Wednesday, April 30, 2014

NHL Playoffs: round one stuff

A few interesting things from the 1st round:

Some encouraging signs from the Pens
The Pens were able to put away the Columbus Blue Jackets in 6 games, and though no one would say it was a pretty sight, there are actually some good signs. First, let's look at the Corsi chart from the 6 games vs. Columbus (via  extraskater.com):




We see a lot of blue here, and that's good stuff. The Crosby and Malkin lines controlled the puck. Crosby's line did it against the toughest competition the Jackets had to offer. Paul Martin was a force on defense. Brandon Sutter (his circle is right behind Craig Adams) did the dirty work. His possession numbers aren't bad considering how often he starts in his own zone. The lone issue here was Rob Scuderi, and we've been through that. Bottom line: the Pens did a good job of possessing the puck in this series (particularly in games 5 and 6), and that's a great sign going forward. Columbus isn't really noted as a puck possession team; things will get tougher in the 2nd round.

Now let's look at goaltending:


 


Guess what? Marc-Andre Fleury is actually looking alright here, in terms of 5 on 5 save percentage. There was a lot of attention directed to his gaffes in Game 4, with everyone spinning the "here he goes again" narrative. Make no mistake: those were massive errors that cost the Pens the game. But they were also two bad plays that happened to occur in proximity to each other in a high leverage situation. Overall, Fleury has been more than adequate thus far.

The real sticking point for the Pens has been their special teams. They allowed three short-handed goals in 6 games, and they killed penalties at a 74% rate after killing them at an 85% clip during the season. If they can shore up their special teams while maintaining a high level of puck possession and goaltending, we could see a return to the conference finals.  


Patrick Roy is right about pulling the goalie
One of the big stories of the first round is Patrick Roy's goalie pulling strategies at the end of games. Instead of going for the extra attacker with about 1:00-1:30 left in the game, he's been doing it around 3 minutes. Patrick Roy is likely insane, but he's right about this, and it may have directly led to two Avalanche victories in this series. Roy has actually been doing this for a long time. In fact, here's a paper by some Canadian researchers evaluating strategies for pulling the goalie. Their work was motivated by a game in the Quebec Major Junior League in 2009, when Quebec Remparts head coach Patrick Roy pulled the goalie with 12:22 remaining. His team was down 3-0 and was on the verge of a lengthy 5-on-3 power play, which Roy turned into a 6-on-3. The Remparts ended up giving up an empty net goal, and Roy took a lot of heat for his strategy. However, the researchers found that coaches are generally too conservative; pulling the goalie earlier leads to a greater chance of success. Unfortunately, too many coaches are bound to conventional methods, partially because they fear opening themselves up to criticism, and partially because this is just how it's been done for so long. Bruce Boudreau took a page out of Roy's book Sunday night and pulled Jonas Hiller with 2:26 left in regulation, down by 2 goals. It worked. The Ducks scored two goals to tie the game then scored the series clincher in OT. Kudos to Patrick Roy; maybe it took a crazy person to bring a rational idea into the mainstream.


Kings vs. Sharks Game 7
This could end up being the most important game of this year's playoffs. These are two elite teams; whoever wins this game becomes the favorite to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals. Too bad it's at 10pm on a weeknight in the east.

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