For a while now, there have been some parallels with the way some series have played out. In the conference quarterfinals, all Eastern Conference series went 3-1 after 4 games; all Western Conference series were 2-2. Seeds 1, 2, 3, and 5 came out of the West, while seeds 4, 6, 7, and 8 came out of the East. For the conference semi-finals, both Western series were 3-1 after 4 games; meanwhile, the East saw both series end in upsets. Seeds 1 & 2 came out of the West, and seeds 7 & 8 came out of the East.
The conference finals seemed to start out with some parallels too-- seeds 2 & 7 came out after 2 games leading the series 2-0, but where I hope the parallels stop is tonight, when the Blackhawks host the San Jose Sharks for game 3 of their series. Philly was playing on the road for game 3, of course, although it seems like that's what Chicago would like to happen today as well-- after practice, they'll be checking into a hotel to try and simulate that "road mentality" that's gotten them a 7-1 record in the playoffs. (Home mentality, on the other hand, has only given them a 3-3 record.) Hey, whatever works.
San Jose, for obvious reasons, will want to come out firing tonight. Dan Boyle, apparently the next Sharks captain, has a couple of fighting words to drop after their loss Tuesday night. Joe Thornton claims it's been easy playing against Dave Bolland's line, and Bolland in particular, because he's big and Dave is small. After the link dump I gave you yesterday, with the VerBolLadd CORSI ratings, I would have been inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, but a funny thing happened when you play with numbers...
A few weeks back in Second City Hockey, at the prime of Quenneville's line-juggling, a guy named VerStig wondered whether there was some way he could figure out which Hawks players worked best with other Hawks players. He'd already created the Blackhawks Line Generator to make fun of Q's tendency to switch things up after five seconds of ineffectiveness, but what if there was a way to numerically determine the best lines?
Enter Mutual +/-, a statistic he formulated (with a little bit of wrangling from Python) to determine any given player's +/- rating when another player is on the ice. (The post I linked to is good reading material by itself, by the way. You should check it out.) He pulled out the numbers for the Nashville series, and then again for the Vancouver series with a bonus preview for the San Jose series.
VerStig also wondered about the discrepancy of the VerbolLadd line's poor CORSI ratings despite looking like they were shutting down the Joe Thornton line, so he did what any awesome fan would do, and pulled up the Mutual CORSI numbers for the first two games of the series:
The numbers are geared towards evaluating the Hawks, so the +/- CORSI ratings are the Hawks'. It means when Jonathan Toews (first row) is on the ice against Joe Thornton (first column), the +5 listed is Toews' CORSI rating. Thornton's would be -5.
This clears up quite the mystery, as well. With the exception of Dustin Byfuglien, it looks like all of the Hawks are owning San Jose's top line. Dave Bolland's line is, indeed, generating more chances than not against Thornton, though they are somehow getting outchanced by the other lines. Pavelski's line has been strong against all but Toews' line, which is fine because despite not having the last switch privilege for the last two games, Quenneville's been able to match up Toews against Pavelski most of the time. One can assume that the chances the Pavelski line's been generating against the Hawks' 2nd and 3rd lines occur at the tail-end of their shifts.
This also sheds some light on the blue-liners matched up against certain forward lines. Boyle and Murray have had success against Toews' and Bolland's line, but Sharp's line seems to know how to deal with them. Campbell and Hjalmarsson have been the most consistent pair out against San Jose, and should be out against Pavelski's line. The Sharks' third line of Malhotra, Couture, and Mitchell have also played well against the Blackhawks, but I don't believe McLellan has played them all that much. He's hinted at potentially mixing up the lines for tonight, although the Sharks lines stayed the same at yesterday's practice, so those changes remain to be seen.
As for the Blackhawks? Quenneville just needs to keep doing what he's doing-- that is, matching up the best Hawks lines against the Sharks. Hopefully the Blackhawks treat this as a road game, and play the way they've played on the road. If I have to boo Brian Campbell to make him feel like this is the Shark Tank, I'm all for that too. (Look at his CORSI against the Pavelski line!)T-minus 8.5 hours before we find out if the Hawks will choose to keep swimming, swimming, swimming. Let's hope they do.