We know about usage charts here [warning: PDF link]. We've discussed last year's usage at great length and what it meant for the team going forward without Jordan Staal to lean on. Just to recap for those who are unfamiliar with the concept, though:
- The horizontal axis represents percentage of offensive zone starts. Players whose bubbles are far to the right take more faceoffs in the offensive zone than do players whose bubbles are far to the left.
- The vertical axis represents quality of competition. Players who take shifts against tough opponents have bubbles that are high on the chart.
- Therefore, the top left corner is really tough minutes, and the lower right corner is as sheltered as a player can possibly be.
- Blue bubbles are positive Relative Corsi, and white bubbles are negative Relative Corsi. The size of the bubble shows how large the positive or negative number is.
So, without further ado, let's take a look at the current chart after last night's Islanders game.
So let's bullet point the hell out of this, while noting that everything changes very quickly with so few games played so far in the season. Some of these players moved pretty drastically between the end of the Capitals game on Sunday and the end of the Islanders game last night.
- Apparently the Penguins' schedule has been pretty light so far. Nearly everyone is below average in terms of quality of competition they've skated against. Tyler Kennedy, Ben Lovejoy, and Evgeni Malkin are the only ones sporting a positive number there.
- Speaking of Geno, boy howdy has he been sheltered so far. Bylsma appears to have a complete lack of trust in his star forward to be able to play defense despite the simple fact that he's generated a whole lot more possession than he's allowed when he's out there. Some of that is to be expected simply because he's got such a favorable start to his shifts, but that will never explain everything.
- It appears from watching the games that we don't have a Jordan Staal type player anymore, and the chart bears this out. Nobody is taking almost exclusively defensive zone faceoffs against seriously difficult competition and outplaying the opponent all at the same time. While we'd hoped that Brandon Sutter would step into that role and allow us to think that nothing changed, that hasn't been the case even a little bit. It remains to be seen whether this is an actual problem or whether Staal is such a unicorn that he'd literally be impossible to replace one-to-one. It will also be interesting to see what he does in Carolina this year.
- Simon Despres and Kris Letang don't suck.
- The "shutdown pair" of Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin might not actually be all that great. Orpik's bubble isn't that far off from where it was last year, although Martin's appears to be significantly worse. However, we have to remember that this is exclusively 5v5 data. Pittsburgh is currently 8th in the league in PK%, and Orpik and Martin are certainly big parts of that.
- Dustin Jeffrey and Matt Niskanen have gotten some of the easiest minutes on the team. Niskanen has fared quite well against his light competition, but Jeffrey has not. That doesn't bode well for his future if it continues like this and might be part of the reason he didn't get a jersey against the Islanders.
- Never thought I'd see this, but the Sidney Crosby/Chris Kunitz/Pascal Dupuis line are all well under 45% offensive zone starts. Now that we're seeing Crosby get a decent amount of PK time as well, nobody could possibly claim that Crosby is sheltered from difficult situations. Well, they could, but they'd be wrong.
- Matt Cooke isn't just slumping in the offensive zone.
- If the Pens aren't going to play Ben Lovejoy, trading him to a team that wants a cheap offensive defenseman once Niskanen comes back might not be an awful idea.
All that said, it's early. It's early. It's early. Have I said that enough times for it to stick? Some of the bubbles moved quite a bit, changed color and size from one game to the next already. I expect this to continue for a while until the lines and lineup are more stable.