When people think of the Oilers best PKers, the first people that jump to mind are going to be Pisani, Horcoff… maybe Steve Staios. Well, for the most part, that is a good assumption. However, there is one guy who will amost always get no credit.
By nature, people think of Sheldon Souray as a very offensive-minded defencemen with very little – maybe average – defensive ability. However, the stats are telling us otherwise, on this.
David Staples has an article up that sparked this post. In it, he mentioned how more damage is caused to the team when Sheldon Souray takes a penalty than when Ethan Moreau takes a penalty. So this got me thinking. Is this because Sheldon Souray is that effective on the PK? Well, that turns out to be the case.
Of all of our PKers, Sheldon Souray saw the second most ice time at 283:31 (Steve Staios had 284:56, and Shawn Horcoff had 263:24, for those comparing numbers). While I can’t confirm that he was always facing top the powerplay, you can deduce by this TOI statistic that he would have been facing the top powerplay a considerable amount of time – as much as anyone on the team.
So how did he fair with those minutes? For this, I like to look at a stat I refer to as SH GA ON / 20 (while this player was on the ice and the team was short handed, how many goals were scored against the team per 20 minutes of ice time). Sheldon Souray’s SH GA ON / 20 was 3rd best among all Oilers players, and first amongst all defencemen. This is pretty remarkable. For one, Souray saw at least 3 times more ice time short-handed than either of the two players ahead of him (Erik Cole and Fernando Pisani). This SHOULD statistically work against him, so it’s natural that he would be lower ranked than those two.
|Player||POS -||GP -||SH TOI -||SH TOI/G -||SHGA -||SHGA ON/20 -|
Now, there isn’t a giant deviation in numbers between Souray and a few of the players below him, but given the number of minutes Souray played and the quality of competition he would have faced, this difference has a bit more impact. If you compare him to a guy like Staios who would have seen similar minutes but was on ice for 20% more short-handed goals, then the impact again is even more significant.
Looking at things at even strength, the pairing of Sheldon Souray and Steve Staios did the best defensively of any of our pairings allowing only 0.627 GA / 20 mins of ice time. This was the lowest of all defencemen. They do suffer a small offensive drop when compared to a Sheldon Souray / Tom Gilbert pairing, though. However, if you look at the best pairings overall considering goals differential / 20 mins of ice time (GD ON/20), they look something like this:
Souray Staios (GD ON/20 = +0.235)
Visnovsky Grebeshkov (GD ON/20 = +0.433)
Smid Gilbert (GD ON/20 = +0.329)
Each of these pairings produce more than they allow, with Visnovsky and Grebeshkov being our best pairing (I think this will be our number 1 pairing in 1 or 2 years). It should be noted again that Souray generally faces the best quality of competition while on the ice (as would Staios, obviously, when paired with him). So for that reason, it should be expected that their pairing will have a lower GD/20. And I will say that Gilbert and Souray do make as good or better a pairing than Staios and Souray, however Gilbert is a much better defensive partner for Smid than Staios is, so far (GD ON/20 for Staios and Smid pairing is -0.197… which means they allow more goals than they manage to score).
To me, it looks like these are great pairings, and good advertisement to go with these pairings for the start of next year. I know a lot of people are going to scoff and say that Staios doesn’t belong on the top line pairing, but the stats so far have shown otherwise. Jonathan Willis of Copper & Blue did have an argument on this issue, stating that the SV% with these guys on the ice is unnaturally high as well, which might be why they have an easier time. But to that, I think one can say that perhaps that SV% is higher because the quality in close shots aren’t there as often as they would be with some of our less experienced guys on the ice. Dwayne Roloson, to me, is the type of goaltender that is a great first save goaltender and due to positioning, a below average second save goaltender. He’ll give up that big rebound, and if someone isn’t there to clear it away, there could be trouble. I am thinking that our best players on the ice at the time (which would include Horcoff, Staios and Souray) were successful at keeping the net clear, and keeping the shots to the perimeter.
The other odd pairing in this is Smid and Gilbert. They haven’t seen enough ice time to really judge yet, however so far, Gilbert has been Smid’s best defensive partner at both ends of the rink (as mentioned above). As much as I like Smid, he has had some struggles, as we’ve all seen, when paired with Staios. That could be as much Staios’ fault as it is Smid’s though. At any rate, I’d like to see the coaching staff stay away from that timebomb this year. Now that I’ve managed to veer off topic….
My thoughts, in summation… at even strength Souray and Staios don’t make quite as bad a pairing as one might think. I think Souray actually gives Staios a calming presence that he needs. When paired with a fellow experienced d-man, I think his confidence is a little higher, and he can play better to his game. I still would like to see a better option for top “shut down” d-man… but for now, Souray is it, and Staios helps him in that regard. To be honest though, Staios (as well as Smid, indirectly) seems to benefit from that pairing a fair bit more than Souray does, however.
Now I have no delusions that Sheldon Souray is the same defensive wall that Chris Pronger was for us, but his play last year was phenomenal at both ends of the ice, and he deserves a bit more credit for being a stabling force on the blue line. It’s not often pretty, but he gets the job done.
At any rate… Sheldon Souray proved last year that he is worth every penny.
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