Advanced stats in hockey are also sometimes (and somewhat condescendingly) known as “fancy stats.” There are those who will snub their noses at the value of advanced stats, but if you take a look at the teams that are at or near the top of the Corsi and Fenwick heaps at season’s end, you’ll see – with rare exception – good teams up top and bad ones on the bottom.
Those who disrespect the value of advanced stats are likely also members of the flat earth society. More often than not, there is a correlation between success on the ice and in the standings and success in the advanced stat metrics.
A team’s (or a player’s) Corsi rating totals the number of shot attempts taken versus the number taken by its opponent and is expressed in terms of a percentage of the total shots attempted by both teams. Fenwick is the same, but it excludes blocked shots, the idea being that shot blocking is a skill of its own.
Having the puck is quite clearly better than not having it, and Corsi and Fenwick can sometimes paint us a picture of which teams routinely possess the puck and which teams tend to chase it.
Sample size is important, as is the case whenever you’re tossing stats around. The more data you’ve got, the more meaningful it is. That’s why it can take a half a season or so for a team to settle in somewhere in the region where it can expected to wind up.
With 40 games remaining in the 2013-14 season, the Capitals are parked in 25th place in both Corsi for (5 on 5, score close) and Fenwick for (5 on 5, score close). That’s not good. What it means in a nutshell is the Caps don’t have the puck as much as their opponents do on most nights in those situations, and if you’ve watched the 42 games to date this season you probably already have a very good sense of that.
Given that the Caps would be in a playoff position if the season ended today, they’d be – along with Toronto and, at the other end of the spectrum, New Jersey – what you’d call an outlier.
What’s funny (and not “ha-ha funny”) is that the Caps have put together four straight strong games in terms of advanced stats, but they’ve lost all four (0-2-2). And if you go back and look at Washington’s last four wins under the advanced stats microscope, they were outplayed in all four and terribly outplayed in three of them.
Yes means no, and no means yes. Do you want me to hit you?
In their last four games, the Caps have an overall Corsi for pct. of 59.9% in 5-on-5 play, and it’s even better (61.3%) in 5-on-5 close situations. The Caps’ overall Fenwick number in 5-on-5 play for the last four games is 60.2% and 60.8% in 5-on-5 close.
Those numbers are so outlandish and unsustainable. The Los Angeles Kings currently lead the NHL in Corsi (5-on-5, score close) at 57.4% and in Fenwick (5-on-5, score close) at 56.3%.
Washington is playing well and well enough to win regularly. Certainly their last four opponents (Buffalo, Ottawa, Carolina and Minnesota) won’t remind anyone of the mid-1970s Montreal Canadiens teams, but you’ve got to start somewhere.
And the way Washington was playing before these last four games was routinely ugly.
Especially when it was winning.
Looking just at the Capitals’ last four victories (Dec. 10 vs. Tampa Bay, Dec. 15 vs. Philadelphia, Dec. 20 at Carolina and Dec. 27 vs. the New York Rangers), the Caps were outplayed by a significant margin in terms of Corsi and Fenwick numbers. They trailed two of those games (the ones against Tampa Bay and Philadelphia) by three goals at one point.
The Capitals’ cumulative Corsi at 5 on 5 for those last four victories is an abysmal 36.1% and it drops to 34.6% in 5 on 5 close situations. Washington’s Fenwick number overall in 5 on 5 play in its last four victories is 39.8% and it tumbles to 36.9% in Fenwick 5 on 5 close play.
Those numbers are all unsustainably bad; they’re all south of 30th place Buffalo in every instance. The Sabres’ Corsi and Fenwick percentages are all in the low 40s.
To recap the Caps’ recent situation: play good and lose. Play bad and win.
“That’s not going to get you what you want, ultimately,” says Caps forward Brooks Laich, speaking of the way Washington has played in its recent wins. He goes on to say of the way the team has played in its four consecutive losses: “If we keep playing this way, the odds are going to swing in our favor and over time you’re going to accumulate more wins than losses.
“If the ice was tilted the other way and we got blown out of here and the score was 5-3 [on Saturday in Minnesota], then we’d be really disappointed and upset. That’s why I say it’s a little confusing right now. But I still believe we’re doing the right things. We can still get better but we’re doing the right things and hopefully we’ll get rewarded down the road.”
Hopefully and ideally, the Caps’ Corsi and Fenwick numbers will both continue trending upward while the team accumulates enough wins to keep it trending upward in the Metropolitan Division standings. The tiny sample sizes of the team’s last four games and its last four wins don’t mean much in the long run, they’re just interesting to look at in a head-scratching sort of way.