Sunday, June 14, 2009
The 2008-2009 season, by the "tens" -- Defensemen: Tom Poti
Theme: “Get some ice, I've pulled my groin. My enormous groin.”
OK, we were stuck for groin jokes, so we found that one by Stephen Colbert. But for Tom Poti, this was “The Year of the Groin” (we’re not sure if that shows up on a Chinese calendar). It really wasn’t a laughing matter for Poti, though, who played the fewest number of games (52) in his ten year career because of repeated injury. Poti had four separate stretches in which he lost at least three consecutive games to injury. All of them were attributed to groin injuries. The effect was to leave him with the lowest assist total (10), points (13), penalty minutes (28), shots on goal (48) in his ten seasons. It had a wearying effect, as his ten-game segments suggest…
In his last two segments, in which he played 18 games, Poti recorded only a single point (a power play assist) and was minus-5. In only four of those games was he on the plus side of the ledger.
There is one number in Poti’s season that comes jumping off the page… zero. That is the number of power play goals he had this past year. In fact, he has not yet recorded a power play goal as a Capital, an odd thing since that is one of the talents he was bringing with him when he was signed as a free agent in the summer of 2007. Part of that is the emergence of Mike Green as a force on the power play (18 power play goals this year, the only Cap defenseman to score any), but even Poti’s power play assists dropped from eight last year (itself something of a disappointment) to two this year. Part of that problem might be in that Poti’s power play ice time was almost cut in half this past year (from 2:39 to 1:26 per game).
The more detailed numbers suggest this was something of a lost year for Poti, made frustrating in that he was reasonably productive when he did dress. Among the six Capitals defensemen playing at least 50 games, he was second in goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, second in points per 60 minutes, and maintained a goal differential of 0.00 per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, despite having the highest quality of competition faced among any Capitals defenseman.
Poti’s missing 30 games had its effect on the Capitals. While the team was 33-19 in games for which he dressed (including extra-time losses), they were only 17-13 in those games he missed. Oddly enough, though, in Poti’s longest absence of the year – a 15 game stretch from December 23rd through January 27th – the Caps were 10-4-1, a slightly better standings points pace than their 82-game total.
And, Poti was no road warrior. In 25 road games, he was 1-2-3, even, despite taking more shots (26 versus 22) and getting more ice time (21:33 versus 20:51) in fewer road games (25 versus 27 at home).
What Poti had was a pretty good year against stiffer competition. Against the other seven teams in the East that would make the playoffs, he would finish 1-5-6, +8 in 19 games. He had his only “minus” against the Flyers. His struggles came against also rans – 0-2-2, minus-3 in five games against Atlanta; 0-0-0, minus-3 in two games against Los Angeles; 0-0-0, minus-2 against Buffalo.
His ability to rise to the level of competition was reflected in what was his best playoff season of his career. He scored his first two career playoff goals in this year’s post season, nearly doubled his career total in points (from eight to 15), was plus-8 (only his second year on the plus side). Unfortunately, almost all of that offense was recorded against his former team, the New York Rangers, in the first round. In the second round against Pittsburgh, he was 0-1-1, plus-6. And, there was the unfortunate deflection off his stick on a pass by Evgeni Malkin that was probably the single most important moment in the Penguins’ drive to the Stanley Cup. Had the Capitals won that game in overtime, instead of Malkin scoring the winner, it would have been the Caps taking a 3-2 series lead into Pittsburgh, instead of the Penguins for Game 6.
Until joining the Caps, Poti had never gone through a regular season without scoring a power play goal. Perhaps next year, he can take some of the heat (and ice time) off Mike Green by playing and contributing more in those situations. He’s shown to be perhaps a better defender here – certainly a more mature one – than he’s been at any of his previous stops in his career in Edmonton, Manhattan, and Long Island.
But this season was a year-long struggle just to get and stay on the ice. The frustrating part of it is that when he was out there, Poti was pretty good, especially early in the season, when he still had two good legs (or at least better legs) under him. Nevertheless, he was probably the second best defenseman for the Caps this year.