How teams win: Canada West Women’s Hockey Edition.

In this four-part series (one for each U Sports conference), we’ll use standings information to see if teams play in certain ways that help them win — offensively, defensively, and on special teams.

Instead of raw totals or averages, I’ll be using t-scores to measure how far from average a team is performing relative to its own league. That way league average is always set to 0, and comparisons can be more easily interpreted that way. All stats are correct up to January 12, 2017.

Part 1: Team Offense

For offense, we’ll be looking at how teams are scoring. If I had access to team-by-team Corsi/Fenwick numbers or zone-entry success, I would use them. However, based on team stats available on the U Sports website, we’ll be using Even-Strength Goals per game and Even-Strength Shots per game, both of which will be roughly approximated by subtracting power play goals from each stat.

With all due respect to high-danger scoring chances, the fundamental premises are these:

  1. To score goals, you must create offense. You can’t score without shots on goal.
  2. Goals are fairly rare events compared to shots, but there are no better offensive stats available.

Teams will also be classified into one of four categories:

  • High Octane (above-average goals, above-average shots)
  • Snipers (above-average goals, below-average shots)
  • Missed Chances (below-average goals, above-average shots)
  • Yikes (below-average goals, below-average shots)
Offense T-Score Scatter Plot. Goals per game on the x-axis, shots per game on the y-axis.

Well then. The good teams shoot often and score often. The bad teams don’t. Beyond Jaycee Magwood, currently the league’s top goal scorer, Regina could be doing better at even strength.

There’s honestly not much else to say.

Part 2: Team Defense

For defense, we’ll be looking at how teams are preventing chances and making saves when they happen. Based on team stats available on the U Sports website, we’ll be using Even-Strength Shots against per game and Even-Strength Save Percentage, both of which will be approximated by shots against minus PPG against. Shots against will be tweaked a bit so that teams which allow more shots than average will receive a negative t-score.

The fundamental premise is this: Preventing goals is a combination of good goaltending and preventing good quality shots.

Teams will also be classified into one of four categories:

  • Walls (above-average prevention, above-average goaltending)
  • Vulnerable (above-average prevention, below-average goaltending)
  • Goalie Heroes (below-average prevention, above-average goaltending)
  • Yikes (below-average prevention, below-average goaltending)
Defense T-Score Scatter Plot. Shots against per game on the x-axis, save percentage on the y-axis. Negative SA/GP means a team is allowing more shots.

Lethbridge’s tandem of Alicia Anderson and Jessica Lohues is almost singlehandedly keeping them in games. Anderson has already made 35 or more saves 11 times this season, including a 64(!) save performance in a 3–2 overtime loss against Regina back in October. All other non-Pronghorns goalies have seven 35+ save games combined. Lohues hasn’t had an easy time either, making 46, 43, and 42 saves in her starts this season. Did I mention that both goalies are posting save percentages of around .930? Unfortunately, no matter how good your goalies are, it’s really hard to win when you’ve played 18 games and your highest individual goal total (Tricia Van Vaerenbergh) is 4.

On the topic of goaltending, the scary part about Saskatchewan and Manitoba being so close to each other is that, despite not-great backup goaltending, they have easily two of the best starters in Canada West. Come playoff time, you bet the Bisons’ll be going with Rachel Dyck (1.38, .938) and the Huskies with Cassidy Hendricks (1.56, .935) for as long as they possibly can. While Alberta’s Lyndsey Post has similarly elite numbers (1.47, .925), the Pandas are much better at even strength than on the penalty kill.

Regina is a bit of a surprise in that Vulnerable quadrant because their tandem actually has a pretty good GAA. However, this graph measures save percentage and indicates that the Cougar defense is preventing enough shots to win games.

When your offense is as good as UBC’s, league-average goaltending will be enough to make a deep playoff run. Having the most suffocating defense in Canada West doesn’t hurt either.

Part 3: Special Teams

For special teams, we’ll be looking at how teams are capitalizing on the power play and staying out of the penalty box. I originally wanted to use penalty kill percentage, but the more power plays a team allows, the more likely a high penalty kill percentage will regress to the mean simply because you can’t win forever playing 4-on-5. Based on team stats available on the U Sports website, we’ll be using Power Play Percentage and Penalty Minutes per Game. Like with Shots against, Penalty Minutes will be tweaked a bit so that teams which take more penalties than average will receive a negative t-score.

The fundamental premise is this: Teams are less likely to concede additional goals through special teams when they stay out of the penalty box.

Teams will also be classified into one of four categories:

  • Makes You Pay (above-average power play, above-average penalty avoiding)
  • Special Teams Forever (above-average power play, below-average penalty avoiding)
  • Built on Even Strength (below-average power play, above-average penalty avoiding)
  • Yikes (below-average power play, below-average penalty avoiding)
Special teams T-Score Scatter Plot. PIMs on the x-axis, PP% on the y-axis. Negative PIM/G means a team is often in penalty trouble.

Holy Manitoba. When you’re avoiding penalties that well, and scoring that well on the power play, you’re hard to beat. The main concern, however, is that the Bisons have mostly beat up on the bottom three teams — 13 of their 18 power play goals were scored against Mount Royal, Lethbridge, and Calgary. Against all other teams, they’re converting a pedestrian 12.2% of 5-on-4 opportunities.

At even strength, Alberta is a quality team. After all, they’re still a top four team right now. Unfortunately, they keep getting in penalty trouble, which means more time wasted killing penalties and less time to build scoring opportunities for themselves.

Regina is an interesting team. They shoot a lot, but they don’t score a lot. They prevent a lot of shots, but they let quite a number of goals leak through. They’re good on special teams, but get into enough penalty trouble to basically negate that advantage. And yet they’re still holding onto the 3rd seed.

Teams in 10 Words

  • Alberta: Constantly having to kill penalties prevents them from doing better.
  • Calgary: Struggles are real. Iya Gavrilova’s scoring touch is sorely missed.
  • Lethbridge: Imagine playing a 6-on-1 hockey game, and you’re the 1.
  • Manitoba: Power play works on minnows, but “meh”against contenders. Quality goaltending.
  • Mount Royal: Doesn’t score much. Allows goals. At least they’re still disciplined.
  • Regina: Pretty good power play, but a headache at even strength.
  • Saskatchewan: Hendricks needs more goal support for Huskies to go far.
  • UBC: There’s the UBC offensive juggernaut, and then there’s everyone else.