Looking at the Lines
Through December the Carolina Hurricanes started to score, and then they started to string some wins together, and no, the world didn’t end in a fiery apocalypse of wrongness. The Canes went into Pittsburgh and won, they went into Chicago and beat the defending champions, and then, on New Year’s Eve, they beat the best team in the league (at that time): Washington. Fans started to see that oft spoke of bright future up close, and had nice warm feels about their team that they might not have had in a while. Hell, even Eric looked like he was having fun and giving a damn.
It’s no coincidence that this past December of Canes hockey had this season’s longest period of stability among the forward lines. And if it weren’t for this weekend’s games against the lowly Blue Jackets, January looked like it was off to a typical Canes start with Phil Di Giuseppe‘s injury throwing a wrench into our newly found stability, and low scoring losses quickly followed. The speed of Di Giuseppe’s recovery could be oddly vital to Canes’ dreary playoff hopes, and if he can’t get back to games soon will Bill Peters continue to fill round holes with Chris Terry shaped plugs?
I thought that instead of grading the forwards individually for their midseason performances it would be more interesting to look at their performances together as lines. The stable, “Huh-the-Canes-might-actually-be-decent?” lines. The lines that were working, leading to wins, and that made Bill Peters’ Line-o-matic stop trying to saddle our actually talented playmakers with not-so-talented ones. The lines that made Cane-alytics not want to drown his sorrows with the hardest of hard liquors EVERY FREAKIN- well you get the point.
I’m also going to throw away the grading. In hindsight, it seems too arbitrary and I’d rather present facts, make comments, and let you decide for yourself on bullshit grades.
(Note about stats: all data are from war-on-ice.com and all statistics discussed are from 5-on-5 play only.)
League Average stats (among forwards with over 200 minutes played):
- Corsi For/60 (shot attempts for over 60 minutes): 53.2 – The higher the better.
- Corsi Against/60 (shot attempts against over 60 minutes): 53.4 – The lower the better.
The Top Line
This grouping has the 2nd most ice time of all Canes lines with 197 minutes spent on the ice together.
Our top line is a big contributor to why the Canes are at times an extremely dominant team in puck possession. Their CF/60 is a very strong 65.5, which is much higher than the league average, and when this line is on the ice 61.4% of all even strength scoring chances are in the Canes favor, which is the highest rate among lines the Canes have deployed this season. They’re no slouch at limiting the top talent of opponents either, with a CA/60 5.7 below NHL averages at 47.7. They also sport an overall possession rate of 59%, which is fantabulous.
These guys are a perfect representation of the Canes inability to turn their impressive possession statistics into consistent goal scoring. Following Saturday’s game this line has been on the ice for 8 goals for and 4 against. The goals for number is low with their scoring chance numbers and time on ice. Elias Lindholm is in the middle of a season he’d probably like to forget. Let’s hope that his two goals on Friday and new point streak can jump start his second half. Eric didn’t help much with a lengthy mental vacation throughout November that led to 1 goal in a span of 24 games. Hopefully Lindholm’s extreme talent will materialize into getting a little more puck luck with goals going his way.
Another variation of the top line includes Victor Rask in place of Versteeg. The trio of Lindholm/E.Staal/Rask has been on the ice for 153 minutes, which is the 3rd most used line combination. Simply put they are phenomenal at generating shots and chances. Their CF/60 is an insane 75.2, which is about 22 higher than league average. They have a ridiculous 61.9% CF, which keep in mind, is at 5-on-5. When this version of the top line is assembled 58.9% of the scoring chances go our way. So of course, they’ve been on the ice for 6 goals for and 7 against. Experience Canes Hockey.
The Fun Line
Jeff Skinner – Victor Rask – Phil Di Giuseppe
Let’s start with the numbers that count the most. In this line’s time together they’ve been on the ice for 10 goals for and 5 against. Their ice time together is right around 146 minutes, which is good for the 4th highest line combination, and that will hopefully increase as players get healthy.
Surprisingly, the rates at which they generate their own shots and limit opponent shots are substantially worse than league averages at 48.5 CF/60 and 57.9 CA/60. When they’re on the ice the Canes only get 45.6% of shot attempts and only 41.9% of scoring chances. I’d say those are pretty surprising numbers given their +5 goal differential, but it definitely fits the trend of Canes possession numbers not making much sense when it comes to actual scoring outputs.
What’s the reason disconnect between the two? It could be that when the incredibly streaky Jeff Skinner goes on a tear, which he did with this line, he definitely makes the 41.9% of scoring chances count. Maybe it’s that as Phil Di Guiseppe (44% individual CF%) adjusts to the NHL and Bill Peters’ system he’ll be more prone to mistakes (similarly to Brock McGinn) and that Victor Rask is probably the only truly reliable back checker on this line.
The numbers suggest that eventually the tide will turn and this line will give up more than it gets, but I sure hope not because it’s our most exciting line, Victor Rask is super cool, and there’s none-a-that stinkin’ Terry slotted with Skinner.
The Checking Line
Ooh boy, this line makes me happy. It’s just a good old fashioned checking line and it gives us depth for match-ups like we haven’t had in a while. This line has the most forward ice time together at 233 minutes.
Their shot generation is a smidgen higher than league averages at 56.4 CF/60, but where they really shine, and come together as a checking line, is with their ability to suppress the other team’s shot attempts. Their CA/60 is 44, which is INCREDIBLE and makes me want to dance around my house with defensive appreciation. Their defensive play really epitomizes Peters’ system of suppressing the opponent and is an unheralded factor to why our young kids on defense often look so composed.
On the flip side this line is challenged offensively. I’d like to see them take advantage of their 56% possession rate and fire more accurately on net. Nestrasil (64 SOG) and Nordstrom (28!) both need to get more shots on goal. Btw, Nesty had 6 SOG on Saturday so he must have known I was writing this.
Following Saturday’s game they’ve been on for 6 goals for and 8 goals against, which isn’t necessarily uncommon for a checking line, but I have high hopes for Nestrasil and Saturday’s power play time might be key in getting his offensive game in gear. It should also be said that Jordan Staal is currently playing his best hockey as a Hurricane. His defensive role often goes unheralded in spite of his lack of scoring. When both sides of his game are clicking it’s pretty incredible what his influence on games can be.
The 4th Line
Now there are many, many variations on what our 4th line could be on any given night based on who the healthy scratch is, who might be injured, and if Chris Terry is still a professional hockey player at game time. This particular iteration was the most frequently occurring with 87 minutes of ice time spent together.
Would it surprise you to know that this line generates shot attempts more frequently than Rask/Skinner/Di Guiseppe? It’s true, but only by a slight margin and is still well below league averages at 48.9 CF/60. However, they do a solid job of shot suppression at 46.8 CA/60, which is once again better than league averages, but not as strong as E.Staal & J.Staal’s lines.
This 4th line also gives up more scoring chances than it creates with a Scoring Chance For % of 48.2%.
Many of this year’s 4th liners probably don’t have a place with this team in its future, but I will say that we could do much worse than Jay McClement, who often logs more minutes than his line mates for defensive draws and penalty killing. In the future I wouldn’t mind seeing Riley Nash slot appropriately (for once) as the 4th line center, but I do believe the 4th line could do well from a talent upgrades and, as the Canes get deeper, players like Nestrasil and Nordstrom might be more at home on this line.
If you’re wondering why the goals for/against numbers for the lines seem low keep in mind that it’s only even strength and there’s numerous other line combinations not included here because Bill Peters. There’s the Versteeg/Nash/Skinner line that had the 5th most ice time at 126 minutes, but only scored 3 goals. There’s also the myriad numbers of lines where Terry and Nash got overslotted, and I didn’t even mention the injured Nathan Gerbe once!
I will continue to keep an eye on the combined numbers of the Canes lines and pairings, and you can as well here. Maybe during the postseason I will follow-up on this article to see where things went. Til my next article you can find me @Cane_alytics where I’ll be staring directly into the bright future of the Carolina Hurricanes.