With Nashville's defensive difficulties of late, and today's recall of Cody Franson, speculation is naturally growing about how the defense pairings should look.
Do the defense pair of Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Klein (each a -7 so far) bear the brunt of the blame? Should one of them be scratched or traded, while guys like Francis Bouillon and Teemu Laakso are moved up?
To help answer that question, let's look inside the numbers...
The following data comes from Behind the Net, and relates to 5-on-5 play only. Next to each player I've noted which pairing they've generally played on:
| Ryan Suter -1
| Shea Weber -1
| Dan Hamhuis -2
| Kevin Klein -2
| Teemu Laakso -3
| Francis Bouillon -3
Let's take these columns one at a time:
TOI/60: A simple measure of ice time per game; this tells us that Teemu Laakso is playing a lesser role (to no surprise, given his rookie status). One column I didn't add in here (for space purposes) was the Quality of Competition; to sum up those values, it suffices to say that Suter & Weber face the toughest opponents, and that Laakso faces the easiest by far. Again, no surprise there in sheltering the rookie.
RATING: This tells us, per 60 minutes of 5-on-5, the impact on Goals For and Against that each player has had. Little surprise here, to see the top pair standing out, the bottom pair middling, and the 2nd pair awful.
GF ON/60: How many Goals For are being scored by the Predators per 60 minutes of play when each of these guys is on the ice. Again, matching what our eyes are telling us, the top pair is doing OK but the rest are doing terribly.
GA ON/60: The same thing, but for Goals Against. Hamhuis and Klein are getting lit up like a Christmas tree.
SF ON/60: How many Shots On Goal are being fired by the Preds, prorated to 60 minutes of play. The bottom pairing starts to stick out, as team offensive output drops by nearly half as compared to the other units.
SA ON/60: More bad news for that bottom pairing; shots are coming hot and heavy at the Nashville net when they're out on the ice.
CORSI: The balance of Total Shots (which includes Missed and Blocked) when each player is on the ice. This falls right in line with the Shots On Goal view; the 3rd pair is facing a shooting gallery, while the top pair is driving the play forward. The second pair is basically breaking even.
Bottom line? I'm not sure there's good evidence to show that promoting either Teemu Laakso or Francis Bouillon into a larger role makes any sense at this time. Laakso, in particular, is facing the easiest opposition but is having some of the worst results in terms of driving Shots For and Against. With Bouillon, one can make the argument that he's still rounding into game shape after having started training camp so late; but that argument only buys him some time, it doesn't let him off the hook.
Does something need to change with the Predators' defense? Absolutely; the gaffes we've seen of late (almost all of which have involved the Klein/Hamhuis pair) have been awful. It doesn't matter if you play 15 minutes of sound defense, only to have a couple brain cramps that lead to easy goals for your opponent.
So let me toss something different out there for consideration; what if the Suter/Weber pairing were broken up? Perhaps Hamhuis/Weber and Suter/Klein might allow one of Suter and Weber to be on the ice for most of the game, taking a leading role while their partner backs them up. It's an idea...