Evaluating the defence pairings

In the post below I examine the match-ups that each set of forwards and defence met against Phoenix. We’ve seen enough of the defence pairings to have a bit of a track record, so I thought I’d compare the pairings MacTavish/Huddy are rolling out now (37-71, 44-77, 5-24) versus the ones they started the season with (71-44, 37-77, 43-24), and see how each defenceman fared. All numbers are at even strength (GF = goals for, GA = goals against, SF = shots for, SA = shots against). Defencemen are considered in order of average even-strength ice-time.

Lubomir Visnovsky

With Grebeshkov –- 12GF/4GA, 101SF/94SA

With Souray — 6GF/8GA, 126SF/118SA

With Others –- 4GF/2GA, 57SF/47SA

Totals –- 22GF/14GA, 284SF/259SA

Visnovsky has consistently good totals with every partner. That said, his recent success with Grebeshkov seems a little bit suspect; there’s a decent shot margin in their favour, but not a good enough margin to warrant outscoring the opposition 3:1. The goal-scoring numbers with Souray don’t look great; that said, the shooting margin was still quite good. I think Visnovsky is clearly the Oilers most effective defender at getting the puck moving in the right direction. It isn’t every day that a player of this quality is available for players like Matt Greene and Jarret Stoll.

Sheldon Souray

With Gilbert -– 12GF/9GA, 110SF/121SA

With Visnovsky -– 6GF/8GA, 126SF/118SA

With Others –- 3GF/1GA, 26SF/40SA

Totals –- 21GF/18GA, 252SF/259SA

The shooting numbers are best with Visnovsky, while the goal scoring numbers are best with Gilbert. I’d strongly argue that Souray and Visnovsky is the most dominant pairing possible, but also that being played with Gilbert hasn’t been bad, and may be the best case scenario for distributing the difference makers.

Tom Gilbert

With Souray –- 12GF/9GA, 110SF/121SA

With Grebeshkov –- 6GF/11GA, 100SF/91SA

With Others -– 5GF/3GA, 43SF/56SA

Totals –- 23GF/23GA, 253SF/267SA

Tom Gilbert failed to put up good totals with Denis Grebeshkov, although he likely would have. Still, given that they were being used almost exclusively in offensive situations, the 100/91 outshooting ratio isn’t as impressive as it really should be. Gilbert’s breaking even right now, and given the performance of the team as a whole, that’s probably a respectable outcome.

Denis Grebeshkov

With Visnovsky –- 12GF/4GA, 101SF/94SA

With Gilbert –- 6GF/11GA, 100SF/91SA

With Others –- 2GF/2GA, 12SF/18SA

Totals –- 20GF/17GA, 213SF/203SA

Grebeshkov, despite looking every bit like a chaos defender out there, has had a good season so far. He’s one of those defencemen who looks really bad when he makes a crazy play, but the ratio of crazy plays to good passes is actually very low. If we assume the Oilers can only really afford to pay three defencemen, than one of the current top four is on his way out of town. Depending on their relative trade values, if Grebeshkov would be willing to sign long-term at reasonable money, it might be worth trading Gilbert.

Steve Staios

With Smid -– 2GF/1GA, 70SF/65SA

With Strudwick -– 5GF/9GA, 67SF/127SA

With Others –- 6GF/4GA, 33SF/37SA

Totals –- 13GF/14GA, 173SF/229SA

Steve Staios is incredibly lucky to be anywhere near even in goals for and against. That said, he’s also incredibly unlucky to have been saddled with Jason Strudwick for so long. With Strudwick, Staios gets outshot 2:1. Without Strudwick, Staios is actually on the ice for more shots for than against. It may be premature to say that Staios is done; his results without Strudwick so far this season haven’t been half bad.

Ladislav Smid

With Staios -– 2GF/1GA, 70SF/65SA

With Strudwick -– 0GF/0GA, 15SF/23SA

With Others –- 2GF/1GA, 30SF/22SA

Totals –- 4GF/2GA, 115SF/110SA

Smid’s getting more bounces for than against, but he’s been a low-event guy so far. Of course, most of that is probably connected to his outrageously high on-ice save percentage (.982) and outrageously low on-ice shooting percentage (3.5%), but while he’s on the ice, the puck is moving in the right direction. Outside of some time with Strudwick, with Smid on the ice the Oilers have outshot their opponents 100:87. Those are very good numbers; there’s absolutely no excuse not to dress Smid every game from here on out, and the coaching staff’s decision to scratch him early looks like a mistake in retrospect.

Jason Strudwick

With Staios –- 5GF/9GA, 67SF/127SA

With Smid –- 0GF/0GA, 15SF/23SA

With Others –- 2GF/1GA, 12SF/24SA

Totals –- 7GF/10GA, 94SF/174SA

Jason Strudwick is not an NHL defenceman. The bounces have been good to him –- high on-ice save percentage and shooting percentage are the only thing that has kept him from being lit-up in GF/GA numbers. He may not even belong on the fourth line as a forward, except in a fighting capacity –- although the fourth line has outscored its opponents 2:1 with Strudwick on it, they’ve been outshot 11:5. At some point, it’s obvious where the problem is: in virtually every situation (the sole exception being while paired with Smid), Strudwick and his linemates have been outshot 2:1. I’m sure he’s a great guy off the ice (the fact that teams keep picking him up is a strong argument in favour of his character), and his road through professional hockey hasn’t been easy (over 1,000 PIM in 668 professional games), but he simply isn’t helping this team on the ice at this point.

On a Slightly Different Note

Last year, Matt Greene wasn’t doing much for the Oilers. He was drawing third pairing minutes and, while not getting killed, really wasn’t adding much value. As a result, I suggested that the 25-year-old was not likely to turn into Jason Smith or a similar shut-down defender any time soon.

Greene’s results this year have been incredible. He’s drawn top assignments for a lousy Los Angeles Kings team (for example, in the Kings last game, Greene drew the assignment of checking Henrik Zetterberg, Marian Hossa, and Dan Cleary) and not only is he holding his own, but he’s excelling. The Kings have outscored the opposition 24:20 with Greene on the ice, and outshot them 259:240.

Player development isn’t linear, and at this point it appears that Matt Greene has taken an exponential leap.

  • Hippy

    Note: I know I must sound like a know-it-all with these numbers sometimes, but I really am open to being challenged on individual points. I don't by any stretch think that I've got it figured out, and some argument/debate helps to refine things.

    Jason Gregor's point above about forwards driving results is absolute gold; he's completely right that these numbers are a much better indicator for the forwards than for the defensive corps. That said, I think the drop-off between Strudwick and everybody else is such a glaring difference, especially taking into account who Strudwick was playing against, that we can draw some conclusions from it.

    T.V. also made some nice points about Greene's use in L.A. (you must be a Kings fan, right?) that muddy the picture a bit with regard to him.

    Please, if you have a question/criticism of what I'm presenting, let me know. If your criticism is that numbers can't tell us about the real world, that's your call and I'm going to disagree, but if you have an idea why these numbers do/don't add value, hit me with it. I'm much less interested in defending my statements to the death than I am to improving my outlook on the game and making those statements brighter/better/more accurate.

  • Hippy

    Jonathan Willis wrote:

    @ topshelf:
    That’s fair enough, but there’s a good reason he’s been a swingman and frequent healthy scratch, and if I had to guess it’s because teams like his physical game/character, but know that he’s a bit of a liability in terms of actual play. He’s useful in that role, but I can’t ever see him stepping past it.

    I'll agree to that I don't think he is trying to step past that role. This is what has kept him around so long. He knows what his role is.

  • Hippy

    With all being said about the defence being not as good as in recent years, something that has been lacking is the absence of shot blocking?? Every year you see guys like J.Smith and Staios blocking tonnes of shots…where are the block shots and not the ones that accidently hit you but the ones that the defence actually drops down and takes awaya scoring chance. I think that due to the past injury situation they are less likely to want to drop down and that is costing us is some situations.

  • Hippy

    The lack of shot blocking has bothered me for a while. Although I have to admit that I don't watch any other games except when the Oilers play. Does anybody know if this is something seen league-wide? I saw in another blog just recently that the rules are going to change regarding shot blocking. Maybe coaches are adopting new tactics now in order to get ready.

    As far as Strudwick goes, from what I saw in the last game it seems he has found his niche with Stortini. Post-game interviews showed the obvious enthusiasm both of them had for playing with each other, which obviously showed on the ice. The funny thing of it is that sometimes it just takes the right combination for things to happen. When our 4th line starts to impose itself like last year, then I think one of our problems is solved. If that happens, Strudwick will have found himself a home and his numbers should improve.

    After that, getting the second line functional and solving this stupid 3-goalie issue will be next. We'll probably have everybody working like clockwork right around the 50 game mark, just in time for the annual run for 8th. *sigh*

  • Hippy

    That's the problem with this franchise. We settle for 8th place. I say if we can't contend for the division we liquidate assets (older players, heavy contracts) and plan for the future. And by the future I mean setting ourselves up to be competitive each and every year.

  • Hippy

    For everybody "planning for the future" – what do you think Katz & Co. are doing? Hemsky, Penner, Gagner, Cogliano, Nilsson, Brodziak, Pouliot, Gilbert, Grebeshkov, Smid – the list of guys on the upswing of their career is tremendous. I thought that there were enough talented veterans (and decent youth) on this team to make the playoffs, and I still think so, but this really wasn't the contending year that everyone was pretending it was. Too many key players still aren't ready.

  • Hippy

    And for everybody curious, here are Strudwick's numbers with Ales Hemsky, easily the best Oilers forward at driving shots/goals for:

    0GF/3GA, 16SF/34SA

    with Horcoff:

    0GF/4GA, 20SF/38SA

    and with Penner:

    0GF/2GA, 16SF/34SA

    Team-wide, the wrost Corsi number is Strudwick's -103. The next closest players are Staios (-68 w/ Strudwick, -9 w/o Strudwick) and Moreau (-47 w/ Strudwick, -30 w/o Strudwick).

    Is there any chance at all that Strudwick isn't driving this? I don't think so – it all looks very damning, and that's why I'm confident saying that Jason Strudwick doesn't belong in the lineup.

  • Hippy

    topshelf wrote:

    That’s the problem with this franchise. We settle for 8th place. I say if we can’t contend for the division we liquidate assets (older players, heavy contracts) and plan for the future. And by the future I mean setting ourselves up to be competitive each and every year.

    I would settle for eight place each and every year since that would ensure a playoff run every year. The thing I cannot abide is not getting into the dance at all, like the last two seasons. It would be nice to challenge for the division title again sometime, but I am much more interested in that big silver cup.

    Merry Christmas, folks.

  • Hippy

    Jonathan I know we have alot of young players but it is deceiving. We will prolly lose two of those players by the end of this year and to me, Brodziak and Pouliot play too similar a role on this team.

  • Hippy

    topshelf wrote:

    Oh and Cam, playing for the division title was the story we, the fans, were fed by the organization in the summer and at the start of the year.

    I know that, and I am sure they meant it. who knows… they may still get there. I just know that eighth is my MINIMUM expectation, so as long as they get there I won't be too disappointed.

  • Hippy

    topshelf wrote:

    Jonathan I know we have alot of young players but it is deceiving. We will prolly lose two of those players by the end of this year and to me, Brodziak and Pouliot play too similar a role on this team.

    Not only will the team lose some of those players, but at the same time some of them won't turn into the players that they could.

    The point is that the core of this team with few exceptions is getting better; they aren't there yet.

  • Hippy

    Matt Greene made hardly any goal-causing errors last season. If you watched him closely, it was clear he was rock solid last season. Not much at scoring, of course. Terrible at scoring. But great at keeping the puck out of his own net. And that's all I'm saying.

  • Hippy

    Jonathan Willis wrote:

    T.V. also made some nice points about Greene’s use in L.A. (you must be a Kings fan, right?) that muddy the picture a bit with regard to him.
    ate.

    FYI J.W. – I'm NO Kings fan..! I've been an OIler Fan since the Alberta Oiler days of the WHA. I just live in LA, so in turn, I watch them play live & on the telly a lot more than most other Clubs.

    Happy Holidays.!

    x6