Posted on: March 1, 2012 10:40 pm
By: Adam Gretz
Erik Christensen is one of the best shootout participants in the NHL, and the Minnesota Wild probably could have used him on Thursday night in Montreal.
Christensen was a scratch for Minnesota's 5-4 loss -- a game that turned out to be a total gong show -- as the Wild ended up dropping the game in a shootout after overcoming a 4-1 deficit with less than four minutes to play in regulation.
Minnesota didn't score in the shootout, and after David Desharnais gave Montreal a 1-0 lead in the tiebreaking competition, all eyes focussed on Devin Setoguchi, the final shooter for the Wild. He needed to score to keep the game going, and ... well. Let's just say he didn't score.
Is this the worst shootout attempt ever? That's the question some will be asking, and while it's certainly in the discussion, we still have to keep in mind Dennis Wideman, then a member of the St. Louis Blues, and what is perhaps the most comical failed shootout attempt in the history of the event (Watch here).
Also at Eye On Hockey
Video: Emelin hip checks teammate Cole
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Posted on: January 11, 2012 3:06 pm
Edited on: January 12, 2012 1:44 am
Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at what might be the biggest problem with the Minnesota Wild.
By: Adam Gretz
The Minnesota Wild have a problem right now.
After beating the Phoenix Coyotes on December 10, their seventh win in a row, the Wild improved their record to 20-7-3 and owned the best point total in the NHL. They had the look of a sure-fire playoff team and one that was going to end a three-year playoff drought for the franchise.
Of course, that could still end up happening, but it's been all downhill ever since.
In the month that's followed the Wild have won just one game in regulation (a 4-3 win against Edmonton, a team that's been one of the worst in the NHL over the past 20 games), a stretch that's seen them go 2-8-3. The other win came on Tuesday night, a 5-4 shootout win against San Jose after the Wild let a two-goal lead slip away in the final four minutes of regulation. As of Wednesday, the Wild went from the top team in the Western Conference to the No. 7 spot, just three points out of the No. 9 spot, in exactly one month, and their next three games are against Chicago, St. Louis and Philadelphia, which is definitely not an easy stretch.
This recent decline should have been expected (I wasn't ready to buy their fast start earlier this season ... though, I said the same thing about the Rangers and theyr'e still winning. So there's that) and unless something changes in the second half of the season they might have a big struggle ahead of them. Why? Because they are one of the worst puck possession teams in the league, which isn't exactly a good recipe for success in the NHL.
Entering play on Wednesday the Wild were generating the third-fewest shots per game and allowing the most. They're getting outshot by an average of over five shots per game, the worst mark in the league. If this continues it's not going to be a promising development for their playoff chances.
The table below takes a look at the past 10 NHL seasons and the playoff chances for teams when out-shooting, or getting out-shot by, a certain margin over the course of the season.
Most teams finish somewhere between plus-one and minus-one over the course of an 82-game season. It's the teams that separate themselves from the cluster, one way or the other, that either compete for the Stanley Cup (on the positive side) or compete for the top-overall pick in the next summer's draft (on the negative side). It should again be pointed out that Minnesota currently falls into the minus-five (or worse) category (and they are the only team as of Wednesday).
Over the past 10 seasons only one such team has been able to make the playoffs -- the 2001-02 Montreal Canadiens, a No. 8 seed that finished two points ahead of the ninth seeded Washington Capitals. If you remember, that was also the season that Jose Theodore put together one of the best season-long goaltending performances in recent memory by leading the league (by a pretty sizable margin) with a .931 save percentage, an obvious outlier in his career, and taking home the Hart Trophy as the league MVP and the Vezina Trophy as the league's best goaltender.
When the Canadiens faced a similar deficit the following season, and Theodore's level of play regressed back to his normal career levels (a .908 save percentage -- exactly his career average -- instead of .931, a top-15 mark all-time) the Canadiens missed the playoffs and Theodore went from being the next Patrick Roy to just another in the revolving door of mediocrity in the Montreal net. He was eventually traded for David Aebischer in 2006.
Another team that stands out from the above chart, and also happens to be the one team over the past decade that won the Stanley Cup despite being outshot during the season, is the 2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins. It was a tale of two teams that year. They started the season with Michel Therrien behind the bench, playing a very passive, defense-first system. After reaching the Stanley Cup Finals the previous season (losing to the Detroit Red Wings) they found themselves on the outside of the playoff picture in mid-February following a humiliating loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
At that point in the season the Penguins were 27-25-5, and were being crushed in terms of puck possession, getting out-shot by nearly four shots per game. It was then that they made drastic changes to the entire team. Pretty much everything about it, from the coach, to the system, to the make-up of the roster. Therrien was replaced behind the bench by Dan Bylsma, brought up from their American Hockey League team in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and the team instantly started playing a more aggressive brand of hockey with an emphasis on getting to the offensive zone as quickly and often as possible. Along with that, general manager Ray Shero completely overhauled the team's top line by trading for forwards Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin to improve the offense, and added some additional toughness by picking up Craig Adams on waivers.
Almost instantly they completely flipped the script on their season, and went from being a team that was getting out-shot by nearly four shots per night with a .500 record, to a team that was now out-shooting its opponents by four shots and finishing with an 18-3-4 record. That level of play continued through the playoffs, all the way through their Stanley Cup Finals rematch with Detroit, ending with a Pittsburgh win in seven games.
The ability to create shots (and prevent shots) is a reflection of skill, talent and strategy (coaching), which is why the teams that are the best at controlling the puck are the ones that tend to win the most games and have the best chance at winning it all. Looking at the Wild and there just doesn't seem to be enough players to create chances offensively, and the defense isn't anything great. They've been relying on their two outstanding goalies, Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding, and while they've had excellent seasons they can only mask Minnesota's flaws for so long.
Can they still make the playoffs this season? Sure, anything can happen. Maybe they continue to get a '01-02 Jose Theodore-type season from their goaltenders (because at this rate that's probably what they're going to need), or maybe something drastically changes in the second half of the season that allows the team to generate more offense and spend more time in the other end of the ice. But if things keep going like they have been, the odds could be stacked against them.
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Posted on: January 11, 2012 10:54 am
Edited on: January 11, 2012 2:16 pm
The Minnesota Wild and San Jose Sharks built up quite a relationship this offseason. They made a couple of trades, big ones too. In separate deals the Wild acquired both Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi from the Sharks while giving up Martin Havlat and Brent Burns.
Tuesday was the first time that the former Wild players had the chance to go back to Minnesota for a game, a chance to show the fine folks of St. Paul how the trades have worked out for both sides. Only problem was Setoguchi wasn't playing for the Wild, and not because of injury but instead he was a healthy scratch.
Why would the struggling Wild willingly put Setoguchi in the press box for a night, particularly against his former team? Michael Russo at the Minneapolis Star Tribune has an idea:
On a night when the Wild was already without second-liners Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Guillaume Latendresse, Yeo made the gutsy decision to scratch Devin Setoguchi for what he called a violation of a team rule. Multiple sources tell me Setoguchi missed a team meeting this morning the night after going out with a bunch of his Shark buds.
Cavorting with the enemy before the game and missing the team meeting (presumably) as a result? I think most would agree that's grounds for something.
Personally, though, I'm surprised this doesn't happen more often. Any time you hear players who are retiring or who recently retired, what do they always talk about missing? Not the game itself, but the guys they played with, being on a team. Of course a lot of these guys develop great friendships, they spend so much time together and pour their hearts into a common goal.
Maybe I'm not old school enough (or is it a case of being too old school?) but I don't have much of a problem at all with Setoguchi hanging out with his former teammates when they visit town. I like my athletes to be real, not be made from the steel, as one of my favorites Ilya Bryzgalov would say. I hate when players are held to this higher, robotic standard in the guise of professionalism.
As long as he isn't giving away secrets of the Church of Yeo or doing anything stupid to put himself in trouble, it doesn't bother me much. Key word being much. I can live with that.
Obviously where he runs afoul of the rules in anybody's book is missing the team meeting. Setoguchi wasn't the first nor will he be the last to be scratched for that. Remember Bruins forward Tyler Seguin and his really bad excuse for missing a meeting in Winnipeg because his clock was still on Boston time (do the time zone conversion to see why it's bad)? That earned him a scratch.
That's what got Setoguchi a seat in the press box here, too. You can't miss team meetings.
The good news for him is that coach Mike Yeo says the slate starts clean on Wednesday.
I'll put it to you: Is hanging with the enemies before a game an absolute no-go?
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: December 24, 2011 12:38 pm
Edited on: December 25, 2011 4:33 pm
There was a lot of good in 2011, but also a lot of bad. By bad, I really mean tragedy. It was an unforgettable yet forgettable year all at the same time.
As we hit the heart of the holiday season, here is a look back at the year that was in hockey with the top 10 moments/storylines of 2011.
10. Summer acquisitions -- This is when the magic happens in the NHL's salary cap world and franchises are made or destroyed.
It was over the summer that two teams in particular built the nucleus for their surprising starts this season, the Minnesota Wild and Florida Panthers. Minnesota was the host for this year's NHL Entry Draft and really did leave an impression. Not only did they come away from the draft with a few new prospects in their system but they also swung a deal to land Devin Setoguchi from the San Jose Sharks for Brent Burns. The Wild swung another deal with the Sharks that landed them Dany Heatley for Martin Havlat. Of course their biggest summer acquisition might have been the hiring of head coach Mike Yeo.
The Panthers meanwhile continued to use the draft to make their system better and also swung a big trade, taking on Brian Campbell's big salary from the Blackhawks in exchange for Rostislav Olesz. That kicked off a wild spending spree that lasted through free agency and the core of the team that's in first in the Southeast was built just like that. Like the Wild, they also found themselves a new coach who has returned big dividends early in Kevin Dineen.
The unrestricted free-agent class was led by the pursuit of Brad Richards, who eventually signed with the New York Rangers after a day of courting, including from the Maple Leafs while GM Brian Burke was in Afghanistan. But the most intrigue was on the restricted front where Steven Stamkos' future was wildly speculated before re-signing with the Lightning and Shea Weber stayed with the Predators after the biggest arbitration award ever.
A couple weeks in the middle of the year set up the last couple of months in the year and even with what was perceived as a weak free-agent class, this year was no different.
Look back: Free-agency tracker
9. Winter Classic -- As sad as it is to think about, games hardly ever are the top stories in sports any more. But in hockey, the Winter Classic will always matter, it's that big of a showcase and spectacle for the NHL.
As is the case with every Winter Classic -- as fans of all the less-fortunate teams will remind you -- it was a marquee matchup of two high-profile teams from the East with the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins. The Caps eventually prevailed in a game that might be the most memorable Winter Classic thus far for a variety of reasons, one of them makes an appearance later on this list.
But first of all the lead up to the game featured the first 24/7: Road to the Winter Classic series on HBO and it was riveting. While technically most of it aired in 2010, it is tied in with the Winter Classic so it counts. It left fans anticipating the next version like a kid awaits Christmas, this year's version featuring the Flyers and Rangers.
Mother Nature also left her mark on the game. It was the first Winter Classic thus far that the weather was so uncooperative that they had to delay the start of the game. Unseasonably warm temperatures and rain in Pittsburgh led to the game being pushed to the night and it did provide a pretty memorable setting at Heinz Field.
Look back: Caps win Winter Classic 3-1
8. Realignment -- While the fruit of this labor will be seen starting in 2012, it was a large conversation for the entire second half of the year, spurred by a development that appears further up this list.
I don't know if there was a person in hockey -- both within the game and covering it -- that didn't have their own idea for how the realignment should be done. In the end the six-division format was blown up, an effort that was from all accounts led by Gary Bettman himself.
The biggest drama in the whole saga revolved around the Detroit Red Wings' desire to move to the Eastern Conference. Well, without an Eastern Conference to move to any more, I guess you could say that was taken care of.
Look back: NHL announces realignment
7. Lokomotiv plane crash -- The KHL is to the NHL as the NHL is to ESPN. That is to say the only time we ever seem to hear about the KHL is when something bad happens.
Unfortunately, that was the case this summer when the airplane carrying the KHL's Yaroslavl Lokomotiv team barely got airborne before it crashed, killing everybody on board except a member of the flight crew.
The tragedy was already tough enough for the hockey community in North America simply for the fact sheer sadness of the lethal error. But what made it really hit home in the NHL was the number of former NHL players who died in the crash.
Among those who died in the crash were Josef Vasicek, Karlis Skrastins, Ruslan Salei, Pavol Demitra and head coach Brad McCrimmon, all of who were in the NHL at some point in their careers. In the case of McCrimmon he was a member of the Detroit Red Wings coaching staff as recently as last season before he took the chance to be a head coach in Russia.
Nothing from the ordeal was more chilling than the sad, sad story from a professional driver in Dallas who was tasked with picking up the family of Skrastins to drive them to the airport hours after the tragedy. Honestly, I'm getting emotional just thinking about it again. It was truly a horrible day for hockey.
Look back: Lokomovit team plane crashes
6. Vancouver riot -- For the second time in as many Stanley Cup trips for the Vancouver Canucks, the hockey-crazed city erupted into a violent storm following its team's loss in the decisive Game 7. A similar eruption happened in 1994 after the Canucks fell to the New York Rangers.
The night began with a massive gathering in the streets of Vancouver for the fans to all watch the game together on a big screen. Many saw that as an ill-fated moment from the start and boy were they right. Soon after the game and season were finished, the hooligans of Vancouver were just getting started.
Looters took to the streets to cause mayhem, and cause mayhem they did. The result was a night full of rioting embarrassing to the city, a lot of videos to live on in YouTube glory (like this classic), at least 25 people being charged (including Miss Congeniality) and the romance, sports and maybe general photo of the year, the "riot kiss" seen up above.
The unfortunate part (OK, one of them) was the fact that the riot completely overshadowed what was really a great postseason and season for the Canucks. Vancouver was the best team all regular season long and as fine of a year as they ever have.
Look back: Riot erupts after Stanley Cup Finals
5. Brendan Shanahan takes over -- There has been no bigger overarching story in the second half of the year than what Shanahan has been doing as the new head of player safety having replaced Colin Campbell. His arrival on the job has coincided with the attempt to expand and clarify Rule 48.1, the one dealing with headshots. The focus has also been ramped up on boarding.
His impact has been felt from the get-go. In the preseason he was very busy and then really sent some shock waves through the league when he suspended Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski for eight games.
It's at the point now that every questionable hit is immediately scrutinized and I'm still not sure if that's good or bad. Obviously the good is that it continues to put a microscope on bad hits in an attempt to rid the game of them. On the bad side, some clean hits get more attention than they should and the consistency of punishment applications has been a bit bedeviling, just ask the Sabres fans.
However Shanahan has done something that I've yet to find a person complain about and that's making videos for each and every suspension wherein he explains exactly what the thought process was that led to the decision. The first one he made in the preseason was a breath of fresh air and welcome transparency. All season he's been a busy, busy man.
You know you've watched a lot of Shanahan suspension videos when you can recall that he has done videos in front of three different backdrops and you can tell when he gets a haircut.
Look back: A look at Shanahan's handy work
4. Winnipeg Jets return -- At one point, it looked like the old Jets -- the Phoenix Coyotes -- were going to be the team to move to Winnipeg. Fans were elated as it seemed that with a clear potential ownership group and new, albeit small, arena, the NHL would be coming back to the 'Peg after 15 years.
Then they pulled a little switcheroo on everybody when the Coyotes announced they were staying in Phoenix for another year, so attention turned to the Atlanta Thrashers. A few transactions later and hockey was back in Manitoba (and the NHL had to realign -- Winnipeg in the Southeast?).
The push was one to rename the team the Jets like the old franchise in town and after much debate, the fans won out, although a new logo would be introduced. Not lacking in flair, the Jets showed off their new uniforms in an unveiling at a military base with the players wearing the new duds walking out of a cargo plane.
The first game of the Jets. 2.0 came in their new home at the MTS Centre and they fell in defeat to the Montreal Canadiens, but you couldn't tell. The great hockey city that is Winnipeg was happier than a pig in you-know-what just to have the NHL back. When Nik Antropov became the first player to score for the new Jets, the roar was deafening. Maybe the best way to measure the city's appreciation and love for having hockey back would have been with decibels.
After a slow start (again, they were the Thrashers) the Jets have really come to find a comfort on home ice, as many thought they would. With a 12-6-1 record at home this season, the Jets have the best home mark in the Eastern Conference next to Boston's 13-6-1. It seems that a little excitement really can go a long way.
Look back: Thrashers relocate to Winnipeg
3. Sidney Crosby's concussions -- This was the biggest development to come out of the aforementioned Winter Classic in Pittsburgh. Sidney Crosby caught an elbow to the head from the Capitals' David Steckel that rocked the game's best player pretty good. He certainly appeared out of sorts but was back in the lineup a few days later against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
A check from Victor Hedman led to Crosby experiencing another concussion and he didn't play again for the rest of the season. He finally did return to game action in November, playing eight games before being shut down again for post-concussion symptoms.
Before he went down, Crosby was on pace for one mammoth season. To illustrate how good he was playing before the injury, he still finished the season as the Penguins' leading scorer by a whopping 16 points despite playing only 41 games.
For literally almost a year, the hockey world sat and waited for word on Crosby returning. There was speculation he could come back for the Penguins' playoffs games. There was talk that he might retire. None of that happened, but what did do was bring another reminder of the seriousness that are concussions.
It's not good business for the NHL when the top players aren't on the ice, let alone the best player. I'd like to think it isn't the case, but you have to wonder if Crosby's absence didn't go a long way in facilitating the NHL's actions on trying to remove bad hits as well as enacting strong concussion protocols.
The way the Penguins have handled the Crosby situation has been one of the best parts of all -- or maybe the only good part, depending on your point of view. They have been incredibly patient the entire time, insisting they didn't want to do anything to jeopardize Crosby's health and future.
But because of his most recent setback, Crosby Watch 2011 will move on into Crosby Watch 2012.
Look back: Crosby's recovery efforts
2. Deaths of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, Wade Belak -- The NHL's summer of sorrow began in late spring when the tragic news came down of New York Rangers and former Minnesota Wild enforcer Derek Boogaard's death. The autopsy concluded he died of a lethal mix of alcohol and Oxycodone.
Later in the offseason the NHL was then shook by the news of deaths of Rick Rypien and Wade Belak, separated by only two weeks. Both players were fighters themselves, each suffered from depression and both apparently committed suicide (Rypien's was classified as such, Belak's death treated as such by Toronto PD).
The news of their deaths was sad and shocking in their own right. These were all players 35 or younger who all shared a role in their hockey careers. It was also a catalyst for the discussion of fighting in hockey. No tie can be drawn between each of their deaths and fighting, but it at least begged the question.
Since the three players died, the conversation has picked up. It was really spurred along by the New York Times' in-depth piece that looked at the life of Boogaard and the study of his brain. The findings of the Boston University lab found Boogaard's brain was already showing signs of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a deterioration of the brain due to repeated blows to the head.
Thomas pretty much put the Bruins on his shoulders and carried them past the Vancouver Canucks in a great seven-game series that led to the Bruins hoisting their first Stanley Cup in 39 years. Of course Thomas topped it off with a shutout in Game 7 and took home the Conn Smythe as the playoff MVP, an incredibly well-deserved award.
But in addition to Thomas, it was one heck of a series. The first six games were won by the home team. We had one game ending a few seconds into overtime. Who can forget the man that scored that goal, Alex Burrows, was caught biting Patrice Bergeron in a scrum and the resulting taunts at Burrows from the Bruins later on.
There was Nathan Horton getting leveled and concussed in Boston in a moment that some feel changed the series. The Bruins responded to that by running the Canucks out of their building in Games 3 and 4. Horton made another impression when he was seen pouring TD Garden ice on the rink in Vancouver before Game 7, a superstitious move that will live in Bruins lore.
The series was about as memorable as it gets. The ratings were as good as they have been in decades, too. And the Bruins' post-championship romp back in New England became a legend with a reported $156,679.74 bar tab that included one Amstel Light. It kicked off a great summer tour with the Cup for the Bruins, Michael Ryder's Cup mishap included.
There is no disputing the Bruins earned the right to lift Lord Stanley's Cup after one great Final.
Look back: Bruins win Stanley Cup
Photo: Getty Images
Tags: 2011 Review, Alex Burrows, Atlanta Thrashers, Boston Bruins, Brad McCrimmon, Brad Richards, Brendan Shanahan, Brent Burns, Brian Burke, Brian Campbell, Brian Stubits, Chicago Blackhawks, Colin Campbell, Columbus Blue Jackets, Concussions, Dany Heatley, David Steckel, Derek Boogaard, Detroit Red Wings, Devin Setoguchi, Florida Panthers, James Wisniewski, Josef Vasicek, Karlis Skrastins, Kevin Dineen, Martin Havlat, Michael Ryder, Mike Yeo, Minesota Wild, Nashville Predators, Nathan Horton, New York Rangers, Patrice Bergeron, Pavol Demitra, Phoenix Coyotes, Pittsburgh Penguins, Realignment, Relocation, Rick Rypien, Roberto Luongo, Rostislav Olesz, Ruslan Salei, San Jose Sharks, Shanaban, Shea Weber, Sidney Crosby, Stanley Cup, Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning, Tim Thomas, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks, Vancouver Riot, Victor Hedman, Wade Belak, Washington Capitals, Winnipeg Jets, Yaroslavl Lokomotiv
Posted on: December 7, 2011 10:21 am
Somehow, the Minnesota Wild keep on winning. Outshot by the San Jose Sharks 42-21 in San Jose? No problem, Mike Yeo's team leaves the Bay Area with a 2-1 win. Losing a couple more key players to injury? We'll see if they can overcome that, too.
While they came out with the two points against the Sharks on Tuesday night, they didn't make it out of the Tank with two healthy goalies or a ready-to-go Devin Setoguchi. First on the former Shark, Setoguchi, from Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
If it's as bad as Russo thinks it might be, it's a tough blow for the Wild, who are still hanging strong atop the NHL standings. Setoguchi was acquired in one of a handful of trades this offseason between the Wild and Sharks. On the season thus far he has eight goals and five assists for Minnesota.
Amazingly, his eight goals are tied for the team high along with Dany Heatley, Matt Cullen, Kyle Brodziak and Cal Clutterbuck, all of which makes this success for the Wild seem all the more unlikely. Two games shy of 30, the NHL's top team doesn't have a double-digit goal scorer. Only Clutterbuck, with 26 games played, is on pace to score more than 25 goals this season.
A large part of the success, then, has been coming from the defense, particularly the goaltending. The combination of Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding has been stellar this season. The problem is, at this moment neither appears to be healthy. Backstrom was already out with a lower-body injury, so it compounded matters when Harding had to leave Tuesday's game with what might have been a concussion, or possibly a neck injury. It was a little friendly fire as he was hit in the head by Nick Schultz in the opening minutes of the game.
That brought on Matt Hackett, who was superb. He was unbeatable, stopping all 34 shots by the Sharks in his first NHL appearance. If the kid can play like that a couple more times, the Wild will have some tough choices to make. But for the moment, it's an amazing luxury to have when goalies are going down.
Next thing you know the Wild are going to bring in a 51-year-old beer league goalie or something.
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: November 23, 2011 10:11 am
Edited on: November 29, 2011 5:30 pm
Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at the fast starts of the Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers and whether or not they are for real.
By: Adam Gretz
The Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers enter their games on Wednesday night as two of the hottest teams in the NHL, with the Rangers winning seven of their past eight games and the Wild riding a four-game winning streak that has helped propel them to the top of the NHL standings with 27 points.
The Rangers were expected by many to be a playoff team this year, coming off a season that saw them take the No. 8 seed in the East and add the top free agent on the market, center Brad Richards. But Minnesota's meteoric rise to the top under the leadership of first-year coach Mike Yeo has been quite a surprise to say the least.
Are these two teams as good as their early season (and most recent) records would suggest? Or are they both setting themselves up for a sudden fall?
If you're a believer in PDO (or familiar with it) you're probably placing your bets on the latter.
Along with their recent hot streaks, these teams have three things in common.
1) Both teams are getting crushed during 5-on-5 play in terms of shots for and shots allowed. The Wild currently own the third-worst shot differential per game during even-strength play at minus-6, while the Rangers are currently the worst at minus-7. Neither team scores a lot of goals, mostly because...
2) ... Neither team is particularly dominant on special teams, especially when on the power play.
3) As a result, both teams are relying almost entirely on their goaltending, which is good in the short-term, but could be very, very bad in the long-term. In the case of the Rangers, it's Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Biron, while in Minnesota it's the tag-team duo of Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding.
All four of the aforementioned keepers are near the top of the league in terms of even-strength save percentage (they're all in the top-12, actually) with Backstrom pacing the league with a mark of .953. Which is unbelievable.
(Harding, for what it's worth, isn't far behind at .946, while Biron and Lundqvist are currently checking in at .944 and .939 respectively.)
Now, Backstrom is a fine goaltender. Probably one of the better ones in the NHL. But unless he's suddenly become the best goalie in NHL history he (along with the other three -- at least Harding and Biron) probably aren't going to maintain their current save percentages all season, especially given the amount of rubber they face every night. Just as an example, in the post-lockout NHL there have only been seven instances in which a goaltender finished a full season with an even-strength save percentage north of .940, and two of them belong to Boston's Tim Thomas.
Only once (Thomas last season) did a goalie finish over .943. In other words, this probably isn't going to continue all season.
And that brings us to PDO, a relatively simple but often times telling statistic about hot teams that could soon fizzle out and cold teams that could suddenly catch fire.
Originally the brainchild of Brian King (you can check out a recent interview he did talking about the subject by clicking right here) PDO is simply the sum of a team's shooting percentage and save percentage. For individual players, you take the sum of the shooting percentage and save percentage only when that player is on the ice.
On a league-wide level, this number will equal always 1000, but will vary from team-to-team and player-to-player. Teams (and players) with a PDO above or below that will, over time, see it start to regress back closer toward 1000.
Over the past four seasons the PDO range, from low-to-high, for individual players that have played at least 50 games in a single season have been as follows:
And let's take a look at the current ratings for the Wild and Rangers players. In an effort to avoid what is an even smaller sample size than we're already dealing with this early in the season, I've limited it to players that have played a minimum of 10 games this season:
The only two regulars on either team with a PDO currently under 1000 are Brandon Prust and Steve Eminger, both of the Rangers. Many of the others are well above their career norms, mainly due to what are almost assuredly unsustainably high on-ice save percentages.
There are currently 551 skaters that have appeared in at least 10 games this season, and out of the top-100 in PDO, an incredible 15 of them play for either the Rangers or Wild. There's a very fine line between winning and losing in the NHL, and right now these are two teams that are probably getting their fair share of breaks and bounces, while also being led by what are probably unsustainable levels of goaltending.
We've seen teams in the past get out-shot, out-chanced, and ultimately, out-scored at 5-on-5 the way the Wild and Rangers currently are and not seen a regression in the win-loss column. Last year's Anaheim Ducks are one such example. The biggest difference between that team, and these two teams, is that while Anaheim also had stellar goaltending, it also had a power play that scored almost at will. This season, Anaheim is once again getting consistently beat during 5-on-5 play, and now that its power play isn't scoring the same way it did last season, it finds itself near the bottom of the Western Conference standings.
It should again be pointed out that in the case of the Wild and Rangers, these are currently two of the worst power plays in the NHL, in terms of not only scoring goals, but also generating shots.
So how long can we expect the wins to keep coming at this pace for New York and Minnesota? Probably as long as their goaltenders continue to stand on their heads.
(PDO and shot data via BehindTheNet)
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Tags: Adam Gretz, Artem Anisimov, Boston Bruins, Brad Richards, Brad Staubitz, Brandon Prust, Cal Clutterbuck, Colton Gillies, Devin Setoguchi, Henrik Lundqvist, Jared Spurgeon, Jeff Woywitka, Josh Harding, Kyle Brodziak, Marco Scandella, Marian Gaborik, Martin Biron, Minnesota Wild, Nate Prosser, New York Rangers, Nick Johnson, Nick Schultz, Niklas Backstrom, Pucks And Numbers, Ryan Callahan, Steve Eminger, Tim Thomas
Posted on: November 20, 2011 5:09 pm
When I was trying to wrap my head around the aftermath of the weekend in hockey, you must pardon me if I'm a bit staggered. It's not exactly the college football landscape after Saturday, but it's equally as jolting.
It's still only late November, but a tour of the standings is surprisingly fun. And confusing.
Who'd a thunk the NHL's top team at this (or any) point in the season would be the Minnesota Wild? Was there anybody not busy laughing at Dale Tallon that they could have seen the Florida Panthers ahead of the Southeast Division? Did anybody believe Dave Tippett could work his magic again and have the Coyotes in first place of the Pacific? Lastly, who saw the Maple Leafs atop the Northeast Division?
This is the bizarro NHL. Or maybe it's just that this is the NHL with the 2-1-0 point system.
The difference between the best in the NHL (Wild and Chicago Blackhawks) to 25th place (Winnipeg Jets) is only eight points. Four of the six divisions have the fourth place team within four points of the division lead.
One of the divisions that doesn't fit that bill is the Northwest, and that's not because the Vancouver Canucks are running away with it again. Instead, the Wild are, building the biggest division lead in the NHL, holding a five-point lead on the Edmonton Oilers (we told you this was bizarro world).
If we want to take the last 10 games (which we do, it makes this look better) the Wild are the hottest team in hockey alongside the Boston Bruins. Each of them are 8-2-0 in that span after the Wild took the two points from the St. Louis Blues on Saturday with a shootout victory.
They haven't hurt matters, to be clear. But I wouldn't go as far as to call them the reason the Wild have the most points in the league. Offensively speaking, the Wild have been well below average. Their 2.20 goals per game ranks 28th out of 30 teams.
Obviously that means it's the defense that's led them to a league-high 12 wins. The Wild are surrendering a very impressive 1.95 goals against average. It's funny how starting goaltender Niklas Backstrom is the "worst" goalie of the tandem of he and Josh Harding as he sports a 1.97 GAA and.935 save percentage.
The most amazing part about this is the Wild are doing it with what most would agree is a no-name group of defensemen. Brent Burns is gone to San Jose. Greg Zanon has been sidelined as have Marek Zidlicky and Marco Scandella. That leaves a cast of characters that I doubt anybody outside of Minnesota or Houston (the Wild's AHL affiliate) had heard of; guys like Justin Falk and Kris Fredheim.
This is all under first-year NHL coach Mike Yeo, by the way. He has come in from Houston and has this team as one of the biggest turnaround stories of the season. I defy anybody, including those fans in Minnesota, to say they saw the Wild starting this well.
Speaking of surprising turnarounds ...
There's another team shocking the NHL under a first-year coach after an awful season a year ago. That would be the Florida Panthers.
Kevin Dineen, certainly with a great pedigree as a player in the NHL, has put his name in the early running for the Jack Adams (next to Yeo) with what he has done in Florida. Or perhaps we should say with what Dale Tallon has done.
The top line for the Panthers is making all the difference right now. For years, the Panthers didn't have much production from the top line. If you had to rank where they stood, it was always in the bottom five of top lines in the NHL, that includes when it featured Stephen Weiss, David Booth and Nathan Horton.
The new top line of Weiss, Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg showed its prowess on Saturday night against the Penguins in South Florida. They were in on all three Florida goals, including Weiss' power play tally in the final minutes. Each member of that line is on pace for about 80 points or more. None of the three has ever had more than 61 points in a season (Weiss in 2008-09).
The team has some serious gumption. After taking the late lead on the Pens, they withstood a massive barrage, particularly the final 65 seconds when the Penguins pulled goalie Dan Johnson. That's when Jose Theodore -- another surprise -- stood tallest and denied Pittsburgh's numerous scoring chances. Theodore, by the way, has a very respectable 2.46 GAA and .923 save percentage.
We are close to a quarter of the way through the season and it's just so weird to call them the first-place Panthers. But that's exactly what they are.
Another one of the surprising teams (boy, there are a lot of those) is the Phoenix Coyotes -- we'll have more on them this week. They have been winning in seasons past, but I think many believed that Ilya Bryzgalov was a big reason for that and when he left for Philadelphia, most predicted they would falter.
Surprise is a word that would aptly describe Paul Bissonnette's night on Saturday, too. Maybe even surprise doesn't cut it, shocking would fit better.
The Coyotes tough guy who hardly plays but is one of the most popular players in the NHL due to his Twitter fame, had the rare shot to play in Buffalo, near his hometown of Welland, Ontario. It also happened to be the first time his mother had the chance to see him play live in the NHL. And so wouldn't you know it, this happened:
As I said, shocking. That goal brings his total to five goals in the past three seasons with the Coyotes. Maybe equally shocking was Tyler Myers' play to give Bissonnette the shot on the doorstep.
Meanwhile, the Coyotes' 4-2 win moved them into a tie with the Sharks for first place in the Pacific Division.
We want 10!
The Oilers had eight goals at the mid-way mark of the game, prompting the chants of "We want 10!" from the Edmonton faithful. They came close, real close, in the final minutes, but didn't get it. Instead they had to settle for a 9-2 rout. For shame.
For the Oilers, it's what you would call a rebound win. They entered the game on a four-game skid. The quick start to the season seemed long ago in the rearview mirror. But then in 60 minutes they scored more goals (nine) then they had in the entire span of that losing streak (eight).
What's more, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins continues to live up to the billing. Labeled as a play-making center, the Nuge's five-assist night was the a record-setter. No 18-year-old had ever done that before in NHL history. His 19-year-old linemate Hall had his second career hat trick. Whatever they wanted to do, they did.
As for the Blackhawks, their four-game win streak ran into the Alberta armor and went kaput in back-to-back nights to the Flames on Friday and then the Oilers.
"Right now, it seems like every little mistake we make it's in the back of our net and we're making a lot of mistakes," defenseman Duncan Keith said on Saturday. "We all as a team need to focus on committing to playing the right way and the way we know how to play. We have to. The last two games have been embarrassing. The only thing we can do is try and learn from it and move on."
Make it eight
The Boston Bruins can't be touched right now.
With their 6-0 trouncing of the Islanders on Saturday, they have won eight games in a row. With that run, they have finally climbed back into the top eight of the Eastern Conference standings.
The most amazing part of the eight-game run? The Bruins have outscored their opponents 42-14 in that time. That's an average margin of victory of 3.5 goals per game. As I said, they can't be touched right now.
The Capitals are in a tailspin, leading to the annual chatter of Bruce Boudreau's job safety starting up again. That can happen after taking a 7-1 pounding by the similarly struggling Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.
When asked after the game about a vote of confidence for Boudreau, GM George McPhee game a "no comment."
But it's still hard to put this on Boudreau in my mind. He's trying everything he can to right the ship. The problem is partly on the shoulders of Alex Ovechkin, who has failed to score a point in any of the past four games. The last time that happened? Go back to February of 2007.
So what's the next step after a team meeting and a practice on a typical off day? It could be the benching of Alexander Semin. The other talented Russian forward on the Caps, Semin has already seen demotions this season. In Sunday's practice, he was dropped all the way to the third line and when Boudreau was asked if Semin might be a healthy scratch on Monday against the Coyotes, Boudreau didn't say one way or the other.
Matters could be coming to a head very soon in D.C. one way or another.
Coming back to Earth
Once sitting atop the NHL in points, the Dallas Stars have gone into a funk, losing five in a row, topped off by a 3-0 loss at Colorado on Friday and a 4-1 defeat in San Jose on Saturday.
That prompted first-year coach Glen Gulutzan to go off about this team, leading to ...
Quote of the weekend
“We whine like little babies throughout the game,” Gulutzan said. “I don’t know if there’s been a history of that here or not, but every team that I’ve coached, we’ve always been at the other end of the scale. I think we’re the worst penalty differential in the league, and every team I’ve coached we’ve always been the opposite.
“That’s going to change. We’re going to change that culture here. We’ve got to do it by zipping our mouths one step at a time. The refs are human, and if you whine that much, they’re not going to give you calls. That’s just the bottom line. We’re not getting some calls, and it’s our fault.
“I’ll be glad to go back to Saskatchewan if we don’t get out of this, but at the end of the day we’re going to do it the way we’re going to do it,” he said. “We’re going to be men, we’re going to have character, we’re going to shut our mouths and we’re going to play. If that’s not good enough, then so be it.”
Photo: Getty Images
Tags: Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Boston Bruins, Brian Stubits, Bruce Boudreau, Buffalo Sabres, Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Dany Heatley, Dave Tippett, Devin Setoguchi, Duncan Keith, Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers, George McPhee, Glen Gulutzan, Greg Zanon, Jose Theodore, Josh Harding, Justin Falk, Kevin Dineen, Kris Fredheim, Kris Versteeg, Marek Zidlicky, Mike Yeo, Minnesota Wild, New York Islanders, Nicklas Backstrom, Paul Bissonnette, Phoenix Coyotes, Pittsburgh Penguins, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues, Stephen Weiss, Taylor Hall, Tomas Fleischmann, Toronto Maple Leafs, Tyler Myers, Washington Capitals, Weekend Wrap
Posted on: November 9, 2011 6:51 pm
Edited on: November 9, 2011 6:52 pm
By: Adam Gretz
For San Jose Sharks defenseman Brent Burns, his former team, the Minnesota Wild, are like the ex-girlfriend that "you really don't want to see get the white-picket fence." In other words, you want her to fail because she dumped you for somebody else. At least that's the message he seemed to give to Mark Emmons of the San Jose Mercury News on Wednesday as his new team gets set to have its first meeting of the season with his former team on Thursday night.
If nothing else, it was going to be an interesting matchup for no other reason than the two clubs were involved in a series of trades over the summer. One involved the Sharks sending Dany Heatley to the Wild for Martin Havlat, while the other saw Burns get shipped to San Jose in exchange for Devin Setoguchi.
Burns, of course, was a first-round draft pick by the Wild back in 2003 and spent six productive seasons in Minnesota prior to the trade. Now that he's no longer a member of the team he told Emmons that he wants his former team to lose every game. It should be pointed out that Emmons said Burns "didn't speak with any bitterness," and even had a smile on his face while the interview was taking place. But still, the comments, via Working the Corners...
... “I want them to lose every game,” Burns said Wednesday. “You think I want them to do well?”So he's probably not thrilled the Wild have won five games in a row, while only allowing three goals in the process, and currently own an 8-3-3 record, just one point out of the top spot in the Northwest Division.
Given that Emmons, again, said that Burns had a smile on his face it's hard to gauge just how much dislike, if that's the word you want to use, Burns has for his former team. But it's probably safe to say there isn't as much anger in this situation as there was back in 2008 when Barry Melrose said he hoped the Tampa Bay Lightning, the team that fired him after just 16 games, didn't win a game the rest of the season. That was a truly bitter situation.
Still, it is something to keep an eye on for when the Sharks make their first visit to Minnesota (Thursday's game is in San Jose), which will not happen until Jan. 10.
After scoring a career-high 17 goals with the Wild last season, the 26-year-old Burns has three goals and two assists through the first 13 games for San Jose.
Photo: Getty Images