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For Jackets, scoring chances tell the story of the game

Coaching staff and players using analytics to identify tendencies and opportunities

by Alison Lukan AlisonL / BlueJackets.com

"Scoring chance" is a term that is heard more and more around the National Hockey League, but it's not something that has been universally defined.

"Sometimes, people get down on me because they might think I'm a little old school; but I think analytics are very important to the game," head coach John Tortorella says. "You need to get a little bit deeper (than one measure). You need to spend a little more time finding the right analytic and nothing defines or tells the story of the game more than scoring chances for and scoring chances against."

So, what are scoring chances to the Blue Jackets and how do they use them to develop their players and the overall team concept?

Tortorella has thought about scoring chances for a while. During the time between his coaching tenure in Vancouver and when he joined the Jackets, he and friend Mike Sullivan, head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, tracked every scoring chance in the League from one season.

For Tortorella, it was a lesson in using the eye test to the proper degree.

"What was revealing to me was seeing some of the tendencies of a team versus what you thought they were," Tortorella said. "And also, how much context is needed to understand an opportunity to score.

"I don't know what can be more simple and tells the story of the game better than just simply going through the chances for, chances against, and finding out what happened. And maybe as far as 30 seconds before. You have to go all the way back to that to really find out what your team is doing."

While Tortorella acknowledges that one school of thought incorporates defining a scoring chance based on where a shot comes from on the ice, he believes that's doesn't provide the complete picture of what a scoring chance is. He chooses to broaden his definition to adapt to how the game is played today.

Video: CBJ@PIT: Panarin buries PPG to extend lead in 3rd

In every game, video coach Dan Singleton marks plays that he believes are scoring chances. After the game concludes, Tortorella, along with assistant coaches Brad Shaw and Brad Larsen, review those chances and agree on what they identify as actual chances, both for and against the Jackets.

Chances are categorized and a variety of data points are recorded including type, game state (even strength, power play, penalty kill), location on the ice, and players involved.

Larsen then writes up each scoring chance, almost as a small story. The day after every game, those descriptions are posted for players to review and see who was credited for each chance. Much like goals and assists, players get credit for creating and helping to create each chance.

"We have a little explanation for the players," Larsen said. "We tell how a chance transpired. Was it a rush? For example, the puck entered on the left side with (Artemi) Panarin. He passed a seam pass to (Cam) Atkinson. Shot. Rebound. Goal."

Each chance is marked with a location on the ice and a time. If a player wants to take a look at the chance, they have immediate access to video to pull it up and see how the on-ice action occurred and what their role was.

Sometimes players disagree. That's welcome.

"We want the players to come and argue with us if they think they shouldn't have been dinged for a scoring chance against," Tortorella says. "That's the fun part for me. Players see the game so differently than we do as coaches. We get a chance to learn from them as far as how they're thinking and what they saw, especially the offensive guys."

Often times, a player will win his argument. Other times, the debate over how a chance was recorded will lead to specific coaching or video work for the player.

And all the while the coaching staff is also analyzing chances at a team level.

The Jackets look at scoring chances cumulatively in ten-game segments. They look for trends at the team and player levels and use that for immediate feedback on what needs to be worked on in team meetings or practices.

"We might have 15 scoring chances and nine came off the rush. That tells us we need more offensive zone time," Larsen says. "Vice versa, we may give up ten against off the rush so we have to tighten up our coverage."

Tortorella knows that 30 other NHL head coaches each probably think about scoring chances differently. In a perfect world, he'd love to find the time to get all those coaches together to bang around philosophies on what information and data they need in order to best understand what their team is doing. He thinks some great shared ideas could come from that.

But for now, this is the way the Jackets use scoring chances, and it works for them.

"We have to be really careful what we use, or you can get walked into things and handle your team the wrong way," Tortorella said. "Nothing better defines to me the story of the game than scoring chances both for and against you as far as how the game is played."

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