October 13 2008 11:39AM
Before the game yesterday I put together predictions for the match-ups based on Tony Granato’s use of his lines against Boston. Since it was the Oilers first game of the year, I had no similar information on MacTavish, so this was much more of a guessing game than such an exercise would normally be. I thought it might be helpful to review what happened last night, using Vic Ferrari’s Head to Head Icetime sheet.
First, the line-ups for the two teams, with lines and pairings ranked by icetime at even-strength:
Nilsson – Cogliano – Gagner Cole – Horcoff – Hemsky Moreau – Pisani – Penner Pouliot – Brodziak – Stortini
Visnovsky – Souray Grebeshkov – Gilbert Strudwick – Staios
Smyth – Stastny – Hejduk Wolski – Sakic – Jones Tucker – Arnason – Svatos McLeod – Guite – Laperriere
Liles – Hannan Foote – Clark Salei – Leopold
A couple of notes here:
The Kid Line played the most even-strength ice-time for the Oilers. Of interest is the fact that Hemsky ranked eighth in even strength ice-time (among forwards), and that Dustin Penner, the game’s most effective player, ranked seventh in ice-time (again, among forwards).
Joe Sakic was occasionally getting double shifted at even-strength; he’s well clear of both Wolski and Jones by Time on Ice (TOI).
The Avalanche have very little differentiation between how much they use each of their defensive pairings; there was only four minutes difference between the #1 (Hannan) and the #6 defender (Leopold).
I make a couple of assumptions in my match-ups:
I substitute the centre’s ice-time for the ice-time of the entire line, for the sake of simplicity. In other words, Horcoff’s icetime is divided up into four chunks (Stastny, Sakic, Arnason, Guite), and I use that as a proxy for his line’s time against other lines. In some games, there’s so much line-switching that it wonuldn’t be effective, but both coaches were content to run their standard lines for the vast majority of the game. I use the left defenceman in the same way for defensive pairings.
I assume that both defencemen and forwards get matched against the opposition’s forward line, because after looking at a number of these charts, that’s how the numbers look.
Other than that, the other thing to remember is that the numbers for each line/pairing is the percentage of even-strength ice-time spent in a particular match-up.
Nilsson – Cogliano - Gagner
Stastny Line: 17.8% Sakic Line: 20.7% Arnason Line: 41.4% Guite Line: 20%
Liles – Hannan: 55% Foote – Clark: 18.1% Salei – Leopold: 26.8%
Before the game, I predicted that the Arnason line and the Salei pairing would do the primary match-ups against the Cogliano line. Instead, Granato and his staff employed the Liles pairing against the Kid line at even strength (which does make good sense, given that it’s the only Oilers line that can’t physically dominate John-Michael Liles).
I’m a little surprised how often MacTavish allowed the Kid Line to be out against the opposition heavy-weights; I’m fairly sure that wasn’t happening nearly as often last year. They spent nearly 40% of the night out against the Av’s top-six forwards, and I would imagine that MacTavish continues this as the year goes on, getting them started playing against tougher opposition.
Cole – Horcoff – Hemsky
Stastny Line: 41.4% Sakic Line: 40.1% Arnason Line: 7.2% Guite Line: 11.1%
Liles – Hannan: 19.5% Foote – Clark: 68.8% Salei – Leopold: 11.6%
No mistake here which line Granato and his staff were worried about. Horcoff’s line saw nearly 70 per cent of the game against the Av’s best defensive pairing, and if for some reason they couldn’t get Foote and Clark out against the Horcoff line, their next best option (Liles-Hannan) was out there.
As promised, Horcoff’s line played power vs power, spending better than 80 percent of the night against the Av’s top-six forwards.
Moreau – Pisani – Penner
Stastny Line: 23.1% Sakic Line: 27.2% Arnason Line: 33.3% Guite Line: 16.3%
Liles – Hannan: 23.7% Foote – Clark: 15.1% Salei – Leopold: 61.2%
This line was really the pivotal one for the Edmonton Oilers, and it’s interesting to see who they faced. Aside from playing against the Av’s third pairing, they had no real match-up; MacTavish was willing to get them out against anyone, and they were clearly sharing the rest of the tough minutes (those not handled by the Horcoff line) with the Kid Line. Based on watching the game and the defensive match-ups we see, I’d imagine that the Pisani line primarily played the toughs when the faceoff was in the defensive zone (or, for on the fly changes, when it was heading that way), and Cogliano’s line got on when the puck was going in the right direction.
Pouliot – Brodziak – Stortini
Stastny Line: 44.7% Sakic Line: 31.7% Arnason Line: 17.6% Guite Line: 5.9%
Liles – Hannan: 41.9% Foote – Clark: 20.3% Salei – Leopold: 37.8%
The Brodziak line looked outmatched all night, and the ice-time breakdown goes a long way toward explaining why. Why they spent 75 per cent of their ice-time against the Avalanche’s top-six forwards is a little difficult to explain, given that MacTavish had the last change. The only reason I can think of is to test if that line could step up against better competition; after all, both Brodziak and Stortini were used in a checking role for parts of last season, and Pouliot’s had nice defensive numbers in his NHL cameos to date.
Visnovsky – Souray
Stastny Line: 50.2% Sakic Line: 25.6% Arnason Line: 12.8% Guite Line: 11.4%
The Oilers top pairing had a rough outing and frequently looked overwhelmed. MacTavish/Huddy were matching them up against the Av’s heavy hitters, and given that Souray has some mobility issues and Visnovsky’s a riverboat gambler, I’m not sure that this is the best use of resources.
Grebeshkov – Gilbert
Stastny Line: 11.0% Sakic Line: 44.5% Arnason Line: 40.9% Guite Line: 3.7%
Grebeshkov and Gilbert both looked iffy against Colorado (despite a two-point night for Marc-Andre Denis Grebeshkov). They were playing second-tier opposition, and given how shaky the Oilers’ top pairing looked, they really need to elevate their respective games to the point where they can handle at least second-pairing duties.
Strudwick – Staios
Stastny Line: 18.1% Sakic Line: 21.0% Arnason Line: 31.5% Guite Line: 29.4%
The mop-up work went to the third pairing, and they looked pretty good doing it, until Staios flung himself on top of the puck, leading to a penalty shot, in one of their rare shifts against the Stastny line. Given how the top-four performed, it wouldn’t surprise me to see these guys take on more difficult assignments if things don’t change soon.