Friday, November 23, 2007


Quarterpoint Penalty Breakdown

On Interchangeable Parts, Schnookie has a rather interesting way of doling out grades to each of the Devils. It is roughly the quarter point of the season for the Devils and so now is a good as time as any to see where the Devils stand. A few posts below, Pookie has her own analysis of the Devils squad so far and clearly she is quite pessimistic about the team. It's a fair argument as it came after the Devils went below the 0.500 mark again with two very uninspired performances. Inconsistency has been the biggest theme of this season so far and it's very hard to be optimistic if you have no idea what to expect from game to game.

At this point, I'd like to point out what has been consistent for the Devils this season. The special teams has been poor the New Jersey Devils overall. While the penalty killing has improved, the Devils currently remain at the bottom third with 20 power play goals allowed and a sub-80% effectiveness rate on the penalty kill. There are two ways to improve that and both are very obvious: improve play on the penalty kill and take fewer penalties. I am not sure what to do for the former, but doing what the Devils did against Pittsburgh's power play from Wednesday night would be a good place to start. Examine what worked, what didn't, etcetera. As far as the second point, well, it depends on what type of penalties the Devils have been taking.

Therefore, I went through the Game Summaries at for each of the Devils' 21 games so far and compiled not only what types of penalties were committed but also who committed them. The latter is easy to find out: you just need to look at the player by player statistics for penalties. There you'll quickly learn that David Clarkson leads the team with 11 minor and 7 major penalties, John Oduya comes in second with 10 minor penalties, and so on and so forth. The penalty breakdown of the Devils, however, is very surprising. What I found tells me a lot about how the team has been taking infractions and which ones result in power plays. So much so, we need a pie chart to breakdown the 109 penalties the Devils have taken so far.

Penalty Breakdown of the Devils, click to enlargePenalty Breakdown of the Devils season as of 11/23/07 (click to enlarge)

As you can see, the most common penalty the Devils take is hooking. This shouldn't be surprising in that the NHL has been exceptionally tough on small hooks to the hand or the body in order to cut down on obstruction. This has been good for the game since the crackdown came in 2005. Meaning this is the third season and a lot of players have yet to learn that they can't cheat like that. Fighting takes up the second most common penalty type, but they don't result in power plays, so we can ignore that. Interestingly, holding is the only other penalty that the Devils have committed 10 times or more behind hooking and fighting. The rest are fairly sparse. Here are some additional findings that I found interesting from my analysis:
  • The Devils' have taken two unsportsmanlike calls this season, both from the bench. In short, Sutter and his crew need to shut their mouth a little more often.
  • The leaders in hooking? Travis Zajac and Karel Rachunek with 4 each. But it's fairly spread around the team as the Devils took 32 hooking calls so far.
  • Zach Parise has been caught high-sticking 3 times, Jay Pandolfo has been caught tripping 3 times, and Aaron Asham leads the team in boarding with 2 calls.
  • David Clarkson is the team's leader in roughing (3), fighting (7!), and holding (2). Clarkson has to calm down a little bit.
  • No one really leads the delay of game stat - four players have one minor each in that category.
From this alone, we can easily say that the Devils should keep their sticks on the ice a little more often. They've been shorthanded 90 times this season, so it's not as if the Devils are an undisciplined bunch constantly shooting themselves in the foot with minors and double-minors (counted twice in my analysis). But a bit smarter play, keeping the stick down in general, and the Devils can take even fewer penalties. With a defense that is still gelling (and I'm being kind), fewer penalty kills helps a lot.

Now, let's look at power play goals against. This is where I would have a giant chart that lists the number of power play goals against per player and a ratio of minors to power play goals against. I wanted to see whether there were any players who have hurt the team by committing an infraction. Online and over time, you may hear about how John Oduya is useless or Karel Rachunek isn't good or Colin White takes dumb penalties or something else. I wanted to see whether that was true so far. More to the point, when you hear about a stupid penalty, generally you think of a penalty that one could have easily not committed. I wanted to examine costly penalties - to see how often when player X goes to the box does the other team score. However, because I don't know how to format a chart, I'll go right ahead to my conclusions. I'll post a chart later.

The Devils have given up 20 power play goals - 7 of which were game winning goals against and 4 came from 5-on-3 situations. As further proof that the coaching staff and the players need to be respectful to the ref, two of those four 5-on-3 goals against have come after the team is assessed a minor for official abuse. As an aside, for a 5-on-3 goal against, I counted the goal twice - one for each player. The goal came on a 5-on-3; both players are liable in this case. Double minors were counted twice as minors as it's, well, a double minor.

The most surprising conclusion is that no one player sticks out. The only players who have sat in the box and not have a power play goal be scored against New Jersey are Rod Pelley (3 minors), Jamie Langenbrunner, Mike Mottau, and Mike Rupp (1 minor each). Everyone else has at least one against, but at most per player it's two goals against. Two power play goals were scored total for when David Clarkson (11 minors) was sitting in the box, ditto for John Oduya (10 minors). But the other team has found the net twice while Travis Zajac (4 minors), Paul Martin (4 minors), Zach Parise (3 minors), and Jay Pandolfo (5 minors) were feeling shame for two minutes. This tells me that while Clarkson, Oduya, and others who have taken a number of minors this season give the other team more opportunities to score on a man advantage, it doesn't mean they will. No one particular Devil has been hurting the team with their penalties, rather penalties in general hurt the squad.

The flaw in this sort of analysis now is that the number of penalties each player has taken is still small. Jay Pandolfo has taken 5 penalties so far this season and the other team has scored on the resulting power play twice. Does this mean the other team will have a 40% chance of scoring if Pandolfo screws up? While the current data says yes, intuitively that doesn't make a lot of sense. So keep that in mind with what I have found so far. I don't have this type of information for the other 29 teams in the league to determine whether or not this is sort of even distribution of power play goals against is true for other teams. Nonetheless, we can conclude that Pandolfo taking penalties so far has resulted in power play goals against so it would be best if Pandolfo stayed away from the penalty box.

Overall, I think the best way to prevent a power play goal is to not give the other team a power play to begin with. If the Devils can keep their sticks down, away from the other player's hands and avoid wrapping it around the player, it would help that cause drastically. Will it turn the entire season around on its own? Probably not, but it will definitely help them in close games.

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I want to thank you for the wonderful analysis, but also for the sly SlapShot reference. Very well done!
This is some great reporting. Nice work. I'd like to see how this penalty break down compares to the league in general, but I'm not going to ask you to do that and I sure as hell won't : )

Thanks again for this. Great post.
Thanks! I was afraid people would just look at it, say "too long; didn't read," and go somewhere else.

I plan on doing this at different intervals of the season - so expect to see this type of feature 3 or 4 more times this season.
If Jay Pan is the best penalty killer, then it makes sense that other teams have higher chance of scoring during his penalty. This can be an indicator of who's the best PK player on the team. However, it also means that that player hurts the team most when he takes a penalty.
Anonymous, I'd like to agree but the number of power play goals against by player is fairly even. Yes, 2 power play goals were scored on Pandolfo's 5 penalties; but Parise, Zajac, Brookbank, and the bench (100%) all have higher PPGA/Minor ratios than Pandolfo.

You are right that the point of it was to find out which player hurts the team most through their penalties. But no one player sticks out.
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