The performance of the Rangers’ defensive pairs has been a pain point for many this playoff season. Most Ranger fans agree that the Nick Holden/Marc Staal pair has been awful (I’ve written many words about them). That the Brendan Smith/Brady Skjei pair has been solid (and them). That Dan Girardi, while not exactly amazing, has had a better playoffs than anticipated. And Ryan McDonagh is awesome.
But is that really true?
The playoffs are a whole difference animal, where PDO has a huge impact on how we perceive performance. In the playoffs, which are essentially four mini seasons of seven games, you’re better off being lucky than good. Poor results overshadow great process. And great results overshadow poor process. There simply isn’t enough time for the numbers to correct themselves. It skews how we view success, and it’s completely expected.
— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) May 3, 2017
This is the tweet that started it all for me. Based on the raw shot numbers, Staal/Holden have actually been the best pairing in terms of limiting attempts. It’s worth noting that the above from Sean maps only CF/CA, not quality chances. When first looking at that, not only was I surprised, but it made me dig a little deeper into the quality, to see if my eyes may potentially be deceiving me.
But they were not. Based on the data from Corsica.hockey (through Game 3 against Ottawa), Staal and Holden are actually the best pairing on the Rangers –through nine games– of limiting scoring chances against too. Smith and Skjei are next best. Followed by McDonagh and Girardi. Girardi is still, by far, the worst on the team through those nine games.
So what exactly is this?
There are a few things at play here, and I do need to stress that evaluating based on the numbers alone is a fool’s errand. But in the playoffs, PDO will have a much larger impact on how we perceive player success. In such small samples, some unlucky breaks really stand out in our minds.
In that regard, Nick Holden has been by far the unluckiest Ranger on the ice. His PDO of 94.97 is the worst on the team by a wide margin. The Rangers as a team are shooting just 2.97% when he’s on the ice –which is crazy low– and he’s only getting 92.31 SV% from Henrik Lundqvist during his shifts. On the flip side, Skjei/Smith lead the team in PDO through nine games.
What does all this mean?
Our eyes have a tendency to skew perceptions of players based on monumental mistakes. Holden has had a pair of them already, and because these games mean so much, we don’t really forget them quickly. I’m going to call this the Mike Kostka effect. Because of the gravity of the mistakes and how they directly led to two playoff losses, they stick out in our minds.
That’s not to say Skjei/Smith are bad or that Holden is good. It’s to say that we may be skewing our perceptions based off these plays. It’s normal. In the playoffs we need consistency, since every little mistake can influence a series.
Perhaps what I’m saying is this: Holden/Staal are due for some good bounces. Sheltering them with offensive zone starts, the way Alain Vigneault did in Game 3, is a good way to get them going again. This isn’t to say they are going to be an All Star defensive pairing, but it is to say they haven’t been as bad as we all think.