Archive for the ‘Analysis’ Category

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Last night was bad news for the Columbus Blue Jackets. They played a great first game on the road in Pittsburgh. They twice led, once by two goals. They outshot the Penguins. They kept the Pens big guns from doing much damage. And they still lost.

Game 1 came down to Sergei Bobrovsky: he didn’t make the stops he normally would, and it cost them what realistically could’ve been a win.

Pittsburgh managed a Houdini-like escape from the close contest with the “W,” but if they hope to improve in Game 2, which they most certainly do, they’re going to need a bit more from Sidney Crosby between the whistles, and a bit less after them.

The Penguins captain played fine in the first contest, picking up an assist in a game that saw him spend the lion’s share of the game in the o-zone. But watching him play, I couldn’t help but think that part of what makes him so great – his competitiveness – also hinders him occasionally. It most certainly allows opponents to (wrongly) feel on his level.

Over half of Crosby’s ice time in Game 1 was spent against Brandon Dubinsky, a player who takes great pride in antagonizing his opponents, particularly ‘ol number 87. And, while he periodically ignored Dubinsky early, Sid eventually found himself caught up in the personal battle, which is exactly what Columbus wants. He seems unable to let the hacks and whacks go and settle for dominating between the whistles – he engages. Remember the battle vs. Claude Giroux that got the best of him?

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Pittsburgh Penguins' Crosby fights with Philadelphia Flyers' Giroux

Crosby is one of the most efficient point-getters in playoff history – the guy knows what he’s doing – but I think the Penguins would benefit in this particular series from him dismissing the pests on Columbus like he’s covered in Deep Woods Off, rather than flailing wildly every time they buzz around his head.
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I often write about “systems” in hockey, and in doing so, imply that every team uses them. I do that, because, well, they do. Sort of.

Not all teams use systems in the same way. Some teams have a roster that offers them the luxury of using “guidelines” for certain players and certain lines.

Systems confine players to set paths on the ice, which means that while you might be moving a player not smart enough to move himself into the right position, you may also be limiting your more talented players from being able to make reads and plays that can turn the tide of a game in your favor.

What makes sense then, is being open to a little deviation from the plan by allowing your talent to use their instincts. Not everyone, mind you – just your true talent.

I’m actually a big fan of varying the systems throughout your lineup based on the tools you have to work with, because it doesn’t allow your opponent to figure out what you’re doing and beat the same pattern consistently. If you have a crazy fast checking line you may want them to forecheck in a 2-1-2, where a slower line might be best sagging in a 1-2-2. As long as you keep the same foundation in the d-zone, particularly with breakouts, pairing talent with proper direction can be a killer combo. Read the rest of this entry »

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There seems to be one area where I disagree with a lot of the player analysis I read this days: I don’t believe that when a player is used in a way that best fits his skill set that the perception of him as a player should suffer. What I mean is, if a player is started in the offensive zone more than the next guy, that doesn’t mean he’s worse defensively, it usually means his coach wants to put him in the position to do the hardest thing in hockey: create goals. He wants that, because he believes he’s good at it. Plenty of mid-level guys can prevent goals just fine.

But, it’s more than just the word “sheltered” for a guy getting a ton of o-zone starts that tweaks me a bit. This morning I was having a Twitter chat about the 2013-14 Calder Trophy front-runners (Olli Maata, not mentioned again in this piece, is among names worth mentioning). Ondrej Palat has been on a tear, but he still finds himself six points behind Nate MacKinnon, who at 18 also has the name caché of, oh I dunno, Nate MacKinnon. One argument I heard this morning, which was a totally fine point, is that MacKinnon’s higher totals have come in part due to being used on the powerplay over a minute more per game on average than Palat.

But it seems this is held against him, because who knows what Palat would do if afforded the same opportunity? Palat might have more points with more PP time, sure.

But being on a hockey team means that while you’re competing against your opponents, you’re also competing against your teammates for ice time, powerplay shifts and all those other snausages coaches use to reward their players like dogs for doing the right things.

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The Dallas Stars’ playoff hopes took a hit on Sunday night in a blowout 7-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets. The Stars, who haven’t qualified for the postseason since 2007-08, currently sit in 5th place in the Central Division and are locked at 75 points along with the Phoenix Coyotes. The lopsided loss to the Jets is certainly a bad look with just 15 games left on the schedule, but Dallas’ season can hardly be considered over at this point.

Although the Stars playoff status is of the bubble team variety, the 2013-14 season has to be considered a major success in getting the franchise back on track as a winner. General manager Jim Nill’s offseason retooling that included the additions of Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley, and Shawn Horcoff has helped give the team a core group worth getting excited for the future over, even if attendance happens to be down at the American Airlines Center. It’s the addition of Seguin, in particular, which has helped the Stars the most. The former No. 2 overall draft choice set career highs in both goals and points over the past week, and he’s played a major role in Jamie Benn’s ascension to near-elite status in the league. So, how does last June’s blockbuster trade with the Boston Bruins look now? Read the rest of this entry »

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The 2013-14 NHL season has served as quite the launching pad for several young defensemen. 2012 first round draft choices Ryan Murray, Morgan Rielly, Hampus Lindholm, Jacob Trouba, Cody Ceci, and Olli Maatta have all logged major minutes with their respective teams, while 2013 fourth overall pick Seth Jones has played in all 61 of the Nashville Predators games as a 19-year old rookie.

It’s a talented crop of young defenders, but their collective emergence is still somewhat surprising given the prominent roles each has assumed with his team. Murray has paired with James Wisniewski in Columbus and the latter is a dark horse Norris Trophy candidate, Trouba and Jones average over 20 minutes of ice-time per night, Lindholm has helped form what is arguably the Ducks most effective pairing with Francois Beauchemin, Morgan Rielly is blossoming as a great two-way defender, Cody Ceci is settling into his role with Ottawa, and Olli Maatta is currently in second in scoring among rookie defensemen. Read the rest of this entry »

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The 2014 iteration of the NHL trade deadline was just a touch more exciting than last season’s. Who was traded last year? The ghost of Tim Thomas from Boston to the Islanders so they could hit the salary floor? I think maybe Erik Cole moved from Montreal to Dallas? Regardless, this season gave us a zillion rumors with big names, and whaddya know, a few of them were even asked to swap jerseys.

One at a time now, here’s some quick reaction to every deal from the last two days, two sentences at a time.

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A 35-year-old low-pairing defenseman for a pick in a round that becomes a legit NHLer less than 10% of the time. Weaver’s solid enough that you can use him, where maybe Douglas Murray isn’t, so sure, good for Montreal

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Ilya’s a wildly unpopular guy in the dressing room – he’s now hit Anaheim, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Edmonton and Minnesota – and he’s a fairly middling goaltender. If the Wild were looking for a solution in net, I’m not so sure they made a great call.

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Garth Snow played deadline roulette, put the Islanders money on black and red, and the ball landed on the double-zero greens. For those of you unfamiliar with that analogy: the Isles managed to lose on deadline day when it was legitimately a hard result to accomplish.

At the start of the year, Long Island had Matt Moulson, a highly coveted asset heading to UFA. They traded him and a first round pick (2014 or 2015), and a second round pick (2014) for Thomas Vanek, and a better shot at playoffs. Eventually, they knew they would be flipping Vanek at the deadline – he said he wouldn’t re-sign, favoring unrestricted free agency instead – so they waited until the last second, and turned Vanek into…a second round pick and a mediocre prospect (Sebastien Collberg). The kicker is, if the Habs make the playoffs, the Islanders send back a fifth-rounder (if they miss, no picks are involved in the deal. Just Vanek for Collberg).

As in, New York lost Moulson for nothing. More accurately, they paid to get rid of a talented forward.

If you’re not picking up the vibe, the Montreal Canadiens won today, and won big. If you look around the Eastern Conference, it’s pretty wide open, and making a move like acquiring Vanek pushes home ice advantage in the post-season to near-lock status. No roster players lost, a great player gained. While the Habs won’t be able to re-sign their new acquisition (all signs point to the Wild this summer), that’s a pretty small cost to pay for a great rental. Especially when you consider what others have fetched – heck, Doug Murray cost more at last year’s deadline.

The Islanders have established a trend – they want to be a salary floor team, and they want to do that by trotting out prospects (preferably on entry-level deals) and waiver claims, then turning those players into more picks and prospects the second they come to flower and want money. And, to get to that salary floor, they have guys like Rick DiPietro, Alexei Yashin and in some cases, deals like Tim Thomas’ last year (no money out of pocket, but with a cap hit) still on the payroll.

The Habs come out looking pretty good in all of this. And of course, the Islanders, once again, look like an organization that belongs in Nassau Coliseum.