4 December 2013

To think about: the Sens' forward lines & WOWYs

During last night's win, a lot of freaking out was going on over the fact that MacLean's lines looked a little bit wonky. Hoffman-Turris-Ryan stayed relatively intact throughout the game, but Spezza was handed MacArthur and Condra, Michalek was cobbled to a third line with Zibanejad and Conacher and Greening-Smith-Neil became our fourth line. Travis Yost suggested that instead of trying to find Spezza some chemistry, MacLean is instead trying to insulate him by arming him with possession-drivers who can get out of the defensive zone and into the offensive zone.

And looking at Spezza's WOWY possession numbers, this seems pretty logical. Of the top 5 forwards he's played with, only Zibanejad has gotten him over 50% in terms of Corsi For. No matter who he's not playing with, he's always in the 40%s, and every single linemate does better away from him (except for poor Michalek). Last night, Spezza's CF% was 53.8%, Condra's was 60.9% and MacArthur's was 59.1%. Small sample size, I know, but whoa, those numbers look like the type a first line should be able to put up.

(While you're on Stats.HockeyAnalysis, check out Neil's & Spezza's Corsi For % together. Hoo-boy.)

The question of chemistry rears its head right about now. Condra has been lambasted time and time again for having absolutely no finish, and missing empty nets like a pro on top of that. (Personally I think we should be admiring the number of breakaways he manages to get, but that's just me.) So while Clarke MacArthur knows how to bury goals, will Spezza's playmaking skills be wasted on Condra? Consider that essentially the foundation of hockey statistics is that shot differential helps you win games. Condra's good possesion numbers have been defensive up to this point, but if you elevate him into a position where he'll have help driving the game while being fed beautiful passes, then I expect some fireworks to happen. Or sparklers, at least. Give it some time.

Then I decided to take a look at Michalek's WOWYs. Oh, dear. It's hard to find any reason to want to keep Michalek anymore. He was 60% in Corsi For % last night, but he also had above-average numbers for the last three games (which we lost), and he'd been still on Spezza's wing then. Basically, Michalek has no positive consistency with any linemate right now, and almost every forward he's paired with is better away from Michalek.

So should we move him yet again to a new line? Well, although Zibanejad has yet to play very long with any one forward, he's helped boost every single linemate's numbers. So maybe pulling apart Spezza-Michalek but keeping Zibanejad with MM9 will be beneficial. Conacher is a little more all over the place; at this point, the only thing that's clear is that he should not play with Chris Neil.

We'll wait and see. Hockey isn't all numbers and quantities; sometimes, on-ice, the optical and literal side of the game defies all our percentages. At this point, we just have to hope that Paul MacLean is deliberately trying to improve his lines rather than throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks. Basically, please let him know what he's doing.


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