Every Monday, we’re going to take a look at the week that was in the view of microstats. What are microstats? In layman’s terms, they’re stats that are more detailed than what the NHL provides. We know what players are good through shots and Expected Goals, but what are they doing to contribute to that? Are they setting up chances? Generating zone entries? Creating off the rush? Getting the puck out of their zone efficiently? We can explore that with some of these microstats and will do so to kick off every week. Here is a link to some definitions and stats that I track if you want to learn more https://theenergyline.wordpress.com/stats-i-track/
Team of the Week: Calgary Flames
The Flames wreaked havoc on the Metropolitan Division, sweeping a four-game road trip and putting an exclamation mark on it back-to-back shutout wins over Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Calgary was a tough team to get a gauge on heading into the year. Sure, enough can go right for them to make the playoffs but there wasn’t much to get excited about with the team firmly entrenched in good-but-not-great territory.
Their current win streak is a reminder of how good this team can be when they’re firing on all cylinders, and it all starts with Johnny Gaudreau. The Flames star scored his first two goals of the season this past week and while it was nice for him to find the back of the net, there’s so much more he contributes. His ability to create in transition can change the complexion of the game on a dime and we saw that in their 4-0 win against the Penguins. This was an even game in terms of scoring chances (12-12), but the Flames created five scoring chances off zone entries from Gaudreau and it was basically a short highlight reel of what makes him such a special player.
On his first rush, which also led to his goal, we saw him take a pass from Tkachuk in the defensive zone, make a nifty deflection to get the puck away from the Pittsburgh defender and leave everyone in the dust for a mini-breakaway chance. On other plays we saw his great hands on display, weaving around defenders to setup Tkachuk for a chance and making a quick pivot after gaining the line to setup Dillon Dube for the goal that made it 3-0. Attacking in transition might not be the preferred attack for head coach Darryl Sutter, but some freedom is given to Gaudreau here and it makes Calgary a tough team to matchup with when he is on his game.
Let’s not forget the players getting him the puck in these clips either, most notably defenseman Oliver Kylington. The 2015 second round pick spent most of last season on the taxi squad and is now the go-to partner for Christopher Tanev in Calgary’s top-four. The two have posted very strong underlying numbers since being paired together including a dominant performance against a red hot Flyers team on Saturday night. Part of is due to Kylington’s ability to skate out of pressure, giving Tanev a reliable outlet to exit the zone when retrieving pucks or playing tight against forwards at the line. The pace he brings also gives the Flames a different dynamic to their back-end, which has no shortage of great skaters but not much speed to go with it. Kylington having only two failed exits on 22 puck attempts over the three games tracked this week should also help him earn the trust of the coaching staff as he looks to stay in a high leverage role full-time.
The other player getting Gaudreau the puck in these clips we should focus on is Matthew Tkachuk. Known for being the ultimate pest, Tkachuk earns his keep on the top line with Gaudreau by doing the legwork in the defensive zone, generating 13 zone exits over the three games tracked on 15 attempts. It’s helped free up some space for Gaudreau to cheat for offense if he needs to and get behind the defense. We often think of Tkachuk as a nuisance and a net-front presence, but there is more that comes with playing along the boards than just retrieving dump-ins or mucking things up in front of the goalie. Getting the puck out of your zone and being a reliable outlet for your defense can yield great results when you’re on a line with guys who excel in transition like Gaudreau.
Another thing that you need on a line is a great F3, which is where Elias Lindholm has thrived in Calgary. Lindholm’s always been an interesting player to breakdown because he doesn’t generate much in volume in terms of microstats. His numbers are typically average across the board with him being more efficient with his limited puck touches. With Gaudreau getting most of the puck touches and Tkachuk being the first forechecker on dump-ins, Lindholm will often defer to his linemates and watch where the play goes to jump on loose pucks. Tied for the team lead in goals with seven, Lindholm’s shot will always be his best asset and he is the ideal high forward on a line for what Gaudreau and Tkachuk bring. Their skill and creativity lead to a lot of loose pucks and coverage lapses, so a player with Lindholm’s skill doesn’t need much to take advantage of these situations. We saw a lot of this in Calgary’s win over Philadelphia, with Lindholm contribution to 10 of Calgary’s 5v5 shots, including six secondary assists (a very high mark for a forward).
We’ve seen teams have hot starts before, so it remains to be seen if Calgary can sustain this and be a team that will be around come May. That said, give credit where it’s due. They’ve made the most out of a tough schedule and have a legit first line to go with some strong goaltending from Jacob Markstrom. Being a Sutter coached team, their bottom-nine should be in good shape defensively, which will complement their top line well. The question is whether or not they can get enough depth scoring to keep up with the rest of the division in the coming weeks. They’ve gotten some of that from Andrew Mangiapane, who is stuck on the fourth line even though he has seven goals. Sean Monahan scored his first goal of the season on the power play the other night and Blake Coleman is coming off a strong road trip, so there is room for improvement here. Either way, Calgary’s finds themselves in a great spot at first place in the Pacific through eight games.
Microstats Three Stars:
- Nathan MacKinnon vs. Wild (4 shots, 1 chance, 9 setups, 7 primary assists, 6 5v5 zone entries, 5 entries w/ possession, 2 entries leading to chances, 5 zone exits w/ possession, 4 power play shots, 2 power play setups)
MacKinnon’s overall production was a little modest for his standards (only two assists and one scoring chance assist), but his work in transition was on another level in this game. Rewatching the clips was a stark reminder of how much of a low-percentage game hockey is because he could have had a couple more points had it not been for some great saves by Cam Talbot. His speed and explosiveness are usually what makes him such a lethal player in transition. This game was more about his power, as he was knocking over defenders to win the puck or boxing himself out for a better shot. Some of the players on the wrong end of his highlight reel include Joel Eriksson Ek (excellent defender), Jonas Brodin (great defenseman) and Dmitry Kulikov (very strong human).
- Thomas Chabot vs. Caps and Stars (9 shots, 3 chances, 8 shot assists, 3 primary assists, 3 chance assists, 10 entries, 2 carries, 4 entries leading to chances, 7 zone exits with possession)
The Sens defenseman had a puck on a string in their wild 7-5 loss to the Capitals last Monday night. One way or another, the play kept coming back to him and he made the most of it by contributing to 17 of Ottawa’s shots. Known more for his breakouts and high workload, Chabot showed how lethal he is offensively, getting a ton of space on the left point and taking advantage of the open ice Washington kept giving him. Acting as the point guard, the power forward and the three-point shooter, Chabot had to wear a lot of hats to get Ottawa back into their shootout with Washington (and he almost did).
- Sasha Barkov vs. Detroit (4 shots, 3 chances, 8 shot assists, 4 primary assists, 8 entries, 6 entries w/ possession, 3 entries leading to chances, 2 exits w/ possession)
Sometimes you’ll watch a guy for a couple of shifts and be like “yeah, that’s a good hockey player.” This sums up Sasha Barkov to a T and he had his full highlight reel on display in Friday night’s tilt against Detroit. Two goals, both coming right in front of the crease, rush offense created through hard work and powerful lower body strength and terrific work from behind the goal line to keep plays alive. It didn’t always result in quality chances, but the sustained possession wears teams down and created favorable shifts for the second and third lines. A good example is the zone exit Barkov created by winning the puck along the boards to setup a chance for Sam Bennett, who changed for him later in the shift. Barkov is one of those players who doesn’t need a lot of puck touches to be effective, but he is borderline impossible to matchup against when he takes the wheel like this.
What’s Wrong With….?
Kirill has not provided much thrill for Wild fans (or fantasy hockey players) in this first month, notching only six assists and posting some troubling underlying stats to boot. Now, when a player is slumping the first thing everyone does is look to see if he’s getting chances. With microstats, we can look at it further to see what else they are doing to contributing even if it isn’t showing up on the scoresheet. What does this mean for Kaprizov’s underwhelming start?
With him, it’s tough to figure out because he’s averaging about three shots per game and still getting his assists, which should mean things are fine. The problem is where the shots are coming from, mostly from the perimeter. However, this isn’t anything new for him and what made him such a lethal player last year was how he could create on his own and score from distance (especially in the high slot). He’s also versatile in that he can score off the rush and on sustained offense, the latter being where he’s the most dangerous. Watching his game against Colorado, he can still create his own space in the neutral zone (six carries on nine attempts), but the passing options aren’t there. Nor are the second and third opportunities.
There are a lot of solo rushes and plays that either die off a missed point shot or Kaprizov having to create on his own from not having much help around him. Some of that might relate to linemates, as both Joel Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno are good players, but they do their damage from in front of the net, so it might be easier for defenders to focus on Kaprizov if the two of them are going to the same area. Getting Mats Zuccarello back in the lineup could solve some of the Wild’s problems here, but it looks like a fixable problem in the long run. Part of Kaprizov’s game is still there, which is being able to create space through the neutral zone and that should lead to more points for him. The goal-scoring issue, however, could be more of a problem, as him shooting at 17% like he did in his rookie year is tough to sustain for anyone.
We all know Trevor Zegras, Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider, so I wanted to give a shoutout to an under the radar rookie, Connor McMichael, who has looked excellent playing on Washington’s second line with TJ Oshie and Anthony Mantha. The production hasn’t been there for the kid yet, but all signs point to a breakout with him being second on the team in scoring chances at 5v5 and third in chance setups. He has also been one of their more opportunistic players on zone entries, with the Caps generating a chance on 33% of his entries. He’s been setup well, playing an offensive role with good linemates so it will be interesting to see if he can sustain it with Oshie sidelined for a while.