Silver Nuggets: Pulling the Goalie

Do the Sens make good choices when pulling the goalie?

When you're looking at analytics, most people at this point tend to look at things at 5v5. It makes sense - this is where most hockey is played, and you introduce unnecessary biases by including PP and PK situations especially. The thing is, the hockey played not 5v5 can often determine the outcome of a hockey game. This week I got caught looking at Ottawa's stats 6v5 (i.e. with their own goalie pulled). The problem with these stats is that it rarely happens, and if it does, it's only for at most a couple minutes at the end of a game. The sample size is tiny. Still, small sample sizes means you should think critically about the data, not necessarily throw it all out.

The NHL keeps track of team scoring by strength. Ottawa has five goals scored 6v5 this season, tied for sixth in the NHL. Combining all goals scored with the goalie pulled, Ottawa is tied for fifth in the NHL with seven. So at least in raw goal totals, it looks like Dave Cameron is making good choices when he pulls the goalie. So what are his choices?

For starters, Mike Hoffman and Erik Karlsson are third and fourth respectively in the league for time-on-ice with their own team's goalie pulled (all stats here from War on Ice). And first place belongs to Tobias Lindberg and his single NHL game played, so really they're second and third. Karlsson's stat is hardly surprising - he's often out at the end of a game, regardless of score situation, and seems to play the final 2-3 minutes of a game the Senators are losing. Hoffman is interesting though. There's been lots of complaint about this usage this year: restricted minutes, demotions to lower lines, all despite leading the Sens in goals, both at even-strength and on the powerplay. Whether for character issues or perceived defensive issues, Hoffman's ice time has been limited. Still, it seems clear that Cameron knows that when his team needs a goal, Hoffman is the guy who has to be out there.

Among Sens players with at least 10 minutes of 6v5 time, Hoffman only ranks fifth out of eight for Corsi-for per 60. Does that mean Hoffman doesn't drive shots as much as the rest of his team when they need a goal? The counter side is that Hoffman has 40 individual Corsi events - in other words, he's taken 40 shot attempts by himself with the goalie pulled. The next-closest Senator is Erik Karlsson with 25. Actually, the next-closest player in the league is Henrik Zetterberg with 28. In other words, when the Sens need a goal late in a game, Hoffman is a shot machine. It's important to remember the Sens have been trailing late in a lot of games, so Hoffman's had a lot of opportunity. Alex Ovechkin is the classic example of a shot machine, but the Capitals have been so good this year he's played half the 6v5 minutes of Hoffman. They rarely need to play catch-up. Still, Hoffman's raw totals are impressive. For what it's worth, Hoffman also leads the league in unblocked shot attempts (Fenwick) and is third in shots on goal with his goalie pulled.

It seems that for all the times we question Dave Cameron's decision-making, his choices when pulling the goalie are pretty logical. He routinely comes back to the league's most trigger-happy goal-chaser. And making choices like this has helped the Sens to lead the league in a dubious stat: the most wins while being outshot, with 31.

Sens Links:

Other Links:

  • Travis Yost looks at whether the Bruins, Red Wings, or Flyers are most likely to miss the playoffs [TSN]
  • Down Goes Brown wonders why we don't give out the Hart the same way we do the Jack Adams - and the proceeds to give out his own Hart trophy [Sportsnet]
  • A couple weeks old: Jen LC looks at some specific instances where knowing stats can help a team, such as dumping the puck out to get a line change [Jen LC]
  • A little bit of bias here on my part: a friend of mine has put together an under-visited site called Check Republics, that looks at parity. Among other things, you can look at what the standings would be if we brought ties back, if regulation wins were worth three points, or other things. If the NHL's current standings or draft system bother you, this site is a great resource for seeing how things would look under a different system [Check Republics]

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