There used to be a college hockey coach who would talk about the importance of getting more scoring chances than your opposition, and cite stats that showed his team was really good at doing so.
But when pressed for definitions as to how he and his coaching staff defined scoring chances, he would explain that these only represented shots on goal from between and below the circles. So, if his team gave up a 2-on-0 that, after a bit of passing interchange between the two opponents, ended up with a guy misfiring on the shot and putting the puck wide while looking at a wide open net at the top of the crease, then by this definition, it was not a scoring chance. This coach would say something along the lines of, “If you missed the net, you really didn't have a chance to score.”
Now, there's a twisted logic to that definition of a scoring chance — if a guy hits the post on a breakaway, that's somehow also not a scoring chance in the strictest sense of the word — but what it does is give the team which at that time wasn't all that good a little wiggle room to say, “Well, at least we out-chanced the opponents and we have to do just a little bit more to bury our chances and win some more games.”
It also highlights just how liberally and broadly the term “scoring chance” can be applied in this sport in a number of different ways.
But I think most coaches would generally agree that regardless of how they actually define what is or is not a scoring chance, giving up shot attempts between and below the circles — this is sometimes referred to as the “home plate” area of the ice — is a pretty bad idea because it's generally going to lead to more goals against. These are areas where shots on goal indisputably have a much better chance at going in, regardless of whether you buy into any number of metrics that are used to describe goaltending performance, including that “Royal Road” nonsense. That's also regardless of a team's ability to collapse around its own net, block shots, and so on. If you're letting guys get that deep into your zone, it's a problem.
Patrick Roy understands this fundamentally. As his team gets off to a poor start this season, the same old song and dance about what's wrong with the Avalanche gets trotted out. They get outshot and out-possessed quite badly, and as a consequence they lose more often than they win, and have for the last year-plus. You can look it up for yourself on any dang stats website: Colorado's 5-on-5 differentials in its first six games are minus-116 shot attempts (30th in the league through Wednesday's games), minus-45 shots (30th in the league), and minus-4 goals (tied for 24th in the league).
But what's worse is that the attempts differential is more than double 29th-place Edmonton's minus-54. It highlights a very real problem that Roy has not at any point in his career found a way to address.
Now let's take a second to guess what Patrick Roy's reaction when he hears those statistics will be (skip to 2:02 of the video):
For the video-impaired here:
“We've been looking at all the games, and obviously if you're looking at our corsi or fenwick, our numbers are not very good,” Roy said after being pummeled by the Kings on Sunday night. “I don’t think it’s because of the numbers of shots we’ve been giving, it’s more of the shots that we’re not taking. For instance, if you're looking at corsi, the part I don’t like about corsi is you could shoot from the red line or you could shoot from a terrible angle and your corsi will look good.
“Puck possession has nothing to do [with corsi]. Fenwick, there's a bit of puck possession in there, but same principle. I mean, it's more like shot attempts. If a guy shoots from the red line and it's blocked, it's still a shot attempt. That's something we don't do very well, or we don't think about doing a lot.”
He goes on to say that the Avs trying to get too cute on their zone entries and therefore not getting the puck into shooting areas, which doesn't help. And he's right about that. But hey what do you know, that would be reflected in your............ corsi.
Obviously, this disdain for or indifference toward these so-called “advanced stats” has long been demonstrated by the Roy-coached Avs, and numerous articles on the subject were penned in his first season when they won all those games behind a ludicrous PDO before eventually getting shelled in the playoffs and never again being all that good. They finished seventh in the division last season and don't look all that well-positioned to do anything beyond that again this year.
But more than the repeated statements that the team doesn't buy into these numbers, you have the on-ice play to validate things. If you look at literally any 10-game stretch for the Avs over the past three seasons under Patrick Roy, there have only been five (out of a possible 188!) in which the Avs carried a CF% north of 50. The highest was a 51.43 percent run from Games 26-35 in his first season. Meanwhile, there were seven of 188 in which the Avs had less than 40 percent of possession, a stupefying number.
Now, you hear the “shot quality” fallacy trotted out a lot when anti-possession arguments are made, because they really are the last refuge of the hopeless. Roy says that shot accounts from center ice count, and he's right.
But how many teams do you think are gaining the red line and then just firing it in the general vicinity of the net?
Here's a hint: It's zero. No one does this. No one would do this. No one should, either.
Coaches and teams don't exist to generate good possession numbers from what would otherwise be dump-ins so that they can point to a spreadsheet and say, “The process is obviously good, so please don't fire or trade us.” They generate good possession numbers by getting the puck deep into the attacking zone and keeping it there.
The thing is, these are arguments we really don't have to have with anyone but Patrick Roy at this point. Everyone else gets it and is on-board, even if they don't personally use the terms. In fact, many of them actively do not. Here's Todd McLellan, talking about the fundamentals behind possession metrics from literally the same morning as Roy, but actively saying — lyingly — that he doesn't know what fenwick and corsi are.
Once again, for the video-impaired:
“I think volume shooting — I don’t know what that does to Corsi or Fenwick because I don’t even know what those things are — but volume shooting is important. I think it breaks down defensive zone coverage, gets players out of position, taxes the opposition, makes them play more minutes in their zone. So [even from] bad angles, anything can happen.”
This is how smart coaches with proven track records of success talk about this issue. The Oilers haven't played particularly well this season, and again they were 29th in shot attempts through Wednesday's games. But McLellan's Sharks were really good at this kind of thing, and it wasn't just because they had some very good personnel on hand throughout the lineup (which, to be fair, they did)
But the reason this lack of understanding or perhaps willful ignorance on the part of the Avalanche organization as a whole, not just on the ice but based on the personnel decisions being made every single summer, takes a real toll on the team's chances of producing a winner and not wasting Nathan MacKinnon's prime in the way it has mostly done for Matt Duchene to this point.
Based on a lot of the hemming and hawing about the lack of efficacy for these new-fangled possession metrics, we can return to the “scoring chances” thing Roy claims to track. Now, we have plenty of imputed shot-quality data on this subject as well, but if we're just talking about shot attempts from high-percentage areas, well, Colorado is getting its ass handed to it on a nightly basis, just as it is with possession, though obviously in less volume.
Goals have chugged along a little above water the entire time (they're currently plus-7), but everything else is basically a downward slope with very few actual upticks. And even in the goal department, you have to keep in mind that in the first half of Roy's first season behind the bench, they built up a plus-22 differential in just 32 games. Since then, the team is actually minus-15. Which is a number that's only likely to keep declining as long as the other trends look like they do.
If you want to talk about high-danger attempts, the Avs are minus-388 in Roy's 177 games behind the bench, more than two extra such attempts per game, meaning the Avs are giving roughly 25 percent more of those looks than they're taking themselves.
And even if you're only counting actual shots on goal, Dominik Luszczyszyn recently highlighted that Semyon Varlamov has so far faced about 10.8 shots from the low slot per 60 minutes, including 3.2 being rebounds in that area. That's taxing, and it's an increase of 13.6 percent and 23.1 percent, respectively, from the rates seen over Roy's previous two years as coach.
So in this respect at least, the Avs are getting worse, not better. And you probably could have guessed that would be the case given the changes on the Colorado blue line over the last two offseasons, basically all of which have made the team more porous in their own end. This is a demonstrable problem.
And it's also one that, seemingly, isn't going to get any better in the near future, because for all the talk about coaches who should be on hot seats, you haven't heard Roy's name once.
He was the prodigal son who won the Cups with this club and then got a garbage team into the playoffs. Save By Roy, etc. He is bulletproof. And if he's still going on and on about how his system should be working — which it clearly isn't and never has — then maybe you just have to say he might be the worst coach in the league.
Good coaches, like good players, adapt to their circumstances and change their approach. Mike Babcock had a lot of success with the Nicklas Lidstrom-led Red Wings (because how could he not) then continued to have success, albeit to a lesser degree, long after Lidstrom retired in a mostly different way. He also seems to have started the Maple Leafs on a path to some amount of success despite that team's many flaws.
Meanwhile, Roy keeps trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole, while telling people that actually the corners would be helping him if only they'd do what he wants. Well, they're corners, plain and simple. Corners are what they are, and they do what they do. You need to figure out a way to change the peg you're trying to get into the hole, or you need to get out of the peg-hole business entirely, because it's clearly just something you don't understand at this level.
Not that anyone will actually tell him that, or that he'd listen to such counsel. You can't fire Patrick Roy. You can only promote him into the front office. And boy, that sort of thing worked out real well for the Oilers after that inexplicable and unsustainable run of success they had once.
All stats via War on Ice unless otherwise stated.