Leafs Defence Doesnâ€™t Suck
Note: I have produced a followup article to this one that corrects some small mistakes I made with respect to counting some PP goals as even strength goals, factors in shot type, and better deals with some biases that are present in the NHL statistics. Feel free to read the article below but be sure to also read the followup article which I would consider a much more reliable evaluation of defence and goaltending in the NHL.
I donâ€™t know how many gazillion times I have heard people say that the Leafs defence sucks big time and is the reason for the Leafs failures and every time I hear that I cringe because it is so not true. And then I argue that the real problem is not the Leafs defence but the Leafs goaltending. I often quote statistics like how the Leafs give up relatively few shots against and the counter argument against that is that the Leafs may not give up a lot of shots, but they give up high quality shots. Although I have always suspected that is not the case it is a real difficult argument to argue against because there is no easy way to evaluate shot quality. But being the stubborn guy that I am I am going to give it my best shot.
In the NHLâ€™s play by play reports they keep track of the distance of each shot that is taken and I think this might be the easiest and only reliable stat to use as a proxy for shot quality. The idea is that the closer in a shot is to the goal, the more difficult the shot is. So, what I did was track all shots against that every team gave up this past season and grouped them according to the distance the shot was taken from the goal. The groupings I used were 0-5, 6-10, 11-15-, 16-20, 21-30, 31-40, 41-50, 51-60, and 60+ feet. I also kept track of how many goals were scored from each distance grouping so I could determine shooting percentage for each distance group as well. Only even strength shots were considered as well. Here is what I found on a league-wide basis.
As one might expect the closer the shot the higher the chance that the puck goes in the net with shots from inside of 20 feet or so being the best shots to take. I realize that there will still be some variances in difficulty of shot within these groupings (i.e. a one timer on a cross ice pass being more difficult than a straight shot from off the side of the net) but by factoring out shot distance we should be doing a pretty decent job of accounting for a significant portion of what makes a shot difficult.
The next thing I did was to look at how each team does in terms of giving up shots from the various distance groupings with a particular interest in seeing how the Leafs stacked up to the rest of the league. Warning: These results may be frightening to those who want so desperately to believe that the Leafs defence sucks. View with caution.
As you can see from the above chart is that the Leafs do an excellent job at limiting the number of shots from close-mid range, particularly in the 11-15 foot range as they give up the 4th fewest shots from that distance. From the other high shooting percentage distances (0-5, 6-10 and 16-20) the Leafs are middle of the pack or slightly below.
The next thing I did was to take a look at the shooting percentage against for each team from each distance grouping. The results can be seen in the following chart.
As you can see, the Leafs goaltenders have one of the highest overall shooting percentages against which is consistent with the fact they have one of the worst save percentages in the league. But what is interesting is that Leaf goalies (mostly Raycroft) are the worst at saving shots from 11-15 feet as well as 41-50 feet and are among the worst from 16-20 feet, and 21-30 feet. All I have to say is thank goodness the Leafs defence were good at limiting the number of shots from the 11-15 foot range or else last season would have been much worse for the Leafs.
Chris Boersma over at Hockey Numbers has done some interesting work looking at goalies save percentages based on shot location and he found that Raycroft really sucks at stopping puck shot high and to the glove side. This is interesting because probably the best place to shoot a puck high is in that 10-20 foot range because you are far enough out that you can get it up and over the goalie but close enough to not give the goalie a lot of reaction time. Clearly these kinds of shots are killing Andrew Raycroft and the Leafs.
So finally, I wanted to summarize all this data in terms of a single, easy to understand number so we can compare teams and how difficult of shots they give up. To do this I took the number of shots each team gave up in each distance grouping and multiplied it by the league-wide shooting percentage for that group and then summed up the numbers for all groups. The result is one number which represents how may goals a team would give up if they had a perfectly average goalie with a perfectly average save % from shots taken at each distance grouping. Here are the results:
|Team|| Expected ES
What is interesting with that table is that for the most part the teams perceived as the good defensive teams (Dallas, Detroit, Vancouver, Minnesota, Anaheim, Calgary, New Jersey) are closer to the top of the list and look, surprise, right there with them is Toronto. Sorry Leaf defence bashers, looks like you have even less of an argument now.
Edit: I added the following a few hours the original post
Maybe the most interesting thing we can do with the above information is see how much goaltending actually affected a teams goals against. To do this I compared the above expected even strength goals against with each teams actual even strength goals against. By subtracting expected from actual I can come up with ‘Goalie Goals’ which is an indicitation of how many goals the teams goalies can be blamed for. These numbers are astounding.
|Team||Exp. Goals||Actual Goals||Goalie Goals|
It is no surprise to who is at the top of the list as most of us knew Los Angeles, Toronto, Philadelphia, Phoenix, etc. had weak goaltending and the bottom teams are no surprise either as all those teams are known to have good goalies. What is a surprise is the magnitude of the goals that can be blamed on the goalies and the number of goals that goalies saved for their teams. As bad as the Kings goalies were, seeing them be the blame for as many as 46 even strength goals is quite amazing. Similarly, seeing that Lundqvist saved his team nearly 40 goals on his own is quite amazing. If anyone wants to argue that goaltending isn’t the most important position in hockey they just need to look at these statistics.