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Cam Jam - Oct. 23, 2013

by Cam Charron / Vancouver Canucks
It's obvious in the early going that the biggest bright spot for the Canucks is the penalty kill.

87.2 - The Canucks penalty kill, and how can we measure its success?

By the traditional "penalty kill" measure, which is simply 'kills divided by times shorthanded' the Canucks' 87.2 per cent rate is third in the National Hockey League.

I feel that our traditional metrics for measuring success and failures on the powerplay and penalty kill fail a bit. They don't account for context—a team that gives up a goal in the first five seconds of a PK is judged the same as a team that allows a goal in the final second of a PK—and killing off a full five-minute major is judged to be less valuable than killing off a four-minute double minor. These are minor quibbles and given the vast amount of powerplays throughout a season, they do tend to even out.

Via, here's a look at goals against per 60 minutes of 4-on-5 ice-time:

1. Colorado 3.53
2. Washington 3.62
3. Toronto 3.87
4. San Jose 4.24
5. Boston 4.61
6. Vancouver 4.95

That changes things slightly. However, how can you qualify which players are the most successful at penalty killing? An excellent post at Fear The Fin (it's a San Jose Sharks blog, but don't hold that against them. It's one of the better analytical blogs out there) showed that unblocked shot rate is actually the best for predicting future success in special teams situations, particularly in the first 20 or so games of a season.

From the same site, here are the top five teams in unblocked shot attempts per 60 minutes in 4-on-5 situations:

1. NY Islanders 57.9
2. Minnesota 59.3
3. Vancouver 62.3
4. Nashville 63.4
5. Los Angeles 63.9

(FA/20 indicates Fenwick Events Against per 20. If you read the first Cam Jam you'll remember that a Fenwick Event is simply any unblocked shot attempt.)

The other reason goals and shot rates are preferable over traditional percentage measures is that you can tell which players are the most successful at killing penalties. Hockey Analysis measures the players with the best rates for goals against (link here - small sample warning) and unblocked shots against (link here). It's pretty cool stuff. The play-by-play sheet tells me that the Islanders only generated one unblocked shot in the 1:38 Chris Higgins spent shorthanded, so if I've done my math right, Higgins should have 15.188 FA/20, among the league leaders.

Higgins has done very well keeping the puck out of the Canucks net when he's been on the ice shorthanded. The three shorthanded goals the Canucks have scored down a man are gravy at this point.

96.5 - The Canucks powerplay, and how they can generate more goals?

On the flip side of the coin, the Canucks' powerplay has not been getting good results. According to however, they are generating 96.5 shots per 60 minutes when on the man advantage, so there's reason to think that the team's inability to score is just an anomaly. They've converted just 5.7% of their shots into goals, and percentages that are too low or too high in the early going of a season can usually be expected to correct themselves closer to the mean before the season is out.

But the team does have one slight problem when it comes to man advantages. Specifically, the team has drawn just over 2.6 penalty calls per game, or one full call below the NHL average. Put an unsuccessful powerplay with a team that doesn't have a lot of players that can draw penalties, and you'll wind up not generating a lot of offence.

Drawing penalties from the opposition is a very under-appreciated skill. I doubt that even most people inside hockey would be able to guess which players are consistently atop the leader board in penalties drawn per season! (According to Behind the Net, Los Angeles' Dustin Brown and Carolina's Jeff Skinner have been in the Top 10 for the last three seasons. John Tavares, Claude Giroux, Taylor Hall, Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Alex Ovechkin have appeared in the Top 10 in the league twice in the last three years).

The Canucks have just one player in the Top 10 from any of the last three seasons: Ryan Kesler drew 28 calls back in 2010-11 (taking 19 penalties himself) but has not cracked the top of the list since, most likely due to injury. There's another familiar name however. David Booth drew 29 penalties in the 2010-11 season, and over the last three seasons is the best player on the Canucks in drawn penalty differential per 60 minutes, at +0.63.

I found it a curious decision that he was scratched on Tuesday. He's drawn four penalties on the season so far and hasn't taken any. Maybe that would be a more appreciated ability if the Canucks could get some goals on the powerplay.

Other Canucks with positive penalty differentials? Daniel Sedin has drawn five and taken three, Zack Kassian has drawn three and taken one, and Brad Richardson, Ryan Stanton, Alex Burrows and Zac Dalpe are all +1 by this measure. It's a slim sample, but something Booth and Richardson normally do well at.

7.7% - The unpredictability of shooting percentage

Over the last 15 games, just 7.7% of Ryan Kesler's shots have found the back of the net. I was intending for this number to be lower when I wrote this section, but Kesler had to go score a goal (and draw a penalty!) against New York. There have been some people antsy in Vancouver about when Kesler is going to put it all together, but most of his problems lately have been caused by low shooting percentages, as well as the fact he was so good in the 2010-2011 season, perhaps there's some misunderstanding of Kesler's offensive ability. He's on pace for 29 goals over 82 games, which would be an amazing season for any player. That's assuming he stays healthy.

Just to show you the unpredictability of a player's shooting percentage (goals divided by shots), look at this graph. Kesler's career-to-date (numbers from Hockey Reference's game logs) shooting rate is in blue, and his 15-game rolling shooting percentage is in green:

I like looking at graphs like these because they remind me how unpredictable hockey can be. Kesler has spent a fair bit of time converting below his career shooting rate, especially since that dominant 41-goal season three years ago.

Kesler has four goals in 11 games, but his shots per game rate is currently through the roof and if he keeps that up, he might break it wide open. Note how the lows on the above graph are often followed by highs. It's like a stock ticker. For you Fantasy Hockey Players, it's a good idea to keep note on which forwards shoot often, but well below their career rate after a month or so. Don't make the mistake of trading a player away during a cold snap, especially if they're generating shots at a rate Kesler is.

If healthy, Kesler should be good for anywhere between 2-3 shots a game. Any rate over 2.5, in practice, is excellent.

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