The matchup game

Whenever I write my scoring chance recap or any kind of stats, it is important to remember that the raw numbers need to be taken into context. Not all ice time is created equal as some players are used in tougher situations than others, making it more difficult for them to drive play in the right direciton. I have discussed zone starts numerous times before and how much of an effect they have, but another thing I want to touch on is matchups.

A coach will usually have a set of forwards and a defense pairing who he likes to use against the opposing team’s top line, and their job is obviously tougher than a line that gets a lot of offensive zone starts against the bottom-six of other teams. Sometimes this line will be a primarily defensive unit and not expect to score often but there are teams who use one of their top-six lines in a “power vs. power” role because they have a center who can play tough minutes. Patrice Bergeron, David Backes, Tomas Plekanec, Mike Fisher and Olli Jokinen (this season) are some examples of these types of players. Zone starts are very important, but you also have to consider what kind of opponents they are playing against to see if they are beating out top-quality competition or feasting on weaker matchups.

The most commonly used stat to determine what kind of role a player is being used in is called “Quality of Competition” which measures how good of an opponent a certain player is facing on a regular basis. Some people, myself included, prefer to use “corsi relative to quality of competition” for this because it provides context. This is a really helpful stat but it doesn’t tell you everything and it’s hard to judge how a player is doing against certain competition when looking at raw possession stats. To fix this, I went back through every Carolina game this year and measured every player’s scoring chance rating when they were playing against a certain line. We will look at this more after the jump.

If you read my recaps, you will probably recognize this chart.What this does is show a player’s scoring chance rating when a certain player from the opposing team was on the ice at even strength. It’s a good way to find out if a player is beating his matchup or not. For instance, let’s say that Eric Staal’s line had a really good game. Staal was on ice for 8 of Carolina’s even strength scoring chances and only three of the opponents. That sounds like he had a great game, but it may not be as impressive when we look at the chart and see that Staal did most of his damage against the opposing team’s third line and bottom defense pairing. It is still an impressive performance, but not as much as him outchancing an opposing team’s top defense pairing or first line.

At the end of every game, I look at the individual chances and plot them on the chart to see how each player did against his matchup and have saved every single one from this season. Thanks to that, we can look at how every Carolina player has performed against all of their matchups this season. Before we look into that, we have to understand what kind of role each player is being used in. Most Carolina fans should know this already, but I feel that they should be posted here to give the outsiders some perspective. Below are some basic zone start and quality of competition data from Behind the Net hockey’s stat site.

Forwards:

Forwards QOC OZ% Opponent Opponent Opponent Opponent Opponent
Sutter 1.406 34.9 Ovechkin St. Louis Stamkos Malkin Tavares
Dwyer 1.394 37.4 Ovechkin St. Louis Johansson Semin Spezza
Nodl 1.163 44.4 Ovechkin Johansson St. Louiis Tavares Stamkos
Samson 0.778 55.3 Campbell Garrison Fleischmann Pyatt Weiss
Staal 0.761 49.8 Alzner Carlson McDonagh Brewer Girardi
LaRose 0.739 44.2 Weaver Ladd Byfuglien Fayne Bogosian
Tlusty 0.706 47.7 Carlson Brewer Alzner Brouwer Kubina
Bowman 0.528 53.2 Weiss Garrison Fleischmann weaver Versteeg
Ruutu 0.118 53.6 Brewer Carlson Chara Alzner Campbell
Skinner 0.079 55.6 Alzner Chimera Ward Laich Carlson
Jokinen -0.003 53.3 Byfuglien Weaver Moore Ladd Wideman
Dalpe -0.272 53 Kubina Jurcina Macdonald Brewer Hamonic
Stewart -0.788 56.7 Wideman Hendricks Beagle Halpern Gilroy
Brent -0.896 48.7 Wideman Hendricks Halpern Beagle Clark
Boychuk -0.983 55.8 McDonagh Girardi Prust Boyle Anisimov

QOC = corsi relative to quality of competition, OZ% = offensive zone start percentage, Opponent = the player’s most common opponent(s)

Sutter, Dwyer & Nodl draw the toughest competition while Staal’s line also plays relatively tough minutes and usually draw the other team’s top defense pairing. Skinner’s line with Jokinen & Ruutu are matched up with defensive forwards and shutdown defensemen for the most part and the fourth liners and younger players get the weaker defensemen and opposing team’s bottom-six’s.

Defensemen

Defense QoC OZ% Opponent Opponent Opponent Opponent
Gleason 1.236 39.7 Ovechkin St. Louis Fleischmann Ladd
Allen 1.024 40.3 Ovechkin St. Louis Stamkos Johansson
Pitkanen 0.593 47.7 Karlsson Foligno Fayne Kuba
Faulk 0.503 52.1 Carlson Alzner St. Louis Campbell
Harrison 0.48 49.7 St. Louis Brewer Carlson Stamkos
McBain -0.193 51.1 Brewer Little Bogosian Byfuglien
Spacek -1.076 58.6 Matthias Brewer Jovanovski Pyatt
Joslin -1.107 59.2 Wideman Slater Stuart Glass

No surprises here. Gleason and Allen get the opposing team’s top lines, which has been the case for most of the season. However, the rest of the defense is kind of jumbled. Faulk and Harrison also draw the opposing team’s top-six’s but not as much as Gleason/Allen. McBain also draws some top-six forwards since he played with Gleason for a little bit but when he’s paired with Pitkanen or Spacek, he faces much weaker competition. Pitkanen hasn’t played in enough games to get any valid data, but this suggests that he isn’t facing top-tier competition. Spacek and Joslin are the two protected ones.

Now that we got that out of the way, here is how each player performed against their matchup.

  • Staal’s most regular opponents consist of top-pairing defensemen and he comes out positive in that battle, which is a good sign because a couple of his frequent linemates (Tlusty & Ruutu) struggled mightily in outchancing the opposing team’s top defense pairing this season. Staal is a negative player in scoring chances when he is playing against opposing team’s top-six’s, though and he’s doing a lot of his damage against some of their lower-tier forwards. I’m not sure what to make of this because Muller has changed the way he has used Staal throughout the year. Sometimes he will send him out there against opposing team’s top lines without any caution to the wind and other times he will not pay attention to who Staal is being matched up with at all. The only thing that is certain is that the opposing coaches do their best to get their best d-men out there whenever #12 is on the ice and Staal has won that battle to an extent.
  • Jeff Skinner and Jussi Jokinen are getting softer minutes but they have been taking advantage of the situation by outchancing all of their matchups. Oddly enough, the one area where they are a little behind in is against opposing team’s third lines, which is what they are usually matched up against going by their most frequent opponents. These two are still winning that battle but not by as much as they could be, especially when you factor in how often they start their shifts in the offensive zone since Muller took over. They also seem to draw the opposing team’s second defense pairing and are blowing them away as a result. No complaints there.
  • While Skinner & Jokinen are dominating, Ruutu is falling behind a little bit and he is the kind of player that is beating out weaker competition but struggling against better opponents. That isn’t promising going into a new contract.
  • Sutter, Dwyer & Nodl are getting torched against opposing team’s first lines and top defense pairings but have respectable numbers everywhere else. They start nearly all of their shifts in the defensive zone so I don’t expect them to come out positive here, but the opposing team’s top lines seem to be really getting to this line. However, they are doing a fine job against just about everyone else when you factor in their playing situation. The only exception is that Sutter is getting hammered against the opposing team’s fourth line. I’m not sure what’s up with that.
  • On the other hand, the team’s two regular fourth liners, Tim Brent & Anthony Stewart, are losing their battles even when they get a ton of offensive zone starts. They are rarely caught out against other team’s first lines but when they are, it is ugly. The fact that they are both getting beaten by other team’s depth forwards and defensemen isn’t a strong sign either.
  • The other tough-minute pairing, Tim Gleason & Bryan Allen, are also getting their butts kicked at even strength when they are up against the opposing team’s best players and playing better against everyone else. The one difference is that Allen is struggling against other team’s fourth lines, which is worrisome because he plays on the third pairing sometimes and gets matched up with those players.
  • Faulk & Harrison are doing slightly better against opposing team’s top-sixes and Faulk’s rating here is actually pretty respectful in the grand scheme of things. He is usually matched up against one of the opposing team’s top two lines and he isn’t getting killed by scoring chances, at least not compared to some other defensemen. For a kid that is only 19, that’s very impressive. Harrison, on the other hand, appears to be handling second lines well but not first lines.
  • McBain has been exposed to all kinds of different competition this year and you can clearly see here that he performs better when he’s protected. I.E. not on the top pairing with Tim Gleason. Joni Pitkanen is the same way, which is probably because he and McBain usually play together when healthy.
  • Seeing that Jaroslav Spcek has actually played well against tough competition is kind of surprising but he is regularly sent out in the offensive zone and doesn’t play that much against top lines that much, so I think this is due to small sample size.
  • Kaberle won most of his main matchups here, but not by a lot. Remember, he gets a lot of protected ice time and we generally except players with easy minutes to have better than average numbers in these situations. Kaberle does not.
  • Opposing team’s second lines are all that Joslin has played somewhat well against this year. Other than that, he has been brutal.

There’s a lot of other stuff we can do with this data now that the season is basically over. More to come on that in the upcoming weeks.

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