Stanley Cup Final Preview: Part 2 - Line Matching (NJ Devils)
For our next two parts of our Stanley Cup Final Preview, we'll take a closer look at line matching.
First, we'll look at the line matching strategies the Devils have used throughout the playoffs. We'll do this by seeing how they've matched lines at home (where teams are more able to drive the match-ups they prefer).
This should be more insightful and accurate than looking at playoff Corsi Rel QoC because that number can become skewed in the playoffs due to a thinner player population (if you need a primer as to what Corsi means click here).
Here is the chart:
- Some of this info contradicts the CorsiRel QoC data (as we might expect) from the usage charts (although keep in mind that these are only Devils' home games). The biggest of which being that Andy Greene seems to get much harder minutes than the quality of competition numbers indicate. He along with Mark Fayne have unquestionably been Peter DeBoer's shutdown pairing. Greene has seen almost half of his even strength ice time at home against the oppositions top line in the playoffs. Players that have comprised those top lines have consistently been the likes of Claude Giroux, Brad Richards and Stephen Weiss .
- You can see that Travis Zajac's minutes are heavily weighted toward the opposition's top lines. The 4th line has played most of its minutes against the bottom 6, although they have seen a reasonable amount of time against the top 6 for a 4th line.
- The Devils used their 3rd line more often in a shutdown role rather than trying to get them easier matchups. They mostly use the Adam Henrique and Stephan Gionta lines against the bottom 6. Elias was a fixture of the 3rd line throughout the playoffs until midway through the Rangers series. DeBoer decided to bench Sykora in favor of Jacob Josefson to add a bit of a scoring threat as well as another natural center to the line-up. As a result, Elias was bumped up into the top 6 and Josefson has been slotted in as the regular center of the 3rd line. In that time, Josefson spent 38% of his ice time against Brad Richards, indicating that DeBoer is using that line in the same way in spite of Elias' absence.
- Based on the above data we can make some predictions about what we might see coming out of the gate on Wednesday.
- Based on Zajac's usage thus far in the playoffs, we can expect to see Zajac matched up against Kopitar a lot of the time, with significant time against the Richards line as well. His latest linemates were Zach Parise and Dainius Zubrus. DeBoer does shuffle lines quite a bit we'll see if he sticks with that (UPDATE: DeBoer has switched it up and Ponikarovsky is now skating on the 1st line).
- Adam Henrique will be tasked with pitching in against Kopitar but also be used to try to exploit a skill advantage against the Kings bottom 6 when possible. His line is rolled in the most balanced fashion out of all the Devil's lines. Henrique's latest linemates have been Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrick Elias. Their results against the Stoll and Fraser lines will be tied heavily to the Devil's fortunes. How do you see those matchups going if they in fact occur?
- The Josefson line could be tasked with a pretty tough job in trying to contain the Kings' top 6. The greater concern in this matchup would be the Brown-Kopitar-Williams line, as they have been an unstoppable force in the NHL for a few months now. The Richards line has struggled to stay above water in shot differentials, yet they have utilized a stellar backend and goaltending to be able to come out ahead in goal differentials. Will this continue against Josefson? Josefson's latest linemates were David Clarkson and old pal Alexei Ponikarovsky.
- DeBoer might switch back to a more rested and experienced Petr Sykora in trying to help out and contain the Kings' top line.
- I doubt Gionta sees any significant time against the Kopitar unit. Their minutes will be weighted heavily toward the bottom 6. The Kings can make inroads here with their 3rd line, which has been stellar when facing weaker competition.
- The latest news out of New Jersey is that veteran defenseman Henrik Tallinder has been cleared to play for the Final. He has been out for quite a while with a blood clot in his leg. When in the line-up, he was amongst the Devil's leaders in ice time and used in a shutdown role. This could be a huge addition for the Devils if he is in fact ready to play. Will he be ready to go, and if so, what kind of minutes will he see?
- Adam Larsson was the Devils' leader in even strength ice time through 65 games this season, yet he has only seen 5 games in the playoffs in lieu of Peter Harrold. His possession numbers look decent both in the regular season (in fact he led all Devil's defenders in Corsi On). Also he has had a positive Corsi effect on the likes of defenders Bryce Salvador (48% with, 47% without), and Anton Volchenkov (57% w/, 50% w/o) when he has been paired with them. If Tallinder isn't quite ready, or struggles if he does play, will we see the seemingly more capable Larsson in the line-up over Peter Harrold?
Previous entries in the series: Part 1.
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