We’ve made a lot of this being the first taste of playoff hockey many of our younger forwards have had, but Hynes, too, is in his first postseason as an NHL head coach. Despite being a greenhorn in this space, he has been anything but tentative with his involvment. So far, he has sat a top 4 defender, then went 11F-7D to get him in, then played him 21 minutes the next game; gave a player his first healthy scratch since coming to the team, played a guy that’s been injured for months, sat a goaltender that’s been a top 3 goalie in the NHL the last month or two, and went from rolling 4 lines to basically infinity-shifting Taylor Hall.
That is an extremely eventful first 3 playoff games!
In this article, I’ll take a look at just a couple of those decisions and comment on the impact they made.
The Severson Epoch
I’m actually not going to belabor this point too much since John already covered it at length here, and Mike reminded us here. I’ll merely point out what the outcome has been. Statistically, it’s actually not been great. He is the worst in Game Score no matter what way you slice it — raw/adjusted, all/5v5, total/per60, etc.
However, Severson has done this with some of the most extreme usage I’ve ever seen him get. He’s been given the task of dealing with Point-Palat while Greene-Vatanen chase around Stamkos-Kucherov. And whether due to strengths, strategy, or randomness, that matchup has gotten Severson a negative zone start differential (7 OZS, 9 DZS, -2 Diff) as well. Severson’s been going up against what, on many teams would be a first line, with unfavorable zone starts, and when he’s been on the ice, the Devils have outscored the Lightning 2-1 (all 5v5 goals).
It’s debatable exactly what impact he’s had, but my seats for the playoffs moved to the tables directly behind the goal the Devils defend twice, and my eye test told me that he was the strongest exit passer. Vatanen’s a good skater, but he gets to the blueline and drops it back 2⁄3 of the way to Cory every time — I think he’s addicted to zone exits and allergic to zone entries. Severson found a guy that could take it into the zone with the most regularity, which is probably why he’s been able to have success despite more defensive usage. The best way to defend is to gain the offensive zone.
Final verdict: Jury’s still out production-wise. There are goods and bads statistically. Seems highly unlikely that we’re worse with Severson than Mueller, though, so I’m calling this a win.
Going 7-11 in Game 2
Hynes changed up the lineup for game two and played 7 D and sat Brian Gibbons to go with only 11 forwards — something he tried for a stretch earlier this year.
The bright side from the fan perspective is that this gave Severson a chance to get back into the lineup and also allowed Hynes to play with the lines and double shift Hall — a benefit that is truly prevalent away, when Cooper gets last change and can assign Hedman and/or McDonaugh to Hall.
However, it’s not clear exactly what impact this had on the game. On the face of it, Taylor Hall was played only 43 more seconds, the defenders were all proportionally decreased in time by virtue of the 7th man, and a lot of the forward lines still remained pretty constant. That said, it allowed Hynes to 1) test out how to best get Hall free from the blanket coverage being given to him in the Amalie Arena, 2) appraise his defenders and decide who needed to sit (Mueller), and 3) amass the best adjusted xGF% and CF% of the series (both 46.7% and about 5% higher than the next best game, game 3).
Final Verdict: May not have worked that particular game, but the experiment definitely had value, especially if we go back to Tampa tied 2-2.
Replacing Grabner with Johnasson in Game 3
I’m not sure anyone would have faulted Hynes or medical personnel for playing it safe with Johansson and also reintroducing him straight from a multi-month absence into a playoff atmosphere. With a team down 2 games to none against the top seed in a postseason they weren’t supposed to make, playing it safe with a very valuable player would have been understandable.
But Hynes decided, that, with all of our home games still to come, the series was far from over; and if his top 6 forward was medically cleared to play, he had to put him in.
While his possession numbers weren’t great 5v5 (36.8 CF%, -11.0 CF%Rel), I was impressed by his mobility, command of space, and control. Furthermore, the line of Mojo, Zacha, and Maroon showed a lot of creativity in moving the puck. They were able to set up shots entries and shots that no other line was doing at times — though, they seemed just one step ahead of each other. If that line gets the opportunity to gel and connect on some of these high-danger chances, I think they could really do some damage. Case-in-point, Mojo actually led the Devils in 5v5 expected goals according to Corsica, despite having just one shot.
Johansson’s creativity at 5v5 is on another level from Grabner’s. You could argue that Grabner’s presence on the PK was missed, though I think it likely was not the reason for the goals. But, if the Devils are going to win 4 out of 5 games against the East-leading Lightining, they’re going to need everything they’ve got -- and that means a healthy Mojo.
Final Verdict: Irrefutably positive. Grabner has offered almost nothing since arriving in NJ and Mojo showed flashes of being the true top 6 forward we brought him here to be. If the series goes the distance, he will likely play a key role.
Starting Cory Schneider Game 3
This is the biggest one. Keith Kinkaid was inundated with high-quality chances and very nice shots/deflections which unfortunately resulted in Tampa piling up the goals which most fans seem to agree were not Kinkaid’s fault.
That said, Cory lit it up when he came back in Game 2. We don’t blame Kinkaid for his goals, but we wouldn’t have blamed Cory for this one. The decision to play Cory was a recognition of our place in this series as the underdogs in a 2-game hole. In order to win the series, we would need a goalie that would not merely avoid mistakes, but change the game. He’s responsible for not only all of the saves he should make, but also occasional saves he shouldn’t make. Kinkaid did not make those and Cory did. As amazing as Keith has been lately, the goalie with the higher ceiling is not a topic up for debate.
What happened due to Hynes decision? Well, despite the Lighting actually recording 3.94 xGF, their highest total of the series (3.3 and 3.6 in games 1 and 2 respectively), Schneider let in 3 fewer goals than we did in those two games. Sure, one of the goals was a bit soft, but on the whole, Schneider kept us in a game that could have easily gotten away from us.
Final Verdict: I actually think Kinkaid could have done possibly just as well in this particular game, but the value of getting Cory’s confidence back up, and possibly having our true #1 goalie back, is incalculable. This was the right move.
This one is best described in a graph. This is a Tableau that you can sort by position to see what percent of 5v5 ice time each skater played.
The interesting thing about the defenders is that Hynes went full Santini on Severson’s usage. He sat him game 1, and played him more than any defender other than Sami Vatanen in games 2 and 3.
But most of the fascination should come from the forwards. The two interesting things are 1) who has had their ice time increased and how much was it increased, and 2) how short is Hynes roster.
With regards to the first one, it’s clear that no only is Hynes giving Coleman and Noesen more ice time, but they actually led all NJ forwards in 5v5 ice time on Monday “Led” as in more than Taylor Hall. Now that, in particular, is likely due to Hall being exhausted from playing approximately 400 minutes on the powerplay in that game, but the value Hynes sees in their play cannot be overstated. Blake Coleman is one of the only players willing to forecheck and backcheck, enter the zone through Tampas congested blue line, and throw pucks at the net. According to Corsica, he’s behind only Hall and Maroon in expected goals, behind only Hall in Game Score (adj) and has himself two goals and this obviously illegal, but totally awesome almost-goal. In that play, Coleman is killing a penalty, hustles on an aggressive forecheck, momentarily pries the puck loose, then bull-rushes Norris favorite, Victor freaking Hedman into the goal and puts the puck past Vezina finalist, Andrei Vasilevskiy. If you want to sample the impact Coleman had, just run through NJviDs’s clips. And all Stefan Noesen did was score the GWG on a play from Hall that was sexier than Miles Wood’s jawline.
With regards to the second thing, look at the time distribution of some of the lesser played skaters. Since game 1, Hynes has been less and less interested in rolling 4 lines. If he thinks you aren’t offering much to the game, (like Grabner, Wood, Boyle and Stafford) he isn’t hesitating at all to play a guy single-digit minutes — Boyle and Wood both played less than 6 minutes on Monday
For the moment, Hynes believes in Hall-Nico-Palmieri (mainly due to Hall), Coleman-Zajac-Noesen (debatably the top line rn), and Mojo-Zacha-Maroon. After that, well, just try not to cramp up when you spend the whole third period on the bench.
Final Verdict: It’s necessary. Our 4th liners can simply not keep up with the fast majority of players that Tampa is capable of putting on the ice at any given moment. It worked in game 3, and I’d expect the trend to continue. Another good move.
I count 5 moves — almost all of which have improved the team in some way. Hynes is making his mark as a bench general and is displaying a truly cerebral and methodical approach to the job. To make me satisfied with your coaching after sitting Damon Severson in game 1 is no small feat, but Hynes has impressed me these last two games.
I hope to see more experimentation to keep Tampa and Cooper guessing. As an example, Hynes played a Butcher-Vatanen pairing for 3 offensive zone faceoffs last game (NST). I think that’s an excellent idea and I’d like to see it used much more. Butcher-Vatanen or Butcher-Severson in the offensive zone seems like an obviously desirable situation.
What do you guys think? What do you make of Hynes big moves so far? What would you like to see him do moving forward? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and, as always, thanks for reading!