Corsi, shot quality, and the Toronto Maple Leafs, part VII
In previous posts, I've argued that when it comes to shots, NHL teams might differ in how they choose to trade quantity for quality. That might partly explain why the Toronto Maple Leafs, for the past few seasons now, have had ugly-looking shot stats, but with an above-average shooting percentage.
Skeptics argue that team shooting percentage (SH%) doesn't seem to have predictive value from season to season, which suggests it's luck rather than skill or strategy. But, at the same time, Corsi for teams seems to have a negative correlation to SH%, which is one piece of evidence that shot quality strategy might be a real issue.
Anyway, read the previous six posts for that argument. This is just an anecdote.
It comes from a piece by James Mirtle, the Maple Leafs beat writer for the Globe and Mail. Mirtle notes that the Toronto coaching staff has directed Morgan Rielly to increase his shot attempts:
[In the October 28 game vs. Buffalo,] Rielly rang up two assists – including a beauty cross-crease pass on James van Riemsdyk’s goal – and was all over the puck generally, generating nine shot attempts.
That propensity to shoot has been Rielly’s biggest shift from a year ago. The coaches want him putting more pucks on the net, and he has responded in dramatic fashion, with 2.8 shots a game compared to 1.3 in his rookie year despite similar ice time.
Even more impressively, Rielly leads all NHL defencemen in generating shot attempts, with 21.6 per 60 minutes at even strength, meaning he’s getting a look at the net roughly every 2.5 minutes he’s on the ice.
He’s winding up more frequently than not only every Leafs defenceman but every Leaf, including shot demon Phil Kessel, something that’s helping drive Toronto to respectable totals on the shot clock most nights.
Entering [the October 31] game against the injury-plagued Blue Jackets in Columbus, the Leafs have been outshot, but only by one: 281-280.
"I told myself this year that I would shoot more," Rielly said.
Well, isn't that exactly the kind of thing Corsi skeptics should be looking for? It's evidence that coaching decisions can affect shot quantity and quality -- in other words, Corsi and SH%.
It's a small sample size -- the Leafs had played only nine games when Mirtle's piece came out -- but let's see what happens if we take Rielly's numbers at face value and make a few estimates.
Assume Rielly gets 20 minutes of ice time per game. If 80 percent of that is at even strength. it's 16 minutes at 5-on-5. Let's call it 15 to make the calculations easier.
Since he's generating 21.6 even-strength Corsis per 60 minutes, that's 5.4 even-strength Corsis per 15-minute game.*
*I'm assuming that the "shot attempts" in the article refers to Corsi. If it refers to Fenwick, the effect is even larger than what I'm about to calculate, because the denominators are smaller (since Fenwick leaves out blocked shots).
Rielly's shots roughly doubled since last year, so let's assume his Corsis doubled too. That means his increase from last year must be about 2.7 Corsis per game.
Last year, those extra 2.7 Rielly shot attempts would have been passes or stickhandles. Assuming half those attempts would have eventually resulted in shots by other players, the increase due to Rielly's shooting is down to 1.3.
How significant is 1.3 Corsis per game? In 2013-14, the Leafs were out-Corsied 4,342 to 3,259 at even strength, giving them a league-worst 42.9 Corsi percentage. If you add in 107 Corsis to the "for" side (1.3 times 82 games), it's now 4,342 to 3,366. That would bump Toronto to 43.7 percent. Now, only second worst.
It's not huge, but it's something that would indeed show up in the stats. And, according to Mirtle, it's something that's due to a deliberate coaching decision.
How big would the effect be if the coaches decided everyone should shoot more, instead of just one defenseman whose minutes comprise only about six percent of total player ice-time?
Also, you would think those extra shots would have to result in a reduction in shooting percentage, right? Last year, when Rielly wasn't shooting as much, it was probably because he thought he could set up a better quality shot some other way. And, I would assume, Rielly's shots are taken farther from the net than average, since defensemen usually play the point.
You could come up with a scenario where shot quality wouldn't drop ... maybe shots from the point lead to a lot of juicy rebounds, so long shots lead to a certain number of extra dangerous shots. Sure, that's possible. But I doubt if that effect, or any other, would make up the quality difference completely. If there were *never* a tradeoff between quantity and quality, every team would be shooting all the time. So, there must be some level of "dangerousness" above which a point shot is a good idea, and below which a pass is better. For shot quality would stay the same when Rielly shoots more, all his new shots would have to come in situations where not only was the shot the best move, but the shot was SO dangerous from the point that it would even be higher quality than the best alternative from closer in.
That's unlikely to be happening if Rielly now leads the league in shot attempts by defensemen. There aren't that many ultra-super-dangerous shot opportunities, never mind ultra-super-dangerous shot opportunities that Rielly wouldn't have taken advantage of last year.
As I write this, it's only eleven Leaf games into the season, which is a very small sample size. But I checked anyway. (Here's a YTD link that may be outdated if you're reading this later than today.)
In those 11 games, the Leafs have an above-average Corsi at 50.9% in 5-on-5 tied situations. But they've scored only 5 goals in 121 shots. That's a shooting percentage of 4.13%, dead last in the league.
There's not enough data for that to really be meaningful, but it's interesting nonetheless.
(There are seven parts. Part VI was previous. This is Part VII.)