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Creating the Ottawa Senators Lineup, Part 3: Special Teams

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Forming units for the power play and penalty kill

Ottawa Senators v Philadelphia Flyers
Derick Brassard was one of Ottawa’s top power play performers.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Welcome back to the final instalment of the three-part series on formulating the Sens’ lineup. In the first two posts we focused on 5v5 play using two different methods: chemistry scores and playing styles. Today, we move to a completely different part of the game: special teams.

Although the hirings of Guy Boucher and Marc Crawford were ultimately hailed a success for their first season in Ottawa, they still had their faults, and the special teams was definitely one. The Sens finished 2016-17 in the bottom 10 for both power play and penalty kill percentage (23rd and 22nd respectively). Additionally, they finished 21st in shot attempts per 60 minutes on the power play, as well as 21st in shot attempts against per 60 minutes on the penalty kill. There’s clearly plenty of room for improvement.

Although much of this relies on the systems used, the players deployed can still make a difference. This post will examine what the Sens should do in both man-up and man-down situations.

Power Play

The point I’d like to drive home in this section is the increased amount of chances a team gets when they play with four forwards as opposed to three. Matt Cane has done plenty of work with this, and in summary, teams generate approximately 1.2 extra goals per 60 minutes using this approach.

The Sens have somewhat used this strategy, as occasionally we see Mike Hoffman rifling shots from the point in place of a second defenceman. However, with the data to prove it, switching to the 4-1 system full-time could give the Sens an extra edge.

With that said, let’s look at Ottawa’s top power play producers from the last three seasons, in terms of on-ice shot attempts per 60 minutes. I used a 5-4-3 weighted average from the past three seasons (the same as baseball’s Marcel projections and similar to results found in hockey), and only seasons where the player played 100+ minutes on the PP are included.

Player Pos. 2016-17 2015-16 2014-15 Weighted Average
Player Pos. 2016-17 2015-16 2014-15 Weighted Average
Clarke MacArthur F 110.51 110.51
Mark Stone F 106.43 97.75 106.4 103.53
Derick Brassard F 89.83 112.43 105.79 101.35
Kyle Turris F 99.25 94.37 109 100.06
Erik Karlsson D 100.85 93.11 107.27 99.88
Bobby Ryan F 100.7 100.07 97.18 99.61
Mike Hoffman F 103.34 96.3 96.55 99.3
Dion Phaneuf D 96.25 101.91 100.3 99.15
Alexandre Burrows F 98.45 95.6 97.23
Zack Smith F 83.26 95.34 88.63
Ryan Dzingel F 83.87 83.87
Chris Wideman D 81.95 81.95

Immediately on the top we see Clarke MacArthur, who was just revealed to have failed his physical. Even if that wasn’t the case, it’s worth being skeptical about the data considering we only have one full season before his injury. That number also went way down to 72.87 in the 2017 playoffs (in nearly 50 minutes of play), so even if he does return later this season, it may be best for MacArthur to start on the second power play unit, if at all.

Moving down the list we see power play regulars such as Stone, Brassard, Turris and Ryan. Those four combined with Erik Karlsson would give an average shot attempts per 60 minutes of 100.9, which is over 10 shot attempts more the Sens in 2016-17, or an extra shot attempt every three power plays. This is very similar to the data Matt Cane produced when he compared 3 forward/2 defencemen systems to 4/1, which makes sense as we see the top of the list made up of mostly forwards.

That still leaves us a second power play unit to fill, and using the next highest five we’d have Hoffman, Burrows, Smith and Dzingel with Phaneuf manning the point. They would average for 93.6 shot attempts per 60 minutes, which although is lower than the first unit, is still higher than the most recent Sens. Burrows and Smith aren’t generally regarded for being the power play type, so this may be a good place to bring in MacArthur (should he later return), or possibly double-shift someone like Turris who’s used to logging big minutes.

The biggest surprise here seems to be the demotion of Mike Hoffman, whose weighted 99.3 shot attempts per 60 ended up significantly lower than I expected. It jumped up last season under Guy Boucher’s system, and also while playing consistently with better teammates on PP1. So it may be best to move him up to the first unit and move down Ryan.

I’ll admit I’m not an expert on power play systems, but looking at the numbers, this would be my combination:

PP1: Stone - Brassard - Turris - Hoffman - Karlsson
PP2: Ryan - Turris - Dzingel - Burrows - Phaneuf

Penalty Kill

Using a similar method as before, let’s look at which players allowed the least amount of unblocked shot attempts per 60 minutes. We’re taking out blocks because it’s an expected part of the typical PK system. Again, a season is only included if the player played 100+ minutes shorthanded.

Player Pos. 2016-17 2015-16 2014-15 Weighted Average
Player Pos. 2016-17 2015-16 2014-15 Weighted Average
Alexandre Burrows F 68.53 68.53
Erik Karlsson D 70.45 74.92 72.44
Nate Thompson F 73.12 73.12
Jean-Gabriel Pageau F 67.95 82.09 74.23
Dion Phaneuf D 78.7 62.79 90.04 76.23
Tom Pyatt F 77.12 77.12
Johnny Oduya D 78.77 75.14 77.21
Mark Borowiecki D 84.3 72.97 79.44
Cody Ceci D 78.01 82.42 79.26 79.79
Zack Smith F 76.14 84.99 80.07
Mark Stone F 87.56 87.56

Leading the way is Alex Burrows, who has received interesting special teams deployment since his arrival in Ottawa. Instead of being deployed on the penalty kill, where he’s played for the entirety of his career, it was brought down to only nine seconds per game. He also received ample power play opportunities (1:34 per game), whereas the Canucks were limiting him to only 20 seconds per game earlier in the season. He’s put up great PK numbers for the majority of his career, in large part due to Vancouver having the league’s third best power play from 2010-2016. His addition should still be of good help on the Sens’ PK.

The next forward on the list is Nate Thompson, who although doesn’t have his most recent stats appear due to injury-shortened seasons, has had his PK numbers get better over the course of the last three years. In 2016-17 alone, he allowed 16 less unblocked shots per 60 minutes than the Ducks did without him. His most heavy PK usage of his career came when he played for Guy Boucher in Tampa Bay (averaging 2:42 per game), so we should expect that to continue. That gives us Thompson and Burrows as the forwards on the first unit, and PK regulars Pageau and Pyatt playing on unit #2.

Moving to the defencemen, of course it’s Erik Karlsson once again leading the way. As for the rest, there don’t seem to be many good options. Phaneuf has allowed more shots compared to his team for every season since 2011-12, so I’d be hesitant to give him more than infrequent minutes on the second unit.

It’s not like there’s a better option, either. Johnny Oduya’s unblocked shot attempts against during the PK has been on a steady incline for the past six seasons, with his age really starting to show. Mark Borowiecki and Cody Ceci have also been abysmal PKers, with Boro getting less trust under Boucher and Ceci getting more. This might be a place to give Fredrik Claesson or Chris Wideman a shot, as although they aren’t generally suited for the situation, it would be worth surveying any available options. Claesson was categorized as defensive-oriented in yesterday’s post, so I’d give him the edge.

Like the power play, I’ll admit that I’m not an expert on the functioning behind a good penalty kill system. For now, this would be my choice for the units:

PK1: Thompson - Burrows - Karlsson - Phaneuf
PK2: Pageau - Pyatt - Ceci - Claesson


With that concludes the series on line combos! Who would you pick for the special teams? Should Pyatt and Thompson reunite from their days in Tampa? Leave a comment below.

All data from this post was obtained using Natural Stat Trick.