Sunday, August 28, 2011

Five Teams to Keep Tabs On

As a Caps fan, one per division. The Southeast, obviously, is covered.

Central: Nashville. Their situation with Suter, Weber, and Rinne looks like Carlson, Alzner, and Neuvirth in a few years, with a great shutdown pair and good goalie with depth coming up the pipeline in net all going FA around the same time. Certainly bears watching. If any gets to July 1 unsigned, the Capitals should look into signing 'em, obviously.

Ryan Ellis also looks like a guy that bears watching. As a fellow undersized 2011 World Junior All Star puck moving defenseman from the 2009 second round who boasts a cannon of a shot but a fringe physical game that features only a nice hip check, he may very well give us some insight into how Dmitry Orlov will adapt to the NHL.

Pacific: San Jose, for obvious reasons. Can they finally win the Cup? Three years from now, Joe Thornton and Dan Boyle will go UFA, among other Sharks. Win in the next three years or bust.

Northwest: Colorado. We do hold their first, after all.

Atlantic: Pittsburgh. They are the best team in the East outside of Washington, and it's not close. Prepare for an ECF date with the Pens.

Northeast: Ottawa. They'll be selling, and have several useful players, notably Alfredsson and Phillips.

The Power Play Paradox

With Neil Greenberg and Peerless having chimed in on Alex Ovechkin's chances at fifty goals next year, I think it's time I give it a go.

I've been a firm believer that the biggest source of Ovechkin's "down season" was the Caps' poor power play performance (I'll look at zone starts in the near future, once I get settled after moving into NY). The numbers bear that out, to an extent: Ovechkin was top three in even strength points, but well down the list in power play points.

There are two main theories as to why the Caps' power play went from first to seventeenth: puck luck and strategy. I think it's a bit of both. The puck luck element no one can control, but thankfully we can expect the Caps' power play to be above average, even if not much, based on regression to the mean alone.

The strategic part, on the other hand, one can control, and it poses a problem for Ovechkin. I think what we've learned over the past couple of years is that the Caps' offense runs through Ovechkin much more than we'd realized. Neil had a nice post earlier in the year illustrating how Ovechkin's set of shots on the power play was from further out than in past years. In other words, teams were actively taking away any ability he had to get shots from the slot on the power play, and it worked wonders.

The easy way to fix the issue, obviously, is to run the power play through someone else. Backstrom, Green, and Semin are all great passers as well. But then how does Ovechkin rack up the big power play goals numbers he needs to hit fifty? In order to fix the power play, they'll need to show an aversion to using Ovechkin, to open him up a bit more. Even if it's just for twenty games, that's four or five potential power play goals lost for Ovechkin right there.

Flip it around now: run the power play through Ovechkin. It continues to not generate all that much, and he suffers as a result. Maybe he gets a point on 80% of on ice goals for, but if that is only thirty goals total, well... (to compare, the Young Guns were all in the mid 60s during the 09-10 season in terms of percentage of goals for in which they received a point; during that season Ovechkin had "only" 13 PPGs, down from 19 in his 56 goal campaign and 22 when he torched for 65)

And that, I feel, is going to hinder Ovechkin the most in his quest for 50-in-82. You can't simultaneously be the centerpiece of the offense all the time and expect to be successful. Not when you're "already" 26 (in three weeks). Not in today's NHL.

Given even odds and an over/under line of fifty goals for Ovechkin next season, bet the under.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Standings Predictions 11-12

The Hockey News is doing their series, so I'll do mine.

Eastern Conference

1. Washington: again?! Yes. A very strong team in a weaker division than the main competitor.

2. Pittsburgh: might be stronger than Washington, but play in a much tougher division.

3. Boston: I think they got better.

4. New York Rangers: I think their situation at every position is pretty predictable and stable, unlike for the rest of this list.

5. Philadelphia: they got lucky in net last year, but Bryzgalov should be able to keep it up.

6. Tampa Bay: assorted growth and aging.

7. Buffalo: they made some pretty bad moves, but they had money to spend. No move made them worse. So I bump them up from their seventh place finish last season.

8. New Jersey: they were an elite possession team last year...without Parise. Yes, no Lemaire, but even Maclean coached a 51% Fenwick team.

9. Montreal: they got worse, but not too much. Getting Markov back helps a bunch. I don't think Price will be that good again, though.

10. Toronto: they got a bit better, but I don't know about their situation in net.

11. New York Islanders: I think they're really underrated. Mark Streit is a top notch defenseman, and with the continued growth in their lineup I see a good season ahead.

12. Carolina: just outside the playoffs again.

13. Atlanta: they relied heavily on hot percentages and great goaltending last season.

14. Florida: lottery, and no surprise.

15. Ottawa: see Florida.

Western Conference

1. Chicago: they were almost the best team last year and got better.

2. Vancouver: I think Vancouver is in line for some shooting percentage regression.

3. San Jose: either them or LA and I'll play it safe.

4. Los Angeles: I love their depth at center, and with so much youth they're getting better.

5. Detroit: Lidstrom is on the decline and they aren't deep on the blueline and are simultaneously reluctant to promote prospects from their top notch farm system.

6. Nashville: stable for at least one more year, and the other teams don't make me feel awed.

7. St. Louis: Jaroslav Halak will bounce back in a big way, I think.

8. Columbus: why yes, I did just pick the Central to make the playoffs. Jeff Carter is a two way force.

9. Calgary: I think losing Regehr will hurt quite a bit.

10. Phoenix: big downgrade in net. Dave Tippett will have his biggest challenge yet.

11. Anaheim: they were a terrible possession team last year and continue to be very thin among skaters.

12. Edmonton: the seasons Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Magnus Paajarvi had last year make me optimistic they'll be better. After all, Devan Dubnyk looks like a good goalie, and they have firepower up front.

13. Colorado: I've seen this story before, on Long Island. Their goalies likely won't stay healthy.

14. Dallas: I don't know, I not feeling it. They are thinner down the middle and weren't a good possession team to begin with.

15. Minnesota: the last team left. I think their goaltending should be alright but I continue to fail to see the goals.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Scouting the Enemy: Northeast Division

Reverse order of finish (predicted).

Ottawa Senators
Notable additions: none
Notable losses: none
Outlook: lottery

Craig Anderson is an upgrade in goal, Chris Philips is a top pair defenseman, and David Rundbland could step right into the top four. Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson make for a legit top line as well. Other than them, Ottawa is a mess. With guys like Mika Zibanejad, Nikita Filatov, Robin Lehner, and Erik Karlsson improving every day, the future looks bright. Just not the present.

Season series gameplan: just go out there and play

Playoff series gameplan: good thing I don't have to worry about this section

Toronto Maple Leafs
Notable additions: Tim Connolly
Notable losses: Jean-Sebastien Giguere
Outlook: lottery

I'm not convinced Reimer is the real deal. And if I'm right, Toronto is in trouble. Their defense is okay, forwards thin but getting better, but again, goaltending.

Season series gameplan: don't be afraid to shoot, and keep your head up.

Playoff series gameplan: same

Montreal Canadiens
Notable additions: Erik Cole
Notable losses: Jeff Halpern, Roman Hamrlik, James Wisniewski
Outlook: borderline playoff team

The Habs are a mixed bag. You have aging veterans like Hal Gill, young players like PK Subban and Lars Eller. I think losing a top pair D in Hamrlik and losing Wisniewski cancels with gaining back Markov and improvement among skaters. I'm not sure Price can replicate what he did last year, though.

Season series gameplan: navigate matchups to get Ovechkin and Semin against checkers, not Plekanec or Gomez.

Playoff series gameplan: same. And get those darned special teams working. Montreal annually has strong units.

Buffalo Sabres
Notable additions: Ville Leino, Christian Ehrhoff
Notable losses: Tim Connolly
Outlook: playoff team

Ryan Miller had a down year last year. Meanwhile, Leino is a more durable version of Connolly, they should get back Roy, Ehrhoff is the puck mover they needed after losing Tallinder, and Myers will get better percentages. They are still over the cap, however.

Season series outlook: attack. The Sabres among skaters should be able to play any style well, but not great, so may as well do what the Capitals do best. Attack.

Playoff series gameplan: same.

Boston Bruins
Notable additions: Joe Corvo
Notable losses: Tomas Kaberle
Outlook: Cup Contender

The Bruins of course just won the Stanley Cup, and got better. Corvo is an upgrade over Kaberle, and young guys like Marchand and Seguin should improve. Losing Recchi and not being able to bank on a generational season from Tim Thomas hurts, but I'm a believer in Tuukka Rask.

Season series outlook: like with Montreal, avoid the checkers, here Krejci and Bergeron. The Bruins defense isn't all that good, so patience is key. Quality over quantity.

Playoff series outlook: that, and try to get on special teams. The Caps had two top six units by shots last season, while the Bruins were  mediocre.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Scouting the Enemy: Southeast Division

Again, reverse predicted order of finish for the not-quite-weakest-but-close Southeast.

Florida Panthers
Notable additions: Kris Versteeg via trade, Tomas Fleischmann, Jose Theodore, Ed Jovanovski, Brian Campbell via trade
Notable losses: Tomas Vokoun, Rostislav Olesz via trade
Outlook: losing streak away from lottery

I think of Dale Tallon's handiwork in Florida this way: downgrading from Vokoun to Theodore is about twenty goals lost, going by GVT. I think their additions will make that up, as Versteeg and Campbell are worth more than half that combined, but their net improvement isn't much.

Season series gameplan: just make sure one offensive star, minimum, is both producing at that point in the season and gets away from the vastly underrated shutdown pair of Garrison and Weaver.

Playoff series gameplan: I'm not really sure one is needed. Just the standard stuff will result in a sweep for Washington.

Winnipeg Jets
Notable additions: Eric Fehr via trade
Notable losses: Brent Sopel
Outlook: miss playoffs

The Atlanta Thrashers last season were a poor possession team who overachieved for the first half of the season, in my mind. Andrew Ladd is a solid all-around player, but aside from him up front Winnipeg is pretty thin. On the blueline, Dustin Byfuglien should have more trouble finding success joining the rush as teams wisen up to that tactic, as they did with Mike Green after 08-09. Zach Bogosian is starting to look like he'll end up as unfulfilled potential, and Ondrej Pavelec needs more than one good season to convince me that he's the real deal.

Season series gameplan: slow the game down. Winnipeg has more than enough depth with regards to puck-moving defensemen and too much of Byfuglien, Enstrom, and company joining the attack will lead to Jets victories.

Playoff series gameplan: um...don't let Evander Kane burn the team again. Keeping Ovechkin away from Ladd should help a'plenty as well.

Carolina Hurricanes
Notable additions: Tomas Kaberle, Brian Boucher, Alexei Ponikarovsky
Notable losses: Joe Corvo, Erik Cole
Outlook: borderline playoff team

That list of additions and subtractions should explain my prognostication for this team. They downgraded from Corvo to Kaberle, upgraded to backup goalie Boucher, and Ponikarovsky is a great tough minutes player who won't replace Cole's offense. Net, give some room for growth to guys like Sutter, McBain, and Skinner and I think they'll be a little better but still a reliable tough minutes forward and defenseman short. By my count I got three and one, respectively, which is just too little.

Season series gameplan: just control the puck. The way Carolina is going to win is with their forwards controlling the game down low. Lose some of the riskier plays in lieu of safer ones. This is a little tough to execute considering the speed of Hurricanes forwards, but with five defensemen I trust withandling the puck I think the Capitals will be alright.

Playoff series gameplan: again, methodical puck possession. It's important not to let Cam Ward get hot, too, so quality over quantity.

Tampa Bay Lightning
Notable additions: none
Notable looses: Sean Bergenheim
Outlook: playoff team

Tampa Bay was the fourth best team in the East last year by score-tied Fenwick%, behind Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and New Jersey. I can't see them having such poor performance in net again, and improvement in performance there--which doesn't have to come from better personnel, just better luck--should offset, roughly, decline from Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St Louis, Eric Brewer, and Mattias Ohlund. I'm not sold on Stamkos being a top player in the game yet, as I see one and a half years of good play followed by a year of outstanding play, then a regression back to merely good, but it's safe to predict he'll become better, as should Victor Hedman. Net, I see a slight improvement.

Season series gameplan: like with Carolina, patience. If you haven't read the Japers' Rink post entitled "The 411 on the 3-1-1" I suggest you read that now.

Playoff series gameplan: accept the power versus power challenge--mutually canceling top lines is better than mutually canceling Washington's top line with Tampa's third.

Washington Capitals
Notable additions: Tomas Vokoun, Joel Ward, Roman Hamrlik, Jeff Halpern
Notable losses: Eric Fehr via trade
Outlook: Cup Contender

I'm cautiously optimistic. I'll pencil in the Caps as favorites in the East if they're able to post strong possession numbers.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Scouting the Enemy: Atlantic Division

Sorry for any funky format. I'm trying posting via email.

Either the Atlantic or the underrated Central will be the best division next
> season.
> In reverse predicted order of finish:
> New York Islanders
> Notable additions: Brian Rolston via trade
> Notable losses: Trent Hunter via trade
> Outlook: borderline playoff team
> The Islanders are a young team on the rise. They have had bad luck with
> injuries year after year, but look to be in good shape for next season. Mark
> Streit may not be the Norris caliber defenseman he was two years ago, but
> he's a legit 1D. Macdonald and Hamonic make a strong second pair, and
> combined with the Nielsen-Grabner-Okposo line they can outscore any top line
> in the league. Tavares also has an outside shot at 40 goals.
> Season series gameplan: Work hard. The Islanders always play the Caps well
> because they work hard, like the Caps under Hanlon. But there is still a big
> gulf in terms of talent.
> Playoff series gameplan: same. And push the pace against their inexperienced
> blueline.
> New Jersey Devils
> Notable additions: none
> Notable losses: none
> Outlook: playoff team
> The Devils had a crazy last season. I think they are closer to the Lemaire
> team than the Maclean team, though. They were a 51% Fenwick team under
> Maclean and about 55% under Lemaire, but of course had much better puck luck
> the second half of the season. We cannot expect Brodeur to play below
> replacement level for forty games again, and along with the return of Zach
> Parise I see this team as a low playoff team.
> Season series gameplan: push the pace and attack. The Devils have a young
> blueline that, aside from Volchenkov, Tallinder, and Greene, is very
> unproven.
> Playoff series gameplan: same. I would also slot Brouwer on the top line to
> hit Volchenkov, who is not especially durable.
> Philadelphia Flyers
> Notable additions: Jakub Voracek via trade, Brayden Schenn via trade, Wayne
> Simmonds via trade, Jaromir Jagr, Ilya Bryzgalov
> Notable losses: Jeff Carter via trade, Mike Richards via trade, Brian
> Boucher
> Outlook: playoff team
> Much has already been written about the Flyers' offseason makeover. I'd just
> like to add that now at least one of Schenn, Briere, or Voracek will need to
> play toughs. The first may be too inexperienced, the latter two not ideal.
> Giroux is still good enough to stabilize the forward corps, but not enough
> to make them elite, I think: he did have Carter on his wing, after all.
> Season series gameplan: attention to line matching. Philadelphia probably
> doesn't have the forward depth to handle two strong scoring lines.
> Playoff series gameplan: that plus playing very physically on Pronger and
> Timonen to wear them down.
> New York Rangers
> Notable additions: Brad Richards, Tim Erixon via trade
> Notable losses: none
> Outlook: playoff team
> The Rangers were already decent. They've added the best UFA and one of the
> two best defensemen in the world not already in the NHL (along with fellow
> Swede David Rundbland), and coupled with growth from Artem Anisimov, Mike
> Sauer, and Ryan McDonagh, the Rangers should win plenty of games and
> challenge for home ice.
> Season series gameplan: offense versus offense. Richards and Gaborik should
> be the most vulnerable line defensively. Furthermore, given how sound the
> Rangers defensemen are in their zone--I'd take their top five defensemen
> over all save Philly's for pure defense--I think the Capitals defensemen
> need to be aggressive in joining the rush. With Green, Wideman, Carlson, and
> Hamrlik all better puck movers than any Ranger D, therein lies the Caps'
> biggest personnel edge. Offense from defense.
> Playoff series gameplan: same.
> Pittsburgh Penguins
> Notable additions: none
> Notable losses: none
> Outlook: Cup Contender
> There are still question marks surrounding this team. How will Malkin fare
> coming off a serious knee injury, one which typically sets a player at
> reduced effectiveness for a year or two? When will Crosby come back, and
> will he feel like Eric Lindros, who said that after the Stevens hit he
> actually had to think about what he was doing with the puck? Will Fleury
> build off his strong last season, or will he regress to his prior, league
> average self? Will James Neal figure it all out?
> Nonetheless, this is the best possession team since Bylsma took over, and I
> expect that strong play to lead them to a division title. Only their strong
> division prevents me from penciling them in as the East top seed.
> Season series gameplan: slow the game down. Prevent the Penguins from
> getting their forecheck going.
> Playoff series gameplan: any strategy I can think of is a mixed bag. Just
> win. If I had to choose I'd like to see the Capitals open it up, move the
> puck up the ice quickly, and exert a physical toll on the Pens top four,
> upon which Bylsma will rely upon heavily. I don't necessarily want run and
> gun, but this Capitals team thrives off the rush--did they even score five
> goals in the playoffs off an in-zone possession?--and playing a neutral zone
> game neutralizes the Caps transition game and puck moving blueline
> advantage.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Eastern Conference Top-Six Reliance

After seeing this post on the Western Conference Teams, I decided to do the same exercise for the East. Here are the results, sorted by most reliance on top-6 (by TOI...yes, that is a bit of circular reasoning) forwards: