In the wake of Dallas’ loss to New Jersey, fans and observers have been quick to point fingers. It’s only natural. Everybody wants what’s best for the franchise they love. And so we search for who to blame. Except the failures are broad enough to have their own motion tracker. So much so that a lot of Texans who love hockey probably feel like Bill Paxton, wondering if the cadre of incoming xenomorphs signals some ‘game over man!’ hysterics.
Did John Klingberg play that 2-on-1 correctly? Could Antti Niemi have played the shot better? Why is Jamie Benn making that pass to begin with? Et cetera. That’s not what we’re here to talk about. We’re here to look at the general efficiencies of the forward line combos.
Granted, the line combos are a mixture of AHL casserole with a side order of Art Ross biscuits and gravy. But so far, there’s a clear picture that nobody needed fancy stats for: Dallas had better possession lines across its top and bottom six last season than it does this season. All data via Corsica.Hockey.
There’s no real “first line” this season: a consequence of Dallas’ injuries. Oddly enough, the strongest possession line has been the trio of Antoine Roussel, Radek Faksa, and Jason Spezza. Together they’re getting the second highest quality chances of any line combo, but also have the best xGA60 of any line, indicating that they’re also suppressing high quality chances.
Benn with Seguin and Eaves are where you expect them to be at: quality of shots could be better, but they’re getting their chances.
The biggest shocker are the other two lines. Benn with Faksa and Korpikoski have the lowest shots for per 60 minutes of play than any other line combo Ruff has tried, which explains their dramatic differential (their shots against per 60 is middle of the road).
Meanwhile, Seguin with Roussel and Eaves are getting quality chances, but don’t have possession of the puck that often.
The Best (and Worst) of the Rest
Somehow, the trio of Gemel Smith with Adam Cracknell and Curtis McKenzie have the highest shots for per 60 minutes of play than any other line combo. And as you can see from their expected goals for percentage, the quality is right near the top as well (second only to the Spak ‘Em line).
Outside of that, there are very few bright spots. Despite the early season production of Devin Shore, he has struggled when it comes to possession (40% for the season), and no one has fostered chemistry with him. All of his typical line mates (McKenzie, Korpikoski, and Ritchie) haven’t been good possession wise either. It’s worth noting that most of these forwards have spent their time predominantly with John Klingberg, perhaps explaining a yin/yang effect on Klingberg’s struggles.
It’s too early in the season to write obituaries for certain line combos. This is a classic case of ‘small sample size’. But it’s glaringly obvious how much Dallas misses Ales Hemsky, Patrick Sharp, and Mattias Janmark, who tied the top six with the bottom six like a puck bow of possession efficiency. For now, Lindy Ruff will have to figure out how to make an NHL mountain out of an AHL molehill.