When is Your Checking Line Not Your Checking Line?
I just noticed something fascinating in the Kings exotic stats numbers from the first four games. Actually, I noticed it after game three, but put off mentioning it because I thought maybe it was statistical white noise. I still think it might be. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me back up.
We all know which Kings line is the number one line. And we all know which line is the checking line. There has been much gnashing of teeth at the gall of Terry Murray to put our leading goal scorer on the third line, the checking line. (What, is he is insane? Etc.) I spent most of last year defending Frolov's supposed defensive weaknesses by citing QUALCOMP stats which showed he drew the toughest defensive assignments of any Kings forward. And clearly when Murray reunited the Frolov/Handzus/Simmonds line for this season, we all knew it was more of the same.
Except it's not. At least not so far.
I looked at the QUALCOMP numbers after the third game, and much to my surprise, who did I find at the top of the list, playing against the opponents' highest rated forwards? Stoll/Brown/Purcell, that's who.
And who was at the bottom of the list, getting the easiest opponents? Frolov/Handzus/Simmonds.
Could it be that Terry Murray has quietly switched his line-matching strategy, treating his publicly-labeled "checking line" like the number two offensive unit and his declared "#2" line as the real checking line? The idea made me giggle at its shifty brilliance. But it also occurred to me that the numbers could be messed up in the following way: with such a small sample size, wasn't it possible that the reason Purcell/Stoll/Brown were getting high QUALCOMP numbers was because they themselves (Pucell/Stoll/Brown) were underperforming, thus CAUSING their opponents to have higher ratings and artificially juicing their own QUALCOMP numbers due to their own suckiness? I decided to give it at least another game.
Looking at the numbers after last night's game, Purcell/Stoll/Brown were still at the top of the forwards, with Frolov/Handzus/Simmonds creeping toward the middle of the pack and the Kopitar line edging toward the easiest opponents. This would of course corroborate the theory that the Stoll line has quietly become the checking line, while the other two lines are getting matched against the weaker opponents.
We'll see how these numbers look when get farther along. It may still be statistical white noise. Meanwhile, I can enjoy the thought that this is really what Murray is doing; since, after all, I've always maintained that Brown is the ideal third-line winger despite the fact that we can never call him that; and we all know that Stoll is not really a top-six forward, while Frolov obviously is one, and Simmonds is playing more like one every day.
[POST GAME 5 UPDATE: Handzus and Frolov are still getting the weakest opponents, with Simmonds creeping up and the Brown line creeping down. The big change with game 5 is that the Kopitar line now has the highest QUALCOMP numbers, which makes sense to me since they are playing so well they're drawing the best the other team has to offer. Although the numbers after five games are not as persuasive as the numbers after three or four games, it's still remarkable that the Stoll line is drawing tougher assignments than the Handzus line. The comparison between Frolov of last year and Frolov of this year is especially striking, since he was the highest rated forward and now he's the lowest rated one -- in terms of the quality of opponent Murray is putting Fro out against. But like I said above, this is still very much "to be continued". The first five games could be an abberation and everything could soon level out.]