Line Matchups Vs. The Senators

Jonathan Willis
March 06 2009 09:49AM

Zach Attack

Let’s review how Craig MacTavish deployed his forward lines last night.

Here are the Oilers lines for last night, ranked by TOI. The number in brackets is the number of minutes of even-strength ice-time each player recieved:

Kotalik (15.5) – Horcoff (14.7) – Hemsky (15.3) O’Sullivan (13.8) – Gagner (14.2) - Pouliot (13.6) Penner (12.8) – Cogliano (14.2) – Pisani (14.5) Jacques (9.8) – Brodziak (10.2) – Stortini (9.7)

As we can see, there’s very little difference between being a third line player and being a second line player in terms of total ice-time. This should be unsurprising; most coaches run their lines that way. Let’s rank these lines by their TOI against Ottawa’s top line of Spezza, Alfredsson, and Heatley:

Kotalik – Horcoff – Hemsky: 11.2 minutes. This means that 74% of their total ice-time was against the best opposition. It’s a classic example of the power-vs.-power matchup.

O’Sullivan – Gagner – Pouliot: 3.6 minutes. This means that 26% of their total ice-time came against the Senator’s top line. The bulk of their minutes (49%) came against the line of Comrie, Kelly and Peter Regin. Some of those minutes came as Horcoff and Gagner switched places for a few shifts.

Penner – Cogliano – Pisani: 2.7 minutes. 19% of the time, this line matched up against the Spezza line. The bulk of their ice-time (71%) came against Fisher, Foligno, and Shannon – in other words, against the Senators second-best line. Tonight, there wasn’t much difference in the quality of matchup for the Oilers’ second and third lines.

Jacques – Brodziak – Stortini: .5 minutes. Less than 5% of the time, this line played the Spezza line. Unlike in previous games, MacTavish refused to risk these guys against the best opponents, and given how costly it’s been in the past it’s about time he finally sheltered them properly. They played two-thirds of their ice-time against Ruutu, Winchester, and Donovan.

The fourth line had a decent night by the numbers, out-chancing their opposition and showing up even on the shot clock (albeit with a negative Corsi, a result of blocking four shots). The second line of O’Sullivan, Gagner and Pouliot managed a goal and even though they also saw one scored against them, they out-chanced their opponents as a whole and outshot them as well.

For the record, here are the shot attempts (missed, blocked and made shots) for and against for each Oilers forward:

Gagner: 16F/13A = +3 O’Sullivan: 16F/14A = +2 Pouliot: 14F/13A = +1 Penner: 11/10 = +1 Jacques: 5F/9A = -4 Hemsky: 9F/13A = -4 Pisani: 11F/16A = -5 Stortini: 4F/10A = -6 Cogliano: 10F/16A = -6 Brodziak: 6F/14A = -8 Kotalik: 8F/16A = -8 Horcoff: 7F/16A = -9

I think it’s fair to say that the first line had a bad night by any measure. The shot-clock is misleading for the fourth line, as Jacques and Stortini were on the ice for 4 blocked shots for and none against, while Brodziak was on ice for six blocks for and none against. Penner tracks surprisingly well by this measure, as does the second line.

This is not to make excuses for Horcoff or Hemsky, but I very much doubt that Kotalik is a long-term fit on that line. Lindy Ruff didn’t use him against top opposition in Buffalo, and his even-strength scoring has been bad for years now.

74b7cedc5d8bfbe88cf071309e98d2c3
Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
Avatar
#1 David S
March 06 2009, 10:28AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Cheers
0
cheers

Jonathan - the first line sucked last night. And it's been sucking ever since Visnovsky went down. I'd be OK if they had the odd "bad night" as all athletes do. But the suck level of this trio is getting hard to watch.

MacT has stated that if the second line is scoring, we should be winning games. Well, they're scoring. In fact, our 2,3,4 lines are performing pretty well. So either Horcoff or Hemsky or both are hurting. To say that they "had a bad night" makes you sound like Bob Stauffer. There's a serious problem with our first group. Can we just admit that? To use your stats above, our worst (comparatively) line spent 74% of it's time against the best opposition.

Avatar
#2 Jonathan Willis
March 06 2009, 10:36AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Cheers
0
cheers

@ David S:

Yeah, they've been off for a while, but I wasn't looking big picture, I was just doing a snap-shot.

Horcoff's had a lousy season by most measures, although at least some of that is undoubtedly caused by how MacTavish has been using him. Hemsky's been up and down.

I don't see Ales Kotalik as the answer.

Avatar
#3 Mike Krushelnyski
March 06 2009, 10:40AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Cheers
0
cheers

So the knock on Kotalik coming in is that he's not a very good 5 on 5 player... and he gets the most EV icetime of any forward? Another bullseye, MacT.

Avatar
#4 HBomb
March 06 2009, 11:15AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Cheers
0
cheers

Why is it that, lately, we know the "Horpensky" trio is proven power vs. power, yet MacT refuses to use it?

Why not throw that combination out as the top line, give Gagner O'Sullivan on LW and Kotalik on RW, feed those three soft minutes, and then use Cogliano-Pisani as the genesis of a third line for the secondary toughs? (My choice for said gig would be Pouliot at center, allowing Cogliano to play the wing, but I'm funny that way - Nilsson might also work there, as would Reddox even perhaps).

Penner, Horcoff and Hemsky have all struggled mightily the last 10 games or so. Is it any coincidence that they haven't played together for much of that stretch? Could the Oilers struggles as a team against other team's top lines be related to this refusal to ice a line that's gone +21/-5 at 5-on-5 this year?

Stick with what works and what is proven.

Avatar
#5 DK0
March 06 2009, 11:16AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Cheers
0
cheers

Did you see Kotalik during his interview with Gene? jeeebus give the man a few less minutes when hes running on no sleep.

Avatar
#6 Chris
March 06 2009, 11:25AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Cheers
0
cheers

@ Jonathan Willis: I was soundly rebuffed by many for thinking O'Sullivan should have gone straight to the first line... We all know this will eventually happen anyway. Hemsky has never found chemistry with his "friends". Kotalik is more suited for second/third line duty with powerplay time. O'Sullivan may be ready to skate against tougher competition as is eveidenced by his decent PK numbers (excluding last night)

Should have given the kid the first look. Now the Oilers need to lose several games before MacT can demote the more vetran Kotalik and risk pissing off Hemsky. Why does MacT always take the longest road to arrive at the obvious?

Avatar
#7 topshelf FMNF
March 06 2009, 12:07PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Cheers
0
cheers

If the first line is so bad power vs. power, why does Mac T continually use them against the other teams best lines? Give them a favourable match up so they don't have to play the whole shift in their own zone.

I HATE MAC T.

*officially joining FMNF*

Avatar
#8 Jonathan Willis
March 06 2009, 12:11PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Cheers
0
cheers

@ topshelf FMNF:

Who else do you run out there?

Horcoff and Hemsky are very good power-vs.-power players, generally. They've been cold of late, but I don't think there's a different option on this team for those minutes.

Avatar
#9 topshelf FMNF
March 06 2009, 01:10PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Cheers
0
cheers

@ Chris: How is it obvious that O'Sullivan belongs up there? He and Kotalik's numbers, at the end of the day, are pretty similar.

Avatar
#10 topshelf FMNF
March 06 2009, 01:11PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Cheers
0
cheers

@ Jonathan Willis: A checking line?

Avatar
#11 Jonathan Willis
March 06 2009, 02:08PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Cheers
0
cheers

topshelf FMNF wrote:

@ Jonathan Willis: A checking line?

Composed of who? Brodziak, Reddox and Pisani? They'd get murdered.

This team doesn't really have much in the way of options for tough minutes. Penner - Horcoff - Hemsky, IMO, is the only real option.

Avatar
#12 topshelf FMNF
March 06 2009, 02:08PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Cheers
0
cheers

...if we had one.

Avatar
#13 Jonathan Willis
March 06 2009, 02:12PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Cheers
0
cheers

@ topshelf FMNF:

Third line centre has been a hole since day one of this season. The fact that it wasn't addressed prior to the season reflects on Lowe, and the fact that Tambellini didn't fix it at the deadline reflects on him.

I've taken a little bit of flack for disliking the 2nd-for-Kotalik deal, but I don't think anyone would argue that a useful checking line forward (like Sami Pahlsson or Travis Moen) would have been a good addition. Particularly with Moreau hurt.

Avatar
#14 Chris
March 06 2009, 02:45PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Cheers
0
cheers

@ topshelf FMNF: Why should Kotalik be automatically put on the first line? Being Hemsky's friend shouldn't trump common sense. Kotalik has very poor career five on five numbers. More importantly, Kotalik's defensive game is highly suspect. MacT uses the Oiler first line in a power vs power shutdown role...First game nerves, fatigue, etc aside, Kotalik was a minus 2 last night. I kind of look at O'Sullivan as an upgrade on Nilsson (who was given a shot on line #1 earlier this season). O'Sullivan brings a shoot-first mentality the Oilers are sadly lacking. O'Sullivan is also defensively responsibile for a young player. Kotalik has played most of his career on the right side; in more of a secondary scoring/ grit kind of role... more equivelent to Moreau. We all got upset when Moreau was given first line duty, but Kotalik gets a free pass just because he is new, a Czech, and Hemsky's friend. Kotalik is not an offensive force... I'll bet O'Sullivan gets a look on that top line soon... Question is... How many losses will it take for MacT to pull his head out of his A$$?

Avatar
#15 topshelf FMNF
March 06 2009, 03:36PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Cheers
0
cheers

@ Chris: I never said anything about Kotalik. I asked why you said it's obvious O'Sullivan should play up there.

I would disagree about Kotalik being similar skill set to Moreau. Kotalik has a good shot, thinks offense and skates with his head up, none of which Captain Ethan does.

He may have been secondary scoring in Buffalo but this isn't Buffalo is it? Maybe he will flourish given more opportunity, or maybe he won't. But to say O'Sullivan belongs there is the same as what you are criticizing me for saying Kotalik should be there.

@ Jonathan Willis: I agree I was hoping they'd make a push for a player like Sammy Pahlsson but then what happens to Cogs? We need a checking line to let our 1st line worry about scoring, not about not getting scored against.

Avatar
#16 Chris
March 06 2009, 05:47PM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Cheers
0
cheers

@ topshelf FMNF: topshelf FMNF wrote:

I asked why you said it’s obvious O’Sullivan should play up there.

Sorry. Because he (O'Sullivan) is a left winger...and every other left winger in this organization including Reddox has been given a turn. Converting another right winger to top line duty seem ludicrous to me.

Avatar
#17 MikeP
March 07 2009, 03:27AM
Trash it!
0
trashes
Cheers
0
cheers

Penner almost always does well by the shots at net measure. MacTavish obviously doesn't believe in that stat. Maybe he prefers mean faces and fast moving legs.

Comments are closed for this article.