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Shea-ved Ice: Defense Needs To Be Better

By: Casey Shea
(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

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A three-game road trip came to an end on a winning note in Montreal Saturday night, but not in a way that head coach Dan Bylsma can be happy about.

Brandon Sutter scored in overtime to give the Penguins a 7-6 win in a game where defense was extremely scarce at both ends of the rink.

Of course, there was some shaky goaltending at both ends as well, but goaltenders aren’t the only ones to blame in games like these.

Before we get into that, let’s take a look back at the three-game road trip that saw the Penguins go 1-2.

Over the course of those three games, the Penguins allowed 16 goals. Before the trip, the Penguins allowed only 30 goals in the previous 12 games during the month of February.

The only game during that stretch where the Pens allowed more than three goals was their 6-5 loss to the Flyers on Feb. 20.

So what happened on this road trip?

First of all, Kris Letang was nothing short of horrendous. Sure, his four assists Saturday against Montreal are nice, but he was on the ice for five of the six goals against and was mainly to blame for at least two of them. The pairing of him and Brooks Orpik just was not working last night in the absence of Paul Martin.

Maybe it’s just a case of them getting reacquainted as defense partners, but last night left a lot to be desired from both. Letang’s minus-four rating over the last four games is a bit misleading as that statistic usually is.

Against the Panthers alone, he was a major factor in three goals ending up in the back of the Penguins’ net. The reason that is a little misleading is because he was on the ice for 10 of the 16 goals the Penguins allowed over the last three games.

Was he to blame for all of them? Of course not, but he’s lucky to only be a minus-four. Leading all defensemen in points is all well and good and by no means am I complaining about that.

However, he needs to be more responsible in his own end. I’ll illustrate this more a little later.

This could very well be just a rough patch that he’s battling through and I hope it is, but he was far more noticeable for the wrong reasons than the right ones on this trip.

Tomas Vokoun certainly needs to be better, but he can only do so much. I’m sure he’s not overly thrilled with getting shelled in his last three starts either.

The Penguins brought him in to save the workload on Marc-Andre Fleury after what happened in the playoffs last year. If he keeps playing like this, the Penguins will have some decisions to make at the trade deadline that they probably weren’t anticipating.

Overall, the team got away from playing defense over the last three games and they paid for it. Clearly, there’s a lot of offensive firepower on the club, but you can’t go out and run and gun with teams every night.

The Penguins know this and I think we’ll see a much different team Monday night when Tampa Bay comes to town.

Now, to further explain how goaltending is not to blame for goal against we need to do a little math.

Years ago, I developed a way to essentially track accountability on goals. What it created was a GAA for players of sorts. At the time, it was done to prove Hal Gill’s true worth on the team, but I think now if the perfect time to break this out again.

As full disclosure, this is a pretty subjective statistic because I’ll look at every goal against and see what went wrong. If one person is to blame, such as the game-winning goal Vokoun allowed against Philadelphia, they’ll receive a full point in the standings. If two people are to blame, each will be awarded a half-point and so on.

Now, because everyone isn’t playing the same amount of time per game, the numbers have to be weighted appropriately.

What I’ll do is apply the same formula used to calculate a goaltender’s GAA to each player.

I’ll keep the grand total of accountability points as well so you can interpret it how you’d like. Here’s what the adjusted GAAs look like for the last three games:

  • Vokoun – 3.35
  • Letang – 3.33
  • Bortuzzo – 1.8
  • Crosby 1.21
  • Adams – 0.97
  • Niskanen – 0.95
  • Orpik – 0.68
  • Vitale – 0.65
  • Sutter – 0.61
  • Fleury – 0.51
  • Martin – 0.33
  • Kunitz – 0.25

*Players not listed did not play a role in a goal being scored against by my estimation.
** View The Whole Spreadsheet Here

What you need to keep in mind when looking at these numbers is that hockey is a team game.

As I said before, a goaltender is not always solely to blame for every puck that gets behind him. These numbers essentially share the blame among the players whose actions led to the goal being scored.

For example, Marc-Andre Fleury allowed four goals against the Hurricanes Thursday night. All four goals were generated from behind the goal line and were put in from point-blank range leaving him little time to react. If you watch all four goals, he had next to no chance on all four. In this case, he shares part of the blame on three of the goals by my estimation, but his defense in front of him allowed the passes to reach the eventual goal-scorer in a prime scoring area.

Hence, the defenders take more of the blame than the goaltender.

This may seem a little confusing at the moment, but check back after the Tampa Bay game and I’ll explain how I allocate the points by breaking down each goal. Until then, here’s hoping the Penguins get back to basics on defense.