Peter Laviolette, the coach of the Nashville Predators, did something a bit peculiar last season. He had an idea on how to use his lines, and he used them very specifically. What I mean by this is he had lines meant only for offense and the same for defense. Let’s take a look at some of the lines he deployed last season.
Chart courtesy of www.leftwinglock.com
This chart, if you couldn’t tell, shows us the most frequented combinations by the Preds. Now clearly this doesn’t mean too much because Laviolette, as any coach would, changed his lines constantly. What we can still do is look at some of his individual lines. His most commonly played line this season was Forsberg, Smith and Ribeiro (keep in mind this is probably just because all three players were there all season, unlike someone like Ryan Johansen). Where they were played stands out a bit. Thanks to some great stats from Puckalytics.com, we can get a full grasp on it.
When all three were together (that was for 469 minutes) they were the ‘forget defence’ line. They had an 89.6 OZone%, meaning 89.6% of their faceoffs were on the offensive half of the ice. Yeah, that’s crazy. Only 6.4% of their faceoffs were in the full-on defensive zone (the 2 dots closest to their own net). It had its obvious effects, as you might imagine. Separated, they all had 53-54 CF%, but ensemble they had a whopping 59.7%. In terms of GF%, they were all the way up at 64.7%. But hey, that’s one side of the story.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have Watson and Gaustad. I’m going to look individually at the two, because the duty of their third partner was essentially split in half by Salomaki and Watson. It won’t skew the numbers too much, because they were played pretty equally regardless of the complementary player. Anyways, they started a depressing 7.4% of their faceoffs in actual offensive zone. The rest were either in the neutral zone (31.2%) or the defensive zone (61.5%). Basically, these two were used to get the puck out of the defensive zone, or at very least out of their net. A lot of this is probably due to Gaustad’s face-off percentage, a very respectable 55.3%. The tough minutes hurt them – they had a less than ideal (and by that I mean terrible) GF% of 23.1.
However, like any coach, Laviolette had his lines he’d play everywhere. His second most used line (which in reality is his most, because of the Johansen situation) was Neal, Jarnkrok and Johansen. This trio was leaning more towards offense (58.4 OZone%), but they played their fair share of defensive responsibility. They took 26% of their faceoffs in the defensive end, compared to 36.5% on offense. This push forward didn’t really help them, though. With a CF% of 50.5, it seems less than ideal, but not devastating.
The Preds are pretty unusual in their deployment, yes. The three highest OZFO%’s in the league all belong to Nashville: Ribeiro, Forsberg and Smith. How it worked out? Pretty decently. A 50.9 GF% isn’t too outstanding, but a 52.5 CF% landed them 4th in the league. We’ll see if Laviolette continues with this strategy next season, and if he does, we can analyze it all over again.