I’ve often written that the goal in the offensive zone is to create chaos for the opposing defense so they have to make decisions. Once you’re asking people to make tough decisions, they occasionally make the wrong one, and suddenly they find themselves in a lot of trouble.
Well, on a much bigger scale the Toronto Maple Leafs have caused chaos for themselves with their poor play over their five game losing streak, and they find themselves having to make the “tough” decision: do they go with James Reimer, who hasn’t been very good since Jonathan Bernier went down, or do they go with their AHL starter Drew MacIntyre against the St. Louis Blues at home tomorrow?
No seriously, that’s a real question people are asking.
Of course you start Reimer. This is madness.
Just so we’re not beating up a straw man, here’s two tweets from this morning that had me a little baffled from Toronto radio host Greg Brady: Read the rest of this entry »
For whatever reason, it’s basically sacrilege to imply that a professional hockey player didn’t try as hard as he possibly could’ve on a play. There’s this weird perception of nobility around players of the game, like every guy made The Show on the heels of hard work and good ‘ol fashioned “want.”
Well, no, some athletes are just more talented than others, and they make the NHL without killing themselves at every opportunity.
If you can believe that (and you should, because you’re a reasonable person), then you can believe that teams, as a whole, are not going as hard as they possibly can every single night.
It’s not that they aren’t “trying” per se, but instead it’s mentally tough to make yourself work your hardest at every moment at anything. So when there’s mental lapses – say, a Tuesday night in Florida where you can’t stop staring at shiny things in the stands – teams aren’t always pressing as hard as they possibly could.
The best part about being on a great team is that you don’t have to have your best stuff every night to win. If you heavily out-talent your opponents it’s possible to have the majority of your guys in neutral, then have Evgeni Malkin (or some other offensive star) do something otherworldly, and still leave with your two points. This is what separates the teams that contend for the President’s Trophy from the pack below – they often win when they’re comparably bad and even when they’re occasionally lazy.
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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 shootout was introduced in the wake of the 2004-05 lockout mainly because the NHL was incredibly — and deservedly — unpopular at that point. The thinking was ostensibly this: Ties are boring (for some reason), and penalty shots are exciting, so if we put a whole bunch of the latter at the end of the former and act as like the team with the most goals on penalty shots is the winner of the game itself.
This has, of course, led to considerable debate about the merits of the shootout at large, with supporters saying, “It’s fun,” and detractors saying, “It’s stupid.” The problem is that there can be no middle ground when it comes to whether you think it’s a good idea, or at least very little. Either you like it because it’s fun and might have gotten your team into the playoffs when they otherwise might not have deserved it (the Toronto Maple Leafs of this year and last, the Southeast-winning Florida Panthers, etc.), or you hate it because it’s a gimmick skills competition that, again, significantly effects the outcome of the season standings in a way that is not necessarily fair overall. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
Douglas Murray moving at a familiar speed: crawl
The Montreal Canadiens are sporting a very tidy 7-1-2 record over their last ten games. As wins over Pittsburgh and Toronto in their last two contests have demonstrated, you don’t always look good coming out on top. Both games were sloppy, error-filled affairs, but the Canadiens picked up the ever important two points in both games. As far as fanbases of teams currently sitting in playoff positions go, only the Toronto Maple Leafs rival the Canadiens in terms of dissonance towards its head coach. You’re not alone if you think the Canadiens are succeeding in spite of Michel Therrien’s coaching schemes. In fact, you’re probably part of the majority.
In a pre-Olympics piece for Sportsnet, Chris Boyle looked at some of the causes for the Canadiens’ struggle through the month of January. In short, the Canadiens were giving up a lot more high-quality scoring chances than they had through the season’s first few months. Boyle chalks it up to Therrien’s coaching schemes. It’s an interesting look at some shot quality data, and it speaks to large problem on the Canadiens backend. It’s a 6-foot-3, 245 pound defenseman named Douglas Murray. The Canadiens success the rest of this season and in the postseason, if they reach it, will depend on building more support around Carey Price and Peter Budaj, and jettisoning Murray for the scrap heap.
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If there was any doubt that the Buffalo Sabres were not locked in the throes of a full-scale rebuild, then this past weekend should have squashed any remaining uncertainty on the subject. The Sabres shipped Ryan Miller and Steve Ott to St. Louis for an impressive haul that included Jarolsav Halak, Chris Stewart, prospect William Carrier, a first round draft choice in 2015, and a conditional third round pick in 2016. Less than 24 hours later, the Sabres said goodbye to President of Hockey Operations Pat Lafontaine, who resigned and returned to his previous post with the NHL.
The rebuild is on. It will get uglier before it gets better, but the Sabres are on the right path.
Although Sabres general manager Tim Murray netted a decent prospect, a first round draft choice, and ‘right now’ players in Halak and Stewart, the weekend was not without controversy. Lafontaine’s resignation came amidst rumors of organizational dysfunction, which purportedly may have been over a disagreement over whether to extend Miller (Lafontaine) or trade him (Murray). Lafontaine held final say in the team’s transactions prior to the appointment of Murray as GM, thus it was Murray’s way on Friday evening. If it truly was Lafontaine’s desire to lock up a 33-year old goaltender, the team’s most attractive trade chip, to a new deal then it’s probably best that the former NHL great is out of the picture. Read the rest of this entry »