Archive for the ‘Observation’ Category

Avs Ducks

honda jpg

I’ve said this numerous times throughout the second half of this NHL season, but I believe the Boston Bruins are the Stanley Cup favorite–not because I believe they’re head and shoulders above every team in the league, but because they’re head and shoulders above every team in the East, and whoever gets out of the West will have to fight multiple wars before dragging the remainder of their one-legged battle-weary troops to the Stanley Cup Final.

For a team from the West to win the Cup, they’re going to need to get out of a playoff series or two in less than six or seven games. Every extra game you lace them up with the physical play of the post-season, the pace, the necessity of shot-blocking and all the rest, you’re taking a little off your players video game-like health meters, and are risking more team-crippling injuries.

So, naturally, playoff seeding in the first round matters. And boy-oh-boy, are things getting tight atop the Western Conference standings.

Let’s look at the three (almost four) teams who have the most realistic shot at winning the Western Conference and drawing Minnesota/Dallas instead of the slightly-more-terrifying Los Angeles/San Jose/Chicago.

The St. Louis Blues

ss

The St. Louis Blues are currently first in the Western Conference with 111 points. As you can see, they have three remaining games.

Remaining schedule: At Minnesota (7th), at Dallas (8th), Detroit at home (7th, East)

Read the rest of this entry »

evander kane 3

honda copy

If we’re all okay with taking some not-so-massive leaps here, I’m gonna go ahead and say that Evander Kane is not happy in Winnipeg, and the Jets aren’t too thrilled with him either.

The short version of the latest flare up is that the Jets were going to play in Toronto…

…Kane went out, and it’s possible he had a bit too much fun.

Now, I don’t know that he slept in and missed a team event in the morning, but I know enough about hockey players, the lifestyle, and passive aggressiveness that I feel okay making that ca-raaaazy leap.

So, after that Kane was seen chatting with his agent in the hall (doesn’t mean anything, most players do, but when you’ve got another four years on your deal and just got healthy scratched as a young star “talking to your agent” certainly carries heavier overtones), and the next day he found himself in front of the camera, remorseful and apologetic about the unknown reasons for his absence.

Nah, I’m kidding, he was pretty indignant about the whole thing. Read the rest of this entry »

Mark Giordano

honda copy

You would’ve been hard-pressed to find a hockey analyst heading into the 2013-14 NHL season that picked the Flames to finish anywhere but in the League’s bottom five. The main reason for that forecast was obvious: the roster. Their best offensive players were Jiri Hudler and Mike Camalleri (not quite Getzlaf/Perry), they didn’t have great goaltending, and their team was young.

The Flames, predictably, were never a seriously threatening team in the first half of the year. But since that was the consensus outcome for them, nobody really batted an eye, and because the Edmonton Oilers sucked in a year people foresaw a turnaround, the other Albertan team took the brunt of the abuse.

Lately, however, the Flames have been drawing a lot of something that borders on praise. Analysts on Canadian TV are calling for a Bob Hartley extension for the great work he’s done, Elliotte Friedman wrote about how hard they work, and while not exactly “praising” them, Tyler Dellow wrote about their improved Corsi over the past 25 games or so.

And for the most part, the compliments are just: they do work hard, they’re still a young and learning team, their Corsi has improved.

I hate to be the guy to burst another team’s bubble here – I already have Avalanche fans after my head – but this is still a team that’s about to finish second last in the Western Conference, and that’s with Mark Giordano having a season that has people chucking his name into the Norris mix. They’ve needed every ounce of his season to avoid being the Sabres, and I’m not convinced they’ve suddenly got it figured out.

The Flames (26th overall) went 9-7 in the month of March, prompting the positive talk about their direction. Six of those wins were against teams currently not slotted to make the playoffs: the Oilers (29th), the Senators (23rd), the Islanders (27th), the Stars (17th), the Sabres (30th) and the Oilers (29th) again. While they did have three quality wins (all at home), and you do have to beat the bad teams too, I think the schedule at least partially helps explain their recent “turnaround.”

The team is at their best with Mark Giordano on the ice, and it’s not even close (from Dellow). They lean on him hard to stay competitive, and fortunately for them, his numbers this year are staggering.

He’s 10th in points by a defenseman despite having played 10 less games than any other d-man in the top-25. That’s more points in considerably less games than names like Chara, Doughty, Ekman-Larsson, and Suter, while playing for the Calgary Flames. He’s plus-12 on a team with a minus-31 goal differential, and that’s while playing the most minutes of anybody on the team (10th in the league) and facing the toughest competition. He’s been dominant in shot-attempt differential despite starting in his zone more often than not. There’s a reason the Flames were 5-13 during the month of November when he was hurt. I think if he’s healthy that month, he owns a gold medal right now. I also think if he’s not healthy for another month, they’re awfully close to still being that team.

The long and short of it is, when Giordano isn’t on the ice, this still isn’t exactly a shining example of what a team should be.

I fully understand that this is a team in the depths of a “re-tool,” and they could be worse (though not much, standings-wise). I know that they’re not the Sabres, and they’ve worked hard, and don’t deserve to be derided for not being better. That’s not the point. It’s not derision to say that this is still a comparably bad hockey team with a great player that still looks miles from the playoffs.

Maybe Burke makes some big moves, maybe they get to playoffs sooner than later, maybe, maybe, maybe. But for now I think it’s a little bit batty to be clamouring for a contract extension for a coach because the team is going to finish, what, five points higher than most forecasted for them?

As a guy analyzing hockey, I don’t believe in the old adage “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” I wouldn’t be very good at my job if I did. But if you’re someone who does subscribe to that, I suggest you still opt for silence when the Flames come up. Unless you’re talking about Giordano, of course.

martin st. louis4

We’re coming up on a full month since the trade deadline that saw the New York Rangers make a big splash and acquire defending Art Ross Trophy winner Martin St. Louis from the Tampa Bay Lightning for Ryan Callahan. The team has done well for themselves since the move, going 9-4-1 in 14 games, climbing up the standings to second in the Metropolitan division, only…it hasn’t exactly been thanks to their new offensive weapon.

In fact, St. Louis hasn’t really provided the Rangers with much of anything.

He’s still yet to score a single goal for the Blueshirts (stuck on 29), and has only picked up three assists. He put together an eight game stretch where he tallied a mere six shots, never putting up more than one in a single game. For a guy playing 19 minutes a night (including three on the powerplay) with your best players, you’d expect a little more.  Read the rest of this entry »

Shea Weber bomb

We’ve seen a lot of changes to the game of hockey over the years – players stopped “training” in “training camp,” and devoted the bulk of their off-season to getting bigger, stronger, and faster, to the point where they’re basically machines. The skates are lighter and more supportive, as is the rest of the gear. But the biggest change in the last decade or so is how much different the shots are.

Unfortunately, I can’t shake the feeling that without a little more respect among players that could lead to a seriously tragic event. Screening the goalie is catching up to fighting on the dangerous meter, as we saw once again last night. We’ll get to that incident in a sec, but first let’s kick around why this has become so dangerous. Read the rest of this entry »

Ryan Miller 2

If a team from the Eastern Conference has any shot at winning a Stanley Cup this year, it’s going to be thanks to the West grinding itself into fine powder and the eventual Hunger Games-esque victor being so banged up that they’re not the same hockey team they were at the start of playoffs. And really, that scenario isn’t that far-fetched. The team defenses are generally suffocating out West, so it’s going to take some blood and bruises to create anything.

The Los Angeles Kings are safely third in their division and eight points up on the final wild card spot, yet they can’t score goals to save their lives. Here’s the last three teams in the league in goals for:

goals for

Yup. Prestigious company you’re keeping there, Kings. But it doesn’t matter – to beat hockey teams you have to score on them, and the Kings give up a league-best 2.06 goals-per-game which is a head-asplode type number. So yes, they’re going to brutal to play in the post-season. Grind, grind, grind.

Beyond the Kings, five of the top seven teams in league goals-against-per-game are from the West, with the St. Louis Blues following up the Kings with a 2.27 nightly goals against.

And they felt the need to upgrade their goaltending.

Basically, I’m not sure if the Blues are going to give up a goal ever again (there’s some potential that might be hyperbole, but you get the point).  Read the rest of this entry »

Varlamov should stop that, but Aaltonen shouldn't be there in the first place.

Varlamov should stop that, but Aaltonen shouldn’t be there in the first place.

The Russians, they are Finn-i (ha). Kaput. No more. And that might be literal after Vladimir Putin gets through with ‘em.

Everyone has their own theories about why, and there’s no small amount of varied opinions (more on this from Scott Lewis).

Mine, is simply that their defense wasn’t good enough. And while that’s a commonly accepted fact, I think it has less to do with what most people associate that with – they get burned and give up scoring chances – and more to do with their lack of talent around the puck. Let me explain.

In hockey, true talent comes with cleanliness. Not so much in hygienic sense, as in the ability to manipulate the puck. If I were tossed into that Finland/Russia Olympic hockey game during the peak of my hockey career, you’d notice that I would occasionally bobble a less-than-perfect pass, it would cost me a second, and that lost moment would eliminate the time I would need to find the proper play with the puck. Also, I would get murdered by bigger, faster men, but you’d notice that bad-pass-taking too. Receiving a pass cleanly allows you to get your head up and make a quick pass, instead of having to force it to a guy a second later as the play develops. Read the rest of this entry »