Why the Anaheim Ducks Need to Become a Better Possession Team


Nov 12, 2014; Anaheim, CA, USA; Anaheim Ducks goalie Jason LaBarbera (30) is congratulated by the teammates after the game against the Los Angeles Kings at Honda Center.The Ducks defeated the Kings 6-5 in shootout. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Possession is a foundational part of building a successful hockey team. In a flow-based game (like Hockey), the team that has control of the puck in the attacking zone both increases their chances of scoring, and decreases the likelihood that they will surrender a goal.

Possession in hockey is not merely measured by time with the puck. Statisticians have found that it is better to measure “meaningful possession” by tracking the amount of shots for and against. Any time a shot is taken, it indicates two things: that the puck is likely in the attacking zone, and that the puck is being controlled by the attacking team.

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For this reason, statisticians use CF% (Corsi-For %, usually measured in 5v5 scenarios exclusively) to measure possession.

Corsi measures the percentage of shots taken and surrendered by a team.

These shots “count” regardless of where they are taken on the ice (though it is usually in the attacking zone), regardless if they are on goal or not. Teams with CF% ratings over 50% are generally regarded as good possession teams.

While teams can survive on poor possession metrics if their shooting percentages or save percentages (or both) are above average, these teams are typically exploited in the playoffs when they encounter a superior possession team.

It should then come as no surprise that the elite teams in the league tend to have high possession metrics. Of the past five Stanley Cup winners, four had a top-4 CF%.
Last year, the Ducks were not a very strong possession team. They held the 19th highest CF%, controlling just 49.9% of shot attempts throughout the season.

The Ducks were eventually eliminated from playoff contention by the Los Angeles Kings, who coincidentally had the league’s highest CF%, with 56.9%.

The Ducks have been marginally better at possession this year. They are still ranked near the middle of the pack in possession stats, with a 50.4% CF%.

The Ducks have shown flashes of being a dominant possession team—now they have to become one.

Despite this gradual increase in possession, Anaheim’s offense has struggled. The team is averaging only 2.65 goals/game, compared to 3.21 goals/game last season.

This is so because last year the Ducks had an astronomically high shooting percentage—10.24%, ranked first in the league.

Many experts regarded last year’s Ducks as merely lucky, and predicted that their success would end once their shooting percentages came crashing back down to earth.

This year the Ducks have not been so lucky with their shooting percentages as last year. Only 8.38% of their shots are finding their way into the back of the net.

The cause of this is up for some debate—one could argue it’s merely some due regression from Anaheim’s astronomical percentages sustained through the last two seasons.

However, a strong argument can be made that the Ducks are suffering from lower shooting percentages because of differing personnel.

The Ducks have lost several capable shooters in Nick Bonino, Mathieu Perreault, Teemu Selanne, to name just a few. Their shoes are primarily being filled by youngsters (Etem, Smith-Pelly, Rakell, Karlsson).

In addition to this, Coach Boudreau has cahnged the roles that his individual lines play. While the Ducks were able to field four “scoring lines” last season, the team has taken a distinctly more defensive approach this season.

May 16, 2014; Anaheim, CA, USA; Anaheim Ducks right wing Teemu Selanne (8) salutes the crowd after game seven of the second round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Los Angeles Kings at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The Ducks “fourth line” last year featured Patrick Maroon, Mathieu Perreault, and Teemu Selanne, and despite very little ice time, the group was immensely productive.

This year, the fourth line is typically occupied by Nate Thompson, Tim Jackman, and various left wings. This line represents something more of a tradition fourth “grinding” line, designed to wear down opponents and take defensive zone starts against easier competition.

While this strategy may make the Ducks a stronger team defensively, one could argue that it’s allowed the offense to suffer.

If the Ducks are to remain successful even in the midst of lower shooting percentages, they need to become a stronger possession team.

On Wednesday against Los Angeles, the Ducks controlled 65.23% of all shot attempts against the Kings. They out-shot the defending Stanley Cup Champions (and reigning fancystat darlings) 88-49.

Had it not been for several acrobatic saves by Kings keeper Jonathan Quick, the game might not have been very close at all.

The Ducks have shown flashes of being a dominant possession team—now they have to become one. If they can replicate the performance on Wednesday night against Los Angeles over the course of an entire season—and more importantly, in the postseason, the Ducks will be a very tough team to beat.