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Friday, October 17, 2014

Pens/Leafs Port Mortem: Evaluating the Lines by @DXTraeger

(note: a Post-Mortem of the Penguins' 3-2 loss to the Dallas Stars will be posted later today)

A funny thing happened on the way to the forum (actually the Air Canada Centre) Saturday night: the Pittsburgh Penguins were so dominant during 5-on-5 hockey en route to their 5-2 victory that my new line tracking metric doesn't entirely do the players justice.

Toronto's lackluster effort (and the flux of positive Penguins assessments that came with it) suggests that in the future, I may need to expand this analysis to opponents as well to differentiate between a team playing well and a team benefitting from an unfit opponent.

For those unfamiliar with the system I'm using to evaluate the play of the Penguins' forwards, here is my initial breakdown of both the metric and the Penguins' 6-4 win over Anaheim.

From Game 1 to Game 2, I decided to employ greater individual discretion when possible to further isolate the questions of WHY a particular line was enjoying success or WHERE a player's decisions and actions were leading to breakdowns and opportunities for the other team.

Since I am basing the player scores entirely on performance and not on performance vs. expectations, tickle me surprised to see that Craig Adams played the Leafs at +7 (+6, +1, Even) for the night.  When coupled with Adams' opening night evaluation of (-2, +2, +1), venerable old #27 has played his even strength shifts at an even (no more mistakes than successes) or better clip.

Here are the individual player assessments for the game against the Maple Leafs:

As the bevy of positive numbers in the "Total" column indicates, with the exception of Evgeni Malkin, every single Penguins skater ended the night with either an equal number of positive/negative plays or more "good" plays than "bad" during 5-on-5 ice hockey.

Malkin has now graded out at -6 and -3 through the first two games of the season, and the explanation is fairly simple: Malkin has taken several unnecessary penalties, Malkin has made multiple bad (high risk/low reward) passes that resulted in turnovers, and he and his linemates have had difficulty breaking into the offensive zone as a unit.

The Penguins 4th line- viewed as a weakness before the season began- has performed extremely well at even strength through two games.  Unheralded and waived Zach Sill has posted values of +1 and +6, and Nick Spaling now sits as +2 for the year (after an initial -1 showing against the Ducks).

Bear in mind that positive values don't necessarily correlate to scoring goals: instead, players that are grading well are repeatedly doing the "little things" (such as winning a defensive zone faceoff and clearing the blue line) that add up to team win/loss success.

Speaking of which, Blake Comeau played a tremendous game at both ends of the ice against the Maple Leafs.  He finished with the team's highest personal grade of +9 (+3, +3, +3) and was both a cycling fiend and a backchecking demon.

Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Patrick Hornqvist continue to be the Penguins' best offensive line, and they did most of their collective scoring damage on the powerplay (which isn't statistically represented here).

Meanwhile, Dupuis, Malkin and Sutter have shown flashes of production but have been largely dragged back by Malkin adjusting to his new RW position (the play no longer filters through him, as had previously been the case) and by the normal growing pains any three players experience when sharing the ice for first few games together.

Overall, after two games and despite the inherent subjective nature of this metric, the yet-to-be-named line evaluation tool continues to pass the eye-ball test in identifying the best players on the ice for the black and gold.

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