Jon Sim: Your chief penalty drawer

I was wondering about the Islanders' struggling penalty kill, and the notion occurred to me that Mark Streit has been taking a lot of penalties this year: Could his presence in the box be hurting the penalty kill? Perhaps. As the team's best overall defenseman, Streit is also the Islanders' best penalty killing blueliner, so putting him in the box is a double-whammy. But in terms of PK time per game, he actually sees less time than Andy Sutton, Brendan Witt, Bruno Gervais and Jack Hillen.

As it turns out, my perception was wrong: Streit isn't taking any more penalties than he took last year: He had 31 minors in 74 games last year; he has 15 in 36 games this year. So that theory dies on the vine. (Incidentally, Streit's penalties taken per 60 minutes (5-on-5) is similar to Hillen's but less than Witt's and Freddy Meyer's. Defensemen inevitably take more penalties; the better ones take fewer of them without giving up goals.)

But what I did notice when checking out Behind the Net's penalties drawn/taken data could be a counter-argument, or at least a bit of explanation, to the Sim-haters: Jon Sim has drawn the most penalties on the team this year (12), and better yet, he's committed only half as many (6) as he's drawn. Which speaks to Scott Gordon's quote after the win over the Rangers:

"It's a rivalry where you want your guys to play hard and play between the whistles, and [Sim] does a great job with that. He certainly draws more penalties than he takes..."

That Behind the Net link is solely for 5-on-5 play, so it doesn't perfectly match what you'll find in the NHL's totals. (For example, that table lists John Tavares as having taken one penalty and drawn eight, while the NHL lists him as having taken four -- at least two of those have been while the Islanders were on the powerplay, 5-on-4.)

Nonetheless, it's worth a look, as it shows some of the Islanders forwards who draw a whole lot more than they commit, including {ahem} Sim. Other Islanders forwards who look good: Sean Bergenheim, taking 3 and drawing 10; Josh Bailey (3-8); and Richard Park (5-9), who's always good in this category.

Dec. 20, 2009 Taken Drawn Taken/60 (5-on-5)
Drawn/60
Sim 6 12 1.0 2.0
Okposo 7 10 0.9 1.3
Bergenheim 3 10 0.5 1.6
Park 5 9 0.7 1.3
Bailey 3 8 0.5 1.3

 

One guy whose ratio doesn't look quite as good is Kyle Okposo (7-10). Players like him and Bergenheim tend to draw more than they take simply because they never stop moving their feet (whereas Tavares draws them because opponents generally crap their pants when he has the puck). But in this category, Okposo was much better last year (11 taken, 20 drawn).

Witt Giveth, Witt Taketh Away

Among defensemen, whose figures here are always lopsided, one guy stands out: Brendan Witt has taken a lot (even more than Streit, per 60 minutes of 5-on-5), but he's also drawn a lot: 10 taken, 8 drawn. That might speak to the physical side Witt brings; he not only crosses the line -- as all defensemen not named Nicklas do -- he also gets other players to cross the line in retaliation.

I'm as concerned about Witt's fit in Scott Gordon's scheme as the next guy, but I do recognize that he along with Sutton, Bergenheim and Sim bring some of the agitation that is needed to make sure other teams don't think you're too easy to play against. That the Islanders employ less-than-ideal options in many of these roles comes with the rebuilding territory, I'm afraid.

Don't Draw, Just Score

Now, there's a bit of luck and automated accounting (dependent on NHL game sheets) involved in this -- not to mention the perils of referees' all-too-human judgment, which has screwed more than a handful of Islanders in the last few games. And this is not exactly a defense of Sim, at least not a defense of him appearing on the powerplay.

But in terms of fourth-liners and agitators, you want guys who can do their jobs without handicapping you by taking penalties. All concerns about Sim's use aside -- sometimes he's not on the fourth line, which is what bugs people -- Sim is doing what Gordon asks of him: Going to the net, ticking opponents off, drawing penalties. That doesn't explain why he sometimes appears on the powerplay or on Josh Bailey's wing. But it just might speak to why Gordon keeps putting him in the lineup for a spot that usually amounts to just 10 minutes per game.

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