The statistic known as Corsi percentage has grabbed a hold of the hockey world the way a defenseman grabs an opposing forward who pokes the goaltender after a whistle.
Corsi percentage sounds more complicated than it is. It’s a measure of overall shot attempts, helping answer: Does your team shoot more than your opponent? And: How often is your team on the offensive attack? More shots means more offensive zone time.
Every shot counts the same, whether it’s saved, blocked or missed the net.
The Wild is dead last in this darling of the analytics community, with a 46.1 Corsi percentage during 5-on-5 play, according to naturalstattrick.com. Of the combined 3,930 shot attempts during 5-on-5 play counted in the Wild’s 46 games, 2,120 have come from their opponents. By comparison, top-ranked Carolina is at 53.7 percent and Tampa Bay, which visits St. Paul on Saturday to end Minnesota’s bye week, is third (52.8).
“We give up too many chances for the most part,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said.
But fortunately for the Wild, while every shot counts the same in Corsi, not all hockey shots are created equal.
Minnesota’s performance in another metric illustrates why it has been able to stay afloat in the Western Conference race despite injuries to key players, including goaltender Devan Dubnyk and winger Zach Parise.
The Wild may be last in overall shot percentage, but it ranks eighth when it comes to high-danger Corsi percentage (53.1 percent) entering Thursday’s games.
The Wild may be giving up a lot of shots, but it is not allowing as many high-quality chances from the areas on the ice where most goals are scored — the front of the net and the slot, the area between the circles — as it is generating.
And that’s no accident. It is a design of the defensive style the Wild plays in its own zone.
Last season, the first under Boudreau, the Wild followed a similar pattern — it was first in high-danger Corsi percentage (56.2) and 20th in overall Corsi percentage (49.3).
“You just pack it in tight,” center Charlie Coyle said. “You give the point pass away, free pass up there and keep them to the outside. It’s hard to score, hard to play, when you can’t get on the inside and you get five guys tight.”
So long as opponents are passing the puck around the perimeter and taking shots from the point, or near the blue line, the Wild won’t be that upset. Minnesota, tied for eighth in the Western Conference with 53 points, would rather stay packed in its zone coverage and prevent passes and bodies from getting into the high-danger areas, and shots from the point are easier for Dubnyk to stop.
“If there’s a breakdown, we have layers and they have to go through multiple guys,” Coyle said. “It’s not just you get by one guy and get a pass to the net. Other guys are filling in and when you play tight that way, that helps.”
Added winger Daniel Winnik: “You’d much rather give up those point shots as opposed to scoring area, or a lot of teams call it ‘in the house.’ It’s tough to get to the net now with teams boxing out.”
Communication has to be effective so that as the puck moves, someone is covering each vulnerable area. That makes it hard for opponents and shots to travel through.
“There are just so many bodies for that puck to get past,” Winnik said. “You even see an evolution in where the [defensemen] shoot from. A lot of times they … shoot from the corner of the blue line, where it used to be shots only came from the middle. But it’s just too hard to get through when [the puck] goes in the middle.”
Even though the Wild is last in Corsi percentage, shots aren’t getting to the net at as high a rate. The Wild is 18th in allowing shots on goal (32.1 per game).
As Boudreau said, “You can never get good enough until you’ve got a goals against of where Tampa’s is right now [2.5 per game].
“There’s always things to strive for.”
The Wild can strive for more offensive zone time, but at least its defense has kept it from free-falling.
Chris Hine is the lead writer for North Score, the Star Tribune’s new sports analytics beat. Find his stories at startribune.com/northscore.