I’m finding the line matching this season to be particularly fascinating. This is the shift chart from the Oilers-Kings (aside: now that I follow European sport, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to remember which convention applies when listing – home team first or second?) game the other night:
It’s pretty obvious that Terry Murray was basically happy to play the line matching Tom Renney’s way. Renney was rolling out the RNH/Hall/Eberle trio basically as soon as Kopitar left the ice, leaving Horcoff/Smyth/Jones to play against Kopitar. With the last line change, Murray could have ducked that match-up but he didn’t seem too bothered by it.
Up until last night, since the introduction of lines by seniority (Kid Line, Veteran Line), Renney has pretty much been able to get the Horcoff line a pretty good chunk of ice time against the other team’s better lines, even on the road. The Oilers have had five road games with the 94/10 pairing and the Kid Line so far. In Phoenix, L.A. and Calgary, Renney was able to run the Horcoff line against the other team’s presumptive best line. They went 9-8 in chances in those games (I’m just using Horcoff’s numbers for the line as a whole.) The RNH line went 10-8 in those games, with the numbers dragged down by a Hall-less game in Calgary.
The Colorado and Montreal games though…yikes. Both of those teams ran what looks to be a third line against the Horcoff line, which went 11-7 in chances. The RNH line got attacked by the other team’s better lines and went 3-9 in scoring chances.
A point that I don’t think we make often enough is that if both coaches seem to be pursuing the same match-up, somebody’s made a bad decision. Hockey’s a zero sum game and what’s good for you in terms of match-ups, by definition, has to be bad for your opponent. While it’s not many games, given what Renney’s done at home and the way in which the road games have gone – the Colorado and Montreal games were not good for the Oilers (four points notwithstanding), I think Renney’s got a pretty good handle on what gives his team the best chance of winning. Jacques Martin and Joe Sacco look to have figured it out too. I’m surprised at how Tippett ran his bench against the Oilers – he’s got four pretty competent lines and it would have seemed sensible to do the same thing.
This is going to be worth paying attention to going forward, I think. I’m not at all sold by the Oilers’ start (sorry, guy who tweeted “Luck is a skill” at me last night) and I figure there’s some reversion coming. If there’s something to this (sample size etc.) and other coaches catch on, it won’t help.