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By The Numbers: The Jackets' PK - Can It Improve?

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We've used some cherry-picked math to talk about the Power Play and its potential improvement, so now it's time to throw a bunch of Penalty Kill numbers against the wall not unlike so much cooked spaghetti and see what sticks. We will again tip our cap and rely on the statsy goodness of Behind The Net, focusing on the PK.

First, the raw data. The Blue Jackets went on the PK 314 times in 2010-2011, and allowed 62 goals. This means they were successful killing penalties 252 times out of 314 chances, which is an 80.3% success rate. This was good enough for 22nd in the NHL (the Penguins were best at 86.1%).

Their best stretch was throughout February and into the first game in March, in which they killed off 41 out of 45, good enough for 91.1%. That also means that for the rest of the season they went 211-for-269, or 78.4%. Yikes.

To that end, when we break it down a bit more, we find something interesting. As you may remember, the Jackets were successful in certain parts of the season record-wise, and not-so-successful at other times. Some months were better than others. Likewise, the PK rate was not always at 80% all season. 

I wonder if there's some kind of connection here? Let's take a look:

Month Record Times SH SHs Killed %
October 6-4-0 48 40 83.3%
November 8-4-0 40 35 87.5%
December 6-7-3 70 52 74.3%
January 3-6-2 37 27 73.0%
February 8-3-1 42 38 90.5%
March 3-7-6 59 47 79.7%
April 0-4-1 18 13 72.2%
Totals 34-35-13 314 252 80.3%

Woah. Isn't it interesting how those correlate?? A solid PK unit corresponds to success in the won/lost column. Who knew? It isn't easy enough to say, "Well, kill off more penalties!" We need to look at the guys on the roster to see where there may be room for improvement, and who might represent the best PK units. Let's take a crack at it, shall we?

Now, let's look at player stats. First and foremost, some background on some of the numbers we will use.

  • TOI/60 - time-on-ice on the PK per 60 minutes of ice time played
  • GAON/60 - On-Ice Team Goals Against per 60 Minutes
  • Rating: On-Ice Plus-Minus per 60 Minutes minus Off-Ice Plus-Minus per 60 Minutes
  • "Corsi number - the number of shots directed towards the net while the player is on the ice. The number can be broken down into whose net the shots are directed towards (their own net (-) and their opponent's net (+)) similar to the plus minus statistic. The hope of course is that the Corsi plus minus would correlate well with the regular plus minus, but because the numbers will be 16x larger than plus minus numbers they'll be about 4x more accurate than the plus minus numbers." We'll be looking at a player's Corsi Rel, or in other words the difference between their on-ice Corsi number vs. their off-ice Corsi number. In simpler terms, a higher Corsi Rel means the team gives up FEWER shots when the player is on the ice.

First, let's look at the defensemen. Here are the pertinent stats for last year's club. We're going to throw out the numbers accrued by Nate Guenin and Nick Holden, as they played a combined eight games. John Moore also earned no PK time, so he is excluded as well. Also of note, players that spent times on other teams will have numbers that include their time with their previous team as well. Italicized names are guys no longer on the roster:

Player TOI/60 GAON/60 Rating Corsi Rel
Marc Methot 2.93 9.40 -4.28 -23.4
Jan Hejda 2.79 5.87 2.46 19.5
Fedor Tyutin 2.66 6.20 1.73 19.2
Mike Commodore 2.54 4.73 4.59 25.6
Grant Clitsome 1.64 4.72 0.44 -1.1
Sami Lepisto 1.58 8.70 -1.28 -26.4
Craig Rivet 1.25 9.07 -4.06 -5.3
Kris Russell 0.36 4.53 4.41 39.0
Anton Stralman 0.33 10.56 -0.56 15.1

What does all of this crap mean? Well, first and foremost, pound-for-pound the Jackets' best penalty killer appears to be none other than Kris Russell. To be fair, though, his numbers are skewed because of how infrequently he plays on the PK compared to his blue-line brethren. But, to give a better sense of what these numbers mean, let's look at the league leaders in these categories for defensemen who played at least 50 games, and who had more than a minute of TOI/60 on the PK:

TOI/60 - Toni Lydman, 3.62
GAON/60 - Brett Clark, 1.59
Rating - John-Michael Liles, 6.45
Corsi Rel - Cory Sarich, 43.7

Honestly, though, if we look at the heavy lifters on the PK, we see that Jan Hejda was probably the best overall penalty killer on the roster last season. Fedor Tyutin was also a pretty solid PKer. Mike Commodore, when he played, was actually pretty valuable on the PK. The humanity!

In addition, for all the minutes he played on the PK, Marc Methot really wasn't that good comparatively. I also looked at the converse stat of GAOFF/60, which would be the team's goals-allowed per 60 minutes of PK time when a player was NOT on the ice. Jan Hejda led that stat as well, giving credence to the notion that the Blue Jackets lost their best defenseman penalty killer this off-season. At first glance, that's not good.

Ahh, but we have two new guys coming to the blue line! How did they fare last season?

Player TOI/60 GAON/60 Rating Corsi Rel
Radek Martinek 2.42 5.04 -1.19 -11.9
James Wisniewski 0.96 7.53 -1.42 3.5

Ugh. Not much help there. Wiz doesn't play much on the PK (which is not surprising given the credentials he brought when signed), and Martinek does, but has pretty pedestrian numbers. However, it must be pointed out that the Islanders' PK wasn't that bad last year (83.2%, 12th in the NHL). Martinek appears to compare to Tyutin in most stats, except for the Corsi Rel number; Wisniewski compares moderately numbers-wise, but just doesn't play enough.

Defensemen Result? Well, it doesn't appear that the Jackets will be getting better on the PK by means of blue-line personnel. At first glance, the best pairing going into the season looks to be Martinek and Tyutin. Beyond that, it's anyone's guess. One wonders if Methot can improve, and if Kris Russell might not deserve more time on the PK. My world-view is shattered.


How about the forwards? We're going to set some limits on the forwards we include, by limiting the stats to forwards that played 50 games and had more than one minute of TOI/60 on the PK. Here goes! Again, italicized names are guys no longer on the roster:

Player TOI/60 GAON/60 Rating Corsi Rel
Samuel Pahlsson 2.71 6.48 0.10 -20.7
Chris Clark 1.95 5.81 -0.75 -8.1
R.J. Umberger 1.87 10.17 -3.98 -24.9
Derek MacKenzie 1.64 7.54 -0.37 14.3
Derek Dorsett 1.55 3.56 6.33 20.8
Antoine Vermette 1.41 7.28 -0.65 4.1

What does all of this crap mean? Ladies and gentlemen, your best PKer is Derek Dorsett.

Marinate in that for a second. Don't believe me? Let's look at the league leaders again for comparison. This is for forwards who played at least 50 games, and who had more than a minute of TOI/60 on the PK:

TOI/60 - Todd Marchant, 3.45
GAON/60 - Martin Erat, 1.68
Rating - Derek Dorsett, 6.33
Corsi Rel - Michael Grabner, 36.9

Here's the irony: Dorsett ALSO LEADS THE CLUB IN MINOR PENALTIES TAKEN. It's almost like his penance for all of those penalties is to play like a fiend when he's NOT in the box and the team is down a man. What an odd dichotomy.

Honestly, guys like Pahlsson and Vermette are more valuable than straight numbers would indicate, because of their collective ability to take and win faceoffs. Vermette and Pahlsson also lead the pack in Corsi Rel when factored in by quality of head-to-head competition. But, to me, the gem hidden here is Derek Dorsett's success on the PK relative to the rest of his team, and that also of Derek MacKenzie.

This, too, is the issue when you gear your forwards more toward scoring. I'm not complaining! Scoring is important. But, it truly limits the guys who play in these situations successfully. Jeff Carter, despite his reputation as having two-way ability, didn't play much on the PK for the Flyers (0.53 TOI/60), though his numbers weren't bad. The same can be said for Vinny Prospal, whose TOI/60 is so low it actually rounds out to 0.00. A guy like Maksim Mayorov had some decent numbers (a 13.68 rating, for example) but they came over five games and at a TOI/60 number of 0.09.

Forward Results? Well, other than stalwarts Pahlsson and Vermette at the center spots, it would appear that Derek Dorsett and Derek MacKenzie are the two next best options. Again, there isn't much help coming from personnel moves, though Jeff Carter might get the chance to play on the PK a bit.


Overall Results 

So, what have I *actually* been able to show here? Well, we showed that the Jackets' PK was good when they were winning, and bad when they were losing. For one, they didn't have the offense to overcome a timely goal allowed on the PK, and it just makes sense from a math standpoint that when you're giving up extra goals on the PK you're making it that much tougher to win. No surprises there.

I think we've also showed that any improvement from the PK is going to have to come largely from two places: the scheme, and the goaltending. Goaltending and defensive play on the PK tend to go hand-in-hand (in other word, one hand washes the other: if your defense is good it makes your goaltender look better, and if your goaltender is good it makes your defense look better). 

This also reinforces that Columbus just doesn't have that true #1 shut-down defender who can work magic on the PK. Jan Hejda, even in his best year for Columbus (the playoff year) still didn't have dominating stats on the PK. That said, he was still their best. And, now, he's gone (rightly, I might add. Let Colorado pay that contract!).

What it really comes down to at the end of all of this, is one last number:

Columbus was the ninth-most penalized team in the league last season.

Want that PK impact to drop? Cut down on the number of penalties you take. Columbus averaged 13.57 PIM per game last season, which was ninth-worst. Granted, they took 59 majors--seventh most in the league--of which 54 were fights and 53 carried no instigator penalty (which means there was no corresponding Power Play to those penalties).

BUT, Even factoring all of that major nonsense out, Columbus was still fifth-worst--FIFTH WORST--in taking minor penalties. They took 353 minors, and were short-handed 314 times. Those times short-handed? Tied for fourth-worst in the league. GACK.

So, even after shoving all of those crazy numbers into your face, finding nothing to get excited about, and sighing, I can still offer a shred of hope. Scott Arniel has talked about it. If this team can find a way to cut down the amount of cheap and stupid penalties they take, their PK stats won't hurt them as much.

Think of it this way: the mid-point of the league for times-shorthanded is 284. The Canadiens were worst in the league at 327, the Devils led the league with 241. Therefore: 327 - 241 = 86 / 2 = 43. 327 - 43 = 284.

That's 30 fewer times short-handed than the Jackets were last season. So, even if Columbus can't improve on their stats themselves, killing off 80.3% of 284 times short-handed means 228 kills, or 56 goals allowed. That's six goals right there; as lame as it sounds, that would cut their GAA from 3.05 to 2.98. Every little bit helps, right?

If they somehow manage to improve on their PK percentage, well, you can guess where that might go.

So, what have we learned? Other than there isn't immediate personnel help for the Jackets' PK anywhere in sight, we might surmise that increased scoring and puck possession on offense will help, as the team is less likely to commit stupid penalties while on the attack. Overall, however, success on the PK is going to come down to scheme and to discipline. In other words, hunker down. It could get messy.