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Analysis of DeBoer's Decision to Start Severson and Sit Larsson

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Yesterday, DeBoer decided to bench Larsson after a full offseason of hype in favor of Severson an even younger defender with even more questions about his play. With our sample of preseason games and one regular season game we look at the decision and its implications.

Bruce Bennett

Welcome back Devils fans!!! Great to be back isn't it. So this season looks like more of the same so far. Just another Devils team that gets out-possessed but capitalizes on even strength scoring chances to compensate for poor defensive play. Wait, what? What did we just watch? It is far too early to make judgments about this season from one game ... SO LET"S GET STARTED.

Tom Gulitti reported early on Thursday that Adam Larsson was going to be a healthy scratch for Damon Severson based on the morning skate. Devils fans everywhere immediately began questioning this decision (among others). Even here at ILWT, Brians Top 25 under 25 rankings had Larsson as our 3rd best young player (Severson came in 6th) Pete Deboer said that "the 20 that had the best camps are the 20 that are playing tonight." So let's analyze that decision:

Preseason Corsi

The Devils are typically a good possession team who's best players have reflectively powerful possession numbers. According to Hockey Analysis, no Devils defender last year was a minus possession player and only Salvador had a Corsi less than 53%. Below are Larsson's and Severson's possession statistics in the preseason.

5v5 CF 5v5 CA 5v5 CD CF% 5v5 CF 5v5 CA 5v5 CD CF%
Game 1 Severson 12 7 5 63% Larsson 11 10 1 52%
Game 2 Severson 9 4 5 69% Larsson 9 9 0 50%
Game 3 Severson 12 3 9 80% Larsson 12 9 3 57%
Game 4 Severson 17 17 0 50% Larsson - - - -
Game 5 Severson - - - - Larsson 7 16 -9 30%
Game 6 Severson 17 15 2 53% Larsson 15 9 6 63%
TOTAL 67 46 21 59% TOTAL 54 53 1 50%

As is clear from this chart, Severson outplayed Larsson from a possession standpoint statistically. Now these stats were retrieved from HockeyStats.ca and do not list WOWYs, Zone Start %, or any other mitigating factors so be aware that these may be slightly misleading. Furthermore, Corsi doesn't tell much in small sample sizes. But, Severson's Corsi Differential was 20 attempts higher than Larsson's. That's a difficult difference to write off using only mitigating factors.

If you go down the line, the only time that Larsson out performed was in the last game of the preseason where he had a great game and notched 2 assists. But that was not enough to ignore the first 5 games for the coaching staff.

I looked this up before the game and determined that I was okay with this decision. The only worrisome place on defense is the PK, but Larsson hasn't played significant minutes there either so I won't lament the loss much. That brings us to last night.

His First NHL Game

All Situations Even Strength
Fname Lname CF CA CD CF% CorsiRel ZS% CF CA CD CF% ZS%
PATRIK ELIAS 25 13 12 65.8 9.6 46 22 11 11 66.7 50
MARTIN HAVLAT 23 12 11 65.7 9.5 60 20 12 8 62.5 56
MIKE CAMMALLERI 19 13 6 59.4 3.2 43 14 11 3 56 40
ERIC GELINAS 17 13 4 56.7 0.5 75 13 13 0 50 50
JAROMIR JAGR 16 12 4 57.1 0.9 38 14 11 3 56 40
JON MERRILL 20 17 3 54.1 -2.1 25 20 16 4 55.6 50
TRAVIS ZAJAC 14 11 3 56 -0.2 38 12 9 3 57.1 40
DAINIUS ZUBRUS 19 20 -1 48.7 -7.5 56 19 12 7 61.3 50
TUOMO RUUTU 3 10 -7 23.1 -33.1 50 3 10 -7 23.1 50
MICHAEL RYDER 11 18 -7 37.9 -18.3 25 10 17 -7 37 50
ANDY GREENE 21 29 -8 42 -14.2 46 20 27 -7 42.6 67
MAREK ZIDLICKY 17 26 -9 39.5 -16.7 48 12 15 -3 44.4 38
JORDIN TOOTOO 3 12 -9 20 -36.2 50 3 12 -9 20 50
BRYCE SALVADOR 14 24 -10 36.8 -19.4 47 14 13 1 51.9 38
DAMON SEVERSON 17 27 -10 38.6 -17.6 46 15 24 -9 38.5 67
RYANE CLOWE 10 21 -11 32.3 -23.9 40 9 20 -11 31 67
ADAM HENRIQUE 11 25 -14 30.6 -25.6 40 10 21 -11 32.3 67
CORY SCHNEIDER 53 68 -15 43.8 -12.4 47 47 54 -7 46.5 50
STEPHEN GIONTA 3 25 -22 10.7 -45.5 83 3 16 -13 15.8 75

This is an output of all the Devils Corsi Stats via HockeyStats.ca. This is one of the more discouraging portions of the game. The Devils had a terrible Corsi night alltogether, but Severson was uniquely bad. He was the worst Corsi defender on the team and 15th of our 18 skaters in Corsi Differential. For those unversed in Corsi, this means that when he was on the ice, The Devils were getting way less shot attempts than the Flyers. Furthermore, according to NaturalStatTrick.com, Severson, during his 14 minutes on ice with Greene, saw 13 corsi shot attempts for and 23 against. Our best defender, an elite possession player last year, should never be getting a -10 Corsi Differential.

That's the bad. I get that out of the way because I want to move on to the good now. Single-game Corsi statistics sometimes are misleading -- especially in a situation like this where he Devils were ahead or tied for the entire game. Furthermore, despite those possession statistics, Severson seems to have fared decently well. DeBoer said in the post-game interview that he thought Severson was "fantastic" and even cited his play as a reason for putting him on the PK late in the game.

According to NaturalStatTrick; Ruutu, Tootoo (that is still so fun), Gelinas, Elias, and Severson were the only players not on the ice for any of the 4 goals against. Of those players, Severson logged the most minutes during the game at 18:39 (Jeez that's a lot for a first game). It wasn't like he just played a conservative game either, he was on the ice for 2 of our goals and took 2 shots on goal too. With 28 shifts (According to ESPN) only Andy Greene was put in the game more times. That is a busy first day in the NHL.

Summing Up and Moving Forward

Severson was a better possession player than Larsson in the preseason and based on that it is excusable that he made the team over the much-maligned 21-year-old. However, that possession didn't carry over to the first game of the season as he posted the worst possession numbers of all of our defenders despite logging 14 of his 18 minutes with our best defender. That didn't materialize into anything on the scoreboard though as Severson was the most frequently used skater that didn't see a goal scored against him while on the ice. And Deboer loved him.

Moving forward what can we expect to see from Severson? Well as bad as their stats were, the top pairing of the night -- Zidlicky and Salvador (what are we doing?) -- had the same Corsi differential and was on the ice for 3 of the 4 goals against. Despite my hesitation to putting that much responsibility on both the rookie and on Greene to clean up the mistakes, I think we need to see if they can handle top pairing minutes because it's abundantly clear that Zid and Sal should not be a top pairing. I would have thought that was obvious before the game, but evidently it's not.

Regardless, PDB seems to like him, he played a shutout game with Greene, and he's still young and encouraging. Larsson will get plenty of chances as the 7th defender, but Severson could be something special if he continues to impress. Don't be shocked if Severson sees more time on the PK and starts logging close to 20 mintues sooner than you thought.

Your Thoughts

What do you think about Severson? Do you like him as a player? Do you like him more than Larsson?

How do you feel about making an already inexperienced blue line even more green?

Does his possession game concern you based on last night or excite you based on the preseason?

Is he holding back Andy Greene?

Answer these questions and more in the comments sections. Happy Hockey Hunting Devils fans. I'll see you again next week!