With the first game of March in the rearview mirror, let’s look at what has made the New York Islanders Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock D pairing so good, and dare I say elite.
For those uninitiated, or otherwise unsure about the meanings and vocabulary of the hockey analytics world (subscription required), I will try to make things as clear and easy to understand as possible.
The mark of a good analytics writer is being able to translate their findings into English, so anyone can understand and engage in the conversation. Well, I’m not a good analytics writer, but I’ll do my best anyway.
Let’s jump in. But, before we do, I need to point out that all stats discussed in this article come from NaturalStatTrick.com.
Islanders’ Pelech and Pulock are an Elite D Pairing in 2020-21
Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock, the Islanders’ top defense pair since Barry Trotz arrived on Long Island, were very good in 2019-20 when Pelech was healthy. However, it is not hyperbole to say that they’ve taken their play to a new level in 2020-21 after a great summer run in the NHL playoff bubble.
Now, assessing defense through statistics can sometimes be challenging. As I’ve mentioned in the past, defense at the NHL level is often more about what doesn’t happen than what does.
A defenseman who blocks a ton of shots may be good at getting in shooting lanes, but that also tells us he’s playing a lot of the game in his own zone, which is a negative. A defenseman who hits a lot may possess strong fundamentals to play the body, but he’s also playing without the puck a lot.
Pelech and Pulock, while playing the ninth-most 5v5 minutes among D pairs in 2020-21, have not struggled to drive play. This is made clear by their Corsi For and Fenwick For Percentages, both north of 52%.
That means 52% or more of all shot attempts (SOG, misses, and blocks) are going in the Islanders’ favor while their top pair is on the ice. If we exclude only those shot attempts resulting in blocks, that number goes up to 53.83%, which ranks sixth in the NHL among D pairs who have played at least 200 minutes at 5v5 during 2020-21.
Play-driving is a really good way to judge a D pair because if your opposition can’t play with the puck, they’re probably going to create fewer scoring chances, and thus fewer goals.
But, when we expand the pool of pairings by lowering the TOI threshold to 100, the Islanders top pair’s CF% and FF% only rank 22nd and 20th respectively out of 78 pairs. Still good, just not the best.
While offense can be the best defense, any pairing is going to concede shots and chances at some point. In those moments it becomes all about limiting the shot attempts and chances from the dangerous areas, and that is something that Pelech and Pulock exceed at.
xG, or Expected Goals, is one of the best ways to measure how dangerous shot attempts are. When we measure up Pelech and Pulock in this category, a picture starts getting painted of a pairing who limit chances and shot attempts from the dangerous areas.
The duo’s 59.91% xGF%, or Expected Goals For Percentage, ranks eighth in the NHL among pairs who have played 100 5v5 minutes. When we narrow down the pairings by cranking up the minimum required TOI, their 59.91% is good for second in the league.
At 200 minutes TOI minimum, Pelech and Pulock are the fifth-best NHL pairing in Scoring Chances For Percentage. They hold a 57.30% share of the chances when they’re on the ice.
Even more impressively, but not really surprising if you’ve been watching the last three seasons, is that the pair are the top-ranked pairing in HDCF%, or High Danger Chances For Percentage. For those unaware, the difference between Scoring Chances and High Danger Scoring Chances, generally speaking, are the latter’s closer proximity to the net.
Their 66.07% of the HDCF share remains second-best in the league when lowering the minutes threshold to 100.
When taking all these stats into account, what we see is that the Islanders top pair is truly elite at limiting 5v5 scoring chances of all kinds, but especially those that are in the dangerous areas of the ice. This strength is compounded by an above-average ability to drive play into the offensive zone, and keep the puck there the majority of the time.
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I really enjoyed researching and writing this article about Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock. I’ve found the two are fascinating to watch operate this season, and I look forward to doing more pieces similar to this one about other 2020-21 Islanders. Shoot me some feedback in the comments section of this article, or on Twitter @Ry_Gro, and tell me who you’d like to see me do an analytical profile of next.