Analyzing Johnny Gaudreau’s Struggles on the Road

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Since making his debut in the Calgary Flames’ final regular season game of the 2013-2014 season, Johnny Gaudreau has been one of the league’s most electric players. His 54 goals over the past two seasons ranks him tied for 23rd in the league which includes a handful of highlight reel and overtime game-winning goals. Since the 2007-2008 season, only two players (Steven Stamkos and Jonathan Toews) have scored more goals in their first two NHL seasons (occurring before their 23rd birthday). The main knock on Gaudreau is that his game is rather one-dimensional and at this moment, I’m not referring to his below-average goals against and shot attempts against statistics but rather his inability to produce on the road.

Gaudreau Individual Statistics

The above graph shows Gaudreau’s individual statistics, split between home and away contests over his first two NHL seasons. In every category, Gaudreau produces at a much higher rate at home compared to while on the road. He scores double the points per 60 minutes of ice time at home than on the road. The biggest difference in performance is Gaudreau’s even strength shooting percentage (shown on the secondary axis). He is shooting almost 20% at home but only slightly above 5% on the road. This past season was even more lopsided where he ranked first in the league in P/60 at home but third to last in P/60 on the road (minimum 500 TOI in both situations).

From a goal perspective, Gaudreau goes from being a very impactful player at home (57.9% GF%) to having a negative goal differential on the road (47.8% GF%). Even while struggling on the road, Gaudreau has managed to post positive numbers relative to his teammates (3.7% GF%Rel) but not nearly to the level at which he does at home (7.6% GF%Rel).

In order to figure out why there is such a difference between Gaudreau’s home and away production, we must look to see what he is doing differently or not doing entirely on the road. This will give us a better background to why he is struggling to score away from Calgary and what he will need to do in order to become a well-rounded player.

First, we’ll look into different metrics that will help determine if Gaudreau’s role changes in home games compared to away games as differences between Gaudreau’s usage could have a large impact on his off-the-charts production levels at home and mediocre numbers on the road.

Home Ice Advantage

Since 2007, 730 players have played over 500 TOI at home and on the road in a given season. Every single player saw an advantage in the shot attempt and goal percentages of their opponents at home (lower CF%opp and GF%opp at home than on the road). The average difference between a player’s home and road CF%opp is 2.64% and 4.55% for GF%opp (I’ll have a full blog coming on my findings from this research in the near future). Gaudreau’s two seasons are shown in red on the above graph. In his rookie season (red point above the best fit line), Gaudreau faced an above average home/away difference in CF% and GF% but faced one of the league’s smallest advantages this past season. His below average difference in his sophomore year nearly neglects his above average difference from the year before. There doesn’t seem to be any validity to the hypothesis that Gaudreau has been constantly abusing weaker competition on home ice. But what about Gaudreau’s teammates?

Gaudreau boasts the same ten most common teammates at home and on the road over the past two seasons but doesn’t have as much consistency with his teammates on the road. Gaudreau was paired with Sean Monahan and Jiri Hudler, his two most common linemates, for 115 and 65 less minutes respectively on the road than at home. He also saw less ice time with Calgary’s top defenseman, Mark Giordano. This was countered by an increase in ice time on the road alongside TJ Brodie, Josh Jooris, and David Jones. While Brodie, Jooris, and Jones are capable forwards, they don’t create offense at nearly the rate of Monahan or Hudler. This change could account for some of Gaudreau’s lack of road production but we’ll investigate the issue further.

Gaudreau Zone Start

One hypothesis I had was that Gaudreau saw a higher number of offensive zone faceoffs at home. This could be the result of Calgary using the last change to put Gaudreau’s line on the ice against opponent’s depth lines creating matchups he could take advantage of. But, this doesn’t seem to hold true as Gaudreau has almost identical zone start percentages over the past two seasons at home and on the road. His offensive zone percentage may seem high but he has ranked outside the league’s top twenty for the past two seasons.

Finally, Gaudreau averages 14:16 of even-strength ice time per game on the road. At home he averages 14:41, resulting in a difference of over 24 seconds. This equates to almost one extra full shift per game at home. This created an advantage for Gaudreau, especially if he’s paired with Monahan and Hudler compared to Brodie and Jooris but likely not enough to sway the numbers drastically in favor of home games.

Now that we’ve determined Gaudreau’s role likely only equates to a small advantage at home, we’ll move towards shot attempts to see if there is a greater difference there that could be driving up his home numbers.

Gaudreau Shot Attempts

Looking at different shot metrics at the team level while Gaudreau is on the ice, Calgary’s numbers are pretty similar at home and on the road. Over the past two seasons, Gaudreau has averaged higher shot attempts, unblocked shot attempts and shots on goal on the road. This higher volume of shot attempts hasn’t quite resulted in a higher quality of shots as he averages slightly more scoring chances for at home.

Digging deeper, I’ll examine Gaudreau’s individual shot attempt rates. One explanation for a drop in production on the road would be less individual scoring opportunities. If this was the case, you would likely see Gaudreau’s production to decrease on the road but his shooting percentage to increase to compensate for the lower number of opportunities.

Gaudreau Individual Shot Attempts

The results beg to differ. In Gaudreau’s two full NHL seasons, he has a slightly higher rate of shots on goal, unblocked shots, and shot attempts on the road than at home. This difference isn’t drastic enough to cause his home vs. away point discrepancy.

Next, I’ll look at distances of Gaudreau’s shots. On the road, he may be played tighter by opponent’s defensemen and is being forced to take shots from further away from the goal.

Gaudreau Shot Distance

This doesn’t appear to be the case. While Gaudreau shot from an average of over a foot closer to the net at home this past season, he did the exact opposite the prior year. The two year average is almost identical for both home and away with a slight advantage leaning towards to road games.

The distance of a shot tells an incomplete picture as the sport of hockey is played in a 3D world. With a distance of 30 feet, it is impossible to know if Gaudreau shot it from the corner along the goal line or in the high slot. Obviously a shot from the high slot has a much higher percentage of resulting in a goal than a shot from the corner. Replacing War on Ice’s Hextally Graphs, Corsica’s Rink View does a good job plotting shot attempts by location. A higher density of shot attempts in a section of the ice is shown by a darker shade of red.

Gaudreu Hextally Chart

Looking towards the offensive zone at the right side of the rink, we finally see a difference between Gaudreau’s home and away contests that can explain his production disparity. At home (top chart), Gaudreau has a very high density of shot attempts coming from the low slot to the high slot. In addition, he has a medium density of shot attempts coming from both points. These are likely the result of shots off of the rush compared to point shots when possessing the puck in the offensive zone. Looking at the bottom chart, Gaudreau has only has a medium density of shot attempts from the low slot and slot locations where the high slot has a low density. Gaudreau also lacks density on the road from the point locations, assumedly proving lack of odd man rushes for the Flames. Gaudreau and his linemates struggle to create shot attempts and scoring opportunities within the slot and off the rush on the road. These differences are very easy to see and is a real possibility for explaining Gadreau’s lack of production on the road.

Gaudreau’s inability to score on the road is a real problem for the Flames who posted the league’s third worst record (14-24-3) away from Calgary last season. Monahan also sees a similar dip in production on the road (2.33 P/60 at home compared to 1.24 P/60 on the road) which may point to a systematic flaw with Calgary’s game plan in road contests. In order for Gaudreau to take the next step and for Calgary to climb back into the playoff picture, they will have to find ways to get Gaudreau and Monahan scoring opportunities in the slot and off of the rush like they are able to do in their home building.

Follow Steve Ness on Twitter: @QuickkNess

All data from Corsica.Hockey, NHL.com, Puckalytics and Stats.hockeyanalysis.com.

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