Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Primary And Secondary Scoring

If you can remember all the way back to last season (seems like an eternity ago, doesn't it?), you'll recall that we frequently harped on the need for the Caps to find some more secondary scoring - the top line was locked and loaded and everyone else was more or less playing like they were just plain loaded.

But the Caps never quite did find a second line combination that clicked consistently clicked, and by the time the problem came to a head, the Caps were in a rather deep hole in their first round playoff series with Philly before Bruce Boudreau shook things up. Live by the big line, die by the big line, I suppose.

Today we're taking a look at some data culled from the fantastic (and new-to-me) FrozenPool.com (h/t Alanah) and having some fun with line combos and production (whee!) to hammer home a few points.

To begin with, I mentioned above that the Caps couldn't find a second line that was productive enough to stay together (or stay together long enough to be productive). What do I mean by that? Well, I think we can all agree that Alex Semin has the most offensive talent of any forward on the team who wasn't on Boudreau's top line (i.e. Alex Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-Viktor Kozlov). If you had to guess with which pair of forwards Semin was the most productive (point-wise, even-strength) last season, you'd probably have guessed Michael Nylander and Tomas Fleischmann. And you'd be right. But would you have guessed that he had only four even strength points skating with that duo? Or that he was equally productive skating with Flash and Boyd Gordon?

Here's Semin's even-strength point production, by line combination:
  • Fleischmann-Nylander-Semin (4 points)
  • Fleischmann-Gordon-Semin (4 points)
  • Fleischmann-Kozlov-Semin (3 points)
  • Pettinger-Kozlov-Semin (2 points)
  • Fleischmann-Steckel-Semin (2 points)
  • Ovechkin-Backstrom-Semin (2 points)
  • Ovechkin-Gordon-Semin (1 point)
  • Semin-Nylander-Clark (1 point)
  • Fleischmann-Backstrom-Semin (1 point)
  • Cooke-Fedorov-Semin (1 point)
  • Ovechkin-Fedorov-Semin (1 point)
Interestingly, the Caps' best post-season line - Semin-Backstrom-Laich, who tallied six points skating together, three of which were Semin's - didn't have a single point when combined during the regular season, despite skating 210 shifts together over the course of the campaign (and by "shifts" here and throughout, we mean "on-ice line occurrences"). Which brings us to our next point, and that's how many shifts Semin skated with different linemates (and if it's not clear why we're using Semin, it's because he's the most likely commonality among the most common second line combos).

The Ovechkin line skated 2,165 even-strength shifts together in 2007-08 (that's a big number, but for perspective, the Prospal-Lecavalier-Frodo line down in Tampa took to the ice 2,434 times and Zetterberg-Datsyuk-Holmstrom skated together 2,744 times five-on-five). Ovechkin's next most frequent linemates were Kozlov and Chris Clark, with whom he skated 414 shifts. Anyway, here's a look at Alex Semin's top ten most frequent line combos, with the frequency on the chart and the linemates (by jersey number) in the key:

As you can tell, I was going for "readable" over "beautiful" with that color combination. As you can also tell, the Caps' number two goal-scoring threat spent the season going through linemates like the Lightning go through netminders, which circles back to our main point on secondary scoring. The Ovechkin line combined for 79 even-strength points in 2007-08. Any guesses as to which trio was second on the team? [cue Jeopardy! theme] Give up? Quintin Laing, David Steckel, and Matt Bradley. With 16. Seriously. The rest of the top five are Fleischmann-Kozlov-Semin (10), Fleischmann-Laich-Fehr (10) and Fleischmann-Nylander-Semin(10).

Injuries happen and it's been said that a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, but there's also got to be something to be said for keeping lines together to establish a secondary scoring threat. Looking at Alex Semin, it's got to be difficult to establish much chemistry with such frequent turnover (and with such frequent Fleischmann). Without question Ovechkin and his linemates benefited from their ever-increasing familiarity with one another - one can assume that Semin suffered from the opposite (and if there's a case to be made for Sergei Fedorov being worth $4 million this year, perhaps this is the centerpiece of that argument).

Reasonable minds can disagree as to whether Fedorov or Nylander is the better pivot for Semin, and which winger should be on the opposite side, but what is likely not going to be hotly debated is the value of settling on a line combination (or perhaps just a winger/center pairing) and sticking with it for a while. Hopefully player health cooperates in that endeavor.


While putting together the info above, I pulled some League-wide data that I thought was interesting but didn't really have a chance to fully distill, so feel free to discuss it in the comments.

Here's a look at each team's top two most productive lines (where "second-most productive line" is defined as the most productive trio that doesn't include anyone from the top threesome), and the differences between the two:

Click on that to enlarge, and the top five in each category are highlighted in green

There are some fairly goofy results in there. For example, Sidney Crosby isn't on either of the Pens' "top two" lines, but that's because he's on each of Pitt's second-, third- and fourth-most productive lines, but so are Evgeni Malkin and/or Ryan Malone. And some teams' top scoring threats are either in the second column (e.g. Olli Jokinen) or not on either list (e.g. Daniel Briere), as they got bounced around from line to line. But the names and numbers provide some perspective.

Anything jump out at anyone?


tg said...

What jumps out at me is that as big a difference as there is for the Caps first and second lines, there's an even bigger one for Tampa Bay (expected) and Detroit(!). I guess one team lived by the big line and one died by it, right? Also I was surprised at the minimal difference for Philadelphia and New Jersey (although the Jersey's scoring troubles, maybe I shouldn't have been).

tg said...

Sorry, I guess I shouldn't have said a "bigger" one for Detroit but rather "almost as big".

Billy Boy said...

"the Prospal-Lecavalier-Frodo line"

Brilliant. I hate that little troll.

NS said...

great info in that last table. surprised by Edmonton's 2 line. that's not bad...

~Mark said...

The only thing I can see (not sure about jumping out) is that the top 5 teams for first line production, are also the top 5 in terms of difference between first and second line productivity, meaning (I suppose) that it's not uncommon to have an anemic second line when you have a loaded first line.
Did I win a prize, or is this not what you were looking for?

Anonymous said...

All due respect to the source but this doesn't seem like much of a revelation. If you played with the same guys all year you will be up there on the list.

What the hell were we doing for centers for most of the year after Nylander went down? Zoinks.

JP said...

I agree - not much of a revelation at all, and really a chicken-or-the-egg scenario (put up numbers and stick together or stick together and put up numbers?).

I still found the info fun to play around with, and I do think that Semin would benefit from playing with one center most of the time.

And yes, the 2nd line center spot during the Nylander/Fedorov gap was mortifying.

@ ~Mark: I'm not sure that the dropoff indicates an "anemic" second line insomuch as it highlights the difficulty of finding two line combos that stick. Finding one is hard enough for some teams, apparently, and finding that second one all the more difficult. I think it speaks to offensive depth and is probably encouraging for fans of teams like Buffalo and Edmonton to see their second trios up there in productivity.

B19 said...

So you're saying the lines should be

Laing Steckel-Bradley

Hooks Orpik said...

What I notice the most is how fluid performance and injuries make the line combinations. A lot of lines, particularly the second, aren't really staples of their team, but rather hodge-pieced units used temporarily (like the short lived Dupuis-Staal-Hossa line from the Pens).

Anonymous said...

I have been saying this for a long time, Semin is a head case no doubt. But when he is healthy and is comfortable with his linemates he can be scary as hell on the ice (I mean in a good way). If he is on a line that he doesn't trust the other players or doesn't feel comfortable he tries to do too much and then bad things happen. The other side is that when he is on a line of people he views equal to or that they are better than him he often over passes and doens't take chances that are good (i.e. when he plays with Ovie sometimes and when he first started playing with Fedorov) All in all I think if he has the opportunity to play healthy, and with the same linemates for good period of time it is going to be a killer year for the Caps. I think we are in for a real treat next season and I for one want it to be October yesterday!!! Excellent Analysis Japer's I agree it wasn't shocking but it's nice to know there are objective numbers to back up subjective observations.

JR said...

F the Penguins.

bigonetimer said...

I trade an otherwordly one line for three balanced scoring lines, thanks. Mind ya, I have nothing against OV-Backs-Koz, but if putting Semin with Backs (and Clark) brings out the beast in Sasha, you do it. OV is going to play well no matter who he's paired with at C; it's Kozlov who bothers me on the #1 line.

I know I've been down in the dumps with Clark's pending reconstructive groin surgery (wait, did I just...) but how about this:



BOT said...

sorry, changed my mind on Clark...

Scott said...

I noticed how bad the lightning suck - their 2nd most productive line was centered by a trade deadline acquisition. Halpern's line had more points in those few weeks than any line other than the top had all year...

Anonymous said...

JP do you know when the NHL schedule is coming out?

JP said...

@ Anon: My understanding is that the schedule comes out in full on Thursday, but that tomorrow they'll be releasing some highlights (guess they're trying to milk the release for all it's worth).

Brian said...

I am not sure why points is the mettric being used. Dies it matter if the other two forwards receive assists. Wouldn't goals produced be the emasure you would want to analyze.

The Peerless said...

I'm not sure what to make of this -- either an indicator of being able to make anyone better or being so good regardless of linemate -- but Alex Ovechkin had 75 even strength points with 34 different combinations. By way of comparision, the league's second leading scorer (and Hart Trophy co-finalist) Evgeni Malkin had 66 with only 21 combinations.