• Sifting through the ashes

    by Tyler Dellow • May 3, 2010 • Uncategorized • 40 Comments

    I’m going to write a few more posts about the Capitals because I’m simply amazed at the heat that Alexander Ovechkin is taking from the media as a result of the Capitals round one flameout. I’m sure that the response, were I to ask a media member, would be that when the team fails, the star takes the heat, but it seems awfully stupid to me. If the objective of the media is to explain to us what happened and why, if the star plays great and the team spits the bit, the supporting cast should take the heat. I had this exchange with Matthew Sekeres of the Globe and Mail in a chat that they did last week:

    Matthew Sekeres: Good piece in the ESPN the Magazine this week by EJ Hradek. It describes how Pittsburgh (last year) and Team Canada neutralized Ovechkin.The idea is to put two big bodies on his wing (ie Rick Nash and Shea Weber, or Hal Gill if you’re Montreal) and just eat up as much space on his side of the ice as possible. Gill was terrific in that role, no doubt.

    mc79hockey: Ovechkin had 8 goals and 6 assists last year against the Pens. What do you think he’d have done if the Pens hadn’t come up with an ingenious strategy to shut him down?

    Matthew Sekeres: Yes, Tyler, you’re right. He got points. Team didn’t win the series, but he got points.

    James Mirtle: I wouldn’t really pin the Capitals loss on Ovechkin. Where were their other scorers? Fleischman was horrible. Semin generated a lot of shots but has gone a long, long time in the postseason without a goal. Both could be gone next year.

    mc79hockey: I’m not a hockey coach or an expert, but if you’re looking for reasons why Pittsburgh beat Washington last year, saying that they shut down Ovechkin, who scored at a pace not seen in a regular season since 1995-96, doesn’t seem to me like it’s the right answer.

    Matthew Sekeres: Tyler, I didn’t say “shut down” but your point is taken.

    Neutralize, it would appear, means something other than “shut down.” Props to Mirtle though – he seems to have the right angle to me. CBC’s Elliotte Friedman chimed in on Ovechkin today:

    On their lone day off between the stunning upset of Washington and the next series with Pittsburgh, the Canadiens’ Josh Gorges and Hal Gill talked about defending Ovechkin.

    “Generally, you know what’s coming,” Gorges said. “When he comes in on the off-wing, he’ll try to step to the middle and shoot through you. You can bait him into that.”

    “If you do go to the middle, he will try to go to the outside,” Gill added.

    Several of the Penguins described him as an “east/west” player as opposed to a “north/south” one. Fact is, for all of his terrific talent, Ovechkin has become easier to defend. He can still blow by you, but a well-prepared team knows exactly what’s coming. Clearly, the Canadiens did.

    Boudreau has repeatedly told reporters who ask if Ovechkin shoots too much that “a shot off his stick is better than anything else we can do.” That’s not the case anymore. Opponents know they can lay off Ovechkin’s linemates because he isn’t so interested in using them.

    “Look at what happened in the final minutes of Game 7,” another player said. “He tried to go by everybody by himself.”

    “Look at their power play,” said an opposing coach. “I’m looking at Ovechkin with the puck and I’m afraid of all the talent around him. There’s [Nicklas] Backstrom. There’s [Alexander] Semin. There’s [Mike] Green. They’ve got three other guys who can kill you. And he’s taking them out of the game.”

    I know what you’re thinking: This is piling on. No, it isn’t. It’s constructive criticism. It’s what Ovechkin must do to reach the next level.

    I found the quotes from Gorges and Gill interesting. With them on the ice at ES – and ignoring empty netters – the Caps outscored the Habs 6-2. Way to shut him down, boys – the Caps scored 75% of the goals when you were on the ice together. For the series, the Caps outscored the Habs 10-6 at ES with Ovechkin on the ice, ignoring empty netters. If you factor in his ES TOI, the Caps scored 5.4 ESG/60 with him on the ice and allowed 3.2 ESG/60. To provide some perspective, the 5.4 ESG/60 would have led the league this year. Ovechkin scored 4.3 ESP/60 – again, this would have led the league in the regular season.

    If the argument is that Ovechkin could somehow be better if he changed his game, well, I’m open to being convinced. The Canadiens didn’t come close to shutting him down during this series though. He ran all over them at ES. While you can point to the final three games and say he needs to be better in those games, I’m not quite sure what people reasonably expect that he might do. I don’t think he can be criticized without acknowledging the fact that his performance was excellent. Saying that the Capitals needed more from him at the end of the series doesn’t really do it, in my opinion – it doesn’t account for the fact that he was achieving dominant results earlier on.

    The quote from the opposing coach – and you’d have to think that this is either someone on Pittsburgh or someone coaching Montreal – about Ovechkin taking guys out of the game on the PP doesn’t make a heck of a lot of sense to me either. Washington was on the power play for 57.48 minutes in the Montreal series. They took 61 shots, good for a PPS/60 of 63.7 which is just ridiculously good. Ovechkin only took 7 shots – if he was taking his teammates out of the PP, I don’t understand how their PP was generating so many shots that he wasn’t taking. This is kind of an A-B=C situation here – and the comment doesn’t really make a lot of sense to me. If they weren’t getting a ton of shots or if Ovechkin took a disproportionate amount, I’d understand it; this just strikes me as nonsensical. I have a hard time fathoming how this criticism can possibly be accurate, given the data.

    I don’t know what the odds of this are but if Ted Leonsis were to sell the franchise to someone less contemptible, the Capitals would be a very easy team to cheer for next year. As it stands, he’ll own the team and we’ll probably have to suffer through a deluge of stories about how you have to lose before you can win and how Ovechkin raised his game. It’d be nice if just once, there was someone kicking out an alternate hypothesis, like maybe teams have to lose before they can win because teams on the upswing tend to be better the following year and, in any event, the odds are against any team winning the Stanley Cup in a given season.

    About Tyler Dellow

    40 Responses to Sifting through the ashes

    1. May 4, 2010 at

      The stuff being pumped out about WAS in the wake of their defeat is just amazing. I mean, had they actually choked in some fashion – and not run into a .980 SV% in the last few games – it might make sense. But that’s not the case.

      It’ll be interesting to see the orgs reaction to this in the off-season. I don’t think they’ll do the stupid thing and pursue “change for change’s sake”. However, someone might be able to pick up “playoff choker” Alexander Semin for pennies on the dollar if perception is mistaken for reality.

    2. Tyler Dellow
      May 4, 2010 at

      Maybe Calgary can move Iginla for him. I wonder what he’d do with Matt Stajan giving him the puck.

    3. May 4, 2010 at

      The real question is – what couldn’t he do?

    4. May 4, 2010 at

      As a Habs fan, I am embarassed by the way the media is prasing the Canadiens and stomping on Washington.

      The Habs got lucky, period. As they got lucky in Game 2 vs. Pittsburgh. If they think squeaking a one goal lead, and praying for your goalie to maintain a .970-.980 while facing a barrage of shots is the answer, law of averages is going to bite em in the behind real quickly.

      On the Ovechkin stuff, maybe if that goal that was idiotically waved off would’ve counted in Game 7, and the Caps came back to win. People are praising him for stepping up in the clutch and being a leader.

      The MSM is laughable at times, and can discredit the good names like Mirtle that are within it.

    5. kinger
      May 4, 2010 at

      Why do so many sports writers embody Vic’s type A thinker?

      I’m actually curious why this type of analysis is so prevalent.

    6. May 4, 2010 at

      Look, is a 970-980 s% over 3 games that rare? Is a .933 over 6 games that rare? I think the metrics crowd is getting suckered into a MSM gonzo stats argument when they isolate Halak’s last 3 games against Was. But it’s just me, I mean what do I know?

      That being said:

      “If the objective of the media is to explain to us what happened and why, if the star plays great and the team spits the bit, the supporting cast should take the heat.”

      And yet, the supporting cast doesn’t take the heat. I mean, nobody on that team apart from Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin could find a way to lift a fucking puck over Halak’s pads (Same thing with Pittsburgh outside of Crosby, Malkin and the injured Staal — Uh ho…). Not that surprising; no one outside of those three and Greene have that talent; not many players have it actually; on the habs, I count Cammalleri, Gionta, and Akost and Pouliot whenever they are awake. True sjhooters are rare.

      We all know Washington rode the % all year, more precisely everybody outside WSH’s big three. If the supporting cast isn’t taking the heat, I’d suggest it is due to the following reason:

      The media don’t give a fuck about what happened and why. They simply fixate on a narrative angle and beat it to death. Halak’s .970+ S% over 3 games is part of that and shrugging away how he let the caps come back or get in front in two of the first 3 games is a mistake.

    7. May 4, 2010 at

      @ Olivier,

      A .970 SV% isn’t that rare over 3 games, mainly because SV% in itself is a volatile stats. But usually in wins goalie will have arond a .930-.950 (Halak this year was .948) so the fact that in nearly every win this postseason he’s been .970+ is concerning and in the medium term, probably unsustainable due to regression.

      It’s not a huge statistical anomoly or anything, but if those shots against don’t come down/ the turtle from hell strategy; the Habs are going to need to pray that his SV% does sustain which would be a decent chunk of luck if he can do that in 7-8 games.

    8. mclea
      May 4, 2010 at

      It would be interesting to see how the discussion of this series would change if we could separate shots based on their quality. This strikes me as being a very good example of how the sheer volume of shots is really skewing the post-series analysis.

      The suggestion that you can’t keep Ovechkin from getting shots, but you can keep him from taking quality shots, makes a lot of sense to me. It’s no different than the thinking that it’s better to have Kobe settle for jump shots rather than let him get in the key. But because we have no data accounting for quality of shots, this kind of analysis is totally absent from the conversation, even though it would probably be more informative than anything presently being discussed.

    9. May 4, 2010 at

      @Corey: Obviously, Martin consider his team is able to win 4 of 7 games on a given timespan using that turtling strategy, notably because he obviously trust this system allows his goalie to pull more 950+ than 900- games. We’ll see how long it works but, at this point, well obviously he’s gaming the percentages and will keep doing so, unless both Markov and Spacek come back, I think. I must admit it’s pretty bad for my alcohol intake, tho. That game 7 was fucking nerve wracking.

      Mind you, I’m not saying “The habs have found a way to alter the percetages and thus traditional metrics don’t tell us how good the habs are!”.

      @McLea: I’ve recorded scoring chances for every single habs game, regular season and playoffs. They get absolutely raped. Once they have the lead, the modus operandi is: “Bend over and grease up”. It’s quite sordid.

      Subban is the shit, though.

    10. DSF
      May 4, 2010 at

      mclea nailed it and apparently Desjardins is working on it but the results won’t be made public.

      Too bad.

    11. May 4, 2010 at

      mclea:

      Of course, if we accept that MTL held Ovechkin to low-quality shots, that doesn’t explain why Ovechkin scored five goals in seven games, does it?

      That’s a 59-goal pace, almost a 20% jump from his regular season pace.

    12. David Staples
      May 4, 2010 at

      Oh, God, I’m usually not on with the MSM-are-dummies posts, but I have to admit that Sekeres’ response — “Yes, Tyler, you’re right. He got points. They lost the series, but he got points” — had me laughing out loud.

      Every time I read it, I continue to chuckle.

      Come on, Mr. Sekeres. Now and then in debate, it’s best just to admit momentary defeat, give up a point.

    13. David Staples
      May 4, 2010 at

      From Friedman’s interesting description, it sounds like a case of Hemsky-itis (holding puck too long, not trusting teammates) for Ovechkin.

    14. Quain
      May 4, 2010 at

      If Ovechkin were a true captain and a true Russian he would’ve put Halak out of hockey for a year.

    15. May 4, 2010 at

      For all of you shot quality fans:

      Gabe Desjardins looks at shot quality throughout the series.

      According to his findings, Washington led not only in shot quantity but in shot quality as well.

    16. Quain
      May 4, 2010 at

      JW: That doesn’t properly measure the number of 4 on 1′s and 3 on 0′s for each team, it’s a faulty study.

      Shot quality. Strong, muscular shot quality.

    17. May 4, 2010 at

      Quain: You are a mean person. You know that?

    18. mclea
      May 4, 2010 at

      Ya, I’m not sure comparing Washington’s performance to Montreal’s is all that useful. Clearly Washington dominated them and should have won the series.

      I’m more interested in the extent to which Halak “stoned” Washington. Was Halak just playing out of his butt, or is there evidence that Montreal implemented a defensive system that lead to Washington taking lower quality shots, which maximized Montreal’s chances of winning?

      Smart hockey people are definitely throwing this idea out there, and I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand until we see how Montreal does against Pittsburgh.

    19. May 4, 2010 at

      mclea:

      Not dismiss it out of hand, no. But it seems to be accepted as fact by the ‘winners win, losers lose’ crowd, and that’s not warranted.

    20. Quain
      May 4, 2010 at

      olivier: I am! But running Halak was a joke. Although, honestly, I’m not sure what else Ovechkin could’ve done in the series to get people off his back, short of eliminating the hot goaltender.

      mclea: I’m not sure what you’re looking for as I’m fairly positive you read Gabe’s stuff so clearly you’ve seen that Washington’s shot location in the playoffs was no worse than shot location in the regular season and they severely underpreformed expectations. Montreal was unable to reduce Washington’s access to areas where goals get scored (moreso than any other team during the season.)

      Scoring chances show that Washington was definitely getting quality looks. Maybe you want to see it relative to Washington’s regular season chances/game, which we don’t have, but I will say Montreal’s 30 and 27 chance G6 and G7 are certainly very high compared to what I saw from the average Oilers opponent during the regular season.

      I’m just not sure what test or result you expect to see when you talk about shot quality. There’s plenty of data attempting to measure it, hitting all of the angles I can think of, and none of it points towards Montreal having done much to limit Washington. If you had all the data in the world, what test would you formulate to measure it that is substantially different than scoring chances and shot location?

    21. Grunthos
      May 4, 2010 at

      “I don’t know what the odds of this are but if Ted Leonsis were to sell the franchise to someone less contemptible, the Capitals would be a very easy team to cheer for next year.”

      No, he’s not selling. May I be blunt? You’re *choosing* to see him as contemptible. Stop paying attention to Ted’s blog, and start paying attention to George McPhee. You don’t have to like Ted Leonsis, but this idea that he’s somehow a bad owner or an unavoidable asshole is just strange. There are a hell of a lot of sports team owners who are much, much bigger pricks than Ted Leonsis could ever hope to be.

    22. mclea
      May 4, 2010 at

      Oh, I agree. I’m not arguing with you guys. I think it’s misguided to construct some narrative for why Washington lost the series.

      But I think there’s something to the old NBA saying that you can’t shut down superstars, but you can keep them from killing you.

      I want to know that if coming in Montreal had a 10% chance of winning this series, they managed to implement a system that increased this percentage in a significant way by mitigating the quality of shots Halak faced. I think this is the better question to ask than whether or not Montreal outplayed Washington and deserved to win the series.

    23. Vic Ferrari
      May 4, 2010 at

      I tend to think of these things from the shooter’s point of view. Sometimes you make your shots, sometimes you don’t. Everyone feels more confident when they’ve been going in lately, at least I do. But everyone feels more confident playing Risk with their nephews when they’ve been rolling a shitload of sixes preiously.

      Like Savard’s goal in OT vs Philly, he just took a rip at it in the general direction of the net. It happened to find the perfect spot. He’s going to make that shot (or another shot that beats Boucher somewhere else) a hell of a lot more often than you or I would from that spot, and with the puck that far ahead of him and on edge. But in most parallel universes that didn’t go in.

      That’s not a colourful narrative though. Like Crosby’s gold medal goal, someone (Pang?) was telling us how brilliant goal scorers do it over the replay “just a quick look up” … I don’t think he looked up at all, but I’ll have to search youtube to be sure. The ‘seeing a bit of daylight 5-hole’ … nonsense. The puck came his way and he tried to get it on net as quickly as he could. I’m pretty sure that Crosby wasn’t even certain where it had beaten Miller when interviewed after the game, though my memory should never be trusted.

      Streakiness is a cool subject. The human brain sees linear randomness as a pattern, and when it tries to build a random series it almost always creates a pattern instead. That’s most everybody as well, regardless of background or education.

      I have some streak analysis scripts at timeonice, at some point I’ll tweak one of them to accept user input and make it publicly accessible. Then run a little social experiment at IOF. It’s a bizarre phenomenon. And as I say, misinterpretting streaks is not particular to the foolish or uneducated, it seems to be something that’s hardwired into the human brain.

    24. mclea
      May 4, 2010 at

      “If you had all the data in the world, what test would you formulate to measure it that is substantially different than scoring chances and shot location?”

      I would compare shot quality/scoring chances for Washington in the regular season versus the Montreal series. I think that would give an idea whether Montreal was doing something novel defensively in order to mitigate Washington’s obvious offensive advantage.

    25. Tyler Dellow
      May 4, 2010 at

      But I think there’s something to the old NBA saying that you can’t shut down superstars, but you can keep them from killing you.

      The thing is, I don’t even think MTL accomplished this. There are limits to what can be expected of Ovechkin. When you score as much as the Caps did when he’s on the ice, I’m hardpressed to say that he’s somehow failed or been stopped.

    26. PDO
      May 4, 2010 at

      I thought Washington ran over Montreal in G5 & G6… has anyone isolated Game 7 alone though?

      As a guy who had a good chunk of money on Washington to win the series, I was cursing quite a bit at all of the shots from the outside and pretty much ready to threaten the TV with my remote controller if someone didn’t take the puck to the slot.

      Semin was the worst for this by my eye.

      Then again, might have just been the lost dollars…

    27. R O
      May 4, 2010 at

      Vic:

      Crosby said he didn’t know where it went in or that it was even really in. I’ve watched that replay a dozen times and he didn’t look.

      Miller didn’t have a chance on that on any other shot from that spot on the ice, really, it was too close and fast to react. Which is really the crux of it, some poor fuckers think that goalies are superhuman even from 5 feet out.

    28. Kyle M
      May 4, 2010 at

      Great analysis Tyler. It’s pretty apparent that most people are unable to comprehend the fact that a very very good caps team ran up against a goaltender having the series of a generation. To blame the Caps system (which was dominant) or individual players like Ovy (who was terrific) for the loss is nonsensical.

    29. BRIdub
      May 4, 2010 at

      I wonder how this series compares to the Oilers’ upset of the wings in ’06. As I recall they were outshot horribly, in game 3 if I’m not mistaken Det. had 60 shots or something and again, all the talk was about how Roli ‘stole’ the series and the Oilers brilliance in keeping the shots to the outside and scoring chances down and how Datsyuk was a playoff choke artist. It basically strikes me as an identical situation. Of course Detroit went on to win the cup later with a new coach and new old goalie.

    30. May 4, 2010 at

      @PDO: I asked about this and Olivier’s scoring chances had the Habs getting murderated in quality shots as well as shitty shots. (Though by my count, Ovechkin was +7/-5 in EVSC in Game 7, with +6/-2 of that coming in the third. Make of that what you will.)

      Yes, Tyler, you’re right. He got points. Team didn’t win the series, but he got points.

      This line makes me laugh. It’s the same argument as goaltender wins, and it’s just as stupid. If Ovechkin was the only guy on the ice for 60 minutes, fine. Otherwise? There’s lots of blame to spread around.

    31. marconius E
      May 4, 2010 at

      I think Sekeres’ “Tyler, I didn’t say ‘shut down,’” is also somewhat disingenuous, he clearly means that by commenting on the ‘neutralizing’ of Ovechkin.

      The fact that Ovechkin increased his output in the playoffs should lay to rest any questions at all about his post season play. Quite simply, Ovechkin was a beast (BEASTfactor: 10.0) in the regular season and then when the games became more important, he increased the level of his play accordingly.

    32. Ribs
      May 4, 2010 at

      “Look at what happened in the final minutes of Game 7,” another player said. “He tried to go by everybody by himself.”

      Hah, I love this. You mean when he skated past all 5 Canadiens and his shot went through Halak’s legs, almost trickling into the empty net? Wow. Yea, he really should have passed the puck there. Selfish Russian scum.

    33. May 4, 2010 at

      I whipped up this table; ignore the french and just click on the image… Those are scoring chances from the habs perspective. So, to go with Doogie2k’s count of Ovie in game 7, I have him listed at N 11 and +/- -3, which means the habs were +4/-7 with ovie on the ice. The last three columns represent SC% for game 1-4 and 5-7 and the difference between the two. The color delineate lines. To put it bluntly: Ovechkin’s line dominated but went slightly down in the last 3 games, Semin’s stepped it up and the bottom of the lineup cratered. I’d add that Gabriel noted a few weeks ago that a large part of the Caps high octane regular season offence was supplied by unsustainable Shooting % in the bottom of the lineup.

    34. May 4, 2010 at

      Tyler, what if you isolate the Caps’ performance in the last three games – is there anything different in there from when they were dominating (and scoring)?

      I don’t think anyone would argue the Capitals had things well in hand after four games; it was the last three games where perhaps it got away from them a little. (And obviously Halak was incredible.)

    35. Bank Shot
      May 5, 2010 at

      The only fault I’d put on the Caps is that they failed to beat the Smurfs at their own game in one of the final three.
      To be a strong Stanley contender a team needs to be able to put the clamp on the other team’s offence and win a game 2-1 or 1-0 every once in awhile.

      Caps need to tighten it up defensively and not rely on outgunning the other team to win every game because some games you just can’t find twine.

    36. Tyler Dellow
      May 5, 2010 at

      Tyler, what if you isolate the Caps’ performance in the last three games – is there anything different in there from when they were dominating (and scoring)?

      I don’t see a lot. Their PP was just overwhelming: 81.1 PPS/60. That’s way better than you’ll see teams do over the course of a season.

      I wish I had these games on PVR – I’d re-watch ‘em and cut out all the moments when WSH almost scored, cut in some tinkly piano music and then add the tagline “What if randomness didn’t exist?”

    37. despisethesun
      May 5, 2010 at

      There are a hell of a lot of sports team owners who are much, much bigger pricks than Ted Leonsis could ever hope to be.

      Oilers fans had to live through Peter Pocklington. If they’re calling Ted Leonsis an asshole, it’s because they recognize one when they see one.

    38. Vic Ferrari
      May 5, 2010 at

      Tyler said:

      I wish I had these games on PVR – I’d re-watch ‘em and cut out all the moments when WSH almost scored, cut in some tinkly piano music and then add the tagline “What if randomness didn’t exist?”

      Then DSF could take your video, score it with Yakkety Sax, and add the tagline “No clutch. I rest my case!”

      :D

    39. Ari
      May 5, 2010 at

      Through 3 games against Montreal, Crosby has 2 points. Through 3 games against Montreal, Ovechkin had 5 points. So is it still easier to shut Ovie down?

    40. Darren
      May 5, 2010 at

      I personally feel like its just a Canadian media driven to prove that Crosby is better than Ovechkin.

      And Crosby is clutch, unlike Ovie!!

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