There Will Be An Eye Test on These Stats - Edition 2: McDavid Shut Down

Recently, Detroit shut down Connor McDavid’s line for the majority of the game, a fantastic accomplishment. Dylan Larkin’s line was responsible for much of this, although other players stepped up as well. For this edition, I wanted to dive into just how much McDavid’s line was shut down and take a look at why that happened.


Let’s start with a look over at Natural Stat Trick. This link will take you directly to the Edmonton - Detroit game. This site is my go-to place to start for most stat-related inquiries. I’m going to take you through a fairly simple way to look at the question: How much was McDavid’s line shut down by Detroit, and who was responsible for that?

Basically, it makes sense to look at a few things. First, did McDavid play mostly against Larkin? It sure seemed like that, but it’s easy to check to make sure. Second, did Larkin play mostly with the same linemates? Again, it definitely seemed that way. Lastly, how did McDavid’s underlying numbers look in that game compared to the rest of the season?

Whom Did McDavid Play Against?

When you are looking at one game on Natural Stat Trick, you’ll see there are a ton of options. To see who McDavid played against, you would go down to Oilers - Opposition and click on the bar to expand. For ease of reading, I am putting the information into a table and eliminating everything we don’t need.

You’ll see that he played the vast majority of his minutes at 5v5 against the same five players:

Did Larkin Play Mostly With the Same Players?

You can see that each player on Detroit was on the ice at some point against McDavid at 5v5, but the Larkin line and Hronek - Nemeth pair had the lion’s share of the minutes.

If you look at the Red Wings - Linemates section, you can check to see who Larkin played with. Larkin was able to escape the Blashill Blender for this game:

Much of this time with other players is due to things like line changes not happening all at the same time, penalties ending, etc.

How Much Did Larkin’s Line Shut Down McDavid?

So now we get to the big question? Did the Larkin line (and the Hronek - Nemeth pairing) shut down McDavid as much as it seems they did?

Yeah. Yeah they did.

To get the stats from the game, I went to “Oilers - On Ice.” This is measuring the performance of the team when each player is on the ice. It’s not isolating each player individually. The first stat is Corsi For %, which I like to just call “shot share.” When the player is on the ice, what percentage of shot attempts that happen are by his team? The other metric is expected Goals For Percentage. This can be thought of as “quality.” For every shot attempt, expected goals measures the probability that it will be a goal based on many factors. A higher number means a higher quality scoring chance. ***

To get McDavid’s season stats, go to the Players menu at the top of the page, and click On-Ice on the drop down. So, McDavid was heavily underwater in terms of possession and the quality of chances when he was on the ice. (TOI for the Season row is per game played)

As always, there’s more that you can look at, but it’s pretty clear already that the five man unit of Larkin, Bertuzzi, Helm, Hronek, and Nemeth did a darn good job of shutting down the best player in the world, who is playing on a line with another one of the league’s top players (and another player who apparently has blackmail on officials). So let’s take a look at how they did this.

Let’s Go to the Videotape

I clipped a ton of gifs from this game, but to keep the article from getting too long, I’m mostly going to use examples from the third period, because those are illustrative of what happened throughout, although the McDavid line did have a lot more possession and chances near the end of the game. There are a few examples from the second period as well.

The short version is that the Detroit players up against McDavid excelled at pressure, positioning, and anticipating plays. McDavid and Draisaitl cannot be given time on the puck, and Detroit did a very good job all night at preventing it (well, until the last ten minutes of the game, but we’ll get to that).

In the first clip, Darren Helm provides good forechecking pressure, and Dylan Larkin reads the pass well to intercept it. Even though he runs into Bertuzzi and the puck squirts free, the defense is back to re-gain possession.

The next clip again highlights the pressure Detroit put on the Edmonton top line as well as their positioning. Helm comes out to challenge Kris Russel (#4) on the one timer at the bottom of your screen. Detroit has four players in the vicinity of the loose puck after it caroms off the endboards, compared to Edmonton’s two.

While the whole five man unit played very well against the McDavid line, Dylan Larkin excelled. Here’s an example of Larkin not giving up on a play and saving a great chance in the slot from the best player in the league.

Here’s it again in slow motion:

When playing against the McDavid line, players must always be aware of where #97 is, even when they have the puck. Here, we see how Larkin’s speed and ability to skate with the puck at high speed allows Detroit to go from the defensive zone all the way to the opposition net, and he even draws a penalty at the end.

Earlier we saw Helm make two good plays. Like I said earlier, all five players helped out. Here is Bertuzzi being in great position and using great hand-eye coordination to knock the puck down and prevent a rush.

Hronek and Nemeth were consistently good at maintaining a good gap, as seen here. If you play McDavid too tight, he can burn you. If you give him too much space, he can get a head of steam and blow by you. Both defensemen did a good job to prevent either.

Obviously, if you watched or read about the game, you know that McDavid’s line did score Edmonton’s only goal of the game.

Larkin has done a tremendous job this year of continuing to play tenaciously on defense, while not taking a load of penalties like he did last season. He took his first penalty of the season Tuesday night, and it was a pretty bad one. At the same time, it’s hard to play a whole game against such a dynamic line without taking one penalty. That said, yeah. This was a clear penalty.

Now to the goal. Edmonton finally succeeded in getting sustained zone pressure, leading to the goal. However, on a night that we watched Edmonton get away with blatant penalty after blatant penalty, perhaps it’s not surprising that the officials missed a call that would have nullified the goal.

Did you see it? Larkin gives up the puck, then throws his hands up to his face. I was very surprised not to hear anyone mention that on the broadcast. So I slowed it down.

When, McDavid approaches Larkin, his stick goes up near Larkin’s face, then back down pretty quickly. It’s hard to see for sure, but it looks like McDavid caught him in the face with his stick.

Even so, the Larkin line did an excellent job against the best player in the world, and that’s definitely something to build on in a season that has been hard to watch at times.

*** Any discussion of expected goals involving games from this year needs to come with the caveat that for the first 91 games of the NHL season, shot locations were marked differently than in prior seasons. Most of the errors seem to be shots taken very close to the net are marked as further back. Because this error was applied to shots for every team, in addition to the majority of the games having been played after the error was fixed, I think it’s still pretty clear that the Larkin line kept the McDavid line much lower in expected goals than typical.