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Archive for November, 2009|Monthly archive page

Canadian blueline likely to be West-heavy

In Hockey on November 27, 2009 at 11:03 pm

By Bill Duke

Predicting the constitution of Team Canada’s Olympic roster for the Vancouver games is not exactly a novel idea. In fact, analysts have been doing so for more than a year already.

However, with each passing game it gets a little clearer as to who the front-runners are for positions on what is sure to be one of the best hockey teams ever assembled. Sort of. While none of Canada’s “sure things” have played their way off the team, a few players whose stock bottomed out last season or over the summer have played their way back into serious consideration. The most notable being a pair of offensive forwards in San Jose.

I’m speaking of course of Dany Heatley and Joe Thornton. Following his controversial departure from the nation’s capital, Heatley was thought to be a negative influence and the type of bad personality that could poison the dressing room of Team Canada. Well, after 26 games in California Heatley is not only second in the NHL with 18 goals, but nary a negative thing has been written or uttered about his attitude or demeanor. He has superb chemistry with NHL assist leader Thornton, who himself was left off many projected Team Canada rosters this summer. The duo are playing so well together and possess such offensive skill it would be folly for Stevie Y and the Canadian brass to leave either man off the sqaud. In fact, San Jose very well could (and should) have three forwards in Vancouver as former captain Patrick Marleau is logging major ice time and contributing more than a point per game. How dangerous would a potential second line of Marleau-Thornton-Heatley be?

The real debate as to Canada’s Olympic entry stems from the plethora of capable defencemen vying for one of the six available spots. One has to consider veterans Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger locks, but after that no ommission would be particularly shocking. Jay Bouwmeester is the next best bet, and Dan Boyle has proven to be an all-around player, so they will likely land spots should injury not befall them between now and February.

Were it up to me, the last three spots would go to Duncan Keith, Shea Weber and Mike Green. Why Green? Because he is lethal on the powerplay and unlike Bryan McCabe (who was foolishly included on the Turino roster) he is not a total disaster in his own end. That would mean five of the seven defensive spots would go to Western Conference players. However, a look at the number of just-misses who also play in the West reveals how many top flight defencemen play this side of the Eastern time zone.

Chicago’s Cam Barker and Brent Seabrook still have outside shots to make the team, as do Calgary’s Robyn Regehr and Dion Phaneuf. L.A.’s Drew Doughty would be an inspired choice, but his first Olympic experience may have to wait for Russia. Minnesota’s Brent Burns is a long shot, but he is still making appearance’s on projected rosters every now and again.

So, were it up to me, who would I put on Team Canada? Funny you should ask; I just happent to have my roster attached below (as of Nov. 27).

Forwards:

Dany Heatley – Joe Thornton – Patrick Marleau

Martin St. Louis – Sidney Crosby – Jarome Iginla

Rick Nash – Mike Richards – Corey Perry

Ryan Getzlaf – Jeff Carter – Steven Stamkos

Brenden Morrow

Defencemen:

Scott Niedermayer – Chris Pronger

Dan Boyle – Shea Weber

Jay Bouwmeester – Mike Green

Duncan Keith

Goaltenders:

Martin Brodeur

Roberto Luongo

Marc-Andre Fleury

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The High Glove

In Hockey on November 27, 2009 at 1:06 am

On the 23rd, the Toronto Maple Leafs managed to fire an incredible 61 shots on New York Islanders goaltender Dwayne Roloson, only scoring thrice. Roloson made some excellent saves and was full value for the 1st star he received on the night.

And yet…and yet there was the feeling in the Toronto media that the Leafs made it easy on him. After all, that was not the first time they had outshot their opponents (and by a healthy margin) yet failed to score often enough to win. Less than two weeks previously (the 14th), the Buds outshot the Flames at home 40-22, yet were defeated 5-2.

As the title of this post suggests, this is about the glove. The goalie’s glove, that is. Before we leave Roloson, check out his quick hand at 9:47 of the 3rd period, locating a snap shot by Phil Kessel to keep the game tied at 3.

And then look at each one of the three goals scored by the Islanders off beleagured Leaf goalie Vesa Toskala. Before bowing out “due to a sore groin”, Toskala surrendered 3 goals on 3 shots midway through the second period. Each goal allowed eluded Vesa to his glove side. Generally high to his glove side. He looked like a left fielder forced to play shortstop.

The next day, on Hockey Central, Nick Kypreos stated, point-blank, the Toskala does not have an NHL glove. During the game itself, the home-team announcers speculated that the Isles skaters were given the Toskala scouting report – shoot it to his glove side.

So is it true? Toskala has appeared in 10 games so far this year, and while his next appearance is clouded in doubt (he was placed on the IR after the game, he has already surrendered 35 goals.

Watching Toskala, this amateur scout noted his lack of size relative to the modern goalie as well as his tendency to play deep in his crease (to give himself more reaction time?). So I sat in front of the computer and re-lived the worst moments of the growing Leafs’ season. I replayed all of the goals Vesa has allowed. It was shocking to see how few of them truly seemed like great shots. Maybe 2. In contrast, 10 goals were scored to his glove side, mostly high. This doesn’t count shoot-out goals. Eight more goals were scored off rebounds Toskala directed right at an opposing player. Throw in the cross-crease feed he redirected into the net, we have 19 relatively weak goals.

Here’s the full total:

Nov 23 ’09 NYI @ TOR – 3 – high glove, glove side, high glove
Nov 21 ’09 WSH @ TOR – 1 – stick side
Nov 17 ’09 TOR @ OTT – 3 – glove low, tip in, stick side
Nov 14 ’09 CGY @ TOR – 2 – stick side low, rebound
Nov 13 ’09 TOR @ CHI – 3 – high glove, stick side, tip in
Oct 31 ’09 TOR @ MTL – 4 – deflected pass off himself, rebound, deflection, off goal stick
Oct 12 ’09 TOR @ NYR – 7 – rebound, above head, glove, fivehole on rebound, rebound, high glove, rebound
Oct 10 ’09 PIT @ TOR – 5 – high glove, five hole, rebound, tip, high glove
Oct 03 ’09 TOR @ WSH – 3 – five hole, rebound, breakaway deke
Oct 01 ’09 MTL @ TOR – 4 – down early, stuff low, tip, high glove

Like an old slugger has to cheat to hit sliders, Toskala has been cheating to give himself more reaction time. Unfortunately, this created more room around the crease for opposing skaters to stake goalmouth real estate. Toskala, as is, cannot contribute at the NHL level, definitely not on a regular basis.

And now to speculate on why the Leafs can take so many shots on the other goalie and not score…

In practice, the are shooting on none other than Vesa Toskala (and Jonas Gustavsson, to be fair). When shooting on Vesa in practice, it is taking less to score than it would on other goalies. So they don’t practice picking their spots as much as they might have to otherwise. So when the game arrives, they fire away, and if they are in the vicinity of the net, are not making the goalie overly exert himself to keep the puck out of the net.

In the Israeli army, we said, “Difficult in practice, easy in action” (sounds way better in Hebrew). For the Leafs, it seems to be the reverse. Too easy in practice, nearly impossible in action. The Leafs would be better off releasing Toskala.

Playing the Clock

In Hockey on November 9, 2009 at 3:11 am

When I first begin contemplating statistical analysis in hockey, I was immediately struck by the outdated nature of a number of common stats. Whether it was the nebulous nature of the multiple assist, the deception of the +/- or even in the way we look at team-wide success on the power play and on the penalty kill, it seemed to me that we can, and maybe should, be doing better.

Last year, I developed a rudimentary method for tracking these last figures by opportunity cost in time (slaves to the clock, as we are) instead of raw opportunity, due to the variations in opportunity sizes. At the time, I held myself to tracking the Maple Leafs only. In isolation, it was pretty clear that the Buds had a solid power play, but were rather hopeless when disadvantaged. While interesting in isolation, the Leafs do not play themselves. I understood that to truly measure this stat, I would have to track the entire league. So I did.

As this season proceeded, I undertook to track the special teams activities of all 30 NHL teams. If you have not read the linked article, or my last article, what I am looking at is the average time each team needs on its power play before scoring and the average time between power play goals allowed. This requires measuring, to the second, how long each team spends on their special teams during games. To account for 2-man advantage situations, I have decided to double count the time. Also, while I am noting shorthanded goals, the numbers I am about to publish do not include them.

Let’s start with the power play. It stands to reason that the stronger power plays would require less time, on average, to score. In power play goals per opportunity, as measured in seconds, the leader board is as follows:

1)    Van    337.882
2)    Cal    346.000
3)     Atl    347.600
4)    Phi    349.714
5)    Tor    349.929
6)    NYR    350.929
7)    SJ    372.000
8)    Pho    399.692
9)    Ana    408.800
10)    LA    415.133
11)    Det    448.167
12)    Clm    451.818
13)    Col    460.833
14)    Edm    465.250
15)    Was    479.769
16)    NYI    480.500
17)    Min    514.583
18)    Pit    552.364
19)    Chi    552.667
20)    Dal    579.818
21)    TB    588.778
22)    Buf    612.556
23)    Car    632.555
24)    Mon    668.875
25)    NJ    684.714
26)    Bos     722.667
27)    Ott    740.000
28)    StL    749.667
29)    Fla    767.429
30)    Nas    817.500

The most prolific teams, the Canucks, Flames, Thrashers, Flyers, Maple Leafs (this is pre-Kessel!) and Rangers, need just over 5.5 minutes to score – that means scoring power play goals more than once every three full minor penalties.

The weakest power plays, such as those belonging to forward-starved Bruins, the Senators, Blues, Panthers and Predators, have so-far required more than double the opportunity, needing over 12 minutes each between power play goals.

For every power play, there is an equal and opposite penalty kill. The following chart lists NHL teams in how long they were able to kill penalties before succumbing to the opposition’s power play.

1)    Min    886.167
2)    Ott    808.571
3)    Col    804.500
4)    Chi    773.142
5)    Phi    739.143
6)    NYR    691.333
7)    SJ    613.000
8)    NYI    598.556
9)    Atl    586.750
10)    Pit    563.727
11)    StL    529.800
12)    NJ    526.250
13)    TB    525.222
14)    Car    524.667
15)    Was    515.455
16)    Edm    514.500
17)    Cal    478.000
18)    Clm    468.727
19)    Buf    464.250
20)    Pho    460.333
21)    Van    420.538
22)    Bos     405.900
23)    Nas    402.818
24)    LA    381.429
25)    Dal    379.750
26)    Mon    367.800
27)    Fla    337.154
28)    Det    328.833
29)    Ana    326.056
30)    Tor    284.059

Interesting to note that the worst penalty killing team (Toronto) surrenders power play goals faster than the best team (Vancouver) is at scoring them – 337-284 – while the best penalty killers (Minnesota) take more time between the allowing of power play goals by the opposition than the worst power play (Nashville) requires to score their own – 886-817.

We’ll end this column with one final long table, wherein I’ll list the aggregate special teams. From best to worst. Considering that we would all want our team to score more frequently when up a man than we would be surrending goals when down one, I have simply taken the power play efficiency number and subtracted the penalty killing number. Great special teams units will have negative numbers, and poorly, or poorly balanced teams will have positive numbers, the higher, the more poorly balanced.

1    Phi    -389.429
2    Min    -371.584
3    Col    -343.667
4    NYR    -340.404
5    SJ    -241.000
6    Atl    -239.150
7    Chi    -220.475
8    Cal    -132.000
9    NYI    -118.056
10    Van    -82.656
11    Ott    -68.571
12    Pho    -60.641
13    Edm    -49.250
14    Was    -35.686
15    Clm    -16.909
16    Pit    -11.363
17    LA    33.704
18    TB    63.556
19    Tor    65.870
20    Ana    82.744
21    Car    107.888
22    Det    119.334
23    Buf    148.306
24    NJ    158.464
25    Dal    200.068
26    StL    219.867
27    Mon    301.075
28    Bos    316.767
29    Nas    414.682
30    Fla    430.275

I’ll be back in the next few days to offer some analysis to go along with these numbers, and look at a few trends we should follow as the season builds.