Understanding hockey statistics and slang is crucial for fans who want to get more involved in the sport and gain insights beyond the scoreboard.
Statistics in hockey go far beyond goals and assists; they provide a wealth of information on player performance, team dynamics, and game strategies. Different stats can tell you about a player's scoring proficiency, a goalie's effectiveness, a team's defensive reliability, and much more.
Some metrics require understanding how they are calculated to fully appreciate what they reveal about player or team performance. For example, 'SV%' or save percentage, the number of saves made divided by the total number of shots faced, is a key indicator of a goaltender's efficiency.
Similarly, interpreting how points are awarded in the standings—a win equates to two points, an overtime or shootout loss yields one, and a loss results in none—can help fans understand a team's position in the league.
Table of Contents
Understanding the basics of hockey stats
Player positions and roles
In hockey, each player assumes a specific role, often defined by their position: forwards, defencemen, and goaltenders.
Forwards typically drive offence, aiming to score goals and create opportunities by forechecking. Defencemen focus on preventing scoring chances against their team, while goaltenders are the last line of defence, tasked with saving shots on goal.
For this reason, players tend to get evaluated statistically based on what position they play. For example, points may be more critical for a forward than a defenseman.
Common hockey statistics
Key hockey statistics include goals (G), assists (A), and points (P), which combine goals and assists, shots on goal (SOG), and save percentage (SV%) for goaltenders. Each stat offers insight into a player's contribution:
- Goals (G): The number of times a player scores.
- Assists (A): Credits to players who helped score a goal.
- Points (P): The total of goals and assists.
- Shots on Goal (SOG): How many shots were taken directly on net.
- Save Percentage (SV%): The proportion of shots on goal a goaltender prevents from scoring.
The significance of the plus/minus rating
The plus/minus rating measures a player's impact on the game when they are on the ice during even-strength or shorthanded play.
A positive plus/minus indicates that the player was on the ice for more goals scored by their team than conceded, while a negative rating suggests the opposite. Keep in mind, however, that you do not get a plus for a powerplay goal, and you do not get a minus for a powerplay goal against.
It quantifies a player's defensive effectiveness, albeit with limitations, as it does not account for individual effort or situational context. It is a statistic that faces heavy scrutiny from the hockey world. Some love it, some hate it.
How to read hockey stats for a player
Reading player stat lines
A player's stat typically includes games played (GP), goals (G), assists (A), points (P), plus/minus (+/-), penalty minutes (PIM), shots on goal (SOG), and shooting percentage.
Goals, Assists, Points
- Goals (G): This measures the number of times a player scores.
- Assists (A): This counts the number of times a player helps set up a goal.
- Points (P): A total of a player's goals and assists.
Players, particularly forwards, often aim to maximize their point totals, as this generally reflects a strong offensive performance.
Shot stat lines: SOG and shooting percentage
Shots on Goal (SOG): This tracks the number of shots a player directs towards the net that are either saved or go in. You'll typically see the top-level forwards accumulating the most shots on goal throughout a year.
Shooting Percentage: Calculated by dividing the number of goals scored by the number of shots taken, this metric offers insight into a player's efficiency and accuracy in scoring. An exceptional shooter often has a high shooting percentage, as they're generally more skilled at putting the puck in the net over a lower-skilled player.
Let’s read Connor McDavid’s stats
Lets go over this entire stat line from NHL.com and show you how to read it. At any point, just scroll back up and reference this sheet. I've highlighted his 2022-2023 season in the image, as that is what we'll go over.
Games Played (GP): Displayed as GP, this indicates the total number of games McDavid participated in during the season. In the 2022-2023 season, McDavid played in all 82 games.
Goals (G): The number of times McDavid scored by putting the puck in the opposing team's net. In the 2022-2023 season, McDavid scored a total of 64 times, the most out of any player in the league.
Assists (A): This number reveals how many goals McDavid assisted in scoring but didn't score himself. There are a maximum of two assists given for every goal, but a goal does not need to have an assist. In the 2022-2023 season, McDavid had 89 assists.
Points (P): Points are the sum of goals and assists, forming an overall score of an offensive player's productivity. Elite players like McDavid often have high point totals. McDavid won the scoring title with 153 points in 2022-2023.
Plus/Minus (+/-): This measures McDavid's on-ice impact by reflecting the goal differential when he is playing. A positive number suggests that the team scored more than it allowed while he is on the ice at even strength, whereas a negative figure indicates the opposite. McDavid was a +22 on the season during 2022-2023.
Penalty Minutes (PIM): Here, one sees the total minutes McDavid spent penalized. Lower numbers are typically preferable, indicating disciplined play. McDavid had a total of 36 penalty minutes in 2022.
Powerplay Goals (PPG): This statistic indicates the number of goals McDavid scored while his team was on the powerplay. In the 2022-2023 season, McDavid scored 21 power-play goals.
Power Play Points (PPP): PPP combines the total number of goals and assists McDavid got during power play opportunities. In the 2022-2023 season, McDavid accumulated 71 power-play points.
Shorthanded Goals (SHG): This stat represents goals McDavid scored while his team was shorthanded, meaning they had fewer players on the ice due to a penalty. In the 2022-2023 season, McDavid scored 4 shorthanded goals.
Shorthanded Points (SHP): SHP tallies both goals and assists McDavid recorded while his team was playing shorthanded. In the 2022-2023 season, McDavid had 7 shorthanded points.
Time On Ice Per Game (TOI/G): This measures the average amount of time McDavid spent on the ice per game. In the 2022-2023 season, McDavid averaged 22:23 minutes on ice per game.
Game-Winning Goals (GWG): GWG counts the number of times McDavid scored a goal that proved to be the deciding factor in a game. In the 2022-2023 season, he had 11 game-winning goals.
Overtime Goals (OTG): OTG tallies the number of goals McDavid scored during overtime periods. In the 2022-2023 season, he had 2 overtime goals.
Shots (S): This stat shows the total number of shots McDavid took on the opposing team's goal. In the 2022-2023 season, he took 352 shots.
Shooting Percentage (S%): S% is calculated by dividing the number of goals scored by the total number of shots taken. It reflects McDavid's efficiency in converting shots into goals. In the 2022-2023 season, McDavid had a shooting percentage of 18.2%.
Faceoff Percentage (FO%): FO% represents the percentage of faceoffs McDavid won. It's a critical stat for centers, indicating their effectiveness in gaining possession of the puck. In the 2022-2023 season, McDavid won 51.9% of his faceoffs.
Analysing goalie statistics
Goaltenders are a little easier when it comes to statistics. They often only have a few metrics that fans can use to see performance. With the evolution of advanced stats, there are more ways to evaluate goalies now, but these are the stats you'll see on a box score of a game.
Save Percentage (SV%)
Save Percentage (SV%) is a critical statistic that measures the proportion of shots a goalie successfully saves. To calculate it, one divides the number of saves by the total number of shots faced.
A higher SV% usually indicates a goalie's effectiveness at preventing goals. For instance, a SV% above .915 is often regarded as good at the professional level, signifying that the goalie saves 91.5% of shots on goal.
Goals Against Average (GAA)
Goals Against Average (GAA) reflects the average number of goals a goalie allows per 60 minutes of play. It's calculated by dividing the total goals against by the number of minutes played, then multiplying by 60.
A lower GAA suggests a goalie is more adept at keeping the puck out of the net. Elite goalies often maintain a GAA lower than 2.50.
Wins, Losses, and Shutouts
Goaltending records typically encompass wins, losses, and shutouts. Wins indicate the number of games the team has won with the goalie in the net, whereas losses denote games lost.
Shutouts are particularly noteworthy, as they indicate games where the goalie allowed no goals against. These figures, especially shutouts, can serve as a testament to a goalie's capability to dominate a game and are crucial for their reputation.
Let’s read Andrei Vasilevskiy’s stats
Understanding goalie statistics is essential for analyzing their performance. One such goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning, provides a clear example.
Games Played (GP): This number shows the total games Vasilevskiy participated in as a goalie. In the 2022-2023 season, Vasilevskiy appeared in 60 games.
Games Started (GS): GS indicates the number of games Vasilevskiy started as the goaltender. In the 2022-2023 season, he started 60 games. If GP and GS are the same, it means the goalie never came in in relief to finish a game.
Wins (W): This statistic reflects the number of games Vasilevskiy's team won with him as the goaltender. In the 2022-2023 season, Vasilevskiy recorded 34 wins.
Losses (L): L denotes the number of games Vasilevskiy's team lost with him in the net. In the 2022-2023 season, he was credited with 22 losses.
Overtime Losses (OT): OT represents the number of losses Vasilevskiy suffered in games that went beyond regulation time into overtime or a shootout. In the 2022-2023 season, he had 4 overtime losses.
Shots Against (SA): This number shows the total shots Vasilevskiy faced from opponents. In the 2022-2023 season, he faced 1875 shots.
Goals Against Average (GAA): GAA is the average number of goals allowed by Vasilevskiy per game. It's calculated by dividing the total goals against by the number of games played. In the 2022-2023 season, his GAA was 2.65.
Save Percentage (SV%): SV% indicates the percentage of shots Vasilevskiy successfully saved. It's calculated by dividing the number of saves by the total shots against. In the 2022-2023 season, he had a save percentage of .915.
Shutouts (SO): SO counts the number of games in which Vasilevskiy did not allow any goals. In the 2022-2023 season, he achieved 4 shutouts.
Reading team stats
Powerplay and penalty kill
A team's Power Play efficiency is measured by the percentage of times they score when they have a man advantage due to an opposing player serving a penalty.
Conversely, the Penalty Kill percentage indicates how often a team successfully prevents the opponent from scoring when they are shorthanded. These statistics are crucial as special teams can often be the deciding factor in the outcome of a game.
Faceoff win percentage
Faceoff win percentage is a simple yet telling statistic. It represents the proportion of faceoffs a team wins and is indicative of their control over the puck.
A higher percentage is often correlated with greater puck possession, which can lead to more offensive opportunities.
Puck possession metrics
Lastly, puck possession metrics, such as 'time on attack' or 'Corsi' (a measure of shot attempt differential), are vital indicators of a team's ability to control the game.
These metrics provide insights into which team is dictating the pace and can often predict the overall performance of the team in terms of both offensive pressure and defensive resilience.
Advanced hockey metrics
Understanding advanced hockey metrics involves looking at the game beyond traditional statistics like goals and assists. Analysing these metrics can offer deeper insights into player and team performance.
I won't go too in-depth here, but here are some of them.
Corsi and Fenwick
Corsi measures all shot attempts – shots on goal, missed shots, and blocked shots – when a player is on the ice. It is represented as a ratio of attempts for versus against, often displayed as Corsi For Percentage (CF%).
A higher CF% indicates that the team is controlling the puck more often than not when that player is on the ice. For instance, a CF% above 50 suggests that the player is often on the ice when their team is offensively dominant.
Fenwick is similar to Corsi but does not include blocked shots, giving analysts a sense of scoring chances that are more likely to result in a goal. Like Corsi, Fenwick is also shown as a percentage (Fenwick For Percentage - FF%).
PDO and Zone Starts
PDO combines a player's on-ice shooting percentage with the save percentage of their team while they are on the ice. The sum is used to assess whether a player or team is performing above or below average; a PDO of exactly 100 is considered average.
Zone Starts refer to the number of times a player begins a shift in the offensive zone versus the defensive zone, excluding neutral zone starts.
This metric gives insight into how coaches use players – offensive specialists start more often in the offensive zone, while defensive specialists may start more in their own end.
Misconceptions and misuses of hockey stats
In the world of hockey, statistics serve as a vital tool for understanding player and team performance. However, they can often be misinterpreted or misapplied, leading to flawed analyses and judgements.
Common statistical fallacies
One of the most frequent fallacies in the analysis of hockey statistics is the misuse of the plus/minus statistic. While it attempts to measure a player's impact on the ice, it can be misleading.
A player can have a negative plus/minus despite playing well if their team allows goals due to reasons beyond their control, such as poor goaltending or exceptional plays by the opposing team.
Another example is the overemphasis on a goalie's win-loss record and goals against average. Wins and goals allowed are more indicative of a team's performance rather than an individual goalie's skill, as they do not account for the context of the games played, the quality of the opposition, or the defensive support from the goalie's team.