Tuesday, April 08, 2008


An Optimist's Guide to Picking the Flames

So I'm sitting at the kitchen table on Sunday night, doing a bit of work, and Mrs. Matt walks in and says, "You know what my gut tells me?"

I say, "No?" (I think, "Uh-oh, is this the continuation of some important conversation that I have totally forgotten?")

And she says, "I think the Flames are going to win the first round in 6, and then get swept in the next round."

That scenario falls well short of appealing, but seems pretty plausible to me.


1. The Sharks are not 18-0-2 good -- no team is. Or 18-2-2 good, for that matter. Lousy teams cannot run off a stretch like that, nor can mediocre teams, nor teams that are merely solid. There is no doubt the Sharks are very good. However, going 18-0-2 requires luck.

The Flames' W-L record in the 2004 playoffs, where they lost in Game 7 of the SCF, was 15-11. I bring this up because for the Flames to win this series, they don't have to be capable of dominating the Sharks for a week (which is good, 'cause they aren't). They have to be capable of giving the Sharks a good game most nights, and dominating them for brief stretches. Which they are.

2. Brian Campbell is not Nicklas Lidstrom. Clearly he was a terrific pick-up for the Sharks, but he's not God(strom). The big difference he made for the Sharks, based on results, was on the powerplay. According to my figures, the Sharks PP was clicking at 16.8% prior to his arrival; afterwards, it was 26.3%.

EV scoring stayed about the same; the PK stayed about the same. Their EV Goal prevention got better, though shot prevention stayed about the same; all close enough that, even if I were inclined to do so, I wouldn't want to say "Brian Campbell has improved the Sharks' team defense".

3. The Flames are at least as good a 5v5 team as the Sharks. Flames: +145/-135; Sharks: +131/-122. Worth noting: an average of about 75% of the game is played 5v5.

I heard Pierre McGuire talking to the XM Radio guys this morning, and had a line like, "if the Flames don't get their powerplay going they're going to be in big trouble, 'cause I think they'll have a lot of trouble scoring 5-on-5." Why? Why would he say such a thing, that is exactly opposite of what these teams' records tell us? The special teams look like a horrid mismatch, but 5-on-5, they're extremely similar.

4. The Flames' forward depth might not be outmatched. I never thought that would be the case with any playoff opponent, but I think it's true. It's nice that the Sharks can roll 4 lines and not have guys that look out of place, but the Sharks 5v5 scoring when Joe Thornton isn't on the ice (1.63GF/60) is even worse than the Flames' when Jarome Iginla isn't on the ice (1.81GF/60).

If Keenan made a bold move, the Flames might even have a distinct advantage here. And that bold move would be (wait for it): in the face of everyone talking about what a physical battle this series will be, and how the Sharks are now built to mix it up with anybody... scratch Eric Godard and dress a hockey player instead.

5. Matthew Lombardi has made a leap. Here's one that the sports radio chit-chatters have right, I think. He's not only using his speed effectively, he's using his body effectively: shielding the puck, and separating opponents from the puck. I have no trouble pronouncing that I'd rather have him on my team than Patrick Marleau, and that's before looking at their salaries.

6. Joe Thornton. This is a definite Your Mileage May Vary item. My present way of thinking is that he's Peyton Manning c. 2005: undeniable talent, but looks awful in losing (i.e. facial expression, body language, a couple crappy plays that really stand out). He will win a Stanley Cup some day, and at that point, anyone who has argued that he lacks a certain je ne sais quoi will feel a bit sheepish.

But on the other hand, he has had some playoff moments that are not merely undistinguished, but actually anti-distinguished.

7. So the Sharks are running on all cylinders heading into the playoffs, have found the perfect pieces to complement their already-sound roster, and have to be considered a favourite to win the whole shebang. Wait a second -- what year is this? 2006? 2004?

This is the 4th consecutive season that This time they're for real has been the story on the Sharks in early April. They may well show me, but this time, they're going to have to.


Takes from Sharks bloggers here and here. The pick is Calgary in 6. Let's have fun out there. Go Flames.


I have no trouble pronouncing that I'd rather have [Lombardi] on my team than Patrick Marleau, and that's before looking at their salaries.

Welp, if there's a sentence in this preview that's going to get shoved right up your ass, that's probably the one right there.

I know the risks, and I'll take the bet.

Before the trade deadline, many Sharks fans would probably have agreed with you.

And thank you for pointing out the Thornton - Manning comparison. I was trying to figure out what bothered me about him, because he is so obviously hugely talented and seems to be a very nice young man without a jackass bone in his body, and yet...he keeps losing.

As much as it pained me, I was just saying to a co-worker today that the amount of disrespect the Flames are getting in this series totally reminds me of how every hockey pundit in the world wrote off the Oilers heading into their series with Detroit. If San Jose buys into their own hype, Calgary can take this series. But I agree if that happens, the Falmes will bite in the second round. Not good enough, not just yet.

i'm with cosh, marleau will be the difference maker.

ps campbell may not be lidstrom but in the playoffs phaneuf has yet to prove himself to even be close to nhl calibre.

I would take Marleau's right leg over Lombo at his 110% best...
Flames are goin down in 5, and even though it would be nice to see them go deep, this matchup is gonna expose them bigtime.

"Why? Why would he say such a thing?"

Strong muscular legs!

As for the perceived lack of disrespect for the Flames? I have heard a lot of "experts" say if any of the series could be won by the "predetermined" underdog, it could be Calgary over San Jose. So I don't see this obvious disrespect you see.

Keenan couldl be playing that card if he so chooses though.

I think the Flames have a chance, and Matt showed why it could happen.

I still say Sharks in six though. Then again I have a gut felling the Bruins win against the Habs. Admittedly my gut is usually full of Guinness, so take that for what it's worth.


I've noticed a few comments around the 'net casting aspersions on Kiprusoff's SV%. I'm not sure why. He ended the season at .906 which is hardly stellar, but Nabokov ended the season at only .910, which isn't much better. The big difference in GA between the two teams comes from shot prevention, not goaltending.

And this doesn't even take into account the differences in the end of the season vs. the beginning. Kipper may have finished with .906, but in his last 22 games (to use the San Jose standard), he actually put up a .919. Nabokov, in his last 22 games, improved from .910 to . . . .911. If momentum accounts for anything, Calgary has a huge edge in goaltending. If San Jose is going to win, they have to make up for this, and more, on their defense. Sure, their defense is better, but is it that much better? (If someone has some shots allowed numbers, I suppose you could calculate that.)

scratch Eric Godard and dress a hockey player instead.

I agree wholeheartedly - that said, never gonna happen.

Dion Monster Phaneuf, Joe Thorton, Iginla, Brian "THe Ginger Jesus" Campbell...

Christ, I hope some of these game are on TSN.

This could be the series where jizz literally bursts from Macguire's eyes.

Matt: It's your blog and the Flames are your team and you are free to type what you want and make any kind of prediction you want.

And we could get into how credibility translates on the net and things of that nature but you dig enough for numbers that I don't think there's any question you strive to be respected. And being truthful here, you bring an awful lot to the table. Those netminding down the stretch and GF rates without the big guys on the ice being excellent examples.

But then there are other times with old foolishness like picking the Flames in this series in any other way other than seven games or picking the Flames without saying that for that to happen, SJ will need to suffer a major injury or two.

Finally, Lombardi over Marleau? I like to point out as much as the next guy about what Marleau's getting paid for and in what role he does but it Lombardi has two goals and 10 points in 26 career playoff games while Marleau has 26 goals and 41 points in his last 51 games.

So, yeah, I can see where you're coming from.

Worth noting: an average of about 75% of the game is played 5v5.

Is this 75% of playoff games? 'Cause my hunch is that there are less pp chances during the Stanley tournament, which would mean that those 5v5 numbers are more important still. I think PP% is always overhyped prior to playoffs and goaltending never gets enough love. (PS look to NJ to beat NYR)

Dennis, did I miss your treatise on how the Playoffs Are A Different Game? I have no doubt there are all sorts of ways to compare Lombo unfavorably to Marleau, but career playoff stats -- Christ, half of Lombardi's were in his rookie year 4 years ago -- seems like a stupid one. Especially when I thought I was fairly clear I was referring to "now", and not "previous playoff years, before this past season where Marleau looked like garbage".

As for the series prediction... upsets happen, dude. The Flames won 3 of 4 from SJ this season, with Thornton and Nabokov healthy for all 4. The Flames don't need a lightning strike to win this series, just some solid play and a few bounces.

The Flames can go a long way if their goalie has a Bernie Parent spring.

If he doesn't, Iginla and Regehr might get them through the first round before they come up a little shy.

THis never looked like a true Keenan team to me. Too many pussies.

If the Flames are going to have a run, they are going to have to beat some good teams ... might as well start now. There are some things they have going for them:

1. No team will ever win the Stanley Cup with Ron Wilson as their head coach. Some guys have that Championship thing (Scotty Bowman), Some guys don't (Bryan Murray). Ron Wilson don't.

2. San Jose is always a favorite going in and then the games start and it does not turn out that way. This may be a function of point 1, above, but this is a team that cannot handle adversity. In 2004, the Flames stole Game 1 in overtime and the series was over. San Jose never showed up in game 2. In '06, San Jose was having their way with the Oilers until that big triple overtime game. San Jose was still up 2-1 in the series, but they never looked like they might win after that. A good bounce in game 1, an overtime win for the Flames or something like that and the Sharks might wilt again.

3. Joe Thornton. He seems like one of those guys who just can't get over the playoff hump. Maybe this is the big year, but I like my big man more than their big man.

I say this will be a close one, it might go seven, but the Flames will compete this year and give the Sharks at least a good scare and maybe worse.

I checked a few more numbers, and if Kipper had played the entire season like he did the last 22 games, he'd have a .919 sv% and a 2.33 GAA. If we're willing to go say that San Jose was a better team after the trade deadline, then we have to say as well that Kiprusoff is a better goalie than his season numbers indicate.

My prediction: if the Flames keep their shots up, or keep the Shark's shots down, they win in 6 games. If they get badly outshot (a la Detroit '07), they lose.

Well, Mirtle's with you, at least. I think he may be the only one, but there you go.

2. San Jose is always a favorite going in and then the games start and it does not turn out that way.

Usually what happens is that San Jose finds out that its next series will likely be against Anaheim, and then proceeds to lose every game after that.

That's the way it's gone the last two years, at least.

If the Ducks, Wings, and the Avalanche jump out to early series leads, then the Flames are set.


Do you really think that Wilson will roll four lines? I suspect we'll see 1-2-3-1-2-4 [repeat] from him for the most part.

Keenan will pretty much have to follow suit, or more likely just run three lines, maybe subbing a fourth player onto the third line now and again to keep their legs in the game.

This should make it easy for both coach's assistants to get their D matchups. We certainly saw that in the Oilers series vs them, where Joe Thornton was the most dangerous player, for either team, by a country mile. Wilson avoided Horcoff/Smyth in the Shark Tank, and that let Huddy have the Pronger/Smith vs Thornton matchup.

I think that Huselius is key. He won't want anything to do with a Iginla/Tanguay vs Joe matchup, Wilson will almost certainly be going after Huselius with Thornton, and of course Keenan won't want that.

And Marleau is the Sharks version of Huselius, of course, always has been.

It should be a good coaching battle, both are active bench coaches.

The Sharks are a tough team to play though, just so many big guys with hands, they grind it out along the wall better than anybody I think, maybe only the Ducks are better.

It's hard to imagine a scenario where the Flames outchance the Sharks in this series. They're going to need to bury more of their chances to win, methinks. (Or, to word it differently, Kipper will need a much better save% than Nabakov). And my feeling is that the special teams need to be good as well.

Should be a good series.

It's hard to imagine a scenario where the Flames outchance the Sharks in this series. They're going to need to bury more of their chances to win, methinks.

I think this is probably true, but also plenty likely. This is essentially the definition of San Jose's issues with depth; lots of players who do an OK job keeping the puck going the right way and disrupting the opponent, but cannot either create *good* scoring chances enough, or bury them.

How Huselius is used is one of the big questions going in here. He absolutely should be dressed and on the #1 PP unit.

He looks less worse with Langkow/Iginla, and Tanguay, Conroy, & Nolan had some decent success this year against the other guy's #1 line. (This is probably my preference, and 40 with Iggy is a high-leverage Plan B).

I'm sure that there is some truth in that Matt, but the Sharks look to have a lot of players this year whose shooting% is well below their career averages.

At evens the shooting% when Marleau has been on the ice was 5.2%, now I'm no Marleau fan, but there's a lot of bad luck in that number. The Sharks have a few guys in that range that just shouldn't be there. Shit happens.

On the Flames #s 17,16 and 7 cleanly trail the pack here. Around 5.5%. That's low even for enforcers and pressbox filler. Yelle is #7 I think, and presumably one of the others is Godard.

I take your point that the Sharks like to grind it out, I doubt we see any of them shoot far post if they are outside the dot, not all series. Still, gravity is going to want to pull those back towards career averages.

These EV shooting percentages for players seem to drift all over the place during the season. Lecavalier, Iginla and Zetterberg have all had a stretches of 12 games with sub 5% at this this season (shit happens). The underlying numbers pegged along steady ... so Vinny went -8 in that stretch and Z went +1 in his, that just by memory, and I can't remember for Iginla, probably -2 or so though.

We certainly saw that in the Oilers series vs them, where Joe Thornton was the most dangerous player, for either team, by a country mile.

i would have to say that michalek looked like the most dangerous player by a country mile. he was downright scary. until torres ran him over.

I dunno, the Oilogosphere doesn't like Thornton, but the guy was terrific. I posted the numbers somewhere at the time, but when the Oilers didn't have all of Smyth/Pronger/Horcoff/Smith against him ... he dominated in terms of shots and where the shifts ended. And by eye it was downright scary.

With all due respect to Cheechoo, Ekman and Carle, those were the Oilers 4 best 5v5 players, and those cannons weren't pointed at them. Even at that, they just played Thornton to evens in that scenario, and the rest of the time he dominated.

Smyth played every shift but two against Thornton in games 4 and 6 iirc (both misses immediately after PPs), even though Peca got the credit from all the local media except for Dan Barnes, he simply didn't have the gig. Pronger, Horcoff and Smith weren't far behind, either.

And they did outscore him, I think, but they didn't manage any more than playing him to even chances, I know.

Dude is a beast.

And now for an armchair coach moment :D ... On home ice I think that Keenan has to load up and run all of his best players at him (Tanguay, Langkow, Iginla, Regehr, Sarich). Let Marleau shine against lesser opp if he can. The Flames still have enough other good players to handle the rest of the Sharks roster I think.

On the road he's got a problem, but if he runs a platoon with Huselius on Iggy's opposite wing, getting Kristian out there only for Offensive zone draws and when the puck is heading north, maybe that will work. Like the way Harvey and Hemsky were used for a stretch in the Oiler's series. (Hemsky is obviously twice the player now that he was then, counting numbers be damned. But that was then.)

Lots of great analysis in here... I think you guys are all forgetting that these are the Flames we're talking about.

The best part about watching San Jose demolish Calgary in 5-6 games will be one simple fact:

San Jose is the team that Calgary was supposed to be. They beat you up, have stellar goaltending, drive you through the boards, and let the Superstar on the team stir the drink.

Watching Calgary lose to a team like that is just going to be too sweet.

Besides - San Jose only knows how to choke in the 2nd round.

Anyone who's looking for a reason why the Oilers finally got to SJ in '06 need look no further than their young D AND the injury to Michalek.

Not sure how long a layoff SJ had before that series started but the Oil finished the Wings on a Mon and didn't start in SJ until a Sunday and it certainly showed. They were knocked around in G1, Neminen was going nuts in particular, and then in G2 you could see it had a lot to do with matchups.

So, we get back to Rexall and it begins to turn and it was much easier to turn given that Raffi took some of the guts out of the Bernier-Marleau-Michalek second line. And with the last change, guys like Georges and Carle were absolute disasters when it came to a forecheck.

So, like I told Matt, if he wants to say the Flames can win if one of the big Sharks gets hurt, then I can agree with him. But if that doesn't happen, I wouldn't bet fuckall on the Flames winning.

Of course Matt's right about it being stupid to take look at Lombardi's first year of playoff stats. I'll take those away and that will show Lombardi has four points in his last 13 games OUTSIDE of his rookie campaign and that will suit Matt's point much better:)

Like I said, Matt, if you want to be a homer that's fine but it doesn't jive with the other stuff you post. And this isn't directed towards you but to all those that want to take any lessons from the Oilers '06 run, the deal with that team is they were outchancing other teams all season but we're getting killed by shoddy netminding. Once we had a guy that could hold serve, then we looked even better from the goalie out.

Plus, as Vic said, we got lucky in Det -- and I didn't see this mentioned here but I'll also throw in that Datsyuk wasn't playing at 100% and that made an obvious difference -- and then Raffi put a crimp in SJ's roster in R2. I won't talk about the Ana series because the Oilers gutted their way through the flu and then Car got lucky with Roli's injury in the finals.

That was the thing about the Canes that season, though. Koivu gets clipped with a stick in R1 and that hurts the Habs and then just about all of Buf's D gets hurt in the Conf Finals. Then the Canes opponent loses their starting tender in G1 of the finals.

Good stuff Vic. Regarding armchair coaching, I haven't done a terribly systematic assessment of Keenan, but I'd characterize him like this:

1. He likes his forward matchups, but not to the extent that it frenzies the bench, or to the extent that a keen observer could say that the opposing coach is running *his* bench (a la Vigneault, or even Carlyle).

2. He'll blend the lines throughout the game, but mainly as a reaction to who he sees as "going good" and "going bad", much less so in reaction to where the faceoff is, which direction the play is headed, etc.

3. Related to (1.), he does not look at EV lines and PP/PK units independently. If Tanguay starts the game as Iginla's LW, you can be certain that on the first PP, he'll be there as well (and Huselius will play on the other unit). Likewise, if Huselius is deemed to be Iginla's LW in a game, you can be certain that Tanguay will get more PK time than he would if he were on Iginla' left side.

This last point is one reason I still have a bit of a bias towards Juice with Iginla and Tanguay with whoever. Tanguay does good PK and Juice is the superior PP guy; if Tanguay is lining up with Iginla at evens, you're guaranteed to lose some of that via Keenan's bench mgmt. (Also, Tanguay with whoever else can play about any line in the league to at least a draw, giving you two capable lines. Most nights, playing with anyone but Iginla, Huselius will get smashed in scoring chances.)

Dennis, I'm simply appalled at your lack of imagination. A 7 beats a 2 EVERY FUCKING YEAR, and yet you seem to think it's inconceivable in this case unless the injury gods strike down Thornton, Campbell, or Nabokov (do the Sharks *have* any other key players?).

The numbers say that these teams are equal at evens. So why are the Sharks such a lock, barring disaster?
- They're much better than their results were this season at EV
- The Flames are a lot worse than their results were at EV
- The Sharks PP/PK are so far superior that special teams are all but assured to give the series to them

(A) may be true, but I'm skeptical, (B) is false, and (C) is a pretty dubious thing to hang your hat on.

I went thru the shift charts and time on ice against Iginla, and didn't find to much except:

- SJ, at home, got Thornton and Michalek against Iginla more than on the road.

- Vlasic, McLaren, and Erhoff seemed to be Wilson's D of choice to play against Iginla

- neither team appeared too active in trying to get a particular matchup. One slight exception: CAL, at home, tried to avoid icing Iginla against Thornton and Michalek, but they weren't determined to completely avoid Thornton and Michalek either.

This is the 4th consecutive season that This time they're for real has been the story on the Sharks in early April. They may well show me, but this time, they're going to have to.

This is right about where I am this season, too. And how many years have we seen the unanimous Cup favourite dumped in Round 1 or 2?

I don't know if the Flames are going to do it, but I don't see this team (SJ) taking out the Ducks or Red Wings.

This is the 4th consecutive season that This time they're for real has been the story on the Sharks in early April. They may well show me, but this time, they're going to have to.

They've been media favourites for sure. Oddsmakers favourites ... not so much.

They've finished where they should for the most part, actually probably have more underdog wins early. That's maybe why these scribes fell in love with them, I dunno. In any case it doesn't make basic sense.

They overcame big odds to get to the conf finals in 04, then lost as the moderate favourites to CGY. Still, they beat the odds on the year.

In 06 they were favoured heavily by Canadian journalists, which means exactly nothing. The bookies had them favoured ever so slightly, faves at the Tank and underdogs at Rexall. Home ice advantage made the difference.

I wouldn't argue with a Sharks fan who thought that they were the better team in that series, but it was damn close either way, and the Oilers won. That's life.

Last year the Wings were significant favourites. I'll dig up the gamelines if pushed. Yet the Sharks made a real series of it.

So whose expectations are they falling a mile short of?

Terry Jones'?

And does that matter, even a little bit?

I dunno. Food for thought.

Nice analysis there Vic (in quite a few posts, not just one immediately in front of mine).

Matt said:
>>A 7 beats a 2 EVERY FUCKING YEAR<<
And you're saying superior PP/PK is a dubious thing to hang a hat on? OK then...

All I know is, the Sharks road record is more than impressive. Only two teams had fewer home losses than the Sharks on the road. To me, that stat says the Sharks *have* turned the corner this year.

Then again, what do I know. The Wings had only 7 regulation road losses before the Oil took them out. Sharks goaltending should help them avoid the same fate.

Unless the Flames recent defensive zone adventures were nothing more than a ploy by Keenan to throw off advance scouts, Flames extinguished in 6, if not 5.


The Sharks had a rough start at home, and a terrific start on the road by Ws and Ls. My guess is that it is just coincidence. Because just like the other 29 teams in the league, they had better corsi numbers on home than on the road.

And if you pull the game lines off of an internet book somewhere, and plug them into the IOF sidebar ... you'll find that the Sharks are given about an 11% better chance of winning a game in this series in the Tank than at the Dome, and only a wee bit of that is market effect.

And don't let Dennis tell ya otherwise :D

For sure the Sharks, like any NHL team, are more likely to win a home game than road game. That said, the Sharks ability to also win on the road could well be crucial during the slog through the playoffs. If nothing else, it's a theory. :)

Fair enough, Rod. I like the Sharks at home though. That's a loud building in the playoffs, and it yields some crazy bounces off of the glass.

I still think that the west is Detroit's to lose, though.

And, maybe just because nobody else is picking them, and maybe because my hate is finally starting to fade, but mostly because i want to see Anaheim ousted in the first round ... I like Dallas as a darkhorse out of the West.

Just found this Blog. Thanks for digging on some of those stats. I especially appreciated the 5v5 assessment. This was the main "bright light" I was pointing to before this series.

Easy to say at this point in the series (going into game 4) that the Flames can play with the Sharks, and match up well in many ways. I said it before...I just can't prove it...maybe I should actually write in my blog some day.




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