Thursday, May 13, 2010

Sittin' at the end of the bar...

Some interesting numbers from last night's Montreal/Pittsburgh Game 7 and for the series...

-- Blocked shots... Montreal 26 - Pittsburgh 3
-- Turnovers... Pittsburgh 20 - Montreal 1
-- Pittsburgh's fourth line (Rupp, Talbot, Adams)... a combined 17:42 in ice time
-- Montreal's fourth line (Metropolit, Darche, Pouliot)... a combined 7:41 in ice time
-- Number of too-many-men-on-the-ice penalties... two, both by Pittsburgh
-- Penguin power play, Game 1... 4-for-4 (100.0 percent)
-- Penguin power play, Games 2-7... 4-for-25 (16.0 percent)
-- Number of games in post-season Montreal has scored a power play goal... 10 (of 14 games played)
-- Number of games in post-season Montreal scored more than one power play goal... one, last night
-- Shots on goal by Sidney Crosby in Ottawa series... 24 (six games, five goals)
-- Shots on goal by Sidney Crosby in Montreal series... 17 (seven games, one goal)
-- Marc-Andre Fleury, Games 1-3... 2-1, 2.01, .957
-- Marc-Andre Fleury, Games 4-7... 1-3, 3.54, .875
-- Evgeni Malkin, number of even-strength goals in post-season... 1
-- Matt Cooke, number of even-strength goals in post-season... 4

Law and Order: NHL Unit

In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police, who investigate crime; and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories…

Scene: 66 Mario Lemieux Place
Pittsburgh, Hill District

Det. Lennie Briscoe: Whaddawegot here?

Det. Ed Green: Penguins… nothing but dead penguins. Have to be really sick to pull this off.

Briscoe: Cause of death?

Green: Looks like asphyxiation.

Briscoe: You mean someone gassed ‘em?

Green: Can’t tell… looks like they might have done it themselves.

Briscoe: You mean, they choked?

Green: Looks that way….


Scene: Precinct Headquarters

Lt. Anita Van Buren: Anything on the Hill District Penguin case?

Briscoe: We have some leads, could be a gang of thugs in red-white and blue colors… similar to a case outta DC, same MO. These guys went right for the head guy, too… some Penguin they call “Crosby.” Took him right out, probably first one to choke. Then we found a really grisly scene around the one they call “Gonchar”… undressed, an athletic supporter lying next to him.

Van Buren: You can say ‘jock’ in here, detective.

Briscoe: Right… well, there was this one Penguin we found over on the bench, curled up, wearing pads and a baseball cap. Whatever they did to him must have been really nasty.

Van Buren: that one have a name?

Briscoe: Fleury… Marc-Andre Fleury.


Scene: One Chatham Center, Pittsburgh, Penguins Administrative Offices

Briscoe: Sir, my name’s Detective Briscoe, and this is Detective Green… we’re investigating a possible multiple homicide last night at Mellon Arena. A number of your Penguins were found dead on the ice. Were there any strange comings and goings around the arena?

Administrative Flunky: Well, we did have a hockey game last night. I hope you’ll understand, folks are pretty upset this morning… we were eliminated last night.

Briscoe: Eliminated?

Flunky: I take it you’re not much of a hockey fan, detective.

Green: Lennie, he’s referring to the Penguins. They played the Montreal Canadiens last night… got beat 5-2 to end their season.

Briscoe: Yeah, well, I’m a Yankee fan. And do you think the events are related, sir?

Flunky: Well, I don’t know. Have you talked to the coach?

Briscoe: The coach?

Flunky: Yeah… Dan Bylsma. He was behind the bench last night. He might know.


Scene: Office of Head Coach Dan Bylsma

Briscoe: Coach Bylsma?

Bylsma: yeah…

Briscoe: I’m Detective Briscoe, and this is Detective Green. We’re investigating a possible homicide at Mellon Arena last night and…

Bylsma: Can this wait? We just had our season end last night, and we’re packing things up for the summer.

Briscoe: I’m afraid not. Sir, you were behind the bench last night. Would you say that there were any strange happenings while you were there?

Bylsma: You could say that. We stunk. Crosby takes a penalty ten seconds into the game. They score 22 seconds later. Then Cooke takes a penalty… puts us behind the eight ball.

Green: And this is unusual behavior?

Bylsma: We’re the Stanley Cup champs! Well, we were until last night. Then we go and play stupid. You’d think they were choking right there on the ice.

Briscoe: Choking?

Bylsma: Choking, gagging, taking it in the throat. You want me to draw you pictures, detective?

Briscoe: That won’t be necessary. We’ve heard that there were others in the building… a gang wearing red, white, and blue colors. You know anything about that?

Bylsma: The Canadiens.

Briscoe: And they would be…

Bylsma: The other team. The one that beat us.

Briscoe: You mean with a blunt instrument?

Bylsma: Not unless you consider a hockey stick a blunt instrument.

Briscoe: Well actually, we do. But about those…

Bylsma: Canadiens

Briscoe: Canadiens… did you actually see them beat your Penguins?

Bylsma: Like a bunch of whipped dogs. It was ugly. I had to get Fleury out of there. They were all over him.

Briscoe: Fleury?

Green: The one we found over at the bench in the baseball cap.

Briscoe: I see… and do you think these Canadiens had a motive for this beating?

Bylsma: Sure… they want to win the Stanley Cup, just like we did… well, I thought we did, but not the way we played last night.

Briscoe: And these Canadiens, could you tell us where they might be now?

Bylsma: Probably in Montreal getting drunk, waiting to see if they’ll be heading to Boston or Philadelphia.


Scene: Office of the District Attorney

Executive Assistant District Attorney Jack McCoy: What do you have for me detectives?

Briscoe: Looks like it’s pointing to a homicide. Right there in the middle of the ice. A gang that calls themselves the “Canadiens” were after this cup…

Green: Stanley Cup

Briscoe: Right… and the Penguins were the bunch that had it. Robbery seems to be the motive. But there seems to be something strange about this.

McCoy: What’s that, detective?

Briscoe: These Canadiens. They’re hardly in hiding. They’ve been all over ESPN this morning and this NHL Network. Not exactly the sort of behavior you would expect of killers.

McCoy: Not exactly. Anything else you’ve been able to turn up?

Briscoe: We did some digging into their backgrounds, and it seems that last night was the seventh time these gangs locked up in the last couple of weeks – in Montreal and in Pittsburgh. No one got killed, but there was a guy who was sliced and another one who tore up his knee. The more we dig into this, the smellier it gets.

McCoy: What do you mean, detective?

Briscoe: We looked at a few of these Penguins. Take this one they call “Malkin”… won an award last year – most valuable Penguin, for all I know…

Green: …he had only one goal and two assists in the first six games. And Gonchar…

Briscoe: He’s the one we found undressed with the jock lying next to him…

Green: A couple of goals in the first six games, but he didn’t get a point last night and was on the ice for three of the first four goals the Canadiens scored. Ponikarovsky – a guy they traded for – no goals in the four games leading up to last night, and he put up another zero last night. Another one… Talbot – a hero last year, unheard from last night. But here is the strangest one. Crosby – he had three points in the last six games of the series, didn’t get any last night, and he was on the ice for three of the first four goals the Canadiens scored and was in the penalty box on the other one.

Briscoe: He’s the only one I heard of… I thought he was supposed to be clutch.

Green: Well, apparently not. Last night was the seventh time he played in an NHL playoff game where his team faced elimination. And after last night, his teams are 3-4 in those seven games, and he has only two goals and four assists in them.

McCoy: Not too clutch, if you ask me, and it sounds as if you don’t have much of a case against these Canadiens for murder. It sounds to me as if these Penguins just choked… Gonchar getting undressed out of his jock… Crosby not delivering in Game 7… Fleury getting yanked to the bench… Malkin, well, who knows what he was doing. No, I don’t think we’re looking at a homicide here, detectives. Not one I could prove in court, at any rate. They did it to themselves.

Briscoe: So you’re just sayin’ they choked? Right there on the ice?

McCoy: You said it, detective, I didn’t (smiles).


The 2009-2010 season, by the "tens" -- Wingers: Brooks Laich

Brooks Laich

Theme: "The ordinary man is involved in action, the hero acts. An immense difference."

-- Henry Miller

OK, “hero” is a bit much for a 25-goal scorer, but if that day comes when the Caps do win a Stanley Cup, we’re going to bet that Brooks Laich will be right up there among the reasons they do so. On a team with young guns such as Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green, Laich held his own statistically. He finished fifth on the club in goals, fifth in assists, fifth in points, tied for fifth in power play goals, tied for fifth in takeaways, second in power play goals, second among forwards in blocked shots, third among forwards in shorthanded ice time, fourth among forwards in power play ice time. His ten game segments, though, were somewhat uneven…

…he had the appearance of a strong start (10-15-25, plus-5 in his first 29 games) and a strong finish (14-14-28, plus-15 in his last 31 games – he missed four games at the end of March). He was 1-5-6, minus-4 in the 18 games in-between, from December 7th through January 15th.

Against Eastern Conference teams making the playoffs, Laich finished 10-10-20, plus-5 in 26 games – a 32-32-64, plus-16 pace, not all that different from his overall season results. But underneath what looks like consistency is the same sort of roller coaster kind of ride that reflected his overall numbers. Against Boston, Montreal, and Philadelphia, he was 10-6-16, plus-8. Against the other four playoff teams he was 0-4-4, minus-3.

Laich is something of a hidden weapon in one respect. Of all NHL forwards finishing the year with at least 25 goals, Laich tied for third in the share of his goals coming with the man advantage – 48.0 percent. Only Tomas Holmstrom (13 of 25) and Teemu Selanne (14 of 27) had a larger share of their goals come on the power play. Not bad, considering Laich finished 95th among forwards in average time on ice on the power play (2:57/game). Over the last three years, Laich has 29 power play goals among his 69 total tallies (42.0 percent).

The uneven manner in which Laich posted his numbers came back to haunt him in a key respect. One might have foreseen this as the regular season drew to a close. It started at a practice on March 23rd, when Laich was hit in the cheek by a shot from John Carlson that hit the crossbar and ricocheted into Laich’s face. He missed four games (the only ones he’s missed in the past three seasons), and he finished up with a goal and two assists in his last six games after returning to the lineup. The dip in production carried over into the playoffs as Laich was held without a point in five of the first six games of the series against Montreal. Fittingly, it seems, in the game in which he did score he recorded the game-winning goal in a 5-1 win. He would score one more goal in the series – in Game 7 – but by the time it came, with barely two minutes remaining in the Caps’ season, it ended up coming too late.

Laich’s progress has been steady and sure in the most often cited numbers. In five seasons since the lockout, he has improved his goals scored from seven in the 2005-2006 season to eight, 21, 23, and 25 this past season. Assists – 14, 10, 16, 20, 34. He was a “minus” player in that 2005-2006 season (gee, who wasn’t?), but was a plus-16 this past season. Power play goals increased – one, two, eight, nine and 12 over the last five seasons. He had 11 game winning goals over the past three seasons. And this statistic might end up being the most important one going forward – he finished third on the club with 222 shots on goal, behind only Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin. As a player who was famously quoted as saying, “"If you want money, go to the bank. If you want bread, go to the bakery. If you want goals, go to the net,” he spent a lot of time baking this past season, and he could be a critical net presence for the Caps in the future. On a team that features players who take a large number of intermediate and perimeter shots, having that presence is crucial to the team’s success.

Over the past five seasons, Laich has emerged as a clubhouse leader, one who was frequently mentioned as a potential team captain. That he does not wear the “C” does not diminish his capacity to lead, and his example on and off the ice suggests a maturity greater than one might expect from a player who is still only 26 years old. His adventure after the Game 7 disappointment against Montreal is already something of a legend. His humility in the face of such a gesture, remarking that “it was just a tire, it’s not that big a deal,” only adds to his “hero” narrative.

Yes, “hero” is probably too much of an adjective to describe the sort of season and career arc Laich has had, but he is the kind of player that is both consequential on winning clubs and the kind of person that would appear to make teammates – not to mention a couple of fans – happier for having him on their side.

Grade: B+