FanPost

A look at the first 11 games - Questioning Paul MacLean's lineup decisions

(Note: Before reading this piece, I highly suggest reading this from @DownGoesBrown on Grantland)

(Note #2: Keep in mind that we're dealing with very small samples here, but we have to use what we've got. In terms of the stats that I'll be using in this post, I have a short primer at the beginning of this piece, though there are many out there if you look!)

Currently, the Ottawa Senators sit 4-5-2 and sit 6th in the Atlantic division - 4 points out of 4th in the division, though only 1 point out of a playoff spot (LOL Metropolitian division). Obviously, this leads to some panic in Sens land as it's never fun to have high hopes coming into the season, only to see your team look lost against the NHL's best - when that's where we were supposed to be. Many would say that I'm crazy for saying that the Sens have played well the last 4 games (EDM onwards), mainly because the team's record is 1-3 on those games. However, I believe that possession of the puck is key to success, and if the Sens keep playing well with the puck, the bounces will come. However, that's not to say that there aren't things that are in dire need of fixing, and this article will go through and address some of these issues.

Here's a table that I'm going to be referring to throughout the article. The articles in the notes will explain some of the stats I'll be using, but if you're confused about anything, let me know in the comment section!

Note: this table was sorted by CF% (Corsi For% -> # of shot attempts (on net, missed, and blocked) for - the # of shot attempts against) and all of these statistics are during 5-on-5 play only.

Player

Total TOI

TOI/60

GF

GA

GF%

CF%

Sh%

Sv%

Clarke MacArthur

123.1

13.11

9

2

81.8

61.2

10.1

96.9

Mika Zibanejad

27.2

11.87

1

0

100

60.3

5.9%

100

Kyle Turris

137.3

13.74

8

3

72.7

60.0

8.7

95.8

Bobby Ryan

143.2

14.37

7

4

63.6

56.3

7.4

95.5

Cory Conacher

122.2

11.94

8

3

72.7

56.1

11.0

95.6

Chris Neil

110.3

11.23

4

4

50.0

53.9

7.0

92.7

Zack Smith

125.5

12.82

5

4

55.6

51.9

7.7

94.2

Stephane Da Costa

42.2

10.61

2

1

66.7

51.7

9.1

96.2

Derek Grant

24.1

8.20

1

3

25.0

48.9

8.3

80.0

Milan Michalek

133.0

13.46

5

9

35.7

46.2

7.8

91.3

Jason Spezza

126.0

14.07

6

11

35.3

45.7

9.4

89.9

Colin Greening

114.5

10.99

3

6

33.3

44.2

6.1

92.4

Matt Kassian

21.4

4.56

1

0

100

43.6

11.1

100

Erik Condra

85.0

8.40

2

6

25.0

42.8

6.1

88.5

Jean-Gabriel Pageau

61.5

8.06

1

4

20.0

41.5

4.2

90.2

1. The Top-6

Statement: the Turris line has been spectacular, the Spezza line? not so much.

Just in case people thought that goals + Corsi weren't correlated, you can see here that the players that are on the ice for the most goals for, are also our best possession players.

When MacArthur, Turris, and Ryan are on the ice, > 60% of the goals scored belong to the Senators. "Line 1" on the other hand? Some of the worst rates on the team.

Does quality of competition excuse Spezza's poor possession numbers in comparison to Turris? Let's take a look. Due to the small sample size, it's tricky to use the usual Quality of Competition measures, but I did go through and find the primary matchups for Spezza and Turris.

Game

Spezza

Turris

Sharks

Sheppard-Thornton-Hertl

Marleau-Couture-Kennedy

Ducks

Mix of L1/L2

Mix of L1/L2

Wings

Zetterberg-Datsyuk-Bertuzzi

Cleary-Franzen-Alfredsson

Oilers

Mix of L1/L2

Mix of L1/L2

The disparity in competition doesn't look that big to my eye, and after talking to Fear the Fin, the Sharks SB Nation site, I found out that the Marleau-Couture-Kennedy line is actually the Sharks "shutdown" line. The main difference between these two lines, is that Turris (and his linemates) have been performing, whereas Spezza (and his linemates) have not. The outcome (goals/points) are there for Spezza, but unless something changes, that line cannot afford to be continually outpossessed game-in and game-out.

2. The Bottom-6

There was an interesting tidbit from Paul MacLean today about who he thought his best players were:

I agree with fellow SSS member, Adnan, on this one:

Though I just argued above that Spezza's line hasn't been great, at least they're producing something, whereas the bottom-6 hasn't been doing much at all. Forwards not named Spezza, Turris, Michalek, Ryan, MacArthur have combined for 7G and 9A through 11 games, whereas Spezza, Ryan, and Turris alone have combined for 14G and 15A.

I do think that Zack Smith and Chris Neil have been okay so far this season, as their positive in both the Goals For % category, and Corsi For % category. They sport above average on-ice save %'s, but also below average shooting %, and I would expect those to balance out over a longer stretch of games. However, the established NHLers like Greening and Condra have been disappointing - the latter especially, considering how good he was in the possession category in previous years, and the jury is still out on Derek Grant. I doubt we'll be seeing Stephane Da Costa for a while, but his numbers in limited action were okay (minus faceoffs), and I'd argue that if Pageau isn't playing, he should be sent down to the AHL and raise his confidence level.

Conacher and Zibanejad are two of the more interesting names that the coaching staff can't decide where they belong, but I argue that both at least deserve an extended shot in the top-6. This eludes to the changes to the top-6 I said I would make earlier on in the article, specifically on Spezza's wing. Zibanejad has received very little NHL action this year, but has played well in his minutes, and was excellent last year. Paul MacLean said that in the long-term, he sees Zibanejad as a Centre, but recently when he was called up, he stated that he wouldn't be afraid to use the young Swede wherever in the lineup that gave the team the best chance to win.

I'm a huge fan of Cory Conacher (ahaha height pun) and the stats indicate that Spezza has played his best hockey possession-wise with Conacher alongside him. As you can see in the table below, Conacher has played fine when not with Spezza, but Spezza has suffered greatly without Conacher in both Goals For, and Corsi For.

(small sample alert)

Stats

Together

Conacher apart from Spezza

Spezza apart from Conacher

TOI

36.13

72.32

72.55

GF%

75.0

80.0

33.3

CF%

52.0

52.9

44.4

Conclusions

The Ottawa Senators have played their best stretch of hockey their past couple games. As the old adage goes, possession begets scoring chances which leads to goals, and though the Sens have been outscored during 5-on-5 play 4 to 8 the past 4 games, their possession stats have been on the way up.

As a case study, here's the Sens possession numbers from the game two weeks ago against the Sharks, to the game yesterday:

Bxnwkcmceaaqr40_medium

I think that MacLean should give serious consideration to try Conacher with Spezza and Zibanejad, and to leave MacArthur-Turris-Ryan as is, as they've been one of the most dominant lines in the National Hockey League, rather than place Ryan with Spezza, Zibanejad with Turris + MacArthur, and Conacher with Smith and Neil, as practice indicated today (via Wayne Scanlan)

Unfortunately, Michalek has not played like a top-6 forward, and maybe a couple games in the bottom-6 would help his confidence, and help strengthen the play of the bottom-6 in particular. I'm okay with any combination of Michalek, Smith, Neil, Greening, Grant, Condra, Pageau in the bottom-6, though I believe that if Pageau is not going to play regular minutes, that he should be sent to the AHL and leave Kassian (or call up O'Brien) to be the 13th forward, as that way, Pageau can get the development a young player needs.

I'm curious on where you folks would rank our forwards play this season coming in today, and please leave your thoughts in the comments section below if you'd like!

My rankings: Turris, Ryan, Conacher, MacArthur, Spezza, (Zibanejad), Smith, Neil, Michalek, (Grant), (Da Costa), Condra, Greening, Pageau, (Kassian)

(brackets are for players with very little ice time)

Thanks for reading!

P.S. I highly encourage everyone to check out Extra Skater's website, Behind the Net, and Hockey Analysis, as that's where I got the stats I used today.

This FanPost was written by a member of the Silver Seven community, and does not necessarily reflect the beliefs or opinions of the site managers, editors, or Sports Blogs Nation, Inc.

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