Phaneuf's slump won't last

 

Dion Phaneuf is off to a slow start, registering a single assist in his first eight games, but there are several factors to consider when evaluating the captain’s game.

One of the most noticeable differences this season is Phaneuf’s ice-time—25:17 TOI/G last season to 27:53—, which may be excessive, but it is by no means the reason for his early season struggles. In fact, his possession numbers are solid against tough competition, so it’s not as if he’s pinned in his own end or failing to generate scoring chances.

Phaneuf’s Corsi Rel QoC (a statistic that measures an individual’s puck-possession relative to the quality of competition) is highest among Leafs defensemen with at least eight games played. It’s a small sample size, but this is nothing new for Phaneuf, as he has led the Leafs in the statistic since the 2009-10 campaign.

Basically, this means Phaneuf is capable of driving possession and getting the Leafs valuable offensive zone time while he’s on the ice. So why hasn’t that translated into points, you ask? Well, besides a small sample size, Phaneuf has been enduring some bad puck luck of late. Phaneuf’s PDO (a statistic that measures on-ice shooting percentage and on-ice save percentage while a player is on the ice) was well under 900 (the average is around 1000) and is just now surpassing that mark.

It may seem a sports cliché to suggest a player is “due,” but the statistics plaguing Phaneuf contradict that. If you need further evidence of his misfortunes of late, the 5-on-5 team shooting percentage while he’s on the ice is a lowly 4.35 per cent, which is lowest among Leafs defensemen.

Another factor is Phaneuf’s defensive partner, Mike Kostka. While Randy Carlyle insists on playing the American Hockey League journeyman as a number-two defenseman, his play is probably better suited on the third-pairing. His decision-making is questionable, especially on the powerplay, and he simply doesn’t possess the talent to withstand first-pairing minutes on a nightly basis. But alas, this is the Leafs' situation, and Kostka is by no means Phaneuf’s kryptonite.

It’s also worth noting that half of Phaneuf’s 44 points last season came on the powerplay, so it is a significant factor in his production rate. While having Kostka on the first-unit certainly doesn’t help, the Leafs’ powerplay is currently ranked 23rd in the National Hockey League (10th last season). If and when Jake Gardiner or John-Michael Liles earn a spot beside Phaneuf on the man-advantage, coupled with Phil Kessel’s impending goals, the captain should see a considerable increase in production.

That, and he couldn't possibly have worse luck than he's had.

Follow me on Twitter @RonGuillet

*All statistics retrieved from www.behindthenet.ca*