Line Match-ups: Five Games, One Article

Willis broke his back (his internet back) when I forced him to crank this baby out... for YOU, our adoring Nation readers. Brace yourselves, lambs, this is a long one. And Willis, they’re ready for you in surgery. —DJ Spyn Cycle

In Vancouver

The Oilers actually outscored Vancouver 3–2 at even strength, but their penalty kill allowed four powerplay goals against in a 6–3 loss. Here are the even-strength line-ups:

Edmonton’s Lines:

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

With Pisani out of the line-up, MacTavish used Pouliot to centre a checking line with Ethan Moreau and Erik Cole. After Cole was ejected midway through the game (his sweater wasn’t tied down and came loose in a fight), MacTavish bumped Penner into his spot and elevated Brodziak to the second line.

Grebeshkov – Gilbert
Visnovsky – Souray
Visnovsky/Grebeshkov – Staios

Jason Strudwick played less than two minutes at even strength before leaving the game with injury. As a result, Steve Staios saw his ice-time reduced and played at least one shift with every other defenceman, although he spent most of his ice-time with either Visnovsky or Grebeshkov.

Vancouver’s Lines

D. Sedin – H. Sedin – Bernier
Burrows – Kesler – Hansen
Pyatt – Wellwood – Raymond
Krog – Johnson – Hordichuk

Mitchell – Bieksa
Ohlund – Davison
O’Brien – Edler

Vigneault was mix and matching both his forward lines and his defensive pairings pretty much all night. Mitchell and Bieksa were split up occasionally, with Mitchell being put in defensive situations and Bieksa in offensive situations. There were also a few shifts where Ohlund and Edler played together, leaving O’Brien and Davison as a relatively weak third pairing. Finally, Ryan Johnson saw time on different lines as a utility player, although he spent most of the game with Krog/Hordichuk.


Nilsson – Horcoff – Hemsky

Sedin Line: 3.4%
Kesler Line: 79.8%
Wellwood Line: 16.8%
Johnson Line: 0.0%

Mitchell Pairing: 79.6%
Ohlund Pairing: 14.6%
O’Brien Pairing: 5.8%

Penner/Brodziak – Cogliano – Gagner

Sedin Line: 26.7%
Kesler Line: 7.9%
Wellwood Line: 48.5%
Johnson Line: 16.8%

Mitchell Pairing: 15.7%
Ohlund Pairing: 28.9%
O’Brien Pairing: 55.4%

Moreau – Pouliot – Cole/Penner

Sedin Line: 75.0%
Kesler Line: 4.7%
Wellwood Line: 20.3%
Johnson Line: 0.0%

Mitchell Pairing: 9.1%
Ohlund Pairing: 53.7%
O’Brien Pairing: 37.2%

MacIntyre – Brodziak – Stortini

Sedin Line: 14.3%
Kesler Line: 9.5%
Wellwood Line: 17.5%
Johnson Line: 58.7%

Mitchell Pairing: 28.8%
Ohlund Pairing: 37.3%
O’Brien Pairing: 33.9%

Grebeshkov – Gilbert

Sedin Line: 37.6%
Kesler Line: 33.7%
Wellwood Line: 15.3%
Johnson Line: 13.4%

Visnovsky – Souray

Sedin Line: 35.8%
Kesler Line: 14.6%
Wellwood Line: 29.9%
Johnson Line: 19.7%

Staios and Co.

Sedin Line: 32.2%
Kesler Line: 24.3%
Wellwood Line: 39.1%
Johnson Line: 4.3%


  • The injury to Strudwick made a hash out of the defence, and MacTavish and company seem to have handed out assignments pretty evenly as a result. Grebeshkov and Gilbert logged the most time against the Kesler line, likely meaning that they saw more offensive situations than the other defenders, which fits with the Oilers coaching staff’s MO to date this season.
  • Vigneault was absolutely militant about running a five man unit (Kesler line, Mitchell pairing) against the Oilers’ top line whenever they were on the ice. Kesler was one of the best defensive forwards in the NHL last season and it’s a trend that I would expect to continue.

Boston at Home

The game against Boston was quite possibly the most entertaining 1–0 loss I’ve ever watched (although, admittedly, I did miss a good chunk of the game). The action was back and forth, and both Dwayne Roloson and Tim Thomas did a phenomenal job in their respective nets. Given that Roloson was just in net for a pair of back-to-back wins on the road (against Carolina and Philadelphia), I think it’s safe to say that this was the game where the starter’s job came up for grabs. At the very least, it certainly has increased Roloson’s value both to the Oilers and to possible trading partners (I’ve mentioned this before, but the Islanders seem the likeliest destination, especially with DiPietro having undergone knee surgery).

Edmonton’s Lines:

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

It’s worth noting that Gagner played about four minutes this game in Horcoff’s spot; outside of that, the lines remained fairly steady.

Visnovsky – Souray
Grebeshkov – Gilbert
Smid – Staios

Boston’s Lines:

Kessel – Savard – Lucic
Sturm – Bergeron – Ryder
Axelsson – Krejci – Wheeler
Thornton – Yelle – Nokelainen

Ference – Wideman
Chara – Ward
Hnidy – Stuart


Nilsson – Horcoff – Hemsky

Savard Line: 29.3%
Bergeron Line: 43.5%
Krejci Line: 20.4%
Yelle Line: 6.8%

Ference Pairing: 63.0%
Chara Pairing: 30.8%
Hnidy Pairing: 6.2%

Penner – Cogliano – Gagner

Savard Line: 40.4%
Bergeron Line: 19.1%
Krejci Line: 16.9%
Yelle Line: 23.6%

Ference Pairing: 65.9%
Chara Pairing: 27.3%
Hnidy Pairing: 6.8%

Moreau – Pisani – Cole

Savard Line: 31.6%
Bergeron Line: 21.1%
Krejci Line: 24.2%
Yelle Line: 23.2%

Ference Pairing: 16.2%
Chara Pairing: 49.5%
Hnidy Pairing: 34.3%

Pouliot – Brodziak – MacIntyre/Cole

Savard Line: 27.6%
Bergeron Line: 10.3%
Krejci Line: 27.6%
Yelle Line: 34.5%

Ference Pairing: 20.0%
Chara Pairing: 18.9%
Hnidy Pairing: 61.1%

Visnovsky – Souray

Savard Line: 26.5%
Bergeron Line: 40.6%
Krejci Line: 20.6%
Yelle Line: 12.3%

Grebeshkov – Gilbert

Savard Line: 36.8%
Bergeron Line: 27.6%
Krejci Line: 11.2%
Yelle Line: 24.3%

Smid – Staios

Savard Line: 25.9%
Bergeron Line: 12.5%
Krejci Line: 38.4%
Yelle Line: 23.2%

In Nashville

In the first game of a seven-game road trip, the Oilers lost 3–1 to Nashville, and didn’t score a goal at even-strength. They did, however, outshoot the Predators 28–25 and 24–19 at even strength. Craig MacTavish switched his first line up for the third time in the season, switching out Robert Nilsson for Dustin Penner midway through the game.

Edmonton’s Lines

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

Visnovsky – Souray
Smid – Staios
Grebeshkov – Gilbert

Nashville’s Lines

Hornqvist – Arnott – Dumont
Erat – Legwand – Jones
Smithson – Bonk – Ward
Fiddler – Nichol – Tootoo

Weber – Suter
Hamhuis – DeVries
Koistinen – Zanon


Penner/Nilsson – Horcoff – Hemsky

Arnott Line: 25.9%
Legwand Line: 34.3%
Bonk Line: 29.4%
Nichol Line: 10.5%

Weber Pairing: 43.3%
Hamhuis Pairing: 42.7%
Koistinen Pairing: 14.0%

Penner/Nilsson – Cogliano – Gagner

Arnott Line: 53.0%
Legwand Line: 0.0%
Bonk Line: 15.0%
Nichol Line: 32.0%

Weber Pairing: 58.2%
Hamhuis Pairing: 20.9%
Koistinen Pairing: 20.9%

Moreau – Pisani – Cole

Arnott Line: 13.0%
Legwand Line: 28.0%
Bonk Line: 39.0%
Nichol Line: 20.0%

Weber Pairing: 33.3%
Hamhuis Pairing: 38.5%
Koistinen Pairing: 28.2%

Pouliot – Brodziak – Stortini

Arnott Line: 34.7%
Legwand Line: 30.6%
Bonk Line: 15.3%
Nichol Line: 19.4%

Weber Pairing: 21.1%
Hamhuis Pairing: 39.4%
Koistinen Pairing: 39.4%

Visnovsky – Souray

Arnott Line: 42.1%
Legwand Line: 12.6%
Bonk Line: 31.1%
Nichol Line: 14.2%

Smid – Staios

Arnott Line: 16.2%
Legwand Line: 40.8%
Bonk Line: 23.1%
Nichol Line: 20.0%

Grebeshkov – Gilbert

Arnott Line: 28.0%
Legwand Line: 25.2%
Bonk Line: 29.9%
Nichol Line: 16.8%

In Carolina

A much needed 3–1 win came against the Hurricanes. Dwayne Roloson was phenomenal in net, and Cam Ward allowed a poor angle goal off an Ethan Moreau wrist shot. The win snapped a five-game losing streak.

Edmonton’s Lines:

Penner – Horcoff – Hemsky
Nilsson – Cogliano – Gagner
Moreau – Pisani – Cole
Pouliot – Brodziak – MacIntyre/Rover

Cole, Hemsky and Gagner all played a couple of shifts in place of MacIntyre, while Nilsson was also spotted in that position. All in all, MacIntyre played about half as many shifts as his linemates.

I’ll also be evaluating the defencemen individually, since after Denis Grebeshkov’s injury, the pairings were scrambled. Gilbert and Visnovsky played with every defenceman in the line-up, while the other three defenders played with everyone but Grebeshkov. This should be a helpful game to see how individuals were used, as opposed to pairings.

Carolina’s Lines

Whitney/Samsonov – Staal – Ruutu
Whitney/Samsonov – Brind’Amour – Larose
Eaves – Cullen – Bayda
Brookbank – Lacouture – Helminen

Gleason – Corvo
Seidenberg – Wallin
Melichar – Babchuk

That’s a pretty sad looking Carolina line-up. Gleason and Seidenberg both got extra shifts and seemed to be the only defenders that Laviolette trusted consistently (especially Gleason—he may never equal the guy who was traded away for him, but he’s quality).

Ruutu and Larose are decent players, but well above where they should be on the depth chart. I suspect Ray Whitney kept getting moved around so as not to saddle Brind’Amour/Staal with the boat anchor that Samsonov is turning into (11GP, 1PT, -5). Wasn’t this what happened last time Samsonov signed a three-year, big-money contract?

Laviolette is in a world of trouble with this roster, although both Ward and Leighton are providing good goaltending. Presumably they’ve put their enmity in the past, which is almost too bad.


Penner – Horcoff – Hemsky

Staal Line: 33.6%
Brind’Amour Line: 34.5%
Cullen Line: 13.3%
Lacouture Line: 18.6%

Gleason Pairing: 73.5%
Seidenberg Pairing: 26.5%
Melichar Pairing: 0.0%

< b>Nilsson – Cogliano – Gagner

Staal Line: 29.0%
Brind’Amour Line: 53.8%
Cullen Line: 9.7%
Lacouture Line: 7.5%

Gleason Pairing: 66.2%
Seidenberg Pairing: 16.9%
Melichar Pairing: 16.9%

Moreau – Pisani – Cole

Staal Line: 14.0%
Brind’Amour Line: 32.0%
Cullen Line: 31.0%
Lacouture Line: 23.0%

Gleason Pairing: 17.7%
Seidenberg Pairing: 80.2%
Melichar Pairing: 2.1%

Pouliot – Brodziak – MacIntyre

Staal Line: 27.7%
Brind’Amour Line: 27.7%
Cullen Line: 9.6%
Lacouture Line: 34.9%

Gleason Pairing: 34.5%
Seidenberg Pairing: 29.9%
Melichar Pairing: 35.6%


Staal Line: 26.7%
Brind’Amour Line: 34.5%
Cullen Line: 24.3%
Lacouture Line: 14.6%


Staal Line: 22.5%
Brind’Amour Line: 38.5%
Cullen Line: 24.0%
Lacouture Line: 15.0%


Staal Line: 17.0%
Brind’Amour Line: 23.9%
Cullen Line: 28.3%
Lacouture Line: 30.8%


Staal Line: 34.8%
Brind’Amour Line: 45.6%
Cullen Line: 6.3%
Lacouture Line: 13.3%


Staal Line: 11.4%
Brind’Amour Line: 33.3%
Cullen Line: 27.2%
Lacouture Line: 28.1%


  • The erstwhile checking line wasn’t given much responsibility at all in this game; even the fourth line was given more dangerous opponents. The Fernando-Pisani-at-centre experiment needs to stop and soon, because that’s a terrible waste of three legitimate forwards.
  • Visnovsky and Souray, despite playing nearly a third of the game apart, look almost identical in their match-ups. Along with Tom Gilbert, these are clearly the guys that MacTavish (Huddy?) trusts.
  • Steve Staios, as previously suggested, has taken a big step back in his quality of opposition. After getting torched last season, he looks much better this year, and I think it’s a good thing for the team if he can slide into a third pairing role.
  • Smid hasn’t earned the trust yet, but I think it’s coming. He’s played well with what he’s been given, so a slow rise in time on ice and responsibility should be what happens this season.

In Philadelphia

A 5–4 win was really two games in one. The Oilers dominated Philadelphia at even strength, outscoring them 4–1, but the Flyers power-play managed three goals to make it a game. Dwayne Roloson played his second game in as many nights, a rather curious decision by MacTavish, given his goaltending situation, and looked confident if not confidence-inspiring in the win. The game put the Oilers above five hundred, and two highlight-reel goals by Ales Hemsky quieted the critics.

Edmonton’s Lines

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

Smid – Gilbert
Visnovsky – Souray
Strudwick – Staios

The amount of special teams play in this game did some odd things to the even strength ice-time. The Pisani line actually played the most at even strength, and the defensive pairing of Ladislav Smid and Tom Gilbert led the defence in the same category. With Grebeshkov out of the line-up, Smid was elevated to Gilbert’s pairing, and although it’s possible that it was mainly because Strudwick was playing hurt, I think it’s likely that Smid has passed him on the depth chart.

The other effect of all the special teams was that aside from a rare Cole double-shift, MacIntyre managed nearly as much ice-time as Pouliot and Brodziak.

Philadelphia’s Lines

Lupul – Richards – Hartnell
Knuble – Metropolit – Gagne
Upshall – Carter – Downie
Cote – Asham – Ross

Coburn – Timonen
Eminger – Alberts
Vaananen – Sbisa


Moreau – Pisani – Cole

Richards Line: 38.9%
Metropolit Line: 26.0%
Carter Line: 23.7%
Asham Line: 11.5%

Coburn Pairing: 26.6%
Eminger Pairing: 39.4%
Vaananen Pairing: 34.0%

Penner – Horcoff – Hemsky

Richards Line: 40.0%
Metropolit Line: 5.9%
Carter Line: 50.6%
Asham Line: 3.5%

Coburn Pairing: 66.3%
Eminger Pairing: 11.2%
Vaananen Pairing: 22.5%

Nilsson – Cogliano – Gagner

Richards Line: 16.7%
Metropolit Line: 17.9%
Carter Line: 55.1%
Asham Line: 10.3%

Coburn Pairing: 13.6%
Eminger Pairing: 45.5%
Vaananen Pairing: 40.9%

Pouliot – Brodziak – MacIntyre

Richards Line: 16.2%
Metropolit Line: 41.2%
Carter Line: 14.7%
Asham Line: 27.9%

Coburn Pairing: 8.6%
Eminger Pairing: 50.0%
Vaananen Pairing: 41.4%

Smid – Gilbert

Richards Line: 40.3%
Metropolit Line: 22.8%
Carter Line: 27.5%
Asham Line: 9.4%

Visnovsky – Souray

Richards Line: 47.3%
Metropolit Line: 27.5%
Carter Line: 13.0%
Asham Line: 12.2%

Strudwick – Staios

Richards Line: 13.5%
Metropolit Line: 12.6%
Carter Line: 55.0%
Asham Line: 18.9%

  • Hippy

    Gagner and CO seem to be facing much tougher defense this year.

    Willis- You had posted earlier that Gagner's corsi numbers we're the complete opposite of last year and he's been far more defensively sound.

    If the top line starts scoring the pressure comes off the 2nd line and they start lighting the lamp!

  • Hippy

    Now that Martin Brodeur is injuried, trade Roloson to NJ for nothing; then try to land a true number one center "Mats Sundin". I would love to see any team in the league line match Cole – Sundin – Hemsky.

  • Hippy

    Jonathan this analysis is great! Look forward to it every week.

    Why is Vancouver the only team that seems to use a 5-man checking unit? doesn't this make more sense from a shut-down perspective?

  • Hippy

    Why is Vancouver the only team that seems to use a 5-man checking unit? doesn’t this make more sense from a shut-down perspective?

    Well, other teams do it too, but of these five, Vancouver's the one with the best personnel for the job. Kesler is a fantastic player in all aspects of the game, and Willie Mitchell is pretty much the sterotype of the modern shut-down defender.

    Outside of that, most of these teams are fairly picky about which defenseman match up against opposing forwards, but not as picky about which forward line is out there.

  • Hippy

    Staios, torched last season? How so?

    Maybe at the start of the year he got burned now and then. But he certainly wasn't a human flame in the last 40, a la Pitkanen and Gilbert.

  • Hippy

    Well David, I know you aren't big on +/-, but Staios' -14 last year was his worst number since playing for the expansion Thrashers in 2000. I don't think it's a coincidence – he wasn't torched ala Stoll/Reasoner, but by his standards it was a poor performance. Particularly in the first 40 games of the year.

  • Hippy

    Jonathan, well, when it comes to Staios and his play, his error count was good, but I'm really going by what I saw of him. He was just damn solid, especially in the second half (his error count is similar between the first and second half).

    It's interesting looking at these matchups. It's tough, sometimes, to figure out who is facing the toughest quality of competition, isn't it, especially with the forward line matchups. It's often easier to tell who is facing the toughest two defenders on the other team, with Horsky and the Kid Line usually getting that task, but not always. It's a real mixed bag, which makes me think quality of competition isn't so neat and tidy as the nice, neaty and tidy numbers that Desjardins presents to us.

  • Hippy

    It’s often easier to tell who is facing the toughest two defenders on the other team, with Horsky and the Kid Line usually getting that task, but not always. It’s a real mixed bag, which makes me think quality of competition isn’t so neat and tidy as the nice, neaty and tidy numbers that Desjardins presents to us.

    No, I think it's been pretty clear-cut. Horcoff and Co., night in and night out, have faced the toughest competition. Second-toughest is either the Kids or the Moreau line, depending on how the coach feels like rolling.

    We'll have a clearer picture once I do my "season-thus-far" review; I've been logging all these numbers in a spreadsheet.