What a world we’re living in.
The Ottawa Senators, a team that has seldom iced two competent pairings in over 15 years, now boast a group of defensemen so good that it’s legitimately difficult to figure out how the pairings should be arranged.
We’re in completely new territory right now, so let’s have some fun with it. With Chychrun now in the fold, let’s look at the different ways the Sens could construct their defense pairings.
A Brief Overview of Chychrun’s Game
I’m well aware that I’m no more of an expert on Jakob Chychrun’s game than the rest of you are. To get a good idea of the kind of player he i,s and what he needs in a defense partner, I reached out to Five For Howling, the SB Nation blog dedicated to the Arizona Coyotes.
What they told me is that Chychrun has a phenomenal shot and is a skilled passer. In the defensive zone, he’s good at breaking up plays and starting breakouts. He sometimes gets caught out of position in the offensive zone due to penchant for aggressive penchant and has been criticized for his defensive play. The team at Five For Howling, however, doesn’t seem to consider either of those things to be a major concern.
He’s played with a lot of different defense partners over the years, but seems to have meshed much better with Shayne Gostisbehere than with the more defensively minded partners he had played with previously.
Interestingly, that last part lines up with what we’ve seen from Chychrun so far in Ottawa. With the massive caveat that we’re working with an extremely small sample size, here are Chychrun’s possession numbers with different Sens defensemen:
Chychrun With Sens Defensemen
|Defense Partner||TOI (5v5)||CF%||FF%||SF%||xGF%||SCF%|
|Defense Partner||TOI (5v5)||CF%||FF%||SF%||xGF%||SCF%|
The numbers suggest that Chychrun has absolutely kicked ass when playing with Brännström and Chabot, and struggled a bit more next to Sanderson and Holden.
With all that in mind, let’s look at the different ways that DJ Smith could arrange the pairings.
Option 1: All 3 on the left side
Any time you have a chance to model your team after the Tampa Bay Lightning, you have to at least consider it.
Tampa famously built their two-time Stanley Cup winning blueline with a very strong left side, giving them fairly balanced pairings. Hedman played more on the powerplay and he and McDonagh played more on the penalty kill, but at even strength, the workload was evenly split between the three pairings.
We saw the Senators try out this strategy in Chychrun’s first few games in a Sens jersey, running with:
This would be a massive departure from the Sens’ usual way of doing things. Chabot in particular would likely see his ice time drop considerably, since he doesn’t play penalty kill and might even be replaced by Chychrun on the first powerplay unit. No one would get too tired, and the opposition would get no breaks against a truly stifling defense lineup. It would also ensure that all three were playing on their strong side.
I do have two small concerns with this option, and they are as follows:
One, I’m not entirely confident that the right side is good enough yet to justify that arrangement. If you have four legitimate top pairing defensemen, it might be a better idea to pair them with each other so that you can maximize their potential and have them on the ice more often.
Two, Brännström has been really good on the third pairing this year, and I’m hesitant to mess with that. A third pairing anchored by him is more than capable of pulling its weight, especially in limited minutes against easier competition. Why mess with what’s been working?
Option 2: Chychrun with Sanderson
With this arrangement, we’d have:
There’s a lot to like about this. We already know that Chabot and Zub work well together, and Sanderson gets a new mentor in Chychrun. The second pairing is probably the Sens’ best one in aggregate, with two very complete players. Chychrun is a bit more offensively minded while Sanderson is the opposite, but Sanderson still has the offensive tools to keep up.
That second pairing hasn’t had great numbers together yet, but I like it on paper, and maybe they’ll improve with a bit of time to build chemistry.
Option 3: Chychrun with Chabot
Now, this one is fun.
Here, we’re putting the two best offensive defensemen together, and creating a shutdown second pair, with a lineup that looks like this:
Chabot is a good puck mover and playmaker, but he doesn’t have a great shot from the point, and Chychrun absolutely does. Together, they could create magic in the offensive zone. If Chychrun has worked better with more offensively-minded defense partners, then this might be worth trying.
My big concern about that first pairing is that Chychrun is very aggressive in the offensive zone, so he and Chabot together might just end up causing problems for both teams. Chabot would probably end up having to hang back and cover for Chychrun’s mistakes, and I’m not sure that would be the best use of his skillset.
That second pairing would be stout defensively, but we’d probably need Sanderson to step up his offensive game in order for both players to reach their full potential at the other end of the ice.
Option 4: Chychrun with Zub
The final option: put Chabot with Sanderson and pair Chychrun with Zub.
At first glance, this sounds like a good enough idea. Chabot and Sanderson would probably make a good pair, as the classic offensive defenseman/defensive defenseman pairing. Chabot is already mentoring Sanderson, so they know each other well and that pairing could be good for the rookie.
Chychrun/Zub also fits the classic mold of a defensive/offensive pairing, but I actually don’t think the two would be a great match. Both are good at limiting chances against in the defensive zone, but neither player is particularly good in transition. Also, you’ve left your first pairing without a bomb from the point and your second pairing without a good setup guy. Everything is worth trying, but if I’m DJ Smith, this isn’t my first option.
It’s impossible to know how any defense pairing would work without first seeing it in action. Sometimes players just have chemistry with each other, and sometimes they don’t. I’m sure that most if not all of these pairings will be tried out at some point, as DJ Smith tries to figure out the optimal lineup.
My initial reaction is that I’d like to see more of Chychrun with Sanderson before ruling it out as an option, and maybe a few more looks at Chabot-Chychrun in the offensive zone specifically. There’s no obvious fit, but it’s nice to know there are so many options. These are the types of problems that good teams have.