• Trendspotting

    by  • May 23, 2012 • Hockey • 33 Comments

    For some reason, it seems to me that you rarely see interviews with hockey players in which they talk about playing hockey. I’m not talking about cliches dropped between periods about what the team has to do to get back into it, but more philosophical stuff. One of the curious things about soccer coverage is that players and coaches seem to be simulatenously less available that hockey players/coaches and more available. They’re less available for the banalities that make up a lot of hockey stories but there’s an awful lot of soccer stuff that gets churned out that contains some fascinating thinking from the player or coach.

    Take Xabi Alonso, the Spanish Real Madrid midfielder who also spent some time at Liverpool. He had a conversation with Sid Lowe of the Guardian in which he touched on the perversity of the importance that the English attach to tackling:

    “I don’t think tackling is a quality,” he says. “It is a recurso, something you have to resort to, not a characteristic of your game. At Liverpool I used to read the matchday programme and you’d read an interview with a lad from the youth team. They’d ask: age, heroes, strong points, etc. He’d reply: ‘Shooting and tackling’. I can’t get into my head that football development would educate tackling as a quality, something to learn, to teach, a characteristic of your play. How can that be a way of seeing the game? I just don’t understand football in those terms. Tackling is a [last] resort, and you will need it, but it isn’t a quality to aspire to, a definition. It’s hard to change because it’s so rooted in the English football culture, but I don’t understand it.”

    England is, of course, not the only country to invent a sport and proceed to spend a century lost in its own navel, deifying a willingness to perform acts that might not be the best way to go about things: tackling’s good but having the ball yourself and not needing to make a tackle is better.

    So it is with shot blocking. I’ve noticed, from afar, that shot blocking seems to have become something of a story about these playoffs. It’s how you win now, letting the opposition have a big possession edge and absorbing it. ASIDE: hey, remember in the first round, when everyone was copying the Bruins and fighting to protect themselves because the NHL won’t do it? Boy, that story sure seems to have disappeared, eh? Funny, that.

    But shot blocking is different than fighting. This is undoubtedly a REAL trend that’s been identified. Well, except there’s an excellent argument from Rory Boylen at the Hockey News that it isn’t. OK, so it probably isn’t. Watching the discussion of this online, a number of sensible people seem to be in broad agreement on some points.

    1. Shot blocking isn’t innately good; it’s a least bad, in that it’s better than letting the shot go through on net but not as good as having the puck.

    2. There hasn’t been an inordinate amount of shotblocking in the playoffs.

    This seems obvious. I think there’s a couple of additional points that should be made.

    3. Measuring shot blocking as the league does is insane. The league, of course, mashes together PP/ES/PK in their shot blocking stats. More critically though, shot blocking is a function of opportunity. You can’t block a shot if you spend the whole game in the other team’s end. A more sensible way of looking at this is by looking at the proportion of shot attempts blocked.

    I took the 501 guys who played at least 10 minutes a night at 5v5 and 40 games this year and came up with some benchmarks. 53.5% of shot attempts league wide ended up as shots this year. 20.7% missed the net and 25.8% were blocked. Some Rangers are, in fact, notable blockers of shots – Stu Bickel, Brandon Prust, Ruslan Fedotenko, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Brian Boyle all ended up in the top nine in terms of percentage of shot attempts against their teams blocked when they were on the ice, ranging from Bickel’s 30.8% to Boyle’s 32.3%.

    Just out of curiosity, I looked at the mix of shot attempts against the Rangers when Brad Richards was on the ice: 51%/21%/28% (on net/missed/blocked). I’d suggest that the inference to draw here is that this isn’t really a team wide thing – the Rangers are pretty close to the NHL norm when Richards is on the ice. He, of course, can also play hockey.

    4. There’s not an awful lot to all of this shot blocking that the Rangers are allegedly doing. Let’s take Brian Boyle. There’s no player in the league whose team blocks a greater proportion of the shots when he’s on the ice than Boyle. 47.6% of shot attempts became shots on goal. 20.1% missed the net. 32.3% were blocked.

    What does this mean? Well, out of 100 shot attempts, the average player sees 53.5 of them become on shots on net against. Boyle sees 47.6 of them become shots on net. Boyle was on the ice for about 926 shot attempts this year. In Boyle’s case, about 441 of them shots on goal; the average player would have seen about 495 of them become shots on goal while he was on the ice. So we’re talking about 54 shots.

    5. If those shots that are turned into blocks all have an 8% chance of going in, which is about the average at 5v5, then you’re talking about 4.32 goals prevented. Except…I doubt it’s sensible to think of them as shots with an average chance of going in. I tend to agree with Rory Boylen about where shots that are blocked tend to come and disproportionately, they come from a long way out relative to other shots I think. It’s probably more like 3 goals prevented. Keep in mind, this is over a full season, for the player with the most extreme on-ice shot blocking number in the league. It’s going to be less significant with other players.

    6. The Rangers have currently played about 900 minutes of 5v5 TOI in the playoffs. If they lose to New Jersey, they’ll likely end up with a number very close to Brian Boyle’s total TOI for the year although, again, Boyle obviously isn’t playing all of that. Lots of the time is being eaten up by guys who are less committed shot blockers. I’ve put together a table of the shots/missed/blocked for the 17 Rangers who played at least 40 regular season games as well as their playoff numbers to give people a sense of what it looks like.

    A word of caution: I’m hesitant to compare these numbers directly. As you get further from stats like goals, the subjectivity of the individual scorers matters more and more. You can address this in the regular season by being cognizant of bias and looking for signs of it (according to the NHL, the Devils blocked twice as many shots away as they did at home this year). You can check yourself by looking at road stats only. In the playoffs, this doesn’t really work as well, because the mix of scorers is different.

    Nevertheless, I think you can draw some tentative conclusions here.

    a) I have no idea what is going on with Stu Bickel, who has seen a massive decline in the share of shots blocked when he’s on the ice.

    b) The meat and potato guys like Boyle and Prust have seen pretty tiny increases in their shot blocking shares in the playoffs, which probably makes sense; they have to do that stuff in the regular season to stay in the NHL.

    c) The defencemen tend towards being clustered in the middle in terms of the change in their shot blocking numbers which, again, seems sensible. If the big change is skill forwards throwing themselves in front of shots, guys who don’t do it in the regular season, their numbers will show this most, defencemen who split time between them and the regular season shot blockers second most and you won’t see a big change in the numbers of guys who block shots in the regular season.

    d) The real change seems to be in the proportion of shots that are missing the net. 15/17 Rangers have seen a greater share of shot attempts against them miss the net when they’re on the ice during the playoffs. In many cases, it’s a substantial change. I don’t watch the Rangers too much in the regular season but watching them in the playoffs, it’s been extraordinary to see the extent to which they basically just camp in front of goal. If this is something new (or something that’s accentuated in the playoffs), players trying to shoot around them might account for this.

    7. Back to the main point: taking all of the above into account, if you wanted to come up with an estimate of how much the Rangers taste for blocking shots has saved them in terms of 5v5 goals in the playoffs (relative to the average team in the regular season), you probably come up with an answer of somewhere between 0 and 3 right now. That’s not nothing, but it’s not all that much. Is it the reason that the Rangers are in the third round? Seems unlikely but I guess you sound more sophisticated if you talk about that than you do if you say “Lundqvist is awesome” and certainly more sophisticated than you sound if you say “Lundqvist is handsome.”

    8. The Rangers are awful to watch. It’s terrible hockey. At the risk of making up a phony trend of my own, I wonder if this has something to do with the relative CBA created closeness of teams in the playoffs. If nobody is really confident that they have the better team, bunkering and playing for a one shot game makes a sort of sense.

    That’s the worst thing about this shot blocking praise. I don’t think it’s hugely significant and, frankly, the style that lends itself to blocking lots of shots is awful. Sag back around the goalie. Don’t aggressively challenge puck carriers on the outside. Don’t take risks. Just bunker down and let shots, which are being taken from low percentage places anyway because you’re clogging the front of the net, hit you. Ugh.

    Those of you who follow my Twitter feed will be aware that Blackpool just lost the promotion final to West Ham, much to the delight of West Ham/Swansea/ Burnley fan Chris Jones, who seems awfully comfortable labeling others as fake fans for a guy who cheers for the same number of teams as the average nine year old boy. West Ham plays a brand of soccer that isn’t particularly nice, although it wins. After the game, Alex Baptiste, a defender for Blackpool, had this to say about how West Ham plays:

    “We were the better side. It was embarrassing at times. They just hoof it long and hope for the best. It’s a foul on me for the second goal, so the ref has done us no favours. I suppose everyone got what they wanted. Everyone wanted West Ham to win because they’re a team from London. Congratulations to them, they won the game, but I know who I would rather play for.”

    Can you imagine a hockey player saying something like this? It’s the complete opposite of what you’d expect to hear in hockey, where you get things like Friedman’s Apocrypha, in which the Capitals turning themselves from an exciting team into a team that is worse BUT WITH ADDED BORING! is praised. Friedman wasn’t alone in saying so; Brooks Laich also spoke about how much better things are now that the Capitals are worse BUT WITH ADDED BORING! It’s systemic.

    Hockey doesn’t seem to have a lot of room for the idea that the aesthetics matter. It’s a shame. Not only does hockey not seem to have room for aesthetics, but, like the English with tackling, the media (and I have no doubt that they reflect the people within the game on this) lionize stuff that should be something you resort to, which doesn’t even seem like it has a particularly significant impact on the game, relative to all of the other things that go on. The Rangers shouldn’t be praised for their shot blocking, which was a little bit more significant for them than it is for most teams in the regular season. They should be criticized for not being interesting to watch. You can’t choose to win the Stanley Cup. You can choose not to play a passive sort of game that sees you block a bunch of shots and isn’t all that interesting to watch.

    Go Devils.

    About

    33 Responses to Trendspotting

    1. Ryan
      May 23, 2012 at

      Hear hear. Excellent piece Mr. Dellow. One of your best.

    2. Bruce McCurdy
      May 23, 2012 at

      Yeah, I’m with you on rooting for the Devils. How the worm has turned, but they are at least fit to watch.

      That’s not nothing, but it’s not all that much. Is it the reason that the Rangers are in the third round?

      Given they won two seven-game series by a combined total of 3 goals, including a 2-1 slugfest in Game 7 each time, I would say “0-3 goals” are potentially pretty significant. Unless it’s 0. :/

      Also worth bearing in mind that you may be comparing unwatchable playoff hockey with unwatchable regular season hockey. It’s not like the latter is the gold standard.

      The phenomenon of a thicket of bodies filling the shooting lanes affects the game not only in blocked shots and, as you point out, more missed shots, but also in “shots not taken”. (Is there a stat for that?) How many times have we seen extended possessions where the “attacking” teams moves the puck around the perimeter again and again looking in vain for a clear shooting lane until they either give the puck away, clear the zone themselves, or finally try to force a pass through the thicket and have the attack end right there, without so much as an attempted shot.

      • Tyler Dellow
        May 23, 2012 at

        Bruce –

        Yeah, with the games they’re playing, 0-3 goals might matter a lot. Of course, they might score some more goals if they tried to get the puck instead of collapsing into the hockey equivalent of the fetal position. That’s the other thing – there’s an implicit cost to playing the game the way that they do that reduces the actual savings of goals.

    3. Triumph
      May 23, 2012 at

      I’m not a tactics guy at all – dawgbone’s posts over at C&B have been a help to my understanding of the game – but I sure seem to remember the 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning playing this variation of defensive zone coverage. Bodies in lanes, minimal puck pursuit, etc. So it’s not really all that new.

      I don’t think the Rangers want to be playing this way – obviously when the puck gets worked to the point, they want to be playing this shot-blocking style, but they’re spending way too much time in their own zone and Tortorella knows it.

      • Doogie2K
        May 23, 2012 at

        Are they passive because they’re hemmed in, or are they hemmed in because they’re passive? Given the difference between the regular season and playoffs for them (see my comment below), I’m inclined to go with the latter.

        • Triumph
          May 23, 2012 at

          I mean, I think it’s a little bit of both. But Tortorella has talked several times about establishing a forecheck, at least in this series. I can’t really understand why the Rangers have been unable to sustain one for most of these last four games – they’re not trying to sit back and defend, they’re just not able to spend enough time outside their zone.

          • PopsTwitTar
            May 23, 2012 at

            Doogie nailed it. Its both. I think its a cycle. NYR have been playing “slow” for weeks now. They are consistently a step slower than their opponents, which leaves them little time to make plays, which leads to turnovers and makes it tough to do anything more than chip pucks in and out, which keeps them consistently on the defensive, which is tiring, and the cycle continues.

            This is getting off topic from the original post, but the Rangers are not getting outplayed because of style or methods or anything so nebulous. They are getting outplayed because they have less speed in their game. Unless that somehow changes in the next few days, they will only win if Lundqvist is beyond outstanding.

    4. May 23, 2012 at

      I’ve found these playoffs unwatchable. The recently completed World Championships, on the other hand, were full of beautiful and elegant hockey. Build ups featured series of short and long passes up the ice, the puck was actually consistently skated into the zone rather than the 90 ft tip-in ad infinitum, possession in the zone featured actual east-west play rather than the rinse repeat of cycle down low to strong side point to down the boards to off the glass and out, and defensive zone coverage did not involve six goalies on the ice. All of this, of course, is because of the geometry of the wider ice and the culture of hockey it engenders. It was truly thrilling, enjoyable, and most importantly, aesthetically pleasing sport. And if the Russian team weren’t so dominant, it could have been compelling too.

      That’s the worst thing about this shot blocking praise. I don’t think it’s hugely significant and, frankly, the style that lends itself to blocking lots of shots is awful. Sag back around the goalie. Don’t aggressively challenge puck carriers on the outside. Don’t take risks. Just bunker down and let shots, which are being taken from low percentage places anyway because you’re clogging the front of the net, hit you. Ugh.

      And think about how the personnel decisions made by idiotic coaches in furtherance of this strategy exacerbate the problem. Jay Beagle played more in the playoffs than Alexander Semin. Dimitri Orlov didn’t get in a game. It’s a miserable league.

      Tyler – you should really watch more big ice hockey. It combines some of the nice things about soccer with the great things about hockey. And it removes some of the terrible things about the NHL.

    5. May 23, 2012 at

      Really, really thought provoking. The soccer analogy reminds me a bit of the Canucks, who seemed to have built themselves to play the beautiful game and then hedged themselves in case rough and tumble was actually the way to go. Outside of Detroit it seems hard to listen to the narrative and question the course chosen.

    6. Darrell
      May 23, 2012 at

      A few comments from a Sens fan on the NYR:

      1) I think you are more correct when saying that the NYR are camping in front of there net (the missed shots is the key to this, as would be the unmeasured category of potential shots that are passed up). When shooting from the point, you often need to get it passed 3+defenders all in a line to get a SOG, which is a pretty exploitable strategy except for…

      2) What is, IMHO, allowing the NYR to succeed with this style is Lundqvist. If we measured “average goalie distance from goal line when making a save”, I believe Lundqvist would lead the league with the smallest distance. This makes him the BEST goalie to have playing behind a line of defenders trying to block a shot because he can get into position when the other team tries to pass to the side of the wall of humanity. If you put Tim Thomas in the NYR net, there style would not work.

      3) As a Sens fan, I certainly felt it odd that us, as the 8th seed, was the team trying to push the play. The NYR played more like an underdog team than the #1 seed, and that is definitely because of the style.

      • May 23, 2012 at

        That’s another factor on this isn’t it. When Montreal got to the 3rd round on this strategy it was different. They were an obviously overmatched team pursuing a radically different approach than their opponent in the hope that they could push the percentages in their favour for a a bit and increase the likelihood that random chance would be the deciding factor because that was their only hope. It made for exciting watching because it was a counter to the other team’s attack and an attempt by the underdog to equalize what shouldn’t be equal.

        When a team does this in response to peer competitors its an entirely different thing.

    7. May 23, 2012 at

      Reading Brilliant Orange, I was floored by the footballers who said style was more important than the result. That’s a concept that is completely outside of anything I have ever encountered in North American sports.

      For me, that sentiment was (and still is!) nothing short of mind boggling.

      Hockey doesn’t seem to have a lot of room for the idea that the aesthetics matter.

      Maybe, or perhaps the preferred aesthetic in North American hockey is the equivalent of hard tackles and hoof-it long. Moreover, in the world of hockey, aesthetics will never trump winning. As long as teams get results with ugly tactics, ugly tactics will prevail.

      • dawgbone
        May 24, 2012 at

        I remember making a comment to Dallas fans back in the day when they were trapping the shit out of everyone. They didn’t care about the style of game because their team won.

        I think that’s a very North American attitude. In a 6-3 football (North American version) game, the complaints often come from the losing team only (observers not attached to either team will generally complain about the game as a whole though).

    8. Doogie2K
      May 23, 2012 at

      I have no idea what is going on with Stu Bickel, who has seen a massive decline in the share of shots blocked when he’s on the ice.

      His four minutes of ice time per game might have a lot to with that. Sample size ahoy.

      In other news, the Rangers are currently sitting at 47.8% Fenwick with the score close, and 45.6% with the score tied. For comparison’s sake, that puts them ahead of only six teams (close) and two teams (tied) during the regular season; all but Nashville missed the playoffs by several miles. NYR had 49.9% FenClose and 49.8% FenTied during the season.

      I would thus add to your argument (and now that I read the comments, I see you have, too) that passivity and shot-blocking also reduces offensive opportunity, possibly negating whatever small benefit there is.

      • PopsTwitTar
        May 23, 2012 at

        I don’t know enough on how to get 2nd half data, but the NYR showed pretty solid improvement in Fenwick as the season progressed, from a truly horrible start. I would bet, if you looked at the last 20 games of the season, the NYR would be back down to where they started – and this has obviously continued in the playoffs.

        • Triumph
          May 23, 2012 at

          timeonice.com has it, the Rangers were 51.2% Fenwick over their final 42 games. However, now that Hagelin seems to have turned into a pumpkin (or, more likely, is worn down from playing 95 pro games), that’s mostly vanished.

          Going forward, the Rangers are pretty scary territorially, but right now they stink on ice.

          • PopsTwitTar
            May 24, 2012 at

            So the NYR collapse is much more recent. I wonder if its playoffs-specific.

            would love a primer on how to navigate timeonice.com.

            • Triumph
              May 24, 2012 at

              There is one if you google ‘how to use timeonice’, it’s pretty good. Also someone just came out with a site that makes it into a workable interface – I don’t have a link for the second one.

              Btw, that 51.2% was Tied Fenwick.

    9. PopsTwitTar
      May 23, 2012 at

      Interesting stuff.

      As an NYR season ticket holder, I pay a lot of $$ to watch hockey. So I would love to see the NYR play the entire game in the offensive zone, cycling with three aggressive forwards and two Dmen who pinch at every opportunity. And, conceptually, I think every player and coach on the NYR would want them to do the same. But I think there’s a difference between saying the overall NYR strategy is to let the other team forecheck like crazy and just play a nice tight box around the goalie blocking as many shots at the opponents feels like throwing at them. The NYR do not playing a passive defensive system in all 3 zones. They routinely send in 2 forecheckers. They routinely keep a very tight NZ where the D-men step up at the blueline. But they are playing the D-zone Defensive Scheme Du Jour: When in the D zone, collapse 5 guys around the home plate area and block as many shots as possible. They are not the first team to do this, and in fact, from my limited viewpoint, almost every team does this more and more. Small sample size, for sure, but I don’t see the Devils or Kings leaving a ton of room open in the prime scoring areas because, well, they have some aversion to “boring” hockey. Unfortunately for NYR fans, the NYR have been horrible for about 30 games now. They are slow to the puck, slow to make decisions, and weak when they get in one-on-one battled. So it looks like they are intentionally playing rope a dope. When in fact, all they are doing is getting beaten up.

      I guess my point is that this is not a NYR problem. If it is a problem at all, its a League-wide problem. It seems to be increasingly easier to prevent goals than to score them. When was the last time you heard a coach come out and say “we love to play games where we trade chances with the other team.” There are a variety of factors involved that we can all spit out off the top of our heads – goalie size, goalie equipment size, training regimens, equipment materials. Your comment about the CBA’s effect on team parity is, to me, an interesting possible addition to this list.

      • dawgbone
        May 24, 2012 at

        You can collapse around your own net without continually getting hemmed in the zone. The problem that I’ve noticed on the Rangers (vs say the Coyotes who have done the same thing), is that the Rangers seem to be just dreadful at regaining the puck.

        • PopsTwitTar
          May 24, 2012 at

          “he problem that I’ve noticed on the Rangers (vs say the Coyotes who have done the same thing), is that the Rangers seem to be just dreadful at regaining the puck.”

          Since around the trading deadline, this is very true.

    10. dog
      May 23, 2012 at

      All interesting stuff of course – but the part that caught my eye was the Chris Jones mention – thats not the same guy who referenced make-believe soccer fans in North America is it, in that thinly disguised attack on you ? – who incidentally gets name checked nowhere near as much on Grantland, as you do Tyler, now ……

    11. May 23, 2012 at

      Reading this post made me think back to the late 70′s. Even though I live in Toronto I became a Montreal fan simply because they played an exciting style of hockey that contrasted with the physical intimidation that the Flyers brought to the sport. The Habs put an end to the back-to-back Cups by the Flyers and then added a couple more before the decade ended. While other teams started to add 4th liners who could meet, and beat, the Flyers tough guys, Montreal continued to play “fun hockey”. Sadly as the 80′s began they too were ground down and joined the trend to add beef instead of skill.

      I also watched some of the IIHF games and agree with Rajeev above. Lots of ice makes a big difference in the flow of the game and opens it up for skill players. I’d love to see the NHL game on the big ice.

    12. Mike
      May 23, 2012 at

      Tyler: not sure if you have the time/inclination to check this (or if the data exists), but how do the NYR numbers compare to the 2006 Oilers? I remember the Detroit series especially as being “collapse, block, pray”. Not sure if the numbers bear that out or if I just bought into the media’s narrative at the time.

    13. Lyle
      May 24, 2012 at

      I agree with that collapse and block is the defense du jour and I hate it. I’ve watched and played hockey for over 40 years, and this year I have no interest in the playoffs. Much of it comes from the NHL putting the whistles away. This penalizes the teams that do try and skate and pass, and rewards the “tough”, defensive teams. You can’t argue with “success”, but I hate the style, so I’m not watching anymore.
      I don’t agree with the European argument, however. True, the IIHF tournament was, like the Olympics, much more open. Big ice hockey is, on the other hand, subject to the neutral zone trap. With the best in the world playing, the open ice lends itself to passing and attacking. When it’s less skilled players, it becomes defense first, low risk, boring hockey. After all, the trap originated, not with the NJ Devils, but in Europe. The Devils merely introduced it to the NHL.

    14. May 24, 2012 at

      Interesting stuff, Tyler.

      I could be convinced otherwise, but I think the neutral-zone trap is closer to catenaccio than sagging down and trying to block shots.

      It seems like differences in the dynamics of the games keep the hardcore shot-blocking approach from working as well as parking the bus in soccer. For one, going for blocked shots really keeps you from hitting them on the break since it so often takes away any forwards staying up top. Line changes are a huge factor as well – if you spend a minute in your zone and win the puck you just hope to win the red line so you can dump it.

    15. art vandelay
      May 25, 2012 at

      That might be the finest column in this blog’s history.
      If the most proficient shot blocker accounts for only 4 fewer goals against over an entire season, how can coaches justify having scoring FWs doing the crane out there? A couple or three seasons ago Paul Stastny busted a finger and then a foot blocking shots.
      What a waste of talent.
      If I were the owner and I was coughing up $5 million for a guy, I’d fire the coach that had him blocking shots. The guy in net is covered in Kevlar; let him stop it.

    16. Dan A.
      May 25, 2012 at

      Let’s start early and stop short at the flawed premise.

      If my team wins every face-off and scores on every rush up-ice, I should never have to concern myself with goaltending, checking, shot-blocking or any form of defensive scheme. That’s what we’re arguing?

      Bollocks. *Everything* counts in *every* amount – That’s the aphorism to consider.

      And it is from such an aphorism that Hockey has developed its’ focus on “the details” and “the complete game” and the “complete player”.

      The reactive element should be as emphatically taught as the proactive, because in a universe that can’t accomodate a rosterful of Gretzkys (or whichever other scoring paradigm one wishes to substitute) on *every team (never mind simply one’s own) one must be able to find a way to win with a flawed team.

      As a classic example (and my final say) the Soviet Hockey Team of 1972 was arguably the best on the planet, at the time – Yet a group of mismatched, ill-conditioned, in-fighting, boozing, arrogant NHLers was able to defeat them (at the sharpest odds) because they played a more adaptive (complete) game – In short? they had more tools in their toolbox and were better-prepared to use them (ALL of them; regardless of how unconventional or unattractive) to achieve their ends.

      I might also bolster that example with Herb Brooks’ ’80 Miracle series, as a follow-up. Purely reactive Hockey. Nothing “pretty” at all. But they WON. Against all odds because they had the deeper tool-box (in Brooks’ coaching “the complete game”.)

      Everyone loves “pretty” (elegant, finesse, whatever) – But, once you’re out of high-school and discover that you’re not going to have that flawless existence your child’s-mind concocted, you learn how to claw for every inch (in every way possible) to get where you want to go.

      And so it is in sport, as well.

      These things: Checking, shot-blocking, fighting, etc – These are stand-alone qualities (skills) that are integral to Hockey. They are all contributory and no less substantitive than pure scoring.

      And that’s without even contemplating the additional brambles introduced by flawed (or biased) officiating.

      To discount or dismiss (statistically, or otherwise) the workmanlike attributes of these many, varied skills invokes the infantile notion of shoehorning one’s perceptions of the very messy world of Hockey into the narrow lens of some sort of Utopian idealisation – And by its’ very name “Utopia” is (quite literally) no (real) place.

      There are still “dirty areas” of the ice that need be addressed. And “ugly” or “dirty” goals to be scored – Only a greater worldview of Hockey would grasp (and have the means to exploit) the existence of such opportunities.

      Until (and unless) the ice-surface is expanded to near-infinite proportions, such factors will still bear weight and a commensurate statistical significance.

      • dawgbone
        May 25, 2012 at

        You might be the first person to ever argue that the NHL players went into the Summit Series as underdogs.

        Aside from that, I think you missed the point while making an argument for it, all at the same time. You are right not everyone is Gretzky and in the absence of the ability to score and make pretty plays, sometimes you have to resort to playing in your own end and doing whatever you can to win games. With that being said, the strategy of never having the puck makes it harder to win hockey games. You need your goalie to be near perfect and you need to cash in on your limited chances, which is harder when you are playing against elite players.

    17. PX
      May 26, 2012 at

      Interesting post. (And I totally agree with the problem of bland hockey players who are too afraid to express any real thoughts on the state of the game or indeed, any thoughts at all!)

      But really, as an Arsenal fan, I can come at this from the flipside where you have a team doing their best to play ‘beautiful football’, and when it doesnt work, it can become quite hard to justify it when other teams are winning based on ‘negative’ tactics. In a sense its a good thing that Barcelona exist (even though it hurts me to say that) because they provide evidence that you can play attractive football and still win things.

      I dont follow hockey too closely, but are there any teams who play a very offensive style? I know the Oilers are doing it, but thats only because they dont have any defence. Who do you think might at some point in the future end up being the Barca of the NHL?

      • dawgbone
        May 28, 2012 at

        Detroit is pretty good at it, as is Pittsbugh, Chicago and Philly.

        Of course all 4 teams are out now (3 in the first round), but there are a few cup Champions there and every one of them at least made a Finals appearance.

    18. Woodguy
      May 29, 2012 at

      I wonder what FENclose and FENtied the 2006 Oilers had in the playoffs?

      I remember them blocking everything they could and getting out shot (significantly by DET).

      I wonder if there were much difference between them and 2012 NYR? (besides the fact that EDM got to game & of the SCF)

      • dawgbone
        May 29, 2012 at

        The Oilers got outshot pretty handily throughout all the playoffs, but in their 8 wins against San Jose and Anaheim they were outshot 6 times.

        During those games most of the shot difference was in the 3rd with the Oilers ahead by 1.

        So they were pretty lucky to get past Detroit, but were full value the rest of the way. They’d get a lead and they’d sit on it.

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