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Reading Between the Lines

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Last night, Joel Quenneville introduced three new line combinations. Of the four lines used, only the first line of Sakic, Wolski and Brunette has been used previously this season (it was the 8th time this year for this line).

I know what you are thinking: this is going to be the 192nd riff on "ZOMG WHY IS QUENNEVILLE SCREWING WITH THE DAMN LINES". Actually, I'm headed in a different direction here.

Here are your even strength numbers for each of the 4 lines so far this year (including last night's "game"):

1st: 13g-19a-32p -11; 13.6 ATOI
2nd: 23g-28a-51p +21; 13.1 ATOI
3rd:  8g-11a-19p -2; 11.6 ATOI
4th:  3g-5a-8p -5; 7.9 ATOI

Obviously, the 2nd line jumps out here as being the one that's carrying the team. They are +21 while the the other 3 lines are a combined -18. Currently, the 2nd line is responsible for a whopping 46% of the EV scoring, with the 1st line pitching in 29%, 17% from the 3rd line and a meager 8% from the 4th line.

Those numbers can tell us a lot of things about the Avs season so far. Last year, the scoring was far more evenly distributed (35%, 32%, 21%, 12%). With 3 lines well off of last-years pace, teams are keying on the one line we have that is doing well - the Stastny line. At home, that's a bit of a concern, but usually something that can be overcome (thanks to the final line change).  On the road, when teams can - and do - put out their best defenders against that line, the results are a complete fizzle on offense. With the 2nd line shut down and the other lines slumping, you end up with a lot of 1-goal games away from home (6 of the 11 road games we've scored 1 goal or less).

So, the next time you hear an analyst talking about Stastny's wild home/road splits, you'll know it isn't just because Stastny likes "home cooking" (as Ray Ferraro told us last night). It has a lot to do with other guys on the team not pulling their weight.

..

Okay, I did say I wasn't going to moan about the line changes, but I do have a couple of related points to make.

We've played 23 games. In those 23 games, we've seen 5 different 1st lines, 7 2nd lines, 11 3rd lines and 12 different 4th lines. 8 players have seen time on the first, followed by 6, 9 and 9 on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th lines respectively. Is this hockey or some sort of 8th grade math experiment? That's too many combinations.

Let's look again at the 1st line, which, again, is slumping badly. Last year, this line had 141 points at even strength. They are on pace to score just 114 this year. Interestingly, 20 of the 32 EV points this line has scored have come when from the combo of - drumroll please - Sakic, Wolski and Brunette. The combo used in just 35% of the games has 63% of it's points. Perhaps we can stick with this one for a bit?