• About Last Night: Defending Ralph

    by  • March 16, 2013 • Uncategorized • 6 Comments

    As I’ve said a few times here, I’m not really big on ripping on coaches for their bench management. I tend to find that people dumping on the coach are kind of doing so in the abstract and failing to go back and look at what the coach’s real options were at the time, all things considered. I’ve found this year that some of the complaining about Krueger is unwarranted or falls apart when you look closely at what his options were at any given point.

    I broke my rule and flipped out when Mike Brown was a) on the ice in the last seven minutes of a one goal game and b) took a penalty that c) led to Detroit scoring to tie the game and win it in overtime, a three point swing against the Oilers, as Detroit is one of the teams that they need to pass to make the playoffs. Getting a single point isn’t good enough, so it was infuriating to see one point gifted to Detroit and the second point placed into the balance (and ultimately lost) as a result of this. Other people were complaining about Krueger’s bench management generally during the third, so I figured I’d assemble his rotation and then lay it all out there.

    Horcoff/Hall/Hemsky – DETROIT GOAL
    RNH/Eberle/Hartikainen – EDMONTON PENALTY
    Gagner/Petrell – PENALTY EXPIRES
    RNH/Hall/Eberle – Krueger mixes and matches to get a reasonably strong line on the ice after the PK expires and take advantage of Detroit’s best forwards needing a rest.
    Smyth/Brown/Petrell – They matched up with the Detroit fourth line. – EDMONTON PENALTY
    Gagner/Smyth – PENALTY EXPIRES
    Horcoff/Gagner/RNH – Horcoff comes out of the penalty box and it would seem that Smyth changed for RNH, with Krueger intending to get the third line out.

    OK – we’re about eleven minutes into the third at this point and I think it’s hard to fault Krueger for his lines. You could maybe quibble with Brown being the fifth PKer who got bumped up when Horcoff was in the box and argue that Hemsky or Eberle should have been out there but that seems like splitting hairs to me.

    A point about criticizing the coach in a vacuum. Michael Parkatti writes excellent game reports with tons of interesting data but he’s just wrong here:

    Nail Yakupov took one shift with his regular linemates Gagner and Paajarvi to start the third period, while the game was 2-0 Oilers. He didn’t even see the ice again until 17:40 in the 3rd, well after the Wings had tied things up at 2-2. None other than defensive juggarnaut Mike Brown was being DOUBLE-SHIFTED in his spot on that line, while also seeing time in the third with his normal linemates Petrell and Smyth. Ryan Smyth, on the other hand, was busy being DOUBLE-SHIFTED with those players and his new adopted line of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle. For those counting at home, that makes 2 members of the 4th line of the Oilers being double shifted in place of clearly superior players while the Oilers were trying to maintain a lead. I know some like to defend Krueger, but I’m going to call this one out: this is just absent-minded coaching and cost this team two points.

    There was no double shifting of Brown or Smyth going on. There were a couple of penalties, which screwed up the flow. Where should Yak have slotted in here? On the PK? On the Hall/Eberle/RNH shift that was cobbled together after the PK? Go back and look at the rotation and ask yourself that question.

    I guess that you could say that Krueger should have gone to three lines before the Red Wings did and not let his fourth line face the Wings fourth line so as to get the Yak line out right after that but a 4v4 matchup at that stage seems preferable to me to taking the 2v4 that was theoretically available and then paying for it with a 4v2 or a tired 2v2 shift. It’s in the Oilers’ interest to kill the game at this point, which means that it’s in their interest to take 4v4 shifts if they’re still available, so as to have the Gagner line still fresh.


    RNH/Smyth/Eberle – Smyth has replaced Hartikainen on the third line now, with about nine minutes to go.
    Gagner/Paajarvi/Brown – Brown has replaced Yakupov on the second line now, with about eight minutes to go.
    Gagner/Paajarvi/Brown – EDMONTON PENALTY
    Horcoff/Smyth – DETROIT GOAL

    So Yakupov can’t play at a point in time when a goal against will mean that the Oilers are in a position to get one point, with a second available, but he can play when the Oilers are in a position where a goal against means that they get zero points, for some reason.

    A word about Brown. In the usual in-game banter that takes place on Twitter, I was pretty unhappy with Brown being on the ice late in the third with a one goal lead. For some reason, I had it in my head that Brown is bad for taking penalties. In fact, the evidence is a bit more equivocal than I thought. He’s taken a lot of penalties (I’m using penalties to mean “penalties that put the team down a man” here) this year; he’s fifth in the NHL in terms of penalties taken per sixty minutes.

    Where I was wrong was in thinking that Brown had a track record as a guy who takes penalties. His last three years have been pretty good – 0.8/60 0.6/60 and 0.9/60. The year before that was towards the top of the league, with 1.7/60 but this year’s sample is small and he’s got three pretty clean years on his record so it’s hard to say he’s got a really bad track record. He may be not particularly useful but neither is Lennart Petrell and, without a big difference in taking penalties between them, it’s hard to fault the coach for preferring one over the other. Bad luck that Brown took a penalty.

    I note as well that Krueger’s fourth line had two left handed shots (Smyth and Petrell) and a right handed shot (Brown). If he wanted to sit down a right winger (Yakupov) and a left winger (Hartikainen), well, in the absence of a compelling reason to think that the lesser of Smyth or Petrell are better than Brown on their off-side, Brown will get the right spot and the better of Smyth or Petrell will get the left spot. Smyth’s a no-brainer to get pushed up in that circumstance and Petrell is terrible at ES. What’s he supposed to do?

    Gagner/Yakupov/Paajarvi – Horcoff replaced Yakupov for part of this shift. Krueger presumably broke with his rotation because the Wings brought Datsyuk out onto the ice.

    Not to pick on Parkatti but he went on to say this about the line matching in the third:

    So pretend you’re coach Krueger. You’re at home, and you have the last change. It seems like the Hall/Horcoff/Hemsky line is playing Datsyuk’s line well, but Gagner’s line is getting buried. You’d like to think that you’d try some line matching in the third period to get Horcoff out against Datsyuk instead of Gagner. In the third period, I roughly count 7 Datsyuk shifts against Gagner’s line, 2 against RNH, and none against Horcoff. Mike Babcock ate Ralph Krueger’s breakfast, lunch, and evening buffet in this one. Krueger had last change and kept throwing Gagner out against Datsyuk, even though Babcock was obviously matching against that line.

    For some reason, the word “Zetterberg” doesn’t appear anywhere in there. Detroit’s got two really dangerous lines and Hall/Horcoff/Hemsky are tied up with one of them. If you look at the data on Time On Ice, you see that Zetterberg/Datsyuk played only 1.5 minutes together at 5v5 last night. That means Horcoff played somewhere between 12.4 and 13.7 of his 13.8 5v5 minutes against one of them. What, exactly, is Krueger supposed to do? The people who are critical of him for his line matching need to do more than point to occasions on which he gets his fourth line out against another team’s top lines – that happens to all coaches. I haven’t seen it done yet.

    I’m not letting Krueger entirely off the hook though. Jason Gregor asked about Yakupov not playing at 2-1 and then playing again at 2-2 last night and got this answer:

    Well it’s just about reducing…they went down to three lines so we kind of…brought things down with eight minutes to go to three lines to close the game. Once you get back to five on five, you know Yak had a very responsible game today, he creates a great opportunity, a goal and you know he really is a player who’s improving defensively all the time.

    It’s more about using your bench and using guys for different responsibilities and giving them a feeling of importance down the stretch, depending on if they’re scorers or more a defensive player like, you know, I thought Mike took an unfortunate penalty there in that situation. He’s showing a lot of character in this group and he’s filling in, he had a good penalty kill there where we needed him in the middle period and I think we want to give him a feeling of being part of this team so he takes a few minutes there. Yak’s cheering for him on the bench. And, it doesn’t work so you don’t get those back but I would always do the same thing, trying to use everybody in different situations to be an important part of this team.

    Yeah, this is pretty difficult to understand AND infuriating. Look, Mike Brown is not part of the long term in Edmonton. He’s a face puncher, a fourth liner who was cast off by the Toronto Maple Leafs, who stink. That’s great that Yak’s cheering for him on the bench – he’d be a fine captain of a peewee house team – but it’s impossible to understand how, if Yak’s good enough to play late in a tie game, he’s not good enough to play earlier in a one goal game. I’m all for coaches who are great communicators and man managers but maybe instead of making Mike Brown feel good by letting him play late, Krueger could play his best nine forwards when he shortens his bench and make Mike Brown feel good by explaining to him that his earlier contributions were important and winning is fun. Judging by his use of Yakupov once the game was tied, he doesn’t think Mike Brown is one of his best nine forwards, so the whole thing just seems absurd.

    The real problem, of course, is that the Oilers bench doesn’t have a fourth line stocked with guys who can play hockey and see a game out. It sure looks like the Oilers are going to waste the first big Taylor Hall season and it’s not on the coaching staff – they may have bungled the decision about who to put on the ice late (at the very least, the Brown/Yakupov thing seems incoherent) – but they aren’t the ones responsible for the fact that when Krueger looks down his bench in the last ten minutes of a one goal game, his options include a teenager and a guy who lost ice time to Frazer McLaren. The responsibility for that falls higher up the food chain.

    Email Tyler Dellow at tyler@mc79hockey.com


    6 Responses to About Last Night: Defending Ralph

    1. @eastcoasteh
      March 16, 2013 at

      Just pretty frustrating that the first two periods we were rolling lines well and overall winning the game in chances, shots, etc..Then in the 4th, they get an early goal (how many times have the Oil given up a goal early in the 3rd when tied or having the lead?!..broken record) and then totally abandon everything, start juggling lines and worrying about the D. I say keep the pedal down.
      I thought Krugers mistake was not taking a timeout after the 2-1 goal and just letting them calm the fuck down.

    2. March 16, 2013 at

      I didn’t mention Zetterberg, because I don’t really think Z is in Datsyuk’s league anymore in terms of danger. If you check out their Corsi% this year Datsyuk is at 57.8% and Z is at 50.9%. And by eye in this game Datsyuk really was the main threat — you could see the Oilers collectively crapping their pants when he was out there.

      My quibble was to get Horcoff/Hall/Hemsky, your ostensible power vs power line, and who’d played well against Datsyuk last night, out on the ice against him. You can leave Z’s line for RNH/Eberle/Harski, who’d played decent against his line.

      Pay attention to Babcock’s post-game remarks, I loved it. He was going on about Hall being the best forward on the ice… and you can see that attitude in how he avoided playing his best line against Hall’s line basically from the end of the 2nd period on. With Krueger having last change, he’s got to find a way to avoid getting beaten away from that matchup.

      • May 6, 2014 at

        Handzus had a great game. I don’t understand how this guy coduln’t dress in San Jose. People are still silly enough to think that Emery is faking this injury so Crawford can be the obvious number one choice going into the post season. The first 10 minutes of that game yesterday were more than enough to prove that Crawford is the better option, no matter how much you hate him.I was very scared for Sharp’s leg. First thought was an MCL, but glad to see him go into beast mode to get that ENG. He looked a little rusty, but that line was a pleasure to watch once Handzus was on it. He has great passing vision and he just knows where to be on the ice so it really helps make up for the lack of speed. He isn’t a REAL 2c, but he can win more than half of his faceoffs and 10/88 are good enough to hold the puck an extra second for him to catch up.Are the Hawks better off with Sharp playing the pivot and Kruger taking center after the draw? Not sure.I don’t care who the Hawks play in the first round. As veteran as Detroit might be, their defense can not keep up with the Hawks forwards. The only thing I care about for the first round is Vancouver playing either LA or St. Louis so they can beat the crap out of each other.

    3. Showerhead
      March 16, 2013 at

      I think it came down to a lack of horses.

      Like you say, Brown doesn’t take enough minor penalties such that you’d make money betting on him to take one in any one given shift. There are arguments to be made about whether or not he was the right choice to take those 2nd line minutes – I’d have been just fine with Yakupov doing so. Like you say, Brown’s not part of the future while Yak quite so obviously is.

      The decision to use Yakupov after the fact seems to be the coach admitting, through his actions, that he was wrong and that given his other options, Yak was a reasonable choice to leave on that line. You’ll be able to tell whether I’m right or wrong about this by what Krueger does the next time Edmonton is coughing up a lead late in the game.

      Dennis made some good points on the Twitter last night about how there is so much room for good and bad luck in hockey that you don’t want to add to that with poor decision making, even by some tiny marginal amount. I can get behind that idea. Even if the odds were stacked against Brown taking a penalty, the right choice by some tiny margin was probably to play Yakupov there instead.

      Back to my first sentence, I really think it comes down to having the horses. There is no safe and established “piss break” line on this team and it’s probably going to need one. The 4th line and about half the top 6 D are such a black hole that I feel like Edmonton is asking for unnecessary GA in the same way it did when it ran Cross/Ulanov as a pairing for half the season. Coach be damned, you’re going to lose games that way.

    4. FastOil
      March 16, 2013 at

      When the Oilers hired Krueger, I thought the benefit to the franchise was not his skill, but that he is essentially European.

      The team does not have a good record with Euro’s post Glory. They are very different from NA players. Culturally, they need to be handled differently than NA players. The NA players are at home, so having a foreign coach is not really much of an adjustment for them.

      Perhaps, and I don’t know, he is disciplining the wild colt Yakupov? Yak needs it. Teaching Yak what to do, where to be. Pajaarvi seems to benefit with this coach. Omark might as well. Performance over the rest.

      As for line matching, until the team is clearly out of a passive tanking mode, I would hesitate to put much on the coach, neck at the guillotine.

    5. gcw_rocks
      March 19, 2013 at

      I don’t think you are being fair to Parkatti’s analysis here. He makes the case in his article that Zetterberg’s line hasn’t performed nearly as well as Datsyuk’s line in making his argument. The possession matrix in his post game summary shows a similar trend, with Datsyuk killing it and Zetterberg mostly breaking even.

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