Way back in May of 2008, I wrote what I assumed would be my definitive post about outshooting and its connection with wins. The money graph was this:
The money paragraphs were probably these:
You’ll appreciate that the key number is the number at the bottom of that chart: teams that outshoot their opposition in a given game have earned an average of 1.122 pts/g since 1987-88; teams that get outshot by their opposition have earned an average of 0.952 pts/g since 1987-88. Compare this year’s 1.15/1.07 outshoot/outshot split with the split for home road teams, which was 1.18/1.04. In last year’s NHL, you’d be about as successful picking games if you knew before hand which team was at home as you would be if you knew which team was going to outshoot the other.
Two caveats about this post. First of all, this is as big picture as it gets. I’m not digging into the nitty gritty about game states here, which I think is incredibly important. Second, I haven’t looked at team specific cases, which will be topic of my next post on this subject. The most that I think can be drawn from this review is that, as a general principle, teams that outshoot their opposition in a given game have a better chance at success. That doesn’t establish that you can’t enjoy success despite getting habitually outshot. The real issue and (I think) the real reason why the Horcoff thread got so heated is that there’s a real question about whether or not you can build a team that gets habitually outshot, while enjoying tremendous success like the Oilers of the final quarter of 2007-08. It’s a question of relevance to persons with a vested interest in the performance of, say for example, the 2008-09 Edmonton Oilers.
We’re five years on now and a discussion with Eric Tulsky and an email exchange with Tom Benjamin have prompted me to re-visit this. Let’s look at what’s happened in the intervening five years.
Huh. Well that’s odd. OUTSHOOTING NO LONGER MATTERS. (Kidding – it does, as I’ll explain.) For a long time, outshooting the opposition was a pretty good indicator that you’d end up winning the game. For the past few real seasons, it hasn’t been. In 2007-08, teams averaged 96 points/82 games in which they outshot the opposition. By 2011-12, that fell to 91 points. In 2007-08, teams averaged 87 points/82 games in which they were outshot. By 2011-12, that had risen to 93 points.
It gets weirder though. How do we reconcile this with something that we know to be true: teams that outshoot overall at 5v5 are more likely to be playoff teams and, the stronger they are at that, the more likely they are to proceed in the playoffs?
Let’s drill down into two seasons for which detailed data is available: 2007-08 and 2011-12. In 2007-08, the historic pattern held and teams that outshot took more points. In 2011-12, it did not hold and teams that got outshot in a particular game took more points on average. We’ll start by looking at shots with the score tied and the record of the NHL in 2007-08 and 2011-12 when outshooting with the score tied versus being outshot.
Let me explain this. What I’ve done is sort each game based on whether one team outshot the other with the score tied. So in 2007-08, the teams with the most shots with the score tied went 729-292-113 for 1571 regulation points.
Some slight change but not very much. In 2007-08, teams averaged 114 points/82 games in which they outshot with the score tied. By 2011-12, that had fallen to 112 points. In 07-08, teams averaged 67 points/82 games in which they were outshot; in 2011-12, that rose to 72 points. The team that outshoots the opposition when the score is tied in a game takes way more points per game than the team that doesn’t. This is a kind of a critical point, because it’s the crux of the argument that outshooting matters.
One of the ideas I had was that the volume of shots with the score tied had changed. For example, maybe the 2007-08 Red Wings ran up bigger advantages in the shot count at score tied than the 2011-12 Red Wings. The problem with this thinking, as you’ve likely sussed out, is that assuming goals occur randomly, the 07-08 Red Wings would likely have just played less time with the score tied. If you score on one of every ten shots, it doesn’t really matter how fast you get to ten shots. Anyway, the data doesn’t really bear out this idea. In 2007-08, 37.1% of shots taken were taken with the score tied. In 2011-12, 36.9% of shots were taken with the score tied. This isn’t it.
Another idea – maybe the team outshoots when the score is tied in 2011-12 enjoys less of an advantage there than they did on average in 2007-08? We’ve heard lots about NHL parity; maybe the NHL’s parity means that that margin has narrowed?
Hmm. Those look pretty much bang on. In 2007-08, the teams that took more shots with the score tied in a game had a total of 61.3% of the score tied shots. In 2011-12 they had a total of 60.5% of the score tied shots. A little bit of change but not very much.
These posts have a tendency to turn into a wall of numbers, which makes them difficult to digest. As a result, I’m going to leave this one here. The point to take from this post is that outshooting with the score tied is a hugely valuable thing and that even though we saw teams do better when being outshot than outshooting in 2011-12, there’s been a negligible change to the results when the score is tied.
Next, we’ll see if we can’t identify what’s happened that resulted in teams being more likely to win when being outshot.Email Tyler Dellow at firstname.lastname@example.org