The Home Stretch

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Only 5 weeks remaining in the NHL regular season and we’re in for a helluva finish in the WC and there are still 3-4 teams that could grab the final wild card spot in the EC.

The Boston Bruins just defeated the Flyers in OT.

Boston moves to 73 points, up 3 on Florida and 4 on Ottawa and Philly. Given that Florida is without their top 2 goaltenders they may be all but out of it and I’d keep an eye on the streaking Senators who are 8-1-1 in their last 10GP, somehow.

Much more interesting in the WC where Minnesota, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Calgary, Los Angeles, San Jose and even Dallas, are still all vying for a playoff spot.

I had all but counted the Stars out of the race but there’s word today that Tyler Seguin is expected to return from injury tonight much sooner than expected and, if they can get even average goaltending, they may well be right back in it.

As for the others, I would bet a sizeable amount that the Minnesota Wild will make the playoffs with a very good chance to overtake the Blackhawks and/or St’ Louis for 2nd or #rd in the Central Division.

Then it gets really interesting.

Winnipeg has been exceeding expectations all season but now they are without their best player, Dustin Byfuglien, and their top centre, Bryan, Little for an extended period. I’m not sure they can withstand that double body blow.

Vancouver is almost impossible to get a read on. In their last 10 games, they’ve beaten Minnesota, the Rangers, the Islanders, Boston and St. Louis but lost to Buffalo, Arizona and New Jersey. You have to wonder why they can’t beat the teams they should beat.

The Calgary Flames continue to amaze. Everyone was counting them out when Mark Giordano went down with a season ending injury but all they’ve done is beaten Detroit, Boston and Philly…all on the road….since he went down. What the Flames are accomplishing with the lowest payroll in the league (other than those who sold the farm at the deadline) is a testament to great coaching and hard work. Yes, I know they are getting hammered in the possession stats but what many of the staszis don’t often recognize is that shot blocking is a demonstrable, repeatable skill and the Flames are exceptional at it. Flames defenseman Kris Russell leads the league in BS by a wide margin with 221 compared to 175 for the second place shot blocker Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators. Dennis Wideman, TJ Brodie and Mark Giordano are also among the top 20 in the league. Shot blocking may not be good for your Corsi rating but it sure does stop goals from being scored.

It also helps that the Flames are among the top scoring teams in the league (11th) at 2.82 while the supposedly young, fast talented Oilers will all those #1 picks are 28th at a paltry 2.17…only Arizona and Buffalo are worse.

Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan are both providing great numbers fro such young players and those who expected Monahan to fall back this season have been very disappointed…he could hit 30 goals and 60 points.

Both Los Angeles and San Jose remain just outside the wild card spots and, while I expect LA will make it, San Jose appears to be in serious trouble despite their star-studded lineup.

Buckle up…it’s going to be a great ride.

 

 

 

 

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5 thoughts on “The Home Stretch

  1. The resilience of the Flames is amazing. I expected the Giordano injury to be the fatal body blow, but they just keep rolling. Every time that I watch them, Monahan is a monster. People 300 km. north need to look at him and ask if their “number one centre” who is two years older, is even close to comparable.

    I find your comment on shot blocks and Corsi to be interesting. We know that great goaltending will invalidate any predictive value of possession numbers (see Carey Price), are shot blocking skills another way to defy the stats crowd? The standard response of “It is luck” is about as defensible as saying that inoculations cause autism. Would Fenwick be a better measure of possession? Or is the idea of using shot attempts as a proxy for possession fatally flawed? If you have to throw out major chunks of data because of “score effects” then what is the value? The idea that all shot attempts are equal is inherently invalid. I think that when chip technology comes into play, we will discover that while Corsi and Fenwick data have been useful in the absence of any better measures, there are some important factors that have been overlooked and flaws in the way that this information is used.

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    1. I don’t think there’s much doubt Monahan is and will be a better player. Like Hopkins, he is also taking on the toughs but he’s coming out ahead while Hopkins barely holds his own and doesn’t score nearly as much.

      To think that Sam Bennett will be their #2C as early as next season gives you a pretty good idea on how the relative rebuilds will turn out considering Calgary already has 4 defensemen better than any Oiler D and they also have their goaltending locked up while the Oilers are still beating the bushes for a decent starter.

      The other thing about the Flames is that they are overloaded with centres…Monahan, Bennett, Stajan, Backlund, Bouma, Colbourne, Jooris, Shore and Granlund means they have the flexibility to trade for other needs like scoring wingers.

      Then when you figure the Flames have a huge amount of cap space in the coming offseason, I can’t see how they won’t be a serious contender very soon.

      Agree completely with your thoughts on the stats…I’ve always thought using Corsi or Fenwick as a proxy for possession was like trying to perform surgery with a chainsaw, especially when a couple of stopwatches would provide more valuable information.

      The chip technology, as you suggest will render that notion obsolete very quickly.

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      1. Nugent-Hopkins has 11 points in 17 games against L.A., San Jose, Anaheim, St. Louis, Nashville and Chicago. That is a 53 point pace. He was a minus in almost every game. In a cap era when most offensive forward lines are duos with an interchangeable (read cheap) third part, both of his wingers are always the best that the team has. Yet he is drowning. Controlling the game, pushing the river, making teammates better, I don’t see it.

        Monahan is a much scarier opponent and 19 years old. It will be very interesting to see what Calgary does with its cap space this summer. Scoring wingers are their weakest area, but these are the easiest skill areas to fill. Meanwhile, the Oilers will bring the double agent Nikitin back ($4.5 mill. per year and he can’t be bothered to be in shape) and be “relatively comfortable” with a defence that gives up 6 goals in 9 minutes to Carolina. Meanwhile, Montreal’s tough zone start pairing were both not good enough for Oiler brass to make any effort to keep.

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