Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Tarik and Olie for a Sit-Down

Tarik El-Bashir caught up with Olaf Kolzig at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. Here is the complete entry. But for The Peerless, here is the money quote:

I want to be here when this team peaks. Our goal is to make make the playoffs. But I think in the next two or three years we should have legitimate shot [at contending for a Cup]. I want to be around to experience that.
"Next two or three years..." For those of you who follow such things, Kolzig is an unrestricted free agent after the 2007-2008 season. When asked about any talks about an extension, Kolzig utters the requisite "I'm just going to play hockey and let George [McPhee] and my agent take care of that when the time comes" comment. Given that McPhee will have to deal with expiring contracts for Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Boyd Gordon, Brian Sutherby, Steve Eminger, Shaone Morrisonn, and Mike Green, it should be a very busy next off-season for the GM.

Well, if he's still here, that is.

Our Long Continental Nightmare is Over

Michael Peca is a Blue Jacket...well, almost

So much for all that Peca-to-Manhattan nonsense from last week. But then again, "Michael Peca" is an anagram for "Ace Lie Champ."

Benchmarks, Part VIII -- Penalty Killing

We’re getting close to the end of this look at benchmarks, and the next specialty is penalty killing.

BENCHMARK: Ottawa Senators

Bet you weren’t expecting that as a benchmark. Ottawa finished 10th in penalty killing (84.5 percent) in the regular season. But we threw a couple of twists into this. First, we included shorthanded goals scored in the mix. The Senators finished tied for first in that statistic (17, with Montreal). Then, the total number of shorthanded situations was factored into the equation to determine which club was most efficient in penalty killing. You’re welcome to arrive at your own conclusions with your own methods, but using this one, the Senators were spit out, just ahead of Minnesota.*

What puts Ottawa at the top of the heap? Well, subjectively part of it is probably a function of their having what (at least in The Peerless’ addled mind) is the top defensive pair in the league in Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov. These guys played together consistently and were not cobbled together for purposes of special teams. Second, Ottawa employed top line players in the penalty kill, at least in a supporting capacity. Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley teamed for five of the Senators’ 17 total shorthanded goals. Having that kind of a threat on the ice might make opponents’ power plays play a bit more honestly, especially at the top of the offensive zone – fewer instances of point-players jumping down into the play. But that requires the players involved be defensively responsible players in their own right, and Alfredsson and Heatley adequately fit that mold.

On the matter of shorthanded goals, the Senators had nine different players score them. 17 teams scored fewer total shorthanded goals than the Senators had players who scored them. It was a dangerous unit.

It was a rocky road Ottawa traveled to get to this top spot. In their first 35 games they gave up two or more power play goals ten times, culminating with three in a five game stretch in December (which included giving up five goals in 11 opportunities to Columbus). But starting on December 21st, with a 7-for-7 penalty killing effort against Tampa Bay, Ottawa played their last 47 games giving up two or more power play goals only four times. They were 31-8-8 in those games.

The balance between consistent performance, depth, and a team dangerous in shorthanded situations made Ottawa the benchmark for penalty killing performance.

Capitals (projected): uhhhh…..

I have no idea who will man the top penalty killing group. The Peerless is tempted to pencil in the Pettinger-Gordon-Clark trio in the forward slots, but the defensemen are a head-scratcher. Morrisonn-Juricna? Maybe. Pothier-Eminger? Perhaps. Mike Green saw next to no time on the penalty kill last year; if he makes the squad, does he get some time there? A player to be named (that is, acquired) later?

There is a lot of work to be done here. Based on The Peerless’ rating tool, the Caps finished 24th in penalty killing effectiveness last year. Only one team ranked lower (Atlanta, and we saw how long they lasted) made the playoffs. And keep in mind, the Caps finished tied for seventh in shorthanded goals scored.

Part of the problem is getting into those shorthanded situations in the first place. The Caps were tied for 13th in the league in total shorthanded situations faced. Only three of the 12 teams higher on the list (Vancouver, NY Islanders, Pittsburgh) made the playoffs. Ottawa, by way of comparison, was 20th.

The Caps also had trouble with multiple power play goal games. 18 times opponents scored at least two power play goals. And it was a consistent kind of difficulty. In their first 32 games, after which they were 15-10-7, the Caps had seven games in which they gave up at least two power play goals. After that, in the last 50 games, they did so 11 times.

There is another element to this as well, although it can be overstated, that being that a club’s best penalty killer is its goalie. The whole issue for penalty killing is that the opponent has an extra man, and much of the effort for the opponent is to free that extra attacker for a clear shot. If a skater is left unaccounted for, or if a rebound finds itself on the stick of an unmarked attacker in scoring territory, the goaltender is at his mercy. But if the penalty killers attend to business – sound positioning, determined clearing of the crease, blocking shots without sacrificing position, efficient clearing of the puck when they gain possession – the goaltender ends up being less of a penalty killer of necessity.

Ottawa fixed a problem in midstream and the result went a long way to catapult them to the upper reaches of the Eastern Conference standings by year end. The Caps problem was more fundamental; they simply were not a very good penalty killing group last year, and they compounded it by getting themselves into too many of such situations. If they have aspirations to climbing into the playoff mix, this is one area that has to be improved.

* By the way, for the attentive reader, San Jose comes out on top of the power play ratings using this method, too.