Blame it on the Bug

How the injury bug took a bite out of the Canucks Stanley Cup hopes

Anytime a good team loses in the playoffs, they’re hesitant to use the “I” word – injuries. The traditional hockey media has permanently associated the word “injury” with another term – “excuse”. The implication is that even when a team incurs a series of costly injuries, they’re not allowed to “use injuries as an excuse”. And I don’t fully understand why. Firstly, the only reason one would use an ‘excuse’ is when there’s some kind of positive consequence to be derived, i.e “my dog ate my homework” is supposed to keep you out of the detention you could receive for not doing your homework. When a coach, GM, or player admits that their team were suffering through some injuries, it doesn’t make any difference – they’ve already lost, and there isn’t very much to gain from making such a statement.

That’s why in this case I’d prefer to use the term explanation. Is there a good explanation for why the President’s Trophy winning team, who was dominant all season long in the league’s toughest conference, was outscored 21-4 in the last five games of the Stanley Cup Final? Continue reading

The Conference Finalists and the Importance of Match-Ups

There are a lot of good teams in the NHL, with the vast majority of them playing in the Western Conference. The length of the playoff rounds in the West is a testament to that. In fact, only one series played thus far took fewer than six games. (Detroit vs. Phoenix, first round). There is reason to believe that teams like Chicago and Detroit would still be in the post season mix were they fortunate enough to play in the Eastern Conference, though it’s of course impossible to know.

Whether things went right or went wrong, the most common answer is usually the simplest one. Often you’ll see analysts break down a series in a way that’s fairly one-sided. I think there is a need to keep things simple. It’s much easier to describe certain aspects of play (offence, physical play, etc) than it is to describe defensive breakdowns, poor coaching decisions, and other gaffes that are generally uninteresting and require more time and analysis. (It may also be due in part to the way we get our news – TV for instance is a medium which isn’t built for thorough analysis due to its short and varied segments). It’s much easier to say “Ryan Kesler dominated the Nashville Predators” and leave it at that; it’s more labour intensive to discuss Mike Fisher’s weaknesses – not that great in the faceoff circle, poor defensive awareness, overmatched physically, etc.

Similarly, for years, people have been questioning star players like the Sedins’ and Joe Thornton for their playoff failures, and partially or fully ignored their key opponents. In this year’s playoffs, the Sedins’ have faced the following defensive pairings: Continue reading

The TSN Turning Point

A brief collection of the moment(s) that changed a series and impacted the entire playoff picture

2002 – 1st Round – (1) Detroit vs. (8) Vancouver 

Nick Lidstrom from centre ice on Dan Cloutier

The eventual 2002 cup champs were down 2-0 in the series after 2 dominant performances by Naslund, Bertuzzi and co. In a tight game 3 at GM Place in Vancouver, Nick Lidstrom beat Dan Cloutier glove side on a low shot from centre ice. Vancouver never recovered, losing the game 3-1, and the series in 6. What might have been? Continue reading

2nd Round Playoff Picks

Went 7/8 in the 1st round. (Nashville…oops) Not much time to go into details right now, but here are my picks:

(1) Washington vs (5) Tampa Bay

Washington. Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom and co. will expose Tampa’s defence like Pittsburgh’s anemic offence couldn’t.

(2) Philadelphia vs (3) Boston

Philadelphia. If Boston had that much trouble beating Montreal, it won’t be much of a party playing against Philadelphia’s dominant three line attack. Pronger is also getting healthier. That being said, the Bruins are a very well balanced team, and won’t have nearly as much trouble scoring on Brian Boucher as they did on Carey Price. Could go either way.

(1) Vancouver vs. (5) Nashville

Vancouver. Anaheim had holes like crazy (everything but their #1 PP unit). Vancouver has no such holes. Nashville won’t go away quietly, but they will go away.

(2) San Jose vs. (3) Detroit

Detroit. This is a tough series to call. But with a healthy Zetterberg, Howard looking better in his sophomore playoff appearance, and Datsyuk playing out of his mind, I like Detroit. San Jose is looking impressive though, with the best offensive depth in the west. Big difference is that Nabokov was great in last year’s 2nd round defeat of Detroit; Antti Niemi is a downgrade. I also think Detroit has a distinct advantage on the back end, and still like their stars better than San Jose’s.

He Who Laughs First Laughs Last

 

In the 23 games played so far, the team that has scored first has won 20/23.

The only teams that have lost after scoring first are Phoenix (game 1), New York (game 1), and Chicago (game 3). Put another way, the only teams to win after allowing the first goal are Detroit, Washington, and Vancouver.

All three of the teams that have come back to win have a potent, quick-strike offence. Meanwhile, two of the three losers (Phoenix and New York) are talent-poor, and struggle to score more than 2 or 3 goals. And though Chicago still has a few elite forwards, they’ve lost all of their depth scoring, and don’t have the same ability to run away with a game as they did last year. 

All things equal (i.e you don’t have a horrid goaltender or a porous defence), it seems like offence rules the day.

1st Round Playoff Picks

Alright. Before making any picks, I’m going back to the well: history! Here are my picks from last year’s 1st round (in bold):

(1) Washington vs. (8) Montreal – Oops. Well not many saw that coming. Yes, Halak played out of his mind, but Gill, Gorges and others also blocked half the shots Washington threw at the net.

 (2) NJ vs. (7) Philly – Wrong again. Though at least I qualified it by saying the following:

“Chance of upset: Pretty good if Boucher can play 4 good games. (doubtful)”

Apparently not doubtful…(Remember, goaltending is fickle)

(3) Buffalo vs. (6) Boston – Boston underperformed during the season, and Buffalo won the division because they were the best of a sub-par group. These teams were evenly matched, and Boston played just a little bit better

(4) Pittsburgh vs. (5) Ottawa – No surprises there

(1) San Jose vs. (2) Colorado – Colorado got an early lead with Anderson playing ridiculously, but San Jose overcame the early deficit

(2) Chicago vs. (7) Nashville – Chicago got a scare when Nashville nearly won game 5 to take a 3-2 lead, but they came back in that game and won in 6

(3) Vancouver vs. (6) Los Angeles – a tight series (2-2 after 4 games) but Vancouver pulled away late

(4) Phoenix vs. (5) Detroit – Close series which went to game 7, but the final game was a blowout Continue reading

The Recipe for Success

How much information is too much information?

I remember a few details about an interesting study that was done on management decision making. Basically, decision makers were given three different levels of information: very little info, moderate info, or detailed info. Then they were asked to make a decision. While one might expect that more info is good and less info is bad, what the researchers found was that the decision makers who were given moderate info consistently made the best decisions. Furthermore, those who were given detailed info didn’t fare much better than those with very little.

Without getting technical, this has to do with the brain’s ability, or rather inability to process information. Most of us become overwhelmed when confronted with too much info, which impairs our ability to make good decisions. Still, that doesn’t mean that having lots of information is necessarily a bad thing. The problem lies in the inability to decide what information is most pertinent to the decision.

What is the Recipe for Success?

Is there a recipe for playoff success? If so, what are the criteria? There are many general criteria that are bandied about. For instance, that playoff success stems from:

  • Size, grit, toughness
  • Veteran leadership
  • An all/mostly Canadian roster
  • A ‘money’ goalie
  • Two great centres

Continue reading

How to Pick a Playoff Contender

Momentum

People often talk about ‘momentum’ heading into playoffs. Momentum is an interesting concept. You can often see it shifting within a game when a big save on one end leads to a big goal at the other end. Momentum also can affect a series, as the Anaheim Ducks proved to us in 2003 as they took out nearly everyone in their path. (Yeah it was goaltending, but the players had to make a few good plays too).

You also hear people talk about a team ‘having momentum’ heading into the playoffs. I don’t buy it. Here are a few examples to support my case.

In 2008, Washington finished the season by going 11-1-0! Ovechkin was unstoppable, Huet was playing lights out, and most people expected them to make a bit of a run. They played Philadelphia and lost 1st round. Last year, Detroit finished the year 17-4-1. In round 1, they squeaked by Phoenix in 7 games, then lost to San Jose in 5 only games. (Though San Jose won each game by only 1 goal). Continue reading

A Brief Playoff History: 2006-2010

If you want to try to predict the future, all you have is the past. One might object by suggesting that we have the ‘present’, but that’s really just the recent past. I’m keenly interested in trying to predict the future. In the realm of hockey, the thing that most interests me is predicting future cup winners – not just in 2011, but in the next five or even ten years. However, the further forward in time that you go, the more speculative it gets, and with this year’s playoffs quickly approaching, let’s stick to 2011.

Here are the last 5 cup finalists (winners in bold):

2006 – Carolina-Edmonton

2007 – Anaheim-Ottawa

2008 – Detroit-Pittsburgh

2009 – Pittsburgh-Detroit

2010 – Chicago-Philadelphia

Now let’s take a journey through the past… Continue reading