Until today’s quarterfinal play-in games that saw Slovenia surprise Austria, Latvia surprise Switzerland and Slovakia damn near pull out a miracle versus the Czechs, the hockey hadn’t really been all that thrilling. The lack of parity has positioned underdogs to play a slightly more aesthetically pleasing version of trap-era New Jersey Devils’ hockey, the top teams have rarely had to shift out of third gear, and unfamiliar powerplay units had been fumbling with pucks that handled like footballs during the round robin tournament.
While everyone expects the hockey to get better (as it started to yesterday), I thought I’d take a look at the hockey that’s been played to date and highlight a few NHL/Olympics differences that have stood out to me during this year’s tournament so far. Hopefully some of the trends can clue us into things we can expect to see in the quarters and beyond.
There’s a ton of d-zone sagging
While teams in the NHL don’t exactly play man-on-man coverage in their own end, most do use some version of layering, which involves being a bit more aggressive. The general rule there is that defenders play soft until they see a bobbled puck – at the first hint of that, they’re pedal-to-the-floor, hoping to create a 50/50 battle for a loose puck instead of letting their opponent regain control and continue their possession.
In Sochi, particularly with the lesser teams, we’re seeing them basically pull together into a tight square in front of their net with the extra defender fronting the guy with the puck and inviting him to either take a low percentage shot or to try to beat him one-on-one (which isn’t a high percentage option). The other four defenders are often so tight (sagging) that there’s no middle soft spot, making it seem pointless to head there for opposing forwards (it’s not, in my opinion, but there’s certainly no immediate reward – a shot – as there may be in the NHL). Read the rest of this entry »
Last night I spent some time going over old Canadian hockey rosters, and inevitably you come across certain names that make you go “Wow, that guy was on the 20__ roster?” During the 2010 games Brenden Morrow stood out to me, and there was a long line of Drapers and Zamuners before him.
So, I asked the question to my twitter followers:
I only ruled out Kunitz because half of Canada was upset with his selection, and I wanted to see some other names. What I got: a huge helping of “Mike Smith,” and sizeable portions of Dan Hamhuis, Marc-Edouard and the odd side of Jay Bouwmeester. There were other names mentioned, but where this long walk is taking us is here:
NOBODY SAID P.K. SUBBAN.
Nobody. Not your mom, your family dog, your next door neighbor, or that racist guy in Georgia. Read the rest of this entry »
“Most believe [the Olympic women's hockey competition] is a two-team tournament between the United States and Canada.”
That was a sentence spoken by an NBC Sports anchor on Saturday, hours after the U.S. and Canada devoured the Finns and Swiss, respectively, by a combined score of 8-1, to open this year’s women’s hockey tournament. Had this broadcast professional instead pursued a career in astronomy, one might assume that his assessment of the inky black void in which all known matter exists would note that “Most believe this universe is particularly large and old.”
Of course this is a god damned two-team tournament. It has been pretty much straight through since the inception of the women’s tournament for the Nagano games in 1998, because the U.S. and Canada have competed in the gold medal game in three of the first four tournaments ever held. The one time they didn’t, the U.S. still won bronze with a 4-0 rout of Finland, while Canada once again stomped the Swedes 4-1.
You hear talk that “the gap is narrowing.” Sure it is. The sun is also slowly but surely using up all its internal fuel and will eventually run out. But that’s like 5 billion years away, so there’s really no sense in worrying about it just yet.
As much as I love women’s hockey, though, things are getting worse for any non-North American team, not better. The big two have played four games, and scored 20 goals. They’ve allowed one. A plus-19 goal differential. All that remains in the group stage is a showdown on Wednesday between the two superpowers. And guess what: It literally almost doesn’t even matter at all; both have already qualified for the semifinals, and the loser will draw the winner of the quarterfinal game between the third-place team in Group A (which they will have already demolished earlier on) and whoever wins Group B (probably Russia, but maybe Sweden). Whichever team that is will pose no problem for the only two hockey powers in the Olympics worth mentioning. Read the rest of this entry »
The National Hockey League is perhaps the professional sports league that is perhaps most willing to appeal to authority and defer to experience than any other. You can say it’s to do with how much hockey treasures its past, and maybe that’s true, but that doesn’t mean it’s not detrimental to the sport itself.
We got a pretty good case-in-point example of this when the Devils, predictably, gave Martin Brodeur the start in the Devils’ first-ever outdoor game at Yankee Stadium on Sunday. It was very much a “thanks for everything” moment, and perhaps the team didn’t really care so much about the end result. The guy’s been the face of the franchise almost since he came into the league, so of course they were going to give him the start in that particular game. It was a Special Experience, and all that.
Of course, the fact that Brodeur got bombed for six goals against on 21 shots, bringing his save percentage for this, his age-41 season, below .900 for what has to be the first time ever after 28 games in his career. To judge any goaltender on a .714 save percentage in any 40-minute stretch is of course unfair, but this is in fact reflective of a trend that has plagued the Devils all year.
Asked why he was starting Brodeur, who went into the game with a .905 save percentage, over Cory Schneider, who was on the bench with his sitting at .928, coach Peter DeBoer said nothing about the experience or how much he’s meant to the franchise. What he said, instead, was baseless and ridiculous: “I’m not a big stats guy. I think those numbers are misleading.” Read the rest of this entry »
The Florida Panthers, not long after getting themselves a shiny new owner, are still bad, because even having someone who actually cares about your team is not an immediate cure-all for being one of the worst teams in the league. You can ask the Winnipeg Jets about that.
There is, however, some enthusiasm in Sunrise these days because new owner Vinnie Viola — who won his name in a card game with a cartoon mobster — has taken time out of his day of busily shaking down local politicians for more taxpayer money to keep the team there to assure Panthers executives that when it comes to the summer’s silly season, they have free reign to spend as much as they like.
Here’s Dale Tallon on the subject from over the weekend:
“This team’s been bleeding money for a long time, but I’ve been told we’re going to be a cap team and want to try to break even. They want to invest money into the team. They want to win. That’s what’s going on here. They’ve given me the green light to be a cap team. So that’s fantastic. Not a floor team, a cap team. We’re excited.”
The idea of the Panthers as a cap team is an interesting one, insofar as it’s obviously never happened before and the team is currently ranked 30th out of 30 in terms of the amount of their cap space being used. As of yesterday, the team could have, in theory, taken on more than $68.4 million in salary if acquiring people via trade without hitting the cap ceiling. That is an astonishing number in and of itself. But one also has to keep in mind that this comes despite the fact that they’re retaining $2.2 million in salary from the trade that shipped Kris Versteeg back to Chicago, and are paying some serious bums way too much money this season. Read the rest of this entry »
John Scott’s corsi percentage this year is 38.1.
The reason that Scott’s corsi percentage is in any way important to anyone outside of the Buffalo Sabres’ organization, and is in any way germane to the point about to be made, is that it’s pathetic on a grand scale. This is a remarkably low number even for a player generally considered to be the worst in the entire National Hockey League at the actual playing of hockey. More often, even a goon’s numbers will hover somewhere around 45 percent. That’s a player getting dominated in no uncertain terms, ranking him 725th among the 745 players league-wide who have played in at least four games this season.
Meanwhile, Sean Monahan, the Calgary Flames first-round pick in last year’s draft who made the NHL team despite all reason stating that he should have been sent back to the OHL, has a corsi-for percentage of 41.3 percent. To his credit, it used to be much higher.
The reason it’s sinking into Scott territory these days is that he broke his foot in late November and missed two and a half weeks. Tough bounce for the kid, who’d been a little better than OK in getting some sheltered and advantageous usage out of coach Bob Hartley; soft competition, lots of offensive zone starts, power play time, decent linemates, and so on.
He was making the most of it, too. In his first 24 NHL games, as a kid who was barely 19, he had nine goals and 15 points, which isn’t all that bad, considering he’s on the appallingly bad Calgary Flames. Read the rest of this entry »
Quite the kerfuffle with the Bruins over the last 10 days or so, what with Shawn Thornton KOing an unsuspecting victim and getting suspended 15 games, the whole team getting the flu, everyone getting injured, Jarome Iginla dislocating a finger in a needless fight, Tuukka Rask giving up a goal from center ice, and the Bruins losing 6-2 to Vancouver, and Milan Lucic being assaulted by some no-neck clown in a bar for little to no reason at all.
But the thing that’s most egregious of all of these, and for which the team will under no circumstances stand, is Brad Marchand making fun of the Canucks and their fans. He kissed an invisible Stanley Cup ring. He raised an invisible Stanley Cup twice.
The first of these incidents came during warmups, and everyone would have had a nice little laugh about it. The second came with the Bruins down 3-1, following a run-in between Marchand and Ryan Kesler. The third came with Boston trailing 4-1. Coach Claude Julien was in no way happy about these incidents:
“He’s a good player, and he’s an agitator, and there’s some good things to that part of his game, but there’s certain areas where — again, I’ve said it before — you can’t cross the line. … The perception it gives our organization is not what you want to see with those kind of things. … He’s too good of a player and we don’t want him to be a different player, but there’s certain things we want him to be different at. From what I hear, what happened, that’s definitely not something we will accept in our organization.”
Read the rest of this entry »