Covering the WHL – with a focus on the Vancouver Giants – for the Nations. Helping feed your sea-to-sky boners. Follow my inane ramblings on Twitter @Thats_Offside.
With the playoffs underway, Shnarped has asked me to write a series of blogs looking at who the true modern “shutdown” forwards are from a hockey analytics perspective, and how coaches have used them to shut down rival stars in the playoffs. Today, we’ll start by looking at the two Pacific Division first round series: the Anaheim Ducks versus the Dallas Stars, and the San Jose Sharks versus the Los Angeles Kings.
If you’re unfamiliar with stuff like “Corsi” and “Fenwick,” I wrote an intro to “fancystats” for Shnarped here. We’ll also be using a couple more metrics to find out which players carry the heaviest defensive burdens for their respective teams, so before we dive in, we’ll first look how we can identify modern shutdown forwards.
For the most part, we can identify how coaches use players by looking at a couple of measures we call Quality of Competition (QoC or QualComp) and Zone Starts (ZS%). Quality of Competition is fairly self-explanatory: it’s the average “value” of the opponents a given player faces when they are on the ice. This “value” can be measured in a couple of ways. The version of QoC that I prefer to use is the same version that appears on ExtraSkater.com, which is Time on Ice (TOI) weighted Quality of Competition. Other analytics websites such as BehindTheNet.ca use Corsi to calculate QoC, while stats.HockeyAnalysis.com derives their own QoC measures. Using any is fine, but I prefer TOI QoC because it’s relatively simple and does the job quite well. A high TOI QoC means that a player generally plays against opponents who play big minutes for their respective teams, while a low TOI QoC could mean that a player probably played mainly against 3rd and 4th line players.
The next things we can look at for finding defense-oriented forwards are Zone Starts (ZS%). Certain coaches prefer to play certain players in different situations. If there is a defensive zone faceoff, a coach may be hesitant to throw his star forward over the boards, and instead opt for a more “reliable” option. By contrast, a coach may play the star forward every time there is a faceoff in the offensive zone. We can divide the number of offensive zone faceoffs a player is on the ice for by the total number of “zone starts” (all offensive zone faceoffs plus all defensive zone faceoffs, excluding neutral zone faceoffs) to find that player’s Zone Start percentage. A ZS% significantly above 50% indicates that a player was used in an offensive role, while a ZS% significantly below 50% indicates a very defensive role.
(1) Anaheim Ducks vs. (WC) Dallas Stars
|Ryan Getzlaf carries a heavy two-way burden for Anaheim|
Anaheim: With most of Anaheim’s depth forward group seeing rather sheltered deployment (high ZS% and a low QoC), coach Bruce Boudreau gives most of Anaheim’s defensive responsibility to Ryan Getzlaf and Saku Koivu. Koivu, along with his most frequent linemates Daniel Winnik and Andrew Cogliano, is easily Boudreau’s favourite defensive zone option, starting a team-low 44.6% of his shifts in the offensive zone and facing relatively stiff competition. Getzlaf also starts the majority of his shifts in the defensive end of the rink and sees higher QoC than any other Duck, while also spending a lot of time on the penalty kill. Despite this, Getzlaf still drives play in the right direction, and more significantly, piled up a Western Conference leading 87 points in the regular season. He’s absolutely deserving of being one of the three Hart Trophy finalists this year.
|Antoine Roussel has become one of Lindy Ruff’s favourite checkers, along with Ryan Garbutt and Cody Eakin|
Dallas: Lindy Ruff tends to go power-on-power, playing Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn against tough opponents. In the regular season though, Antoine Roussel, Ryan Garbutt, and Vernon Fiddler shouldered the majority of the load defensively, seeing heavy defensive zone deployments and significant penalty kill time. Cody Eakin also saw some defensive responsibility, and had fantastic results when replacing Fiddler as Garbutt and Roussel’s centre. When on the ice together, Eakin and Roussel had a 55.3% Corsi; an elite number as far as checking lines go.
Head-to-Head: There’s a very real difference between “playing good defense” and “hanging on for dear life.” Whenever he had the last change, Bruce Boudreau matched Ryan Getzlaf against Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. Getzlaf was hanging on for dear life. Benn and Seguin absolutely dominated this matchup, utterly wrecking Getzlaf to the tune of a 76% Corsi in the three games in Anaheim. Unfortunately for the Stars, they were done in on the road by some shaky goaltending from Kari Lehtonen.
Interestingly enough, Lindy Ruff made an effort to play the Roussel/Eakin/Garbutt unit against Getzlaf and Corey Perry when he had the last change despite Benn and Seguin containing Getzlaf quite well in games 1 and 2. Perry (and Getzlaf when he returned from injury) saw much more success against Ruff’s checking line, outplaying the Stars in the only games in which Ruff went out of his way to avoid the power-on-power matchup. Ironically, it looks like both coaches strategies resulted in them losing the matchups that they specifically wanted.
This series is also a good example that doing the little things that lead to winning hockey games in the long run don’t always lead to wins in the short run. You can win the majority of puck battles, play with intensity and be forceful, have strong systems and play a great 200-foot game and still lose 4 of 6 or 7 games. Goals are so rare in hockey that one broken stick or one bad bounce can alter the course of an entire series. Dallas probably played well enough to beat the Ducks, but instead Anaheim was able to take the series in 6 games. Hockey is just cruel sometimes. At least the young Stars’ future is extremely bright as Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Cody Eakin, Valeri Nichushkin, Brenden Dillon, Alex Chiasson, and Antoine Roussel are all just 24 years old or younger.
(2) San Jose Sharks vs. (3) Los Angeles Kings
|Logan Couture is San Jose’s lead penalty killer and a force at even strength|
|Anze Kopitar earned his first of many future Selke trophy nominations this year|