Monday, August 30, 2010

Time to step up: The defensemen

THE DEFENSEMEN

As alluded earlier, I haven't spent nearly as much time looking at the Columbus Blue Jackets' blue line as I have spent on the forwards.  I'm guessing that my naivete will show in this part of the series and can only ask for your forgiveness in advance.

At the same time, this series has proven useful in learning more, and in more depth, about the National Hockey Team that I enjoy so much and the people who are a part of it.  So, perhaps rather than laugh, you can tag along in this little voyage of discovery and continue the enjoyable back and forth that is coming out in the comments.

As for the defense itself, let's start with the basics.  With 259 goals given up in the 2009-2010 campaign, the CBJ stood fifth-worst in the entire league.  The only teams worse than the Blue Jackets were:
  • Edmonton Oilers (284 goals allowed)
  • Toronto Maple Leafs (267)
  • New York Islanders (264)
  • Tampa Bay Lightning (260)
It should shock no one that none of the aforementioned clubs made the Stanley Cup playoffs last season.  The saying goes, "Offense puts butts in seats, but defense wins championships," and it could not be more true in today's National Hockey League.

Now here's the weird thing.  In 2008-2009, the Jackets only gave up 230 goals and stood ninth-best in the league.  But compare the 09-10 roster against the 08-09 team on their respective opening nights:
09-10
  • Matthieu Roy
  • Mark Methot
  • Kris Russell
  • Jan Hejda
  • Fedor Tyutin
  • Rusty Klesla
08-09
  • Christian Backman
  • Kris Russell
  • Mike Commodore
  • Jan Hejda
  • Fedor Tyutin
  • Rusty Klesla
We can only hope that Mike Commodore brings his
08-09 season game with him into camp this year.
The absence of Mike Commodore is somewhat telling (and don't you think I won't be a-yappin' about that in Commie's profile), but anyone who thinks that Christian Backman is better than Matthieu Roy or Marc Methot has a lot of explaining to do to bring me along.  Point is, the defensive core of Russell, Hejda, Tyutin and Klesla played for most of both seasons...yet they were 29 goals worse in 09-10.

I'll allow that the play of Steve Mason had a significant impact on the season and the number of goals allowed, even a disproportionate impact in the first part of the season.  At the same time, it was not the only factor.  The coaching was largely the same for the two seasons as Claude Noel said that he didn't mess with Ken Hitchcock's scheme too much as interim head coach, and the other assistants remained intact for both seasons.

Even DBJ's 09-10 CBJ MVP,
Fedor Tyutin, had a tough year.
But there are other loose ends that just don't make sense.  Take blocked shots.  In 08-09, the Jackets defensemen had 456 blocked shots.  In 09-10, they had 552.  How can a unit that lays out 100 more times in a season give up 29 more goals?

I could dig around deeper in team stats, but all it would do is muddy the waters further for me.  So I'll buy the party line and chalk up the defensive collapse of 09-10 to injuries, perhaps as a result of conditioning shortcomings in at least some cases.  If anything, it makes the challenge to the defense clear: Step up and prove that the past season was an aberration.  You clearly have the talent and skill to be a top ten defensive team - you actually were in 08-09 - so go back to that and regain that form.  Easy, right?  

[UPDATE: Holy jeez - No wonder I find myself having a hard time making sense of defensive stats!]

4 comments:

  1. In order to block shots, your opponent must have the puck. Weak defensive teams tend to have more blocked shots than strong ones because strong defensive teams don't allow their opponents to possess the puck enough to get a lot of blocked shots.

    The Blue Jackets increase in blocked shots is a sign of defensive issues in Columbus.

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  2. Ah, that makes sense.

    But the devil is in the details.

    Looking at 09-10 goalie stats, it appears that the goalies took 2,511 shots on goal (Mason: 1,653; Garon: 858). Compare that to 08-09, where the goalies only saw 2,272 shots (Mason: 1,658; Leclaire: 324; Norrena: 133; Dubielewicz: 77; LaCosta: 80).

    The shot blocking was roughly 2% more effective (22%, up from 20%), but the defense still allowed 143 more shots to reach the goalies in 09-10 than in 08-09.

    Not good.

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  3. I tried to look at your statistical addendum. Yikes, it really is rocket science!

    No question though, by any standard, last year's defense was terrible! No jump in the standings can follow without serious improvement, either in performance or personnel - or, preferably, both.

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  4. Pete, I'm not sure it's personnel. The personnel was good enough in 08-09, and nothing significant has changed other than Christian Backman is gone. Why can't a crop of maturing youngsters and recommitted veterans (hi, Commie) get the Blue Jackets back to playoff contention?

    It's all about performance, in my book, which makes the theme of "stepping up" so appropriate for the CBJ blue line.

    And defensive stats in hockey are pure hell to wade through, as you have seen. I'm gonna try to sort some of them out, but it's a whole different creature than goals-assists-points.

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