A couple of days ago we pointed to a post over at Puck Prospectus demonstrating that when teams lose draws in the defensive zone, they're asking for trouble. To paraphrase The Falconer, where you start shifts matters - all else equal, territorial advantage leads to outshooting opponents, outscoring them, and, eventually, planning Cup parades.
For the 2008-09 Caps, this territorial advantage at even strength was pronounced, with play starting in the offensive zone 33% of the time, as opposed to just 27% of faceoffs occurring in their own end. The result was that the Caps outshot their opponents by a 33.5 to 29.5 margin overall (despite opponents having 15% more power plays), which led to the eighth-best five-on-five ratio in the League, 50 wins, and so on.
But who was doing the heavy lifting at five-aside and who was coasting? A couple of charts should shed some light on that question.
This first chart (click to enlarge) shows individuals' Corsi Rating (defined here) against their average starting position for an even strength faceoff (for example, Jeff Schultz started 1.2 more even strength shifts per game in the offensive zone than in his own zone). [One thing to note is that these "faceoff positions" don't account for shifts started on the fly, but I'm not sure that would have much of an impact on the distribution in the charts below.]
So what do we see here (other than a nifty "trendline")? To begin with, Boyd Gordon started far more shifts in the defensive zone than at the other end of the ice, and his Corsi Rating (CR) showed it - it's difficult to establish much in the way of offense when you're starting most shifts nearly 200 feet from the opponent's net. David Steckel, on the other hand, also was used more in his own end, but managed a positive CR. Chris Clark got "bad" positioning and made things even worse. Other players - most notably Schultz (who played with high-quality teammates and against low-quality opponents) - didn't take advantage of their starting position, at least with respect to CR, while the usual suspects (i.e. Young Guns) did (and Mike Green was either utilized far more often in the offensive zone because of his skill set... or he was kept out of the D-zone for the same reason). Finally, guys like Sergei Fedorov, Eric Fehr and Karl Alzner did a lot with a little here.
Backing up for a moment to Green, it'll come as no surprise that he led the team's defensemen in 5-on-5 ice time. But not only did he have a more favorable starting position than his fellow blueliners (as shown above), but he also was on the ice for fewer defensive zone draws per game than any of them. By contrast, minute-munching forwards Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom each averaged more D-zone shifts than defensive specialist Steckel (though they obviously averaged a ton more offensive zone draws than Stecks, which is why they're so far out to the right on the chart above).
Of course, outscoring your opponent is ultimately what the game is all about, so let's take a look at individual players' 5-on-5 goals for per sixty minus their goals against, plotted against that same faceoff position axis:
The results are similar, but there are some important differences. First off, you'll see a trio of Caps in the lower right portion of the chart in what The Falconer calls "The Quadrant of Shame." These three - Matt Bradley, John Erskine and Viktor Kozlov - all started more shift in the offensive zone than in the defensive zone and managed to be on the wrong side of zero in terms of goals for/against. Not good. [On a sidenote, no Cap was in the opposite corner (The Quadrant of Heroism?) as generating a positive plus/minus with negative starting position, but that's exactly where you'd find the Flyers' Mike Knuble. Think he's an upgrade over Kozlov?]
Also standing out here are a couple of relatively small samples on the blueline, namely Tyler Sloan and Alzner. Sloan outplayed his Corsi Rating in this metric, while Alzner went the other way and ended up even, despite a strong CR.
There's a lot more to these charts, but getting a feel for who's going "above and beyond" and who's just along for the ride at even strength is helpful. Tomorrow: more on Faceoff Position.