Saturday, March 25, 2006

First Game, First Period

Dennis coined the term "MacTactics" on OilFans today. Too funny, the guy is on form.

Anyhow, kind of got me thinking about the shift, or drift, in philosophy that we've seen since opening day. That and a post on BofA has moved me to make an effort here. :-) I remember starting a spectacularly unpopular thread about a week before opening night, on both OilFans and HF, to discuss how MacTavish would run the bench on opening day. Turns out I guessed right, but I don't deserve a prize, because it was just MacTacish employing MacTactics, Scotty Bowman style. The shift of Dvorak up in Pisani's spot was maybe a good guess, but really the writing was on the wall for that too.

So, first game, first period, the icetime of Joe Sakic and Shawn Horcoff from the shift charts.

Horcoff is the green bar, Sakic is the deep red bar. the green bit on the edges is the Oiler powerplay (alert readers will note that the PP is created while the Horcoff line is out against the Sakic line, and that Sakic played the gravy shift after the Oilers PP had expired).

That little stutter step about half way through was when Q tried to short shift Sakic to get the Horcoff line off of the ice and then get him out against Torres-Peca-Hemsky half a shift later (wouldn't you try that too? This isn't rocket science)

The curious thing about that was that Peca was pulled and the wingers left on. Torres was closer, like 3 feet away, and Moreau was rested (and healthy then too). But he moves Horcoff in place of Peca instead. Hrmm.

Besides that a very MacTavish period. The same stuff as we saw in the latter 2/3rds of the season previous, with Horcoff and Smyth chewing up the tough minutes. And generally outplaying some pretty terrific hockey players. Sets the rest of the lines up nicely. Nothing new, surely a blind man could see MacTavish coming with this here. The lack of penalties in this period made the matchups clean too.

The shift after Sakic is interesting as well. Though I'll just trust my memory on this (I'm happy to be proven wrong BTW). Obviously this is the second thing the home bench coach controls ... these are the guys that the coach absolutely, positively doesn't want out there against Sakic and the like. On this night it was the Torres-Peca-Hemsky line and the Cross-Bergeron D pairing. Again ... good sense was ruling here. These are the cherry minutes usually, the guys you rely on to win you games sometimes ... and you sure as hell can't cope if they start losing you games. (I would guess that Turgeon has better home EV+/- numbers than Sakic for this reason ... it's not because he's better, or has 'home clutchness' ... it's because he's worse.) These 'shift after' guys are also the players that end up getting a shitload of love from casual hockey fans. And inspire the critics to question why they didn't get more ice. Which kind of gets on my tit, but whatever.

The 94-10-20 trio was dominant over the Sakic line and over the NasBert line in the next one, that was the game in which Smytty blew out his knee. Comments from Quenneville and Crawford after the game acknowledged that. Decent I thought.

After Smyth goes down. They drift for a bit, Pisani (healthy then) gets shifted to the port side in place of Rita in L.A when Murray was running at that line with Demitra, and doing it well (I'd like to pretend that the brief Rita-on-the-top-line idiocy never happened ... turns out it was foreshadowing, but I digress).

Then they are back on track. Until Horcoff goes down in the DAL game (looked to me like at one point Tippet was long shifting Modano to keep the Horcoff line off the ice, Michael F. N. Modano Esq., seriously).


And then the losing streak, and things went madass. IMHO.

I've got an idea of the thought process and why and where. And ultimately it's their job, they spend the dozens of man hours reviewing every game tape, they have to deal with the personalities on the squad, they're likely smarter than me ... still, I just don't get a lot of what has happened since. Just don't.

I'm not sure if there is interest in this sort of topic. But I thought I would throw this up here as a starting point, just in case.


Anonymous lowetide said...

I remember that post. It was very interesting looking back because very early on (along with the G) the theme established itself and began to eat a big old hole in the season (with the backdrop being what to do with the increased special team minutes).

I have a question: would you (or if I can make you guess about MacT) have done anything differently as the season wore on?

Dump Peca earlier? Get a goalie for Christmas?

Interesting to ponder.

3/25/2006 7:23 pm  
Blogger RiversQ said...

Pfft. It's hugely interesting.

It's really weird how MacT switched things up for the Oilers. Given Peca's GAA numbers, he couldn't have been actually killing the club with the easy minutes either, so it's hard to figure.

My guess is that injuries are the primary issue here, but it's not exactly clear why they haven't gone back to the old strategy now.

3/25/2006 8:19 pm  
Blogger Dennis said...

Yeah...probably the best blog entry we've seen here. This is what I sorta tried to hint at with my Peca entry, ie how he's being used and was used and the why...but I couldn't get to the heart of it like Vic just did.

Looking forward to seeing it all batted around but out of the box it looks like 94-10 can still be outscorers...they just need a dependable guy on their starboard side, ie RD or Pisani.

Regarding current looks like Hemsky's getting primo time to the overall detriment of the team. Earlier I suggested that if we're matching power against power we should go 94-10-20 as our first line, have 18-37-34 as a line that won't get scored on much and in keeping with Vic's theme about how some guys get the soft minutes and just tear it up....I give you the troika of 12-16-83. Those wingers have superior skill and I think Stoll could keep up and plus when we're at home MacT's getting them the aforementioned soft minutes.

So what do we do with Torres? Who really gives a fuck:) But I've said a long time ago that I think you only need 10 forwards at even strenght so we move him around from line to line. If he doesn't like it then too bad.

At the end of the day though...why isn't MacT using lines like that? It makes so much sense in light of Vic's findings...

3/26/2006 1:14 am  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...

It's hard to say. Second guessing is just too easy, too tempting.

To me, early on MacTavish looked like a guy who was losing faith in his team. Losing faith in his own game plan. And he was being spooked by the rule changes that this season brought. Reminded me of Larry Robinson with L.A. a few years ago, he was a good coach I thought, then he just completely gave up on his team. Strange stuff. Then Larry did the same thing in N.J this year, leopards rarely change their spots.

Ultimately I think the thing that hurt MacTavish's coaching team the most is the thing that has hurt them the most in the past. Playing injured players, and playing them as if they weren't injured. From Conklin in training camp, to Horcoff and Smyth when they came back.

I'm not saying he's an idiot or anything, just that people do everything for a reason, be it good or bad, rational or emotional, and MacTavish took off in a different direction in October. And I don't know why. And he's been veering back to more expected MacTactics, but with some curious quirks, notably Hemsky playing way too much against quality opposition (for the likes of most of the people that post and reply here, anyways 8) )

I don't want to go completely madass with the colour bars from the shift charts. But there are some games I'm going to step through, and maybe between us we can decypher what the hell the thinking was. The first game that Smyth came back, home vs COL, that one is worth a look. The next two times that they played in DAL. The game in CGY when Pronger was injured. All of the VAN games this year, regarding forward matchups, Peca and Horcoff specifically, it's like a pendulum swinging there.

Since I'm not talking to myself on the subject (you guys seem to be as interested as me in this sort of thing) I'll take a few more kicks at this sort of thing over the next week or so. Hopefully some others will do the same. Everyone has the shiftchart reader version that doesn't require anything other than entering the game number, no? It generates those colour bars that I cut and paste as well. (Unfortunately the NHL changed the font for a stretch of games around Christmas, so until I rewrite the simple little OCR script those ones are out)

3/26/2006 12:26 pm  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...


Ya, that's the $64 question(s).

Remember too that this is the same coach that ran Smyth-Comrie-Carter out against the Fedorov line in B2B games in 02/03, out of the blue. And this when he had a checking line that was really doing the job (Horcoff-Marchant-Cleary). Only to bounce back to the classic 80s style checking line matchups in following games. And it was a pattern that repeated, a couple of weeks later, the game in COL was bizarre, Sakic and Forsberg out and they run the Comrie line toe to toe against Tanguay-Hejduk. Hartley was happy to oblige, and the Oilers lost. WTF was that?

I've got some ideas, I mean I agree with your assessment of the Peca situation, and the way it changed the dynamic of the team. And I think they are fast tracking Hemsky's development, though maybe they just have more faith than me, I dunno. If we can go through some of the recent history it should shed some light, of course we'll probably forget a lot of the details (player health, a couple of huge gaffs that caused the coaching staff to lose faith in a guy for a game or two like Torres in this VAN series) things like that will get lost a bit. Nothing we can do about that though.

3/26/2006 12:39 pm  
Anonymous lowetide said...

I'll look forward to it there's a story in there somewhere.

I like your point about people doing things for a reason even if everyone around things they're crazy.

Buck Rodgers' put Tim Raines third in the batting order even though the planet earth knew he was a tremendous leadoff hitter and had been for several years.

But he did it.

3/26/2006 12:39 pm  

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