Monday, February 22, 2010

Post-Olympic Look

Odd as it may sound, the NHL is back in action next week. With so many NHLers attending the Olympic Games in Vancouver, there is the potential for some players and their respective teams to take a slide, either towards the end of the regular season or in the playoffs. Any team whose goaltender is also his country's starter will be playing more than those who have the break. I'll skip some teams that don't seem like serious playoff contenders.


Let’s face it: If Ryan Miller keeps playing this way, Tim Thomas’s time in Vancouver will be as if he was on a beach in Maui. Chara is conditioned well enough that these extra games, even playing the likes of Russia, should be ok. Of all the Bruins players in need of rest, Partice Beregron is at the very top. Unfortunately for him, he’ll be relied on for key minutes in Vancouver. B


Let’s face it, Bufflao’s changes at a long playoff run rest squarely on Ryan Miller’s shoulders. Seeing 45 shots from Team Canada will most surely be felt and these extra Vancouver games could rob him of some energy come playoff time. C


Jarome Iginla’s game doesn’t suffer from extra games but MIikka Kiprusoff’s does. The up-and-down goalie will have to somehow conserve something in Vancouver in order to give the Flames a chance to even make the playoffs in a tight Western Conference. As with all teams whose starting goalies are also Olympians, extra games do them no good. C


Kane, Toews, Keith and Seabrook are getting tons of ice time for their respective teams. One can wonder how having 4 important pieces to a Cup contender a few games older come the second round and beyond will affect their game. The fact that they’re all young helps. B-


All of the Wings’ Olympians are, to put it bluntly, ageing. Come playoff time, they will be feeling their legs more than young Chicago, Colorado and Vancouver and face an uphill battle to keep up. Of all the Cup Contenders (and being in 10th place in the West, who knows if they even are one anymore), Detroit is hurt the most by these games. D


The only thing worse than having a goalie as an Olympic starter is having physical players as key parts of those teams. Doughty, Brown and Johnson are all integral to LA’s success and each is relied to provide grit and a physical presence to their Country’s team. C


Halak has been standing on his head for Slovakia but you can’t tell what all those shots will mean come April. Also, Markov’s early season injury would probably have been better suited seeing some rest that playing key minutes for a medal contender. C


Callahan throws his body around, Gaborik’s body has been thrown around, Lundqvist stands on his head and Drury looks better with Tam USA than in the NHL. All signs that you could be hurting come playoff time. C


Team USA’s Langenbrunner and Parise and Russia’s Kovalchuk are being counted on for huge amounts of ice time and Martin Broduer finally starts to show his age. Something tells me NJ might be wishing their players declined Olympic invites come the first round of the playoffs. C-


Alfredsson is no longer a young man and probably would have benefitted from some R&R and Volchenkov’s shot-blocking style dictates that he’ll be nursing bumps and bruises all season long. B


Bryzgalov should be a bench warmer, barring some huge change on Team Russia. While it isn’t Pina Coladas on the beach, rest in Vancouver while still practicing with NHLers is a good deal. A-


Sid the Kid, Gonchar, Gino and Brooks are all vital cogs of their nations’ run for gold. They’re logging lots of ice time, drawing other teams’ hardest defenders and seeing a lot of tough hits. Only Malkin gets a rest while playing with Ovechkin and Semin. B-


The team with the most Olympians also has the most to lose come NHL playoff time. Mentally, having Heatley, Thornton and Marleau is the easiest in terms of not having to readjust back to the style of your linemates. But having Nabokov starting for Russia will take its toll on the goalie. C


All of the Canucks vital players are on various Olympic teams and, with Broduer’s stinker of a game against Team USA, Luongo will most likely be between the pipes for the rest of the tournament. These players should fare well with some extra games, but the lack of travel helps those Olympians even more. A-


Alex Ovechkin has come to Vancouver in search of blood. Instead of waiting for defenses to come at him, he’s attacking other teams. Caps fans should be a little concerned that he’s throwing his body around so much, but should also be relieved that any little injuries he may have had seem completely healed. Alex Semin gets to stay out of the thick of the action, dishing to Ovie and Gino. And like Bryzgalov, young Varlamov gets to rest while practicing with NHL talent and is aided even more by getting the opportunity to learn from the great Tretiak. Something tells me this team will have multiple medal winners come back to DC and will be fine, conditioning wise, for a long playoff run. B+

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

It's All In The Wrists

For my money, Alex Semin possesses the hardest, most deceptive wrist shot in the NHL today. Most of the time he shoots off the wrong foot in such a way that the release point completely fools opposing goalies (and shot blocking defenders). He can release the shot in traffic, circling out of either corner, or while simply standing still. He’s even managed to score with the shot while on his knees!

Joe Sakic is renowned for having one of the greatest wrist shots in the game. From his 5’11” frame, he was able to generate immense amounts of torque and snap his wrists in such a way that his wrist shot was as hard as some players’ slap shots. Sakic’s shot was usually a normal, correct foot wrist shot delivered with loads of power.

But in today’s NHL, I honestly can’t find another hockey player to compare Semin’s wrist shot motion to. I had to cross the lines of sport into baseball to find his equal: San Francisco Giants’ pitcher Tim Lincecum. Lincecum has an odd delivery that relies heavily on applying torque to his core and uncoiling to generate arm speed. In an excellent Sports Illustrated piece, his motion is called “an engineering marvel,” a description that fits Semin’s wrist shot perfectly. Lincecum himself says that when he uncoils, “[my arm] is just kind of along for the ride." Like Lincicum, the uncoiling of Semin’s core muscles help generate arm speed for his shot such that Semin’s wrist shot velocity is off the charts without relying heavily on his arm strength.

I’ll use Semin’s 2nd goal against Ottawa as an example.

Semin circles out of the right-side corner with his weight on his left skate, striding forward. His upper body, hips and stick blade are already facing the net.

Semin doesn’t move his hands backward as he moves toward the net, tipping off his shot. Rather, he leaves his hands, stick and puck where they were in the previous frame (use the face-off circle as a reference) and skates past them.

Semin completes his stride, with his weight on his right skate, and has begun to push off with his left skate. His hands and hips are still in the same position they were in the previous frame. As a result, his trunk has already begun to torque in a clockwise direction.

Semin’s hands are STILL in the same position as they were two frames ago. He has completed the stride with the left foot and the torque on his upper body is now very noticeable.

Semin’s hands have moved slightly forward but the twist to his upper body has increased. His left leg has kicked back in order to allow for the increased torque and to begin the shot. Semin’s left leg will act as a counter-balance for the shot.

Semin’s hands have begun to move forward as his leg has begun to kick forward. His hips have opened up slightly to the left, applying additional torque to his core. At this point, Semin’s motion closely resembles that of a trebuchet.

Semin now rises up out of the shot, uncorking his upper body in a counterclockwise motion. His hands have moved closer to his body in order to put more weight into flexing his stick. His left leg has kicked out and to the left to simulate the weight transfer that would occur with a normal (correct leg) wrist shot.

Semin’s upper body continues to uncoil, his hands now moving forward to catch up. His right elbow is now bent to provide support for the flexing of his stick, now very apparent. His left leg continues to kick outward.

The shot is released as Semin’s upper body finally catches up to his hips. His hands are now moving forward and into the shot while his left leg has started to return to the ice. He has snapped his wrists to provide some extra pep to the puck. Notice the Ottawa defender leaning to the left for the shot block. A normal wrist shot would pull Semin’s body such that the shot would go off to the left. This wrist shot allows Semin to keep his body open and shoot short-side.

Semin completes his follow-through towards the net. His top (left) hand has kicked in towards his body to act as a fulcrum for the shot. The puck is already half the distance to the net. Notice the goalie has already begun to drop into the butterfly.

Semin is now through with the shot and is waiting to celebrate watching for a rebound. The release of the shot is so unpredictable that the Ottawa goalie has left his blocker high, thinking the shot is going to that side. Unfortunately for him, the puck can be seen just over his shoulder, to the right, entering the net.

Clearly, Alex Semin’s wrist shot is not his only way to score. His slap shot against Boston’s Tim Thomas from a few years ago, one-foot backhand against Pittsburgh’s Fleury last season and double toe-drag against Philadelphia this season come to mind. But this season, we’ve been witness to a wrist shot that places Semin in a league of his own. Hopefully he's found something with it, as he's used it to score more goals in the last few games before the break. I guess we'll find out in March.