Canadiens scratch Kovacevic Is Team’s Most Reliable Defenceman
The Montreal Canadiens announced rookie defenceman Jonathan Kovacevic will watch the upcoming game against the Detroit Red Wings from the press box.
The Canadiens only have 11 healthy forwards, which means they’ve played with seven defencemen since mid-January, and that alone has alleviated the defensive logjam presented by carrying eight defencemen on the roster.
But it’s not the first time the 25-year-old has been made a healthy scratch, and it’s unlikely to be the last.
The Canadiens have an unbalanced roster, which has forced lineup decisions that aren’t solely based on establishing a meritocracy.
However, Kovacevic’s absence from the lineup does provide us with an opportunity to evaluate his performance during his short tenure with the Canadiens.
The results are nothing short of incredibly encouraging.
By The Numbers
When we compare Kovacevic’s shot control, and expected goals percentage relative to his teammates, he quickly jumps to the top 3.
It’s worth pointing out that Justin Barron and Mike Matheson, the players who rank higher than Kovacevic, were not part of the lineups that were outshot and outchanced significantly throughout the first two months of the year.
Regardless, it’s clear Kovacevic has quickly adapted to his new team and has provided incredible value given he was acquired for free on the waiver wire.
As you can see, other than Matheson, who is clearly the Canadiens’ best defenceman when healthy, no defenceman has managed to surpass Kovacevic’s on-ice results. Jordan Harris, Kovacevic’s most common defensive partner, also ranks among the most consistent defencemen.
You’ll notice Kaiden Guhle and David Savard compare poorly to their defensive teammates, but again, we must remember the context in which these players produced these numbers, and in their case, it involved an unreasonable usage against opposing teams’ best players at the start of the year.
If we isolate the results to include games played since Jan.1, it also becomes evident Kovacevic has maintained his strong level of play, regardless of the inconsistency among the Canadiens’ defensive pairings.
He leads all Canadiens defencemen in shot share (45.8 CF%), expected goals share (49.6 xGF%), and high-danger scoring chance share (54.5 HDCF%) in that time frame.
His tremendous impact alongside Harris is also worth noting, as the pairing has put together some of the best underlying numbers for the Canadiens this season, and has done so without the benefit of being sheltered.
When he’s partnered with Kovacevic, Harris controls well over 50 percent of the shots while he’s on the ice. Without Kovacevic, that number drops to almost 45 percent.
Kovacevic with the backcheck and desperation poke check likely saves a goal for the Habs. pic.twitter.com/ATigkItGnS
— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) December 13, 2022
As for their projected results, Harris’ numbers also suffer a steep decline without Kovacevic, with his expected goals for percentage going from over 50 percent to slightly above 44 percent when playing with other players.
Simply put, not only does Kovacevic provide fantastic value to the Canadiens, he’s been one of their most consistent players, and has been a positive influence on the young defensive group.
Once the defensive logjam clears, Kovacevic shouldn’t just be considered for a permanent role, it should be automatically assigned.
The evidence pointing to Kovacevic’s value is too strong to ignore.
All Statistics are 5v5 unless otherwise noted, via NaturalStatTrick.
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Time spent in the “A” was well worth it. Batherson too. Ylonen. HP. I want to see HP make a nice saucer pass then we can say that was great HP sauce
There’s something fundamentally wrong with the stats when they conclude that Baron, Harris and Kovacevic are better that Savard, Edmunson and Guhle. It makes no sense.