Monthly Archives: May 2011
1. Playing Lesser Teams <=> Larger Number of Points
Let’s begin with a few lesser-known facts about the Vancouver Canucks and their supposedly legendary season.
The Vancouver Canucks racked up a lot of points in the regular season, finishing with a whopping 117. Impressive? At first glance, yes. Yet 24 of those games were against teams within their own division. That’s just how the cookie crumbles in the NHL. Very notably, however, these 24 teams, for the Canucks, included Edmonton–the worst team in the league, Colorado–the second worst team in the league, Minnesota–21st overall, and Calgary–a team that ended with one more point overall than the New York Rangers.
2. Roberto Luongo
Roberto Luongo’s playoff save percentage: .922
Tim Thomas’ playoff save percentage: .929
To put this into perspective, it’s best to judge on the basis of longevity and a large enough pool for judging performance. Thomas made 560 saves, while Luongo has only had to make 487. Contrast this with the Lightning’s Dwayne Roloson, who made a total of 500 saves, many of which were against Boston. Roloson’s final save percentage in the playoffs was .924, which puts him a cut above Luongo. Let’s not forget that Luongo has also logged fewer minutes (1,075:46) than Thomas (1,124:41), whose team has trusted enough to start him in all 18 games played.
Most interestingly of all, however is the fact that Roberto Luongo’s save percentage behind the twins has fallen to a shocking .880 (Source). This could be a statistical anomaly, and Luongo might be much better now, but there is no concrete set of data to demonstrate that fact.
On the other end of the ice, the Bruins have Tim Thomas, who is capable of quite literally stealing games. Bruins fans are hoping this won’t be needed, but it’s comforting, to be sure.
In the end, we are left with the reality that Luongo is known to allow at least one softie per game. He can clearly be very good, but reliability is everything when clutch time comes around. How will he handle it?
3. Place Your Bets! (But not on Scoring Chances?)
Canuck optimism lies in the following line of reasoning: “If the Bruins had trouble scoring on the Tampa defence, what chance do they have to generate offence against the Canucks back end, which makes the Lightning group look woeful by comparison?” (Source)
Good argument. On the face of it. Gallagher offers an analytical response, which would have us think back to the game played between these two teams in the regular season:
That one was won by the Bruins right here in Vancouver for several reasons. First, the … Bruins were extremely successful in keeping Vancouver to the outside the entire game. Their big, physical team had the Canucks shooting from the outside and settling for shots from the point through a maze of players in front whenever Vancouver had the man advantage. The prevailing wisdom after the game was that eventually one of those Christian Ehrhoff, Alex Edler, or Mikael Samuelsson rockets would make it through if the same game was repeated again and again but that sort of reasoning is pretty sketchy. Nothing got through for Tampa at even strength Friday night in a game when they were largely kept to the perimeter.
A final relevant factoid on this Matter: Boston is in first place this post-season 5-on-5 at plus-20. “The Bruins have outscored opponents, 48-29. The Canucks’ goal record at even strength is 31-31.” (Good summary in NYT)
4. Groin Injury: Kesler’s Back!
Today’s Update: Ryan Kesler is back and is expected to play but he’s thought to be dealing with a groin injury, according to NBC Sports. But is he at 100%? If not, should we care? Indeed we should.
Kesler missed part of Game 5 of the Western Conference finals due to the injury. He said he feels good, but we’d be surprised if he said anything else this deep into the playoffs. Kesler has been a huge part of the Canucks playoff run and he should be a major factor in the Stanley Cup finals, even if he isn’t 100%.
Kesler is perceived to be so important, in fact, that his presence or absence has predictions hanging:
“If Ryan Kesler plays, I can see the Canucks winning this series in six games,” said Weekes, a commentator for Hockey Night in Canada, Versus and NHL Network. “But if Kesler is seriously affected by injury or has to sit out, my pick would change to the Bruins in six games. Kesler is so important to his team.” (Source)
Kesler has seven goals and 18 points in 18 games. Interestingly, however, the Boston Bruins have a way of neutralizing offensive leaders. Take Steven Stamkos, for instance, who managed only 2 goals in 7 games against Boston.
Kesler may or may not be healthy, but the likelihood that he is at 100%, while unknown, might seem questionable in light of the fact that he played significantly fewer minutes in Game 4 (see chart below). Was this due to his condition? Why else would he be playing fewer minutes? Maybe it was due to the fact that he had not registered a point in the previous 2 games, and had only one assist in the prior game.
Playing over 29 minutes in the 5th game against San Jose probably didn’t help Kesler’s injury–whether or not it was making itself heard at the time (read: whether or not he reported any pain).
But he did come back to score! Is this good reason for praise? Not on its own. The goal was scored 5-on-3 and he was a minus 2 in that game.
In light of these facts, as well as the final one to appear tonight, savvy Bruins fans are not in a state of panic.
5. Catch me if you Can
The Sedin twins don’t like to get hit, and they’re relatively slow. Conversely, a fact that has become hard to swallow (for lack of recent precedent) even for Bruins fans is the speed of this new Boston Bruins team. The Bruins boast a tremendous amount of speed in Daniel Paille, Rich Peverley, David “The Matrix” Krejci, the highly underrated Gregory Campbell, Brad “The (new) Rat” Marchand, and of course, Tyler Seguin on the second and sometimes even the third line.
6. Watch out for…
Casual fans might be surprised to learn that Milan Lucic is no longer the greatest threat when it comes to physical play. Who to watch out for, then? Here’s my subjective list, in order of perceived toughness, taking into account recent play but not discounting a sudden resurgence of malice.
- Johnny “The Bulldozer” Boychuk (See Hit) (See him Floor Coburn)
- Andrew Ference (Infamous Halpern Hit)
- Dennis Seidenberg (Big Hit in Tampa Series)
- Brad Marchand (You’d think he was 6 foot tall)
- Nathan Horton–that’s right. He does more than just score. (Flyers Series Highlights)
- Adam “Bad Ass” McQuaid (Fight vs. Paul Gaustad)
- Gregory Campbell, who can also be a real offensive threat and isn’t afraid to mix it up
- Zdeno Chara needs no introduction.
- And yes, even Mark Recchi (You’d think he was a youngin’)
- Lucic? Also needs no introduction. It depends on the night. He could be at the top of this list on some nights, but he’s been busy feeding Nathan Horton lately.
- Shawn Thornton? He may or may not get ice time. If he does, you’ll notice.
It’s not about the number of hits. It’s about momentum. And maybe a dash of killer instinct.
The Lucic Revival of Boston Bruins Hockey
The hearts of long-standing Boston Bruins fans have been broken throughout the present post season over the performance of former golden boy Milan Lucic. For those just tuning in, Milan Lucic brought life to the the Boston Bruins. It was only 2 years ago that Lucic arrived on the scene with his “board-rattling and glass-shattering hits and bare-knuckle beatdowns. The response elicited by that style of play shocked even Lucic.” (August 2009) Suddenly, “Boston was a hockey town again.” It’s only since Lucic’s arrival on the scene that Boston started to hear this phrase again after a drought that started after the departure of ‘Bam Neely’–the goal-scoring destroyer who originally inspired the term “power forward.”
Lucic, along with popular tough guy Shawn Thornton and imposing captain Zdeno Chara, struck a chord with fans longing for the days of the Big, Bad Bruins and Don Cherry’s “Lunchpail Gang.” (August 2009)
Coach Claude Julien took a chance on Milan Lucic, who couldn’t even manage to get on a roster that would allow him to be seen by scouts. This was perhaps the most impressive decision Julien ever made. Despite Lucic’s sluggish skating ability and seemingly clumsy style, Julien hunted him down, decided he would teach the kid to skate and capitalized on his physical presence. Boy did this pay off for the Bruins in the following 2 playoff seasons, in which Lucic became the talk of the town and the most hated player amongst oopponents–hands down. No one on the team cared whether Looch ever scored a goal. His mere presence was enough to create the kind of momentum that would bring the Bruins a 4-0 sweep in the playoffs against their long-time rivals, the favored Habs, and a 6-game win against Ryan Miller in 2010. They finished second that year in the goals against category, second only to Vancouver, and finished first the year before. To say that Lucic played a big role in this area would be a wild understatement. Getting past the bulldozer, big Z by his side, was a feat every team dreaded. These were the Big Bad Bruins.
For those of us who experienced the transition of this team through the cult of Lucic, the golden boy’s current performance is not just disappointing, it is a disaster. In the last playoff season, Lucic averaged one minute of PP time on ice per game and had 2 PP goals in 13 games. He also administered 46 hits and did wonders for the momentum of the game. The same goes for the previous playoff year in which he played 10 games. He didn’t score in his 42 seconds of PP time per game that year but had a total of ZERO giveaways and administered 37 hits. The momentum he added to the game is not something you’re going to read off his numbers, however, and this constitutes the biggest hit of all to this team.
This playoff season, Lucic has accumulated 16 giveaways in 15 games and only 6 takeaways. Number of hits: 36. He had more hits in 10 games in 2009, but more importantly, the nature of those hits are far from awe-inspiring and they don’t belong in the same category. He’s a shadow of himself on many levels.
Yet we cannot lay blame upon the man himself as though he refuses to be better. There is no doubt that he wants to be better.
The present puzzle isn’t going to be solved by reminiscing and rewarding Lucic with PP minutes for his performance in previous years. His time on ice must be reduced. He is almost single-handedly neutralizing the first line.
If he cannot be moved to another line on pain of disrupting the team, then he must at the very least be removed from the PP. He isn’t earning it. There is no conceivable justification for having him on the ice 5 on 4.
Milan Lucic was not the sole reason why the Bruins gave up a 3-goal lead in Game 4 against Tampa, but consider this. He is a very significant factor in the first line equation, he is currently dulling the PP and he assisted Tampa’s winning goal. Had the Bruins scored one PP goal in Game 4, they might have won that game despite their other blunders. Similarly, had the first line produced just one 5-on-5 goal, The Bruins might very well have won that game.
This is not the time to accuse Milan Lucic of bringing down the team, but it might just be the time to point the finger at Claude Julien for his first line and PP choices. Let him off the hook for not calling a time-out in the 2nd period and focus on the real issues (in any case, Tampa didn’t score again after the 3rd goal in the second period, so a time-out at the time would likely not have prevented further damage). Let Julien off the hook for choosing to play his defensive system that led to a breakthrough in finding a way across Montreal’s trap, and in neutralizing Stamkos, St. Louis and Lecavalier in a Game 3 shut-out.
Do not let Julien off the hook, however, for his PP and offensive line choices in the present playoff round, which has caused even atheists to turn to prayer after witnessing the tragedy that was Game 4. Do not let Julien off the hook for seeing to it that the only Bruins forward with more PP time logged is David Krejci. This is inexcusable and there is no jusitification for Lucic’s presence on the PP. That feeling of dread we experience when a Bruins PP is forthcoming, for some of us, has turned into a dread of seeing the number 17.
Make no mistake. We love our golden boy. We still belong to the cult of Lucic because we know just how big and bad he can be. But we’re facing a rival cult right now, and that’s the cult of Boucher, whose team is happy to sacrifice it all–even in the face of a 105.9mph slapshot. And let’s be honest: Many of you didn’t think the Bruins could make it this far. But they have, and it’s no longer enough to have knocked off the 2 greatest rivals in recent history. It’s time to show Boucher and his disciples what this team can do.
We all want Lucic back but removing him from the front lines isn’t treason. The focus must be on winning and yesteryear won’t matter Wednesday as our Bruins play the most difficult game of the post-season to date.