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Wisconsin men's hockey: Diving into possession numbers

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Wisconsin is one of the worst possession teams in the nation this season, ranking dead last by a large margin in the Big Ten.

Larry Radloff Photography

If you're a fan of hockey at the NHL level you've most certainly noticed the "fancy stats" trend over the past few seasons. While advanced hockey metrics have been around for years, the stats have become increasingly more mainstream over the past year or two.

I'm far from an expert on the subject, but I've been very curious to see how we can use these stats with college hockey. Thanks in part to College Hockey News, we've been able to formulate some advanced statistics that aren't normally available to the public.

CHN has made available shot attempts for every game played in college hockey. That allows us to figure out things like Corsi. What is Corsi, exactly?

For some help on the explanation, we use blurb from a Pension Plan Puppets article (SB Nation Toronto Maple Leafs blog):

Corsi is the sum of all shots directed by a team towards the opposition net (shots on goal, missed shots, and blocked shots), minus the sum of all shots directed by the opposition towards your team's net.

We use Corsi as a proxy for puck possession. Logically, the team that has the puck more is going to make more shot attempts. Generally this has been shown to be the case in studies of actual puck possession time, scoring chances, and general shot attempts. The correlation is very high amongst these variables.

The Corsi result can be expressed in a few different ways, but the most common way is a percentage. 50 percent would be even. Obviously the higher the possession number, the better.

I've put numbers together for every Wisconsin game so far this season. I've also calculated a close percentage, which is the Corsi calculated only when the game is close (i.e. when the score is within two goals in the first two periods, or tied in the third period).

OPPONENT WISCONSIN CORSI FOR % WISCONSIN CLOSE %
Alaska (neutral site) 33.96 32.43
at Anchorage 54.67 47.06
Northern Michigan (at Green Bay) 43.3 44.12
Northern Michigan (at Green Bay) 44.68 47.95
North Dakota 34.75 34.02
North Dakota 45.54 47.41
at Colorado College 51.96 45.16
at Denver 41.35 43.48
Ferris State 41.86 43.59
Ferris State 37.86 40.26
Penn State 38.05 35.94
Penn State 46.40 42.05
Michigan Tech 36.21 31.58
Michigan Tech 31.08 37.65
Boston University 39.01 39
Boston University 50.77 45.78
at Minnesota 28.91 29.17
at Minnesota 38.98 27.50
TOTAL 40.71 39.88

As you can see from the table, Wisconsin has been an awful possession team this season. Not a surprise given its 2-13-3 record.

How do the Badgers compare to the rest of the Big Ten this year? I've formulated league numbers as well.

TEAM CORSI FOR %
Penn State 56.37
Minnesota 54.76
Michigan 53.19
Ohio State 51.11
Michigan State 50.49
Wisconsin 40.71

Penn State leads the league with a 56.37 Corsi for percentage. Some may argue that number is skewed by the fact Penn State shoots the puck from anywhere and everywhere. Regardless, the number is an impressive one.

Wisconsin ranks dead last by a significant margin at just 40.71. I don't have the time to figure out Corsi for every team in the country, but I can't imagine there are many teams below that threshold.

In my opinion a big reason for Wisconsin's lack of possession this season is due to neutral zone play. For years the Badgers have carried a reputation as a trapping hockey team. If that were true this season, they wouldn't be so horrendous in stopping the opposition from carrying the puck so easily through center ice.

Wisconsin's problems in the neutral zone were never more apparent than last weekend, when Minnesota had its way with the Badgers carrying the puck into the offensive zone. I went through the video on Friday night and tracked zone entries for both teams.

UW allowed the Gophers to enter the zone with possession more than 70 percent of the time. That led to the Gophers taking over 90 shot attempts in the game. Wisconsin's Corsi in the game was a season low 28.91 percent. In my opinion a major reason for the significant differential in Corsi was because the Badgers gave Minnesota free entries into the zone almost three quarters of the time.

PERIOD MINNESOTA CARRY MINNESOTA DUMP MINNESOTA CARRY %
1 18 7 72
2 20 7 74.07
3 19 7 73.08
OT 3 4 42.86
TOTAL 60 25 70.59

Wisconsin's offensive zone carry numbers actually weren't bad in this game. They carried the puck in the zone 56.45 percent of the time.

PERIOD
WISCONSIN CARRY
WISCONSIN DUMP
WISCONSIN CARRY %
1
6
9
40
2
10
8
55.56
3
15
7
68.18
OT
4
3
57.14
TOTAL
35
27
56.45

As I said, I'm nowhere near an expert on the subject of advanced metrics. Corsi is one of the most basic forms of advanced stats out there and it's far from a "catch all" stat that we need to hold as gospel.

That said, I think there are some things that you can glean from looking at numbers other than what we normally have available. It was obvious last weekend the Wisconsin defenders were giving up zone entries far too easily. Did that lead to more offensive possession for the Gophers in the game? I tend to think so, but you can form your own opinions.

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