Last week, we looked at how John Tortorella used his forwards from a matchup perspective. Since AV is very similar to Torts in the way he utilizes matchups and zone starts, we figure it’s good to know how players were deployed, as it will likely remain the same under AV. This style plays to the strength of certain players, and particularly keeps the weak defenders away from big draws in the defensive zone. Explaining how players are deployed is tough, but luckily Rob Vollman has HockeyAbstract.com, where we can create player usage charts.
The Y axis is Corsi Rel QoC, the X axis is OZone start percent. The size of each bubble represents the average TOI per game (larger bubbles for more ice time), and the color represents the RCorsi (red is bad, blue is good). The chart is broken down into four quadrants, which tells us how each player was deployed: Shut Down, Two-Way, Less-Sheltered, and Sheltered. Put it all together, and you get how each defenseman was deployed on the ice, for how long, and how effective they were at driving puck possession.
Unlike the forwards, the defensive usage chart is incredibly easy to read, and –for the most part– it is consistent with what we have already seen with the eye test on the ice. It really shouldn’t surprise anyone that Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi were used as the clubs shutdown defensemen. They drew all the tough assignments, and were by far the top pairing for the Rangers this season. The bubble size for the pair shows they drew the most ice time, but it’s the possession stats that are interesting.
In the chart above, a purple bubble means the player had a positive Relative Corsi –they drove puck possession– and an orange bubble means they were in the negative, thus not driving puck possession*. So from looking at this chart, we see that McDonagh –despite starting the least number of shifts in the offensive zone and having the second-highest Corsi Rel QoC, was still a driver of puck possession. Meanwhile, Girardi was not.
*-We use Corsi to measure puck possession for two reasons. 1) Since Corsi measure shot attempts, it is a more accurate depiction of how much a team has the puck. If you have the puck, you are taking more shots, whether they are blocked, missing the net, getting stopped, or going in. 2) If you have the puck, the other team doesn’t, which means they can’t score.
The next thing to notice is that Marc Staal was not given the outrageously tough assignments we are used to seeing him get. This is mostly due to the emergence of McDonagh, but it’s worth noting that Staal has moved to the second pairing on defense. Staal also started a whopping 58% of his shifts in the offensive zone, but that is also a tad misleading since only two Rangers –Girardi and McDonagh– started fewer than 50% of their shifts in the offensive zone.
That isn’t to say that Staal was demoted. He’s still a top-pairing defenseman 29 NHL teams. It just so happens that, given the way Torts matched his defensemen, Staal wasn’t given the shutdown role. Each team has their own definition of top-pairing defenseman. The Rangers use their top-pairing to shut down the opposition. Other teams use their top-pairing as getting their offense-first guys out there.
What is interesting here is that Michael Del Zotto falls in the category of two-way defensemen. This chart shows that Del Zotto was clearly the #4 defenseman on the team, despite what people may think about him. The kid has shows steady improvement, but he has also been inconsistent. Despite the inconsistencies, he has been trending in the right direction. He no longer gets the easy assignments, and he is no longer getting those sheltered minutes.
Those sheltered minutes are actually going to Anton Stralman, who had a phenomenal season by all accounts. He was by far the leader in driving puck possession, but he also received easy minutes and was clearly the #5 defenseman on the team. He received fewer offensive zone starts than Del Zotto, likely due to the lack of offensive skill, but drew weaker assignments. Now this is countered by Stralman’s absurd 15.80 (!!) RCorsi, but it’s worth noting the matchups he had on the ice. Stralman is probably the best #5 defenseman in the game, and having a guy like him –one that can drive puck possession– on the bottom pairing is critical to defensive depth.
John Moore –as expected– was eased into his new team, and saw sheltered minutes. As he grows, he will likely round out the bottom pairing with Stralman to provide solid depth and puck possession ability. Moore was third on the Rangers in RCorsi in limited minutes, but that should grow as he gets accustomed to his new team.
It’s worth noting that although the coach has changed, the philosophy of line-matching has not. AV is more notorious for line matching than Torts, so it’s important we understand how players were deployed. This will likely be the basis for how we see AV deploy his players next season.