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A Question About Sheltering Defensemen

Thursday night, the coaching staff deployed the defensemen in a very interesting way, and obviously the way it turned out, it was not a great idea. What was the reason?

New Jersey Devils v Tampa Bay Lightning Photo by Mark LoMoglio/NHLI via Getty Images

In the New Jersey Devils’ Thursday night loss to Tampa Bay, you could look at relative Corsi among the three defensive pairs at 5 on 5 and get a solid indicator about which pairs were good and which pairs struggled. Check it out thanks to Natural Stat Trick:

From just this information, and really based on this information, you can tell that the pairing of Subban and Graves killed it the other night, Severson and Siegenthaler were slightly in the red but were not outright anchors, while Smith and White were terrible. There really is not another way around those numbers, they tell the story.

However, what that information does not tell us is how the coaching staff decided to deploy these pairings on the ice. If you were just looking at the pairings and not at any other information, you might think that they would want to shelter Smith and White in order to give them a chance to succeed, providing them with a lot of offensive zone faceoffs. On the other hand, the other two pairings could probably handle more of the defensive zone assignments and play in their own end. That’s certainly what I would have thought from looking at the pairings on paper.

In reality, however, here are your offensive zone faceoff stats for the defensemen in that game:

P.K. Subban - 66.67 OZFO%

Ryan Graves - 70.00 OZFO%

Damon Severson - 58.82 OZFO%

Jonas Siegenthaler - 58.82 OZFO%

Ty Smith - 50.00 OZFO%

Colton White - 33.33 OZFO%

So the coaching staff decided to start Subban and Graves in the offensive zone at least 2-to-1, but on the other hand, gave Colton White the opposite, giving him 2 defensive zone draws for every 1 in the offensive zone. How can the most vulnerable pairing, Smith and White, be the pairing that gets the highest percentage of defensive zone draws? Meanwhile, the other two pairings, Severson-Siegenthaler being described as possibly a shut down style pairing, and the big guys in Subban and Graves, were given much more offensive zone faceoffs? It just really does not make much sense to me.

As Chris noted in his recap of the game, there was no netfront defense in that game. Tampa had control of the high danger area in front of the net, and all three goals came as rebounds because no defender was there to do anything about it. You can blame that on the system or style of play, and that is a different criticism of the coaching staff, definitely valid. But perhaps some of the problem was that they simply had the wrong guys out there in the defensive zone way too often. This team needs to be doing everything it can to help Ty Smith to succeed and become a legit NHL defenseman, top 4 kind of guy that he has shown he can be. He has been struggling though. But instead of helping him, they decided to throw him out there for a higher percentage of defensive zone draws than Subban, Graves, Severson and Siegenthaler. Why?

Now, to be fair, this has not been the case consistently. Against Dallas on Tuesday, Severson and Siegenthaler had the lowest OZFO% among defensemen, so they did get it right that game, although considering how that game went, you might want to debate that didn’t work either. But in reality, this is the type of thing that should not be happening at all, or at least not until guys like Smith and White prove that they can be the shutdown defenders that would gain such a low OZFO%. In a game where the defense was an issue, especially in front of the net, having your least-defensive pairing get the lowest percentage of offensive zone draws is just folly.

It will be interesting to see how the coaching staff deals with this moving forward, tonight in Carolina and beyond. I certainly will check in on this again to try and get a gauge on what they are doing. But in the meantime, what do you think about this development from Thursday night’s game? Am I making too much of this, or is this another sign about why this coaching staff should be gone, and soon? Please leave comments below, and thanks for reading!