Philadelphia Flyers’s D Ghost Haunted by MacDonald

Since last February, Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere has almost always been paired with Andrew MacDonald, to his great detriment

One sure way to get a rise out of most Philadelphia Flyers is to talk about defenseman Andrew MacDonald. MacDonald’s game is a pariah to the “hockey analytics” crowd, but even those not analytically inclined have turned on him in Philadelphia.

On the other hand, everyone loves Ghost. He had such an amazing rookie year, and a fast, high-scoring defenseman will always have big fans.

Those opposing ends of the spectrum have been clashing since last February. In February, Michael Del Zotto first went out of the lineup due to an injury. The Flyers’ responded by calling up Andrew MacDonald from his season-long banishment to the AHL. Once recalled, Dave Hakstol paired him with Shayne Gostisbehere in the Flyers lineup.

Since February, MacDonald has been Ghost’s nearly-exclusive defense partner. This unhappy match even continued this fall when Del Zotto was injured again.

What are the results? MacDonald is predictably dragging down Ghost.

Since becoming a full-time NHL player for the Islanders in the 2010-11 season, MacDonald is a brutal performer in terms of Corsi. This means that when he is on the ice, the opposition tends to get more shot attempts than MacDonald’s own team. When he is off the ice, his team’s shot differential improves.

MacDonald has been a negative relative Corsi player 6 years in a row. In 3 of the last 4 seasons, he’s been a major negative player. Believe it or not, his best relative Corsi from the last few years was his first full season in Philadelphia, when he was only -1.23%. This tells us that any player playing with MacDonald will probably see his own Corsi numbers suffer from sharing the ice with MacDonald.

Actual Effects on Ghost

The question today is, how much is this effecting Ghost this year? Well, a lot. In this season, Ghost has played ~100 5v5 minutes with MacDonald. Together, they have a Corsi of 46.2%, and are getting outscored 6-2. In the 27 minutes when Ghost is playing with other players, his Corsi is 61.2%, and his goal difference is 3-1 to the good.

Admittedly, those are small sample sizes (especially the 27 minutes without MacDonald). It’s probably a better idea to combine last season with this season. When we go there, the numbers considerably tighten, but the story doesn’t change.

Overall, Ghost-MacDonald is a 48.3% Corsi pair. They are also barely above water in goal difference, at 19-18. When Ghost is playing with anybody but MacDonald at 5v5, his Corsi jumps to the positive side at 51.4%, and his on-ice goal difference is a dramatic 31-19.

The increased sample size shows that MacDonald drags down Ghost about 3% in terms of Corsi. That is significant. Or to put in more old-school terms, Ghost played 36 games last season before the MacDonald call up. In those games he had 4 goals and 13 points at even-strength, and was +4 overall.

Since being first paired with MacDonald on February 14, 2016, Ghost has played 38 more regular season games. In those games, he has 3 goals and 12 points at even-strength, and is -1. Those numbers aren’t terrible and Ghost is producing some, but he’s not as good as he could be.

With the looming return of Michael Del Zotto from injury, we may finally see an end to this nightmare. At the time of injury last February, Gostisbehere was actually playing with Del Zotto.

Del Zotto’s return may also result in MacDonald’s return to the AHL. If so, the anti-MacDonald crowd may finally get their wish, but Ghost himself should be the happiest one of all.

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