Changing the Ottawa Senators’ defensive pairings

For all the great things Guy Boucher has brought, his defensive deployment has been questionable. Here’s how he should fix it.

The Sens are winning! With the playoffs not too far away, and the team having a clear intention to win now, every move made by the coach and GM should maximize their potential to make a deep run, or dare I say, for the Stanley Cup.

Plenty has been going right. The offence has gained form, the neutral zone traps are as effective as ever, and even the power play has been starting to find it’s stride. Guy Boucher deserves a ton of credit for what he’s done with this team, although there is one area that has been ignored all season: the defensive combinations.

Looking at the chemistry chart for the Sens’ defensive pairings, the results don’t paint a pretty picture:

The Sens’ top two lines of Methot-Karlsson and Phaneuf-Ceci have spent the entire season together, and the deployment has shown to be ineffective. Part of this has been improved recently with Freddy Claesson gaining some semi-regular minutes next to Karlsson, although the pairings of Methot-Karlsson and Phaneuf-Ceci continue to be receiving the most frequent deployment.

The good news is that there’s no void of better options available. If we look at the chemistry scores (combination of both axes) for each of the pairings, we see that in limited time with different linemates, more efficient deployment is possible.

Note: I’ve included all possible defensive pairings (right and left shot) for our seven most used defensemen. No minimum TOI, Jyrki Jokipakka excluded for obvious reasons.

In this table, the colours lining up between the TOI and Score columns is a good thing. Lining up would depict that more efficient pairs get more ice time, whereas the ones with poor chemistry get deployed together less. This is not the case with the Sens at all.

Due to the nature of the stat, chemistry scores have a tendency to regress towards zero with more TOI, as we see with the low TOI pairs being at the top. However, this also adds to the concern that the Sens’ two most frequently used pairings are at the very bottom. This is ineffective deployment from Guy Boucher, and with teams in the playoffs looking for every possible edge, he should be taking advantage of the better deployment options available.

So what should the pairings be? You can draw what you want from this, but my recommendation would be something along the lines of:

Claesson - Karlsson
Methot - Ceci
Phaneuf - Wideman

All pairings have played at least a little together, and more importantly, they all have a positive chemistry score. Looking back at the chart we can see that Claesson-Karlsson and Methot-Ceci have both been effective pairings, and Phaneuf-Wideman (just above Boro-Wideman) has been decent, although Phaneuf slightly acts as a drag on Wideman.

Keep in mind that this is all about lineup optimization, and the consequential effect may be small or large (after all, it's the same players being played). It's about making the most efficient and effective lineup possible, which could give the Sens the extra edge in the playoffs that teams are always looking for.

Have any more pairings suggestions? Do you think they’re fine as is? Should I even be addressing this in a time of winning? Leave a comment below.

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