Lehigh Valley Phantoms early season statistical trends

It’s 25 game report time!

We’re rolling right on through the season here, folks! With their 1-0 loss to the Hershey Bears last Saturday, that Phantoms officially hit the 25 game mark, and just like that, we’ve just about made it a third of the way through the season.

And what this means, at least for the purpose of this article, is that we finally have a large enough dataset where we can feel pretty comfortable making some larger observations about how and what the team is doing. We’ve looked at the numbers and we’ve picked out some trends, and we’re here to talk about them.

But before we get into those talks, a couple of quick disclaimers: first, all of the advanced shot metrics have come from our pal Brad, but we’ve only got 23 games for these stats. It’s still plenty to work with, but it’s worth noting that we don’t have all of the games accounted for there.

Additionally, the neutral zone numbers have come from my own data tracking project, and just speaking for that, I want to note that this isn’t a one hundred percent complete dataset. All 25 games are accounted for, but I’m manually tracking all of these entries and exits, and there are almost certainly a handful that were missed because they happened out of frame, or because a small chunk of the game was missing, or because I just couldn’t read the numbers on the jersey. It’s a small enough number that it matters less and less as we amass a larger sample, but in the interest of full disclosure, I wanted to let you all know about this.

Also, as the title suggests, we’re just going to be looking at team trends here, rather than what individual players are doing. But all of the data referenced here is broken down on the player level too, and it’s all linked at the end of the piece, should you want to check that out.

And, finally, all of these stats are collected at 5-on-5—no special teams talk today!

Okay, enough disclaiming. On to the topics.

Corsi kings

One of the most distinct turnarounds from last season comes in how the Phantoms went from getting pretty well out-chanced on just about a nightly basis to turning the tables and now consistently getting the better of the territorial play, on average, this season. Through 51 games last season, the Phantoms averaged a 45.43 CF% at 5-on-5, struggling to keep themselves above water while giving up more chances than they created, pretty consistently. Only four players (three who played more than two games) averaged a 50 CF% or higher. It was, in short, not a recipe for success.

This season, though, they’ve really turned things around. They’ve registered 928 shots attempts and averaged a 51.32 CF%. And while this isn’t a massive edge in the differential, it’s enough. They aren’t getting buried night in and night out, and them continuing to generate more chances than their opponents pretty regularly bodes well for future results. The process is improving, in that way.

Additionally, it’s not as though it’s just one line or a handful of players that are torching all of their opponents night in and night out and inflating the team average. Rather, up and down the lineup, we’re seeing players posting solid shot attempt differentials. Indeed, just 11 of the 29 skaters who have played a game with the Phantoms so far this season have put up below a 50 CF%, and only five are below 49 percent. Top to bottom, the skaters are doing well to win their assigned matchups, and this makes them a bit more secure, overall—injuries and call ups happen, but if the team as a whole has their process locked down, losing any specific player shouldn’t send the house of cards tumbling down, if you will.

A note on high danger chances

So, with the Phantoms having been consistently able to create a comfortable edge for themselves in shot attempts for, we might reasonably expect that we should see this reflected more significantly in their points on the board. Why, then, are they not scoring All Of The Goals, but rather just a slight majority of the goals at 5-on-5? The answer to this may well lie in their shot selection.

To date, as we said, the Phantoms have generated 928 shot attempts at 5-on-5, but only 145 of them were high danger chances (just 15.63 percent of their total attempts). Additionally, they’ve given up 154 high danger chances at 5-on-5, which makes their 145 good for just 48.49 percent of the total share.

This isn’t an absurdly sharp disparity, but as we know, it’s not just winning the shot quantity battle that will do it for you night in and night out. They’re giving opponents just the slight edge in high danger chances on just about a nightly basis, and while in a single game, this may not amount to much, over a larger stretch of games, and eventually a whole season, this will add up in a way that they won’t particularly like. It makes things harder on their goaltenders, and it makes things harder on the skaters trying to puts pucks in the back of the other teams’ nets.

They coaches have been trying to reemphasize getting to the front of the net for chances, and the early signs are positive—to the tune of 28 high danger chances in their last five games alone—they just need to keep at it and work on limiting the number of chances they allow in front, and they’ll start seeing even more positive results.

Call-ups didn’t kill the transition game

We’re doing a fair bit of harkening back to last season in this one, and, with the additional benefit of hindsight, it might be evident by now that the Phantoms’ overall process was somewhat flawed. Along with the struggles in the shot attempt differential department, one of the biggest pieces they were fighting throughout last season were the breakouts. They struggled to break the puck out of their own end with possession consistently, and when Philippe Myers—their single most consistent generator of controlled exits out of the defensive zone—was called up in February, they struggled even more mightily to keep the remnants of their transition game afloat.

But this season, even amidst all of the losses and movement due to injuries and call-ups, they’re doing just fine. Through their first 25 games, the Phantoms have put up 54.67 Controlled Exit%, so they’ve been able to either skate or pass the puck out of their own end more regularly, rather than relying so heavily on playing it off the glass and out, as was a bit of the default last season. The defensemen, responsible for the bulk of the exit attempts, all come in below that average, but their of 47.75 percent is still respectable.

The Phantoms’ Controlled Entry% has taken a bit of a hit recently—hanging out around 45 percent for much of the season, they’re down to 40.98 percent after all 25 games. This is perhaps a little lower than we might ideally want to see, but we might also consider that even when they’re dumping the puck in, they’re regaining possession 28.31 percent of the time, which means that they’re ending up with possession of the puck on 57.75 percent of their entries. Also, given how they’re still managing to out-chance their opponents on a pretty consistent basis, as we discussed a few sections back, this 40.98 Controlled Entry% might just be enough. For now, at least.

Is regression coming?

One of my favorite sayings that I’ve stolen from a friend is that “regression eventually comes for us all.” I kind of relate it to all areas of life, if I’m being really honest, but in the purely hockey sense, it’s just to say that the overall results will generally wind up being reflective of the underlying process, and disparities or outliers will eventually regress, be it upward or downward, to the mean.

So what does this mean for the Phantoms? If we remember back to last season, they started out hot and were scoring at a good clip and posting positive goal-based results despite somewhat lackluster underlying numbers, so when the wheels started to come off as the season went on, we weren’t exactly surprised.

This season, the Phantoms are cruising along with a 50.72 GF% (35 goals for and 34 against) and an average of 1.4 goals per game at 5-on-5 through these first 25 games. That 1.4 goals per game figure isn’t a world burner, but given that they’re still allowing fewer, it isn’t killing them either. Would we like to see them increase that a bit, to give themselves a greater cushion if the power play can’t give them a bump consistently? Absolutely. But for now, we can live with it.

Their goal-based results are respectable and just about in line with the picture their underlying numbers paint—that of a team which is generating a good amount of raw shot attempts but could be doing more to get themselves to high danger areas to create better chances. So we might expect a bit of movement up or down, depending on if they are in fact able to generate more high danger chances as the season goes on, or if they continue to bleed more chances than they create, but with them doing well to get themselves up-ice and to generate more shot attempts than they allow, it’s not as though we expect everything to come crashing down on them at any given moment.

There’s a lot of hockey left to play yet, and if we do say so ourselves, there’s a lot to be excited about. When this team eventually gets healthy, and if they can shore up their special teams, they figure to be one that can do some damage. Their overall 5-on-5 process is sound, even if not perfect, and while often these fixes are easier said than done, it isn’t much that’s needed for them to really move the needle, to push themselves from the realm of “good team” to “great team.”

**All stats used above came from mine and Brad’s individual tracking projects. You can check out the full team and player datasets here and here.