There is no line quite like 10-28-22 in terms of its ability to be leveraged as a tool by the coach. This is not to say that it's our best line, or that it's going to score a lot of goals. But putting our best two shot suppressors on the entire team together, with Larry, who is also no slouch defensively and on faceoffs, does two things.
1.) It keeps defensive minutes out of the wrong hands. (Casey, Jack&Skinner, Rodrigues, Pominville, THOMPSON)
2.) It minimizes these guys' severe lack-of-hands or any offensive abilities whatsoever.
And when this line is together, they don't exactly do a bad job of facing top lines either. These three forwards have the toughest QoC usage of any forwards, they chase top lines all day, keeping them away from our vulnerable defensive lines, and the do a fine job. If you're into metrics, they're our best Corsi line we've had this season, despite playing all their minutes together against tough guys and predominantly in the D-zone. They approach 60% of shots, and in terms of weighted quality of shots, their xGF% is also well over 50%. They've only allowed 5 goals together in 125 of these minutes, which comes out to, if you play them 10 minutes per game at ES, chasing top lines the whole time, every 2.5 games they'll allow a goal. I'll take a goal from other teams' top lines at ES every 2.5 games, thank you very much. They do legitimately great work together. And if you don't like the metrics, close your eyes and think back, and surely you can see them cycling endlessly in the offensive zone, because that's mostly what they do more than anything else out there. I've said fifty times how great and important that is from a fourth line, so I won't do it again.
Spreading these guys out would look a lot like the Sabres of the last few years, having a set or two of stone hands and zero offensive creativity/instinct on every line. But when this line is together, not only do we bottle up and minimize that, we actually get something functional and useful out of it from the line that has given us problems since we decided to tank.
The main problem for the normal NHL coach is that when he gets a line like that, he rides it a little too much. Picture Babs and Draper. Babs and any 4th liner. The Islanders giving that 4th line a lot of money and 20 minutes per game a few years ago. Our coach's problem with this line actually is something different. We have "depth" to a point where there's a fairly regular healthy-scratch carousel. When posters' favorite players are up, they get angry, and that's understandable. But this carousel regularly
a.) skips over the two comprehensively worst forwards on the team
b.) throws a stick of dynamite in this 4th line to do so, turning every attempt to build a 4th line in its wake a disaster of possession and defense
We effectively ate it today to make sure we play Vlad, sticking Tage in Zemgus's spot so Zemgus can sit. Zemgus, of equal point total to Tage Thompson despite getting zero offensive usage to speak of. Well, Tage can't play defense, and was in for another 30% shot share, which is actually pretty damn high compared to his usual defensive-focused-line outings, which are lucky to get out of the teens in any sort of split you could ever want, chances, goals, shot attempts, shots. Tage can help us win games and scores goals for us when he's playing with Mitts, with Sheary, guys like that. But in his 4th line games he's got about 1 point in 20, and posts metrics that make the tank Sabres look great. Literally. Appeal to the eye test all you want, because it was something else today. I'd happily record everything if I had the time. I just don't during finals.
So jerking around with Tage, who is a main source of secondary scoring in the last ~10 games, is only hurting both his play and the team's chances. And it's important for Phil to keep an eye on what Tage he's getting. When it's Tage like today, he should absolutely sit. If 10, 28, 71, 22 can be healthy scratched, so can 72. When it's good Tage, let him play with some good players.
And I know Hoss and nfreeman are going to yell at me about Vlad, but I've been explicitly watching him for about 12 games now, looking for two things. A scoring chance put on net by him, or a shot-assist for a linemate in a good spot by him. In 12 games, I have seen zero instances of either, without exaggeration. And this is with oodles of ice time with Kyle, sometimes Sheary, sometimes Reinhart. I've seen him get wide open looks in the slot that dribble wide, get blocked, and have not once hit the goalie. I've seen passes into OUR slot directly onto the other team's stick (Nashville). I've seen decent PKing, but in general it's the most obvious spot for an easy roster upgrade as soon as possible. I get not trusting your eye test if the metrics say different, I get not trusting the metrics if the eye test says different. I don't understand when both are dreadful, by far the worst on the team outside of bad-Tage. Despite a whole line of Sabres getting notably tougher minutes, no Sabre makes more than half of the players they play with worse, let alone making every player 10% or more worse in any statistical category split, the way Vlad does. This is 16-17 Nic Deslauriers stuff I'm seeing out there, with marginally-lesk-risky decision making that has stopped paying off when our secondary scoring has dried up.
These are Vlad and Tage's percentiles among all NHL forwards for various things. Expected goals and shot shares are scraping the bottom of the entire league's barrel for both of them, but you can clearly see how Tage's shot is an asset. Which is why selective coaching for Tage is required to maximize the lineup each night. If he's feeling it, get him in situations where he can use that shot, and don't put him in situations where he's just defending. And include Vlad in the pressbox carousel, at the very very least. Can you imagine what that would look like if Rodrigues didn't give him two tap-ins in Montreal?
These are event charts for guys who see the press box over Vlad, who has not been healthy-scratched this season. Four forwards get non-negligibly-more defensive zone starts than Vlad and flip the ice, while he gets absolutely cratered and obliterated. Those players all bring things to the table he doesn't, but I'm not even asking that he gets regularly sat. I'm just asking that he's treated more like THIS batch of players than getting more ES TOI than Okposo, Sheary, and Mitts, ie, stop giving him the 4th most minutes of all forwards at ES maybe? And surely, stop blowing up a good line to keep him in.
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I like Reinhart up scoring with Jack as much as anyone else, but he was coming on before the move happened, and even if Jason isn't quite up to the task, I didn't see him slowing Jack and Jeff themselves down in the last 5 games of the streak. Furthermore, Pominville is utterly useless on a depth line, for all intents and purposes. 53-9-29 scores so many goals and allows very few, winning ES matchups in a huge way. I see zero reason to do anything other than
With chemistry and hot-hand-balancing dictating the middle six. Hopefully a callup or two if Nylander, Smith etc. keep playing well. When we use these lines, things work, for reasons that are simple to explain and understand, that play out on the screen in front of us. Explanations which are directly observable. Since we first created the checking line, we have used it 13 times and neglected to use it 10 times, most by choice, some (~3?) because of injury. These are fairly large sample sizes in terms of in-season line analysis. And took about 3 hours to procure In the 13 games with the checking line: The Sabres' Corsi is 52.14%, the non-Eichel-lines' Corsi is 51.25%, and the Sabres' non-Eichel lines average 1.62 goals per game, scoring 21 times in those 13 games.
In the 10 games without the checking line: The Sabres' Corsi is 43.59%, the non-Eichel-lines' Corsi is 41.75%, and the Sabres' non-Eichel lines average 0.9 goals per game, scoring 9 times in those 10 games.
Scoring increases 80% whenever we use the line 1 and line 4 scoring-checking balance with 22-10-28 and 53-9-23/29. When we throw dynamite into the 4th line, we lose that much scoring and our possession as a team and below Eichel drops about 10 full percentage points, which is an amount that separates top three possession teams from bottom three possession teams.
These are shot attempt sample sizes of anywhere from 600 to 1000 shot attempts through 10 to 13 games. Use the checking line Phil, and don't scratch Zemgus while tripping over yourself to avoid scratching your two worst forwards.