1. 4.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

CBJ, NSH & BOS at Game 60(-ish)

More observations on teams at the Game 60(-ish) mark...

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS: How hard has Columbus been hit by injuries this season? Well, through Game 62, 30 skaters and 5 goalies had suited up for the Blue Jackets. In spite of the injuries, Columbus finds themselves In The Curve at Game 60. This is uncharted territory, as historically, their latest date of elimination from playoff contention (per OGA) was 15 February 08. The key to the Jackets' success has been the play of rookie netminder Steve Mason. In spite of battling mono for the better part of January (and the after-effects until late February), Mason won several big games and kept Columbus in most others. Two nights ago, in Edmonton, "Stevie Franchise" tied Ken Dryden's record for most shutouts by a rookie with his league-leading 8th.

The Blue Jackets have needed Mason to be their "Rock of Chickamauga" (take that historical reference, Hitch!), because the combination of injuries and lack of scoring depth has made goals hard to come by. At Game 60, Columbus was averaging 2.68 G/gm, 20th in the NHL. Their Power Play, though still dead last in the league, is currently at 12.9% - a marked improvement over the Jackets' 10.1% at Game 30. To compensate for their scoring deficiencies, Columbus plays solid team defense, allowing opponents just 27.6 shots/gm (3rd) and killing penalties 81.4% of the time (16th).

Barring a late-season collapse (which seems unlikely at this point), Columbus is on track for the first playoff berth in franchise history. How much noise will they make once they get there? If they face Detroit, look for Mason to steal a couple, pushing the series to six games.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS: On 6 January, Nashville was at Tee Time - out of the playoffs, per OGA. Going into the final day of February, the Predators are riding a three-game win streak and are just one point behind a four-team logjam battling for the last two playoff spots. While we're prepared to eat crow, whether or not that will be necessary will depend upon the Preds' ability to sustain this newfound momentum...and as long as they continue to score an NHL-worst 2.30 G/gm, it's not going to happen. It's hard to believe this is the same team that was averaging 3.00 G/gm at Game 20!

Other stats of note...The first goal is critical: When scoring first, the Predators win 74.2% of the time (9th), but when their opponent scores first, Nashville comes back to win just 17.2% (25th). Puck control off the faceoff and team defense have gotten the Preds this far, as their 2.75 GAA (T-9th), 83.8% PK (T-4th) and faceoff wins (53.1% - 3rd) attest.

The rebirth of Steve Sullivan is a welcome sight in Music City, and he seems to have regained his scoring touch of late (fantasy owners take note). Will it be enough to push Nashville through the logjam and into a playoff spot, or is it simply too little, too late? OGA says Preds fans shouldn't buy playoff tickets just yet.

BOSTON BRUINS: Despite a sub-par 4-4-2 record in Games 51-60, Boston still sits regally upon the Eastern Conference throne. At Game 60, the Bruins were in the top ten in SIX of ten stat categories. This team is strong with the puck, scoring 3.27 G/gm (5th) and 22.1% of the time on the Power Play (6th), and perhaps most significantly, winning 61.5% of games in which their opponent scores first (1st in the NHL).

The B's are also tough defensively, leading the league with a 2.18 GAA and killing 83.3% of penalties (6th). Testament to Boston's shut-down ability is their win pct. of .900 when leading after two periods (10th). Surprisingly, the Bruins allow 30.2 shots/gm (17th), but Thomas and Fernandez have proven quite adept at stopping the first shot and controlling the rebounds, so quality scoring chances are rare.

You want scoring depth? Nine Bruins have scored 12 or more goals, and four - Savard, Krejci, Kessel and Ryder - have over 20 (expect Wheeler to join the club soon). That scoring, combined with rock-solid goaltending, has the Bruins poised to play on into June.

Check back tomorrow for more of Big Tex's Game 60(-ish) roundup...

Take me back to On Goal Analysis
1. 4.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

VAN, DET & NYR at (roughly) Game 60

Some observations from the (roughly) Game 60 mark...

Vancouver Canucks: After a nightmarish 2-5-5 January, the Canucks bounced back in a big way, going 8-2-0 in their last ten games to climb back into the thick of the playoff hunt (note: We at OGA have never wavered from our original call of 'Chasing Stanley' on November 20th, but we were a bit concerned at the end of January). There is certainly much to cheer about at GM Place: Luongo has regained his pre-injury form, Sundin has played himself into game shape, and the Canucks have scoring threats distributed throughout the lineup (8 players have 10+ goals). Scoring is up in Vancouver, from 2.84 G/gm (15th) at Game 50 to 2.97 G/gm (T-8th) at Game 60.
Not all is well, however: Since topping out at 82.6% efficiency (11th in the NHL) at Game 30, the Canucks' PK has steadily declined. At Game 60, they're only killing 79.0% (25th) of penalties. And, while Vancouver is improving, their win pct. when leading after 2 periods is .857, which is 19th in the league. In fact, when looking at ten statistical categories (G/gm, GAA, PP, PK, Sh/gm, Shots Against/gm, Win % when scoring 1st, Win % when trailing 1st, Win % when leading after 2, and Faceoff Win %), the Canucks only rank in the top ten in two - G/gm and Faceoff Win %. This doesn't bode well for Vancouver's Stanley Cup aspirations.

Detroit Red Wings: 7-2-1 in the run-up to Game 60...Scoring seemingly at will, 3.70 G/gm (1st)...Five players with 20+ goals...Ranked in the top FIVE in 7 of 10 statistical categories, including 1st in PP (27.8%), Sh/gm (36.0) and Faceoff % (55.8)...The Winged Wheel rolls on...
But there are weaknesses: At 77.5%, the PK is 28th in the NHL...Team GAA of 2.92 is 19th...Win pct. when leading after 2 is .867, tied (with San Jose, no less) for 17th. It's going to take a team with an agile yet bruising blueline corps and a red-hot goalie to beat DET in a seven-game series, but the Red Wings are beatable...sort of.

New York Rangers: The Blueshirts took full advantage of a hot (13-5-2) start, OT and Shootout wins to get this far, but the wheels have now come off...2-6-2 in Games 51-60, followed by an OT loss at home to the Toronto Maple Loafs, cost Coach Tom Renney his job. His replacement, John Tortorella, is 0-1-1 and counting. At Game 60, the Rangers were scoring just 2.33 G/gm (29th). Their 28th-ranked PP (14.0%) would be laughable if they hadn't allowed more shorthanded goals (13) than any other team (Your trivia for the day: The Rangers are the ONLY team in the NHL this season to allow a shortie with a 2-man advantage). Bonus trivia: At Game 60, the Rangers' +/- leader was Zherdev, at +1, followed by Callahan and Anisimov, at 0. Every other Blueshirt is a minus.
If there's any hope to be found, it's in the recent past: Last season, Dallas went 2-7-2 in March, then regrouped and advanced all the way to the Western Conference Finals. Ranger fans have to hope their team can duplicate that feat, and as long as New York occupies a playoff spot, there's hope...

More Game 60 reviews coming soon!

Take me back to On Goal Analysis
1. 4.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Crosby Out, Pesonen In?

Pittsburgh Penguins' Captain, Sidney Crosby left today's morning skate early citing problems with ye olde S0re Groin. He will sit tonight when the Pens host the NHL's last-place New York Islanders who, interestingly enough, shut out the New Jersey Devils 4-0 in their last game played.

So the Penguins announced today the recall of one Finnish eliter, Janne Pesonen. Pesonen was signed in July 2008 to the Penguins bringing high hopes for another top forward who could contribute in the wake of Marian Hossa's departure in the off-season.

But the little-used skater has only appeared in 7 games for Pittsburgh this season and has contributed little in his 5 call-ups...perhaps because of the very little ice time he has received.

In his last call-up January 16th, 2009, when the Penguins faced the Ducks (sounds like a trip to the aviary at the zoo!), Pesonen logged 14:24 of ice time...his most yet this season. However, held scoreless again he was only utilized for one game. His previous four games for the Pens were in late November and early December...consecutive games, but hardly a chance to get things rolling and meld with a line. His ice time for those games was as follows:

DEC 08 2:55
DEC 06 5:48
DEC 04 5:54
NOV 29 7:16

Or perhaps, this time, the games continue and he is recalled and sat as healthy scratch? Kris Letang, who has missed the past 3 games as a healthy scratch is back in the line-up, however, replacing Ryan Whitney who left the team for personal reasons.

But maybe, just maybe he skates tonight against the lowly Isles and makes the best of the opportunity to show what he can do. I sure hope so as I think he has yet had a fair chance on a team that has all but fired the coach, trying to turn the faltering season back on track.

Oh, wait. They did try that one.

Well, perhaps interim head coach, Dan Bylsma will see something he likes and give Janne Pesonen a chance to impress. Trade bait, anyone?

Meanwhile, back in the AHL, Pesonen is second on the team with 16 goals and 33 assists (49 points). The time is here for the Finnish Fellow to make his mark and earn some NHL creds.

And to borrow a much-loved theme of our modern times, here's hoping so.

1. 4.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Why Kevin Smith and I Are Now Thrashers Fans

I can't believe this flew under the radar...oh, wait - it concerns the Thrashers...nevermind. In any case, this is why Kevin Smith and I are about to become die-hard Atlanta Thrashers fans. Take a minute or two to follow the link and read the game-changing story; I'll be right here.

Done? All I can say is...HOW F***ING COOL IS THAT?!?!? Except, of course, for the whole delay-and-censor crap. What are we, children? I play hockey. I watch it on TV and read lips. I know what's said on the ice and on the benches isn't meant for sensitive ears, and my ears were desensitized long ago. Give me the live, real-time, un-f***ing censored audio feed from the bench! PUT ME IN THE GAME!!!

How does Kevin Smith figure into this? Well, he and I both watched Game 3 of the Rangers-Devils series on Versus last spring, and we both heard what Mike Rupp said to Paul Mara. Kevin then (unknowingly, as he doesn't know me from Adam Creighton) put my exact thoughts into words on his nhl.com blog:

...Vs. leaving the audio open so we could listen to Mike Rupp call Paul Mara a “#$% #$%” and a “little #$%”: Seriously, why doesn’t every non-network hockey telecast do this? Do they really think toddlers are watching? We’re all adults here: let us listen to other adults swearing at each other in the heat of the moment. As much as I love the NHL, I’d divorce my wife and marry the NHL if they hung ninety microphones over the ice so we could hear every desperate blasphemy and vulgarity that escapes these guys’ lips when they get into it. They always let us see them beat the snot out of each other; why can’t we always listen to them call each other @% suckers, too? I don’t wanna have to strain to hear it or read lips, either; I want that @% in 5.1 stereo sound. THX, even. The audience is listening… and we wanna hear some nasty cuss words hurled around like we’re listening to “Eddie Murphy: Raw.”

I applaud both the Atlanta Thrashers and Philips Arena for their innovative thinking. I sincerely hope that the rest of the NHL is paying attention, as this is precisely what is needed to enhance the game experience for fans. Now, if only they'd drop the price tag on those suites...
1. 4.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Rally Caps are On...

...and turned backwards, unlike the score.

As previously noted, the 'Hawks have owned the Stars so far this season in all 4 games played....Game 4 is under way with only the 3rd period remaining to play and Chicago is up 3-0.

Shots are even at 22-23 (CHI) but Huet is rock solid in net so far. This 3rd period will be a test of the Stars' will power....will they or won't they?

Let's see what it's in the Stars for this one. Look for an early goal in this period to get things rolling....
1. 4.

Something Nasty in the Air...

No scoring yet in the CHI vs DAL As we near the end of the first...scratch that. CHI just scored with just under 4 mins in the period. But we get another scrum shortly after and this one has an air of building into something fiesty today.

More coming soon as Big Tex tries to defend any saving grace to the multitude of Savard sweaters in the lower bowl...
1. 4.

Frozen Pill vs Big Tex (Stars vs Blackhawks)

Today, Saturday 21 FEB, the Dallas Stars host the Chicago Blackhawks with hopes of revenge from the 'Hawks' 6-2 V-Day 'massacre' in Chicago, exactly one week ago on St. Valentine's special day of Hallmark Remembrance.

This weekend, the Frozen Pill's brother (Brother Pill?) hosts the OGA Team for the 1st Annual OGA Conference in a Flagship Suite at the Hangar in Big D.

Since Big Tex covers the Blackhawks and I report on the Stars, the two of us will be dueling it out with some live blogging from the game while The Colonel dutifully referees the shenanigans.

Of note:
  • Both teams are dealing with recent injuries to key players. Chicago is without Patrick Sharp (leads the team in goals scored with 23) who was injured in last Saturday's bout with Dallas (lower body injury). The Stars, in turn, lost an important piece of their puzzle when Brad Richards (2nd in points) had to leave this week's game against Columbus with a broken wrist in the 2nd period and will miss 6-8 weeks.
  • Dallas and Chicago have faced off 3 times this season and the 'Hawks of won all 3 games. However, for this their 4th and final meeting of the regular season, the Blackhawks come into Dallas where the Stars are 7-1 in their last 8 contests on home ice. The one loss was a 1-0 shutout loss to Phoenix on 11 FEB. Yes, hockey fans, this one, although an early start at 1PM CST will feel and will be played like a playoff game.
  • In the previous 3 match-ups between these teams this season, Chicago has outscored Dallas 17-7.
  • The 'Hawks are finishing up a 4-game road trip, having won the first 3 games. Dallas, one of the best NHL teams in afternoon tilts, will need to feed off the energy of the home crowd as well as their home-winning ways to hopefully take an early lead against a road-weary Chicago team for their best chance of success.
  • As noticed by the OGA Stats Monster (and reported in the G50R Game Report), The Stars, in the previous 3 seasons since the Lockout, won 67.3% of Saturday games. However, in the 08-09 campaign, they have only won 4 and lost 11 (!) games on Saturdays. Today's game will be a true test of fortitude for two playoff-worthy contenders, fighting for positioning in the west. Again, the OGA team will be in attendance with some live blogging and reporting from the game. Stay tuned to The OGA Blog for some fun updates.

Also, OGA will be joining The Program's Chris and Rick for their excellent 'Fantasy Hockey Hour' talk show on BlogTalkRadio this Sunday. See this link for details and check back on The OGA Blog for more info as well later today!

Take me to www.On Goal Analysis.com

1. 4.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The NHL's 2009 European Vacation

First and foremost, I have to say that kicking off the season in Europe was a great idea for '08, and it's just as good for '09. I'm all for it. Now that I have that out of the way, I can do what I do best: criticize!

Having the Detroit Red Swedes, I mean, Red WINGS, play the first two games of 09-10 in Sweden is a no-brainer. They've got a big chunk of the Swedish National Team on their roster, so the locals will be thrilled, BUT...St. Louis for an opponent? Patrik Berglund is the only Swede the Blues can muster. Why not send the Dallas (Swede)Stars? Detroit has 8 Swedes and Dallas has 4 Swedes, so that's...A WHOLE LOTTA SWEDES! Add in the animosity that would surely be present as a result of these two teams meeting again this year in the postseason, and PRESTO! You've got playoff hockey in October!

As for Chicago and Florida dropping the puck in Finland...Each team has ONE Finn! Not only that, but Chicago's token Finn, backup goalie Antti Niemi, would most likely play in only one of the games. That leaves Florida's Ville Peltonen as the standard bearer for this series.

Oh, well. It's going to be fun anyway, and because we love hockey, we'll be watching every minute. October 2-3, 2009. Gentlemen, set your DVRs!

Postscript: For a preview of the Helsinki series, tune in tonight as the Blackhawks (who are certainly not dull, even without Sharp) attempt to solve the riddle that is Tomas Vokoun. Should be a great game!

Take me back to On Goal Analysis
1. 4.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Two Reasons To Change The Next NHL Schedule

There are two great reasons to change next year's NHL schedule. First is to capitalize on the growing nature of Hockey in the United States as expressed in TV ratings. And second is to increase team revenues in an otherwise down-turning economy. That said, only a minor adjustment needs to be made...

The Reasons

Capitalizing on the television impact of Hockey in Canada is difficult to do as it is already the National Sport and often times draws upwards of 1/3 of all TV ratings for an event such as the IIHF finals. The issue is growing Hockey followings across the United States which has been more difficult due to competition with the NFL, MLB and the NBA. Strong inroads, however, are being made down south as evidenced by the Winter Classic draw on 1 January this year and the Versus viewing share - it's highest ever for a single game - of more than 377,000 households for the Boston-San Jose game this past Tuesday night. The spectacle of the game from Wriggly field and the 'potential preview of the Stanley Cup finals' is capturing an audience. And in this regard, the audience only needs to see a good competition between two Hockey teams to keep coming back for more.

The teams need a more solid revenue base from television to help them keep a good product on the ice. Less money available for tickets means less attendance where most of the money is made. It is a great time to sell the game to the major networkS in America. That means ABC, NBC AND CBS if contracts allow and they will pick up games because the numbers are beginning to show it is worth the networks' effort. Pay-per-view for those who do not have the Center Ice/Center Ice Online package is another potential source of revenue for teams that should not be overlooked. And again, there only needs to be a good competition between competitive teams to keep them coming back for more.

The Tweak

The NHL has already said it will not go to an 84-game schedule. Short of a reversal where every team would get every other team in their building at least once a season at the expense of more Inter-Conference and Intra-Divisional play, let's assume there is no change to the scheduling format.

If that is so, the one tweak to offer at this point is to adjust the Intra-Divisional, eight-game schedule:

1. Play four games against each Intra-Divisional rival in each half of the season.

2. Retain one of those games to schedule anywhere on the calendar that half in order to maintain scheduling flexibility.

3. Ensure early in the first half, and at the end of the second half of the season that three games per Intra-Divisional rival are played as a back-to-back-to-back series over a one-week period, similar to the 'old days' where the first series in the Stanley Cup Finals was a best-of-three matchup.

What does this small tweak do? Firstly, it gives every team a 'challenge week' for lack of a better term. Detroit would be billing it as their 'Blackhawk Week' just as the opposite was being done in Chicago. Secondly, and maybe most important in raising the Butts-To-Seat (BTS) ratio in the arenas, the second-half pairings give every team a playoff-like atmosphere which cannot help but increase excitement for the Great Game. Why wouldn't NBC, Versus or any other network NOT want to vie to carry all three of a Detroit-Chicago, Philadelphia-Pittsburgh, or Dallas-San Jose series? (Think of the ratings in Canada for Edmonton-Calgary, Montreal-Toronto, etc!) Perhaps the 'Three-Gamers' would be just enough to draw more television audience, sponsorship and team payout from down south to help our favorite game outpace the other, major sports in America.

The next Board of Governor's meeting is coming up and I for one respectfully submit this should be on the agenda...

Take me back to On Goal Analysis
1. 4.

Game-50 Analysis

The NHL’s fifth furlong has passed. Where do we stand with all Game 50’s complete in terms of overall NHL, Conference and Individual team performance? AS usual, you will see key points in bold, blue italics...

The NHL at Game 50

For the Game 41-50 period, the NHL average against OGA’s Playoff Qualifying Curve (PQC) has increased from the historical 27.64 a scant +.243 to the current 27.883. This is an improvement of +.173 since Game 40 and an improvement of +.103 over the Game 30-to-40 difference. This is due in large measure to three additional, key observations and their related statistics:

1. Scoring is still improved this season to an average of 5.804 goals per game from 5.567 (overall) last season, an increase of +.237 goals per game and no change from the Half-Mile Pole.

2. The number of OT/SO contests took a nose-dive during the month of January when almost all of this evaluation period took place. The NHL as a whole had a –33.82% drop off from the historical, January average. The drop off in extra frames puts this years’ average only seven OT/SO games above the norm and a full two games behind the 2005/6 season. While it is early as this is being written, February also seems to be shaping up as another slow month for ‘Bonus Hockey.’ The decrease in OT/SO games is a product of the top teams establishing their dominance without having to result to extra frames to gain that second point. It also is one of the reasons arguments about the ‘ill affects’ of three-point games are wasted breath.

3. The gap between highest and lowest game-winning percentage for the League at Game 50 is a -­43.56%, an increase over the difference of -40% at the half-way point. Winning teams are extending their dominance over those that are not.

How do these characteristics of the 2008/9 season affect Conference play?

The Eastern Conference

The East ended the 50-game span only a +.16 higher against the PQC than the historical average. This figure is –.12 lower than the same measurement at the Half-Way Point. Both are also below the League’s PQC average by almost –.317, an increase in the difference over the last evaluation period. The Average standings distance from the 8th seed for teams not in a Playoff spot is –11.14 in the East, a much more prolific separation of teams than out West. The PQC has improved back East as eight teams improved, three remained even, and four teams regressed between Game 40 and Game 50. Of these numbers only six teams played at or above the Curve, a testament to how competitive the NHL is. The East’s average Goals For (GF) is higher than the West by +.8 goals per game, which is still a decrease from the Game 40 period. They have also played in 33 more OT/SO games than ‘Out West,’ a factor in lowering the goal differential. Division PQC’s in order from highest to lowest are: Northeast (28.6); Atlantic (27.9); and Southeast (25.7). Overall as of Game 50, the Eastern PQC model is just about accurate in determining who will make the playoffs, so no adjustment is necessary.

The Western Conference

The West continues to enjoy improvements against the PQC just as in the last, 10-game period. For the Game 50-period, the Western PQC has increased to a +.12 over their historical average. Division PQCs' in order from highest to lowest are: Pacific (29.1); Central (28.5); and Northwest (27.5). These combine to sit a +.967 higher than in the East. There is a noticable amount of parity from top to bottom in this Conference. Indeed, the average standings difference between the 8th seed and teams not in a Playoff spot is only –3.86 in the West. This means any solid winning streak against only a three-game skid for the 8th seed pushes a different Western team into a Playoff berth. The PQC improved out West as in the other Conference with nine teams progressing and six teams retreating against the Curve from Game 40 to Game 50. SAN JOSE’s continuing dominance skewing the Western PQC and the intense competition for the 8th seed notwithstanding, OGA's stands by its model in the West as right about on track.

Team Notes:

Who is IN and who is OUT of a Playoff berth in the Conferences?

In the East:

IN: The RANGERS, MONTREAL, BOSTON, PITTSBURGH, WASHINGTON, PHILADELPHIA and NEW JERSEY are all still Chasing Stanley. There is no change to this group from the last report. PITTSBURGH seems to be in less trouble than at the half-way point, but are, according to the current standings, still battling for a Playoff seed with the three teams In The Curve below.

OUT: The ISLANDERS, TAMPA BAY, ATLANTA, OTTAWA and TORONTO are still at Tee Time – eliminated from Playoff contention.

IN THE CURVE: This leaves BUFFALO, FLORIDA and CAROLINA to fight for the one remaining Playoff seed. Of these three teams, and based on their current playing percentages, only FLORIDA stands of chance of qualifying this evaluation period. The issue is they must go 6-0-1 by Game 60 for this to happen. The odds are against it, so look to no further call of IN or OUT in the East by Game 60.

In the West:

IN: SAN JOSE, DETROIT, MINNESOTA, VANCOUVER, CHICAGO and CALGARY are all still Chasing Stanley. There is no change to this group from the half-way mark. While MINNESOTA and VANCOUVER looked to be in trouble, The WILD played In The Curve during this evaluation period, and the CANUCKS opened up the Game 60 evaluation period with three, straight wins.

OUT: ST.LOUIS, NASHVILLE, COLORADO, and LOS ANGLES are at Tee Time. As predicted in the Game 40 report, the AVALANCHE and KINGS are new additions to this category for this rating period. The KINGS could improve their positioning with five-of-eight wins to finish the Game 60 evaluation period and the BLUES would have to be perfect through 24 February. Odds are against both based on current winning percentages. The PREDATORS and AVALANCHE cannot claw their way up and off of Tee Time by Game 60.

IN THE CURVE: ANAHEIM, DALLAS, EDMONTON, COLUMBUS and PHOENIX are scrapping for two remaining Playoff berths. Of these five teams, and based on their current playing percentages, only DALLAS has a chance at Chasing Stanley by Game 60, but they must go 7-0. Of these teams, the COYOTES are the most likely to reach Tee Time at Game 60 as they have to go 4-0-1 to stave off elimination.

Looking Ahead

The Game 50 stretch helped set the current conditions. The Game 51-60 timeframe is an important evaluation period, especially in the West where a minor losing streak could end Playoff hopes for any of five teams. After their Game 60, ANAHEIM, BUFFALO, CAROLINA, DALLAS, and EDMONTON must play above the curve to close out the season or they are in danger of not securing a Playoff seed.

There is still more hockey to play, but OGA’s PQC continues to solidify the picture. Stay logged in to On Goal Analysis to follow the calls…
1. 4.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Time to Celebrate and Give Back

That's right, boys and girls: This weekend is Hockey Weekend Across America! What could be better than a weekend dedicated to spreading the joy that is The Great Game across these 57 states?

From the USA Hockey website, here are the stated objectives of this weekend:

1. To celebrate our game and all involved in the sport throughout the nation using all means possible.
2. Provide opportunities for those who haven't played hockey to try it, resulting ultimately in more people playing our game at all levels.

To help celebrate The Great Game, there's a different theme for each day:

Friday, Feb. 13 - Wear Your Jersey Day - Sponsored by ShopUSAHockey.com

• Show your hockey spirit by wearing your favorite jersey from any level of hockey (youth, high school, college, etc.) to school.

Saturday, Feb. 14 - Bring a Friend to the Rink Day - Sponsored by the NHL

• No matter what the event is (an open skate, a youth game or a professional game) do your best to bring a friend to the rink to introduce them to the sport.

Sunday, Feb. 15 - Celebrate Local Hockey Heroes Day - Sponsored by Liberty Mutual's Responsible Sports

• Honor your favorite coach, timekeeper, official, player, etc., through a special recognition event. Use the day as a fund-raising effort for you association and just plain show the community what hockey has done for them.

For those of you who (like me) are far removed from school, proudly wear your jersey to work tomorrow (my condolences if you're wearing your favorite jersey to the unemployment office). My only question is...home or away? Decisions, decisions...

Saturday, introduce an unenlightened friend to The Great Game. If you're in Phoenix, the Coyotes host the Flames on Valentine's Day, and the All You Can Eat Seats are just $21.30 each. In Nashville, the Predators have a Valentine's Day Special, as do the Flyers. The Kings, Lightning, and Hurricanes have good deals for Saturday, as well. The Minnesota-Ottawa game is just about sold out, and the Blackhawks have some standing room tickets available for their tilt with Dallas.

If you've read this far, you probably love hockey as much as I do, so get with it - Celebrate hockey in America! Wear your jersey on Friday, and take a friend to a game on Saturday. Hockey has enriched our lives immeasurably, and it's time to share the wealth. This weekend, do your part to help grow the Great Game in our Great Land!

P.S. A special thanks to Canada for sharing the Greatest Game on Ice with us. As far as Canadian inventions go, it's even better than the zipper, Pamela Anderson or poutine.

Take me back to On Goal Analysis
1. 4.

Don't Stop The "Eye Of The Tiger"

The London Hockey Concussion Summit just recommended '...fighting... be eliminated from... the game...'. It is difficult to argue with the medical ramifications of concussions which can be produced by fighting...

That said, your opinion depends on your point of view. I personally believe fighting for no reason is pointless. To defend yourself, to stick up for a teammate, for team honor? Those reasons I understand.

Hockey is, well, life. But Hockey is also a sport, and in that regard, entertainment. An undeniable time you know fans are entertained is when a fight ensues. This is expressed when they rise out of their seats in the arena and everything else stops in a room as 'Eye of the Tiger' comes up on the jumbotron speakers when players square off. In some markets, it is THE reason tickets are sold and allows players to earn a living on the ice. Fighting is one integral part of this game that defines its marketability and sets it apart from other sport. And as in life, fights sometimes happen.

So if it is difficult to argue with medical knowledge and fights are sometimes necessary, then a compromise seems to be in order. I say, allow fighting for those times they are needed, but ensure there is penalty so as to make it really worth it. If they must square up, let the fight go until someone is in danger or their is an unfair advantage. Then apply a five-minute major and a game misconduct.

There would then be reasons not to fight in the normal course of a game. First and foremost is because those who do, won't play the rest of the game. Not to mention coaches will not like skating with a short bench on a regular basis.

This penalty for fighting will also possibly morph the role of 'enforcer' into someone who can contribute to scoring and checking more than sometimes is the current case. Venting frustration will have to rest in harder checking and more scoring because they are the best ways to get at an opponent.

But, for times when it is needed, fighting would still be there. Fans would still be entertained and royalties for 'Eye of The Tiger' would still be paid. Don't take away the 'Tiger.' Just provide more protection through raising the fighting penalty.
1. 4.

Monday, February 9, 2009

29 Bullseyes

Twenty-seven of 53 games decided by one goal and a mid-to-late-January five-game losing streak. Tenth place in their Conference with a 51.8% overall winning percentage. Such are the circumstances of last year's Stanley Cup finalists this season. It is not unlike the 'season after' for all finalists since Wayne Gretzky scored his last Stanley Cup series-winning goal in 1988. Only four times in those last 20 seasons has a team encored in the battle for Lord Stanley's Cup. Why is a repeat so difficult?

This is due in part to unit character as expressed in team performance.

There is no denying DETROIT can win. To the tune of 68.3% this season. But subtly on the face of the team are several small indicators of the strain of being Number One. A goalie controversy of sorts except when they are notching one of Ty Conklin's six shutouts... A subtle look of relief that says '...We SHOULD BE winners...' at the end of Overtime or a Shootout instead of '...We ARE champions....' Star Defenseman Nick Lidstrom nursing a nagging injury from last year enroute to potentially his worst statistical year since the Lockout... And a coach saying at season's beginning that his team '...Used to be the hardest working team on the ice....'

And then there is Pittsburgh. A coach maligned and potentially replaced in the press... A team that needs more than just Malkin and Crosby to win on many occasions... An organization that could use 30 goals from a re-signed Hossa and the sandpaper of a Malone and Recchi... And a No. 1 goalie who is good, but not as stellar as the previous season.

Of equal measure, however, is the part where 29 other teams have painted a Bullseye on both. Everyone 'else' wants the two previously best teams in the NHL to know they can play with and beat them. It is a matter of pride and wells up an 'A+' game in a contender who otherwise does not match up talent-wise. DETROIT should have caught a glimpse of it on opening night when they were outscored by TORONTO, a team in a self-acknowledged rebuilding year.

So it will be difficult on both from every team each of them plays throughout the regular season and, when their own 'A' game is not brought to the ice, will cost them victories that, if history is our guide, falls short of a return to battle for The Cup.

Of equal interest is a developing bullseye on BOSTON and SAN JOSE by the rest of the League. Why? Because they are their respective Conference leaders and every other team's yardstick. If they define the best, team pride means opponents HAVE to defeat them. What is different on both of these teams from DETROIT and PITTSBURGH is an unshakable belief that they are winners. Opposite sides of the North American continent ooze the quiet confidence that let's you know the BRUINS and SHARKS come to play and can up their game on the great majority of nights to equal or outmatch their opponent. Their like-minded goal is leaving the ice with that 'W,' plain and simple, and everyone else wants their scalp. This includes each other, because of both team character and 'The Bullseye.' They are why Tuesday's Versus matchup may very well be one of the best games of the regular season.

But that is a subject for another night...
1. 4.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Oh, the Humanity!!!

What I like about history is that it helps put things in perspective. While sitting in the AAC last night (proudly wearing my Rangers Sean Avery t-shirt), I tried to come up with an historical event to help me put the game in perspective. What came to mind was the Hindenburg Disaster. After keeping the game close through two periods, the Rangers suddenly burst into flames, slowly sank to the ice, and collapsed into themselves...a complete, utter disaster. The only positive to come out of it was that, unlike that fateful day in New Jersey, nobody died last night.

The game was, indeed, historic: It was the first time the Stars have hung ten goals on an opponent since they were still the Minnesota North Stars (1992), and the first time the Rangers allowed ten since 1993. The Blueshirts' third period collapse was their worst since...November 1, 2008, when the Maple Leafs scored five third period goals in 5:21 to win, 5-2. Is it mere coincidence that Stephen Valiquette was in goal for that game, too? At this point, all I can say is that I hope so.

In a nutshell, the Rangers were simply terrible. I consider myself fortunate that Stars fans (with the notable exception of Tex Jr.) are generally very polite, so the only taunting I had to endure on my way out of the AAC was from my son (disciplinary action to follow).

If this game doesn't spur action on Glen Sather's part, nothing will. As I said yesterday, they need Avery NOW. At this point, he can only help.

Take me back to On Goal Analysis
1. 4.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Lundqvist Twins say, "Howdy"...on the phone

Brother shoots, brother saves...! We wish....

Stars had 17 shots in the first period and lead 3-1. Rangers get another early in the second.

Stars have to kill off a 5-on-3 and have more scoring chances than NYR late in the second..

Ribeiro gets his second of the night with under 2mins left and the period ends 4-2 Stars and with DAL on the PP to start the third.

Big Tex is wearing Broadway-blue at the AAC in Dallas. At least I have the courtesy to my hometown team to make my 2.5 year old wear the OV-1 sweater when the Caps come to town. Let him take the heat.
Third period on the way. Should be a good one...
1. 4.

Blueshirts Bringing Nasty Back?

I confess: When I read Larry Brooks' column today, I jumped up from my desk and did a "Happy Dance" around my office. Frankly, the thought of Sean Avery returning to the Rangers makes me giddy as a schoolgirl.

The Rangers have a few desperate needs: a proven sniper, a cure for Wade Redden and Dimitri Kalinin, and a heapin' helpin' of sand...grit...jam...whatever you want to call it. Sean Avery will never be confused with a sniper and he's not a defenseman, but he definitely meets the Blueshirts' third need. While I had hoped that Aaron Voros would fill the void left by Avery, he's come up short thus far. Ryan Callahan has sand, but not enough to really spark his team. And this is a team in dire need of a spark.

Not everyone is on board with the idea of Avery returning to New York. In my humble opinion, the New York naysayers, just like the nattering nabobs of negativity in Dallas, just can't handle the truth:

The Rangers want Avery on the ice. They need Avery on the ice. They can't squeeze a decent sniper under the cap without parting with assets they really shouldn't give up, and no GM in his right mind would take Wade Redden and his abomination of a contract, so Sean Avery appears to present the best opportunity to address a critical need this season.

A final thought: When Sean Avery heard the news that he might be returning to the City That Never Sleeps, did this song (or, more specifically, the chorus of this song) immediately come to mind?

Take me back to On Goal Analysis
1. 4.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Navigating the Stars, Part 2

If gauging winning streaks in the NHL, the current two hottest teams are the Dallas Stars (5 straight wins) and the (get ready for this) New York Islanders (4 straight wins).

Obviously, stark differences exist between these two clubs. In particular, one (the Stars) is in a good position to fight for a playoff berth while the other (the Isles) fights for pride and the opportunities for their young players to gain valuable experience and playing time.

The Frozen Pill will watch the NYI as they take to the road (possibly without leading scoring defenseman, Mark Streit who is day-to-day) with some of the player's fathers as they begin their Bonding Experience in FLA and TBL and will report soon on the team's attempt to keep the winning streak alive with surprising and exciting backup goalie, Yann Danis. (is he 3rd string? 4th? does it matter with the way he has been playing of late?)

But today, we conclude the examination of the NHL's 'hot buzz' team, Dallas Stars. Once the distracto-team of the NHL in the first two months of the season (Turco allowing 4 or more goals per game on more occasions than not, Captain Brendan Morrow going down for the season with injury, and the talk-favorite Sloppy Speaking Avery) are now in 6th place in the Western Conference amongst a tight fit of teams jockeying for playoff position.

The Dallas Stars have won their previous 5 games in a row and are set to take on the struggling Avs (14th in the West) tonight in Colorado. This Dallas team is energized and ready to keep the puck rolling. The game tonight is one of the few road games the Stars have in the month of February. After tonight's game, they will return for 4 straight home games, followed by 2 more road ventures in Chicago and Columbus and then return home again for an astounding 6 straight home games.

For the Stars, the playoffs start now. They currently boast a 13-6-4 Home record and now is the time for this team to pick up points and separate themselves from the other 6 teams currently jockeying between 57 and 53 points in the West. And this team believes they can do just that.

While Morrow and Power Play specialist Sergei Zubov are lost for the season, Marty Turco has found his road map back to his former self. Turco is 15-5-3 in his previous 23 games sporting a 2.40 GAA and a .909 save percentage. It should also be no surprise, the return of Jere Lehtinen coincided with the Stars turnaround in play. The fine Finn has shelved 3 Selkes and is a leader on and off the ice with his commitment to team play, conditioning and hard work.

Having Brad Richards finally feeling comfortable in the Stars' system is obviously making a difference as well. But when watching the game tonight in Colorado, watch the way Mike Modano and James Neal are playing with each other. They are constantly looking for each other on the ice and while Modano is a tested veteran and Neal (16 goals so far in the season!) is a rookie, one could be forgiven if they assumed these two gentlemen had spent years together on the ice. With Modano one of the league's best defensive forwards, Neal is comfortable crashing the net and creating space on the ice, looking for rebounds knowing Mikey Mo has his back.

It's simply fun to watch this team right now. And 14 other teams in the West are watching them closely as well.

Take me back to www.ongoalanalysis.com

1. 4.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Steve Mason - With and Without Mono

Last Thursday, Blue Jackets wunderkind goalie Steve Mason was diagnosed with mononucleosis. Furthermore, it was revealed that he's most likely had the infection for 3-4 weeks. Counting back four weeks from last Thursday, we can estimate that the kid dubbed "Stevie Franchise" by his teammates has been playing with mono since around 1 January. Is the illness reflected in his stats? You bet:

5 NOV - 31 DEC: 12-7-1, 1.68 GAA, .938 sv%, 5 Shutouts.

1 JAN - 31 JAN: 7-4-1, 2.67 GAA, .904 sv%, 2 Shutouts.

While Mason's "mono" stats aren't great, several goalies (and coaches) around the league would gladly take them. In fact, his "mono" Goals Against Average of 2.67 is better than the season-long GAA's of Jose Theodore, Miikka Kiprusoff, Ilya Bryzgalov and Marc-Andre Fleury. These stats are made more impressive by the fact that Mason played on back-to-back nights FOUR times in January, and was only pulled once in those games. It may be a bit early to refer to him as "Calder Trophy Winner Steve Mason", but it's safe to say that the trophy is his to lose.

Much has been written about Mason carrying the Blue Jackets while they had so many key players out with injuries. The drama was perhaps even more apparent here at On Goal Analysis, as we watched Columbus dance along the knife-edge of playoff elimination. In spite of illness, in spite of multiple injuries, the Jackets are now In The Curve and fully engaged in a battle for one of the two remaining playoff spots in the West. Get well soon, Stevie Franchise - your team needs you healthy for the final push to secure the first playoff berth in franchise history.

Take me back to On Goal Analysis
1. 4.

Playing The Percentages

Playing the percentages usually means playing it safe in order to produce a desired outcome. You weigh the risks and you take the road with the least potential trouble. Just cruise through life, right?

Not in Hockey. Hockey is about getting in the paint and pushing the puck across the line. The Coolest Game On Earth does have its percentages as well, however. One key average since the Lockout is illustrative of where we are in the standings today…

- The average, post-Lockout winning percentage for teams qualifying for the playoffs is .570.
When measuring teams in 10-game furlongs, teams tend to surge over and dip below the average winning curve (about six wins in 10 games) three times in a season.

In The East, On Goal Analysis (OGA) believes the teams who are on the bubble are BUFFALO, CAROLINA, FLORIDA and PITTSBURGH. The four teams' winning percentages fall out like this prior to games on 2 February:

BUFFALO – .570
FLORIDA – .551

With (as OGA calls it) BOSTON, WASHINGTON, NEW JERSEY, MONTREAL, NY RANGERS, PHILADELPHIA and PITTSBURGH already Chasing Stanley (and acknowledging PITTSBURGH is having issues) – clinching a Playoff berth – BUFFALO and/or FLORIDA seem to be the last two teams that can emerge at the end of the regular season playing onward into April.

In the West, where the waters are much more muddy, the players seem to be ANAHEIM, DALLAS, EDMONTON, COLUMBUS and PHOENIX. Their winning percentages are:

DALLAS – .552

The percentages seem to suggest EDMONTON and DALLAS, followed closely by COLUMBUS, lean toward securing those final Playoff positions. PHOENIX, VANCOUVER and ANAHEIM sit on the verge of either falling away or catching fire and displacing those three should they falter.

With OGA already calling SAN JOSE, DETROIT, CALGARY, CHICAGO, MINNESOTA and VANCOUVER Chasing Stanley (and noting the CANUCKS are in trouble with their .52 winning percentage), there are either two or three seeds available. Most likely picks are EDMONTON or DALLAS fighting over the 6th seed and one of those two and COLUMBUS possibly fighting for the last two slots.

This is why Hockey plays 82 games in a year and it is exciting down to the last few games of the season!

Take me back to www.ongoalanalysis.com