As we approach double digits in games played, it's time to put on our taped-up spectacles, insert our pocket protectors and get nerdy on some data! Though it's still plenty early enough to get some bizarre anomalies, we finally have enough info to start divining trends across the league and seeing how players are being used and how they're performing within our roster. Ahead is a glimpse at the 2013 Bruins-to-date by the numbers.
You can put away the graphing calculator, this isn't a quiz. I'll be linking to the various sources of data this post is culled from so you can make your own evaluations as you like, but I'm not a super math whiz myself so this will all be pretty painless even for the number-allergic among you. Let's dig in, shall we?
OVERALL TEAM PERFORMANCE:
Over the first nine games, it's safe to say that last year's Bruins are back, at least from a possession standpoint. Only three of our regulars have a negative Corsi On - that is, they're seeing more shots against when they're on the ice than they're generating - while most are in the double digits to the opposite effect. Until last night, Bergeron and Seguin were top ten league-wide. This is illustrative of just how much the numbers are going to swing with such a small sampling, but after a few more games expect them to get right back up there as they were for much of the prior season.
So far so good. Now lets take a gander at our team's Fenwick Close. Fenwick, for the uninitiated, is the same damn thing as Corsi but omits blocked shots, so it's just a plus/minus of shots on goal and missed shots. The idea is to weed out some of the randomness present in Corsi, which just counts all shots willy nilly, and to account for the skill involved in blocking and finding shooting lanes. The "Close" part is further limiting the information recorded by counting only shot events when the score is tied or up/down by 1. This additional limitation is designed to keep score effects from skewing the possession picture. Most teams not named the Rangers will be unlikely to sit back with a one goal lead and let you pepper them with shots, so FenClose should give you a good view of how, under ordinary situations, the flow of play is going without the desperate shooting galleries of blowout games impacting the data.
So, with all that unpacked, we're coming in 4th in the league in FenClose, with only Montreal, St Louis and Los Angeles driving play better than us. Hooray! However, none of these teams has seen remotely as much time in Game-Close situations. We've spent 33 minutes/game in such conditions, whereas STL and MTL are there 10 minutes less. Which is to say we're rocking possession under neutral circumstances and have a larger data set to prove it. On the flipside, lets not toot our horn about that Game-Close TOI, since it comes with a negative connotation as well. We're not blowing games open like we were for chunks of last year, and it's reflected in the amount of time we're spending close. We're fifth in the league by this measure among some less than exemplary company. Basically, we've been pretty damn clutch thanks to our dominant possession game and can count on it to keep us out of trouble in close matches to a certain extent, but we should really stock up on our heart medication if this pattern holds.
Keep in mind, it's only been 9 games and we're looking at a metric that's tossing out shots generated when losing by a wide margin and shots generated when winning by a large margin, and we're tossing out blocked shots, so this sampling is awfully tiny, though the results correlate pretty closely with last year.
Yep, still wretched. If we want those close games to open up a little wider, we may want to consider addressing that second-to-last-in-league, 8.8% powerplay...
WHO'S GOT THE GOODS: P/60
As you've gathered from our inability to reach goal quota, nobody's lighting it on fire from a Points/60 perspective in comparison to last year. That is, except for David Krejci, who is cranking at 3.49 points per 60 minutes. It's an unsustainable rate for him, since it would essentially mean a lock on the Art Ross over the course of a season, but it points to a guy successfully shrugging off last year's slump. Otherwise, Dan Paille's been making good use of his 8 minutes per night, with his 3 points basically equalling a 3/60 pace. I'd doubt he can maintain this under the conditions the third line demands (we'll come to this in a minute), but there are worse guys to audition in the Caron spot this year (oh boy will I come to that...) should the other options fail.
PATRICE BERGERON: OFFENSIVE FORWARD
The first thing that popped out at me when perusing BehindTheNet's Player Breakdown is that Bergeron's got a bit of a new role this year. For the first time in his career, Bergeron is being used in a primarily offensive role. He and his party boy linemates are seeing sheltered zone starts, with well over 50% of the draws on the attacking side. Judging from Marchand and Seguin's over 60% starts, Bergeron's still seeing spot duty in defensive situations, but this rollout is definitely an abberation for a defensive forward on a Claude Julien team. Not only that, but this unit's seeing pretty meager quality of competition. Completely contrary to last year, their offensive talent is being employed as an exploitation line, taking advantage of softer situations to generate maximum production. It hasn't paid significant dividends in improving any of the three players' P/60, so watch this space to see if this is a temporary experiment designed to buffer against a slow start, or if it's a true philosophical shift in their usage.
To take some context into account when viewing Bergeron's use, it's important to remember that thus far we've had a schedule relatively heavy on home games, and this has some bearing on player deployment. Claude's going to try and get advantageous matchups at home, catching tired, weaker forward units with their pants down in the offensive zone against a face-off ace and his merry band of scorers. He won't be able to on the road, so you could see Bergeron's zone start numbers level off toward 50% or lower as the location of games evens out. But even so, seeing Bergeron spending less time in the D zone looks to be a calculated decision, which is reflected in and backed up by some other players' usage, which brings us to:
W(H)ITHER THE THIRD LINE
It's no secret that our third line hasn't been performing up to expectations. Three-million-dollar men Kelly and Peverley can't seem to buy a goal with their new ample paychecks, negating the team's strength in scoring depth. Taking a closer look though, it appears they're not being used the same way they were in the past, and our expectations are somewhat misplaced. It turns out that they're becoming a more conventional checking line and are being rolled out in situations where their duties are more defensive-focused.
In conjunction with the deployment of the Bergeron line, these two centermen are filling in for much of Mr. Selke's defensive responsibilities. Kelly is getting a measly 39% of his starts in the attacking zone and he's actually killing it at getting the puck out of the trouble from the look of his above 50% zone finishes and his not-at-all-bad, +9.43 Corsi On. He's starting at a disadvantage, moving it up ice and getting shots. Peverley is taking similar duties, if not as heavily weighted. Meanwhile, these two are facing the toughest quality of competition faced by any forwards - another indication that Bergeron's being shifted to a different role, as this is usually his bag. Last year the Bergeron unit faced the toughs most among forwards, but the distribution across the roster pretty level. This year sees a strong disparity between quality of competition among the forward units, with Kelly's line getting by far the worst of it.
After getting the puck out of trouble, they are getting their shots, as seen in their decent Corsi On and Peverley's 4th-on-team shot count. They're just suffering some awful puck luck, with the worst PDO on the squad. Eventually they'll go in, right Phil Kessel?
CHRIS BOURQUE WAS ADOPTED
The third and most important reason for Kelly and Peverley's rather modest start is that they're carrying a 174 pound sack of garbage on their wing. Ladies and Gentlemen, analysis of Chris Bourque matches the eye test. We've all been right. He sucks. He has a whopping five shots over eight games, has been getting offensively weighted zone starts but still winds up a dreadful (for this team) -5 Corsi On, just ahead of Thornton and in more minutes per game. But wait! Just looking at how bad he is personally doesn't give the whole picture! There's so much more!
Let's take a walk over to Hockey Analysis and have a look at a WOWY report of Ray Bourque's Milkman's son. What's WOWY you ask? It stands for "With or Without You" and looks at how a player influences other players' performance by showing their goal and shot numbers with a player, without a player, and together, along with their shared and separate TOI. We've already drawn the conclusion from individual Corsi On that Bourque sucks, but we can now see that he sucks like a vast black hole, dragging everything that surrounds into his crushing Corsi abyss. To spare you most of the math, we're looking at a percentage based on shots for that player and shots against that player. Over 50 is a good thing, it means the play is generally in the offensive zone when that player is in action. On their own without Bourque, Peverley is at 68% and Kelly at 58%. Pretty dang good, you guys.
Enter Chris Bourque: suddenly, when he's on the ice the other two gents see their possession percentage plummet below 50, dragging Peverley down by a full 20%. Were Rich Peverley skating without a useless plug on his wing, someone with even modest ability, he would be rivaling Tyler Seguin for the team Corsi crown. But with Bourque weighing him down in most of his minutes, Rich is in the bottom half. That, in a nutshell, is how much Chris Bourque blows at hockey: he makes good players demonstrably worse. And lest you think this has something to do with the limited amount of data to date, he did the same damn thing to Jordan Staal in 09/10. Jordan Caron has a similar effect in this same slot, but not remotely to the same extent. Caron is not good, Bourque is fucking terrible.
AARON JOHNSON: WHO KNEW?
Aaron Johnson hasn't been a total disaster! He's facing weak competition (as he should, dear lord as he should) but he's still in against tougher competition than Andrew Ference and has been blowing him out of the water in Corsi over his four games. This doesn't match his performance on prior teams AT ALL, so this is probably a small sample size blip. That, or Chiarelli's a genius and found a bargain-basement, rock-steady 7th defensemen. Time will tell (hint: it's the former), but thus far he's nothing to complain about in his limited role.
SEIDENBERG LEARNS TO DOUGIE
Here's an interesting tidbit - going back to WOWY, Dougie Hamilton improves Dennis Seidenberg. The amount of data on the two is fairly scant at the moment, but it does stand to reason that a more defenisve minded defenseman would see his Corsi improved by partnering with someone possessing better puck-advancing talents. Looks to be the case, as this was replicated with limited shared ice time with Ference and Johnson. Dougie's getting it done himself and makes his partner look good, which is more than I for one expected from the rookie.