PITB on the Radio shares select audio from Daniel Wagner’s appearances on local sports talk radio. The audio won’t be as enjoyable to listen to as Return to Cookie Mountain, but you still might like it.
On Wednesday evening, I joined Mira Laurence on Sportsnet Tonight to discuss all things Elias Pettersson. The city is still abuzz after his slap shot snipe job against the Detroit Red Wings, which was a fitting follow-up to his dynamite five-point performance against the Colorado Avalanche.
In some ways, we shouldn’t be surprised: Pettersson has made a habit of destroying expectations, both in the Allsvenskan in his draft year and in the SHL last season. Even a modest 25 points in the SHL would have been a great indication of him being a future top-six forward in the NHL. Instead, he scored 56 points in 44 games, then followed that up with 10 goals and 19 points in 13 playoff games.
I also talk about Nikolay Goldobin and why he’s such a good fit for Pettersson, as well as calm fears about Brad Marchand and the Boston Bruins targetting Pettersson in their upcoming game.
Click below to listen to the segment, which starts at the 7-minute mark and continues for about 15 minutes, in which I use the word “outrageous” approximately 471 times.
The portion that got some attention, however, was when I responded to Mira’s poll question: what winger should play with Elias Pettersson and Nikolay Goldobin? My answer: keep Loui Eriksson on that line.
The response was clear from Sportsnet 650’s Twitter followers: they want Brock Boeser reunited with Pettersson and Goldobin as soon as possible.
That’s understandable: Pettersson is a fantastic playmaker, Boeser is a fantastic goal-scorer, put them together and magic should happen, right? To a certain extent, that’s absolutely true.
Against the Colorado Avalanche, Pettersson and Boeser were fantastic. Pettersson had five points, but Boeser was right there with him with four points. Pettersson set up Boeser for both of his goals in that game. There’s a lot to like, and I’m not at all opposed to reuniting them when Boeser returns from his groin injury.
I think there’s an argument for keeping Eriksson and Pettersson together, however. Here are three reasons why Eriksson should stay on the top line.
1 | Balanced scoring
Keeping Boeser and Pettersson on separate lines balances the scoring. Pettersson has the ability to drive an offensive line and doesn’t necessarily need a sniper like Boeser on his line to produce points.
Bo Horvat, on the other hand, could use some offensive support and we’ve seen how well Horvat and Boeser can work together. If they can re-find some of that chemistry and start producing, then that makes the Canucks a more difficult team to shut down defensively.
2 | Don’t mess with a good thing
I’m honestly surprised to see so much talk about switching up Pettersson’s linemates when he’s producing at such a breakneck pace. I could understand it if Pettersson was in the middle of a scoring drought, but things are working pretty well for Pettersson right now with the linemates he has.
Goldobin and Eriksson have helped Pettersson in sometimes subtle ways. While everyone was buzzing about Pettersson’s Gretzky-esque slap shot, it was Goldobin who chipped the puck out of the defensive zone under pressure, and Eriksson who stole it in the neutral zone and sent Pettersson in with space to unleash his shot. Pettersson deserves all the credit in the world for his unreal start, but Goldobin and Eriksson haven’t been passengers on that line.
3 | The underlying statistics favour Eriksson (for now)
We’re talking about very small sample sizes here, so we can’t draw conclusions with too much confidence, but the underlying numbers suggest that Eriksson might actually be a better fit for the Pettersson line than Boeser. Perhaps with a larger sample size these numbers would change, but they’re at least something to keep in mind.
Corsica’s Expected Goals statistic takes into account several factors of shot quality, such as the shot type, distance, and angle to the goal, as well as whether the shot came off a rebound or off the rush.
The line of Goldobin, Pettersson, and Eriksson has an Expected Goals For Percentage (xGF%) of 61.78%.
That’s up there with a couple of the best first lines in the league right now: the Bruins’ top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak has an xGF% of 61.90%, while the Golden Knights’ top line of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith has an xGF% of 61.89%.
Whether with Eriksson or Boeser, the Pettersson line has outperformed their xGF%, but they’ve done better with Eriksson so far.
Again, we’re talking about really small sample sizes here and it’s definitely possible that with more time together Boeser and Pettersson’s numbers together could improve. All I’m saying is that there is an argument to be made for Eriksson and the subtle things that he brings to the Pettersson line, even if he struggles to put up points.