Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Growth of Nicklas Backstrom

Here are some of his important "underlying" numbers:

At first glance, I see increasing defensive responsibility for the young Swede, coupled with superior possession play. Backstrom may have topped out his offense, more-or-less, but with his ever-improving defensive play I think he may age like Saku Koivu (who, this last year at 36, was still taking tough assignments, along with Selanne), but with a bit more offense. If Backstrom and Ovechkin age like that, I'll be ecstatic.

It is a little troublesome to see how he seems at the mercy of his teammates and the percentages on the power play. I guess Jacques Martin had it right--the Caps' PP does truly revolve around Ovechkin.

And rolling Corsi segments, 10 games each in length:

Apologies on the messed-up x-axis scale. They are the segment-ending game numbers, 1 to 81 (the game sheet for the shutout win over Carolina early in the season for whatever reason wasn't published online).

We can see that in the middle of the season and towards the end were when Backstrom was strongest. In the middle of the season, though, we likely have score effects inflating Backstrom's ratio--he'd see a lot of ice time with the Caps trailing, which would be often when you lose 8 in a row--whereas score effects have the opposite effect at the end, deflating Backstrom's numbers. He fell off a bit around Game 70, which is around the time of his thumb injury.

Perhaps surprisingly, perhaps not, the Caps as a team had their strongest possession weeks before the system change, and despite Backstrom (and likely Ovechkin as well) not exactly dominating territorially (I think much of the Caps' success can be attributed to their newer defensive look, which teams were not prepared for, and more favorable percentages). The aggressive "run-and-gun" seemed to deteriorate over time, on the other season Boudreau will truly test Boudreau's mettle in terms of making adjustments, as other teams have now had the time to prepare for every look he's given them.

On a side note, the Caps' Fenwick and scoring chance ratios look stronger than Corsi ratios. The Caps went on a tear post-deadline in Fenwick. I just opted for the larger-sample Corsi metric.

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