Goaltending Isn’t Voodoo: Breaking Down Arizona’s 1-0 Loss to the Canucks

The Arizona Coyotes lost 1-0 to the Vancouver Canucks on September 28th, making it the most preseason-y preseason game to actually hit Coyotes fans below the belt.

The most painful part of the whole thing, of course, was that the Coyotes appeared to have the consensus upper hand in the game and Mike Smith made *almost* every save. Voodoo, right?

Wrong.

Courtesy of hockeystats.ca, here’s a #fancystatz look at the period by period breakdown of the game last night.

Screenshot (105)

For those who aren’t familiar with CF (Corsi For) and FF (Fenwick For), here a refresher courtesy of war-on-ice.com:

  • CorsiFor: The number of on-ice shot attempts (on goal, missed, or blocked) taken by the player’s team
  • FenwickFor: The number of unblocked on-ice shot attempts (on goal or missed) taken by the player’s team

Corsi and Fenwick, as far as advanced stats go, give us a very rudimentary understanding of what the team’s overall possession and production performances looked like. You lack information about clean zone entries, giveaways/takeaways, play redirection, how many shots are secondary shots (ie, ones taken on rebounds caused by goaltenders), and where the shots are coming from. The Coyotes could be out-Corsi-ing the Canucks in two of the three periods, but for all we know, they’re taking all their shots from behind the faceoff dot and the Canucks are all about that high-danger momentum. Without watching the game itself (or gathering the information from someone who did watch the game from a nuanced standpoint), all you have is a primitive estimate of which team was sending the puck towards their scoring goal more than the other.

At this point, though, one thing is abundantly clear – the Coyotes largely controlled offensive play for the first forty minutes, and then more or less fell off a cliff in the final twenty.

How does this relate to goaltending?

In order to evaluate how a goaltender’s performance is affected by his team’s possession stats, there’s a certain amount of actual analysis that needs to go into the goaltender himself. Take a look at how Mike Smith plays during the period right before Jared McCann’s power-play goal:

http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/embed?playlist=2015010068-577-ingame-h

Smith, as you’ll notice, loses track of the puck twice in short succession. We can assume that, in this instance, he has trouble tracking the puck with confidence with that much traffic in front of the net.

We also notice, though, that the shot involved virtually no lift on McCann’s part — he was able to slip the puck into the net from down low, taking advantage of a delayed drop-down reaction from Smith that likely had to do with his difficulties following the puck itself. If he’s unable to find the puck until it’s already being released from McCann’s blade, he’s less likely to be prepared to follow it’s trajectory, notice it’s coming down low, and drop into what could have been an easy pad save. We could argue that he remained completely upright for far too long while trying to regain a visual on the puck, and that cost him in a big way.

Part of the problem, of course, is that the team is on the penalty kill — but the Coyotes often play like this, and having a Coyotes player ‘screening’ Mike Smith is far too frequently an excuse being used as to why a goal was allowed.

In the third period, the Coyotes went largely on the defensive; you notice a drop-off in shots taken by a HUGE margin from the period before.

This, just from how last season is stuck in my brain, seems to be a somewhat Coyotes-centric method of playing. The team allows goals and gets trapped in their own zone in the third period of games that they’d actually been holding themselves in up until the final twenty; whether that’s a falsely remembered characteristic or not, it’s certainly what happened here in Vancouver.

An interesting thing to note about the Coyotes, though, is that the team is actually quite shot-block heavy; they blocked a larger percentage of Vancouver’s overall shots (14 of 44) than the Canucks blocked of theirs (13 of 56).

This relates to Mike Smith in an interesting way, because we can assume that the majority of blocked shots are coming up higher than the shot that ultimately won Vancouver the game. That means that, presumably, the team is preventing goals on higher shots with more frequency than the opposition — yet Smith struggled to drop to the ice in time to make what ended up being the game-winning save because he was standing up so high while trying to re-gain his visual. This means that, if there’s traffic in front of the net, scoring on the Coyotes from down low is probably a team’s best option.

How can they fix a situation like this this – both from a skater perspective and a goaltender perspective?

One of two things can be done to address these kinds of errors by the Coyotes; the team can either push farther out from the net and allow Smith to make his own saves up high (instead putting pressure on the shooter and potentially regaining possession of the puck) or Smith can increase his reliance on the defense in front of him to make some of those higher saves, instead placing a bit more emphasis on butterfly saves than he does at the moment.

Of course, the ideal way to fix this is to prevent this tapering off in the final frame of a game. If the Coyotes aren’t on the defensive, this isn’t a play that needs to be tweaked — because it doesn’t happen at all.

When situations like this do occur, though, it’s not voodoo — it’s fixable, and Arizona could have won the game as a result.

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3 thoughts on “Goaltending Isn’t Voodoo: Breaking Down Arizona’s 1-0 Loss to the Canucks

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