In advance of the Oilers/Canucks game tonight, I wanted to take a look at how the ES line matching worked last year during the three games in Vancouver to see if we can glean anything about how the benches are likely to look tonight. I’ve assembled tables that group the players by most common lines and then highlighted the matchups that occurred more than we’d expect if everyone played the players on the other team for amounts of time that are proportionate to the time that the players on that team played. For example, if Hemsky played 10 minutes and the Canucks three D pairs each played 10 minutes, with no other information, you’d expect Hemsky to have played 3.33 ES minutes against each pair. To the extent that there are deviations, we can probably assume that this is due to line matching.
The Oilers first travelled to Vancouver on Boxing Day in the 2011-12 season. The Oiler lines looked like this:
Belanger-Jones-Eager (Eager ended up losing some time on this line)
The fourth line barely played, with Lander leading those guys with about three minutes of TOI. Plante didn’t play much either and the defensive pairings looked to be a little bit in flux. Vancouver had this lineup:
Vancouver’s bottom three lines seemed to be a little bit in flux as well, with a lot of guys moving around to play with each other.
The Oilers’ fourth line barely played in this game but, when they did, they saw an inordinate amount of the Canucks’ big line. Other than that, Vigneault seems pretty happy to let the Sedins play against the Horcoff line and the Kid Line against the Kesler line. The Oilers’ third line in that game basically spent the night playing against the Canucks’ third and fourth lines, something that Dennis refers to as the “Gentleman’s Agreement” – keep this in mind, I’m going to come back to it.
There doesn’t seem to have been much in who the Oilers’ defenders played against, although I probably should have highlighted who Peckham/Plante played against. I’d guess that Tom Renney was trying to hide them from the top two Canuck lines, possibly by tossing them out there whenever it was least likely that they’d face anyone good.
These two teams next met in Vancouver on January 24, 2012. The Oilers came in with a considerable different set of lines:
The Canucks went with:
Here’s what the usage looked like:
You’ll note that the line Renney would be looking to for scoring had changed, from the Kid Line to the 3H line. That line ran into the Kesler line disproportionately. I found it interesting that the Sedins played so much against the Eberle/Gagner/Hartikainen line; I doubt that they would have been taking a lot of defensive zone faceoffs and the Sedins generally get a lot of the offensive zone faceoffs. The Belanger/Smyth/Paajarvi line sort of played against everyone. I’d guess that Vigneault was seeking out the Gagner/Sedin line matchup. Again, there was a sort of gentleman’s agreement at the bottom of the lineup.
The Hamhuis/Bieksa pair went up against the Oilers main scoring threat for the second game in a row. As far as the Oilers’ D goes, there were three pretty clear matches – Petry/Smid against the Sedins, Peckham/Sutton against the Kesler line and Whitney/Potter against the Malhotra line. That last matchup was probably a faceoff related one for the Canucks, with Malhotra taking a lot of defensive zone draws, and a “Hide Whitney/Potter” one for the Oilers.
The last game between Vancouver and Edmonton was the final game of the year for each team. This is a little unfortunate because the Canucks barely played the Sedins. The lines:
There’s not as much here because Vancouver clearly wasn’t too worried about the result. Sedin barely played. Tough day for the Horcoff line, carrying the load against Kesler and the Sedins. The fourth line gentleman’s agreement was in place. Teubert/Sutton were safely tucked away against the Malhotra line. The Canucks’ defensive pairings were pretty clean, in terms of playing disproportionately against a certain line.
For tonight’s game, I think we can expect the following from Edmonton:
Horcoff/Smyth/Hartikainen (With Belanger possibly replacing Hartikainen for own zone draws)
The matchups are something that I suspect might benefit the Oilers this year. I’d guess that we’re going to see Smid/Petry take as many defensive zone faceoffs as humanly possible in Vancouver along with the Horcoff line. That should see them matching up against the Sedins and either Garrison/Edler or Ballard/Tanev all night long. Vigneault looks to have liked to have his top two pairs go against the top two offensive lines, so assuming that the Sedins get a lot of the offensive zone draws, I’d expect the Ballard/Tanev pairing to be out there with them.
One of the problems that the Canucks are going to have is who to go after with the Hamhuis/Bieksa pair – the Gagner line or the RNH line? I suspect it’ll be the RNH line which leaves the Gagner line with a weaker defensive pairing than they might otherwise attract, particularly if the Canucks are using the Garrison pair for offensive zone faceoffs.
The real problem, it seems to me, is that the Canucks don’t match up particularly well forward wise after the Sedins. The Lapierre line is a collection of legitimate NHLers but that Raymond/Ebbett/Kassian line…ouch. A rookie, a guy who’s familiar with the waiver wire and Mason Raymond. It’ll be interesting to see if Vigneault tries to get the Sedins away from the Horcoff line, both to play them against some guys who might not be as strong defensively and to try and limit the offensive chances that the Gagner and RNH lines get. Frankly, if I was Vigneault, I’d be kind of tempted to do that because it sort of kills two birds with one stone.
As far as the Oilers defence goes, I’d guess that it’s going to be pretty straightforward – Petry/Smid are going to be matched against the Sedins as much as humanly possible. Considering the potential defensive weakness of the Oilers’ other two pairings, it will probably be fun to watch the extent to which the Canucks try to get the Sedin line out against them.
Boy – it’s fun to have a team that can actually create some matchup issues again. It’s been a long six years, wondering what the other team would do to try and control Ryan Potulny.Email Tyler Dellow at firstname.lastname@example.org