We might be finished with our player scoring chance reviews for the season but there are still plenty of things we can do with the data to further analyze the Hurricanes performance this year. One thing we looked at was each player’s WOWY reports to show how dependent one player was on another but the scope for that is somewhat limited for analyzing forwards. You get an idea of which teammates certain forwards were able to develop chemistry with but you don’t get the best idea of which lines they worked best on. Therefore, I went through the scoring chance data on the year and broke down the numbers by line combinations to see which units were Hurricanes’ best this season.
Finding the right line combinations is always a tough task for a rebuilding team, and it’s especially tough for a team that has a lack of top-six talent like Carolina. Coaches will often juggle whenever their team is going through a goal-scoring drought or a losing streak and the Hurricanes coaches seemed to do this once every few games during the early part of the season. The Hurricanes rolled over 200 different line combinations this year but there were at least 20 units who stuck together for parts of the year and after the jump, we will look at which ones were the best and the worst. It will give us an idea of which lines should stay in-tact for next year and which ones need some work.
CF = Carolina chances for at even strength, CA = Carolina chances allowed at even strength, Pct = Even strength scoring chance percentage
The Ruutu-Jokinen-Skinner line being at the top should surprise absolutely no one. Those two were the team’s best line last season and they carried their terrific play over to this season. They started off the year separated because of depth issues in the top-six but the coaching staff knew they had to reunite the line sooner or later because they were money whenever they played together. Injuries to both Ruutu and Skinner also kept this line from being together as much as most people would have liked but concerns about depth and having only one scoring line was a primary reason why this line was split up during parts of the season. The thought was that having three of the team’s best goal-scorers on the same line would leave Staal with next to no support on his wings and that would hurt the team overall. What may have been overlooked is that Staal is good enough to carry a line on his own.
Notice how most of the Hurricanes’ best lines are ones that are centered by Eric Staal and his linemates consist of either third liners like Chad LaRose or AHL call-ups like Drayson Bowman and Jerome Samson. Staal was able to drive the play forward and control scoring chances at a very high rate despite not having the assistance of another top-end forward on his wing. Hell, he was even able to have some moderate success with Anthony Stewart, and that is saying a lot. It makes you wonder what kind of numbers Staal would have if the team was to acquire a scoring winger to play along side of him. The stats here have to be encouraging towards that. Staal’s good underlying numbers with Jiri Tlusty should also give the team some confidence in the two being able to have some success next season. They were able to work together with four different right wingers, so it will be interesting to see what they can do with a more high-end player in that spot.
If Chad LaRose had better finishing ability, he would be a better candidate for a top-six spot. He was able to work well with Staal and control scoring chances at even strength but the goals just weren’t coming for him. LaRose was able to boost just about every line he was placed on and one player he appears to have helped out a lot was Brandon Sutter. This is interesting because Sutter’s WOWY showed that he didn’t work well with LaRose while the data here conflicts that. LaRose’s short-lived line with Bowman and Sutter was able to control scoring chances at even strength while playing tough minutes. We’re going to have to see more out of them than what is given in the sample here but these three have the potential to be a very effective third line. If anything they can provide more offense than the Nodl-Sutter-Dwyer line did this year. It’s a known fact that Sutter’s line gets thrown into the wolves, so they are never going to have spectacular underlying numbers but if they can control around 50% of the even strength scoring chances then they can be an even more effective than they are now.
The experiment with Alexei Ponikarovsky didn’t quite work out. He was doing well from a possession standpoint, but he didn’t play well on the first line at all. The only time Staal was unable to control scoring chances is when he was with Ponikarovsky and Tuomo Ruutu. That was also the only time that Ruutu was completely underwater in terms of scoring chances. He also didn’t provide much of an upgrade over Andreas Nodl on the checking line and only seemed to work well on a line with Ruutu and Jokinen. This wouldn’t have been such a bad thing if he was able to score more often, but he couldn’t and there were younger players who were looking for a roster spot that were able to step into his role. Ponikarovsky also appeared to drag down LaRose’s numbers by quite a bit. It also didn’t help that Jokinen was somewhat dependent on Ruutu in terms of driving the play forward. Jokinen was able to stay above water with other linemates but he was much better with Ruutu than anyone else. Poni was going to be a downgrade there no matter what.
The player at the bottom of the chart is Tim Brent as all of the main lines he was used on performed below replacement level but in his defense, he wasn’t exactly given great linemates. Brett Sutter is an AHL-er, Stewart isn’t a very good player, Nodl has hands of stone and Derek Joslin isn’t even a forward. Brent had moderate success on the powerplay and on some of the upper-lines but he wasn’t used as a center there. Brent isn’t a good enough player to be the driving force on a line but he can succeed when given good linemates, so this could be motivation for the team to revamp their fourth line this offseason. It could start by moving Brent to the wing and signing a fourth line center on the cheap. Just a suggestion.