The Pittsburgh Penguins and Puck Possession

Puck possession is important in hockey. Few people will disagree with that. Where the arguments start is when you try to determine which statistics to look at in order to determine puck possession. Since the NHL decided to stop recording/publishing "time on attack" stats, most people have taken to using Corsi and Fenwick in order to track puck possession.

These stats are reliable metrics for possession-logically, the more shots a team is able to direct towards the net, the longer they have the puck. The term "direct" is important here, since a team could be +30 in Corsi collectively, but because of bad luck, be behind in the shot count. Plus, there's the ever present scorer bias in NHL arenas-home teams generally get more shots recorded.

With that in mind, let's take a look at some charts:


What does that chart show? Those are all Penguins forwards who have played at least 16 games this season.  The circle size represents average ice time. The color represents a player's five-on-five Corsi for percentage. More blue is better, more red is worse.

It shows us what we pretty much already know: The Penguins' bottom two lines aren't very effective at possessing or shooting the puck. (By the way, all of the chart images in this post were generated from Extra Skater on Monday night, March 10, 2014, before the Pens/Caps game ended.)

How does the Pens' chart compare to other top teams? Take a look at the same charts for some other top teams:

The Boston Bruins:

The St. Louis Blues:

The Anaheim Ducks:

The Chicago Blackhawks:

The Bruins and Blues look pretty strong, the Ducks are kind of all over the place and the Blackhawks are dominant. 

Want another interesting chart? Take a look at the Penguins from 2011-2012, the last year of Cooke-Staal-Kennedy on the third line:

What a difference.

So what does this tell us? Well, first of all, remember that the Pens are at the top of their division. They're among the top five in wins in the league. This post isn't trying to show that they're not one of the most successful teams in the NHL. They are. What this chart shows is that they're successful primarily based on the strength of their top two lines. The good news is that those top two lines are very, very good, so the Pens can win despite having poor position numbers in their bottom lines. The bad news is that a team like Chicago, that has strength up and down the line-up, would be much more likely to possess the puck more often and therefore to win a seven game series if the two teams met.

Of course, these particular charts only look at forwards. Defensemen and goaltenders are also important, of course, but we'll look at those another day.

Possession stats don't tell you everything. No one stat tells you everything. But these stats certainly tell you something.

For some more possession information, take a look at the top ranked teams when it comes to five-on-five Fenwick when the score is close:

That chart is interesting because of this graphic from Habs Eyes on the Prize. Deadspin provides a good explanation of that Habs Eyes on the Prize graphic:

Zero teams with the lowest Fenwick close have made the playoffs in the last five years. Every team with the highest Fenwick close has played into May, with three of the eight reaching the Cup finals. Even discarding those outliers, there's an enormous correlation with being on the plus side of .500.

An interesting fact from Habs Eyes on the Prize?

The 2009 Penguins are the only team to buck the odds as a non +.500 fenwick team, but their .499 was .549 under Dan Bylsma and has been no lower than .531 since.