Since he was drafted, Bo Horvat has been labelled as a reliable, two way centre. Recently however, questions have arose over his defensive play. In this article, we try and use both analytics and video clips to analyze Horvat’s play on the PK.
Last year, Bo Horvat was second among Vancouver Canucks’ forwards with 148 minutes on the penalty kill.
Despite that, Horvat was the worst penalty killing forward on the Canucks, and among the poorest in the entire league. The 22-year-old was on the ice for a league high 28 goals against on the PK; nearly doubling every forward on the Canucks. Of the three players that he tied with league wide, he averaged 59 fewer minutes on the PK.
|High Danger Corsi /60
This chart shows that Horvat was the worst PK forward when looking at nearly every defensive metric.
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The key takeaway is that not only was he allowing an extremely high volume of shot attempts(CA/60, FA/60); but that a high proportion of them were from dangerous offensive positions(HDCA).
What’s most concerning however, is the discrepancy in the numbers. Horvat isn’t simply the worst in almost every metric; he seems to lag behind by a significant margin.
For example, raw shot attempt(CA) numbers show us that Horvat allowed 72 more shot attempts than Brandon Sutter; despite the latter spending more time shorthanded.
When we expand the criteria to include penalty killing forwards all over the league, Horvat’s numbers look even worse.
|4v5 Stats(150 players)
|High danger corsi against/60
Out of 150 qualified forwards, (minimum 75 minutes shorthanded) Horvat was bottom ten in every defensive metric used. This proves to us that he was simply one of the worst penalty killers in the league last year.
|High danger corsi/60
The chart above shows us that Horvat has improved considerably in every defensive metric compared to last year. Despite that, he’s still lagging behind in a couple of areas.
His team high CA/60 and FA/60 numbers show us that he’s still allowing shot attempts at a concerning rate.
The biggest difference however, has been in the drastic reduction of high danger shot attempts(HDCA). Horvat is actually third best on the team in this regard.
This indicates that he is allowing a high number of shot attempts; the caveat being that the majority are from low danger areas.
This is still resulting in a high amount of goals though; as Horvat is second worst on the team when looking at goals allowed per hour.
|4v5 Stats(128 players)
|High danger corsi against/60
Looking at Horvat’s performance relative to the league supports the previous assertion we made. It proves that while he is above average at restricting high danger shot attempts, the sheer volume of attempts he’s allowed has led to a high amount of goals allowed.
While Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson are partially to blame for these low percentage goals, their on ice save percentage of .853 with Horvat on the ice isn’t too far from the league average of .875.
The conclusion to make here is that while Horvat has improved considerably compared to last year, he’s still a poor penalty killer both relative to his team and the rest of the league.
The Eye Test
Since we’ve established that Horvat has been below average on the penalty kill, let’s turn to the eye test to see why.
After studying video of Horvat on the PK, I’ve come to the conclusion that his problems stem from poor positioning. He is often in the wrong defensive position due to his tendency to drift and puck watch.
In many cases Horvat is found fixated on the puck, while being unaware of attacking players setting up in favourable offensive positions. This means that when teams are ready to swing the puck around, he is a step behind in anticipating and cutting off passing lanes.
In this second clip, Horvat shoulder checks the wrong way and fails to notice Anze Kopitar‘s rush to the net. Despite having the inside position initially, Horvat turns the other way to block a pass back to the point instead of boxing Kopitar out. This leads to an uncontested shot and subsequent goal.
This means that when Scheifele attempts the pass across, Horvat is a step behind- having not realized his man was slowly moving up the ice. While Luca Sbisa bails him out with the interception, Horvat’s missed shoulder check nearly cost the team a goal.
In this last clip, Horvat unnecessarily commits to the puck carrier. He comes over in an attempt to cut off the middle despite seeing that Sven Baertschi is already blocking off passing lanes.
In the meantime, Tyler Seguin senses the open ice and tees up for a one timer.
This mistake is more excusable given there was a chance for Dallas to carry and force the puck through the middle. In hindsight though, Horvat should have been more conservative and stayed closer to Seguin to deny him the time and space to get the one timer off.
The weakness I sense from these kind of clips is that Horvat often fails to anticipate plays due to his fixation on the puck. Whether he’s chasing or simply watching the puck, he often gets distracted and loses track of his man.
To overcome this, Horvat needs to be more diligent in doing his shoulder checks and watching for the movement of attackers off the puck. If he can manage to do this consistently, he’ll be able to better position himself for developing plays.
Over the past year and a bit, Bo Horvat has struggled mightily on the penalty kill. While he’s improved considerably this season, his inability to suppress shots has resulted in continued issues.
Physically, he has the speed and strength to win puck battles and close down passes quickly. For Horvat to become an effective penalty killer however, he’ll have to become more aware of the attackers away from the puck and how they try and set up.
All stats courtesy of Natural Stattrick