I wanted to look at some underlying numbers outlining the play of the Anaheim Ducks defense the past three games. The common complaints I have seen on social media is that Clayton Stoner, Eric Brewer, and Ben Lovejoy are to blame. To some degree, this is correct. But I wanted to show another side, one that includes Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, and Francois Beauchemin as well.
To start with, I took the shot attempts ("Corsi") against, shots on goal against, and goals against numbers in the past three games and weighted them. Lindholm, Lovejoy, and Brewer only appeared in two games, which I adjusted for; however, Lindholm and Lovejoy both appeared in the game against the Washington Capitals, in which the Ducks were outplayed by a large degree. As such, both of their numbers are slightly skewed.
Here's the web with the data. I'll break it down a bit below.
Here's what this shows: the top is the average Corsi against each guy has from February 6th through February 10th. Follow that top line to the lower right, which shows which of those Corsi events against turn into actual shots on goal against. From there, the line runs into the actual number of goals against from those shots. This is the least meaningful data without accompanying shot location data, which I may do another time but not today, because defenders are ultimately not the best determinant of on ice save percentage.
As we can see, Lindholm struggled the most at suppressing attempts, according to this adjusted data. This is entirely due to the game in Washington, when he was out for 21 attempts against that became 12 shots against. The next game in Tampa Bay, he was out for 12 attempts against that became nine shots against. So yes, he was better at preventing attempts from becoming shots against Washington. Overall, attempts became shots at 63.6% with Lindholm out, while only 19% of those shots became goals.
Lovejoy shows up next. His situation is similar to Lindholm's in that the Washington game heavily weights his numbers. But unlike Lindholm, his defense is more in question. Against the Capitals, 20 attempts against became 11 shots against, and against the Florida Panthers, 11 attempts against became nine shots against. That's 64.5% attempts to shots through two games (with 81.8% of the attempts against Florida becoming shots against), with 40% turning into goals against.
Clearly, Lovejoy is struggling mightily right now. I have said on social media that I believe his play is even worse than other defenders. I would have to pull together a broader look to really dig into this, but one thing is clear in the last three games: he was the second worst defensemen on the ice. In his first game, he was paired with Fowler, which is troublesome. The Lovejoy-Brewer pairing was an unmitigated disaster.
Beauchemin is the next up. These numbers are largely normal for him of late, honestly. He hasn't been the team's best option for a while, and his neutral zone runs at opposing players has put Lindholm under a lot of duress. That being said, he's consistent in where he is, so he's at least a known commodity. With one of Lindholm or Fowler playing alongside him, his warts can be covered. In the past three games, only 52% of the attempts against him turned into shots, with only 26.3% becoming goals.
Fowler is the next line on the Corsi against part of the web. The past three games have not been his best, but his partners have been Lovejoy, then Brewer, then Beauchemin. Ideally, we see him lift those players into respectable numbers, but he's never been elite on his own. He benefits from good pairings. What hurts Fowler the most, since the 52.3% of attempts becoming shots against is pretty decent (indeed, second best on the team in this stretch), is that 45.4% of the shots on goal have gone in. Ouch.
Brewer is a very big problem. He didn't play in the Washington game, which means his Corsi numbers didn't have the largest drag of the sample. In both Tampa Bay and Florida, Anaheim possessed the puck more (as approximated by shot attempts). And yet, against the Lightning, Brewer was out for 12 Corsi events against, which became nine shots (so 75% of those didn't miss, get blocked, or get broken up). Against the Panthers, he had 10 attempts against that turned into eight shots on, or 80%. Brewer's average in both games is 77.2% of the attempts made on goal becoming shots on.
Again, without getting into location data, this suggests some things to me. For one, while he's been better than Lovejoy in preventing a Corsi event against from occurring in general, the ones he's giving up are probably not well contested. For a shooter to have a 77.2% chance of success of getting an attempt on goal means he has enough time and space to aim. Either that, or he's right on top of the goaltender to begin with. The second thing this tells me, which I won't break down as much here, is that given his offensive liability (his shot generation is horrific), this is not an NHL player. Mark Fistric, who isn't the best defenseman by any stretch, has at least NHL-worthy numbers to back his weaker defense.
To add insult to injury, 54.4% of the shots on goal went into the net when Brewer was on the ice. Again, that's the least meaningful number here, but if his trend of being out for three even strength goals per game continues, there's a big problem.
I'll finish with the Ducks best defenders through three games. Vatanen and Stoner, in large part because they have been a consistent pairing seeing consistent usage, have the most favorable numbers. Being the only solid pairing during these games helps a lot, which is much of the problem with the other skaters used during this road trip.
Vatanen has been slightly worse at suppressing attempts through three games than Stoner. Stick that in your pipes and smoke the hell out of it, because Stoner is the least of Anaheim's problems at the moment.* (My theory on this remains unchanged: he's paired with Vatanen to mitigate his badness, not to anchor Sami.) Through three games, 54.3% of the attempts against Vatanen have turned into shots on goal. However, 35.7% of those shots on became goals, which again is meaningless but actually speaks to my mini caveat from above.
* Stoner is still a problem in that his below average suppression doesn't get reciprocated in an equal amount of generation, which means he's always negative. A player like Vatanen has the same suppression numbers (and much is thanks to the pairing) while generating a ton of shots. The real issue with all of this is that Vatanen's on ice goals against numbers take a dive when he's up creating and Stoner's back covering. It is less than ideal, obviously. Vatanen's much better at breaking up rushes than Stoner.
Kid Ish's Player of the Week is Stoner, who led the team in preventing attempts on goal. A lot of this is because he tends to block shots from here to infirmary (a Trio reference, word). This is probably why GM Bob Murray valued him so highly for coach Bruce Boudreau, who has advocated a more "clog lanes and block shots" approach with this defense. But one thing I have been gradually noticing is that Stoner is not awful, say like Lovejoy or even Beauchemin is becoming, at defending zone entries.
When a defender can prevent a clean entry, it goes a long way toward lowering Corsi events against. Now some of this is actually because teams will dump the puck on his side and force him to turn and chase. It is a smart strategy for puck retrieval but a method that naturally lowers shot attempts. (In other words, that is an acceptable thing to give up as a defender, in my mind.) In any event, only 53.7% of the shots attempted became shots, and only 20% of those shots were goals.
The BIG takeaway here is that during the last three games, Lovejoy and Brewer have been atrocious. Lindholm and Beauchemin were destroyed in Washington. Fowler and (insert bad player) has begun to sink Cam quite a bit. Vatanen and Stoner are the next cop buddy movie waiting to happen. (Get well Frederik Andersen, this crap defense NEEDS you.)