Dobber Ramblings: Day Two of the NHL Playoffs; Gusev; Defence Scoring – April 12

by Michael Clifford on April 12, 2019
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Dobber Ramblings: Day Two of the NHL Playoffs; Gusev; Defence Scoring – April 12

 

There may be reinforcements on the way for Vegas as Nikita Gusev, the 26-year old Russian who was traded to the Golden Knights by Tampa Bay as part of the package to draft Jason Garrison in the expansion draft, could be in Vegas soon.

You can read Gusev’s Dobber Prospects profile here.

Nothing is a done deal yet. Gusev is under contract in the KHL through the end of the month, which means some negotiating will need to be completed, and the Russian Federation has recalled him ahead of the 2019 World Championships, which is another hurdle. Then he has to actually make his way to Vegas and suit up. All the same, it would be exciting to see him in the playoffs.

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Just a small thing, but Ilya Samsonov, Washington’s top goalie prospect, was on the ice for morning skate on Thursday. Barring catastrophic injuries, he won’t get into game action, but it’s still pretty cool to see him on NHL ice nonetheless.

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Just for a bit of fun, there was an article over at The Athletic from Sean McIndoe about the “what ifs” of the draft lottery. These are games involving teams near or around the picks that would end up in the top-3 and how things would be different if small little quirks in those games hadn’t gone the right way. Hockey is about razor-thin margins, even when it comes to draft positioning.

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The Leafs were flat-out the better team in Game 1 as they skated away with a 4-1 win over Boston. The speed from Toronto, combined with precision passing, led to odd-man opportunity after odd-man opportunity for the team. They even got a short-handed penalty shot when Mitch Marner broke free on a penalty kill (he converted). Frederik Andersen had to make 37 saves, but a lot of those saves weren’t near the quality of shots Tuukka Rask was facing at the other end.

Something to note: Jake Gardiner played 16:32 in this game, fifth-lowest among Leafs blue liners. That’s the second-lowest mark of the season for him, his lowest being 16:30 in the game he was injured on February 25th. The Leafs were nursing a 3-1 lead for much of the game so maybe Mike Babcock was just saving him unless they desperately needed him? Just something to keep an eye on.

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Andrei Svechnikov scored a pair of third-period goals to make things interesting for Carolina, but Washington’s Lars Eller tallied an empty netter to seal a 4-2 win for the Capitals. At least for the first 20 minutes, this looked like a game between a defending Stanley Cup champion and a (mostly) young team with several players playing their first postseason contest.

Nicklas Backstrom had a pair of goals, including a beautiful curl-and-snap shot that beat Petr Mrazek on the glove side, using the Carolina defenceman as a screen.

John Carlson played over 25 minutes, registering three assists, two blocked shots, and four hits along the way.

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Matthew Tkachuk scored a pair of goals for Calgary, one on the power play and one into an empty net, to help lift the Flames to a 4-0 win over Colorado in Game 1. The Avalanche were stymied by Mike Smith, who saved all 26 shots he faced for the shutout.

It was an excellent game for Mikael Backlund, whose line was matched up against Nathan MacKinnon all night, had an empty net goal, seven shots, two penalty minutes, and a couple hits. He was all over the ice, and easily Calgary’s best player in this contest.

Andrew Mangiapane scored the first goal of the game, which ended up being the game-winner. It was a pretty filthy goal, to be honest. Our own Grant Campbell wrote about Mangiapane and other rookies on Friday morning.

Not sure Colorado has to do too much different, given they controlled long stretches of the first half of the game. They just need to get shots past Smith.

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Yesterday in these Ramblings I talked a lot about defence scoring trends. While there is a lot more to dig into, which I will dig into at some point in the offseason, I want to look at actual defence scoring. Let’s go through some of the offensive performances across the NHL this season.

 

Erik Gustafsson

There is a whole lot going on here. Coming into the season, Gustafsson was a 26-year old who’d been drafted by the Oilers in 2012, spent a few post-lockout seasons in Sweden, bounced between the AHL and NHL for a couple years, and then exploded for 60 points this year.

Of course, what stands out immediately is that he shot over 10 percent. That’s pretty high for a blue liner. For reference, in 2017-18, Alex Goligoski shot 10.1 percent and followed that up this year with a 2.9 percent season; in 2016-17, John Klingberg shot 10.5 percent and followed that up in 2017-18 with a 3.9 percent season; in the same year, Nick Holden shot an insane 13.1 percent and that crashed to five percent in 2017-18. That isn’t to say every defenceman with a high shooting percentage always craters – Shea Weber has usually done pretty well – but the odds aren’t in Gustafsson’s favour.

That isn’t to say Gustafsson’s season is a fluke. When looking at additional stats like the rate at which he exits his zone or enters the offensive zone with possession and how he can find his teammates for shots via shot assists, we certainly see how good he was. Here’s how his 2018-19 season compares to the 2017-18 season another top-end puck-moving defenceman (from CJ Turtoro’s viz):

 

As I wrote about yesterday on Eric Cernak, one season does not make a career, but despite the high shooting percentage, it was a marvelous campaign for Gustafsson.

The question is if he maintains his power-play role; he had more than 100 minutes at five-on-four over the next-closest Blackhawks defenceman. Henri Jokiharju looked great whenever they allowed him to play in the NHL and Adam Boqvist was a top-10 pick last year for the franchise and has been tearing up the OHL playoffs to the tune of nine goals and 12 points in eight games. It seems certain that unless he falls off the map (he won’t), Gustafsson should have the PP role for 2019-20. Beyond that? Less certain.

 

Torey Krug

Speaking of Krug, we can only wonder the season he would have had if he had played 80 games. Among defencemen in the league this year, Krug:

  • Was third in points per minute behind Mark Giordano and Brent Burns
  • Was first in totals assists per minute
  • Was eighth in primary points per minute
  • Was third in primary assists per minute
  • Was 18th in shots per minute

Krug set a career-high in assists for a single season with 47 and did so in just 64 games.

It was just a marvelous season all around, but the true upside was limited by injury. It’s worth noting that his missed time was out of the norm for him; in his five previous seasons, he had never missed more than six games and averaged 79 games a season. I wouldn’t worry too much about some lingering injury history.

With Krug still in his prime and that Boston team loaded for another run next year regardless of how this year turns out, I would expect more of the same from Krug.

 

Vince Dunn

When using the Dobber Tools report generator, we can easily find which defencemen led the league in individual points percentage (IPP) at even strength. IPP is the rate at which a player garners a point when a goal is scored with that player on the ice. You will typically see the elite defencemen; last year, the top-5 included Burns, Krug, Pietrangelo, and Klingberg. The year before it was Burns, Hamilton, Karlsson, Jones, and Shattenkirk. Some guys find their way into the top-10 with some luck – names like Skjei, Severson, and Braun appear – but they’re mostly top-end puck-movers. That’s what makes this list from 2018-19 so interesting:

 

 

The two names that really stick out are Vince Dunn and Brandon Montour. We’ll save Montour for another day.

Dunn has long been thought of as an offensive defenceman. He had 99 points over his final 120 games in the OHL and had 45 points in 72 games as a 20-year old rookie in the AHL back in 2016-17. That we see him among the leaders in a category that helps point us in the direction of puck movers shouldn’t be a huge surprise.

Here’s the thing: there’s not a whole lot to support that Dunn is a top-end puck-mover from the blue line (yet). Without inundating with charts, his zone entry/exit rates and shot-assist rates pale in comparison to someone like Gustafsson. It’s worth noting that these numbers, specifically shot-assists, were a lot better in 2017-18 than in 2018-19, and this season’s tracking data isn’t yet complete. Maybe his numbers improved a lot in the second half as the rest of the team improved with him. I’m more than willing to give some time for more data to be collected before making a final determination.

All I’m saying for now is that I’m leery of predicting some sort of Gustafsson-esque breakout. There is still Alex Pietrangelo’s ice time to contend with and Colton Parayko isn’t someone to just eschew. Of course, Dunn is still just 22 years old, so the fact that we’re even talking about the possibility of him being a good playmaker from the blue line is a very good sign.

 

Neal Pionk

When we look at the list of top producers per minute from the blue line at five-on-four, most of the names make sense. We see Krug, Byfuglien, Yandle, Hedman, and Rielly, among others. The defenceman who finished second in points/60 minutes at five-on-four this year (minimum of 100 minutes)? Yeah, I kinda gave it away. It was Pionk. In fact, over the last two years, he leads all defencemen in points/60 minutes on the power play. Yes, all defencemen. Granted, it’s limited ice time (140 minutes or so), but it’s been an unbelievable run.

I think a bit of caution should be used here. Pionk had a poor season defensively, as much of the rest of the team did. Tony DeAngelo had a good season for the team even if David Quinn wouldn’t play him every night. Kevin Shattenkirk is still lurking and I’m sure he’d like to have a rebound season of his own. I’m not entirely sure what the Rangers are going to do on the blue line next year. I’m not entirely sure the Rangers know what the Rangers are going to do on the blue line next year.

All I wanted to point out is that there could be some sneaky value should A) Pionk be a regular next year again and B) no one else is brought in. There are a lot of moving parts that can change in the next 5-6 months.

 

Filip Hronek

Just wanted to include what a great season Hronek had. The 21-year old was among the top-10 defencemen in relative shot share at five-on-five. That’s in the league, mind you.

Hronek had 13 points in 22 games after his recall from the AHL in the middle of February, including nearly 22 minutes of ice time per night. By that point, the team was casting off, or getting ready to cast off, tradeable assets like Nick Jensen and Gustav Nyquist. Mike Green’s season was nearly over by that point. All this is to say that Hronek did fairly well down the stretch considering the Red Wings were largely a one-line team with Andreas Athanasiou providing some additional scoring. Pretty good for a rookie defenceman.