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Line/Pair Deployment In Playoffs Under Gallant vs. DeBoer

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

One of the bigger changes expected with Pete DeBoer taking over for Gerard Gallant was a little more reliance on top players as opposed to rolling four lines and three pairs.

We expected to see a lot more Mark Stone, Shea Theodore, and William Karlsson, while less Nick Holden, Ryan Reaves, and Tomas Nosek. In the regular season, we saw just that with the defensemen, but the forwards actually saw their TOI decrease slightly after the coaching change.

The playoffs are a different animal though, one where coaching decisions are magnified. The largest of coaching decisions is deployment, which players play when and for how long. The expectation was there would be more of a hierarchy under DeBoer than Gallant, while in reality, there were slight changes, but not what you might expect.

2019 (Gallant)2020 (DeBoer)Difference
1st Line31.0%31.0%0.00
2nd Line29.3%27.9%-1.46
3rd Line24.6%25.1%0.52
4th Line15.1%16.0%0.94
1st Pair36.0%37.9%1.91
2nd Pair35.7%36.4%0.78
3rd Pair28.3%25.6%-2.69

Both DeBoer and Gallant used the Pacioretty/Stone line (which was centered by Stastny in 2019 and Karlsson in 2020) for exactly 31% of the game. That’s a little less than 19 minutes per night.

Meanwhile, the 2nd line, with Smith and Marchessault, is where we find the change with the forward group. Gallant leaned heavily on the line that essentially carried the 2017-18 season, Smith, Karlsson, and Marchessault. But when DeBoer came in, their time was curtailed a bit. Where they were nearly equal to the Pacioretty/Stone line in the 2019 Playoffs, DeBoer decreased their minute load by around a minute per night.

That meant about 20 more seconds for the 3rd line (almost always featuring Tuch) and 40 more seconds for the 4th line with Reaves and Carrier.

The numbers remained far from the balanced “roll four lines” narrative that dominated the first season, but it is a bit surprising to see DeBoer, not Gallant, lean more on the 4th line.

As for the defensemen, the biggest change here was in the decreased role for the 3rd pair. Gallant used his 1st (McNabb/Theodore) and 2nd (Schmidt/Engelland) pairs nearly identical minutes in the seven-game series. The 3rd pair (Merrill/Miller) lagged behind by about five minutes a night.

That gap widened under DeBoer. He leaned heavily on his top four while neutering his bottom pair. The top four averaged about 45 minutes a night combined while the 3rd pair (Holden/Whitecloud) saw just 15.

Theodore and Martinez clearly became the top pair for DeBoer, while McNabb/Theodore and Schmidt/Engelland were nearly even with Gallant.

So, what does that mean we should expect for next season?

We can probably expect to see a lot of Alex Pietrangelo. Those minutes aren’t going to be taken from Theodore though, which means, the 3rd pair will be seeing the ice even less. Up front, we’ll probably see much of the same, about a 31/28/25/16 breakdown.


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  1. Lets take a pole for fun


    Gallant. X

    • Jinklu

      There were 3 reasons I became a Knights fan. Gallant was one of those reasons.

      • Mikegron32

        Oh boy… at least you still have the other 2 reasons. Unless they were Cody Eakin and Jon Merrill?

  2. Cindy Harrison

    All I can say, “I’m glad I’m not a season ticket holder”. I would be fuming!!!!

    • About?…. Decreased 3rd D-man pairing minutes?

      • Cindy Harrison

        PDB replacing GALLANT Upsetting the balance in the middle of the season — where we could have had a cup — for virtually NOTHING!

        • David

          We were out of playoffs when the change happened. Hard to argue the team didn’t play much better afterward.
          BTW, I love Gallant. I wish him all the best, but this isn’t PDBs fault.

  3. Mikegron32

    Super excited about watching the D this year!
    Really good article in the Athletic ranking the 10 best and 10 worst contracts in hockey. Theo is #5 on best contracts. Love reading the comments in the 10 worst contracts section.

  4. Daryl

    What I don’t understand is if PDB has such low regard for the 3rd pairing, then why resign Holden? Now, I don’t blame PDB for not using the 3rd pairing very often has I thought Holden has been a huge liability for awhile now. I really do like Whitecloud though. I honestly don’t see much difference between Holden, Engelland and Marrill except for the money. VGK could have used Engo or Merrill and got rid of Holden and would be no worse off with talent on the ice but would have over $1m in the bank.

    I also think PDB “leaned” on that 4th line a little too much. I think he really likes Reaves but he was basically useless in the playoffs. VGK really didn’t need his physicality in the first two rounds and thought he would have been a lot more physical against Dallas. I’m not talking about just the hits, as he had two games with 6 hits each, I’m talking about being physical along the boards, knocking players off the pucks, and things like that

    • DC

      Agree with your comments on Reavo. Being an effective physical player is more than lighting up an opponent with a big hit. It’s also about using your size to gain puck possession, tying up players on the boards, and moving their guys out of your house.

  5. SB

    There’s huge hole for this upcoming season. A Number 1 center. Karlsson should be with Smith/March. Stevenson is a third line center. Pac and Stone are heavy, first rate talents who need a first rate set up man. Shame to let another season pass w/o giving these talented guys the center they need. One huge missing piece. No Cup without this.

  6. Ha ha ha. NV goes for Biden. And The TRUMP-Humping, Money-Hoarding CREATOR can suck it!

    Actual Knightly virtues he pretends to express win!

  7. Daryl

    Can I have some of the same drugs you are on???

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