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Is Nic Dowd Struggling?

December 10, 2016, 10:33 AM ET [8 Comments]
Sheng Peng
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Nic Dowd is about to be scratched for the first time since seizing the role of third-line center in mid-October. Per LA Kings Insider:

“I think that line was having a really hard time five-on-five, so we put Kinger in there,” Darryl Sutter said. “That line’s got to produce for us, but it’s also got to be able to play against good players, and if you’re getting scored on, there’s a good chance you’re on the short end of it.” Dowd, who does not have a five-on-five goal this season and hasn’t recorded a point at even strength since his pretty assist on Alec Martinez’s goal against New Jersey on November 19, is a minus-five over his last seven games.

For reasons obvious and not so obvious, any focus on plus-minus is suspect, though I realize that statistic still matters to many players and coaches.

Indeed, examining the -5 allowed by Dowd and his line doesn't reveal huge fault on the part of the rookie:

11/20 @ Anaheim: Dowd loses the end zone draw cleanly, tries to front the point shot -- winning just 47% of his draws, he can definitely improve there -- and an unmarked Antoine Vermette deflects the Hampus Lindholm blast.
11/23 VS New York: Dowd is behind the net, covering his guy, when Anders Lee hops on a rebound.
11/26 VS Chicago: Once again, Dowd is trying to front the point shot and Patrick Kane slips free of Derek Forbort to re-direct the Duncan Keith bid.
12/4 VS Montreal: Peter Budaj kicks a rebound up the gut, which an unmarked Andrew Shaw dunks. Both Dustin Brown and Dwight King are closer to Shaw.
12/8 VS Carolina: Brock McGinn beats Drew Doughty to the slot; Dowd is covering the potential Carolina screen.

Of course, the focus that I'm using here is also inadequate -- as wanting as plus-minus itself.

Staring strictly at the goals themselves, you can say that Dowd, except perhaps for losing the faceoff to Vermette, doesn't deserve the lionshare of blame -- but a ton of less-scrutinized plays by the rookie and his linemates led to these negative results -- so he's certainly not blameless.

Most importantly, some absence of blame doesn't mean Dowd has actually been playing well.

Sutter's claim -- "that line was having a really hard time five-on-five" -- is better captured by another 5v5 stat besides plus-minus:

View post on imgur.com

(xGF% stands for Expected Goals For Percentage. "xG stats are by-products of assigning goal expectancy to shots" and are considered by most these days to be "superior predictors" of future scoring than Corsi and goals.)

You can see that while Dowd played well in Game 18 (Ducks) and 19 (Islanders), there's been a sharp decline in his most recent work. This downward trend is even more distinct when we check his xGF% relative to his teammates:

View post on imgur.com

Let's throw out Anaheim and New York. Over the last five games, Dowd has a 43.4 Corsi For %, -15.3 Rel. Corsi For %, 35.9 Scoring Chances For %, and 33.3 High-danger Corsi For % -- a stark contrast to his 55.3 CF%, +1.12 Rel.CF%, 54.0 SCF%, and 50.8 HDCF% before.

It hasn't just been a defensive struggle for Dowd's line. Comparing Expected Goals For with LA's other pivots, the rookie hasn't been a consistent source of potential 5v5 offensive production either:

View post on imgur.com

All this is a roundabout way of acknowledging Sutter's assertion: Dowd and his line have not been playing well at even strength. The fancy stats and the eye test are definitely simpatico here. So while this doesn't necessarily mean that he deserves to be the fall guy, hopefully, some time off will allow the rookie to reset.

That, of course, is critical to remember: Dowd is a rookie. These ups and downs are to be expected. And his importance to the team's playoff hopes -- I'm curious who the somewhat skill-challenged Kings anoint as their second-unit power play center today, for example -- hasn't changed yet.

Stats as of 12/9/16, courtesy of Behind the Net, Corsica, Hockey Analysis, Hockey Reference, Natural Stat Trick, NHL.com, Puckalytics, and Sporting Charts.

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