Russell: Shift-by-shift

Updated: January 11, 2018 at 1:25 am by Jason Gregor

Whether you watch the games, look at the stats page, or combine both, it is safe to say all of us usually miss many things in each game. We can’t pick up everything watching the game live, and we can look at various stats afterwards, but they too don’t tell us everything. 

It’s what makes hockey debates so enjoyable or intense, because there is often more to the story.

Yesterday I noted some of @Woodguy55 (Darcy McLeod) tweets regarding Kris Russell. The numbers weren’t flattering, and I was surprised because I felt Russell has played quite well. Darcy and I exchanged some tweets and decided we would watch the game and breakdown the game beyond just looking at overall Corsi numbers.

NOTE: Even though Darcy’s mother-in-law, great lady, is a teacher, her studious ways didn’t rub off on him, because while he did the assignment, he forgot his sheets at home this morning. What a beauty. So he will add his points later to the article.

I’ve long questioned some analytics. Not their worth, but their accuracy. Do they always tell us what they say? I’ve watched Russell closer than any other player this year, and I haven’t witnessed an endless parade of mistakes. I’ve really liked many of his puck decisions. He is far from perfect, of course, but Darcy’s numbers intrigued me so I wanted to watch more closely.

I couldn’t do it live, so after watching the game, I went back through every shift Russell took. It took a long time, and I was only tracking one player. To do this every game and for multiple players would be impossible, unless you work for an NHL team and have much better recording equipment than I have.

I learned a lot, even though it was only one game, and while I likely won’t do this every game I will be watching specific events over and over in the future to get a better grasp of what occurred.

Darcy and I both agreed that doing this for one game would not mean one side was correct or incorrect. In fact, that was never our intention. It isn’t about being right or wrong, it is about questioning things and seeing if the answers jive with the questions, or if we need to keep digging.

I enjoy discussing and debating the game with Darcy, because it isn’t about who is right, but moreso about what we are seeing, or what the stats are telling us is happening.

Here is a recap of Russell’s shifts from last night. I don’t know if Jim Johnson and Todd McLellan knew we were doing this assignment and wanted us to do more work, because Russell played the most minutes of any Oilers player last night, 22:32. Jerks.

1st period.

KrisRussell

19:20 (PK): Backhand clearing attempt puts it right on Stepan’s stick. Not a good start, but Letestu recovers and puts the puck back in corner. Russell has a nice pokecheck to get puck to Lander and it’s down the ice. A bad first pass, that is a giveaway, but luckily for him it was short-lived possession by Rangers and no shot attempt (SA).

Later in PK: Pressures Nash, forcing him to put a pass up the boards, where Pouliot intercepts and ices it. Strong PK giving up no shots. Change at 18:37.

17:58 (PK): Wins a battle behind the net against two Rangers and RNH comes in to scoop up the puck and ices it. Solid. Change at 17:16.

15:59 (PP): Nice tape-to-tape pass (TTTP) to Eberle in neutral zone, leading to an easy zone entry. Again back to retrieve, skates out and another TTTP pass up ice.  At the offensive zone blueline McDavid passes high, Russell knocks it down with his glove. He can’t control it and the Rangers ice it. Change at 14:50.

13:24 (EV): Skates out of zone, TTTP pass to Pitlick and he dumps it in. Rangers eventually clear. Later he starts with time behind net, waits for a change, outlets to Puljujarvi who crosses centre and into zone. Change at 13:40.

11:00 (EV): Scrambles behind net, gets a second chance and moves TTTP to Lucic. Lucic almost turns it over, but Oilers exit zone. Gains possession into offensive zone. Russell makes a give and go with McDavid, he slides to left point and takes a slap pass looking for Eberle in high slot, who redirects it wide. Rangers dump it out. Change at 10:10.

8:50 (EV): Forces Hayes at redline and he dumps it in. Sekera gets back for it, goes up left boards and puck goes behind goal. Russell quick on the puck as it goes to right corner. Russell gets to it with Miller on him, he reverses flow nicely by firing it behind the net to Sekera, who moves up boards to Lucic at centre. A touch to McDavid leads to Eberle hitting post. Nice play to start the rush. 

6:45 (EV): Oilers change with the puck in NYR end. Rangers flip it out, bounces into zone and Russell races with Hayes race for it. Russell forces Hayes to make a weak one-hand shot on net. A few seconds later he tries a dangerous pass, hits a stick, but deflects to Sekera and Oilers breakout easily. Hayes got piece of outlet pass causing it to go to Sekera. Risky pass, but luckily for him no harm done. Change at 6:05.

3:34 (EV): Shift starts in NYR zone on a faceoff. Puck eventually gets in Edmonton zone on a slow dump. Russell races to Stepan in corner, they battle, puck goes to Sekera/Nash. Puck comes around to point shot, wide, but Nash gets puck off end boards and Talbot makes a good save. Oilers rotated well, as Russell went with Stepan and RNH took Nash. The bounce off the end boards was hard to predict and leads to two shots by Nash.

Here would be a perfect example of three SA against where Russell had no negative impact on the play, but will be -3 on Corsi. Staal wide shot, then Nash takes two whacks at puck, Russell’s man not involved in either. This one shift they end up as -3. One decent chance from Nash, and I’ve always wondered how one short sequence of eight seconds will alter how people look at a player if they only look at his CF/CA at end of the game. We’ll find out later.

After a Talbot save Russell banks the puck off the glass and out to Kassian. After the bounce Oilers dump it in. Change at 2:40

He has two late shifts in the period, but nothing happens on them. The last one is the final 12 seconds of the period with Oilers on PP. But they just kill clock in neutral zone.

Overall, solid period. First pass on PK, not ideal, but no harm. After that some sound outlet passing, showed good speed to close on pucks in the corners. The pass late in period wasn’t ideal, but deflecting off a stick to Sekera didn’t hurt them. 

2nd period.

19:05 (PP): A few simple passes on PP. Nothing fancy, expected plays to make with no pressure. Shift turns to EV and Draisaitl takes a penalty. Stays on ice with faceoff in D zone for PK, a won draw and eventually Oilers get out. Nothing happened. Off at 17:50.

16:56 (PK): Rangers glove pass stops plays after his dump out didn’t clear zone. Rangers generate no shots on PP. Just as PP expires they get a shot after nice quick touch passes. Draisaitl not back in play in time before chance, so will count as a negative for EV scoring. Talbot makes save. Then Russell controls rebound and outlets to Draisaitl who crosses centre and dumps. Change at 15:50.

14:32 (EV): Not much happens on this shift. Russell rubs out Skjei, but that’s about it. Change at 13:35.

10:35 (EV): Change on the fly. Puljujarvi fans on one-timer inside Rangers zone and they break out on 2-on-1. Russell reads it well and breaks up the pass. Puck ends up back on his stick a few seconds later and he lazily dumps up boards. Had time to skate it. But on second attempt he gets it out. No harm, but ideally want him to take another stride or two on first possession. Play keeps going however, Rangers come back in and take a point shot, Puljujarvi blocks it and goes other way with Maroon. Maroon scores. (Here, Oilers skaters will get a CA due to blocked PJ shot, but was never dangerous in zone, as PJ races other way and scores. Russell had nothing to do with either play and will get a CF and CA, but really not involved in those two sequences.)

7:42 (EV): Shift starts with faceoff at centre. Play goes into Edmonton zone, mucks it up along left boards, eventually comes out to Kassian. Russell turns on jets and races up ice. Kassian floats pass across, but Zuccarello hits out of mid air into corner. Russell pushes it behind net, but it hops over a few sticks and Rangers come out and soft dump in. Russell gets in and make simple TTTP to Sekera, he dumps it in and they change at 6:48.

5:14 (EV): Faceoff in D zone. Off the draw puck goes to point, then behind net. Russell pressures Miller and his pass goes to Sekera. Nice touch to Lander, up to McDavid and out. Some sloppy neutral zone play. Then Holden makes a long cross-ice pass at Oilers blueline to Grabner, who takes a long weak wrister on Talbot. Puck to corner, Sekera and Russell switch sides while covering man, and the puck is hit out to centre and into NYR zone. D pair changes. Grabner shot will be a CA, but was a nothing play. Bad news for Oilers is fifteen seconds later Rangers score.

3:16 (EV): Change on fly. Not much in first fifteen seconds, later in play Russell blocks a Miller shot. Eventually Oilers get puck out and change at 2:10. This will be another CA, but they likely get a bonus CF as Draisaitl takes long shot that goes wide of net. 

0:17 (EV): Faceoff in D zone. Oilers win draw and Russell and Sekera pass behind net and just stand there to kill clock.

Another solid period. More positive plays than negative. Outside of one dump off glass, didn’t see any issues.

3rd period

19:20 (EV): Changes on the fly with puck in neutral zone. Fifteen seconds later puck is in own zone. He skates it out easy and dumps it in a hard angle, where the puck comes off the boards into the slot and Eberle almost gets to it. Rangers come out. Puck goes in Oilers zone, back to neutral zone off a few sticks and then Zibanejad comes in and Russell blocks shot into corner. Sekera intercepts pass and makes nice play and Oilers are out. Change. Another SA on a meaningless shot. ** I believe as we advance in tracking plays, there should be a different value for each SA. It will take a lot of work, and I’m sure NHL teams do it, but it really can alter look of any player’s numbers.**

16:20 (EV): Change on fly as Kassian skates into Rangers zone. Pushes back to Russell at point. Nice pass off boards to RNH. Puck comes back to the point and Russell can’t keep it in. He gets to it at centre, his pass misses Kassian. Rangers transition back to Zibanejad and as he comes in Russell poke checks the puck off his stick into the corner. Eventually puck ends up at Rangers point, but shot from Skjej hits Kassian’s stick and goes out of play. (Prime example of being charged with shot attempt against, but he had nothing to do with it and play was never dangerous. Kassian was in lane). Change at 15:27.

14:10 (EV): Faceoff in D zone. Goes to neutral zone, he steps up as Hayes comes in and Hayes has to dump in corner. Sekera skates it out, dishes to Pitlick and he directs in NYR zone. Puck comes back to point, but Russell can’t keep in. TV angle impossible to know if it skipped over stick of if he just mishandled. He goes back for it, makes a nice backhand touch pass in neutral zone to Letestu and Oilers back in O zone. Change at 13:30.

12:18 (PP): Changes on fly. Retreats back for puck, but pushes it too far ahead of himself to corner and Rangers get it and skate to neutral zone, then dump back in. Killing some PP time. Russell back for it and this time he skates it out and hits Draisaitl in stride and they enter zone, but lose possession. Russell back and skates it out cleanly and dishes off. Oilers set up, Russell touches to Maroon, across to Pouliot and his onetimer hits Lundqvist in head and goes out of play. Change at 11:15. But Oilers win ensuing faceoff and Larsson scores. 3-2.

9:57 (EV): O zone faceoff. First ten seconds nothing happens, then puck ricochets into Oilers zone. Sekera with a lot of time, makes a bad pass in neutral zone and Rangers come in and take long shot that misses net. (Another non threatening CA) Scrambly play, but pucks goes to Russell and he slides it to centre. More scramble play in neutral zone, puck dumped in, Russell skates it out, passes to Eberle and Oilers dump it in and make changes at 8:56.

7:39 (PK): Faceoff in D zone. Oilers win draw, Sekera dumps it out, but hits Oilers bench. Faceoff back in zone. Win draw and dump out. Twnety seconds later Rangers come in, put puck behind net, Russell takes a low crosscheck to his back. Not sure it had any impact or not, but leads to bad pass by Rangers and Oilers dump it out. Change at 6:45.

5:13 (EV): Change on fly. Oilers had possession, turn over at NYR blueline and quick transition as Miller comes down on Russell. Miller makes a nice toe drag, gets inside position on Russell and Talbot makes a toe save. Russell tried poke check, but Miller great move. Still prefer not to give up a shot from there for Russell. Later on puck comes around net, Russell gets it with Miller on him and he takes a hard hit to make the play as he chips it up to Maroon. Dumps it in. Change at 4:47. This is the only real scoring chance I saw him on against and he was directly involved. Nice move by Miller, but ideally you’d want Russell to not allow him to get shot off. Was still from outside and Talbot handled easy, but for me this was his worst defensive decision all game.

3:39 (EV): Changes on the fly with puck in Rangers zone. Rangers get it and dump it in. Russell first back, with Grabner on him, and makes nice back pass up the boards to RNH. Oilers get in the offensive zone, Sekera’s shot misses the net. Some zone time, then the puck goes back to the point and bounces wildly over Russell’s stick. Back in his zone, he slowly skates up, passes to Puljujarvi and skates into the zone, but makes move at the blueline and play is called offside. Change at 2:43.

1:20 (EV): Faceoff at centre. Rangers knock it out of play and faceoff in O-zone. Rangers get possession and JT Miller banks a shot off the boards from his own end, hits empty net. 5-3. Can’t blame any Oiler for a 195 bank-shot into empty net.

Decent period. Never was in danger for a scoring chance. I don’t know what Corsi or Fenwick says, but if it lists Russell as under 50%, then it illustrates the stat doesn’t show exactly how game unfolded in my opinion. The Miller chance against was the only one he was directly involved in.

I looked at Naturastattrick this morning and it says Russell was 7 CF and 12CA. In my eyes that does not reflect how he played at all. Not even close, in fact. As I explained earlier, the one shift they are -3, and he is not directly involved at all. They also list seven scoring chances against. I defy anyone to watch that game again and tell me what these seven scoring chances were. I must have a very different view on what a scoring chance is. I assume they credit Nash with two chances on the one play and the Miller one in the third is obvious, but if they mark the Hayes one-hand dribbler in first period as a scoring chance, then I completely disagree with what they view as a scoring chance. 

I also watched closely for zone entries for Rangers, and I could only see one situation where I felt he clearly backed in too much. Every other play was within the flow of game and there was no chance he would step up on a guy, with no back support from forwards.

He was never in a position to risk it and the only dangerous chance came off of Miller shot in third. That would be the one instance Russell could have played better. 

The two times he made questionable passes, they redirected off a stick back to the Oilers and they exit zone. You could grade those as negatives, which is fair, but there was no change of possession or SA so turns out as a neutral play. And one pass up the boards when he had time to skate it out. Again, that play the puck came right back to him so it didn’t alter anything, but ideally you’d want him to just skate it out first.

Also, for zone exits there were many cases where he had no one on him and easily skated it out. He did make a few good plays under pressure as well, but giving any D-man a +1 when he skates out of zone with no one on him is not equal to doing it under pressure in my eyes. 

Overview 

I thought he had a solid game. He made one great defensive play, breaking up the 2-on-1, and allowed one clear scoring chance to Miller. 

I’d say he was fine. He didn’t make a major impact positively or negatively, and wasn’t on the ice for any of the first four goals. Being on ice for the 195-foot empty netter isn’t a negative.

As I stated earlier, one game does not tell the story, but my concern going in was that if we only look at the stats, they too, just like watching the game live, can not always tell the entire story.

I got a lot out of this. Watching every shift of one player so closely had me see things in him, and his linemates, I didn’t pick up the first time. It took longer than I’d hope and I’d love to do this with a system like NHL team’s have where you can just download the shifts of a player without having to scroll through the entire game.

There are many better ways to track a game than CF-CA, and we are seeing that being written about daily, which is great, yet I still cringe at those who constantly pump out Corsi numbers for individuals. 

I recommend you trying the same for a player at some point this season, but be prepared for it to take more time than you’d like. Next time, I think I’ll pick a player who plays 12 minutes, not 22.

What did you take from Russell’s game last night?

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