Perception versus Reality

December 6, 2011 at 5:22 PM | Posted in General NHL | Leave a comment
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Heading into tonight’s clash with the Detroit Red Wings, Ken Hitchcock has now coached the St. Louis Blues for 13 games this season, the same total his predecessor Davis Payne lasted at the start of the year before being canned. The mainstream media seems to be rather convinced that this was a genius move, largely citing the Blues’ 8-2-3 record under Hitchcock compared to their 6-7 record under Payne at the beginning of the season.

But as is usually the case, that just doesn’t tell the whole story. The Blues, unsurprisingly seeing as their only roster move accompanying Hitchcock’s hiring was the relatively minor acquistion of Kris Russell, are controlling the play at even-strength at essentially the exact same rate under Hitchcock that they did under Payne, both to start the year as well as for the entirety of last season with Payne behind the bench.

When the score was tied at even strength during the 13 games Payne coached this season, the Blues directed 173 unblocked shots at their opponents’ nets while having 140 directed at their own, for a score-tied Fenwick% of 55.3%, one of the highest in the NHL. Under Hitchcock, they’ve directed 176 unblocked shots at their opponents’ nets with 137 going against their favor for a score-tied Fenwick% of 56.2%. So a slight, but realistically insignificant, uptick.

As always, the percentages have been the culprit. Where Blues goalies posted an absurdly low .892 SV% in even strength situations with the score tied under Payne, with the team scoring on just 7.4% of their shots for a score-tied PDO of 966, Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott have combined for a .952 score-tied SV% at evens under Hitchcock accompanied by a team shooting percentage of 11.6% for a score-tied PDO of 1068 with Hitchcock behind the bench, a full 100 points higher.

It would take quite the leap of faith to insist Hitchcock is responsible for that increase. The reality would appear to be that Halak and Elliott are quite obviously nowhere near as poor as their results early in the season indicated (no NHL-caliber goaltender is) as well as that the Blues’ shooting percentage, as is the case with every team, was bound to regress to the mean. This has unfortunately just been another case of a good coach in Payne being sacrificed for the percentages with Hitchcock the lucky benefactor likely to receive coach of the year consideration for all the wrong reasons.

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