Prior to the Olympic break, the New Jersey Devils struggled mightily to keep it together in their own end. Many fans online and in person rightly faulted defenseman Mike Mottau for his mistakes, which often led to heavy offensive pressure against at best and goals against at worst. He was more than just pretty bad. His tendency to make one boneheaded error per game warranted a further look back back on February 9. Here's my summary of Mottau's play at the time:
The problem is that when Mottau makes a mistake, it's usually a big, stinking, and foul mistake that often leads to a goal against, especially as of late. He can sneak in for a few good shots or even stop an attack with a well placed stickcheck, he can have several strong shifts in a game; but they are overshadowed by these big mistakes - or even just one big mistakes - that leads to goals against. The mistakes can come from a botched clearance, a turnover in their own zone, a bad decision like falling down to block a shot that never happens, or being in the wrong position in an odd-man situation or otherwise. It's one thing if a defender gets burnt by good offensive players or great play by the opposition, but some of these errors are just simple ones. Things you would expect a NHL defenseman to know better than to do at this point in one's career.
Since the two week Olympic break, Mike Mottau has played much better and it's starting to take notice. He does not he fire the puck right to an opposition player on a regular basis. Opposition forwards make him eat his lunch along the boards with less regularity. He's often in the right position alongside Colin White, instead of chasing opposition forwards all over the rink. These are positive steps forward.
Mottau's been a big part of a penalty killing unit that has only been beaten on twice out of 31 total opportunities since March 2; and one of those was off an inadvertent deflection by Mottau. That's the key word: inadvertent. Even the goals against while he's on the ice are less his fault than anything else. This is largely true at even strength, only there are far fewer goals against at even strength when he's on the ice.
Thanks to the boxscores at NHL.com and the regularly collected Corsi and Fenwick numbers at Time on Ice (link goes to example of last night's game), I have put together Mottau's game-by-game breakdown of time on ice, shots against, goals for, and goals against at even strength. At the minimum, it will show how well he's been doing and hopefully convince a few Devils fans that he is truly resurgent. (I'm certainly eating my words.)
First and foremost, Mottau has been playing a lot at even strength. Jacques Lemaire playing him so much at 5-on-5 (and 4-on-4) alone is telling of how well he's been playing. Even with Paul Martin returning on March 10 against the Rangers, Mottau's ice time has averaged 18:11 at even strength. It means Lemaire not only likes how Mottau has been defending but that he continues to give him minutes. The Islanders and Blues games are the only abberations. Why, I'm not so sure because he didn't play poorly or do something so stupid where his minutes would be cut in either game. Besides, he played much more at even strength after each of those two games. Simply put, Mottau wouldn't be getting this much ice time at even strength - especially with the return of Martin and the addition of Martin Skoula - if he was playing as poorly as he did in January and February.
Second, look at the shots against and goals against. Over the whole season, per Behind the Net, Mottau plays against above average opposition with a QualComp of 0.036. So he's going to be on the ice for several shots against per game from time to time. Understandable. However, do note that even in games where Mottau's on the ice for at least 8 shots against, only twice did goals come out of them. The first was a re-direction of a sharp-angle shot by Blake Wheeler and the second was an unstoppable shot by Antoine Vermette. I don't think Mottau could do anything different on either play.
But why take my word for it? Here are links to the NHL.com video of each of the five goals against where Mottau's been on the ice at even strength. Focus on where Mottau is for each one. I think the second one, David Moss' goal, is the only one where Mottau made an error that helped Calgary score. Note that I said helped, Calgary still worked for that goal. Mottau either couldn't do much or wasn't even involved in the other four goals against.
- Daymond Langkow's goal, Calgary's first, in a 5-3 loss to the Flames.
- David Moss' tap-in, Calgary's fifth, in a 5-3 loss to the Flames.
- Blake Wheeler's re-direction, Boston's first, in a 3-2 win over the Bruins.
- Phil Kessel's goal off a rebound, Toronto's first, in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Maple Leafs.
- Antoine Vermette's laser of a slapshot, Columbus' first, in a 6-3 win over the Blue Jackets.
While Mottau alone is not the reason for the lack of goals against in games where Mottau's present for a lot of shots, it's a huge improvement over games where he'd make a fatal error or two that would hurt his team's cause. I don't believe it's coincidence. I don't think Martin Brodeur or Yann Danis up their performance when he steps on the ice. I do think this says that Mottau at least has played a role in the lack of goals against - and that's a big positive.
|2009 - Mike Mottau||70||2||14||16||5||37||0||0||0||0||62||3.2|
Third, I'm sure you've noticed that Mottau has been on the ice for more goals by the Devils than against the Devils. That's very good at even strength. Let's take it a step further. So far this month, Mottau has scored one goal and has picked up five assists. That's right, not only Mottau has been on the ice for more goals for than goals against; but he's contributed to more Devils goals than he's been present on the ice for opposition goals. That's huge for a defenseman who isn't particularly offensive.
To summarize, he's been part of a penalty killing unit that has been sensational this month, the individual numbers look great at even strength regardless of how many or how few shots the Mottau-White pairing has allowed, Lemaire continues to give him significant minutes at even strength on top of his PK work, and he's even produced more points than he's been on the ice for goals against. Simply put, I've been proven wrong. I'm very sorry that I said over a month ago that "he wasn't a legitimate #4 defenseman in the league." He's been playing like a very good #4 since the Olympic break.
This is the Mike Mottau Resurgence. Let's hope it continues on through the rest of the month and beyond.
Tell me what you think about Mike Mottau now, given his recent performances. Are you pleased that he's turned it around? Are you less nervous when he's on the ice? Are you still critical of Mottau's play regardless of results? Please let me know in the comments.