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Are the Flyers using the wrong lines tonight?

The Inquirer is reporting that the Flyers lines tonight will be

van Riemsdyk-Richards-Versteeg

If that's true, then the Flyers just have this one wrong. Find out why after the jump.

First off, a primer on how I am looking at this. The metric I will use most is Corsi, which keeps track of whether a team is getting more shot attempts than their opponents. When I say that a certain player's Corsi score is 54%, it's a team score like plus/minus -- it means that his team got 54% of the shots (and the opponents got 46%) during the time that he was on the ice. We use Corsi because it correlates very well with things like puck possession, zone time, and goal scoring, so it's a good measure of how well a team is controlling the play.

In this analysis, I'm going to look at how players do together, compared to when they aren't together, to see who should be paired up as linemates tonight.

1) Hartnell-Briere-Leino

This one is right. They've been together for most of the season, and it's because they've all been very good together. Here's a table that illustrates how much more successful they've been as a group than as individuals:

Pair of players Corsi Player alone Corsi
Hartnell-Leino 49.9% Hartnell 47.2% (-2.7)
Leino 47.3% (-2.6)
Hartnell-Briere 49.6% Hartnell 48.4% (-1.2)
Briere 48.1% (-1.5)
Briere-Leino 50.1% Briere 46.5% (-3.6)
Leino 46.5% (-3.6)

How to read the table: the first line says that when Hartnell and Leino are on the ice together, the team gets 49.9% of the shots, but when Hartnell is out there without Leino that number drops 2.7% to 47.2%. In other words, a negative number in the "alone" column means that the player is worse when apart and does better when that pairing is together.

Every number in that alone column is negative. So removing any given player from the grouping means that both he and the players he split from will perform worse. This line has to be kept intact.

2) Carter-Giroux-Nodl

Let's try this again:

Pair of players Corsi Player alone Corsi
Carter-Giroux 53.9% Carter 47.0% (-6.9)
Giroux 52.8% (-1.1)
Carter-Nodl 46.7% Carter 52.3% (+5.6)
Nodl 50.0% (+3.3)
Giroux-Nodl 48.8% Giroux 54.6% (+5.8)
Nodl 49.6% (+0.8)

So what do we see here? Carter and Giroux both elevate each other, which is not surprising since they're probably the two best choices for team MVP. But Nodl drags both of them down painfully -- they're both more than 5 points better without him than with him. Is there a better option for a third member of this line, someone who could actually elevate those two stars? You bet there is!

Pair of players Corsi Player alone Corsi
Carter-Zherdev 57.8% Carter 49.6% (-8.2)
Zherdev 54.3% (-3.5)
Giroux-Zherdev 61.4% Giroux 50.8% (-10.6)
Zherdev 51.0% (-10.4)

Having Nodl dragging that line down instead of having Zherdev elevate it is a crying shame.

3) van Riemsdyk-Richards-Versteeg

Don't get me wrong, Nodl is a solid player; he's just not in the right spot on that line. This is where he belongs -- Nodl has elevated the play of both van Riemsdyk and Richards this year, while Versteeg has pulled them both down.

Pair of players Corsi Player alone Corsi
Richards-Versteeg 49.2% Richards 49.8% (+0.6)
Versteeg 44.5% (-4.7)
Richards-Nodl 50.8% Richards 48.7% (-2.1)
Nodl 47.4% (-3.4)
van Riemsdyk-Versteeg 47.7% van Riemsdyk 50.4% (+2.7)
Versteeg 48.3% (+0.6)
van Riemsdyk-Nodl 50.2% van Riemsdyk 49.9% (-0.3)
Nodl 49.9% (-0.3)

Versteeg has been horrible without Richards (44.5%) and has pulled down both Richards and JVR when he's played with them. I'd like a refund on the first round pick, but since we can't get that, I'd settle for a trial run with him on the fourth line or in the press box.

This isn't really about Versteeg though. It's really about getting that CZG line together, since they've been so dominant. Putting Zherdev on that line makes them a bit less of a defensive heavy lifter line. Getting Nodl back with Richards lets them pick up that slack a bit, and puts them in the defensive roles that come naturally to them.

In addition to pairing players who haven't done well together, the reported lines stack three of the four best defensive forwards on the same line. When the key to beating Buffalo is stopping their second line, it makes sense to have two defensively-responsible lines -- especially when those lines put together the players who have performed the best together.