Diary of a Madman
These are 5-on-5 numbers from behindthenet.ca.
The columns are Games Played, Time on Ice per 60min (that's 5-on-5 time per 60 minutes), Quality of Competition (v. v. v. important), Goals For (by all players) while on the ice, Goals Against while on the ice, and the Corsi Index. The Corsi number is like a plus/minus for shots directed at the net by your team minus those from the opposition (shots for + missed shots for + opposition blocked shots - shots against - missed shots against - blocked shots). The number shown doesn't include the blocked shots, and it's a number per 60min.
If you want to get a handle on who the important players are and who is doing a good job given their role, these numbers are valuable. 5-on-5 hockey is at least two thirds of the game. In addition to the goals scored/allowed, events at 5-on-5 determine who gets the PPs and determines whether you make it to OT/SO. PP/PK performance is certainly valuable - probably moreso on a per-minute basis - but the bulk of the game is decided 5-on-5.
If you accept that, the next important piece is who the player in on the ice with/against. Most Habs fans are aware of the team's lines and defence pairings. Less well known is how those lines are used by Carbonneau and how they are addressed by opposing coaches. The most common misconception revolves around just who is on the checking line (hint: it's 'none of the above'). The second most common misconception is the even strength effectiveness of the Kovalev/Plekanec line. Sure, they score some at 5-on-5, just not as much as they surrender. And they do it against weaker opponents than the Koivu line. And their penalty differential is worse. Anywho, the QUAL COMP column is the important piece of the above table. If you Google 'Desjardins' and 'quality of competition,' you'll find lots of interesting discussion. It's not a perfect stat, to be sure. I find that when I compare QUALCOMP to the players each Hab regularly faces according to the shift charts and Hockeyanalysis stats, they mesh very well. YMMV. Now we have an idea of the difficulty of the players' icetime, and that provides context for the GF/GA.
Finally, the Corsi column. Obviously GF/GA are the currency of wins and losses. The problem with looking strictly at goals is sample size. A few extra saves in one end of the rink and not the other can make a good player look bad, or vice versa. Shots directed at the net are a good proxy for GF/GA, and they provide a much larger sample size. It tells you which end of the ice is seeing most of the action.
So.... what can we take from these numbers?
1. Markov and Komisarek are playing against the best players in the league. If you were to look at Hamrlik's +8, compare it to Markov's -9 and conclude "Hamrlik's been playing better defensively," you'd be wrong. It's easier to shut down Kyle Wellwood's line than it is Mats Sundin's line. There are some factors besides QUALCOMP that explain the huge +/- discrepancy between these two that I'll get to in another post.
2. Koivu, Higgins, and Ryder are (or were) also playing against the best players in the league. This is a major departure from last season, or any of the last 5+ seasons for that matter. Last year the Bonk/Johnson checking line faced the top opposition. Despite this shelter, the Higgins/Koivu/Ryder line were terrible at even strength. This season the trio has actually been in the black when playing together, and they've done it facing the top lines in the league way more often than last year. This has to be taken into consideration when looking critically at their performance.
3. Trevor Linden, Joe Juneau and Radek Bonk are all veteran players who were brought to Montreal to play a checking role. I assumed Bryan Smolinski would inherit that role this season, but it looks like Carbo was having a hard time trusting him. Judging by his +8/-16, it's understandable. Again, there are other factors at work that mitigate the +/- discrepancy. Smolinski's line has still been the usual 2nd option against tough opposition, after Koivu's. His loss due to injury is a big deal.
4. Dandenault has been awful. Just awful. It's shocking that he's been given so much responsibility, being a frequent winger for Smolinski (a big factor in Smolinski's +8/-16). Dandy's been shuffled from line to line and he's getting blown away everywhere.
5. Hamrlik and Brisebois have been the second pairing, and they've done well. Hamrlik is a vast upgrade over Souray, 5-on-5.
6. Kastsitsyn/Plekanec/Kovalev have performed no better than Koivu's line, 5-on-5. And they're facing mediocre opponents. There have been some recent games where the opposing coach focused on the Kovalev line rather than the Koivu line but that's only because of the bizarre decision to put guys like Streit or Kostopoulos or Dandenaullt on Koivu's wing. For the most part, the Kovy line has been getting plum icetime and not doing as much with it as we would hope. Same as last season.
7. Mark Streit looks bad in terms of GF/GA, especially considering his 3rd pairing status. However, his +8/-17 doesn't seem to jive with his Corsi number of -1.7. Shooting luck is a huge factor here (again, I'll discuss in a later post). He's been good.
8. Surprise, Chipchura is not this team's checking line centre.
9. Kostopoulos has been getting 4th line minutes and he's one of four regular forwards with Corsi numbers on the right side of zero. Maybe it's time to give him a little more responsibility.
10. Gorges has been getting a free ride from fans/media. He's been the worst defenseman while facing the softest opposition. With nine frigging defensemen on the roster, this guy should not be playing.
Conclusions and Contradictions.
With the hindsight of 29 games this season Brisebois has been OK, but the decision to bring him to town looks like a bad one.
Immediately after the offseason FA frenzy, The team had seven defensemen: Markov, Komi, Hamrlik, Streit, Dandenault, Bouillon and Gorges, plus the guys on the farm. Up front they had lost the entire checking line of Perezhogin/Bonk/Johnson, and replaced them with Smolinski and Kostopoulos. Now, Smolinski is a versatile player but had never in his lengthy career (to my knowledge) demonstrated that he could play a role like Bonk's. Kostopoulos was a 4th liner in LA. Even if you give Gainey the benefit of the doubt with Smolinski (maybe he saw something that indicated he could be a shutdown guy), it seems clear that there were holes in the bottom six forward spots.
As the summer wore on and Bonk and Johnson remained unsigned, Gainey picked up a retreaded Patrice Brisebois for $700k. So now we're up to eight defensemen and ten forwards. Interesting. That, in a nutshell, is why we are now seeing Streit and Dandenault playing on the wings.
I just don't get it. Why sign Brisebois when Dandenault is an adequate 3rd pairing RD, and then bump Dandenault up to the wing? Why not skip the middle man and just sign a competant RW?? I would have been happy to see Bonk back - he signed for a cap hit of $1.5MM over two years in Nashville. Gainey must not have wanted to commit to that 2nd year. Tangent time: Speaking of Bonk, it looks like he was the one in the driver's seat last season - not Johnson. Bonk's doing for the Preds what he did last year for the Habs. Johnson's in St. Louis and he's been used in a similar role too but with ugly results.
So. Here we are with the top two lines playing tougher roles but coping pretty well, and a weak bottom six. They were keeping things close to even at even strength, and doing great on the PP. So what does Carbo do? He loses patience with Ryder's stagnant counting numbers and screws up the top line. And he continues to give significant icetime to Dandenault, Begin, Latendresse, Chipchura - all bottom six forwards who are getting beat up regularly. There are deeper teams than Montreal who are limiting their 4th liners to significantly less icetime. It's puzzling.