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Making sense of tonight's Evgeny Medvedev scratch

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Flyers coach Dave Hakstol has decided to sit defenseman Evgeny Medvedev for the first game of the team's west coast swing. Is the move as questionable as it seems at first glance?

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Through the first two weeks of the season, Evgeny Medvedev exceeded the expectations of most Philadelphia Flyers fans, even after a promising preseason. One three-game losing streak, however, and the team's newest acquisition on the blue line finds himself in the press box.

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol has made the call to sit Medvedev tonight against the Vancouver Canucks, opting instead to dress a defense of Mark Streit, Michael Del Zotto, Nick Schultz, Luke Schenn, Brandon Manning and Radko Gudas.

Medvedev, for his part, reacted with grace to the news.

The Russian defenseman may not have been satisfied with his recent play, but that does not necessarily mean that he deserved to be scratched, or that the team will be better in his absence. As Travis noted immediately following the news, Nick Schultz has struggled to grasp the aggressive neutral zone concepts that Hakstol preached since day one. If a regular on the defense needed to be scratched, Schultz seemed the natural choice.

It's clear that Hakstol's decision is meant to shake up a lineup coming off its third consecutive defeat. But was Medvedev really dragging the team down with his play? Let's take a look at the on-ice shot attempt (Corsi) statistics for a high-level view of both Medvedev and Nick Schultz's play over the past three games at even strength.

Player Corsi For % Corsi Relative to Teammates
Evgeny Medvedev 47.1% -2.2%
Nick Schultz 38.2% -14.3%

The statistics back up Hakstol's evaluation of Medvedev, in that his play has taken a turn for the worse over the past week. But even an underperforming Medvedev does not approach the recent lows of Schultz in terms of on-ice shot attempts.

Schultz has received tougher minutes than Medvedev over the past week, as has been the trend all season. Schultz has been tasked with 16 defensive zone faceoffs and 10 offensive zone draws (38.5% o-zone start percentage), while Medvedev has been sheltered a bit, taking 18 offensive zone draws and 13 defensive zone faceoffs (58.1%). And three games remains a very small sample, making it possible that the possession statistics are missing key trends that over time (if left unchanged) could result in Medvedev becoming a less effective defenseman than Schultz.

Luckily, we have access to manually tracked transition data from the past three games, as well. And those statistics do not paint a flattering picture of Nick Schultz either.

First, let's look at Medvedev and Schultz's performances in terms of defensive zone exits during the losing streak.

Player Defensive Zone Touches Successful Exit % Controlled Exit % Turnover %
Evgeny Medvedev 40 45.00% 42.50% 2.50%
Nick Schultz 45 33.33% 20.00% 13.33%

Medvedev's reputation as a puck-moving defenseman has been well-earned, and these last three games have been no exception. 45 percent of the time he has controlled the puck in the defensive zone, Medvedev has gotten the puck out of danger. In addition, all but one of his zone exits have been with possession, meaning that he successfully passed the puck to a teammate in the neutral zone or carried it out of the zone himself.

The play of Schultz in the defensive zone during the slump has been less impressive. His exits have not been as efficient as Medvedev's exits have been, and his turnover rate is higher as well.

Let's now compare Medvedev and Schultz's play in the neutral zone. This transition data should allow us to isolate open play and not penalize Schultz for his extra defensive zone draws.

Player Zone Entries For % Controlled Entry Percentage Allowed Entry Break-Up Percentage
Evgeny Medvedev 50.00% 62.50% 16.67%
Nick Schultz 49.11% 64.29% 7.14%

Schultz is definitely closer to Medvedev here than he was in the zone exit data. This also gave us some insight into the cause of Medvedev's recent struggles - he's not dominating the neutral zone like he was in the season's first two weeks.

But Medvedev hasn't been noticeably worse in any aspect of his neutral zone play than Schultz. He's disrupting more plays at the line, and the Flyers are still breaking even in terms of overall entries while Medvedev is on the ice. Combined with his stellar zone exit performance, and you'd think that would be enough to keep Medvedev in the lineup.

So Medvedev hasn't struggled with turnovers in the defensive zone. His neutral zone play has sagged, but even over the past three games, he still ranks a tick better than Schultz. What in his play could have led to this decision?

Oh, right.

In the grand scheme of things, Medvedev sitting tonight isn't the end of the world, even if the team is worse in his absence. The big concern is that Hakstol could be falling prey to the tendency of remembering the "Big Mistake," a topic explored by Tyler Dellow, now a member of the Edmonton Oilers front office. Medvedev's poor defense against Jack Eichel on Friday certainly qualifies as a memorable screw-up.

So far, Hakstol has said all the right things as coach of the Flyers. His systemic adjustments are in line with the philosophies of elite puck possession teams, and his willingness to jettison players like Andrew MacDonald who clearly do not fit his system has been refreshing.

Tonight's scratching of Medvedev, however, is a misstep. The defenseman has struggled in recent games, but even at his worst, Medvedev has brought more positive elements to the table than Nick Schultz.

Mark Streit, Michael Del Zotto and Schultz have been granted a long leash this season even after poor games, while defensemen like Luke Schenn, Radko Gudas and Brandon Manning have battled to stay out of the press box after even just one game. Before this afternoon's news, the consensus was that Evgeny Medvedev belonged in the former group and not the latter.

Hopefully, this scratch is meant to serve as a wake-up call or a teaching moment for the Russian blueliner. The Flyers simply cannot afford to shuttle one of their most effective puck-moving defensemen out of the lineup on a nightly basis.