Los Angeles Kings defenceman Kale Clague has a great opportunity with his team. The left-side spot on the team’s third defensive pairing could be up for grabs. Clague is at a point in his career where he should take the opportunity and run with it.
Kale Clague Should Be on the Los Angeles Kings Third Pairing
To start the first game of their 2020-21 season, the Los Angeles Kings had defenceman Kale Clague pencilled in on the left-side of their third pairing. Throughout training camp, Clague, Tobias Bjornfot, and Kurtis MacDermid had been battling for the spot. MacDermid ultimately ended up being the player to win the spot, but heading into Thursday’s game he was deemed unfit to play.
With MacDermid out of the lineup, Clague was the next man up for LA, and he was paired with Mark Alt, who was put into the lineup due to Sean Walker‘s unfit to play status. Friday morning, however, the Kings placed both Mark Alt and Troy Grosenick on waivers. This was because the players who were unfit to play became healthy and were ready to get into the lineup. As mentioned, Kurtis MacDermid had won the third-pairing spot in camp. He ended up playing where Clague did Thursday night and Walker played alongside him in place of Alt.
Even though he’s expected to start there, in reality, MacDermid has not secured this third-pairing spot. It is by no means a lock. Heading into and heading out of training camp, the Kings have implied that the left-side spot on the third-pairing will be rotated between Clague, MacDermid, and Bjornfot. Out of camp, MacDermid had won the spot to start the year. As the season progresses though, the best player of the three will be the one seeing the most time. Not only will they be competing for a spot this season, but each of those players’ performances could dictate where, or if, they are in the lineup for the 2021-22 season.
The Kings experienced some deja vu in their first two games of the season against the Minnesota Wild. In both games, the Kings had conceded the first goal, then ended up with a 3-1 lead heading into the third period. They then blew that third-period lead both times and found themselves in overtime, where they would ultimately get scored on, and lose both games 4-3.
While the outcomes of both games were the same, the lineups for the Kings were not. As mentioned, the first of the two featured Kale Clague on the left-side of the third-pairing, while the second featured MacDermid in that spot. Due to the unusual circumstances of this season, and the ironic outcomes of the Kings’ first two games, we have already been able to see a very small sample of each of Clague and MacDermid in practically identical game situations.
Why Clague Deserves the Spot
When comparing their first two games of the Kings season, it is clear that Clague had a significantly more positive impact than MacDermid did in virtually every facet of the game. If the Kings want to start winning games, the next, and easiest step they can take is having Kale Clague on their blueline rather than Kurtis MacDermid
Some Advanced Stats
Let’s start with possession. Our first hint at Clague’s superiority is the most basic of possession stats, Corsi. At all strengths, Kale Clague posted a remarkable 68.18 Corsi percentage. MacDermid, on the other hand, had a lacklustre 34.8 percent. Simply put, if a player is causing your team to be out-possessed by 35 percent, he is not giving them a chance to win. If a player is causing your team to out-possess the opposing team by 68 percent, then they are giving your team a significantly better chance to win. When Clague was on the ice, he was not only significantly limiting the shot attempts the Wild were getting, but he was also helping create a high volume of them for the Kings.
If you still aren’t sold, perhaps even strength numbers could convince you. After all, Clague did get to see some powerplay time which could help his Corsi. At even strength though, Clague posted a Corsi of 73.3% compared to MacDermid’s 40%.
Before we dive into offence, keep in mind that Kale Clague is an offensive defenceman, compared to Kurtis MacDermid being more a shutdown player, so Clague is expected to have more offence. With that said, however, Clague had a significantly more positive offensive impact. According to Natural Stat Trick, at even strength, Clague generated an xGF (expected goals for) of 0.47. He had an xG% (expected goals percentage) of 89.02 percent at even strength. MacDermid created an xGF of 0.39 and had an xG% of just 22.2 percent, all at even strength.
Clague also posted an even-strength SCF% (scoring chance for percentage) of 75 percent, while MacDermid had one of 15.38 percent.
With Clague being more of an offensive defenceman, and MacDermid being more of a defensive defenceman, it would be expected for MacDermid to produce better defensively, just like Clague did offensively. This was not the case, however. Let’s start by looking at xGA (expected goals against). At even strength, Clague boasted an xGA of 0.06. In comparison, MacDermid had an xGA of 1.36. For reference, MacDermid had a total xGA at even strength of 24.53 in 45 games played during the 2019-20 season. With an xGA of 1.36 in just one game this season, he is on pace to have a total xGA of 61.2 in 45 games. This would be a total of 36.67 more xGA.
In terms of scoring chances, Clague saw just one scoring chance against at even strength. Kurtis MacDermid cannot say the same, as he saw 11 against at even strength. Keep in mind, that the players’ defensive partner could have an impact on these numbers. Also keep in mind, however, that Clague’s partner was Mark Alt, a 29-year-old defenceman who has played a total of 19 career NHL games. MacDermid’s partner was Sean Walker, arguably the Kings’ third-best defenceman, and a legitimate top-four NHL defenceman.
Why Clague Is Better
It’s easy to just show a bunch of stats and declare Clague the better player, but we need to understand why he was able to produce better results. The first reason would be skating. Skating is arguably the best aspect of Clague’s game, while it could be one of the worst of MacDermid’s. By being fast and mobile, it allows gives Clague two effective options to move the puck, whereas MacDermid only has one.
Let’s look at the defensive zone. If MacDermid has the puck behind his own net while the opposing team is forechecking, the best and most effective option he has to get the puck out of the zone is passing it. By passing it though, he is relying on his teammates getting open, and his ability to make a pass to someone either higher up in his own zone, or in a different zone. If no one is open or he is unable to execute a pass, he gets himself into trouble.
Another option for him to get the puck out of the zone would be by skating it out. With MacDermid’s weak skating ability though, this option becomes ineffective. The chances of MacDermid being able to skate the puck out of the zone with two to three forecheckers pressuring him are unlikely. He simply is not fast or agile enough for this to be a play that he can make with confidence, or even consistently without having the puck stolen from him in his own zone. This, therefore, makes that option too dangerous for him, limiting him to just the pass.
Clague, on the other hand, does not have this issue. Like MacDermid or any other player in the league, he has the option of passing the puck out of the zone. Unlike MacDermid though, if no one is open, or the pass he wants to make is too difficult, he has other options due to his skating ability. His first option would be to move around in his own zone until a teammate can get open, or he can find a better passing lane. Due to Clague’s mobility, skating strength, and hands, he can comfortably move around his own zone while being pressured until he finds a play that he likes.
If he still can’t find a play he likes, then Clague has the option of just skating the puck out of the zone himself, and either finding a teammate in the neutral zone or offensive zone, as well as the option of entering the zone himself. Because of his impressive skating ability, this option is one that Clague can go to with confidence. He executes consistently without getting the puck taken from him.
As mentioned, both players have the option of passing the puck out of the zone to move it. What separates bad players from good players and good players from great players is their ability to make those passes. Due to Clague being a more offensively oriented player, his passing ability is superior to that of MacDermid. He will be able to make passes that MacDermid can’t and will find more success with them as well.
How it Relates to Stats
Because Clague is able to move the puck and transition it from zone to zone so much easier than MacDermid can, it translates into his team having more possession, and the puck is in his defensive zone less. When the puck is in his own zone, Clague is more effective at getting it out. He prevents the opposing team from regaining possession on the forecheck. This limits the number of scoring chances the opposing team is going to have. Similarly, with Clague’s skating ability, he can create zone entries for his team more easily. This causes them to have more offensive zone time, more shots, more scoring chances, and an overall higher Corsi percentage.
With MacDermid, he has much more trouble getting the puck out of his own zone, mainly because he really only has one safe, effective method of doing so. That method (passing), however, depends on his teammate’s positioning and the other team’s forecheck as much as it does on him. It’s significantly less effective. Because of this, the opposing team is able to keep the puck in their offensive zone more. It causes them to have more scoring chances and causes the Kings to have a lower Corsi percentage when MacDermid is on the ice.
The stats show that Clague is a far superior player than MacDermid. Even though the sample size is just from one game, the way they both play the game sets Clague up for success in those statistics, and MacDermid up for failure. At the end of the day, Clague has more of an avenue to succeed. He’ll continue to prove to be the better player every time he gets pencilled into the lineup. He is also still just 22 years old, with plenty of room to grow and improve. The left-side of the Los Angeles Kings third-pairing should belong to Kale Clague. It’s only a matter of time before it does.
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