Monday, August 27, 2012

More summer thoughts

Calder race

The Calder race should be interesting. While NY scrutiny probably has led to Chris Kreider becoming the preseason favorite, I think he's one of the longer shots among players "on the radar." I'm guessing it'll take more than 20 goals and 50 points to win it. Rick Nash, Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards, and Ryan Callahan I'm sure will hit that mark (if healthy), and Derek Stepan seems like a decent bet. Six 20-50 players is an awful lot. Don't think Kreider makes it.

So which other forwards are out there?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Steve Yzerman is a good GM

I think he takes undeserved flak sometimes.

Monday, August 6, 2012

An Island of Misfit Toys

I haven't seen anyone actually try to create Marc Crawford's idea of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

I'm considering the guys criticized for intangibles and consistency, of course, but also those who are massively undervalued (often because being overpaid is equated with being flat-out bad). I'll admit there's plenty of guesswork since I'm not exactly dialed into what GMs think, so I'll go off what I hear in the media and around the internet.

I'll also include guys who are still FA (except Shane Doan).

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Summer thoughts

Dominic Moore. I think the optimal line combinations for this team have Laich on Ribeiro's wing. Ribeiro doesn't put up giant relative plus-minus ratings, which means that for all the offense he gets you, well, he gives a lot of it back at the other end. I think a huge reason why Laich looked so good in 10-11 was being able to do what he does best--play defense, get the puck, and then speed into the play--and leave the possession game over the rest of the ice to Semin and Carlzner.

I don't think Ribeiro is as good a 5v5 complement to Laich as Semin was in 10-11 (or good at fives, period, for that matter), but Ribeiro and a guy like Wolski and Chimera plus the D support could easily be better support than Semin, the possession zero 2C of the day, and young Carlzner. But without Laich, I think that line could be dangerously close to being a liability on the ice, scoring a lot but being outscored themselves. Ribeiro is not getting any younger, after all.

That's where Dominic Moore can help. He can play the same role Laich did last year (taking a little less ice time in all situations, though). He can push Laich up the depth chart, into a role where he's the only defensive specialist and not the only capable forward offensively (like he was with Ward and Chimera).

You could do worse than Brooks Laich at 3C. But I think overall, Moore at 3C and Laich at 2LW is better than, say, Chimera at 2LW and Laich at 3C.

I don't think McPhee is looking to add a forward, given that the team has 13 already and has largely been adding depth. But if you add Moore and trade a fourth-liner for something like "future considerations," well, I'd call that a net win.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Alex Ovechkin's assists

Ovechkin's assist totals: 54, 26, 47, 54, 59, 53, 27. At ES, 23, 25, 32, 27, 36, 36, 17. Over the last five years in ES primary assists/60, that goes .97, .81, 1.30, 1.08, 0.39. I'm skeptical Ovechkin took such a big step backward in his play that he "deserved" to lose about half of his ES assists. In other words, I think 27 assists is a severe underestimate of his "true talent" for the 2011-2012 season.

Given that differences from ~league average in on-ice shooting percentage, outside of the exceptional cases, stem from a player's individual shot location, not the shot location of his linemates, and given Ovechkin shot 10.9% at fives himself but as a team he got 8.75% on-ice shooting, it might be worthwhile to see just how well his support was converting, and whether that rate is egregiously low or high.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Thoughts on Ribeiro

It'll be interesting to see how the Capitals do with a center who can put up some solid offensive numbers.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Snepsts Caps projections

Rob Vollman released the Snepsts projections for next season. Snepsts uses era-adjusted statistics (including GVT) to find close comparables to the player in question and uses those comparables' performance to set the bar for the current player. It's along the same lines as Hockey Prospectus' VUKOTA (which is the hockey version of baseball's PECOTA), but sacrifices sample size for accuracy.

Here's what it projects for next season. All figures are rounded. The information after the goals-assists-points totals are Snepsts' closest comparable found and the year of that comparable performance.

Ovechkin: 31-37-68 (Heatley 2009)
Backstrom: 21-49-70 (Juneau 1994)
Laich: 16-24-41 (Bourne 1984)
Johansson: 12-20-33 (Zanussi 1980)
Perreault: 18-20-38 (Lacroix 1997)
Chimera: 12-14-26 (Zamuner 2001)
Hendricks: 6-14-20 (Podein 1999)
Ward: 9-16-25 (Cooke 2008)
Brouwer: 17-18-35 (Lindgren 2000)
Beagle: 3-5-8 (Boll 2011)
Green: 8-19-26 (B. Stuart 2007)
Carlson: 9-27-36 (B. Stuart 2003)
Alzner: 3-10-13 (Doak 1972)
Hamrlik: 4-14-18 (Lumme 2002)
Erskine:  2-6-18 (Huscroft 1997)
Schultz: 3-10-13 (Houda 1990)

Crosby: 51-76-127
Malkin: 36-48-84
Stamkos: 43-49-93

The total of the 10 forwards and six defensemen comes out to 174 goals. That's barely 2 goals a game. Luckily, I think there are some underestimates here:

Green--each "comparable" has a "sim" score, which denotes how close the match is (smaller is better). While most players had a match with a sim score in single digits, Green did not. I think it's fair to think he produces at least a handful more goals than the eight here.

Ovechkin--I'm optimistic. I think he hits 35 regardless of coach, thanks to an improved power play, and with a good coach hits 40. There's another handful or so. Ovechkin was another player who didn't exactly have a close comparable, like Green. Given that coaching likely deflated Ovechkin's numbers, I think the search registered worse comparables than he deserved (which is saying something, considering the comparables include Heatley, Kariya, Robataille, Hawerchuk, Nilsson, and Tkachuk).

Johansson--the kid has shown so much scoring ability already, and he's not even strong.

I suppose I should also mention what I think are overestimates (excluding players in the single digits):

Perreault--he won't shoot over 20% again.

Luckily, that's it.

Add that up and we have 180-185 or so. Short of adding two 30-goal scorers, this picture makes the team's offense next season seem destined to crave mediocrity. I think it's fair to guess this team adds ~30 goals scored from free agency (speaking of raw production, not GVT here: that's three third liners). That brings us up to 215, which would have ranked 15th this season, three fewer than the real Caps scored (that seems better when you consider Semin isn't counted here).

McPhee had better hit a home run with this new coach. If the coach can be worth 30 goals or so, suddenly you're looking at 240 goals and a top-5 offense. It doesn't have to just come at even strength--take the Caps from 26th to 8th in power play goals for and you've improved the offense by nine goals, vaulting it into the top ten. Throw in a couple of shorthanded goals and ten more even strength goals and you're almost into the top-5. Small improvements in multiple facets of the game should do the trick.

If the goalies hold up their end of the bargain and there are no Green- or Backstrom-esque injuries again, this team looks to be in decent shape for next year. Yes, there are significant roster holes to fill, there is no coach, and the pipeline will not produce another impact NHL talent for a couple of years minimum (unless Grigorenko falls all the way to 11th). But before being great, teams generally have to hit the "good" threshold, and McPhee should be able to do that pretty easily. That won't satisfy me, but it will keep me watching since a "good" team can be a single (albeit major) move away from becoming elite.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Stanley Cup Final prediction

New Jersey Devils vs Los Angeles Kings

Possession. The Devils in the playoffs have been great against mediocre possession teams. The Kings have been decent against two great and one mediocre team. With Zajac looking better with each game and Kovalchuk apparently recovered from his injury in the first round, and with Richards and Carter still a little cold possession-wise (as they have been all season), this series could actually be close in this regard.

Brodeur. He's looked solid. I don't buy that he is. However, anything can happen in seven games, and with Quick looking more beatable than he was in the first two rounds, it's conceivable that Brodeur outplays Quick enough for this to be a long series.

Special teams. The Devils' PK had a net goal differential around -1 every eight games during the regular season, which is ridiculous. It's -15 in 18 playoff games. Meanwhile, the Kings PP is only +6. Which dam will break? In the same vein, the Kings PK is even in the playoffs (5 SHGF, 5 PPGA) while the Devils PP is +10. Something will give.

Elias. If he can win his matchup, the Devils have a great chance. I'm not sure who Pete DeBoer wants to match Parise with, but if Elias can win or even just break even against Richards or Kopitar, suddenly an upset doesn't look too unlikely. He hasn't scored much in the playoffs, and Quick is a hard goalie to score on, but you never know.

Prediction: I think the Kings possession game is simply too much. I think Quick has started a bit of a funk (nothing too bad, though) while Brodeur has been hot, so there's an even playing field there, but I think the Devils D will simply be overwhelmed more often than not. Kings in 6.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Offseason choices

The Capitals are probably in their most precarious state as a franchise since...well, it's been awhile, and I may have not even been a fan at the time. The team overall was flat in a Game 7 for the third time (I'm not sure the performances against either Boston or New York in 2009 were ideal, so add two halves and call it one) in five tries, there is no coach after the most recent coach tried to completely overhaul the team's philosophy, the team's prized prospect apparently will stay abroad for at least two more years...I could go on.

Here's the checklist I would make as the team's GM.

Who will be the new coach? There are many possibilities out there. Ideally you find the coach before free agency to try and nab players who will fit his system, but at least one Canadian outlet has reported McPhee may wait until August to name Hunter's successor.

Possession. If you don't find a coach, best bet is to find players who will keep the puck in the offensive zone, regardless of system. Nicklas Backstrom and Joel Ward are two easy examples of players who were able to move the puck up the ice under both Boudreau and Hunter.

As far as UFA names go, the following players scored at a top six rate (top-180 among F, min 40 GP, which was Derek Roy's 1.58) and had a positive on-ice Corsi: Alexander Semin, Zach Parise, Jaromir Jagr, Ray Whitney, Jiri Hudler, Jamie Langenbrunner, Chris Kelly, Lee Stempniak, Steve Sullivan, PA Parenteau, Kyle Wellwood, Petr Sykora. Limit it to top liners (top-90 in points per 60, Ilya Kovalchuk's 2.00) and you have Kelly, Sykora, Wellwood, Parise, Hudler, Parenteau, and Semin.

While that is a fairly long list of names, it'll get shorter since some will re-sign with their current teams over the next six weeks, and so you'll have 30 teams looking at maybe five or six top-six forwards.

A better bet might be looking to add top-end depth via trade but adding real punch to the bottom of the lineup in free agency. That opens up more options--in addition to the aforementioned names, guys like Alexei Ponikarovsky, Scott Gomez (if Montreal buys him out), Brandon Prust, Blair Betts (if he can play and was not merely LTIR'd indefinitely for cap and roster space), Mikael Samuelsson, Daniel Winnik, Ruslan Fedotenko, Jay McClement, Marco Sturm, Paul Gaustad, Jochen Hecht, Dustin Penner, Jarret Stoll, Jason Blake, Daymond Langkow, Kristian Huselius, and David Moss pop up after a quick look as guys who can do a decent job keeping the puck on the attack (several of whom are trusted to take heavy defensive zone start ratios as well, like Betts, McClement, and Stoll).

We're up to around one UFA forward per team, and landing even one of these players should add punch to third and (especially) fourth lines that looked helpless at times during the postseason (the fourth line for all but the ends of both series, the third during the Rangers series). I don't know how versatile all of these players are--that's up to management and scouting--but I'm sure there are several fits. There are definitely the components of a top-end checking line that will score about as much as most top lines, and throw in outscoring from Backstrom's line and the fourth line and I think the team is in a pretty good spot.

Go hard after undervalued players. This is related to the previous section, but also encompasses some possibilities of its own. Take Paul Martin. No one criticized his signing last season, but this season he's come under a lot of fire. Like John Carlson, Martin's behindthenet profile is solid, but both he and Zbynek Michalek got sub-.900 goaltending. As far as I know, after playing in New Jersey and then for a defensive-minded Pittsburgh team last season, this season was the most wide-open hockey his team had ever played, and I think shifting back to a more defensive-minded system as well as another year of acclimation will have him due for a rebound next year. Even if Pittsburgh is savvy enough to demand fair value, at the very least it's not above fair value, like we see at the deadline due, to bidding wars.

There are other players that were forced into tougher roles than they're used to playing and saw a drop in production and undeserved criticism as a result: Ales Hemsky (former Edmonton coaches Craig MacTavish and Tom Renney have gotten plenty out of Hemsky, especially MacTavish), Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, and Nikolai Kulemin come to mind quickly.

There are also the risky players coming off major injury. Andy McDonald has one year left on his deal with St. Louis, at just over $4 million in cap hit, and last time he was healthy he was roughly a point-per-game player. Alexander Steen was brilliant for St. Louis this season when he was healthy, but missed half the season due to a concussion (like Backstrom did). UFA defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo played most of the year with Alex Pietrangelo, who put in a Norris-worthy performance this season, but as such his contributions to the pair's effectiveness may be undervalued (or he may be overvalued, too). Simon Gagne is also risky, but a solid two-way player.

Get a coach whose system will fit the players. Please, minimal adjustments needed. No system is inherently wrong, but it sure could be wrong for the personnel you have. I think the puck-moving ability and offensive savvy on the blueline is a real strength, and something integrating that would sure be nice, but if I knew anything about the game I'd be in it.

Don't be afraid to go after young players. I can understand the desire for an established top-six forward after experiments with Tomas Fleischmann, Brendan Morrison, Mathieu Perreault, and Marcus Johansson haven't really panned out (though I maintain if a coach were to lock Perreault into the 2C spot and give him more ice time, especially on the power play, he's put up solid numbers). The team doesn't have a ton of valuable assets at the moment, though, so it's hard to find that guy via trade unless his current team really wants him off its hands (Stastny and Getzlaf, maybe) because the Caps don't have the assets to pony up.

Young players, though, aren't as valuable. We see established players going at the deadline for  prospects and developing players every year. In that vein, there are several young centers who might be able to play in a top-six role next year (and if not, they'll be close). Marcus Kruger in Chicago, Andrei Loktionov in Los Angeles, Sam Gagner in Edmonton (he's only turns 23 in August, folks), and Brayden Schenn in Philadelphia are four such names. I'm sure there are more. All of them are currently buried on the depth chart, and it doesn't look like Loktionov and Kruger will be able to get up anytime soon.

If you extend your search for wing depth, Oiler Linus Omark has tweeted that he'd like a chance somewhere else and he and fellow undervalued forward Magnus Paajarvi were solid together in '10-'11.

St. Louis also has plenty of young players, but may not have the money to keep its team together. TJ Oshie, David Perron, and captain David Backes were Ken Hitchcock's go-to defensive line, taking the three top quality of competition ratings and bottom three offensive zone start ratios among Blues forwards, and all outshot and outscored their competition. Oshie and Perron are both restricted free agents and are each due a nice raise from the slightly-over-$2 million they each earned this past season. New ownership may be coming into play here. We'll see, but this is a terrific opportunity to pick up a quality player, especially if the Caps jump early.

I understand this is risky, but sometimes that's what you need to do to be one of the best. Los Angeles had two injury-prone wings they planned to play with Kopitar on the top line, and while Simon Gagne has had more issues, Justin Williams has stayed healthy in the playoffs.

Jeff Carter struggled in Columbus, and the Kings traded for him and slotted him alongside another guy who I think may be a little disappointed in his regular season performance in Mike Richards. Sutter asked those two to play harder minutes to help take the load off of Kopitar, and the ploy worked.

They inserted Slava Voynov to take Jack Johnson's spot, and he was pretty green, like Orlov, but has done very well in a season in which he was supposed to spend in the AHL polishing his defensive game.

They came into the year with two young, cheap netminders, and Jonathan Quick got even better (if he hadn't, Los Angeles probably misses the playoffs). They traded for Dustin Penner and he's returned to his underrated form that he had in Edmonton.

Phoenix risked it with Mike Smith in goal and a second-year D as its 1D plus a collage of vets to round out its blueline, and that team has done well. New York risked it with slotting McDonagh to take Marc Staal's spot, and that's worked out extremely well.

If you could have predicted these players' performances, their salaries would have been much higher. All these teams took risks, and they paid off. While risks may not--the Johnson extension for LA, for example--if McPhee is smart about who he targets, he'll come out ahead frequently enough to build a very good team.

In other words, I want the team to do due diligence and not treat this offseason as especially different. Learn from mistakes in the past and be cognizant of roster weaknesses and age, but don't let, say, the lack of a 2C for three years now magically increase the urgency with which you will pursue it above and beyond what's actually needed (don't overcorrect or panic, like Montreal did with Gomez-for-McDonagh or Columbus with Carter-for-Johnson). McPhee hasn't been prone to overreacting to this point, but who knows, with all the bumps over the past couple of years. I hope he stays in control. That's a plus to waiting--he's obviously invested in the success of the team, and waiting for the necessary emotional detachment is critical.

Explore the trade market for Holtby. Braden Holtby may be the next big thing. I don't know. Seems like everyone (save Rangers and Bruins fans) thinks extremely highly of him (including Henrik Lundqvist). I do know, however, that establishing yourself as an above-average netminder in the league is pretty hard--try it, draw up a list of the top-15--and I do think Holtby could net a pretty nice return in a trade. Neuvirth I think is a decent NHL goalie and Grubauer was great in the minors this season, so the pipeline looks like it can replace Holtby, and there are always underrated veteran backups available in free agency (like Biron, Conklin, and Johnson). I'd jump at a Varlamov-type package (with the first being 2012, preferably).

See if there is a trade market for Ovechkin. I do realize the media fallout could be disastrous, but I do think some teams would offer a substantial amount for Ovechkin (Montreal was the first name that came to mind). There's some evidence that this past season, he was a pretty marginal player at even strength (outscored by checking lines, essentially). I think he'll be better next season, but why take that risk when someone else can for you? I think Howson's desired package for Nash (along the lines of Kreider, Dubinsky, Erixon, and a 1st, if memory serves) proves that some GMs are crazy enough to overrate goal scorers that much, and I think there is real potential here for a ripoff of Carter-Johnson magnitude.

Of course, it's quite possible to avoid this altogether and build a roster that comes pretty close to a championship or even wins one despite Ovechkin's contract--just add him as a healthy scratch to Phoenix and I don't think you've changed anything on a final-four team. You can't afford to overpay in UFA without bargains, though, and the Capitals are running a little short on bargains, which are now concentrated in Carlson-Alzner-Orlov and the goaltending.

Assess whether you can make the playoffs without Semin. I realize he may want to leave, but he was the team's best forward this season who played more than 42 regular season games and without Parise, at least two other top-six forward acquisitions, or a coach who will coax a dominant game out of this roster like Boudreau did from 07-10 and Sutter did this year with LA, it may very well be that the team misses the postseason without his regular season contributions.

Give Perreault a chance. His possession numbers and scoring rates have been solid for three years in a row. I don't think you need to have two high-end centers to ice a championship roster if you have outstanding depth, and given that Perreault has been scoring in the ice time he's been given, give him some more and see if he can build on it. His would-be replacement as a top-six center has not earned that spot any more than he has, whether it be Laich or Johansson.

Keep your excitement down for Marcus Johansson. He had a very, very quiet leap from 27 points (9th on team) to 46 points (tied for third). Sure, that's two years in a row where he's had a very high on-ice shooting percentage, but I think more strength will help him win a lot more puck battles and mitigate the drop in conversion efficiency. But entering the last year of his ELC, it would be nice if he were kept under the radar so that he comes in cheap on his second contract.

Trade Dennis Wideman. People have traded for the rights to guys like Jay Bouwmeester and Dan Hamhuis before. Even if a team gives up a low-round pick, it's better than nothing.

Do your utmost to keep the affiliation with Hershey going. As far as I know, the affiliation was set to expire at the end of this season and has not been renewed. Hershey is a team known for winning, though, and experience with pressure, expectations, playing in scoring roles in the postseason, and long campaigns can't hurt players like Cody Eakin and Stanislav Galiev in their development. They truly have to earn their ice time since the AHL affiliate is by no means the parent NHL club's puppet, and that's also an extra defense against rushing prospects. It's not terrible if the relationship ends, but it sure would be good to maintain a relationship that has worked out very well for both organizations so far.

Tell Alex Ovechkin he needs to learn to play defense. Todd McClellan for precisely this reason I think would be great for coach in Washington--not only do his Sharks dump and chase more than any "skill" team I've ever seen, but he transformed Joe Thornton into a dominant two-way force, and I don't doubt he could do the same to Ovechkin. As it is, it's just an extra hassle for the Capitals' coach to be wary of power-on-power matchups against Ovechkin's line, and without being competent defensively you can't send out your most dangerous offensive-zone weapon for 40 of the 60 minutes a game (when the other team has its top-six forwards on the ice). That's rather inconvenient.

Find a new coach, and make sure he knows what he's doing. If Backstrom hadn't been hurt, I think a top-notch coach could have taken this team to the Stanley Cup Finals. I think the true MVPs of the league are Dan Bylsma, Darryl Sutter, Mike Babcock, and Alain Vigneault, coaches who drastically improved their teams fortunes through a specific forecheck, defensive zone scheme, and zone/line matching. No coach is without his flaws, and so they all represent some risk. I hope the Caps find the coach that best suits the roster as currently constructed and as constructed in the foreseeable future.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Conference Finals Predictions

I wrote this before the conference finals series started, but had some mobile posting issues, so here you go, a little late.

Rangers vs Devils

Can Brodeur keep this up? I reckon he's roughly equivalent to Holtby. Obviously, they have different styles, but in a vacuum this veteran ain't what he used to be. He's been decent and was good against Philly. He'll need to repeat that.

Power on power. Tortorella liked Richards, Hagelin, and Gaborik against Ovechkin, and I'm sure DeBoer is willing to oblige with Zajac, Kovalchuk, and Parise. Normally I'd say that's an easy win for New Jersey, but the Rangers' top line really came on strong late in this last series. If they win this matchup, I think they take the series.

Defensive depth. New York is deeper but has played much more hockey. Sure, Tortorella has a tough training camp, but early on the Devils should still be able to take advantage and will need to since they're not super physical, so any advantage there will evaporate.

Prediction: I think the Devils' top six will win their matchups possession-wise fairly comfortably (don't sleep on Elias, he's great) and combine with the significant special teams edge to Newark and I like New Jersey in six.

Coyotes vs Kings

Goaltending. Assuming Quick is solid, only a Halak-like performance will save Phoenix.

Carter. He hasn't been great thus far, but if he gets going...

Ekman-Larsson. He is going to have to play out of his mind against Kopitar. If he wins that matchup in goals, Phoenix's depth may just be able to hold out--Whitney, Vrbata, and Hanzal ain't no slouches.

Prediction: the biggest question is how many games the Kings will lose en route to a cup, I think. Kings in five.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Thoughts on Caps@NYR Game 1

First playoff game I've been to since 2001 (Pens@Caps). The atmosphere was intense. Definitely a lot more fun than New Jersey in the regular season. That being said...

  • Alex Ovechkin either needs to play with Backstrom and Johansson, get his act together, or sit on the bench. He shouldn't be getting dominated by a line centered by Derek Stepan or Brad Richards. That being said, Dale Hunter should be trying to get Ovechkin away from the power-versus-power matchup that Tortorella likes to use. Plan for next season: make sure Ovechkin can handle those matchups competently by the playoffs so if it comes up on the road, Hunter needn't worry.
  • The Capitals had the better of play, easily, in the first forty and last ten. Those soft goals and mental lapses kill, though. Today was a wasted effort, like Game 6 versus Boston. Hopefully, the Capitals can overcome it again. If they play, on the whole, like they did today for the rest of the series, they'll win in five or six comfortably.
  • Holtby needs to find a way to "focus" or the Capitals will truly have a mountain to climb, down 0-2 heading back to Washington.
  • Alexander Semin and Ovechkin need to remember that the Rangers will dive to draw penalties and they don't have that reputation, either. No more of those marginal plays, please.
  • Marcus Johansson by the game is looking more and more like a Danny Briere-type--not great with possession, not big, but will come through in the postseason. Johansson hit the post at least once, and eventually he'll stop facing elite netminders and score a lot more.
  • Jay Beagle started the game with Ovechkin and Brouwer. Really, Hunter?
  • With the game winding down, it should be Carlson, not Wideman, out there with Green on defense. Aside from 08-09, Carlson's lowest 5v5 points/60 season rate is better than Wideman's best.
  • I love it when fans heckle me after their team (skaters, specifically), honestly, didn't deserve to win. Congratulations, guys. You, a 1-seed, won a home game against a 7-seed despite only getting 14 shots on goal and despite the other team hitting the post four times. I could make a habit out of going to road games in hostile arenas, if I could trust the Capitals to come forth with this effort every game. (I did shut up a group of fans, though, by telling them what I was doing in New York. Wasn't sure if they'd be impressed, but apparently they were.)
  • On the flip side, I'm sure John Tortorella will coax a better game out of his team on Monday.
  • If both teams are taking away shooting lanes, how about more of this? Arrive a little bit late. It's all about timing, and neither team really had it going (though the Caps I thought were much better, even if just while deflecting shots).
  • Is it time to give Knuble a look in the top-six?
I'm feeling a lot better about this series than I did yesterday. Nonetheless, I'm not sure how Boyle and Dubinsky can influence this series when they get back, so it's imperative the Caps take Game 2 and head back to DC having won home ice advantage and having some margin for error. This reinforces my belief that the Capitals are the better team right now, so they need to show it before the Rangers get back two of their hard-minutes (either by competition or zone start or both) forwards. That extra edge would, I imagine, push the Rangers over the top if they're already up 2-0. If it's 1-1, not necessarily.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Conference Semifinal Predictions

I went 6/8, missing completely on the Hawks and Wings falling. Corsi went 3/8, getting only New Jersey, Los Angeles, and St. Louis. All defensive-minded teams that excel at shot prevention. Hmm...

Note: Corsi predictions based off these numbers.

1 New York Rangers vs 7 Washington Capitals

How do the systems match up? The Rangers mid-season were trending up in terms of possession, but stagnated are overall mediocre. The Capitals have been improving by the game since late January, but it's hard to peg how they'll do against another team that relies on great goaltending, a disciplined system, and blocking shots like the Rangers. I do think Boyle's big dump-and-chase game could prove problematic for Ovechkin's line and Semin's line, but luckily for Washington, he's out of the lineup.

Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom need to be fantastic. Semin was good last series, but Backstrom could be better. With McDonagh and Girardi making Ovechkin's life tough, but Staal not quite where he was pre-concussion, Backstrom and Semin have ample opportunity to run roughshod over the Rangers' bottom pairs. And they need to, because even after facing Tim Thomas beating Henrik Lundqvist will be hard.

Holtby. If he implodes, Rangers in 4. If he can hold it together like he did in the last series, the Capitals have a very good chance. He probably won't be able to make all the great saves he did last series, so he'll need to cut back on the soft goals.

Speed. The Rangers have some of the league's fastest forwards in Hagelin, Gaborik, and Kreider. Roman Hamrlik and Jeff Schultz will have to hold it together when they find themselves out there against a fast, physical forecheck. 

Prediction: I don't want to pick against Washington when the numbers have the series as roughly 50-50. Capitals in six.

(Corsi prediction: Capitals in 7)

4 Philadelphia Flyers vs 6 New Jersey Devils

Which goalies show up? Ilya Bryzgalov was lights-on for most of the first round. The red light was on behind him quite frequently. Martin Brodeur was better, but he still made some miscues that one might expect from an aging, declining netminder.

Shot prevention. The Devils were the best in the league in shot prevention during the regular season (although New Jersey does undercount shots), rarely went shorthanded, and had a great PK when they did. Philadelphia played pretty well against the best shot-generation team in Pittsburgh. How will the Flyers fare now?

Discipline. If the Devils allow themselves to be roped into the physicality, this series is over. They rely on sticking to DeBoer's system and not making mistakes. They don't have much room for error and can't afford to be distracted (much like Washington against Boston).

Prediction: I think the underlying numbers underestimate Philadelphia. I like their defensive depth, goaltending, and forward depth over those of New Jersey. Flyers in 7.

(Corsi prediction: Devils in 6)

2 St. Louis Blues vs 8 Los Angeles Kings
LA is not your typical eight seed. First in the league by a wide margin in score-adjusted Fenwick since the all-star break. They're scoring three goals a game since then, too. The Kings demolished Vancouver. Then again, the Blues did pretty well against San Jose (remember to consider score effects).

The big names need to be better. Jeff Carter and Mike Richards were heavily outshot, and they're both guys who can typically outshoot top lines. Same deal with David Backes. It's hard to imagine, but both these teams did not play nearly as well as they could have in the first round.

Luck. With the top two teams in terms of regular-season goals against facing each other, the games figure to be mainly 1-0 or 2-1 (3-2 without overtime would mean both teams had an off night in their end!).

Prediction: This should be a great, low-scoring series with terrific, clockwork-like defensive play, great goaltending, and flashes of high skill. I think LA has a bit more and is a slightly better possession team. Kings in 6.

(Corsi prediction: Blues in 7)

3 Phoenix Coyotes vs 4 Nashville Predators
Goalie cooldown. Chicago got Smith'd in Game 6 and Detroit Rinne'd in the first four games. Neither is a true-talent .940+ goalie in the long run. The one that cools down more will lose.

Speed versus skill. Phoenix can create some offense with its speed and committed two-way play. The Coyotes were a half-decent possession team, but Nashville was on the same level as Minnesota (looking at the entire season). The Predators got better as the season went along, but I think Phoenix is still slightly. Nashville's skill needs to show up in a big way and counteract the shot disadvantage I expect it to get.

Last game continuity. If the Coyotes' skaters play this series like Game 6 versus Chicago, Phoenix will lose. If the Predators' skaters play like they did in Game 5, Nashville will win.

Prediction: Coyotes in 7.

(Corsi prediction: Coyotes in 5)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Thoughts on Each Playoff Series

Note: Corsi predictions based off these numbers.

1 New York Rangers vs 8 Ottawa Senators

How does John Tortorella run line matchups? Brad Richards was the top Rangers center by quality of competition, and was a minus player despite playing with either Marian Gaborik, Derek Stepan, or considerable two-way talent on his wings almost all the time. Erik Karlsson, meanwhile, already had one of the highest plus-minuses per 60 minutes of 5v5 of any NHL D while ranking second among Ottawa D in quality of competition, and facing Richards could really shine.

Can Henrik Lundqvist keep this up? The likely recipient of the Vezina trophy in two months, "King Henrik" carried the Rangers while they struggled in possession for the first month or two of the season. While the Blueshirts been much better since, they're still not elite in that regard. Ottawa obviously boasts lethal offensive weapons at all four skater positions with great speed, and gave the Rangers fits during their regular season-series win.

How well can Hagelin, Boyle, Prust, and company move the puck up the ice and cycle? Cycling neutralized Ovechkin for entire shifts last season. Boyle and Hagelin are great at moving the puck up the ice. That is an easy blueprint for beating Spezza when the latter has an offensive zone faceoff. But will it work?

Prediction: I think the Rangers are just too disciplined and have too much two-way depth for the Senators to exploit any weaknesses, because the Rangers' roster does not have any. Rangers in 6.

(Corsi prediction: Senators in 7)

2 Boston Bruins vs 7 Washington Capitals

Can the Bruins flip the switch? Boston has been noticeably worse since the all-star break or so (I'd argue just before), as if they got disinterested. But the Bruins started winning down the stretch, taking seven of their last 10 as Ottawa pulled ahead of Boston briefly in the Northeast standings. The Capitals, meanwhile, have been solid possession-wise since around then. The Bruins before the break were flirting with the top-5. If that Bruins team shows up, the Capitals will truly be outmatched in every facet of the game.

Alexander Semin and Mathieu Perreault need to be fantastic. I expect Chara, Seidenberg, and Bergeron to outscore Ovechkin. With Chara and Seidenberg off the ice, though, the Bruins have no reliable defensemen left. Semin and Perreault should be able to feast on them, and need to if the Capitals are to outscore the Bruins in this series.

Playoff mode for Joel Ward. I disagree that Joel Ward was brought in solely for his playoff heroics last spring in Nashville. It sure would be nice, though, if he could find that groove again. And even if he doesn't, he did a great job keeping the puck in the offensive zone (even compared to fellow tough-minutes eaters like Legwand, Suter, and Weber) despite team-worst zone starts. He doesn't need to score if he can neutralize Krejci and Lucic.

Can everything finally come together for the Capitals? Can Carlson and Alzner re-find the magic they had during the 10-11 regular season? Can Mike Green break out of his scoring slump? Can Dennis Wideman and Semin be "good Dennis" and "good Sasha" for this series? Can Nicklas Backstrom be the best player on the ice sooner rather than later? Can Braden Holtby outplay Tim Thomas over seven games or less?

Yes, but will they?

Prediction: I don't want to pick against Washington when the numbers don't have the series as lopsided in favor of the opponents. Capitals in six.

(Corsi prediction: Bruins in 7)

3 Florida Panthers vs 6 New Jersey Devils

Who starts winning the tight games? The Panthers were notorious for their 18 overtime and shootout losses this season (and also shot a league-worst 2.6% at 4-on-4). The Devils won 11 games in a shootout. Both these teams are adept at extending the game, clearly. At some point, someone will need to score.

Which team has worse goaltending? These teams are roughly equivalent in terms of possession with the score tied (but New Jersey easily considering other situations), so it may just come down to Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen versus old Martin Brodeur. All below-average netminders. If there are any shot quality factors in play here (as well as shooting talent for Ilya Kovalchuk), I think they'd all favor the Devils, but over seven games that probably won't amount to too much.

Will Tomas Fleischmann show up? My guess is no.

Prediction: Devils in 5.

(Corsi prediction: Devils in 7)

4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs 5 Philadelphia Flyers

Giroux is a stud. He beat Malkin and Crosby head-to-head in the small sample of their season series. He needs to outscore his opposition so the Flyers have only one stud center to outduel.

How good is Couturier? He'll get the other stud C. I'm not sold on Malkin just yet (he gets put into very privileged situations regarding competition, zone starts, and linemates), but he'll wipe the floor with Briere and may with someone like Voracek, too. Couturier needs to be at his smartest.

PDO regression. Since the Penguins beat the Rangers 2-0 on February 21st, they have a 1067 score-tied PDO and 1036 total PDO. Crosby specifically is over 1150. When will that come back down?

Prediction: I'd rather pick the Flyers than Penguins. Flyers in seven.

(Corsi prediction: Penguins in 5)

1 Vancouver Canucks vs 8 Los Angeles Kings

LA is H-O-T. First in the league by a wide margin in score-adjusted Fenwick since the all-star break. They're scoring three goals a game since then, too.

Daniel Sedin. A huge part of the Canucks' success over the past three years has been their power play. Daniel Sedin is a big, albeit not irreplaceable, part of that.

Center depth. Kopitar. Richards. Carter. Loktionov. Versus Sedin and Kesler. Wow, there's only a tiny mismatch there...

Prediction: Kings in six.

(Corsi prediction: Kings in 7)

2 St. Louis Blues vs 7 San Jose Sharks

Are the Blues fading? After topping the league for so long in possession metrics, St. Louis has fallen off a bit.

Goaltending. I think Niemi versus Halak and Elliott is much closer than you think it is. Both Niemi and Halak I think are above-average, while Elliott..who knows. All I know is the Sharks' PDO (specifically, both their shooting and save percentages) has been down all season, but they're still a good hockey club, generating over 55% of the chances at even strength, and once again boast the best power play by shots (Fenwick For is the best predictor of power play success).

Joe Thornton. He's having the best season of his career, putting up a ton of offense in a shutdown role. He's big, strong, and skilled. He's the Shark best suited to dominate the structured Blues, who obviously are great system-wise but can be beaten, like most teams, one-on-one.

Prediction: I like smart teams. St. Louis is a very, very smart team. Blues in six.

(Corsi prediction: Blues in 5)

3 Phoenix Coyotes vs 6 Chicago Blackhawks

Toews. Chicago's possession numbers are still solid, but not elite. Toews will make them elite again.

Goaltending. Ah, the great separator in the West. Smith versus Crawford and Emery. If the goaltending matchup plays out like it has this season--Smith hot, Crawford and Emery not--this will be over quickly. But small sample sizes rule in the playoffs, and I suspect one of the Chicago netminders will have some magic.

Forecheck. Phoenix's defense is old aside from Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Keith Yandle. Chicago likes to forecheck and play an up-tempo, fast game. This contrast of styles I think favors a younger, smarter team, which I believe Chicago is.

Prediction: Blackhawks in 6. I would have gone shorter than that, but I think Toews will need a couple of games to get up to speed.

(Corsi prediction: Blackhawks in 5)

4 Nashville Predators vs 5 Detroit Red Wings

Paper versus performance. On paper, Nashville is stacked. Their performance possession-wise has been mediocre at best, and that's with Alexander Radulov in the lineup. Meanwhile, Detroit is finally healthy and should look like the dominant team they were early in the season.

Young man's game. Nashville is younger. Suter, Weber, Radulov, and others can still log massive minutes (I'm talking 30 a game here). Lidstrom cannot, Datsyuk cannot, Zetterberg cannot. Nashville can use their best players more than Detroit can.

Prediction: There is a giant gap in Fenwick here. I'm not going to bet against it. Red Wings in 5.

(Corsi prediction: Red Wings in 4)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Zone Entries List

I'm catching up on the games in order (finished with October; unfortunately, missed lots of games in November). You can see the list here, and download (as .csv) here. I color coded a bit to denote manpower, whether the entry was on an odd-man rush, whose entry it was, and whether the entry was controlled (pass or carry-in). The notes nowadays are simply whether I think a goal was the direct result of the entry, the nature of the "X" (not dump/pass/carry/tip) entry, or the nature of the rush.

I have tracked many games, and I'll put up those results once I've finished with the games in between (I was planning to finish over winter break, but I discovered my internet connection wasn't fast enough to stream smoothly and I didn't have the willpower to watch the games that way). I should be caught up around the all-star break.