Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Under Halak and Key...

Bad puns aside. Sometimes, I read things online and they’re kinda dumb and I find myself mildly amused. And then I keep reading and the amusement turns to annoyance. And then I keep reading and the annoyance turns to anger. And then I copy-and-paste it and spend my work day writing about it. So, in a way, I’m getting paid to do this. I’ve finally completed my dream to be a professional blogger. I win the internet.

That the St. Louis Blues are in contention in the Western Conference isn't a surprise; five of the six so-called experts in the Puck Daddy staff prognostications had them as a playoff team.

St. Louis clinched? It’s only 12 games in. That's gotta be close the record. You'd figure there'd be some coverage about that. You don’t call yourselves “so-called experts” for nothing.

That the St. Louis Blues are on top of the Western Conference (tied with Los Angeles in points, with a game in-hand) on Nov. 8 is a surprise.

Way to undermine yourself. Good start.

That the Blues have 20 points in 12 games and one regulation defeat has us testing our water supply for hallucinogens, especially now that they're topping power-ranking polls around North America.

Let’s hear it for small sample sizes! That guy comes around pretty often, no? Remember in 03 when Anaheim swept Detroit and then almost won the cup? Or 06 when Edmonton beat Detroit and then almost won the cup? Or 2010 when Montreal went to the conference finals? Should I continue? OK! The 96 Panthers! The 82 Canucks! The 99 Knicks! The Saints ever! Or how about Toronto like 6 days ago when they were awesome? Suddenly, they aren’t?! HOW?!!? Man, anything can happen in this crazy world of professional athletics!

Our disbelief shouldn't be read as a slight to the Blues, even if that's going to inevitably feel like for many St. Louis fans. Like the predictions said: This ain't Cinderella, and not just because David Backes will smash your glass slipper and then feed the shards to Cam Janssen.

Maybe…for…the slipper….he got….$10 off….gift certificate. Fight club.

Also, they aren’t Cinderella and anyone who isn’t a dummy knows this. There were the 9 seed last year and the 6 seed in 09. My guess is that by year’s end, they’ll be in that vicinity again. But who knows?! Cam Janssen eats glass!

But again: One regulation loss in 12 games. For a team that's seventh from the bottom in offense (2.43 goals-for average) and 24th in the league on the power play (11.9 percent).

Then you’re getting really lucky!

Last season, Boston was the 6 seed in the East. 29th in goals for. Think about that. Calgary was tied with St. Louis for the 9-seed in the West. 30th in goals for.

Let’s put it this way:
2009-10 Season:
Teams who were below league average (233 goals) in Goals For: 7 playoff teams
Teams who were below league average in Goals Against: 2 playoff teams (and they were both just worse than league average).

Granted, when your goalies have combined for a 1.38 GAA and a four shutouts ...

Well, right. They play 5-guys-in-the-zone, this-is-the-reason-no-one-watches-hockey hockey. This is the reason they are winning. Yeah, their goalies are playing well, but that’s because St. Louis plays a very defensive style. Look at the shot chart for this game and then compare it to the Edmonton/Chicago game the same night. Absolutely nothing in the middle makes it pretty easy for any goaltender.

My guess is that eventually, teams will find ways to get to the middle on St. Louis and then look out.

Anyway, this next part this really get out of hand.

Here are five reasons the St. Louis Blues are atop the Western Conference this season and keeping even the most caustic Blues fans bowing in humility to the Hockey Gods.

Good system that fits the players and a good amount of luck?

1. Their Ticket Sales Department Is The Ultimate Motivator
As the Blues stake their claim to the conference lead, please recall the team's ticket sales staff put their second-half earnings at stake before the season.

From the Post-Dispatch:
Using a new and unique ticket promotion, the Blues are allowing fans who purchase season tickets for select seats to pay half of the bill now and the other half when the Blues make the 2010-11 playoffs.
What if the Blues don't make the playoffs? You don't pay the other half.
At this rate, the Blues can start passing around the hat by New Year's.

We list this item light-heartedly, but know this: NHL players are usually aware when their teams make a bold marketing statement. No one's saying it's a primary motivator, but it's a good kick in the hockey pants to start a season.

Really?! That’s why? Because of some dumb team promotion? So the reason Matt D’Agostini is already halfway to his career high in goals is because if the team makes the playoffs, the fans who bought very specific season tickets will have to now suddenly pay full price. CRACK THAT WHIP!

2. Jaroslav Halak Is as Good as Allan Walsh Told You He Was

Halak's been every bit the goalie he was in the playoffs last year for the Montreal Canadiens, dispelling any notion that he couldn't replicate that performance in the regular season. In 10 appearances with the Blues this season, The Client has posted an 8-1-1 record with a 1.46 goals-against average, .944 save percentage and three shutouts. He's facing 26.6 shots per game. Ty Conklin(notes), meanwhile, has a 0.96 GAA in two starts and a shutout (over the New York Rangers last night). Much to love between the pipes for the Blues, and much for Walsh to crow about on Twitter.

Sure, Halak’s been great. But the fact that Conklin has also been lights out doesn’t make me think, “Wow, 2 great goalies! What a coinky dink!” it makes me think S.Y.S.T.E.M. because I am a robot programmed to take the human element out of everything.

3. An AHL Coach In His Second Year After an Interim-ship Means Good Things
Davis Payne was retained by the St. Louis Blues after an impressive run as an interim coach last season. Now it appears he's found the right message and system for his team ... much like Bruce Boudreau did in a 108-point season for the Washington Capitals in Year 2, a franchise best. Or Dan Bylsma with the Pittsburgh Penguins, leading them the Cup and then a 101-point season. Or Cory Clouston, who followed his 19-11 interim season with a 94-point campaign the following year with the Ottawa Senators.

Just like Glen Hanlon, Gerard Gallant, and Mike Kitchen who have all tied for the Jack Adams trophy each year since the lockout.

All three of these coaches took over good teams. Pittsburgh was 6 months removed from a trip to the Cup finals, Ottawa less than 2 years, and Hanlon had 6 of his 21 games in 07-08 with Alex Semin on his roster where he posted 1 goal, while Boudreau had him for 57 of 61 (and 25 goals). That team was ready to explode and Boudreau was the benefactor.

Bottom line, as assistant coach Brad Shaw told Chris Botta of FanHouse, is that he's the right kind of Payne for the Blues:
"Davis is preaching a skating style, and it's a system ideally suited to our players' talents," said Shaw, who coaches the defensemen and the Blues' penalty killing units that gave the Rangers next to nothing during a five-minute power play in the third period on Sunday. "Davis is not asking our guys to play a lot one-on-one. We always have support when we're on our game."

So, once, St. Louis killed a penalty against a team who is 15th in the league in PP%. Davis Payne or Toe Blake, WHO KNOWS?!

I will agree that Davis seems to be implementing a system that fits the team’s talents. They don’t have a lot of offensive skill, so they’re playing good defense.

4. The Personnel Fits for Gut-Check Hockey

Oh, no.

While the Blues don't score many goals, they're still scoring enough to win. They have six different players with game-winning goals.

Allow me to parse just how stupid this statement is. After the games on 11/9, of the 19 teams who have at least 6 non-shootout wins, 11 of them have 6 players with a game-winning goal. This is not rarified air. This is what happens when you win games.

When they do score, their defense has made them unbeatable: They're 6-0-1 when leading after two periods, and their goals are evenly distributed: 10 in the first, 8 in the second, 10 in the third thus far this season.

If someone knew a site where I could easily access the ever-important-in-proving-your-point-on-gut-check-hockey-stat Goals Per Period, please introduce us so I can prove with numbers, how dumb it is to use Goals Per Period as any type of indication of anything.

Pizzo and I mixed it up about this team on the radio today, with Pizzo expecting the Blues to come back down to earth and yours truly expecting that offensive players who have yet to get going (like Andy McDonald) will get going.

Sure, Andy McDonald will get going. And then Matt D’Agostini and Carlo Colaiacovo will play hop scotch or kick a puppy or something.

While plus/minus isn't the end-all for stats, there's no denying what it tells you something about the Blues: David Perron and Alex Steen are both a plus-7 up front. Matt D'Agostini is a plus-6. The Blues have two regular players with minus ratings: Brad Winchester and B.J. Crombeen, both just a minus-1. Meanwhile, Jay McClement, of the burgeoning Selke campaign, has been aces:

While your own poop doesn’t taste very good, there’s no denying that eating your own poop will help you determine how good poop tastes.

Winning teams are going to have good numbers in the plus/minus department, especially ones who are 24th in the league in power play percentage. Remember when you mentioned that like 10 lines up?

Their special teams are having a struggle, but their 5-on-5 play has been aces.

A bit of overkill with the “has been aces” term.

Other “has-been aces”:
-Alex Kovalev
-Marty Turco
-Arran Duncan
-the cotton gin
-Dominik Hasek in my pack of NHL Playing Cards from Bicycle (Spades, I think)

From and EJ Hradek (sub. required):

Good teams also have a healthy shot differential. The Blues have that going for them, too. In the first 12 games, they're averaging 33.1 shots per game, while allowing 26.5 shots against. That's nearly seven shots more than their opponents per game. That tells you that they're holding a territorial advantage.
The defense has been remarkable, without anyone needing to play a gargantuan amount of minutes. Erik Johnson (22:25) and Eric Brewer (21:22) are the top pairing, though Johnson's seen time with Barret Jackman (20:07); Jackman's also played with and Alex Pietrangelo (19:35, and a plus-7).

Bottom line: This combination of goaltending, defense, timely scoring and overall grittiness is Brian Burke's wet dream.

Oh, so EJ Hradek did a way better job of explaining why the Blues are winning, but hey the Blues are a cool story, so you farted out this very verbose entry about St. Louis ticket plans and mega-ultra-super-spectacularly-resplendently clutch goal scoring.

5. Finally: It's the Reverse Kovalchuk Curse.

The St. Louis Blues were sniffing around Ilya Kovalchuk at the trade deadline last year but didn't make the aggressive move the New Jersey Devils did. They then refused to meet Kovalchuk's price as a free agent, which is also a claim the Los Angeles Kings can make.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t recall St. Louis EVER being in the talks for potentially signing Kovalchuk over the summer. In fact, quite the opposite. So we’re giving St. Louis credit for something they didn’t even do. Ya know why Obama is the president? Because I didn’t run! You’re welcome, Obama.

The Blues and Kings are atop the Western Conference. Kovalchuk and the New Jersey Devils are in the basement in the East.

It's as simple as that!

(For the record, we don't really believe in a Kovalchuk curse or a reverse Kovalchuk curse. Although it should be noted that the Atlanta Thrashers were willing to pay him before trading him and moving on, and hence are in the middle of the pack with a smidgen of bad juju. You know, in theory.)

I don’t get the “smidgen of bad juju” part. Are you saying that if Atlanta hadn’t TRIED to re-sign Kovalchuk, they’d win the President’s Trophy? Unlikely.

But seriously, the Kovalchuk thing speaks to a greater point: The Blues, like the Kings, didn't make the big-ticket splash that others assumed they'd make in the last few seasons. They've been patient, built from within and did what was necessary to retain their assets until it was time to make a move. (In the Blues' case, for Halak; in the Kings' case ... well, we're still waiting.)

The Kings are doing just fine. They are 0 pts behind and 1 game ahead of St. Louis. They didn’t need to ‘make a big-ticket splash’ because they’ve got a great team already.

This Blues' group has played together as young NHLers and, for some, in the AHL; now that the Tkachuks and Kariyas have moved on, it's their time. That can't be overstated.

What can’t be overstated? That they’ve played together for a while? That old players with declining skill sets are gone and younger, better players are now playing? Yeah, sure, I’ll agree with that. Better players are better than worse players.

The Blues may not still be atop the conference next week. They might be the third best team in their division come the All-Star break. But this start tells us that there's something there for St. Louis, something worth paying attention to now and in the postseason.

Cool, good post. What about all those playoff prognostications? What about 5 reasons they are “bowing in humility to the Hockey Gods”? There are plenty of teams worthy of your attention. If you like close games where the scoring is low and scoring opportunities are scarce, making each goal monumentally important, that’s cool. Personally, I find St. Louis to be insufferably boring to watch and their roster largely uninteresting. (What? No, flashy Euros?)

Because while they may not remain in first place, they aren't going away, either.

Well, they won’t, like, move to Moose Jaw especially because Bob in O’Fallon is tuning in. And they won’t remain in first. Detroit will. Detroit is always in first.


  1. What is this guy's point? Why did he write this?

    * Team A has been winning a lot of games.
    * Teams that win a lot of games usually have certain characteristics.
    * Team A has these characteristics.

    Great. Thanks. So basically, he's saying they didn't get completely lucky and defy all odds every single game. Awesome. It's been 10 games. We'll see where they are after 82. My guess is around the 7th or 8th seed. And in June, when Luongo is standing on his head in Vancouver, they'll be watching on TV in St. Louis.

  2. Hey, girl. I be checkin' out your layout. It's lookin' good, girl.

    Sven, much like how I just complimented a feature of yours, this is how you can approach those chicken-heads by your place of employment. They'll be gobblin' your Pohl in no time.

    In all seriousness, though, I really like the new layout. Great work.

  3. Look who's on a 4 game losing streak...

  4. 0-4-1 in the 5 games since this post, outscored 29-12 in those games. Suddenly St. Louis isn't so great anymore, with their -3 goal differential on the season. Halak's 1.46 GAA, .944 save percentage is now a healthy 2.48, .906. Is this what happens to a small sample size when things go south? I'm afraid so.

    As for Conklin, his amazing .98 GAA in two whole games has gone up to 2.73. Perhaps they shouldn't mention a guy's stats when he's played two games.