Analytics Mailbag: Looking for linear trends in Carey Price’s play

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price stands behind teammates Jake Evans, Christian Folin, Charles Hudon, left to right, in the final minutes of the third period NHL hockey action against the New York Rangers in Montreal on Thursday, February 27, 2020. (Paul Chiasson/CP)

It’s analytics mailbag time again, where we answer your questions with the best data hockey has to offer.

As always, if you asked a question that requires a very in-depth answer, it will likely become its own article sooner rather than later!

We got a question about Carey Price in a recent mailbag that touched on his struggles this season, but we didn’t get into trends. In order to find a trend, let’s look at Price’s save percentage at even strength from the inner slot, slot, and overall since 2015-16.

There isn’t a linear trend here over the last five seasons, but it’s easy to see that this is the second time in the last three seasons that Price has seen a steep drop in his numbers from the slot. He hasn’t been as rough as he was in 2017-18, but it’s worrying to see multiple poor seasons from a player who is supposed to be a franchise cornerstone.

Last season Price faced a ton of criticism, but he was close to the same level of performance as he was giving before his numbers began to taper off despite league-wide save percentage dropping and the Montreal Canadiens being a relatively poor defensive team.

This season the context surrounding Price’s drop isn’t that the Canadiens have been worse defensively either, they’ve been better. The bounce-back season from 2018-19 gives hope that Price can recover from another down year, but any way you slice it he hasn’t been great recently.

I thought this one was going to take some real digging, but the answer was actually very quick to find. Jay Beagle wins a whopping 59 per cent of his faceoffs, but while he’s on the ice the Canucks only control 38.9 per cent of the shot attempts, 37 per cent of the inner slot shots, and a flat 30 per cent of the slot passes. Those are flat out disastrous numbers.

Vancouver is a team of wild swings between lines, with Elias Pettersson’s line being nearly 17 percentage points better, and Bo Horvat’s line being nearly 15 percentage points better. That expensive depth the Canucks brought in got real bad, real fast.

On the other side of the scale is actually Pettersson, who wins just 41.6 per cent of his faceoffs but sees the Canucks control about 54 per cent of all shot-based metrics. Shout out to Mathew Barzal who was nearly the exact same as Pettersson here, only controlling 50 per cent instead.

Who would have thought the answer to both parts of that question would come from the same team?

This is a tough one to answer with data, Alice. However, I think when you look across the NHL at who is the most versatile, the most wholesome, despite all that surrounds them… It has to be Patrice Bergeron, right?

Even if Bergeron is a newbie baker, he excels at everything, and he has spent years with Brad Marchand attached to his hip and still maintains a sterling reputation. There’s no way anyone could be as wholesome as Perfect Patrice.

The most fun player to see on The Great British Bake Off would be Alex Ovechkin though. He probably wouldn’t last long, but it would be chaotic and funny.

To do a best and worst would need a full analysis of multiple seasons, but some things I look at to quantify defence are defensive involvement at the individual level; like how often a player removes possession from opponents with a stick check, body check, pass block, or shot block, how often a player recovers loose pucks in each zone, and the involvement of a player in puck battles, along with the rate they win those battles.

From an on-ice perspective, you have to look at the results in shot-attempts against, and the quality plays like slot passes and inner-slot shots on net against, while being mindful of the level of competition that player is up against, since those areas are highly influenced by opponent strength.

For your second question, that’s such a tough choice, but if I have to pick one player I’m most excited to follow through their career, it would be Pettersson. I really love players who are able to excel in all areas of the game, and at a very young age Pettersson is as close as young players can get to being a complete player in all three zones.

His shot is unreal, and his attention to detail without the puck is incredible. I really hope we get to see him play some playoff hockey sooner rather than later, and see if he has an even higher gear to show us, sort of like the first time the Avalanche made the playoffs in Nathan MacKinnon’s career. We all knew MacKinnon was great, but in that first playoff series he had a coming out party as more than a good young player, and set the bar for himself as a superstar.

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