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Showing posts from April, 2007

Celebrating Achievements in Underachievement

As the playoff action really starts to heat up here in the second round, potential Conn Smythe Trophy winners for playoff MVP are already being bandied about. Before we get too carried away with what the weeks ahead might hold, however, let's pause for a moment and consider the candidates for the Anti-Conn Smythe Trophy - dedicated to those prominent players who suited up for the bright lights of playoff action and promptly disappeared from significance. For those top-dollar superstars who are already rounding into mid-summer golfing form, this award is for you. The nominees are... Alexei Yashin, New York Islanders Regular Season : 18 goals, 32 assists +6 Plus/Minus, Salary $7.6 million Playoffs : 5 games, 0 points, 7 shots with 11:45 TOI/game Early in the season, it appeared that Islanders coach Ted Nolan had lit a fire inside the perrenially underperforming Russian center, but by the end of the series with Buffalo, New York fans were treated to the same old story, with Yashin

Red Wings vs. Sharks, Second Round Preview

My final Conference Semifinal preview looks at Detroit vs. San Jose, a clash between squads that have held Cup aspirations all year long. Here's what an interactive analysis of offense vs. defense seems to say about what will happen... For table explanation, scroll down to the bottom of this post. How the Red Wings can score : Despite being Mike Babcock's team, these Red Wings still outshoot their opponents more often than not, a trend that goes back well over a decade. Looking at the mix of those shots, the expected shot-total margin comes almost entirely from 40 feet out, so look for Nick Lidstrom and Mathieu Schneider to fire early and often. Evgeni Nabokov has been solid for the Sharks so far, and he'll need to keep up that effort to hold the Detroit down. How the Sharks can score : The Sharks need to rattle Hasek if they're going to keep up with the potent Red Wing attack, as the Dominator is playing like, well, the Dominator right now. With Detroit also do

Devils vs. Senators, Second Round Preview

We have a classic clash of styles in the New Jersey/Ottawa Eastern Conference Semifinal, between the defense-first Devils and the dynamic Senators. In my humble opinion these matchups make for some of the more entertaining series, but let's see what the numbers tell us about how this will shake out. For table explanation, scroll down to the bottom of this post. How the Devils can score : There's not much outstanding when it comes to the New Jersey offense - they take an average amount of shots, with a pretty typical distribution in terms of short vs. long range, and the execution in terms of scoring percentages is right around average as well. The Ottawa defense isn't likely to shut them down, but the goaltending has been fairly strong as of late posing a challenge to a Devils offense that doesn't want to get stuck playing from behind. How the Senators can score : The Senators will be expected to outshoot the Devils by 2-3 shots per game, which may not sound like

Back in the days of Turk, Baldy, and Boom-Boom...

While pundits are already starting to handicap this year's Conn Smythe Trophy race for playoff MVP, there's a great article over at Legends of Hockey that talks about a truly awesome effort by the Society for International Hockey Research ( SIHR ) to come up with a list of deserving Conn Smythe honorees for Stanley Cup playoffs prior to 1965, when Jean Beliveau won it with Montreal. The most interesting find here is that while currently, Patrick Roy stands alone as the only 3-time winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy, the results of this research also recognized Maple Leaf great Ted Kennedy for his efforts in 1945, 1947, and 1948, which would place him alongside Roy in terms of individual postseason achievement. I didn't have NHL Center Ice back then, so I'll take the SIHR's word for it...

Ducks vs. Canucks, Second Round Preview

I'm guessing there won't be too many people in the Eastern time zone staying up to watch the Western Conference Semifinal between Anaheim and Vancouver all the way through - between the late start times and the dominant goaltending, this series could be an insomniac's salvation for the next couple weeks. Be that as it may, let's see what might happen when you throw these teams together... For table explanation, scroll down to the bottom of this post. How the Ducks can score : The Ducks aren't exactly lighting the scoreboard up these days, and the prospect of facing Robert Luongo doesn't lead one to believe anything's going to change soon. Anaheim does generate a good deal of shots from the 10-19 foot range, where most scoring occurs, but their scoring percentage there is nothing to write home about (.148 vs. a league average of .183). How the Canucks can score : "Shoot it long, and shoot it strong," should be the Canucks motto - Ducks goalt

Sabres vs. Rangers, Second Round Preview

The New York State NHL Finals begin tonight, as the Rangers head up to Buffalo, and it's time to focus our predictive powers on the likely outcome of this series. The Sabres have been the hot team all year and their rabid fan base has been waiting for this time ever since their playoff elimination last year, but the Rangers, while mediocre for much of the regular season, turned things on down the stretch and dispatched the Southeast division champs in an impressive first-round sweep. So what the numbers say about how this one will go? For table explanation, scroll down to the bottom of this post. How the Sabres can score : It seems like Buffalo should get a good number of close-in chances against New York, and the onus will be on Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist to keep things from busting loose. Buffalo is the hottest playoff team remaining in terms of shooting percentage in the prime 10-19 and 20-29 foot ranges, whereas Lundqvist is the hottest goalie at stopping those s

How the West Was (in Round) One

Now that the *yawn* thrilling Stars/Canucks series has concluded, it's time to see how well the Shot Quality-driven predictions made here a couple weeks ago held up. Detroit/Calgary : The expectation was that the Red Wings would outshoot the Flames significantly, but superior goaltending by Miikka Kiprusoff would keep the series close and I had Detroit winning in seven (having it end in the 2nd overtime of Game Six is pretty close, ain't it?). That turned out fairly close to the actual result, although Detroit shut down Calgary's offense (both in terms of shot totals and goals yielded) even more than anticipated. Anaheim/Minnesota : OK, here's the one for the dumpster - I picked the Wild in five games, based on the red-hot goaltending of Nicklas Backstrom . Backstrom pretty much kept up his end of the bargain, keeping the Ducks down to the tune of 2.20 goals per game, but it was the Wild offense that failed to show up. Overall shot totals were expected to be dead-eve

Looking back at Round One in the East

Just before the Conference Quarterfinal series began, I posted some predictions that were based on an application of the Shot Quality metric, basically matching each team's offense with the opposing defense, in terms of shots taken and shooting percentage from various distances. Now it's time to see how well that process worked, and in the days to follow, I'll tweak the process slightly based on the findings here, and post projections for the 2nd round series due to start later this week. So first let's review the Eastern Conference series one-by-one... Buffalo/NY Islanders : While the overall numbers came in lower than expected, the difference between the two teams' Expected Goals values (4.37 - 2.91 = 1.46) came in quite close to the Actual Goals (3.25 - 2.00 = 1.25), resulting in an easy victory for the Sabres. My qualitative hunch was that the Islanders' goaltending wouldn't keep up the pace set late in the season, but they actually did acquit them

Revisiting the Magic 8-Ball

As we pause for breath between the 1st and 2nd round of NHL playoffs (pending Game 7 tonight between Dallas and Vancouver), I wanted to check back on my regular season predictions, and see how things panned out: Division Winners : I went with the NY Rangers (Atlantic), Ottawa Senators (Northeast), Carolina Hurricanes (Southeast), Nashville Predators (Central), Calgary Flames (Northwest), and Anaheim Ducks (Pacific). Yikes, only 1 for 6 there, and the Hurricanes even failed to make the playoffs. Not off to a good start, I guess... Regular Season Awards : While the voting-driven ones obviously aren't in yet, there are others that have been decided... President's Trophy - I went with Carolina (ugh, it went to Buffalo ) Art Ross (overall scoring) - Jaromir Jagr (double-ugh, that went to Sid Crosby ) Maurice Richard (goal scoring) - Jagr again (triple-ugh! Vincent Lecavalier won this) William Jennings (fewest goals against) - I went with Hasek/Osgood in Detroit, but

Game Five Kinda-Live Blogging

It's all on the line tonight for Nashville, so here's some of my scattered thoughts as Game Five proceeds... 1st Period : The Preds come out hitting everything in sight, some of it pretty reckless, and eventually get whistled on a cheap Boarding call to Peter Forsberg (he was side-by-side with a Shark and hit him shoulder-to-shoulder). Apparently Nashville coach Barry Trotz has been reading my posts on the message boards , as he gets Paul Kariya out there for a bit of shorthanded duty. He craftily sneaks PK out there late in the penalty kill, where his speed could potentially catch a defenseman flat-footed and lead to an offensive chance. The Sharks take a 1-0 lead on a great effort by Clowe to tap in a rebound, but by and large things don't look so bad. Tomas Vokoun looks very sharp. During the intermission, Terry Crisp diagrams the exact play I had been thinking about earlier - Alexander Radulov dropped a pass to Shea Weber for a point shot, and Weber buried it straigh

Some perspective for Nashville Predators fans

Heading into tonight's Game Five against San Jose, many Nashville Predators fans are already abandoning hope and speculating on the future of the franchise, whether in terms of players or coaches who should or shouldn't return. For a slightly different take on the situation, head over to On Frozen Blog , where they look at a familiar pattern developing between GM David Poile's Washington Capitals teams of the 1980's, and the Predators of today. It ain't a pretty sight, that's for sure...

And now, the NHL's OTHER regular season awards...

The NHL playoffs are now well underway, and while it's fun to focus on the bad blood, highlight-reel plays and innumerable predictions (including some of my own) which quickly go awry, I thought it's worth taking a moment to reflect on some of the outstanding achievements of the NHL regular season, before it slips all too quickly from our collective attention span. Yes, I'm talking about the leading penalty takers from around the NHL. Back in November I looked at the leaders in various categories from 2005-06, and now it's time to hand out this season's awards, and since we're only a month removed from the film industry's Academy Awards, we'll hand them out Oscar-style ... OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN BOARDING : The nominees are... Steve Bernier, San Jose Sharks (4) Jonathan Cheechoo, San Jose Sharks (4) Ryan Hollweg, NY Rangers (4) And the winner is... Steve Bernier! No, this isn't a case of "it takes one to know one", but amongst

"Wanna buy five copies for my mother..."

Now here's an extra excuse to go hit Starbucks Sunday morning - in the New York Times Sunday Shootout feature , Jeff Z. Klein and Karl-Eric Reif cite some of my previous work looking at the correlation between team hitting and goal-scoring. Oops, I suppose if you follow the link, you won't have the excuse to go buy the paper. Then again, if the NY Times circulation surges this Sunday, perhaps they'll get the message that discussing hockey blogs is the real way to sell newspapers! Come on, people! Who's with me....

A modest proposal for the Nashville Predators

In my humble opinion, part of the business-related challenges that the Nashville Predators have faced this year have resulted from a decidedly lame marketing effort. Billboards around the city show drivers-license style photos of the players which such thrilling phrases as "I live for the save," or "I live for speed." *yawn* It's playoff time, and the Preds need a simpler, more straightforward message not just to energize the sports fans of Nashville, but as a response to their many critics around the hockey world: For the columnists who would rather see them run out of the league For the team officials who go into tirades over perceived slights For all the Canadian media who deride Jordin Tootoo , but celebrated Tie Domi when he played for the Maple Leafs For San Jose coach Ron Wilson, who moaned that " I don't know when he'll [Jonathan Cheechoo] play, hopefully he'll be able to come back this playoff," but started Cheechoo in Game

Happiness is...

...scrambling at the last minute but still landing a babysitter so Mrs. Forechecker and I can attend tonight's Game Two between San Jose and Nashville. Will Cheechoo play? Will the Forsberg/Radulov duo continue to create havoc? Will Barry Trotz put Zidlicky on the ice if the game goes to overtime again? Who knows, but it should be a doozy tonight.

Red Wings vs. Flames, Round One Preview

Two of the most balanced teams in the Western Conference meet up tonight in Game 1 between the Detroit Red Wings and Calgary Flames. Each team has top-notch scorers up front (Jarome Iginla/Pavel Datsyuk), elite defenders along the blue line (Dion Phaneuf/Nicklas Lidstrom) and potentially game-stealing goalies behind them (Miikka Kiprusoff/Dominik Hasek). Up front I'll tell you I think this is the most intriguing matchup in the NHL so far, but here's what my spin on the numbers says about who'll come out on top: For table explanation, scroll down to the bottom of this post. How the Red Wings can score : Overall, the Red Wings (as has usually been the case for the last 15 years) put loads of shots on net, particularly from 40 feet out, which isn't surprising with the likes of Lidstrom and Mathieu Schneider back there. The Flames tend to give up more of those shots as well, so look for the Detroit D to fire away early and often, and bank on Tomas Holmstrom, Kyle Calder

Thrashers vs. Rangers, Round One Preview

It's a new team with some old faces that will square off against the New York Rangers tonight as the Atlanta Thrashers make their playoff debut. So how will the blue hairs do against the blueshirts? Let's see what my angle on the numbers has to say: For table explanation, scroll down to the bottom of this post. How the Thrashers can score : For Atlanta, it's all about execution. Their shooting percentage from close range is excellent, and the Rangers defense is giving up the opportunities, but the goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist has been saving their bacon. The Thrashers have a number of excellent finishers in Hossa, Kovalchuk, Kozlov and Tkachuk, however, and they will push Lundqvist's abilities to the limit. How the Rangers can score : Hockey commentators love to talk about digging hard for the "tough goals" in the playoffs, and for the Rangers, that does indeed seem to be their formula for success. They are generating the most shots from 29 feet in am

Devils vs. Lightning, Round One Preview

The New Jersey Devils/Tampa Bay Lightning matchup would seem to be a very basic clash of styles. New Jersey is what they have been for more than ten years - a solidly deep team that stresses defense and goaltending above all else (only Philadelphia scored fewer goals in the Eastern Conference), whereas Tampa Bay relies on the sensational play from a core group of stars (Lecavalier/St. Louis/Richards) to make things happen. Without further ado, here's my take on how this series shapes up: For table explanation, scroll down to the bottom of this post. How the Devils can score : During the regular season New Jersey didn't even average 2.7 goals per game, so the 3.81 expectation here says as much about the Lightning goaltending than anything else. The quantity of shots their teams won't be the concern (overall shots factor of 1.00 means shot totals should be average for New Jersey), but in the 10-19 and 20-29 foot ranges, the shooting percentage takes a big jump, meaning e

Sabres vs. Islanders, Round One Preview

The New York Islanders made a storybook run just to qualify for the playoffs, but will that happy tale continue as they face off against the President's Trophy -winning Buffalo Sabres? My first-round previews continue with tonight's 1 vs. 8 Eastern Conference tilt... For table explanation, scroll down to the bottom of this post. How the Sabres can score : Buffalo already boasts a top-notch offense, but when you factor in the amount of shots that the Islanders give up as well, that's just throwing gasoline on the fire. In particular, note the "Shots Factor" entries from 29 feet and in. The New York blueline might as well roll out the red carpet and escort opposing forwards into the slot. From 10-19 feet, for example, the Islanders are yielding 45% more shots than average. How the Islanders can score : New York can also take hope in the fact that the Sabres cough up scoring chances as well, particularly in mid-range shots from 20-49 feet. The Islanders are

Ducks vs. Wild, Round One Preview

The Anaheim Ducks energized their fans last summer when they brought Chris Pronger in via trade, and charged out of the gate as the NHL's top team during the first two months of the regular season. Now that the playoffs are here, will they still be able to dominate against a Minnesota Wild team that lurked in the mediocre Northwest, only to make a strong charge down the stretch? Let's see what the numbers can tell us... For table explanation, scroll down to the bottom of this post. How Anaheim can score : Take a good long look at that "Sht % Factor" line, and abandon all hope, Ducks fans. Minnesota's goaltending appears to be the story of this series, choking off scoring opportunities to the point that Anaheim is only expected to score 2.02 goals per game (+0.25 for home games ), easily the lowest mark amongst all of these first-round matchups. The key here will be on the close-in shots, of 19 feet or less. The Ducks should get their share of those shots, but

Canucks vs. Stars, Round One Preview

The skinny on East vs. West in the NHL this year is that the Western Conference has had more defensive-oriented teams, and a perfect example of that trend is found in the Vancouver/Dallas series. Both teams have various strengths and weaknesses, but above all else they have been solid defensive performers all season, whereas few teams in the East can make the same claim. So how do these teams match up? Let's take a look inside the numbers ... For table explanation, scroll down to the bottom of this post. How Vancouver can score : The Canucks don't exactly light things up offensively, and perhaps their best chance at increased offense lies in long-distance shooting. The Dallas goaltending is quite poor on shots outside of 30 feet (note the Sht % Factor well above 1.00 in each case), and when you combine that with relatively good shooting from 40-49 and 50-59 feet for the Canucks, point shots on the power play coupled with effective screening could result in about one goal

Senators vs. Penguins, Round One Preview

Perhaps the most anticipated series in the first round pits the perennial regular season powerhouse Ottawa Senators against the sensational Pittsburgh Penguins, the team that nearly moved out of town, only to wind up in the playoffs instead. The media focus on Sidney Crosby's first postseason will be intense, which perhaps takes some of the pressure off the Senators to finally make good on the promises they've made for the last several years. They've got plenty of star power on both sides, but how will the numbers shake out? For table explanation, scroll down to the bottom of this post. How Ottawa can score : Shots, shots, and more shots seems to be the story here, as Ottawa takes a lot of shots, and the Pens give up a bunch as well, a dangerous combination. Much like the San Jose Sharks , expect the Sens to generate most of their goals from the 10-29 foot range. Although Marc-Andre Fleury's goaltending has been excellent leading into the playoffs (note how Sht % F