LA's Power Play is Off to a Promising Start
The Kings' success at generating shots on the power play is perhaps one of the year's biggest surprises so far. How are they doing it?
If you are a regular reader of Jewels, you're probably at least tolerant of fancy stats. We at Jewels love to talk about the Kings' strengths at even play, but their play on special teams has been rather ho-hum since Darryl Sutter took over. So far this season, things have been trending very differently, at least on the man advantage. Let's take a look at why things are shaping up differently so far this season.
First of all, if you are at all appreciative of fancy stats and are a twitter user, you should be following fancy stats data visualizer Micah Blake McCurdy. If you are a follower of him, you may have noticed his daily updates on special team shot attempt rates. The Kings have been able to establish themselves as top shot generators early on, and that lead has managed to sustain itself now 13 games into the season. Just take a look at the graph below, from Micah's twitter feed.
That's a fairly big gap between LA and the rest of the league on 5v4 shots for per 60 minutes. The Kings are essentially attempting two shots for every minute they're on the power play. The natural follow-up questions would be "is this sustainable?" and "how does this compare to years past?" To the first question - yes, it is probably sustainable! To the second question, since the beginning of fancy stats tracking in 2007-2008, only one team has managed a higher attempt rate over a full season - the 2010-2011 San Jose Sharks.
The 2010-2011 Sharks didn't attempt at a higher rate than other teams by small margin either. They had 131.2 shot attempts per 60 minutes, and they put 72.5 of those attempts on net per 60 minutes. The gap to the next team in the league for those metrics is 22.8 and 12.8, respectively. That's a huge difference. That Sharks team created 8.08 goals per 60 as well, which was surprisingly fourth, not first. That year, Vancouver generated 9.2 goals per 60 minutes of 5v4 time. Part of that is thanks to a great offensive minded defenseman, whose name may be familiar to you.
Now that we have some benchmarks for comparison, let's look at how LA is doing compared to the rest of the league so far this year. Their 121.9 per 60 shot attempt rate is 10 attempts better than the next team, and their 65.2 shot rate per 60 minutes is 6.4 per 60 minutes better than the next team. The bummer here is that their 6.01 goals per 60 is a dismal 19th in the league.
That last stat is a little disappointing. Does LA attempt so many shots simply because they can't score? Their goal rate for last season was 15th in the league at 6.12, but their shot attempt and shot rates were only 97.3 and 48.0 per 60, respectively. Rather than unsustainable, their goal production from higher shot rates is looking a little unlucky (Marian Gaborik had 10 PPG last year vs. none this year e.g.). This is especially true because their 9.21 SH% (24th) would have been below worst-in-the-league Minnesota last year, at 9.30%. Also more positive is that 53% of their attempts this year have been on net, versus just 49% last year. Looking back through the years, we can see that middle of the road to bad shot and shot attempt rates were a norm for the Kings, and this year is an exception.
So, LA's shot metrics are off to a good start compared to previous years and the rest of the league, but where is that production coming from? Are the wingers generating more shots, is it the defense, or is it a mixture of both? Let's look at a table that compares individual and team shot and shot attempt totals for all players that have received power play time this year.
Kings 5v4 Shot and Shot Attempt Rates
One of the first thing to notice is that essentially everyone on the team has a higher individual shot rate, which is great. Of players that have seen significant ice time, only Marian Gaborik and Jake Muzzin are down. Given Muzzin's rate is a slight dip and he was highest on the team last year, he gets a pass. Gaborik's decrease is more significant and seems to coincide with his slump to start the year. Let's hope he gets better.
As for everyone else, we can see most have played a part in generating more shots. Power play fixtures Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, Alec Martinez, and Tyler Toffoli have all seen healthy jumps. Anze Kopitar has seen a large jump with 8.56 more shots per 60. We wanted him to shoot more, and he seems happy to do it on the power play. The largest increases have come from those players that saw little ice time both this year and last. However, both Nick Shore and Trevor Lewis failed to generate a single shot in over 30 minutes of power play time between the two. While their rates this year have been only across four minutes, it's good to see them shooting at all. Everyone is contributing in some degree to the increases we've seen.
Moving onto shot attempts, we essentially see an extension of the shot trend. I'd like to single out a few players though. First, Alec Martinez is only generating 0.45 more attempts per 60, but 4.7 more shots. That means he's finding ways to get all of his attempts to the net. For Toffoli, his attempt and shot rate increases are identical. So he's attempting more and being just as successful as getting his attempts to the net as he was before.
Next is team affects from each player. Looking at shots per 60 for each player, everyone has increased except for Carter and Toffoli, who saw slight dips. Those two essentially led the team last year, so we can look at it as other teammates getting better than them necessarily getting worse. For the regulars on the power play, the biggest contributors to team shot totals have been Kopitar, Brown, and Martinez. Given his amount of ice time and the size of the increase, it's fair to say that Dustin Brown has been one of the strongest contributors to LA's increase in shot and shot attempts, but even those at the bottom have been improving.
Now that we have the numbers, what could be the reason for these across the board increases? Jake Muzzin spoke with Jon Rosen about the importance of getting shots through at evens, and that was one of the reasons I initially suspected for these increases. However, we can clearly see the increases are not due to defensemen getting more shots through. It definitely seems to be a team-wide effect, which perhaps suggests they've changed their coaching on how to approach power plays.
Another point to discuss is the play of Christian Ehrhoff on special teams. Sutter has spoken about Ehrhoff needing to resemble the player he remembers from Vancouver, and we covered that recently as well. Indeed, Ehrhoff generated over 16 shots per 60 himself in 2010-2011 on the Canucks, which is higher than the individual rate for anyone on the Kings this year or last year (not counting those with less than 10 minutes of ice time from this year). Thus far we can see that Ehrhoff has been attempting shots at a rate that matches the highest of others on the team, but his team rates and his individual shot rate are underwhelming. Let's hope he can improve those numbers as we go along.
Milan Lucic, the other newcomer, also has numbers that are hard to miss. Unfortunately, they're bad. He's attempting shots at a remarkably low rate and appears to be holding his teammates back, despite significant ice time. The samples are really too small to look for WOWY situations, but it wouldn't be surprising to see that he is holding Carter and Toffoli back from being more successful on the power play.
Overall, this development is promising. The Kings are generating more shot and shot attempts, and it appears to be team-wide. They've probably been a little unlucky in their shooting percentage thus far, so an increase in goal production is definitely in store if they can sustain these rates. Another small, but promising development is the fact they've slightly decreased their allowed shot attempts from last year on the penalty kill, and they're 10th in the league now. If the Kings can keep their level of play at even strength up as we're used to and draw penalties, it could be a potent combination with an improved power play down the stretch.
Thanks to stats.hockeyanalysis.com and @IneffectiveMath for included stats and chart.