Leach over Salmela? Somewhat More Sensible than You Thought!

According to Gulitti today, we learn that Petr Vrana wasn't the only rookie sent to Lowell.  The Devils sent down Anssi Salmela and they have called up Jay Leach in his place.   Gulitti states that the one of the possible reasons behind the move was because of Leach's steadiness in his own zone:

The only other thing I can think of is that Devils coach Brent Sutter mentioned Tuesday that the Penguins tried to get either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin's line out against the Devils' third defense pairing (Mike Mottau and Salmela) . There was little the Devils could do about that on the road because they didn't have the last line change and those two kept getting trapped in the defensive zone and couldn't get off the ice after the puck was dropped.

There's potential for that to be a problem again Thursday night against the Flyers, who have good depth up front.

Leach (6-foot-5, 225 pounds) is a little steadier in the defensive zone than Salmela (6-1, 200) and bigger and more physical. Leach, 29, has played four games for the Devils this season, including two last week while Mottau was suspended for his hit on the Islanders' Frans Nielsen.

In defense of Mottau and Salmela; it's Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.  They make opposition defenses look silly as they do their job.   And with the Flyers' three-headed attack of Simon Gagne, Mike Richards, and Jeff Carter, the same could happen regardless of it's Mottau and Leach, Mottau and Salmela, or even Leach and Salmela. 

Actually, if we compare the even strength numbers at Behind the Net, Gulitti's point of steadiness is proven. Since the numbers are updated regularly; I'll compile the relevant ones into this borderless table.

Player TOI/60 Rating QualComp QualTeam CORSI
Jay Leach 10.90 3.72 -0.15 -0.28 11.0
Anssi Salmela 10.97 0.40 -0.23 0.35 9.8

While Salmela has played more games than Leach, whose 4 games are likely throwing off these numbers a bit, Leach has a higher rating.  They have played a similar amount of minutes per game, but Leach has seen slightly stronger competition with significantly weaker teammates than Salmela in even strength situations.  And in his short time, his CORSI is higher than the high-shooting (can you spot the double-meaning?) Salmela.   Looking at the current power play and penalty kill charts at Behind the Net shows that Leach hasn't played nearly enough on the power play nor has Salmela played enough on the penalty kill to really compare the two.

Still, I was certainly surprised a bit to find that per Behind the Net's metrics, Leach has been a slightly better defender in his short while.   He's not flashy and I didn't think he was great in preseason, but he's been OK in the 4 games he has played with the Devils.  And the size could be of use against a physical Flyer team. That said, I'm still not sold on the move because I don't know what Salmela has to gain in Lowell.  He's been getting regular shifts on the third pairing in New Jersey and honestly hasn't looked too bad out there.  There's not a lot he can do to benefit in Lowell.  Other than taking a bunch of wild shots on their power play, I guess. B

I'd almost have to think the move was made out of necessity as the Devils were at the roster limit and therefore had to send someone down to call up Leach.  With Salmela, I guess, impervious to waiver claims; he had to be the guy.  But I'm confident he'll be back up with New Jersey soon enough - he's certainly good enough to play at the NHL level.  Though that may wait until after Sutter sorts out what he wants to do with his now large and increasingly healthy roster (hint for Sutter: scratch Brookbank).

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