the Ads have the puck more this season. here’s why that’s a good thing
Last year, the Trent Yawney-helmed Admirals made it as in 8th seed in the AHL playoffs. Surprising many, they managed to oust the first-ranked Manchester Monarchs. Why? John Gibson. Norfolk was terrible at puck possession all year long, ranking near the bottom in estimated possession stats. Teams without the puck tend to shoot less, and tend to score less. Unless they’re lucky.
At the close to the 2013-14 regular season, the Admirals possessed a 101.2% PDO, or measure of luck. As a reminder, PDO is a combination of a team’s save percentage and shooting percentage, approaching 100%. A team below 100% is generally unlucky, a team above 100% is thought to be more lucky. Norfolk’s shooting percentage was 9.2%, which is about average. Their save percentage, however, was .920 with five different goalies garnering at least a .919 individual save percentage. Thus, with more pucks being shot at the Ads, goaltending came to the rescue. Heavy lifting was done by John Gibson (45 games) and Brad Thiessen (18 games). A team save percentage like that is not sustainable, though one would hope it would hover around .910 or so.
Trent Yawney, perhaps because of cost and John Gibson’s stellar Round 1 performance, was elevated to an assistant coach in Anaheim. Former assistant Jarrod Skalde took over, bringing with him the idea of fast, attacking hockey. The results so far have been mixed at best. The Admirals are peeking out of the Eastern Conference cellar, with 10 points but three games-in-hand on lowly St. John’s. Skalde can point to a lot of deficiencies with this year’s team. He doesn’t have Rickard Rakell, William Karlsson, or Emerson Etem; top six forwards Max Friberg and Stefan Noesen have been sidelined by long-term injuries. Skalde also lacks a quality goaltender like John Gibson.
Josh Weissbock, proprietor of CHLStats, runs AHL advanced stats estimations every week. Weissbock’s latest results came out on Monday with telling results for Norfolk. The Ads possess a 49.7% Fenwick Close with a 97.10% PDO. Fenwick is the measure of shot attempts (minus blocks) that a team takes while it is on the ice at even strength, with their opponent’s Fenwick subtracted. Close refers to situations where the Admirals are within at least one goal of their opponent. 49% is not a great number. It is a step up from last year, meaning that the Ads are close to possessing the puck almost as much as their opponent. Theoretically, this should give them a better chance to win.
Here’s the rub: the PDO shows that the Ads are quite an unlucky team. The fault in question is goaltending, where Norfolk possesses a team save percentage of 87.72%, amongst the worst in the league. For the 2014-15 Admirals season, one goaltender has a save percentage higher than .900: John Gibson. His .902 is not sparkling, earned in a two-game stint where he was at Scope to get playing time. Current games played leader Jason LaBarbera (who is in Anaheim for an injured John Gibson) has a .898 save percentage. While it’s dramatically close to .900, it isn’t quite good enough.
Perhaps Labarbera will return to Norfolk after Gibson has healed and somehow regress to a mean of about .907. I don’t think this will happen. Yann Danis, an AHL vet, was recently signed to a PTO to boost Norfolk’s goaltending. When he was with OKC, he was a perfectly adequate starter. Danis’ last season with Adirondack is not encouraging.
Skalde’s been able to get his team to possess the puck and get shots on net; something missing in the Yawney era. Now, the well-traveled bench boss must have his goaltender answer the bell.