(Note from Rossi: Jesse Marshall, a local hockey blogger, has agreed to share his unique brand of analytical insight on this blog. His contributions will appear on an as-we-think-of-it basis. Enjoy.)
>> THE FACEOFF FACTOR: Sutter on the Shut Down
Brandon Sutter was tasked with the job of filling some very large skates when Jordan Staal was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
However, a quick comparison of the numbers show that Sutter hasn’t just filled the role of third-line center for the Penguins; he’s putting up defensive numbers that place him among the NHL’s elite – players that might find their names mixed among Selke Trophy nominations this season.
With 663 minutes of even-strength hockey played this season, Sutter has only been on the ice for 16 of the Penguins 104 even strength goals-against. That number ranks second among players that have played at least 40 games for the Penguins this season. Joe Vitale leads at 13.
This number also puts Sutter among some of the league’s elite defensive centers. He is 16th overall and one better than Anze Kopitar (Los Angeles) and Logan Couture (San Jose), both of whom are among the projected contenders for the Selke that is annually awarded to the top defensive forward.
Some perspective on these numbers: Sutter is allowing 1.56 goals-against for every 60 minutes of even strength ice time he records. Staal was allowing 2.83 goals-against per 60 minutes of even-strength ice time his final season for the Penguins, 2011-12.
Sutter’s also been just as valuable on the penalty kill. In fact, 44 percent of the team’s even-strength ice time belongs to him, trumped only by checking forward Craig Adams and shutdown-pairing defenseman Brooks Orpik, just over 50 percent each.
Coach Dan Bylsma has used Sutter in a multitude of scenarios this season with a wide variety of partners along the way. (The Trib has reported him playing with 13 different wingers.)
With other teams consistently lining up their big guns against Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Sutter has seen less of a workload against top line units than other third-line centers. In fact, according to some advanced quality of competition numbers that are based on possession statistics, Sutter is facing opponents that aren’t half as staunch as what Crosby and Malkin see on a regular basis.
The Crosby/Malkin lines are seeing time against the top units of other teams, whereas the Sutter unit has been paired against the oppositions’ third lines in most scenarios. So, while more goals might be expected of Sutter in these instances, he’s only scored two less goals than Jordan Staal has this season, with approximately 100 less minutes played at even-strength and virtually no time on the power-play for the Penguins.
That being said, the Penguins have an in-house defensive specialist on their third line, and when the playoffs roll around that’s goes quite a long way. Remember, Staal – though he scored some big goals along the way – was primarily playing a defensive, shutdown role for the Penguins on their run to the Cup Final in 2008 and their Cup win the next season.
Jesse Marshall is co-founder of Faceoff-Factor, a site that breaks down the Penguins by using nontraditional methods such as the study of advanced statistics. Read his work at www.faceoff-factor.com. Follow him on Twitter @jmarshfof
>> Chris Adamski delves into the unlikely speedster in arguably hockey’s biggest spot: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5524450-74/gibbons-crosby-nhl#axzz2sTev6XPf
>> Adamski also notes that Sidney Crosby is not worried about where he’s staying in Sochi: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5524451-74/games-penguins-bylsma#axzz2sTev6XPf
Josh Yohe in is snowy Buffalo, and will have all your information on this icy Wednesday.
Be EXCELLENT to each other,