"I think with Jeff it's playing a complete game. He's got to play in all three zones. Even though he's scored goals, three of them were in one game, and four in the remaining 20 isn't the kind of production he needs to have. We need production from someone like him and if it happens, it's going to make us a better team."
>>Scott Gordon, in Katie Strang's gameday update at Isles Files [sub.]
Apologies for the consecutive Jeff Tambellini-themed posts, but he is sort of the topic of the moment given his impending return to the lineup after over a month spending games wearing a tie. It's been said so many times before, but is this his make-or-break moment?
I wanted to examine Scott Gordon's view quoted above. On the surface, we know it all to be true, and those are the talking points some of us have referred to in the past to rationalize a scratch here or there to the adherents of the Church of Tambellini:
Tambellini's goal tally is 43% comprised of just one game. His three-zone play has always been the underlying concern (and it definitely receded right before his scratches -- although his teammates are hardly perfect yet continued to play). His production after the hat trick and before the banishment was paltry (although, again, exactly who are the prolific scorers on this team?).
The question of whether his banishment should have lasted this long is open to head-scratching and likely the impetus for most fan complaints on the issue. Most players don't sit that long after a couple of bad games. But forgetting that for a moment, what about his three-zone play? Has it been a handicap this year?
Going to Behind the Net for the 5-on-5 rate stats: His relative +/- (.25) is among the top six on the team, though it is aided by a relatively weak quality of competition (-.101, second-lowest) and a high quality of linemates (.091, fourth-highest). His points/60 minutes is also in the top six among forwards.
Of course, thanks to the cold storage, all of that is from a sample size half as large as his teammates. His teammates have as many non-Tambellini games in their data as Tambellini has games played, period. But at minimum, those rate figures tell us he's hardly been an on-ice defensive disaster.
After tonight, all of those dynamic stats linked above can change. And take out the one hat trick, as Gordon implies, and the whole picture looks weaker. I've never (well not "never" but not since 2008, probably) advocated Tambellini as the answer to our prayers, or even as a sure top-six sniper. But I do think the way he's approached his return the last year-plus -- by throwing checks, hustling on the backcheck, turning to basics -- shows signs that he could be one of those useful energy guys with above-average hands (to say nothing of the shootout, which has sadly become important). All things being equal, in this league it's nice to have a third-liner who has the hands to score.
What I don't know is whether my suspicion about Tambellini's potential for evolution is true, and it's hard to find out without seeing him actually play. For a rebuilding team, I was looking forward to discovering if that curve might continue, but circumstance and coaching discretion hasn't really allowed that.
So here we go, starting tonight. I hope he stays in the lineup the next five games until the Olympic break -- mistakes be damned -- to give us a little more data. I hope he gets some opportunities with both scoring linemates and checking linemates -- hell, if not to evaluate his future than to possibly dress him up for trade. Five games is a cruel mini-sample, but that may be all we get.
No pressure, kid.