Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Importance of Faceoffs

A statistical topic that I have frequently heard arise in conversations about this young season is the importance of winning faceoffs. Anyone who has played the game at a high level, and really anyone that is an experienced spectator of high level hockey understands that winning faceoffs are one of the little things that have a tremendous impact on the game. However, I started thinking, what can winning faceoffs really show in terms of winning (measured by standing points) in a statistical sense. Taking the faceoff data for this year (yes i know it is a small sample size), I ran a regression which estimated standings points controlling for faceoffs won and the number of faceoffs taken. From there I plotted the number of faceoffs won by each team and their actual standings points, along with the estimated standings points derived from the linear coefficients from the regression.

As you can see from the line showing estimated points, there is an overall slightly positive correlation between winning faceoffs and winning games. However, looking at the line showing actual points, there is a high degree of variability as a team wins more faceoffs. While heavily robust conclusions cannot be drawn from this data because of the sample size, my initial thoughts are that simply winning faceoffs really does not have a profound effect on winning games, and is a statistic that while may help proxy for who is working harder in the circle, or even which team is controlling puck play, does not capture enough intangible exogenous factors to be significant in terms of wins. If this is accurate, than the next time an analyst blames a clubs poor play (or some aspect of their play, i.e. power play or penalty kill) on the inability to win faceoffs, you may want to question whether that is really the issue, or if there are more significant factors that are causing that team to lose games.

I plan on expanding on this study throughout the season, and will perhaps venture to look at seasons past as well.

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