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Silver Nuggets: What's up with the Senators Penalty Kill?

Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Now that we're close to the quarter season mark, it's time to go through aspects of the Senators game -- the good AND the bad -- to try and figure how if we can infer anything about the team's chances for playoff success. Today, we're going to start with one of the more (surprisingly?) problematic aspects of the Senators game: the penalty kill.

SENS PK TEAM Statistics

PK%

CA/60

PKSV%

2015-16

75.8 (25th)

102.9 (25th)

0.837 (25th)

2014-15

82.9 (11th)

96.2 (15th)

0.886 (8th)

The table above documents the team's ability to kill off penalties successfully, their Corsi Against/60 (i.e. the number of shot attempts they allow in 60 minutes of penalty kill time) and the goaltender's save percentage on the penalty kill. In brackets are the team's rank league-wide. As you can see, 25 seems to be the magic number here and it's not pretty: there's a massive drop as the Sens have suddenly gone from an above-average team on the penalty kill in all metrics to a bottom-five team. Now, keep in mind that the team has only played 94:28 shorthanded (not counting the game vs. Columbus) this season, in comparison to 433:17 shorthanded last season, but this is still a worrying sign.

What gives? Isn't this basically the same personnel as last year, with the same coach and the same systems in place? Let's take a deeper look.

sens pk d

First, the defence. The new metric (HSCA%) is the percentage of high-danger scoring chances against that the team gives up with X player in the ice, as taken from the folks over at War On Ice. Let's go column by column. In comparison to last year, a now healthy Marc Methot and Jared Cowen have replaced the PK minutes taken up by borderline third-pair D, Eric Gryba and Chris Phillips. Talent wise, mainly because of Methot, this should be a net improvement. Mark Borowiecki's PK minutes are also way up, with Cody Ceci a little down and Erik Karlsson around his normal. Most of the Sens D have played a tiny bit of PK minutes, but I only included players who played at least 50 minutes on the PK last year in this table so that we could do this comparison.

The reason why we look at Corsi Against/60 (column 2) is because it's a more reliable indicator of how a unit is doing rather than just looking at goals against or PK% -- both of which are influenced by the ever-fluctuating on-ice percentages. As you can see, with the exception of Marc Methot, the team is getting absolutely pummelled. The best players in this metric at the end of the year usually hover around 60-70 CA/60, and no Senator is close to that. What's even more worrying is that even players who performed okay in this capacity last year (Karlsson, Cowen) are ~20 shot attempts worse per 60 this year. Now, again, none of these players have actually played a full 60 minutes of PK time yet so I'm hesitant to draw any conclusions, but yikes. The Sens do a little better in terms of high-danger scoring chances against -- with the exception of Erik Karlsson, the team is giving up around the same number as the #11th ranked PK unit did last year. Thus, perhaps the team is giving up a lot of attempts from the point and perimeter, but these aren't turning into much. Taken together with the team's PKSV% being .50 points worse than last year, and I expect to see that PK% rise. By how much? I don't know.

sens pk f

The forwards are where I'm a bit more concerned than the defence, as there was pretty significant change here. The removal of Erik Condra, one of the league's best penalty killers year-to-year, has had a measurable effect. The minutes of him and David Legwand have been absorbed mainly by Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Zack Smith, and Curtis Lazar. Mark Stone and Kyle Turris are used in spot duty, mainly because Cameron wants to keep them fresh to play 5-on-5 in offensive minutes after the penalty expires. Zack Smith and Milan Michalek are PK regulars and aren't doing so well in both CA/60 and HSCA/60 -- with the team really struggling with Michalek on the ice. What's not-so unexpected is young Curtis Lazar struggling. He's well above his years in terms of defensive capabilities -- most 20 year olds aren't sniffing the NHL -- but it's clear that he's overmatched on an NHL PK unit right now. On the flip-side, we know that Jean-Gabriel Pageau is expected to be a good penalty killer and has been his entire career (incl. junior and AHL) but features the worst CA/60 on the team! With the exception of Smith, Michalek, and Lazar -- the forwards are giving up relatively similar HSCA/60 as last year, but it hurts when 30% of your PK minutes are being taken up by players who aren't performing well.

How can this be changed? It's hard to say other than telling the current underperforming players to play better, but I'd immediately swap the minutes for Alex Chiasson and Curtis Lazar. Weirdly, one of Chiasson's strengths when looking at the metrics has been his defensive game and perhaps his long reach and big body, in addition to his well-improved acceleration, may be useful here. Chiasson's weakness is handling the puck, and he really doesn't have to do that on the penalty kill.

The systems for last year and this year are nearly identical, and the D are basically intact and should be a net positive in terms of skill because of Marc Methot. Thus, if I were the Senators coaching staff, I'd try to isolate work on the Senators forward units when killing penalties. I do expect the PKSV% to rise, especially because the team isn't giving up that many scoring chances against in comparison to last year and Craig Anderson is generally an effective goalie on the PK; hence, the PK% should go up.

[PK numbers from Hockey Analysis; scoring chance numbers from War on Ice]

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Sens Links

  • Your game coverage from last night's shutout win vs. #Lumbus. [Silver SevenWTYKYSensChirp]
  • Your goaltending-themed Bingo Bites from Jeff. *glances at Marcus Hogberg* [Silver Seven]
  • Nichols has a piece on what Patrick Wiercioch's trade value was at last year's deadline. Elliotte Friedman mentioned a deal to Colorado for now Arizona Coyotes D-man Stefan Elliott and a 3rd round pick. If the pick was in 2015, it may have been a decent deal as a lot of talent was still available at that time, but it definitely wasn't a deal that made the current Senators NHL team better right now, which is what Bryan Murray would want. Elliott, a CHL star for Saskatoon, as had a tough time transitioning to the NHL and has only suited up for 7 games for the 'Yotes this season. [6th Sens]
  • Despite last night's win, it's still been hard to be optimistic about this year's edition of the Senators. Callum goes through the reasons why. [Silver Seven]
  • One reason for this is due to shades of Paul MacLean in Dave Cameron's lineup choices. Rob has more. [Bonk's Mullet]
  • Another reason for this is due to the Senators porous defense for the first quarter of the season the last 9 years. Andrew has a post on what it may cost to change that. [WTYKY]
  • Two transcripts from Nichols, and both feature interesting tidbits from Sens GM Bryan Murray and AGM (and likely next-in-line) Pierre Dorion. As always, highly recommended reading. Chirp also chimes in on Bryan Murray's comments. [6th Sens - Murray6th Sens - DorionSensChirp]
  • With respect to prospects, Joe has a piece on the Senators "worst" draft pick. [Bonk's Mullet]
  • The biggest piece of Sens-related news this week comes from the scratching + subsequent calling out of Patrick Wiercioch and Jared Cowen. Ian Mendes (REC) has a piece on how the two players dealt with the situation. [TSN]
  • Peter's first column of the week goes through some important ECHL details that I didn't know until now. [Eye on the Sens]
  • His second touches on the Cowen issue, the NHL's battle with its advanced stats referencing this fascinating piece by Travis Yost, and a damning quote from BSens head coach Luke Richardson. [Eye on the SensTravis Yost]
  • League news as the NHL has decided to run with the fan-friendly 3-on-3 for the All-Star Game. Ross and I are salivating about ERIK KARLSSON AT FORWARD (in a unit with fellow star Atlantic Division defensemen, PK Subban and Victor Hedman). For any of you who watch American football, a wildcat formation with Karlsson and Subban would be so fun to watch. So fun. [Silver Seven]
Other Links
  • A wonderful piece from Alex over at Preds blog On the Forecheck that looks at which players have hurt their team the most in the penalty box. Two Senators make the maligned cut -- Chris Neil is NOT one of them. [On the Forecheck]
  • Some believe that the league should be more stringent when calling penalties, as more powerplays will help fix the league's current goal scoring issue. Sean McIndoe doesn't. [ESPN]
  • In lieu of the Senators Polish Heritage night, here's a wonderful story in the New York Times on a father and daughter's love for sports. [NYTimes]
  • Why is a young, first-pair defenseman signed to a cheap contract available? Find out all about the Travis Hamonic situation here. [Sportsnet]
  • The Buffalo Sabres playing semi-decent hockey has been the biggest surprise for me this year. How much does this have to do with Dan Bylsma? [TSN]
  • Sean Tierney, a friend of the blog (thanks for all your support!), wrote a great piece on Hockey Graphs on what determines coach salaries. [Hockey-Graphs]
  • Your end-of-Nuggets audio comes from the PDOcast, which discusses taking star players for granted. This is a concept that many of us know very well here in Ottawa. [PDOcast]

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Thanks for reading!