Friday, January 30, 2009


Friday Baseball Standings

Tonight the Flames host the Nashville Predators (7PM MT, RSN West) in their final meeting of the season. I think the Flames will win. I don't know what the score will be or who will get the goals, but I know this: Wednesday was Todd Bertuzzi's best all-around game as a Flame. He's covering the 1-year/$1.9M bet for sure, but in that game, he looked like The Myth of Bertuzzi made real: big and unstoppable with the puck.

Go Flames.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


Nut Graph

Flames fans with heart conditions, who are pregnant, or who upset easily should avoid looking at this graph.

Every one else should prepare themselves for the fact that sooner or later -- and at this rate, I'll say "sooner" -- something's gotta give.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


Friday Baseball Standings: All-Star break edition

I know I keep droning on about this, but the contrast in distribution between the two conferences is fascinating. 15th-place St. Louis is closer to a playoff than the 11th-place team(s) in the East. And not only that, there are more teams right above the line to catch (i.e. if Blues fan has her hopes pinned on a huge run, there are 4 teams who could conceivably falter enough to be caught, not just 2). Although the flip side of that is that there's a lot more teams to pass on the way up to 8th, and they play a lot of games against each other.

And sure enough: this reputable-looking playoff odds calculator says that the Blues still have a 7% chance of qualifying, while the Leafs only have a 4% chance and the other EC bottom 5 are all 2% or less.

More info from that site: the Flames have a 78% chance of winning the NW Division (67% of being the 3-seed), a 20% chance of qualifying in the 4-8 seed, and a 2% chance of missing altogether. The Oilers have a 66% chance of qualifying (10% as the NW winner).

Enjoy the break, folks. Go Flames.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Flames Game Day

Blue Jackets @ Flames, 8PM MT, RSN West

So, quite the game last night. The Jackets have nice depth, and worked the Oil pretty good on a shift-by-shift basis. But while Rick Nash's nice plays went slightly awry (or, notably, were muffed in the slot by Malhotra), Ales Hemsky's worked out, and yes that's understating it. Dennis pretty much pegs it in the Lowetide game thread:
I honestly can't think of another time when a guy single-handedly lifted us like he did tonight. He set up 71 perfectly, he schooled Mason, he hauled Mason out of the net to the point where 37 had basically an open net and then he strolls down the slot like he has all the time in the world and if the fucker stopped time and placed the puck with his hand, it wouldn't have been any better situated.
To keep on the Hall and Oates theme, tonight the Oilers were a Rich Girl who relied on the old man's money (Hemsky)

I'm still a C-Bus believer, but tonight seems like an awfully good time to take advantage of them. At home, with the opponent (including the goalie) playing the 2nd half of a B2B. And Huselius is hurt to boot.

A sidebar from last night's game: Quinn & DeBrusk, as well as a score of LT commenters, were pretty peeved about Jared Boll initiating contract with Roloson partway through the 3rd. If you didn't see it, it was one of those deals where Boll was just off the doorstep, Staios crosschecked him in the back, and Boll embellished, basically pushing off with his leg into Roloson.

It's a bit of a bad example, but I'm going to make my point anyway: why do defensemen do this? It's one of those things that make me scoff when someone suggests that we need players to be able to police themselves, because when it comes to protecting their goaltenders, players are terrible at it. How often do we see a player check somebody into their own goalie? Every 2nd game?

It's mostly guys like Staios, Vandermeer, & Willie Mitchell, but there's plenty of them: guys who are clearly willing to risk injuring their own tender in order to inflict a bit of pain on someone in (or next to) the crease. It's baffling, particularly when their goalie has the puck frozen already -- are they coached to do this? Are they coached not to, but just do it anyway? And during play, if you're willing to take a penalty to prevent a scoring chance, why not hold the guy instead of bombing him into your most vulnerable player?

I'm being an all-Canadian tonight (curling @ 845), so I'll likely be missing most of the game. Here's hoping that the lads score a quick couple and then turn it into a snoozefest.

Calgary 3 (Iginla x3)
Columbus 1 (Peca!)

Go Flames.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Blue Jackets Game Day

Blue Jackets @ Oilers, 7PM MT, RSN West

I'm quite certain that I haven't looked forward to a non-Flames regular season game as much as this one in ages.

For one, as noted numerous times in this space, the BJs are an intriguing and (IMO) good team.

Second, it's an interesting star matchup. Rick Nash and Ales Hemsky have shown spectacular offensive ability for quite a while now, but they've spent the last ~ calendar year establishing themselves as two of the best all-around forwards in the league. They take their shifts against the best players on the other team, and more often than not, they come out ahead.

It won't be reflected in the counting numbers this season, and believe me I'm not happy to say it, but it sure as hell looks like this season is seeing a changing of the guard. A year ago, there could be no debate about who the best RW in Alberta was. Today, there could be. And by this time next season, I suspect the debate will be settled, and the answer will not be the guy wearing the Flaming C.

Third and finally, there's the drama. The esteemed publisher of Lowetide has finally announced that he's sick of the bubble life (without looking it up, I believe that with the exception of spring & fall '07, the entirety of the Lowe/MacT era has been spent within a few points of 8th place one way or the other). If the Oilers aren't in 8th spot or better at the All-Star break (no ties), he's going to blog about less frustrating things going forward.

A win tonight and the Oil secures that spot. A loss, and they'll need some help.

Columbus 2 (Nash, Huselius)
Edmonton 1 (XX-from-Hemsky on the PP)

Go BJs.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Flames Game Day

Flames @ Avalanche, 6PM MT, RSN West. A recent history of back-to-backs...
So, six sets. Two of them were split between Kipper and McE. Of the other 4, Kipper was very good in Pt.2 of one, and average-to-poor in Pt.2 of the other three. I assume he'll be getting the start tonight.

**Interesting games last night. The three division leaders in the WC all got some (cough) interesting goaltending, spanning from Osgood's sub-elite performance to Nabokov's crappy one to Kipper's abominable one. Thing is, none of it was shocking. Everybody looks at the WC top 4 and thinks it's Chicago with the goaltending "situation", but really, they're the only ones who are set. They could deal Khabibulin for more help at F/D and still be in terrific shape. (Not to start rumours, but something like him for Fedorov and Brent Johnson -- all three of whom are in their final contract year -- would seem to be something that would benefit both sides.)

You can book it: one or more of SJS/DET/CGY will go on a bit of a slide due in large part to poor goaltending, and the shit will hit the fan. And yeah, the place it would make the biggest mess (by far) is Calgary.

I have few quarrels with Mike Keenan, and in general I think he's done a really solid job this season, so I feel bad for the guy that it's even money or better that he's going to have to deal with this down the road. Actually, I don't, but I would if he hadn't squandered so many opportunities to normalize the use of the backup on occasion. As I wrote in October, if you're not going to sit Kipper when it makes sense to do so, then "you forfeit the right to act surprised and offended in the future when Not Using Kipper = International Incident."

**Unrelated? Good news from the farm, for a change: after finishing October/November (his first 2 months as a pro) with a SV% of .851(!), Leland Irving has had a .937 SV% since. Huzzah.

**I'm actually surprised with myself; I'm pretty affected by last night's loss. Or maybe more accurately, the manner in which it happened. Yeah, I'm probably letting emotion get into it a bit much, but I'm seriously concerned about the goaltending.

And I gotta tell you, the telecast of it spooked me too. Hughson and Craig Simpson had specific criticism of Bryzgalov a few times. And on the bad goals that went into the Flames net, it was, "That's very unusual, that puck rarely goes in from there... Kipper had trouble picking that one up... Boedker caught Kipper going side-to-side...". But neither of them, nor Hrudey or anyone in the studio during or after the game, managed to speak the words, "That was a bad goal" or "Kipper needs to stop that one" or god forbid "Miikka Kiprusoff is having a bad game". It was very... Emperor's New Clothes. Not sure why everyone was tiptoeing around the obvious (worried about being boxed in by the Zamboni, perhaps), but I didn't like it, I tells ya.

As for tonight's game, I guess I like the Flames' chances regardless. They really smoked the Avs in terms of possession (and shots, and scoring chances) all four times they played, and that was with Paul Stastny in the lineup. Let's go with a 4-3 Calgary W (GlenX x2, Boyd, Phaneuf). Go Flames.

Friday, January 16, 2009


Friday Baseball Standings

**Very Bad Week Dept. ("Sorry for the Jinx" Division): Vancouver, Los Angeles. When I took a long look at the WC playoff bubble last Friday, I didn't even include Vancouver. Since then they've managed to lose 4 consecutive (home!) games, and now they're on the wrong end of the 8th place tiebreaker. It's hard to get an exact bead on them... I think it's fair to say that while they're clearly a tier below the Hawks & Flames, with a sound Luongo they should qualify for the playoffs without must-wins in Games 81 & 82. Forget the caught-in-the-moment fears about chemistry, and whether Sundin can still play: he can. He'll make a positive difference for them going forward.

As for LA, I still think they're good enough to hang close-ish: I really, really doubt they fall into Tavares territory. But OTOH, the one massive factor I somehow overlooked in last week's post is their sked from here on. Somehow, with 39 games left, they have 12 home games and 27 road games. Absurd -- I've never heard of such a heavily weighted H/R schedule in any sport.

Also: Pittsburgh!?! I knew that they were on the wrong side of the playoff bubble, but jeez -- they're losing touch with the middle of the pack. 4-1/2 games out of 6th? How did this happen?

**Follow up to yesterday, you really, really, really have to check this out: Adjusted EV Career Plus/Minus, 1968-2008. Adjustments made for team quality etc., and 'overpass' does a terrific job at laying out how he went about it, and the limitations that remain.

There are some nice hockey players who are a bit forgotten on account of never winning a Stanley while wearing a letter. But if there's one thing to take away from it: Mark Howe needs to be in the HHOF, like, yesterday.

**I'll ask out loud: are we really waiting for David Moss to bank his 25-goal season and inch up close to July 1 before signing him to another contract? Surely now is the time to get him under wraps if there's to be reasonable hope that he outperforms his next contract as massively as he's outperforming this one. (Last night -- road game vs. the best team in the league, in case you forgot -- he and GlenX outshot the Sharks at evens 15-3. 24-3 if you count attempts missed and blocked. In barely 8 minutes of EV ice time.) His upside would be far higher if he was 21, but there's nothing in the underlying numbers right now that would suggest that he's simply on a hot streak, or riding in the sidecar of superior linemates. And to my eye (and I'm not sure how anyone could see it differently), he is G-D hard on the puck.

**And finally, two interesting links to tide you over until Lowetide is on prospect watch full-time:
Go Flames.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


Flames Game Day

**Without wading through my archives to confirm, I'm pretty sure that this is the biggest NW Division lead that any team has had at any time since the lockout.

It's a nice cushion to have. The Flames have played 4 extra home games so far, and 13 of their final 20 will be on the road, so the schedule definitely gets tougher from here. (Although it's funny how your perception of the schedule difficulty varies with the quality of your own team; as I browse through it, I'm really only looking for long road trips and Sharks or Wings games. It's "that seems doable" for the rest of it.)

**Wonder of Wonders Dept.: Yesterday morning I listened to one of the most entertaining sports radio interviews in memory, and it was with Adam Proteau of The Hockey News. Why was it so entertaining? Because instead of talking about hockey, they talked about Proteau's past experience as an extra late in the Degrassi Junior High/Degrassi High run.

"One week I'm doing regular high school stuff, and the next week I'm behind the scenes at Degrassi with all the major characters smoking and playing cards for money. It was like Krusty the Clown." He also talked about being at a house party where Caitlin (wooo!!) and Neve Campbell were dirty dancing *with each other* -- "an image that is burned in my mind to this day". Good stuff.

**One of these days I need to write an opus defending plus/minus. It seems like the only time anyone (including me) can write about it is to expose its flaws, but the reality is that over a sufficiently long period of time (e.g. a few years, or a career), a lot of those flaws melt away. Again, the object of hockey (How To Win on the board game-style instruction sheet) is to score more than your opponent, and alternative efforts to measure contributions to this objective leave something to be desired.

I admire Staples, for example, for his ongoing experiment of tallying points & "unofficial assists" and setting them against "errors". There may well be something of value in there when it's all said and done, but some adjustments will be required if the totals are to make sense on their face. The Oilers are +10 on the season at "true" EV, but their forwards (of whom there is generally no more than 3 on the ice at a time) are +81. Likewise, Dwayne Roloson has an above-average SV% at EV this season, but by Staples' numbers he's done nothing but cost them goals. So some rejigging (or determination of proper baselines) is required.

I suspect pretty strongly that if you
  1. took the career +/- of everybody drafted last century (or say 1979-1999),
  2. deleted the 3 types of events I identified in my Brind'Amour post, and
  3. applied a season-by-season adjustment for team quality,
you would have one hell of a good list of the relative (EV) worth of those players.

**As much as I enjoy the discussions everywhere of Vincent Lecavalier's relative worth among NHL players (personally, I think he's closer to Mike Cammalleri than he is to Joe Thornton), it's really putting the cart before the horse. The most important issue by far is his value for his contract, not what Team X would have to give up in trade or by how much would Vinny help Team X right now. A perfectly wonderful hockey player on a contract that is too rich or too long (or both) is a liability in the grand scheme of things, plain and simple.

[Sidebar: Scott Taylor was on the radio this morning, and as an aside during discussions of the Vinny-to-Habs rumours, proclaimed that the Kostitsyn brothers are "much better than the Sedins". Sports pundits say a lot of dumb things, but Taylor has the early lead for Most Ludicrous Take of 2009.]

**There's a lot of good quasi-academic work being done in the hockeysphere, mostly in the area of statistical analysis. What I think would be cool is if someone was really into Literature Review-type stuff. At the top of my mind right now is the systematic disconnects (where they exist) between (A) the beliefs & expectations of the fans/media, and (B) the beliefs and actions of coaches (and also management).

I swear: the next time I read a handful of articles/blog posts/etc. about a slumping hockey team, and no one criticizes the coach's propensity for mixing lines ("How the hell are these guys supposed to develop any chemistry!"), it'll be the first.

**Tonight the Flames are in San Jose to face the Sharks (830PM MT, RSN West). The borg says the Flames are going down, but that's not how I roll. I predict that Dion Phaneuf goes off offensively, Rob Blake goes at least -2, Patrick Marleau continues to make me regret every bad thing I ever said about him, and both goalies make a lot of big saves in a 5-4 Calgary victory. Go Flames.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Flames Game Day

Blues @ Flames, 730PM MT, RSN West

This (click to enlarge) is the rolling "Last 10 Games" totals for the Flames even-strength shot differential (For minus Against). Blue is Shots (Goals + Saves), Purple includes Shot Attempts that Missed, and Yellow also includes Shot Attempts that were Blocked.

It's probably a bad idea to squint too hard at any of the peaks and valleys, because so much of the movement owes to Home/Road splits and strength of opponents. I put it together to see if there were any really broad trends (or what have you) that could be spotted. I'd say there's one, and it's that everything's positive (mathematically speaking).

There are probably ten teams in the league who wouldn't show up on this chart at all because my Y-axis doesn't go below zero, and another ten whose lines would drop off the bottom at times.

The Flames have outshot their opponent at EV by more than five 14 times this season. They have only been outshot at EV by more than five once (the infamous Sharks beating). So basically, at 5v5 at least, they are either good enough or have done the right things enough (or both) to be in nearly every game.

Skaters, anyway. Anyone remember this? Just a little chart showing going Kipper's EV SV% going from .941 in 05/06 to .932 in 06/07 to .919 in 07/08. This year it's .906 -- more Iron Mike effect, shurely. If it was still .919, the Flames would have allowed 10 fewer EV goals this season. If it was still .932, the Flames would have allowed 20 fewer EV goals this season. But, hey, he has 25 Wins, so, nothing to see here, I'm sure.

Calgary 3 (Iginla, Boyd, Phaneuf in OT)
St. Louise 2 (they never should have traded Stempniak)

Go Flames.

Monday, January 12, 2009


The Bod

Puck Daddy sez:
Plus/minus is a garbage stat, but there's really no logical reason for Carolina Hurricanes center Rod Brind'Amour to be at minus-27, is there?

That's probably a rhetorical question, but here's the deal...

**For starters, at 'true' even strength, he's -18. The other 9 are some combination of:
  1. SH goals scored while Rod is on the PP,
  2. 6-on-5 goals scored by the opposition with their goalie pulled, and
  3. EN goals scored by the opposition while Carolina has their goalie pulled
This is my biggest beef with the +/- stat as it is presently kept. Tracking those 3 kinds of minuses may well be interesting, but they shouldn't be mixed in with the regular kind. Yeah, Brett Hull was a lousy defensive player, but his career +/- is probably 100 lower than it should be simply because he played a lot of powerplay time (where the odd shorthanded goal is inevitable) and very little PK time (where the odd shorthanded goal is inevitable). And this business of pretending a 6-on-5 goal is actually an EV goal is ridiculous, though not quite as ridiculous as handing out pluses and minuses on empty-net goals.

Anyway, where were we? Oh, right. Rod Brind'Amour.

**Carolina, on average, keeps the ice tilted slightly towards the far end. They've had 55 more offensive zone draws at EV than D-zone. A few players have been on for 24 or more O-zone draws than D-zone (Staal, Ruutu, Samsonov, Corvo, Pitkanen). Only one guy has been on for significantly more (37) D-zone draws than O-zone -- one guess who that is.

**Carolina's team EV SV% this season is 0.923. The on-ice EV SV% for every regular player on the team is at least 0.906, except for one guy. One guess who that is.

**Carolina's team EV Shoot% this season is 7.1%. The on-ice EV Shoot% for Justin Williams (missed the first 25 games of the season) is 4.5%; next worst forward at 5.7% is Guess!

Last season, the EV on-ice SV% and Shoot% for Brind'Amour were 0.921 and 8.5% respectively, both slightly better than Carolina's team numbers. He is getting older and is surely slipping a bit, but it's pretty unlikely that he's personally having such a deleterious influence on the quality of shots against: .890 is a lot less than .923. He's being outshot only barely, most of which is attributable to the extra own-zone draws.

I don't really have any grand point here, I just wanted to suggest that there's a 3rd reaction to Bd'A's -27 beyond "He sucks now" and "Plus/minus sucks". The object of this grand game of ours is to outscore the other guy, so the ultimate theoretical player stat is some variation of plus/minus, adjusted for eleventeen factors. Many of which are working against the Bod this season.


Down the backstretch

With Chicago's win over Nashville last night, every team in the league has now played 40 games. Here is the traditional 2nd 20/1st 40 look at results. Note that Goal Diff includes shootout goals, empty-netters, everything: it's straight off the Standings page.

The Hawks had a handful of blowout victories that really goosed their GD (13-1 combined in 2 games vs. the Coyotes, plus that 9-2 beauty over the Oil). The flip side of that is that PHX would look as good in the GD column as in the Standings column if they had lost those two games by more reasonable scores. Again, we see that the playoff bubble sports a whole lot of teams that are very tightly bunched.

So basically, the four worst teams in the NHL -- by record and goal differential -- are in the Eastern Conference. If you're trying to compare the playoff teams from the East and West, this has got to be a huge factor.

JLikens takes a very interesting look at the Bruins and their percentages (concluding ~ 'even if they have better finish and goaltending than anyone else in the league, this can't last'). Here's another thing to look at. Records vs. the Flaccid Four:
I kind of cringe to post stuff like this, because no matter what neutral or complimentary wording you use, it sounds like you're saying, "Horseshoes!!! They don't deserve it!!!" And that's not the case. Beating lousy teams is better than losing to them. Getting great goaltending and a high SV% is better than not. Shooting at a high percentage is better than not.

In the very specific context of, "Can the Bruins sustain this level of success?", or, "Do they project to be a scary dominant playoff team?", the answer would seem to be No. That said, the fact that the Bruins have been outshot on the year has surely been influenced by the Score Effect (see the comments). Roughly, the shots battle will tend towards the trailing team, while the percentages (SV and Shot) will tend toward the leading team, for reasons that seem fairly straightforward: the trailing team sends more low percentage shots at the net because they need something to happen, while the leading team is more satisfied just to dump it in and change, plus the odd-man rushes etc. that you get counterattacking because the opp is cheating to score.

And lo and behold: while the percentages remain absurd, the Bruins do in fact outshoot the other guys when the score is tied. So they got that going for them, which is nice. For them.

Friday, January 09, 2009


Friday Baseball Standings

**As usual, what's interesting about the Standings at this point in the season is the gaps & clumps. The Hawks and Flames have almost assured themselves of playoff spots (this site's math says they are at 98% and 96%). I browsed through the archives a bit, and the biggest fall from ~ this time of year -- in terms of being solidly in a spot and eventually missing -- was the Canucks and Kings in Jan'06, who were 4 and 3.5 games ahead of 9th. (There are bigger falls, like the Blues and Isles last year, but those were teams around the bubble who fell down the elevator shaft.)

And attention Leafs fans: all hope is not lost, although hoping for Tavares works too. In 05/06, the Islanders were 4 games out at about this point, and made it into the playoffs. I forget who they edged out...

A mere 2 games separating 7th from 14th in the WC is also pretty interesting. It's incredibly hard -- impossible, really -- to mentally assemble all the various factors that might contribute to any one of those teams getting ahead of the pack or falling out of it. So I thought I would put together a very rudimentary, not-rigourous look at what the Statzis call "arrows".

My premises here, which of course you are free to reject but have some decent (though varying) basis within the hockeysphere the past couple years, are as follows:
Also note: the table header is slightly wrong, as the PP/PK shot numbers are for the whole season. The EV shot info and percentages (1st 6 columns) are for the past two months.

I have pinked the leaders in each category and blued the trailers. The difference to note here is that being the best in the 'percentage' categories (cols 4/5/6) is not a up arrow, it's probably a down arrow if anything. An extreme example: Say the Blue Jays and the Yankees are tied for 1st in the AL East on May 15 (with the Red Sox being well back). If the Jays have a lot of guys hitting the ball well, that's obviously a good thing and a positive arrow. But if they have 3 guys hitting .400, that's not a sign that they're poised to pull away from the Yankees; it's a sign that they're likely to fall back, because that level of success simply is not going to continue.

Anyway, the percentage columns are just there for illustration. What I've done next is just a really simple grading of those 9 teams in 3 categories: EV shot differential, PP shot creation, and PK shot prevention. +1 if the team is clearly above average, 0 if it's ~ neutral, and -1 if they're clearly below average. A couple random bonus points thrown in if a team is especially good or egregiously bad. Then doubled the value of the EV grade (so that its weight is equal to total special teams), and added them up.

So fr'instance, the Kings have been a good outshooting team at evens, ~average at PP shot creation, and outstanding at preventing shots on the PK. (Sidebar: they may well be pretty shot-happy at the offensive end -- taking lots of low percentage shots by design, which torques their outshooting numbers -- but their shot prevention is the real freakin' deal. 2nd fewest SA/60 5v5 and 3rd fewest at 4v5.)

Before we get into parsing the table at left too carefully, what are the factors that aren't reflected here?
So, predictions: it sure looks like the Oilers and Coyotes will need to ride some great percentages to get in. Both have some young players who should be expected to keep getting better, but the underlying numbers are still pretty far out.

The Avs are average or slightly below average across the board. Note that they have *not* -- to date -- been done in by bad goaltending. Getting Paul Stastny (among others) back from injury would help a lot, and they need Budaj and Raycroft to keep it together. The Wild, it would appear, have no hope of sustaining the goaltending performance they've had so far. They are 24th in the NHL in PKSA/60, but have the #1 PK because their PKSV% is 0.932. Backstrom's a nice goalie, but that's no more sustainable than batting .400.

Dallas is the flip side of that coin -- 2nd best in PKSA/60 -- but have the #27 PK at 76.9% because of an .800 PKSV%. Marty Turco's recovery (or replacement) will ease a lot of that pain. That said, the Stars are no hell in any of the other categories, and will likely need the goaltending improvement at EV just to compensate for a drop in Shoot%.

Barry Trotz is a good coach, I think. A little more finish or luck at the offensive end going forward and the Preds are absolutely still in this thing. Maybe Steve Sullivan's return will be the ticket (or maybe, for want of a Radulov, a playoff spot will be lost). I've mumbled on about the BJs a few times this season, but their team health is just a disaster right now. What a kick in the balls for their ownership (and fans); they finally put together a squad that has a good shot at a playoff spot (maybe even a good seed), and the hockey gods send some lightning bolts down at various lower body parts and undisclosed areas. Damn you gods! Hasn't this franchise been punished for Doug MacLean enough!

And, the Kings. I have no idea. There are basically no subjective reasons to like them for a playoff spot. Too many young and Gauthier defensemen. No experience (or proven NHL talent) in goal. The absolute worst 4th line I've seen this season. Suspicions that they're tanking for Tavares. And yet, they're in the thick at the halfway point. The reasons to believe come down to:
  1. A bad team simply cannot and does not allow as few shots as they do. There's no cutesy coaching tactic that's artificially helping this; it's no mirage. It's good hockey.
  2. Anze Kopitar has turned into a hockey player, not merely a PP threat. I wouldn't have guessed it, this soon at least. In September, there was a fair bit of chatter about the Stastny/Getzlaf/Anze troika and their contract renegotiations, most of it saying that they were awfully comparable. Not so much, I thought: Stastny already had a track record of making hay in tough minutes, and Getzlaf in softer minutes. Neither for Kopitar, he was a 5v5 void his first two years. This year, though, the penny has dropped, it would appear.
Especially given that the Ducks have a head start, I think they make it. I don't think that what the Wild and Coyotes have achieved so far has enough sustain, so I think they're out. Same with the Oilers -- there's just not much there to look at and say, "Well that will surely improve in the 2nd half." (Not to mention that their best player is out indefinitely with a concussion.)

Which leaves the Stars, BJs, Kings, Avs, and Preds for the last two spots. It'd be awfully gutless for me to turn around now and not pick the Kings, so... the Kings! I'd take the Jackets too, but this injury business has me spooked, so I'll take the Preds instead. Short version is, I doubt their recent scoring struggles are as intractable as they appear.

[Letterman Disclaimer: This is for entertainment purposes only. Please, no wagering.]

Thursday, January 08, 2009


Flames at the Half

It's not easy to be completely rational coming off a terrific performance like Tuesday's, but a few thoughts:

**Something that really annoys me whenever it pops into my head: what if the Flames had Andre Roy last season instead of Eric Godard? Roy is a 4th-liner at the end of his career, but he's ten times the player Godard is. He can take a pass, lift his head, make a good decision, and execute. Godard was 0/4 on that count, and he played 70+ games. Surely Roy would have been worth a couple more points, and thus a more favourable 1st round matchup? The 4th line's first shift last game was a faceoff against Thornton/Cheechoo/Michalek, and I wasn't even petrified.

**What happens when Vandermeer is ready to come back? Is Pardy (or Giordano) going to revert to spot/PB duty? This can't happen, can it? The Flames have been lucky not to have any more D injuries while JV has been out, and 7 D is not too many, but I don't think that on merit you can make one of the present 6 a healthy scratch to make room for Vandermeer. That's what'll happen of course, but we'll see where things go from there.

I mean, if you want to talk voodoo: the paid media seems pretty intent on looking at the waxing by San Jose as the turning point in the Flames season. Is there anything else that happened around that same time? Maybe, the guy with the worst numbers on the team getting injured, and replaced by someone who has proven to be more capable?

**Also with injuries, I'm actually keen to get Primeau and Prust back healthy and available. Not sure what'll happen there either with the 4-line; early in the season, it looked to me like Prust might have passed Nystrom in value, but Nystrom has been pretty awesome on the PK and has probably cemented himself into the lineup. I assume Primeau would draw in in Roy's spot, but without Roy or Prust or Vandermeer, the Flames have no fighters at all, and we know the coach doesn't much care for that situation. Odds are that more injuries will dictate how that plays out.

**No one really wants Craig Conroy as Jarome Iginla's full-time EV centreman, but it sure is damn nice to have him on the squad. Apparently some teams are hurting from the absence of a veteran RH centre (example), and I can see why.

**Kent talked a bit Tuesday about how the Flames are having success despite Iginla, Phaneuf, and Kipper all underperforming to one degree or another. My take on these guys is basically...

Jarome: he's still in his prime, but he's past his peak, which I hope doesn't sound too harsh. It's hard to deny what the EV stats say, which is that he's not driving possession and the scoring chance battle quite like he used to. Lots of terrific-to-good years left, though.

Dion: he's not Robyn Regehr defensively, but most of his scary stats (the +/-, lack of goals) are some bad luck, and due to rebound. He still looks to me like he has plenty of energy (though I implore the coach to drop his TOI/game by another minute or two), and makes an awful lot more nice plays than WTF plays.

Kipper: I'm still scared. George Johnson must be hepped up on goofballs to say that Kipper "has come on incredibly strong to push his GAA below 3.00 (2.86), save percentage over .900 and team to unexpected heights." Coming on strong to get your average up to a C doesn't get you on the honour roll, but forget that -- has he even been watching the games? We're not in 2005 anymore, Dorothy: the Flames outshoot and outchance the opposition almost every game, and the best thing you can say about Kipper is that lately he's been holding up his end of the bargain.

McElhinney has looked at least as good in his select appearances; certainly enough so that using him every 5th game -- or at least using him religiously in the 2nd half of B2Bs -- would be indisputable sound strategy.

**Dept. of Pleasant Surprises: Todd Bertuzzi has looked really good lately.

Dec.12th vs. Florida: Bertuzzi looks like someone has read him the riot act, approximate content being, "The next time you skate over the other guy's blueline and make a backhand pass instead of shooting, you will be sitting behind McE for the rest of the game." He takes what seems like several shots that I can only describe at 'pissed-off sarcastic'. Got no results that game, but lo and behold: in games since, his decision-making calculus seems to have ruled out the worst of his ugly weak passes.

I was going to write something about this on the weekend, but didn't have time before the Nashville game. Well into the 3rd period of that game, I'm thinking, "Thank God I didn't humiliate myself" -- he was beyond awful. And, then he goes and sets up the tying goal, then scores the winner with 23 seconds left. As if. But he looked pretty good Tuesday night, and against Chicago too.

Now: does a veteran leopard actually change his spots? Not usually, unless he was hurt and gets healthy. Which brings us too...

**First half MVP: Daymond Langkow. Sacamano used to refer to Reasoner, and then Pisani, as "Instant Chemistry", and that's totally what Langkow has been this year. There's not a player on the team who hasn't been better when on the ice with Langkow. I think he's owed 90+% of the credit for Bertuzzi's recent usefulness. The Flames have recorded 3 Shots on Goal for every 2 against while #22 is on the ice at EV, which is the kind of thing that works out very, very well in the long run.

**Last thing: here is the "60 minute" records of the Western Conference teams as of Tuesday's games. I have them sorted by regulation Ws, solely because a couple interesting things jump out (PHX and COL, most notably).

Tonight the Flames host the 13-straight-road-losing New York Islanders (7PM MT, RSN West). Six people predict the final score at the Herald's website (freshly redesigned btw, and now either won't load or is the slowest page on the web, somehow -- kudos). Four of them say 5-1, along with a 5-2 and a 4-1.

Short memories, I say. Almost exactly 1 year ago, the Isles came into the 'Dome as the much inferior team; were outplayed handily by the Flames for most of the game, and outshot by 17; and walked away with a 4-3 shootout Win. Any Given Thursday, and all that.

I'm with the Borg that the Flames are the much better team and will have the better of the play, but I'll pick a final of Calgary 3 (Cammalleri, Phaneuf, Conroy), Islanders 2 (I really have no idea who plays for them and is presently healthy). Go Flames.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


Flames Game Day: Meet the new Sharks

So, good Christmas holidays? Me too. One of the highlights was a 3-day jaunt to Las Vegas with Mrs. Matt, where we partook in numerous $6 beers/$14 martinis, AND where for a larf I headed into the LV Hilton's massive sportsbook to waste 2 x $20 on a couple of NHL Futures bets. They were:
Calgary Flames to Win Stanley Cup, +2500 and
Columbus Blue Jackets to Win Stanley Cup, +10000

The day before we were just wandering around, and the LA Kings were listed at 200-1, so I was planning to pick them (rather than the 100-1 BJs) along with the Flames (using the impeccable logic of, "A trip to collect $4000 would be even more fun than one to collect $2000!"), but when we finally went to the window they were back at 100-1 with C-Bus, so I put my money on the guys I was at least fairly sure would make the playoffs.

Anyhoo, tonight San Jose is in Calgary to play the Flames (8PM MT, RSN West). I just spent 15-20 clicking around on SJ's underlying numbers, and the overarching impression I got? This is a pretty similar team to the one I squinted at before Round 1 in April.

Which is certainly not an insult. They're very good. EV, PP, PK, the works. But there's not much mystery behind it. They have one of the very best forwards in the league, and when #19 is not on the ice, they are a EV minus team (slightly: -0.15/60). When Jarome Iginla is not on the ice for the Flames, they are slightly minus as well (-0.05/60). Thornton off, Sharks score 2.03/EV60. Iginla off, Flames score 2.60/EV60. In other words, the Sharks do not have a depth advantage at forward.

That said, there's one guy I clumped together with the pack in the spring who (IMO) has separated himself with the quality of his play, and it's Pavelski. To wit:
And all that for a guy who's only in his 2nd full season, with a cap hit of $1.64M this season and next and is still an RFA thereafter. He's nearly Shawn Horcoff already.

Your Moment of Hockey Zen: the audio clip of Iginla on the radio this morning blew me away. Did he really say something that true? I paraphrase:
"Every team goes on good runs during the season, and they say, Man, why can't we do that all the time? But some teams just aren't as good as other teams, and that's the difference."

Amen, Jarome. As for tonight's game, I actually like the boys' chances.

Calgary 4 (Lombardi x2, Phaneuf, Cammalleri)
San Jose 3 (Pavelski, Setoguchi, Blake-i)

Go Flames.

Monday, January 05, 2009



If it was an either/or -- Canada winning or Mikael Backlund playing a great game -- I'd prefer the latter.

It's been clear to me since about 2002 that I'm a Flames fan first, then an NHL fan, and then a hockey fan. Team Canada winning the Gold Medal Game in Salt Lake City was super exciting, but I was actually more excited that Iginla scored 2 goals and had a big part in it. I think the last WJC that got me revved up at all was the one at the end of '95/early '96, when the pain of the Nieuwendyk contract impasse & late December trade was mitigated entirely and promptly by Jarome's breakout in that tourney.

Anyway, I'm not trying to be a total Debbie Downer here, but a couple more things:

**Props to the Contrarian Goaltender for pretty much pegging Canada's goaltending situation before Selection Camp even started ("Let's just say I don't particularly trust our nation's junior scouts in terms of separating the goalie from the team.")

**The 10-minute 4v4 OT in the Canada-Russia semi should be required watching for anyone who thinks that bigger ice and/or full-time 4-on-4 are magic bullets for increasing excitement and scoring.

I tuned in with ~80 seconds left in regulation (right when CAN pulled Tokarski for the extra attacker), so I have no opinion on the quality or excitement of the game proper. But the OT was duller than dull, and featured approximately zero scoring chances. The difference in pace and tactics relative to an NHL regular-season OT (where you can only win, not lose) could not have been more stark. Russia looked like the inferior team with tired-er legs, but nevertheless had little trouble (IMO) keeping Canada and the puck to the outside, what with the outside being 7'-6" wider on each side.

At any rate... Go Canada. (I hope Keith Aulie is a MONSTER.)

Friday, January 02, 2009


Friday Baseball Standings

As it happens, San Jose and Boston are tied by this measure today (both 24 games over .500), so it's a good time to compare the two conferences.

The most interesting thing to me is that the West has a huge playoff bubble -- look at the number of teams close to the 'cut line' -- and the East hardly has one at all. There are already 3 (4? 5?) teams out of playoff contention in the East, while only St. Louis is effectively toast in the West.

So in terms of making the playoffs and winning a series, it's not a lost season yet for hardly anyone. There are 12 WC teams that could quite conceivably finish 6th.

The flip-side: in terms of going on a long run, and having a chance at a WC pennant and a Stanley Cup, it might be a lost season for just about everybody. San Jose is just not slowing down much, and if my goals involve beating Detroit, I'm looking at next season, not this one. Add in the Hawks, who are already really good, have a strong chance to improve internally, and will be able to use Khabibulin's money on skaters once they get over themselves and trade the guy.

Where the Flames fit into all this is a post for another day, I suppose. I'm thrilled that their record is as good as it is so far, regardless of the fact that it has been a bit home-heavy (they still have a couple of those mean road trips that the Canucks and Oilers already dusted off). I'm also thrilled that (notwithstanding the schedule) their record is legit: no unsustainable percentages, massive OT/SO success, etc. There are still numerous ways in which they could get better.

But, looking at the top end of the Standings is a splash of cold water to the face. In the nine games before the All-Star break, the Flames play the Sharks twice (one here one there) and in Chicago once. By the ASG we should have a better idea as to whether they are pretenders, or what.

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