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Silver Nuggets: It’s been six weeks. Should we worry about the offence?

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This week, your Silver Nuggets covers the pertinent stories from November and discusses whether we should worry about the offence or not.

NHL: Ottawa Senators at Philadelphia Flyers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

During training camp, Guy Boucher noted that we should reserve judgment on the team until the season was about six weeks in. As a blogger and analyst, I too found it hard to evaluate players and project performance based on past statistics without having a better idea on the effect of a new coaching staff. But now, the promised day (week?) has come.

The Sens are 18 games in, and with a record of 10-7-1, find themselves just outside a playoff spot with 21 points. They have a winning record at both home and on the road — buoyed by a 3-0 record in the shootout — and have the league’s third best PK%, but second worst PP%. Their 46 goals against are fewer than all of the other non-playoff teams in the Eastern Conference, but their 40 goals for only rank above Buffalo. Should the team that ranked 9th in goal-scoring last year worry about the offence?

At the thirteen game mark, Trevor wrote about the Sens team stats and pointed out that despite some improvements in shots against totals, he was worried about the team’s shot metrics. Of course, as soon as you mention the Sens offence, you have to bring up the team’s best offensive player: Captain Erik Karlsson. When Darren looked into his shot numbers, he too found that they were down, although he ended with this:

Callum had the opportunity to talk to Guy Boucher about why he thinks the offence is struggling, and the team’s head coach had an interesting response:

The question that I wanted to examine is: when we look at the team’s rate stats, are we seeing notable differences in individual player performance from last year to this year? If we don’t, then I’m not as worried and regardless, I think that the team’s luck at 5-on-5 will change. However, if there are some noticeable changes, then it begs the question whether Boucher’s “tightening up” defensively is also “tightening up” the offence.

The table below looks at the shot attempt numbers (measured by Corsi via HockeyAnalysis) for each player under Dave Cameron’s Sens (2015-16) and Guy Boucher’s Sens (2016-17). I compared Derick Brassard directly to Mika Zibanejad because that’s the role he’s playing; ditto for Tom Pyatt vs. Curtis Lazar. The Sens 4th line centre position was filled by many players last season, so I left Chris Kelly’s 2016-17 numbers as is.

For the record, average score-adjusted CF60 and CA60 numbers are around 54. A green highlight means that the player’s 16-17 numbers are better than their 15-16 numbers while a red highlight is the opposite. Blocks of yellow mean that the player’s results were in the middle — within +/- 2 shot attempts — of their 15-16 numbers.

Sens shots

A couple of notes:

  • This isn’t the first time where a 2011 Sens draft pick held up Chris Neil and the 4th line before being shipped away. The team leader in generating shot attempts for per 60 AND preventing shot attempts against per 60, Matt Puempel was playing pretty well against poor competition and ‘meh’ linemates. Now, this isn’t to say that we should immediately regret putting him on waivers — there are other players who can play his minutes, have similar results, and also chip in with some points — but taken together with the facts that a) the rest of the bottom-six was pretty mediocre and b) the Sens have a hard time identifying good depth players, it’s going to sting a little. It’s also worth noting that despite zone starts not really having that big of an impact on shot numbers, things are exacerbated in small samples. Puempel and Neil had the most ‘offensive’ zone usage through this point of the season.
  • Surprise, surprise. Ryan Dzingel shows up well here, too. The chart of Sens forward ice-times from Micah at HockeyViz clearly shows Dzingel’s meteoric rise, and I’m glad it’s coincided with Pyatt’s time decreasing. Some, including myself, have been worried that Pyatt would be come Guy Boucher’s version of Mark Borowiecki, but when the coach made a comment that “some players have been playing above their capability in terms of ice-time”, I’d like to think it was about Pyatt.
Forward ice-time
  • We’ve been harping on Derick Brassard a bit, especially with Zibanejad catching fire in New York, but the veteran forward has been an improvement on Mika’s 2015-16 numbers both offensively and especially defensively. Meanwhile in the top-six, Mark Stone is trending positively and Mike Hoffman is trending negatively.
  • What’s worrisome, to me, is that Kelly and Pyatt are playing regular minutes on this team despite being crushed at 5-on-5. Pyatt, in particular, doesn’t appear to be all that different than 2015-16 Lazar — a player who we all thought struggled mightily but is way younger. Pyatt and Kelly are known for their defence but are giving up the most amount of shot attempts against by a fair margin. Many will respond with “at least the PK is good!” but, in my view, there are capable bottom-sixers who are good at the penalty kill and can reasonably play depth minutes at 5-on-5. You need both to have an effective player if they’re in a penalty kill role.

All-in-all, when we’re looking at shot metrics, we’re seeing a mixed bag when comparing Cameron and Boucher’s Sens. Derick Brassard is a possession advantage over Mika Zibanejad and Ryan Dzingel is amazing, but it appears that there’s a limit on what coaching can do to the performance of certain players.

Of course, shots aren’t everything. We pay attention to shots because they’re generally better predictors of future goal scoring. If we use Corsica’s expected goals metric, a better tool than just plain scoring chances, do we see a struggling offence?

Green means that, when the player was on the ice, the team should have performed better (scored more goals OR prevented less goals) than what we’re actually seeing right now — measured by comparing xGF/cGA60 to GF/GA60.

sens xG

Here, we see that every forward should’ve actually scored more, outside of Ryan Dzingel. Goals against, like shot attempts against, seem to be a mixed bag, with some forwards faring well (Brassard, Dzingel) and others not so much (Smith, Ryan, Stone). It’s here where we maybe see why Pageau, Pyatt, and Kelly have been put together by Boucher often — they’re currently not getting scored on at all at 5-on-5 with the lowest GA60 rates on the team. However, we’d expect Pageau and Pyatt to be on the ice for more goals against — hence the red — so don’t expect that trio to last.

What’s mildly concerning to me when I look at the goal metrics especially is the struggle of Kyle Turris and Mike Hoffman at 5-on-5 early on this year. If you compare their xGF60 and their xGA60 metrics, both are expected to be giving up more goals than they are scoring — something that’s rare for offensive players. Even the venerable Mark Stone has struggled to start the year at 5-on-5, posting the team’s highest xGA60 (but at least it’s counteracted with a strong offensive number). Hoffman, Turris, Stone were dynamite in limited minutes last year, and although all three have had some form of injury troubles over the last season, the team’s 5-on-5 play would benefit a lot if they start to generate more chances in the offensive zone than what they’re giving up defensively.

In sum, I think it’s safe to say that the team will start scoring more readily than they have through the first ~20 games of the season. However, the trends here note that the organization may have banked too much on Boucher and co. to change the performance of certain players. If you’re baking a cake, sure you can add some different toppings, or substitute types of milk. But, when it comes down to it, a cake is a cake.


Sens Links

  • We have a fair bit to cover here, but let’s start with the game recaps since the last Nuggets. Fun fact: the Sens have scored less than 2 goals in regulation in each of these games. First, the group’s Saturday night loss to Buffalo on Nov. 5 [Silver Seven, SensChirp, Ottawa Citizen]
  • The team’s been dismantled by Nashville twice during this stretch. Here’s the recaps from the better (?) of the two losses, a 3-1 final score. [SensChirp, Ottawa Citizen]
  • Things were different the next time the team played the Buffalo, as the 2-1 score was reversed in Ottawa’s favour. [Silver Seven, SensChirp, Ottawa Citizen]
  • The team’s most memorable game of the year so far came against the LA Kings, where Kyle Turris and Mark Stone turned a 1-0 third period deficit into a 2-1 last minute regulation win. [Silver Seven, SensChirp, Ottawa Citizen]
  • Potential (?) head coach Bruce Boudreau had the last laugh when his Wild beat Boucher’s Sens 2-1 on a Sunday afternoon matinee. [Silver Seven, SensChirp, Ottawa Citizen]
  • But the team rebounded nicely against the Flyers, with Erik Karlsson and his crew killing off four penalties and the Captain notching the shootout winner. [Silver Seven, SensChirp, Ottawa Citizen]
  • Next, the worst game of the year: A 5-1 drubbing at the hands of P.K. Subban and the Predators. Thankfully, we don’t have to play them again, unless it’s in the Cup final. [Silver Seven, SensChirp, Ottawa Citizen]
  • We end our game coverage with the most frustrating game of the year, but for a completely different reason. A 4-1 loss to the Panthers on what was the Sens best offensive game this season. [Silver Seven, SensChirp, Ottawa Citizen]
  • Funnily enough, the BSens have mirrored the big club in a number of ways. They do have a losing record at 5-8-1 though, and their goals against aren’t as good as Ottawa’s. They have broken out recently for two wins in their last three, included back-to-back games of 5+ goals! Even with that, their offensive output of 34 goals is the worst in the league. Read all about it thanks to Jeff’s excellent game coverage (highlights are embedded)! [v. WBS Pens, v. Rochester, v. Providence, v. Springfield, v. St. John’s, v. Albany, v. Hartford, v. Bridgeport]
  • The Citizen also covered the BSens while Lazar was there. Here’s a piece on their offensive outburst from this past weekend. [Ottawa Citizen]
  • Outside of the goaltenders, who have both been called up to Ottawa at some point this season due to injuries and Craig Anderson’s uncertain situation, there have been a good amount of forward recalls. Mike Blunden, Max McCormick (current), and Curtis Lazar (current) have all been with the Sens, while Freddie Claesson filled in admirably when Chris Wideman was injured. [Silver Seven - McCormick recalled, Lazar recalled; Ottawa Citizen]
  • Speaking of Craig Anderson, here’s a great piece from Trevor on his play this season. Many, including myself, thought that this would be the year that he would decline. He’s proving us wrong so far. [Silver Seven]
  • The ‘tender that’s lost out the most this season is 2014-15’s saviour, Andrew Hammond. After rejecting a conditioning stint, the 28yo found himself forcibly assigned to Binghamton through waivers. Hammond’s only played 4 periods so far this season, so Dorion and co. want to see him get some games under his belt so he’s ready when Craig Anderson departs again. One of Chris Driedger or Matt O’Connor (my money is on the latter) will be sent down to the ECHL soon. [Silver Seven, 6th Sens, Ottawa Citizen]
  • On the flipside, who’s gained the most? Ex-Habs and Pens goalie Mike Condon, who was acquired in the first trade of the season and finds himself getting praised left right and centre. Here’s Callum on Condon’s NHL fight. [Silver Seven]
  • If you’re tired of hearing about the goaltending situation, then boy do I have another complicated kerfuffle for you. Much of the talk over the last couple of days has been about Matt Puempel. After 6 points in 52 games over the last three seasons, the Senators tried to sneak the former first-round pick through waivers. Well, he managed to get through almost all of the games, but was selected by the New York Rangers, possibly to replace ANOTHER former first-round pick, Mika Zibanejad, who was injured over the weekend. The fact that the Rangers were the team to claim Puempel brought back a lot of feelings about Zibanejad’s fantastic start and Brassard’s.... not so great start, leading to some interesting discussions in the Sens community. [Silver Seven - Puempel on waivers, Puempel claimed; 6th Sens - waivers, Puempel claimed; Ottawa Citizen]
  • To understand the context of these complex situations (Hammond, Puempel), it’d likely be helpful to hear Pierre Dorion’s rationale. Well, now you can! [Silver Seven]
  • Okay, last negative thing, I promise. It was released earlier in the month that the Sens won’t be hosting an outdoor game on Parliament Hill in 2017, and as always, Eugene Melnyk got a bit defensive. * is a must read. [Silver Seven - Outdoor game announcement, Melnyk doesn’t get it*; 6th Sens - Importance of outdoor game, Thoughts on Melnyk, WTYKY, Ottawa Citizen]
  • Want to hear about something positive (!)? Check out Trevor’s (!) piece on Mark Borowiecki (!!). [Silver Seven]
  • Here’s a piece from the Citizen on the Sens improved PK unit. [Ottawa Citizen]
  • Peter weighs in on some Sens news and gives all of us a much needed prospect update. [Eye on the Sens]
  • A guest post over at the 6th Sens on the Sens attendance numbers early on. Things are...(you guessed it)...down. Rob weighs in on this topic as well. [6th Sens, Bonk’s Mullet]
  • An interesting nugget: Guy Boucher isn’t a fan of morning skates. [Ottawa Citizen]
  • Joe writes about the cynicism in the fanbase, noting that despite the negativity circulating, the team is exactly where we expected them to be. [Bonk’s Mullet]
  • An update on Nicholle Anderson’s situation, from both the Sens and the Citizen here. [Ottawa Senators, Ottawa Citizen]
  • The Ups and Downs series is valuable in tracking our thoughts on players on a week-to-week basis. Do you agree or disagree? [Silver Seven - Ups and Downs Week 4, Ups and Downs Week 5]
  • Not a fan of reading but have some time to listen? Trevor has Shaila Anwar on to talk about the season thus far, while Callum and Alec speak to Jamie McLennan about the Sens, Leafs, the goaltending situation(s), and early season trends. [Cost Per Pointcast, Battle of Ontario]