Since Jonathan Willis tracked all of the Oilers' zone exits against the Penguins, I've paid close attention to the nuances behind those numbers. Intuitively we knew Tom Gilbert was handling the puck most often and Jeff Petry was right behind him. We saw Theo Peckham and Cam Barker bailing out early and feeding their defensive partners, so we understand who was moving the puck from the blue line. But just how much the puck-handling defensemen were actually handling the puck is remarkable.
After the first period last night, I commented, "I need to watch this period again, but I think Peckham has given the puck to Petry on every zone exit so far." I wasn't that far off.
I wanted to post a poll on the question before writing this, but I wasn't sure how to frame the question correctly. The average fan doesn't realize how large the disparity between the puck-movers and the others is, and I imagine a poll question would reveal that the perceived gulf is much smaller than reality.
To satisfy my curiosity, I did watch the period again. During the first intermission, I went back and logged all of Peckham's touches in the first period. He had one touch in the offensive or neutral zone - the shot deflected by Ryan Smyth for a goal. The list of touches in the defensive zone is below.
16:05 – Hard around the DZ on the backhand and out.
12:16 – Loose puck comes to Peckham in DZ, immediately throws puck to Petry.
11:54 – Gagner throws loose puck to Peckham in the DZ, he throws puck to Petry.
11:39 – Bruins clear puck, Peckham chases down in DZ, throws backhand off the boards to Petry.
10:10 – Nugent-Hopkins wins NZ faceoff to Peckham in DZ, immediately throws puck to Petry.
9:50 – Retrieves Bruins dump in behind the net in DZ, immediate backhand around the boards to Eberle and out.
5:40 – Snags Bruins dump in out of air and makes outlet pass to Eager in NZ.
5:18 – Takes pass from Petry in DZ, skates to blue line, throws it back to Petry in DZ.
2:17 – Off of NZ faceoff win, Petry passes to Peckham in DZ, Peckham immediately throws puck back to Petry.
Peckham touched the puck 9 times in the defensive zone and moved it forward just once on his own, noted in bold above. He got the puck out of the zone on his first touch, but it was a desperation clear and the puck went back to the Bruins. Of his other 7 touches, 6 of them were almost immediate passes to Jeff Petry, typically before Peckham could take a full stride. Remember the numbers from Jonathan's study - Peckham played 7 minutes at even strength and didn't move the puck out of the zone at all. In the game against the Bruins, he moved it once in the first period. Now there's a man who knows his limitations.
But those limitations and Peckham's realization of his limitations comes with a price. Not only does Petry have to handle and move every puck that he wins or recovers, he has to do the same for nearly every puck his partner wins or recovers. Further, Petry has to carry or pass the puck out himself, because he knows his partner has a limited ability to make the play. If he gives the puck to Peckham, the puck is coming right back to him. Petry shoulders extra responsibility simply because he's paired with Peckham.
Peckham might be the extreme case with 1 zone exit to Petry's dozen, but he's not alone. In Jonathan's study, Petry was paired with Cam Barker. Barker tallied 3 zone exits to Petry's 8. I don't have the numbers as evidence, but to the eye, the games or periods we've tracked aren't anomalies - this is typical behavior by the players involved.
Jeff Petry ranks second among Edmonton defenders in giveaways despite playing in just 8 of Edmonton's 15 games. On the surface, this looks awful, but a deeper look at the dynamic between Petry and his defensive partner gives us an understanding of his numbers. Petry attempts to move the puck out of the zone exponentially more often than his playing partner and assumes the risk associated with those plays.