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

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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

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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

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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

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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

    Jonathan Willis wrote:

    misfit wrote:
    Granted, I’m willing to bet that Visnovsky has started a few more shifts in the offensive zone than the defensive one compared to Souray (which would skew things a bit), but everyone seems to look better when their paired with Lubo.
    He has (I can’t recall the exact shift, but it’s there). The thing with Souray is that there hasn’t been a big drop-off when paired with Gilbert (at least, when we consider how the pairings are used), so I’d say that while Visnovsky helped him look good, he’s still having a tremendous season.

    Yeah, I definately didn't mean to slight Souray in my post (I also didn't mean to use "their" instead of "they're"), he's having a heck of a year, and has easily exceeded any expectations I've had for him.

  • Hippy

    How do shots for and against reflect a defensive defenceman? Strudwick has 10 shots, three playing forward, while Smid has ten in total. Souray has over a 100 shots, so isn't it obvious that the offensive guys would have better numbers. Plus when you consider that many of the shifts the 3rd pairing has are with non- offensive players they won't put up big shot or goal totals.

    As for Greene it isn't a surprise. Go back two years ago when the Oilers were decimated by injuries down the stretch and were getting killed, Greene was playing over 25 minutes a night and was only minus 2 in those final 20 games when the Oilers were getting killed. Greene is up against top lines, but he also gets to play with first line players much more frequently.

    If Souray/Gilbert play mostly with Hemsky's line, you can guarantee that over a 10 game stretch their numbers will look better than Visnovsky/Grebeshkov.

    Grebeshkov is nightmare in his own zone regardless of what the numbers say. He creates way too many turnovers, and wouldn't hit his own shadow. If this team makes the playoffs he would be exposed way more. Ideally if Smid continues to progress, then he should play with Visnovsky and give that pairing at least one physical presence.

  • Hippy

    Jason Gregor wrote:

    Grebeshkov is nightmare in his own zone regardless of what the numbers say. He creates way too many turnovers, and wouldn’t hit his own shadow.

    "wouldn't hit his own shadow." Quote of the day. I concur.

    That's what I like about Souray, is that he is an offensive guy, but he is also a fierce physical presence. Unfortunately that sometimes results in injuries.

  • Hippy

    Jonathan Willis:

    How can you say that Jason Strudwick is not an NHL defenseman? He may not be the best d-man in the league, but this guy has played in the NHL since 1997-98. I don't think that that is a fair statement to make about him. He brings intensity and passion to the game that few others on this team bring on a nightly bassis. I think that your number crunching and statistics are overrated to be honest. Just my opinion.

  • Hippy

    Jason Gregor wrote:

    How do shots for and against reflect a defensive defenceman?

    Regardless of how a defenseman plays (i.e. offensively or defensively) he should be generating shot differential – in other words, an offensive defenseman (Grebeshkov) makes hay by getting the puck up ice and generating shots more so than by limiting shots, while a defensive defenseman (Strudwick) would do it by limiting shots more so than getting the puck out of the zone.

    In any case, when just about everybody's at break-even territory, Strudwick's getting murdered. That's non-trivial, as is the difference in Staios' play when he's separated from Strudwick. Smid, Strudwick and Staios should all have similar numbers because they've been played in the same situations, but one is clearly inferior to the other two.

    Jason Gregor wrote:

    If Souray/Gilbert play mostly with Hemsky’s line, you can guarantee that over a 10 game stretch their numbers will look better than Visnovsky/Grebeshkov.

    Completely agree.

    Jason Gregor wrote:

    Grebeshkov is nightmare in his own zone regardless of what the numbers say. He creates way too many turnovers, and wouldn’t hit his own shadow. If this team makes the playoffs he would be exposed way more. Ideally if Smid continues to progress, then he should play with Visnovsky and give that pairing at least one physical presence.

    Gilbert's definitely brighter in his own zone, but Grebeshkov does possess great talent at just getting the puck out. As for hitting, Grebs is a more physical player than either of Visnovsky/Gilbert, and as I recall last year he stepped up his physical game a bunch in the second half. Obviously you wouldn't want to rely on him for physical play or safe effective plays in the defensive zone, but he can do it. I actually think he's a better player than he has been so far this season. I obviously don't know how responsive he is to coaching (in other words, how likely he is to step up the physical game and simplify his own-zone play); if he's malleable that way though I could easily see him fitting into the top four or five of a contending team.

  • Hippy

    @ 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.

  • Hippy

    Jonathan Willis wrote:

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

    @ canucklehead:
    He’s playing quite a bit with O’Donnell for sure, and I’m not sure who else (haven’t been following the Kings that closely). Mostly though, if we’re looking for outside help, I’d look at the forwards. Terry Murray (who seems to be a killer coach, btw) has been alternating between Handzus and Kopitar against the toughs; mostly with Handzus but Kopitar’s level of competition looks to have picked up.
    Always thought Kopitar was overrated (as compared to someone like Stastny) because of who he played against, but it looks like the guys in L.A. are determined to make him into an elite difference maker; he’s going to be playing more in a Hemsky role than a Getzlaf one. Good players (Kopitar and Handzus) have been playing in front of Greene and that probably helps the stats a ton. That said, Greene’s still doing his job, and he looks much better than he did last season. Good on him; always enjoyed his interviews.

    Not that I have anything against Matt Greene at all, but I honestly think some of those stats you are stating are skuing your analysis on his play so far this season.

    To say his game has grown or taken a exponential leap this season is a pretty big reach in my opinion. I watch the Kings play more than any other Club in the league & see Matt's game for what it is upfront & close.

    1st off, Matt played with Kyle Quincey (after K.Q. was acquired & the Kings best over-all D'man) & just recently started to play with Sean O'Donnell.
    O'Donnell & Doughty were the main pairing until the switch was made a few games ago. Matt is behind all 3 of those players in the TOI area & was not getting the plum assignments over the 1st 25 games whatsoever.
    His biggest drawbacks are still in the speed area, which in turn causes him to take those same kind of PIMs he was taking on the Oil.
    His puck moving ability has not made a marked improvement to this point either. He is improving, just not at the rate you are stating. His game still has A LOT of holes within it & keeps him in the #4 to #5 range on pretty well any team in the league. Playing behind a 96yr old like O'Donnell in important situations is a much proof as you need right there.

    His PK ability is quite good though & when he's paired with Quincey or S.O'D. on the PK, they are a trio that works very well together. The Handzus comment was a good 1, as he is really the driving force behind the PK in LA & makes the D's job much easier from the drop of the puck. Also, I'm not sure of the current stat, but the Kings are also giving up the least amount of shots on goal in the NHL. Their commitment to team defense this year has been excellent to say the least. This has made the D' core a much easier & softer place to play in LA these days. This is unheard of in LA.

    Matt is a gritty, big, tough guy who plays his heart out every game he plays, but with his stature & conditioning, he should be a MUCH bigger minute muncher than he currently is on this LA team. Until he improves his game with the puck & more importantly, without the disc & PIM wise, he's going to have a hard time keeping a Top 4 spot. Trust me, J.J. will knock him down the ladder once again, the second he hits the sheet after his injury.

    Merry Ho-Ho To Everyone Here At Oilersnation.

    Great Site…!!!

    x6

  • Hippy

    @ TV:

    Yeah, L.A. as a whole seems to be doing very well in outshooting their opposition; it's a little surprising given the amount of youth on that team. Thanks for the Quincey tip – for those interested, here are Greene's numbers, with and without Quincey-

    With: 17GF/11GA, 169SF/143SA
    Without: 8GF/9GA, 99SF/100SA

    That gives us a better idea of how Greene's doing against the opposition, and you're right, he's doing OK but taken in context he isn't a world-beater. Still, it's much better than last year, when he basically broke even playing nobodies. If Greene can hold his own as a complement to a puck-moving blue-liner, he's much more valuable.

  • 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