Monday, February 27, 2012

Taking a closer look at Blackhawks D & goals against

When players begin building up their time on ice (TOI), it's not surprising to see other stats rise as well, such as goals against or PIM. It's a given, really.

CORSI can give some good indications about performance, but when a team like Chicago has as poor a year defensively as they have this year, it brings up questions like: which D-man gives up the most goals? Who gives up the least? Are there certain players who are doing very well on defense who aren't seeing more ice time? How come your "best" defenseman gives up 7 goals in a single game and doesn't miss a single shift, never mind not getting benched for the next game - but a 5th/6th d-man gives up one bad play and gets benched for a period or becomes a healthy scratch? How come that second-year defenseman is being leaned on for so much TOI when he has the worst TOI-to-goals given up ratio on the team's blue line?

A couple weeks ago, I wrote an article for The Checking Line, asking why Sami Lepistö wasn't seeing more ice time when his historical CORSI and performance indicated he was more than capable of handling greater responsibility. With both Steve Montador and Niklas Hjalmarsson sidelined by injuries, Lepistö has finally gotten to play, yet his TOI remains low, despite a solid performance.

After a few very good wins, the Blackhawks have now strung together more losses, and it became time to revisit the team's defensive stats and to look at them from another angle: this time, to see which players get scored on the most, how frequently, and if their TOI is ever impacted by their defensive play (or lack thereof). The results look pretty interesting.

Here's the summary of goals against, by player. The graphic also illustrates average TOI between goals, compared to average TOI per game, and breaks down goals further to average goals scored against them per number of games played. (click on picture to open graphic in larger size if needed.)

Some interesting statistics that jump out when you look at the "goals against" in graphic (Excel spreadsheet) form:

- Nick Leddy has the most 4+ goals against game with four (three 4's and one 5). However, despite this, he's played all 64 games and has yet to be benched or scratched as a direct result of poor play.

- Nick Leddy has only had a 2+ "streak" of not being scored against twice: January 12-20 (5 games) and February 3 & 7 (2 games).

- Duncan Keith was on the ice for 7 of 9 goals against in the November 19th rout vs Edmonton. He, too, was not benched for poor play, and he played the next game as well.

- The longest stretch Keith has gone without a goal scored against him is 4 games. His best stretch of the year was December 14-30, when just 1 goal was scored against him in 8 games.

- Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Nick Leddy, and Niklas Hjalmarsson are averaging shorter TOI between goals than they average TOI per game, which means all of them average 1+ goal against them per game. Leddy's ratio is the worst of the four at 18.9 TOI between goals against. Should these figures be worrisome? Of course they should be; these guys are considered the top 4 defensemen on the team.

- Despite people complaining about Steve Montador's play, he has the second-best defenseman "minutes played" vs. "goals scored against" ratio, of 28.3 TOI vs goal scored against. He averages 14:57/game, so statistically, that equals 1 goal every second game, although you can see from the chart that he has just 5 games where 2 or more goals have been scored against him.

- Sean O'Donnell is the only defenseman who has posted at least 45 games played this season who has max 3 goals scored against him in a single game. O'Donnell and Montador have each had only one 3+ goals against them, both in the same game (the 11/19 blowout).

- John Scott is the ONLY defenseman who has not had more than one goal scored against him while on the ice. Granted, part of that is due to his very low TOI (just 6:56 avg).

-  Dylan Olsen and Sami Lepistö each have only one game that 2 goals have been scored against them. Neither has had a game where more than 2 goals were scored against them.

- Sami Lepistö has only been scored against in 6 of the 21 games he's played (for a total of 7 goals). Why is he not seeing more ice time?

To look at the game-by-game goals against in more detail:

Click on the graphic to see it in larger, more easily readable format if needed.

- Although Brendan Morrison is considered a "bust", he has had just 2 goals scored against him in 7 games playing for the Blackhawks, for an average 41.5 minutes played between goals.

- Likewise, Rostislav Olesz saw just 1 scored against him in 6 games with the Blackhawks before he was sent down to Rockford.

- Daniel Carcillo had a surprising 39.9 minutes between goals while he was on the ice in 28 games. He might have spent his share of time in the penalty box, but he wasn't letting goals in.

- Jimmy Hayes has one of the best ratios between  "minutes played" vs. "goals scored against" - 32.1 TOI at an average 11:51/game.

- While there was some buzz around "Bolland for Selke" that his CORSI numbers would certainly support, his "minutes played" vs. "goals scored against" average gives fuel against that argument.

As the Blackhawks continue to struggle, there must be more in-depth evaluation about the team's defensive flaws, and players' TOI must be adjusted to compensate. Early in the season, Tyler Seguin was a healthy scratch for Boston when his defensive play went South. He rebounded off the benching by becoming one of the best defensive forwards for the team throughout the middle of the season, sitting atop the league's +/- stat chart for most of the year. Would being a healthy scratch help motivate or change Nick Leddy or Duncan Keith? Will Niklas Hjalmarsson come back from his recent injury with a better perspective about his play? Can Lepistö finally be granted more ice time when he is consistently proving that he's making it very difficult for other teams to score on him?

Today is the trade deadline for the league. Big decisions need to be made, but the Blackhawks need to take a long, hard look in the mirror and find change within themselves. There is no "miracle player" out there who will magically transform this entire team by appearing on its roster after a trade; the team needs to fix that problem from within.

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