O’Donnell: Atlantic thoughts – Montreal’s defense, Ekblad and Buffalo’s unsung D-man

Each week, noted Florida Panthers enthusiast and Atlantic Division analyst for Hockey Prospectus Shane O’Donnell will take a look around the Atlantic in search of notable stats and interesting storylines. Follow Shane on Twitter @shane1342o

Montreal’s Defensive Depth

The Montreal Canadiens were not a good possession team last season, and a lot of this had to do with their poor defensive depth. P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov were successful at taking tough usage and coming in well above the 50% mark in terms of score adjusted Corsi for percentage, but the rest of the defense was pretty dismal; only Nathan Bealieu played more than 40 games and finished with a CF% over 47%.

This year, however, Montreal’s defense is a different story. Subban and Markov are around the 53-54% mark yet again, but the team’s best defensive pairing at 5 on 5 (and the pairing that has seen the most ice time at 5 on 5) is the duo of Jeff Petry and Alexei Emelin. Having two pairings control over 53% of the shot attempts is a huge change from last season, and a big reason as to why the Canadiens have had such a possession turnaround this season.

I had to do a double take when I saw Emelin not only leading the Canadiens’ defense in relative CF%, but also in 5 on 5 TOI per game. It’s not exactly as though Petry is carrying Emelin either, as Emelin has a 53.8% CF% with Petry and a 54.2% CF% without.

Then there’s Greg Pateryn, who has been filling in for Emelin ever since the Russian went down with injury. Pateryn has a 59.4% CF%, and a 6.8% relative Corsi rating. If I’m the general manager of a team in need of a defenseman, I’m scouting Pateryn heavily and calling around to gauge his value. He’s Montreal’s 7th defenseman, and has shown over the past couple of seasons that he’s more than capable of holding his own on a bottom pairing. If he can be acquired for a low price, it might be worth the risk to see if he could carry his play over to another team.

Ottawa’s Elite Top Line

The Ottawa Senators are currently in second place in the Atlantic Division, with a 12-6-5 record. They also have the 5th lowest CF% in the NHL, and are winning games by depending on their top players and a little bit of puck luck.

Erik Karlsson has a relative CF% of 7.2%, and the highest points per 60 among defensemen who have played 150 minutes this season. He’s having yet another Norris Trophy caliber season, and the more he’s on the ice, the better the Senators do.

Then, there’s the forward unit of Mark Stone – Kyle Turris – Mike Hoffman. All three are in the top 30 forwards in terms of points per 60, and top 50 in terms of relative CF%.

Those four players have a combined 88 points on the season, and are a big reason that the Senators are doing so well.

Detroit’s Talented Veteran

The last time around, we looked at how Pavel Datsyuk had managed to have a tremendous impact on the possession numbers of the Detroit Red Wings despite only being back in the lineup for two games.

Well, he’s been in the lineup for nine games now, and the effect is even more pronounced. Datsyuk himself has a 57.2% CF%, and a 3.7% relative CF%., which alone is impressive. The effect his prescence has had on the Red Wings as a whole however, is what really makes this extraordinary, as the Wings have gone from being a sub-50% team to being a team that is north of 54%. Here’s the team’s rolling nine game CF%.

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Datsyuk slotted back in the lineup on November 13th; Detroit has seen a significant jump since then. The Red Wings will be in trouble when the 37-year-old retires.

Boston’s goaltender still struggling

I’ve written about Tuukka Rask three times in a row now. His save percentage still sits below .900%, and though he’s been solid in November, he hasn’t been the elite net minder that he was in the past.

One has to think that he’s going to go on a crazy run soon, given his history. Still, it’s worth noting that his save percentage has been this low for this long; it’s rare to see such a dropoff in save percentage for goaltenders, though they are hard to decipher.

Tampa’s special teams hurting them

The reigning Eastern Conference champions are not having the season that many expected them to have, as they sit at fifth in the Atlantic Division and only have a goal differential of +2 in all situations (after being second in the league last season, they’re 15th in the league this year).

The Bolts are doing fine at 5 on 5, where they rank 8th with a 52.1% CF% and 4th with a goal differential of +9. Where they’re hurting, however, is on the power play and penalty kill, as they rank in the bottom ten of the league in both categories.

The penalty kill is bleeding shot attempts (28th in Fenwick Against per 60 minutes), which is cause for concern and indicates that something needs to be changed.

The power play isn’t much better, as the Bolts were heavily dependent on high shooting percentages on the power play last season, and are quite getting the bounces this year. They need to figure out a way to get more pucks on goal, especially with the wealth of shooting talent they have at forward; they rank 29th in Fenwick For per 60 minutes.

Tampa Bay is playing strong 5 on 5 hockey, and their special teams are causing them to look like an average team. The potential for improvement is there, and the coaching staff needs to find a way to fix the special teams if the team wants to return to the top of the league standings; right now, they might even struggle to get into the playoffs.

Florida’s elite, young defenseman

Aaron Ekblad is having another incredible season with the Florida Panthers, as he leads the team in CF%, and relative CF%, while playing the second most 5 on 5 minutes.

Here’s his HERO Chart.


He is not just a top pairing defenseman; he is clearly one of the best defensemen in the entire league when it comes to having an impact on puck possession.


He’s 19-years-old.


Buffalo’s 23-year-old former first round pick starting to play at a high level

Mark Pysyk was taken with the 23rd overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft after putting up 24 points in 48 games for the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL. Described as a puck moving defenseman, Pysyk would go on to post 78 points in the next 120 WHL games he played, before moving up to professional hockey. From 2012-2015, Pysyk bounced back and forth between the NHL and AHL, playing 88 games with the Sabres in the NHL, and 148 games with the Rochester Americans of the AHL.

The Edmonton native saw his production stall in those three seasons, as he averaged 0.32 points per game in the AHL, and 0.18 points per game in the NHL. Still, he managed to crack the Sabres’ roster for the 2015-2016 season, and though he only has one assist in 18 games played, he’s been excellent in terms of puck possession and is a big reason that Buffalo has experienced such a turnaround in their possession metrics.

Among Sabres’ defenseman who have played at least 15 games this season, Pysyk is first in CF% and relative CF%, and it hasn’t just been his usage; his dCorsi/60 of 10.62 is the highest on the team.

He’s missed time with injury this season, and with Pysyk in the lineup, the Sabres have a CF% of 48.6%; without him in the lineup, that number drops to 42.5%.

The reason why the 23-year-old isn’t racking up points this season is because the Sabres are only shooting 5.1% with him on the ice, and because his individual points percentage (IPP) is only 14.3%, well below the 30% average for defensemen.

When Pysyk returns from injury, he could be a player to watch, especially if he continues to dominate the possession game.

Toronto’s misued forward

The Toronto Maple Leafs are having the season that many expected of them, and are currently near the bottom of the league standings. They have been slightly below average when it comes to puck possession, but don’t really have a ton of shooting talent, and are in a rough spot when it comes to goaltending, as the red-hot James Reimer is out with an injury.

If Mike Babcock wants to win games, he needs to be giving his best players lots of ice time. The player on the team who has been the best at producing points relative to ice time is Brad Boyes, who has a P/60 of 1.81. Boyes also is third among forwards in relative CF%, with a 5.4% rating. Despite this, Boyes is averaging less than ten minutes of 5 on 5 ice time per game, and only Michael Grabner is receiving less 5 on 5 ice time than the 33-year-old veteran.

Though there may be concerns about Boyes’ foot speed, or his consistency, he’s getting positive results while on the ice and doesn’t appear to be actively hurting the team (from a numbers standpoint). It might benefit the Leafs to try and play Boyes in a top-six role for some time, as he’s proven over the past couple of seasons that he can succeed on a second line, especially when given the right teammates to work with.

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