“It kills me. It makes me crazy. I was getting ready to check myself in in the third period because we started to sit back and I don’t understand that, why you would, after having great success for two periods by pushing the pace, and limiting their time and space, why would we suddenly give them time and space when the other was working for us? I feel the best way to defend a lead is to score a goal. That’s the way to do it. To sit back and give them chance after chance doesn’t make sense to me…”
-Dallas Eakins, on protecting a lead
I think that there’s a lot of logic to what Eakins says and I think those of us who are interested in tactics and coaching are in for a fun couple of years. That being said, I know that there have been 180 team seasons in the BTN Era (30 teams, six seasons each) and I know that 180 teams have been done worse in terms of their Corsi% when they’re leading than they’ve done when they’re tied.
Sure, you might say, teams do worse with Corsi% when they have the lead but they’re giving up lower quality shots, so it’s a good tactic. Here’s the thing with that though: teams that are leading games have been outscored 7937-7630 during the BTN era. This is all the weirder when you consider that a good team is more likely to be leading a game than a crappy one. Do they enjoy an edge in the percentages? Sure. 8.7% shooting percentage and a .924 save percentage. It doesn’t make up for the overwhelming edge in shots that they give up though. Only 13/180 teams have managed to post a Corsi% above 50% while playing with the lead since 2007-08.
It takes two teams to move the Corsi% needle but my sense is that teams playing with a lead are probably too conservative. (Oddly, the team that saw the lowest decline when playing with a lead was the 2013 Oilers, whose 42.5% Corsi% with the lead was only .3 percentage points than their Corsi% when tied. Krueger was asked about whether the team sat back with a lead and he said he told them to do exactly the same thing. So it would appear.) I haven’t done anything exhaustive on it – I’d want to look into whether there are some teams that are able to consistently make the percentages work for them or something but the bottom line, to me, is this: 108 of the 180 team seasons since 2007-08 saw teams get a higher percentage of the 5v5 goals when they were tied than they did when they were playing with the lead.
What might make coaches conservative? I suspect that coaches are willing to live with goals that they see as being part of the randomness of hockey – think about Yakupov’s goal against Los Angeles last year. A shot from the point is blocked, Taylor Hall whacks it towards the net, it pops in the air and Yakupov knocks it out and in. Bounces and some skill. It’s easier to kind of mentally write that off as bad luck than it is if you give up a two on one that leads to the tying goal and you know that you could have prevented that odd man rush if you’d told your players to keep four men above the puck at all times. What you maybe don’t see is that doing that, or something like it, makes the time in your own end more likely and the bad luck goal that pinballs in more likely.
In any event, this will be one of many interesting things to follow with the new coach. He seems to have articulated a view as to how things should be done that’s at odds with what his fellow coaches but that is also plausibly defensible, at least on a cursory glance. It’s worth adding to the list of things to keep an eye on with this team.Email Tyler Dellow at firstname.lastname@example.org