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.
The first game that the Oilers play against a team they’ve already played at home provides the first chance to look at how the line matching changed on the road versus at home last year. Both games in San Jose last year were competitive games, with the result in the balance the whole way through.
December 17, 2011 – San Jose 3 Edmonton 2
March 6, 2012 – Edmonton 3 San Jose 2 (SO)
The Oilers ran the same set of top wingers in each game (Hall/Eberle and Hemsky/Smyth), with the RNH and Sam Gagner spending a game with each. The Boyle/Vlasic pairing was matched pretty aggressively against Hall/Eberle in each game; that seems like San Jose’s best skating pairing to me, so that makes a lot of sense. They got a consistent matchup with them in Edmonton too, so I’d guess this is a matchup that San Jose prefers as far as defencemen go.
The forward matchups in the March 6 game are interesting to me. The Sharks like to use Thornton’s line against the opposition’s better lines, I think. In both games, Thornton’s line was matched with the Hemsky/Smyth pairing. The weird thing is that in the March game, San Jose matched Torrey Mitchell, Dominic Moore and Tommy Wingels against the Kid Line rather than running Clowe and Couture out there against them, which they did in the first game. Hemsky/Smyth were a combined 6/15 in chances in the two games, so I’d say Thornton’s line killed them. The Oilers did a lot better in the second game as far as chances than they did in the first though. It’s harder to match defensive pairings on the road Smid/Petry got a ton of the Thornton line. Once you figure out the forward matchup the Sharks want, it’s probably easier to match defencemen.
I would guess that the Kid Line is going to find things more difficult tonight than last year, in that they’re likely going to get the Thornton matchup from San Jose now that they’re sort of Edmonton’s clear first ES line. I’d guess the Gagner line is the line that will find life much harder on the road than at home. I pointed out after the Kings game how Krueger was able to shelter them from the Kopitar and Richards lines at home. He’s not going to be able to do that in San Jose with the Thornton and Couture lines.
In fairness to Krueger, he didn’t really seem to be trying to shelter the Gagner line too much last night in Phoenix. All four centres were north of 60% on their ES TOI in regulation against one of Doan or Vrbata (who I’m using as proxies for Phoenix’s top two lines). From 17:06 of the first until 14:46 of the third, during which there were no penalties called, Krueger went as follows: 20 (end of Oiler PP)-93-10-89 (end of first)-93-10-89-20-93-10-89-20-93-10-89-20-93-10-89-20-93-10-89-10. Krueger was skipping a shift for Belanger’s line at 16:29 of the third and had Horcoff take a defensive zone faceoff with RNH’s wingers. Horcoff came back to the bench and RNH replaced him. Krueger got one more complete spin of the lines in from that point and finished with Belanger/Horcoff on the ice to take a defensive zone draw.
Things didn’t change much in the third up to the point of the PHX penalty at 14:46. 93-10-89-20-93-10-89-93-20-10-89-93-10/20 (defensive zone faceoff)-20-89-93-10-20/89. I wonder if Krueger was trying to get the RNH line a shot against the Coyotes’ depth with the eighth shift of the period, when he decided to hold the Belanger line – the Vrbata/Doan lines had both been out in the preceding 56 seconds. He got them two shifts in a row against Coyote depth – as Michael Parkatti pointed out, the RNH was having a tough time of it last night. It looks like the fourth line wingers and Yakupov were going to be about done from the 12:30 mark forward, as Belanger shifted up to play a shift with Gagner that didn’t start with a faceoff after that point.
Krueger talked a lot about depth being important this year with the compressed schedule and he’s been doing it. The Oilers were protecting a lead all night against an opponent with a short bench that it made even shorter by basically going with ten forwards and six defencemen. The fourth line wingers played a pretty respectable amount of TOI last night, despite playing pretty limited amounts of special teams time. It probably bodes well for the season if Krueger has fourth liners that he deservedly trusts; that’s been a bit of a disaster for the Oilers for a while now.Email Tyler Dellow at email@example.com