Ramblings: Ottawa’s defence; divisional alignment; Calgary’s PP resurgence; more on Gusev; Trocheck – December 10

Michael Clifford

2020-12-10

Well, I figured it was time to start projections, seeing as there is a lot of chatter the NHL season will begin in about five weeks' time. It was a wild, wild trip just briefly going back over stats from 2019-20. Remember that it'll be at least 10 months between the end of last season and the start of this one. I saw a tweet yesterday that said 'Parasite' won the Oscar for movie of the year in 2020. That feels like five years ago.

Anyway, I was going over some team defensive numbers yesterday and something really stuck out to me: the Ottawa Senators weren't bad defensively in 2019-20. That phrase may surprise some people, seeing as the Sens were a lottery team that allowed the second-most goals against, but believe me, I haven't gone off the deep end. Not yet. Probably.

Corey Sznajder is a hockey tracker that not only tracks things like player zone entries and exits, but also a lot of team-level stuff as well. (Readers can subscribe to his Patreon here for access to the data.) Here are some of the defensive categories covered: carry-against%, or the rate at which teams give up the blue line with possession; break-up%, or the rate at which possession entries are stopped at the blue line; pass-against%, or zone entries via passes allowed. In order, the Sens allowed the lowest percentage of carry-ins, were fifth by break-ups at the blue line, and mid-pack by passes allowed. While that last part doesn't stand out, the fact they were great-to-elite at denying the blue line or allowing possession entries is a great thing for them moving forward. Limiting possession entries goes a long way at limiting not only shots, but high-quality ones.

The Sens played a high pace, which in itself isn’t a bad idea, but with a young group, that frenzy means more turnovers, more mistakes. The team from 2019-20, which had J-G Pageau, Anthony Duclair, Dylan DeMelo, and Vladislav Namestnikov is not the team of 2020-21 with none of them. Those guys were or will be replaced by young guys, which means even more mistakes. In other words, I don’t think it would be fair to assume Ottawa will be much better defensively as a whole this season. It will take some time.

When D.J. Smith was hired, the prevailing thought was that he was a great defensive mind. It seems he has certainly l