Hey, according to LA Kings Insider, Alec Martinez skated with Rob Scuderi yesterday and today! That seems to indicate that he will be in the lineup for tonight's Game 1. In that case, allow Alec Martinez to re-introduce himself.
Currently the second-longest tenured active blueliner for the Los Angeles Kings, Martinez has enjoyed an eventful career in LA.
- Phase One: a sheltered defenseman with staggering possession numbers and the occasional healthy scratch. Alec broke into the lineup in 2010-11, had the league's best Corsi For% in 2011-12, and followed it up with similar shot differentials in 2012-13.
- Phase Two: HERO! Martinez was scratched to open the 2013-14 season, but then became a lineup mainstay aside from a few injuries. Martinez scored eleven goals during the season, then added five pivotal goals in the playoffs, including the Conference and Cup Final winners. John covered Martinez's... clutchiness... in the 2014 review, which prompted some strong disagreement, but they did accurately predict the drop in goals that followed.
- Phase Three: a defenseman dealing with the weight of increased responsibility. Martinez's average ice time jumped by over four minutes per game last year, to 19:56, and this year it's gone all the way up to 21:10. The sky-high possession numbers disappeared in the face of harder zone starts and tougher assignments, as well as pairings with Robyn Regehr and Matt Greene. This year, the possession numbers have increased marginally, but with an increased degree of difficulty.
Watching Alec Martinez in Phase Three has allowed us to observe aspects of his game that weren't tested earlier in his career; stamina, penalty killing ability, and responsibility in his own zone. With Martinez out of the lineup, we've seen other players forced to fill that role, and they've struggled.
We did notice one thing last year that didn't get a lot of play, though. From our 2015 review:
That leads to another point, emphasized by the chart at the top of the article: Martinez has quietly become a pretty great shot blocker. Martinez was in the top 25 of the NHL in shots blocked per game this season, which is really impressive when you play for the Kings, who simply don't let other teams shoot that much. That's why Martinez's defensive stats look better when framed in a Fenwick fashion.
It was a point we didn't delve into that deeply, but the question which hung in the air was: just how good IS Martinez as a shot-blocker? It easily could have been a one-year aberration, where Marty just got hit by a ton of pucks. However, this year, he's only gotten better; he finished the season in the top ten in shots blocked per game, and #9 overall. (blocked shot stats via ESPN)
Blocked Shots per Game - Top Ten (min. 41 games)
|Per-Game Rank||Overall Rank||Player||Team||Games||Blocked Shots||BS/G|
|3||4||Calvin de Haan||NYI||72||198||2.75|
If we examine shots blocked in relation to shot attempts allowed, though, Martinez looks even better, as he cracked the top five in the NHL. Martinez blocks 11.7% of all shot attempts which occur while he's on the ice; not surprisingly, record-holder Kris Russell has the highest percentage. This elevates Martinez over players like Erik Johnson and Dan Girardi, who simply face a ton of shots and naturally will block some of them. (possession stats via War on Ice)
Blocked Shots, As % of On-Ice Shot Attempts Against
|Calvin De Haan||NYI||72||2.75||13.34%||3.88||52.63%|
|Kevin Klein||NYR||69||2.25||11.02%||3.48||49.55%|You'll also notice that Martinez is the only player in the top ten with a positive possession rate, though his relative numbers are negative along with the rest of the guys in the top ten. (The highest rank for someone who also is positive in FF% Relative: Mark Giordano at #13. He's effective.) You'll notice that Martinez has the best raw Fenwick For% of any of the top ten, but his relative FF% is actually the worst of the top ten. Then again, the other nine play for teams that are far worse from a possession standpoint. Anyway, it shows that it's possible to pull your weight while also blocking shots. (edit: at the time of posting, the FF% listed inadvertently included all situations, rather than even strength. This was quite misleading, since most of these players play heavy minutes on the penalty kill, so we've updated the table to show only even strength.)
This shot-blocking prowess isn't a one-season fluke, either; he blocked 12.4% of the shot attempts he was on the ice for last season. The difference between Martinez and other LA defensemen is especially noticeable.
Shot-Blocking Stats: Kings Defensemen
|Name||Games||Blocked Shots||BS/G||Block %|
Does this make Martinez more or less effective than other blueliners? Not necessarily. Doughty's job isn't to block shots. Are his shot-blocking stats meaningful, though? In this case, I'd argue yes. With Matt Greene out of the lineup all season, Martinez has taken on a greater weight of defensive responsibility and has rarely been victimized. Blocking shots often indicates a more conservative defensive style; where Doughty or Muzzin might be aggressive in guarding a player with the puck, Martinez generally falls back. It's worked for him this year, as only Drew Doughty has a better on-ice goal differential than Martinez.
His return should bolster a defense which has looked out of sorts without him. If it helps Muzzin rediscover his form, it's terrific news. And if he blocks shots as crucial as this one in the postseason...
... even better.