Bart Byl

Apr 202011
 

After every Canucks playoff game, we’ll break down one key play, frame-by-frame.

(Editor’s note: Sorry folks. I know we’re a bit behind here.)

The Situation

After being under siege for the first half of the game, Vancouver strikes 7 seconds into its first powerplay on a Christian Ehrhoff marker. Immediately after, Chris Higgins hits the post, the puck comes out of Chicago’s zone, and Edler carries it back in as the Sedins come over the boards.

Frame 1 (10:51)

In the middle of a line change, Edler takes Bieksa’s cross-ice pass on his backhand.

Frame 2 (10:52)

Edler goes down the wing as rookie defenceman Nick Leddy (who turned 20 a couple weeks ago) approaches. Expecting Edler to pass laterally, Leddy blocks the blue line with his stick.

Frame 3 (10:53)

Because Leddy approaches at a bad angle, Edler easily gains outside position in him. Leddy’s out of the play by now.

Frame 4 (10:54)

Suddenly a low-percentage 2-on-3 has turned into a good scoring chance for Edler. The Swede pulls his stick back, eyeing Crawford for the wrist shot.

Frame 5 (10:55)

Crawford comes out to challenge. Leddy, Keith and Frolik are all focused on Edler. No one’s picked up Daniel Sedin sneaking into the slot.

Frame 6 (10:55)

One person’s noticed Sedin: Edler. In one smooth motion he swings the puck over to Sedin. Expecting a shot, Crawford goes down.

Frame 7 (10:56)

Daniel fans on the pass. Luckily for him, Keith also fans on the clearing attempt, as the puck narrowly misses the heel of his stick.

Frame 8 (10:56)

Crawford is completely out of the play, having gone down early and now tangled up with Leddy. Daniel connects on his second whack, and out of nowhere Vancouver is up 2-1.

Apr 172011
 

After every Canucks playoff game, we’ll break down one key play, frame-by-frame.

The Situation

There are less than 6 minutes left in the second period. Vancouver has a commanding 2-0 lead, and is looking dominant. Chicago looks frustrated. They didn’t score in game 1, and it’s not looking good right now.

Frame 1 (14:43)

It starts out as a harmless-looking rush up the ice. Bryan Bickell carries the puck through the neutral zone, with Ben Smith on his right and Markus Kruger behind them. Bieksa challenges Bickell, Henrik (top) and Daniel (bottom) stay with the wingers, while Edler (normally not out with Bieksa) hangs back.

Frame 2 (14:45)

Bieksa forces Bickell to go wide as he enters the zone. Since this isn’t the Toews line, Henrik stops skating, gliding alongside Smith as he watches the play.

Frame 3 (14:46)

Frame 4 (14:47)

Things don’t look too threatening here, do they? It’s a two-on-three at best for Chicago. Bieksa is on Bickell, Henrik is on Smith (or at least not too far away) and Edler is back as insurance.

Frame 5 (14:47)

Uh oh. Somehow Bickell gets position on Bieksa. Everyone’s eyes are on the corner now; no one’s watching Smith. Perhaps Henrik and Edler assume the other guy’s got him.

Frame 6 (14:47)

Bickell is now in front of Bieksa, but he’s pretty deep. Will he power out front? Will he pass to Smith in the slot? Edler tries to cover both possibilities by dropping to one knee.

Frame 7 (14:48)

Bickell can’t do anything but shoot from a deep angle. Luongo won’t be caught cheating towards Smith. He hugs tight against his post.

Unfortunately for Luongo, the puck bounces off the edge of his glove and right to a waiting Smith. Henrik suddenly realizes Smith is open, but it’s too late. Even a checking forward can’t miss a wide open net like this. Out of nowhere, Chicago is back in the game.

Apr 152011
 

After every Canucks playoff game, we’ll break down one key play, frame-by-frame.

Frame 1 (11:16, 1st period)

Down a goal, Hawks press. Duncan Keith (left) receives a pass from Brian Campbell, after Ryan Kesler blocked Keith’s earlier shot. Samuelsson (right) and 3 teammates are deep in their own zone. But where’s the fifth Vancouver skater?

Frame 2 (11:16)

Keith swivels left to take the shot, unaware that Jannik Hansen has jumped off the bench and is making a beeline for him. Instead of using his body to protect the puck, Keith is unwittingly offering it right to Hansen.

Frame 3 (11:17)

Hansen pushes the puck off a suprised Keith’s stick and straight towards Mikael Samuelsson.

Frame 4 (11:18)

Samuelsson quickly throws the puck up the ice for Hansen to chase. Keith is caught gliding in the wrong direction. Only Hossa has a chance of catching Hansen, who has to do a 180 and turn on the afterburners.

Frame 5 (11:19)

Hossa and Hansen engage in a foot-race for the puck, which hurtles through the neutral zone. Instead of skating to catch them, Keith (bottom right) waves for Crawford to sprint out and reach the puck before Hansen.

Frame 6 (11:21)

Hansen catches up to the puck right here, at the top of the circles. Crawford probably would have beat him had he rushed out of his net right away, but he hesitates and decides to stay deep. Not only is Hossa right behind him, but Hansen has a broken stick to avoid tripping over.

Frame 7 (11:22)

Hansen finishes off his breakaway with a quick move and scores. Looks like the speedy Dane has shaken off his hands of stone.

Apr 022011
 

There are pretty goals, like Daniel’s between-the-legs shot against Calgary last year in a mean-nothing, final-game-of-the season blowout.

Then there are the clutch goals: the shorthanded breakaway, the rush up ice in the dying minutes, the rebound bashed home from your knees with the goalie pulled and seconds left.

In chronological order, here’s the 10 clutch goals that made you roar in relief and jubliation this season.

Manny Malhotra vs Detroit Red Wings on November 6

Killing a late second-period penalty in a tied game, Malhotra strips Datsyuk at the blue line and goes in alone.

Ryan Kesler vs Anaheim Ducks on December 8

On his knees with 23 seconds left and desperate to tie the game, Kesler bashes at the puck before willing it behind Hiller.

Ryan Kesler vs Columbus Blue Jackets on December 15

Kesler did all the scoring for the Canucks this night, completing his first career hat-trick with the overtime winner on this 2-on-1 feed from Daniel.

Kevin Bieksa vs Edmonton Oilers on December 26

With a minute left in a deadlocked game, the Canucks take over. Bieksa blasts the winner in through a screen with 25 seconds to spare.

Lee Sweatt vs Nashville Predators on January 26

“Rudy” comes off the bench, receives a spinorama pass from Daniel, and his first NHL shot finds the back of the net. The feel-good moment of the year.

Daniel Sedin vs Chicago Blackhawks on February 4

Patrick Kane turns the puck over. Burrows heads up ice to Henrik, to Daniel, who flips the puck over a surprised Turco with 4:00 left in the third to beat their hated nemesis.

Daniel Sedin vs Los Angeles Kings on March 5

Half-way through the third, Daniel shoves Doughty into Quick before potting Ehrhoff’s rebound. Doughty screamed in protest, but Daniel’s greasy marker stood up as the winner.

Henrik Sedin vs Colorado Avalanche on March 16

Daniel leaves his brother a blind, between-the-legs drop-pass in the slot, and Henrik drives home the winner.

Alex Burrows vs Nashville Predators on March 29

After tying the game earlier in the third, Burrows gets behind Weber and Suter with 2:30 left in a 1-1 game. There’s no doubt what move he’ll use on Rinne.

Christian Ehrhoff vs Los Angeles Kings on March 31

In a 1-1- game, Doughty turns the puck over deep in the Vancouver zone with under 8 seconds left in the 2nd period. Hansen and Ehrhoff sprint up the ice to beat the clock.

Mar 022011
 

I don’t hold with them new-fangled statistics like plus/minus or Corsi ratings. Why should numbers be privileged over letters? A player’s name is the best way of revealing his essence — short of cutting him open, of course.

Rearranging the letters of a few Canucks’ names can reveal truth you’ll never find in a spreadsheet. Meditate on these anagrams.

Daniel Sedin: Linden’s idea
“Good thinking, Trevor. So, to recap, I’ll send you to the Islanders for Brian McCabe, whom my succesor will trade to get the other Sedin twin.”

Henrik Sedin: Heed in rinks!
Outside the arena, you can safely ignore him.

Alex Burrows: Walrus Boxer
Before making it big with the ECHL Greenville Grrrowl, Burrows was a proud Walrus Boxer.

Mason Raymond: Damn, ya morons!
“I was wide open in the slot. Didn’t you hear me screaming?”

Mikael Samuelsson: A muskmelons aisle?
“Sorry, sir. We may have some in the back, but I doubt it. What country did you say you were from?”

Tanner Glass: Agent snarls
“I’ll see you in hell, Gillis.”

Dan Hamhuis: Ahah, nudism!
I know he looks innocent, but the anagram never lies.

Keith Ballard: I’ll bark death!
“Calm down, Keith. What I really need from you is a little bite.”

Sami Salo: Am I a loss?
“Kleenex? Well, not completely, no. Your injuries did help the cap situation this season. ”

Alexander Edler: Darn, Lee relaxed.
A jealous Edler was hoping Sweatt would collapse in terror during his first game.

Andrew Alberts: Bartender’s Law.
Free drinks on the house whenever Alberts scores.

Cory Schneider: She cried. Corny.
Desperate to fit in, the rookie goaltender mocks chick flicks.

Roberto Luongo: Retool our bong.
Clearly, he’s adapted very well to the West Coast.

Feb 072011
 

Think the regular season means squat? Consider this. No team seeded lower than 5th in their conference has won the Cup. Ever.

Convinced the President’s Trophy is worthless? Seven of the 24 winners — 30% — have hoisted the championship banner.

Eight teams from each conference have made the postseason since 1980, when the NHL made some adjustments to accommodate the four new WHA teams. Let’s see how high each Cup winner since then had ranked in that year’s regular season.

YearTeamFinal Position in Conference
(* = President’s Trophy winner)
1980New York Islanders2
1981New York Islanders1*
1982New York Islanders1*
1983New York Islanders4
1984Edmonton Oilers1
1985Edmonton Oilers1
1986Montreal Canadiens3
1987Edmonton Oilers1*
1988Edmonton Oilers2
1989Calgary Flames1*
1990Edmonton Oilers2
1991Pittsburgh Penguins2
1992Pittsburgh Penguins4
1993Montreal Canadiens5
1994New York Rangers1*
1995New Jersey Devils5
1996Colorado Avalanche2
1997Detroit Red Wings3
1998Detroit Red Wings2
1999Dallas Stars1*
2000New Jersey Devils4
2001Colorado Avalanche1*
2002Detroit Red Wings1*
2003New Jersey Devils2
2004Tampa Bay Lightning1
2005Cancelled due to labour dispute
2006Carolina Hurricanes2
2007Anaheim Ducks2
2008Detroit Red Wings1*
2009Pittsburgh Penguins4
2010Chicago Blackhawks2

As you scan through this table, you’ll notice that fully 22 out of the 30 winners placed either first or second in their conference. The greatest underdogs were the 1993 Canadiens and the 1995 Devils, and they were in fifth place.

A true dark horse like Montreal last year might play spoiler for a couple rounds, or even make it to the final, but they’ve never won it all. It’s not impossible (history isn’t destiny) it’s just extremely unlikely.

If the playoffs simply involved Gary Bettman flipping a coin for each round (don’t laugh, NHL head office has considered this), each playoff team would have a 6.25% chance of hoisting Lord Stanley.

But the playoffs are not a fresh slate. Here’s a few reasons higher-ranked teams have better odds:

  • Home ice advantage. The President’s Trophy is guaranteed home ice in all 4 rounds. First and second in the conference get home ice in the first three and two rounds respectively. Playing at home is huge, especially in Game 7.
  • Weaker opposition. Upsets happen ever year (ask Washington), but over seven games a top-tier team will usually beat one that just squeaked in. Would you rather Minnesota or Detroit in the first round?
  • Rest. Down the stretch, teams with a secure berth can afford to rest key players. Vancouver won’t rush Edler back, but Calgary will have to give Iginla high minutes every night over the next few months.
  • Let’s not forget the obvious: they’re just better teams. Most of the factors that helped teams win in the regular season (scoring, defense, goaltending, etc) also help in the regular season. The playoffs are more intense, but it’s the same sport.

Without a Cup, the President’s Trophy is a poor consolation prize. It means little on its own, and guarantees nothing — but it really helps. Thirty percent odds, you say? I’ll take it.

Dec 312010
 

Daniel and Henrik Sedin are fourth and fifth in league scoring, and Ryan Kesler is on pace for a 40-goal, Selke Trophy season. But superstars alone don’t win Stanley Cups. Champions need depth, and especially a dominant third line.

Consider the five Stanley Cup winners since the lockout, and their third lines.

Chicago: Dave Bolland, Andrew Ladd and Kris Versteeg
Pittsburgh: Jordan Staal, Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke
Detroit: Kris Draper, Dan Cleary and Dallas Drake
Anaheim: Travis Moen, Rob Niedermayer and Samuel Pahlsson
Carolina: Doug Weight, Mark Recchi and Ray Whitney

All five teams had hard-working third lines that could shut down the opposition and pop in clutch goals — pretty much everything Wellwood, Demitra and Bernier failed to do last spring.

Let’s pause for a moment’s gratitude those three are gone, and then meditate on their replacements.

Alain Vigneaut’s current incarnation of that third line has Malhotra between Torres and Samuelsson. Are they good enough?

Manny Malhotra

Manny Malhotra is a quietly effective two-way player, and the league’s second-best faceoff man at 63.5%. That skill is even more important in the playoffs, where winning a defensive-zone faceoff with 30 seconds line can mean the difference between pulling out a win or heading to the golf course.

And Manny has some offensive flair as well. Remember that shorthanded breakaway goal against Detroit?

Raffi Torres

Raffi Torres has been fondly described as a bowling ball, scattering defenders as he works the boards. Torres was named the NHL’s first star of the week on November 8 after five goals in four games. Since then, he’s fallen into a slump, and his -2 is the worst plus/minus of any Canucks who’s played over 25 games.

Mikael Samuelsson

Mikael Samuelsson may be this season’s greatest disappointment. After a 30-goal performance, he was a monster against the LA Kings, sniping 7 goals in the first round.

Despite starting the season with the twins, he was unable to capitalize and sunk to the second, and then the third line. (He may be the team’s fourth-leading scorer, but only because Burrows, Raymond and Tambellini have played fewer games.)

Even worse, Samuelsson’s been prone to making brutal giveaways, like this one leading to Daniel Briere’s goal on Tuesday.

Then again, Samuelsson has the greatest upside of the third line members. If he ever finds his shot (and his brain) again, he has the ability to take over a game and even a series.

Is the third line good enough? It can be. It all depends on two streaky players coming into their own at the opportune moment.

Let’s hope Torres and Samuelsson are banking the magic for springtime.

Apr 022010
 

No one wants to play the dreaded Wings, but who would you rather the Canucks face in the first round: Nashville, Los Angeles, Colorado, or Calgary?

Let’s grade the top nine teams in the Western Conference (throwing Calgary in the mix on the slight chance they snag the final spot) in three categories: Offense, Defense, and Goaltending.

I’ve assigned a grade by giving the top NHL team in that category a mark of 100% and the lowest 50%, and used that scale to calculate a percentage for each team and then translate into a letter grade. Make sense?

We’ll look at these goals per game, shots against per game, and save percentage only; use your judgment to adjust rankings based on injuries, momentum, or insights gained watching games.

Ready? Let’s go.

OFFENSE

TeamsGoals For Per GameGrade
Vancouver3.22A
Chicago3.14A-
San Jose3.14A-
Colorado2.91B
Los Angeles2.78C+
Detroit2.72C+
Nashville2.65C
Phoenix2.56C-
Calgary2.51C-

Only the high-octane Capitals have scored more goals this season than Vancouver, led by the league’s best line and six scorers with more than 20 goals. At the bottom: Phoenix’s bunch nobodies and Calgary’s Jarome Iginla and a bunch of nobodies.

DEFENSE

TeamsShots Against Per GameGrade
Chicago24.8A+
Los Angeles27.6B+
Calgary28.9B
Nashville29.1B
Vancouver29.3B
Phoenix29.8B-
Detroit29.8B-
San Jose31.2C+
Colorado32.0C

We’re looking at shots and not goals against per game to isolate the defense from the goaltending. By that measure, Chicago’s blue-chip defense has been the league’s best this season, led by likely Norris-winner Duncan Keith. The young Kings are the best of the rest.

GOALTENDING

TeamsStarting GoaltenderSave PercentageGrade
DetroitJimmy Howard0.925A
CalgaryMikka Kiprusoff0.921B+
San JoseEvegeni Nabokov0.921B+
PhoenixIlya Bryzgalov0.920B+
ColoradoCraig Anderson0.917B
VancouverRoberto Luongo0.916B-
NashvillePekka Rinne0.910C
Los AngelesJonathan Quick0.907C-
ChicagoAntti Niemi/Cristobal Huet0.901F

We’re looking at save percentage and not wins, goals against or shutouts because it’s the stat that best isolates a goaltender’s performance from the team’s.

Is Jimmy Howard really the best goalie in the Western conference? His lack of experience will be tested going into the playoffs. Meanwhile, Ilya Bryzgalov is Ryan Miller’s main competition for the Vezina.

Chicago has the awkward combination of allowing the least number of shots per game, but having problems stopping the few shots they see. They can’t decide if Huet or Niemmi will hurt them less.

OVERALL

TeamsOverall GradeComments
VancouverB+The deepest and most balanced team in the West. Their fortunes depend on Luongo finally turning it on.
San JoseBGreat goaltending, mediocre defense. Can Thornton, Heatley and Marleau keep scoring in the playoffs?
ChicagoBPoor goaltending is the Hawks' Achilles heal. Do they wish they kept Khabibulin?
DetroitBThese playoff veterans are the hottest team in the league right now: 9-0-1 in their last ten.
CalgaryB-Calgary's inability to find good linemates for Iginla will be what does them in.
ColoradoB-Fading down the stretch, this young team won't do much this year.
PhoenixB-The Coyotes will face the Wings in round one, and home-ice advantage won't help them much.
Los AngelesB-The Kings are loaded with young talent. Can Doughty and Co pull off a first-round upset?
NashvilleC+Probably the weakest team in the first round, and mediocre in every category.

How would you grade the Western teams? Let us know in the comments.

Mar 282010
 

Every March, intelligent hockey fans turn to Sports Club Stats to assess the odds of NHL teams making the playoffs, and to predict their playoff position once the season ends.

Be thankful for computers. They do the heavy lifting, calculating every possible combination of game results (numbering in the hundreds of thousands). Factors such as a team’s home ice performance are worked in, and the odds are recalculated after every night’s games.

The Canucks

Vancouver has all but clinched a postseason berth, with only a 1 in 10,000 chance of missing at this point. No surprise there: the Canucks have had a 97% chance or higher of making the playoffs since finishing a strong December.

The Canucks’ chances of making the playoffs:

Canucks chances of making the playoffs

Can Colorado catch the Canucks for the division title? The Av’s chances are slim: just under 10%. Here are the Canucks’ chances for different playoff positions:

Playoff PositionOdds
11.5%
28.7%
380.0%
40.6%
53.4%
63.4%
71.9%
80.5%

The West

Our old friends the Flames are sputtering: their chances dropped from 15% to 6.5% with a 3-2 road loss to the Islanders last night.

Most likely the top four in the West will be (1) Chicago, (2) San Jose, (3) Vancouver, and (4) Phoenix.

The bottom four could be in any order. Vancouver will most likely play the number six seed, which could be Nashville (27% chance), Colorado (25%), Los Angeles (23%), or Detroit (18%).

The East

In the East, the Bruins have a 72.1% chance of holding on to eight place. The Rangers (20.9%) and Thrashers (14.7%) have a small chance of catching them.

The most likely ranking in the East is (1) Washington, (2) New Jersey, (3) Buffalo, (4) Pittsburgh, (5) Ottawa, (6) Montreal, (7) Philadelphia, and (8) Boston.

The Final Games

It’s an unusual season in that the teams in and out of the playoffs have pretty much been decided. There likely won’t be any final game dramatics.

The Canucks are sitting solidly in first place, with a small chance of moving up to second. The real concern is Detroit: no one wants to play the skilled and experienced Wings. Most of us will be rooting for them and the Avalanche to lose, and for Nashville and Los Angeles to win.

As for the Flames, we’re all very sorry they’ll miss the playoffs. We truly are, we promise.

Mar 242010
 

Roberto Luongo only faced 22 shots last night, but he allowed three weak goals and the Canucks lost.

Sound familiar? How about March 16 against the Islanders, where he allowed four goals on 12 shots? Or January 13 against Minnesota (five goals, 19 shots) or January 30 against Toronto (three goals, 8 shots)?

Luongo has been pulled eight times this season. Once was against Chicago. The other seven were against teams headed to the golf course when the season ends: the Islanders, Minnesota (twice), Toronto, St. Louis, Columbus, and Calgary.

Do Luongo’s legs fall asleep when he doesn’t face enough shots? Compare his save percentage in games grouped by the number of shots he faced.

No. of shots (weighted)*GPSAGASave %
Under 20580100.875
20-2412257320.875
25-2918451530.905
30-3416518310.940
35-39519270.964
40 and over6227230.899

(Full dataset here.)

As we suspected, Luongo is dismal when he faces under 25 shots, and only average when he faces under 30 shots.

His sweet spot is 30 to 39 shots. Three of his four shutouts came in those 21 games, and he’s got an impressive .947 SV%, crushing Ryan Miller’s league-leading .929.

In fact, Luongo hasn’t played a single bad game this season when facing that many shots. The worst he did was to surrender 4 goals to the Sharks on November 29, the second of back-to-back games. (Compare that to six games allowing 4 or more goals this season when facing under 30 shots.)

The stats confirm what we all knew: the busier Luongo is, the better he plays. He slides down to 0.899 SV% when facing 40 or more shots, though, so it would be rash to promote Andrew Alberts and Shane O’Brien to the number one pairing.

But there may be one tip for Alain Vigneault: put Andrew Raycroft in net against the crappy teams. He could hardly have done worse last night against the Oilers than did Luongo.

* Shots are weighted to 60 minutes. For example, if Luongo was pulled after the first period for allowing 5 goals on 14 shots (as he was against Chicago on March 5), I averaged that out over 60 minutes and recorded that as a 42-shot game.

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