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Silver Nuggets: On Mika Zibanejad and ice-time

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Zero points in five games is certainly not a "good" thing, but I don't believe it's a cause for worry yet. Recently, the Citizen wrote a column on Paul Maclean's post-practice conversation where he was asked about the Ryan - Zibanejad - Chiasson line, and I highly recommend you read one (or both) of the links above before continuing, though I will highlight the main argument below.

We feel that right now after five games they haven't produced all the offence but it's five games. Over the course of a season they're going to take turns, people producing more offence than the other group is. Defensively, putting them on the ice, putting them in situations on the power play, eventually they're going to produce offence. At this point in time we're not upset, we think they're playing fine. They have to work together. Having Mika's speed through the middle is going to be very important for anyone. The Turris group doesn't play well if Turris isn't through the middle, same with the Smith group. If no one is going through the middle of the rink nobody is going to have any success. The big thing for them is somebody has to be going through the middle of the rink, it's not always going to be Mika. It's going to be Bobby sometimes and it may have to be Alex sometimes and that's just the thing of getting to know one another and sorting out who's going to go in do that.

The bolded emphasis is mine and it's there for two reasons. Zibanejad has certainly put on a lot of muscle this season (~215 lbs) and though his top speed as stayed the same, I've found that he's a little bit slower to get moving when transitioning from defensive zone to the neutral zone, and eventually to the offensive zone. This, combined with the fact that none of the players on this line are "passers" AND that most passes will be received on their backhand because they're all right-handed shots, can be a bit of an issue for them. Eden over at the Storied Sens has a great post this week that I think you should read, and it touches on the context of this issue. Ryan is a weird fit because he's generally not a neutral zone carrier, and instead, focuses on getting open in the offensive zone. However, as Eden points out, if the line is starting most of their shifts in the defensive zone, Ryan can't do that. Manny has been tracking the Sens zone entry and exit stats for the first five games of the seasons, and he goes more into detail on the backhand passing issue. The final result? The Senators are only controlling 39.3% of the entries with Zibanejad on the ice this season, compared to 48.6% last season. Again, only five games, but I think that with more favourable zone starts OR mixing up the line combinations such that someone like Mike Hoffman (left-hand shot) plays with Zibanejad and Ryan could help in order for the line to play with the speed MacLean wants them to play at.

Of course, this moves Alex Chiasson down the lineup even though he's fared well so far, but here's why I don't think that's much of an issue.

From Ken Warren's Five Takes:

According to MacLean, the pre-game plan allots 15 minutes to each player and their play dictates whether more or less is deserved. It’s hard to keep everyone happy, but it’s also hard to complain when you’re winning. "You’ve got a couple of guys down in the nines and 10 (minutes), but for the most part you’re at 15 minutes across the board," said Bobby Ryan, who checked in at 15:14 Thursday. "That’s helping us win games right now. I think versatility is a good word. I think resilience is a good word. A lot of guys who are used to playing 12-13 (minutes) are coming up, a lot of guys who are used to playing 18-19 (minutes) are coming down."

I've been pretty happy with ice-time distribution so far this season, and if everyone is going to roughly get 15 minutes anyways, moving Chiasson down won't really have a big impact on the overall play of the team. Now, I don't know if the top minute guys are very happy with this as I know that I would much rather have Kyle Turris and co. playing an extra three minutes instead of Zack Smith and David Legwand, but maybe this is the reason for the whole "we have to find ways to win by committee" this year. It wasn't about Jason Spezza, it was about ice-time distribution. This also touches on my next and final point.

My issue with MacLean's "finding a way to win" statement that he commonly says is that I think a lot of it just has to do with luck and goaltender save percentages, although he's obviously not going to come out and say "yeah this win was great but it's going to go downhill soon!". However, there's no way Anderson and Lehner can keep up their numbers (.939, .950 sv% respectively) if they're asked to face 35+ shots a night, even if they both "like it", and though limiting shots to the outside sounds good, the Senators have still been outchanced on most nights. As we've seen with numerous case examples over the past 3-4 years, if you're not winning the possession battle, the goal against and then wins numbers are going to follow suit, especially with the Senators in a plethora of one-goal games so far. However, it HAS only been five games, which is why I'm not worried about this, nor the play of the Zibanejad line yet, and MacLean has made some strong lineup decisions and handled ice-time well. Let's just hope that the shots against total comes around. It's a good sign that the team is more aware of it this year, despite their winning.

From MacLean:

I think we're still teaching and we're carrying over training camp and identifying parts of our game we need to work on. Today was another example of it and the forechecking aspect of our game, we feel that we could do a better job. If we do a better job there we don't have to work as much at our end. We look at our first five games — 40 shots twice, 38 shots once, 37 shots another game, one game is 30 shots. We haven't been under 30 shots in one of the five games. We can analyze the games and we can say they're easy shots or they're not scoring chances but their scoring chances are a higher number than we want them to be so those, moving forward, concern us and we have to work at our game and not just say we're 4-1, everything is going to be good. We understand there's still lots of things in our game we need to work at and become more consistent at.

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Sens Links

  • ICYMI, the Senators beat the #Lumbus Blue Jackets on Saturday. [Silver SevenRank the PerformancesMacLean's thoughtsOttawa CitizenSensChirpSenShot6th SensSenStats]
  • A nice story by Ken Warren on the hero from Game 5, Mike Hoffman. [Ottawa Citizen]
  • If you were wondering who the Senators are playing this week, B_T has you covered! [Silver Seven - Week Ahead]
  • SensChirp has a look ahead to the next two practice days, and the Leafs game on Wednesday. [SensChirp]
  • A column on the Senators fast start to the season, as they have definitely taken advantage of a weaker schedule to begin the year - especially in comparison to last year - and it has the players optimistic. Lots of notes and tidbits in here. [Ottawa Citizen]
  • Some more Methot contract conversation. This is inevitable since he's the last major UFA left to be re-signed (Erik Condra weeps somewhere), and supposedly Methot has set his price around $5M, whereas the Sens have offered $4.7M but feel that they've conceded on the term of the deal. [6th Sens]
  • Our weekly question for this week is generating some great discussion - would you trade for Jeff Petry? [Weekly Question]
  • George and Matty continue Bonk's Mullet new feature, where they go through teams and argue: "it could be worse". This time, the Oilers edition. [Bonk's Mullet]
  • I touched on this last week with a Detroit Free Press article, but Sheer_Craziness goes into more detail on what would happen if Alfie retires. [Silver Seven]
  • Here's Eden's piece on chemistry and the Ryan - Zibanejad - Chiasson line. [The Storied Sens]
  • Some fantastic analysis from Manny, who has been tracking every Sens game so far, and has his thoughts after five games. Occasionally, I'll be adding in Manny's stats into this feature, so look out for it soon! [SenStats]
  • Here are your prospect updates! The Senators have started to release their Monday updates. [Ottawa Senators]
  • Ian looks into the BSens games played this past week and has his thoughts on certain BSens players! [Silver Seven]
  • Now here's Jeff with his great BSens coverage, who keys in on the fact that even though the BSens lead the AHL in shots for (~42), they also lead the league in shots against (~41). [SenShot (Syracuse), SenShot (Portland)]
  • Mike Wheeler + Capital_Gains65, who was featured on a Sportsnet broadcast, look at name pronunciations. [Bonk's Mullet]
  • Those in Ottawa will know more (be more excited?) about this, but as of right now I'm pretty skeptical. Supposedly, the Senators have submitted an arena proposal for the LeBreton Flats area. [6th Sens]
  • Here's week two of a beloved Silver Seven feature - Ups and Downs! Sheer_Craziness takes us through it. [Silver Seven]
  • I knew that Bryan Murray was battling cancer, but didn't know that it was keeping Assistant Coach Mark Reeds out as well. Wishing them the best, as the NHL's "Hockey Fights Cancer" month definitely has a local focus this time around. [Ottawa Citizen]
  • Lastly, go listen to the thing I'm listening to right now! Episode 12 of the Chet Sellers & Luke Peristy podcast. [Silver Seven]
Sports Links
  • Travis Yost with a nice tactics piece on TSN, this time on the Predators zone-entry defense. [TSN]
  • A great look at how BVB keeps their prices down despite fielding a very competitive roster in the Bundesliga. [BBC]
  • A look at modern hockey scouting through an interview with Soo Greyhounds scout, Victor Carneiro. [Hockey In Society]
  • The folks over at Canucks Army are trying to quantify the effect that defensemen have on goaltender save percentage. Here's a glimpse. [Canucks Army]
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Thanks for reading!