Published on August 20th, 2014 | by Carey Haber7
Puck Moving Defensemen
Last week, we took a look back at how the Islanders could benefit from a strong goaltending tandem. As we examined, one key aspect to any potential Isles’ success this year is their possession play. As we found last week, their goaltending can get them to a certain point, but it is possible that the real driver of how we can measure potential success comes down to controlling play. Or as the Isles’ themselves would say, “playing the way we need to play to win games.”
For the purposes of this discussion, we are going to refer to individual player Corsi. Corsi For is the amount of attempted shots (on net, blocked, or missed) that a team takes towards their opponent’s net. Corsi Against is the amount of attempted shots an opponent takes towards your net. Throughout this article, we will use Corsi For as a percentage, as to normalize the metrics to a scale of 0% to 100%.
Based on the definition of Corsi, and the implications that Corsi (and Fenwick) can have in terms of your expected win percentage, we can start to infer aspects of the game itself that can help lead to a higher “Corsi For” percentage.
One of these key facets is creation of offense from a team’s defense. We know the game moves faster than it did 15-20 years ago, and we know that mobile, puck moving defensemen have been at a premium on the free agent market for years. A big reason for these trends is success teams see when they can push offense from the blueline. In 2012-13, the Islanders incorporated a defense of two key, veteran puck moving defensemen – Mark Streit and Lubomir Visnovsky – and were 19-12-4 with both in the lineup (5-5-3 when only Streit played).
After that season, one of Garth Snow’s major errors of the 2013 off-season was not replacing Streit with a capable puck mover, instead going with a rookie in Matt Donovan. While Donovan showed some very strong possession signs (53.5% CF), he was both unlucky in terms of goals against, and struggled with systematic and physical elements of the NHL game.
Coupled with Visnovsky’s concussion issues, the Islanders were left without a key, reliable, big minute driver of puck possession until Calvin de Haan was brought up to the team. The below chart shows the Isles’ Corsi when Visnovsky and de Haan play, versus when they don’t:
As we can see in this chart, when Visnovsky and de Haan both played last year, the Islanders had very strong results. When only one of the two players played, the team struggled with possession. Surprisingly, when neither played, the team again had very strong results. This leads us to Thomas Hickey. The below chart outlines Hickey’s possession performance by segment:
As we can see here, Hickey raised his performance pretty greatly in games where Visnovsky and de Haan were absent. Although the Isles lost some offensive power (as we will see below), they were able to keep the puck in the opposing zone.
Let’s now look at the first chart including the shooting percentages and save percentages of each segment:
In this chart, we actually see an inverse relationship to what we know is true. In other words, the Islanders see worse records when either both Visnovsky/de Haan play or when neither play versus when just one of them play. If we were to take this a step further, we can hone in on the save percentages and shooting percentages of each of these segments.
What we can see is that the Isles struggled in games that Visnovsky and de Haan both played due to an unsustainably low save percentage, which includes ten starts from Evgeni Nabokov and five from Anders Nilsson. In short, the goaltending seemed to eliminate any effects of strong possession the Isles put together last season.
Next, we have to look at the shooting percentages. If we were to look at these segments, we see very unsustainably high shooting percentages for the Islanders in games where only one of de Haan or Visnovsky played. Surprisingly, the goaltending was adequate in games when the Isles had a low Corsi For percentage, and coupled with an unsustainably high shooting percentage, the team (on the back of John Tavares, Thomas Vanek, and Kyle Okposo) performed quite well.
What we can see, however, is that the Isles’ shooting percentage when neither de Haan nor Visnovsky were in the lineup is uncharacteristically low. Without an offensive minded puck moving defenseman, it becomes infinitely more difficult to create offense through breakouts (a major issue for the Isles in 2011-12).
So, now that we know some of the causes of the Isles’ game results in each segment, we have to ask what contributing factors occurred that led the Isles to have a high Corsi during the period that de Haan/Visnovsky played, but without much offense attached to it. That brings us back to Thomas Hickey, who is a strong possession player, but is not offensively skilled enough to carry an offense by himself.
In short, although we saw some pretty interesting, major outliers from last season within the defined segments, we can certainly assume that for this season, the Isles are simply a better possession team and a better offensive team when de Haan and Visnovsky are in the lineup together.
Moreover, we can also expect more normalized numbers (in other words, a save percentage greater than .871) in a world where both players are able to stay healthy for elongated periods of time. Additionally, both players have pretty solid complements ready and able to step in either as partners or as complementary pieces to the up-tempo game in Travis Hamonic and Griffin Reinhart.
The bottom line here is that with normalized numbers and a solid contingency option in Thomas Hickey, the Isles’ fortunes on defense have the potential to reverse themselves from last season. Unfortunately, the team falls in short in depth, which underscores two things: the overall need for puck-moving defensive depth and the overall importance of Calvin de Haan and Lubomir Visnovsky to this team’s defense.