Tag:Anaheim Ducks
Posted on: November 19, 2011 10:05 am
Edited on: January 22, 2012 8:47 am
 

What's wrong with Paul Martin?

By: Adam Gretz

In an effort to improve their overall team defense prior to last season, the Pittsburgh Penguins made two significant investments on their blue line by signing two of the top free agent defenseman that were available on the open market -- Paul Martin, who had spent the previous six years of his career with the New Jersey Devils, and Zbynek Michalek coming off a five-year stint with the Phoenix Coyotes.

Combined, the Penguins committed a total of $45 million over five years to the two rearguards, and the results on the ice spoke for themselves in their first year with the team. The Penguins went from being 20th in the NHL in goals allowed during the 2009-10 season, all the way up to 6th best in 2010-11, while allowing nearly a half-goal fewer per game. That's no small improvement, and the additions of Martin and Michalek were a vital part of it.

Through the first 19 games of this season, Martin has had an up-and-down campaign and seems to be facing a growing amount of criticism from the Penguins' fan base for his minus-10 rating entering play on Saturday. That is currently the worst mark on the team and the second-worst mark in the NHL among all defensemen, ahead of only Colorado's Jan Hejda. When you're counting $5 million against the salary cap and near the bottom of the NHL in any category it's going to draw some attention, and hey, every fan-base needs its whipping boy.

So what's wrong with Paul Martin, and is he playing as poorly as the usually misleading plus/minus would suggest?

Nothing that can't be fixed, and not exactly.

So why is his plus/minus currently getting slaughtered? In its simplest terms, plus/minus, in general, and as honestly as it can be said, sucks as a useful measuring stick for the quality of play from a player, and offers little context in to what is going on with the player in question (who is he playing against? What situation is he playing in? Etc.). So let's try and add some context, if we can, and try to better understand his role with two main points that are, in a way, connected to one another.

1) The Penguins aren't scoring goals when Martin is on the ice

And yes, as a player that's on the ice, Martin does have to take some responsibility for this. But it's not going to continue. At least, it shouldn't be expected to continue.

During 5-on-5 play this season the Penguins have scored just four goals with Martin on the ice, which is an extremely low number, especially when you consider the number of minutes he plays. A lack of goals at even strength will obviously have a negative impact on a players rating, and this should not be expected to continue, for this reason: The Penguins, as a team, are shooting just a little over 2 percent when Martin is on the ice during 5-on-5 play, a rate that is unsustainably low over the course of the season.

Of the 536 players that have played a minimum of 10 games this season, only 12 of them have been on the ice for a lower shooting percentage. Look at it another way: If you go back to last season and take the players that played at least half the season in the NHL (40 games), the lowest on-ice shooting percentage belonged to Anaheim's George Parros at 2.54 percent, and he was one of only two players (the other was New Jersey's Adam Mair) that were on the ice for a team shooting percentage of below 3 percent. Over the past four years Martin's teams in Pittsburgh and New Jersey have shot no worse than 7.4 percent over the course of the season with him on the ice.

When you're talking about a player as talented as Martin, playing on a team that scores as often as the Penguins do, eventually, over time, these percentages are going to start work out for Martin, especially when the Penguins generate as many shots on goal as they do with him on the ice.

2) He's playing more minutes than any other player on the team, and he's being asked to play some of the "toughest" minutes on the team

Due to various injuries, including Michalek and Brooks Orpik, as well as a two-game suspension to Kris Letang, Martin has played significantly more minutes than any other player on the team. Entering Saturday he's at 464 overall minutes, 351 of which have come during even-strength play. Letang is the only other player on the team to crack the 300-minute mark at even-strength, while no other player is over 285. Not only is he playing more often than everybody else, he's playing in significantly more difficult situations.

You can tell a lot about a player, and what that player's coach thinks of him, by the situations he's put into. This season Dan Bylsma and his staff are giving Martin some of the tougher assignments in the NHL, and definitely the toughest assignments on the team. Consider his QualComp (Quality of Competition -- the higher the number, the tougher the competition) numbers and the limited number of Offensive Zone face-offs he's been on the ice for.

Assignments For Penguins Defensemen
Player Even-Strength Minutes QualComp Offensive Zone Starts % On-Ice Shooting % +/-
Paul Martin 351:22 .091 46.1% 2.40% -10
Kris Letang 333:16 .065 48.3% 8.09% +1
Deryk Engelland 285:02 .006 53.4% 8.63% +1
Matt Niskanen 274:22 -.034 56.9% 8.80% +5
Brooks Orpik 207:30 .172 48.3% 8.91% +2
Zbynek Michalek 180:40 .063 51.0% 2.22% -5
Ben Lovejoy 154:43 -.060 56.2% 8.43% +1

The only Penguins defensemen that's seen tougher competition is Orpik, while no other defensemen has started fewer shifts in the offensive zone.

Martin's game has definitely hit a bit of a rough patch over the past couple of weeks, and he's had his moments where he's been beat by opposing players one-on-one. But there's also a lot of things working against him right now, including some bad luck (hello, unsustainably low shooting percentage) and playing some of the heaviest minutes on the team, and playing a lot of them.

That's an extremely difficult role. Playing against the other team's best players and starting most of your shifts in your own zone (defensive zone faceoffs are dangerous) is a difficult task for any player, and will have an impact on your ability to score, as well as the other team's ability to score against you. Players that play the most minutes against the best players in the toughest spots will see the more goals scored against them and have a more difficult time scoring goals.

Take another look at the above table and look at the quality of players Matt Niskanen, for example, plays against, and the number of shifts he gets to start in the offensive zone. He's a team-best plus-five this season. No disrespect to Niskanen intended, but there isn't a coach or GM in the NHL that would take him over Martin, now, or at any other point. Give Martin those minutes and assignments, and vice versa, and see what their ratings look like.

I went back and looked at every goal that's been scored against the Penguins this season that would count against his plus/minus, and there's some pretty fascinating things in there. On at least two of them the Penguins were stopped on prime scoring chances at the other end of the ice before the play went back the other way and resulted in a goal at the other end. On one of them his defensive partner, Michalek, fell down on the opening face-off in Winnipeg which resulted in a flukey turnover -- and goal -- eight seconds into regulation.

None of this is likely to change the opinion of the person that takes his plus/minus rating as gospel, but if you think he's currently the second-worst defenseman in the NHL, or somehow not worth the cap hit to the Penguins, you're simply wrong.

The Penguins defense is a critical part of their success, and Martin is, and will continue to be, a key cog in that machine.

(Statistical data via BehindTheNet)

Photo: Getty Images

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Posted on: November 12, 2011 4:09 pm
Edited on: November 12, 2011 4:11 pm
 

No additional punishment for Aaron Rome



By: Adam Gretz

Canucks defenseman Aaron Rome was ejected during the second period of his team's 4-3 loss in Anaheim on Friday night. After a brief period of wondering whether or not he would face any additional punishment from the NHL for his hit on Ducks forward Devante Smith-Pelly, Jim Jamieson of the Vancouver Province reports on Saturday that Rome will not face any additional punishment from the NHL.

Jamieson writes that after reviewing the play Shanahan determined that the punishment handed out during the game was enough. That punishment, of course, was a five-minute major for elbowing and a game misconduct, all of which helped lead to a pair of Anaheim power play goals.

Even though the hit was certainly debatable from a discipline point of view, the fact Rome escaped any additional punishment is somewhat interesting given his banishment during the Stanley Cup Finals for a hit on Boston's Nathan Horton. Whether it's fair or not, Shanahan seems to have put a strong emphasis on a player's history when deciding whether or not to suspend players, as well as the length of the suspension when one is handed out.

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Posted on: November 12, 2011 2:36 pm
 

Injury watch: Goligoski, Visnovsky out

By: Adam Gretz

A pair of Pacific Division teams suffered a some rather large injuries on Friday night that will certainly test their depth on the blue line. The Dallas Stars will be without Alex Goligoski for a month due to a broken thumb, while Anaheim's Lubomir Visnovsky will be sidelined for a similar length of time due to a busted finger.

Goligoski suffered his injury on Friday night during his return trip to Pittsburgh, against the team that traded him last season in exchange for James Neal and Matt Niskanen, after playing just six minutes during a 3-1 loss. Following the game Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said he expected Goligoski to be out for an extended period of time, while the defenseman's hand was heavily taped.

In 15 games this season Goligoski has scored two goals to go with four assists, and it's a big loss for a Dallas team that allows a significant number of shots on a nightly basis. His 21 minutes per game is the fourth highest average on the team, trailing only Stephane Robidas, Trevor Daley and Sheldon Souray.

Meanwhile, the Ducks announced on Saturday that Visnovsky is expected to miss four weeks after he was struck by a puck late in the third period of their 4-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks. Visnovsky had a career year for Anaheim last season, leading all NHL defensemen in scoring with 68 points. So far this season he's scored just one goal to go with three assists in 16 games.

Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle recently told Eric Stephens of the OC Register that he thinks Visnovsky is taking too many chances and needs to let the game come to him. Unfortunately, he's going to have to wait a few weeks before he has a chance to do that.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: November 12, 2011 1:21 am
Edited on: November 12, 2011 12:10 pm
 

Aaron Rome ejected for elbowing

By: Adam Gretz

The Anaheim Ducks nearly allowed a four-goal lead to slip away in the third period on Friday night but were able to hold on for a 4-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks. They were able to jump out to a 4-0 lead after two periods thanks in large part to a five-minute power play in the second period that resulted in a pair of goals, which was part of a six-minute stretch that saw them score three times.

The reason for the five-minute power play was because Canucks defenseman Aaron Rome was ejected for elbowing Ducks forward Devante Smith-Pelly.



Along with the five-minute major he also received a 10-minute game misconduct.

Even though the call was for elbowing, it appeared that Rome didn't raise his elbow, and it's certainly debatable as to whether or not there was enough contact with the head (or if it was targeted) to make it worthy of any additional punishment. Though, given Rome's history (he was suspended for four games during last year's Stanley Cup Finals for a blindside hit to the head on Boston's Nathan Horton), which seems to play a pretty big role whenever the NHL has handed out supplemental discipline this season, it should be interesting to see if Brendan Shanahan has anything to say about this play.

The win snapped what had been a six-game losing streak for the Ducks, and is just their second win over the past 11 games.

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Posted on: November 11, 2011 2:51 pm
Edited on: November 11, 2011 5:36 pm
 

Weekend Preview: Ducks searching for wakeup call

By Brian Stubits

Weekend schedule: Friday | Saturday | Sunday

You know it's bad when we're still early in November and the Anaheim Ducks call a closed-doors meeting. It stinks almost as much as the Avalanche calling Thursday's tilt against the Islanders a "must-win game." They did, barely (4-3 in OT).

But desperate times call for desperate measures. And right now, things are getting close to desperate in Orange County. The Ducks are the coldest team in hockey having lost six in a row. In a world without the overtime loser point, Anaheim is 5-10. That is not good.

"You have to eliminate any confusion, any doubt before you can take the next step forward," Carlyle said about the meeting.

"A lot of times coaches are talking and nobody says a word and you go to the ice and say, 'Well, I don't think that's work[ing]," Teemu Selanne offered. "It's important that the players can give their input also about the situation. It was really good. It was really honest conversations. I think it was a huge step forward."

They better get things figured out quickly. With Dallas playing as well as it is and San Jose in the division, the Ducks could dig themselves a hole too tough to get out of. They have the fewest goals scored and the most goals surrendered in the Pacific Division. In 15 games they have 29 goals, that's less than two goals per game.

How can a team with Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Selanne be struggling to score this much? Well presumably that's what the closed-door meeting was for.

I can't help but think it's the lack of power of the mustache. Since the month of Movember came around and the Ducks all began growing out their best 'staches, the team hasn't won a game. This is making me rethink my entire stance on the world. Here I was holding the mustache in such high esteem.

Or maybe it could be more rationally explained by figuring out where Lubomir Visnovsky has gone? The defenseman who had 18 goals and 50 assists last season has just four points (1-3=4) in 15 games and is a minus-9. Him finding his game would go a long way in helping the Ducks remove the ugly from their game.

So who do they get to try their presumably new tactics against first? How about the Vancouver Canucks on Friday night? Just the team for a struggling squad to face (the still-not-invented sarcasm font was on there).

But that's not all for the weekend. On Sunday the Ducks welcome the last team they beat, the Minnesota Wild. Of course since that win, these two teams have flipped their fortunes. The Ducks have become the coldest team this side of Columbus while Minnesota has been red hot.

SoCal struggles, Part II: This was supposed to be the season the Los Angeles Kings stepped forward, made a run for the franchise's first Stanley Cup championship. It obviously still could be, the season is only a short way in. But right now they could use a swift kick in the rear to get in gear.

Los Angeles has followed a 5-1-1 start with a 2-5-2 stretch, including a five-game losing streak that has people wondering if the boot isn't being polished up before delivering the kick. After all, the Kings have not scored more than three goals in 13 of their 16 games. For a team that acquired an offensive talent like Mike Richards to go with a solid group already, that's not going to cut it.

"The offense, certainly myself at the top of the list, should be scoring more, getting to the net," Justin Williams said following Thursday's loss.

So do you put the blame for the struggling stretch on coach Terry Murray? After all, head coaches are always the first scapegoat. I find it hard to blame Murray. He's trying all that he can, mixing and matching the lines to try and create a spark. But as they always say, you can't really fire the players. I mean you can, but it's a lot more difficult.

One of the issues right now is the play of Jonathan Quick. Remember that shutout streak back in October? That's a thing of the past. In his last six starts, Quick has zero wins. He is giving up nearly three goals per game in that stretch.

About the only thing going well right now for L.A. is the play of Drew Doughty. His game has been on point recently with five points in the last three games.

Like their SoCal neighbors in the O.C., the chance to get on the right track will come against the Wild, Saturday night at Staples Center. Oh, Minnesota enters the game having won five of the last six.

What the ....? You know who's not struggling? The first-place Florida Panthers. Yes, you read that right, first-place Panthers.

Dale Tallon threw together a team that everybody anticipated would struggle to jell, but it came together like jell-o. The Panthers have tallied a point in six consecutive games, including back-to-back wins on the road in Toronto and Winnipeg.

If they want to make it seven straight, they will have to get through the Flyers, who are in Sunrise on Sunday.

This is where I'd like to spread a little love on Kris Versteeg, the forward who is on his fourth team in a two-year span -- the one before the Panthers being the Flyers. He has apparently found the right fit and is scoring at a pace of better than a point per game, leading the Cats with 17 points in 15 games. Brian Campbell hasn't been too shabby either with 15 points in 15 games.

The surprises are all around on one of the NHL's biggest surprises this season. Jason Garrison is a sniper from the blue line? Who knew? But he's tied with Nicklas Lidstrom in the NHL lead for goals among defensemen with six. Jose Theodore can still be effective as a No. 1 goalie? Just talk to the folks in the Washington press box to see how hard that is to believe.

There's no telling how long this will last. First place in a division with the Capitals is asking a lot. But with a start like this, they can at least dream of ending that 10-year playoff drought in Florida.

Texas two-step: Want to know if the Dallas Stars are really as good as their 11-3-0 record indicates? Other than the fact that you are what your record says you are, as Bill Parcells would say, the Stars are in the midst of about as tough a three-game road stretch you can conjure up in the NHL.

They already went through the Capitals, handing them their first loss in D.C. this season. Now they have back-to-back games starting Friday in Pittsburgh. The game was viewed as a potential return date for Sidney Crosby, but that's not happening now. However it is still the top two teams in each conference and James Neal vs. the team that traded him.

If that's not enough, Dallas will take the trip to Detroit where the Red Wings await on Saturday.

I'm not sure how many more tests the Stars have to pass before this start and this team is believed to be for real by the masses. It might be already. I know I'm a believer. But just to be safe, a few more points in this weekend double-dip couldn't hurt.

The Bruins got their groove back: It only took a month, but now the Boston Bruins are showing the form the hockey world expected. After all, ask Boston fans and they will tell you last season was just a whole heaping of bonus -- this was the season when they were expected to be legitimate Cup contenders.

The team that in the early going couldn't score now can't stop scoring. Especially in bunches. Five times in the month of November the Bruins scored two goals within 49 seconds of one another. Five times!

Without a doubt, the most impressive player has been Tyler Seguin. The sophomore is showing why there was such a debate between himself and Taylor Hall before the 2010 draft. He is so quick and always seem to get his stick on the puck near the net.

The above items considered, it should come then as no surprise that the Bruins have won four games in a row and are streaking into their game against Northeast Division foe Buffalo.

The question there is which Sabres goalie will be entrusted with slowing down this now potent Bruins attack? That’s the question every day now in Buffalo where at the moment -- and I stress at the moment -- the goaltending job is a 50/50 proposition between Ryan Miller and Jhonas Enroth. If Miller gets the call, it could be a tough situation to find a slump-busting performance.

Defense rules

The Tampa Bay defense, specifically the 1-3-1 trap that coach Guy Boucher loves to use, is the topic of the week in the NHL. The crux of the issue: people want to see more scoring, less stalling.

If that describes you, maybe you should find something else to do on Saturday night when the Lightning and St. Louis Blues meet. Offense might not be too plentiful.

With Ken Hitchcock now on the St. Louis bench and his preference to play a defensive-minded game, it could be a pretty slow and plodding game. Nothing as bad as the scene on Wednesday night, but still not offense friendly. In the two games under Hitchcock, the Blues have given up two goals.

Of course after all this you can now expect for the teams to hit the over.

Photo: US Presswire

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: November 10, 2011 12:23 pm
 

The growing rivalry that is Predators-Ducks

By Brian Stubits

It doesn't feel like there are a lot of rivalries left in hockey. Hatred like that between the Canadiens and Bruins still exists, but the rivalries born from play on the ice and ones that go beyond geography/history? Not too many. The Red Wings and Avalanche had one a while back, but that has petered out. Oh sure, fans, particularly those in Colorado, will tell you they still hate the other team, but the height of the rivalry? It's in the past.

However we might have a new one emerging. I'm hoping so, they make the games that much more fun and interesting.

The Anaheim Ducks and Nashville Predators seem like unlikely combatants being that they are two time zones apart and some 2,000 miles. But familiarity breeds contempt, and these two have been getting familiar since last season. In this case, let's say the relationship is moving at an accelerated pace.

"We got to know each other a lot," Preds coach Barry Trotz said following Nashville's 4-2 in Anaheim on Wednesday. "I don’t think we really care for each other."

Every win is nice in the NHL, I would never argue otherwise. But how often do wins just seem to be extra sweet in early November? Not a tremendous amount of them. But judging by Preds agitator Jordin Tootoo's response, this one was as sweet as candy.

“Yeah, you have to go in with kind of a ‘[forget] you’ attitude,” Tootoo said (with Cee Lo Green channeled). “They talk all the time and talk is cheap. It all comes down to results and tonight we got the two points so they can [chew] on that.”

Where exactly did this hatred begin percolating? Exactly where every good blood battle does.

“It started in the playoffs last year,” Ducks forward Ryan Getzlaf said before the team's first matchup this season in October.

If the playoffs was the birth of the rivalry then that first meeting was a growth spurt. There was one play in particular that had Getzlaf in a rage. It came when Corey Perry legitimately slashed Tootoo, who fell to the ice in a pretty dramatic scene.

We won't rehash the entire story from that game, so if you want to read all of the quotes from Getzlaf, here they are. But they were rather incendiary, accusing Tootoo of flopping and lots of use of the word embarrassing.

Here's how you know that a rivalry is getting good. A coach even got in on the sniping back and forth. Trotz had this to say before Wednesday's game.

“They have some guys who aren’t exactly lilywhite, some of their tough guys,” Trotz said. “You watch them behind the play when the ref’s not looking, they do a lot of [stuff]. That’s just whining to me. Go on the ice, play and if you have a problem with someone, take care of it. Don’t go through the paper. That’s all.”

How great is that? Not only is a head coach joining in the barb tossing, but he's throwing in words like lilywhite? Just awesome.

A proposal for the NHL. When you reach your final realignment verdict, can we squeeze the Preds and Ducks into the same division? No? Tis a shame. Just when this rivalry is budding, it could be halted. Well, at least there are two more games this season and, if the Ducks get their act together, maybe another postseason series? I'll be waiting.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: November 4, 2011 1:39 pm
Edited on: November 4, 2011 3:22 pm
 

Weekend Preview: Streaks, stats on the line

By Brian Stubits

It's amazing how quickly things can go from being so hot to being so cold. I mean 72 days for a marriage? That's a quick flameout.

Oh, and there are also those Red Wings from Detroit. Just two weeks ago, the NHL eyes were locked on a battle of the unbeatens; 5-0 Detroit at 6-0 Washington. Fast-forward to Friday and the Red wings have picked up one single point since, sitting now at 5-5-1.

In this six-game losing streak it hasn't been what we figured would be the team's Achilles' heel -- defense - that has let them down. I mean it could be much better -- it could ALWAYS bet better -- but it's sufficed, even if Jimmy Howard has slumped a little, too.

Instead, it's been the offense, the unit that carried the team a season ago. During the six-game losing streak, the Wings are averaging exactly one goal per game. Once they scored two, once they were shutout, the other four games they scored once. That means Detroit has the second-fewest goals in the NHL -- incidentally still six clear of the last-place Islanders, who have scored just 18 goals in 10 games.

At that kind of scoring clip, the Red Wings were lucky to even pick up one point.

"We've got to believe in ourselves, stay positive," Henrik Zetterberg told Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press. "Here we go again -- same quotes, but there's nothing else we can do."

We can chalk some of that up to bad luck, though. Detroit is carrying a shooting percentage of 6.2 percent right now. As Jesse Spector of the Sporting News points out for comparison's sake, the Devils were at 7.3 percent last season for the worst in the league.

Statisticians will tell you shooting percentage is more a byproduct of luck than anything else. The Wings are too talented to shoot at that low of a level for the season. These things do even out. If you believe they will continue to shoot that low of a percentage this season, I have some beach-front property in Nebraska to sell you. Real cheap, too.

Maybe Ken Holland crossed a black cat's path sometime just before Halloween or something. Seven games of bad luck, perhaps?

If the streak stretches to seven, it will have to come at the expense of the similarly struggling Anaheim Ducks on Saturday night. The Ducks themselves enter on a nasty little losing streak, having lost four in a row, the last two in overtime.

As they say, something's gotta give.

Lucky Seven

The opposite of the Red Wings and their six-game losing streak? Try the Edmonton Oilers and their six-game WINNING streak. (Boy, the NHL standings look awfully wacky right now ... can it last?) The last time the Oilers won six in a row? You have to go back to 2002.

They will have a chance to run that streak to seven on Saturday when they visit the Coyotes.

It's a homecoming of sorts for Nikolai Khabibulin, who is back to being the Bulin Wall. He spent a couple weeks in jail back in Arizona for a DUI offense. Who knows what kind of impact that might have had on Khabibulin, but he's been spectacular.

He was deservedly named one of the NHL's three Stars for the month of October. He has been maybe the biggest surprise of the season from an individual standpoint. He is still averaging less than a goal per game (0.98) in GAA and has a spectacular .963 save percentage.

Just like Detroit's shooting percentage, you don't need a genius to tell you that's not going to last. Still, for a guy that people felt was going to be as useful as an empty Twinkie wrapper, this qualifies as outstanding.

He will have a chance to keep his stats low for another night, though. Considering the Oilers and Coyotes are two of the lowest-scoring teams in the league, a 2-1 battle or so is probably in store. Of course, now that we mention it, the game will more likely be a 7-5 breakout.

Speaking of bad shooting percentages ...

Remember that start the Colorado Avalanche had? The one where they were 5-1-0 and the early talk of the NHL? Yes, life on the road was nice.

Well home has not provided very friendly confines. At all.

The Avs are 1-4-1 at home while still 6-1-0 on the road. Since you are clever readers, I'm sure you know where this is going ...

Colorado is at home for the weekend capper on Sunday evening when it hosts the Calgary Flames. The key to getting on the right track at home? Again, we return to the that luck theme.

In their home games, the Avalanche have a 3.8 -- 3.8!!! -- shooting percentage. Either they continue to shoot directly into the opposing goalie's chest, or things just aren't going their way.

More starting trends

One more shooting percentage trend and then that's it, we promise.

Here are two reasons not to go all in on the Toronto Maple Leafs quite yet. First, their shooting percentage is unusually high at 12.9 percent as a team. Secondly, Toronto is actually being outshot by an average of five shots per game. They are in first place in the Northeast.

On the other hand, the Bruins are plus-five in shots per game and they are in last place in the Northeast.

The means exist for a reason. Teams usually regress toward the mean over the course of a season. Of course, in the meantime these trends are still being bucked.

Now the table is set for their showdown on Saturday in Toronto. By the way, Phil Kessel is still on pace for that monster season with 10 goals and 11 assists through 13 games.

Net issue

Very quietly there is the rumblings of a goaltending controversy in Buffalo. Like we said, very quietly.

Backup Jhonas Enroth has been very solid in his backup work of Ryan Miller, including the relief appearance earlier this week against the Flyers. In that game, Enroth held the Flyers scoreless for the majority of the game after Miller was pulled early in the first period with three quick goals.

It comes as little shock then that Lindy Ruff is going to start Enroth on Friday night with the Calgary Flames in town. Ruff is electing to start the hot goalie and likely trying to flip Buffalo's fortunes at home.

Like the Avs, the Sabres aren't finding home so nice in the early going. They are 2-4-0 at the First Niagara Center or whatever they call the arena these days.

The champs are here!

That would be baseball's champions, the St. Louis Cardinals.

Friday night in St. Louis will be a chance for the Blues to honor their winning neighbors.

Chris Carpenter, the Cards' ace pitcher, practiced with the team this week. In case you missed it, it was brought up countless times during the playoffs that Carpenter played hockey growing up.

Also, now ex-Cardinals manager (retirement) Tony La Russa will drop the ceremonial puck before the Blues face the Canucks. The Blues would love it if some of that winning magic can rub off on them as the Blues enter having dropped their last two games and are a quiet 5-6-0.

Photo: US Presswire

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: November 3, 2011 3:52 pm
Edited on: November 3, 2011 3:56 pm
 

Shanahan on suspensions and non-suspensions

By: Adam Gretz

When Brendan Shanahan handed out nine suspensions during the preseason the biggest question on our minds was whether or not that torrid pace would continue in the regular season, or if that was simply the message sending and adjustment phase.

A month into the regular season and, as of Thursday morning, Shanahan has issued just four suspensions that have totaled 11 games, while also issuing just two fines. For a comparison, on the same date last season under former NHL disciplinary czar Colin Campbell, the NHL had issued seven suspensions during the regular season that totaled 17 games, along with six fines.

After four suspensions for an illegal hit to the head during a one-week stretch in the preseason, we didn't see our first suspension for a similar play until this week when Edmonton's Andy Sutton received a five-game banishment for his hit to the head of Colorado Avalanche rookie Gabriel Landeskog. Are the players getting the message that was sent out during the preseason and starting to figure out what they are and aren't allowed to do? Or has Shanahan simply softened on what's worthy of a suspension? I think it's a combination of the two, and according to players like Nashville's Mike Fisher, who was on the receiving end of a questionable hit this past week, there is still some confusion from the players perspective.

I do think, simply based on nothing other than my own observations, that we have probably seen a bit of decrease in the number of blatant hits to the head. Whether or not that's because of the run of suspensions during the preseason, combined with the steady stream of video's breaking down each punishment, as well as the videos sent to each team demonstrating legal and illegal hits, is certainly up for debate. There just doesn't seem to be quite as many questionable hits as there were in recent seasons that have left us asking, "is this guy going to get suspended?"

But while they don't seem to be as frequent, they do still exist. Over the past week, for example, there have been a couple that drew some attention that resulted in no punishment from the league, including a play that involved Fisher getting hit by Francois Beauchemin, as well as Rangers forward Wojtek Wolski and his hit on Senators forward Daniel Alfredsson.

Shanahan appeared on NHL Live on Wednesday afternoon and addressed them.

"The first thing players want to know is what can't I do," said Shanahan. "And then the next, maybe just as important question is what can I do. And so we worked really hard in the offseason, players wanted us to get rid of illegal head shots, general managers wanted us to get rid of illegal head shots and I think the fans do to. And I think it's going to trickle down into minor hockey as well, so we talked a lot about this and we worked with the NHLPA, and players contributed to this, we talked about making a full body check."

At that point Shanahan went into a full description of why there was no discipline for Beauchemin:
"We felt that Beauchemin worked hard, right here he's blowing snow, he actually gets in front of Fisher, and he's blowing snow and digging in and he's hitting him in the chest, shoulder and unfortunately there is some incidental contact to the head, but we feel that's a full body check. We've asked the players to do hat, Beauchemin worked really hard to get in front of Fisher, maybe a year ago he doesn't and he hits him from the blindside. Even though he approached from the blindside he didn't deliver the hit, you saw the snow blowing, he got in front of him, stopped, dug in, kept his elbow down, kept his feet on the ice and delivered a hard hit."
And then on the on the Wolski/Alfredsson hit:
"Wolski's not a dirty player, and has no history of being a dirty player. There are collisions that occur on the ice where, unfortunately, one player sees it just prior. On this play here, Wolski has got to get out to his point. You see here, Gaborik, the left winger, has to come all the way to Wolski's point on the right side because Wolski's not there. He ran into Alfredsson trying to get there."

"We've seen enough of these now, and I don't like these, but we've seen enough of them where when one player sees the hit just prior, he tenses up. And sometimes he even leans in because he's bracing for an impact. When both guys see it, it's two guys tensing up and they bounce off each other and everybody's fine. It's really unfortunate here, when one player doesn't see it and the other guy does."

"Now, if I felt this was intentional, or if it wasn't at the last instant, just prior. If I might have felt there was any kind of sneakiness or history of these types of offenses for Wolski, he would have been suspended."
Shanahan's emphasis on prior history, and whether or not a player has a reputation for being a dirty player or a track record of illegal hits has sparked some discussion as well as the concern that there is still way too much inconsistency when it comes to player discipline. Should it really matter if a player has or has not been guilty of an illegal hit in the past when he does eventually commit one? Of course not. An illegal play is an illegal play whether or not it's delivered by Wojtek Wolski, a player with no prior history, or Daniel Carcillo, a player with a lengthy history. Not suspending a player like Wolski because he's never done it before almost seems as if it's giving players one free pass before they get punished.

It's either legal or it's not.

Photo: Getty Images

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