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A Big Picture Look at Detroit at the Halfway Mark

NHL: Detroit Red Wings at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

This season has been an up and down one for the Red Wings. Entering the season knowing that Henrik Zetterberg would not be playing meant that the team was entering uncharted territory.

The season has been characterized by stretches when the team has done very well or very poorly in the win column. As of Saturday, the team earned 11 out of a possible 28 points in the month of December.

What I’ve observed in watching the team this season is that the team seems to be outplayed more often than the opposite. It looks to me that the main thing keeping Detroit out of the league basement is their goaltending, particularly Jimmy Howard.

I wanted to take a look and see if the data supports that. The following table shows an array of statistics and how each team is currently doing. All data is 5v5. the Expected Goals stats are from Corsica. All others are from Natural Stat Trick.

Each statistic is color coded from green (good) to red (bad). I used point % to rank the teams, since some teams have not played the same number of games. The cutoff is for the 16th best point percentage, although we all know that’s not necessarily a guarantee that all 16 of those teams will make the playoffs. “Rank” is the team’s rank in points in the standings. I left this column in after ranking by point % so you can see the difference it makes for some teams. Looking at point % gives you a more accurate view of a team than just points, as you can see from a team like Vancouver.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

It’s not as simple as “if a team has more green than red, they are doing well,” but one thing that is noticeable is that if the top teams have a category in the red, they are making up for it in another area. It’s the opposite for teams outside of the playoff cutoff.

For example, Anaheim has mediocre to poor numbers almost across the board, but John Gibson’s incredible play is keeping the team competitive. Carolina has amazing Corsi numbers, but their shooting percentage is dreadful. Their high xGF indicates that they are creating a lot of good chances, not just a lot of shots, but their finishing is letting them down.

Focusing on Detroit, their xGF% is nearly the lowest in the league at 44.72%. In the last three seasons, the lowest xGF% of a playoff team was 47.08%. That’s not to say there’s some magic cutoff that a team has to be over to be in contention to make the playoffs, but it’s a bad sign.

The best section for Detroit is their goaltending stats, which is what I expected. Jimmy Howard has been playing very well this season, and Jonathan Bernier has rebounded from a poor start to the season and has been playing much better as of late.

This table shows how Detroit’s two goaltenders have stacked up to the rest of the league:

Data: Natural Stat Trick

(HD/MD/LD = high, medium, low danger. The GSAA categories take into account shot quality to indicate how many goals the goalie saved that would have been goals against a league average goalie).

This is at 5v5 for goalies playing more than 300 minutes. There are 66 NHL goalies who meet that mark this season so far.

Both of Detroit’s goalies have not done well at low danger shots compared to the rest of the league. While Howard and Bernier are 20 ranks apart at LDSV%, the difference between Howard’s 96.20% and Bernier’s 92.90% is the same as the difference between Howard and #1 (since it would basically give him a 100.1%.) In short, Bernier’s numbers are really bad in this area.

So What?

The question here is what this tells us about the team so far. On the one hand, you can say that it’s bad for a team to be bailed out by goaltending when they make mistakes. On the other hand, you can say that the good goaltending allows some of the younger players to make mistakes they will learn from.

In my opinion, which option wins out is going to be dependent on the coaching staff and player leadership. We know what they say publicly, but we also know that there is a lot more said privately.

If the emphasis is on being realistic and making sure that players realize that even if a mistake doesn’t lead to a goal against, it’s still something that needs to be fixed, then having a goalie acting as the rails that block off the gutters in bumper bowling can be a good thing.

Here are the tables for the last three seasons. The cutoff is at the number of points for the 16th ranked team. Playoff teams are bolded.