According to various sources, the argument for the Islanders playing Brian Strait, lately in place of Calvin deHaan is one of balance. Coach Jack Capuano likes to have Strait in the lineup because he’s a more defensive-minded defenseman and the team has too many defensemen who are more offensive-minded.
That sounds logical, if advanced stats had never been invented, or the Red Winds hadn’t changed the hockey world’s view by adopting the playing style of the Soviet teams. Namely, that possessing the puck matters.
Since hockey hasn’t quite developed a stat like soccer where we can measure how much time each team posses the puck, we have to use the Corsi and Fenwick stats, which measure shot attempts, as a proxy for possession. (If your team doesn’t have the puck, you can’t really attempt as many shots, right?)
According to those stats, Calvin deHann is the Isles 4th most-effective defenseman.
Brian Strait is the 8th. Behind even Matt Donovan and ahead of only Griffin Reinhart.
Go ahead, look for yourself at the two players in detail over at puckanalytics.com
So if you believe that it’s more important to have an extra defenseman who’s good at blocking shots and never getting caught up ice, Brian Strait is your guy. But, if you believe, like me, that all those blocked shots are a result of not being able to possess the puck, and that the best defense is to, you know, prevent the other team from having the puck to start with, then there’s no way to explain how Brian Strait is one of the 6 defensemen in the Islanders everyday lineup, let alone how Calvin deHaan is not.
The other argument is that Strait is a good penalty killer. Looking at the Isles dismal penalty kill all year, that one is hard to prove. Again, Strait doesn’t have any glowing stats on the PK that show him being better than any of the other defenders. In fact, it doesn’t look good for him at all. Of the 5 defensemen who have played more than 50 minutes of PK this season, Strait is 5th in relative Corsi, behind Hickey, Boychuk, Hamonic and, you guessed it, deHaan.
Between this inexplicable lineup decision, a sudden slump in offense and goaltending, and the injuries to Okposo and Grabovski it’s no wonder the Isles are limping to the close of the regular season. Let’s just hope they can get a few things squared away and get in to the playoffs. If they miss the playoffs altogether, that game in Philly the other night might become on of the most famous blown opportunities in the history of sports.