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Mark Borowiecki’s Surprisingly Solid Start to the Season

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People have been talking about how well Mark Borowiecki has played to begin the season, and the numbers back that up in a very strong way

NHL: Preseason-Ottawa Senators at Winnipeg Jets Terrence Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Whenever talk about advanced stats come up, Mark Borowiecki is typically not discussed in a positive light. For the majority of his career, his numbers are not great, despite eye-test proponents advocating for his ability to lay down hits and block shots.

Borowiecki has been a polarizing figure for years, and now that he has a two-year contract extension, we’ll have to live with the fact that he’s here to stay, whether we like it or not.

The good thing for someone like myself is that he has played well in the first nine games of the season, making the new contract easier to stomach. It’s not that he has only made a few great plays that were noticeable either...The numbers back up the eye test for once. I have always been the first one to criticize Borowiecki’s mistakes, but I also have to give credit where credit due: he has had a surprisingly solid start to the season.

I remember noticing him do a few things well in the first handful of games, but when I went to look at the numbers, I did not expect them to actually be very good. Here are his team ranks for some helpful stats:

Borowiecki Stats

Stats Value Team Rank
Stats Value Team Rank
CF% 50.77% 1st
CF% relative 9.16% 1st
FF% 60.14% 1st
SF% 60.58% 1st
xGF% 58.95% 2nd
xGF% relative 17.47% 2nd
GF% 33.33% 18th
PDO 90.13 18th
xPDO 99.76 10th
dZS% 29.91% 8th
http://corsica.hockey/skater-stats/

If you’re confused as to what I’m citing, don’t fret. The stats listed are corsi, fenwick, shots, expected goals, goals, PDO (SH%+SV%), expected PDO, and defensive zone start percentage. The first four categories are incredible, as Borowiecki is first in all of them.

A 50.77 CF% isn’t that special on its own, but because Ottawa has been a poor corsi team so far, it’s actually very impressive. And because he blocks so many shots, his fenwick looks even better, with Senators shots being able to get through much more often.

The expected goals stat is interesting, because his 58.95% means that not only have the Senators been winning the possession battle with him on the ice, they’ve also been getting better quality shots. Now, Borowiecki’s 33.33 GF% might look a bit concerning, but it is less so when you consider that he’s only been on for three goals for and six against, and he’s had terrible luck while on the ice.

That luck is shown by his measly 90.13 PDO, but according to Manny Perry’s expected PDO stat, he should be up to 99.76, right around average. Although he is a -3 to begin the year, he should be much better when considering his shot rates and poor luck from shooters and goaltenders.

A common reason for why a certain player might be doing well is that he is getting favourable zone starts, but Borowiecki is 8th on the team in defensive zone starts, so that isn’t even a good explanation.

Instead, I can’t really find a good reason why his numbers are so good all of a sudden. Of course, sample sizes can be misleading, and sometimes we look too much into statistical noise.

Another interesting thing I found though were Borowiecki’s heat maps. On the left is the Senators shot attempts against with him on the ice, and on the right it is without him on the ice.

http://hockeyviz.com/player/borowma89/OTT/1718

The difference between the two is striking, as the whole left side from the net to the top of the circle is a black hole. That area is where he is typically defending, so he’s clearly had a positive effect. I’m not sure if this means anything so early on in the season, but the visual representation that he is actually limiting shots against is neat.

Will this play hold up over the course of the season? I’m not sure. I’m hopeful, but then again, I wrote a similar article to this last year, although the evidence was not quite as strong. Perhaps Borowiecki consistently begins each season well and then fades later on.

I would love it if he can keep this up, especially because Cody Ceci and Dion Phaneuf continue to be a possession black hole while playing lots of minutes. Considering his age (28) and his previous track record though, I’m inclined to believe he has not become a top-four defenseman overnight.

If he can somehow make this turn and become a solid player, then I will be extremely happy and eat my words. For now, I’ll appreciate whatever extra he brings, since the Senators are happy when he’s doing much less to help the team.

I’m not quite a big believer in Borowiecki’s abilities yet, but it would be criminal to not point out how well he has played to begin the season.