Friday, March 14, 2008

Something got me to wondering...

Ever since I read this blog entry over on Japers' Rink.

Why? Why is it that there is so little movement late in the season?

Leave it to the great sage, Barry Melrose, to help us figure it out.

The reason..."three-point games."

Let's look at some of the things JP pointed out...

"With 28 days left in the 2006-07 season, the New York Islanders - the eventual eighth seed in the East - were in seventh place in the conference, and the top-eight in the conference on that day (March 11) all made the playoffs."
That's the "what." What about the "why?" Here is something to think those last 28 days, the Islanders won two games in a shootout, two extra points they would not have received in the "pre-shootout days." Toronto, which finished one thin point behind the Islanders, won three games in extra time during that span of days, but all were won in the overtime session, not the shootout (overtime was a part of the standings points landscape, pre-lockout). If the Islanders don't get the extra points from the shootout -- if those games remained ties -- they don't keep their spot.

Now, of course, it is not accurate to take just this slice of games out of an entire season of shootout-eligible play, and the absence of a shootout might change individual game dynamics. But the point here is how teams are able to hang onto their positions late in the year. And, in those last 28 days, the shootout worked to the advantage of the Islanders to hold on to what they had.

With 28 days left in the 2005-06 season, the Tampa Basement Lightning - the eventual eighth seed in the East - were in sixth place in the conference, and seven of the top eight in the conference on that day (March 21) made the playoffs. The exception? The Thrashers, who fell from eight, allowing the Habs to make the post-season. And how far did Montreal come? From one point behind Atlanta with 28 days left.
In 2005-2006, the Lightning won two games that went to shootout in those last four weeks. Montreal had no such wins in its last 28 days of play, while Atlanta -- the team that lost ground here -- also had no such wins. The Lightning bested Atlanta by two points in that season, and it was precisely a two win margin (the Lighting winning two more games, the Thrashers with two extra OT/SO losses) that provided the margin.

In the West, eventual eighth seed Edmonton was in ninth place on March 21 and six of the top eight teams in the conference on that day made the playoffs, the only exceptions being Vancouver and Los Angeles who got replaced by San Jose and Edmonton. With 28 days left in the season, the Oilers had the same number of points as L.A. and the Sharks were only one point behind that pair and two behind the Canucks.
Edmonton squeaked into the eighth spot three points ahead of Vancouver. However, unlike this year's version of the Oilers, the shootout was not kind -- they won only one such outcome in the season's last 28 days. San Jose, which was the other winner in the sweepstakes, recorded no such wins. The losers -- Vancouver and Los Angeles -- recorded one shootout win apiece. In this instance, the shootout seemed not to be a factor (no explanation is perfect, or even necessarily correct).

We don't pretend that ours is deep analysis; it merely serves to raise a question...does the shootout, presumably a device to enhance the excitement of individual games, actually serve to prevent the kind of jockeying and drafting that might otherwise take place late in the year because teams "above the line" scratch out the extra point here or there? Once teams have sorted themselves out in the first 70 games or so, does the shootout -- and the extra point it offers in a gimmick -- then serve to cement that sorting for the last dozen games?

The Washington Capitals' Nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy -- Quintin Laing

"...given to the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey."

That is the citation that accompanies the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy. For those of you not familiar with the manner in which the trophy came to be named for Masterton, here is the Wikipedia entry on the unfortunate events...

"On January 13, 1968, four minutes into a game against the Oakland Seals at the Met Center, Masterton was carrying the puck into the Seals' zone. Shortly after completing a pass to teammate Wayne Connelly, he was checked by Oakland's Larry
Cahan and Ron Harris and fell backwards onto the ice head-first…Before he lost consciousness, a teammate who rushed to his aid heard Masterton murmur, "Never again. Never again."

Masterton sustained a massive brain hemorrhage…The injury was so severe that doctors were unable to perform surgery, and Masterton died two days later without ever regaining consciousness."

If ever anything good can come out of such tragedy, there were two things in the aftermath of Masterton's death worth noting. First, it intensified the debate over mandatory use of helmets. This rule was implemented in the 1979-1980 season. It seems reasonable to say that it has prevented many injuries and perhaps a number of deaths.

The second item is the trophy, which stands as acknowledgment of a player's exhibiting those character traits that are perhaps most associated with the sport -- perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication.

The Washington Capitals have nominated Quintin Laing for the 2008 award, and it would be hard to find anyone who exemplifies perserverance and dedication more than Laing. Fans see his seeming disregard for his well-being as he flings himself in front of 100-mile an hour pucks. They see the fact that he's worked himself up through the minors to get an opportunity on an NHL sheet of ice. But what fans probably don't know about is the journey, told by Laing himself in the fine article by Mike Vogel...

"It wasn't easy. First two years in the East Coast [League] and then six in the AHL. You've just got to love the game and love what you do and I do. I just kept playing hard and hoping for a chance. I got it this year, thanks to [Caps coach] Bruce Boudreau]. The last 40 games have been just a dream every day. Every day has been just like a living dream.”

With the trophy, there is a grant from the Professional Hockey Writers Association that is awarded annually to the Bill Masterton Scholarship Fund, based in Bloomington, Minn., in the name of the Masterton Trophy winner. Quintin Laing would be a fitting honoree in the tradition of the award, a worthy addition to the list of great NHLers who have been recipients.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Caps vs. Thrashers, March 14th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

“shhhhhhhh…be vewy vewy quiet.we’re hunting thwashuhs…”

Oh, sorry…shouldn’t you be hunting wabbits…uh, rabbits?

“Wabbits don’t pway hockey…they can’t get the hewwmets on their heads…hehehehehe.”

I see your point. Have you had much luck bagging thwashuhs…uh, thrashers?

“Not weawwy. They’re pwetty much dead awweddy.”

Yeah, they’ve had a tough time lately.

Atlanta is ending the season very much in the way they started it, and that is not a good thing for the Thrashers. They started the season 0-6-0, upon which they relieved Bob Hartley of his coaching duties. Well, now they are in the middle of a 2-6-4 run that has driven them to the bottom – almost – of the Eastern Conference. This morning the Thrashers are in 14th place and gasping for air.

Just as the 0-6-0 start was not a result of accident, so the misfortune of these last dozen games has not been the product of chance:

Record: 2-6-4
Goals for/against: 29/46
Power play: 10/49 (20.4%)
Penalty killing: 44/54 (81.5%)
Shots for/against-per game: 25.6/36.6
Record in three-or-more-goal margin games: 0-4
Record in extra-time games: 1-4

This just isn’t a very good hockey team at the moment. They’ve won one game in regulation since February 2nd (that was last night). They are a defensive disaster. Here is an indicator…they have no players – none – who have played at least 20 games this year and are on the plus side of the ledger. Even Colby Armstrong, who came over from Pittsburgh in the Marian Hossa deal on deadline day, has managed a -4 in eight games with the Thrashers.

If you’re wondering about the big guys and their performance during this drought…

Ilya Kovalchuk: 8-5-13, +3
Mark Recchi: 2-7-9, -4
Eric Perrin: 2-4-6, -6
Slava Kozlov: 1-4-5, -5
Bobby Holik: 2-4-6, -3

Tobias Enstrom, who was making a push to get some rookie of the year consideration, has fallen on some hard times of his own on the blue line. He has two assists and is a -8 over the last dozen games.

But when Atlanta plays the Caps, you can’t discount the fact that some of those same Thrashers have saved their best efforts for those games…

Kovalchuk: 35 games, 20-24-44, +15
Recchi: 88 games, 46-58-104, +22
Armstrong: 8 games, 3-5-8, -2
Holik: 84 games, 22-24-46, +10

Over the last dozen games, that 46 goals allowed sticks out. Can’t necessarily blame that one on Marian Hossa’s departure (maybe Pascal Dupuis was the key all along?). Seven times they have allowed more than three goals, five times they have allowed at least five goals. Part of that is the fact that Atlanta goaltenders have been the targets in an arcade game – the Thrashers are allowing 11 more shots a game over the last dozen contests than they’ve registered on offense – and it’s showing up in the goaltending statistics.

Kari Lehtonen, who was the goaltender of record in last night’s 6-4 win over Calgary, is 1-5-3, 3.88, .893 in ten appearances over the last dozen games. He’s 8-3-2, 2.56, .919 in 13 career games against the Caps. If he doesn’t get the call in the back half of the back-to-back, Johan Hedberg is 1-1-1 in four appearances over the last dozen games, 3.37, .902. He is 6-2 (with two ties), 2.66, .911 in 10 lifetime appearances against the Caps…it sure seems like more, doesn’t it?

Looking at the Thrashers, it’s a case of a damaged but dangerous club. Losing Hossa robbed them of a lot of offense. But this is not, and hasn’t been a very good defensive team all year (tied for last in goals against-per-game, 27th in penalty killing). They are, however, 4-2 against the Caps this year, with two of the wins coming in extra time. So, while the Thrashers have fallen on hard times, that probably won’t be much to bank on for the Caps if the red-white-and-blue don’t bring their A-game.

The Caps need to get off fast, then stand on the Thrashers’ throats. Last night Atlanta came from three goals down to beat Calgary in a game that had no meaning, save pride, for the Thrashers. If the Caps do not tend to business, they might take this – if not to their @#$%ing graves, as Herb Brooks might put it -- to the off season as the one in the stretch run they let slip away.

We don’t think they will, though (do we ever?)…

Caps 5 – Thrashers 2