• Edmonton @ Calgary: 2011-12 Line Matching

by Tyler Dellow • January 26, 2013 • Uncategorized • 2 Comments

At least until we get a hang of how Ralph Krueger handles his bench, I’m going to try and run posts before the Oilers play each team home and away, to get a sense of how the lines were matched last year and to provide a sense of how the roles are changing under Krueger. The tables below illustrate how the Oilers most common lines and defence pairings matched up to the most common lines and defence pairings of the opposition in their home or road games last year, whichever is applicable.

The data is presented as a percentage of expected ice time, assuming that each player is expected to play face opposing players in the same proportion as their proportion of the ES ice time. If, for example, Shawn Horcoff played 10 minutes at ES against an opposition that played L1 for 15 minutes, L2 for 10 minutes, L3 for 10 minutes and L4 for 5 minutes, in the absence of line matching, we would expect him to play 37.5% of his time against L1, 25% against L2, 25% against L3 and 12.5% against L4. I would then divide Horcoff’s actual percentage of time against those lines to generate the tables. So, for example, if Horcoff actually played 50% of his time against L1, I would divide 50%/37.5%, which produces 133%. The further that number is from 100%, the more extreme the line matching has been.

This might be less helpful than usual, given that both teams have changed coaches since the 2011-12 season. I’m going to format this a bit differently this time and put the charts down below, with some comments up above.

*I’d love to hear some smart coach interviewed some time about what goes into decisions about to match lines. It strikes me that it’s a decision that’s kind of intertwined with decisions about how you’re going to play the game. The first thing that jumped out at me as I went through these charts was how little 2013-14 Oiler Jarome Iginla played against whoever happened to be the Oilers’ best line on a given night. The first game, he was matched against Belanger/Petrell/Pajaarvi a lot. The second game, he was matched up with Jokinen and Glencross against Eberle/Gagner/RNH (I’d prefer the Horcoff-Hemsky-Smyth line at that point; your mileage may vary). The third game, he primarily went up against Eberle/Gagner/Smyth; the Hall/Horcoff/Hemsky line strikes me as being the Oilers’ best line that night.

This was, I assume, intentional. It’d be cool to know the process that Brent Sutter went through to conclude that that was the best way to deploy Iginla for his team. On the surface, the Flames had a pretty deep crew of forwards last year; maybe Sutter figured that he was happy to bet that his depth would suffer less from Edmonton’s best offensive players than vice versa?

My thinking here is influenced by the fact that the only game in which Sutter went after the Oilers’ third line was on October 18, 2011. Calgary had a pretty solid three lines that night, filled to the brim with NHLers: Iginla/Moss/Tanguay, Morrison/Hagman/Bourque (OK, so that’s not great but bear with me) and Jokinen/GlenX/Stempniak. That’s reasonable depth in the NHL these days, even if it’s a bit long in the tooth. The Flames looked thinner up front in the second game and, by the time Edmonton beat Calgary 6-1 on February 21, with a third line of Belanger/Eager/Pajaarvi, the Flames were running Iginla/Jokinen/Tanguay, Comeau/Kostopoulos/Cammalleri and Jackman/Stajan/Bouma.

Matt Stajan’s been a frequent scratch in Calgary. Lance Bouma scored 6 points in 31 games in Abbotsford last year. Jackman has averaged 0.06 points/game more than JF Jacques during his 358 NHL games. Tom Kostopoulos hasn’t got a deal this year. Blake Comeau was obtained on waivers…from the Islanders. The depth that seemed to exist earlier the year was there no longer. And so Iginla’s line took on some heavier sledding, perhaps because it no longer seemed a good idea to let one of the Oilers’ top two lines have a run at Calgary’s third line.

*The Gentleman’s Agreement was in full effect with fourth lines.

*Kind of excited to see Roman Cervenka play his first games for the Flames. Age 27+ first year players have not enjoyed a lot of success in the last twenty years, after the fall of the Iron Curtain in Europe and the Lazy/Dumb Curtain in NHL front offices. Jiri Dopita is a punch line in North America; he’s also the owner of the seventh best points/game by an age 27+ rookie in the last twenty years. That’s some difficult history to overcome.

I have to admit, I’m kind of rooting for him, in part because it will make the Oilers front office look bad: Ales Hemsky was apparently pushing the Oilers to sign him after the Olympics in 2010.

*We maybe should have suspected that the Oilers were toying with thoughts about life without Tom Gilbert after the February 21 game in Calgary. Gilbert played the softs that night, which is unusual – contrast it with his other two games against Calgary. He hardly played against Jagr/Briere or Giroux/Hartnell in Edmonton the next game. This is also true of the Whitney and Doan lines in the game after that, his last game before being traded. That was an odd little three game run for him – in the game preceding that, he’d played his usual matchup, spending more than 2/3 of his time against the Sedin and Kesler lines. Ryan Whitney and Ladislav Smid, who I’m using as proxies for the two non-Gilbert defensive pairs in those games, kept their heads above water and Tom Gilbert left town.

*Likely lines:

RNH-Hall-Eberle
Gagner-Hemsky-Yakupov
Horcoff-Smyth-Pajaarvi
Belanger-Hartikainen-Petrell

Smid-Petry
Schultz-Schultz
Whitney-Fistric

Calgary’s a bit more flux-y, as they have Cervenka and Jiri Hudler to work into the lineup. It sounds like Sven Baertschi will be out of the lineup, much to the disappointment of a chunk of the Calgary media, who wanted to see how he matched up against the various young Oilers.

Backlund-Iginla-Cammalleri
Tanguay-Glencross-Stempniak
Stajan-Comeau-Baertschi
Jackman-Jones-Begin

Bouwmeester-Giordano
Brodie-Wideman
Sarich-Smith

I list pairings for the Flames’ D but they basically ran a three man rotation of guys who played 23+ minutes against Vancouver in Bouwmeester, Giordano and Wideman, with the other three guys picking up the rest of the time. Chris Butler, who was getting ice time that looked like that of a fourth defenceman, was a healthy scratch for some reason. Giordano and Bouwmeester hardly played together last year (less than 60 minutes at ES), so it’s interesting that Calgary’s played them together against Vancouver. It’ll be interesting to see if they split them up at ES or if one of the Oilers’ offensively gifted lines gets a run at a Dennis Wideman/TJ Brodie pairing.

Calgary’s roster actually looks potentially passable to me, although it’s amazing how thin they look defensively and, again, up front. North or south, all of Alberta’s got hopes pinned to a rookie who spent time in the K this year, I guess.

October 18, 2011 – Calgary 2 Edmonton 1

(Right click and “View Image” to enlarge)

December 10, 2011 – Calgary 3 Edmonton 0

February 21, 2012 – Edmonton 6 Calgary 1

Email Tyler Dellow at mc79hockey@gmail.com

2 Responses to Edmonton @ Calgary: 2011-12 Line Matching

1. David Staples
January 26, 2013 at

There’s a book called Simply the Best by Mike Johnston and Ryan Walters, where they conduct lengthy interviews on game’s best coaches (Bowman, Keenan, Clare Drake) and talk about such things as line matching. My recollection is that Roger Neilson talked at length on this subject, and if I recall correctly, talked about how his focus was to get one solid line match-up favourable to his team. He would not try to do more than that, as he didn’t want to upset his player rotation too much.

If I find the book, and passage, I’ll post it.

Excellent series here. Much appreciated.

• Tyler Dellow
January 27, 2013 at

Thanks for the tip on that book David. I’ll have a look for it – sounds like exactly what I’m interested in.