The two least successful penalty-killing teams in the league right now currently reside in Toronto and on Long Island. In fact, Toronto has one of the worst penalty killing rates in history, according to Gabriel Desjardins' recent study at Behind the Net. In last week's article about the league's best penalty-killers we suggested that the problem with the Maple Leafs and the Islanders might lie in which players Ron Wilson and Scott Gordon have been choosing.
Toronto Maple Leafs – Defensemen
By taking advantage of the statistics available at Behind the Net, we can determine whether it makes sense to use Francois Beauchemin and Jeff Finger as the Leafs' primary penalty-killing defensemen instead of Ian White and Mike Komisarek.
SHGAA: Goals-against per 60 minutes in 4-on-5 situations
SA/60: Shots-against per 60 minutes in 4-on-5 situations
QCOMP: Desjardins' Quality of Competition metric (higher numbers indicate stronger opponents)
Player SHGAA SA/60 QCOMP
Francois Beauchemin 11.23 46.4 0.80
Jeff Finger 5.31 47.8 -0.04
Ian White 6.76 40.6 1.08
Mike Komisarek 16.19 59.4 0.35
Last week, we were pretty hard on Beauchemin, but was it fair? His 11.23 SHGAA may be awful, but he allowed fewer shots than Finger and against far tougher opponents. Maybe Beauchemin was allowing higher quality shots than Finger, but it's equally possible that he was simply victimized by poor goaltending (i.e. Toskala, dead last .732 save percentage).
There is a case for replacing Beauchemin with Ian White on the top unit. White has faced even tougher competition, allowed even fewer shots, and far fewer goals have been scored, for whatever reason (quality of shots, or goaltending).
It's also possible that these numbers are simply the result of too small of a sample size. To be fair to Beauchemin, let's take a look at the past two seasons to see if there's a pattern.
Player Season SHGAA SA/60 QCOMP
Beauchemin 2007-08 7.71 47.5 -0.48
Beauchemin 2008-09 6.93 52.9 -0.25
Finger 2007-08 6.09 41.5 -0.28
Finger 2008-09 9.77 44.4 -0.09
White 2007-08 6.25 36.3 -0.21
White 2008-09 9.83 45.9 -0.74
Komisarek 2007-08 7.88 46.3 -0.32
Komisarek 2008-09 8.83 47.4 0.45
Of these four, Beauchemin allowed the most shots in both of the past two seasons, whereas Ian White allowed the fewest in one season and was second to Finger in the other. Despite the 52.9 shots per 60 minutes, Beauchemin did have the best SHGAA last season, but again we can't be certain whether it was because he was allowing a higher number of low-quality shots, or if he was blessed with better goaltending. Given the Leafs woes this season, I'd bet on the latter, and bump White up to the top spot.
Toronto Maple Leafs – Forwards
How about the forwards? Last week, we urged Toronto coach Ron Wilson to consider replacing one of his top forwards with Matt Stajan.
Player SHGAA SA/60 QCOMP
Lee Stempniak 8.88 43.0 1.07
Wayne Primeau 11.99 59.1 0.89
Matt Stajan 7.51 41.7 0.98
Rickard Wallin 9.58 42.6 0.55
John Mitchell 6.06 43.9 0.15
Stajan has had some bad luck since last week, and we've seen his SHGAA rise from 6.01 to 7.51, further demonstrating what a volatile effect the small sample size can have on the numbers. Nevertheless, Stajan is still allowing the fewest shots—far less than Wayne Primeau's astronomical 59.1—against equally challenging opponents. Let's look back:
Player Season SHGAA SA/60 QCOMP
Stempniak 2007-08 3.46 36.0 -0.62
Stempniak 2008-09 2.99 44.8 -1.11
Primeau 2007-08 9.30 43.4 0.55
Primeau 2008-09 4.11 50.2 0.14
Stajan 2007-08 7.84 39.7 -0.60
Stajan 2008-09 8.39 36.5 0.05
Mitchell 2008-09 8.62 44.3 -0.92
(No data for Wallin)
In Stajan, the Leafs are blessed with one of only 24 players to have a SA/60 below 40.0 in both of the past two seasons, and they should clearly assign him to the top unit. Stempniak has been largely untried but effective on the penalty kill, and while the jury is also still out on Mitchell and Wallin, I think it's fair to recommend demoting Primeau to the second unit to make room for Stajan.
New York Islanders
Like Toronto, the cause of the struggles for the New York Islanders' when down a man could also be the result of poor choices. Based on SHGAA, we felt that Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen would make better choices than Nate Thompson and Richard Park on their top unit. Does that hold up when looking at shots and quality of competition, and/or could there be an even better option somewhere on the Island?
Player SHGAA SA/60 QCOMP
Nate Thompson 12.38 45.6 -0.08
Richard Park 12.06 50.7 0.20
Kyle Okposo 4.32 38.8 0.39
Sean Bergenheim 7.33 46.4 -0.03
Frans Nielsen 3.93 47.2 0.16
Blake Comeau 7.16 50.1 0.80
Other than Comeau, Okposo has faced the toughest opponents, allowed the fewest shots, and is second only to Nielsen in SHGAA. Based on his performance so far, he has clearly earned more ice-time.
As for Nielsen, he's clearly a better option than Thompson, Park and Bergenheim and, unless you believe that tougher opponents or weaker goaltending inflates Comeau’s numbers, it makes sense to have him on the top unit with Okposo. If this is true, we should see similar results when looking at last season:
Player SHGAA SA/60 QCOMP
Thompson 8.51 44.8 -0.58
Park 8.40 47.8 -0.42
Bergenheim 6.89 51.9 -0.27
Nielsen 6.14 52.4 -0.94
Comeau 4.28 53.1 0.39
Okposo 5.52 53.8 0.24
You might make the case for Thompson and Park by pointing out that they allowed the fewest shots last season, but only Nielsen faced weaker opponents, and nobody allowed more goals. Once again Comeau faced the toughest opponents, but this time he allowed the fewest goals, so maybe it's actually Comeau that should be on the top unit with Okposo instead of Nielsen? Any way you slice it, it's clearly time for coach Scott Gordon to consider other options when the Isles are short-handed.
Some people prefer using shots-against instead of goals-against when evaluating penalty-killers, believing that it will remove the goaltender bias. If all shots were created equally, I'd do the same, but in the absence of a reliable shot quality statistic, I think it's best to use both.
Having already presented the league's best in goals-against last week, here are this year's top 10 leaders in shots-against.
Player Team SA/60
Marian Hossa Chicago 24.1
Mathieu Roy Columbus 27.1
Steve Eminger Anaheim 27.5
Antti Miettinen Minnesota 27.5
Jeff Carter Philadelphia 27.8
Shaone Morrisonn Washington 28.2
Quintin Laing Washington 28.3
Kim Johnsson Minnesota 28.7
Dustin Brown Los Angeles 30.0
Mike Brown Anaheim 30.6
Everyone on this list is a secondary penalty killer. The top primary penalty killer is Kyle Brodziak of Minnesota, who has allowed 32.1 SA/60.
Is this list truly reflective of great penalty-killers? Dustin Brown's achievements are certainly consistent, as he ranked eighth in SA/60 last season with 33.6 (minimum 50 GP, 1.50 SHTOI/GP). I guess you can say that when you're down, go with Brown. With that one exception, no one else on the list rated anywhere in the top half of the league in shots-allowed last season, so I'm uncertain about the usefulness of this list given the small sample size of data.
So over the past few seasons, who has been the best at consistently preventing shots? Only two players kept their SA/60 below 35.0 in each of the past two seasons: Matt Niskanen of Dallas and Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk. Oddly enough, Matt Niskanen is not being used in a penalty-killing role this season, but Pavel Datsyuk is doing extremely well, with a SHGAA of 3.80 and 31.6 SA/60 despite extremely tough QComp of 2.30. I'm embarrassed that Datsyuk was overlooked on my list of top penalty-killing forwards last week.
If you widen the scope of the search to those who consistently allow 40.0 shots or fewer, five more names appear, all of whom are being put up against top competition and yet are preventing shots from being fired on net.
Player Team SHGAA SA/60 QCOMP
Patrik Elias New Jersey 5.92 17.8 2.04
Niklas Kronwall Detroit 9.30 32.6 1.61
Greg Zanon Minnesota 6.33 33.6 2.44
Matt Cooke Pittsburgh 6.01 36.1 0.87
Douglas Murray San Jose 5.01 38.9 1.16
Speaking of Niskanen, it's curious why coach Marc Crawford would select Tom Wandell as a primary penalty-killing forward despite Wandell's mixed results and the wealth of penalty-killing talent at Crawford's disposal. Maybe it should be no surprise Dallas is ranked 26th overall killing penalties, barely ahead of Toronto and New York.
SHTOI: Ice-time per game on 4-on-5.
Forward SHTOI SHGAA SA/60
Jere Lehtinen 1.74 2.46 41.8
Tom Wandell 1.71 10.38 59.9
Loui Eriksson 1.61 10.99 53.3
Steve Ott 1.43 7.75 52.0
Mike Ribeiro 1.42 7.86 49.1
Brenden Morrow 1.40 7.95 46.7
With the exception of Jere Lehtinen, this list gives you the impression that Crawford is giving the least effective penalty-killers the most ice-time. What's worse, he might not be playing his best penalty-killers at all. Why not use Matt Niskanen, Mike Modano and Brad Richards?
Player Season SHGAA SA/60 SHTOI
Matt Niskanen 2007-08 3.64 30.2 2.11
Matt Niskanen 2008-09 7.55 34.0 1.79
Mike Modano 2007-08 3.36 31.9 1.74
Mike Modano 2008-09 8.72 37.5 1.98
Brad Richards 2007-08 8.14 36.0 2.09
Brad Richards 2008-09 7.27 35.8 2.06
It's rare to find a team with even one player who consistently allows fewer than 40.0 shots per 60 minutes, but the Stars are blessed with Lehtinen, and these three. They've been used before, they were effective, and if Dallas' penalty killing is going to improve, they should be used again.
Quality of Competition
With the possible exceptions of Wilson, Gordon and Crawford, most coaches know who their best penalty-killers are, and use them against the league's leading power play specialists. Last week, I separated players into primary and secondary penalty-killers to make that distinction, but this week we'll use Desjardins' Quality of Competition metric to determine which players are facing the toughest opponents so far this season.
Player Team QComp SHGAA SA/60
Rene Bourque Calgary 3.32 5.77 52.8
Daymond Langkow Calgary 3.22 2.28 53.5
David Krejci Boston 3.09 5.17 51.7
Mike Grier Buffalo 2.99 3.22 50.7
Kris Versteeg Chicago 2.93 3.99 39.9
Marek Zidlicky Minnesota 2.89 6.88 33.8
Mattias Ohlund Tampa Bay 2.76 5.04 44.3
Sergei Kostitsyn Montreal 2.75 1.26 37.9
Barret Jackman St. Louis 2.75 4.17 42.8
B.J. Crombeen St. Louis 2.74 2.25 47.8
This is a list of the league's most underrated penalty-killers. Mattias Ohlund, for example, is one of only 24 players to have a SA/60 under 40.0 the last two seasons, and that's despite being used against the league's top competition. And it's amazing how players like Langkow, Kostitsyn and Crombeen can have such low SHGAA despite facing such stiff competition. Zidlicky is the only player on this list with a SHGAA worse than average, but given that he has given up only 33.8 shots against, it's probably not entirely his fault.
There are many ways to skin a cat, and while we identified several of the league's most effective penalty-killers last week, this week's methods gave us some more names to add to the list, including Dustin Brown, Pavel Datsyuk, Patrik Elias, Niklas Kronwall, Greg Zanon, Matt Cooke, Douglas Murray, and Mattias Ohlund.
When something's not working, you need to accept your situation, and make some changes. Ron Wilson could improve Toronto's short-handed squad by replacing Francois Beauchemin and Wayne Primeau with Ian White and Matt Stajan, Scott Gordon would be well advised to re-design the Islander top penalty-killing forward unit around Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Blake Comeau, and Marc Crawford should complement Jere Lehtinen with the amazing collection of talent with which he is blessed: Matt Niskanen, Mike Modano, and Brad Richards.
That's it for this week. Until next week, please continue to send me your ideas and suggestions, and I'll do my best to retrieve and interpret the data for you.
Robert Vollman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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