Self Flagellating Anaheim Ducks Harm Themselves In Penalty Binge

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 13: Anaheim Ducks Left Wing Nick Ritchie (37) fights with Los Angeles Kings Left Wing Kyle Clifford (13) and shoves him to the ice during an NHL game between the Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings on January 13, 2018 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 13: Anaheim Ducks Left Wing Nick Ritchie (37) fights with Los Angeles Kings Left Wing Kyle Clifford (13) and shoves him to the ice during an NHL game between the Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings on January 13, 2018 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

The Anaheim Ducks have gone on a penalty binge this season. How do they fix it going forward?

The Anaheim Ducks-Washington Capitals game the other night brought to light a few talking points for the Ducks that have gone under the radar for the much of the season thus far. Obvious to those who watched the game was the violent back and forth between the two teams.

I don’t wish to comment on the Washington game in isolation, but more the general trends the Anaheim Ducks have shown throughout the season thus far. For season’s upon season’s as far as I can think back, Ducks fans have reveled in perceived injustices by league officials. Forever they said, they would embrace being thought of as the hard-hitting and sometimes dirty team that won the 2007 Stanley Cup.

It was, of course, one of the many reasons fans were upset that Randy Carlyle would be replaced. Would the fighting stop? Would they start taking fewer penalties? The consensus was that Dallas Eakins was one of those wimpy new school coaches that would bring in new school tactics and attempt to dominate the puck possession game, as opposed to the thuggish brutality the Ducks had been traditionally known for. How wrong that consensus was.

Today, following the Washington Capitals game, the Ducks sit 4th amongst all teams with 10 minutes and 54 seconds of penalty minutes per game. Their 99 total penalties in 22 games rank them second in the league behind Milan Lucic’s Calgary Flames. Their 6 major penalties rank them equal 3rd in the league and they lead the league in game misconducts. Just so you know, the coach is doing his part, the Ducks also have taken the (equal) 3rd highest number of bench infractions. But let us come back to this in a short while.

Last season, the Anaheim Ducks commenced the season with a string of terrible play that had them present historically poor shooting metrics, both for and against them. The case for injuries wasn’t enough to salvage then coach, Randy Carlyle’s career, despite them slowly improving over the initial months of the season. While this season started positive under new coach Dallas Eakins, the past month has been far less rosy.

There was a declining trend from the very first game across most, if not all, of the statistics that will be spoken about from here on in. However, the team really fell away once both Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson were taken out of the team due to injury. We know from Alex Novet’s work that having good players on the ice as often as possible is highly correlated to winning hockey games, and without the Ducks top pairing on the ice, the results have fallen away.

However, the extent to which they have fallen away is remarkable. Those historically bad numbers that plagued the Ducks at the beginning of last season have revisited them this month, and they’re spiraling downwards at a remarkable rate.

Some Good News to Soften the Blow

Beginning with the good, this calendar month (November), the Anaheim Ducks currently sit 20th and 21st in the league for Fenwick and Corsi, respectively. For those unaware, Corsi is the sum of all shot attempts, inclusive of shots on net, shots that are blocked, and shots that simply miss the net. has the same statistic, however, they call it SAT. You can use either interchangeably, although Corsi is the more familiar term to many due to the fantastic work of the hockey twitter community.

Fenwick is essentially the same as Corsi but takes away the blocked shots component. Whether you believe blocking shots is a useful, or trainable, skill or not can be debated at another time. What is important, is that offensively, the Ducks are in the bottom third of the league for shot production. While the Ducks are primarily hurting for players on the defensive side of the puck, not being able to recover the puck from the opposition and transition it into offense is going to hurt offensive production. It is more troubling that the Ducks rank 28th for actual shots on net, which suggests that their shooters, when able to get shots off, are not getting effective shots off as often as they’d like.

Although, it should be noted that when they do get effective shots off, that they often are from dangerous locations (11th best in the league for high danger chances), and subsequently they hold a top 10 on-ice shooting percentage. All of which is to suggest that injuries are hurting the Ducks’ ability to move the puck to the areas they most want it moved too, consistently. When the Ducks can move the puck into those situations, they’re converting at a clip that is well above league averages, which can be highlighted by players such as Adam Henrique rocking 20% shooting percentages. Taken together, we can say that the Anaheim Ducks offense is at present functional, although perhaps not as high octane as they, and we the fans, may have hoped.

From Bad to Worse

However, while the good was ok, the bad is very bad. The Ducks sit 30th for both Fenwick and Corsi over the month of November. As a comparison, the Ducks under Carlyle for the first 2 months of last season, presented a Fenwick Against (all unblocked shot attempts against) of 45.5 per 60 minutes and Corsi Against (all shot attempts against) of 60.2 per 60 minutes of play.

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This month, the Ducks have a Fenwick Against rate of 47.9 and Corsi Against of 61.9. Subsequently, the Ducks are also giving up more shots on net (33.3 this month to 31.7 in last seasons sample.) However, this hasn’t yet translated to more goals against and there is one very good reason for it. The Anaheim Ducks save percentage this month (at even strength at least) is better than that of the sample last season.

Combined, the Ducks, this month, have the leagues 6th best PDO. That is to say their combined shooting percentage and save percentage at even strength is the 6th highest in the league. On one hand, you could suggest that they’re making the most of their shots and that they have a dominant netminder in John Gibson. On the other, given their lack of shots on net and that they’re getting utterly caved in defensively, one could conceivably consider that they may just be a little lucky to be this high in the standings.

For those interested, John Gibson has merely 4 (out of 11) average or better starts through the month of November. While I’m certainly not one to be calling Gibson out, there should be a discussion about why his results this month are as they are and why the Ducks need a new coach… Oops, I mean, to get healthier on defense and get a new coach… Dang it, I mean, get healthier on defense and acquire a top 4 defenceman for a brand new coach to work with… Right, just like the Ducks defense, I’m giving up. So, we’re moving on.

Historical Season of Penalties

All of this leads back to the penalties conversation. Primarily speaking, the Ducks are taking a lot of minor penalties in the nature of hooks, slashes, and holds. These particular minor penalties are most often the product of not having the puck. More concerning, the Ducks are taking them at a far higher rate than last season. Already the Ducks are taking an additional 2 minutes per game in penalties, and are on track to hit 30 more minor penalties, 10 more majors, 5 more game misconducts and 5 more bench infractions.

We would have to search back to the 2010-2011 season to find an Anaheim Ducks team that would take as many minor penalties in a season, and well into the early 90’s to find a team with as many game misconducts. Perhaps a more exciting finding is that never in their history have they taken as many bench infractions as they are on pace for this season. Not once. Never. That is an astounding volume of calls against the Ducks for a team list that is without the names Ryan Kesler, Corey Perry, and Kevin Bieksa penciled onto it.

I, for one, have to commend the new coach for crafting a team and a play style that has superseded the wildest of my craziest psychosis induced dreamscapes. One day, should things continue as they are, someone will be writing an article about how many penalties the Ducks are taking and compare it to this year as one of the worst in the teams’ history. For the Ducks new head coach to add yet another historic statistic to add to his historically relevant tenure in Edmonton simply boggles the mind.

Let’s Talk about Corsi

However, to get back on track, I’d like you to bear with me for a short while if you will. I’d like to partially discuss the prevailing idea that Corsi is synonymous with puck possession, before then linking it back to penalties taken.

In recent history, you’ll often hear hockey fans talking about possession and then quote a Corsi figure of some description. However, it should be very clear that puck possession and Corsi are very different things. Corsi and it’s variants, are simply +/- statistics for shots, and are purely descriptive in nature. In the now distant past, the NHL used to keep zone time, and the early users of Corsi showed that it had a moderate relationship (more on relationships below) with zone time. Now, the prevailing thought is that the more a team has the puck, the more often it will shoot, and the less often the other team will shoot. Which is correct. To an extent.

In both the recent games against the Edmonton Oilers and Detroit Red Wings, the Anaheim Ducks finished the game with a positive Corsi For Percentage ((The Ducks Corsi For / Total Corsi Events [Ducks Corsi For + Red Wings Corsi For])*100) during 5-on-5 and even-strength play. While the Ducks Corsi For attempts were close enough to what would be expected based on their season averages, they had additionally, seemingly, kept the opposition from making shot attempts at a rate well under their recent averages. However, was this really true?

The Ducks, in both of those games, took more than their season average of minor penalties, the majority of which were due to not holding the puck. Some of the calls canceled each other out in terms of a man-advantage, but the teams no longer played at even strength, thus the 5-on-5 statistics became somewhat slanted. For instance, the Ducks get a full shift in the offensive zone and maybe get 2 shots away, yet when the Red Wings move into the offensive zone they’re given a hooking call and go on the man advantage prior to getting a 5-on-5 shot attempt away.

It’s a simplistic example but can show that perhaps the games in which the Anaheim Ducks seemingly performed better in terms of reducing shot attempts against them. Unfortunately, this wasn’t actually the entire story. The Red Wings in that game simply didn’t get as much time to accumulate shot attempts during 5-on-5 play, as the Ducks kept putting them on the power play whenever they’d get the puck. Thus, Corsi as a stand-alone statistic shouldn’t be termed, nor confused with puck possession. Much like traditional +/-, it has flaws in its calculation, so to do these “newer” statistics. Fan’s need to be aware of context, and use these figures to illuminate what they see one the ice, rather than supersede it.

However, the link between penalties and reducing shot attempts is not always, and not even often, present. Within this season alone there is a relatively strong relationship between penalty minutes and overall shot attempts being taken against the team. For those who struggle with statistics, a correlation coefficient presents the strength of a relationship between two things. Things that are similar are likely to have a stronger relationship than those that aren’t.

This relationship is presented in a -1 to 1 range, with -1 being a strong negative relationship, and 1 being a strong positive relationship. As an example, the sum of all shot attempts (Corsi) has a correlation coefficient of 0.83, this season, to shots on net. The 0.17 that is missing presents the factors that contribute to shots on net that aren’t necessarily related to shot attempts. An astoundingly large variance, which shows the chaos that hockey truly is. For the next little bit the terms “relationship” and “correlation coefficient” are interchangeable.

As we can see with something that is seemingly so very similar (shot attempts and shots on net) actually having a reasonable degree of variation within it, we then must consider adjusting our concept of strength of relationship when considering less obvious relationships. Thus, when penalties, which seemingly have very little to do with shooting the puck, have a correlation coefficient of ~0.50 (a number that its typically considered “moderate”) with Corsi Against, Fenwick Against, Goals Against, expected Goals Against, and Scoring Chances Against, it’s worth considering why this relationship exists and how it is coming about.

Are penalties the Servant or the Master in this Relationship?

Are the penalties occurring because the team is getting outshot and the Ducks are attempting to slow the game down? This would certainly be the case with fighting majors, which have a strong correlation with shooting metrics against the Ducks. That is to say, fighting isn’t a deterrent in today’s game, but a show ponies way of slowing down a game and attempting to swing momentum that is already being lost on the shot chart.

For instance, Erik Gudbranson now leads the league in fighting majors this season, yet how many came about when the Ducks were winning the game and in the midst of a purple patch of play? I’d bet a pretty penny you’ll think back and find the majority, if not all, were after an opposition goal or a period when the opposition-controlled the play.

The alternative is that the team may be fatigued after taking a penalty and spending time on the ensuing penalty kill? Typically speaking, fatigue impacts the ability of players to perform tasks as well as increasing the likelihood of making mistakes or poor decisions. Thus if it is indeed accumulated fatigue from playing shorthanded, then management needs to consider ways to cut down on the team playing in that manner. However, there are a number of different options that the Ducks could undertake depending on their mindset towards taking penalties and the nature of those penalties.

Making the Necessary Changes

For instance, if the belief is that the penalties are occurring because the other team has puck possession and the Anaheim Ducks are struggling to regain it, then upper management may need to consider acquiring players who will assist in this aspect of the game. Certainly, waiting to get healthy may play a large part, yet that never really happened last season, so who knows if it will happen now? There have been numerous rumors about Tyson Barrie potentially wanting to move on from Toronto, and his relatively cheap contract for the rest of this season would be palatable to the Ducks.

The Ducks would also be in a position to showcase Barrie in his UFA year. Perhaps he’s an answer that would allow the Ducks young players like Josh Mahura more time to season in the AHL, as well as provide stability on the blue line immediately. His ability to run a power play could also pay dividends improving that train wreck – a train wreck I believe we’ve all decided to ignore and never mention again. Right? Very good, let us carry on.

If the belief is that taking these penalties is a sign of toughness, then perhaps everyone in management should be fired. It may sound somewhat inane, yet how often have the Anaheim Ducks acquired a free agent in the past decade due to a perceived need for “leadership,” “toughness,” or “grit.” The Ducks have had so much “grit” the past decade that all the wooden supports at Honda Centre must have been sanded smoother than a baby’s bottom.

Penalties in Correlation with Losses

Back on topic though; consider that minor penalties have a moderate relationship (correlation coefficient of 0.40) to losses this season. This then showcases that taking more penalties increases the probability of losing games. If no one can ensure certainty in sport (and they can’t, else I’d be making a killing this season at the TAB – that’s a betting agency for you heathen non-Australians) then it is the players and coaches job to maximize the likelihood that they’ll win. Increasing the number of penalties taken decreases the probability of winning, and in fact, increases the probability that the Anaheim Ducks will lose the game. The players and coaches are failing at their respective jobs. At least in this facet of the game.

Right now the Anaheim Ducks are their own worst enemy. Despite riding high as one of the leagues hottest shooting teams (so far as a percentage), and running with two of the leagues best netminders, the Ducks are finding ways to lose games and limit their chances at success. While the Ducks are certainly shorthanded in key departments, this is not a new development for them from years past. No one group is particularly to blame, and all should equally be looked into in order to develop changes in strategy going forward. Well except for the bench minors perhaps, they really should be sorted out sooner than later.

However, what is certain, is that this year’s Ducks are taking penalties at a higher rate than last year’s Ducks. These very same Ducks are presently presenting underlying metrics which are as bad or worse than the worst of last season. These Ducks are losing games like it’s going out of fashion. The scary thought for fans is that these Ducks are currently trending down. Surely, Lindholm can’t come back soon enough.

However, even considering his hopefully imminent return, perhaps it’s worth considering a shake-up on top of it. Keeping in mind that both Lindholm and Manson are in the Anaheim Ducks top 5 players for penalty minutes per game, their return may not arrest the bleeding. Be it, roster shake-up or a coaching change, the Ducks cannot continue to bleed from self-inflicted wounds.

**All data mentioned in the above article are correct as of the 20th November 2019 and pertain to even-strength play unless otherwise noted within the next. All raw data, inclusive of Corsi, Fenwick, PDO, and Scoring Chances can be found at Penalty data can be found at Correlation coefficients, tests of significance, and linear trends were calculated using R Studio and Microsoft Excel.**

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