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nfreeman

The Third Line

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There's been a fair amount of discussion on the Zemgus-Larsson-KO line in the Habs GDT and elsewhere, so I thought I'd start a thread.

My 2 cents:

- This line, and not Vesey-Mitts-ERod, is clearly the "3rd line".  Larsson's line gets substantially more ice time and adds substantially more value than Mitts' line.

- Larsson's line also plays the traditional "checking line" role that a 3rd line has been thought of as.

- As @Randall Flagg and others have noted, this line is doing a fantastic job of muscling the puck out of the D zone (despite a heavy D zone start %age) and into the O zone, and maintaining a strong and punishing forecheck in the O zone.

- What I haven't seen though is how often this line is matched up against the opponent's 1st or 2nd scoring line, as opposed to "easier" opposition.

- My pinch of salt on this is that although they are highly effective at establishing an O-zone forecheck, they are not at all effective at converting the forecheck into actual production.  I think they had one good scoring chance last night vs the Habs.  I generally don't expect them to score a goal more than once every 3 or 4 games -- and I think they have one goal between them this year so far in 4 games. 

If that continues to be the case, are they really that valuable?  i.e. certainly there is value in limiting goals against if they are able to consistently get it into the D zone and establish the forecheck -- but is that enough value given how much ice time they get, especially if they aren't shutting down the opponents' top lines but rather their bottom lines (which as mentioned above I don't know is the case or not)?

Discuss.

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Looking at Natural Stat Trick, the line they played against the most against Columbus was Foligno - Jenner - whoever their winger was. Which I think has to be CBJ's second line, right? Behind Dubois? 
Against New Jersey they were given Hughes - Bratt - Wood. Definitely the Devils' third offensive line.
Their most-played-against Penguins forward was Malkin. They held him scoreless (this is at even strength) in those four+ minutes, which isn't a lot, but was a third of his ES ice time (13 minutes). Shot attempts were slightly in our favor during those minutes. 
Against Montreal it was Drouin-Kotkaniemi they saw more than any other skater. 
They would basically play 4-6 minutes against these guys, and would get the top and third lines for 1-3 minutes otherwise (names like Crosby, Gallagher, Hall for first liners, and then Wennberg/Armia/Zajac otherwise). 

So those are their opponents. 

On their value:
I think it's pretty hard to quantify exactly what value these minutes bring, but we can think about it relative to other things that may help us ground ourselves. 
1.) Last year, Larry and Zemgus had a higher defensive zone start rate than all but three forwards since this began being tracked more than a decade ago. 
Larry.thumb.PNG.4c40a66b640e2a1ccf834fb293eb192c.PNG
There are a lot of playoff teams on this list, but not a lot of guys that created appreciably more goals for their teams that season than Larry and Zemgus did. Because a lot of the teams on this list were playoff teams, I'm comfortable with the idea that a team can succeed with their level of offense in this role with this ice time, while they're as effective as they are at spending time with the puck.

As for how effective what they do can be without this production, well, the lack of production makes it hard to quantify, but the value is, without a doubt, there. First, I recall at least two Malkin shifts that started with an offensive zone faceoff and were immediately spent with him chasing the puck around in his own end for a full minute. That's much better than Malkin doing the same in our zone, which would have happened every shift against fourth lines of Sabres past. (I'm going to keep calling them the fourth line because of their role and the typical role provided by that line.) So, relative to fourth lines of the past that featured the likes of Deslauriers, or Nolan, that would often have shot shares of less than 40%, making it impossible for the coach to use them outside of about 6 relatively easy minutes per night, this is a large upgrade. Those past fourth lines would get slaughtered, and it would mean that Jack/ROR/whoever coming out onto the ice next had to first expend energy to slow momentum down enough to be able to steal a puck, then traverse the length of the ice with it before getting the opportunity to set up and score. Our fourth line gives us in-game momentum, which is real, and tires the other team, and gives our skill guys opportunities to come onto the ice with full possession of the puck, or with offensive zone starts, and a reeling opponent. There are a lot of reasons for Jack's burst in ES production since this line was put together, but this line can claim a nonzero part of this increase. Jack is hitting the ice with our team in possession and with tired opponents more often than he was before 18/19, sometimes in part due to the 4th line. 

It really is impossible to quantify the value of this, but the hockey season is long, and tiny bits of value here and there have a LOT of time to add up into something big. So while they don't deserve any trophies, my view is that they're doing the team a service in a way conducive to being a playoff team, evidenced by playoff teams having players and lines that do virtually the same thing in the same minutes as these guys. If you have a checklist of things needed to make the playoffs, this can be checked off, and even if it's not the top item or two, it still feels damn good to check things off that list. Their production is the number one concern, but they SHOULD be the line you expect the least offense from, and they're not going to be significantly outscored by fourth offensive lines around the league on average, especially not the guys that eat the number of defensive zone minutes (which really are incredibly difficult, and SOMEBODY has to eat them) that they do. It lets us do crazy things like give Jack AND Mitts 65-70% offensive zone starts, which is simply conducive to us having a better chance to win (because of both lines' general defensive play, and the offensive potential Jack provides). If we start to have problems with depth scoring, the line that becomes the focus and problem is very obviously the Mitts line at this point. 

So they're cool, fun to root for, and they can contribute some amount, even if not massive, to winning hockey, and I don't think there's evidence that successful teams of the past NEED more scoring than they provide, especially among the teams that actually have guys they use in this manner (75%+ defensive zone starts). 

Edited by Randall Flagg
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And, as overpaid as Kyle is, given the nature of his circumstances, it's really fun for him to have a real role in these games that doesn't hurt the team on the ice.

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Basically what they are mostly doing is forcing offensively strong players to play in their own zone, effectively making those players irrelevant. It is a valuable asset to have.

I also think, but can’t prove their physical efforts wear the other teams down, making them ripe for the picking for our more offensively gifted players later in shifts and games.

I think we saw this line play a lot like this last year.

Fans find it easier to forgive their lack of scoring prowess when the other lines are scoring.

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Here's a different way to see it. 
Break the game down like this:
50% Offensive zone starts: 
35% against depth/defensive players, 15% against good offensive players (top sixes)

50% defensive zone starts:
35% against two dangerous lines, 15% against depth

These aren't perfect descriptions of how the game goes, but the hand-wave likely works. But it's not like we're taking 60 minutes created equally and handing some off to guys who can't score. we're taking minutes almost entirely from the bottom 50% there, more often than not from the more dangerous portion, and giving them to guys who can tire those guys out cycling the puck in the offensive zone. The nature of those minutes dictates that even if you put a good offensive player there, you're not going to get the bulk of your production from them. As evidence for this, see ROR's even strength numbers the year we broke a record for the most defensive zone starts per 60 minutes of ice time for a forward playing more than 1000 minutes. And compare them to his even strength numbers last year. Even good players struggle to produce with those minutes. When you give those minutes to someone else, you can stack Jack and Casey's lines' minutes the way you do, which means less Casey on defense, more Jack on offense. Coupled with the fact that we see how Larry and co. can control the puck while handling those minutes...it's a win-win-win. 

Edited by Randall Flagg
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They give our skill guys a chance to rest without worrying that resting period will put them in a hole.  Additionally, as @Randall Flaggpointed out, they keep the momentum going in favour of our team, and allow our skill guys to get on the ice usually with possession, and, again, with momentum in the team's favor.  

If the Angry Larry line is out there fore-checking, tiring down the enemy D, and the enemy can't change players out, but we can, who has the advantage?  Hell yeah.  That's super high value, right there, that is not exposed in any metric.

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This is why HCRK doesn’t “use” line numbers.  

The Mitts line has been our least effective line and therefore is getting the least ice time.

It is interesting that HCRK is deploying Larsson’s line kind of similarly to the way xHCPH did. 

If we going to continue to win we need some 5 on 5 scoring from Larsson and Mitts’ lines sooner then later.

Edited by GASabresIUFAN

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1 hour ago, Randall Flagg said:

And, as overpaid as Kyle is, given the nature of his circumstances, it's really fun for him to have a real role in these games that doesn't hurt the team on the ice.

I’ve said this before, when it comes to KO, management realizes how delicate a situation it can be. He is revered in the locker room, maybe the only high level free agent that signed for market rate, and just a really good  teammate. The fact that they found a role for him is huge. Buying him out, banishing him to the minors or sitting him in the press box would run counter to what they are trying to build within that room.

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There are no numbered lines, just ones that play more or less depending on their roles in the game against that particular opponent and the situation

Edited by matter2003
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4 minutes ago, matter2003 said:

There are no numbered lines, just ones that play more or less depending on their roles in the game against that particular opponent and the situation

Yep. There was a point in time last night that the Larsson line seemed like the "second line."

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1 hour ago, Randall Flagg said:

-snip-


On their value:
I think it's pretty hard to quantify exactly what value these minutes bring, but we can think about it relative to other things that may help us ground ourselves. 
1.) Last year, Larry and Zemgus had a higher defensive zone start rate than all but three forwards since this began being tracked more than a decade ago. 
Larry.thumb.PNG.4c40a66b640e2a1ccf834fb293eb192c.PNG
There are a lot of playoff teams on this list, but not a lot of guys that created appreciably more goals for their teams that season than Larry and Zemgus did. Because a lot of the teams on this list were playoff teams, I'm comfortable with the idea that a team can succeed with their level of offense in this role with this ice time, while they're as effective as they are at spending time with the puck.

-snip-

(I'm going to keep calling them the fourth line because of their role and the typical role provided by that line.)

-snip-

Their production is the number one concern, but they SHOULD be the line you expect the least offense from, and they're not going to be significantly outscored by fourth offensive lines around the league on average, especially not the guys that eat the number of defensive zone minutes (which really are incredibly difficult, and SOMEBODY has to eat them) that they do. It lets us do crazy things like give Jack AND Mitts 65-70% offensive zone starts, which is simply conducive to us having a better chance to win (because of both lines' general defensive play, and the offensive potential Jack provides). If we start to have problems with depth scoring, the line that becomes the focus and problem is very obviously the Mitts line at this point. 

So they're cool, fun to root for, and they can contribute some amount, even if not massive, to winning hockey, and I don't think there's evidence that successful teams of the past NEED more scoring than they provide, especially among the teams that actually have guys they use in this manner (75%+ defensive zone starts). 

Well, this is a great post.

I will disagree with a couple of points though:

1.  As I stated in the OP, I think it's more accurate to call them the 3rd line.  They are playing 3rd-line minutes and they are (ably) filling the traditional role of a 3rd line.  I recognize that this is kinda just nomenclature and non-substantive, except that in a sense it affects the analysis, because...

2. Again, they are playing 3rd-line minutes -- up to about 15 min per game at this point.  (I spot-checked about a half-dozen of the guys on the list you posted and most were at about 11 min per game -- which is closer to 4th-line minutes).  My question was whether, given this ice time, the Sabres need more offensive production out of them.  I don't think they are going to outscore, or score an equivalent amount to, most NHL 3rd lines.

I agree that the real answer is that additional production is needed from Mitts' line.  I'm just growing pessimistic that this is going to occur.  And if another month goes by and we find ourselves getting scoring only from the top 2 lines, I think we'll need to at least consider some reordering of the 3rd and 4th lines.

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1 hour ago, dudacek said:

Basically what they are mostly doing is forcing offensively strong players to play in their own zone, effectively making those players irrelevant. It is a valuable asset to have.

I also think, but can’t prove their physical efforts wear the other teams down, making them ripe for the picking for our more offensively gifted players later in shifts and games.

I think we saw this line play a lot like this last year.

Fans find it easier to forgive their lack of scoring prowess when the other lines are scoring.

This is what I think is their most value. If they wear down the other teams line and can get a change bringing on the Jack line without losing possession, it's are big plus. That's what they do best.

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7 minutes ago, nfreeman said:

Well, this is a great post.

I will disagree with a couple of points though:

1.  As I stated in the OP, I think it's more accurate to call them the 3rd line.  They are playing 3rd-line minutes and they are (ably) filling the traditional role of a 3rd line.  I recognize that this is kinda just nomenclature and non-substantive, except that in a sense it affects the analysis, because...

2. Again, they are playing 3rd-line minutes -- up to about 15 min per game at this point.  (I spot-checked about a half-dozen of the guys on the list you posted and most were at about 11 min per game -- which is closer to 4th-line minutes).  My question was whether, given this ice time, the Sabres need more offensive production out of them.  I don't think they are going to outscore, or score an equivalent amount to, most NHL 3rd lines.

I agree that the real answer is that additional production is needed from Mitts' line.  I'm just growing pessimistic that this is going to occur.  And if another month goes by and we find ourselves getting scoring only from the top 2 lines, I think we'll need to at least consider some reordering of the 3rd and 4th lines.

It certainly gives me more fuel for my continued interest in making one more forward trade.

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19 minutes ago, nfreeman said:

Well, this is a great post.

I will disagree with a couple of points though:

1.  As I stated in the OP, I think it's more accurate to call them the 3rd line.  They are playing 3rd-line minutes and they are (ably) filling the traditional role of a 3rd line.  I recognize that this is kinda just nomenclature and non-substantive, except that in a sense it affects the analysis, because...

2. Again, they are playing 3rd-line minutes -- up to about 15 min per game at this point.  (I spot-checked about a half-dozen of the guys on the list you posted and most were at about 11 min per game -- which is closer to 4th-line minutes).  My question was whether, given this ice time, the Sabres need more offensive production out of them.  I don't think they are going to outscore, or score an equivalent amount to, most NHL 3rd lines.

I agree that the real answer is that additional production is needed from Mitts' line.  I'm just growing pessimistic that this is going to occur.  And if another month goes by and we find ourselves getting scoring only from the top 2 lines, I think we'll need to at least consider some reordering of the 3rd and 4th lines.

Is three goals in four games from your “bottom six” good, bad, or indifferent?

That’s what they’ve produced. Off the top of my head, it works out to about 60 goals, or 10 per player, which seems solid, but I don’t actually know what the league average is.

Looks like Tampa got 71 last year, the Leafs 67.

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16 minutes ago, dudacek said:

Is three goals in four games from your “bottom six” good, bad, or indifferent?

That’s what they’ve produced. Off the top of my head, it works out to about 60 goals, or 10 per player, which seems solid, but I don’t actually know what the league average is.

Looks like Tampa got 71 last year, the Leafs 67.

If I felt confident that Mitts' line would continue to score, or would ever score again, I'd be less concerned.  But Sheary, the lone goal-scorer, is out week-to-week, and Mitts and Vesey have been completely ineffective since Game 1.

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Skill is great to have, but nothing can beat effort imo. And so far that Larsson line is putting out solid effort game in & game out.

As for the Mitts line, with Vesey & now Erod, idk if i can say the same for them. And i hope i'm not being unfair to them, i know Vesey is just slower & i do think thruout the year the goals will come. But we for sure do need another forward brought in, so we can have 3 lines that can score. Perhaps if down the road we're still in a playoff race, we'll bring a guy in. As opposed to waiting til next year to address it.

Still i like the compete level our team as a whole is showing. Thats really all i can ask for as a fan. You can't win them all, so win or lose, just compete & give an honest effort out there

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11 minutes ago, MillerVaive said:

Skill is great to have, but nothing can beat effort imo. And so far that Larsson line is putting out solid effort game in & game out.

As for the Mitts line, with Vesey & now Erod, idk if i can say the same for them. And i hope i'm not being unfair to them, i know Vesey is just slower & i do think thruout the year the goals will come. But we for sure do need another forward brought in, so we can have 3 lines that can score. Perhaps if down the road we're still in a playoff race, we'll bring a guy in. As opposed to waiting til next year to address it.

Still i like the compete level our team as a whole is showing. Thats really all i can ask for as a fan. You can't win them all, so win or lose, just compete & give an honest effort out there

This is from one scouting report on him but most say pretty much the same thing.

Offensive Game

Vesey has good size, and plays a power forward game.  He is a quick skater, with good acceleration and top end speed.  Vesey has a powerful stride which allows him to fight through checks and drive to the front of the net.  When he gets there, he has the soft hands to finish in close.  He can also stand in front of the net, provide a screen and get tip-ins and rebounds. From further out, Vesey has a hard and accurate shot, that he gets off quickly. He protects the puck extremely well, with good stickhandling, and uses his body as a shield to play the cycle game.  Vesey is well balanced and hard to knock off the puck or beat in a board battle.

Vesey’s playmaking ability is really coming along.  One thing he can do is change speeds effectively which he uses to beat defenders wide, or slow up and create some space for a passing or shooting lane.  He is a very intelligent player, who makes smart plays with the puck on his stick, and also finds ways to be dangerous without it.

Two way game

Vesey is also a good defensive player.  He again shows high hockey IQ, reading plays well and breaking them up.  When he creates a turnover, he is quick to find the streaking man, and start the transition game.  He also knows how to get his body into shooting lanes and is not afraid to block shots.  Vesey does a lot of the little things that coaches love. He was often given big responsibilities as a key member of the Harvard penalty kill.

 

Now I can't say I've seen any of this.

Edited by MakeSabresGrr8Again
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i do think in time that line will be better.

You have Mitts who is still finding his own game & learning how to use his high skilled talent & apply it to his play.

You have Vesey who has only been in the league a few years too, playing on a new team which along with him is learning a new system as well.

You basically have 2/3's of that line not knowing 100% what theyre doing yet. So I'm not really surprised that line isn't our best. I think if we had a more seasoned pro to go along with those 2 guys, it'd help them out a lot. But again i don't want it to sound like i'm too harsh on them.

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I've seen two players that consistently frustrate me so far this season:  Vesey and Sobotka.  Sobs can be overcome by his linemates.  Vesey simply can't.  Mitts can't elevate Vesey's game to the point that the line becomes productive.  The other winger, Sheary, is out hurt.  After the two goal start there was some hope there.  Now it's ERod, who does a lot of things right, but maybe not enough to improve the line.  Mitts needs a different winger.  Maybe at some point when one of the top two lines struggles, they'll swap out a wing and give him to Mitts.

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I have hope for Vesey and that line. There was a play where you could tell he just wasn’t sure what his line mate was going to do so he wasn’t going full speed. That line is young and needs time to gel and figure each other out.

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24 minutes ago, SwampD said:

I have hope for Vesey and that line. There was a play where you could tell he just wasn’t sure what his line mate was going to do so he wasn’t going full speed. That line is young and needs time to gel and figure each other out.

Vesey is 26 in his 4th pro year.

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1 minute ago, LGR4GM said:

Vesey is 26 in his 4th pro year.

26 is not old.

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1 minute ago, SwampD said:

26 is not old.

It also isn't young. It's right about league average. 

Sheary is 27. Erod is 26. 

Casey is young but that line isn't. 

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Just now, LGR4GM said:

It also isn't young. It's right about league average. 

The center is young, then. They still need time to gel. I have hope that they will. 
 

 

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