Looking at the Blueline: Can They Be Better?

 

One of the most widely accepted assessments of the 2011-12 Ottawa Senators is that its veteran players cannot be much worse than they were last season. Looking down the roster, it’s easy to see where that sentiment comes from. With perhaps the exception of Jason Spezza, it was a collective group of underachievers who were united in their suck.

Eventually when ownership and management decided to bite the bullet and acknowledge that a rebuild was necessary, a few of its recognizable veteran forwards were dealt away and substituted with younger players who provided better than replacement level value.

On the blueline however, it was a different story. Saddled with bad contracts, bad statistics made worse by poor goaltending and a coaching philosophy that Sergei Gonchar could only describe with a shoulder shrug, there wasn’t much Bryan Murray could do to shake things up beyond rewarding Chris Phillips with a 3-year extension… (wait, what?!)

One would think that in light of Brian Elliott’s underwhelming goaltending performance last season, logic would indicate that there could be some room for improvement since it’s likely that Ottawa’s blueliners had their plus/minus numbers driven down by shoddy save percentages last season.

Upon closer examination however, that rationale goes out the window.

Take a look at this three year sample size of the save percentages of the goaltenders while a particular defenceman was on the ice…

Player

2010-11

2009-10

2008-09

Matt Carkner

.921

.897

Sergei Gonchar

.913

—-

Erik Karlsson

.905

.897

Chris Phillips

.901

.907

.902

Brian Lee

.900

.899

.924

Filip Kuba

.883

.881

.931

With the exception of Phillips, everyone enjoyed higher save percentages than the season before. So wherein is the problem?

Statistic

2010-11

2009-10

2008-09

Power Play

17.5% (tied 15th)

16.9% (tied 20th)

19.5% (10th)

Penalty Killing

83.7%  (9th)

84.3% (8th)

81.5%

Goals Against

245 (25th)

233 (18th)

231 (15th)

Goals For

190 (29th)

220 (15th)

213 (23rd)

Shots For Per Game

29.0 (22nd)

29.7 (18th)

29.3 (16th)

Shots Against Per Game

31.2 (20th)

28.5 (4th)

28.5 (6th)

Looking at the numbers, Ottawa’s goals for and shot for per game numbers are down while their shots against per game saw a dramatic jump from the previous two seasons. When taken into context with each defenceman’s relative CORSI metric, it becomes pretty damning that the Senators are losing the puck possession battle.

Player

2010-11

2009-10

2008-09

Matt Carkner

6.8

-1.2

Erik Karlsson

5.1

7.6

Filip Kuba

-0.2

3.0

-1.3

Sergei Gonchar

-2.7

-0.8 (in Pit)

-2.6 (in Pit)

Brian Lee

-5.2

4.0

2.5

Chris Phillips

-11.0

-6.4

6.4

Per Hockey Prospectus, “Corsi refers to all the shot attempts for a player’s team, minus all the shot attempts against a player’s team when he’s on the ice. If we say a player had +7 Corsi for the game, he and his linemates gener­ated seven more shot attempts on goal than they gave up. In order to compare players regardless of the amount of time they played on the ice, we typically express the stat per 60 minutes of ice time. In this case, if our player was on the ice for 15 minutes of even strength time, he would record +28 Corsi/60 as his rate.”

From this three year sample size, a few things are obvious:

  1. Chris Phillips has declined in the puck possession game for three consecutive seasons.
  2. Interestingly, Karlsson’s possession numbers dropped from his rookie season. If he can improve on last year’s mark and maintain or improve his point totals, he could be in for an unbelievable season.
  3. Matt Carkner saw an improvement of 8.0 shots per 60 min between the past two seasons. There will probably be some regression there this season.
  4. Considering his positive shot differentials in his two previous seasons, Brian Lee’s Corsi is reflective of his pairing with Phillips. The two were counted upon heavily as the team’s shutdown pairing. Often playing against the opposition’s best line and receiving the bulk of the defensive zone starts.

Other Quick News and Notes

- According to any beat writer on Twitter who covered this morning’s practice, the injury to Peter Regin’s surgically repaired shoulder isn’t serious and he will play in the team’s first regular season game in Detroit.

- After some back and forth on Twitter, Bobby Butler is waiver exempt and could potentially be sent down to Binghamton. Why is this important? Well, judging by today’s lines at practice, Butler was skating on a line with Nick Foligno and Zack Smith. If he’s playing on any line that doesn’t feature Jason Spezza, it smells like a sophomore slump waiting to happen.

- At the October 11th home opener against the Minnesota Wild, the Senators will honour the inaugural 1992-93 team. Apparently they have invited Dave Archibald, Laurie Boschman, Neil Brady, Gord Dineen, Mark Freer, Jody Hull, Bob Kudelski, Jim Kyte, Mark Lamb, Darcy Loewen, Norm Maciver, Brad Marsh, Rob Murphy and Mike Peluso to join in on the festivities. Conspicuously absent from the list of invitees is Sylvain Turgeon. Hopefully the organization will find some way to bring his slick-backed mulleted awesomeness into the fold.

- Neglected to mention this the yesterday but the Senators have trimmed their roster down to a more manageable 29 players that includes the injured Jesse Winchester. Here is the list…

Goaltenders: Craig Anderson; Alex Auld.

Defencemen: Mark Borowiecki; Matt Carkner; Jared Cowen; Sergei Gonchar; Erik Karlsson; Filip Kuba; Brian Lee; Chris Phillips; David Rundblad; and Patrick Wiercioch.

Forwards: Daniel Alfredsson; Bobby Butler; Erik Condra; Stephane Da Costa; Kaspars Daugavins; Nikita Filatov; Nick Foligno; Colin Greening; Mike Hoffman; Milan Michalek; Zenon Konopka; Chris Neil; Peter Regin; Zack Smith; Jason Spezza; Jesse Winchester; and Mika Zibanejad.

To get down to the 23-man roster, the final round of cuts are expected to come on Saturday. My money is on Hoffman, Borowiecki, Daugavins, Rundblad and Wiercioch being sent down. With Winchester injured, I think they’ll keep Da Costa around as the extra forward. 

- TSN‘s Scott Cullen has published his 30 Teams in 30 Days feature on the Ottawa Senators.

- On the Senators’ splash page that welcomes fans to their website, Daniel Alfredsson is sporting the team’s new heritage jersey.

- NBC Sports’ Pro Hockey Talk looks at “two brutal early stretches that could doom the Senators in 2011-12“. Weird. Here I was thinking all this time that it would be the talent on the ice that would accomplish this. Ah well… 

- Here are the lines that were used during practice today:

Greening – Spezza – Filatov
Michalek – Zibanejad – Alfie
Foligno – Smith – Butler
Condra – Konopka – Neil

- Craig Anderson will play the full game tonight against the Bruins.

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