Tuesday, November 30, 2010

This is the kind of article that makes the front page of Sportsnet...

I would love to begin with a catchy introduction that relates to something funny, such as a Scotiabank commercial or farting, but my mind has been reduced to the consistency of cottage cheese after reading today's front page story from Sportsnet. Jim Kelley is a REGULAR writer for Sportsnet, and after piecing together a lovely piece of art such as this article, he is in line for a promotion... perhaps to hockeybuzz or the News Herald blotter. Anyway, let's talk about the Leafs!

It was two years ago Monday that general manager Brian Brurke (sp) introduced himself to hordes of Toronto Maple Leaf fans and almost as many members of the media by stating that the Leafs, as a team, require "proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence. That's how our teams play," he said then.

And that's how they play now. Generally, they hit, they rub you out along the boards, they don't usually back down from a glove in the face and, overall, they are a far cry from the Leafs of recent vintage or at least the years before coach Ron Wilson and, later, Brian Burke arrived.

I might have to disagree with ya there, champ. If you consider playing physically a "far cry" from their style of 2008 and afore, then sure, they have made some great progress. I feel like we're forgetting a few things though... oh! Offense, defense and goaltending? We won't be needing any of that with all the rubbing out we'll be doing! We might have lost another game, but we have three more teeth to add to our Mats Sundin bench doll!

But here's the real rub: Going into Tuesday, the Leafs have played 22 games this season, their supposed go-forward season and have won eight and lost 11.They've banked another three "wins" in overtime.

Progress! I'm sure by "wins", you mean "losses", since they're 8-11-3 thus far. It's okay, we all make that mistake from time to time. Perhaps this is why the Islanders are so "great" (or maybe "terrible" is the word I'm looking for; I get those mixed up, too)~!

If you check the financial pages, I'm sure you'll find a few more wins created under a scam by Enron and monitored by the Bank of MLSE as well as a few goals credited to Phil Kessel left over from a bank for players like Washington's Alex Ovechkin via the likes of Bernie Madoff (150 years in federal prison) and Allen Stanford (indicted in a $ 7-billion Ponzi scheme centered on fraudulent certificates of deposit issued by his offshore bank in the Caribbean). What, you don't have your own bank in Antigua? Check Ovechkin's deposit slip from Sunday night.


What is this article supposed to be about again? These rash assumptions are really plucking my feathers. I may have my own bank, but it only holds all of my Nesquik savings bonds from losing in the first round of Legends of the Hidden Temple every week. We all can't be so fortunate. Can we start talking about hockey now?

By contrast, the Capitals, not off to the greatest start in the history of the NHL, do lead the league in the standings with 25 games played (tied with several and one behind Chicago (26) for most games played going into Monday's schedule, they have 17 wins, six losses (a deserved five more than the Caps) and two overtime losses, one more than the Caps and 19 points, a goodly amount fewer than Washington.

I have (officially (due to this awkward format (displayed above (cited from sportsnet (a Canadian website))))) gone crazy.

Well, we're in the right direction now, but isn't this supposed to be an article discussing the progress (or whatever the hell you may call it) that Brian Burke has made in two years as General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs? So far, we have touched on off-shore banks, rubbing one out, and the Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks. Quit being distracted!

But I did not come here to dazzle you with the incomprehensible NHL standings;

I came to point out that I was around when the then expansion Caps regularly took losses like 14-2, (Dec. 21, 1975 in Buffalo). I believe I was at that game, but it was nearly 35 years ago and if I'm wrong, I'm certain the Caps excellent PR staff will remind me and the rest of the electronic world with a world-wide flashing red tweet.

Oh, right. I forgot about the 1975-76 Washington Capitals that allowed 12,123! goals over 70 games. Give Kolzig a break, man. Rookie goaltenders had it tough in the pre-defense NHL. They actually did let in 394 goals over 80 games that year, though. While I was far off, that is still pretty terrible. I take back any bad things I have written about Jim Kelley and his crooked, half-assed, smut-peddling writing style.

The Caps know losing. They put together losing streaks of 37 games including one that stretched from Oct. 9, 1974 to March 26, 1975 and earned them the title "hapless". There was a run, 13 losses (1981) in late December and most of January and then 12 losses (you can look it up in their media guide if necessary) and home losing streaks of 13 games (once in the spring of 1975) and three winless streaks of seven games (one in the fall of 2007, another in the fall of 1981 and yet another in the Christmas period of 1975-76).

What if Jim Kelley never knew of the Washington Capitals' media guide? History Will Be Made (if necessary).

This is not to rag on the early days of the Caps whose turnaround has been majestic or what truly is a rebuild of the Maple Leaf from the ground up, but while the Leafs keep talking about a grander, quicker plan here, there is a similarity at work. True the Capitals started out with a blank sheet of paper but the Leafs are doing something akin to the same. The two goaltenders seeing action on a regular basis are Burke's goaltenders of recent acquisition, Jonas Gustavsson, the one he turned up in Sweden as a free agent and the one he recently won a Stanley Cup with while in Anaheim, J.S. Gigure.

This article is flowing as smoothly as my last period. Washington walked into the league with a selection of hand-me-downs from Value World dressed in hockey equipment and somehow won eight games in their first year. Toronto has had the tools to become a playoff team every year since the lockout, but have fallen short each year. In 05-06 and 06-07, Toronto missed the 8th seed by no more than three points. They wouldn't finish as close in the 2008 and 2009 seasons, but remained in the playoff race well into March. Last year was the anomaly, as their terrible start kept them from the playoff picture all season. Yet, much like the previous few seasons, they played well towards the end. The ability on their roster is not, nor has it been, the issue. However, they have easily been one of the most inconsistent teams since the lockout.

In your comparison to starting with nothing, I would say Giguere and Gustavsson are a little more stable of a tandem than Ron Low and Michel Belhumeur. Throw Toskala into the argument and I might give your claim some warrant.

On defence, it's virtually all of Burke's recent acquisitions with Keith Aulie, a former fourth-round pick of the Calgary Flames who came over before ever playing an NHL game. Francois Beauchemin, who also came from Anaheim; Carl Gunnerson (sp), a 2007 seventh-round draft pick from Orebro, Sweden, originally drafted by the Leafs; Korbinian Holzer, a Leafs pick in the fourth round of the 2006 draft; holdover Tomas Kaberle, a 1996 draftee; Mike Komisarek, a former first-round pick of the Montreal Canadiens and the seventh pick in 2001 draft whom the Leafs signed as a free agent as well as Brett Lebda, a 28-year-old native of Buffalo Grove, Ill. and a healthy scratch several times this season as he tries to break into the lineup on a regular basis.

Of the seven defensemen that are listed, four of them were acquisitions by Brian Burke. 57.1% = "virtually all"? I learned something new!

Why even mention Korbinian Holzer? He has played two games this season and has been SUCH a stud, hasn't he? Aulie has played six games. Beauchemin could rip a hole through the net with his shot if he ever took off his blindfold. Kaberle is still there, being moderately effective on the powerplay. And of course, All-Star Mike Komisarek. Did the 74-75 Capitals have an All-Star on their team? (I expected the answer to be a resounding "FUCK NO!", but Denis Dupere made the cut. Dupere enjoyed a 20 goal, 35 point season and finished -41, almost identical to Komisarek's stats in 2008-09. My argument has been countered.)

Of course the big acquisition, currently injured, is veteran defenceman Dion Phaneuf, who is expected to anchor the power play and the defence, captain the overall squad and steady the kids, especially the highly-regarded Luke Schenn who was the Leafs’ first-round pick and the fifth player taken overall in the 2008 draft.

If that's not a major rebuild, please explain what is.

How about a defensive squad made up of "Teddy Peckman", Jason Strudwick, Ladislav Smid, Jim Vandermeer, Kurtis Foster, Tom Gilbert and Ryan Whitney? Or how about Mike Mottau, Radek Martinek, Milan Jurcina, Bruno Gervais, Jack Hillen and James Wisniewski? Toronto's situation could be much worse. And don't forget to include Phaneuf and Schenn into Burke's acquisitions (since Burke stole the show by drafting him fifth overall in 2008). Updated representation of "virtually all": 55.5%

Burke tends to build his team from the goal and defence out and having what he thinks are the proper pieces in place for netminding and defence he's starting to work now from the front to the back.

People complain about the speed -- or lack of same -- in the process, but there is a top scoring right winger Phil Kessel (acquired in a controversial trade with Boston) in place. There are some gritty two-way forwards in Colby Armstrong, Kris Versteeg and Clarke MacArthur (all acquired in trades), some tough guys in Colton Orr and Mike Brown and, to a limited degree that should flesh out over time, some offence up front as the kids get more accustomed to their roles and the new talent works its way through the top two, perhaps three, lines.

I forgot about the MacArthur trade: "TOR trades Cap Space to abyss for Clarke MacArthur (FA)". Abyss totally robbed them blind on that one!

Colby Armstrong was a free-agent signing, as well, and an expensive one, at that. I'm sure that there were plenty of teams that were pushing $2.9 million at Armstrong on July 1, but Toronto added that extra spoonful of sugar to the deal. I'm also positive that Colton Orr and Mike Brown will be foundation blocks to this championship tower until they retire with ten cup rings each. They only need Todd Fedoruk and Derek Boogaard and they will be all set!

There's also a decent teaching coach in house in Ron Wilson and though media might not like his approach, he has a history of making his players better. He also has what could develop into a productive, if not exciting, young player in 2010 -- first-round draft pick Nazem Kadri.

Will it take time? Of course it will, especially on the offensive side, but the plan -- if you look at it as a four- or five-year plan (something all teams are loathe to openly commit to) -- it can be done. Look at teams like Ottawa (a just-missed kind of club that two years ago or so had its shot), both an early addition and the current edition of the Capitals and even last season's edition of the Chicago Blackhawks as well as a few others. That's the new normal in a salary-capped world. Still, if the Leafs keep hiding their aversion to the cap, build with as few mistakes as possible, build a scouting system and hockey department extraordinaire (like Detroit) and sell the dream to the current players that they need to keep dreaming the dream and working hard to win and it could, over time, work.

Sure. If they build a team that includes Mike Komisarek and Jeff Finger, trade for overpaid players such as J.S. Giguere and Dion Phaneuf, trade away one or two lottery draft picks, and sign a bunch of players that sing Susan Boyle songs while putting up seven goals a season, it could, over time, work.

There are lots of reasons that a plan like that doesn't work in Toronto, impatience being a primary reason, but it can happen.

It happens almost regularly in Detroit where it could happen again this spring. It happened a year ago in Pittsburgh and it could happen there again this spring. It happened last spring for Chicago and if the Caps right themselves in the post-season it will have a number of GMs rushing for copies of the George McPhee "How I Did It" book which likely would might even include Brian Burke (the NHL being a copycat league and all).

An excerpt from George McPhee's "How I Did It":

Reflecting on the 2010-2011 season and the success it has brought the Washington Capitals, I can attribute the majority of our success to these five main points:

1. Breakout playoff performances from former playoff underachievers such as Mike Green, Alexander Semin, and Tomas Fleischmann.

2. Semyon Varlamov's return to his 2009 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals form.

3. I am not Brian Burke.

4. I am NOT Brian Burke.

5. My organization does not employ the likes of characters such as Mike Brown, Mike Komisarek, Jeff Finger, and Brett Lebda.

None of this has to be a bad thing.

Unless your record winds up at 8-61-3 at season's end. That might be bad. Don't worry though, I'm sure Boston would gladly trade away the first overall pick back to Toronto in sympathy. No team wants to do well as regularly as Detroit, Pittsburgh or Washington, and that includes Detroit, Pittsburgh and Washington! Fuck success!

It will take time, however, a tremendous amount of hard work and a lot of patience. All of which are often in short supply in the Big Smoke, but that doesn't make it impossible, just that much harder.

We'll be able to rub it out if it gets that hard, though. Semin will be everywhere.

If Brian Burke has learned anything in his two years there, it's exactly that.

Happy anniversary big guy.

I feel as though I know nothing more of Brian Burke's rule in Toronto then I did before I read this. Aside from gushing about the incredible Captials of the seventies, he goes on to make a bunch of false statements about Burke's acquisitions. And this gets to be front page material on a (major) Canadian sports news network? We'll never make it to the big time, guys.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Why do people insist on posting these stats?

Flyers/Flames game today...Flyers were up 2-1 after 2. The following graphic appears:


When scoring first:

Leading after 1st period:

Leading after 2nd period:

They're undefeated when leading after the 2nd period so far this year. That's impressive. Impressive to the tune of being tied with 11 other teams that are also undefeated after 2 periods. Included in this list of teams are Carolina, Ottawa, Minnesota, and Dallas, four teams that aren't in the top 8 of their respective conferences right now.

The fact that Philadelphia lost today is pure coincidence: I was going to comment on this anyway. But now that they're 13-1, they're in a group of 11 more teams with one loss when leading after the 2nd period. They have more wins than the rest, and therefore more games that fit the criteria, but still the point remains: even bad teams win most of the time when they're leading after 2/3 of a game that sees an average of 5.68 goals. Last season, there were 24 teams that won at least 80% of games when leading after two periods. Not included in this list of 24 teams was Boston, the second best team in the league in goals against for the season(some would argue that this stat is proof that the team is solid defensively, allowing them to more easily protect a lead).

At the bottom of the graphic today was this bit:

Outscored opponents 58-36 in first 2 periods.

You know what this tells me? This tells me they're good. If you outscore your opponents by 22 goals in a month and a half's worth of games, you're a good team. What do good teams do? They win a lot of games. Ottawa's goal differential is at -17, and they're undefeated when leading after two periods.


Monday, November 22, 2010


Bill Lindsay, during tonight's Penguins/Panthers game:

"The Panthers have veteran guys, NHL guys on pretty much every line."


Friday, November 19, 2010

Who is the real hero?!

I was meandering around online the other day when I came across this. It’s a post from bleacher report about two years ago explaining why Mario Lemieux was better than Wayne Gretzky. I always enjoy a good Gretzky/Lemieux debate; it’s fun to hear what people think, especially when they side with Lemieux. It’s easy to just look at raw stats and conclude that Gretzky was the better player, but there’s more to it than that. Usually when someone sides with Lemieux, they have an interesting opinion behind it.

Here’s the deal. Basically, they point out six reasons why Super Mario was better than The Great One. Let’s see what they think!

6. I'll take Warren Young and Mike Bullard, you can have Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, and Grant Fuhr.

The caliber of teammates that Gretzky enjoyed playing with early in his career vastly attributed to his success. I'm not saying that without Messier, Gretzky wouldn't have won a Hart or an Art Ross Trophy, I'm just saying he might not have won as many.

Hey, there’s no doubt Gretzky had a better team, but they “vastly attributed to his success?” I don’t know about that. I wouldn’t say he had a great team to start his career. He won the Art Ross in his first season in the NHL, playing on a team with players like Dave Lumley, Brett Callighen, Blair MacDonald, Stan Weir, and a 20 year old Messier who had 33 points in 75 games. Perhaps without Messier, he still would have taken home the hardware. Two years later, he put up 212 points, 65 points ahead of second place finisher Mike Bossy. I think he might have still had a shot at the Art Ross that year had Messier not been on the team. He led the league five years in a row after that, finishing 72, 79, 73, 74 and 75 points ahead of second place in those years. AHEAD OF SECOND PLACE. In 1986-87, seven players finished with 100+ points. Six of the seven finished between 100 and 108 points. And then there was Gretzky, who had 183. That’s almost twice as many points as the second highest scorer in the league. But no, you’re right…he wouldn’t have won those Art Ross trophies without the teammates he had.

Close in a tight game, Wayne didn't have to press to get that insurance goal, he could just dump the puck in and watch Grant Fuhr carry the team to victory.

What does that have to do with anything? If we’re comparing stats, that doesn’t help Gretzky’s cause at all. If anything that just proves that his numbers should have been even higher since he played in “shutdown mode” for the last few minutes of every game instead of trying to provide more offense.

5. Five Goals, Five Different Ways

On December 31, 1988, Lemieux became the first (and only) player in NHL history to score a goal in every possible game situation in the same game. Lemieux netted an even strength goal, scored on the power play, scored shorthanded, converted on a penalty shot, and added an empty netter to cap off a five goal, eight point performance.

That’s fantastic. That’s seriously really awesome. It has no place in this debate, but it is a great story. Did you know that on February 18th, 1989, Gretzky posted a 7 point performance (2 goals, 5 assists) against Quebec, while Lemieux was held pointless against the Rangers? That must mean Gretzky was better.

Don’t use single game performances to compare players. Please.

4. Injuries? No Problem

In July, 1990, Lemieux underwent back surgery and was forced to miss 50 games during the 1990-91 season. Despite significant pain, Lemieux was back for the playoffs. Mario scored 44 points (16 goals, 28 assists), leading all scorers in the playoffs, and more importantly, leading the Penguins to their first Stanley Cup.

Ok. So in Lemieux’s 7th season, he had 44 points in 23 playoff games en route to a Stanley Cup Championship. Guess what? In Gretzky’s 7th season, he had 47 points in 18 playoff games en route to a Stanley Cup Championship. Listen, I get your point. He was injured and had to play through his injury. I’m willing to bet he wasn’t in too much pain though, since he finished the regular season, playing 26 games from January 26th on. They finished first place in their division and comfortably made the playoffs, so I’m going to assume they wouldn’t sacrifice the health of their star player for two dozen relatively meaningless regular season games.

The following season, Lemieux played in just 64 games, but still won the Art Ross Trophy with 131 points. Gretzky played in 74 games with the Kings that year, finishing with 121 points. Oh, but he probably was battling a stuffy nose for a good chunk of the winter.

Oh, ok...that’s fair. Compare Mario Lemieux in his prime to Gretzky when he was 31 years old. You know what? I have some foolproof evidence that Alex Ovechkin is better than both of them. Last year Ovechkin managed 50 goals and 109 points, despite missing 10 games due to injury and suspensions. How many points did Gretzky have last year? Zero. Lemieux? Zero. Ovechkin is better than both of them combined!

3. "66" Saves the Pens, Gretzky's Coyotes Watch the Playoffs From Their Couches

Ten Foot Pole vocalist Scott Radinsky was much better than then his replacement, Dennis Jagard. Why? Because Radinsky went on to be a professional baseball player, and Jagard was a measly sound engineer.

The resurgence of the Penguins had nothing to do with number 1 overall picks Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. It was all Super Mario.

2. You Wanna Talk Stats? Here Are Your Stats

Despite playing in 572 fewer games than Gretzky, Lemieux holds the record for the highest career points-per-game average (2.005) and the highest career goals-per-game average (.823). While the title of "greatest" player is debatable, the title of "most productive" player is not.

Despite playing in fewer games, D.J. King had a higher points-per-game average (1.00) in the 2008-09 season than Marian Hossa(0.96). While the title of “greater” player is debatable, the title of “more productive” is not.

Do you even begin to realize how pointless that argument is? The whole reason per-game ratios are useful are to compare players who didn’t play the same amount of games, because otherwise you could just compare points. It’s obvious by using a point-per-game stat in the first place that one player didn’t play as many games as the other, so why even mention that in your argument? And while we’re on that, how is it even a good thing that he played 572 fewer games? Isn’t it more impressive to keep a high level of play over more games, rather than less? Otherwise, you could use a point-per-game stat to argue that D.J. King is better than Marian Hossa.

All of that is assuming your stats are even accurate, which they are not. Gretzky holds the record for points-per-game average at 1.92. Lemieux is second, at 1.88. And Mike Bossy holds the record for goals-per-game average at .76, compared to Lemieux’s .75 GPG. So sure, let’s talk stats, but how about we don’t just make them up and post them as fact. I have no idea where you got your info from, but it’s completely wrong.

The last point touches on Lemieux’s battle with cancer, while still playing at a high level. That’s amazing. Listen, I’m not here to say for sure that Gretzky was better than Lemieux. I am going to say there are a lot of better ways to go about your research than what they have.

Per-game averages, in my opinion tell the true tale of a players' greatness.

I couldn’t agree more. But first you need to learn the correct way to use them to evaluate your statistics. And second, you need to use accurate stats and not just make them up as you go.

I actually compiled some stats in an excel spreadsheet a while back comparing their dominance to the rest of the league, in points per game. This will help to eliminate the difference in league goal production, because let’s face it: the rate of scoring was higher in the 80’s than it was in the 90’s so it’s unfair to compare raw stats from Gretzky’s prime(80’s) to Lemieux’s prime(90’s). It basically judges each player’s dominance by their age, so you can compare their careers . This is because if you compare each actual NHL season, Gretzky was in his prime when Lemieux was just starting, and by the time Lemieux reached his prime, Gretzky was on the south side of 30 years old and on the decline already.

Anyway, this is already way too long, so I’m just going to end this. You can find the spreadsheet here if you’re interested.

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 ESPN.com 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.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Still Picture Time!

From ontheforecheck.com

Three things:

1. "Detroit defenseman overwhelms Preds"

Wow. Pavel Datsyuk is a center. Yes, he is very good defensively, but he's a center.

2. "Datsyuk shows his rare offense"

Datsyuk's point/games played totals the last six seasons:
2009/10: 70pts/80gp
2008/09: 97/81
2007/08: 97/82
2006/07: 87/79
2005/06: 87/75
2003/04: 68/75

3. "Usually a set-up man, Pavel Datsyuk suddenly has turned into quite a goal scorer."

I understand what they mean. He's racks up the assists every year. You know what else he does? He scores a decent chunk of goals. His goal totals the last six seasons: 27, 32, 31, 27, 28, 30. I wouldn't consider that "rare." In fact, only fifteen players have scored more goals than Datsyuk since 2003/04.