A kind of experiment in extremely small sample sizes (n=1)

Suppose you wanted to compare two players in terms of their value toward winning games. Suppose you wanted to see what one game (one game!) could tell you. In addition, suppose you wanted to compare what you saw by eye, and the numbers from the RTSS sheets (which are great, but you have to get into a rhythm to read them to draw any meaning out; otherwise it's a headache-inducing mish-mash of numbers and names).

Well, for this Phoenix game, I thought I'd try to focus on Boyd Gordon and Michal Handzus and see if this quasi-experiment could turn up anything. There's some element of control here, in that both are face-off winning centers that play somewhat similar roles (bottom-6, PK). I was able to watch only part of the game, as I had to multi-task with a trivia meet-up (which is daft I know, there's a so much stuff going on in hockey--SO MUCH STUFF).

By the eye, Gordon seemed to be on the ice a lot on the PK. He didn't seem dominant in the circle. He seemed to be busting his ass pretty well (which, as my wife tells me, is what these Saskatchewan dudes are all about). Handzus seemed engaged. That's about all I can say.

Looking at the numbers provided by's RTSS sheets:

GORDON 0 0 0 0 1 2 16:39 28 00:35 00:23 02:41 13:35 0 0 2 0 0 2 0 13 12 52
HANDZUS 0 0 0 0 1 2 14:24 25 00:34 00:27 00:45 13:12 3 1 1 1 1 0 0 9 4 59

They look fairly even, except for the shots and missed shots (positive Corsi events) in favor of Handzus and giveaway/takeaway in favor of Gordon. Also, Gordon's SH time is significant. Both players played relatively short shifts compared to teammates. I took a look at the face-off numbers and I didn't expect this:

off def neutral overall
vs. 15 3-3 / 100% 1-1 / 100% 0-1 / 0% 4-5 / 80%

Against Gordon, Handzus won 4 out of 5 face-offs including 3 in the offensive zone. Didn't remember this by eye, but it's certainly meaningful. The FTF compiled Corsi numbers (here) also bear out quite positively for Handzus. Now, obviously this is all cursory, but I think Handzus definitely demonstrated more value, though perhaps not as much by the eye (and maybe not at his cap hit; Gordon's is 1.325 vs. 2.5).

Surprising thing I found was the way that my eye didn't remember the face-off differential even though I was watching. In that sense, the experiment suggests that while eye evaluation is helpful, so are the tracking numbers, even the most simple ones. This might be completely obvious to some of you, but with hockey still resisting analysis beyond "didn't keep his stick on the ice" and "goalies these days just go down too soon," etc., it remains an important point.

Before I forget, an interesting read: Caps coach Adam Oates insinuates that they track rushes and whether or not there are dump-ins... and that dump-ins are bad (here).

This item was created by a member of this blog's community and is not necessarily endorsed by Fear The Fin.

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