Subban didn’t trust Markov in the playoffs
With the advent of microstat tracking, we can learn more about the game of hockey than ever before. The level at which we can dissect the game is new, and multi-faceted.
One newly tracked group of statistics that interests me is the tendencies a single player has with the puck on their stick in various zones. Not only do you have a unique way to view the decision making of a player, but you can also compare different stretches of games to see how tendencies changed, how they effected game play, and why.
One such example is the drastic change in P.K. Subban’s tendencies in the defensive zone from the 2014-15 regular season, to the 2014-15 playoffs.
When we look at plays individuals can make in the defensive zone, there are three general categories; passing, dumping the puck out, or an individual play. When we compare Subban’s tendencies from the regular season to the playoffs, there’s a very stark difference.
Subban’s most common decision during the regular season was to make a pass, in fact it’s what he did a whopping 68% of the time. However in the playoffs, he passed the puck in the defensive zone just 50.7% of the time, nearly a 20% drop.
As a result, the rate at which he dumped the puck out of the zone nearly doubled, from 16% to 30.2%, and his reliance on his own skill to move the puck increased from 16.8% to 19.3%.
Throughout Subban’s career, even with the changes brought on by Michel Therrien, Subban’s decision making has remained relatively stable in the defensive zone, so this big of a change forces us to ask questions, specifically why his game changed so much.
A common response would be the tighter checking playoffs would necessitate more safe plays like dump outs, but the individual plays are perhaps the most risky, and would happen less if Subban was more tightly checked. Also worth noting is that other defensemen on the Canadiens did not experience this stark change in zone tendencies.
If we break Subban’s zone tendencies down further, we can see what exactly he was doing less, and what he was doing more.
The biggest drop from regular season to postseason was in D to D passes, with Subban passing to Andrei Markov 26.7% of the time in the regular season, and just 15.5% of the time in the playoffs. Why would he stop passing to Markov?
Well if you recall, Markov had a mystery injury to his wrist in the playoffs, which caused him to misplay the puck on several occassions to disastrous results, such as this.
Because coaches are smart and know the game, this lack of trust in his partner would be picked up immediately, and opponents likely cut off Subban from outlet passes to force him to go to Markov, which they knew he didn’t want to do. That explains the drop in outlet passes, as well as the sharp increase in stretch passes.
Subban is an offense-minded player, and because of this, he’s going to want to find a way to turn a defensive play into an offensive one. In the situation he was in during the playoffs, this would lead to him taking more risks to get the puck not only out of trouble, but transitioned into offence, hence the higher volume of controlled exits.
The bigger problem with Subban’s situation though, is that he was still checked extremely tightly, meaning that often he had no option to create offense, and was forced to dump the puck out just to ease the pressure.
You might be wondering why the Canadiens didn’t just shuffled Markov down the lineup if he was so injured, but remember that Nathan Beaulieu was out of commission with a broken sternum, and Alexei Emelin was struggling mightily, those were the only two options the Habs had on left defense, with Tom Gilbert shifted to the left on the third pair to cover for the injured Beaulieu, and help insulate rookie Greg Pateryn.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about the drastic change in Subban’s style of play in the defensive end, is that his effectiveness didn’t really change all that much. He led the Canadiens in points in the playoffs, and the Canadiens controlled 53.01% of shot attempts while he was on the ice, always facing top competition.
All this together is just another example of how adaptable, and dominant P.K. Subban is, as one of the best defensemen in the game, even when forced to play a style that is incredibly inefficient.