Thursday, March 19, 2009

More Pseudoscience

Optimal Habs Line Combinations From The Evidence

Gainey has changed the lines again – I guess Carbonneau is vindicated.

Oh wait, I thought I was a member of the mainstream media for a minute there. If I had been I would probably be as smitten with Carbo as they were in their coverage of his useless press conference yesterday. They threw him three excuses and he took them (UFAs, injuries and “bad apples”). They then published that he made no excuses – well none of his own anyway…

Gainey, a coach whose opinions on the team are still pertinent, actually had a press conference too. His explanation for line changes was simple enough – injured players coming back. Seems sensible to me. And then, like any good winger, he used a backhander to score a slap on Carbonneau when he said:

“It is important that players know what is expected of them…”

And so it is that we will all be watching lines we have seen before:

Higgins – Koivu – Tanguay
Kostitsyn – Plekanec – Kovalev
Latendresse – Lapierre – Kostopoulos
Spare parts

While I have no trouble with switching lines when things are clearly going as badly as they are up front, I was instinctively frosty as to some of the combinations I saw. As such, I did a little analysis that I have been wanting to do for a long time now. Basically, I looked at even-strength statistics with rate of goals for when a player is on the ice vs. the rate of goals against when the player is on the ice. Simple stuff, with some interesting results.

[Obviously the statistics can only tell us what has happened and not what will happen, but after 70 games, I place more value on what has happened than I would after 20 games. Besides, what else am i going to do for fun?]

After doing this, I can tell you Gainey's on the right track, but not quite there...

Our best forwards

Forwards that come out on top of both offensive and defensive lists are Tomas Plekanec (0.819 GF/20 and 0.720 GA/20), Alex Tanguay (1.272 GF/20 and 0.706 GA/20) and Mathieu Dandenault (0.921 GF/20 and 0.779 GA/20). It is perhaps no surprise that Tanguay and Dandenault rate so highly as they had the pleasure of missing Carey Price’s prolonged vacation. Plekanec, for his part, visibly belongs in this group.

The guys who come out with great offensive numbers and mediocre defensive ones (they are forwards after all) are Andrei Kostitsyn (1.192 GF/20 and 0.954 GA/20), Saku Koivu (1.065 GF/20 and 1.031 GA/20) and Guillaume Latendresse (0.820 GF/20 and 0.781 GA/20).

Then there are those who are stingy against their opponents but have had trouble making things happen themselves, including Sergei Kostitsyn (0.785 GF/20 and 0.678 GA/20), Max Pacioretty (0747 GF/20 and 0.685 GA/20) and, our best defensive player at even-strength, Alexei Kovalev (0.766 GF/20 and 0.696 GA/20)!

Our worst forwards

At the other end of the spectrum come those in the bottom ranks of both offensive and defensive lists, mostly rookies like Chipchura, Stewart and D’Agostini, but also veterans quickly losing their usefulness Christopher Higgins (0.714 GF/20 and 0.952 GA/20) and Tom Kostopoulos (0.680 GF/20 and 0.843 GA/20).

Making lines

If I was making lines, I think I’d concentrate on those guys who’ve had a positive influence in one way or another. Call it chemistry if you want. But chemistry that hasn't borne any results by this point in the season ain't chemistry anymore. In that vein, I’m not sure it’s time to be trying to reawaken Kostopoulos and Higgins for example. I think their times on top lines has come and gone for the time being.

In making the top two lines, I’d go for offence first. Koivu, as the best offence-generating centre is the place to start. To complement him, I would try to find players who make Koivu more productive without making him into even more of an offensive liability than he is on average. Players that enhance Koivu’s play see to be Tanguay (check) as well as Latendresse, Kostitsyn and trusty old Dandenault. I’d keep him away from players who made him worse in both senses, like Higgins, Kostopoulos and D’Agostini at all costs.

The second line, like it or not, is Kovalev’s show. Kostitsyn will be the better player, but he is not emerging to carry this team into the playoffs. Kovalev, with the right conditions, just might. Kovalev is already outstanding defensively, so the concern here should be to get him contributing goals. Players that make Kovalev better offensively this year are Plekanec (check), A Kostitsyn (check), as well as Tanguay, and Lapierre, and unlikely candidates Kostopoulos and D’Agostini.

Lapierre is the focal point of the third line. Players that make him better that aren’t already taken are there. One standout seems to be Christopher Higgins, of all people. One that does not (counter to the wishes of a Province) is Guillaume Latendresse. Kostopoulos makes Lapierre better, but as we noted he like Higgins is a massive liability himself. Pacioretty, on the other hand enhances Lapierre’s defensive stats, without costing him too much offensively.

Latendresse makes Koivu better but Kovalev worse, so Latendresse earns the big promotion to line 1a. Andrei Kostitsyn's production will suffer on line 1b, but it's not time to worry about having a 30 goalscorer on this team anymore. He enhances Kovalev's play (probably by drawing attention), so he sticks on the one line we should all have faith in. So switch Latendresse and Higgins – priority number one. Do it now.

From there, Higgins and Lapierre seem like a nice fit, and I'd fill their wing with someone who isn't a total liability coming back (ineffective Kostopoulos) – someone defensively aware (and energetic) like Max Pacioretty.

There you have it. The fourth line is filled with the rest. Dandenault looks like an excellent choice. D'Agostini and Stewart are both becoming disaster cases so choose one, stir in Kostopoulos until someone sees sense and promotes one of the best defensive forwards of the season (Sergei Kostitsyn).

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