Oil vs Avs: Line Matching

The opening game of the season goes tonight, so I thought it might be helpful to review how Tony Granato ran his lines out against Boston in Colorado’s first game this year, and try to predict what kind of match-up he would favour against the Oilers tonight

Let’s start by taking a look at Edmonton’s projected lineup (as per TSN):

Cole – Horcoff – Hemsky
Nilsson – Cogliano – Gagner
Moreau – Pisani – Penner
Pouliot – Brodziak – Stortini

Visnovsky – Souray
Gilbert – Grebeshkov
Staios – Strudwick

With that out of the way, here was Colorado’s roster vs Boston, taken from Vic Ferrari’s Head to Head Icetime program:

Smyth – Stastny – Hejduk
Wolski – Sakic – Jones
Tucker – Arnason – Svatos
McLeod – Guite – Laperriere

Foote – Clark
Liles – Hannan
Salei – Leopold

Budaj

Forwards

Granato seemed content to play a power-vs-power game, since the Stastny line spent about 70 per cent of their ice time lining up against either the Bergeron line (Sturm – Bergeron – Kessel) or the Savard line (Axelsson – Savard – Ryder). This probably won’t change tonight; I’d expect Stastny’s line to go head to head with Cole – Horcoff – Hemsky more often than not. Stastny went 11/22 in the face-off dot last night and won 51 per cent of the time last year in 1101 total face-offs; he should be a pretty equal match for Horcoff in the face-off department.

The Sakic line spent about half of their total ice-time playing against Marc Savard’s line (Axelsson – Savard – Ryder). The Savard line was clearly Claude Julien’s second choice against tough opposition (interesting to see Ryder on that line), since while Sakic is still quality (and Wolski’s getting there), they’re also lugging around David Jones (a minus player in both the AHL and NHL last year as well as not much of a scorer). The logical match-up is the Sakic line against the Pisani line; for obvious reasons, MacTavish will want to get his checkers out against his opponent’s second-best line, while I really don’t think Granato will mind that trade-off. I would expect Sakic to win a hole bunch of face-offs in this match-up; it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Penner taking the draws by the second period.

Granato kept the Arnason line away from the top two Boston lines; they played less than one minute against Boston’s top-six forwards and spent 65 per cent of their time against the Kobasew line (Wheeler – Kobasew – Krejci). I think it’s a no-brainer tonight that Arnason’s line will go against Cogliano; from MacTavish’s perspective it’s the best possible match-up for the kids, while Arnason has a good track record against Edmonton and I think Granato will be comfortable with his line playing back-and-forth against the Kid Line. Arnason is a lousy face-off man, but he’s still better than Cogliano (although he went 3–5 against Boston).

Colorado has one of the best fourth lines in the league; they played against all opposition against Boston and did fine, allowing one goal against the Kobasew line (Wheeler – Kobasew – Krejci). They’ll be a good test for Edmonton’s fourth line, and see spot duty against everybody else, likely without looking bad in the process. Guite wasn’t great in the face-off circle last season but won better than 63 per cent of his draws in game one, and I’d give him a slight edge on Brodziak.

To recap, I’d expect the match-ups (for the most part) to be as follows:

Cole – Horcoff – Hemsky vs. Smyth – Stastny – Hejduk
Moreau – Pisani – Penner vs. Wolski – Sakic – Jones
Nilsson – Cogliano – Gagner vs. Tucker – Arnason – Svatos
Pouliot – Brodziak – Stortini vs. McLeod – Guite – Laperriere

With that in mind, I really think that the Cogliano match-up is going to be the key to this game (up front, anyway). The first two match-ups should be close (although I’d give Sakic a slight edge over Pisani) and the fourth lines role will be limited. Tyler Arnason is an Oiler killer (goals scored last season: against the Oilers -5, against everyone else -5) and Svatos is a dangerous player, while the Kid Line has a ton of talent and really ought to be able to outplay their opposition. It really could go either way.

Defence

Adam Foote and Brett Clark played four times as much against the Bergeron line as they did against any other in Boston. They are the obvious shut-down pairing; Foote’s been at it for ages, while Clark remains one of the league’s most under-rated defensemen. They will play a ton against the Horcoff line tonight, and I think Erik Cole and Adam Foote will be very well acquainted by the end of it all.

Liles and Hannan saw a ton of the Savard line vs Boston, and that really surprises me. While Hannan is something of a shut-down defender, J-M Liles last year was an offence-only player, a liability in his own zone. I imagine they’ll see the second tier of Oilers opposition (largely out against the Pisani line, occasionally against the Kid Line)

Ruslan Salei and Jordan Leopold played about six minutes each against the Kobasew and Yelle lines. They occasionally played against the Savard line as well, and didn’t see the ice at all against the Bergeron line. Tonight, I’d bet they spend most of the game against the Cogliano/Brodziak lines, and don’t see the Horcoff line at all.

These are fairly good match-ups for both teams; there’s no way that MacTavish is going to get around the Foote-Clark vs Horcoff line match-up tonight, so I doubt he’ll even really try. The Liles and Hannan pairing strikes me as suspect; either of Dustin Penner/Ethan Moreau really should be able to physically overwhelm Liles, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see that happen tonight.