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Explaining Guy Boucher’s System: Part 2

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Part two of analyzing and explaining #TheSystem

NHL: Preseason-Ottawa Senators at Winnipeg Jets Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

When Guy Boucher was hired in the offseason, Pierre Dorion made it clear that Guy was his first choice to take over as the Sens’ new bench boss. Hours of meetings were spent between the two, and Dorion was convinced that Boucher’s system was best for the team.

After going from the disappointing 2015-16 to now being second in the Atlantic division, a lot of the credit being given for the Sens’ improvement has been directed to Boucher and The System. When they win games like the recent 3-0 and 2-1 victories against the New Jersey Devils, all talk is directed towards The System.

But what exactly is this system? Beata looked at this in part one yesterday by reviewing the footage, and in part two I’ll be approaching this using statistics.

Even Strength

The stat: The Sens have an average shot distance for of 33.95 feet (28th furthest), and an average shot distance against of 33.15 feet (26th furthest).

What this tells us: Average shot distance is a good start to analyzing a team’s quality of offence and defence, and it can also give us some insight into the team’s system. Because they’re taking shots from a further distance it means that the opposing team is having difficulty getting chances in close, which are of higher danger. This serves as a compliment to the Sens’ defensive corps, who have done a fantastic job preventing chances from getting in tight.

A more detailed way of looking at this is with relative shot charts from HockeyViz.com. It measures how many shots teams take by location, and colours it based on how well they do compared to the rest of the league. The red ‘hot spots’ are where they take more shots than league average, and blue spots are where they take relatively less. Starting with the the offensive zone:

HockeyViz.com

As expected by shot distance, the blue spot in the middle shows that the Sens are lacking in chances in close. This exposes one flaw with Boucher’s system. Although the offence has become better at cycling the puck, the Sens have been having trouble getting chances towards the middle. There’s surprisingly little difference to last year’s shot locations, who under Dave Cameron ranked 24th in distance for.

Now onto shots against, where the results are a bit more pleasing:

HockeyViz.com

The blue spot in the centre appears once again, although this time it’s in Ottawa’s favour. This is where The System gets its trademark, as the defence corps has done a fantastic job at preventing teams from getting chances in the middle. This is light years above Dave Cameron’s Sens, who allowed way more chances in the high danger areas than they should have. This chart is only including unblocked shot attempts, so let’s see how the Sens do with all shot attempts.

The stat: Ottawa allows 58.85 total shot attempts (Corsi) against per 60 minutes (24th). However, 27.88% of those shots get blocked by Ottawa, the 6th highest in the league.

What this tells us: As good a job as The System has done at keeping shots to the outside, that hasn’t prevented teams from being able to take plenty attempts. This could be in part due to the transitional phase at the beginning of the season, as their CA60 was higher at the start and hasn’t reached the same peak since.

Corsica

What The System does really well, however, is block shots. To be clear, this hasn’t had a huge effect on how many shots they’re facing, as they still rank 23rd league-wide in Fenwick against (unblocked shot attempts). It’s still a massive switch from last season, when Ottawa ranked in the bottom third for blocked shots percentage. It’s helped divert shots away from the net, and although I don’t have data to back this up, it’s also helped create chances going the other way.

Power Play

One thing Guy Boucher really stressed in his offseason interviews was that he wanted to bring in his “accelerated power play”. This meant the puck would always be moving with players continually cycling, which in turn would throw the other team into confusion. Although the power play has visibly improved, going from 15.8% conversion to 17.5%, that still puts the Sens as the 21st ranked team this season. Why is it still this low?

The stat: Ottawa generates 17.03 scoring chances per 60 minutes at 5v4 (28th, from Corsica), as well 16.68 high danger chances per 60 (26th, from Natural Stat Trick).

What this tells us: Much like at 5v5, the Sens have had trouble getting chances in close. The way I’ve observed the Sens’ power play is that it’s a binary: they’re either standing still or continually cycling. Either way, neither strategy has focused on getting pucks to the front of the net.

With little movement, the opposing penalty kill has time to be able to gain proper zone coverage (see: 5 on 3). When the puck is being continually cycled, instead of throwing the opposition off, the Sens are being confused themselves, being forced to make a creative play to keep the offence going.

Either way, generating high danger chances has been a weak point for Ottawa’s power play which is why their conversion rate is still in the lower tier.

Penalty Kill

Ottawa’s 83.3% penalty kill ranks 7th in the league, a far cry from last year’s 75.8% which ranked 2nd last. Had their PK remained the same, they would’ve already given up an extra fourteen goals against. That can make a huge difference in a team’s record, especially in the air-tight Atlantic division. What’s even more impressive, is that the underlying numbers show Ottawa’s penalty kill to be even better than where their current percentage ranks.

The stat: Ottawa’s penalty kill allows 17.06 scoring chances against per 60 minutes (2nd, from Corsica), as well as 16.80 high danger chances against (3rd, from Natural Stat Trick). Their expected goals against per 60 (Corsica’s model), which adjusts for shot quality, ranks 7th at 5.31.

What this tells us: Well, what else is there to say? The penalty kill has arguably been top five in the league, as the detailed structure has prevented teams from being able to get quality scoring chances. This isn’t much different from 5v5, as we’ve been able to keep shots to the outside and out of high danger areas.

The stat: The Sens’ PK averages 29.18 blocked shots per 60 minutes, 4th highest in the league.

What this tells us: Also similar to the defensive system at even strength, Boucher’s been instructing his players to frequently lay down the body, which has prevented plenty of potential scoring chances.

Of the 313 players who have played at least 50 minutes of PK time, four players in the top 100 for blocked shots per 60 minutes are Senators, including Dion Phaneuf at #15. Looking at forwards only, Kyle Turris ranks 4th, Tom Pyatt ranks 12th, Pageau ranks 22nd and Kelly ranks 36th. That’s a massive amount of shot blocking from the forwards, which has gone a long ways to shutting down some of the top power plays in the league.

The stat: 75.39% of faceoffs during the Sens’ PK start in the defensive zone, the league’s 7th lowest percentage. And despite being middle of the pack this season in shorthanded goals scored (a large decrease from last season), they still rank 4th league-wide generating 14.81 total shot attempts per 60 minutes.

What this tells us: As an added bonus, the Sens’ PK has done a great job killing the clock by creating a bit of offence for themselves. Although they’re not the shorthanded goal specialists like they were last season, being able to skate into the opposing end and get a shot on net can kill 15-30 seconds that would’ve otherwise been spent defending.

Summary

As discussed in Beata’s post yesterday, the increased detail of structure has shown to help the Sens immensely. The System focuses a lot on shot blocking and preventing high danger chances, which has culminated to less goals against and a stellar penalty kill. The obvious weakness is the power play and offensive pressure, although the increased defensive awareness has led to a net positive.

Unlike last season, most of 2016-17 has been spent inside a playoff spot. The System, although not perfect, has been a major reason why they are where they are. Should they continue to improve, the Sens may soon be considered a true contender.