After saying something positive about most of the forwards on the team in Wednesday's Nuggets, it's time to put on our optimist lenses and look at the Senators defensemen. My half-season cutoff for defensemen only leaves out Chris Phillips, but out of sheer fondness, I'll say something nice about the Big Rig too (just not about his on-ice play). Feel free to join in with your thoughts in the comments!
Before we begin, I think it's important to quickly note what I "count" as good defense. It's pretty hard to evaluate and we don't technically have the right numbers to quantify it yet in my opinion (unless someone takes on a massive tracking project like Manny and Ryan are doing here).
For me, good defense involves a) the ability to solve problems with the puck in the defensive zone and move the puck up the ice promptly with control (by skating or passing for a zone exit), b) the ability to deny the opposition clean entries into the zone with control, c) the ability to generate play in the neutral zone which leads to controlled entries for and d) the maintenance of offensive pressure with smart decisions at the point.
It's extremely rare to have a defenseman who meets ALL of these requirements, but if they can do these things at an average or above-average level, they're good.
Given my criteria, you can probably see why I rate Karlsson so highly and think that he'll be a perennial Norris candidate for a long time. He logs a TON of minutes (tweet below), is one of the best in the league at zone exits (by both clean passes + skating), and can generate entries like a machine (video below). Karlsson is also amazing at generating scoring chances for the Senators - which everyone knows - but the tweets below from Richard documenting Karlsson's scoring chances in 2015 are something else.
Karlsson has averaged 29:33 of ice time over the last 7 games in 11 nights. 30+ minutes in 4 out of 7.— Subcommander Adnan (@sens_adnan) April 8, 2015
EK's SC +/- of 129 since Jan 1st is more than twice any other Norris candidate. Doughty closest at 55, then the drop off is steep.— Richard McCrae (@richardmccrae) April 10, 2015
Karlsson has the 3rd lowest scoring chances against/60 of D who have played more than 800min in 2015. 2nd highest SCF/60— Richard McCrae (@richardmccrae) April 10, 2015
Defenseman Erik Karlsson has a better CA/60 than: Jay Bouwmeester Dennis Seidenberg Brent Seabrook Shea Weber Andrei Markov Ryan McDonagh— Luke Peristy (@LukePeristy) April 10, 2015
Though I think Karlsson was fantastic all year (you try playing with three replacement-level players), Marc Methot immediately helps the Senators by bringing dependable, top-four calibre defense night in and night out. Something to notice about Methot is that he's mobile enough to cover the width of the ice in a hurry, which allows Karlsson to take more chances offensively because he knows Methot can buy some time in the neutral zone for Karlsson to hurry back. The next time Karlsson pinches down low, take a look at where Methot is - he's likely not in the frame. Thus, I don't think he "stabilizes" Karlsson as much as he allows Karlsson to be the player that he can be.
I don't think it's any coincidence that the Senators have had their best stretch of hockey with Wiercioch the LD option alongside Cody Ceci on the second-pair. Wiercioch currently leads the team in Corsi Rel, a measure of a player's ranking on the team in terms of shot attempt differential, and by a fair margin too. I think being spoiled by Erik Karlsson has led us to believing that to be an offensive defenseman, you have to be quick, fast, and flashy. Thus, when we think of Wiercioch, we don't really *see* anything, but I think it's because we're looking at the wrong things. Going back to my "good defense" criteria, Wiercioch barely spends any time in the defensive zone because he's making smart passes out of the zone, and because there are SO MANY passes in an individual game, I don't think we pick up on it often. Wiercioch is also a victim of his size (6'5) being used against him as well, but again, it's because we're looking for physical play instead of considering how Wiercioch uses his large wingspan to stick check his opponents.
One of only 14 (!!) defensemen in the NHL that's 20 or under, Ceci's already a success by even being in the NHL at this point. Interestingly, 12 of the 14 are also first-round picks, and among those, Ceci has the 4th best even-strength point totals with 16 of his 21 points coming at even-strength. He's still learning, and given his performance in the NHL thus far, I'm willing to give the Ottawa native a ton of leeway.
What else can you say about the Kanata boy other than that he's a warrior that exemplifies the way Bryan Murray wants the Senators to play. A positive for me is that his toughness may keep Neil (and eventually Smith) out of the lineup, as Borowiecki will always be willing to answer the bell. He has some things to work on, like exiting the zone with control, but I don't think he's going to hurt the team much as the 6th/7th defenseman (which reflects his current ice-time under Cameron). Out of all the third pairing options that you'll see below, Borowiecki is also the most mobile, and has used that speed to get himself out of trouble a couple of times this season.
After Methot, Wiercioch, and Karlsson, Gryba gives up the least amount of shots against and scoring chances against/60 on the team. I don't think he's been as effective this season in terms of preventing controlled entries against, but Gryba's work on the penalty kill has been solid, and he currently sports the second-best Corsi Against/60 among Sens defenders on the PK.
It's been a rough season for the hulking blueliner, but (surprisingly), Cowen is the best Senators player at preventing shot attempts on the penalty kill, and by a fair margin too. He was likely put in an unfair position against top competition when he was playing, as it's not easy to play against the first or second lines of NHL teams, but like in Ceci's case, that may have been the first-round draft pick pedigree setting unrealistic expectations for Ol' Cowen.
This tweet from yesterday made me so sad.
YES!!!— Chris Phillips (@CPhillipsFour) April 10, 2015
But good on Phillips supporting his teammates. I can't even begin to imagine how hard it must be to come to the realization that you aren't able to support your teammates on the ice like you used to -- for many athletes, that's what they take the biggest pride in, and is the hardest thing for them to deal with after retirement. A lot is still up in the air with Phillips, and he still has another year remaining on his contact, but I know that I'll never forget some of the memories the Big Rig gave us.
- Only one game since our last check-in, but wowee was it significant. Andrew Hammond's third shutout of the year helped the Senators beat the Rangers 3-0. [Silver Seven, Rank the Performances, Ottawa Citizen, SensChirp, SenShot]
- Amelia discusses the Frozen Four, and the two games yesterday were good ones. The Providence Friars and the Boston University Terriers play on the weekend for the National Championship. [Silver Seven]
- There's a realllllly important game tonight that Sens fans should be invested in. Ross tells you who's playing and what we want to happen. [Silver Seven]
- Stefan Wolejszo, operator of the fantastic Stories Numbers Tell website, has a guest post on the 6th Sens about the Sens goaltending situation and what the future may hold. [6th Sens]
- Click through for the picture, stay for the laughs. [Bonk's Mullet]
- For more on Mark Stone, the Citizen goes through the fantastic stretch (8 game point streak is a Senators rookie record) the young forward is having. [Ottawa Citizen]
- Varada talks about the surreal run and reflects on it in an eloquent way that sums up how I'm feeling right now as well. Trevor goes through the playoff probabilities by date to put how far we've come in perspective. For a timeline of the ENTIRE season, check out the Ottawa Citizen link. [WTYKY, SenShot, Ottawa Citizen]
- Chris Wideman has won the Eddie Shore award for the AHL's top defenseman. You're telling me that he couldn't get a sniff on this blueline, especially over what's currently being played on the 3rd pair? [SenShot]
- Your end-of-Nuggets audio comes from the folks over at Sens Callups as they react to the week's games. [Sens Callups]