Jeff Blashill Acknowledges the Tracking and Use of Zone Time Statistics
As a community, we sometimes talk about using things like shot attempts (corsi) to measure possession since that's the best we can do with what the NHL tracks for each game. The point of this is that fans with stopwatches have shown that corsi percentage and zone time percentage work out to be roughly the same thing - or at least close enough that it's pretty meaningful. What we really care about is how much time you spend with the puck in the offensive zone far away from your goalie. While we've long suspected that many teams track this stat, not many like to admit it, and the Red Wings have been pretty vague on what kind of things they're tracking.
This is relevant right now because the Red Wings have had a strange set of five games to open the season. Six points in five games is pretty solid, but Detroit has been one of the worst possession teams in the league during this stretch. Their 45.1% score-adjusted share of shot attempts is 29th in the league, ahead of only lowly Colorado. This is a pretty big swing - Detroit was 5th in this metric last year (53.5%).
Fortunately, there's a lot of things to blame if you want explanations. Five games is an incredibly small sample, and during that time the Wings have had a highly irregular schedule. They've already had two back-to-backs that followed long breaks of sitting, and that often results in not quite having your skating legs. All that said, it was refreshing to see this article pop up from George Sipple. A key quote from Blashill:
"We’re spending 45 seconds more per game in our D-zone than in the O-zone, and that’s even strength . . . That’s actually not ridiculously high, but it’s high enough . . . In three of the five games, it’s been the three-minute and four-minute range where we spend more in our D-zone than our O-zone. That to me is the concern."
It's nice to see Blashill acknowledging that the Wings haven't had the puck enough, but that in and of itself isn't terribly surprising. What's more interesting is the acknowledgement that the Wings are tracking zone time, and the coaches are using it to inform their decision-making.
It's never been entirely clear where the Red Wings organization stands on analytics because the answer has changed pretty often. Ken Holland kind of poured cold water on the idea a couple years ago, referring instead to "gut analytics." Since then, Babcock spoke approvingly of analytics, then the team hired Bryan Campbell as the Director of Analytics, and now Blashill knows the exact zone time numbers from recent games off the top of his head and repeats them. In those three games he's almost certainly referencing (both Carolina games and the Montreal game), Detroit got hammered in both shot attempts and shots on goal.
To the average fan this doesn't really mean a whole lot, but to the overly dedicated fan (if you're spending your free time reading a hockey blog like this, you qualify) it's nice to know that the coaching staff is using all information at their disposal to make decisions. The Red Wings have had such a weird opening to the season that it's hard to take much away from it, but Jeff Blashill continues to be a pretty impressive guy whenever he talks hockey.