On Tracking Scoring Chances, Part II

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 22: Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins makes a save on Mike Knuble #22 of the Washington Capitals during the game at Consol Energy Center on January 22, 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Yesterday we talked about the process of tracking scoring chances, including the difficulties that arose and the insights we gathered. We showed how a different set of eyes could yield different results, and how a particular team or player might be viewed differently based on those results. Today we'll get into some of the specific chances that we disagreed over. The following examples are grouped based on postural similarities. Location is always going to be key when evaluating a scoring chance, so we'll look at how some other factors influenced our grading of these chances. The factors that will be focused on below are puck possession, puck movement, and defensive posture (of the defense and the goalie). We'll provide video of some of the chances that we disagreed on internally, and then provide short statements defending our ultimate decision. Let's start with a chance that was referenced in Part I, the Mike Knuble backhand shot attempt from the slot. First the video:

Join us after the jump for our thoughts...

SME, Renstar, and GOULD marked this as a chance.

JP: A wild backhand through a maze of sticks and players? It’d have been a miracle goal and not the result of converting a dangerous chance.

Gouldie: This was a tough one for me. Richard Park is all over Knuble like pink on an AHL Valentines Day commemorative jersey. Knuble can’t get a good shot off. Ultimately, I think it was Jeff Halpern’s derriere in the face of Marc-Andre Fleury that swung this to "chance" for me. I’ve almost never seen a player as mobbed as Knuble was score a goal, but Halpern’s screen and the chance for a tip-in make that a dangerous play.

D’oh: Echoing J.P., a goal from this shot would have been more a matter of luck than of skill. Maybe Halpern deflects that shot in, but this was a "just get it on net and hope something good happens" type of play.

SME: I’m with Gould on this one. If Fleury has a clear and unobstructed view on this, I wouldn’t consider this a chance. But Halpern is sitting right in front of Fleury creating a good screen for Knuble. Similar to the Letang goal, the traffic in front of the net makes a shot more dangerous than it otherwise might be. The high chance for a tip or a rebound, especially since the PIT D that was on Halpern left him to alone in front of Fleury. Considering that it was a backhand through pretty much every player on the ice, it would have definitely been quite a bit of luck had it gone in. That said, I still counted it as a chance as he got the puck through to the net, right from the slot, he didn’t flub the shot and made Fleury make the save. That kind of play I wouldn’t be surprised if the puck had gone in.

Rob: I just don’t see this as the kind of play where the Capitals broke down the Penguins D, or the Penguins made a defensive mistake. Knuble is able to walk the puck out of the corner, but he never has a clear look and this isn’t the kind of play where I’d expect a goal to result. The PIT defenseman was with Knuble the whole way, and even had a little help. I could see Bylsma not being very happy that Knuble drove the puck to the slot, but it’s not a particularly difficult backhand for the goalie to handle and the D is all over Knuble (who isn’t known for his shot, anyway). This isn’t the kind of play that really pulls me off the edge of my seat. I think D’oh makes a good point about it being a "hope" shot: is it really that much more threatening than a point shot?

renstar: For me, it didn’t have anything to do with who the shooter was or that Fleury had an obstructed view. The shot wasn’t the most important thing for me on this play. The chance for a deflection is what stood out. Without Halpern there for the chance at a deflection, I probably don’t count that. This is a good example of what I meant above by a reasonable chance to play the puck in the danger zone.

Let's take a look at a two more potential chances from right in the heart of the slot. First up is a play from the first period involving Jason Chimera and Alexander Semin:

SME, Renstar, and GOULD marked this as a chance.

renstar: This one should be among the most controversial chances we consider. It was also the first one I encountered, so I found myself using the short rewind feature of Gamecenter to watch it over and over, trying to figure out how I felt about it. I ended up going with a chance here simply because Semin was a quarter step off from getting there, and that short step is, in my opinion, no different than having the stick turned slightly wrong and stuffing one into the goalie’s pads. The Penguins won’t want to keep giving that play up, because if it connects, it is a goal.

JP: It should have been a chance. A better pass and it is. But no Cap ever had the puck in a good scoring area, so it’s not in my book. At no point was a shot even attempted, so I can’t call it a scoring chance. But does that mean that an otherwise perfectly executed 2-on-1 where the puck skips over the would-be shooter’s stick isn’t a chance? I’d argue that it isn’t, but that the result is not capturing what’s really going on on the ice in terms of quality offensive opportunities.

Gould: If a guy has an open shot and whiffs the opportunity, that’s a blown chance. If a guy can set up his teammate with a pass and the timing is slightly off, I think that’s got to be a chance too. I don’t think any kind of pass/shot distinction is helpful. Chimera and Semin beat the defenders and had an opportunity for an easy goal if the timing had been right. Semin’s nearly alone with the goalie out of position and the puck on his stick. Seems like a chance to score a goal to me.

D’oh: Football has the "catchable ball" clause for pass interference, and I’m invoking the "receivable pass" clause to strike this down as a scoring chance. Semin can’t get his stick on that pass, and even if he does, he’d just be poking at it. Fleury has plenty of time to get over and square up to the puck. Therefore, it’s not a scoring chance in my estimation.

SME: I’m with Gouldie. It was still a chance despite the blown pass/reception. We see goals all around the NHL on that sort of play all the time. Even though Semin isn’t able to get his stick on the puck it’s still a very dangerous play.

Rob: I’m with and against J.P. I’m with in the sense that close isn’t enough. Almost isn’t a chance. But simply because it’s no shot doesn’t mean it’s not a chance. If bad ice made the puck bounce over Semin’s stick on an otherwise tape-to-tape pass then I’d probably call it a chance. But it wasn’t a threatening pass, and you could argue that if the angle of the pass changed such that the puck could have gotten to Semin, maybe the D intercepts. No chance.

Compare the above play to this next play. In contrast to the play above, this following play will involve clear possession in the slot. However, contrary to the Knuble chance above, there will be no shot on net.

Rob, Renstar, Gould, and D'ohboy counted this as a chance.

renstar: I had this as chance because there should have been a goal scored. It was an odd-man break and the puck was put on net. A better shot or one more pass and it is a goal. Not the play you can give up if you want to lead hockey games.

JP: I treated this the same way I did the Chimera-Semin 2-on-1 - no shot, no chance, even though the opportunity for both was right there. Tough call, I guess.

Gould: Pens broke down the Caps’ defense and were one easy pass away from an easy shot into an open net. This was a golden opportunity to score a goal.

D’oh: At first glance, this is a no-brainer scoring chance, but watching the replay it’s not as clear-cut. Yes, it’s a two-on-one, but it’s very brief - it’s not as though Sullivan and Park had a chance to really set up. This is probably why Sullivan and Park are skating parallel to each other, which allowed Carlson to simultaneously cut off the passing lane and pressure Sullivan. It’s a scoring chance, but it’s not a great one.

SME: I didn’t have it counted as a chance, but treating it the same way as the Chimera-Semin chance, I have to revise my decision. It’s something that should, or very easily could have been a goal with a quick cross-ice passing play on a 2-on-1. The passes and shots could have certainly been better, but that was still a dangerous play that often leads to a goal.

Rob: This is why I disagree with J.P. on the Chimera/Semin play. There was no shot, but a clear two-on-one in the slot is always a chance to me, no matter how you look at it. The offense earned an opportunity, the defense broke down, the defensive coach will hate it. Sullivan made a bad play, but an objectively dangerous situation was created for the Pens. The replay with the high angle behind the net really confirms just how much real estate the Pens had with the Caps vulnerable.

Let's transition and look at another factor in judging a scoring chance: defensive posture. First up is a shot from the left wing circle by James Neal:

J.P., SME, and Gould counted this as a chance.

JP: This was similar to that Dupuis chance we discussed earlier [ed. we had that play counted as a scoring chance 5-1, SME in dissent] - it’s a scorer in a decent spot with a quick shot. Is it no chance because he flubbed the shot? That seems to be ex post facto - the chance, in my opinion is when he has the puck in position, whether he buries it, shanks it or otherwise.

Gouldie: Nice passing leads to an open shot on net. Sure, it was a bit far out, but I’ve seen that goal scored in the past.

D’oh: This is similar to, but significantly different from the Dupuis shot that I earlier rated as a chance. In both cases, the puck comes from behind the net to a Pens player around the circle for a quick shot. In the Dupuis chance, the puck comes quickly from almost directly behind the net. On this play, the puck comes out to Neal a bit slower and from the corner. The former causes a more rapid change of angle for the goaltender and defensemen. The biggest difference, however, is the presence of defenders. The Caps have Neal pretty well bracketed here, with Knuble taking away his stick and Laich moving in to block his shot. This was much better defensive coverage than that provided by Wideman on the Dupuis chance, and it’s what prevented Neal from getting away a good shot.

renstar: Any power on this one and it is a chance, but it just wasn’t there.

SME: When I re-watched this, I had the same reaction as J.P. But watching this in tune with the game I considered it a chance because of the shooter and location. Pens work the Caps down low to get him open in the slot area for a one timer that he misses, but is still a chance.

Rob: This is one of the rare cases where I differ from J.P. Yeah, it’s close, and similar location to the Dupuis chance, but the D is on Neal and that’s a huge part of the reason it’s a flubbed shot. This isn’t a pure flub like the Michalek shot. While Neal is the kind of guy that coaches say "don’t let him beat you," the D being on him is important to me, so I have it as no chance. Or what D’oh said.

Unlike the Neal shot, this next play features an open shooter, and a different overall defensive posture:

Gould, Renstar, and SME counted this as a chance.

renstar: I counted this due to the one-timer, plain and simple. That sort of puck movement is going to result in a goal eventually.

JP: I might have counted that as a chance if it was a Shea Weber teeing it up, but that’s still a fairly unscreened shot from way downtown - a goalie with a working groin shouldn’t have much trouble with it, despite the movement.

Gouldie: The two Pens down low are closer to Neuvirth than the two Caps defenders -- not something you want to see. Mchalek flubbed the shot. If he doesn’t flub, but instead takes a hard, low shot, and there’s any kind of mistake by Neuvirth on the rebound, then that’s an easy goal for one of the two guys in front of the net.

D’oh: Sullivan’s pass across to Michalek wasn’t great, and Michalek couldn’t really get good wood on his shot. Kunitz is in front of the net, but Neuvirth sees the shot the whole way - not a scoring chance.

SME: I counted this as a chance because it was a cross-ice one-timer, even if it was a poorly executed one. It wasn’t a very good chance, but I still counted it as one. (Also, I’m fairly certain that it’s Niskanen, not Michalek...)

Rob: I’m with J.P., the fact that it’s not a very difficult shot (or shooter) is important to me on this one. In terms of culpability, it’s not great D for the Caps, but Michalek isn’t the kind of guy coaches say "don’t let him beat us" so I’m OK with this.

Finally, consider this last opportunity and how the goalie's posture impacted our thought process:

J.P., Rob, and Gould counted this as a chance.

renstar: I had this as a potential chance but ended up not counting it because the angle was too sharp, Sullivan was too close, and there just wasn’t any dynamism in the play. If he cut inside and not out, it probably would have counted.

JP: What was Hamrlik doing there? Jesus. Anyway, it’s a chance in my book, even if the angle was a bit severe - there’s some space upstairs and maybe some five-hole; if the shooter is unscreened from there and there’s net to shoot out, it’s a chance, says I.

Gouldie: This is like the Halpern play. The forward beats the defenseman and ends up one-on-one with the goalie. Seems like that’s always a chance to me, even if the forward is a little off balance and the angle is less than ideal.

D’oh: The angle was just too sharp on this shot. Maybe Sullivan would have had a better chance if he had a teammate right on Neuvirth’s crease, serving as a distraction. Even though Hamrlik looks like a turnstile, he at least prevents Sullivan from cutting back to the slot. Neuvirth could hug the post and Sullivan, as a right-handed shot, has pretty much nowhere to go but top right corner under the bar. That’s an unbelievably difficult shot and therefore not a scoring chance.

SME: Sullivan made the Caps D look silly there, but I never considered it a chance because he was at a very tough angle when he finally got open enough to shoot and Neuvirth was with him even if there were a couple gaps on his person. That’s not a goal I would ever be OK with a goalie giving up, therefore I don’t give it the distinction as a scoring chance.

Rob: Sullivan is inside the home plate with no D on him. Neuvirth is square, but it’s a shot that you see end up in the net not infrequently. It isn't quite as dangerous as Dupuis' sharp-angle chance [ed. scored as a chance 4-2] so I can see how it’s borderline; this is the kind of chance that makes me really wish we could implement a system that was more than binary. This is a weak scoring chance, in my book.

Now, having seen some concrete examples, you can see the thought process behind our determinations. There are so many factors at play (and we only really touched on a couple of them) that it was tough for us to develop a clear-cut definition of a scoring chance. Obviously location is going to be a big part of it, but when you start considering the context of the defensive and offensive players, the location-based definitions begin to breakdown (at least in our opinion). Tomorrow, in Part III, we'll wrap things up with our concluding thoughts on the process and the value of the information.

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