Corsi. It was the golden ticket into the advanced stats conversation. Corsi is defined by the shots and shot attempts, for and against at 5-on-5 (5v5). A team’s Corsi differential was thought to be key in determining its sustainability and playoff viability. Leave it to the Penguins to define, then destroy that fallacy.
The 2016 Pittsburgh Penguins dominated the Corsi statistic. They were fast and dominated the puck. In 2015-16, the Penguins had the second best Corsi ranking, nearly 53%.
In the 2016 playoffs, the Penguins looked like Apollo Creed, fast and relentless. Opposing teams were under siege. The Penguins playoff Corsi was about 51%, but when adjusting for the quality of competition, that number was remarkable.
Last season, they fell to 16th, just a tick above 50%. In the playoffs…they looked more like Rocky against Ivan Drago. They took a Corsi beatdown but managed to win in the end. Their Corsi rating en route to the second Grant Street hurrah was just above 46%. Remember the nearly 40-minute shot drought against Nashville in the Stanley Cup Final? Pekka Rinne should forever be on Sidney Crosby‘s Christmas Card list.
If they can change, and you can change, everybody can change! (Apologies for the Rocky montage now playing in your head).
Pay attention to scoring chances and high-danger scoring chances. In those vital categories, the Penguins are a mixed bag. Oddly, the Penguins were next to last in the 2017 playoffs in scoring chance differential, 47%. However, they were above water in high danger chances.
Repeated questions to Penguins players last season, some by me, about the Corsi dynamic kept turning up the same answer: “We look at scoring chances.”
The moral of the story: The Penguins talent and scoring ability converted a much higher percentage of scoring chances than everyone else. While some may point to that being unsustainable, it isn’t hard to argue Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Kris Letang, Jake Guentzel, and Conor Sheary will convert at a higher rate than most teams.
And that is sustainable.
2017-18 Penguins Corsi
This season, the Penguins are again mid-pack in puck possession, 14th. Again, they’re confounding statistics; they’re nearly even with Corsi, but near the top in shot differential, 53%. The Penguins are the worst team in the NHL, by a country mile, in 5v5 goals-for (32%). 32%?!
And yet the Penguins have more than 50% of high-danger chances, 5v5.
The short, simple, and sweet explanation which will upset some, and delight others, is that hockey matters. The ebbs and flows of the game can’t be quantified in final statistics. Superior teams made of superior players executing a tailor-made system is winning formula.
The L.A. Kings and Chicago Blackhawks, which gave hockey fans four years of titanic battles, and dominated Corsi. Each was above 55% during most of their 2012-2015 battle for supremacy. That each achieved that level in different ways is the more fun aspect to discuss.
L.A. did so through shot suppression and thundering physical play. The Blackhawks achieved puck possession through talent and more traditional play, though a pair of future Hall-of-Fame defenders on the backend certainly didn’t hurt.
The Penguins do things in a different way. Sure, it is much easier to win when a team controls the puck and scoring chances. MUCH easier. But, that is far from the only way.
In case you’re wondering, the Penguins Corsi in the first period last night when they vanquished the Arizona Coyotes, was a meager 38%. Even as the Coyotes challenged to get back into the game, the Coyotes Corsi was below 50% in the third period. Go figure.
So, hockey fans are faced with a brave new world. Again. Stats can be parsed, and used in so many ways. Hockey still comes down to talent and execution. Each team will find a different formula for success based on their abilities. Teams with greater ability will provide statistical mirages because they’re more able to do the things they want to do.
There isn’t a magic stat for that. The Penguins continue to be undefinable. Again.
**All stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick–an amazing resource for hockey statistics. www.naturalstattrick.com