Lately, the good play of Andrej Meszaros has led many to wonder about the Flyers trio of young defensemen (Meszaros, Matt Carle, and Braydon Coburn), none of whom are older than 26.
The one on the outside looking in seems to be Carle, as there is a perception that he is nothing without Chris Pronger. No one denies that Pronger was a huge part of Carle's emergence last year, but Pronger has missed 10 games already this year.
It's not the largest of samples, no, but 25% of Carle's games this year have come without Pronger. Absent an official WOWY script to see Carle's performance with and without Pronger on the ice with him, we can see how has Carle played in games without Pronger in the lineup.
Then, we'll compare Carle to Coburn and Meszaros in general. Jump for it.Here's the fun part. Using the tables and information we gave you yesterday in the Forwards Corsi and Zone Start post through 41 games, we can give you Carle's data in games where Pronger dressed and in games where Pronger didn't.
What do we get from this? Well, Carle is giving up 0.742 goals per game with Pronger and 0.800 without him. Marginal difference. The offense is also down, from 1.16 goals for to 1.00 goals for. That's a 0.218 goals per game difference, which certainly seems large. After all, that's 17.876 goals per 82 games.
But we don't know how much of that is luck. We don't know if his goalies are stopping a much lower percent of shots than normal or if the opposition is stopping a much larger percent of shots than normal. Either way, his plus/minus is but one aspect of our analysis, and the the biggest difference appears to be on the offensive side. Which isn't really the side people are concerned with.
Next, we see that Carle is actually winning the shot battle by a larger margin without Pronger than he is with Pronger. Yes, it's a small difference, but when Carle is controlling the play at the same rate whether he's paired with Pronger or not is a huge indicator that the previous paragraph - his plus/minus - is in fact being driven by factors outside Carle's control.
Lastly, we look to Carle's zone starts. He is getting fewer offensive zone draws without Pronger, which makes his Fenwick and Corsi scores even more impressive. With fewer opportunities to drive the play, he's actually pushing the puck up more frequently. This holds true even in how the coaches use him, since his non-icing offensive zone start is dramatically lower than it is with Pronger. When you think of Matt Carle, you think offensive defensemen, don't you? Well, apparently the Philadelphia Flyers coaching staff disagrees with you.
The coaches are using Carle differently when he doesn't have Pronger at his side, that much is obvious. Without Pronger, Carle gets almost exactly as many offensive zone draws as non-icing defensive zone draws. But with Pronger, Carle is in the offensive zone much more frequently. And when the coaches have the chance to pick who they want out there for the faceoffs, the Pronger/Carle pairing gets the offensive draw much more frequently.
There are many things we aren't discussing here, simply because we can't. We don't know just how much different Carle's competition is with and without Pronger. We can assume his quality of competition is lower without Pronger, but we can't be certain. Either way, the notion that Matt Carle needs Chris Pronger at his side to be successful needs to be dropped. He is given far fewer opportunities to succeed offensively without Pronger, and he still drives the play away from his own net. The team may not be as successful in the goal department, but Carle gives them more opportunities to score and fewer opportunities to be scored against when he's without Chris Pronger.
Compared to Coburn & Meszaros
Now, after showing that Carle's plus/minus is largely dependent on Pronger, but that his effectiveness is not at all dependent on him, let's compare him to the other "young" defensemen on the team.
Based on goals, Coburn plays the toughest minutes out of the three. As the "Quality of" stats base their numbers on Rating - which is a relative plus/minus of goals to the team - Coburn faces the best opposition while paired with the worst teammates. Meszaros is the opposite, and Carle is in between.
When you judge based on shots rather than goals, Coburn and Carle appear fairly similar, with tough opposition and good teammates. Meszaros gets weak opposition and weak teammates.
Next, we'll look at their results.
Hopefully, everyone here can see the correlation between these numbers, and why they're grouped together. If you just look at their goals for and against, one would say Meszaros is far and away the best of the three. But he's also the one getting far and away the best luck. His ridiculously low GAON/60? Look at the ridiculously high SvPct. Coburn's (relatively) low GFON/60? Look at his (relatively) low on-ice shooting percentage.
Further, connect this above to the other 9 players on the ice with these three. Meszaros has by far the worst competition and the best teammates, so he also has by far the best goals for and goals against.
Lastly, look at the situations they are put in and the direction the play goes:
While Meszaros is getting a lot of luck in his plus/minus numbers, he's getting put in the most difficult of positions. And he's still driving the play forward as well as either Coburn or Carle. As far as those two go, they're being used in almost the exact same situations, but Carle is marginally better than Coburn in both Fenwick and Corsi.
The winner here is Meszaros due to his zone starts, but once again, Carle is not much worse.
Matt Carle is not dependent on Chris Pronger, evidenced by his Fenwick and Corsi numbers without the big man. The coaches don't look at Carle as an offensive defensemen, evidenced by his offensive zone starts plummeting without Pronger.
Compared to the other young defensemen, Carle is facing the best or second-best competition, with either the best or second-best teammates. He gets the best zone starts, but he also controls the play better than the other two. He's getting the worst goaltending, which is partly why he also has the worst GAON/60. He's getting the second best shooting percentage, but has the best GFON/60.
When the "Carle is nothing without Pronger" argument falls apart - as it has through 10 games so far this season - what's left? Sure, there's something about him switching to Meszaros as his partner, but Coburn has spent almost the entire season with Timonen.
Right now, there is very little that separates Carle, Coburn, and Meszaros. And when he leads the blueline in points, is second in plus/minus, third in time on ice per game, and third in blocked shots, what's the knock on Carle?
If it's that he doesn't hit people, he has more hits per game than Sean O`Donnell and... Chris Pronger. Call it the unreliable score keeping if you want, but all Flyers dealt with the same score keepers. What's the only thing left? His giveaway numbers. He leads the blueline in giveaways, but then even Coburn has a higher giveaway-to-takeaway ratio.
It's time to stop hatin' on Matt Carle. Besides, he can make some incredible saves:
And he can also score some big goals: