There is nothing so so skillful in its own defense as imperious pride — Helen Hunt Jackson
Don’t let her 19th century schoolmarm appearance fool you — Helen was clearly way ahead of her time. Maybe she had just met Donald Trump’s great grandfather.
Elite defensive teams
Elite NHL defenses play take great pride in limiting chances and shutting down another team’s primary scorers. As they should: strong defensive efforts are what keep a team in the hunt, regardless of everything happening during the organized chaos of an NHL game. Case in point, the Los Angeles Kings, who won their two Stanley Cups with offenses ranking among the bottom five of the league each year.
The formula for ranking team defensive prowess
Were I to simply use subjectivity or only rank by fewest goals allowed, the process would be easy. Instead, every NHL team was ranked in five statistical categories that reflect a team’s ability to play a successful style of defense. I then weighted them reasonably, multiplied the weighting by the rankings, added across, and sorted numerically. The net result was a high-to-low list of all 30 teams with respect to their overall defensive prowess.
This year, I tweaked the categories, modernizing by including Corsi and adding defensive special teams play. As a result, team blocked shots, hits and takeaways were eliminated in favor of Corsi For % and penalty killing.
The categories utilized and weighting assigned were as follows:
– Goals Against (45%)
– Shots Against (15%)
– Corsi For % (20%)
– Penalty Killing (15%)
– Faceoffs (5%)
Team statistics were compiled as of Saturday, January 30th, 2016.
Last year, the Tampa Bay Lightning, Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets were the top five defensive teams as of December 20, 2014. Each went on to make the playoffs, with the Blackhawks ultimately capturing the Stanley Cup.
So what five teams made the list this time around? As a teaser, their combined records are 144-78-24, with four of them in prime playoff positioning (as of this writing) and the fifth coming on strong.
Without further ado, the following is this year’s list of the top five defensive clubs at this point of the 2015-16 NHL season:
#5: St. Louis Blues
The Blues were the fourth-best defensive team in the league at the time I wrote last year’s article, and they landed within the top five once more this season. After 52 games, St. Louis is ninth in goals allowed, fifteenth in shots against, ninth in Corsi For %, third in penalty killing and tenth on the draw.
Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, Kevin Shattenkirk and Colton Parayko make for a formidable top-four defensive group, helping the Blues jump out to a 28-16-8 mark. St. Louis is a mere six points behind the Blackhawks in the race for the Central division crown.
#4: Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay moved up one spot from last year’s list, placing fourth on the all-defensive list. Factoring highly into the equation was the Lightning ranking in the top ten in goals allowed/game (8), shots allowed/game (8) and well as Corsi For % (7). Their penalty kill is a respectable twelfth overall, while they fall right in the middle (15) in faceoff win percentage.
Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, Jason Garrison, Andrej Sustr, Brayden Coburn and company may not carry much star power, but collectively, they get the job done for the 27-18-4 Bolts.
#3: Washington Capitals
It’s just not fair. Not only have the Capitals scored the second-highest number of goals in the league (158), but they have the third-best defense in their back pockets as well. Small wonder Washington has the best record in the NHL (36-8-4) as of this writing.
The Caps have allowed the second-fewest number of goals per game (2.19, a hair behind the Florida Panthers) and have the fourth-best penalty kill (84.7%) as well. They ranked twelfth in shots allowed, sixteenth in Corsi For % and fourteenth at the faceoff dot.
Individually, Matt Niskanen, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Brooks Orpic and Nate Schmidt have each chewed up 19:07 or more minutes per game, and together they are a ridiculous +48.
#2: Los Angeles Kings
At roughly the halfway point last year, the Kings did not make this list, and — lo and behold — they ultimately failed to qualify for the playoffs. Los Angeles is in much better shape this time around, ranking third in goals allowed, sixth in shots allowed, first in Corsi For %, eleventh on the penalty kill and twentieth on the draw. Alas, the departure of Jarret Stoll has definitely hurt them in that department.
Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin, Alec Martinez and Brayden McNabb headline a deep and talented blue line. Doughty spends nearly half the game (28:01), patrolling the defensive zone, helping L.A. to a cool 30-16-3 so far this season.
#1: Anaheim Ducks
Quack! As poorly as Anaheim’s season has gone (22-18-7) so far, it’s clearly not the defense that has let them down. The numbers bear that out, as the Ducks are seventh in goals allowed, third in shots allowed, third in Corsi For %, first on the penalty kill and third at the faceoff circle. In short, they are good at virtually everything except offense.
Don’t count the Ducks out, however, as they are 10-3-1 since December 27th and stand just two points out of a playoff spot (with two games in hand) behind Arizona. Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, Kevin Bieksa and Sami Vatanen headline what has been, to this point, the NHL’s top overall defensive corps.
Thoughts? My formula is certainly subjective and open to scrutiny. Do you agree or disagree with the methodology and/or teams listed above? Feel free to comment here, or message me @McLaughlinWalt.
Walter McLaughlin is a Los Angeles Kings correspondent for The Hockey Writers. He is an avid sports fan, having followed the Kings since living in L.A. in the mid-1970’s, as well as suffering through Seattle sports teams’ general futility. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Finance and has worked in community banking for over 25 years, specializing in SBA loans. He is married and has two daughters.