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Noon Number (October 9th): 1982

I'm commandeering Dan's Noon Number for today. He'll be back tomorrow in my usual Wednesday slot.

Hannah Foslien

For today's Noon Number, I'm gonna give my take on what has been a big talking point for Wild fans for the last couple of days. There has been a lot of discussion about the performance of the 2nd defensive pair in the last game, against the Anaheim Ducks, because they were on the ice for all 3 even-strength goals against. I've seen a lot of reasonable analysis and opinion about it, but I've also seen some hysterical stuff too, so I figured it's time to add my take. What really inspired me to add my analysis was when I saw some stuff about Spurgeon/Scandella sitting a few games for Prosser and Stoner to "send a message", which, for me, would be an idiotic thing to do.

Before I get into the numbers, I need to say that while I've been full of praise for both players, and I was vocal that Marco Scandella should've been with the Wild for the duration of last season (because he is better than Nate Prosser, Justin Falk and Brett Clark), this is a new season and the slate has been cleaned. Like any players, if these guys can't make the team better, then their roles should be reduced or they should be shipped-out. The goal is to win the Stanley Cup, and I don't care who plays for the team as long as they increase the chances of achieving that goal. Obviously both players have a ton of talent and more than likely will succeed, but I feel I should make it clear that I don't favour any players and won't defend them just for the sake of it. Likewise, if a player I've always been very negative about suddenly plays a lot better, I'm gonna give them credit. For example, Zenon Konopka has been a colossal waste of a roster spot up to this point, but he put-in a much improved performance against the Ducks, working with his wingers Fontaine and Mitchell (who both looked phenomenal) to keep the puck in the offensive zone and frustrate the opposition.

First-off, the 2nd pairing was phenomenal against the LA Kings in the season opener. They handled the Kings aggressive forwards extremely well and were great at both ends of the ice. So that means that they've had 1 great game and 1 rough game so far, which is why I don't see how there can be so much panic. Sure, if they continue to struggle over a long period, then something needs to be done, but you're dealing with two talented young players who need to be playing together consistently in the NHL. Bringing in Nate Prosser or Clayton Stoner, who are both old enough now that they are unlikely to improve and have both shown that they are very limited at this level, doesn't make a whole lot of sense right now. I can understand doubts about Scandella to an extent because he still needs to prove himself, but Spurgeon is an excellent defenceman and has proven by now that he belongs in the top-4 of an NHL team.

Watching the even-strength goals that the Wild conceded against the Ducks, the first one couldn't be wholly blamed on the defence. The play begins with the Wild forwards turning the puck over after a long shift, and the Ducks gain the zone, with Saku Koivu beating Scandella in the corner. Spurgeon, Scandella and Coyle get into good positions and do enough to pressure the Ducks away from the goal. At this point, Heatley and Niederreiter have been coasting around the zone, not really taking any particular assignment, and when Beauchemin skates around and sets-up his shot from the point, Scandella, Spurgeon and Coyle all have Ducks players accounted for, but Heatley, who is closest to Beauchemin is in no man's land and is too far away to put pressure on the shooter. Beauchemin gets his shot-off comfortably, the puck is re-directed off Saku's stick and ends-up in the back of the net. This goal was caused by a general lack of energy and efficiency by all the Wild players on the ice, from the sequence when the puck was turned-over to Koivu's tip-in. I would put more blame on poor puck-protection and lazy defending from the forwards, in particular Dany Heatley than the defenders or Backstrom though.

For the 2nd ES goal, the one at the start of the period, the 2nd pairing is out once again, this time with the 3rd line. All the players seem to be in good positions as they try to pressure the Ducks into a turnover. Everything seems to be going smoothly as Brodziak and Spurgeon put pressure on Mathieu Perreault and Dustin Penner, but then a mouth-watering one-two pass from Perreault to Penner and back suddenly creates havoc. Perreault takes the puck behind the net and is pursued by Jared Spurgeon, but then he fires a pass out in front for Jakob Silfverberg to finish with a one-timer. It all happens in the blink of an eye, but the key sequence is when Perreault goes behind the net, Slifverberg skates right by Granlund into space awaiting the pass, and Brodziak and Scandella both stand in the goal crease, neither of them moving to cover Silverberg. Granlund could've chased him, but I'll give credit to FBJ that there were two Ducks players on his side of the ice so he probably decided to stay-put to keep an eye on them. It's hard to say whether it should have been Brdoziak or Scandella who moved to cover Silverberg, but what I will say is that Spurgeon doesn't fully commit to chasing Perreault behind the net, he hesitates for a moment, and I think this moment of hesitation causes Scandella to hang by the post expecting Perreault to skate around and attempt a wrap-around or to move into space on that side of the ice. I'm kind of nitpicking here. The Wild could have defended better, but I have to give credit to the Ducks on this one. They created this goal through excellent passing and movement. The whole sequence happens so fast and Silfverberg looks like he knows exactly where to go as soon as Perreault moves behind the net. It looks like something they've worked on as a team in practice.

For the OT winner, after a frantic passage of play, Beauchemin carries the puck into the Wild zone. He has Perreault with him and the Wild have Spurgeon, Scandella and Pominville back to defend. Spurgeon rushes to defend against Perreault, but unfortunately he trips and falls on his ass as Perreault dishes the puck to Beauchemin who is racing forward. At this point Scandella is suddenly the last man back and instinctively moves to try and poke check the puck away from Beauchemin. He probably saw that Jason Pominville was in a decent position to pick-up Perreault even after Spurgeon tripped. Weirdly, Pominville lets Perreault just blow right past him and kind of swivels on the spot. Beauchemin gets his pass away before Scandella can get to him, it's met by Perreault who is now un-checked and he slots the puck past Backstrom with ease for the win.

Now I'm not saying: "Hey look, I've analysed the goals and Scandella and Spurgeon clearly weren't at fault for any of them". I looked at the goals and this is just my opinion on what was going on. Both players certainly could've defended better on all those goals, whether it be in the build-up to the goal or during the actual decisive play. What I am trying to point-out is that the easy narrative about guys being on the ice when goals go in automatically having awful games is a lazy crutch and doesn't amount to any kind of valuable analysis. It's like when people say things like "Nate Prosser was only on the ice for 1 goal against last year", it's not actually telling you anything about his play, other than that he was very lucky.

After reviewing the film, the next step is to look at the underlying numbers. The following numbers are for the 5v5 play in regulation time. I couldn't find a way to factor-in OT, but, as it is only 5 minutes, it shouldn't make a huge difference.

-Here are the on-ice, even-strength puck possession numbers for Scandella and Spurgeon from that game, as well as their On-Ice Shooting and Save Percentages and PDO:











































Both players drove possession really well, posting Corsi For and Fenwick For percentages of well over 50. The Ducks have been a good possession team this year so this is no mean feat. Both players, unsurprisingly, had awful On-Ice Save Percentages as they were both on the ice for 2 goals against in regulation. If you look at the Shots For and Against, you can get an insight into how luck factors into On-Ice statistics. The Wild had 8 shots on goal while each of Scandella and Spurgeon were on the ice, and not one of these resulted in a goal. The Ducks managed 7 shots on goal while Scandella was on the ice and 6 while Spurgeon was on the ice, and 2 of these resulted in goals. So Spurgeon only allowed 6 shots, but 1/3 of these went into the net.

A good defenceman limits shot attempts by the other team while he is on the ice, and increases shot attempts for his own team by helping to control puck possession and keep it in the opposition's zone. Both guys did this reasonably well.

-Here's the usage data for both players from that game:



















Interestingly, throughout all the talk about how the 2nd pairing was struggling, they still played extremely tough minutes, seeing a very high percentage of defensive zone starts. You can see from the numbers above that Mike Yeo trusted them with a high percentage of the team's total TOI and was comfortable putting them into tough situations such as defensive zone draws right up until the end of the game.

The Wild gave-up 17 shots on goal and 26 overall shot-attempts at 5v5 in regulation during that game. Any of these could have ended up in the net, but only 2 did, with the 2nd pairing on the ice for both. On another day, it could have been 2 of the 7 shots that Backstrom faced while Jonas Brodin was on the ice, but fortunately for him, it wasn't. Save percentage is very random and unpredictable. The point I'm making is that sometimes there's a lot more to a perfromance than just the easy narrative that jumps off the screen at you. What I look for in a defenceman, are good shot-attempt and shot-on-goal differentials. There's gonna be games where a certain pairing gets victimised and every little mistake they make results in a goal, while other chances are saved, but if they are putting-up good underlying numbers, I'll back them to bounce-back and be effective over the course of the season. The coaches need to be patient and let these pairings get comfortable rather than messing-up the chemistry by getting Stoner or Prosser involved.

This is just my take on things, and I welcome* criticism in the comments section. Oh, and by the way, the "1982" that this article is based on, is the number of words in it. Yes, I know, very lame.

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*All critics will be banned immedietely.