Monday, January 9, 2017

Hockeyviz/SB Nation Wraparound - January 9th

Happy Monday! It's cold, it's miserable out, there are no holidays until May, and life is generally pretty bleak. But it's hockey season, and that's what we're going to have to cling to if we want to survive until Memorial Day.

Let's jump on our flying zamboni and go around the NHL.

Montreal Canadiens (Eyes On The Prize)

We'll start with the Habs, who have ridden a 3-game win streak (and a stretch of 7 games in which they secured 10 points) to take a stranglehold atop the Atlantic Division. They're now nine points clear. and they have three games in hand on the second-place Bruins.

Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs 10 Takeaways: The end of a character road trip by Veronica Canete (link)
The Captain is captaining: Max Pacioretty has 10 points in his last 10 games, including seven on the seven-game road trip.
As it turns out, Montreal fans are similar to Philadelphia fans in that everything gets blamed on the captain. And when Pacioretty hit a rough spell earlier this year, the hot takes were flying around like crazy. But, like most captains, Pacioretty has been a plus player all season. Nearly every player on the Habs (and certainly the Habs as a whole) are better and more fun with him on the ice:

Pacioretty has also been especially good with Andrew Shaw, which I'm sure is because of things like Jam and Heart and A Nose For The Net (it's worth noting that Shaw has been out since mid-December):

The Canadiens are still enjoying a 10-point lead on second place in the division, and sit third-overall in the league — five forwards and two defencemen shy of an NHL squad.
That hot streak is doubly impressive because they've been missing like a third of their usual roster. Essentially, that has meant A TON of ice time for Pacioretty and Alexander Radulov, and significant bumps for 23-year-old Phillip Danault and Former Buffalo Sabres Brian Flynn and Torrey Mitchell:

Every team needs that player they hate on the opposing team, and last night, that guy was Shea Weber.
I'm not going to include a viz here, but I wanted to note that Flyers fans generally don't hate Shea Weber. They usually just make jokes about (1) how Weber was almost a Philadelphia Flyer and (2) how goddamn horrible that contract is for Nashville.

Tampa Bay Lightning (Raw Charge)

Let's jump down from a team surging to the top of the division, to a preseason Cup favorite that seems to be playing itself out of the playoffs altogether. So let's start firing up the Individual Awards campaigns in Florida!

The Victor Hedman for Norris Trophy campaign starts now by GeoFitz4 (link)
Hedman is on pace for a career-high in points. It’s time he gets recognized. Hedman has 36 points in 40 games, which currently has him 2nd in the league for defenseman scoring, just a point behind Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks, and four points ahead of perennial Norris candidate Erik Karlsson.
As is the case with awards like this, each team makes the case for their player by nitpicking negatives in other candidates' games. Karlsson isn't as physical as Hedman or Weber, and the Senators aren't perennial contenders. Burns' goals overshadow everything else about his game. Drew Doughty isn't really actually good at anything.

That's all great, but is Hedman really the best defenseman in the NHL? Let's compare him to Karlsson and Burns (because that's what they did on Raw Charge) and Weber (because he's ultimately going to win the Norris this year):

It might seem like Burns is in a class of his own based on the scale of his P/60, but that scale is heavily skewed by his hot start in 2013-14. Essentially, all four of these guys are between 1.5-2.0 primary points per hour, and they all play top-line minutes (obviously).

Use these heat maps as a comparison, though. With Hedman, Tampa shoots moderately more from the slot and from Hedman's left point.

BUT they are almost the same team defensively with and without Hedman. That's not really what you want to see from your top defenseman, especially if his gains on offense are minor.

Karlsson and Weber have similar charts to Hedman, in that they all have a mild positive impact but nothing major. Burns is a positive for his team in the offensive zone, but San Jose gives up a ton more shots with him on the ice. He's a high-event player, and that's fine for the Sharks.

(Stephen A. Smith voice) However.

I would like to be a huge Flyers homer and use this platform to educate fans of other NHL teams.

Radko Gudas is so much more than the thug that hockey fans seem to think he is. He's a very solid defenseman:

The Flyers shoot about the same amount with and without Gudas, but the shots with him on the ice are concentrated at the points. This makes sense, because Gudas is generally among the league leaders for shots taken by a defenseman. Gudas' real value, though, is in his own zone - or, rather, preventing opponents from getting to his own zone.

(And that was Talking Flyers.)

Tampa Bay fans can campaign for Hedman all they want, but Hedman is far from a game changer in terms of shots. And if you want to look at point production, Burns will almost certainly beat out Hedman in primary points. I personally think there's a 100% that the media is going to give this award to Weber, but I wouldn't expect the #HedmanForNorris to gain much traction if the Bolts continue to flounder.

Dallas Stars (Defending Big D) (lol)

We should follow up Tampa with Dallas, because the Stars also fit the bill of "preseason Cup favorite that seems to be playing itself out of the playoffs altogether." They're by no means eliminated, because the Wild Card race in the West is wide open. But Stars fans had certainly hoped for better this year.

Game 40 Afterwords: Stars Still Hold Commanding Lead over Coyotes, Avs, No One Else by Robert Tiffin (link)
This is not where this team was supposed to be after 40 games... Lindy Ruff’s comments are interesting because, well, he has to be exasperated more than most of us. His job is to have things go the opposite way than they have gone. 
The team stinks, the coach is mad (and even when Lindy Ruff isn't mad he's still pretty mad), and everything is mess in Dallas. Are there two reasons for this disappointing season?
Tyler Seguin hasn’t missed a game, and he’s tied with a Civil War colonel at 14 goals, while Lauri Korpikoski is outscoring Jamie Benn at even-strength, and Devin Shore is keeping pace with Jason Spezza.
 Well, your three best players underachieving is certainly a cause for concern. Look for 10 (Patrick Sharp), 14 (Benn), 90 (Spezza) and 91 (Seguin) in the chart below:

Committing more than $24 million to four players that can't drag your team to positive shot differentials isn't ideal. And there are two reasons that it's even worse than it sounds at first. Benn's salary is going to basically double next season, up to $9.5 million. And the shot attempts wouldn't matter as much if they were scoring, but the four most expensive forwards in Dallas' lineup have combined for 125 games, 32 goals, and 38 primary assists. That is so, so far from optimal.


The Stars basically split time between two goalies, and neither of them gets the run support that they need to have any success. You don't want those blue holes right in front of the net, especially when your team is supposed to have a high-powered offense.
The Stars managed to once again surrender a couple of goals on the penalty kill, which is going to happen when your PK spends the season looking like an exterminator assigned to clear a house of roaches with nothing but a waffle iron and a sack of dead batteries.
Here's the other half of the Stars' rough season. They've given up 33 power play goals on 133 attempts, for a 75.2% kill percentage. That's more goals than anyone except Winnipeg (35) and Colorado (34), but those two have both faced 20 more power plays against. 

The Stars' stars haven't started like stars, and it's starting to seem like these Stars might be sitting on the sofa in the Spring. 

Edmonton Oilers

One team that jumped up in the West to (likely) steal one of those playoff spots from Dallas is the Oilers.

Oilers 3 - Senators 5— Truly a Monstrous Performance by Minnia Feng (link)
It was a bad, bad night for Jonas Gustavsson. When your backup goalie saves only 13 of 17 shots faced and puts up a 0.722 save percentage on the night, victories are hard to come by, no matter how well the rest of the team plays.

If you just saw those two graphics, you would think that Edmonton probably should have won the game. They totaled more than double the shot attempts of the Senators, but Jonas "The Monster" Gustavsson had one of the worst goaltending nights of the season in the NHL.

That game was what it was, and sometimes backup goalies stink and cost their team a win. But the interesting part of the game, from my vantage point, was how Ottawa coach Guy Boucher took advantage of his home ice to match his lines:

It was reminiscent of last month's Oilers-Flyers game. In both games, Edmonton's McDavid line basically only played against five opponents:

In both games, Edmonton lost the game despite playing well enough to keep it close. McDavid's line was +2 against the Senators and -1 against the Flyers at even strength, though they added a powerplay goal in Philly.

The question is why coaches think it's a good strategy to line match so hard against McDavid. In terms of minutes, Philly used their second or third line and first pair against him. Ottawa used their first line and their first or second pair.

So the coaches sacrificed some quality players to match McDavid (in the hopes of cancelling him out), and then let the rest of their team feast on Edmonton's weaker lines. Philly's first line scored three times at evens and once more on the powerplay, and Ottawa's top six scored scored three times to best McDavid's output.

Being the best player on a bad team is hard. When the Oilers go on the road in the future, I would expect opposing coaches to continue to stick McDavid with minutes against their best defensive lines.

Winnipeg Jets

We'll finish by pointing out that Connor McDavid did not win the Calder Trophy last year because he was injured by Brandon Manning and missed nearly half the season. On Saturday afternoon, Jets fans simultaneously all became much more sympathetic.
Laine is, understandably, concussed and out indefinitely.

With Laine Concussed, the Winnipeg Jets should fill his spot with a play-driving forward by HappyCaraT (link)
Drew Stafford has been tapped on to replace Patrik Laine on a line with Mark Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers. Stafford is in the same boat as Laine possession-wise, but no longer has the skill to make up the difference possession-wise. [The Jets] do however have players who lack in finishing skills, but excel at driving play who would fit on that line in a heart beat. A player like Joel Armia would work in Laine’s spot because he would be able to help Ehlers and Scheifele score without impeding them offensively. While there is a place for the Staffords of the NHL, there is also a place for the Armias of the NHL; low scoring forwards who push the puck up the ice.
In a classic example of the Hockey Guy Versus Analytics Community battle, it seems Jets coach Paul Maurice is going to try to replace rookie phenom Laine with Stafford, who has been a middle-six talent (on a pretty steep decline) since he got to Winnipeg:

Stafford has bounced around the Jets' lineup this year, to the point where he hasn't played more than three games in a row with the same linemates. He's been playing fourth line minutes lately, and heavily sheltered minutes at that. Classic Hockey Guy move to throw the old vet into the mix instead of a younger player who drives play better, like (as Cara suggested) Armia.

It's tough to judge Armia's performance this season, because he's only only played two stretches of about ten games. At the beginning of the year, he got buried in his defensive zone and fell victim to poor goaltending before missing 24 games due to an undisclosed injury. Since he returned, the "buried" part has stayed the same but he's been succeeding in the shot attempt and goal differential battles. I'm inclined to agree with Cara, and I think his play to this point has earned him a look with more talented linemates.

No comments:

Post a Comment