For those of us that believe outshooting the opponent is the most surefire way to victory in the NHL, the LA Kings signing of Alexei Ponikarovsky should set off fireworks.
In his book, Moneyball, Michael Lewis referred to Kevin Youkilis’ as “The Greek God of Walks”. For NHL GMs, Ponikarovsky could be Ukrainian for “Net-peppering Ninja”.
I mentioned Ponikarovsky in an article about the NHL’s Most Intriguing Free Agents purely because he’s a phenomenal Corsi player and 5-on-5 scorer. In terms of 5v5 play, he averaged 2.27 points per 60 minutes and outshot his opposition by 18.99 attempts per 60 minutes. He’s also scored over 20 goals in 4 of the last 5 seasons despite playing for the abysmal Maple Leafs.
For those of you thinking to yourself that he just had a lucky season, Ponikarovsky’s Corsi over the last three seasons has been as follows, which is outstanding:
At left wing, he will replace the departed Alexander Frolov. Frolov was a decent scorer in his own right and definitely was a decent possession player as well, but not in the same way.
That said, if the LA coaching staff is in any way of the Corsi-persuasion, they will pair Ponikarovsky with Anze Kopitar (8.94) and Justin Williams (16.78) to create a line capable of uber-possession.
We can add up last season’s Corsi number for those three players to get a measure of possession value for the line. The only other regular lines I could find in the NHL with similar values were in Washington, Chicago and Detroit. Take a look at the table below to see where this line would slot in the league.
Based on last year’s Corsi value, the Kings new line could rank 5th in the league on combined Corsi, and even better considering that Andrew Ladd is now with the Atlanta Thrashers.
Corsi detractors will say that a shot attempt isn’t everything. It could be blocked, miss the net or just be stopped by the goaltender. That is all true. Corsi supporters will argue that if a shot is never put towards the net, a goal can’t be scored, which is also true. Corsi also has a very high correlation to scoring chances. Obviously outscoring is a measure of both outshooting and converting on a higher percentage of shots.
Ponikarovsky’s career shooting percentage is a respectable 11.4%, while Williams (9.4%) and Kopitar (12.7%) are above average as well. By no means am I claiming that the LA trio has the same goal-creating talent that Washington’s top line does, but it’s not just a shoot-and-hope group either.
No matter what your view is on possession hockey, it’s hard to argue with the models used by the Blackhawks and the Red Wings over the past few years. Control the puck, put it towards your opponents net as often as possible and use offensive puck control as to limit defensive liability.
With the signing of Ponikarovsky, the Kings may have just taken a monstrous leap towards the same strategy, and it’s worked pretty well for Detroit and Chicago over the past few years.