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Who is Playing Well On Special Teams?

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[Editorial note: I wrote this before the Flyers game and I didn't feel like updating it after the 7-0 loss. Don't complain, I do this for free.]

In a typical NHL hockey game roughly one quarter of the contest is spent in special team situations. Some folks call these stretches "high leverage events" because the chances of a goal being scored a much higher than they are at Even Strength.

Right now the Thrashers rank 23rd on the PP and 22nd on the PK. Both could stand to be better of course. So which Thrashers are playing well and which are playing poorly so far?

In order to answer that question I came up with a system that looks at how the team does when that player is on the ice. Most readers don't care much for the math so I put the explanation down at the bottom of this post.

Penalty Kill Rating (Thrashers with 1 minute or more of SH TOI)
(Positive numbers indicate the TEAM was more productive when normal when that players was on the ice.)
+2.73 Eric Perrin
+1.85 Marty Reasoner

+1.44 Ron Hainsey
+1.40 Garnet Exelby
+0.36 Zach Bogosian
+0.27 Ilya Kovalchuk
+0.25 Nathan Oystrick
+0.09 Colby Armstrong
-0.22 Erik Christensen
-0.64 Todd White (includes one 5 on 3 goal)
-1.07 Tobias Enstrom (includes one 5 on 3 goal)
-1.14 Mathieu Schneider
-1.39 Jim Slater
-1.81 Slava Kozlov
-2.18 Nic Havelid (includes one 5 on 3 goal)

Note: I noted that three of the players have one 5>3 goal counted against them. Defending a 5>3 is much harder of course and being on for one of those goals should probably count less than a 5>4 but I don't have an easy breakdown of PK ice time by manpower situations so it is all lumped together on

Discussion: The best forwards are Perrin and Reasoner (not a big surprise) and the best defense are Hainsey and Exelby pairing. On the flip side the worst forwards so far are Kozlov and Slater (who was demoted from the PK early last season) and Havelid and Schneider.

Now before anyone gets too carried away with this analysis I must point out that the team has only played 8 games and therefore the sample size is tiny here. A lucky or unlucky bounce of the puck will distort these ratings a great deal early in the season. However, I will say that the ranking roughly reflect my impressions--I certainly expected Perrin and Reasoner to come out on top and I expected Slater to finish near the bottom. I'm a bit surprised to see Exelby doing that well but he has played much better so far this season after being partnered with Ron Hainsey. I'm also a bit surprised to see Havelid doing so poorly.

Power Play Rating (Thrashers with 1 minute or more of SH TOI)
(Positive numbers indicate the TEAM was more productive when normal when that players was on the ice.)
+2.97 Todd White
+1.20 Colby Armstrong
+1.04 Nic Havelid

+1.01 Slava Kozlov

+0.91 Tobias Enstrom

+0.75 Zach Bogosian
-0.06 Ilya Kovalchuk
-0.08 Eric Boulton
-0.09 Marty Reasoner
-0.89 Bryan Little
-1.13 Jason Williams
-1.30 Ron Hainsey
-1.48 Mathieu Schneider

-2.54 Erik Christensen

Discussion: You red hot players are Todd White, Armstrong, Havelid and Enstrom. The team has scored at a higher than expected rate on the PP when they have been out on the PP unit so far this season. Todd White might surprise people but he actually put up some very strong PP scoring rate numbers his last year in Minnesota before coming to Atlanta-so there is a track record of him being fairly effective with the extra man. Todd White has been on the ice for 5 of the 7 PP goals the Thrashers have scored so far this season. He's either extremely lucky or he's doing some good things out there--I'll go with the latter. Note to the Thrashers coaching staff--play Slava more on the PP and less on the PK!

As far as the ice cold players (Christensen, Williams, Schneider and Hainesy) I was a little surprised to see Hainsey but he's received a mountain of PP ice time and the team has potted just 2 PP goals in that stretch. Everyone who follows this team knows that Williams and Christensen are off to slow starts--but the depth of Christensen's struggles are pretty amazing. So far this season only Kovalchuk and Schneider have received more PP minutes and Christensen has been out there on the ice for a Thrashers PP goal just once in all those minutes. Based on the team average we would expect the Thrashers to have scored 2.5 more PP goals in those minutes. Note to the staff Erik Christensen probably shouldn't be your 2nd ranked forward in PP ice time--if I were advising the team I'd suggest Eric Perrin get a few more of Erik Christensen's PP minutes (Perrin has just 10 seconds on the PP this season).

Again, it is early in the season and lucky or unlucky bounces can certainly skew things in the short run. Even with that caveat, I think I learned a few things by doing this little research project.

How I calculated this: Basically for both the PP and PK situations I am comparing the number of Thrashers PP goals scored (or PK goals allowed) to the Expected Goals For (or Expected Goals Allowed) given the number of minutes played by each guy. So the first thing I did is gather the ice time stats and who was on the ice for every special teams goals from the boxscores. Then I calculated the team rate (PPTOI/PPGF) and used each player's ice time to find an expected goals number (PPTOI/ATL average Team PPG per minute) and then subtracted the actual goals from the expected goals (Actual PPG-Expected PP Goals) to produce a rating for each players based upon their special teams ice time and the Thrashers production when that particular player is on the ice.