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Fun With Numbers: Tough Competition

Tuesday, 06.18.2013 / 7:00 AM
By Rob Mixer - BlueJackets.com / CBJ Today
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CBJ Today
Fun With Numbers: Tough Competition


I don't profess to being a numbers guy (the journalism degree on my desk is evidence of that), but over the past few months I've become keenly interested in advanced metrics in hockey. Basically, we're looking at patterns and how hockey, like other sports, can be measured based on those patterns and evaluated accordingly.

As the movie "Moneyball" proves, just about anyone - including a grumpy MLB GM played by Brad Pitt - can be convinced that numbers, most often, don't lie. That's kind of where I am, and after a few days delving deep into the numbers presented by Gabriel Desjardins on behindthenet.ca, a site described as "the premier site for advanced hockey statistics and analysis."

It didn't take long for me to realize that's 100 percent accurate. This stuff is fascinating.

Basically, this series of posts on CBJ Today will be filled with my findings and analysis from these numbers and how they pertain to the Blue Jackets' 2012-13 season. How big of a factor Sergei Bobrovsky's play was, what areas need to be addressed in the offseason and other questions can hopefully be answered by taking a closer look at these metrics.

With that being said, here's where we will start: match-ups.

Line match-ups are kind of a controversial topic within hockey circles, mainly because there are groups of people/coaches who strongly believe in their merit and use them religiously throughout the course of a game (Alain Vigneault comes to mind), and then there are those who go by feel and trust their players to get the job done regardless of who they're skating against.

Regardless of how you feel about line matching, most coaches tend to have a "match-up" or "checking" line they use heavily against the opposition's top players; and, depending on them having the last line change, sometimes those players are used exclusively against a specific line. The Blue Jackets spent the early part of the season without a true checking line, instead using a variety of players to check the opposing team's star players.

Their 4-0-1 record against Detroit on the season was an example: the Blue Jackets made it a point to finish checks against the likes of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg whenever possible and used preferable match-ups for defensive zone face-offs. But as the season progressed - and Ryan Johansen was called up from Springfield in late February, we saw the emergence of a bona fide checking line.

One of the strong suits of the Blue Jackets' line of Johansen, RJ Umberger and Nick Foligno - which played exclusively as a unit for much of the season's final month or so - was its ability to spend a lot of time in the offensive end, which meant creating chances (shots) and starting the majority of their shifts in the offensive zone.

When we take Relative Corsi QoC into account - defined as the "average Relative Corsi of opposing players, weighted by head-to-head ice time" - this trio stands out again. Basically, this statistic measures the quality of competition each player saw in his respective time on ice, calculated by the opposition's effectiveness in generating shots and scoring opportunities.

Relative Corsi QoC shows us that, on average, the Umberger-Johansen-Foligno line trio saw the best competition the opposition had to offer each time they stepped on the ice. When Artem Anisimov was healthy, he often saw comparable assignments.

But what's Relative Corsi, you ask? It's a metric that shows a team's shot differential when a certain player is on the ice, minus the team's differential when that player is not on the ice. It takes goals, missed shots, saves and blocked shots into account and according to behindthenet.ca, is expressed as a rate per 60 minutes of play. It is a useful statistic for measuring a player's effectiveness in driving play. It does so by comparing team success during the time a given player is on the ice versus when he is on the bench.

The fact that the Umberger-Johansen-Foligno line had the three highest Relative Corsi QoC rates of all Blue Jackets who played at least five games means that coach Todd Richards and his staff made sure this line was the one to get the toughest on-ice assignments, particularly down the stretch, when Artem Anisimov was in and out of the lineup.

Relative Corsi QoC Rates:

Umberger - 0.935

Johansen - 0.744

Foligno - 0.539

*For context, Anisimov's Relative Corsi QoC was 0.929 on the season.

Further, these three players saw some of the lowest offensive zone start percentages on the team; Umberger (47.8 percent) and Foligno (48.1 percent) started fewer than half of their non neutral-zone shifts in the offensive zone, and Johansen (50.6 percent) pretty much began half of his non neutral-zone shifts in the offensive end.

What does this all mean? Clearly, the Blue Jackets coaching staff saw this line limiting the impact of opposing top lines, and with Johansen winning a lot of face-offs down the stretch, their possession numbers were strong as well. They didn't score a lot of goals or put up a lot of points, but they were a solid match-up line because they spent a lot of time getting out of trouble and playing in the offensive end: all three players on the line finished over half of their shifts (on average) in the offensive zone.

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