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How the Ottawa Senators Third Line of Their Defence Pairings Matchup

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The Ottawa Senators have strong defence pairings, especially when healthy, but just how bad is their third pairing? How do they match up around the league, and are they the main cause of the team’s defensive struggles? The team’s defensive struggles have been well-documented and easy to visualize statistically. Here we take a look at where the third pair ranks and add discussion on the impact of the defensive strategy for the team as a whole.

Are the Ottawa Senators Defence Pairings Third Pair Truly Sub-Par?

The line juggling of Ottawa Senators defence pairings, of course, has been blurred with the injuries to the backend. Thomas Chabot is due to return around the beginning of December. Furthermore, both Erik Brannstrom and Artem Zub missed some time with injury. There were a few games where all three regulars were out of the lineup. This forced the hand of who to decide to fill which roles. Jacob Bernard-Docker, Tyler Kleven, and Nikolas Matinpalo all found their way into the lineup. At that time the third pair really struggled. The thinking was to keep Kleven and Matinpalo together since they’re partners in Belleville. However, at 11 and seven minutes a night, respectively, for the two, it was trying.

Why Have They Got Themselves in This Predicament?

All–in–all the Kleven and Matinpalo of the Ottawa Senators defence pairings didn’t do too bad. They appeared together in just over six minutes a night. They recorded an xGoals% of 47.4 in that time on ice as a pairing. If you compare this number with one of the Senators top alignments, you see how large is the gap. A unit of Jake Sanderson and Zub, perhaps the Sens best, in 101.5 minutes together, have an xGoals% of 59.2. League-wide, of the (76) pairings at over 100 minutes thus far, that duo ranks 12th in xGoals%. It will be interesting to see how Sanderson can manage big minutes, but look for it to even out some as Chabot returns.

Is It the Bottom of Bottom Pairs?

If we filter on pairings that have played 39 minutes or more thus far, there are 178 such pairings in the NHL. Here a few of the Ottawa Senators defence pairings are not looking so hot. Sanderson and Travis Hamonic have been paired for 63 minutes, and are second last in xGoals% at 26.1%. Brannstrom and Hamonic are ranked low too at 166th. In addition, another combo, Chychrun and Bernard-Docker is ranked 144th. The problem there is they have been paired for 132 minutes. Now, many observers would suggest Bernard-Docker is playing above his level, as this was basically the team’s second pairing. However, if Bernard-Docker is trying to establish himself as a regular, this does not bode well.

As a comparison league-wide, it isn’t exact, given that the pairings jump around so much. Again, apply the filter for 39 minutes plus. A team like the Florida Panthers have five pairings ranked between 41st and 58th. Perhaps the surprise, which would be defined as the team’s third pairing, is Uvis Balinskis and Josh Mahura. They are the 58th rank pairing at 54%. A team where surprises are so surprising given their success thus far, is the Vancouver Canucks. The pairing of Ian Cole and Mark Friedman is eighth-ranked at 63.5% over 103.8 minutes. One more example is the Tampa Bay Lightning, whose pairings are granted a bit of a Jekyll-Hyde case. However, the one that stands out is the 29th-ranked pair, in 99.4 minutes they are at 58.3%. That pairing is Calvin de Haan and Darren Raddysh.

It Is a Team Game After All

The general theme looking across the league is that teams find a way to get it done. Yes, the Senators are 8-7-0, so they are getting it done, but that is despite the play of their third pairing. It makes things so much easier throughout your lineup if everyone is contributing. This doesn’t mean registering goals necessarily, especially for defencemen, but you want to outplay your matchups. As a team, the Senators are struggling from an analytic viewpoint. Their 45.5% xGoals% currently ranked them 29th, and the expected goal differential at -5.19 is 29th as well.

Luckily, the Senators do produce, even with some poor analytics. If you look at the actual goal differential above expected, they are sixth at 8.16. This is where their skilled players are capitalizing on opportunities. It is likely a result of playing that bend don’t break style that has enabled the Senators to find some success with the numbers reported. Bernard-Docker is a shot-blocking machine with 35 through 11 games. Zub is another example, with an average of two or more a game of both shots blocked and hits.

Main photo: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports


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