Line Matching: One Day Later

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).

The Match-ups

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.

  • Hippy

    The oil are starting to worry me. It's easy for us die hards to fall in love with the team, so much so that it's hard to see the weak links. I've watched 7 games now and we've been outplayed in all of them.

  • Hippy

    Great stuff Jonathon. It is interesting to see that Granato was more concerned about getting the defensive pairings he wanted than MacT (Huddy)was. Given that the Oil had last change I would assume this is more of a coaching philosophy/ style difference than anything else.

    I watched the Calgary vs. Vancouver games and was intrigued by how militant about matchups the Canucks staff was and how Keenan seemed pretty content to just roll lines.

  • Hippy

    That's an interesting article Jonathan. Not a non-erectile challenged educator photo interesting, but I digress. 😉

    It is my hope that MacT won't shuffle these lines. Roll 3 solid lines getting 15 mins per and then rotate in the fourth as needed. DO NOT bump Penner to the top line for heavens sakes.

    Another note

    How classy was it that Kay-Z sent his Dad out on the ice before the game. Not an ounce of showman in the guy, he prefers to sit in the weeds and count his billions.


  • Hippy

    Thanks for the breakdown Jonathon. MacT is almost always bat-shit crazy with his bench management in the first 20GP. Once past this "learning-time" he usually locks it in and does the smart things that a smart coach like him does.

    My speculation about the two "odd-things" observed (big heaping of QUALCOMP for the kids, and for Brodziak.)
    – with 18 of 25 on the road, he's trying to proof his troops from shell-shock. Opposing coaches are going to bush-sit with their power and try to spring it on these two lines — maybe its better to have some good video to help coach these kids.

    The nice side-effect being that the MPP line could bust out offensively. This roster really does have 3 lines that can score goals — so each night, somebody is going to get a positive mis-match.

    And for those that have the knives out for Hemsky-Horcoff-Cole — that is a big old helping of 2 opposing lines that have strong 2-way play. The Horpensky trio had their strong run last year when Stoll was thrown to the wolves.

    It's going to take some time for them to find their range.