By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)
Let’s get right into it!
If you’re a regular reader of the site, then you have likely seen my goal assessments in the postgame thoughts at some point. For those who don’t regularly check out the postgame thoughts, here’s a brief summary. After every game, I go through each goal (for and against) and determine who contributed to a goal for or who is at fault for a goal against. I don’t buy plus/minus being a good stat, so I use this to get a better idea of how players are performing. I do include powerplay goals (unlike plus/minus) and it’s an automatic minus for any player in the penalty box during a powerplay goal against. Also, goalies are given part of the fault if they deserve it (see: Fleury against Vancouver). The idea is to get a better pictures of how a player actually contributes to the team, including screens, setting picks, and other items that aren’t on the score sheet. It’s certainly a subjective measure, but I fully explain what I see with each goal and am completely open to arguments if someone wants to challenge a contribution/fault. Powerplay guys will get boosts to their contributions, defensive defensemen will look worse in relation to everyone else. Player types should generally be compared against each other. I did this last season as well, the final write-up is here: http://thehockeywriters.com/plusminus-the-laziest-stat-in-hockey/.
Now with all of that out of the way, here’s where we stand through 11 games. Full explanations are in each postgame thoughts post. (Note: Read “+” as Goals For and “-” as Goals Against.
Goals For (click to enlarge)
Games in green are wins, red are losses, N/A means a healthy scratch or in the minors, Inj means injured, and “-” for the goalies means they didn’t play.
There’s absolutely no surprise at the top as Sidney Crosby is killing it this season in terms of goals contributed to. No real surprises directly after him either. Craig Adams is higher up than one would expect given his linemates and playing situations. Brandon Sutter is probably the most disappointing of the forwards with his lack of production. Moving on to the defense, Niskanen is at the top easily after a great start to the season, but he has slowed down as of late. Martin also had a great start but has only contributed to one goal for in the past five games. You have to be happy with Maatta’s number already as a rookie. Letang will skyrocket up this list in the next two weeks.
Goals Against (Click to Enlarge)
First thing that stands out with the goals against – Tanner Glass. Glass has not been at fault for a single goal against yet, including PK and everything. That is a massive difference from last season already. Pascal Dupuis and Craig Adams have been very solid given their significant defensive responsibilities in general. The obvious issue that everyone loves to talk about with the forwards is Malkin, who has been at fault for twice as many goals as any other forward. On the defensive side, give Brooks Orpik a ton of credit. He doesn’t always look great nowadays, but he isn’t usually making a mistake that costs the team a goal. Letang has already been part of the problem with an alarming number of goals through just two games. Paul Martin’s number is much worse than you would expect after last season. As for the goalies, even with all of his goals allowed, Zatkoff has really only had one bad one. Fleury has had three, but none have turned out to be extremely costly.
My Form of Plus/Minus
Putting it all together gives you this. Based on last year’s results, it usually worked out that the top 6 forwards were by far the highest, the 3rd line was positive, and the 4th line hovered around even or negative. Offensive defensemen were largely positive and defensive guys were negative. Again, check out my article on The Hockey Writers from last season if you want a solid comparison point.
The first line has generally done a great job of producing and playing responsibly as well. The second line has been disappointing. The third and fourth lines change so frequently, that it’s tough to judge them as lines. Sutter certainly has been disappointing with an even rating, but Glass and Adams are pleasant surprises so far. On the defensive side, Niskanen has easily been the best defenseman even with his recent slide and trade rumors. Maatta clearly demonstrates why he belongs in the NHL with an even rating that is 2nd among defensemen on this team. Letang and Martin are the two guys that shouldn’t be where they are right now. Letang at least has only played two games. Martin is approaching early season disappointment status at this rate.
As the season goes on, I’ll start including columns to calculate contribution and fault per game and also per 60 mins.
Another thing I do in my postgame thoughts is a penalty assessment to keep track of who is taking penalties and what the situations are. I mark penalties into seven different categories: 1) Necessary – a player takes a smart penalty to break up a scoring chance that wasn’t his fault, 2) Bad Call – ref just blows a call, 3) Inconsequential – generally fighting and coincidental minors, 4) Bad-Lazy – most often happens when players stop moving their feet, 5) Bad-Stupid – penalties in bad situations or that were completely unnecessary/away from the play, 6) Bad-Careless – usually tripping and high-sticking penalties where players aren’t controlling themselves or their sticks properly, and 7) Bad-It Happens – your run of the mill penalties throughout a game. Here is how that is turning out so far:
No real trends here except for maybe Kunitz should consider controlling his stick better and Malkin takes far too many penalties. I shall continue to see if trends pop up as the season goes on. The full explanation for each penalty is in the postgame thoughts posts. Eventually, I’ll post full spreadsheets of all the goals and penalties in one spot so it’s easy to access if you’re curious.
Other Random Thoughts
Player by Player so far:
- Crosby – Pretty much dominating in all facets. Would like to see him take more control on the powerplay though.
- Kunitz – Had a rocky start but never held back his linemates. Might need to crash the crease more.
- Dupuis – Playing well overall and should see an increase in goals as long as he keeps putting the puck on net.
- Malkin – Doing as much as he can with a makeshift line but needs to cut down on the mistakes and play it safer until Neal or Bennett returns.
- Jokinen – Scoring in spurts and developing chemistry with Malkin, but needs to support the puck more.
- Adams – Exceeding all expectations and just needs to continue it.
- Bennett – Was playing okay until he was injured, but wasn’t shooting nearly enough at the time.
- Glass – Having a great bounce back season already and just needs to keep it up.
- Kobasew – Playing over his head a bit with time on the 2nd line but looks good on the 3rd line.
- Sutter – Doing a great job defensively while looking completely lost in the offensive zone and with the puck. Needs to find his offensive game badly.
- Jeffrey – Doesn’t appear to have a place in the organization at this point.
- Neal – Never should have played in the first game of the season and is still out indefinitely.
- Zolnierczyk – Looked energetic in his brief stop in Pittsburgh.
- Vitale – Playing like a true, regular 4th liner and has shown off fantastic passing skills lately.
- Megna – Didn’t look very NHL-worthy in his only game of the season.
- Conner – Makes for a great AHL player, but not NHL.
- D’Agostini – Looked very good in his season debut and hopefully will help diversify the offense.
- Niskanen – Was outplaying his talent early in the season and needs to keep the drop off from being too steep.
- Maatta – Has earned his NHL spot and just needs to make sure he learns from each mistake.
- Orpik – Should probably cut down on the hits more, but his positioning has been almost perfect.
- Engelland – Found a niche as a 4th line winger, or at least moreso than a defenseman.
- Bortuzzo – Played well with Maatta and will probably get that same task again with Scuderi’s injury.
- Letang – Needs to cut down on the turnovers already and consider some low-risk decisions.
- Martin – Has shown a significant lack of awareness compared to last season.
- Scuderi – Did a wonderful job breaking up odd-man rushes, but may miss some time with a foot injury.
- Zatkoff – Hasn’t played as bad as stats suggest, but he’s going to need to find a way to improve on those stats with or without help.
- Fleury – Makes a mistake here and there, but looks great after awful spring.