Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Two thoughts thru 2

ONE. I realize that the end-of-game festivities last night will pretty much lock in this bit of conventional wisdom, but too much is being made of the Experience trumps Youth narrative.

Experience is valuable insofar as most NHL players get better at their jobs over their first few seasons, but past that, its value is equal parts marginal and mythical. The marginal part -- by which I mean real, but marginal nonetheless -- is that players who have been through it a few times have internalized the fact that it's a really bad idea to change the things that have made them successful simply because it's May and not December. The hazard of inexperience, such as it is, is being tricked into thinking that "playoff hockey is a different game", when it really isn't: it's still about creating scoring chances and preventing scoring chances against. Sticking with what has given you success at that, even when the stakes are higher, and maybe things aren't quite going your way, is a lesson learned only from experience for some players.

As such, the mythical part is rather straightforward. Tomas Holmstrom has been through the wars, but you can count on Sidney Crosby to make better decisions with the puck and create more scoring chances, because he's Sidney Crosby -- he's a better hockey player. Holmstrom's experience probably makes him a bit better player than a 21-year-old with his same size and skill set, but it doesn't make him a better player than Sidney Crosby.

TWO. The Penguins are a good team, and they're better than what they showed (particularly on the scoreboard) in the first two games. I still think Detroit is the better team, and (obviously, with a 2-0 lead) I expect them to win the Cup more strongly than ever, but there's no way I'm counting out the Pens until they lose Game 3 or 4 at home.

At home, they have the raucous crowd, they'll get more of the matchups they want, and the penalty count will swing back towards them. They're very likely to score a couple of PP goals. Chris Osgood won't maintain a 1.000SV% forever. Etcetera.

BONUS THOUGHT/Dept. of Brave Predictions: I was listening to XM204 late yesterday afternoon, and one of the co-hosts -- Boomer, I believe -- predicted that Johan Franzen wouldn't be as good here in the Finals as he was before he went out with the concussion.

Fair enough -- hey, maybe there are people who expected him to resume a goal-a-game pace -- but what made me laugh was his reasoning, which was roughly, "18 days is too long to be out and then get right back into the intensity level of the playoffs".

Yeesh. Look, I understand the widespread reluctance in the hockey media to attribute anything to Luck; among other reasons, it sounds a bit like you're accusing the player of not earning it. But Franzen had 12 goals on 48 shots in 11 games. For all his good qualities, the reason he's not likely to pick up where he left off there is that he's not Jari Kurri in his prime, he's not being set up by Wayne Gretzky, and he's not shooting on the likes of Tim Cheveldae and Murray Bannerman. Nice player though.


Sticking with what has given you success at that, even when the stakes are higher, and maybe things aren't quite going your way, is a lesson learned only from experience for some players.

Ron Tugnutt had a nice quote on Marty Turco (during the snoozefest of a first round series between DAL/VAN two years back) that said basically the same thing. He (paraphrasing) said that Turco had always changed things up going into the playoffs, especially if things weren't working, and that he'd finally learned to just do what worked during the season.

Good post. I was thinking of doing something similar at my place re: the experience versus youth narrative, but it looks like you've nailed the salient points here.

Games 3 and 4 are BIG GAMES.

Challenging conventional wisdom is a dangerous game Matt. Careful my friend.

Agree whole-heartedly. One question: I've been thinking that Therrien et al. are being out-coached by a huge factor so far. My reason is that the Wings seem to know every possible trick the Penguins use, whereas the Penguins still seemed surprised to find that the Wings have ways of cutting off passing lanes high in their zone and through the neutral zone.

But is this one more way that experience might count? B/c some adjustments are clearly made whenever you line up against another team, is there a balance to be struck between adjusting to the other team and not changing those things that made you successful? A balance that might be more obvious to someone who's been through it a couple of times?

Excellent question, and I think the short answer is 'Yes', but:

I am also fairly certain that the value of coaching experience in that regard is similar to what I was saying about players... the WORST thing that a coach can do is overadjust ("overcoach"), and experience teaches (good) coaches just that.

This isn't football, where the need to adjust schemes, alignments, personnel in response to what the other team is doing is quite pronounced. A good coach is always making little adjustments (mainly personnel/matchups), but when I say always I mean "starting in October". A coach who suddenly decides to do things a lot differently in the playoffs, or Finals, is probably setting the table for a disaster.

As to the Wings/Pens matchup, I'm sure that scouting, and opponent-specific coaching, come in to play a bit, but for the most part, the reason that the Wings are cutting off the Pens passing lanes? They do that against everybody and they're very, very good at it.

i think experience goes for more than just the players. the wings are more experienced in coaching and scouting staff as well (i'm presuming, here, but it seems fair to say). i guess i might also include the physio guys and the equipment guys as well.... it's inarguable that the folks getting the detroit players prepared for gameday(s) are doing a helluva good job.

Snoozefest between Dallas/Vancouver? I remember a tightly checked perfectly played goaltenders battle with incredible hits and battles. Hockey does not have to be 8-7 to be exciting. Judging by "Jonathans" profile pic, growing up and finally crackin puberty might open your eyes to what real hockey looks like.

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