Key Stat: Niskanen appeared in only 68 games during the regular season, the fewest he’s played in an 82-game campaign since he suited up for a total of 63 games (45 with Dallas, 18 with Pittsburgh) way back in 2010-11.
Interesting Stat: Prior to this year’s playoff run, Niskanen had scored just five goals in the postseason in his career - all of them on the power play. His goal against Pittsburgh in Game 3 ended up being his very first even-strength goal in the postseason.
The Good: Since signing with the Caps back in the summer of 2014, Matt Niskanen has provided a steady, consistent, quietly dominant presence on the blueline - and this year was no exception, despite it’s assorted ups and downs as a whole.
Niskanen posted his best goal total since setting a new career high (10) back in 2013-14, tying his second-best career mark from way back in his rookie season and doing so in 10 fewer games. As a result he checked in with his second-highest goals-per-game rate ever, .10, which tied his 2012-13 rate and trailed only his highwater mark of .12 set the following year.
As was the case throughout the regular season, Niskanen’s role in the playoffs was generally to shut down the other team’s top lines, and he performed that role rather well overall, helping to limit the contributions from such sharp-shooters as Steven Stamkos, Sidney Crosby, and Nikita Kucherov.
By the end of the playoffs, Niskanen had compiled his second-highest average ice time of over 25 minutes (only 2016’s run was higher) and racked up a career-high eight assists. More importantly, though, was that he was part of an overall team effort that saw the Caps outscore their opponents 86-61 en route to 16 wins... and his first Stanley Cup.
The Bad: The bad started early for Niskanen, as he suffered an upper-body injury just five games into the season that caused him to miss the next 12 games - the most he’s missed in seven years.
Whether that had anything to do with what was an up-and-down season the rest of the way is hard to prove conclusively, but this did mark the first season in his 12-year career in which Niskanen saw both his even-strength CF% and FF% drop below the 50% mark. Some of this, no doubt, was at least partly due to his team’s overall dip in those areas, as well, but his relCF settled in at almost even (0.7) for the season, and he (like his team) seemed to struggle in his own zone - particularly earlier in the season.
Fast-forward to the playoffs, and Niskanen can point to an overall strong body of work... with one blip that could have potentially derailed what was ultimately a Cup-winning finish, a staggeringly bad performance by the team as a whole and Niskanen in general in Game 5 against the Lightning. Said Niskanen afterwards,
First three goals are all my fault. I had a tough first 20:30 so I’ve got to be better next game.
Thankfully, he - and his team - were.
Niskanen’s Season, Game-by-Game (via HockeyViz, explained here):
Niskanen and His Defensive Partners (chart by @muneebalamcu):
Niskanen’s 5v5 Teammates and Competition (via HockeyViz, explained here):
Niskanen’s 5v5 Usage (chart by @muneebalamcu):
Niskanen’s With-or-Without You (via HockeyViz, explained here):
Niskanen’s Rolling Shot-Attempt (Corsi) -For Percentage (chart by @muneebalamcu):
Niskanen’s Player Traits and Performance (chart by @RK_Stimp, data by @ShutdownLine, Tableau here):
The Vote: Rate Niskanen below on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the best) based on his performance relative to his potential and your expectations for the season - if he had the best year you could have imagined him having, give him a 10; if he more or less played as you expected he would, give him a 5 or a 6; if he had the worst year you could have imagined him having, give him a 1.
The Discussion: How much do you think Niskanen’s performance was hampered by his early-season injury? Would you want him to stay with Dmitry Orlov or do you see a better fit as a defensive partner elsewhere on the roster? What would it take for you to give him a “10” next year?
Other Niskanen Season Reviews: Peerless, RMNB
How do you rate Matt Niskanen’s 2017-18 season?
This poll is closed