You stubbed your toe (actually, got your toe stubbed by some strange sadistic man) and then fell down a staircase immediately after recovering and then have to patiently recover while your team rolls around in a puddle of gasoline. Pressure mounts as your return comes closer on the calendar, the fanbase's collective anxiety builds a house of cards of emotional stability.
Then, you escape the frigid landscape to California, play your first hockey-game hockey in relative ages, and some dude on the internet records every one of your shifts and writes down everything that happened in them.
What a world.
The early seen-him-good takes are out, and I'm not about to contend with them (I seen it too) but rather contextualise where he was good, what I know and don't know, and for those inclined provide the picture the data invokes in its admittedly miniscule sample.
It's a lot easier to do this deal with a guy we know because I'm not exactly starting from scratch in terms of my understanding of the player, and my understanding of the fanbase's understanding of the player.
Every good son & daughter loves Andrej Sekera's work as an Oiler for the same reasons, more or less. He's (arguably?) Chiarelli's best addition on the blueline, he was the first free agent to say "Connor McDavid", and he was the first top-four defenceman the Oilers just got in a while. When he or Klefbom took on tough competition for the majority of the 5-on-5 time that type of competition was on the ice for in 2016-17, fans could watch the team in the back three-quarters of the ice wondering (with some degree of calmness) how they were going to get out of this one, as opposed to wondering how they were going to get out of this one. Sekera and Klefbom gave the impression that if they were ever in possession of a hand-grenade, they were at least going to handle it deftly.
The back three-quarters is a distinction I'm going to use to split the focus of the video review of Sekera's game. Before we check out the February 8th game, let's get one thing out of the way:
- I'm not trained, educated or particularly well-read on
anythingskating conventions and form, nor am I particularly adept at sussing out where the exact line is for each individual player's skating that, should they fall below it in ability, significantly hurts their capacity to help the team when they're on the ice. I can tell a fast skater from a slow one, I can tell who's quick, who has a "plus" first couple steps, but in the most populous part of that bell curve of NHL skater's skating level, I can't tell the 55th percentile from the 45th. I'm not going to pretend to be the ultimate arbiter on this player's skating and whether it will or won't be an issue because that's not my current capacity.
What I can tell - because of its undeniable demonstration - is whether or not a player gets somewhere on time.
When I watched the Condors' games this weekend, I was thinking about what's missing on the NHL team's blueline, and what would be the antidote for the game-to-game issues that ail the team.
Part of the opening barrage of verbal from Ken Hitchcock in his first month of press availabilities (or perhaps it was in the videos that I looked up) was the introduction of a tempo-based phenomenon in hockey he called the three-quarter ice game. It was described as something that arises when one team is hemming the other in, abusing change timings and reducing their attempts to move up the ice to uninspired, soft chips out past centre ice before high-tailing it to the bench. This probably sounds familiar to anyone mercilessly punishing themselves with regular viewings of the Oilers for the past weeks, as the Oilers have the league-worst score & venue adjusted shots-for rate at 5-on-5 in the NHL over the past 25 games.
It's a team concept, and one that's effectiveness you can't exactly bring with you in your suitcase from farm to big-leagues as any particular individual player. So we're not looking for, say, how often the Condors ground-and-pounded the other team when Sekera was on the ice. Rather, we're looking for what he did individually to react to each time the puck (intended to) come out of the offensive zone, or started there. How did he help to defuse rush attempts, muffle carry-in attempts or outwit forecheckers on the recovery. What's the reaction - and is it a good one - to the puck coming down the tracks at him, or when he has the puck and a forechecker is on his way? Perhaps most importantly, is he up to the pace of a professional game?
(Of course, this also has great utility for my untrained eyes to figure out all things mobility, given that how quick you close - or separate - is half of everything that happens)
Here's a compilation of plays that are lumped together for a reason you'll implicitly understand (all of my readers are sterling intellectuals) as you watch. If you read or watched nothing else in this article, this video would give you a good idea of what people mean when they're writing or talking about Sekera looking good so far.
Bonus theatre, from here to the end, is getting a good look at #37 William Lagesson as well.
They're all plays that, whether or not the situation demanded it or not, the middle of the ice is used to make a play that is on its surface perhaps more risky, but is in fact the safest, cleanest play to get the puck moving the other way.
As is familiar, Andrej Sekera has this kind of nifty way of tricking checkers, like in our profile of Benson (and with all intelligent players), he wants the first layer of checking to come as close to him as possible. It makes their road back to the play longer, and the gaps in their frame (five-hole, triangle) larger by virtue of them being closer and therefore easier to pass through.
Obviously Sekera being able to make these plays shouldn't be surprising and is largely irrelevant, but I feel the frequency with which he's making them speaks to confidence and trust in a newly recovered body.
Let's pivot to three-quarter ice shifts where possession was established by the opposing team; shots or chances against occurred; etc. Essentially the collective failure to regain possession, and the role Sekera played in it. Shallow pool, by the way, he was on for 4 shot attempts against at 5-on-5 total.
(These will all be colour-coded like past projects because there's no common thread and I need to note specifics)
Red has Sekera toiling away, playing inside on his checks pretty well with maybe a second and a half of letting a bad screen sit, but gets the first step on his man when the puck actually comes his way. A bit too casual on any distribution from there and he turns it over, but he still tailed the puck carrier enough for it to lead to nothing.
On orange an opposing forward definitely has positioning and space on Sekera, but a combination of Sekera closing quickly and the forward having seemingly no interest in even trying to use his speed has the play passed out to Lagesson's check and Andrej just follows his man effectively.
With blue, Yamamoto and Sekera end up with an awkward situation and giveaway a pretty easy exit opportunity, but you'll recognise the later part of the clip where Sekera gets pass past the opposing point man. Shortly after, Lagesson makes a nice outlet pass for an Actual Possession Exit.
Black marks a smart, already aggressive gap being closed and the support Andrej knows he has lets him step in and just knock the puck off of the carrier's stick. Sekera's D partner Lagesson kind of just gets baited by the Barracuda floating and threatening to split the D at the blueline and the outside guy is wide open for the pass with speed. Lagesson then makes up for his mistake quite well and takes him to the wall, but ends up with a holding penalty in exchange for the extra sauce.
Red's a play you might have seen on Twitter, where Sekera just seemingly accidentally crushes someone. Before all that, though, he's got a good stick on everything and never wanders, which is a theme.
The puck hops over Starrett's stick in the play marked orange, which is fun. The key part here is the recognition to stay inside on the Barracuda closing in case the puck bounces their direction, and then the wherewithal to make a better play than just blasting the puck up the boards with his head down (which is a deficiency of the major league team) and fakes like he's going to, to boot.
Starrett tosses Sekera an absolute grenade in the next play, late and far out from the wheelhouse. A bit of a freeze follows but he emerges with the puck and gets pretty clearly held, so an unfortunate sequence. The next time the puck arrives, Sekera ends up taking two Barracuda out of the play physically (?) and the sortie is solved from then on.
Moving onto the question that should always tag along with watching for this or that: In total, what happened? We can use the eye test to examine each event, but what we last saw and what was the most memorable play can cloud our recollection of what happened in aggregate. The tracking project this data is (exclusively) from has doubled its sample size to 32 games now; so the numbers from this explainer-post aren't up to date but this is a good briefing on what I'm trying to do.
Also, I'll note that nearly every shift was spent with William Lagesson, whom Sekera has talked about playing alongside in Jim Matheson's piece here, and that these numbers are from both games combined at 5-on-5, not just the February 8 game featured in the video.
Metric - Sekera on / / Sekera off
CF - 38 / / 76
CA - 20 / / 55
CD - +18 / / +21
FF - 20 / / 51
FA - 10 / / 33
FD - +10 / / +8
And there you have it, folks, a psychotically detailed report on two games played by a hockey player who's just trying to get his legs under him; warm up the hamstrings.
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