Tuesday night's game at home for the New Jersey Devils against Minnesota was the first of the season without Captain Bryce Salvador. While I am sure that everyone was extremely upset that he was unable to go for the game, nonetheless the Devils made do without his services. They brought up rookie Seth Helgeson and altered the bottom 4 defensive pairings to accommodate for this change. It was nice to see an instant rapport between Helgeson and Adam Larsson, and I do hope that if Helgeson gets more time up with the big club, those two can really gel and perform at a high level together.
Since Andy Greene and Damon Severson are already locked in together, and with Jon Merrill injured, that left the final pairing to consist of the two offensive-minded defensemen, Marek Zidlicky and Eric Gelinas. I have to admit that when I first saw these two paired up on the ice during a time other than the power play, I was a little nervous. Both have a tendency to make bad pinches or plays with the puck in the offensive and/or neutral zones that lead to breakaways in the wrong direction. If neither of them would stay back to defend against this, it would hang Cory Schneider out to dry way too often. Yes, what they could possibly do together on offense was enticing, but someone needs to play solid defense, right?
Well from the eye test, the two actually have done fairly well together since Bryce Salvador and Jon Merrill have been out. They are shaky at times, but the pairing has not been regularly pinned back. Since they could end up playing together more at 5 on 5 action during the season, I wanted to take a look to see how they have been fairing together, and if this pairing is ultimately in the best interests of the team.
With or Without You Numbers
Since we are discussing a pairing together, I feel like the best place to focus on is at the WOWY numbers for these two guys. First off, when they are together, you would be fairly surprised to see how well the numbers portray them. I was anyway. Before last night's game against Washington, the two had spent just over 49 minutes on the ice together at 5 on 5. That is not a significant number, being only a little over a quarter the amount that Zidlicky had spent with Salvador up until that point. But it is large enough to get a decent idea of how they had done up until then. While together, they averaged about 2.43 goals per 60 minutes when on the ice while only giving up around 1.218 goals per 60. This equated to a 66.7% Goals For percentage, which is a solid number. Also, they combined for a Corsi For percentage of 59.4%. That is an excellent number. To compare, Zidlicky with Salvador was at CF% of 47.1, and Gelinas with Merrill was at a CF% of 39.1.
After last night's game, the numbers are even more impressive. Now at 63:20 played together at 5 on 5 action, the two have averaged 2.84 goals per 60 minutes while only allowing 0.95 goals per game. This is a GF% of 75%. Furthermore, their Corsi For has jumped up to 60.4%. While I would certainly agree that they were not perfect last night, and did have some trouble clearing the zone at times, they held Washington off the scoreboard just like the other pairings did, and were not terrible.
To put these numbers in context, we also need to look at their numbers when away from one another. When Zidlicky is away from Gelinas, his numbers actually get much worse. At 5 on 5 action, he only on the ice for around 1.34 goals per 60 while giving up 2.68 goals. The more interesting number there is the latter one. It is very understandable that when Zid and Gelinas are on the ice together that they are helping to put more pucks in the net. They are offensive defensemen after all. But when Zidlicky is not with Gelinas, more goals are being scored against New Jersey. Zidlicky's Corsi also takes a dive without Gelinas, but still remains at an overall acceptable 51.2%.
When Gelinas is away from Zidlicky, his numbers also take a dive. The Devils are only scoring about 2.18 goals per 60 at 5 on 5 when he is out there without Zid, and they are allowing around 2.61 goals, which is not a good split. Again, however, it is interesting to note that Gelinas' goals against per 60 rises when he is not with Zidlicky. One would generally expect that number to fall given that both defensemen are not very defensively sound. Eric's Corsi also drops to 50.7, but does remain over 50% which is a good sign.
What If They Stayed Together?
I just threw a lot of numbers out there to describe this pairing together. I was pretty shocked to see how well these two have worked together at 5 on 5 so far, at least from the numbers' perspective. The question, of course, becomes should these two continue to see time together, even when others get healthy? The two players who will gain playing time when they get healthy are the two that these guys were mostly paired up with before, Salvador and Merrill.
First, I do not believe that the old pairings should return on a consistent basis. Peter DeBoer had already gotten away from the 7-22 connection, which was good because they were not performing well together. They had a Goals For % of only 42.9% during 5 on 5 play, and as I mentioned before, a Corsi For % of only 39.1. They may eventually develop a better connection together which could last for a long time in New Jersey, but it was not happening in October and may not happen this year.
The other major pairing has been Zidlicky with Salvador, and I also feel that this connection needs to end. The numbers for them at 5 on 5 are not kind. In over 168 minutes together, they only produced 1.068 goals per 60 minutes while allowing 3.201 goals against per 60 minutes. That is a miserable 25% Goals For percentage. They are not preventing many shots, and are not working together to produce many goals at all, despite Zidlicky's offensive capabilities.
So should Zidlicky and Gelinas stay together, even after the others get healthy? That would mean that Gelinas keeps his roster spot in favor of Merrill or Larsson. That is certainly no guarantee, as before Merrill got hurt, it was regularly Gelinas who was being benched. The interesting thing, however, is that Zidlicky has also played quite well when paired with Merrill. They have not shared the ice too often, but in nearly 29 minutes of 5 on 5 action together, they have a 66.7% Goals For percentage. The more impressive stat, however, is their Corsi For, which currently stands at an unsustainable 71.8%. While that will come down for sure, it does potentially indicate that they work well together. They certainly have so far. So if it ended up being a 2-7 connection instead of a 2-22 connection, it could work.
For 2-22 to stay together, it would also mean that Salvador is paired with either Larsson or Merrill, whoever remains in the lineup. Salvador has barely played with either of them this season, accumulating only 11:42 with Merrill and 17:49 with Larsson. Their numbers have not been great, but they are comparable to when Salvador is with Zidlicky, if not marginally better thanks to better Goals For percentages. So there might not be a big fall off there, which could work.
In the end, I think that keeping the 2-22 pairing together would not be the worst thing in the world. Yes it would be kind of scary to keep them together more often, as they could conceivably give up a bad breakaway at any time, but they have done well so far, so I would feel fine giving them a chance. They have not played together too much, and more playing time together might yield worse results, but we won't know until we see. Tonight's test against Colorado could be very telling considering their offensive firepower.
Of course, letting them play together means that Gelinas is receiving regular playing time, which I am not sure that he will once both Merrill and Salvador return to the lineup. Therefore, if it were up to me, I would probably have Larsson paired up with Salvador when he returns (because Salvador won't be benched as captain, we all know this), and play Zidlicky with either Merrill or Gelinas, whoever is playing. And if both Gelinas and Merrill are playing over Larsson, then pair Merrill with Salvador and let the 2-22 connection go to work. That is, until we see one too many bad giveaways.
What Do You Think?
Those are my thoughts about it. Given the numbers and what you have seen on the ice, what would you do with the defense? What do you think would be the best pairings for this team to do well? How do you feel about the 2-22 pairing for the Devils? Please leave your comments in the section below, and thanks for reading.