Since Matt Carle left via free agency in the summer of 2012, Braydon Coburn has taken over the title as top scapegoat in Philadelphia by the masses. The media is just as guilty placing unnecessary, sometimes incorrect, blame. Over the past couple of days I’ve seen win/loss records with and without Coburn floating around. What’s funny is that the stretch of games where Coburn was missing, also featured a lineup without Grossmann and MacDonald respectively. I’ve also seen some question if he brings anything other than size and mobility.
Before I start bombarding you with numbers, charts, and whatnot I thought I’d take a moment to breakdown some video and screenshots. These three moments, and criticism, have really stuck with me this season. The goals listed below seem like good examples where people’s initial eye test mislead them, and put far too much emphasis on blaming one guy.
12/2/14 vs SAN JOSE
Yes, Coburn actually did get beaten badly at the blue line but there was good reason why that happened. A lot of people were screaming about this, as well as the following playing where he ended up pushing a San Jose Shark into Mason. Let’s take a quick look at that goal again.
There is a lot of blame to go around on this goal, and at least Meltzer is passing some of it around. It’s quite possible I’m blowing the line about Coburn out of proportion, but many fans were furious at Braydon after this goal. For someone who might not have had a chance to watch the game, this makes it sound like Coburn screwed up a relatively easy play at the blue line that ended in disaster. A lot of people saw it that way as well. A key moment that a lot of people missed was the Nick Schultz reaching out to play the puck which led to Coburn getting beat badly. It’s kind of hard to make out here so I slowed it down. Here is a link to a larger version of the gif below.
Coburn made the decision to go after a puck, as it was headed right at him. As Schultz is backing up to defend, he makes an attempt to play a puck which is out of his reach. The puck gets deflected out of Coburn’s path and now the trouble begins.
Schultz falls down in an attempt to disrupt the Shark’s forward which takes himself completely out of the play. Coburn is backchecking as fast as he can and decides to try shove the Sharks player out of the way so he can’t get a follow up shot off. The media and fans really got on Coburn’s case for taking out Steve Mason. I’m really not sure how much Mason gets run over if he doesn’t lean into the path of Coburn and the Shark forward by trying to play a puck that is out of his reach. Now, if Coburn had ignored the player and focus on the puck instead the Sharks probably don’t score that goal.
1/10/15 vs BOSTON
Coburn was on the ice for two of Boston’s three goals that game. One of them was during a penalty kill, and the other at 5v5. In reality, he was only on his partner’s side of the ice for one of those goals. Here’s a gif of the first goal.
As a unit, the Flyers are in pretty good shape. The only problem is that everyone seems to forget about that guy hanging out in the slot. Couturier and Coburn don’t have eyes in the back of their head so one of Giroux or Schultz needs to be aware. Now, Coburn did end up on his partner’s side of the ice for the second goal. He made a pretty bad read when looking for an outlet pass out of the defensive zone. Here is the video for the play below.
At no point was Coburn was facing any pressure from the opposition when he made this pass. He would’ve been much better off holding on to it a bit longer, or carrying it himself. Instead he decided to pass the puck to Umberger who was going off for a change. Umberger deflects the pass forward, heads off for a change, and Boston regains control of the puck at their own blue line.
Boston starts the counterattack and the Flyers are forced to defend. Initially, they are in pretty good shape outnumbering Boston players in the defensive zone. Somehow things manage take a pretty bad turn after this.
Schultz and Read get drawn to the puck carrier. Laughton and Simmonds are kind of floating around and watching the puck. Meanwhile, Coburn is outnumbered in front of the net and makes the decision to stick with Marchand. So yes, Coburn did end up on his partner’s side of the ice here because he made the decision to mark an opposing player instead of covering space.
Nobody ever picked up the other player in front of the net and Boston finds themselves scoring an easy goal. Coburn’s turnover started the Boston rush that led to a goal, but there were many opportunities to prevent it. There are numerous mental lapses by every player on the ice and plenty of blame to go around, but people remember the turnover. Even the commentators were harping on it. People focus so intently on turnovers regardless of where they happen on the ice. It’s the easy way to place blame for a goal against. In the game against Anaheim, Brayden Schenn was criticized for a turnover in the offensive zone that ended up leading to a goal against. He got a good deal of blame from announcers and fans. What seemed to be overlooked by many, was a bad pinch by Grossmann at the Duck’s blue line which is what actually led to the 3 on 1 rush the other way and eventual goal. There seems to be this need for people to place the blame on a single player for any negative outcome on the ice. Sometimes it’s just a collective effort of awfulness and mental lapses that lead to trouble.
BY THE NUMBERS
When we take a look at the numbers, Coburn has actually been having a fairly decent season.
Data from ownthepuck.blogspot.ca
Data from puckalytics.com
You can play around with HERO charts here (you can read about them here). I think the above charts give a pretty good picture of the type of player Coburn is. When I last checked these HERO charts, Coburn was the only player on the defense who’s usage adjusted corsi against/60 was operating at the top-4 level. He is never going to be a guy that who will drive play or put up points, he never has. However, he is good enough defensively that he can suppress shots, which shows in his continued success at preventing zone entries.
Commentators, media, and fans love to put a lot of emphasis on how many shots a defender blocks. What really doesn’t get enough attention is actually defending the blue line and preventing the opposition from taking shots at all. We only started tracking break up percentages last year so we only have a year and half worth of data to look at. During that time span, Coburn has been the Flyers best defensemen at preventing opponents from entering the zone. It’s just one of those plays that happen throughout the course of a game people don’t notice all that often, but Coburn is very good at it. Even when the puck does enter the zone Coburn has done an admirable job of getting it out of there and transitioning to offense.
I’ll wrap this up since I’m sure you’re all bored to tears if you even managed to make it this far. I certainly don’t want to make this post sound like I don’t realize Coburn doesn’t have his faults, because he does. He will struggle if he has to be relied upon as the main puck carrier on a pairing. He’s not terrible at it, but it’s certainly not one of his stronger attributes. There is also a tendency to misread plays, whether it’s in transition or in his own end. Coburn has been very good for the Flyers throughout his time here. He isn’t a player you want to have to rely on to carry a pairing, he just can’t do it over 82 games. That doesn’t make him a bad player. A big problem the Flyers have this year is that most of the defense is playing out of their skill and comfort level. Coburn is really a very good second pairing guy that is being asked to play like a top pairing defender. That’s not who he is and his mistakes are going to be magnified because of this. That’s what happens when you give out terrible contracts to mediocre and replacement level players. Having a player like Coburn is vital to a team’s overall success, especially for contenders.
I don’t have a problem with a player being criticized; even if it’s one that I enjoy watching. I just want facts to support criticism.