The King From A Distance

When John Tortorella left town, bringing his dive in front of every puck headed towards the net coaching mentality with him, there was little concern that it would affect superstar goalie Henrik Lundqvist’s game. The anointed King of New York came into the season with a new coach, but the same elite goaltending status. Alain Vigneault was set to bring more offensive creativity, lifting some of the burden off Henrik, who on a nightly basis was being relied on to win 1-0 and 2-1 games under the previous regime.

Torts didn’t only leave with his brash personality. It seems he took a big chunk of King Henrik’s save percentage with him too.

From the first week of the season, when the Rangers were playing on the West Coast, most New Yorkers initial exposure to this year’s group was crooked numbers on ESPN’s bottomline the next morning. Henrik was serving up goals like curse words in Tortorella press conferences. Except now, he had a new coach, a lot less bristly, more analytically minded, and supposedly the tonic to the Rangers offensive waywardness.

He didn’t expect to have a defensive problem.

Of course, under John Tortorella, the Rangers built an identity of blocking shots. Considering the poor play of Lundqvist, thought was given to the idea of whether the Rangers hid some of the netminder’s weaknesses by blocking so many shots in front of him.

Let’s look at the numbers and see if we can find any correlation between Lundqvist’s poor performance this season and the amount of shots being blocked.

The Rangers, as a team, have seen their blocked shot total drop from being ranked ninth overall last season to 25th this season. Yes, the change in coaching styles has had an impact in this area.

I always like to use logic before numbers, hoping the numbers prove my logic to be reasonable. Before looking at the data, I would reason to believe that less blocked shots results in not just more shots on net, but higher quality shots. Rebounds have an impact on average shooting distance, since they tend to come right on top of the goaltender, so when an opponent is firing towards Lundqvist this season, instead of the shin guard of a defenseman, the puck is finding Henrik’s pads, which may turn into a rebound, which turns into a higher percentage shot.

Shots Against Henrik Lundqvist 2013-14 (per somekindofninja.com)

Lundqvist Shot Chart 13-14

It is difficult to see in the shot chart (courtesy of somekindofninja.com), but the table below highlights the difference in shot distance against Lundqvist between this season and last. Clearly, a greater percentage of shots were taken from a farther distance (greater than 30 feet) in the 2012-13 campaign.  The average distance of shots against Lundqvist was nearly a foot greater. The difference in shooting percentage (success of shooters against him) has increased this season as well.

Lundqvist Blocked Shots

Opposing players are taking shots closer to the net and with higher percentage of accuracy.

The question is whether the difference in shot distribution is due to the difference in coaching styles between Tortorella and Vigneault. Since blocking shots was a signature of Tortorella’s strategy, I conducted a quick analysis of teams that block a lot of shots versus teams who do not. I then looked at the average shooting distance against each of those teams to try to find some correlation. Surprisingly, there was none.

Using the Pearson coefficient equation to calculate correlation between blocked shots and shot distance against, the r value was -0.03, meaning there is no linear correlation between the two variables according to the 2012-13 data sample.

Chart1 (3)

In other words, my theory that high shot blocking teams allow less shots on net, and therefore, less rebounds, which, logically, should produce lower quality shots apparent in the average shot distance against is not validated by my initial research.

Perhaps a more simple relationship would show the importance of blocked shots on goaltender performance. I conducted the same correlation test between blocked shots and team save percentage, still not finding any linear correlation, with a r value of 0.11.

Chart1 (2)

What is true is that the shot distribution against the Rangers this season is different from last season. Taking blocked shots out of the equation, using Fenwick, the Rangers rank 16th in total Fenwick against this season, compared to 10th last season.

The Rangers are blocking less shots, allowing more shot attempts, and King Henrik is letting in more goals. Whether those three things tie together by the different coaching strategies of the past two seasons is difficult to say. The shot distribution in terms of average distance does not necessarily correlate with the number of blocked shots. If the Rangers are giving up more quality scoring chances, and as a result, King Henrik is struggling to put up the superhero save percentages he has in the past, it may be because under Vigneault the team is less disciplined defensively. But it doesn’t seem fair to say it is simply because they are blocking less shots without Tortorella.

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