Interactive Player Career Charting, Using Percentage of Team Shots (%TSh) – 1967-68 to 2012-13

I’ve been putting together this data for quite a while, but then it lay dormant for a bit. Nevertheless, I wanted to tinker, and give you something you can tinker with as well. This data uses the percentage of team shots a player takes in the games they participated (%TSh; explanation here) to give you a comparable mapping of players’ careers. Like I said, it’s been a bit since I’ve visited the data, so it only goes up to 2012-13. Also, for the sake of the work it’ll put on the graph, I only included personally selected players in the filtering options (mostly top players, and some bottom players for perspective). A metric like this gives you a sense of just one aspect of offensive contribution, but the way it’s presented gets closer to the idea of “contribution” than a lot of other measures.

Note: To filter in/out the players you’d like to see, click on the grey “Name” button, then click on “Filter,” then go wild. …In a perfect world, I’d have a nice wide blogroll so you didn’t have to squint or scroll. Sorry.

Percentage of NHL Players at Selected Heights (71, 72, 73 Inches), 1917-18 to 2014-15

Per Michael Lopez’s request, I broke the height data into 71, 72, and 73 inch measures to see if there was any indication of a 6-foot bias, or the tendency to settle on the round measure rather than necessarily using the true measure.

And the data:

I don’t see anything too fishy here, though there’s an interesting dip when the league ballooned out of the Original Six era.

NHL Forward vs Defensemen Size, 1917-18 to 2014-15 (Plus Goaltenders)

It’s pretty remarkable how uniform the relationship between these two player groups remains over the years, suggesting that the NHL has maintained pretty consistent attitudes about how size benefits players on the defensive side of the puck. Whether that has to do with physicality, or reach and blocking, or how it can contribute to shot power, is up for debate, though I would wager it’s more about the former three.

Most noticeable to me is that, while there are some minor fluctuations up through the 1970s, from 1980 onward there’s an incredibly steady difference between height and weight. In other words, the attitudes about defensemen, forwards, and relative size seemed to really solidify by the 1980s. Also notice that the plateau in height and the downturn in weight I observed in my last post on player size continues to hold true whether or not you break apart by player position.

For goalie fans who feel neglected:

Two things really jump out here: the dip in height in the 1980s and the fact that goalies are now, for the first time, taller than the skater population. Might the dip have been another contributor to the scoring fluctuation in the 1980s? Whatever the case, the linear upward trend since then suggests teams chose to go taller and taller. Original post.

NHL Player Average Size, 1917-18 to 2014-15

Using a combination of NHL and national data, it’s interesting to see the divergence between the general male population and NHL height. Notice how obesity keeps the national figures close to NHL figures when it comes to weight:

Can’t help but notice what’s happened recently? NHL players have been getting smaller. Whether that’s because of an increased emphasis on skill or better conditioning, I think this is a promising trend. Basically, the league reached a tipping point where skill couldn’t be traded off for size, and I think that’s good for the quality of the NHL game, and I think it might help make the league less injurious.

I like to also have the standard deviations in place for these measures, just to see where/when the diversity of player sizes might have changed. Today’s NHL, it seems, might be one of the most diverse physiologically since the early years – and it’s a more “true” diversity, as those early leagues only had around 50 players.

Change in Time On-Ice Percentage at Different Strengths – Forwards & Defensemen

I have done something similar in the past, but I wanted to take another shot at this and get it how I wanted it. The data’s old, and worth comparing to the past three seasons, but I think overall the trends will hold.

I have done something to this effect before, but I had always presented it as a multiplier rather than as a simple change in percentage (don’t ask me why, I was young and carefree). Looking at year-to-year change in these age groups, I wanted to present the average change to ice time when a player arrives at the age on the x-axis. I wanted to hold the axis values pat across these so that they could be compared to one another. The trends above are using lines of best fit, each having an r-square of 0.75 or better. You’ll notice 5v4 usage had a more exponential trend, which was suggested by the data.

It’s really fascinating to see how 5v4 patterns differ here; both groups stabilize after losing the increase in minutes through the early 20s, but forwards eventually start to fall the rest of the way while (presumably) defensemen with the big shot are among those that are kept around in their late 30s (and kept on the point for the powerplay). I think this also relates to why the defenders are dropping off more than forwards in their late 30s.

When it comes to 5v5, though, everything is slow and steady, and same for forwards at 4v5 (I’m guessing, because they aren’t really pressed to be as active on the opposite end of the rink, and tend to be conservative in their own zone).

Both groups are passing 0% change at about age 28, which suggests that is essentially the point that teams are noticing the talent is not quite as high as the player peak. A wholesale decline in production is protected somewhat by the plateau in 5v4, but 34 is nearing the point of no return for the forwards, while a good offensive defenseman might be able to maintain until 38 or so.

Data for the above:

Def Age Δ 5v5 Δ 5v4 Δ 4v5
18 to 19 2.0% 10.8% 7.6%
19 to 20 1.8% 8.4% 6.9%
20 to 21 1.6% 6.2% 6.2%
21 to 22 1.4% 4.3% 5.5%
22 to 23 1.2% 2.7% 4.8%
23 to 24 0.9% 1.3% 4.2%
24 to 25 0.7% 0.1% 3.5%
25 to 26 0.5% -0.9% 2.8%
26 to 27 0.3% -1.7% 2.1%
27 to 28 0.1% -2.4% 1.4%
28 to 29 -0.2% -2.9% 0.8%
29 to 30 -0.4% -3.3% 0.1%
30 to 31 -0.6% -3.6% -0.6%
31 to 32 -0.8% -3.8% -1.3%
32 to 33 -1.0% -3.9% -2.0%
33 to 34 -1.3% -4.0% -2.6%
34 to 35 -1.5% -4.1% -3.3%
35 to 36 -1.7% -4.1% -4.0%
36 to 37 -1.9% -4.2% -4.7%
37 to 38 -2.1% -4.3% -5.4%
38 to 39 -2.4% -4.4% -6.0%
39 to 40 -2.6% -4.6% -6.7%
Fwd Age Δ 5v5 Δ 5v4 Δ 4v5
18 to 19 1.5% 10.8% 3.0%
19 to 20 1.3% 8.2% 2.7%
20 to 21 1.1% 5.9% 2.4%
21 to 22 0.9% 4.1% 2.1%
22 to 23 0.8% 2.6% 1.8%
23 to 24 0.6% 1.3% 1.5%
24 to 25 0.4% 0.4% 1.3%
25 to 26 0.3% -0.4% 1.0%
26 to 27 0.1% -0.9% 0.7%
27 to 28 -0.1% -1.3% 0.4%
28 to 29 -0.3% -1.6% 0.1%
29 to 30 -0.4% -1.7% -0.2%
30 to 31 -0.6% -1.9% -0.5%
31 to 32 -0.8% -2.0% -0.8%
32 to 33 -0.9% -2.2% -1.1%
33 to 34 -1.1% -2.4% -1.4%
34 to 35 -1.3% -2.7% -1.7%
35 to 36 -1.4% -3.1% -1.9%
36 to 37 -1.6% -3.7% -2.2%
37 to 38 -1.8% -4.5% -2.5%
38 to 39 -2.0% -5.5% -2.8%
39 to 40 -2.1% -6.9% -3.1%

Possession & Shooting Percentage: How Much Can I Sacrifice in One & Still Succeed by the Other?

Tradeoff Between Percentages and Possession

The blue and black lines represent the upper and lower bounds of what you can expect a team to sustain percentage-wise (save + shooting percentage). Generally speaking, what we’re seeing here is that a even a team that shoots well will struggle to make the playoffs if their possession is below 50%. Conversely, a team that shoots poorly needs to achieve a very high possession (55%) to make the playoffs. The key: it costs less to add possession than goal-scoring and goaltending, because the latter is conspicuous value. What’s more, chasing percentages is more risky than possession…which means if you convince yourself to chase the percentages over possession, you assume greater risk across the board.

The full piece for which I created this graph is viewable here over at Hockey Graphs.

Recent Publications

I’ve had a spate of success recently, getting the opportunity to publish in online and print at The Chicago Tribune and regularly at The Hockey News. Though some of The Hockey News pieces are still forthcoming (for both the upcoming World Junior Championships and Money & Power special issues), I do have links to most of the since-published-online work.

– The Hockey News, “THN Analytics: An Introduction,” October 8th, 2014, Link    *this piece also appeared in the THN “Fear” Issue, under the title “Truth in Numbers,” November 3rd, 2014

– The Hockey News, “THN Analytics: Slow Start? Firing the Coach Might Not Be the ‘Fix,'” October 16th, 2014 Link

– The Hockey News, “THN Analytics: Visualizing the Trade,” October 23rd, 2014 Link

– Chicago Tribune, “Possession Arrow Pointing Up for Blackhawks,” November 1st, 2014 Link    *this piece also appeared in the Sunday Morning Tribune, November 2nd, 2014

– The Hockey News, “THN Analytics: The Statistical Argument Against Fighting,” November 7th, 2014 Link    *this piece also appeared in the THN “Fight” Issue, under the title “Busting Heads, Busting Myths,” December 8th, 2014

– The Hockey News, “THN Analytics: Comparing NHL Greats With New Historical Data,” November 27th, 2014 Link

Needless to say, this takes away from work I’d otherwise be doing here or at Hockey Graphs, but they’re also pretty exemplary of the work I would have been doing here or at HG in any case, hence why I’m linking them.

The Literary Stanley Cup: Conclusion

Photo by “Mafue”, via Wikimedia Commons


What can you say about an underdog that loses? That it was deserved? That all is right because of it?

Or maybe we get too wrapped up in team affiliation to realize that it’s all amazing. Anze Kopitar made it here from Slovenia, Henrik Lundqvist made it here from the 7th round, Justin Williams had a series of injuries that nearly jeopardized his career – Marc Staal, too, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were cast-offs with media-created character issues, and Martin St. Louis and Mats Zuccarello are supposed to be too small for the pro game. The lineups of these two teams are filled with underdogs, people with enthralling stories, both devastating losses (Dominic Moore’s wife, St. Louis’s mother) and personal triumphs (Alec Martinez the Hero, who was given less ice-time than a top 6 forward in the regular season; Willie Mitchell, whose career was nearly over a year ago).

The Kings were such heavy favorites going into the Finals we lost sight of the fact that this was a battle between a 5- and 6-seed. Both teams cut an arduous, impressive path to the Finals, and we were treated to four great, 1-goal games. The closing overtime periods of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs were some of its most exciting – posts rang, Quick and Lundqvist were unbelievable, and Martinez’s goal, celebration, and humble interview were hockey at its purest.

Jonathan Quick, the placeholder for Jonathan Bernier four years ago, made a trio of overtime saves I will never forget. That toe save on a deflected shot, that blocker save through opaque traffic, and again, the blocker, on an excellent wrister from Chris Kreider. And then there’s Brian Boyle’s goal to put the Rangers ahead 2-1; in a flash of dexterity and speed, he gained the outside, then went top-shelf across his body. If you’ve played the game, you know how hard that shot is to pull off. Boyle, the gargantuan former King, the Blueshirts’ 4th-liner. So many players. So many stories. Underdogs all.

If we can just experience the game this way, how awesome it all is, I don’t think we’ll ever lose.

Epilogue

At the end, I couldn’t help but think how far we’ve come from hockey’s roots: that the champions are from Los Angeles, their best player is from Slovenia, the game-winner was score by a guy named Martinez, and they got here combining the best of scouting and analytics. Sometimes, when we live through major historical shifts, we don’t realize how important they are until much later. Even today, when I ask people I know who’ve lived through 1968, I’m struck by how difficult it is for them to attach themselves to the significant events of the time. It’s like they can’t see how they’re connected to these epochal giants as they stomped over the Earth.

So, can you see it?


 

The Literary Stanley Cup: Game Four (Or: Henrik Lundqvist, Timing, & Timelessness)

File:Lundymask.jpg

Photo by “Huntingj38″, via Wikimedia Commons


Game Four

Henrik Lundqvist was a 7th round pick in 2000. He wasn’t a blip on the screen; few, if any, pre-Draft publications even mentioned him. The Central Scouting Bureau ranked him fifth out of six draft-eligible European goaltenders. You have to understand: at the time, European-trained goaltenders were just starting to shake their reputation for being curiosities, and major risks, rather than reliable draft picks. The few that gained starting work had such unlikely paths to a regular gig it could hardly pass as a blueprint for success. Dominik Hasek spent seven stellar seasons in then-Czechoslovakia’s highest league after being drafted in the 10th round in 1983, and even then he didn’t get a chance until the Blackhawks traded him for Stephane Beauregard and the Sabres gave up on a sore-kneed Grant Fuhr (previously acquired for the unconscionable price of Daren Puppa, Dave Andreychuk, and a 1st round pick). Nikolai Khabibulin was well-regarded coming out of Europe, but NHL teams still didn’t know what to make of former Soviet-bloc goaltenders and he wasn’t drafted until the 9th round in 1992. Khabibulin would get a shot early, as the Jets lost their enthusiasm for relatively new acquisition Tim Cheveldae and Khabibulin won the starting job. It was the coincidence of Hasek and Khabibulin’s success by 1994 (and, to a lesser degree, Tommy Soderstrom’s) that planted the kernel of the idea in the minds of NHL front offices: there’s goaltending talent in Europe.

By 2000, it was still a bit of a mixed record; Soderstrom flamed out, as had all the other European goaltenders drafted in the early 1990s except Khabibulin, and the Bruins had whiffed mightily on the first European-trained goaltender taken in the 1st round, Evgeni Ryabchikov.  But the continued success of Hasek, Khabibulin, newcomers Tommy Salo and Roman Turek, and an exciting group of young AHL goaltenders including the Kentucky Thorougblades’ 1999-2000 triumvirate of Evgeni Nabokov, Miikka Kiprusoff, and Johan Hedberg were evolving the draft. As the NHL entered the new millennium, one out of every three goaltending draft picks were European, up from one for every nine at the beginning of the 90s. The 2000 NHL Entry Draft set a new record – 13 of 32 drafted goaltenders were European, an astonishing 41% of all goalies selected.

Yet for all this change, Lundqvist was just a raw 18-year old Swedish junior goaltender, the last-picked of his backstopping countrymen. He wasn’t even considered the best prospect in his family; his twin brother Joel was taken in the 3rd round of the same draft. Like Hasek before him, Lundqvist’s path to the NHL involved years of outstanding service in European leagues, and a bit of luck.  After all, a year after the Rangers drafted Lundqvist, they took exciting WHLer Dan Blackburn with the 10h overall pick. And when Blackburn had the misfortune of a devastating nerve injury that forced him to play with no catch glove, the Rangers made Al Montoya their 6th overall pick in 2004. In a New York Times piece after the Montoya selection, Assistant GM Don Maloney talked more about Lundqvist’s trade value than his future value for the organization.

But the 2004-05 lost season was anything-but in the story of King Henrik. Al Montoya had one of the worst seasons of his young career; the Rangers let struggling starter Mike Dunham hit the free agent market; they also let the best goaltender in the AHL, Jason Labarbera, go UFA, despite 19 shutouts and a 93.5% save percentage over his last 112 games. To stop the bleeding, the Rangers signed Kevin Weekes, a capable starter who played a major role in the Carolina Hurricanes run to the Cup Finals in 2002. With Weekes in the fold, the Rangers seemed set in goal for 2005-06.

The story of any great goaltender has a turning point, whether it was the death of Terry Sawchuk’s goaltender brother, Ken Dryden’s 6 games at the end of the 1970-71 regular season, 20 Cup playoff games for the 20-year old Patrick Roy in 1986 (after a middling 1985-86 performance), Fuhr’s bad knees in late ’93, or 17 Cup playoff games for the 21-year old Martin Brodeur in 1994. Lundqvist’s is a bit more complicated and, in fact, might involve two key points.

Going into the SEL playoffs in 2002, he was still a raw prospect who struggled to hold the starting job. But in 8 stellar playoff games, he transcended anything he’d ever done, and unlike in previous seasons was able to carry his playoff performance to the following season. The key might have been participating in an offseason sport to keep his edge; in the summer of 2002, Lundqvist led Team Sweden to a gold medal in the IIHL Inline Hockey World Championships and continued to play inline hockey in the summer up to his first seasons in the NHL. As he mentioned in a recent interview with Men’s Health, he’s played tennis through the “last five or six” summers to help him maintain that same edge. By autumn 2002 he had figured out how to translate his playoff performance to the longer regular season. 2002 was the personal turning point.

2005-06 was the reckoning. Perhaps it was the Rangers’ much-publicized big-spending futility – from Valeri Kamensky, to Bobby Holik, to Darius Kasparaitis – that made them sensitive to further embarrassment from free agent failures. Perhaps it was that full season of competition; Weekes played very little hockey during the lockout, and later admitted Lundqvist had never really slowed down from his earlier successes in 2004 and 2005. Perhaps, then, it was Weekes’ rough start, and Lundqvist’s strong one – after a shaky first game, Lundqvist’s save percentage never dipped below 92%, while Weekes struggled to reach 90% all year. Whatever the reason, Lundqvist turned the rest of the way, and has been running with it ever since.

Considering the massive amount of press that follows New York athletes, I think I can spare you a play-by-play of Lundqvist’s ensuing career. We know who he is, how good he is, and yet for as good as he might be it seems like everyone wants to avoid some hard truths: 1) These are Henrik’s first Stanley Cup Finals, and 2) at 32, and with the Rangers committing a lot of money to questionable talent, it’s hard to be confident he’ll have another chance. Nearly 40% of the Rangers cap space these next four years are already occupied by the Brad Richards, Rick Nash, Dan Girardi, and Lundqvist contracts.* Kreider and Zuccarello are already into their RFA, and after next season Stepan and Hagelin will follow. Marc Staal’s contract will be up for renewal after next year as well. Anthony Duclair, Jesper Fast, and Pavel Buchnevich are promising, but will they get time? Will they even pan out? The Rangers are a decent team now, but the concerns for the future are palpable.

And now, we’ve been given four intense Stanley Cup games, including one masterful performance by Lundqvist. There is no question Henrik was the star of the last game, just as there’s no question that Jonathan Quick was the star of Game 3. But how are we going to remember Lundqvist? One of the best playoff performers to never with the Cup? Has anyone ever been remembered that way? Much of his career has been spent making the most of a mediocre team; in 91 playoff games and sporting a 92.2% save percentage, the Rangers have gone 43-48. For comparison, Roberto Luongo gave his team 91.6%, below his career average, and still ended up 32-31.

There’s a certain amount of tragedy wrapped up in these Finals, as it stands. Quick is outstanding in Game 3, gets deserved recognition in a game where Lundqvist was the victim of three bad bounces. Lundqvist is outstanding in Game 4, but the “luck” story carries through and all of the focus is on goal-line snow (which was surprisingly light at the end of a 3rd period where the Rangers were heavily outshot) and broken sticks. The Kings hold the odds here, everyone knows that – but the one time Lundqvist might have a positive, playoff chapter added to his story, instead it appears it will be his forgotten game.

For a goaltender, timing is everything. It’s the pre-game routine, and how much time they get to nap, or how long they have to face the powerplay, or how long between this and their next start; it’s every movement to every puck in every game. Yet timing for the goaltender pales in comparison to the timing of Henrik Lundqvist – as it must for a low-ranked 7th round prospect that becomes an NHL starter. Like tumblers in a lock, the NHL’s attitudes towards European goaltenders, the successes of those goaltenders, and the Rangers’ uncertainty post-Richter, post-Blackburn, all fell into place and afforded an 18-year old goaltender with a “better” twin brother to reach the top of the sport.

But timing doesn’t make you timeless, and sometimes I wonder: will it matter if Lundqvist doesn’t win this Stanley Cup?


*Worth noting: it is likely after this year that Brad Richards’ contract will be bought out with no penalty. This will buy them over $6.5m in cap space per year, but they still will need all of it and more if they want to keep their young talent.

The Literary Stanley Cup: Game Three

Photos by “Lisa Gansky” (Muzzin), “Michael Miller” (Stralman), via Wikimedia Commons; altered by author


Game Three

Warmup

Regardless of what a player might say in their interview, hockey is a self-centered game. Players see the game, experience the game from their perspective, measure it more by what they did than what the team accomplished, and carry with them the scrutiny of millions of people that watched them do it. Any star player will tell you, there are countless people who will tell them or ask them what they did, right after they did it. Why are player interviews so bland? Well, part of it is the need to not make waves, because that can come to bear on a lot of people beyond the player, but they also convey a sense of, “I just did it. You saw it. We’re trying to help the team win. What else is there to say?”

Each player has a particular window into the game; speaking from personal experience, there is no greater perspective than that of the supporting defenseman, the guy who covers the back of the other guy. They play deeper, follow the play rather than lead it, contain the offensive zone, and otherwise are so close to the game it’s remarkable to find them involved in so little of it. They are the eyes and abilities the goaltender wished they had: seeing the offense up-close, relaxing back to slow the opposing attack, covering in front, clearing the crease. Rather than focus on the comprehensive, this Game Three review focuses on two players who seem nearly inconsequential at times; some observers might even say they “disappear” in games. Of course, Anton Stralman and Jake Muzzin are there, they are always there, but you have to look to see them.

Anton Stralman’s First Period

Stralman’s first action is facing a charging Jarrett Stoll as Stoll attempts to enter the Rangers zone with the puck – Stralman steers him to the boards and Stoll gives up the puck. Later, Stralman gets the puck in his own corner and is bumped off by Mike Richards. He moves back to position to the right of his net, and leaves the ice soon after.

His next shift begins with an own-zone cross-ice pass to Chris Kreider to start the Rangers up into the neutral zone. As the play comes back to the Rangers’ zone, Stralman knocks the puck off the lead King and back to Marian Gaborik; the defenseman follows through by sweeping away Gaborik to the boards. He knocks over Gaborik in the corner. The puck finds its way to Jonathan Quick and Stralman keeps after Gaborik, tying him up and giving him a slight chop as Quick freezes it.

When Stralman returns to the play, he and Staal struggle to clear the zone; when they do, the Kings come back with it, and Stralman is facing Kopitar one-on-one. Kopitar beats Stralman to the outside, but Stralman hangs on and keeps Kopitar from taking it in to the slot. When Tanner Pearson approaches with a similar chance, Stralman wards the young forward off towards the boards, and Pearson cuts loose a relatively innocuous shot that Henrik Lundqvist handles easily.

Late in the period, he gets his first taste of offense, starting a Rangers charge with a long up-ice pass to Mats Zuccarello, then taking it himself up through the neutral zone. The latter attempt, unfortunately, is lost at the opposing blue line. When the Kings try to break out a minute later, Stralman shuts it down by aggressively working Pearson along the boards and trying to freeze the puck. He kicks the puck out of the scrum to a teammate.

When Jeff Carter scores in the dying seconds of the first, Stralman is watching from the bench.

Jake Muzzin’s First Period

Much of Muzzin’s action in the first is sweeping up after others; beginning with scooping up a Ranger dump-in and putting the puck up the boards. He engages a Ranger on a second attack along the boards and attempts to strip the puck, but fails – later retrieves a puck Doughty was able to grab and move along the wall. When the play returns deep in the Kings zone, Muzzin focuses on tying up Kreider, almost too much as he follows Kreider behind the goal line as a different Ranger gets a wraparound opportunity.

Later in the period, Muzzin and Doughty are holding the offensive zone when Doughty gets in trouble at the top – and sends a desperation pass to Muzzin who is also covered. Muzzin quick shovels it deep into the offensive zone and out of trouble. The Rangers ice the puck. The following faceoff, Muzzin tries to contain at the blue line but fumbles the puck; on the other hand, is he able to deflect the Rangers offensive push over to Doughty, who handles it. In the meantime, Muzzin ties up with Derek Dorsett as the puck enters the Kings zone and they both go down in an ugly crash. He keeps after Dorsett in the zone, ties him up, does a lot of stickwork to keep Dorsett under control. Dorsett had provided a valuable screen in Game 1 for a Ryan McDonagh goal, so it’s clear Muzzin is keeping an eye on him.

After a back-and-forth pass with Doughty, the Rangers regain control and Muzzin keeps Martin St. Louis below the goal line; St. Louis gets the puck through to the crease, though, and into trouble for the Kings. Quick helps avert crisis, and Muzzin chases down St. Louis and checks him into the boards. Half-a-minute later, the Rangers are re-entering the zone, but Muzzin shuts down Kreider as Kreider tries to move the puck forward.

The following shift, Muzzin starts with a leave-it pass in his own zone that nobody is jumping on until Justin Williams skates onto it. As the Rangers bring it back towards the Kings’ zone, Benoit Pouliot dumps it past Muzzin, and Quick, who seemed out-of-sync with Muzzin all game, pushes the puck too hard towards Muzzin and it passes Muzzin. He tangles with Dorsett but Dorsett gets the upper hand – thankfully nothing comes of it all. A later offensive-zone faceoff is charged hard by the Rangers, and Muzzin drops back to cushion against the attack. When they ward it off, Muzzin gives Doughty a cross-ice pass that Doughty takes up the ice. Moving into the offensive zone, Muzzin gets an opportunity as he runs an overlap with Anze Kopitar and heads to the opposing corner, but Kopitar doesn’t give it to him and Muzzin gets back into position shortly therafter.

On a late penalty-kill, Muzzin covers Brad Richards in front of the net, then follows him below the goal line. He makes a clear attempt on a bizarre, flashy spinning backhand that goes instead to a Rangers defenseman. The Rangers are unsuccessful on the powerplay, though, and Muzzin leaves the ice.

When Jeff Carter scores in the dying seconds of the first, Muzzin is watching from the bench.

Anton Stralman’s Second Period

It’s at this point that Stralman, literally, starts to lose some time out there.

The Kings gets the puck into the Rangers’ zone early; Dwight King carries the puck and Stralman checks King hard into the corner – but King manages to wriggle away. Stralman eventually gains control of the puck and pauses to let the Rangers set up their transition. He plays it up the boards and the jumping puck lands on Kreider’s tape near the opposing blue line.

Stralman has his man as Mike Richards gets a big opportunity in the slot; Richards continues to dog him with a big hit as Stralman sent the puck behind his own net. Staying back in the ensuing play, Stralman steers another one-on-one to the boards and picks the puck – then sends it up the boards out of harm’s way. He gets his first shot attempt, a wrister from far back in the offensive zone that amounts to nothing.

One more big play in the following shift as McDonagh makes a disastrous turnover in his own zone; Stralman helps tie up the dangerous Kings forwards and the Rangers get away clean. In his final moves, Stralman considers jumping up into the play deep in the offensive zone, then hangs back and makes a big hit at the opposing blue line when the Kings gain possession.

Stralman is on the bench for both of the remaining Kings goals, and has a limited role in the powerplay. A righty shot in a deep righty lineup, his strong defensive work gets him some penalty kill time, and little more.

Jake Muzzin’s Second Period

At the same time Stralman is “disappearing,” Muzzin seems to be a part of everything.

Muzzin shifts around to support early when Doughty moves up in the zone; he corrals the puck when it gets behind Doughty and plays it across to Carter in the neutral zone. As the Kings get a powerplay, a defensive zone faceoff freezes Quick and Muzzin behind the net, and Carl Hagelin runs into Muzzin. Recovered now, the Kings push into the Rangers zone; Muzzin, at the top of the powerplay, makes a nifty pass underneath a Rangers forward to Carter, who makes a smart re-direction that almost gives Lundqvist trouble. On the next possession, Muzzin, Kopitar, and Gaborik make passes up the boards and Muzzin decides to throw a wrister from way back towards the net. St. Louis, about 15 feet away in the high slot, tries to glove the puck, but only succeeds in deflecting it and fooling Lundqvist as the puck hits the back of the cage. Jake Muzzin, the second fiddle to Drew Doughty, now has more goals in these playoffs than Doughty, and more than Muzzin had in the regular season. The NHL playoffs are funny like that.

The euphoria of the goal wearing off, Muzzin drops back into support, picking the puck from Ranger possessions and moving it up the wall. At one point, his man gets a good tip on the puck but it doesn’t get through – at another moment, Muzzin moves Brassard to the boards, but Brassard gets the puck out front and a dangerous shot is kicked out by Quick. The rebound is hard for a tired Muzzin to control, and he’s unable to move it out of danger. A Ranger controls it and gets a good shot through Muzzin, who tries to block it but fails.

For his following shift, Muzzin loses control of a bouncing puck that gets past him, opening up a huge opportunity for Rick Nash. Trying to recover, Muzzin gets back too vigorously and squashes Quick as Nash almost converts a wraparound. Doughty, this time covering Muzzin’s back, gets a hooking penalty as he slows up Nash. The ensuing powerplay ends up being the Rangers’ best, including a number of huge chances. At the end of it, as Muzzin tries to clear the puck, Hagelin slashes Muzzin’s stick in-half and gets called.

A slow latter-half of the period is punctuated by some confident movement forward. Muzzin jumps up in the play a couple of times, though in neither case does the puck go his way. On a backcheck from one of these plays, Muzzin smartly strips a completely surprised Ranger of the puck. A short time later, covering Dorsett on a defensive zone faceoff, Muzzin does a lift-and-dump of Dorsett for no apparent reason and puts the Kings down a man. Muzzin spends the rest of the period riding pine, first in the sin bin, then in front of a beakish Darryl Sutter.

Anton Stralman’s Third Period

Though Stralman sees more overall minutes than the second, somehow he, as a player in this game, seems to shrink further. Almost all the discernible plays he makes involve catching a puck that’s been dumped-in, or moving a puck up the transition into the neutral zone, mostly along the boards. A couple of times he starts to jump up, but the plays are so broken he never gets any opportunities. A capable two-way defenseman in Columbus, Stralman’s Game Three is the story of his career.

Jake Muzzin’s Third Period

Everything is slowing down now. With the score 3-0, the Kings have shifted fully into lead protection.

There’s a scary moment in the opening seconds of the third as Kreider slips through Muzzin and Doughty on a nice set play from the Rangers. Muzzin keeps on him, though, ensuring Kreider only has a small window to make his shot. Muzzin and Doughty are pulled off the ice immediately, their 10-second shift destined to be a curious note in the books (but for this piece).

Like Stralman, Muzzin does much more support work, retrieving dumped pucks and flicking the puck along the wall. Again, Muzzin gets too aggressive on a former puck-carrier and leaves behind an open Ranger up front as a shot comes in from the point. Later, he faces down and blocks a wrister from Derek Stepan, and another shot with his hand. Doughty jumps ahead as the Kings move up the ice; Williams moves back to cover for Doughty. Muzzin holds the offensive blue line and throws a wrist shot towards the net – the same kind that went in for him before. This time, though, it’s blocked well before it can reach the net.

A following shift brings a 2-on-2 Muzzin and Doughty’s direction; both defenders collapse on the lead man, which gives Zuccarello a good look with the puck. Nothing comes of it. It ends up being the last big chance for the Rangers while Muzzin is on the ice.

As the Kings continue to protect the lead, Muzzin gets more physical, giving hits, taking hits, sweeping and stick-checking Rangers away from the center of the rink. Doughty has one last big push forward in the game, and Muzzin provides crucial support when Stepan and the Rangers bring it back before Doughty can recover. Muzzin keeps Stepan outside, and Stepan eventually dumps the puck in.

A final agonizing moment as Quick has another weird settling of the puck for Muzzin; the puck pops out of their control but the Rangers can’t control it any better, and the remaining seconds tick from the game. The Rangers pull Lundqvist with nearly 4 ½ minutes left, but the Kings are so committed to their defensive shell the Rangers hardly get a chance, and the Kings don’t score on the empty net.

Epilogue

How much does an Anton Stralman matter to a game? A Jake Muzzin? Any Kings fan will tell you Muzzin meant a lot to this game, and his goal was certainly almost as important as Carter’s. Does it matter that Muzzin made some costly mistakes that didn’t lead to Ranger goals? Not many Rangers fans will tell you that Stralman had a strong game, but in the minutes he played, he did. Does it matter that any of these things happened in a Kings win, Rangers loss? I suppose it depends on how you define “mattering;” maybe mattering for you is focused on the one game, and its outcome – for others, it’s how this contributes to an overall assessment of Stralman the defenseman, Muzzin the defenseman. There are even others who might look to what this says about the Kings, or the Rangers, and their talent, systems, coaches.

Whatever the case, I wanted to present these particular players because a) we still don’t grasp defenseman contributions particularly well, and b) narratives of games still don’t ask the big questions of player worth, and what matters, particularly well. Captured in the lens of Stralman and Muzzin we see a different game, different scenarios to command, create, or react to. Muzzin scored a goal, but if pressed I’d have to say Stralman probably played the better game. Just as bounces and fragility can paint drastically different pictures, looking at steady, consistent play can give us an idea of what we can rely on, more often than not.

After all, it’s that kind of play that made the Kings who they are today. And now they need one win to win it all.