Hockey is the fastest game on ice, maybe the fastest game anywhere. Opportunities present themselves for a split second and then in an instant vanish, though a new set of possibilities are then available for another split second.
So much happens quickly in the game of hockey. How can we do justice to it with statistics? What do our statistics capture properly and what don’t they capture? What do we mean when we talk about a player’s intangibles? What falls “outside the stats”?
Sean Avery appeared to be the ideal player for correctly doing the little things –the so called intangibles– that a player can bring to a game, even if they don’t fill the stats sheet with conventional stats. A perfect example was Saturday’s Game 2 Ranger victory against the Washington Capitals. Take a look at Avery’s conventional stat line and try not to yawn: 0 Goals, 0 Assists, 0 Points, +0, 0 PIM.
Expanding to the lesser known conventional stats, there’s still not much to look at: 18:01 Time On Ice (TOI), 23 shifts, 00:47 average shift, 2:04 Power Play TOI, 0:00 Short Handed TOI, 15:57 Even Strength TOI, 3 shots on goal (SOG), 3 shot attempts blocked, 4 hits, 2 blocked shots, 1 faceoff lost, 0 takeaways, 0 giveaways. Even looking at Avery’s calling card, agitation, you’ll be disappointed to see zero Penalties Taken and zero Penalties Drawn.
By the following shift-by-shift data, we can discern how Mr. Avery spent his Saturday afternoon. I’m certainly not advocating such an approach for every player in every game, but by doing so as a case study, we can learn what routinely falls outside play-by-play record keeping in the NHL. Note that what you read below are still only the highlights of the day and not a log of every movement Avery made on the ice.
New York Rangers at Washington Capitals
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Sean Avery – 23 shifts, 18:01 TOI
Attempting to get to Michal Rozsival’s missed shot off the end boards, Avery bothers defenseman Boyd Gordon enough that Gordon is prevented from being able to clear the puck, allowing Wade Redden to keep the puck in at the blue line. Seeing that a turnover is likely, Avery moves to the front of the goal, between the faceoff circles. Receiving the pass, Sean takes a turnaround shot that is narrowly blocked by Milan Jurcina. Avery was conscious of a potential Scott Gomez tip-in at the side of the net.
The next time the puck is in the offensive zone, Avery follows Gomez to the right corner boards to try to keep possession, but is foiled by Gordon from behind. The puck is kept in at the blue line by Marc Staal and sent back around the boards, where Avery is waiting behind the net to receive it. Unfortunately, he makes a lazy pass to Gomez, which is picked off by Tom Poti. Kept in at the right point this time, Avery receives a pass along the boards that he nicely dishes off to Ryan Callahan who lets loose a close range shot. Avery is there at the side of the net, looking for the rebound or to generally cause chaos for rookie netminder Simeon Varmalov.
Shift totals: 1 opponent harassed, 1 hit*, 1 shot attempt blocked*, 1 giveaway**,
1 shot assist
Avery decides not to hit Michael Nylander in the neutral zone, more interested in keeping his speed and balance in case of an offensive opportunity as the result of the opposition’s hurried perpendicular pass. He ends up offsides due to a slowish Gomez pass.
Shift totals: 1 decision not to hit opponent, 1 offsides
Chasing in on the forecheck, Avery causes defenseman John Erskine to make a quick turn to avoid a hit and a potential turnover. It is one of many Ranger harrassments that culminate in a Federov offside.
After receiving a cross-ice pass from Derek Morris, Avery advances into the zone, but is loses the control of the puck as the result of Alexander Semin's efforts. Fortunately, Semin sloppily banks the puck off the boards right to a nearby Scott Gomez. Avery drives to the net as Gomez passes to Antropov, who sends a wrist shot wide of the net. Passing by the crease, Avery comes in contact with goaltender Simeon Varmalov without scoring. Getting up, he receives the first of many friendly lumbar stick-taps from Poti.
On a shift change dump-in by Morris, Avery drives in hard to the net, forcing Varmalov to hold the puck for a faceoff.
Shift totals: 3 opponents harassed, 1 hit taken*, 1 giveaway**, 1 borderline goalie interference, 1 attempt to draw a penalty, 1 cross-check received, 1 offensive faceoff gained
Avery follows up Brandon Dubinsky’s hit on Viktor Kozlov to take control of the loose puck, but can’t keep possession while avoiding the check of the oncoming Milan Jurcina.
He receives the puck from Girardi in the defensive zone, taking a hit on the boards in order to drop the puck off to Fredrik Sjostrom, allowing the Swede to make a rush up the right wing. Avery follows the rush, in position to receive a drop pass from Sjostorm. Unfortunately, the pass is cut off by a good Nicklas Backstrom poke check that arose from a marginal pass by Sjostrom.
Shift totals: 1 takeaway**, 1 giveaway**, 2 hits taken**
Avery shows good instincts to make a rush up the middle after Gomez receives Girardi’s pass on the left boards. Receiving the pass from Gomez and moving into the offensive zone, Avery cannot avoid Poti’s stick blocking his shot. Immediately following his scoring opportunity, he is run into the boards with another spinal love-tap from the defenseman.
Shift totals: 1 shot attempt blocked*, 1 cross-check received
Avery brings the puck into the offensive zone with speed, squeezing past the check of Milan Jurcina along the boards. He dishes to Antropov at the front of the crease, though Antropov doesn’t get a point blank shot off.
Shift totals: 1 would-be shot assist
Avery displays aggressive forechecking, chasing Poti and then Jurcina, causing a bad return pass that ends up deflecting off Poti to Antropov.
A classic “pest” sequence: Avery charges out to block a shot by Pothier. In a spare moment, he finds time to give Poti a small payback cross-check and then lifts Kozlov’s stick at the faceoff circle as he’s about to receive Backstrom’s pass This causes Backstrom to not only not get a shot off, but for the puck to go out of the zone as well. The game analysts chime in: “Two very good defensive plays, smart plays, subtle plays by Sean Avery” (Ed Olczyk) and “There’s no denying that he has good hockey sense” (Darren Pang).
Number 16 hits Brian Pothier as he dumps the puck in.
Antropov half-fans on a pass to Avery. The puck is taken at the blue line by Erskine, who Avery harasses into a bad pass.
Shift totals: 4 opponents harassed, 1 blocked shot*, 1 cross-check, 1 opponent harassed, 1 shot attempt foiled by guile, 1 hit*
Avery drives hard to the goal, looking for a rebound or tip-in on the wrist shot of Gomez.
He digs the puck out on the defensive boards. Diving, he feeds the puck across the goal to Morris, who starts up the offense rush. Avery immediately gets to his feet to charge up-ice and join the rush. Avery gets a backhand pass from Gomez, but his shot goes harmlessly wide when blocked by Jurcina.
Avery stands in front of the crease for Antropov’s shot. In the ensuing play, he waits in front of the crease for a pass from Gomez, but Gomez hesitates and the passing lane is blocked off by two defensemen.
Shift totals: 1 shot attempt blocked*
Off an offensive zone faceoff with 6 seconds left in the period, Avery hits and cross-checks Poti along the boards. He is then cross-checked in kind by Erskine.
Shift totals: 1 hit*, 1 cross-check, 1 cross-check received
1:59-2:48 (Power Play)
Avery makes a false start on the faceoff, flopping onto the ice. As a reward, he ends up with the faceoff responsibility. Not to be cheated on his one opportunity in the game, Avery tries to go forward with the puck, hoping to catch the opposition off guard with the unconventional move.
He is wide open for a perpendicular pass from Antropov. Not a particularly gifted shooter, Avery makes the best of wrist shot by using a defenseman’s screen and firing low at Varmalov’s five hole. The rookie bobbles the puck, but hangs on.
Shift totals: 1 faceoff lost*, 1 SOG*
Off a neutral zone faceoff, Avery tries to kick the puck to a teammate, but loses the battle. He then tries to block the ensuing dump-in unsuccessfully.
First he hits Shaone Morrisonn, then he goes across the ice to hit Mike Green on the opposing boards. Havoc ensues and the Caps make an offsides pass.
Avery jumps into the attack quickly, bringing the puck over the blue line. He passes the puck to Gomez, who shoots yet another wrister wide of the net.
After an excellent backcheck by Antropov, Avery screens off Pothier so that Gomez can get to the puck along the boards. Avery chases Girardi’s dump-in, looking to hit Backstrom. Backstrom puts up an elbow, so Avery takes as much as he gives. For good measure, Avery is then hit from behind by Poti.
Shift totals: 1 attempted blocked shot, 3 hits (only the Backstrom hit recorded on official stats), 1 would-be shot assist, 2 opponents harassed, 1 hit taken**, 1 cross-check received
Off the faceoff, Avery drops the puck to Rozsival at a great ponint for a shot.
Avery conscientiously backchecks David Steckel, but while he has a body on him, Steckel’s stick is free at point blank range. Luckily, Steckel's stick does not make contact with the puck.
Avery gives Backstrom a little cross-check after the puck is covered up by Varlamov. Matt Bradley returns the favor by facewashing Avery.
Shift totals: 1 shot assist, 1 cross-check, 1 facewash received
Avery tries to get possession of the puck after a lost faceoff. He eschews opportunities for hits while chasing the puck.
Shift totals: 1 decision not to hit opponents
13:12-14:37 (Power Play)
Avery stands in front of the net for Paul Mara’s shot. He keeps possession of the puck and sends a pass Antropov's way. He is again present in front of the net for Morris’ shot.
After receiving a pass from Gomez at the blue line, Avery loses the puck on a Pothier poke check.
Shift totals: 1 Giveaway**
After a lost faceoff, Avery leaves the leadfooted Kozlov at the blueline to take a shot at Ovechkin behind the net, causing Alexander to give the puck up to Gomez. Avery receives the puck back from Gomez and takes a return hit from Ovechkin, while getting the puck to Rozsival at the point. Off the Rozsival slapshot, Avery takes two hacks at the puck at the side of the net, though no SOG are recorded.
Shift totals: 1 hit**, 1 opponent harassed, 1 hit taken*, 1 shot assist, 0-2 SOG**
Number 16 fights for the puck along the boards.
Shift totals: Nothing of note
Avery pressures Mike Green, but lets him by on the boards.
Avery receives a drop pass from Gomez, but takes a disappointing slapshot. He then digs the puck out from behind the net. In rapid succession, Avery comes out from behind the goal, tries to knock Varmalov’s goalie stick up off the ice, attempts to connect on a tip-in of Antropov’s shot, and falling to the ice, tries to stuff the puck in past stacked pads on the short side.
Shift totals: 1 opponent harassed-failed, 2 SOG*, 1 borderline goalie interference, 1 missed tip-in
Avery gets a pass from Wade Redden. He takes a hit from Tomas Fleischmann as he backhands the pass to Gomez. The ensuing rush is offside.
Shift totals: 1 hit taken**
Avery harasses Poti. The ensuing Antropov harassment of Ovechkin leads to a turnover in the Caps’ zone. Avery is waiting in front of the goal, but Gomez fails to pass. Gomez then loses his shooting opportunity as well.
After Avery loses a battle for the puck on the side boards with Jurcina, Gomez takes a minor penalty.
Shift totals: 1 opponent harassed, 1 failed clearance leading to a teammate’s penalty
Avery blocks Jurcina’s shot. Moments later, he is hit by Jurcina, turning over the puck.
Shift totals: 1 blocked shot**, 1 hit taken*, 1 giveaway**
Barreling off the bench into the offensive zone, Avery almost causes a turnover in a group of three Capitals, with Gomez waiting for the puck by the crease.
Shift totals: 1 opponent harassed
Avery clears the puck up the boards, hoping to get it to Brandon Dubinsky. It results in an icing.
Avery blocks a shot by Alexander Semin.
He joins an attack by Dubinsky. On the ensuing play, Avery backhands the puck along the boards to Antropov. Trying to get to the net as quickly as possible, Antropov’s shot reaches Avery too early, preventing Avery from doing anything significant with the puck. Number 16 cross-checks Mike Green as Green clears the zone.
Shift totals: 1 icing, 1 blocked shot*, 1 shot assist, 1 would-be shot assist, 1 cross-check
Avery helps Gomez clear the puck out of the zone.
He pressures Poti, who coughs up the puck to the Rangers’ defense. Avery receives a pass from a defenseman, knocking it cleverly past Poti at the blue line. He chases the puck in and Avery and Mike Green hit each other simultaneously, each hoping to knock their opponent off the puck. The Caps recover the loose puck and Avery races back to bench for his last action of the afternoon.
Shift totals: 1 Opponent harassed, 1 Hit**, 1 Hit taken*
New York wins 1-0 in a game where many Rangers showed exceptional energy and tenacity, though not much scoring ability.
Here’s what the game film showed us about Sean Avery:
He’s a fast skater, a high energy player, and an efficient yet limited passer. He has limited puckhandling and shooting skills and limited one on one moves. His shots are frequently blocked and he is vulnerable to poke checks by defenders with a long reach. His defensive skills are limited mainly to shot blocking.
Outside the stats? Avery is phenomenally cognizant of his surroundings on the ice. He is always thinking, always looking for an edge. For a player with a bad reputation, he showed that he can be extremely calculated and subtle in his physical play when playing on the fringes of the rules. Sure, the Rangers would be better off with the higher level skills of a mid-90’s Esa Tikkanen, but Sean Avery is an excellent contributor to John Tortorella’s high energy style that has put the second seeded Capitals in serious trouble.
**Official stat category, but not recorded in the game’s play-by-play log
Timo Seppa is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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