I keep a notebook of my hockey thoughts, and every so often I’m left with a pile that aren’t column-worthy, but are still points I’d like to make. Let’s get five off the books today, shall we? I’ll try to get through the rest as the week goes on.
1) The race to the top of the Pacific Division is crucial
It doesn’t entirely matter whether the winner of the Pacific Division – either San Jose or Anaheim – manages to eclipse the St. Louis Blues for first in the Western Conference or not. The winner of that division will draw Minnesota, Phoenix, or Dallas. The loser…the Los Angeles Kings.
I’ve got a secret: the Kings will be no fun to play in playoffs. Don’t tell anyone.
They give up a league-low 2.04 goals a game. They’re one of the league’s three biggest teams. They’ve recorded the second-best goaltending in the league (statistically-speaking). They get shots, they don’t give up many, they have the puck an awful lot…you get the picture.
Because I expect the West to be a war of attrition en route to the Final, I’d rather take my chances with a team called the Not Kings if I sincerely hoped to go deep – which means winning the Pacific outright.
One of the Ducks or Sharks will need their best right out of the gate.
2) New playoff seeding kills a few races down the homestretch
The new playoff format is actually pretty simple, despite how it sounds the first time you hear it – the two division winners will get the two wild card teams in round one (in the order you’d expect), and the 2-3 seeds from each division will play each other. Get it? Got it? Good.
Unfortunately, that means that in a division like the Central where Chicago and Colorado are all but cemented as 2-3 seeds with 10 games to go (with the NHL’s point system they’re way back of first, way up on fourth), there’s not really much point in pushing to get higher in the Conference as there would’ve been in years past. Barring total failure or silly success, they’re playing each other. The only battle left to fight is with each other to see who gets home ice, and I mean…that’s not exactly gripping.
This is a bit of a gift for the defending Cup champion Blackhawks. I like the Avs, recognize that they’ve had a great year and all that, but it’s just about time for: Blackhawks PLAYOFF MODE ACTIVATE. You’re looking at a 4-5 game series to kick things off.
3) The Blues, the Ducks, and “paper tigers”
Travis Yost had a neat post on “score-adjusted Fenwick” for teams over the past 25 games. That particular nerd-stat just counts shot attempt differential, pretty simple (five for us, three for them, Fenwick of plus-two for us). Corsi includes shots blocked, but I think avoiding getting your shot blocked is a replicable skill, so I like Fenwick, particularly “score adjusted” (that part just means that it’s a lot easier to get shots against a team that’s up four and sagging…as in, it accounts for score effects).
ANYWAY, even if that’s all gibberish to you, just know it somewhat matters. And if you look at the Yost post, the St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks have fallen off in the last 25 games, while the Blackhawks have surged. For fans of the Ducks and Blues, that is not-that-awesome news.
It’s not that they’re suddenly bad, it’s just that maybe – mayyybe, they’re not as good as the public thinks they are. End of the year trends are always something fun to track, particularly if you’re often consumed by the monster Gamblor.
4) Boston’s the Cup favorite by miles
If the Boston Bruins were in the West and had to go through, say, Dallas, Chicago and San Jose, the “by miles” part would probably be stupid. But they don’t, and the East is a big ball of “meh” this year. That means the six or seven really tough to play West teams will brutalize each other on the field of battle, and the winner will limp into the finals like the Black Knight from Monty Python – basically limbless, biting at knees.
5) Hockey terminology clean-up
I find that people love “of the game” terminology, and are a bit too eager to use it. That results in the misuse of a lot of phrases. Not glaring misuses, just tiny, annoying ones.
The phrase “good stick” in hockey has nothing to do with offense. It’s all about stick positioning. When an offensive player has the puck, the defender should try to keep his blade as close to the opposing player’s stickhandling area as possible. When defending passes, he should have it in lanes. When forechecking, he should be dictating the side his opponent has to go up. When picking off passes, he should have a quick stick. All those things make up a “good stick.” It’s sort of a catch-all that means “good at disrupting the opposition.”
Oh, and “release” does not apply to a ceiling-scraping-wind-up one-timer. That’s not a “good release.” Joe Sakic had a good release. Jarome Iginla has a good release. Those guys get the puck off quick when other guys would’ve taken longer to get the shot off (which means more shots get tipped/blocked).
Both phrases sound inside-hockey-ish, but when misused, make you sound quite the opposite.