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Interesting article about our usage of the 4th line. Not sure if it fits better here or in the MT thread to be honest, it's a bit more about strategy than pure stats but it's centered around zone start % so, I don't know.

Why you’re disappointed in the Habs’ fourth line

Mar 8th, 2013 at 9:16 pm by Mathieu RoyAnalysis
Home » Analysis » Why you’re disappointed in the Habs’ fourth line

It wouldn’t be a fandom if there wasn’t something to complain about. With the Habs are sitting pretty at the top of the newspaper standings with a 15-5-4 record, scoring over three goals a game and allowing less than two and a half, there isn’t much to grumble about. One such complaint, though, is about the fourth line, and how they look bad on most nights.

The criticism is justified: they do look bad. And this is entirely by design from Therrien.

To explain this, let’s look at a few numbers from last season. Here are for a selection of Habs forwards, the 5-on-5 zone start numbers from behindthenet.ca : these numbers represent the ratio of offensive versus defensive zone starts, which is a key point of a coach’s player deployment decisions. The green bar is offensive zone faceoffs, the red bar defensive zone faceoffs; it’s all percentages, and neutral zone faceoffs are omitted so it all adds up to 100%. (Click the image for a bigger version.)

Zonestart-2011-2012.png

The green bars aren’t very large overall (Montreal was a terrible possession team, which means a lot of defensive zone faceoffs), but we can definitely see a trend. Plekanec, White, and Moen started in the defensive zone quite a lot, and Eller a fair bit, to the benefit of David Desharnais and his wingers. With the decimated offense of last season, the Habs were reduced to putting all their offensive eggs into a single basket and deploying Plekanec and, to a lesser degree, Eller in defensive situations against the top of the opposition’s lineup, in order to give the Desharnais line the best chance to produce the goals the Habs sorely needed. And don’t be fooled by the way the chart is set up: the difference between Plekanec’s 42.8% and Desharnais’s 52.2% is very significant, typical of most team’s maximum range between the most offensive and most defensive players.

This wasn’t a bad tactic at the time, though it predictably led to a bit of overvaluing of the Pacioretty-Desharnais-Cole line as they were the only line with both the personnel to score and the opportunities to do so. Given the holes in the decimated Habs’ lineup, there wasn’t necessarily much choice; the goals had to come from somewhere, and the team had two quality defensive centers but a sore lack of wingers to play with them. But the 2012-2013 Habs are a very different animal from the previous team, healthier and with a lot more forward depth.

And on the surface, the fourth line is very strong as fourth lines go: three real, NHL-quality players with genuine defensive skill, the kind of guys you can send over the board for a regular shift without fear, the kind of line that too few teams deploy, being either lacking in depth or insistent on dressing players whose only skill is fisticuffs. How were they deployed — do they have the defensive role like Plekanec had last year?

Something like that.

Zonestart-2012-2013.png

There’s much more green on this chart than the other one, owing to the Habs being an excellent overall puck possession club this year. But remember above when I pointed out that a 10% difference in zonestart? That chart blows that completely out of the water. Armstrong and White are at 27.1% and 27.3% respectively, and Moen’s 33.6% also reflects a heavy defensive skew. The primary beneficiaries have been the two rookies, both over 60% zone start (Gallagher leads the team with 63.9%). But between this extreme usage and the Habs’ better puck possession, Therrien has managed to give Desharnais and Pacioretty even more of an offensize slant than last year, and even usual defensive stalwart Plekanec has benefitted from more offensive opportunities. We also see one of the reasons Prust looks better than he has as a Ranger — his offensive zone starts are much more offensively-skewed than they were with New York, where is usage more resembled Moen’s. Contrariwise, we see that Eller’s zone starts are more defensive than last year’s, owing to his long stint centering the fourth line.

But the key takeaway is the usage of Armstrong, Moen, and White relative to the rookies and the Desharnais line. This kind of skew was unusual last year — it is reminescent of last year’s Vancouver, who used their bottom-sixers to free up the Sedins for maximum offensive impact. The Habs’ top three lines have all done very well, but part of that is because they have been put into positions to do so, and one of the reasons this has happened has been because the fourth line has been taking an inordinate number of defensive zone draws, freeing up the better players to start closer to the opposing net. And they haven’t only faced fourth-liners, either; after Plekanec, the fourth line is Therrien’s second go-to option for defensive missions against top-liners. This is why they keep regularly getting double-digit minutes: they allow the Desharnais line to be employed in an exploitation role where their offensive abilities are maximized and their defensive failings are less critical.

So the fourth-line are buried in the defensive zone and face top opposition fairly regularly. Do they win this ? No, of course they don’t. If they did, if they could outchance and outscore opposition in this kind of harsh circumstance, they wouldn’t be fourth-liners, they’d either be first-liners, the kind that gets paid seven million plus a year, or perennial Selke canditates. Heck, even those would have serious trouble looking good in these conditions. The fourth line can’t provide significant offense; they need to focus all their attention on not getting slaughtered.

A common criticism of Moen since he joined the team, one which has now been spread to the entire fourth line, is that he doesn’t provide the physicality and toughness he was signed for. That criticism happens because the perception of Moen’s role is completely wrong. Moen was not brought in to be the team’s designated fighter. As for physicality, that may be part of his game, but hitting is never a goal in and of itself. What Moen is, what he was signed to do, and what he has brought is to be a tough-competition defensive forward: a guy who could play against the opposition’s top guys and, while unable to outplay them, would lose the battle slowly enough that the rest of the lineup, freed from having to deal with those difficult minutes, could outscore the opposition enough to compensate. This usage was instrumental in Anaheim winning their Stanley Cup in 2007, with Moen and Pahlsson identified as significant contributors to shutting down the infamous line of Alfredsson, Spezza and Heatley in the Finals. The Habs’ fourth line is a little like that.

Armstrong, White and Moen have lost the battle even before it began. Their job is to sell their hockey lives so dearly that the opposing first line cannot outscore them at a pace that outstrips the other three lines’ production. This is a crucial role in Michel Therrien’s gameplan, and it explains while the three regularly receive double-digit icetime despite all the criticism levelled at them. They are sacrificial lambs, whose job it is to make the other lines look better by affording them better offensive opportunities.
In short, they are a classic checking line, of the kind that has fallen out of favor since the lockout, but appears to be making something of a comeback. They do their job quite well, and they (and their deployment) have been meaningful contributors to the Habs’ success. So let’s tone down the criticism on their lack of toughness. They do some of the toughest work on the team as it is.
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Interesting article about our usage of the 4th line. Not sure if it fits better here or in the MT thread to be honest, it's a bit more about strategy than pure stats but it's centered around zone start % so, I don't know.

Why you’re disappointed in the Habs’ fourth line
Mar 8th, 2013 at 9:16 pm by Mathieu RoyAnalysis
Home » Analysis » Why you’re disappointed in the Habs’ fourth line

Gotta hand it to you BCH,,,,,you certainly have done your homework,,,,,but this is, or should be your element.

Thanks for giving us some insight, in a very thought provoking subject.

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It makes sense but you can definitely win 16/25 and have some or even a pretty large portion of it be luck. The most important thing with statistics is sample size. The less of a factor you can make luck or the possibility of luck the more the numbers tell you.

I just looked at this for the first time, and everything is interesting and I think I agree with most of the members who have posted, but the conversation on luck caught my eye.

The thing is that, sample size aside, a little bit of luck can go a long way. For example, 1 win a month would have gotten us into the playoffs last year. Each month, we played 5 or 6 games decided by 1 goal. Every single one of those, if we had gotten a little lucky, could have been a win. Likewise, if we had lost a couple of the close games we actually won (You can probably conclude we won because we got lucky), then we would have quite possibly had the top overall pick in the draft. In both cases, its not like we're talking about a lot of luck, just luck in the right places(which includes a factor of luck in and of itself, I guess you could argue).

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I thoroughly enjoyed reading that BCH. Learn something new around here everyday. Thanks.

Interesting article about our usage of the 4th line. Not sure if it fits better here or in the MT thread to be honest, it's a bit more about strategy than pure stats but it's centered around zone start % so, I don't know.

Why you’re disappointed in the Habs’ fourth line
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Gotta hand it to you BCH,,,,,you certainly have done your homework,,,,,but this is, or should be your element.

Thanks for giving us some insight, in a very thought provoking subject.

Thanks, kinot, but just to be clear, I haven't written any of this stuff, just coming across it. There's a lot of good stuff out there, but posting the link would usually violate our rules.

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The article on the fourth line is interesting, and in keeping with my feeling about Moen's utility to the team. He's not being paid to deliver big hits and toughness; his role is to be a smart defensive forward. Prust is now doing a lot of what Moen used to do last year, and receiving more OZone start time to boot.

Having said that, I do wish the fourth line was a bit smarter/stronger with the puck. I'm not expecting White, Armstrong, or Moen to turn into Selke candidates and start playing shutdown defense like a Zetterberg. I just want a bit better decision-making with the puck, like making sure to chip the puck in DEEP when the five-man unit is skating hard into the OZone, so as to avoid a turnover that could lead to an odd-man rush against (White hasn't been great at this recently). Or being strong on the puck clearing the zone -- avoid blueline turnovers, and if the puck's on your stick and you have a chance to make a strong clearance, do it without icing the puck. Flip it out to center, use the boards, or make a pass to a teammate if it's there. Armstrong needs to improve in this regard.

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Reposting my post from the Sens GDT:

Any stats guys around? I know about the Fenwick/Fenwick Close stats that measure shots for/against in close and tied games to rate possession. Is there any stat like that for PPs/PKs? I'd like to know how bad our PP/PK is in tight/tied games. How many times it blows a lead/fails to tie a game/etc. It might be natural pessimism but it kinda feels like the special teams are only good when they don't need to be.

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  • 3 months later...

Joffrey Lupul made a tweet today stating that nobody gets a contract based on "this Corsi thing"... might be a consequence of the fact that Toronto as a whole had terrible possession statistics this year, but as a whole, you'd have to believe most players don't care all that much about possession. That said, I'm sure more GM's and coaches are starting to use advanced statistics to make decisions (or at least they should be). The old adage for coaches is that you can't score unless you shoot the puck, and Corsi reflects that, so maybe players will start to make more shot attempts if they know Corsi is being factored into how they're being analyzed and/or paid.

It's also particularly funny because a guy like Lupul dismisses shot attempts as a measure of value, yet everyone everywhere accepts +/- as a statistic. Even the concept of assists is a little arbitrary... sometimes the guy getting the 1st assist doesn't do much on the play, often times the guy getting the 2nd assist doesn't have much impact on whether the puck goes in, and in many instances, guys who do play a big role in setting up a goal don't end up with a point. There's also no measure of when a guy makes a great pass and the player at the other end whiffs on an open net. So at the end of the day, this concept of assists is an arbitrary measure of how well a guy contributes to his team's success. You put a guy on the ice with Crosby and he's bound to end up with at least 20-30 assists in a season; you put him on with Paul Gaustad instead and regardless of how he plays, that number will go down. But that doesn't necessarily mean the player played any less well nor does it tell you how well that guy would do compared to another guy if the two were put in similar situations (which is really what a GM needs to figure out). So while Lupul is right that teams pay guys for points and not Corsi, maybe GM's would be better served to pull a Billy Beane and start looking outside the box at different surrogates than assist totals.

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I particularly enjoyed that fourth line post. I've tried to explain it to people before, but haven't been able to word it as concisely. Nicely put, and I will point people to it for a read. I was harsh on Moen last season, because I didn't feel like he put the same effort in, but I should probably cut him a little slack. I hadn't realized his defensive starts were up, and it's kind of a thankless job in nature to begin with. There are no awards for role players. (Which, off-topic, is something I would love to see changed.)

For the leadership and character debate, where work ethic and effort also fit in, it is definitely difficult to quantify, but I don't feel that makes it less influential in either predicting or rating a player's value. Having a strong guiding force can affect the confidence and development of a team, whether it come in the form of direct guidance, or in transferrence of values and characteristics to players around them through example. Difficult to quantify, but definitely of value.

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  • 1 month later...

Our top two defenseman were both in the top 10 in giveaways last year in the NHL. Markov 2nd and Subban 10th. I know they both play a lot of minutes and Subban likes to carry the puck but come on.

Giveaways IMO is a pretty subjective statistic and one that carries no weight for me in determining a players value or skill.

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Giveaways IMO is a pretty subjective statistic and one that carries no weight for me in determining a players value or skill.

Giveaways and turnovers are a hard stat to read.

How many are actual giveaways and how many of them were simple chops at puck that ended up on opposing teams stick or a pass that your teammate missed. There's also those where a hard check was landed and the puck carrier loses the puck, is that really a giveaway or simply a great defensive move by an opposing player?

If a puck gets chipped into the o-zone and the defending teams gets to he puck first, it's considered a giveaway/turnover.

For me a giveaway is a bad pass that ends up in the other teams possession. A pick off to me is simply a good defensive play from the defending team.

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Giveaways are a bit misleading as a stat. To give the puck away you have to have it in the first place, if you sort giveaways by defensemen the top few guys are all top defensemen who play big minutes for their teams (Phaneuf, Markov, Subban, Carlson, Hjalmarsson, Seabrook, Doughty, etc etc.).

We actually had 4 defensemen in the top 30 in giveaways (Markov, Subban, Bouillion, Emelin), which is mostly a reflection of us being a top tier possession team last year. For the vast majority of the season besides the blowup at the end, we were outshooting the opposition and controlling the play. That just tends to lead to giveaways, if you're in the opposing team's end most of the game, you'll give the puck away eventually.

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It's also a reflection of Montreal stats guys loving to record giveaways. We always have a few defensemen near the top of the league in giveaways, regardless of personnel, system, coaches etc.

I remember one of our stats guys a few years ago (Roy? Moneypuck?) saying that all teams, not just the Canadiens, were being assessed more giveaways at the Bell Centre than at other arenas. Since the Habs obviously play at the Bell Centre way more often than the other teams it makes sense that we often lead the league in giveaways.

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I remember one of our stats guys a few years ago (Roy? Moneypuck?) saying that all teams, not just the Canadiens, were being assessed more giveaways at the Bell Centre than at other arenas. Since the Habs obviously play at the Bell Centre way more often than the other teams it makes sense that we often lead the league in giveaways.

Following that,,, wouldn't it make sense that the Wings would have more give-aways in the Joe,,,,or the laffs more give-aways at the ACC? The more accurate stat would be comparing home and away give-aways for each team, and then compare them.

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Yes, just to clarify the point a few posters have made, each arena has its own official scorekeeper, who records stats such as giveaways. But how each individual does that is really a subjective matter, to some degree. If the Habs play in a city where the scorekeeper is more liberal at calling a certain type of play a giveaway, then as a result, players playing there (both home and away) will see their giveaway stats go up. Since the Habs play 41 games at the Bell, it means that half their giveaway stats would be comprised of games where they were judged liberally to have given the puck up whereas a team like Boston might come here only 3 times. So to judge our team's giveaway record correctly, you'd have to

1. See if the players are just as likely to give the puck away on the road as at home (if the averages are the same, it points more towards a team issue than a scorekeeping one)

2. See if our total giveaways on the road are worse than league average (since teams vary where they play on the road, the effect of one outlying scorekeeper is nullified)

3. See if our opponents' giveaway total at the Bell is in a similar range to ours (would show that again, it's just higher totals of giveaways overall being handed out by the scorekeeper and not just because our team does it more often than others)

Similar issues can be seen with stats like blocked shots, hits, shots on goal, etc., which to some degree are all a bit subjective.

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Yes, just to clarify the point a few posters have made, each arena has its own official scorekeeper, who records stats such as giveaways. But how each individual does that is really a subjective matter, to some degree. If the Habs play in a city where the scorekeeper is more liberal at calling a certain type of play a giveaway, then as a result, players playing there (both home and away) will see their giveaway stats go up. Since the Habs play 41 games at the Bell, it means that half their giveaway stats would be comprised of games where they were judged liberally to have given the puck up whereas a team like Boston might come here only 3 times. So to judge our team's giveaway record correctly, you'd have to

1. See if the players are just as likely to give the puck away on the road as at home (if the averages are the same, it points more towards a team issue than a scorekeeping one)

2. See if our total giveaways on the road are worse than league average (since teams vary where they play on the road, the effect of one outlying scorekeeper is nullified)

3. See if our opponents' giveaway total at the Bell is in a similar range to ours (would show that again, it's just higher totals of giveaways overall being handed out by the scorekeeper and not just because our team does it more often than others)

Similar issues can be seen with stats like blocked shots, hits, shots on goal, etc., which to some degree are all a bit subjective.

Thanks for the clarification Ted. In other words (mine),,,some stats aren't worth a darn. :rolleyes:<_< , they might be close,,, but that's about all.

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Just to give an example of the subjective nature of a giveaway and how it can be misleading.

The NHL defines a giveaway as follows:

  • Giveaway - A giveaway is when a player's own actions result in a loss of possession to the opposing team.


Now, in context of Subban. One of the more useful plays he routinely makes is to simply flick the puck out of the zone. It's basically a crafty alternative to icing the puck when we're under a ton of pressure. He flips it up over the defenseman and it will land and rest somewhere, usually between the red line and oponents blue line. It let's us get a much needed line change and set up while the other team retrieves the puck.

It's a simple yet great/underused defensive play that PK has in his tool box. Yet when you think about what he's doing, would it not fit the above definition of a giveaway?

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  • 3 weeks later...

Just to give an example of the subjective nature of a giveaway and how it can be misleading.

The NHL defines a giveaway as follows:

  • Giveaway - A giveaway is when a player's own actions result in a loss of possession to the opposing team.


Now, in context of Subban. One of the more useful plays he routinely makes is to simply flick the puck out of the zone. It's basically a crafty alternative to icing the puck when we're under a ton of pressure. He flips it up over the defenseman and it will land and rest somewhere, usually between the red line and oponents blue line. It let's us get a much needed line change and set up while the other team retrieves the puck.

It's a simple yet great/underused defensive play that PK has in his tool box. Yet when you think about what he's doing, would it not fit the above definition of a giveaway?

This stat thing is not my forte. I just happened to be reading this thread.

Would, whether the giveaway was intentional or not, come into this equation?

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Stats can be incredibly misleading,you need to simply watch the players to know who is playing well and who is not.

I will use a few examples.Blocked shots,why is he need to block so many shots?Well they do not have the puck for one ,the other team does and they are obviously in good scoring positions that is why they are shooting.How about cover your man closer and stand up to the line so they can't easily move in and get quality shots that have to be blocked.

Goalie saves.Man oh man i see this ALL the time.Media outlets look at the box score see Price made 37 saves and auto think he played great.Goalies in the NHL do 95% guess work,they auto go down on their knees and just guess the puck will hit them.Usually unless a weak shot,the ones that are not shot right at the goalie,will go in.Making a ton of saves along the ice means NOTHING since the goalies are already down on their knees before the shot is even taken.

Another FACT about stats.Playing on the PP and first line ,gives you more ice time than anyone else.Those players will automatically have more points than guys on the third line.So no matter how good that third line player is ,he simply will not produce.You look at the stat sheet.all you see is GP and goals /points.

If you were to take the same minutes played and reverse the PP of the third and first lines,you might actually see the third line score more points.The end result would be VERY minimal.point being is teams need to really think hard when assessing their players.A first line player getting 60 points is not as good as a 3rd line player getting 45 points,they are about equal.

Imo stats should be based on quality shots,quality saves,minutes played and scoring should be shown more as a 5 on 5 stat instead of overall including PP.If a player gets 60 points and 45 were on the PP,he is NOT a very efficient player at even strength,making him not a very good player,yet someone might see 60 points and think oh wow he is pretty good.

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Another FACT about stats.Playing on the PP and first line ,gives you more ice time than anyone else.Those players will automatically have more points than guys on the third line.So no matter how good that third line player is ,he simply will not produce.You look at the stat sheet.all you see is GP and goals /points.

If you were to take the same minutes played and reverse the PP of the third and first lines,you might actually see the third line score more points.The end result would be VERY minimal.point being is teams need to really think hard when assessing their players.A first line player getting 60 points is not as good as a 3rd line player getting 45 points,they are about equal.

Imo stats should be based on quality shots,quality saves,minutes played and scoring should be shown more as a 5 on 5 stat instead of overall including PP.If a player gets 60 points and 45 were on the PP,he is NOT a very efficient player at even strength,making him not a very good player,yet someone might see 60 points and think oh wow he is pretty good.

I'm not sure if you've ever visted http://www.behindthenet.ca/, zaksame, but it might be something of interest to you. It's a stats site that basically ignores all of the "standard" stats for the exact reasons you brought up - for example, if a guy gets big minutes against easy competition and scored 65 points is he actually any better than a guy who gets less minutes against the other teams' top lines and scores 55?

They keep advanced stats that take into account not only ice time but also the situation (even strength, PP, etc.), the quality of the players that they were playing against, and even where they tend to start their shifts (offensive zone vs. defensive zone). Even the advanced stats aren't perfect, it's true, but they go a lot further towards showing a player's true worth than the traditional method of just counting up points.

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I'm not sure if you've ever visted http://www.behindthenet.ca/, zaksame, but it might be something of interest to you. It's a stats site that basically ignores all of the "standard" stats for the exact reasons you brought up - for example, if a guy gets big minutes against easy competition and scored 65 points is he actually any better than a guy who gets less minutes against the other teams' top lines and scores 55?

They keep advanced stats that take into account not only ice time but also the situation (even strength, PP, etc.), the quality of the players that they were playing against, and even where they tend to start their shifts (offensive zone vs. defensive zone). Even the advanced stats aren't perfect, it's true, but they go a lot further towards showing a player's true worth than the traditional method of just counting up points.

+1. And as important as the eye test is (and it is important), it's impossible not to have built in biases. As closely as you watch a game, you're not going to notice every play every player makes, and even you do, only a handful are going to stick out and be retained. You may only remember a couple of bad plays or vice versa. There's also the fact that some players just don't look as good even when doing the same good things as other players.

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Goalie saves.Man oh man i see this ALL the time.Media outlets look at the box score see Price made 37 saves and auto think he played great.Goalies in the NHL do 95% guess work,they auto go down on their knees and just guess the puck will hit them.Usually unless a weak shot,the ones that are not shot right at the goalie,will go in.Making a ton of saves along the ice means NOTHING since the goalies are already down on their knees before the shot is even taken.

I don't think this is really a fair assessment of goaltending. Very rarely does a goalie just drop and pray the puck hits them, that's reserved for very specific situations (screen, scrum in front of the net) and doesn't describe most shot situations. What you see as "guess work" is actually years of practice and refining their craft to the point where positioning and cutting down the angle is intuitive. If it was just guess work there would be a lot more NHL goalies, and teams wouldn't be paying 6M or more to keep their top goalies under contract.

I'm with you on SV% in a vacuum not being the best indicator of a goalie's talent though. At the moment, the best one stat we have is probably even strength SV%, because a goalie's save percentage on the PK is volatile and very team based, and in a total SV% stat it takes a goalie's PK SV% into account. ES SV% isn't quite as team based, and is still something that can be used to evaluate goalies in context.

Agreed on blocked shots. Having a huge number of blocked shots usually means you aren't very good at puck possession.

+1. And as important as the eye test is (and it is important), it's impossible not to have built in biases. As closely as you watch a game, you're not going to notice every play every player makes, and even you do, only a handful are going to stick out and be retained. You may only remember a couple of bad plays or vice versa. There's also the fact that some players just don't look as good even when doing the same good things as other players.

The problem with the eye test is that humans suck at the eye test. At the end of every game there's half of the posters think a certain player had an awesome game, and half the posters think they suck and should be traded. There's tons of inherent biases and the biggest one is confirmation bias. People have a preconceived idea of what a player can do and they notice when the game matches their expectations. Just look at how many people come out of the wood work when Price or Desharnais have a bad game.

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