Every hockey coach ever has said it’s ‘the little things’ that win games, but it hasn’t always been easy convincing players to block shots, finish checks and win puck battles along the boards.
Goals and assists have been the measures of offensive prowess and plus-minus the long-established way of measuring defensive play.
But that’s changing.
In the Chilliwack Chiefs locker room, assistant coach Andrew Shaw is implementing a statistical system that goes beyond the traditional numbers.
“Since Christmas we’ve been using an idea that came from Hockey Canada that we call an ‘Impact Chart,’” Shaw explained. “We came up with six categories. We think if we win in most of these areas during a game we have a pretty good chance of winning the game.”
One of the categories is shots, with the Chiefs striving to get 30 per game.
“We look at shot attempts too,” Shaw added. “A dump-in on net technically counts as a shot on goal, but we wouldn’t count that. A player comes right down the slot with an attempt that misses the net or hits the post and it doesn’t technically count as a shot on net, and that’s why we look at both.”
Shaw scores players on 50/50 races to the puck and counts blocked shots.
“We try for 10 a game, which is actually a little low for us because we do a really good job with that,” he said.
Shaw quantifies how players perform at the offensive and defensive bluelines – executing offensive zone entries with control of the puck and defending defensive zone entries.
“Entering and exiting zones with control generates more shot attempts than dumping it in, so that’s why that’s important,” Shaw elaborated. “A guy like (Nikita) Nesterenko will probably enter and exit zones with control about 65 per cent of the time because he doesn’t surrender possession very often.
“On the flipside, Xavier Henry is very good at defending zone entries. He’s a big guy with a very good stick who breaks up a lot of plays or forces dump-ins.”
Shaw also tracks faceoffs, with the Chiefs striving to be 55 per cent or better in the circles.
“That’s tough, and it’s not something we’ve had a lot of luck with since Christmas,” he said. “I think we’ve achieved it twice.”
The last category is special teams.
Chiefs get points based on things they do during the game, and the scores are posted in the locker room for all to see.
“We’re trying to incentivize the right things to get the players to play a certain way,” Shaw explained. “Overall, I’d say they’ve been very receptive to it, especially since we introduced the Impact Chart.
“We’ve started to see players blocking shots or making body contact when they weren’t doing at the start of the year.
“A lot of the guys are very curious about it.”
Chiefs hockey boss Brian Maloney mentions Nikita Nesterenko as a player who’s all-round play has improved greatly since the start of the season.
From day one, the forward from New York passed the eye test with slick dishes, dangles and shots. But there were holes in Nesterenko’s game that jumped off the advanced stats page.
“Everyone could visually see right away that he was a player, but there were a lot of areas he struggled with,” Maloney said. “He didn’t win any races. He wasn’t chasing pucks down. He turned a lot of pucks over at the blueline and didn’t dare throw a hit.
“But now, he’s one of our nightly leaders because he’s winning tons of races, shooting more, managing the puck better and hitting.
“We joked, ‘If Nikita can hit then anyone can hit.’ He’s not a big hitter, but he knows it’s what makes the team better.”
Maloney said advanced stats and the Impact Chart are a method of teaching players that there are ways to impact a game beyond goals and assists.
“You might have a kid who doesn’t score a lot, and maybe he’s questioning how he’s helping the team win,” the coach said. “Maybe I can tell that kid he’s a big part of the team because he’s blocking shots or making hits.
“Maybe he’s always getting the puck back on defence and exiting our zone, or putting the puck into areas in the offensive zone where we can retrieve it.
That player might be playing a huge part, a bigger part than the guy who scores the sixth goal in a 6-1 win.”
Maloney said the Impact Chart has also tapped into the competitive nature of the players.
No one wants to be at the bottom of the points parade.
They all want to be at the top.
“Now we have everyone trying to hit and everyone’s trying to block shots,” the coach said with a grin. “Everyone’s trying to sling pucks on net and now we like our chances of winning.
“If we’re only getting two of those categories, our chances of winning are slim, but if we’re winning five or six of our categories, we’re mostly likely winning that game.”
The Chiefs picked up a pair of huge wins on the weekend.
Chilliwack topped the BCHL-leading Coquitlam Express 4-3 in a shootout Friday night at the Chilliwack Coliseum and beat the Langley Rivermen by a 3-2 count on home ice Sunday afternoon.
They get another date with the Express this Friday night, hitting the road for a 7 p.m. start in Coquitlam. Then it’s home for a Saturday night (7 p.m.) tilt with Prince George.