From what I’ve seen, the Oilers new fourth line of Stortini, Brodziak and Strudwick has looked much better than any previous combination. They’ve played eight games as a unit so far, going back to the 3-2 shootout loss against Anaheim. Let’s look at their performance statistically (at even strength) over that time frame, using Vic Ferrari’s Time On Ice tool.
- Goals For/Against: 4/1 = +3
- Corsi: 31/31 = 0
- On-Ice Save Percentage: 0.952
- On-Ice Shooting Percentage: 22.2%
- Face-offs Start (Off/Neu/Def): 13/13/11
- Face-offs End (Off/Neu/Def): 12/8/11
I’m going to interpret these results in two ways; a long way and a short way. First, the short way: this line has been good, and this line has been lucky. For those of you who want to know why I’ve concluded that, the long way follows.
They’ve Been Lucky
This line is not going to continue to outscore their opposition by a 4:1 margin. They’ve been incredibly lucky to have things go their way, and things could easily have gone in exactly the opposite direction, because sometimes that’s just how the puck bounces.
For starters, a forward line has very little impact on the save percentage of their own goaltender. Vic Ferrari did a study in December of 2007 (found here) which looked at the on-ice save percentage behind each team’s first line, second line, third line and fourth line. The difference between a league-average first line and a league-average fourth line was 0.000%. In other words, forwards have very little effect on how many pucks their goaltender stops. Thus, we can safely conclude that the outrageously high .952 SV% posted behind these three is a combination of a) luck, and b) the opposing forwards’ lower skill level.
The second number that I look at and think luck/chance/randomness is their on-ice shooting percentage. 22.2% is the cumulative shooting percentage of this group as a whole. We could look at the individual goals, conclude that the bounces off skates aren’t going to continue and write it off, but instead let’s look at the individual shooting percentages these players have put up over different seasons since the lockout.
- Stortini: 5.9%, 7.9%, 11.1% (current season)
- Brodziak: 0.0%, 9.1%, 11.2%, 14.9% (current season)
- Strudwick: 9.7%, 0.0%, 4.8%, 8.3% (current season)
In a word: luck. 22.2% is not going to continue for these guys.
They’ve Been Good
By now, you’ve likely concluded that I don’t like this combination, but nothing could be further from the truth. The face-off numbers tell us that MacTavish is using them all over the ice, both in the defensive and offensive zones. This is a rarity for an NHL fourth line; most fourth lines seem to end up with more offensive zone than defensive zone starts (especially under MacTavish; it was a big factor in the success of the unit last season). Despite that, most fourth lines end up well in the red (as shown in the Ferrari study linked to above).
Jason Strudwick, who was easily the worst defenceman on the team, looks like a different player as a forward. He plays a safe, effective game and adds a physical presence. Much the same can be said about Zack Stortini, the Oilers’ most consistently physical player, while Kyle Brodziak is simply better than an average fourth line player.
Just for reference, here are Brodziak and Stortini’s numbers from before they were put on a line with Strudwick:
- Brodziak: 6GF/10GA, Corsi: 213/276 = -63
- Stortini: 2GF/5GA, Corsi: 67/99 = -32
This is a good line; I hope it stays together.