How teams win: OUA 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.

Update (Jan 12): Nipissing’s last three home games credited both teams with 0 shots on the U Sports website. The shots have been manually re-added to all teams affected. The Team Offense graph and write-up have both been re-done to rectify this. Apologies for the error.

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.

You can see immediately why Toronto has been struggling this year. Sure, you can see their goal totals on any standings page, but they’re not converting chances as well as they’d like. At the other end of the spectrum, Windsor is firing about the same number of shots, but scoring a lot more goals. The trio of Krystin Lawrence, Shawna Lesperance, and Erinn Noseworthy — who respectively went 1,2, and 3 in last year’s scoring race — are all back for the Lancers. Lawrence currently leads the OUA in both goals and points.

Waterloo and York are struggling similarly, which explains why a game between a team in 3rd and one in 12th took two overtimes to resolve. On the flip side of the graph, keep an eye on UOIT and Brock — they’re sniping, but firing at a below-average rate. If these teams start getting quick trigger fingers, watch for them to be playoff dark horses.

Ryerson and Laurentian are an interesting pair of teams in that High Octane section. The Rams ranked last in the OUA in Goals Scored last season; Laurentian squeaked into the playoffs as the 8 seed, but ranked 7th in scoring among OUA playoff teams. Both teams are now shooting as often as possible to fix their scoring woes, but are both still sitting outside the playoff bubble.

Guelph and Nipissing, who hold the top two spots in the conference right now, are taking different approaches to scoring goals. The Gryphons don’t shoot a whole lot, but that implies either of three things: their scorers are just that good, they only settle for high percentage opportunities, or all of the above. The Lakers, on the other hand, have quite a bit of scoring depth and rely on a lot of high-event offense.

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.

If there’s one takeaway from that scatter plot, it’s that goalies matter. A lot. If OUA goaltending were an episode of Sesame Street, it would be brought to you by the letter V. Guelph’s Valerie Lamenta, last year’s Player of the Year, and Toronto’s Valencia Yordanov continue to post save percentages of over .940 and sub-1.60 GAAs. Those are video game numbers.

Who’s the lone goalie hero putting her team on her back? Jensen Murphy from Brock. Murphy, who was named Brock Press Rookie of the Year in 2015–16, is somehow doing even better than the 2.08 GAA and .932 SV% she posted last season. Also at the top in that “Fab Five” is Jackie Rochefort from Nipissing. Rochefort, the reigning Laker Female Athlete of the Year, is having another ridiculous campaign and backstopping a Nipissing team that, despite being five years old, is now one of the best programs in the country.

Queen’s is having injury troubles on their blueline, forcing Matt Holmgren to occasionally call on forwards to fill in his top six. When those defensemen start getting healthy, look for Queen’s to surprise a lot of playoff teams with their traditional shot prevention prowess.

While Guelph, Toronto, and Queen’s are traditionally very strong at preventing shots and suffocating their opponents, Waterloo is a bit of a surprise team in this quadrant. Steph Sluys, who’ll be representing Team Canada at the 2017 Winter Universiade in February, is having another rock solid season. The Warriors historically concede a lot of shots, but their defensive corps this year has been doing a much better job at stopping zone entries before they become dangerous. So good that they’ve managed to lower Sluys’ GAA even further from an already-unreal 1.56 to 1.54(!).

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.

The Toronto Varsity Blues are very much a playoff team on the basis of two things — ridiculous shot prevention, and ridiculous success on special teams. They don’t score very much, but they will make you pay 5-on-4.

Waterloo, again, is a bit of a surprise because their power play is traditionally nothing to write home about. At the other end of the spectrum, Queen’s is struggling hard on special teams, but staying out of the box is keeping them away from any real special teams danger.

And how about those Brock Badgers? They shoot with a high percentage, they have great goaltending, they avoid the penalty box, and convert power plays at an above-average rate. They’re in that logjam between 4th and 8th place for now, but watch for them to be the dark horse in this year’s McCaw Cup playoffs.

Teams in 10 Words

  • Brock: Dark horse, especially if Jensen Murphy keeps playing like this.
  • Guelph: They’re really, really good. And will be hard to beat.
  • Laurentian: Lots of shooting, scoring, and trips to the penalty box.
  • Laurier: It’s been a season to forget. Not much else to say.
  • Nipissing: Despite doubts, they’re actually good. Penalty trouble might hurt eventually.
  • Queen’s: Injuries abound, but staying alive by being average. Avoids penalties well.
  • Ryerson: Using 4 goalies, but needs a true #1 next year.
  • Toronto: What’s an even strength goal? Makes living on power play.
  • UOIT: Great shooting — with more shots, would be dangerous. Goaltending could improve.
  • Waterloo: If they could finish scoring chances, could be truly elite.
  • Western: Perennial contenders are really not that different from UOIT.
  • Windsor: Goaltending and speedy offense makes every game an adventure.
  • York: Low scoring. Allows goals. Exactly where you think they’d be.