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Detroit Red Wings Coaching: Was Babcock Right to Bench the 2nd Line?

Mike Babcock put Gustav Nyquist, Justin Abdelkader, and Valterri Filppula away for most of the third period in the team's loss to the Ducks. Only Abdelkader got any time after the 5-minute mark. In postgame comments, Babcock hinted they weren't good enough. We're going to see what postgame analysis reveals about that decision

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

For Griffins call-up Gustav Nyquist, Friday night's game was a chance to play in the Red Wings' top six and perhaps make it impossible for the team to send him back down to the AHL when forwards start to get healthy. For Valtteri Filppula, it was a chance to put up points in consecutive games for the first time this season and impress in his contract year.

Neither player saw the ice after their last shift of the game ended at 4:49 of the third period.

Justin Abdelkader joined his linemates in the doghouse as well, playing only 56 seconds of ice time past that point, 18 of which came in a penalty-killing role. In postgame comments, Mike Babcock commented on his lines:

According to Ansar Khan, Babcock also gave Zetterberg's line a bit of a break for being out against Getzlaf and Perry. Let's go to the Corsi numbers. I've grouped the players by lines and pairings. Just know that the numbers are individual to the players. There are times when events happened for a player who was on with different linemates, but in general, the players didn't get shuffled extremely and this gives us a pretty good look at what the groups and individuals were doing.

All numbers are for 5-on-5 play last night with both goalies in net.

Player Corsi+ Corsi- CorsiTot
Cleary 9 15 -6
Zetterberg 11 20 -9
Brunner 9 17 -8
Abdelkader 9 12 -3
Filppula 8 10 -2
Nyquist 8 11 -3
Miller 15 17 -2
Emmerton 14 10 4
Tootoo 13 13 0
Eaves 16 5 11
Andersson 15 2 13
Tatar 14 2 12
Kronwall 12 20 -8
Lashoff 10 11 -1
White 12 26 -14
Ericsson 5 22 -17
Kindl 28 9 19
Quincey 26 8 18

So looking at the raw stats, it certainly doesn't look like the Abdelkader-Filppula-Nyquist line was struggling nearly as much as the top trio was. Granted, Zetterberg's line did face the Ducks' top forwards in Getzlaf, Perry, and Beleskey, but the 2nd line with Ryan, Selanne, and Holland isn't exactly a group of slouches.

Looking at the play-by-play though, Babcock decided about midway through the second that the Abdelkader-Filppula-Nyquist line wasn't doing its job, as he gave the responsibility of marking the Ryan and Selanne group with the Wings' third line of Tootoo, Emmerton, and Miller. The Doghouse Trio was then given the responsibility of watching Cogliano, Winnik, and Koivu.

As a note, that switch ostensibily appeared to work. Here's what happened with those two lines before and after the switch:

Red Wings' 2nd & 3rd lines ES Corsi prior to & after defensive switch (11:07 of the 2nd period)

Player Corsi Prior Corsi After
Abdelkader -2 +1
Filppula -2 0
Nyquist -3 0
Miller -1 -1
Emmerton +2 +2
Tootoo -1 +1

So all three forwards on the 2nd line saw their possession numbers even out against the lower line while the third line saw similar results. It seemed as though the coaching decision to make that switch was the smart one. It's disappointing that the Abdelkader-Filppula-Nyquist line couldn't hack it against the opponents' 2nd line, but they were at least succeeding at doing their jobs against the third (at least as much as anybody was really "doing their jobs" last night). So why did Babcock outright bench them after they appeared to get better?

After the benching, the extra ice time seemed to fall mostly to the lower forwards. Miller and Emmerton played 9 shifts apiece in the third period after having played 7 in the first and 6 in the second. Eaves, Tatar, and Andersson Each saw closer to three extra minutes in the last period over what they had averaged through the first two.

To their credit, every one of those forwards won their possession battles with the ice time after Nyquist and Filppula were benched. Miller, Emmerton, and Tooto each put up a +3 in Corsi from that point forward while Eaves and Tatar put up a +5 to Andersson's +6.

These weren't all lower-line minutes for the guys that started on Detroit's 4th. All but one of Andersson's Corsi events came with either Getzlaf or Ryan on the ice against him.

Comparing back to the line of forwards to whom Babcock gave a pass, Cleary, Zetterberg, and Brunner were all negative for the last 15 minutes. When you add in score effects (that the Red Wings were trailing 4-2 through this entire period and would be expected to drive possession more as they tried to catch up), the negative numbers for the Red Wings' top line is problematic. All of their events came against top two lines, but that hardly excuses them.

Did Babcock make the right call in singling out one of his top two lines? It's certainly hard to argue they weren't being outplayed by the forwards beneath them on the game-opening depth chart. While none of the top six were getting it done, it's fairly difficult to bench two lines' worth of guys for 15 minutes. He did give Nyquist, Filppula, and Abdelkader a chance to dominate a lower line and all they ended up doing instead was simply holding their own.

Is that any better or worse than giving the top line continued expectations to play against the top competition and to fail doing so? I don't know specifically, but the season performance of Zetterberg and Nyquist to-date certainly makes it much easier to punish the less-productive and less-consistent Filppula and Abdelkader for failing at a comparative pace.

I don't personally like benching Nyquist late in only his second game of the season, but we'll have to see what comes out of coach Babcock's rather clear message about his forwards' expected performances.