Penguins/Ducks Post-Mortem: Evaluating the Lines on Opening Night by @DXTraeger - PensInitiative | Pittsburgh Penguins Blog | Rumors | News

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Penguins/Ducks Post-Mortem: Evaluating the Lines on Opening Night by @DXTraeger

Head Coach Mike Johnston Hopes to Piece the Penguins' Lines Together

The Pittsburgh Penguins opened their regular season campaign with more roster questions than usual, but quickly provided a number of answers en route to a convincing 6-4 victory over the visiting Anaheim Ducks.

The final outcome wasn't quite as close as the two goal margin indicates, as the Ducks did almost all of their damage via the power-play, finishing 3-for-6 on the night.  The Penguins otherwise held their own at even-strength play, as the puck-possession system of new head coach Mike Johnston paid immediate dividends.

To assess the play of the Penguins' new line combinations, I am working on developing a modified "plus/minus" statistic that focuses on whether or not players and their respective line combinations accomplish identifiable tasks while on the ice.

Like all hockey metrics, there is an element of subjectivity and luck (both good and bad) that comes into play, and my own notation and accuracy is unquestionably a work in progress, but most importantly, the final values of my system seem to accurately reflect the actual game, which is the Holy Grail of any statistic.

Here's how my metric works (and I will be tweaking it as my understanding of the nuances of Johnston's new system become more apparent): I track the offensive players out on the ice, and based on their play, I award a flat value plus or minus based on the qualitatively "good" or "bad" things that result.

Here are the type of plays that a player (and his line) earned a plus for:

-successful dump & chase
-successful zone entry with some sustained pressure and/or shot attempt (note: this only applies to entering the zone as a group)
-sustained offensive zone time and/or successful forechecking pressure (shot not necessary)
-winning an offensive zone faceoff with sustained pressure (shot not necessary)
-winning a defensive zone faceoff and a successful defensive zone exit
-executing a successful defensive zone clear with a successful neutral zone transition (for instance, clearing your own zone and dumping the puck for a line change is a positive play)
-executing a set play off of a faceoff win
-scoring a goal or generating a quality scoring chance (plus only goes to players participating in the goal;  for instance, shooting, passing and screening the goalie warrants a plus, simply standing on the near boards does not)
-drawing a penalty

Here are the types of plays that a player (and his line) earned a minus for:

-failed defensive zone breakout (turnover by an Penguins forward in his own end)
-allowing the opposing team to maintain sustained pressure
-failed clearing attempts (again, limited to Penguins forwards)
-offensive players taking an unnecessary penalty (denying a quality scoring chance is sometimes a great play)
-failed dump & chase
-failed zone entry (note: this only applies to entering the zone as a group, and includes offsides calls)
-unnecessary/detrimental icing of the puck
-bad turnover (unnecessary move and/or high risk/low reward passes, subjectively assessed)
-allowing a goal or high quality scoring attempt because an offensive player failed to honor his defensive assignment
-losing a defensive zone faceoff with subsequent opponent offensive zone time/pressure

(please feel free to provide suggestions and criticism in the comments section below regarding the above criteria.  I freely recognize that subjectivity is the biggest potential flaw in grading players, but I will make every attempt to avoid that pratfall)

There are lots of plays throughout the course of a game that are neither inherently good nor bad, and as such, I assigned no plus/minus value for events such as choppy play in the neutral zone, or a player entering the offensive zone by himself and wristing a softball into the goalie's crest.

Here are how the line pairings averaged out during even-strength for last night's game:

Kunitz, Crosby Hornquist:  +28, -18, +10 overall
Dupuis, Sutter, Malkin:  +11, -16, -5 overall
Downie, Goc, Comeau:  +11, -12, -1 overall
Spaling, Adams, Sill:  +7, -6, +1 overall

There are individual gems hidden here: when Pascal Dupuis was absolutely FLYING in the second period, he graded out as +8, -1, +7.  Meanwhile, Malkin was clearly struggling from both a lack of playing time and conditioning, and despite enjoying an excellent period alongside Dupuis and Sutter, finished at just +5, -1 for those same 20 minutes.

Perhaps most importantly, the metric reflects the reality that Kunitz, Crosby and Hornqvist were the best line the Penguins had last night, and were the best trio by a significant amount.

Johnston's use of the fourth line was interesting.  With the Penguins up just 1-0 in the first period and immediately following a lengthy TV timeout, Johnston (who had the last change) opted to put Spaling, Adams and Sill on the ice for an offensive zone faceoff, thus denying both Crosby and Malkin's lines the opportunity to score off of a draw...something Crosby and Hornqvist had already done in that period.  Johnston would go on to use the fourth line for offensive zone faceoffs twice more in the game.

Some other player stats of note: perennial fan whipping boy Craig Adams graded out as a +7, -6, +1 during his even-strength ice time, and the lowest graded player was Evgeni Malkin, who finished with a line of +12, -18, -6.  Marcel Goc struggled in the second period, finishing at +2, -6, -4.  Steve Downie's Penguins debut ended with Downie charting even with his linemates at +11, -12, -1.

Here's the full chart:

Pittsburgh's top three lines should remain intact for the Penguins' game against the Maple Leafs, and Malkin's play should only improve as he both learns his RW assignments and plays himself back into game shape.

Full game charts (with +/- explanation) and an easily digestible spreadsheet of player performance will hopefully come with future Penguin post-mortems.

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