Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Flames Game Day Gallimaufry

The Flames host the Capitals tonight at the Saddledome (730MT, TSN). Here's a whole bunch of things that have been on my mind the past few days.

**I thought the best Oiler in the B2B set was Erik Cole. Nilsson was probably his equal in the Friday game, where I thought the Oilers were unquestionably the better team, but Cole looked fantastic both nights.

**I'll refer you to my caveat from a few months ago, but I really think that the idea of "sticking up for your teammates" via fisticuffs -- especially in response to legal stuff -- is extremely overrated and quite possibly counterproductive. By throwing down with MacIntyre after Boyd was checked heavily and cleanly, Brandon Prust proved that he has guts, but he also took an entirely predictable beating (though I was surprised it wasn't worse), and took a 2-minute minor. The Flames were already scrambling a bit with the 2-0 lead, and the immediate follow-up to Prust's show of moxie was PK, GA, GA, GA.

I would submit that -- as inspiration goes -- Dustin Boyd's Hemskyesque willingness to go into the corner at full speed, seeing full well that he was going to get crunched, and then getting back up sorely but gamely... that should have done it. Recall too that, in the preseason, the Oilers were up 3-1, MacIntyre stuck up for Pouliot (who was not anxious, but certainly willing, to go with Vandermeer and also returned uninjured), and the Flames ended up with the 4-3 Win.

**Somewhat related: I'm thrilled that MacIntyre made such an impact (and/or was credited with doing so) in a very early game. I don't think it changes the fact that he's not an NHL-quality player, or the fact that the Oilers' forward depth is worse with him on the bench than in the PB. What is does change (mean) is that now there's a much better chance that MacT dresses him for 65 games rather than 25 (the importance of first impressions, etc.), and consequently that over the long sample of those 40 extra games, his presence in the lineup will cost them some points (a couple? few? dunno).

**Goaltending. Kent W had a really smart post in the summer about drafting goaltenders. You ought to read the whole thing, but the sentence I'm going to grab for my purposes is, "Goaltending is a wholly unique position and one that is paradoxical by nature."

It is indeed. A goalie who reliably stops pucks at a rate well above average is worth his weight in gold (proverbially; literally, he's worth much more). One who stops them at a below average rate, however, is worthless.

If Jarome Iginla declines noticeably over the course of his 5-year, $35M deal, he'll be overpaid, but he won't be worthless. First he'll slip from 1st All-Star calibre to being a Modano (plays tough minutes but sees his numbers drop) or an Arnott (puts up good numbers, but mostly on the PP and in softer minutes). Then he turns into a Rolston/Tkachuk type, and finally into a Recchi/Roenick type. Still able to help the team, just not in the way he was at his prime.

If Miikka Kiprusoff declines noticeably over the course of his 6-year, $35M deal, he'll be worthless and they'll have to stop playing him PDQ. If he doesn't perform reasonably close to expectations, he's not useable. $6.75M/yr on Roberto Luongo is the best possible use of that money; $6.75M/yr on Nik Khabibulin is the worst possible use of that money. (Today, that is.)

I wrote at some length here in the spring of 2007 -- when it seemed fairly clear that both weren't affordable unless the rest of the roster was really weak -- that I thought Sutter was going to extend Iginla and roll the dice/play hardball/play chicken with Kipper. Apparently I was projecting my inner wise man onto him. At any rate, I obviously and sincerely hope that Kipper finds his form RFN, but I will repeat what I said recently: the worst case scenario is not that he's awful and McE has to pick up a big chunk of the load; it's that he's subpar and keeps getting rolled out there on pace to start 75 games.

[Sidebar: I find it amazing how different, just within Canada, the fan/media culture can be about goalies. Vancouver and Toronto are absolutely polar opposites. Luongo has a mediocre stretch, and there's a freakout about how he's letting down the team. In TO, the goalie seems to be the absolute last guy to have the finger pointed at him.]

**Skill vs. Luck. A handful of games into the season seems like the opportune time to start addressing this. I guess the key point is this: when you read those two words bandied about in discussions of statistics, skill refers to things that are repeatable and (thus somewhat) predictable, and luck refers to things that are not. The mistaken impression a lot of people get, and take offense to, is that skill means the ability to perform a particular task or tasks, and luck means something that was undeserved. Not so, in this context.

Say Tiger Woods and I head down to the Par-3. On the first hole, I hit a 150-yard 8-iron to 25 feet and then sink the putt. He misses the green by a few feet, chips to 8 inches, and taps it in. In English, I didn't get particularly lucky, because I have the skill to hit the green from 150 years and to sink 25-foot putts (I just don't do either very reliably); Tiger occasionally misses the green. There were no crazy bounces involved. Nevertheless, I got lucky to beat Tiger Woods for that first skin, and if anyone were to watch it happen and conclude that I'm more skilled than Tiger Woods, they would be mistaken and soon disappointed.

Alexander Semin may well be full value for his 6 goals and 10 points thru 5 games, but nobody thinks he's going to score 100 goals and 160 points this season, and his failure to do so will not be because he doesn't play as hard or as smart as in the first 5 games. Likewise, though Ovechkin is on pace to score 50 points this season, he will undoubtedly end up with many more, and it won't be because of any major change in attitude or effort from today.

The trick here, of course, is how do you know when it's luck and when it's skill... after all, there are 71 other players presently sitting at 3 points along with Ocho, and not too many of them are "unlucky" to be there.

[Sidebar #2: think about all the player quotes you've read or heard in the past couple of weeks. There are a lot devoted to wanting to get off to a good start, not wanting to dig a hole, etc., and very few along the lines of it's early, it'll come, etc. Basically, these teams and players are damn serious about performing their best, exerting maximum effort, and winning already. It's something to keep in mind when the playoffs come and everyone's debating who can bring it -- do you see a lot of teams or players holding back on October 21st? Do you feel like there's some teams, and players, succeeding right now because there's no pressure?]

**The Flames -- currently sitting 30th out of 30 in the NHL in Team +/-. This would suggest that the preseason fears that they'd take a big EV step backwards are becoming reality.

Here's the thing: I don't think they are.

I've spent a lot of the last season+ being persuaded that, subject to some obvious caveats, the world is round, and that when it comes to hockey,

Winning the Possession/Zone Battle --> Winning the Scoring Chance Battle --> Outscoring

I've seen enough good evidence, and I think followed along closely enough myself, to believe it. The big onion in the ointment is goaltending: clearly with all else being equal, if Vancouver trades scoring chances of equal quality then they're going to win more games than they lose. There are also gifted players who will convert on a higher percentage of their chances than average; there are teams that are a lot better at keeping in the other guy's end than they are at creating anything out of it; etc.. But on average, and certainly as a predictor, having it in the other guy's end a lot and outshooting him is a good sign.

So far this season, the Flames have had 33 more EV shifts end in the offensive zone than the defensive zone. That is a really big number. By way of comparison, Detroit is +10 by this measure; Washington -2; Montreal -17. Calgary's Corsi# (Shots For minus Shots Against, includes misses and blocks, at EV) is +36.

The idea is not to say, "Don't believe your lying eyes, they've actually been great so far this season." The idea is that you can believe one of twothree things going forward:
  1. They will continue to give up a remarkably high number of good scoring chances as a proportion of shots; let a remarkably high number of good scoring chances end up in the back of the net; and fail to convert good possession and lots of shots into quality scoring chances and goals
  2. The advantage in possession, zone time, and shots will (sooner than later) lead to much, much better results at EV than they've gotten so far
  3. It's the possession and shot advantage that's the fluke; that'll reverse.
(3) is less likely than 1 or 2, but I'm getting short on time here. I believe (2).

**I had no idea, but apparently, according to the Oil's VPComm, this site is direct competition for edmontonoilers.com. Naturally, I'll be removing their link from the sidebar shortly.

**Calgary 4 (Giordano, Iginla, Moss, Phaneuf in the shootout) Washington 3 (Ocho x treis). Go Flames.


Speaking of golfing analogies, Iginla is busy slicing his drives into the trees right now. That's got to correct itself eventually.

And there's Washington scoring on their first scoring chance after the Flames had hit a post a flubbed a couple of others.

but I really think that the idea of "sticking up for your teammates" via fisticuffs -- especially in response to legal stuff -- is extremely overrated and quite possibly counterproductive.

I think Rene Bourque missed that memo, Matt.

9 minute PP? How ridiculous is that? And how apropos considering your "retaliating is stupid" thing.

Can Bourque get five minutes for fighting despite Sloan throwing his gloves? Similarly, can he get two for being third man in AND two for being the instigator?

"Luongo has a mediocre stretch, and there's a freakout about how he's letting down the team. In TO, the goalie seems to be the absolute last guy to have the finger pointed at him."

That's what happens when your goalie is the only good player on a terrible team, as compared to the best player on a decent team.
Luongo is, and always will be, the great white hope in Vancouver.

I'm still trying to wrap my head around that 9 minute PP, which I don't think I've ever seen in 25+ years of watching hockey. And I hate the Flames.

It's weird alright, but Christ, I half hoped that the Caps would score 3 on it just to drive a message home to the boys (and also to hear them defend Bourque afterwards).

And "jeanshorts", that ain't it. Since I started paying attention, Vancouver has virtually always hated its goalie, and Toronto has virtually always loved theirs. Just how it is.

This comment has been removed by the author.

9 minute PP as explained by the TSN brain trust:

2 minutes for instigating + 2 for instigating with a visor + 5 for fighting.

Apparently, there is also supposed to be a game misconduct if only one of two combatants gets a five minute major.

the flames haven't beat the caps since the 90's. you predicted the flames to beat the oilers by at least 3 goals in the last 2 meetings. is conroy going to get a hat trick tonight?

Beauty goal by Lombo

as soon as i open my mouth after 4 drinks...and it was 2 goals.

Giordano gets a nod on that goal, I think. If he doesn't go hard to the net, there's no shooting lane for Lombardi.

Phaneuf is playing like he had a six-pack before he stepped on the ice tonight.

Maybe he and his GF had a fight on the phone.

Ray Ferraro may have split that sixer with him. "High-Stuck"?

So's Langkow, btw. 6-pack, or maybe a concussion... that was a huge hit.

Flames are winning...and they look like garbage.

That's how the Oilers do it. It's the apocalypse!

Black is white!
Up is down!
Cats and dogs, living together!
Corsi has a negative correlation with winning!

We're all gonna die!

Didn't Ray Ferraro refer to back checking as "back tracking" during the BOA game last week? The MSM can't just make up new hockey terminology! That's blogger terrain.

I don't think either team will have this game on their "How To Run Your PP" instructional video, that's for sure.

Half of this game has been on the PP, and there has hardly been any good scoring chances. And to my eye, it doesn't look like that's because the PKs have been that outstanding.

Anyone else watch Ron Wilson pull the MacT "close out goaltender" trick in the shoot-out tonight?

Playing the percentages!

And then Joseph reacted to both Selanne's and Perry's shots like he was wrapped up in a hammock.

I wonder when someone in the NHL offices will realize that CuJo just isn't that good.

Jarome Iginla - whats the problem right now? Injury? Confidence?

His decision making looks way off to me.

I was excited about this game...but it's been pretty much terrible to watch. Partially due to all the PPs and partially because both teams suck on the PP.

The problem with Iginla is that he keeps leaving the Art Ross Trophy in the closet.

Do you feel like there's some teams, and players, succeeding right now because there's no pressure

You mean other than Joe Thornton?

The advantage in possession, zone time, and shots will (sooner than later) lead to much, much better results at EV than they've gotten so far

Even with that big Finnish onion in the ointment?

Congrats on the win tonight.

Fghshfffking Caps...

Good stuff as always. And after hearing the comments, I'm glad that I eventually decided to record 'House' instead of the Flames game.

Looks like Iginla was a hard match on Ovechkin though, few look good doing that. Bear in mind, Flames fans, that this is a record of events, and not a "stat" per se.

And Matt, you should check out MacTavish podcasts this year, for the time being at least, his frankness has a Carlylesque uncomfortable quality.

I mean all kinds of guys, especially south of the border, will tell you who is playing the tough minutes and define what that means, but damn few define the opposite.

Plus he's gone all Roger Neilson on our asses with the "against tired legs" plan with the kid line in Anaheim (I missed the third period, and for whatever reason it didn't hold there, at least by the shiftchart. Perhaps Randy adjusted? I dunno.)

And until someone misquotes him badly and pisses him off ... he's a guy to follow, Matt.

He had a decent quote on Sunday about getting Penner powerplay time and replacing him on the Pisser line to match against Jarome after the PP expires.

Damn, I missed that slipper.

You know, he was really good a few years ago. The he sort of faded into vagueness for a long while.

Good to see he's back.

Damn though, guys like Bruce, Doogie, Ender, and probably several others that I'm missing, and hundreds of them are out there (when you get a chance, check out that OilersNation place slipper, it's funny and sad all at once), well they are going to grow a huge hate on for MacT if he keeps this up. I hope he sticks with it though, right is right, after all.

A goalie who reliably stops pucks at a rate well above average is worth his weight in gold (proverbially; literally, he's worth much more). One who stops them at a below average rate, however, is worthless.

Whoa, what? Lots of teams miss the playoffs for lack of a merely average goaltender; if you don't have one on the roster somebody else's average goalie can be worth A LOT. It's the level of the freely available replacement goalie, not the league average, that's obviously relevant here.

Wasn't I saying that a below average goalie is worthless because they are freely replaceable? That's certainly what I meant. An average goalie is not worthless, for the exact reason you note. I suppose you could split hairs re: just how below average are we talking here, but broadly speaking, you can call up a guy from the minors at the min. salary to be below average, and if he turns out to be too far below average, there's another guy in line, etc.

It's a sizable hair. I didn't need a microscope to split it.

I'm not that sure that it is. This is a math problem, not a logic problem, but:

If A is an "established" goalie who you can be certain will have a SV% .010 below the league average,

And B (and C and D) is a freely available replacement goalie (not a guy off the street, somebody with a two-way deal and a bit of an AHL track record),

Then I'm extremely skeptical that you're better off paying A any kind of real money. I doubt you'd observe a performance difference outside the "luck" range; you can ditch B for C and then D if he performs poorly; and the fact is, some of these B/C/D guys are not actually the 70th-most talented goalies in the world -- they're better than that, they just haven't gotten the opportunity.


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