Quality of competition
Evaluating where the minutes go
Jeff J. at Sisu Hockey had a good look at the Canadiens' quality of competition numbers for these playoffs, pointing out that the small sample size the postseason offers skews those figures so much as to make them useless.
But what is of use at Behind The Net is the TOICOMP figure, which measures the mean time on ice (5-on-5) for a player's opponents during games. If a skater squared off against Nick Lidstrom every game, for instance, that would bump up the number, as the Red Wings captain plays big-time minutes.
Using these figures for Detroit and Pittsburgh, here are the rankings for TOICOMP, highlighting the players who are shutting things down or being kept away from quality competition:
Detroit's big five, unsurprisingly, show up at the top, with the supposed "shutdown" group led by Kris Draper not, in fact, playing those shutdown minutes.
The Red Wings' players that have been burned the most at even-strength in these playoffs are Hudler, Draper, Chelios (who may not play in the series), McCarty, Samuelsson and Lebda.
On the flip side, Zetterberg and Datsyuk have played nearly 240 5-on-5 minutes and had only four goals scored against. Life will be very difficult for whoever they match up against.
Orpik might surprise those who haven't had a chance to watch Pittsburgh regularly, but since mid-February, he's slid in alongside Gonchar in a shutdown role and performed admirably. What makes him so effective is what led to him being a first-rounder in 2000 (18th): He hits hard and skates incredibly well for a 220-pounder.
He's a huge key for Pittsburgh.
I do think he has the potential to be a liability in this series against Detroit's best, and that could force Gonchar to take on a new partner in the finals in some situations. (Regardless, Orpik's going to command big money as an unrestricted free agent given his turn in these playoffs. He's been impressive.)
The Penguins have juggled things a bit more than Detroit in these playoffs, which makes it more difficult to spot trends, but the perceived liabilities are at the bottom there. Hall, Laraque, Malone and Whitney have had difficulty keeping the puck out of their net.
Hossa, meanwhile, gets big minutes up front but could be a liability against top offensive players. Many of Pittsburgh's big-minute players are high-risk, high-reward; Detroit relies on skaters that are essentially low-risk, high-reward.
Unlike the Red Wings, the Penguins' most dependable defensive players have been their checkers: Kennedy, Dupuis, Talbot, Ruutu, Gill and Scuderi have rarely been scored against at even strength in these playoffs.
Coach Michel Therrien isn't big on matching forward lines, but I imagine Crosby lines up against the big five more often than not. Putting Staal out there against Zetterberg is also a possibility, but his line doesn't generate nearly as much offence and could be completely inept against the top checkers in the league.
It should be interesting.