Red Wings Season CSSI Wrap Up: The Defense

Jonathan Daniel

With the season at an end and plenty of stuff left to talk about, I wanted to start tackling the CSSI numbers from this year. We talked last season about the overall purpose of CSSI and about how, at the high level, the numbers provided tend to agree with more-common advanced statistics on players. The benefit of CSSI is therefore a bit more of a detail-oriented view of what individual players may excel and struggle with (at least insofar as what they're asked to do).

As we go, I'm going to separate these out by position. One thing that gets lost in the shuffle of both CSSI and many other advanced stats is how different positional responsibilities can bear different results for players. Defensemen have more opportunities to screw up in their own zone than forwards and centers moreso than wingers simply by nature of their jobs. With that in mind, we're going to start with defense.

Overall Team Defensive Summary

Boiling away a lot noise which both helps to mitigate and create context, the heart of a team's defensive responsibility is to limit shots to the best of their ability when it matters (it matters more in close situations than it does when a team is sitting on a 3-goal lead).

This season, at 5-on-5 with the score close, the Red Wings allowed more shots than all but 11 teams in the NHL. Last year, they were 11th in that category. The year before, they were 2nd overall.

This is why it's no particular surprise that the overall CSSI numbers for the Red Wings' defensive corps have dropped. Overall, the adjusted plus/minus rating for the blueliners this season was -69.5. Last year, prorated to an 82-game schedule, the rating was -56.5. The year before that, when Detroit had one of the best overall defensive corps in the league, they were an adjusted +99.5.

To nobody's surprise, the numbers bear out the obvious: Detroit's defense has gotten worse.

Mistake Rates

It stands to reason that a defense which has the puck less often is going to end up with more coverage mistakes. That bears out pretty well in CSSI over the last three seasons. In the good defensive year (2011-12), the Wings were better at both quality and quantity. At 5-on-5 close rates, that team gave up a little over 12 shots per game and roughly one in every ten shot attempts turned into a single coverage minus. This season, the rate was 14.7 shots and one coverage minus out of every nine shots.

To add to the problem, the other deadly mistake reared up as well. This season, the team's defensive corps had 54 turnover minuses in 82 games. This is the highest number since the CSSI Project started back in 2010-11. When Wings' defensemen had the puck on their own sticks, they gave it away dangerously more often than any time in the past.

Season D-Man Turnover Minuses
2010-11 46.5
2011-12 44
2012-13* 30
2013-14 54

*prorated rate to 82 games

Keeping Blame

I've got to dig in a little bit on this stat  category because it's not terribly obvious, but in looking at the number of cleared minuses on goals against, we've also got an interesting look at how the blueliners struggled.

In CSSI, we've kept track of times when a player should truly be held blameless on a goal going in; whether it's caused by an unforgivably soft goal by the goaltender or a particularly egregious mistake by other people on the ice, a player doing his job who was truly a passenger on a play would not keep his minus. However, it was not terribly difficult for a player to keep a minus on a goal against when the puck went through his sphere of influence and he failed to make a different play which would have prevented the goal (a passing lane he could have covered, a shot he could have blocked, a player skating up the boards that he didn't angle off the puck).

With that in mind, here are the numbers of cleared minuses for defensemen in the last four seasons (2012-13 prorated to an 82-game schedule).

Season Total Minuses Cleared
2010-11 89
2011-12 87.5
2012-13 81.15
2013-14 68

The numbers were pretty consistent for three years until this one, when they dropped by about 15%. This is partially explained away simply by the increases in rates of both coverage and turnover minuses. Defensemen who earn extra minuses more often sure aren't getting them cleared more often too. However, I also think that part of the root cause of this is simply more time spent defending the cycle in the defensive zone, as the longer a shift would go, the smaller the chance a player would have of having his minus cleared. Defending off the rush can be tough and can lead to goals, but they seem to lead to fewer minuses kept, as numbers of people actively involved in a play dwindle. Cycle plays involve much more space used and a lot more complex offensive/defensive schemes.

tl;dr

Simply put, we took the long road to explaining that the defense wasn't as good at getting the puck out of their own zone effectively as they have been and that hurt them. The eyeball test tells us this; CSSI tells us how.

The Standouts

Player GP Official Plus/Minus Adjusted P/M G+ Cov- Turn- OV+ OV- Plty- Plty+ Chg+ Chg- PP+Lost PK-Clear GA-Clear GSaved+ Adjustment Differential
Niklas Kronwall 78 18.5 17 -22.5 -5 25 -4.5 -22 4 8 -2 -1 2 19.5 18.5
Jonathan Ericsson 48 2 -10.5 8.5 -16.5 -7.5 8 -5 -15.5 3.5 10 -3 1 4 -12.5
Kyle Quincey 82 -6 -31 8.5 -39 -8.5 27.5 -3 -28.5 5 4 -7 13 3 -25
Brendan Smith 71 -2 -21.5 12.5 -20 -13.5 13.5 -8 -25 12.5 6 -7 7.5 2 -19.5
Jakub Kindl 65 -4 -28 3 -13.5 -7 11 -10 -13 1.5 1 -5 -1 1 7 1 -24
Danny DeKeyser 65 10 22 9 -17.5 -7 26.5 -3 -11 7.5 5 -9 -1 1 11.5 12
Brian Lashoff 65 -1 -21.5 7 -24 -5.5 9 -3 -13 6.5 3 -6 5.5 -20.5
Xavier Ouellet 4 2.5 3.5 -1 2.5
Adam Almquist 2 -1 -2 -2 1 -1
Alexey Marchenko 1 2 0 -1 -1 -2
Ryan Sproul 1 2 2 2

The only two defensemen with an overall positive adjustment were Niklas Kronwall and Danny DeKeyser. Kronwall earned his positive thanks largely to how well he performed offensively for the Wings. This season, Kronner put up more goal-scored pluses than we've seen and led the corps with the most goals against cleared. Through a combination of his teammates getting caught on rushes and on the cycle, Kronner managed to overcome a fair number of coverage and penalty mistakes.

DeKeyser showcased more how a guy can get credit being a bit more of a stay-at-home defenseman. He contributed decently offensively, but a large part of his season-ending rating was simply a factor of his official plus/minus rating. He made mistakes at a slower pace than the rest of his teammates and also got a lot of credit as the season went on for playing big solid minutes in thankless spots.

On the flip-side, Kyle Quincey alone contributed nearly nearly half of the overall -69.5 adjusted rating the defense put up. His -31 was offset by a lot of times when he played well enough, but got unlucky (seriously, he led the team in Overall Plus ratings). Coverage-wise and penalty-wise, he simply wasn't good enough. Q had a stronger showing in the second half of the season as things switched up for him a bit, but he wasn't able to completely turn it around.

Just behind Quincey in the futility ratings was Jakub Kindl. The youngster who just signed a pretty nice contract after an impressive showing in last season's playoffs took a major step back. When looking at Kindl's overpoweringly sheltered usage, both at even strength and by special teams, the one adjustment point difference between the two is easily overcome. Kindl provided the smallest amount of adjustment in two out of the three positive categories (G+ and Penalty+). His mistake rates were actually the lowest of the D-Men, but he underwhelmed in more games than anybody.

Coming in next-lowest, we have a tie between Brian Lashoff and Brendan Smith, two guys who ended up in the same place by vastly different means. Smith was a feast-or-famine nightly experiment in frustration while Lashoff was the model of consistency... in underperforming. Both made mistakes at a pace comfortably between best-and-worst on the team, but Smith simply brought more of just about every other important rating for the better and worst.

Jonathan Ericsson played only 48 games this season and came out an overall minus from his top-pairing minutes. Provided an 82-game season, he probably would have ended up 2nd on the team for coverage and turnover minuses. He also managed to rack up an impressive number of penalties for a relatively short showing, but the offensive promise we were waiting on had been starting to show at least. I'm not sure Riggy would have been able to turn everything into an overall plus with an 82-game season, but I do think that he at least could have continued doing a good job eating tough minutes and then having his pluses stolen from him by timely line changes.

Conclusion

Throughout the season, Red Wings fans had a pretty good idea that what they had on defense probably wasn't good enough. While the defense gets unfairly punished in CSSI by nature of having way more opportunities to mess up, the Wings' defenders didn't help themselves nearly enough and they didn't get enough help from their forwards. I'm interested to see what steps the team takes to prevent teams from exploiting them in the future.

Bonus: Here's the cumulative chart on how the D-men broke out game-by game. You can really see where Quincey leveled off in the 2nd half of the season and how Lashoff's overall rating declined steadily where Smith bounced around a bit more. DeKeyser struggled early in the season, but he really found his form as the season went on as well.

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