A lot of ink was spilt over the off-season about how the Ducks needed to change their system to play a faster game. It was hypothesized that the Ducks were too slow, but that it wasn't the players that were slow (with the exception of Corey Perry, whom it was in vogue to hate), it was the system they were trying to play.
Since the new season has commenced, there have been words spoken about how the Ducks are rolling 4 lines this season when they haven't in the past (or at least in current coach Randy Carlyle’s tenure). For whatever reason this didn't quite ring true to me, and so I wanted to have a brief look into the minutes given to the players outside of those receiving top 6 minutes in the forward group, and top 4 minutes on the defensive end.
The top 4 defensive unit in Anaheim is pretty easy to pick out. They may not always play in the pairings that the fans may like, but its pretty obvious Cam Fowler, Brandon Montour, Josh Manson and Hampus Lindholm are Carlyle’s go to guys on the blue line. This of course leaves Marcus Pettersson, Luke Schenn, and Andrej Sustr as the players outside of this list. The “third pairing” so to speak.
The chart below shows a minute allocation for each of these “third pairing” players in the first 5 games of the season. What is most noticeable is the dramatic drop in minutes for Pettersson from the first two games, and a slight increase in minutes for the veteran Luke Schenn over his 3 games. With the Ducks seemingly struggling to contain opposition forwards, or at least struggling to prevent gaudy shot totals and high danger scoring chances, it appears that Coach Carlyle is moving away from the mistakes that young players may suffer from and instead preferring veteran stewardship to ensure net-minder John Gibson faces the most shots in hockey history. When Sustr is being paired with Pettersson, it appears that the top 4 are given more minutes than is typical.
This appears to be somewhat of a strategy amongst the coaches. Informally Schenn and Sustr have been been playing alternative games, with Pettersson playing in each. This minute allocation may in part be to keep both of those guys in game shape, rather than use the traditional approach of rarely playing the 7th defenseman. It may also show some attempt at developing Petterson, by giving him regular games, if not regular or substantial minutes. As defensemen typically play greater minutes and on more shifts, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, although it should be noted that it would increase overall fatigue. Fatigued players are more likely to make decision errors, and they are likely to produce less muscular power. That is to say they wont be capable of skating as fast, or fast as often. It’s not necessarily a big thing, but it is something to consider when looking at the minutes of the players and how they've been utilised thus far.
But how does this compare to the stimulus of the talk of change, the 2017-2018 season?
Last season, Fowler, Lindholm and Montour were in the top 4 for minutes, as they are this season. However, Manson didn't enter into that group until after Sami Vatanen was moved. As such, I will provide totals of the group outside of the top players including and excluding Manson. For those who dare insult my boy, I offer only the following screen capture.
Of the players who played at least 15 games last season, names outside of the top 4 minute earners include: Kevin Bieksa, Francois Beauchemin, Marcus Pettersson, Korbinian Holzer, and the aforementioned Josh Manson.
As the table shows, the Ducks are employing their third pairing far less this season than they did last season. Even Pettersson himself, the only player to be in this group for both seasons, has lost ~20 seconds off his time on ice per game between this season and last.
However, short-benching the defense is far different from rolling 4 lines in the forwards.
The forward group in Anaheim started the season with a number of names typically seen in the top 6 on the bench. This seemingly hasn't changed a great deal, given that as soon as Ryan Kesler came back, Ryan Getzlaf left. However, keep in mind that the top 6 isn't set in stone when looking at the minutes distribution.
Firstly it bears noting that the top 6 minute earners per game are currently (and in order): Ryan Kesler, Rickard Rakell, Adam Henrique, Jakob Silfverberg, Sam Steel and Max Comtois. Those outside the list include (again, in order): Ryan Getzlaf, Andrew Cogliano, Troy Terry, Kiefer Sherwood, Isac Lundestrom, Ben Street, Pontus Aberg, Carter Rowney, and Brian Gibbons.
The following charts, depict the minutes granted to each player in the first 5 games of this season. Notably, the veteran players, for the most part have less variability in their deployment. That is to say their minutes (outside of Gibbons, who is slightly declining), has remained relatively constant as the season has gone on. I should also make note that Rowney was removed from game 5 as he had only played just over a minute before succumbing to injury and was not able to continue the game.
The young players have show far more variability in their minutes. Sherwood, who has quickly become a fan favorite, has slowly increased his minutes as the (short) season has gone on. Where as the “scoring” forwards in Terry and Lundestrom have seen their minutes slowly trend downwards. In Lundestroms case this should perhaps not be taken too seriously just yet. It’s only been 4 games, yet it appears that his minutes have been undulating. Should this continue, I would suggest that the sports science staff are doing a great job of managing the load placed on a young player. In this, I am very interested to see this trend continue.
Nonetheless, we can see that Carlyle is much more trusting of his older players.
But how does this compare to last season’s bottom 6? As with the Manson example above, I added a section with Getzlaf and one without. Aberg was removed from both samples, as he has already been waived and sent down to San Diego. Should he come back later in the season and play 15 or more games he would then be included back into the sample. As it stands today, it’s predicted that he will not reach that game’s mark.
It’s worth noting here, that the players who played 15 or more games last season and were included in the data set were: Nick Ritchie, Andrew Cogliano, Derek Grant, Antoine Vermette, Ondrej Kase, Kevin Roy, Chris Wagner, Logan Shaw, Dennis Rasmussen, J.T. Brown, and Jason Chimera.
The data does show a clear difference in average minutes per game, thus far on the early season. Due to the variability in minutes distribution, the median is a better way of measuring variability between seasons. This suggests that there is a far smaller difference than might be suggested at first glance, although these players do appear to be receiving and extra shift or two per game. Whether that is due to a change in coaching philosophy, or due to the coach being given players he trusts more than he trusted Chimera (under 7 minutes & 11.8 shifts), is open to debate.