Mar 24, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Flyers center Danny Briere (48) gets tangled with Montreal Canadiens center Tomas Plekanec (14) during the 3rd period at the Wells Fargo Center. The Philadelphia Flyers beat the Montreal Canadiens, 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Szagola-USA TODAY Sports

Flyers-Habs 2008 playoff retrospective: Habs forward lines


Now that we’ve seen the Habs’ player usage for the whole of the 2007-2008 season, let’s see how the Habs were deployed during the 2007-2008 series against the Flyers. As the number of games is very small, we can be a lot more fine-grained about the analysis; on the other hand, the smaller sample sizes should induce caution, especially for matchups that involved only a handful of shots.

We’ll start with the forwards. Here’s a break down per line of the puck possession advantage for the series for the Habs’ centers, largely corresponding to the Habs’ forward lines. % represents the Corsi ratio like in previous articles; N is the sample size, to evaluate how much action each line saw against the opposing center or defensive pairing. The OZS% measures the ratio of offensive versus defensive facoffs. All this data covers exclusively 5-on-5 play. Also the totals will not add up for their rows because of alternate combinations and the occasional case of two centers playing together.

Matchups against Forwards

Carter Briere Richards Dowd Total
OZS% % N % N % N % N % N
Koivu with Kovalev 57.1% 62.5% 40 62.5% 16 66.7% 18 33.3% 9 58.8% 80
Koivu without Kovalev 52.4% 38.5% 26 50.0% 22 75.0% 16 0.0% 3 49.2% 65
Plekanec with Kovalev 69.2% 58.3% 24 60.0% 15 46.2% 13 71.4% 7 55.2% 58
Plekanec without Kovalev 81.3% 68.8% 16 59.4% 32 61.1% 18 85.7% 7 64.4% 73
Koivu overall 55.4% 53.0% 66 55.3% 38 70.6% 34 25.0% 12 54.5% 145
Plekanec overall 75.9% 62.5% 40 59.6% 47 54.8% 31 78.6% 14 61.1% 131
Smolinski 55.6% 63.6% 22 42.4% 33 63.2% 57 55.6% 18 57.1% 126
Lapierre 60.7% 40.9% 22 57.1% 14 50.0% 20 60.0% 25 49.4% 79


Matchups against Defensemen

Coburn-Tinomen Hatcher-Jones Smith-Kukkonen Total
% N % N % N % N
Koivu with Kovalev 54.2% 48 87.5% 8 50.0% 6 58.8% 80
Koivu without Kovalev 28.0% 25 65.2% 23 75.0% 8 49.2% 65
Plekanec with Kovalev 38.9% 18 83.3% 18 33.3% 9 55.2% 58
Plekanec without Kovalev 80.0% 5 56.1% 41 93.3% 15 64.4% 73
Koivu overall 45.2% 73 71.0% 31 64.3% 14 54.5% 145
Plekanec overall 47.8% 23 64.4% 59 70.8% 24 61.1% 131
Smolinski 46.7% 15 54.0% 50 65.5% 29 57.1% 126
Lapierre 46.2% 13 36.8% 19 59.3% 27 49.4% 79

Top-6: I’m arbitrarily picking the line centered by Saku Koivu on it as the “first” line, as he got a handful more 5-on-5 events than Plekanec and played more time with leading scorer Alex Kovalev. At the start of the series, Koivu was on a line with Chris Higgins and Alex Kovalev, whereas Plekanec played with the Kostitsyn brothers. This was constant during games 1 to 4, although late in games 2 and 3, Carbonneau tried to make adjustments by swapping Kovalev and Kostitsyn and reforming the 46-14-27 line that had driven the Habs’ scoring at even-strength during the regular season. For game 5, Kovalev was reassigned to the Plekanec line along with the elder Kostitsyn, and Koivy played with Higgins and Sergei Kostitsyn. Laviolette , no fool, adjusted his mathcups depending on where Kovalev played, especially with defensemen, so I’ve put down some splits down.

A note as we look over these lines, it’s important to keep in mind that while Kovalev was the team’s leading scorer, it was largely by virtue of power play scoring: an utterly ridiculous 8.07 points per 60 minutes of 5-on-4 icetime. It was Kovalev’s linemates, Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn who led the way at even-strength, with respectively 2.35 and 2.33 points per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 icetime. Kovalev’s performance (1.88/60) was strong, but not quite up to that level.

First line: Koivu was the Habs center most often started int he defensive zone (a virtual tie with Smolinski), but the Habs’ possession dominance still left him with a 55.4% ratio as the Habs forced faceoffs in the Flyers’ zone far more often than the reverse. The line acquitted itself well in these “tough” minutes, with Koivu boasting a 54.5% Corsi ratio overall.

Higgins-Koivu-Kovalev most frequently faced the Coburn-Tinomen pairing, and did fairly well against them. Higgins-Koivu-Sergei saw a lot of Coburn-Timonen and really struggled, but they made up for it by feasting on the Flyers’ other pairings.

Second line: Plekanec was heavily used in the offensive zone. His offensive zone start ratio was a whopping 75.9%, and without Kovalev this went up to 81%. Partially as a result of this, and partly because of their 5-on-5 prowess Plekanec’s line murdered in puck possession pretty much every combination of Flyers matched up against him, finishing with a 61.1% Corsi ratio.

Kostitsyn-Plekanec-Kostitsyn mostly saw Hatcher-Jones, with a side order of Smith-Kukkonen. Andrei-Plekanec-Kovalev saw a lot more of Coburn-Tinomen, and struggled a great deal more against them, but again made up for him by pasting Hatcher-Jones.

Third line: This would be the Smolinski line, along with Tom Kostopoulos and one of either Steve Begin (games 1, 2 and 5) or Guillaume Latendresse (games 3 and 4). Smolinski and Kostopoulos ended the playoffs with almost as much 5-on-5 icetime per game as Tomas Plekanec. As befits a defensive third line, this unit was used in the defensive zone as much as the Koivu line (55.6%) and came out well ahead (57.1%). It tangled with Mike Richards a lot, and won that particular matchup handily (63.2% head-to-head Corsi ratio). Defense-wise it spent most of its time against Hatcher and Jones.

Fourth Line: Lapierre, Streit, and one of Begin, Dandenault, or Latendresse. It saw considerably less time than the other lines, often being matched up against Jim Dowd. The 60.7% zone start number may seem high, but with the lopsided possesison, that’s an exactly average offensive zone start for the Habs in this series. Lapierre managed to end up in the red, with a 49.4% Corsi ratio, largely because his unit got destroyed by Jeff Carter whenever that matchup came up. They faced the Flyers’ fourth pair most often, which was good because it was the only one they beat.

The Coburn-Tinomen factor: The clearest conclusion from this study says more about the Flyers’ D than it does about the Habs’ lines. Simply put, Philadelphia did well whenever their first pairing was on the ice, but the rest of their shallow defense was absolutely no match for the Habs’ forwards. The pairing had a 54% Corsi ratio overall against that pairing (that is, the Habs were actually in the red against them), but the Flyers had a 38.4% ratio when neither was on the ice! Some of that has to be due to their relatively favorable zone starts (48.1%, whereas the other pairings had to make do with 35.7%), but nevertheless, Coburn-Tinomen were managing to row upstream whereas the rest of the Flyers D simply sunk like a rock.

It really is small wonder that the Flyers lost handily to a club who could send a pair of lines centered by Crosby and Malkin in the Eastern Conference Finals; with only one genuinely good defensive pairing, they wouldn’t have had the depth to deal with two really dangerous lines and would have had to use the suspect Hatcher-Jones pairing against an elite center entirely too often. Even here, the Habs’ possession dominance was built entirely against the Flyers’ bottom-4 D.

Other conclusions: The usage of the Plekanec line as a purely offensive unit at even-strength, especially as this was the reverse of the role he would have in his further career as a Canadien. In a stark contrast with the regular season, where he focused on matching his defensive line’s usage and matchups, Carbonneau seemed very concerned with zonal usage of his players. His late-game adjustments of moving Kovalev to the Plekanec line, however, seem to have backfired somewhat as 21-11-27 and 46-14-74 both were stronger possession lines.

But ultimately, the picture coming out here is of a Flyers team that despite commendable center depth, simply did not have the defensive depth to face a team that was even two forward lines deep. Laviolette’s strategy seemed to involve sending out Coburn-Timonen against the Habs’ top-6 a lot and hoping his bottom-four defensemen could hang on even if they started in the defensive zone.

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