Last season one of the biggest issues with the Senators was their third pairing. It has been a consistent theme with previous renditions of the team, and coming into the 2016-17 season, I don’t think many people had faith in Mark Borowiecki (myself included).
While he hasn’t become an All-Star overnight, he’s been better than expected, and Ottawa’s third pairing hasn’t been the achilles heel it normally is.
With that in mind, can he actually keep this up under Guy Boucher, or is he due for some regression? I want to take a look at some of the numbers that Borowiecki has posted in order to get a clearer picture.
First of all, let’s go through his career numbers coming into this season:
His career corsi over 147 games was 46.5%, with a -4.2% corsi relative. Not only that, his corsi had progressively gotten worse each season from 48%, to 46.6%, to 45.2%. For comparison, from 2011-2016, he was 215th out of 242 defensemen in corsi, which is essentially sub-replacement level.
This year though, he has been much more respectable to begin the year. Not great, but good enough.
He’s second amongst Senators defensemen in corsi at an even 50%, behind only his partner Chris Wideman. His relative corsi looks even better at a rate of +2.4% because of Ottawa’s overall poor shot attempt numbers.
For someone like Borowiecki, you know he isn’t going to get you points. He has only three goals and eleven assists in 162 career games, with one of those goals being an empty-netter that famously “helped his corsi.” I certainly would not expect him to produce many shot attempts for, and he has not, with his CF60 (52.99) being in the middle of the pack on the team at 11th out of 19 skaters.
However, it is reasonable to ask that he limits shot attempts against. Luckily for Ottawa, he has actually done that. His identical rate of 52.99 for his CA60 ranks 4th on the Senators, and amongst defensemen that is 79th out of 180 defensemen in the league with at least 100 minutes. That is not spectacular by any means, but defensively he has been average, which is a massive improvement over last season.
One of the biggest differences I saw when doing some research on Borowiecki is how differently he has been deployed by Guy Boucher. Last year under Dave Cameron, Borowiecki was inexplicably 3rd on the team in defensive zone faceoff percentage at 36.8% (with Jared Cowen right behind him somehow).
This year though, it seems like Boucher recognizes his deficiencies. He has moved Borowiecki’s defensive zone faceoffs all the way down to 25.1%, which is fourth last on the team. Chris Wideman ranks last in this category, so it’s not surprising that the two of them have enjoyed a spike in shot attempt metrics.
I understand that starting Borowiecki in the offensive zone won’t really get the team to produce much offense, but that should certainly limit the amount of goals coming the other way.
I don’t typically like using anecdotal evidence in order to prove my point, but it does seem like Borowiecki hasn’t had as many bad turnovers or looked too far out of position either. There have been some nights where I did not even notice him on the ice, and for a defensive defenseman, that’s the best compliment.
Moving forward, I’m curious to see if Boucher continues to deploy him by limiting his time in the defensive zone, because it has been successful so far. The only thing is, while the 3rd pairing has been better than expected, the 2nd pairing has been a massive disappointment. Not everybody can be sheltered, and Dion Phaneuf and Cody Ceci have not been up to the challenge.
Considering that these 15 games constitute 9.26% of his entire career, I’m not going to say that he is all of a sudden an improved player. I do think though that it’s possible for him to look better under Boucher, and I hope that’s the case the rest of the way.
If the 2nd pairing doesn’t pick up its act and Borowiecki returns to career norms, then things could get ugly. But for now, he’s actually played well enough that keeping him in the lineup isn’t egregious like it was last season. Ottawa needs him to keep playing like this because the last thing they need is two pairings getting hemmed in their own zone every night.
With Thomas Chabot sent back to Junior, his job is fairly safe this season. However, for once he’s actually deserved the ice time.