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2017-18: A tale of two Coyotes

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To paraphrase an infamous beginning, it was the worst of times and it was the best of times. That makes it worth analyzing.

NHL: St. Louis Blues at Arizona Coyotes Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017-18 season for the Arizona Coyotes will go down in the history books as having one of the worst starts ever with a record of 9-27-5, and one of the best endings to not make the playoffs at 20-14-7. That is what makes it so strange and so interesting to analyze.

The “whys” of it all are already known and have been discussed: A completely new coaching staff and new system; injuries to key players like Antti Raanta, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Jakob Chychrun; a 40 percent turnover in roster players; and of the 23 players on the opening night roster 14 hadn’t yet reached 200 NHL games played. The “what” that went wrong hasn’t really been looked at closely, until now.

It would be simple to dismiss the first 41 games for the Coyotes as not getting good enough goaltending, which is true. Any goalie not named Raanta, who played in multiple games for the Coyotes, wasn’t able to obtain a save percentage higher than the league average of 90.0 percent. However, it is not the whole story. From the start of the season through New Year’s Eve, the Coyotes not only had the worst save percentage in the league they also allowed the most shots at 5-on-5 with 2,058. The next team that allowed the most shots was the Anaheim Ducks with 1,939 5-on-5 shots, a decrease of about six percent. The team that allowed the fewest shots, the Boston Bruins, only allowed 1,538 shots in the same time period, a 25 percent improvement over the Coyotes.

Looking at 5-on-5 data from www.NaturalStatTrick.com, one can see the areas where the team had the most improvement in their final 41 games of the season. The increases in “for” statistics show the improved offensive capabilities of the team whereas decreases in the “against” statistics show the improved defense. (For anyone not familiar with Hockey statistics definitions are provided at the end of this article. )

Half Season Comparison

Stats 1st 2nd Difference
Stats 1st 2nd Difference
Shot Attempts For 1,834.00 1,940.00 106.00
Shot Attempts Against 2,058.00 2,014.00 -44.00
Unblocked Shot Attempts For 1,348.00 1,381.00 33.00
Unblocked Shot Attempts Against 1,561.00 1,522.00 -39.00
Scoring Chances For 829.00 858.00 29.00
Scoring Chances Against 895.00 915.00 20.00
High Danger Scoring Chances For 345.00 362.00 17.00
High Danger Scoring Chances Against 401.00 390.00 -11.00
Medium Danger Scoring Chances For 484.00 496.00 12.00
Medium Danger Scoring Chances Against 494.00 525.00 31.00
Low Danger Scoring Chances For 825.00 859.00 34.00
Low Danger Scoring Chances Against 987.00 921.00 -66.00

Using this data as a guidepost it is noticeable that the greatest improvement in offensive areas was in the overall shot attempts for the team. Offense is only one part of the game, and the table shows that there were also improvements in the team’s shots against. One way to see which players had the most improvements to both their offense and defense in their overall shot attempts, is to look at the shot attempts percentage displayed in the graphs below for any player that played in more than 10 games for the whole season.

This graph shows the shot attempt percentage for each forward in the 1st and 2nd halves of the season. It is sorted from the most improved to the least improved.
data by NaturalStatTrick.com graph by Rose Ford (@RoseColoredFact)
This graph shows the shot attempt percentage for each defender in the 1st and 2nd halves of the season. It is sorted from the most improved to the least improved.
data by NaturalStatTrick.com graph by Rose Ford (@RoseColoredFact)

It is necessary to note that players who didn’t play many games in the first half of the season due to injuries or trades but did play in the second half have a bit of an advantage over those who played in both halves. When a player, like Richard Panik, has no data for the first half there’s nothing but improvement in the second half. Similar sample size issues can also occur for players who didn’t play much in the second half but did well in the few games they played. For example, Anthony Duclair only played in two games for the Coyotes in the second half of the season so it’s not known if he could have maintained his above average shot attempt percentage for the rest of the second half with the Coyotes.

Another area where the team improved significantly was increasing their Low Danger Scoring Chances For while reducing their Low Danger Scoring Chances Against considerably. This means they were getting more unblocked rebounds and rush shots in the offensive zone while preventing the same type of shots in the defensive zone. Since Head Coach Rick Tocchet’s new system encourages rush plays, and defenders joining the rush, seeing improvements in this area demonstrated that the team was really starting to adjust to the new style.

This graph shows the Low Danger Scoring Chance Percentage for each forward in the 1st and 2nd halves of the season. It is sorted from the most improved to the least improved.
data by NaturalStatTrick.com graph by Rose Ford (@RoseColoredFact)
This graph shows the Low Danger Scoring Chance Percentage for each defender in the 1st and 2nd halves of the season. It is sorted from the most improved to the least improved.
data by NaturalStatTrick.com graph by Rose Ford (@RoseColoredFact)

These two were the most dramatic areas of improvement for the team between the first and second halves of the season but there were improvements in most of the statistics that were considered. There are several players whose second half results were near or above average fairly consistently across all the statistics, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Jason Demers, Clayton Keller, Christian Dvorak, Nick Cousins, Chychrun, Hjalmarsson and, perhaps to some people’s surprise, Panik.

If these players can stay healthy and maintain their positive play from the end of the 2017-18, than this coming season could be one of the best seen in a long time.

For those interested here are all the graphs of the team’s shot and scoring chance percentage data:

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A Primer on Hockey Stats

Shot Attempts For (a.k.a Corsi For or CF) is all of the shots that a team took regardless of the outcome, including: misses, shots on goal, blocked shots, and goals.

Shot Attempts Against (a.k.a Corsi Against or CA) is all of the shots that a team allowed the opposing team to take regardless of the outcome, including: misses, shots on goal, blocked shots, and goals.

Shot Attempts Percentage (a.k.a Corsi Percentage or CF%) is a calculation that determines what percentage of the total number of all shots taken were in favor of the team. To arrive at this number one divides the team’s Shot Attempts For by the total of the Shot Attempts For and Shot Attempts Against [CF/(CF+CA)]

Unblocked Shot Attempts For (a.k.a Fenwick For or FF) is all of the shots that a team took that doesn’t include blocked shots, including: misses, shots on goal, and goals.

Unblocked Shot Attempts Against (a.k.a Fenwick Against or FA) is all of the shots that a team allowed the opposing team to take that doesn’t include blocked shots, including: misses, shots on goal, and goals.

Unblocked Shot Attempts Percentage (a.k.a Fenwick Percentage or FF%) is a calculation that determines what percentage of the total number of unblocked shots taken were in favor of the team. To arrive at this number one divides the team’s Unblocked Shot Attempts For by the total of the Unblocked Shot Attempts For and Unblocked Shot Attempts Against [FF/(FF+FA)]

Scoring Chances For (SCF) in this case any shot taken in the offensive zone that meets the criteria originally defined by War on Ice:

– In the low danger (yellow) zone, unblocked rebounds and rush shots only.

– In the medium danger (pink) zone, all unblocked shots.

– In the high danger zone (green), all shot attempts

War On Ice

Scoring Chances Against (SCA) the same categorization of shots used for the opposing team’s shots.

Scoring Chances Percentage (SCF%) is a calculation that determines what percentage of the total number of scoring chances taken were in favor of the team. To arrive at this number one divides the team’s Scoring Chances For by the total of the Scoring Chances For and Scoring Chances Against [SCF/(SCF+SCA)]

Low Danger Scoring Chances For (LDCF) are all unblocked rebounds and rush shots taken in the low danger (yellow) region of the offensive zone.

Low Danger Scoring Chances Against (LDCA) are all unblocked rebounds and rush shots taken by the opposing team in the low danger (yellow) region of their offensive zone.

Low Danger Scoring Chances Percentage (LDCF%) is a calculation that determines what percentage of the total number of low danger scoring chances taken were in favor of the team. To arrive at this number one divides the team’s Low Danger Scoring Chances For by the total of the Low Danger Scoring Chances For and Low Danger Scoring Chances Against [LDCF/(LDCF+LDCA)]

Medium Danger Scoring Chances For (MDCF) are all unblocked shots taken in the medium danger (pink) region of the offensive zone.

Medium Danger Scoring Chances Against (MDCA) are all unblocked shots taken by the opposing team in the medium danger (pink) region of their offensive zone.

Medium Danger Scoring Chances Percentage (MDCF%) is a calculation that determines what percentage of the total number of medium danger scoring chances taken were in favor of the team. To arrive at this number one divides the team’s Medium Danger Scoring Chances For by the total of the Medium Danger Scoring Chances For and Medium Danger Scoring Chances Against [MDCF/(MDCF+MDCA)]

High Danger Scoring Chances For (HDCF) are all shots taken in the high danger (green) region of the offensive zone.

High Danger Scoring Chances Against (MDCA) are all shots taken by the opposing team in the high danger (green) region of their offensive zone.

High Danger Scoring Chances Percentage (HDCF%) is a calculation that determines what percentage of the total number of high danger scoring chances taken were in favor of the team. To arrive at this number one divides the team’s High Danger Scoring Chances For by the total of the High Danger Scoring Chances For and High Danger Scoring Chances Against [HDCF/(HDCF+HDCA)]