Does hitting mean you don’t have the puck?

St. Louis Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock had some hockey people fired up with his comments one day after the Blues defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 1-0 in overtime. St.Louis had 41 hits in game one, but Hitchcock got some people up in arms when he said that wasn’t good enough.

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“We’re going to have to go up way bigger. We’re going to have to get it into the 70s if we expect to win.”

It had the media covering the series and many stats people looking for a response. Hitch was exaggerating with his mention of 70, but his premise was the same. He believes the Blues need to be physical.

“I’m not sure about that comment,” said Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville.
“I hope there’s some validity to it. I hope he tries to go to 70, it
means we got the puck the whole (game).”

The theory many project is if you are hitting that means you don’t have the puck, but is it really true?

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The Blackhawks have won three Stanley Cups in the past six years. They are the benchmark for success.

Let’s look at their playoff series last year and see how they won.

They played Nashville in the first round. Here are shots, hits and total shot attempts (SA) for each game.

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CHI

GM1

GM2

GM3

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GM4

GM5

GM6

NASH

GM1

GM2

GM3

GM4

GM5

GM6

Hits

36

28

25

37

50

16

Hits

39

19

53

66

36

53

Shots

32

42

26

30

48

30

Shots

54

35

37

52

29

25

SA

55

93

65

59

105

57

SA

84

59

62

78

60

42

A few things stood out. The Predators had way more hits on the road, 172, than at home, 94. While the Hawks also had more hits on the road, 114, than at home, 78. However, the theory is the team who hits more has the puck less.

The Predators’ shot total at home was 118 and 114 on the road. Basically the same.

Their total SA were 203 at home and 182 on the road. A bit more at home.

The Hawks had 122 shots on the road and 86 at home. Their SA were 253 on the road and 181 at home.

So the Hawks had more hits, more shots and more SA on the road by significant margins. So they were able to be more physical and possess the puck more in Nashville…hmm.

The Hawks won games one, three, four and six. In the six games, the the winning team had more shots only once, game six, and they had more SA in games three and six.

Throughout the series, the Predators had more hits (266-192) and more shots (232-208), while the Hawks had more SA at 424-385. The Predators lost game one and four when they outhit, out shot and had better SA than the Hawks. The Hawks lost game two and five when they out hit, out shot and had better SA than the Predators. So in four of six games the team who in theory had more possession and better SA, also had more hits.

Round two vs. Minnesota

The Hawks swept the Wild in four games.

CHI

GM1

GM2

GM3

GM4

MINNI

GM1

GM2

GM3

GM4

Hits

34

39

11

6

Hits

36

42

20

24

Shots

35

31

22

25

Shots

33

31

30

37

SA

55

63

41

53

SA

52

51

65

64

The games in Chicago looked fairly even on the stat sheets. Hits were 78-73 Minnesota. Shots were 66-64 Chicago and SA were 118-103 Chicago.

In Minnesota the Wild outhit (44-17), out shot (67-47) and had better SA (129-94) than the Blackhawks, but lost both games. Chicago won game three 1-0, on a Patrick Kane PP goal, and won game four 4-3. It was an odd game four. The Hawks led 2-1 after 40 minutes, then they made it 3-1 with 6:40 remaining. The Wild pulled their goalie while on a PP with four minutes remaining and the Hawks scored an EN with 3:07 left. Then the Wild scored twice in :51 seconds and they had 1:33 to tie the game but couldn’t.

I found it very interesting how the Hawks had 17 hits in two road games in this series, but had 114 in three road games versus the Predators. I do believe some rinks rank hits differently, but the Hawks did play more physical against Nashville than they did the Wild. The Wild series was very tame emotionally compared to the Predator series.

Round three vs. Anaheim

Hawks and Ducks went seven games. The series was tied after four games, with the Hawks needing OT wins in games two and four to get the split. The Hawks won games six and seven to take the series.

CHI GM1 GM2 GM3 GM4 GM5 GM6 GM7
ANA GM1 GM2 GM3 GM4 GM5 GM6 GM7
Hits 34 45 27 52 23 38 15 Hits 44 71 45 60 41 43 37
Shots 33 56 28 40 28 23 26 Shots 53 62 27 51 28 32 38
SA 70 115 67 92 66 54 51 SA 53 129 46 78 54 57 68

The Ducks had more hits in every game, and they had more SA in three of the seven games, and ironically they lost all three games where they had more SA. In games two, six and seven the Ducks out hit (151-98), out shot (132-105) and had better SA than the Hawks (254-220). It seems to go against the theory that the team with more hits has the puck less. 

Stanley Cup Finals vs. Tampa Bay

The Hawks and Lightning had a very low-scoring series. The Hawks won three times by a 2-1 score, and won 2-0 in the clinching game. There was a total of 23 goals in the series, and ten were scored in the third period.

CHI GM1 GM2 GM3 GM4 GM5 GM6
TAMPA GM1 GM2 GM3 GM4 GM5 GM6
Hits 21 28 27 34 15 32 Hits 29 33 46 46 37 56
Shots 21 29 38 19 29 32 Shots 23 24 32 25 32 25
SA 52 49 67 45 54 58 SA 55 48 51 61 61 60

Tampa Bay had more hits every game, and they had more SA in four of the six games, but the two games where the had fewer SA were the two they won.

The Hawks finished with more shots on goal in the series (168-161), while the Lightning had more SA (336-325) and more hits (247-157).

It is only one playoff year, but based on these numbers the theory that more hits equates to less possession might be misleading. I will take a look the LA Kings Cup runs of 2014 and 2012 and see how they fared. The Kings have been built on size and strength, while the Hawks are considered more a skilled team.

Both have had a lot of success the past six years, and I’m curious to see what the Kings numbers will show.

I recognize that hits, shots and even missed or blocked shots will vary from building to building, but I never believed that being physical was a negative. The theory that the perfect games means you have no hits is simply foolish in my eyes, because any coach who preaches that should also tell his players to never dump the puck in. And I don’t know any coach who does that.

In hockey you have to give up possession sometimes, but the good teams find ways to get it back. Puck retrievals are hugely important in today’s game, and one of the best way to retrieve the puck is by separating your opponent from the puck with body contact, or forcing him to move it quicker than he would like by the threat of a thunderous hit.

I’m not sold on the theory the team with more hits automatically equates to having less puck possession.

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  • Simpsonite

    I wonder if there is a stat “turnovers due to hit” or “contact” or something. Cause if you get hit 70 times in a game and also have 70 turnovers welllllll…..

  • dsanchez1973

    “I’m not sold on the theory the team with more hits automatically equates to having less puck possession.”

    Like all advanced stats, no one says “Do X and it always means Y”. It’s always “Do X, and doing that has a decent to high correlation with success”.

    I believe that there have been analyses done that show little or no correlation between winning the hits battle and winning the hockey game.

    It’s fair to dismiss the “no hits is great because you have the puck all the time” comment – it’s an oversimplified statement which implies low hits has high correlation to wins (which also isn’t true).

    The real answer to Hitchcock should be “good luck to him with that. He’s focusing on something that doesn’t have a material impact no the result of the game either way. He might as well say ‘we need to focus on wearing more red elbow pads’ ” – sure you can do it, and it won’t hurt your chances of winning, but it won’t help them either.

  • RJ

    “The theory that the perfect games means you have no hits is simply foolish in my eyes, because any coach who preaches that should also tell his players to never dump the puck in. And I don’t know any coach who does that.”

    The old Soviet teams played that way. They have a bunch of videos on youtube showing the style. It’s a beautiful game to watch, but it doesn’t translate well to North American rinks.

    As for the hitting, I think that strategy has worked well on the Oilers the past few years, but it doesn’t seem like it would be as effective on the Hawks.

    I think this is just part of the mind-game between coaches in a playoff series.

  • BobbyCanuck

    A cool stat would be ‘taking a hit to make a play’ which I think Chicago does extremely well

    I remember this one game, Seabrook got absolutely crushed into the end boards, but he still managed to come out of it with the puck and made a tape to tape pass to a team mate around the centre line.

    Hawks motto should be ‘hit us all you want, we will still make the play’

  • pkam

    “Does hitting mean you don’t have the puck?”

    To me it is the same as asking “Do you hit when you have the puck?”. If your answer is ‘Yes’, then I wonder what you are hitting, and why?

    • Jason Gregor

      Raffi Torres would hit guys when he had the puck. Player anticipates contact coming and leans into guy. He’d hammer the guy trying to hit him and then keep control of the puck. A few others do it as well.

      • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

        Canada Cup 1991 Eric Lindros. Knocks Josef Beranek out of game/series and the other Chezch ,who also played some in Edmonton. Did it both on the offense. Who was the other guy? I can almost see his face but name alludes me. Went on to play in Montreal? Any takers?

        • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

          I found out the other guy and I think Lindros separated both the guy’s shoulder while he had the puck. Lindros was phenomenal as an 18 year old in that series. So was Ranford!!

      • Gregor, do hits like those from Torres (offensive ones I guess, which I love) count in the hit totals stats? If so, that is probably affected by the arena you’re in as well – meaning home team’s players would count and away team doing it may not?

  • This.Is.NHL

    Hitting a player if done right can take out the opposition for that one second for you to make a play or to get open to score, if done wrong or with no thought it can be a bad play.

    • Jason Gregor

      Yes agreed, which is why I pointed out it was interesting to note the major difference for NSH and Chic. They had way more hits on the road oddly enough.

      I also think it work for missed shots as well. Have seen it first hand. Will always have to consider different marker in each building.

  • mkc_oilers

    Just ran some numbers based on the data provided in the article:

    Chicago was out hit 21/23 games – they won 16 (76%) of those games.

    They lost both games they out hit their opponent.

    Chicago was out shot 13/23 games – they won 12 (92%) of those games.

    They won only 4 out of 10 games they out shot their opponent.

    You could argue being out hit and out shot helped Chicago’s chances of winning. (similar results when using shot attempt data)

    Long story short – Chicago’s path to the cup DOESN’T support the ideas that outhitting or outshooting leads to wins.

    Sooooo….I’m thinking this may not be the best data to judge hitchcock or Quinvilles theories?!?

    Oh and 61% of the time chicago was out hit – they were also out shot. So being out hit seems to be associated with having the puck less based on this data.

  • As made clear on Twitter, this points to the issue I have with some “advanced stats”.

    First off, statistical models do not lie.

    But interpretations of statistical data can demonstrate some leeway, and furthermore the acquisition of data could be completely flawed.

    In my opinion: no two shot attempts are equal, and no two hits are equal.

    Some shot attempts serve a practical purpose even if they look counter productive (shooting for a rebound). And some hits serve a practical purpose even if they look counter productive (hitting a defender after a clean pass was made, in order to wear them down physically rather than turn over the puck). This is where I have an issue with the acquisition of data.

    And then you have the odd interpretations of this data.

    Let’s assume that yes, having the puck more means you are hitting less. What does that tell teams and players? Should they be hitting more, or less? This doesn’t answer that question.

    Guess what, in auto racing, being dead last means you check your mirrors less often. So? What does this mean? How does this data make one a better driver?

    Using “advanced stats” at this stage to change team behaviour is counter-productive, IMO. A team should have clear philosophies that lead to success. A philosophy that stresses shots on net, over shots that go wide or blocked (that would inflate your shot attempts stat), makes more sense to me.

    In the same manner, a philosophy stressed in regards to hitting, used as a tool to generate turnovers, force rushed passes, and to physically wear down the opposition, means so much more than:

    “oh boy we are hitting a lot that means we are probably being outshot which means we probably have less posession which probably means we are losing.”

    I think the arguments for increased shot attempts are far more legitimate than for hits, at this stage. I still see Advanced Stats in its infancy with more exploration and debate required, with some topics (hits) requiring far more exploration. I also think there needs to be a shift in paradigm in order to make it more relevant to players and coaches. Trying to work backwards from data is starting to become nonsensical.

    Say this correlation was found: “Winners of F1 races had significantly more worn tires than the rest of the field.” Does this mean we measure success in inches of worn tires? Or does this mean they raced harder? Or does this mean they were more inefficient in their lines? Trying to work backwards from that correlation may take you down roads you don’t want to go. Burnt rubber, directly correlated to winning, is a by-product of what exactly?

    If Shots are a by-product of possession, what if possession is a by-product of checking? What if checking was the thing that mattered most in winning a hockey game? Has Hockey Advanced Stats went down that path of inspection yet?

    • hockey1099

      Nailed it. I personally find advanced stats useless. The game is too fast and fluid to really lend it self to statistical analysis. This isn’t baseball. I don’t trust the data collectors either, bias on their part will skew the results and the interpretations. Is a shot on net from the boards really a good thing when a man was sitting open in front of the net? The advanced stat collector records a shot and analyzes the data later. The team gets more shots on net but less scoring chances how is this a good thing?

      • For the record, I don’t find “Advanced Stats” (I use quotes because it’s more than stats, it’s analysis of data and all that) to be useless, I just think it’s part of a larger picture (and not the picture itself), still in its infancy, and is in danger of being focused on disproportionately in attempts to make teams better.

        Let’s say we wanted to improve a PowerPlay unit. Looking at a few stats, focusing in on certain numbers exclusively, or having oddly defined data (considering a weak shot that was easily blocked to be equivalent to a cross crease one-timer), doesn’t seem appropriate.

        But using those numbers in tandem with your observation on players, puck movement, deficiencies in roster ability, then you might has a good picture of what to fix. So I do appreciate numbers as part of the attempt to find out what is going on.

        I have some issues with some aspects of it and I felt like I had to outline them especially when it comes to topics like “hits”, but overall I do appreciate the work that stats guys put into come up with correlations, their observations of the game, and the effort to find new patterns in relation to team success.

  • OnlyOil

    If a team would be foolish enough not to hit in the NHL you will not win, that I guarantee. And those players would soon find there way out of the NHL. Hitting is part of competing and gaining possession. Hitting also serves the purpose of wearing players down.

  • Petrolero

    I’ve never bought into that theory of hit less have more possession. Just look at the Oilers they get out hit more often than not and lose games because they are getting separated from the puck and their puck skills get nullified. More hits can easily mean you’re platería the opposition to the boards and taking the pick away from them every time it’s on their stick.

  • LibrarianMike

    My feeling is that there’s nothing wrong with being a team that wants to hit, but if that’s your primary strategy then you’ve got problems.

    SEE ALSO: Shot Blocking

  • KMA

    The NHL in their self-inflicted wisdom believe a four inch monitor is satisfactory for on-ice officials to distinguish between a goal and an infraction. How f’ing pathetic!

  • Jaxon

    Just as with shots, I believe there is such a thing as score effects with hits. More aggressive play tends to happen when you are behind or “chasing the puck all night” and a more controlled, reserved style of play tends to occur when you have a lead. Also, I think some people are trying to link more hits as cause rather than effect. You do need to hit and finish checks or be very good at takeaways and beating oppositions to loose pucks when you don’t have the puck. A lot of it is when and how you hit to get the puck back. If you put the Islanders 4th line out all night you are definitely going to win the hits battle and maybe even do okay with possession but you will not win games. Now I’m just babbling. Carry on.

  • toprightcorner

    The key is every team probably has at least 70-100 opportunities to make a hit and the more times they make that hit the better. If a player gets hit hard 3-4 time in the first half of the game, they will be more gun shy and fairly sore and will likely be less effective in the second half.

    St. Louis avg weight is probably 10-15 lbs more than CHI so they need to use that to their advantage.

  • camdog

    What’s the stat for getting in somebodies head? St.Louis needs to stop worrying about what Chicago is going to do and worry about what they can do to win.

    Hitch saying they need to hit more after game one was loser talk. Hitch is over coaching. Chicago sensed weakness with that comment. Once the other team senses weakness you’ll lose in the NHL playoffs.

  • camdog

    It sort of is ironic that Chicago is and has been one of the smallest teams in the league the past few years and that hasn’t stopped them from winning the cup 3 times. Willingness to compete and too win, trumps size. PC should look at what the Hawks have done before going to crazy with the size thing. Get rid of the guys that aren’t willing to compete.

    • The Goalie 1976

      It’s pretty hard to assemble a team with 20 all stars on it.

      The Chicago model is a ‘best-case-scenario’ full of star players taken outside the 1st round.

      This is not a model that I would try to replicate, as it relies on fantastic scouting and pure dumb luck. 2 things the oilers dont have.

      I would much rather PC try to replicate the Bruins, as it also a successful model, and much easier to assemble.

  • Obviously the team with the puck isn’t hitting, but anyone who’s played any level of physical hockey knows how much it gets in you’re head if you think you’re going to ge hit, and hard, every time you touch the puck.

    Sadly there isn’t a good stat available for measuring this because hit count is generally higher for teams without the puck, and rink bias becomes an issue as well.

    Any Oilers fan will tell you that LA and STL have been a nightmare for the Oilers over the years and their ability to just knock over every Oiler every time they touch the puck has played a big part in all those losses. LA doesn’t have to hit the Oilers often, because the Oilers never have the pick, butnyou can be damn sure the few times they do get the biscuit a hit is coming.

    • The Goalie 1976

      I 100% agree

      Physical play is mostly a mental advantage for the aggressor.

      Duncan Keith is a great example of this, as when he hits its typically dirty, and has intent to injure. He gets all kind of space from opposing players, as they dont want to be the next guy with a stick in his teeth.

      This also works with clean hard hits, just takes a few more to make the point hahaha

  • ziyan94

    Hitchcock said that because the hits will gradually wear the Hawks down as the series goes.

    I expect a 7-game series, and soreness will play a factor at that point.

  • The Goalie 1976

    Physical hockey is almost always a good idea.

    Any team that is afraid of contact (Oilers pre 2016) is doomed to failure.

    Any team that CAN play physical when required, but often does not initiate (Chicago, Detroit) can be successful, but rely heavily on star player talent.

    Other teams who choose to INITIATE contact (Stl, Ana, LA) are the perfect examples of size with skill. They are built to wear you down with physical play, and have enough skill to make plays when it counts.

    The Chicago model is few and far between, and is very difficult to assemble.

    Hitchcock is just coaching to his teams strengths, wear down Chicago over a 7 game series. Of course he doesn’t expect to get 70 hits, I think he was making a point of how they need to continue to be the physical aggressor. If they beat Chicago, it will come in games 5-7, when Chicago’s players are hurting from games 1-4.

    Chicago will coach to win with skill, and rely on their team full of star players.

    This series is a toss-up, and we’ll see which method is successful, but neither team is incorrect with their strategy.