Puck possession vs. scoring chances, a struggle of Carolina’s season

Over the last two seasons, I have been doing my best to take a closer look at the Hurricanes performance by keeping track of their puck-possession stats. Why? Because there is a lot that goes into winning hockey games and over time, it's been noted that the teams who are best at controlling puck-possession during even-strength play are usually better set for long-term success. In most recent years, the Hurricanes have been an awful team at controlling puck-possession, ranking in the bottom-half or bottom-third in the NHL in that category. That all changed this season, though.

In close game situations, the Hurricanes were winning the battle at even strength for most of the year. There was a point where they were a top-ten team in Fenwick Close and were doing a fantastic job of controlling puck-possession. This would lead to a happier ending in a full-year but some things went terribly wrong. Both goalies got hurt, the roster was beaten up and the team went through periods where they couldn't buy an even strength goal to save their lives. In a shortened year, that will normally do you in and while I don't think this club would have made the playoffs if they were a little more lucky, all of their numbers indicate that they were better than where they ended up in the standings.

There's another side to this story, though. Puck-possession may have been one of the Hurricanes strong suits this season but scoring chances were not. They controlled the puck in the opponent's offensive zone a lot, but there were many games where it didn't result in much offense and by that, I mean scoring chances instead of just shot attempts. There has been evidence which shows that strong puck-possession leads to scoring chances in the long-run and that Fenwick (Unblocked 5v5 shot attempts) and scoring chances are strongly correlated, so good puck-possession should lead to better scoring chances in a full year, right? 

Possibly, but this obviously wasn't a full season and things worked out much differently for the Hurricanes, as their ability to control scoring chances was still a problem this year even though their play at even strength improved considerably.

For most of the year, the Hurricanes were a positive team in controlling both possession and scoring chances, and while they stayed positive in the former category, their ability to create & prevent chances got worse as the year went on.

One thing you'll notice here is that the Hurricanes Corsi percentage (5v5 shot attempts) stayed pretty consistent throughout the year. They were above the 50% mark for basically the entire season and were winning the battle at 5v5 in terms of who had the puck more often. However, their scoring chance percentage at even strength got worse around the season went on.

Now, the Canes were a good team in this department for about half of the year and things began to go south around Game 25-26 and they started getting outchanced on a nightly basis. They struggled to win the scoring chance battle at even strength in almost every game after that and finished the season owning only 48.8% of the chances. That isn't horrible but it's still under 50% and much lower than the numbers they were posting earlier in the season. Their goal differential also took a nose-dive around this time of the year, too and that basically never recovered.

All of this relates back to the tired debate of shot quality and how much it matters, something that I examined with the Hurricanes this year. It's tough to make conclusions since this was a weird season with a condensed schedule but the ability to generate scoring chances was somewhat of an issue for the Hurricanes.

The graph above plots the even strength scoring chance percentage against the Fenwick percentage of every Carolina skater to play at least 100 minutes for the team. You can see that while there is a correlation, it isn't a very strong relationship. There were quite a few Carolina players whose scoring chance percentage was much worse than their Shot Differential percentage (Drayson Bowman's being nine percent off being the big one) and vice versa, so I can see the argument for "shot quality" being an issue with the Hurricanes. There were definitely some players who could tilt the ice in the Canes favor but not have it result in much because they couldn't get off any threatening shots. On the other hand, the Hurricanes also had nights where they didn't spend a ton of time in their zone, but gave up a lot of transition chances & odd-man rushes that obviously had a higher chance of finding the back of the net. So maybe there is some truth to the shot quality argument here? 

Possibly, but there are some external factors that kind of cloud things. The first one being that this is a small sample size of 48-games and 21 players, so the door is open for how valid this claim is. Scorer bias could also be an issue since what qualifies as a chance for me is different for other team's trackers. There's also the possibility that this would have evened out in a full-season, but we'll probably never know that since it sounds like Carolina will have a couple of roster shake-ups between now and September. Whatever the case is, the Hurricanes were a unique team this year, and a frustrating one at that.