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Thrashers Update and Rangers Preview

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I don't think I've every done a game preview for a regular season game here on Thrashers Talons so today's post is a bit of an experiment. Perhaps you will find it useful, perhaps not. If you like it and want me to do more please post a comment.

Breaking Down the Thrashers and Rangers Before I get to the individuals a short explanation of what I'm doing here. (If you're a regular reader this is probably somewhat familiar to you.)

What leads to winning hockey games?
The emerging model of quantitative hockey suggests over the long run winning teams play more in the offensive zone than in their own defensive zone. The idea is that an advantage in puck location leads to an advantage in shots and finally an advantage in goals scored. Again this pattern holds in the long run, in any single game one crucial mistake or one funny bounce can break the pattern--but over the course of the season those odd luck elements are even (i.e. randomly distributed across teams)

Which players play in the other team's end?
There are two ways to measure this 1) faceoffs at the end of shifts or 2) shots fired while a player is on the ice (aka Corsi Numbers). In the long run shift end location and Corsi numbers are correlated with Even Strength Plus/Minus.

How is this stuff useful when thinking about the next game?
Good hockey teams match their best hockey players against the other team's best players in an attempt to gain an advantage. Good hockey teams give more ice time to difference makers and hide their weak guys from the opposition team's strong team. When the Thrashers are at home they have the last change and a much greater chance to obtain favorable matchups. What I'm trying to do in this preview is identify who are the strong and weak lines for each club.

Difference Makers for the Thrashers
Column 1: Where the puck is (measured by end of shift faceoffs)
Column 2: Team shot advantage (measured as net shot attempts, Corsi)
Column 3: Team Scoring advantage (measured as net GF/GA)
All stats are ONLY for Even Strength Situations.
(Players are grouped according to the lines in the last game)

1st Line

-34 -57 +1 Kovalchuk
-9 +4 +4 Reasoner
-8 -27 -2 Thorburn
The old 3rd line of Armstrong-Reasoner-Throburn was the best line at playing in the other team's end of the ice. I'm interested in seeing more of Kovalchuk on this line.

2nd Line

-26 -63 +9 Little
-37 -61 +4 White
-26 -31 +1 Kozlov
This line has an unsustainable ES ST% rate. Their plus/minus numbers will suffer as they get more unlucky bounces in the future. They need to play more at the other end of the ice.

3rd Line

-2 +21 -2 Armstrong
-37 -60 -7 Williams
-16 -30 -4 Perrin
A mish-mash line recently created by Coach Anderson. When Armstrong was paired with Reasoner they were extremely effective at playing in the other end (compared to other Thrashers). It will be interesting to see if Reasoner and Armstrong are able to help their new line mates or will be dragged down by them.

4th Line

-20 -32 -2 Slater
-8 -4 +2 Crabb
-15 -46 -2 Boulton
Crabb has been a pleasant surprise, but this forth line has been fortunate not to be scored on more considering how badly they're being outplayed in limited minutes.
-22 -18 -8 Christensen (bench)

1st Pairing
-25 -54 +2 Enstrom
-69 -101 +4 Havelid
According to practice reports the Swedish D Duo will be split up. They usually get the toughtest assignments at ES. So far they were fortunate to be plus on the season given how much time they have spent in their own end. I'm curious to see how a Enstrom-Oystick pairing looks out there. I fear that Nic Havelid might be wearing down as he gets older.

2nd Pairing

-38 -56 -3 Hainsey
-55 -102 -4 Exelby
I suspect Hainsey's numbers would look a lot better if he spent less time paired with Exelby. The lack of efficient outlet passing from that side of the duo means more time spent defending in the Thrashers end of the ice.

3rd Pairing

Ev -2 -5 Schneider (IND)
+8 +17 E Oystrick
-19 -9 +1 Valabik
Schneider gets a ton of crap from fans but when he's out there the team plays in the other end of the ice as much as it does in his own zone. Schneids gets the puck out. Oystrick has been nothing short of amazing in my view. He looked brutal in the 2007 camp. He didn't look all that impressive in pre-season. He gave up a bad breakaway goal in his first game. Since all that he's settled down and played MUCH better hockey. He and Bogosian have both done a good job of playing in the other team's end of the ice. Oystrick's been a bit sheltered in terms of not facing the opposition's best player--if he is paired with Enstrom in the Ranger game it will be interesting to see how he does with tougher minutes.

-76 -81 +4 Hedberg
-4 -31 -4 Pavelec
-14 -28 -5 Lehtonen
I don't think Goalies have much impact on net shots of territorial advantage but here they are anyway. Hedberg's ES SV% is unsustainable. He's had some incredible good luck and there's a wicked payment due to the devil later this season.

Team Numbers
??? -116 -3 TEAM ESSV% .914 ESST% 10.0

Thrashers Comments: Given how much time they spend in their own end the Thrashers have been lucky that they have only been outscored by 3 goals (excluding EN goals) at ES so far this year. Something's got to give. Odds are they 're going to start giving up more at ES which makes it that much more imperative to fix the PK unit.

Rangers Comments: The Rangers have incredibly unlucky at ES so far this year. They're doing all the right things--like playing in the offensive zone and piling up shots--they puck just hasn't gone in the net for them. It is a long season and they're due some friendly bounces. This is a better ES team than the ES GF/GA would indicate.

Difference Makers for the Rangers
Column 1: Where the puck is (measured by end of shift faceoffs)
Column 2: Team shot advantage (measured as net shot attempts, Corsi)
Column 3: Team Scoring advantage (measured as net GF/GA)
All stats are ONLY for Even Strength Situations.
(Players are grouped according to the lines in the last game)

1st Line

+41 +7 +5 Drury
+54 +96 -4 Naslund
+1 +20 -1 Prucha
2nd line
+29 +102 +8 Zherdev
+22 +91 E Dubinsky
+22 +61 +2 Voros
3rd line
+42 +101 -6 Gomez
E -37 -3 Korpikoski
+69 +66 -5 Callahan
4th line
+14 -20 -5 Orr
-1 -1 -5 Sjostrom
+17 -6 -2 Betts

+18 +27 +3 Dawes (bench)
+6 -23 -2 Fritsche (bench)

Defense 1st pairing
+51 +61 -5 Rozsival
+23 +37 +3 Staal
2nd pairing
+46 +93 -1 Girardi
+26 +24 -1 Mara
3rd pairing
+8 +4 -5 Kalinin
-4 +2 -1 Potter

+66 +83 -1 Redden (out)

+85 +147 -6 Lundqvist
+25 +10 -4 Valiquette

??? +77 -7 TEAM ESSV% .920 ESST% 6.0