Third Line Magic
The Pittsburgh Penguins have started the regular season 3-0 for just the fifth time in franchise history.
While fans are enjoying the resurgence of Marc-Andre Fleury, the plentiful goal scoring, and the new defensive approach to the game, the talk of the town right now is Olli Maatta.
But taking a closer look at some advance numbers and shift trends shows us that Maatta’s success has been one part in a five man unit that has done an admirable job for the Pittsburgh Penguins thus far.
Before we start dissecting the numbers, let’s take a look at the shift trends for Olli Maatta in the last two games courtesy of Shift Chart
First Period: Game 2 – Buffalo Sabres
Second Period: Game 2 – Buffalo Sabres
Virtually every shift that the Maatta/Bortuzzo pairing is seeing on the ice is alongside the defensive presence of Brandon Sutter.
Not a bad way to acclimate a young player to the NHL, right?
One thing we’ve quickly learned about Chuck Kobasew, aside from his dogged determination and his net-front presence, is his penchant for chipping in defensively. Add in a two-way presence in Dustin Jeffrey and you have a really good defensive unit established.
Let’s move on to the Carolina game.
First Period: Game 3 – Carolina Hurricanes
Second Period: Game 3 – Carolina Hurricanes
The above still includes end of the second period numbers as well.
It’s not uncommon for some NHL coaches to play young rookie defensemen alongside his team’s superstars in order to acquire more defensive help and a better on-ice awareness to pair with potential rookie mistakes.
Dan Bylsma is playing Olli Maatta with a 24 game NHL veteran in Robert Bortuzzo.
The reason this pairing is working so well is twofold:
1. Olli Maatta and Robert Bortuzzo are mature beyond their years.
2. They’re playing with a defensive mastermind in Brandon Sutter.
It’s a win/win for Dan Bylsma.
So, since we know the third line and the third defensive pairing have essentially be together all year, what do the statistics tell us about their play?
Let’s look at how these players stack up in the team rankings.
Goals Against Per 60 Minutes Of Even Strength Ice Time
7. Brandon Sutter – 1.66
1. Dustin Jeffrey – 0.00
1. Chuck Kobasew – 0.00
1. Olli Maatta – 0.00
1. Robert Bortuzzo – 0.00
So, essentially, Brandon Sutter has been on the ice for one even strength goal against and it was not while his cohorts were out with him.
Goals For Per 60 Minutes of Even Strength Ice Time
7. Brandon Sutter – 3.31
8. Chuck Kobasew – 3.17
10. Robert Bortuzzo – 2.91
16. Dustin Jeffrey – 1.87
17. Olli Maatta – 1.46
And who has this line gone up against?
Against Buffalo, they primarily faced Ott, Grigorenko, and Ennis. Essentially, the second line of the Buffalo Sabres.
In New Jersey, the primarily faced Loktionov, Zubrus, and Ryder.
Against Carolina, they took assignment on the Skinner unit.
These are three fairly formidable lines.
If you look at the results they’ve produced, it’s fairly impressive.
There’s a statistic that I rarely use but I feel like is pertinent here. It’s called +- QoC – essentially; Average Relative Plus-Minus of opposing players, weighted by head-to-head ice time.
So let’s look at the third line’s +- QoC.
Chuck Kobasew – .626
Brandon Sutter – .625
Dustin Jeffrey – .472
Olli Maatta – .255 (first among defense)
Robert Bortuzzo – .176
So, what did we learn today? The third line is scoring goals, playing against good competition, and really hard to score against.
For Dan Bylsma, you couldn’t have drawn this harmony up any better.
The Pittsburgh Penguins might just be on the way to re-establishing that third line identity they so sorely missed last year.