Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Not bad, game one.

Nice job out there.

The 2007 Stanley Cup final is underway, and despite an overwhelming sensation of
"I don't give a crap who wins" emotions on my end, the Ducks and Sens put on a pretty good show.

Some thoughts:

1)Ray Emery didn't make "That save."

You know, the save that all goaltenders need to make in the playoffs?

The one that makes your jaw drop, lifts you out of your seat and say "Holy shit, did he get that one!?"

And I'm not saying that you need a game full of them, and I'm not saying either that he played poorly. But from an inspirational perspective, when you factor in his shaky puckhandling, the Senators are not exactly progressing into game two with a ton of confidence that their goaltender is going give them a chance to win if they only put two in the net during regulation. Granted, expecting to win if you only put two in the net in regulation is a bad strategy, but having a guy between the pipes who makes you feel like you can provides quite a boost.

2) For all the talk about speed in the new NHL, it seems to be that the way to generate offense is to finish one's checks. Anaheim got at least one goal by hitting hard on the forecheck and generating turnovers, and another one when a defender couldn't knock Neidermeyer off the puck behind the net. Translation: slowing people down by hitting them is as important as speeding up your own play. If they skate fast, you gotta hit faster. And that's fun to watch.

3) Two of the worst "new rules" in the NHL are limiting the play of goalies outside that parallelegram and expanding the offensive zone.

Emery's shaky giveaway last night, along with Hasek's in the Conference Finals (remember that diving save Lidstrom made?) have shown that as many exciting scoring chances can be created by a goaltender mishandling the puck as are denied by playing it well. The rule that goalies can't go in the corner was created, plain and simple, because Brodeur was good at it. That punishes talent, instead of rewarding skill. How many more chances would the Ducks have if Emery was allowed to play the puck in the corner and gave it away? An interesting question.

This is a hunch, but it really seems to me that there have been a lot fewer clearcut breakaways in the league this season (Hey Forechecker, do they keep stats on this?) When you consider that they legalized the two line pass, this can't have been the intended result, and if you think a shootout is exciting, it pales next to a penalty shot. With less breakaways, there are also fewer chances for penalty shots. What has happened is, by extending the offensive zone, they have made the defender's decision to stay home much easier. Where it used to be that a player like a Kris Draper, PJ Axelsson or Brian Rolston might take a chance at a timing play to knock the puck out of the zone and spring a breakaway, the larger zone means that even if they time it right, there is no guarantee that the puck will leave the zone, and if it doesn't, the momentum it took to make that daring play would almost certainly move them so far out of position that the offensive player can create an easy odd man play down low. So what do defenders do now? Box up. clog up the slot with bodies and block shots, so much so that a new set play in the NHL has been to miss the net intentionally with a point shot, hoping for a lucky carom off the boards. And that's not a skill play, that's knob hockey.

4) Also, for you Canadians out there looking for a friendly bar to catch a hockey game in New York, I had a good time at St. Marks Ale House last night. There were about 30 Senators fans, many wearing colors and even three Ducks fans, which is pretty good for anywhere outside of Anaheim. You could tell that two of them were exceptionally passionate, Southern California hockey fans as they looked up from their chess game several times to chant "USA USA!" I talked to a few Sens fans who were there, and apparently that bar has been a bit of a Canadian playoff hockey hangout since the Oilers made their run last year. I went with my pal Eric, and despite the crappy bar food (we were treated to one carrot and one piece of celery with our tiny wings), the attitude of the fans was fun, with some good cheering, lots of people into the game, and for the first time in my tenure in New York I actually saw a Yankees game get turned off so they could put hockey on. It wasn't in High Definition, mainly because one can't get Versus HD ANYWHERE in New York City, at least that I've found, but why quibble? At least they didn't break it off to show horse racing at any point. According to the fans I talked to, the bar has finally started to realize that they have a potential recurring business with hockey fans, but so far, haven't done much to cater to it. It's turned into a decent hockey bar not so much because the locals did anything to make it so, but mostly because a bunch of desperate Canadians found an empty building with some potential and decided to take it over.

You know, sort of like what happened with the Nashville Predators.


Mike Thompson said...

Your beef with the expanded offensive zone doesn't seem to take into account the increased number of offensive chances because the offense is better able to retain the puck after failed clearing attempts. Watch just about any game from the last two seasons and count the number of keep-in's within two feet of the blue line. All of those chances would have resulted in pulling the O back out of the zone and resetting instead of maintaining offensive pressure.

You're right though, that was a good game. Wish VS would have shown Emery's 'puckhandling' gaff in the 2nd more though. Didn't get a good idea what he really did.

Ritch said...

No- you see, that IS the point.

My beef is not that there aren't increased offensive chances. There are, but they are coming from the high perimeter, where defenses are happy to give up point shots that the goalie can see or they can block.

These increased offensive chances you talk about come at the expense of aggressive clearing plays that lead to breakaways in transition. Since it's harder to make clearing plays, defenses have stopped trying, because they're afraid to get caught.

The larger zone leads to nothing but more perimeter play, which in my mind, is a bad tradeoff when balanced against the excitement of a breakaway or penalty shot.

Mike Thompson said...

I see your point, but I don't agree. I'll take ACTUAL offensive chances, be they perimeter, cycling, or otherwise, generated by continued offensive pressure over the POSSIBILITY of an occasional breakaway or odd-man rush. How many of those aggressive clearing attempts would have resulted in the player-in-transition gaining the red and dumping it in so that he and his tired teammates can make the 'safe' play? I'd venture it'd be more than half.

You're contention that defenses aren't attempting those clears seems odd to me also. I know I saw the Sens attempting to clear the zone during one of the myriad of times the Ducks maintained possession for minutes at a time. When they didn't they tried a controled breakout, that more often than not resulted in Alfie getting pick-pocketed or knocked on his rear and continued offensive pressure from the no-longer-mighty Ducks. Are we talking about different issues?

Still, like I said, I see you point, but maybe growing up in the dead puck era has slanted my viewing of offensive opportunities.

BTW, I find the new salmon headers mildly effeminate (no offense to Jen). I'll still read, but you have a little 'soft-Euro' tang to the posts now... :)

Ritch said...

"I'll take ACTUAL offensive chances, be they perimeter, cycling, or otherwise, generated by continued offensive pressure over the POSSIBILITY of an occasional breakaway or odd-man rush."

Well, that's a matter of taste I suppose. Either way, we're agreeing that the big zone encourages more conservative defense.

It's sort of like arguing that baseball would be better if they moved the fences back 100 feet because more doubles would fall in the gap. You might be right, but I like the possibility of the home run ball, and so do the fans.

In hockey, the home run ball is the breakaway, and it really seems to me that there have been less of them this year.

Are you sure your real name isn't "Joe Thornton?"That dude loves perimeter hockey.

Also, it's supposed to be a red line, is that not clear?


joe said...

definitely does not read as a red line.

colelab said...

I just have to say on a pregame note, that Stephen Stills' singing of the national anthem may have been one of the worst I have ever heard. Did the NHL hear this guy sing before they hired him? Fortanetly the game did not follow suit and was a great battle.

Mike Thompson said...

Yeah, well, I'm a goalie, so that could explain my anti-breakaway stance. Still, it likely does boil down to a matter of taste. I'll take defensive-zone turnovers and Alfie getting pwned twice on one play any day of the week.

Yes, they read as salmon. Kinda like the lighter pixels on Off-wing's site. Salmon. Definately salmon. Definately.

The Forechecker said...

Unfortunately, there's no raw data for breakaways, so the closest we could get would be to check out the number of penalty shots taken season-by-season to see if there's any trend going on. That's a pretty poor proxy, though...