Ales Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff

In one of the threads below, commenter Gord made an interesting comment, one that I thought deserved some investigation:

Putting up points with Hemsky and Penner the last couple weeks is automatic and any other Oiler could produce at the same rate given the same opportunities.

Now, I realize that Gord limited this comment to the past few weeks, but the notion that Shawn Horcoff is an offensive passenger on the top line is one that has been floated by his detractors time and time again. Watching the top line play, it’s obvious that Ales Hemsky is an elite talent, but I think it’s dishonest to claim that “any other Oiler” or “any other centre” would fit in as well on the top line as Shawn Horcoff.

With that in mind, I thought it might be useful to review Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky’s numbers together and apart thus far this season.

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Horcoff and Hemsky Together

Goals For and Against: 15/9 (+6)

Shots For and Against: 170/128 (+42)

Corsi: 319/239 (+80)

Defensive/Offensive Faceoffs: 96/102 (-6)

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Hemsky w/o Horcoff

Goals For and Against: 4/6 (-2)

Shots For and Against: 56/63 (-7)

Corsi: 102/110 (-8)

Defensive/Offensive Faceoffs: 20/27 (-7)

Horcoff w/o Hemsky

Goals For and Against: 3/3 (0)

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Shots For and Against: 55/59 (-4)

Corsi: 99/120 (-21)

Defensive/Offensive Faceoffs: 43/23 (+20)

We can make a few conclusions from these numbers, and these conclusions balance nicely with what we know about the players and the composition of the roster.

The first conclusion: Ales Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff are far better together this season than they are apart. Common sense tells us this, and the numbers confirm it. Ales Hemsky is easily the best RW on this team; every player on the roster performs better when they play with him. By the same token, Shawn Horcoff is not only easily the best centre on this team, he’s the only veteran centre the Oilers have. Hemsky’s numbers without Horcoff drop off alarmingly; this is likely to be caused more by the quality of the other centres (Cogliano, Pouliot, Brodziak, Pisani) than it is by any problem with Hemsky.

The second conclusion: Hemsky is a strong territorial player. We know that during the time Hemsky and Horcoff were separated (largely during that Eastern road trip), Hemsky was playing some of the game’s elite checkers, and he was doing it with either kids or veterans with some obvious defensive flaws. Despite that, the territorial advantage was pretty close to even. The numbers tell us not that Hemsky is a poor player without Horcoff, but that he does a tremendous job carrying his linemates against some exceptional two-way players.

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The third conclusion: Horcoff is a strong defensive player. Despite being used in a largely defensive role against offensive players (without Hemsky, he spends twice as much time starting in the defensive zone than he does in the offensive zone), the shot clock is break-even. The difference between the shots +/- and the Corsi +/- is interesting; Corsi indicates territorial advantage, in much the same way as faceoff breakdown does, but Horcoff and Co. do a much better job getting their shots on net than their opponents do. Thinking back to those games, I’d argue that Horcoff’s line did an excellent job of restricting their opponents time and space, and getting down in shooting lanes.