Three-piece. (Photo: Marianne Helm)
Inspired by an article about the Winnipeg Jets on Arctic Ice Hockey, Tyler Dellow, aka mc79hockey, created a nifty color-coded chart to visualize how puck possession is distributed throughout the Edmonton Oilers lineup.
Basically, you build a grid of players– with the forwards along the left and defensemen along the top, and you rank them by ice time. Then you list the possession percentage for each forward/defenseman pairing. Because coaches typically give better players more ice time, you’d expect to see the higher numbers at top left and the lower percentages at bottom right. There are exceptions, but that’s the basic idea.
It’s a novel way to get a quick, visual impression of a team’s makeup, plus it gives us a chance to reap some insight from how Adam Oates uses his roster.
Great possession percentages– above 55% — are powderpuff pink (a Sunday favorite). Merely positive possession percentages– above 50% — are canary yellow. Negative possession percentages– under 50%– are an ugly blue color that I regret using now. Basically, it looks like an Easter egg. (Because I’m nice, I didn’t pick a special color for possession scores under 40%, but there are a few.)
While I included Dmitry Orlov and John Erskine in the chart, they don’t get colored as they haven’t played ten games yet, so their numbers could be a little screwy. Same story with the empty cells; the forwards and defenders there haven’t played at least twenty minutes together.
The basic idea is that the top-left should be filled with good performances in yellow and pink, and the bottom-right should be filled with schlubs in fugly blue. Let’s see how it plays out.
It kinda turned out like that.
The top left is chock full of good stuff. The Ovi-Backstrom-Mojo line is almost entirely above 50% when playing with the top-3 defenders (Carlson, Green, Alzner). Nobody– almost nobody— doubts the Caps’ top-end talent.
Then, along both axes, there’s a big drop-off. Two supposed second-liners, Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer, are almost completely in that nasty sub-50 blue color, though Brouwer is on the rise of late. Purported 4-D Nate Schmidt doesn’t so fare well with the top line, but — in a shocker– he’s driving play very well with the third and fourth lines. Weird synergy. We’ve noticed before that Schmidt made Mike Green a better player; I’d like to know more about him.
The third line of Jason Chimera and Joel Ward have been startlingly strong, which is why the running joke for more than a week was that they were the actual second line. Their centers have been the excellent Mikhail Grabovski and Martin Erat, so it shouldn’t be all that surprising.
After that, we get into trouble– which was to be expected, but maybe not this dramatically. Defender Alex Urbom and the fourth line aren’t just getting outplayed on the ice; they’re getting dominated. We see an anomalous uptick when Beagle and Wilson kick it with Schmidt, but other than that it’s uniformly bad.
On the flip side, the success of the third line and Nate Schmidt make the Capitals surprisingly deep in places we wouldn’t have expected.
Most of the distribution is typical: good guys getting lots of ice at top left, less-great guys getting less ice time at bottom right. All of this does, however, advance the hypothesis that while Adam Oates has done a commendable job getting Alex Ovechkin to bloom again, the rest of the garden needs tending. It shouldn’t have taken twenty games to realize that Alex Urbom ought to take a seat, or that Mikhail Grabovski should be promoted, or that Laich and Brouwer shouldn’t be playing together.
The ongoing, macro discussion is why Washington sags in its depth, and this chart will help move that along. Why have we seen some players– ones with the initials A.O.— improve while others (like Brouwer and Green) decline? What effect has Adam Oates’ mandate for breakout tactics had on possession among puck-carrying blueliners? Is the team truly happy with its defensive roster, and will they remain that way after John Erskine ends his 9-game bid for the Norris Trophy? I’d like to hear your thoughts.
For context, Here are a few other teams’ charts shared by Dellow, which may be useful for comparing to the Caps:
Seem to me the Oilers are neither well constructed nor well deployed.
And that’s a pretty shallow Montreal squad.
And here’s a team that would get relegated if the league would allow it.
That’s probably the best-looking team so far, but I want to see more. A few teams I’m curious to see: Carolina, Minnesota, Anaheim, New Jersey.
This is a new and interesting tool, and I won’t pretend to have an absolute grasp of it. Let me know if you see something I might’ve missed.
Notes: These possession stats are Corsi%. That number represents the Caps’ share of total shot attempts during 5v5. The numbers were pulled from stats.hockeyanalysis.com. Players must have played 10 games to appear in the grid (Erskine and Orlov are exceptions), and each pairing must have been on-ice for at least 20 minutes.
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