On Erik Gustafsson's plus-6 night vs. Columbus

Christopher Pasatieri

Erik Gustafsson was a plus-6 on Saturday night, and predictably, that made a lot of people freak out about his status with the Philadelphia Flyers and his chances of sticking with the club. Gustafsson is hurt and not on the Florida trip with the team right now, and certainly, the injury complicates things a bit.

But there's still the lingering question of whether or not Gus will stick now that Chris Pronger is back in the lineup. There's also the pressing question of what role he'll play if he does stick, and if it's better for him to play top pairing minutes in the AHL or a sixth-or-seventh role in the NHL.

His plus-6 rating was the impetus for all the attention around him lately, though, and it made me curious. Certainly, we can all agree that Gus has played really well in the last two games. He was solid against New Jersey last Thursday as well. But was the plus-6 rating actually warranted? How much stock can we really put in it? 

These are the kinds of things that were written on Sunday after the Columbus win:

Defenseman Erik Gustafsson, another Flyers rookie, raised some eyebrows with a plus-6 rating in the spanking of Columbus.

"He was on the ice for a lot of positive things," Laviolette said. "He's played really well since he's been called up. He moves the puck so well. I think over the summer he picked up a step in speed, picked up some added muscle, and he looks really strong on the ice."

Gustafsson is playing like he deserves to remain as the Flyers' sixth defenseman - even after Chris Pronger returns from an eye injury.

In just his fifth NHL game of the season and eighth of his career, Gustafsson had the highest plus rating for a Flyers rookie since 1984, when Thomas Eriksson was plus-8. He also had an assist, his first career point.

I mean, you know... they scored nine goals. Not that it's unimpressive, but they scored nine goals. Kind of a weird game to make the "he deserves to stay" judgment after, especially when we know how horribly flawed the plus-minus stat can be. 

So I decided to go back and look at the tape. Was it deserved? How much impact did Gustafsson's play have on his plus-6 rating? Let's do this goal by goal, starting with the first one of the night.

Gus picks up the primary assist here, so it's clear he certainly deserved the plus-1 rating at that point. He basically made the goal, too, beating one defenseman and drawing the other defenseman down below the goal line so James van Riemsdyk could have about four days worth of time alone in front of the net. No matter how bad the CBJ defense was on this play, Gus deserves a lot of credit.

Moving on, Gustafsson wasn't on the ice for the Flyers second goal, but when Maxime Talbot scored at the 13:09 mark of the first period to make it 3-0, he was there.

We can't see Gustafsson's contribution on the NHL highlight clip here, so you'll just have to trust me when I said I went back and watched the full play. Just as our clip picks up, the puck is being picked up by the Flyers along the near boards. How did the puck get to that spot? 

Gustafsson picked up a dump in that was left for him behind the net by Ilya Bryzgalov. Gustafsson threw the puck around the near corner, and it was turned over to the Jackets. Talbot's defensive play in the corner thwarted Columbus' efforts to set up in the Flyers zone, as he picked the puck off the stick of an attacking Jacket in the corner and tossed it up the boards to Eric Wellwood.

That's where our clip here picks up, and as you can see, that's Gus just hanging out in position near the Flyers goal. He didn't really have anything to do with this goal, and if anything, he contributed to this play in a negative way by turning the puck over. Columbus would have had a chance at the net if not for Talbot's defensive effort.

So, in terms of actual plus/minus, Gustafsson is a plus-2 at this point. In our adjusted version of the stat here, he's still plus-1. On to the next goal, just a little over a minute later:

This goal is solely made by Jaromir Jagr, Claude Giroux and Braydon Coburn. Coburn dumps the puck into the zone at the blueline as his mate, Kimmo Timonen, goes off to the bench for a change. Who steps on the ice for Timonen? Erik Gustafsson.

Meanwhile, the puck meanders down into the corner where the Jackets pick it up and relay it to the other corner. From there, Jagr pick-pockets whoever that poor dude in blue is and dishes it to Giroux, who buries it. Gustafsson didn't do a thing on this play except step on the ice about eight seconds before a goal, but he gets another plus for it.

Plus-3 on the stat sheet, but only really plus-1 in terms of actual contribution thus far.

Gus wasn't on the ice for the next two Flyers goals, but he was when Wayne Simmonds made it 7-0 at the 15:50 mark of the second period:

And we mean he was just barely on the ice for this one. Our clip picks up with Andrej Meszaros carrying the puck in the defensive end. Jim Jackson says "right back to Meszaros," and he was indicating a pass from Andreas Lilja. After dishing the puck, Lilja went to the bench and Gustafsson stepped on. 

That's when Meszaros dumped the puck in from the red line and James van Riemsdyk made an awesome pass to find a wide open Wayne Simmonds. Awesome play by the forwards, but Gustafsson did absolutely nothing to contribute to this goal. He's a plus-4 by now but really should only deserve credit on one of them.

The next goal, twenty seconds later...

We'll give Gus some credit on this one. After all, he dumped the puck in on the play, and that's an integral part of setting up the forecheck and ultimately scoring this goal. Although, uh, Matt Carle certainly stole the show there, didn't he?

After this goal, Gustafsson was a plus-5 on the scoresheet. He should only be credited with a plus-2, if plus/minus actually made any sense.

Finally, here's the last goal Gustafsson was on the ice for, and also the Flyers' last goal of the game. Sean Couturier scored to make it 9-1 Flyers with about 3:30 left in the third period.

Before our clip here picks up, Gustafsson makes the outlet pass along the boards for Jakub Voracek. Voracek picks up near the blue line and moves through center ice, dishing to Harry Zolnierczyk. Voracek then picks up the loose puck, circles in front a bit and feeds Couturier who buries the pass behind Steve Mason.

We'll certainly give Gus credit on this one. After all, the puck doesn't get out of the zone without his outlet pass, and he had to dance around an attacking Blue Jacket to make that pass happen. 

So, at best Gustafsson was a plus-3 in this game, not the plus-6 that made everybody go "WOW! LOOK AT HIM!"

We're not trying to knock Erik Gustafsson at all here. In fact, I've been pretty impressed with his play as well, especially in the New Jersey game. I think he's an extremely solid defender who can push the puck up the ice effectively with a nose for the offensive side of the game. Although, on the other hand, I do still worry about the Flyers apparent affinity towards Andreas Lilja's game, and the fact that Gustafsson might get a few nights in the press box if he were to stay here. I think that's a legitimate concern. 

Really, though, we're just trying to point out how much plus-minus really does suck, and how we probably shouldn't get even a little bit excited just because we see a crooked number like we did on Gus' line on Saturday night. 

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