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Is the Defense Better or Worse than Last Season?

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There was some talk over on the AJC.com blog about our defensemen. I certainly was one of those people who figured the team's defense would be better after Modry was replaced by Vishnevsky and McCarthy. But let's take a quick look to see if that is supported by the numbers.

First, how is ATL doing at preventing goals? This season ATL ranks just 23rd in GAA, but the previous season we were 24th, so there is essentially no change in our ranking. (I look at the rankings because it is an easy way to control for the fact that league offense varies from year to year. Ranking allow us to see how ATL stacks up to the competition in each category.)

What is going on with the goaltending and defense?

If we look at shots on goal against (SOGA) it gives us an indication of how well the skaters (especially the defense) are doing in terms of either preventing shots or blocking them. Last year ATL ranked 18th out of 30 teams and this season they rank just 23rd out of 30 teams so there has been a decline relative to the rest of the NHL in terms of allowing shots against.

On the other hand if we look at team's goaltenders we see that the team save percentage (SV%) has jumped up from 24th last season to 17th this season. So there has been an improvement in keeping those SOG out of the net.

Summary: The goaltending has improved over last season (how could it not) but all of the gains in netminding have been lost by a decline in shot prevention by the skaters. The net effect is a wash and the team is still among the worst in the NHL in terms of team defense.

This confirms my impression that the talent level on this club is such that while I consider ATL a playoff team, they are not a Stanley Cup contender baring divine intervention. The defensemen are simply below average and I can't imagine them making it through multiple rounds of the playoffs without making critical mental errors that will cost the team games.