Last season’s Stanley Cup finalists Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks both won big Thursday night, with 6-2 and 5-1 victories over the Toronto Maple Leafs and Nashville Predators, respectively. The big victories are a little out of character the start of this NHL season, with both teams having stumbled out of the gate to a combined 2-7-1 record before last night’s games.
The Stanley Cup hangover. The dreaded Stanley Cup hangover. Champagne for the winning Bruins, double Jack-and-Cokes for the losing Canucks, resulting in what amounts to a three-month slog wherein all of about 46 NHLers just want to roll over and grab a breakfast bagel with piles of grease.
Two weeks into this young NHL season, the dreaded “Stanley Cup Final” hangover has taken a toll upon the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks.
In their first six games, the Bruins sported a 2-4 record, the Canucks 2-3-1.
The Bruins and Canucks aren’t the only teams off to surprisingly slow starts to the season. The Tampa Bay Lightning and San Jose Sharks, conference finalists last spring, also lurched out of the gate, with both teams winning only one of their first five games.
In that piece, Lyle Richardson appears to be ignoring the early season PDO warning signs, and that can be an indication as to why the Canucks and Bruins have struggled so mightily out of the gate. The Canucks headed into last night against Nashville had a PDO of 978. Boston had one of 983. Last season, both teams were respectively a 1016 and a 1023 thanks to some stellar goaltending on each side.
Early on in the season, Boston’s shooting has fallen off, while Vancouver can’t buy a save. Hangover? Or an alcohol-induced slump?
The Cup Hangover (big-C, big-H) is one classic hockey narrative that appears to be confirmed more than refuted, but I’m still not one to buy the argument. People point out that Chicago went from being Cup Champions to a mere 8-seed last season, but tend to ignore that that team was a +33 in goal differential and one of the best possession teams in the league last season. They had trouble getting saves in key situations early on in the season and dropped a lot of close ones, yet still managed 97 points. They also started the season 5-2-1.
Part of the problem with the Cup Hangover theory is that I think people fail to look at how just how bloody unlikely it is to get back to the dance but these teams are perennially propped up as Cup favourites after their success of the previous season. Since the lockout however, there have been 12 available spots in the Stanley Cup Finals taken by 10 teams, with only Detroit and Pittsburgh having repeat occurrences. You generally need to have a good team with a couple of guys on career pace and some excellent, unsustainable goaltending in the post-season to make it, and a few good players on cheap contracts, otherwise you’ll lose a whole bunch of them in the off-season and struggle to win any more games.
Last season, the Boston Bruins benefit from the single best statistical season from a goaltender in the history of hockey, a goaltender who was even better in the playoffs. Obviously those aren’t numbers that are prone to be repeated, with a .938 save percentage in the regular season, and neither goalie up there on either list is guaranteed to win anything. The 2003 Mighty Ducks and 1998 Washington Captials, backed by J.S. Giguere and Olaf Kolzig, had little else to their names (although Peter Bondra hit 52 goals that season. He was the only player who counted more than 20). What you see, however, is not many repeat winners up there. Regression stings, and the probability that Tim Thomas will be any better this year than last is near nil.
When we look at the Boston Bruins, we see a team with a pair of excellent skaters in Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara and a handful of really strong depth players who chip in with three pretty good lines rather than one or two over-powering ones. Do we see a dynastic squad that should be a perennial cup favourite without any hurdles throughout the season? No. It isn’t a team that shouldn’t win just 2 out of 6 games every now and again. Heck, even in the playoffs, they went 4-5 between May 19 and June 10, and went 2-4 between April 4 and April 16. Slumps happen. Is it coincidental that it’s happened to the Bruins out of the gate? Yes. Also to the Canucks? Also yes.
Check out the October records of recent Cup finalists:
Chicago 2010: 7-5-1
Philadelphia 2010: 6-4-1
Pittsburgh 2009: 6-5-1
Detroit 2009: 6-2-1
Detroit 2008: 5-2-3
Pittsburgh 2008: 9-3
The thing is, teams that make it to the finals have a combination of good players and good percentages, so we might be expecting them to run the table a little bit as soon as they enter next season. This didn’t happen this season. Both teams have hit a bump in the road PDO-wise and it’s allowed a few people to craft narrative about certain struggles. Are the Canucks and Bruins both good teams? Yes. Are they good enough so that they can waltz through every month a couple of games above .500? Not so, because few teams are, and most of those teams were mostly present in the year’s prior to the lockout, when good teams could afford to keep their best players.
Sure, the Bruins have, but they’re not a team that is especially good without their goaltending. The Canucks have, but they were without Ryan Kesler for a few games to start the season. Cup Hangover? Not buying it. Call it what you want, maybe a bad hair day, but a slow-start for Cup finalists is not something that repeats year after year after year, not so enough to give it a proper name and its own term in the great hockey encyclopedia.
Hockey is crafted in a way that we expect much of our superstars. When they fail to perform, we look for reasons. Sometimes it’s because variance isn’t swinging for them the way it swung in favour of a team that managed to win 16 games without losing any more than 11. Good teams play out of their minds, and maybe we’re just expecting a little too much out of the gate of the poor Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins.