Analysis: How Well Did Flyers Defenseman Perform?
During my recap of the Flyers’ overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, I asserted that the Flyers’ only competent defense pairing was Ivan Provorov and Tony DeAngelo and that the other defenders were utterly hopeless.
Shortly after I made this declaration, I encountered another piece of work done by Cam Charron. Hat-tip to him. He independently tracks and collects data from Canucks games, as well as Maple Leaf games and some other teams.
I decided to do something similar for the Flyers. In particular, I focused on the defensemen in the game.
More to the point, I tracked the Flyers’ defensemen’s ability to move the puck. Moving the puck from the backline was a focus of Chuck Fletcher’s in this offseason. This defense is built to be mobile and efficient at moving the puck up ice to less perilous territory than their defensive zone.
“We were defending all the time and that’s something we have to look at,” Fletcher said while talking about the struggles of last season. “We weren’t exiting the [defensive zone] well enough. So there are certainly things we have to look at in terms of our structure and details. We didn’t have the puck enough and when you defend all the time, bad things happen.”
So let’s see how they did in this game!
I tracked every time a defenseman touched the puck, and recorded the play that happened after the puck left their stick. Before I share the data, let’s get some basic housekeeping out of the way and go over the methodology I used while collecting this data.
In order for me to count the event as a puck touch, the puck had to have touched the defenseman’s stick. And there had to be some level of intent to actually play the puck.
A quick slap of the puck along the boards would count as a touch, just like carrying the puck over the blueline would count as a touch. But a puck tipping off of someone’s stick incidentally would not qualify as a touch.
After the defenseman had a qualified puck touch, I tracked what happened in the next play.
The first category I tracked was: clean passes.
It didn’t have to be a tape-to-tape connection, as that would be a pristine pass that is somewhat rare and therefore useless for counting purposes. It merely had to go from the defenseman’s stick to a teammate’s stick.
In essence, a clean pass is when a defenseman transfers control of the puck from himself to his teammate, without control ever being lost.
The second category I tracked was: turnovers.
My definition of turnovers is a lot less generous than the traditional hockey stat of “giveaways”. Any time a defenseman played the puck, and it resulted in the other team having control of the puck… it was counted as a turnover.
If a defenseman iced the puck, that was also counted as a turnover. If a defenseman passed the puck to a forward, and the forward ran into a wall of defenders, then that would not be counted as a turnover for the defenseman.
An individual turnover isn’t meant–for these purposes–to be something that someone gets dunked on over. Everyone, under this counting method, is going to have at least one turnover.
At its simplest, clean passes is continuing possession of the puck for your team. Turnovers are giving possession of the puck to the other team.
If you’re moving the puck well, you’re going to have a lot of clean passes and relatively few turnovers. If you aren’t, it’s going to be the exact opposite.
If your play resulted in clean possession for nobody, it was not recorded as anything except a touch. In this case, you neither continued possession for your team nor gave it to the other team.
If your play resulted in a shot on goal, that was tracked as a separate category. If the shot on goal was deflected by a forward’s stick, and still reached the net, that was still counted in these results as a shot on goal.
Special teams like the Power-Play and Penalty-Kill were tracked, because continuing possession in those instances is just as important as doing it during 5-on-5 play.
With that out of the way, here are the results for each defenseman.
- 45 Touches.
- 32 Clean Passes.
- 1 Shot on Goal.
- 6 Turnovers.
- 49 Touches
- 37 Clean Passes
- 5 Shots on Goal
- 2 Turnovers
- 20 Touches.
- 6 Clean Passes.
- 1 Shot on Goal.
- 5 Turnovers.
- 11 Touches.
- 3 Clean Passes.
- 1 Shot on Goal.
- 3 Turnovers.
- 10 Touches.
- 1 Clean Pass.
- 7 Turnovers.
- 26 Touches.
- 7 Clean Passes.
- 1 Shot on Goal.
- 13 Turnovers.
Ivan Provorov and Tony DeAngelo were fantastic at maintaining puck possession for their team, and their in-game stats like expected goal share would back that up. This pairing is performing like Fletcher was hoping the team would perform.
That showed for them in the micro stats of this game. Ivan Provorov finished with a 75% expected goal share and DeAngelo a near 70%, per Natural Stat Trick.
Travis Sanheim was abysmal by this tracking. His plays on the puck resulted in nearly as many turnovers as clean passes, and this is for a defenseman who is paid to move the puck exceptionally well.
If this is the Sanheim the Flyers get for the long-run of this season, they are simply not an NHL team. They are, at that point, AHL quality at best.
Speaking of AHL quality, the three remaining defenseman would all fall under that category if I were being generous.
Rasmus Ristolainnen had twice as many turnovers as he did clean passes.
Nick Seeler had a turnover on 70% of his touches. And there weren’t very many touches, likely for this reason.
Justin Braun did better than those two, but he still was a far cry from doing well in this category.
The Flyers, in this game, were not accomplishing their mandate of moving the puck out of their end more effectively with a mobile defense corps.
But, to be fair to them, they also relinquished the advantage of having a mobile defense corps when they stupidly sent Cam York to the AHL and stapled Yegor Zamula to the bench as soon as Ristolainnen returned.
What I failed to measure, alas, was the “Accountability/60” stat. And that, as immeasurable as it is, is far better than performing competently in hockey games.
Mandatory Credit: Flyers Twitter