Friday, January 04, 2008


Friday Baseball Standings - and more!

I had a question yesterday on how these standings work. Lemme address that indirectly: the purpose is to remove the effect of GP/"games in hand" that muddy the true picture of what's going on. They're all going to play 82 eventually, and failing to give teams any credit for games in hand ("you still have to win them!") might sound good to the Charlie Simmer types, but isn't really defensible.

Here teams are ranked, as in baseball, by Wins minus Losses (sometimes known as "games above .500"). OT Losses, or Ties, are disregarded, as they do not affect [W-L]. GBL stands for Games Behind Leader, and essentially each game above .500 is worth 1/2. Put another way, San Jose would have to beat Detroit 6 games in a row in regulation to be even with them: each Sharks W increases their [W-L] by 1, and decreases Detroit's by 1.

Tiebreakers: first is GP. I rank the team with fewer GP on top, because as you may have noticed, a game-in-hand is not actually worth 1 point on average, it's worth 1-point-something (usually about 1.1). Second is Wins, same as the actual NHL tiebreaker, and last is GF-GA.

**Dave Randorf and Dave Reid called the Rangers-Flames game on Wednesday, and were discussing everyone's favourite topic, the importance of faceoffs. They were noting how good the Rangers are on faceoffs (T-3rd in the NHL), and Dave Reid says (I quote from memory):

"You know, everybody says how important they are, but, [suddenly I get all excited -- am I about to hear a contrarian viewpoint on TSN? ZOMG!] really is a big deal [groan, shoulders slump]. This is a puck possession game, and when you have the puck off the faceoff, especially with guys like Jagr and Gomez, you're going to be able to create a lot more offense."

This is how intractable conventional wisdom is in hockey, I guess. The Rangers are 28th in the NHL in Goals/game, and last in the EC. Where does Dave Reid think they'd rank if they were a mediocre or lousy faceoff team? 30th? 31st?

Tom Benjamin had what I consider to be the final word on this a couple of years ago: "Hockey is a game of puck position, not puck possession." Emphasis mine:
Basketball is a possession game and it is easy to see the distinction. Hockey teams would much prefer to see their opponents in possession of the puck behind their net than have the puck themselves behind their own net. In basketball, teams prefer to have the ball everywhere. In hockey, teams voluntarily turn the puck over in exchange for territory many dozens of times a game. In basketball, teams never voluntarily give up the ball.

And from Mike W and Tom in the comments:
I suppose it's true that no one means what they say when they talk about puck possession, Tom. Otherwise, you wouldn't hear coaches talking about "dump and chase" and an "aggressive forecheck" as if it were a good thing.

Yes. We also wouldn't applaud great efforts to get the puck out of our end either. We'd moan about an easy turnover. The dumpout is a good play because it forces the offense to clear the offensive zone. Teams happily trade the puck for a few feet of ice.

Yes, thank you. I think a lot of people have trouble getting past "you have to have the puck to score", but it is equally true, if not more, that the puck has to be in the other guy's end for you to score.

**Going back up to the standings, the Flames are now closer to 2nd than they are to 9th. Nice.

**Scouting reports. I had a few thoughts on some WC opponents in the past two weeks that I haven't otherwise posted.

Ducks: Vic has been banging on this for years, but Todd Bertuzzi really is the prototypical one-way forward, which is not at all what you'd first think from his size and, pardon me for pointing out common biases, his nationality. He's still pretty scary in the offensive end, but is next to useless (Lupulesque?) at helping get the puck out of his own end. I admire the hell out of Randy Carlyle -- last season he perfectly assessed his roster, and managed his bench from Day 1 in the same way as they would go on to win the Cup -- but he's definitely got some new challenges this season.

Their 4th line actually looked terrific against the Flames. Even apart from Parros scoring, he and Drew Miller and Ryan Carter had a bunch of nice shifts.

Last thing: Corey Perry. I can't quite figure this guy out. He's obviously very skilled, and seems scrappy at times, but... After the game, the Flames were talking about Kipper's breakaway save on Rob Niedermayer (when they were down 3-1) as the TSN turning point, but there was another strange (or is it appalling) play right around that time. Perry and Regehr were both going for a puck behind the Flames' net, all alone (just about everyone else was on a line change IIRC). Perry had a half-step, but rather than taking the puck and bracing himself for a bit of a whomp, he pulled right up. And I don't mean that he half-heartedly swiped at it with his stick, I mean he pulled right up: Regehr just took the puck without any battle whatsoever and skated out the other side with it, up the boards.

Never mind what Carlyle thinks when he sees that, what do the guys on the bench think? Or the guys on the Flames' bench?

Canucks: not sure how this happened, but they look like they're probably a better team than last year. I was terrifically impressed with Taylor Pyatt; he has turned into a player befitting his size (6'-4") and draft position (#8 in '99). Burrows looks like a multi-dimensional NHL player now, rather than a PK specialist. And I still like Byron Richie; his matching up with Iginla was an eye-opener. I think he showed how to check Iggy effectively, not that it'll matter, because few guys besides Richie have the heart or energy to play that way. He was very physical with Jarome, but he wasn't lining him up: it was that every time Jarome leaned in to get the few inches he wants (and usually gets), Richie pushed back hard and just wouldn't let him take those inches.

The one laugh I have is that it's almost embarrassing how hard Vigneault works to get the Sedins out against 3rd & 4th liners, and away from Iginla. The Sedins are nice players, and Lord knows they've smoked the Flames pretty hard in the past couple of years, but... oh, never mind (karma).

Sharks: I wonder if the benefit of their size advantage isn't reflected so much in winning physical battles as it is in their reach. With those bunch of monsters playing with such active sticks, it's no wonder that they're a great defensive team -- it's just about impossible to move the puck through them. To score on them, you need a bad mistake (like Tanguay's goal, where Carle pinched and no one covered, leading to a 2-on-1), or some really good luck (like Iginla's 2-1 goal, where Huselius(!) took out two(!!) D-men).

Their offensive struggles, hard as they may be to explain given the seemingly talented forward corps, are real, though. They dominated zone time last night, but had trouble creating many really good scoring chances, and seemed to often take a long shot rather than hold on to try and get something better (I don't check the shot charts very often, so maybe this is a typical distribution of 36 shots, but it seems to back up what I'm saying).

**Last night's game: despite the shot & possession difference (won't work in the long run), I liked a lot about the Flames last night. When the Sharks did have the zone, the Flames were moving with urgency into lanes. Whatever was ailing Regehr in the early season, he's officially over it. He was stuck in his end with Yelle, Godard, & Primeau for a 138-second shift partway through the 3rd period (in the 2nd of back-to-back games), and late in that shift was still manhandling guys low, as if he just stepped on the ice.

And actually, the Flames got better as OT loomed. I readily confess that I was holding my breath in the 3rd for the "let's at least get one point!", but the Sharks pressure wilted a lot late. And in the OT itself -- I'm not sure why the Sharks were so passive when they're 2-5 in the shootout, but there they were.

Hale & Aucoin had a very nice 3rd-pair road game against the non-Thorntons. Phaneuf, as mentioned, looked fantastic. Nolan at least looks like a quality forward lately, even if he's not producing like one. And Jarome Iginla just keeps going: it's getting ridiculous. He had a few good scoring chances last night on top of his two goals; the night before against the Rangers, he had a LOT of good scoring chances on top of his two goals, including one that Drury stopped on the goal line.

**Next 4: Kings, Coyotes, Islanders, Oilers. It'd be awfully nice if Calgary could keep pushing it; if they can, they'll soon have made up for their next slump, not just the last one. Go Flames.


Nice post, Matt. The Flames are playing the way right now that I feared they could play.

I really don't have anything else to add besides this, and I was hoping to save it for an AG post because I know he watches The Wire as well, but Lowe's fucked the other Albie team to the point that the only thing I have left this winter is the last season of The Wire and yet I expect to tune in Sunday night to find Lowe with an executive producer credit and having traded Omar for Urkel.

Good stuff. I laughed out loud at that Perry play from the Anaheim game. I wouldn't want to go into the corner with Regehr either, but...sheesh.

And how about that Kristian Huselius?

Corey Perry and Joffrey Lupul are the same damn player. I'm convinced of it. Nice flashy counting numbers, but not the guy that stirs the drink, so to speak. Anaheim's going to fork over 5 million per season this summer, and they'll end up regretting it.

I've seen enough of the Ducks this year to know that most of Perry's goals are as a result of some sort of good play by Getzlaf.

Oh, and NOTHING sounds sweeter than a bunch of 19-year olds singing O Canada off-key. Here's to a butt-kicking of the Swedes tomorrow...

Long time reader - 1st time posting. I really enjoy this blog; keep up the good work. Had to comment on this entry. I think the way you adjusted the format by which the standings are displayed is excellent.

On a side note - how are the Islanders doing so well?!?! Who do they have? A washed up Guerin? Mike may-he-rot-in-hell Comrie? Is Ted Nolan really that good a coach? Could MacT get the same results? Perhaps the Islanders are the perfect way to judge the impact of good coaching.

It's hard being an Oiler fan these days.

Thanks for the explanation Matt.

Regarding San Jose and stick length, I think you can include the OT goal as well. Both defensemen let Eriksson(!!) cross the blue line untouched, which gave Phaneuf the room to get to the net and pick up the puck first.

I think the turning point in the third period was a late PK where San Jose, who had bee spending so much time in our zone, suddenly couldn't cross the blue line.

I'm surprised no one has talked about Warrener's imminent return yet. With only two games next week, both at home, and neither against especially strong teams, I expect we'll see him back, given we have some time to get people comfortable with new pairings.

There are two questions that I see: if we put Hale back down to #7, do we break up Phaneuf-Eriksson? And should we even put Hale back down?

I really don't know the answers to these questions. I wish I could see more games on TV. It's nearly impossible to get any idea of how the defense are playing from the radio. I would like to see Phaneuf and Aucoin play together, since I think they can act as another scoring line, with Aucoin's ability to shoot through traffic combined with Phaneuf's ability to crash the net as a forward. But can Aucoin handle Phaneuf minutes? (Can Phanuef handle Phaneuf minutes? I guess we're not seeing the 30 minute games for him anymore.) I think I would also like to see Warrener stay out for a bit longer, maybe just cycle if someone (Eriksson or Hale) is on a really bad stretch. I'm worried that Warrener will just get himself hurt again if he starts playing regular minutes, and I don't like being stuck with an untested defenseman as our back up.

a few comments on the (spit) Canucks. Matt I think you nailed a couple of things well; the emergence of Burrows and Pyatt(interesting note, with the Sedin twins and Pyatt the Canucks have 3 of the top 8 draft picks of the weak '99 draft), the energy of Ritchie and the charmin' softness of the twins. You can also add Willie (spit) Mitchell, who also is damn tough to play against as well as that Faust, Luongo.

I think the turning point in the third period was a late PK where San Jose, who had bee spending so much time in our zone, suddenly couldn't cross the blue line.

As a Sharks fan, I think it's come to the point where Ron Wilson should begin to decline penalties. The situation you describe is all too common, particularly at home, for San Jose, where they mount considerable offensive pressure, then witness their momentum obliterated after a pathetic showing on the power play.

Never mind what Carlyle thinks when he sees that, what do the guys on the bench think?

At least he didn't take a dumbass penalty.

There is a key difference between Lupul and Perry, though. Perry can play on a top line adequately enough. I'm fine with the price tag he'll be getting. He's an odd cat, sure, but on a team starving for goal scorers, he's got plenty of value.

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