Wednesday, December 19, 2007


"When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer."

(The benefits of a classical education!). Actually, I doubt that A. Tanguay or any Flame is quite so self-satisfied today, and I'm sure they're glad to be home, but that was one hell of a road trip. The win last night was, as MG so wonderfully put it, "the cherry on top of a gold encrusted, stripper filled, 'Congratulations on Winning the Lottery, You Virile Bachelor of the Year!' cake". The case of Cristal that goes with it was that last two minutes, where the Flames had three shifts that were so dominant, Leclaire couldn't even look towards the bench, let alone skate there for a 6th attacker.

When things are going this well, it's time to look at what weakness are being papered over by luck or other factors, but I think I'll save that for a day or two. For now, the airing of a couple of grievances (it is only 4 days until Festivus, after all).

ONE. It remains astonishing to me how utterly shallow the "analysis" of paid hockey analysts can be. I had the misfortune of catching some of the radio pre-game yesterday, with Mike Rogers being asked why having Jarome Iginla on their wing has made such a difference for Langkow and Huselius the past number of games.

The first reason he brought up is that Iginla is such a hard worker, his linemates are essentially shamed into busting their asses. This is unsatisfying in itself, but then Rogers added, "even from the bench, players are inspired by his example". OK, so, never mind then?

And the second was that because he's physical, he creates more space for his linemates. I'm not exactly disagreeing here, although I don't really understand what he means, however: there are, what, 30 or 60 RWs in the NHL who are as "physical" as Iginla? Owen Nolan and Eric Godard are. Any explanation that fails to distinguish between the contribution of #11 and #12 isn't much of an explanation at all, is it?

Maybe this is equally shallow, but I don't see why the explanation needs to be any more complicated than this: Jarome Iginla is a very, very good hockey player who is presently at the top of his game. He can finish, he can set up. He is as good a puck handler, in the non-dangling sense, as there is in the NHL: when he has it, he keeps it in positions where it can't get taken away without a hell of a struggle. This isn't to detract from Jarome's work ethic in the slightest -- every good thing said about his effort and preparation is no doubt true -- but the biggest reason that he's a difference maker is that he's gifted, not that he's determined. Why dance around that fact?

Now, all that said, I have this idea that there is a factor that makes it easier for Iginla and his linemates to be productive beyond the plays they are making at the moment; I'd appreciate some feedback on it. The short version: I think it's likely that opposing lines/D "change their game" in a way that makes it less likely that they are burned in transition, but more likely that they give up more total chances.

We know that before Team X plays the Flames, their coach tells them to be aware when Iginla is on the ice, keep an eye on him, etc. and my hypothesis is, that compared to Owen Nolan's line:
Call it a bit of a positive feedback loop. Does this make sense?

TWO. This may be boring, but I'm going to keep hammering it as long as I keep hearing the myth. There is very little garbage time in hockey. Consequently:
Seriously. Pick out ten random box scores, and then go through them to try to identify things that were basically meaningless at the time. Goals that meant nothing more than stats-padding; a save that really didn't need to be made; a PK that could have failed without having an impact; etc. It's rare.

Peter Maher and Rob Kerr were having a discussion in November about this, because apparently Flames AC Rich Preston is a big believer in the importance of "when" vs. "how many". The Flames had allowed 23 PP goals against at the time, and says Maher, "of those 23, 20 either put the opponent in the lead, or in a tie, or brought them to within a goal, or put them up by two." This was then used as evidence that the Flames were allowing PP goals at bad times. Strictly speaking, true, and you know why? Because it's almost always a bad time!

The Flames have points in 9 straight games now, and over that stretch, they have allowed 5 PP goals. 4 of those tied the game, and the other put the opponent into the lead. Wow, 100% of the PP goals they've allowed were of the untimely variety! And yet they somehow managed to go 7-0-2, mainly because (pardon the technical jargon) they didn't allow so damn many.


The first reason he brought up is that Iginla is such a hard worker, his linemates are essentially shamed into busting their asses. This is unsatisfying in itself, but then Rogers added, "even from the bench, players are inspired by his example".

Ahahaha...I wish I'd caught that.

A classical education would tell you to put a comma after "he wept." Wink. Grammar Slammer Bammer!

Holy crap. I just found a ton of HHOF stuff on YouTube. Shall we make January HHOF month, Matt?

the biggest reason that he's a difference maker is that he's gifted, not that he's determined.

Ah, but how did he get to be gifted?

Here's my take on what makes Iginla a better player than most: he's very very good at every aspect of the game. He can shoot, pass, and fight. He can play as a power forward, he can play as a finesse forward, he can play as a defensive forward. His wide range of skill lets him take advantage of whatever weakness the defense presents to him. He makes other players better because no matter their failings, he has the skills to compensate.

The only intangible for Iginla worth mentioning is his tendency to play his best when his team needs it most.

I'm not necessarily disagreeing with you that the "right time" is less important than some would have you believe.

But I think that it is certainly fair to say that there are, in many if not most games, those moments where a single play (a goal, a big save, etc.) can profoundly influence the remainder of the game.

While these things probably get averaged out in a statistical sense over the course of a season, in the here and now of playing a game the immediate effects of confidence, momentum, crowd en-TU-siasm, etc. shouldn't be ignored. And those don't show up on boxscores all that well.

If a team or individual really could bottle the ability to recognize and take advantage of those moments, I have no doubt that it would translate to more wins. Whether or not it is possible, I don't know. Certainly anecdotally we can all think of players who always seem to get it done at nut-cuttin' time -- is that because they can simply always get it done regardless of circumstance, or is it because they consciously or unconsiously have a "sense of the moment"?

All I know is that if Kapono had hit the wide-open 3 to cut the Celtics lead to 7 with 9:25 remaining last Sunday, the crowd would have exploded and I'm guessing the remaining quarter would have been a lot more interesting than it was. I don't think that can be said about every three pointer he missed, even if it would have had the same immediate effect on the scoreboard.

But I think that it is certainly fair to say that there are, in many if not most games, those moments where a single play (a goal, a big save, etc.) can profoundly influence the remainder of the game.

I think the point is that every single play affects the remainder of the game. Every goal is a big goal. Every save is a big save. Kind of how it works, isn't it? Imagine a 3-2 hockey game. Team A scores first. Big goal. Helps them get out in front. Team B scores second. Big goal. Helps them get back in the game. Team B scores third. Big goal. Puts them in front after falling behind. Team B scores fourth. Big goal. Gives them that two goal cushion. Team A scores fifth. Big goal. Gets them within one. Game over. All big goals, meaning none big goals.

Yes, I understand the point, Andy, I just disagree. I don't think that's how it works at all. Every play doesn't affect the remainder of the game in the same way, even if they are "equivalent" (e.g., they are both game-tying goals).

I don't buy the assumption that a goal is a goal is a goal. Some goals are bigger than others by virtue of when they happen in the game, how they act to shift momentum, how they affect confidence, etc. They just are.

The first time your opponent cuts your lead to a tie isn't such a big deal ("those lucky jerks -- let's get it back boys"), but if they do it 5 times in the same game, that fifth time is qualitatively different than the first ("Damnit, what do we have to do to put these guys away?").

Think about Toronto's collapse last night -- are you really telling me that giving up a two goal lead in the final 90 seconds is not qualitatively different than giving up a two goal lead in the second period? Do you really think that the Leafs and Canes players would have reacted the same way to the next five minutes in these two scenarios? Of course not -- the Canes were way more pumped up and the Leaf's were way demoralized than they would have been if the two quick goals had come in the 2nd.

This reminds me of an argument I had in high school. A numbers kinda guy claimed he had data demonstrating that, statistically speaking, a basketball player's previous shot has no bearing on whether or not his next shot will go in (presumably corrected for shooting average or something). I have no doubt that over the course of a season this is probably true, but anyone who has played the game at any level above elementary school (or watched it for that matter), knows damn well that there are certain times when players "feel it" and go on tears. Whether it is confidence or something else, in those immediate situations, subsequent shots feed off of past success.

Interesting aside: Soviet scholars spent a fair amount of time working on how to induce the "zone". I'd should really try to look that stuff up sometime.

Or, as we archaeologists like to say, context is everything.

While I agree Matt, that the answer "He's just really good" is probably the most accurate, it doesn't really do a lot for a radio broadcaster. There are two factors here, in my opinion.

1. People who 'played the game' like Mike Rogers, and his predecessor on Flames radio broadcasts Doug Barkley (who was a complete dink, by the way, I produced Flames broadcasts on 66CFR for 2.5 seasons and he never did remember my name) are expected to know more about the game than simple fans such as you and I. As such, telling us something we all already know (ie: Jarome Iginla is really good), makes them less valuable, in the sense that anyone could do the job. In fact, (imagine I'm a program director here) if all these guys are going to do is tell us what everyone already knows, why don't we just hire a professional broadcaster instead of a former player, and at least the obvious will be stated in a much more interesting way. (By the way, I think this would be an excellent move, personally). The former player has to try and say stuff that displays some sort of 'insider' knowledge or he becomes unnecessary. So they fall back on cliches and platitudes such as the example you gave.

2. Radio is full of empty air time. It becomes necessary to state things in a much longer and, in many cases, less effective manner, simply to fill up the minutes. So this also leads to lots of cliche usage, and general wordiness which really could be done without.

Now, the points you made are excellent, and could probably be grounds for an excellent discussion instead of the cliche filled ones they usually have. The problem is, very few former players have the broadcasting skills to combine intelligent analysis with speaking clearly, staying within time limits, not swearing, and all the other things that go into being a broadcaster. John Davidson was pretty much the best at this, Perry Berezin is also an excellent example of it, and would have been a better choice to replace Barkley in my opinion (I believe he was actually the first choice, but he makes quite a lot of money as an investment advisor and probably didn't want to spend half his life in a hotel). Anyway, the point is, most of these broadcasts (TV too, obviously) would likely be a much better product if they would hire a professional broadcaster instead of a former player to do the colour, however the stigma remains that you need that 'insider perspective'. Sadly we the listener/viewer rarely if ever benefit from this perspective as the old boys club doesn't like to share it's secrets. All we're left with is crappy cliches and unintelligible colour men.

So what isn't a big goal, Sac?

And damn those Pistons all to hell!

Andy, are you only capable of thinking in dichotomies? Go Big or Go Home?

Come to think of it, you don't even seem to be able to think in that many dimensions -- all goals are apparently identical in your world.

Is it not possible for all* goals to be important, but for some to have a proportionately greater impact on the outcome of the game than others, depending on a host of factors including (but not limited to): timing, shortie vs pp vs regular, slump breaker, style, resultant crowd effect . . .

*I'll say "all" here for the sake of argument, but we all know that some goals are entirely stats-padding (the 9th goal in a 9-1 game, for example). Rare, perhaps, but they certainly happen.

Here's an example to try out some of these goal-importance theories on: two minutes left in the third, game tied 4-4.

scenario 1) Team A and Team B have been alternating the scoring all game, with the most recent tying goal coming at the two minute mark.

scenario 2) Team A put up all four of their goals in the first half of the game, but since then Team B has come back, scoring the tying goal at the two minute mark.

The quantity of goals are the same for both teams, but the situations are different. I think we've all seen situations like this many times. Scenario 1 we would call a close competitive game, and I certainly wouldn't want to pick a winner. Scenario 2 is a blown lead for Team A, and I would give the edge to Team B in those last two minutes, because they seemed to have figured something out.

I'm interested in hearing opinions, but I'd be more interested in someone doing some research. Who actually wins in each of these two situations?

I've had a bit more time to think about it, and here's what I've come up with.

The importance of a particular event is increased by it's frequency and recency, and it's proximity to the end of the game. Recency relates only to frequency, so that two goal spread over 10 minutes are less important than two goals over 10 seconds. The importance of a particular event can be measured by how much it allows/forces each team to change.

Consider the Carolina game. The scoring went back and forth, with Calgary taking the lead and Carolina tying it, until Calgary's final goal which Carolina couldn't match. The importance of each of these goals are pretty close to each to other, with the later goals having more importance due to the reduced time to respond. Carolina had to take more risks to try to come back, while Calgary could take less. Only Calgary's last goal forced Carolina to pull Ward. Because neither team was able to establish recent frequent goals, the majority of the goals had limited importance.

Now consider the Dec 4th St. Louis game. The first goal, 36s in, was essentially an unimportant goal. With over 59 minutes to recover, and with St. Louis unable to turn it into a frequent event (ie, score another goal), Calgary didn't have to resort to exceptional measures to respond, and St. Louis was unable to play a different game to hold the lead. Calgary's first goal only had a minor effect on the game. Calgary's second goal was more important, because it gave Calgary a frequency advantage: they had scored two unanswered goals, and had a lead late in the second period, giving St. Louis only 21 minutes to recover. The third goal was most important, because St. Louis would have to take drastic measures to recover. (I don't think they did, but if they want to surrender the game, it's their choice.)

So, that being said, we can look at Maher's and Kerr's analysis. A PP goal to put an opponent into a tie, lead, or two-goal advantage isn't meaningful. As I've shown above, it's far more important when the goal is given up, and how it relates to other goals. Take a look at the Oct 24th Minny game. Which was more important, Minnesota's second goal, or our final one? Minnesota's first, or our fourth?

So that's my take. Please take into account that I may be talking out of my ass.

Yep, sounds about right to me as a starting point ngthagg.

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