With Or Without You – The Jason Spezza and Erik Karlsson Effect

At Paul MacLean’s final media availability last week, he made an interesting comment about how the Ottawa Senators have established a goal to cut their goals against total by a cool 50 goals.

“Well I think we have to change our approach and find somewhere in between as a coach. But also, we have to get to what the identity (is) of our team. We want to be a team that plays fast and plays 200’ and works real hard to get the puck back when we don’t have it is what we have to add to our identity, but we have to get to that right away. We can’t be searching for it through training camp and searching for it through the first twenty or thirty games. We have to get to it right away. We have to work very hard defensively to get at least a minimum of fifty, preferably 50-plus goals, off of our goals against. And that puts us only at average in the league if we do that from 28th. So those are two important things that we feel that if we do those things, our penalty killing is going to be better, the amount of penalties that we take should be better and the way that we execute should be better and if we can focus on those things in our preparation into training camp and coming out of training camp, that’s going to give us a way better chance to be the type of team that we fill we are.”

No sweat.

As I wrote at the time, “according to NHL.com, the Senators gave up 265 goals this season. To reduce that number, MacLean mentioned the team’s lack of discipline. It will be interesting to see how the organization attempts to cut its penalty minute totals in half without clearing out the likes of Chris Neil, Zack Smith, Eric Gryba and Mark Borowiecki (on a one-way contract in 2014/15).

Even if the club does manage to cut 15 goals off this total via the penalty kill, if the Senators’ goaltenders improve the team’s save percentage from .907 to something closer to the league average (.914), it would trim another 19 goals from that total.

Where are the rest of the improvements going to come from?

Hopefully the answer to that lies in better players.”

One of the things I neglected to mention was an improvement in the quantity of goals given up whenever Erik Karlsson’s shifts coincided with those of the Jason Spezza line.

Using HockeyAnalysis’ data, it’s easy to see a stark contrast in Karlsson’s goals allowed per 20 minutes of ice time when he’s playing with Spezza (and his linemates) and everyone else on the team.

5 on 5 (Even Strength) GF/20 GA/20
Karlsson with Spezza 0.877 1.206
Karlsson without Spezza 0.876 0.802

The defensive abilities of both players have been focal topic of analysis for hockey pundits throughout the league over the past number of years, but when they were on the ice together last season, it was a recipe for disaster.

There is plenty of speculation concerning Spezza’s future with the organization, but should he move on or stay, the Senators can improve their goal differential by improving upon the 1.206 GA/20 rate that Karlsson and Spezza posted in the 547 minutes that the two players shared.

Whether that means bringing in another center or improving upon their own numbers to get closer to their 2011-12 season (0.859), it is reasonable to assume that Ottawa can improve their goal prevention in this one area.

Replacing Spezza and Karlsson’s 1.206 GA/20 rate with Karlsson’s 0.802 GA/20 rate without Spezza and you’re talking about a savings of 11 goals. Of course this kind of improvement could be offset by marked deteriorations in other “With or Without You” rates, but on the surface, it’s an area where Ottawa should be better.

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