After seeing Ryan Lindgren crash into the boards during the last regular season game of the year I knew that it was likely the last time we’d see him until next season. These suspicions were later confirmed after it was announced that he suffered a broken fibula. In these instances a lot of fans say something along the lines of, “next man up!”. In some instances that logic makes sense, every team suffers injuries throughout the year and most likely there won’t be many teams entering the playoffs with every single player healthy. In this case though it’s probably not that simple, in fact Ryan Lindgren might already have been the best defenseman on the Gophers.
Before diving into the stats let’s just talk about the kind of season Lindgren was having and some of the narratives surrounding his play. When the Big 10 announced its awards this year Bischoff was named the defensive player of the year and his partner Ryan Lindgren made the all freshman team. He also made the world junior team and was considered one of the best USA born defensemen at his respective age. Obviously Ryan has a great pedigree and was having a good season, but just how good was it?
As stated in the previous post I have tracked 8 games so far this season and examined every 5 on 5 zone entry by both the Gophers and players of the opposing team as well as the zone exits made by the Gophers. The sample of games include the Friday SCSU game, both games vs the UND Fighting Hawks, the home Michigan series, the Mariucci Classic, and the Northstar Cup game vs Duluth. One thing to keep in mind here is that Lindgren was gone for the World Junior Championships (and got sick) which took place during the Mariucci Classic. As such Lindgren didn’t make it to either game and so his sample doesn’t get a boost like some of the others from playing against a couple of the weakest teams the Gophers would play all year (see below).
The first thing we’ll examine is how Lindgren stacks up compared to his teammates in terms of allowing zone entries. Defenders that allow a lot of clean zone entries and have poor gap control are going to put their team at a disadvantage in terms of allowing more shots and quality opportunities. On the other hand if they can force the forwards to dump the puck in and grind along the boards to get a shot this should theoretically result in less shot attempts against. So does this hold true and how does Lindgren stack up to his teammates?
There’s a couple things to look at here. Lindgren’s rate of allowing controlled entries is one of the best rates on the team. Interestingly enough he’s right in line with Collins, a guy who has been having a very nice comeback year and the other freshman Zuhlsdorf. In terms of shot attempts against it doesn’t appear that there’s any real pattern here. The 3 guys with the lowest amount of controlled entries allowed have a slightly lower shots against rate but it seems to be minuscule in this case. Perhaps there’s a better way to analyze that portion or we just need more data. But in this small sample Lindgren has been one of the better defensemen in terms of gap control and neutral zone defense. You can also see on the right that I added a quality of competition metric. This is measured by the amount of times the defenseman in question was targeted by a top 6 forward on the opposing team. This metric isn’t perfect obviously, defensemen tend to play with a partner and so if Bischoff is mostly playing against top 6 guys Lindgren would be as well seeing as they’re partners. This metric doesn’t do a great job of measuring the amount of time one the ice spent against the opposing top 6 but I thought it would be at least somewhat interesting to look at over these games.
Where Lindgren really shines though is in terms of controlled exits. As stated in the previous articles, exiting the zone cleanly allowed for more shot attempts at the opposite end of the ice per Jen Lute Costella’s study and most would agree that having a clean breakout is extremely important for any hockey team to be able to do.
Lindgren’s ability to pass the puck and break out of his own zone was really impressive over this sample of games. Not only did he have the highest rate of controlled exits but his fail rate was low and he faced a good amount of pressure*.
So was the loss of Lindgren the reason we struggled and ended the season with a whimper? It probably doesn’t explain everything but I do think it at least partially explains why we got outplayed heavily by Penn State for much of the second, third period, and first OT. As for the Notre Dame game the Gophers controlled play for the most part out attempting the Irish 55-36 at even strength but only 25 of those shots actually made it to the net and the 5 on 5 SOG were pretty even at 25-23. With one of our best passing Dmen in the lineup I have a feeling we would’ve transitioned out of our zone with a bit more ease and speed and likely that shot differential goes a little more in our favor. Hockey nowadays is generally a low scoring affair and games are won on the thinnest of margins. The Gophers still could’ve beat Notre Dame yesterday without Lindgren but it was a tall task no doubt.
Thanks for reading!
*I tracked pressure situations in which a player exiting the zone had an opposing player within a stick’s length reach away from them