A Look Into a Night of Islanders Shift Management

Christian Petersen

Who was on the ice when? The Islanders beat the Stanley Cup champions. Here is a look into how they used their forward lines in doing so.

There is a lot of chatter between Islanders fans about how Jack Capuano deploys his players during a game.  Most is done via the "eye test" without really looking at the big picture.

Thursday night's game against the Blackhawks served as a good game to actually delve into how Capuano uses his lines. With only three penalties and 5:10 of special teams time during the whole game, we are able to look at line deployment without it being interrupted too much by the use of power play and penalty killing units.

This piece will look only at the forward lines and how they were used, since my whole motivation for doing this was the popular cry that Capuano used his fourth line in the final minute of the game...AGAIN!  Here is a look at how the Islanders deployed their forwards in the first period:

Period 1

Islanders Line Length of Shift Blackhawks Line
Nielsen 0:59 Toews
Tavares 1:04 Kruger
Strome 0:54 Handzus
Cizikas 0:41 Shaw
Nielsen 1:00 Toews
Tavares 1:13 Kruger
Strome 0:57 Handzus
Cizikas 0:52 Shaw
Nielsen 0:45 Toews
Tavares 1:10 Kruger
Strome 1:04 Handzus
Cizikas 1:02 Shaw
Nielsen 0:59 Toews
Tavares 0:55 Kruger
Strome 1:13 Handzus
Cizikas 0:36 Shaw
Nielsen 0:40 Toews
Tavares 1:01 Kruger
Strome 0:37 Handzus
Cizikas 1:11 Toews
Nielsen 0:44 Shaw
Tavares 0:23

Toews

I was going to add a column for where the change took place (on the fly, O-Zone, D-Zone, Neutral Zone), but after looking through the changes, it didn't seem necessary.  Capuano may send out his defensive pairings based on where the faceoff is taking place, and may even send out certain forward lines depending on zone starts, but in this game it seemed to have zero effect on who saw the ice.

The way the Islanders used their lines in the first period was not very creative.  Capuano stuck to a 2, 1, 3, 4 pattern for the entire period.  Chicago used a similar pattern (1, 4, 2, 3) all the way up until the final three shifts, where Joel Quenneville decided to sneak in an extra shift for the Toews line.

Because the two teams rolled the lines pretty succinctly, it was hard to see if there was really any line matching going on.  The only obvious move was that Capuano started the Frans Nielsen line opposite the Toews line. This move was obviously strategic since the Islanders usually send the Tavares line out to start a game.

Period 2

Islanders Line Length of Shift Blackhawks Line
Nielsen 1:20 Toews
Tavares 0:46 Kruger
Strome 0:58 Shaw
Cizikas 0:52 Toews
Nielsen 0:27 Toews
Tavares 0:45 Kruger
Strome 1:00 Shaw
Cizikas 0:54 Kruger
Nielsen 0:28 Toews
Tavares 0:39 Handzus
Strome 0:45 Shaw
Cizikas 0:51 Kruger
Nielsen 0:48 Toews
Tavares 1:20 Handzus/Kruger
Strome 0:15 Handzus
Nielsen 0:41 Toews
Cizikas 0:59 Kruger
Tavares 1:50 Shaw/Handzus
Nielsen 0:46 Toews
Strome 1:02 Shaw
Penalty Kill 1:10 --
Tavares 0:53 Toews
Cizikas 0:06 Toews
Power Play 0:25 --

The second period was much of the same for the Islanders, with a couple exceptions. The Blackhawks broke from their pattern in the first period and started deploying their forward lines much differently. It also must be noted that at times during the game Quenneville moved Patrick Kane up to the first line alongside Toews, so the actual Handzus line was used more sparingly.

Being Capuano had the final change, it is obvious he's not matching lines, but instead sticking to his 2, 1, 3, 4 pattern, even though Quenneville had abandoned his.

Capuano finally breaks the pattern 32:08 into the game, sending the Nielsen line on instead of the Cizakas line. There could be one of two reasons for this. The first reason is because Chicago sent the Toews line on the ice and Capuano wanted the Nielsen line opposite them. It would be the first indication of line matching since the opening faceoff.

The second reason could be that two shifts prior, the Tavares line was on the ice for a 1:20 shift that was broken in two by a TV timeout. With the extra two minutes of rest, Capuano may have thought the Nielsen line had ample rest and bypassed the Cizikas line for a better line. Either reason in my book would have been acceptable.

Period 3

Islanders Line Length of Shift Blackhawks Line
Power Play 1:35 --
Cizikas 0:08 Toews
Nielsen 0:36 Toews
Strome 1:04 Handzus
Tavares 1:09 Kruger
Cizikas 0:50 Shaw
Nielsen 0:35 Toews
Strome 0:45 Handzus
Cizikas 0:21 Kruger
Tavares 1:12 Shaw/Toews
Strome 0:49 Kruger
Cizikas 1:04 Handzus
Nielsen 0:42 Shaw
Tavares 1:00 Toews
Cizikas 0:30 Kruger
Strome 0:46 Kruger
Power Play 2:00 --
Cizikas 0:52 Shaw
Nielsen 0:15 Shaw
Strome 0:37 Handzus
Tavares 1:11 Toews
Nielsen 0:38 Kruger
Cizikas 0:51 Handzus

Here is where things get a little baffling. Because the third period starts with an Islanders power play, the first actual line deployment is the 4th line.  Being PP1 played almost the entire power play to start the 3rd, Capuano could have went with the Strome line, who were playing well. But since the Toews line was on the ice, I guess the Cizikas line in theory should have been a better match defensively, even though they were quickly scored on.

Although there was 3:35 of power play time in the 3rd period, the Cizikas line still managed to see 7 shifts in the 3rd period.  That was opposed to 4 even strength shifts from both the 1st and 2nd lines, and 5 from the 3rd line.

I realize that parts of all three of those lines see power play time, but with other teams, power play time seems to limit the ice time a 4th line sees, not increase it. The Cizikas line saw 4:34 of even strength ice time in the 3rd period.  The Tavares line saw 4:39, the Strome line 4:24, and the Nielsen line only 2:46.

I'm not saying the Cizikas line was playing bad, but in a tie game in the third period against the Stanley Cup champs, you would think shortening your bench and playing your best players would be a strategy employed by most coaches.

There was an instance in the 3rd period where the Islanders had the Strome line out for a shift and then it ended with a TV timeout.  Prior to that shift the Cizikas and Nielsen lines had been out on the ice.  Following the two minute TV timeout Capuano came back with the Cizikas line, even though you would think the Tavares line would be coming out on the ice.

With the extra two minutes of rest, an offensive zone faceoff, and the Blackhawks 4th line on the ice, why wouldn't you come back with your best line, especially when they're next up?

An equally baffling move happened towards the end of the game.  With three and a half minutes to go in the game, the Nielsen line came on for the Cizikas line.  After 15 seconds there was a TV timeout and when play resumed, the Strome line was on the ice to take the neutral zone faceoff.

Had Capuano stayed with the Nieslen line, he would have been able to follow it with the Strome line, followed by the Tavares line and then end the final minute again with the Nielsen line.

Instead Capuano put the Strome line out, followed that with the Tavares line, followed by the Nielsen line, and ended the game with the Cizikas line.

Granted we won the game, so this line management didn't cost the Islanders anything.  But had the outcome been different, you would wonder why a head coach would allow a 15 second shift to 'force' him to play his 4th line in the closing minute of a tie game.

In closing, this isn't a complaint or an endorsement of any moves made by the Islanders coaching staff with their forward lines.  There were some moves that seemed like a good idea and some that did not.  It's just an analysis, and a means of allowing the readers to see when and what moves were actually made.

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