Jets Powerplay: Measuring by the Team's Own Criteria

Kevin McCartney
December 13 2013 03:12PM

During the pre-season, Assistant Coach Pascal Vincent was interviewed about the Jets' powerplay and responded with some hints about how he evaluates the unit he coaches.

His comments revealed three evaluative criteria: shots per minute, scoring chances per minute, and zone time. Thanks to Travis Hrubeniuk, we have the Jets' scoring chance numbers, and thanks to NHL.com, their powerplay time and shots. We could count zone time, but some of us have girlfriends (not me, obviously) or other hobbies (again, not me) or can't figure out how to record a bunch of failed dump-ins as zone time (bingo!). We'll work with what we have.

What we'll see below is an answer to several of our most pressing questions about the Jets' powerplay. First, what would convince the team that this powerplay doesn't need to change in the face of such persistent failure? Second, why have they started making changes recently to the structure and personnel of the unit? And lastly, how does the team's chosen evaluation fail?

Powerplay Goals: The Point of Obvious Failure

Back on November 25th, I wrote about the Jets' powerplay goals and their shorthanded goals against over the last three years. As I like to do, I buried the most important findings in a pile of words.

In fact, the Jets have a league worst powerplay goal differential over the last three years of just +61. If we use their goal differential number to determine a rate of success, the team's percentage of successful powerplays is just 12.7%. That ranks 29th since 2011, and just a tenth of a percentage higher than Dallas for last place. For context, Pittsburgh leads the way since 2011 with a success rate of 19.1%

I argued for renewed patience on the basis that the team had (FINALLY!) started to change the structure of the powerplay. We know now that the Jets wouldn't score a powerplay goal between November 21st and December 10th, a span of 7 games and 18 opportunities. 

Fool me once, Winnipeg Jets coaching staff...

Powerplay Scoring Chances: The Fulcrum of Change

The next best thing to a goal is a chance for a goal. We know that Claude Noel favours scoring chances in his evaluation of the players, so it's no surprise that his assistants are doing the same.

I only have these numbers for this season, and only up to game 31. So if you don't like them, please feel free to shout about small samples.  

 

PP

PK

 

Jets PP SCF

69 25

Jets PK SCF

Jets PP SCA

20 89

Jets PK SCA

Jets PP Time

170:49

175:10

Jets PK Time

Jets PP Opp

102

111

Jets PK Opp

Jets PP SCF/Min

0.40

0.51

Jets PK SCA/Min

Jets PP SC Diff/Min

0.29

0.37

Jets PK SC Diff/Min

* Data up to Game 31

I expected to see the Jets' powerplay chance numbers to trail the powerplay chance numbers of the opposition by a larger margin, actually. But in fact, the data tells us a tremendously interesting story about how the Jets' evaluate their team.

I wonder every game why the Jets don't do more to change their powerplay structure. The table above and graph below tell us the answer. By this simple comparison of them vs us (which we know they make), the team is doing okay. In fact, up to game 22 (the win over Philadelphia in November), the team was pretty much in a dead heat with the opposition. 

It's after that point (to the right of the vertical black line in the graph below) that things fall apart in a major way. After the shootout win over Philly, the Jets drop four straight games against Minnesota, Calgary, Chicago, and Minnesota again. In that stretch, the analytical heat was high on this coaching staff, and no doubt they saw this:

 That is, their PK got killed, and then their powerplay went cold in the same week. Suddenly the comparison went from fairly even to dramatically one sided, and it's at the end of that trip (Nov 23rd) that we finally saw changes in their structure.

Importantly, there are some very basic logical problems with evaluating your powerplay unit through a direct comparison to how teams do against you, not the least of which is the confound of penalty kill quality. 

The Jets PK is above league average (11th currently), and is designed to create chances for, as we've seen them lead the league in PK shot attempts under Perry Pearn. So in theory, the Jets' PK should out-chance other PKs. That's not really the case when those other PKs play the Jets, unfortunately. That should be alarming to the Jets, but Noel has claimed that the can't (i.e. won't) plan a powerplay to limit short handed opportunities against.

There are other problems, including quality of scoring chances, where chances are happening, their game-to-game distribution, and the lack of goals stretching out three seasons. The Jets aren't cashing in on their scoring chances, and that problem has been going on too long to be bad luck. As I said in November, the number of goals against the powerplay is also a problem, and it speaks to lack of puck control.  

Powerplay Shots: The Absence of Quality

As hockey analysts, we often approximate puck control with shot attempt numbers. They tell us in broad strokes who had the puck and in which end. 

For the Jets' staff, there are other reasons to count shots (since they also count zone time), including the rate of shots (which speaks to the aggressiveness of the unit), and the creation of shooting lanes (which speaks to puck movement). 

 

PP

PK

 

Jets PP ShF

146

33

Jets PK ShF

Jets PP ShA

31

154

Jets PK ShA

Jets PP Time

178:02

179:34

Jets PK Time

Jets PP Opp

106

114

Jets PK Opp

Jets PP ShF/Min

0.85

0.86

Jets PK ShA/Min

Jets PP Sh Diff/Min

0.64

0.67

Jets PK Sh Diff/Min

*Data up to game 32

We see a pretty even match. Again, we have two issues - it gives a false sense of the Jets inept powerplay keeping up with the opposition on the basis of an above-average penalty kill unit, and a massive question mark remains about where the goals are. 

The Jets have managed an 8.2% shooting rate on the powerplay this year, which is 50% lower than the league average of 12.4%. 

Dating back to 2011, the Jets have an 11.6% shooting rate, compraed to a league average of 12.8%. Year one, the Jets had a higher than league average scoring percentage, so it may be worth reviewing what was different. 

My first instinct is that the Jets used two powerplay specialist forwards on their roster that year - Kyle Wellwood and Tim Stapleton - in place of a supposed PK specialist in James Wright and professional Other Guy, Matt Halischuk. 

Sum It Up

The failure is blatent, and has been for years. We've seen that much with our eyes and in the goal differential numbers reported in November. The explanation for why has always been a problem for Jets fans.

Using the team's own criteria for a successful powerplay, we see that the reason may be as simple as their evaluation strategy. This staff may believe that it's just a matter of luck. The chances are there, the shots are there, and they await the goals... for three years.

We can see the stunning holes in that strategy, reaching from the logic of the comparative framework to the fact that hockey isn't a math equation and there are obvious problems in how those chances and shots are coming. If it were another hockey club, I might not believe they could overlook those very basic realities of their chosen evaluation tools.

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Kevin is a regular contributor to Jets Nation. His work has been featured on Bleacher Report, The Sporting News, and around the Nations Network. An enthusiastic over-analyst, his background and interests are diverse, but you might notice he's obsessed with hockey. Track him down on twitter @kevinmccart
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