Who are you and what have you done with Andrej Meszaros?
Meszaros has spent the past two seasons trying to return to the level of play he exhibited in his first season with the Philadelphia Flyers when he won the Barry Ashbee Trophy as the team’s best defenseman. Unfortunately a combination of injuries and poor play resulted in him beginning the year without a guaranteed spot in the top six. He shuffled in and out of the lineup, often serving as the seventh or even eighth defenseman.
However, over the past 10 games Meszaros’ play has elevated and he is exhibiting the offensive confidence that was so apparent in his first season with the Flyers when he scored eight goals and had 32 points in over 21 minutes a night.
In these past 10 games Meszaros has 3 goals and 8 assists for 11 points and he appears to be brimming with offensive confidence. He’s skating the puck through the neutral zone and carrying it into the offensive zone. He’s making aggressive moves with the puck on his stick. He’s driving the net. And he’s shooting the puck.
For those of you more inclined to analytics, Meszaros has a combined corsi for percentage (which is simply the percentage of shot attempts the Flyers generate at the opponent’s net while Meszaros is on the ice) of 53.9% over the past 10 games. That figure would place Andrej the Giant fifth on the team, and second among defenseman (trailing only Timonen) if it were over the course of the season.
So is this a case of Meszaros simply playing better or is he being tasked with a slightly different role? I think the answer may possibly be both.
I plotted Meszaros’ corsi for percentage, offensive/defensive zone start percentage, and quality of competition over the course of this season. I chose those latter two metrics as I feel they give the best indication of a player’s role. Is he starting most of his shifts in the offensive zone or defensive zone? Is he playing against difficult competition?
We can see his corsi for percentage is clearly on the rise (indicating his increased production). We can also see an even steeper incline with his offensive/defensive zone start percentage. Now, there certainly appears to be a lot of noise, but I do believe he’s being tasked with a more offensive role and being given less challenging defensive minutes.
Over the past ten games Meszaros has an offensive/defensive zone start percentage of 60.5% (43 O-zone starts / (43 O-zone starts + 28 D-zone starts)). That would give him the highest percentage on the team if that figure stood over the course of the season.
That is drastically different than what he was being asked to do to start the year when he was playing so poorly he quickly found himself as a healthy scratch. Now, I didn’t pull the numbers for each individual game and do the math for the first ten games, but looking at the percentages, Meszaros only had three games in which his O/D start percentage was over 50%; compared to seven times over the most recent ten games.
Meszaros is also being matched up against slightly easier competition as well if we look at the “average (time-weighted) total team percentage of 5-on-5 on-ice opponents”, which essentially just looks at the percentage of a team’s ice-time that his opponents are getting (the other team’s best players play more minutes after all, right?).
To start the year, his first ten games had an average figure of 28.48%. That would currently stand as 11th most difficult on the team, and fourth most difficult among defenseman. That has decreased to 27.57% over the last ten games; good for 17th on the team and last (read: easiest competition) among defenseman.
Now, I’ve done quite a bit of comparison between Meszaros’ last ten games and his first ten games. Truth be told, the middle nine games appear to fall more in line with his more recent “easy” minutes. Six of those nine games had O/D zone start percentages of over 50%, and his quality of competition was actually even easier (just barely) that it has been recently. And yet during this span, Meszaros only registered one goal and one assist.
That’s why I don’t think Meszaros’ recent surge can be entirely attributed to Berube utilizing him differently. Meszaros deserves a lot of the credit as it’s apparent to everyone that he’s playing with a lot of confidence right now. However, Craig Berube does deserve some credit as well. He has recognized Meszaros’ stengths and weaknesses and has been putting him in a position to succeed. He is making sure Meszaros is playing “sheltered” minutes, by frequently starting him in the offensive zone and keeping him away from the oppositions best players.
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