Archive for the ‘Analysis’ Category

habs win

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For the better part of Game 4, the whistles had been put away. As the clock wound down in the third period with the score tied at three, there had only been two penalties called all night, the last coming just two minutes into the second period.

Over 35 minutes of game play later, with just two minutes left on the clock, 20-year-old Cedric Paquette of the Lightning found himself sitting in the penalty box, likely praying to the hockey gods that his penalty – which was a penalty, though it wasn’t the most egregious – wouldn’t cost his team.

Max Pacioretty scored the first playoff goal of his career on Latvian goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis with 43 seconds left to put the Habs up 4-3; as Paquette made the long skate across the ice back to his bench, the olés came raining down.

So, how did Habs/Bolts come to be a 4-0 sweep? Weren’t these two teams supposed to be locked in for a close series? Weren’t their regular season battles tighter than two coats of paint?

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How Montreal swept Tampa

Tampa’s goaltending

The unfortunate injury to Vezina hopeful Ben Bishop meant Tampa Bay was going to be heading into the playoffs with back-up Anders Lindback, and he hadn’t had much of a season. With Carey Price at the far end, he was going to have to step it up his game, and it looked like there might be hope for him, as he was good during Tampa’s last few regular season games.

But nope. Lindback was so bad I suggested “Lindbad” as a nickname, while Daryl Reaugh topped that lazy joke with the hashtag “#LindbackOfTheNet.” Read the rest of this entry »

Granlund winner

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Five minutes into overtime between the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche last night, Mikael Granlund started to make the best play of his young NHL career. His linemates Zach Parise and Jason Pominville helped the Wild gain possession low, and room opened up behind the net. With Avalanche defender Jan Hejda draped all over him, he carried the puck east-west, at one point hanging on to it with one hand on his stick, took Hejda out to the far wall, where a combination of shoddy body position from his opponent and a fortuitous bounce left him with a clear lane to the net.

He then took the puck directly into traffic, stick-handled beneath the player waiting in the slot (Marc-Andre Cliche) and above Eric Johnson, carried the puck across the crease, and tucked his seventh shot of the night home on the far side.

With that, Granlund became just the fifth player ever to score his first NHL playoff goal in OT of a 1-0 win, and the Wild trimmed Colorado’s series lead to a manageable 2-1, instead of falling behind 3-0.

I wanted to explain what went wrong for Colorado (it wasn’t all Hejda’s fault), and I will below, but first here’s what made Granlund’s goal so special from an offensive standpoint:

* He got his legs moving behind the net and took the puck east-west, which forces defenders to rotate, and can create problems.

* He actually thought about cutting in with a wrap-around, feels he doesn’t have body position, but stays with it and stays strong on his skates.

* He was relentless. When he gets taken into the wall, he’s immediately looking for the puck, and immediately gets his legs moving again.

* The pure skill of the play. He showed great hands in tight and a nose for scoring goals. Not bad for a 22-year-old.

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As it is with any goal, some players messed up. I wanted to briefly point out something that seems misunderstood when hockey people talk systems and positional play: you are not chained to any particular area of the ice, so when things break down, you’re allowed to leave. 

I’ve written about a system I like before here, which the Boston Bruins play. In every hockey game some players are going to get beat in the d-zone, so you want your team to be able to provide help when that happens. The idea is that you want to force the other team to make plays. Read the rest of this entry »

sid d

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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.
Read the rest of this entry »

patrick kane 3

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 »

palatmac

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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.

Read the rest of this entry »

seguin

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 »

maata2

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 »