Monday, March 26, 2007

The Crazy Cryin' Crazy Amazo-crazy Western Conference

So the West is good. Ridiculously good. Right now the Sharks have 96 points, only good enough for 7th in the West. To put that in a bit of context, 96 points is higher than any 7th seed for the past 20 years. Probably longer, but I didn't feel like going back any further. It's likely that the top 7 seeds in the West will have over 100 points, the first time that has ever happened.

But now that there are so many extra points given the shootout, aren't those numbers inflated? Of course. Right now, teams are earning an average of 1.115 points per game, so the whole two-points-for-a-win thing is skewed by the number of OT games where 3 points are awarded. So how do we normalize?

We normalize by the number of wins, not points. The number of season games has stayed constant long enough that we can make some historical comparisons. And we cut out shootout wins. That gives us the number of wins a team made in regulation and OT, which avoids the new requirement that there has to be a winner. So here's the new top 8, sorted just by regulation and OT wins:

  1. San Jose - 45
  2. Detroit - 43
  3. Nashville - 42
  4. Anaheim - 40
  5. Vancouver - 40
  6. Dallas - 38
  7. Calgary - 38
  8. Minnesota - 35
If I had bothered to run the numbers before I started the post, I guess I could have made the theme about how the Sharks are getting screwed by the shootout, but it's already too late. My original thesis is still good. It's entirely likely, even probable, that seven teams in the West will have 40 wins or more.

Since the expansion era in the early 90's, that has never happened. Most years it's not even really close. This year's Western Conference is the best collection of teams in a conference in at least 15 years, and probably more.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Tearing it up

The Sharks have been tearing it up lately- they've gotten a point in their last 10 games (8-0-2). And they really played well last night against a streaking Atlanta team. Atlanta is a very quick team that always wants to create odd-man rushes. That gives their snipers, Kovalchuk and Hossa, chances to score. Despite the Thrashers' thirst for turnovers, the Sharks, after playing a fairly sloppy first period, locked it down en route to a 5-1 victory.

Halfway through the game, there were still no penalties called. The Sharks were up 3-1, and I'll let Victor Chi of the Mercury News report the rest:

Coach Bob Hartley yanked goalie Kari Lehtonen in favor of Johan Hedberg. Then on the ensuing faceoff, Jon Sim challenged Bell. Bell, not wanting to scrap with a three-goal lead, declined Sim's initial invitation to fight.

"Then he slashed my stick," Bell said. "I said, `What are you doing?' He said, `We're going.' I said, `Are you serious?' `Yeah.' So I dropped my gloves. I called his bluff. I've played against him before, so I knew he was probably going to run around a little bit."

Bell ended the bout - as well as Sim's night - with a punch that broke an orbital bone.

Nice call, Sim. Way to help your team, by challenging a guy a head taller than you, breaking your face, and missing the rest of the season and the post season. This popped into my head, so I had to get it out. For Mark Bell:
Felony DUI rap : $100,000+
18 points in 64 games, -9 : $2,000,000
Knocking some jackass out that challenged you to a fight: priceless

Friday, March 16, 2007

Looks like a trap game, but it isn't

Sharks play Columbus tonight at home, after beating Phoenix badly last night. Ordinarily, this would look like a trap game, because Columbus is 12th in the west, the Sharks are playing back-to-backs, and play a much better team in Colorado on Sunday

But I think the Sharks won't take this game lightly. We need to continue to accumulate points, given that both Dallas and Anaheim are still winning. Also, the Sharks were embarrased and shut own when they last played the Blue Jackets, on 2/16. Plus, CLS just beat Anaheim in OT a few nights ago, so they've been a bit of the giant killers.

The toughest game in the next upcoming stretch will definitely be Thursday at Atlanta, after having to play Chicago in the Midwestern time zone the night before.

I think Anaheim is pretty much out of reach at this point, so Dallas is the really the one we're in the dogfight with. Looking at the Stars' schedule the rest of the year, they have to play Nashville twice, Anaheim twice, and Detroit. But they also get to play Phoenix three times, in less than two weeks no less. I'd rate our schedule slightly easier. At this point, we're dead even in terms of points, so as long as we play one point better than them, we'll probably get the 5th spot. Then we get the privilege of playing Nashville or Detroit in the first round. Hmm, maybe we should just lay back a bit and take Vancouver. Either way we're in for a ridiculously tough matchup.

Just look at the east 3 through 6- Atlanta, Ottawa, Pittsburgh, and Tampa Bay. I'd say at this point, any 3-6 West team against any one of those teams would be a big favorite. This sucks.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Farewell, hat

To those who saw or heard about the game last night, this story will be decidedly anti-climactic. Others, read on. So Bill Guerin has been scoreless since he joined the Sharks at the trade deadline- 6 games, no goals, no assists. And not only that, he's been largely unnoticed on the ice. Victor Chi, on the Sharks beat for the SJ Mercury makes a good point- he hasn't gotten much practice time with his linemates (Marleau and Pavelski) because they've been hurt or sick most of the time lately.

So last night the Sharks are completely dominating the game in terms of puck possession, and Guerin drives down the right side on a seemingly routine play, and slides the puck towards the net sort of as an afterthought. It goes right through Patrick Lalime's legs for the first goal of the night. Maybe that's why Lalime's been on 3 teams the last three years. Anyway, the Sharks score two more in the first, one in the second, but sort of stagnate a bit in the 2nd period and get outshot, but not scored upon.

The 3rd period, they're jumping again. Joe and Grier score, and then Guerin scores again, on the power play. Nice little backhand coming from behind the net. So now the fans are rustling a bit- Guerin now has three points, and there's still time for a hat. Guerin has a couple more chances, but nothing goes in. Then, with only seconds left in the third period, Guerin gets a clear chance at the goal, but hooked from behind. Penalty shot!

Sure, the game is 6-1 at this point, so another goal means precisely nothing, but it was pretty electric in there. Guerin had a hat trick against the Sharks while he was with the Blues, and now he might have one for us, his first three goals in a Sharks uni. Crowd on its feet, many waving hats in the air in anticipation, myself included, although it's my beloved Sharks hat.

Guerin skates down slightly left of the goal, pauses, and calmly shoots the puck right through the 5-hole. Pandemonium. Hail of hats. I let mine fly just as the red light went on. Someone relayed it onto the ice for me, and the cheers continued for a long long time. Great stuff.

You'd think we won a playoff series in there, as opposed to beating up on the 13th-best team in the Western Conference. Still, time to buy a new hat.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

NHL's new TV deal?

It's funny because it's almost true.

Late Hits and Head Shots

So a couple of big hits in the past week or so have given rise to much hand-wringing about shoulder-to-head contact, and late hits. The first incident was Chris Neil blindsiding Chris Drury, sparking a huge brawl, including a goalie fight. Drury needed 20 stitches to close the cut, and suffered a concussion.

The second was Cam Janssen hitting Tomas Kaberle. Kaberle's head hit both the ice and the boards, and was carted off on a stretcher. Kaberle, who suffered a concussion, is out indefinitely.

I usually like John Buccigross, and appreciate his allegiance to hockey, one of the only SportsCenter anchors who seems to care, but I don't agree with his analysis exactly...

I don't understand why a shoulder pad to the head is not equivalent to an elbow to the head. This is a hit that needs to be outlawed in the NHL.
Bucci is he biggest Drury fanboy out there, so of course he feels this way. I too think the hit on Drury was dirty, but for a different reason. it was blindsided. Drury did not have the puck, had no reason to think he was being run, and had no means to defend himself. Same with the Kaberle hit, although that's a little more arguable. Janssen didn't even begin to initiate contact until well after Kaberle finished his pass. Kaberle wasn't anticipating the hit, and couldn't defend himself.

What we don't want is a shoulder-to-head review committee. What if Zdeno Chara hits Alex Tanguay? Or Scott Parker hits Martin St. Louis? The height different is so great that it'd be hard for it not to be a shoulder-to-head contact. That is not the problem. The real problem is the timing of the hits, and the position of the players. If it's well after the play, then it's a penalty. If it's blindsided, then it's a penalty. If the player is injured and misses time, then the offending player gets a suspension and hefty fine.

There's definitely an equipment component to all this as well. Most shoulder pads have hard plastic plates in them now, which can do more damage and even cut somebody. In many cases, illustrated in the Kaberle hit, players do not wear their helmets tightly, and they slip or fall off completely upon contact. This latter thing should be rectified immediately. If your helmet can slip out of position when you shake or nod your head violently, it should be an equipment violation. How much longer would have Pat LaFontaine's career been if he wore a good helmet all the time? He had a specially-made one late in his career, but the damage was already done.

If the league wants to ban hard plastic plates in shoulder pads, I'm ok with that too. The 'cleanest' NHL hit is a shoulder to the chest, or shoulder to shoulder. With players skating at upward of 30 mph sometimes, the contact point will move quickly. You can't leave your feet to make the hit, you can't run someone after the play, and you have to hit them so they can brace for the contact or defend themselves. Don't take contact out of hockey.