Wild winger Zach Parise isn’t a “big believer” in analytics. Don’t expect the 33-year-old to give you much insight into Corsi percentage or high-danger shot opportunities.
But there’s at least one statistic Parise thinks is important when it comes to evaluating scorers and how well teams are taking advantage of scoring opportunities: offensive zone starts. It isn’t a complicated statistic — it is the amount of times a player begins his shift with a faceoff in the offensive zone.
“I’m a believer in where you start,” Parise said. “If you’re starting in the [defensive] zone the whole time, and you lose the draw in the D zone, you might not get the puck back or it might take you 20 seconds.
“Think about how hard it is in the D zone to win a draw, to break out clean, to get into the [offensive] zone clean — it’s not easy.”
Here’s the rub: Under coach Bruce Boudreau, Parise has been utilized for offensive zone starts during 5-on-5 play less than he has at any point since coming to the Wild from the Devils in 2013.
Last season, Boudreau’s first as Wild coach, Parise started 51.6 percent of 5-on-5 shifts in the offensive zone compared with the defensive zone, according to naturalstattrick.com. That may not sound so bad, but consider Parise’s offensive zone start rate in his four seasons with the Wild before Boudreau became coach: 62.4 percent. That’s 1,474 offensive zone starts compared with 889 defensive zone starts from the lockout-shortened 2013 season through the end of the 2015-16 season.
This season, Boudreau has deployed Parise a little more in the offensive zone (56.8 percent), but since Parise has played only nine games, those numbers could fluctuate quickly. Last season, Parise had 303 offensive zone starts and a career-high 284 defensive zone starts.
Perhaps that drop of 11 percentage points from Parise’s norm is one reason why he finished last season with 19 goals after scoring at least 25 the previous three. He wasn’t getting as many offensive zone opportunities.
Parise chalks some of last season’s dip to the team’s overall possession game. The Wild finished 20th in 5-on-5 Corsi percentage, which measures a team’s overall shot attempts compared with its opponent in an effort to quantify offensive zone time.
“It felt like [last season] we didn’t get a lot of offensive zone starts, for whatever reason,” Parise said. “As a player, you go more on feel. I couldn’t tell you after a game I had X amount here or X amount there, but you go by feel. I think you have to rely on the coach to know that. You have to rely on the coach to know we need our offensive guys to start here, our reliable defensive guys to start here.”
But that’s not exactly how Boudreau operates. Boudreau is more concerned with matching up against the opponent’s line and responding to their personnel. Boudreau doesn’t consider what zone the team is in when he decides who will go out for a change.
“I quite frankly don’t think [offensive zone starts] much,” Boudreau said. “I’m usually more [looking] at who’s the line that they’re going to be against. … Matching up, if [a Wild line has] a defensive faceoff where they have to go out, then they have to do it.”
This is the strategy of hockey, the game within the game casual fans might not notice. Some coaches take a different philosophy than Boudreau. Based on the numbers, it appears Mike Yeo did when he coached Parise — he wanted to put Parise in as many offensive zone starts as possible. Boudreau would rather see his lines match up against certain players.
Parise, or any scorer for that matter, would like as many opportunities to score as possible.
“All the time — you always want to start in the offensive zone,” Parise said. “Sometimes you might not see [the offensive zone] for a whole period if you’re not starting there.”
That is what made Parise’s first goal of the season Saturday against the Lightning so ironic. Shortly after discussing his fondness for offensive zone starts Saturday morning, Parise scored on a sequence that began with his line pinned in the defensive zone. But it gained control of the puck and advanced into the offensive zone, where Parise deflected a shot from Ryan Suter into the net.
The next day Parise said with a laugh, “I guess that proves analytics is wrong.”
Or maybe it shows Parise how much he should cherish those chances when he gets them.