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Silver Nuggets: Last night's forward usage

Yes, I know it's only been one game. Yes, I know that these lines have *just* been put together. Yes, HST was amazing. Yes, I have faith in Dave Cameron. However, I'm not too sure that these combinations are going to last very long. Here's why.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">5v5 matchups, senators at Sabres. Eichel line given a lot of time against third line and was well beaten. <a href="http://t.co/mk3VY0krzw">pic.twitter.com/mk3VY0krzw</a></p>&mdash; Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) <a href="https://twitter.com/IneffectiveMath/status/652513389277802497">October 9, 2015</a></blockquote>

The cool thing about last night's game is that most of it was played at even-strength, so we can get a glimpse of how Cameron wanted to use his troops. Above, you'll see a visualization of game matchups and possession numbers from Micah. The Senators possession results are visualized with the "red" section of each square, with the Sabres being represented by "blue." The size of the square represents the amount of ice-time player X saw against player Y. To help with the explanation, here are two practical examples:

• Judging by the size of the squares, you can see that Jean-Gabriel Pageau's line (w/ MacArthur and Michalek) played a bulk of their minutes against the Kane-Eichel line or the Foligno-Reinhart line. You can also see that the Senators 4th line (Smith) didn't play very much at all.
• Let's go back to Pageau's line and look at the colour of the squares vs. Kane-Eichel. What you'll see is that the squares are MORE red than they are blue, thus, showing that when both of these lines were on the ice, the Pageau line generated more shot attempts than they gave up.

What's fun is that if we match this even-strength data up with the Senators zone start numbers from Natural Stat Trick, a clear pattern emerges with the forward group.

1. The two lines that are going to be trusted in the defensive zone are the Turris and Pageau groups, with both under 50% offensive zone starts last night.

2. Cameron doesn't trust Zack Smith and Chris Neil at all, as despite limited offensive skills, they started 100% of their shifts in the offensive zone.

3. It's clear that Curtis Lazar playing alongside Zibanejad and Ryan is both for a) to give him an expanded offensive role with good puck players, and b) to be a defensive conscience when the line has to backcheck through the neutral zone. All three had zone starts above 70% last night, but one thing I noticed was Lazar staying a little higher in the zone than he usually was when he played with Pageau.

Now, is this the best use of talent? Complementary skillsets are super important in today's NHL, and having just *one* deficient player on a line can be a real handicap given the level of talent. That's why we've started to see one-dimensional players, often the grinders, phased out. Deciding to play both Smith and Neil together both handicaps the offensive potential of anyone playing with them AND takes away minutes from those who could really succeed after a won offensive zone draw. Alternatively, deciding to play Hoffman, Turris, and Stone together is fantastic for scoring chance generation, but really leaves Mika Zibanejad as a bind as the only neutral zone carrier on that line. With today's game as it is, is it worth having two great lines while having to be in prevent defense mode for the other two? Will the Senators loaded top line be able to win games all by themselves consistently?

Personally, I think that HST should be a late-game line when the Sens are trailing, similar to when Wiercioch is partnered up with Erik Karlsson to quickly get the puck up the ice. Balancing the lines by putting Hoffman with Zibanejad, or trying Prince and Chiasson in their correct positions with Smith gives the team the ability to realistically "roll four lines" instead of just sheltering the weaker ones with comfy zone starts.

Assuming MacArthur will play, what really strikes me is that three Senators forwards (Ryan, Chiasson, and Michalek) and one defenceman (Borowiecki) are playing their respective off-side. Up front, it's a by-product of keeping veteran Chris Neil in the lineup and putting Curtis Lazar in a second-line role. My feelings about having Neil and Smith together are well documented, but having Lazar play a prominent top six to start the season is a wrinkle that I wasn't anticipating.

What do you think about the lines? What changes would you make? Let us know in the comments!

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• ALL THE GAME 1 COVERAGE. (P.S. how'd all of you do in the Silver Seven prediction panel? I got the goalscorer wrong, but correctly predicted a 3-1 Ottawa win!) [Silver SevenBonk's MulletSensChirpOttawa Citizen]
• What's next for our centurion-laden heroes? Chet Sellers walks you through it with a weekly preview! [WTYKY]
• The only main bit of roster news this week was Matt Puempel being sent down to Binghamton. He wasn't going to get regular minutes to start the season given the number of bodies in Ottawa, so this is good for his development. Shane Prince "won" the right to collect an NHL salary on the bench, though he'll hopefully get a couple games in soon. [Silver Seven]
• Bryan Murray spoke about Puempel's demotion, among other start-of-season things. Nichols has a transcript with some thoughts. [6th Sens]
• Jeff actually had the scoop a little before the team, given that Chris Rumble was assigned Shane Prince's #18 but no one had taken Puempel's number. In his weekly column, Jeff discusses the veteran-laden BSens and who's going to be in the ECHL to start the year. [Silver Seven]
• No offense to Matt Puempel, but the BIGGEST news of this week is the fact that Erik Karlsson cut his hair. Mike even dedicated his third Sens Friends comic to the event. [Bonk's MulletOttawa Citizen]
• Ian Mendes with an interesting piece on Anderson, Lehner, and O'Connor, including the thoughts of many in the Sens organization. [TSN]
• Peter Levi's News + Notes column has thoughts on Puempel, the BSens, Lazar, MacArthur, and more. [Eye on the Sens]
• Travis Yost has a piece on Bobby Ryan, and where his goal-scoring may have disappeared to last season. We all know Bobby overanalyzes everything, but here's hoping that his explosiveness has improved to allow him to just get a *little* more space in the middle of the ice to find more danger areas. He doesn't need much to get his shot through. [TSN]
• Eric has a really cool piece on a charity campaign that's working to send children to their first sporting events. Give it a read! [Bonk's Mullet]
• The staff predicts Ottawa's regular season record. I for one need some rebounded after my poor offseason predictions. Chirp has a predictions piece as well. [Silver Seven - Regular season recordOffseason prediction resultsSensChirp]
• Joe has a parody piece on the Sens home opener, and Cyril Leeder. [Bonk's Mullet]
• Your end-of-Nuggets video comes from the fabulous and talented bRian. #hype [Bonk's Mullet]