There’s some good debate at Lowetide’s over MacT’s evisceration of Dustin Penner on a flight to Detroit today. The debate that’s broken out there deals with whether or not MacT is using Penner properly.
Specifically, Penner’s PP TOI is way down this year. He’s no longer playing with Horcoff or Hemsky at ES and, to my recollection, MacT generally shies away from mixing and matching his ES and PP lines, to the extent that he can. Historically, he’s had one line at least that he likes to run out for the PP and maybe the second group is a bit more of a mish mash but he likes to have a line ready to go when the PP is over too.
I think that, in the case of Cole versus Penner on the PP, the decision not to force ice time on Penner at the cost of screwing of the lines is a defensible one. I’ll concede that Penner’s results are slightly better historically on the PP than Cole’s, but it’s far less than the difference between them at ES. What’s more, screwing with your lines on the PP really does create problems, as the PP ends and you then need to find bodies that aren’t tired to throw out there, bodies that can play a certain position.
Last night’s game against Colorado was somewhat unusual, in that MacT was mixing and matching both PP units and, I think, it illustrates my point. Thanks to timeonice.com, we can see how MacT dealt with PP’s. As becomes quickly obvious, it gets a little difficult from a coaching perspective, with less than ideal outcomes. Here are the first two Oiler PP’s, with a minute or so before and after:
He kind of got lucky a bit with the first PP, as the fourth line had just come off the ice, so everyone else was reasonably well rested. Horcoff/Nilsson/Pisani draw the penalty. MacT flips to Hemsky/Gagner/Cole to start the PP, which mixes up two lines. I think it’s safe to say that we know that there’s a serious difference between Moreau and Cole on the PP. It’s hard to critcize the decision making there. The problem created by that move is that, if he throws Horcoff’s line over the boards next, he’s got the Gagner line with 2/3 of them having had a minute’s rest, the Cogliano line with 1/3 of them having a minute’s rest or the fourth line for the next shift.
The decision to use Pouliot over Fernando on the PP was an interesting one – it’s a shame that these games aren’t archived somewhere online so that a guy could go back and see how the Horcoff line was attacking on the PP and whether there was an advantage in a RH shot over a LH shot being paired with Horcoff and Nilsson. In any event, Pisnani is bad on the PP so it’s hard to criticize that decision. It should be obvious why Cogliano wasn’t getting the minutes on the PP – with those lines, if MacT plays Cogliano with Horcoff/Nilsson on the PP, lines 1,2 and 3 have all had 2/3 of their players on the ice. If he has a fourth line he trusts, that’s not such a big deal but he doesn’t.
PP expires and MacT still doesn’t have an optimal setup. He ends up sending Cole back out with a minute’s rest with Reddox. Then Moreau gets his first shift in four minutes and we’re back in the flow of things as far as the lines that the coach wanted.
The next PP gets more complicated, as the penalty is taken at the end of a lengthy shift for the Horcoff line. Out come Gagner/Hemsky/Cole – Cole takes a short shift, presumably because he knows that he’ll be back in the fray as soon as the PP is over and because, although you can’t see it here, his line had just come off the ice before Horcoff’s line went on. In effect he’s being asked to do the Vinny L. thing there (shift-bench-shift-bench-shift) but MacT probably expects him to backcheck as well.
Pouliot ends up getting a big chunk of time on that PP because Cole came to the bench early. Cole presumably didn’t have his breath yet, so MacT throws Pisani out with Cogliano and Reddox once the PP expires. Colorado’s better players snuck a shift in there and Smyth ended up popping a goal, albeit after Stastny had left the ice. Moreau ends up going six minutes without a shift in all of this.
The last two PP were fairly close together. My jpeg here is a little better – you can see all of the leadup. MacT goes Gagner’s line, Cogliano’s line, Horcoff’s line – PP. Out goes Hemsky, Gagner and Cole. Cole is running on 30 seconds rest. They’re out for about a minute. Out come Horcoff/Nilsson/Pouliot. The PP ends and Cole comes out for another shift with his usual line. Moreau – who only got sat for about five minutes this time – comes out again with Hemsky/Gagner and…those guys draw a penalty. Crap.
Cole comes over the boards..again. Hemsky and Gagner stay out. Horcoff/Nilsson/Pouliot eat up the remainder of the PP and then stay out for a bit. Rather than run Cole out for another shift, MacT gets him another 20 seconds or so on the bench and throws Pisani into the fray with Cogliano/Reddox. Cole then comes out AGAIN and takes a shift. At this point, MacT presumably still doesn’t want to go back to Gagner/Hemsky because they’ve been taking some big minutes over the past few minutes, so the Horcoff line gets another. Moreau ends up getting about one shift in ten minutes in all of this.
My point, which I’ve probably belaboured, is that mixing and matching the lines on the PP has real consequences when you don’t have a fourth line that you can trust to go out and eat a shift in the minute or two post PP. Penner’s had two respectable years on the PP but nothing to suggest that he’s driving the bus. I haven’t done any serious analysis but the problems it creates throughout the lineup in terms of managing your bench are apparent enough to me that I’m not going to criticize MacT for his decision making in terms of not getting Penner more time on the PP because of the problems that are created by trying to do so.