of the ice and relying on exceptional goaltending for the shots that do get through? That’s what I’m working on for next week.

Stats and charts via @ChartingHockey, Corsica.hockey, Hockeyviz.com and stats.hockeyanalysis.com.