The Thrashers have played just three games so far in this season. It is VERY early to be looking at any data, but honestly I just can't help myself. There some positives and negatives in these early games. The good news is that the Thrashers appear to have made major strides in terms of improving both their forecheck and team shot blocking over previous seasons. The bad news is that they are still being out-shot at even strength and if the team shot blocking declines they could be in trouble.
Stats after the jump!
The emerging quantitative study of hockey points to the importance of puck location. As a sport hockey has both a skill element and a random element (i.e. stochastic). If we think about the randomness of hockey, the puck can take a funny bounce here or there which leads directly to a goal for or against. Now randomness might seem discouraging because by definition you can not predict it. On the other hand, if the puck is in the offensive zone more often then your team is in a better position to benefit from randomness. This is one reason that "puck position" stats are correlated with teams that have a winning record. Good things are more likely to happen when you play in the Offensive end of the ice.
One measure of puck position is the location of faceoffs. In previous seasons the Thrashers have done very poorly in terms of puck position. Their best season (see table below) was last year when they had 45% of the combined Off/Def Zone faceoffs in the Offensive end. 45% is not a very good number.
Table 1: Face Off Location
So far this season their has been a huge reversal. I don't want to get too excited because they have only played three games, but my eyeballs tell that the team forecheck is MUCH better and the face off location stats appear to confirm this observation.
Another problem area in the past was offensive pressure. The Thrashers have been out-shot by huge margins over the years. The ratio of Even Strength shots is a good predictor of Even Strength Goal Differential (which is the key to winning hockey games). So far this season the Thrashers have made no significant progress in the ES Shot Differential category.
Table 2: Shots on Goal Ratio
If fact, if you include missed shots in the ratio the team has actually lost some ground.
Table 3: Team Fenwick Ratio
And if you look at the Thrashers Corsi Ratio (all shots attempted by either team), the team is being out-chanced badly early on--but outstanding team shot blocking has kept this from being obvious. In the first three games the Thrashers have blocked 45 opposition shots (while the opposition has only blocked 20 of their shots). In previous seasons the Thrashers averaged about 10 ES blocked shots per contest. So far this season, they have averaged 15 ES blocked shots per game. When Coach Ramsay was a NHL player he was knoqn for his shot blocking abilities, so perhaps this is permanent improvement which will last all season. Time will tell.
Table: Team Corsi Ratio
Conclusion: It is probably too early to put much stock in any numbers because of the small sample size problem. However, it is exciting to see some very early evidence of a major improvement in the team forecheck reflected in a much more favorable share of Offensive Zone faceoffs. The key will turning that improved puck position into an improved ES shot ratio in future games.