Friday, October 30, 2009

Thoughts on the Game: Atlanta, 10/29

I have a special place in my heart for goalies and goaltending. It takes a special type of person to stand in front of pucks for a living. I played in net for a number of seasons and it still remains a passion of mine, even though I'm not al that good any longer. So it pains me every time a goalie stands on his head for a team, just to watch the team in front of him goof off, take penalties, let up breakaways and just forget how to play defense. Last night's Caps game should have been a 3-0 shutout. Instead, Mike Knuble's empty net goal ends up being the game winner and Varly takes the hit for 3 goals against.

To the notes.

-It's time to stop pooping on Jeff Schultz people. The guy is playing like a top 4 defender this season. His outlet passes, pokechecks, and corner work are all top-notch so far this season. Maybe it does take the super tall guys longer to learn their game.

-It's like watching replays of the same game: Caps get up 3-0 and all of a sudden, Ovie, Semin and Green are attempting risky toe-drags and blind passes, Backstrom is going too deep and isn't able to help on the backcheck, and the defense is letting guys get behind them. I get it, you're an offensive team. I just how you learn that 3-0 is an offensive victory the same as 6-0.

-Zach Bogosian is the Shea Weber of Atlanta. The kid has wheels, a nice phisical presence, and a ton of offensive ability. The more I see these guys, the more I understand why Mike Green didn't win the Norris last season...I'd put Bouwmeester, Weber, Bogosian and Chara above Green right now, and I haven't even seen a lot of other D so far this season.

-For his career, counting the playoffs, Varly's stats look like this: 16-4-3, 2.65 GAA, .913 SV% (counting those 2 OT losses to Pittsburgh in the 'OTL' category). If you drop those stats into this years leaders, he's right in that Lundqvist/Nabokov range (not quite to the Jose Theodore range though).

-Last night looked to me like Forty's best game yet. He seemed calmer and more controlled in his movements than before, his focus was there for 60 minutes (unlike his teammates), and he never gives up on a shot.

-Forty's one save, in the 2nd period I believe, where he came out about 20 feet and took a slap shot to the belly, is the definition of 'cutting down the angle'. People might say 'wow, he was completely out of position'. If you watch the replay, Varly moves out a good 10 feet AFTER the shot is taken and before the puck hits him. Yes, if that had been a pass, there is a wide open net. But Varly knew it wasn't a pass.

-If I were Varly, I'd have walked into the locker room (which was probably a happy one), smashed my stick on the wall (everyone stops, looks, and gets quiet) and said to the room, in my broken English "What the f*** is wrong with you!? In the playoffs, we lose that game 6-2!". Nothing says 'wake up call' more than a quiet, off-the-boat goalie calling you out after a win.

-Kids, take note: Backstrom's saucer passes are what you should be studying. If you can make the pass that broke Ovie for his second goal, you can play in the NHL.

-And I take back my comments about Flash. He had a ton of scoring chances, some solid forechecking, and one shot that would have been a goal if not for a ridiculous save. That line looked solid all night long.

-Still loving Keith Aucoin. Someone said 'backcheck or you're going back to Hershey' and he started backchecking.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

H1N1NHL (and beyond)

With yesterday's news that the Washington Capitals'(and JtG's favorite shot blocker) Quintin Laing has the Swine Flu (H1N1 virus), along with reports from various NHL cities about how the virus is infecting their players, I think it's time to ask the big question: What if this gets serious?

The majority of NHL players these days are in the 18-30 range that seems to be the most affected by this strain of flu. What happens if the majority of a team comes down with the flu and can't field a team? What happens to a Cup contender if its superstar or starting goalie misses a significant amount of time with H1N1 (in Laing's case, he's not allowed near the team until he's sympton free...often weeks in the case of the flu). It may be something the NHL (and likely, every other major professional sports league) will need to address.

The next question is 'What about the Olympics?' There will be various qualification events this fall to determine who makes the cut for the Winter Olympics. I'm almost guaranteeing that one 'favorite' is going to come down with the swine flu and miss his or her qualifier. Will Olympic teams make exceptions in these cases, or is the 'next best' athlete taking that person's place? In the case of hockey, someone is inevitably going to miss the Games because they've contracted the virus. The H1N1 could turn favorites into 'DNQ's and completely throw the Winter Sports scene on it's head.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Thoughts on the Game: Philly, 10/27

Before we begin, I just finished reading On Frozen Blog's article about Kevin 'Killer' Kaminski. Last night, after watching our guys get manhandled again and again, I turned to my fellow season ticket holders and said "We don't have an inforcer. There is no one to stick up for our guys right now." It's true. Bradley was supposed to be the 'New Brashear'; the guy who made you pay for the late/dirty/cheap hits. The Flyers don't need a standard 'enforcer', as they have Carcillo and Hartnell. We do.

-Once again, beating a dead horse here, we can't stop running around in the defensive zone. It all starts with puck posession, and we can never get it. When we do, there isn't a break out happening; it becomes the C-league dump out of the zone. Tom Poti was guilty of this EVERY TIME HE TOUCHED THE PUCK last night.

-Our breakout starts much, much to high. I don't mean the 'D behind the net, center looping past and up the ice' breakout; I mean the 'I have 2 Flyers within 6 feet of me and need to get this out under control' breakout. Our forwards bolt from the zone the second our D gets control of the puck, but our D can't make that pass. The Caps need to shorten their passes getting out of the defensive zone. Period.

-I love Keith Aucoin. I now use his 'built for a 6'2" player' stick. The last few games, he's either not backchecked or made a costly defensive blunder (see: pass to Kovalchuk). Last night, Aucoin backchecked like mad, made hits, had confidence with the puck, and was tenacious on the forecheck. Perfect.

-Speaking of backchecking, Backstrom FINALLY started playing some proactive defense and the chances against dropped dramatically.

-Jose Theodore STOOD ON HIS HEAD. A 4-2 win can be deceiving: we should have lost last night. Badly. The only reason we won was Jose. If he can continue that level of play, he's a Stanley Cup-level goalie.

-How would you feel about getting Theo Fleury for the league minimum? Just a thought.

-I will say it till the day I die: Alex Semin has THE BEST WRIST SHOT I have ever seen. He shot it off the wrong foot, on the 'wrong side' of the ice, with a man on him and he put it top-shelf as hard as I've ever seen a wrist shot. Emery looked broken.

-I missed Q's presence on the PK. We looked confused.

-Why am I not all that excited about getting Flash back?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Job

Ok, for anyone that reads this: I have a job for you. For tonight's game, mark the location of each shot on goal. Take notes on how shots were taken (screens, tips, cross-ice passes, breakaways, odd-mad situations, etc) and which ones went in for whatever game you're watching. Use different colors for each team. I want to try to build a set for different goalies' tendencies. For anything longer than 3/4 ice, just put a generic marker of where it came from. (Click the link to see the large image) Have fun!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Thoughts on the Game: NY Islanders, 10/24

Come from behind win! Awesome comeback! Tons of heart!

Um, what game were we watching again?

-Once again, the defense looks like headless chickens when the puck is in their end. They're proving, game in and game out, that the only way they can get the puck our when there's pressure is to throw it away.

-The Caps are TERRIBLE on faceoffs. TERRIBLE. I forget the stat, but it's something like 30% won in the defensive zone. Ugh.

-I know we dumped on Schultz last season and that he's better than people think. I also know he had a lot of points last week and he deserves an 'I'm sorry' for all the boos he gets. But can we please not turn this into a giant love-fest? His goal was very, very fluky. He's not Chara YET.

-For the first time since I can remember, I don't remember Ovechkin at all from this game. Well, other than hanging onto the crossbar during Aucoin's goal as if he were Stallone in the movie 'Cliffhanger'. Oh, and the slew foot.

-Ovie needs new sticks. Seriously, you'd think that CCM could make sticks that their #1 sponsor/most popular NHL player/superstar could actually use. When he borrowed Semin's Bauers, they didn't break. Just a thought.

-I've been dumping on Mike Green lately. I think his work ethic fluctuates and he acts like being a good hockey player is the same as winning a popularity contest. Oh, and he's stopped hitting. However, if he can somehow keep the fire and drive he showed after the hit to his knee last game, he'll do just fine. Do I think he's a 30 goal/80 point D? No. 15 goals and 60 points? Sure. Sorry I ever doubted you Mike.

-Oh, and I think I figured out Green's problem: His new sticks weren't bright blue! Last game, he had a new Easton stick that was obviously spraypainted the same shade of blue as his old Stealths. I guess if you can trick the mind into THINKING it's the same stick, it'll act like the same stick.

-Tavares is pretty good, but I don't think he's in the same class as the last few #1 overalls. Ovie and Crosby were better players at this stage of their careers.

-This Islanders team reminds me of the Caps a few years ago. Not much going in the wins column, but teams left DC feeling like they'd been beaten up. That's where winning starts. These Islanders will be good again soon.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Thoughts on the Game: Atlanta, 10/23

I'm going to keep writing this stuff, hoping that sooner or later someone might find it and make fun of it like it. If no one does, I may as well be writing this stuff in an email to Scott.

-I think the book is out on the Caps' defensive core. Every close game/late game collapse has been accompanied by a hard forecheck by the opposing team. The defense is quick to panic and throw the puck away. What doesn't help is the Caps' wingers’ tendency to start their breakout at the center red line.

-Not to keep kicking a dead horse, but with the exception of Green, our D is SLOW. They're losing races to pucks in the corners when they should be there 5 steps before the opposition. This is the only reason Atlanta had as much sustained pressure as they did. Teams are taking advantage of it in the 3rd because, if you can believe it, they slow down even more.

-What this team needs is a Jay Bouwmeester-type: great skating ability, a physical presence and decent offensive ability. I say, at the first chance possible, bring John Carlson up. He fits the bill.

-Green isn't off the hook though. Every time it's a close race to a puck, Green tails off or slows down when he smells contact. This is a far cry from the Mike Green that hit everything in sight a few seasons ago. I'm not sure whether he's still wary of his shoulder or what, but if he keeps this up, he's going to get himself injured.

-Last night, Joe Beninati of CSN called Maxim Afinogenov "A Pavel Bure clone". I'll challenge that with "Alexander Semin is a Maxim Afinogenov clone, if Semin lacked heart and a great shot." The problem with both is that they have an on/off switch and choose what type of game they're going to play. Last night, Maxim was 'on' (even thought his PP goal was junk...more on that in a bit).

-If we're comparing effort to switches, Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk long ago flipped their switches to 'on', then promptly rip the switch out and threw it out the window. There is no 'off'.

-Tarik said today that Kovalchuk "has the hardest shot I've ever seen, or better yet, heard". You will hear no argument here. I swear, Warrior must put steel rods in his sticks to keep them from snapping. It sounds like a mortar going off when when he connects on one. Note to Ovie: your sticks break all the time...maybe you should ask Kovy why his don't.

-Secondary scoring? Here's secondary scoring right up your a**!

-On the flip, the Ovechkin/Morrison/Knuble line was dreadful last night. 4 penalties, no points, and while the official scoresheet says the only had 1 giveaway I lost out of the number of turn-overs/bad passes they committed. One of the few times all year we'll be able to say they were the worst line on the ice.

-Giroux and Aucoin were only on the ice for a little over 5 minutes last night. They were on the ice for 2 goals for and a goal against. Aucoin's 'here you go Kovy!' pass clearing attempt up the middle of the slot should have been followed by a bird flipping directed at Varly...the only reason to do it would be if he's mad at Forty.

-Varly played poorly last night. It's hard to say because I love the guy, but it's the truth. Afinogenov's PP goal was on a garbage backhand (not that Q shouldn't have slowed him down off the draw though) and Bogosian's SH goal was under the right pad (again, junk). Both of Kovalchuk's were unstoppable, but they should have been the only goals allowed.

-On the flip side, his effort in the last 5 minutes was why I think he's the goalie of the future for the Caps. He gave his all on every stop, made 3 HUGE stops while shorthanded with 20 seconds left and got his first assist in the NHL. Oh, and Forty has yet to lose a game in regulation in the regular season. If you figure in OT losses from the playoffs, Varly is now 14-4-3 in his young career.

-I've said for years that in the right situation, Eric Fehr is a 30 goal scorer. His shot on the breakaway, and overall game, last night proves that.

-I was happy to read that Bruce thought the ice was bad in ATL. I thought it was obvious on TV. With the type of game we play, do you think teams purposely tear up their ice in an effort to slow us down?

-I'm not even going to mention the horrible goal that opened the flood gates for poor Pavelec.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Gnu Game Recap - 10/21

Because beer league hockey is just as important as the NHL, I'll also try to give recaps of the games I personally play in.

-The 3-0 loss was not representative of the crapfest that was out team game. Ron stood on his head while we continuously left him out to dry.

-Where do the Piranhas find all these fast, skilled, fat guys? Very few players on that team are in good shape, but they still play fast hockey, while throwing their bodies around.

-Ron really does have only one move against breakaways. A little hesitation and a wide angle and you'll be staring at an empty net 9 times out of 10.

-We always seem to put our defensive-minded line on the ice for the start of every PP.

-A certain defenseman had a +4 minute shift that looked aweful Turnover, clearing attempt that didn't make it out, following a player behind the net while someone was wide open in front. That was the first 2.5 minutes. We got called for a penalty and he stayed on the ice for another 1.5 minutes of the PK that looked similar, ending in a goal against. It was clear he was tired, but near the end of the shift, he could be seen carrying the puck up the ice in offensive-minded mode.

-We can't play a roller hockey game. Not enough passing ability, not enough team speed. We're grinders be we can't grind against a team that plays more physical than us.

We're missing something...our most offensive players are our defensemen and no one looks willing to stand in front of the net top put the garbage in. Something needs to change.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Defensive Zone Ratings for Goalies?

During the summer, like many of us, I'm an occasional fan of baseball (occasional because the area's teams only occasionally win). Baseball is renowned for it's statistical analysis of the game (see: Moneyball, SABRmetrics), affecting everything from draft strategy to stolen bases to intentional walks. One of the more recent developments in this statistical analysis are the various Defensive Rating systems.

In the past, attempting to quantify a certain player's defensive ability with respect to his peers was difficult at best: it required that you analyze every defensive chance for every player in every game played. You have to analyze starting position, distance traveled, whether the ball was caught for or turned into an out. In the end you could theoretically say that on a given play, a certain player should or shouldn't have gotten to a ball based on the performance of every one else at his position.

Could something like this work for NHL goalies? I say yes.

You'd have to anaylze every shot on goal on every goalie in the NHL for distance, angle, whether the goalie had to move laterally to react to the puck, whether the goalie was screened, whether the puck was deflected or any subsequent shots or goals resulted from rebounds. Then you'd have to group all shots of similar types together and determine the save percentage for each catergory. Then you could determine which goalies make saves they shouldn't, and which ones let in goals that most of their peers would stop.

This type of analysis would be more beneficial to goalies than a generic Save % number (which doesn't take into account the difficulty of certain saves or a goalie's performance in spite of his defense). It would identify areas for a particular goalie to work on to bring his ability up that that of his peers.

Now all I need is video of every shot on goal in the league...

Monday, October 19, 2009

Thoughts on the Game: Nashville, 10/17

I don’t work on the weekends, so here are my thoughts from last Saturday’s game against Nashville:
-Once again, I was impressed with Quintin Laing and his work ethic. He laid the game’s biggest hit behind the Nashville net in the 3rd and was excellent on the PK. His ice time continues to increase (up to over 17 minutes last game).

-On the flip side, the Aucoin/Fehr/Clark line looked terrible. No offensive pressure and no defensive presence. They were the bottom three in ice time and none of them skated more than 7:15 at even strength (and only Clark added any PP time to that number).

-My wife noted that Fehr was “falling all over himself” and that the last time she saw that much falling by a player, it was in C-league hockey at The Gardens. Yikes.

-Listen, I know I sport a #40 jersey to every home game I can make, but you honestly can’t fault Varly for either goal against on the night. The first goal was a nice drop pass to Shea Webber who, in case you forgot, shot the puck 103.4 mph at last year’s All-Star Game skills competition. From just below the top of the circles, with accuracy to put it just under the crossbar, I dare any NHL goalie to get apiece of it.

-Webber is a VERY underrated player. I, honestly, would put him in the top 5 among NHL defensemen for his all-around skill. Did you notice he took a slap shot on a breakaway in the 1st? He knows how hard he can shoot the puck. He’s really, really good.

-The second goal, from an incredibly poor angle, deflected off Pothier’s shin pad and through Varly. I take the blame away from Varly because had he not reacted to the initial shot/pass, and it hadn’t hit Pothier, it goes through the top of the crease instead of on goal. I guess no one noticed the Predator making his way to the far post for what would have been an easy tap in had Forty not reacted to the puck.

-The last two games, the Caps defense has been pressured in their own end and has had SEVERE problems getting the puck out of the defensive zone. The positioning seems to be there, but the puck is getting stuck in the corners. I’m not sure if it’s a lack of speed (Jurcina, Schultz, Poti and Morisson all look VERY slow this season) or the fact that the wings routinely start the breakout at the center red line but something needs to change.

-The two shorthanded break-aways in the 1st were about as bad as they looked. No far side point man, no real effort to get back. Varly stood his ground on both and it game the team confidence.
-You can tell Semin had a bad game by the following stats: 4 shots on goal, 4 missed shots, 0 take-aways, and 0 turn-overs.

-To the drunk excitable guy who sits in the back of section 412: Please, please, please STOP YELLING AT JEFF SCHULTZ. Telling us all how much he sucks does not make you suck any less.

-Ted: Thank you for stocking dog collars at the merch stands! Our dog has never looked so cool.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Thoughts on the Game: San Jose, 10/15

-In all the warm and fuzzy pieces written about Q at the start of the season, they all call him something like ' shot blocker and PK specialist'. I'd like to add 'hardest forchecker', 'fastest player without the puck', and 'underrated checker' to the list. Q is routinely getting to loose pucks first, tiring down the opposition in the corners and creating turnovers. He's now a defensive specialist/sandpaper guy who happens to block lots of shots, which hopefully will lead to a steady NHL job for years to come. I love this guy more and more.

*(An aside: At the STH Party, I asked Q what type of shinpads he wears. After thinking about it, he answered "Reebok". When Reebok bought the CCM company (which included KOHO and Jofa), they put the RBK logo on everything that was formerly Jofa (which was the preferred shin, elbow and shoulder pad line in hockey). As I wear Jofa shinpads, my response to Q was "Great! I think that means I'm safe then!" If it's good enough for Q, it's good enough for me and probably every other beer-league player out there.)

-A thought on Theodore: his glove never moves. If pucks end up in it, it's because they're shot right at it. Last night's lone goal against went top shelf and the righty catcher just sat there about his pad. Varly gets grief for his glove hand, but it's very fast and gets to pucks. His problem is that when pucks are shot directly at it, they often catch the cuff rather than the webbing. Given the two gloves, I tend to lean towards the one that actually hits, if not necessarily traps, the puck. I just wish his rebound control off that cuff was a little better.

-I'm going to gloat a bit and say "Told you so" about that Ovechkin/Morrison/Knuble line that went out and dominated last night. I kinda called that back in August and actually had reasons other than "it worked for Morrison in Vancouver".

-On the PP, Joe Thornton stood uncontested directly in front of Theodore for what seemed like 10 seconds. A shot anywhere towards the net would have been a fairly easy scoring chance for San Jose, but they were tentative to fire the puck. No idea why.

-Credit to my buddy Stevo (SteveS86 on Twitter), for informing me that the bad ice at Verizon Center last season was due to under-inflated tires on the Zambonis (Olympia Ice Resurfacers for all you sticklers). Soft tires apparently cause the blade to bounce and leave a nice 'wave' in the ice surface. I haven't heard about any problems with the VC ice so far this season (granted, the Wizards have yet to start sucking begin playing yet) so stay tuned.

-The fan celebration at the end of last night's game was similar to the ones after last season's playoff wins. Loud, joyous and heartfelt. The Phone Booth is definitely the place to be these days. I do agree, however, that we're missing some red seats in the joint.

-AAW CRAP! I have Nabokov on my fantasy team. Happily, there goes my week...