Defensive Pairings: Are They Working?

Have you ever wondered if the Flyers defensive pairings of Kimmo Timonen - Braydon Coburn and Ryan Parent - Oskars Bartulis were the best pairs to use?  What about the reason the Batrulis-OKT pairing was struggling so much?

I know Ole-Kristian Tollefsen was traded today, so this post is a little late.  It doesn't matter since the point remains:  what two defensemen work best together and who works best apart?

Before the stats scare you away, it's very simple this time.  I'm sticking solely with Corsi and Fenwick numbers.  For those of you unfamiliar, Corsi counts shots directed at the net - goals, shots on goal, missed shots, and blocked shots.  Fenwick counts all the same numbers, minus the blocked shots.  The numbers below will be in decimal form with .500 being an equal number of shots at the opponent's net as at your own net.

Sound simple enough?  Good.  Jump for the table.

As hinted at above, the table will look at Coburn and Timonen; Bartulis and Tollefsen; and Bartulis and Parent.

GF GA Fenwick Corsi
Coburn 37 37 0.547 0.544
Timonen 36 29 0.553 0.534
Both 21 19 0.574 0.559
Coburn w/o Timonen 16 18 0.512 0.526
Timonen w/o Coburn 15 10 0.522 0.497
Bartulis 19 28 0.436 0.444
Tollefsen 9 8 0.509 0.514
Both 5 3 0.410 0.426
Bartulis w/o Tollefsen 14 25 0.440 0.446
Tollefsen w/o Bartulis 4 5 0.566 0.565
Bartulis 19 28 0.436 0.444
Parent 7 12 0.448 0.456
Both 4 9 0.440 0.448
Bartulis w/o Parent 15 19 0.435 0.461
Parent w/o Bartulis 3 3 0.661 0.470

All numbers acquired from Vic Ferrari's timeonice.com

If you want the full chart with shots, missed shots, blocked shots, shooting percentage, etc. click here.

Coburn-Timonen

Starting at the top, you'll notice that both are in the positive in Fenwick and Corsi.  The only time one of them drops below is when you look at Timonen playing without Coburn.  Even then, he's only losing the blocked shots category (since Fenwick doesn't include blocked shots).  Also important to note is that Timonen and Coburn's numbers are a lot better when they're together than when either are apart.  For how poorly this pairing played at the beginning of the year, it's somewhat surprising to see that as a pair, they are outshooting their opponents more than when they're separated.

So if you see these numbers and say Timonen and Coburn should be paired together, who is your third pairing?  For awhile, that third pairing was Bartulis with one of either Parent or Tollefsen.  With Parent hurt and Tollefsen gone, this isn't how the team is constructed any more but the analysis still holds.

Bartulis-Tollefsen

This pairing is defunct, but it's good to look at to notice that it wasn't Tollefsen who was dragging Bartulis down even though it may have appeared that way.  First caveat:  Tollefsen didn't play much, so there is some sample size argument here.  Either way, the pairing was a plus-2 this year despite getting severely out shot.  When you separate the two, Tollefsen was a minus one while severely outshooting the opposition.  Why Tollefsen spent nearly 40% of his even-strength time with Bartulis is unknown:  The pairing was worse than either player alone.  They should have stayed away from each other.

The argument with Bartulis shows the sample size problem.  Bartulis' yearlong totals are the same as his numbers without Tollefsen:  He gets outshot and outscored.  In other words, the time he spent playing with Tollefsen had a marginal effect on his stats.  This is probably because only 12.6% of Bartulis' even-strength ice time was with Tollefsen.  But most of his time was spent with Parent.  Was this a good fit?

Bartulis-Parent

As hinted at above, nearly 36% of Bartulis' EV TOI was with Parent (over 63% of Parent's time was with Bartulis).  If you look at the charts, this also wasn't a very good fit.  They didn't get outshot nearly as bad as the Bartulis-OKT pairing, but they did finish a minus-5 together.  Some of that might be luck, some of that might be goaltending, but Parent and Bartulis were not as bad.

Looking at the numbers, you can see that the pairing was only slightly better than Bartulis' overall numbers while slightly worse than Parent's.  Splitting them up seemed to improve both of their numbers, but that is most likely due to who each of their second most common partner was:  Timonen for Parent and Coburn for Bartulis.

Conclusion

Timonen and Coburn are better together than apart.  However, even when they're apart, they're still winning the shot battle.  Having a third-pairing of inexperienced defensemen (whether that be OKT, Bartulis, Parent, or the not-included Syvret) only hurts both player's numbers.  Splitting Timonen and Coburn up may break up a good pairing, but it makes their fifth and sixth defensemen better.

The pairing of Parent and Timonen had another small sample size (only 15 games together) but put up a Fenwick score of 0.509 and a Corsi score of 0.542.  Both above average, even their combined plus-2.  Coburn and Bartulis, meanwhile, played in 33 games together putting up a 0.450 Fenwick and a 0.461 Corsi.  In those games, they're a minus-4 together.  That pairing doesn't work so well.  I like Oskars Bartulis a lot, but he's clearly this team's worst defenseman.  Until Parent and/or Syvret return, the team will have to continue hiding Bartulis.  He has shown the best results with Coburn (opposed to Parent or Tollefsen) so far, but it's still not what you need.

What are your thoughts?

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