Tyler at mc79hockey looked at the line matching Tom Renney has chased in the early part of the 2011-12 season and updated it as the Oilers hit the heart of their current road trip. Renney's strategy is obvious: Put Shawn Horcoff, Ryan Smyth and either Ryan Jones or Ales Hemsky out against the other team's best offensive line and make sure Horcoff takes the key defensive zone faceoffs throughout the game. Tyler's work showed qualcomp portion of Renney's magic formula and Horcoff's 33.6% OPct highlights the second portion. It's been a winning formula because it's enabled the kid line to work the offensive zone.
This strategy is the diametric opposite of the strategy employed by Renney in 2010-11. Last year, he used Rawhide line changes and had little to no interest in matching lines, even at home. When Horcoff was healthy, Renney employed him as the defensively-responsible liege for rookies Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle. There was no consideration for zonestarts. In 2011, Hall finished with a 52.0 OPct compared to Hopkins' 73.2 OPct through 16 games in 2012.
And about that match-up protection? It didn't exist.
Below is a list of both the first eight home opponents and first eight road opponents faced by the Oilers in 2010-11. Next to the opponent are Taylor Hall's most common even strength opponent from those sixteen games. The home opponents are listed first.
Calgary - Iginla, Hagman, Jokinen
Florida - Weiss, Olesz, Frolik
Minnesota - Kobasew, Latendresse, Brodziak
San Jose - Nichol, McCarthy, McGinn
Vancouver - Sedin, Sedin, Burrows
Detroit - Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Holmstrom
Chicago - Sharp, Bolland, Hossa
Phoenix - Vrbata, Whitney, Wolski/Belanger
Through the first eight home games, Hall saw the opponent's best line five times, though the argument can be made that any Blackhawks line with Sharp and Hossa can be considered their top line. As Tyler demonstrated in the first study, if Renney wanted to protect Hall and Eberle, he is certainly capable, especially at home. But, he chose not to do so and saw his counterpart gladly take control of the line matching.
The same pattern existed away from Rexall. Below are the first eight away game opponents for the Oilers with Taylor Hall's most common opponents from each game.
Minnesota - Miettinen, Koivu, Brunette
Calgary - Morrison, Jokinen, Hagman
Calgary - Iginla, Tanguay, Stajan
Columbus - Brassard, Nash, Voracek
Chicago - Skille, Smith, Pisani
Chicago - Toews, Stalberg, Kane
Carolina - Sutter, Dwyer, Tlusty
Detroit - Zetterberg, Abdelkader, Bertuzzi/Datsyuk
Once again, Hall saw the opponent's best line five times in eight games, and again the Chicago argument holds. Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle were hard-matched, thanks to Tom Renney's counterpart, ten times in sixteen games to start their careers.
Would Renney's early 2011-12 strategy have helped the 2010-11 Oilers? Certainly, but aggressive line matching and attention to zonestarts wouldn't have been nearly enough to overcome the use of the abysmal diamond penalty kill and Nikolai Khabibulin's attempts to make Vesa Toskala feel better about himself. That Renney is now willing to cover his weaknesses and aggressively exploit his opponent's weaknesses is going to pay enormous dividends as the Oilers mature.