It was a rocky road to reaching the 500 NHL game mark, but Michael Stone has been a consummate professional through each one of them. Skating in just his seventh game of the season last night and filling in on the second pairing next to Chris Tanev, Stone not only played in his 500th NHL game, but scored a gorgeous goal in the process.
Oliver Kylington has been a revelation for the Flames this season, playing very well alongside Tanev and providing a skillset this team is devoid of when he’s out of the lineup. However, with Kylington on the shelf and with limited experience on the blueline at the NHL level right now, Stone has filled in very well.
The Stone-Tanev pairing
Despite only having seven games together, the Stone-Tanev pairing is the Flames’ sixth most common defence pair this season at 5v5, accumulating 77:18 TOI so far. They’ve been deployed fairly heavily in the offensive zone which is a bit uncharacteristic of a pairing that has Tanev on it, but Stone’s offensive ability helps justify the change in deployment.
For comparison, the Kylington-Tanev pairing started 46.65% of their shifts in the offensive zone, whereas the Stone-Tanev pairing starts 66.67% of their shifts in the offensive zone.
That being said, this pairing has used their deployment extremely well and has put up exceptional possession numbers in their seven games so far. The stats in the table below are taken from NaturalStatTrick at 5v5, and look at all Flames defence pairings with at least 40 minutes TOI this season.
In all categories, the Stone-Tanev pairing has driven offence for the Flames and most importantly has put up the vast majority of scoring chances and high-danger chances. Being deployed heavily in the offensive zone isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you’re using those zone starts to drive scoring chances, and that’s exactly what this pairing has done.
In just seven games, this pairing has seen 44 scoring chances for and 20 high-danger chances for, an average of 6.2 SCF and 2.9 HDCF per game. They rank third in SCF% and second in HDCF% among all qualifying Flames defence pairings this season, too. Not bad at all.
Looking at goals and expected goals, it’s the same impressive story.
With four goals for and one goal against at 5v5 this season, the Stone-Tanev pairing’s 80% GF% is first on the team among qualifying pairings. Of course, this is almost certainly due to the small sample size and will regress back to a more realistic number if the pairing stays intact for a longer period of time, but in the short sample size they are owning the goal share by a side margin.
In expected goals, they rank sixth, but are putting up an expected goal share over 55%. That’s a really solid number and exactly what you want from your second pairing deployed in this way.
We can’t move on before showing Stone’s goal against the Ducks.
Classic Stone slapper going bar-down? Yes please.
Stone-Tanev going forward
As nice as Stone has been, I think the biggest win in all of this is that we all know what Stone can do in a limited role. Come playoff time, a deep roster will almost certainly be required, and it’s nice to know that Stone is not only comfortable playing his off-side, but can do it next to Tanev on the second pairing and perform very well.
I don’t think this pairing will stay together for much longer, however. With the season coming to a quick end, it would make sense to have the Flames try Connor Mackey next to Tanev just to see what he can do, both for this season and next.
Kylington is obviously the best player to replace Stone, but if he still needs a few weeks to heal up, it makes sense to try some things especially since a playoff spot is all but guaranteed. If Mackey can bring a bit more in terms of skating and puck moving, that would be a better fit next to Tanev since the Flames don’t really have that elsewhere. Mackey has had an incredible year in Stockton and has earned an opportunity to show what he can do.
The strength of schedule is also fairly weak the rest of the way, so why not use that to give your regulars some rest and see what you have on the farm.
That being said, Stone has done a great job and if he does stay in the lineup there really isn’t anything to complain about. And, if he is sticking around, hopefully we see more of his booming slapshots as well.