Jason Lewis: When Analytics Don’t Seem to Matter


Last night’s LA Kings 1-2 loss at the hands of the Flyers was frustrating, and it was frustrating for several reasons.

The Kings continue to be a team that is incapable of starting well. Too many times this year we’ve seen them get behind early and fail to catch up. The Kings have a winning % of .786 when they score first.

That’s good enough for 7th overall in the league. However, when scored on first they come in at 21st with a .231 winning percentage. Funny thing about the first period scoring, the Kings are a +1 overall in first period scoring differential but have trailed after one frame 11 times. In those 11 games they are 2-8-1. On the flip side they are 8-0-2 if they are leading after one period.

So clearly starts, strong ones, are very important to the Kings.

With that in mind, the team still struggles to find form early on in games. Last night was no different than a number of games already this season where the team has come out looking unprepared and unenergized. Let’s round up last night’s quotes about this subject.

Here’s what Kopitar had to say,

We just didn’t get it going right off the start and we were playing catch up hockey for the most part and that’s hard.

A similar sentiment was echoed by Justin Williams,

We weren’t prepared for the one o’clock game today. We weren’t ready to go right away and got behind.

And finally, Darryl Sutter,

It wasn’t a bad start; it was a penalty late in the first period and two penalties early in the second period. Even though their struggle is their power play, trying to kill three in a row makes the difference between one and two goals. The power-play goal was not a great goal, it was a bad play against young defensemen and it was not a great goal, that’s tough.

Well, if you are behind 0-2 after the first 25 minutes I’d say that isn’t a great start. That’s just a very Sutter-esque way of looking at things. Bottom line, this is obviously a concern and has been throughout the entire season thus far. The Kings are not winning hockey games when they get behind first, and are trailing after the first period. Nonetheless, they have still had trouble getting off the blocks.

That is frustrating number one.

Frustrating number two comes in the forms of analytics, which has been a polarizing issue this season for both fans and analysts alike.

Does it have merit? How hard should we be looking into these things?

Sometimes it seems like the world of NHL analytics is a venn diagram with a very small middle sliver who use both traditional and advanced stats to evaluate things. It’s either one or the other, and the two sides constantly argue which one is wrong.

Well, if you are in the more traditional category, yesterday was a victory for you against analytics. Why do I say that? Because the Kings destroyed the Flyers.

Even if you want to factor in score effects the Kings still heavily outplayed the Flyers and it wasn’t even close. No offense to any Flyers fans out there who are reading this, but it was pretty clear that the Kings were the better team throughout the entirety of that game.

The Flyers play one of the more unstructured games out there. There seems to be little cohesiveness in their forecheck, neutral zone play, or their penalty kill. Their penalty kill in particular, which entered play yesterday as the worst in the league, is a complete circus. Coverage is pretty much all over the place with an emphasis on high pressure. The Kings were able to spread the Flyers PK on a number of occasions with good puck movement but couldn’t find that final blow. The Kings put up eight shots on five powerplays and failed to convert.

That in a microcosm was the afternoon. The Kings were, as they say, all Swedish and no Finnish.

And that’s where the analytics person throws their hands up in the air and says “Hockey is stupid sometimes” and walks away.

If “stupid” is the definition you want to use than be my guest. However, that stupidness is a huge part of the NHL and sports in general. Sometimes the better team DOESN’T win. Why do you think gamblers bet on the long shot? If the game were played on paper than no one would ever need to play the game. We could just theorize. That’s what analytics are supposed to help us do, however this is still a world where a bit of a chaos theory exists. No statistic could tell you that Quick gave up a bad goal on the Flyers second goal, or that Giroux was uncovered on a center lane drive on the first. They were simply shots on the score sheet. The analytics numbers could tell you the truth in that game, which was that the Kings outplayed the Flyers for about 55 minutes of that 60 minute game. In the end though the two points go into the column for the Flyers. They did what they needed to do. They scored when they got the opportunity, and Mason made saves when he had to. It wasn’t pretty but they got the job done.

All the analytics pointed to a Kings victory except for the one that mattered: 2-1 Flyers.

So the analytics are wrong, the Kings should have won. Not quite. As stated before, they told the truth of that game. But in the end did they didn’t matter, because the Kings won the corsi game but not the hockey game.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going off the Steve Simmons end and saying what he said in this now infamous tweeet:

Good thing the Leafs don’t play in the CHL. The CORSI hockey league. They’re doing just fine in NHL, though.

— steve simmons (@simmonssteve) October 30, 2013

But what I’m saying is that if there was a clear example that advanced stats are not the be-all end-all of hockey analysis, yesterday was it.

You’ve seen advanced stats quite a bit on this blog if you’ve followed along, but the moral here is sometimes they just don’t matter. A couple of bad penalties and a leaky goal unraveled it all. It’s not “Hockey is stupid”. It’s not “LOL good thing this isn’t the Corsi Hockey league.” It’s just the chaotic world of sports. You can do your best to try and narrow down the good play from the bad, which is what analytics attempt to do. However, everything has its flaws and unpredictabilities.

Thanks Flyers, you broke corsi. You got the two points in the process though, so who cares right? If you’re the Kings, you definitely want to keep playing games like you did yesterday minus the bad start. Eventually a puck or two has to go in right? You’d hope.

The Kings start a Northeast swing through Buffalo and Eastern Canada on Tuesday, and aside from the whole corsi thing they have some work to do. The bad road record will come into focus yet again. Perhaps the team can start to better that 3-4-4 record, and it starts with getting off on the right foot and scoring first.

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