Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Shiv on 11/30/10 at 10:25 PM ET
***Note to KK Readers. I have changed my Username from “#thirteen” to “Shiv” so that I am more identifiable to the KK following.
Aside from being 6 feet tall and a right-handed shot, Phil Kessel does not have whole a lot in common with Steven Stamkos.
The contrast is glaringly apparent on the Powerplay, where the left face-off circle is home to both players – the more desperate among you can chalk that up as a similarity if you prefer.
Heading into tonight’s action, Stamkos leads the league with 10 Powerplay Goals, while Kessel has mustered only 3 with the man advantage and only 1 the last 17 games dating back to October 18, 2010.
Of course, the statistics are a little unfair to Kessel. The Leafs’ Powerplay ranks 20th in the league at 15.2%; the Lightning rank 5th in the league at 23.4%.
Tampa Bay has far more options when up a man. Lecavalier along the opposing boards to Stamkos draws far more attention than any player on the Leafs can. Downie and Malone’s net presense causes the opponent’s Penalty Kill unit to collapse opening the space up top – an asset the Leafs urgently need. And Martin St. Louis’ play at the top of the 1-3-1 is as good as anyone in the league.
But Stamkos does things Kessel never does.
The most obvious difference is that Kessel almost never one-times the puck. Kessel has a weak slap shot. So when Kaberle saucers the pass over to him, Kessel instead takes a wrist shot when he has the open lane or skates into the high slot to create the open lane. The problem with the approach is that Penalty Kill units “lean” towards Kessel’s side and block the shooting lane as much as possible. As a Domino Effect, Kessel resorts to cycling the puck down low or playing catch with Kaberle up high. But no shooting lane opens up because the Penalty Kill units continue to lean on over from Kaberle over to Kessel.
Kessel’s struggle to find an open shooting lane is not only due to the play of Penalty Kill units, however. Nor is his supporting cast entirely to blame. Unlike Stamkos, Kessel does not get himself into the optimal shooting position. Kessel is more stagnant without the puck despite being mobile when in possession of it. In contrast, Stamkos is constantly in shooting position, angling his body towards the net at all times. He moves up and down that left faceoff circle to create an open lane while waiting for St. Louis to saucer that pass over. In fact, Stamkos’ skating is as much of a weapon as his slap shot is – a truism that echoes for that other right-handed shot at the left face-off circle in Washington.
Creating a lane with quicker releases and better skating, however, are the more blatant factors that separate Kessel from Stamkos on the Powerplay. What the Powerplay Goal stat does not explain is that Stamkos is able to generate more scoring chances than Kessel in identical situations on the Powerplay. Kessel relies heavily on his teammates to create an open seam for him. When that “pretty” play does not open up, Kessel has a tendency to forfeit a Shot on Goal.
Stamkos, by contrast, does not concede the shot as easily. A notable stat about Stamkos is that he currently sits 4th in the NHL in Powerplay Assists with 10, ahead of players like Crosby, Thornton, Sedin, Backstrom and Malkin. One of the 3 guys ahead of Stamkos in the category? Alexander Ovechkin. A large part of it is due to the fact that Stamkos just throws the puck on net hoping for a dirty rebound goal – a concept that eludes Kessel on the Powerplay.
Of course, outlining the differences between Phil Kessel and Steven Stamkos is an unfair comparison to both players. Phil Kessel will never be Steven Stamkos – that is obvious.
But the Leaf Powerplay sure could benefit from Ron Wilson making Kessel watch some Stamkos tapes.
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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