The Oklahoma City Barons are celebrating a successful first half to their season.
The All-Star break marks the halfway point of the season in the AHL, and with every team taking several days off, it's as good a time as any to go through the AHL gamesheets to get a better idea of which of the Barons are scoring (and out-scoring their opponents) during five-on-five play, which players look like they're getting the most ice time, and which ones are being tasked with the tough assignments.
The methodology is pretty simple. I'll look at every scoring event that took place when both teams had five skaters on the ice. The scoring and +/- categories should be pretty intuitive, and we'll look at those first. After that, I'll look at quality of competition and teammates. To measure quality of competition, I identified all of the opposition forwards on the ice for every goal scored (both for and against) while a player was on the ice. The final number is the average points per game of the opposing forwards, so a quality of competition score of 0.50 would mean that opposing forwards scored, on average, 0.50 points per game during the 2011-12 AHL season. To measure quality of teammates, it's the same process but with forward teammates instead of opponents. This time around, I've also included each forward's three most common forward linemates.
The other measures are "events per game" and "individual points percentage". The former requires adding together all of the goal events at both ends of the ice (5v5 + and 5v5 - in the first table) and dividing the total by the number of games played. It's not a perfect proxy, but it does give us some idea about time on ice. The latter is a calculation of the number of times an individual player gets a point (either a goal or an assist) relative to the number of total goals scored while he's on the ice (EV+ in the first table). At the NHL level, league average for forwards is about 69.5% for five-on-five play, and a very talented player will sustain a percentage in the 75% to 80% range over the long haul.
First up, let's look at the forwards, followed by some notes:
- Unlike last season, the Barons haven't had consistency at the top of their lineup. Last year, Alexandre Giroux, Brad Moran, and Colin McDonald spent almost the entire year playing power-v-power for coach Todd Nelson. He had that luxury because those players weren't receiving call-ups, weren't ever injured, and were playing well. This year, coach Nelson hasn't had that kind of luxury, and as a result, the lines seem to have been constantly shifting.
- In his recent posts on CHL forwards, Tyler Dellow has highlighted the poor starts that Curtis Hamilton and Tyler Pitlick have had to their pro careers. One of the objections has been that a lack of offensive opportunity has held these guys back. Based on the events per game and quality of teammates numbers, that looks to be a lot more true of Hamilton than it does of Pitlick. This finding also conforms to what I saw when the Barons were in Abbotsford in November: Pitlick was a top nine guy and played the whole game, whereas Hamilton was on the fourth line and sat pretty much the entire third period. I don't think that excuses Hamilton's poor offensive numbers, but at least the narrative kind of fits. In Pitlick's case, "lack of opportunity" looks like a much bigger reach.
- As poor as those two have been, Teemu Hartikainen looks even more disappointing. He's not consistently taking on the toughs, he's not scoring all that much despite plenty of ice time, and he's getting outscored worse than anyone else on the team. He's been up to Edmonton a couple of times this season, and hasn't looked all that good. The first time, he was mauled by percentages, and the second, he may well have been exhausted from too many games (and flights) in a short period of time, but then again, maybe he's just not playing all that well.
- Philippe Cornet, on the other hand, actually looks pretty darn good. It doesn't look to me like there's a designated "toughs" line, but Cornet isn't getting sheltered out there, and he's posting pretty good results. Yeah, the shooting percentage has got to come down, and that will drain some of his offense, but even considering that, he's one of the more impressive guys on the list.
- The Barons are getting huge mileage out of their fourth line. Triston Grant is fourth on the team in five-on-five points per game despite playing on the fourth line pretty consistently. His IPP suggests that he probably has a few more points than he deserves (I have a hard time believing that he's driving offense), but even with a pull-back, a fourth line like that is a huge win for the Barons.
Next up, a quick look at the defense:
- There doesn't seem to be any clear separation among the top six guys when it comes to role. They're all facing similar offensive competition and getting similar help. In that group, it looks like Kevin Montgomery and Bryan Helmer might be getting the most ice time five-on-five.
- Between injuries and call-ups, those "top six" are pretty much never the actual top six, and you'll notice that Taylor Chorney is not in the group. For some reason, it looks like he's getting used as a third pairing guy alongside Dylan Yeo and Kirill Tulupov.
- Kevin Montgomery and Ryan Lowery don't have NHL contracts, but both seem to be guys that the coach trusts. With a bunch of defense prospects ready to turn pro, it'll be interesting to see what the Oilers decide to do with a couple of players who are still quite young and have performed well at the AHL level.
- Several of the defenders have higher IPPs than would normally be expected. This suggests to me that the Barons are encouraging their defensemen to be involved offensively as part of their system play.