9/10ths of the Law

Analytics aren't perfect and they certainly aren't for everyone, but something I could never understand is how polarizing they are, mainly "possession" stats like Corsi and Fenwick. Mention these two words to any hockey mind and they'll likely respond by telling you that these stats are meaningless and how hockey is a game that can't be quantified. I can understand why these stats are a little off-putting at first, their names are kind of stupid, but when you break it down, all they look at is how many shots one team has directed at the net compared to how much they give up. In other words, it measures how much one team is controlling the play and how much time they are spending in the opposing team's zone. That's it.

You'll hear a lot of coaches talk about how they need to do a better job of "tilting the ice in their favor," "get shots on net" or "spend more time in their zone" during games, so I never understood the aversion to these stats because they aren't exactly introducing anything new into the world of hockey. All they do is capture what is happening on the ice and give us a better idea of which teams and players are controlling territorial play, which is more reliable than the human memory or boxcar stats, which can be very misleading because they are based off so few events.

Again, if stats aren't your thing then that's fine but there is value to them and I don't think they should be completely dismissed. "Possession" stats like Corsi and Fenwick are probably the most debated in the hockey community right now and while they do have their flaws, they have mattered for the Hurricanes this year. I've mentioned a few times that the Canes have been a bad possession team during five-on-five play this year but in the rare occurrences where they have outshot their opponents this year, they've been able to get results.

  W L OT Win% Points%
Outshoot (5v5) 10 2 2 71.4% 78.6%
Outshoot (All Sit.) 9 4 1 64.3% 67.9%
OutCorsi (5v5) 10 3 2 66.7% 73.3%
Outshot (5v5) 2 13 5 10.0% 22.5%
Outshot (All Sit.) 4 10 6 20.0% 35.0%
OutCorsid (5v5) 4 10 5 21.1% 34.2%

There are obviously sample size issues here with us looking at only 34 games, but the Canes have had a better chance of winning whenever they either outshoot their opponents or win the possession battle at five-on-five. Some teams have been able to overcome getting outshot badly at events (see the Leafs last year), but this hasn't been the case for the Hurricanes, as they are a better team when they control the play at even strength. So, what's the solution to this? Some might say that they just need to "shoot the puck more" but it's not that simple.

In order to do that, you have to be a team that controls the territorial play and create sustained zone time. The Hurricanes have been poor in both of these areas this year and part of this stems from their play in the neutral zone. Far too often, the Canes have resorted to making safe plays when entering the zone and it's limited how much offense they've been able to create on the rush.

Dump-and-chase play is considered a fundamental part of hockey and an effective way to establish a forecheck. In theory it makes sense and it's very effective when you are playing with a lead but for the Hurricanes, it hasn't led to much success. Past studies on zone entries have shown that teams are likely to create twice as much offense off controlled entries than they are off dump-ins and this has been especially true for the Hurricanes this year.

  Entries Shots/Entry Carry% Shots/Carry Shots/Dump In
Hurricanes 1921 0.49 47% 0.71 0.29
Opponents 1900 0.51 49% 0.7 0.32

Carolina's been averaging fewer than .5 shots every time they enter the zone during five-on-five play and most of it is because they can not create any offense whenever they are forced to play dump-and-chase. Compare their .29 shots per dump-in to the .71 shots off carry-ins and they are creating nearly 2.5 more offense off controlled entries than they are off dump-ins. This isn't to say that dump-and-chase can't work, because some teams do it well, but it hasn't worked for the Hurricanes this year and the fact that they are resorting to this style of play more than 50% of the time is concerning. The Canes actually have more total zone entries than their opponents, so it's not like they haven't had the puck, they're just making bad decisions with it and it's sucking the life out of their offense.

Some good news is that they have been getting better in the neutral zone as of late, but their overall numbers are still pretty ugly.

Carolina has only had control on at least 50% of their 5v5 zone entries in 10 games this year, seven of them coming in the last 10. So yes, things are getting better but for the majority of the year, Carolina has been taking a very conservative approach in the neutral zone and the results speak for themselves. They haven't created many shots off dump-ins and they are spending way too much time in their own zone at the other end. I'm not sure how much of this has to do with coaching and injuries because when healthy, the Canes can be much more creative with the puck and carry it in more often, but they've been stuck playing dump-and-chase for most of the year for whatever reason.

Hopefully these last ten games are a sign of things trending in the right direction because the Canes are 5-3-2 during this stretch and have won the possession battle in seven of those games. The Metropolitan Division being wide open has helped them stay in contention and now it's time for them to start capitalizing on it.