Saturday, May 19, 2007

Buffalo v. Ottawa
A look at line-matching

Vic Ferrari over at Irreverent Oiler Fans introduced a pretty unreal little tool last month that allows one to calculate the head-to-head ice time for any specific NHL game — something that provides so much information that at first glance it's a little overwhelming.

At first, I had only used the website to look up specific match-ups in individual games — say, how much Sammy Pahlsson played against Marian Gaborik in Game 3 of the Ducks-Wild series — but over the past couple of days, I've been compiling some of the data for how coaches have been deploying their defence pairings over the four games of the conference finals.

It's something that's been made easier due to the fact Ottawa and Buffalo have used relatively identical pairings all series long, with only the Sabres wavering in Game 4 and essentially nailing Dmitri Kalinin to the bench.

In essence, what we've seen for the majority of this series is six set defence pairings (three for each team) up against eight set forward lines at even strength, and using the head-to-head data it's fairly simple to determine the match-ups Lindy Ruff and Bryan Murray have been aiming for in this series.

Let's start with the two big guys for the Senators, Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov. The forward lines listed are designated according to the centre (Roy moved to Drury's line for Game 4, slightly complicating things — his totals are just for Games 1 to 3). And keep in mind these percentages are estimates:

Phillips/Volchenkov - ~75.8 mins
vs. Briere line: 36.6 (48.3%)
vs. Roy line: 16.7 (27.9%)
vs. Drury line: 13.1 (17.3%)
vs. Gaustad line: 12 (15.8%)

The interesting thing about how Murray has used Phillips-Volchenkov was really seen in Games 3 and 4, when the coach had last change. In Game 3, the pair saw roughly two thirds of their ice time against Hecht-Briere-Pominville, but with Ruff juggling his forward lines in Game 4, putting Roy-Drury-Connolly together for the first time, Phillips-Volchenkov suddenly faced the Sabres three lines almost equally.

Even the Vanek-Gaustad-Afinogenov trio in Game 4 saw the big guys about 30 per cent of the time.

Here's a quick look at what the breakdown looks like for the Senators' other pairings:

Meszaros/Redden - 58.9 mins
vs. Briere line: 15.3 (26%)
vs. Roy line: 11.7 (27.7%)
vs. Drury line: 19.5 (33.1%)
vs. Gaustad line: 10.6 (18%)

Preissing/Corvo - 44.7 mins
vs. Briere line: 8.4 (18.8%)
vs. Roy line: 10.4 (31.1%)
vs. Drury line: 12.8 (28.5%)
vs. Gaustad line: 14.3 (32%)

Minutes against the Briere line:
Phillips-Volchenkov: 60.7%
Meszaros-Redden: 25.4%
Preissing-Corvo: 13.9%

Things are even more interesting with the Sabres blueline, mostly because, unlike Buffalo, Ottawa has that one dominant line that any coach wants his top shutdown pairing to line-up against.

But that doesn't mean the Sabres' top minute defenceman is getting the Heatley-Spezza-Alfredsson assignment. Brian Campbell, rather, is kept away from the big line as much as possible (and with surprising success).

I'm going to have to break this down by individual defender given Ruff benched Kalinin and Spacek for huge stretches in Game 4 and mixed up his pairings.

Minutes against the HSA line:
Tallinder: 36.1%
Lydman: 27.0%
Numminen: 10.9%
Campbell: 6.6%
Kalinin: 5.5%
Spacek: 3.9%

The Tallinder-Lydman pairing is getting more than 60 per cent of their minutes against the big line and splitting the rest of the time against the other three lines relatively equally. Campbell-Spacek, meanwhile, played less than 10 per cent of their minutes against the big line, and split their remaining time against the others.

For the two games in Buffalo, the match-ups were even more pronounced, and Tallinder-Lydman faced Heatley-Spezza-Alfredsson 71 per cent of their minutes in Games 1 and 2. Campbell-Spacek, meanwhile, averaged just one even strength minute per game apiece against the line at home.

I've got a mountain of data on just these match-ups, not to mention those in the Red Wings-Ducks series, but that's probably enough for this post. I haven't seen a ton done with these head-to-head numbers so far these playoffs, but that may simply be ignorance on my part.

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At 8:55 a.m., May 19, 2007, Anonymous Tom L said...


That's a fantastic breakdown of the ice-times.... thanks.

The most interesting part was how the line-chili that Ruff engaged in for Game 4 produced less matching up of Phillips/Volchenkov against Briere.

But, with Roy/Drury/Connolly getting nigh-instant chemistry that really put a dent in the Sens game plan... It'll be interesting to see if that holds for Game 5.

Ruff has got to get Goose and Mair out against Phillips and Volchenkov and make them play more than 2 tough minutes a night. If anything that has really been the key to Ottawa's success... those two are playing big minutes well and not having to sweat to do it.



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