The Contrarian: Puempel-ed Up

by Demetri Fragopoulos on November 27, 2016

Is now-former Senator Matt Puempel's recent criticism of Guy Boucher warranted?

What are we to think of Matt Puempel after his statements criticizing the Ottawa Senators’ style of play?

After Puempel’s first game as a New York Ranger, he told Larry Brooks “In Ottawa there for a while it was getting a little rerepetitious; chip the puck, chase the puck” and eluded to the freedom he felt “I think this was the most minutes I’ve played in a long time. The more minutes you get, the better you play. You’re more engaged.”

In describing the difference Puempel stated “They let you play here, they let you play to your strengths. They know there are going to be mistakes, They’re not barking at you every time you come off the ice. It is beneficial.”
 


It was so beneficial that he even scored his first goal of the season (and first point too) in the 12 minutes and 32 seconds of ice time he was granted, which helped his new team beat the Philadelphia Flyers 3-2.

All this would set up and interesting sidebar for Sunday’s match up between the two teams, but Senators’ coach Guy Boucher is having no part of it.

Boucher told TSN’s Ian Mendes, “I don't want to hear about another team's player.  He's not on our roster. I wish him good luck.” Thus deflating the situation.

So, are we to believe that Puempel’s point production is going to explode, riding along with his newly found enthusiasm? Will the Senators rue the day they put him on waivers, and was it their system of play that kept him a hidden gem?

Let us take a look at Matt Puempel’s 13 games played as a Senator this year:

  • He recorded no points on 12 shots, seven penalty minutes and a +/- rating of minus-5
  • Seven games were victories, only one of which was by three or more goals
  • In those wins, he ranged from 5:53 (min) to 9:14 (max) of ice time
  • The other six were games were lost outright in regulation time
  • Of those games, four were by three or more goals
  • In those four losses, Puempel’s ice time was 8:59 (vs Detroit), 10:41 (vs Calgary), 13:35 (vs Nashville) and 11:31 (vs Florida)

And he said that he could not remember when he played so much. I think it is because of how they were beaten.

I hate the chip-and-chase philosophy as much as he does, but we should try to figure out why it is being employed by Boucher and his coaching staff.

Based on the first 20 games of the season:
 

Season

Points

Wins

Regulation Loss

OT/SO Loss

2016-17

25

12

7

1

2015-16

25

10

5

5

2014-15

22

9

7

4


Well, that does not look bad at all. It looks encouraging especially if you are a fan of the Senators.

We go one more layer in to discover:
 

Season

Goals For

Goal Differential

# of 3+-Goal Games Losses

One-Goal

Two-Goal

Three+-Goal

2016-17

47

10

3

7

5

2015-16

61

10

6

4

1

2014-15

70

13

5

2

0


This means that Boucher is squeezing as much point value as he can get with less offense and they are successful with it. So far.

It also means that when the current Senators find themselves in a match with a goal differential greater than two, they are more often the losers. This probably is why Boucher wants a chip-and-chase game. Keep it close and even if they lose, hope that they took the game into OT or even the shootout to earn the “third point.”

We should have contemplated or even predicted this. Guy Boucher’s record as coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning (2010-2013, 195 games) and of the projection Ottawa Senators (2016, 20 games):
 

 

Tampa Bay

 

Ottawa (projected to 195 games)

Differential

Games

Regulation Losses

 

Games

Regulation Losses

One-Goal

89

19

 

97.5

9.75

Two-Goal

42

24

 

29.25

9.75

Three+-Goal

64

35

 

68.25

48.75

Total

195

78

 

195

68.25

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goals For

583

 

 

458

 

Average

2.9

 

 

2.35

 


What I notice is that Boucher likes to entertain a style that results in close games because of the “third point” factor. The projections using the current statistics of the Senators are admittedly unfair, but are meant only to illustrate his tendency. Remember, a regulation loss means that the team earned no points towards the standings.

Another item to note, Boucher had Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier among others to send on the ice while in Tampa Bay.

So if that was predictable, would not Boucher’s exit be as well?

Back when he was relieved of his coaching duties in Tampa Bay, people wondered why it happened and some asked why did it not happen sooner.

From the Tampa Bay Times, quoted NHL Network Analyst Craig Button as saying “The fundamentals of a team game and the fundamentals of team play just weren’t there,” and “Fine, you want to play defensive, but why aren’t you protecting? Why isn’t the middle of the ice being protected? Why are other teams getting so many scoring chances?”

SBNation referenced tweets by Bob McKenzie and Ray Ferraro of TSN:
 


In another article, this on Bolts by the Bay, the author suggests Boucher system was at fault. “In particular, they revealed themselves in the defensive zone, where in game after game the Bolts struggled to break out over the blue line, often giving up multiple chances in sequence.  You can blame this on sup-par defensive players all you want.  You can say the Bolts’ forwards are lazy and not backchecking hard, but if you do, I would suggest that you haven’t been watching the Bolts very closely this season.  There is no lack of effort from this team in its own end.”

Take all three articles, toss in Puempel’s “barking at you every time you come off the ice” and “getting a little rerepetitious” comments, and I will suggest that the heart of the problem is that players are not robots. They need to enjoy what they are doing.

Chip-and-chase, left-wing-lock, or general defensive-oriented strategies are tolerated, but eventually grow tired. They are tolerated while players win, but grow tired when they lose.

This is a good reason for Boucher to stay quiet and not engage in the banter with Puempel.
 


Ottawa is still in the honeymoon phase with Boucher. It also helps that they have Erik Karlsson on defense to help with defensive zone breakouts, but in two or three years the axe will fall on Boucher again for the very same reasons it did the first time.

Returning back to Puempel, it should be noted that he also is in a honeymoon period with the Rangers. The ice time he received was due more to the broken leg sustained by Mika Zibanejad than to his skills. This honeymoon period will wear off eventually.

We will see how much time he gets on the ice and how engaged he will be.

In the meantime, Puempel and Boucher are overinflated.