The Off Wing

Opinion and Fact…From the Off Wing

My Apology to the Readers

Sometimes life gets in the way of us doing the things that we really enjoy.  There are some people that are lucky enough to be doing the thing they love most for their career choice, but most of us are in a field that, while we enjoy it, it isn’t the love of our life work-wise.  I really like what I do for a job, and yes, it pays the bills, but it sometimes gets in the way of doing what I really enjoy.  Watching, studying and writing about the sport of hockey.  I know it doesn’t sound like it yet, but this is my apology to the readers…

I attended the Boston Bruins Development Camp back in July, and while I took copious notes and photos, I never found the ample time to sit down and put my scribbles and hen scratch into a discernible post for others to read.  Sure, I work during the day and could have written at night, but having returned from vacation to a serious situation in my place of residence, that had to take precedence.

To all who read what I put to (virtual) paper, I am heartily sorry for not having written sooner.  I also sincerely thank you for reading the ramblings of a true fan and hopeful writer.  I will still be submitting my post about the young men and hopeful future Bruins that attended this year’s camp.  Watching those young men give everything they had to show the coaches at this year’s camp that they truly belonged should be an inspiration to us to give all we have to whatever it is we want to succeed at, and in this task I have stumbled.  As New England Sports Network continues to do reports about the Boston Bruins, as will I endeavor to write more frequently about the game we follow and love.

Again, thank you for reading and I am sincerely sorry.

Chris (Left Wing Lock)

Let’s Talk About Hardware

All right, two games into the Stanley Cup Final and  the series is now a best of five.  With both games going to overtime, it would appear that this series has the ability to go seven.  Both teams obviously have the talent and the desire to win.  And the big winners here are the fans…yes we got the shaft at the normal start to the regular season when the owners and players couldn’t come to an agreement as to who was at fault, or who was more greedy, or who was getting screwed the hardest…but we are getting our reward now.  But I’m not here to re-hash games one or two, but to talk hardware…In particular, the other award given out after the the 16 wins are achieved.

The Conn Smythe Trophy is awarded annually to the player judged most valuable to his team during the National Hockey League‘s Stanley Cup playoffs. The Conn Smythe Trophy has been awarded 47 times to 41 players since the 1964–65 NHL season. Each year, at the conclusion of the final game of the Stanley Cup Finals, members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association vote to elect the player deserving of the trophy.[1] The trophy is handed out prior to the presentation of the Stanley Cup by the NHL commissioner and only the winner is announced, in contrast to most of the other NHL awards which name three finalists and which are presented at a ceremony.

Unlike the playoff MVP awards presented in the other major professional sports leagues of the United States and Canada (the Super Bowl MVP, the NBA Finals MVP, and the World Series MVP), the Conn Smythe is based on the entire NHL postseason instead of just the championship game or series.

-Sorry, but the above two paragraphs were borrowed straight from Wikipedia, as I couldn’t have written it better myself.  Thanks to Wikipedia for the assist.

To break down what those two paragraphs above, there are a couple of players in this years’s final that could be deserving of the award.  When the hardware is given out, it will most likely be to a goal tender, but maybe the hockey writers need to take a closer look at a couple others that don’t just jump right off the page at you.  Sure most pundits would say that you need to ride a hot goalie to the Stanley Cup, but that shouldn’t be a guarantee of a Conn Smythe award.  Let’s look at it by position:

Goaltender:

Tied for the most wins with Centers, the goalies tend to garner the most interest for this award as they are the backstops for their teams.  Both goaltenders here can be considered for the hardware, with Tuukka Rask gaining a bit more attention than Corey Crawford due to his performance against the Pittsburgh Penguins.  His two shut outs came at their expense and his .944 save percentage is better than Crawford’s by almost a full percentage point.  Corey is no slouch here either.  His 1.72 goals against is ridiculously minuscule, but with one more game played, he has allowed only one more goal, but on 68 less shots on net.  The amount of activity here gives it to Rask.

Defensemen:

Obviously the top two, Duncan Keith and Zdeno Chara lead the pack here.  Its remarkable that a defenseman has taken home the hardware only 9 times in 47 opportunities since the Conn Smythe was created.  The similarities between these two extremely talented players are amazing to see.  Both have 11 points, with 2 two goals each.  Both average 3:20 of ice time shorthanded per game.  both have a shooting percentage of 4.  The only differences here are that Chara averages over 30 minutes of ice time per game to Keith’s 27 plus minutes, and Chara’s +/- is better at 13 to Duncan’s 4.  It’s really a wash here, and since anyone who has played at any time in the playoffs can conceivably win the award, this writer wouldn’t be surprised if one or the other won it on a losing team.

Right Wing:

Tyler Seguin…what can I say.  Playing out of position, no one can hit the glass with more accuracy…oh wait, sorry, wrong award.  Anyway, Horton certainly would be a candidate at this postion.  As would Marian Hossa.  But again the ice tilts toward Horton, with his +22.  Both have  goals, but Hossa is standing at a plus 8.  Could be a wash, but I don’t think the winner is coming from this position when all is said and done.

Center:

Again…Tyler…never mind.  There are too many good centers in this Final to make jokes.  Krejci, Bergeron, Toews.  Take your pick here.  As with goalie, 16 of the past winners came from the Center position, and you wouldn’t go wrong with any of these three.  Selkes, two way play, leadership, and then there’s Krejci.  Leads all players in scoring in these playoffs.  Second on his team in +/-, but there’s just not enough.  He benefits from playing on a solid line.  He doesn’t come across as the leader that Toews is, or the “leave it all on the ice” that Bergeron gives.  He is a real solid player during the playoffs, but doesn’t really do anything that warrants the Conn Smythe.

Left Wing:

Well, here it is, the best for last.  Although not according to the hockey writers that vote for the MVP.  Only once has a left wing won this prestigous award, Bob Gainey in 1979.  Good thing too, because he was never going to win GM Of The Year honors.  But I digress; this year’s winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy should, in this writer’s opinion, come from this position.  Milan Lucic.  Third on his team in scoring, third in plus/minus.  Plays in all situations.  And hitting…  The key here is that Milan is leading by example.  I heard the quote from a reporter in Canada that the Bruins didn’t win Game 7  against the Toronto Maple Leafs until Milan decided that they were going to win.  He has done this all playoffs long.  He isn’t the leading scorer, but against the Rangers, Milan intimidated then to the point that when he possessed the puck along the boards, there wasn’t a Ranger within 6 feet of him.  And no one would be willing to mess with Lucic during the Penguins series, except Engellund, and he wouldn’t throw down when he was invited to do so by the freight train.  He is doing it again in the Final.  Big hits on both Oduya and Hjalmarsson set the tone down the stretch of game two.

The award will most likely go to a goaltender during this series due to the extremely good numbers both are putting up, but, going by the description given for the winner of the Conn Smythe, Milan fits the bill perfectly.

L.W.L.

Again, thanks to Sportsnetics.com for the assist with most of the stats in this piece.

 

Two U’s, Two K’s, One Major Blunder

At the end of game one, somewhere after 1:00am eastern time, the Bruins players were conducting their post-game interviews with the media regarding the triple overtime loss they just experienced.  There were the obligatory questions and answers regarding how the game went, how the players were feeling, what they needed to do in the next game etc., but one player in particular, the irascible (at times in the past) goaltender for the hometown six answered one question that, well, maybe he should have thought out before speaking.

Although i am unsure as to who asked the question, I can tell you with 100% certainty who answered it, and how.  Tuukka was summing up the game in front of his locker when he clearly stated that “We had the game.”  This was fine, no issues, but then Rask keeps spewing off at the mouth…”We were up 3-1 in the third, then a terrible turnover leads to a second goal and then a tough bounce leads to the tying goal. We just gave it away.”

WHAT?  Did I just hear him correctly?  Did the starting goaltender for the Boston Bruins, after a game one loss, a game which went to 3 overtimes, with players exhausted and giving every ounce of themselves, throw a teammate under the proverbial bus?  Now, to his defense,  the net-minder did not mention any names, but the mere mention of the exact incident is enough to cause consternation among those of us listening to him.

Tuukka is a very good goaltender, and I’m sure he has been playing hockey since he was a young child.  So, somewhere along the line I’m almost certain he must have heard from a coach that ice hockey is a team sport.  All of the time honored speeches must still linger somewhere in his brain, that you play as a team, you win and lose as a team, and if you have an issue with one of your team mates, you speak to that person in private, that you don’t throw it out in the open for the whole world to hear or read.  Having played and coached various team sports (granted none above the high school level). I would never have let my players start blaming each other after a loss.  Everyone carried the responsibility, everyone could have done something different that could have affected the outcome of the game or match.  And sometimes, even if you played your best, you still lost.

Surely Torey Krug feels terrible about what happened, but their are decisions players make, typically spur of the moment, that are going to have consequences good or bad.  Had Torey had a split second longer, he could have looked for a teammate to pass to, or he could have sent the puck along the boards, but time is a valuable thing while skating around and he had to make a quick decision.  Torey doesn’t need his ‘tender making him out to be public enemy number one in front of the press.

And while on the subject of laying blame, I have not heard nor read that Tuukka took responsibility for allowing the first goal of the game, a goal that, had he read the “book” on himself, he might have been able to stop with a quicker glove hand.  Not once did it come up, and his team mates on the ice and on the bench never once said, “you know, that terrible first goal that went in right over his glove hand really set the tone for the rest of the period.”

It would seem that Tuukka needs to re-learn what is important to him on the ice…primarily that the friends he has on the blue line in front of him, the ones that, on those rare occasions commit a “terrible” turnover, are also the ones that save his bacon, such as his captain did in the closing seconds of game 4 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.  A moment where Rask was “terribly” out of position, but no one said a word, just came over to him at the end and congratulated him on the win.

L.W.L.

Mirror Mirror On The Wall…

Tonight is game one of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final (why do people refer to it as the finals?) between the Boston Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks.  The story here is that each team may as well be playing themselves.  These two teams are almost mirror images of each other in just about every aspect.  Offense, defense, special teams…its difficult to separate one from the other.  Taking a look at the personnel on each squad only displays, in greater detail, just how similar the B’s and ‘Hawks are to each other.

David Krejci and Patrick Kane:

Yes, Kane has played one more game, but the average time on ice per game separates the two by only one minute, with Krejci averaging 20:57 to Kane’s 19:57.  David obviously gets the nod in points, as the leader in these playoffs, but with 6 goals and 14 points, Kane is slowly closing in on David’s 21 points.  Even size-wise they are close.  As we all know, the official heights and weights the teams release is questionable in some cases, David is listed at 6 feet, 188 pounds.  Kane is a paltry (tongue firmly planted in cheek) 5′ 11″ and 181 pounds.  This matchup is a wash in my opinion, creativity going to Kane.

Patrice Bergeron and Jonathan Toews:

Two of the best two way players, if not the two best (with a nod to Pavel in Detroit) in the NHL at this time.  Both are Selke nominees this season, so they automatically cancel each other out, and possibly the entire opposing team at the same time, they are both just that damn good.   Here Toews gets the time on ice nod by a little over half a minute, with both players over 20 minutes per night.  Toews is at 21.  Bergeron has 11 points during this post season, edging out Toews by two, but its no secret that Jonathan has been struggling to put the puck in the net with only one goal in 17 games.  Again, size is comparable, with both individuals listed at 6′ 2″ and Toews slightly heavier at 208 to Patrice’s 194 pounds.  The edge here would have to go to Bergeron, solely on the fact that Toews is struggling to find the back of the net.  Should this change, then this matchup is a wash as well.

Zdeno Chara and Duncan Keith:

Two Norris trophy winners, and unlike this year’s presumptive winner, they both won the award on their defensive prowess as well as their ability to dent the twine.  Zdeno is a beast this post-season with 29 minutes of time on ice while Keith is no slouch at just under 26 minutes per game.  They are exact with their stat lines at 2 goals and 11 points.  Big Z has an 8 inch height advantage, a 6 point +/- advantage, and, in this writer’s opinion, a slight advantage in the series.

Tuukka Rask and Corey Crawford:

Tuukka is finally casting the shadow of Tim Thomas off his back.  I would be the first to tell you that there is a book on him, as there is for most European goaltenders.  High glove is the place to shoot when facing him.  But this post-season, Tuukka is playing out of his mind.  Allowing only two goals to the vaunted Penguin offense (yes, I am aware that he doesn’t do it all on his own, but he is the last line of defense) is nothing to scoff at.  His 1.75 GAA and 94.3 save percentage are ridiculous, and to allow for one other comparison, better than the final numbers Thomas put up in the Stanley Cup run from 2010-11.  Corey Crawford on the other hand…wait, his numbers are ridiculous as well.  He has a 1.74 GAA and a 93.5 save percentage.  So again, this is a wash.  

There are too many comparisons to make…Lucic and Bickell, Marchand and Shaw, the ineffectiveness of both teams’ power play units.  The mirror images go on and on.  So when picking a winner in this Stanley Cup series, I would say that it will be the Bruins in seven, or six, or seven.  Yep, I have been called a homer (and I am, especially when it comes to the Red Wings), but I feel that there is a slight intangible that sways it for the Black and Gold.  Or maybe it will be the Blackhawks in seven, due to their superb penalty killing this post-season.  Oh, wait…If you look at just the last two rounds, the Bruins have a higher penalty kill percentage at 93.55% than the Blackhawks 92.5%.  See, the comparisons just keep coming, so do what I went and did…just ask the mirror mirror on the wall.

L.W.L.

Special thanks to Sportsnetics.com for the assist with some of the statistics used in this post.

Power Play Possibilities

So it is the morning of the aftermath of what was, for all intents ans purposes, the death knell for Dan Bylsma with the Pittsburgh Penguins.  The Pens had a great run, with a power play that was all but unstoppable, humming along through the first two rounds at a 28.3% clip.  The problem is the buzz saw they ran into in the Eastern Conference Finals known as the Boston Bruins…or more specifically…the Boston Bruins Penalty Kill.

The Bruins had the number one power play for 90 percent of the season.  In the last week or two (of the season), the penalty kill dropped to fourth in the league, where it finished.  The first round brought with it the Toronto Maple Leafs (again, why isn’t it Leaves?) with a power play that made Boston look, well, mortal.  Boston’s penalty killers allowed 5 goals on 21 attempts, good for a 76 percent clip.  The speed of the Maple Leaf forwards turned out to be the Achilles heel for the kill.  During the regular season the Leafs had a power play percentage just under 19% (good for 14th in the NHL), but raised that to 24 percent in that first round.

In the second round they faced the New York Rangers.  Now the Rangers anemic power play finished the regular season at just under 16%, still better than the 14.8 percent of the Boston Bruins.  The Rangers managed just two goals of the power play variety in the second round, but none during the regular season.

In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Pens managed to score…no power play goals.  That’s right, none.  This after scoring 2 in 11 chances during the strike shortened regular season.  I mentioned the buzz saw earlier.  The Pens not only completed 18% against the Bruins, but 42 in 170 chances…good for 24.7% during the season!

So why re-hash all this information that anyone can look up with a little initiative?  Well, the possible Stanley Cup opponents for the Boston Bruins have the 10th (Kings) and 19th (Blackhawks) best power plays in the NHL this season.  Combined in the post season these two teams are 15 for 98, a 15.3% rate.  The Bruins managed to shut down a team that scored on 1/3rd of their opportunities in the first round…One Third.  And just for kicks, the Pens still scored on one quarter of their power plays in the second round against the Senators.  Just to put the bow on this package, the Islanders were almost woeful against the man advantage, but Ottawa, who allowed 24 percent against the Pens, were the best against the power play, allowing only 12% of the opportunities result in goals.

The moral of this story…if the Kings or the Blackhawks expect to beat the Bruins in the finals, they will most likely have to do it at even strength, because if the best power play in the game couldn’t get it done, well, there doesn’t appear to be much hope for the next opponent on the board.  Right now the Bruins have the hottest goaltender in the playoffs and have shown that they don’t have to out hit their opponent to win a hockey game.  They have been rolling four strong lines, and even with the misfiring on the third line, the fourth line, the Merlot line, as it is known, has picked up the slack.

So this writer wishes good luck to all those teams left in the playoffs, but for whoever comes out of the West, if you expect to beat the Bruins, you may need as much as you can get.

L.W.L.

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