Proper Care and Feeding of Your Beast (Mode Benn)
Jamie Benn led the NHL in points in the first round but was actually pretty quiet, for him.
For a player that is currently leading the NHL in playoff points, a lot has been made of Jamie Benn's relatively "quiet" first round for the Dallas Stars. And while it's true that he did score four goals in this series, his assists and playmaking ability were largely shut down by the Minnesota Wild. All six of those assists were of the secondary variety.
What he did well
I mean, there's the obvious one. Benn led the Stars in points in the first round, though Jason Spezza was only one point behind. It's a commonly known fact that points win games, and Benn likes to score them.
He was also one of the Stars positive possession players through the series.
#MnWild vs #Stars series Corsi +/-.— Sean Tierney (@SeanTierneyTss) April 25, 2016
Sharp, Goligoski, Hemsky, Klingberg were great. Brodin/Scandella struggled. pic.twitter.com/Tj1gKSjEX8
Which, if you'll take a look at the graph, wasn't hard to do, as only Vernon Fiddler and Tyler Seguin (and his 15 minutes of ice time in Game 2) had negative possession. The Stars, in general, played keep away with the puck through this entire series while the Wild skated around and watched.
This series, and especially Game 5, was a microcosm of everything that was so frustrating about the Stars last season. Wildly outplaying their opponent, out possessing, out shooting, but throwing away prime giveaways in the offensive zone and running up against hot goaltenders. Listen, there's a reason why the Wild lost this series, and it wasn't Devan Dubnyk.
Room for improvement
So what's the issue with his points? Why are you reading that Benn didn't have the best series against the Wild? It's this:
Benn leads the NHL in playoff points (this is true as of the end of the games on Monday evening). Actually, this will probably still be true after Game 7 of the Ducks/Predators series, as the closest player in that series is Ryan Getzlaf, and he would have to get five points in the game to tie. I'm not saying it isn't possible, but it isn't probable.
But what's the room for improvement part of Benn's point total?
Hockey analytics wiz Micah McCurdy defines secondary assists as "noise." There are arguments to be made for not counting them at all, as they aren't a very good indicator of the talent of a forward. There are exceptions to this, of course, but by and large, secondary assists haven't been shown to be a repeatable skill, unlike goal scoring or primary assists.
In the first round of the playoffs, Benn had 4 goals, 0 primary assists, and 6 secondary assists. What does this mean? That though Benn possessed the puck more than his opponents the majority of the time he was on the ice, they were very effective at breaking up his plays and not giving him scoring opportunities.
In fact, if you look at the 5v5 player deployment (where they started their shifts) for Game 6, most of Benn's shift starts happened in the neutral zone:
However, he took only 9% of his faceoffs in the offensive zone. Why? Because he kept getting pushed back into the defensive zone. Benn's line was started in the neutral zone (and once in the defensive zone) and expected to fight their way back up ice, which isn't something they were terribly effective at in this game.
Does it really matter?
After all, points are points, and Benn still leads the NHL in postseason points. (Until they stop counting secondary assists, anyway.) And while the Wild's top defensive pairing gave Benn little room to set himself up, they left Spezza, Patrick Eaves, and Patrick Sharp plenty of room to take advantage. And, I mean. Ten points. We're already talking about a player at an elite level, I'm just saying he could be more elite. Super elite. Elite plus. (If you're still mad at me for my D&D recap: Epic Tier.)
Few things: The Stars are still in the Central Division, and in the next round will be playing a much deeper team than the Wild ended up being. You can bet that Ken Hitchcock watched tape of this series and has a few ideas of his own to shut down Benn's line.
Benn has always been more effective with Tyler Seguin on the ice, and other than about ten shifts together in Game 2, he's been without his preferred linemate. In the coming series, if Seguin is able to play effectively either centering Benn's line or on the opposite wing, that's only going to help his game. (Effectively being the operative word there.) Otherwise there's a chance we're looking at more of the same.
And finally, Jamie Benn is objectively better than any player on the St. Louis Blues roster. (Fight me.) He was also better than the Wild roster but allowed himself to get caught up. Some of that was deployment, some of that was linemates, heck, some of it could have been playoff jitters. But he's tasted victory in the postseason and sixteen teams are now eight (or will soon be, when whatever happens with the Ducks and Predators happens).
Jamie Benn has a beast mode, and the scary thing is we haven't seen it yet. It's time to activate it.