For our series preview of each round of the playoffs, we have taken an in depth look at puck possession and what strategies coaches have been using in managing their lines. We'll continue that tradition into the Stanley Cup Final.
First, if you're new to this stuff, read this primer by Niesy on why puck possession matters.
To start, we'll look at the broad overview of how players have been used in the playoffs and what the results have been. We'll do that using player usage charts. We can see at a glance which players have been sent out for a high ratio of defensive zone faceoffs, and also the competition they've faced compared to their teammates. (Usage charts are the brainchild of Rob Vollman. You can download the full NHL regular season spreadsheet here.)
The big red dots mean a player is doing great at possession (+Corsi relative to his teammates). The big white dots means he is doing not so great (-Corsi relative to teammates). The more they're on the left, the more they've been put in defensive situations and on the right, offensive situations. The further north, the harder the competition they've faced, and softer competition to the South. There is also a more in depth explanation about the charts in the spreadsheet itself under the "About" tab.
- The Devils top pair is Salvador-Zidlicky. During the Regular season Salvador saw difficult minutes and that trend has continued in the playoffs. Zidlicky was given softer minutes in the regular season given his role with the Wild (he was a deadline acquisition for the Devils). In the playoffs, Zidlicky has seen tougher minutes in terms of competition while also continuing to be given a boost in terms of OZone starts. You can expect them to see a lot of time versus the Kopitar line while occasionally swapping out Zidlicky for a more defensive defenseman (Volchenkov?) when the Kings have an offensive zone start.
- Andy Greene and Mark Fayne make up the Devil's second pairing. They have had an impressive post-season campaign in terms of Corsi numbers. Their quality of competition numbers appear softer but it's probably more of a result of post-season numbers being skewed by a thinner population than the Devils actively attempting to shelter them. They are a good puck moving second pairing who might be able to make some inroads against the Richards line (which has struggled in that department in spite of their point production).
- Our old pal Peter Harrold and Anton Volchenkov are the Devils current 3rd pair. Harrold gets an extraordinary amount of offensive zone starts, as DeBoer seems wary of his D-Zone coverage. He has excelled in the role in terms of Corsi numbers. He's basically become the Devils' version of Alec Martinez. His quality of competition has been inordinately high in the post-season. I don't think this is intentional on the Devils' part, as he had different regular season matchups. It's probably resulted from a mix of facing some effective depth lines, along with coaches trying to exploit him by getting their best players out against him when possible.
The Devils do quite a bit of line shuffling, so we'll just pick some key forwards out and make some observations.
- Top center Travis Zajac is given more of an offensive role as compared to 2nd line center Adam Henrique. In spite of his more defensive, shutdown role Henrique has only been on the ice for one even strength goal against for the entire playoffs.
- Ilya Kovalchuk has seen his role drastically change in the playoffs. His zone starts have dropped dramatically as it seems the Devils are more willing to give him more defensive zone starts. Parise on the other hand has seen the opposite effect, more OZone starts plus a much lower Quality of Competition number than in the regular season.
- Peter Sykora has been benched of late in spite of his impressive possession numbers in the playoffs. Those possession numbers though have not translated into goals and as a result Jacob Joseffson has been inserted in the line-up in his stead.
- Dainus Zubrus has been a huge force for the Devils. He has faced the 2nd most difficult competition among Devils forwards and still leads the team in possession numbers. Will DeBoer use him in a shutdown role against Anze Kopitar?
The Kings' playoff usage chart is a sight to behold. You can easily recognize the simplicity and effectiveness of their playoff strategy. They give their top players the most difficult minutes and their depth players the easiest, with no middle ground.
- Drew Doughty has been given an extremely tough job. He starts the majority of his shifts in his own zone, typically against the toughest competition the opposition has to offer. In spite of this, he still has a plus Corsi rating, and the highest Points/60 among any defenseman that made it past the 1st round.
- Slava Voynov has been trusted with more difficult minutes in the playoffs. His numbers have fallen off a bit as a result, it'll be interesting to track how he fares in the Final.
- Martinez/Greene have been given incredibly soft minutes. Martinez has been used in that role all season (although it's been taken to extreme in the playoffs), and continues run through his opponents like a hot knife through butter. [Ed. note: My favorite nickname for him is "Chainsaw through butter."]
- The Kings' 4th line eats up soft minutes as well. The Devils give their 4th line more challenging minutes. It'll be interesting to see which matchup the Fraser line draws, and how they will fare.
- Penner-Richards-Carter are used primarily in a shutdown role. They have been losing the possession battle as a result, but have scored more goals than they've given up. Even though they have been backed by Jonathan Quick and a solid back end, they can't continue to give up shots at the rate that they have and expect to come out ahead in goal differential.
- The Kopitar line has been an unstoppable force. Given the competition they've already faced in the playoffs, there is little reason to think this won't continue. They can't rely solely on the Kopitar line for offense though. The Richards line and the Stoll line have benefited from stellar goaltending, defense and a bit of luck on their way to positive goal differential. They can't rely on that forever and will need to make some inroads against a superb puck possession opponent. All forwards on the Devils (outside of their 4th line) have a plus Corsi rating, the same can't be said of LA. The play of the Richards and Stoll lines will be the key to the series for the Kings.