Last week, a post I wrote gave a shout-out to Twitter personality in Derek Blasutti without linking to his Twitter feed because I usually write these Monday morning posts late Sunday evening, but allow me to correct a wrong right here.
The reason I bring this up right now is because Blasutti, under his online alias of “Dawgbone” wrote a terrific comment on mc79hockey.com back in January (comment #7):
[Momentum swings] also just happen without a triggering event. People continually look for events that might have caused a change. Often times in Hockey it’s not a goal or a hit that swings “momentum” (which is just another word for carrying the play), but rather the natural progression of a game featuring 2 teams who are at similar level in terms of ability.
Hockey has natural ebbs and flows when played by teams with similar ability. They exist without fights and hits because even in non-contact rec leagues that sort of play exists.
Today’s post, as you could tell by the title, doesn’t discuss fighting or in-game momentum swings, but the notion that there was a triggering event, a cause to the effect of the Boston Bruins suddenly being a team that aren’t as dominant as they were at the beginning of the season.
We all remember that 15-game run in November and spilling into December wherein the Bruins didn’t lose a single game in regulation, before finally getting beat by the Winnipeg Jets. We remember how dominant their goal differential was and how tough they were to beat.
They were unbeatable and looked due to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions. Only a few short months later, the team dropped two straight games on the weekend and have now just won three of their seven games this month and four of their last ten. Before Thursday’s 3-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres, they hadn’t won consecutive games since January 12th.
Obviously, there must be some form of “trigger”. The Bruins no longer being dominant is the response to the stimulus and more than the effects of variance over a short-term. This could be something like the addition of Adam Banks for District Five, but in reverse. The simple excuse is that the Boston Bruins have been left un-focused after a 37-year old goaltender refused to meet President Obama in late January.
At some point on a broadcast, or on a Twitter feed or on a Tumblr page you’ve probably seen reference to the Bruins’ record before and after the “White House incident”. What are they at after the loss to the Penguins on Sunday? 31-13-2 before and 9-12-1 since? That’s a 114-point pace, good enough for the President’s Trophy, to a 71-point pace since.
The first half Bruins, or the pre-White House Bruins, were an excellent team that blew by the opposition, but that was helped along with an unsustainably high shooting percentage that made the team look just a little bit better than it really was. Since the beginning of the “Behind The Net” era in hockey, a period referred to since the year 2008 when a small Canadian website began recording NHL.com play-by-play data, only two teams, the 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins and the 2010 Washington Capitals, have finished with shooting percentages of higher than 10%.
Boston’s 9.8% shooting rate by the time they hit the White House break wasn’t just due to come down: it already was dropping. A wild month of November and December saw the team shoot 11.4% and we were in turn fooled by their wild success, putting up six goals on regular occurrences and blasting through the competition, blinding us to the fact that they weren’t outshooting their opponents as drastically as the scoreboard decreed they had.
After another game in early January, the Bruins’ PDO, the addition of team shooting and save percentage at even strength, hit a season high of 105%, well above a sustainable range and nothing we’ve ever seen before in hockey. Had Tim Thomas gone to the White House, we might have looked at the team’s 4-3 loss to the Vancouver Canucks as the time that all began to fall apart for the team.
Neither the loss to last season’s Cup runner-up nor the absence of Thomas at the White House explain the Bruins’ comedown as much as simply stating that the Bruins were a slight illusion at the beginning of the season (I didn’t necessarily “call” this, but I did talk about Tyler Seguin’s early season scoring streak, and it appears to have cooled off) and any fool with a calculator could have predicted a dip in wins had they trusted the results.
But even then, what of it? The Bruins have a month and a bit for the percentages to even out (going into Sunday’s game, they had a 97.8% PDO since playing the Canucks, and 96.5% since the White House) and have their record reflect their actual performance, which is still the performance of a strong team that has hit a wall of percentages, and little more.
You could also say injuries to key players such as Tuukka Rask and Nathan Horton are partially responsible, but I’d be more willing to buy that theory if the Bruins weren’t still putting up terrific possession numbers in the process.
The trigger, the White House, or the game against the Canucks, whatever, sticks out no matter what your theory is, but that’s because we’re tuned as fans to look for these sorts of things, but this acts as a fight or a hit in a game and the game appears to change direction after that event. It’s a coincidence, something that the announcers tell us to look for, and we happily oblige.