The Habs' Happy Hooker

Koivu's untimely hook and subsequent benching last night got me thinking about penalties. Here are the penalty taken/drawn numbers from Behind the Net for individual players and for the team while that player is on the ice.

The diff columns are just the Drawn minus the Taken. Positive is good, negative is bad.

The most importing thing here is, unlike last year, the team is in the black. Seeing how the Habs have a good PP and poor PK, that is crucial.

The item at the forefront of everyone's mind is Koivu's penalty taking tendency. Individually, he's taking 1.7 per 60 - tied with Kostopoulos for worst on the team. That's the bad news.

Taking a look at a slightly bigger picture, his individual differential is -0.8. That's pretty much par for a Habs centre. Smolinski and Lapierre are also at -0.8, while Plekanec is even.

Looking at an even bigger and more important picture, the team draws 2.4 more per 60 when Koivu is on the ice. That's just a hair behind the Plek-Kast-Kovy line's diff, despite Koivu playing tougher defensive assignments. Not bad.

If you consider that Koivu is -0.8 individually and the team is +2.4 while he's on the ice, that means his linemates and defensemen are a collective +3.2 while he's on the ice. That's a big number - by far the biggest on the team. So how are Koivu's linemates achieving the +3.2? The defensemen are pretty much all negative. He hasn't skated with Kovalev or A.Kastsitsyn. The most you get by adding up the individual numbers for Higgins and Ryder/S.Kastsitsyn is 2.4. It seems we have a paradox.

I think the answer is Koivu quite literally making his teammates better in this statistical regard. He's an aggressive player. He's hard on the puck. This means he takes more penalties, but it also means he gains possession of the puck. You take way more penalties when the other team has possession of the puck. If you are good at gaining and retaining possession, you are going to draw more penalties than you take. Koivu's aggressiveness looks bad on the surface (his individual -0.8), but it is a huge net positive for the team. That's why I think it was a bad move to bench Koivu last night. Ottawa dominated possession and it almost cost the Habs the game. That's now at least three home games in a row that they've been outshot and outchanced at EV.

In contrast to Koivu is Chipchura. During his stay in Montreal he bucked the trend for Habs centres and was a solid individual +1.1. However, his team number was -1.1. That means his linemates were a collective -2.2 while he was on the ice. That's the worst on the team (although Latendresse is close behind). When Chipchura was on the ice, the team simply didn't gain/retain possession and it cost them penalties. He's a rookie, and he'll learn the ropes. Possibly from Koivu.



Numbers Of Interest

Here are the Canadiens' 5-on-5 scoring numbers from Behind the Net.

Click on the table to see it in a reasonable size.

Onto the Numbers Of Interest. I usually sort tables like this by the Quality of Competition column. To change things up, this one is by ES Pts/60.

For the last thirty games or so, A. Kastsitsyn-Plekanec-Kovalev has been the nominal #1. They've been the first choice for offensive situations and have usually been the line focused on by opposing coaches. This doesn't mean they're getting all the tough minutes - that duty is still usually for Koivu's line or Carbo's random array of checkers on a given night. But there is no question the Kovalev line has a bigger role now than it had at the start of the season.

The guy garnering most of the credit is, of course, the uber-skilled Kovalev. He's come to play this year, say the pundits. Well, I'm not so sure this 34-year-old leopard has changed his spots.

By the numbers, Kovy's put up 1.5 points per 60 et EV. His season-long linemates are each better by 50% - A.Kast is 2.2 Pleks is 2.3. Kovy's put up 0.76 goals per 60. Compare that to the utterly snakebitten Ryder's 0.79.

The EV success of the #1 trio this year is not a Kovalevian revival so much as an emergence of 23 year old Kastsitsyn and 25 year old Pleks. These guys have taken a leap forward. They're driving the results. That should be much more encouraging news to a Habs fan than a resurgence of Kovalev, if one had in fact taken place.

Obviously, Kovalev is not exactly a boat anchor on that line. His presence probably creates a lot of room for the kids. I should also point out that his EV production has nothing to do with his dominance on the PP. That's a whole other ball of wax, and is definitely a big reason for this club's success this year. Just don't confuse those PP numbers with his 5-on-5 performance.

This post may come across as Kovy-bashing. I hope not. People trying to reconcile the talent with the lack of production over his career have attached certain adjectives to his name more than others - 'enigmatic' on good days, 'indifferent,' 'petulant' or 'lazy' on not so good ones. None of that is fair to the player. Rather than search for explanations, why not just look at the production? He's at 1.52 ESP/60 this year. That's a little better than last season's 1.19 ESP/60, but not as good as 05/06's 2.08 ESP/60. His production is in line with his average over his last two seasons with Montreal.

Now here's something I like about Kovy's EV game:

Reminds you of the Tucker incident, eh? Or Bure on Churla. These skilled guys absorb a lot of cheap shots. It's refreshing to see them finally snap and take it out on a thug.