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Archive for June, 2017

Can the Penguins win a third Cup in a row?

Can the Penguins win a third Cup in a row? I will go further and say it is possible that they could win four in a row. This does not mean that I am not aware of the difficulties with winning three let alone four. What I am aware of is the luck the Pittsburgh Penguins had over a decade ago.

When you at the Stanley Cup winners and their rosters of the past decade, only one team stands out and they are the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins have without a doubt the two best players in the league for over a decade. Sorry Ovie, you were never one or two. As much as I like Jonathan Toews, he is not one of the five best players in the league. We hear Patrick Kane, Carey Price, and Erik Karlsson but they have their limitations. Kane cannot take over games like Malkin can, though, I am sure Blackhawks fans would disagree.

For most of Crosby and Malkin’s career, teams had to deal with two lines. Only Penguins poor coaching hurt these two, not to mention David Steckel’s hit to Crosby’s head that took him out for over a year. Talk about poor officiating. I guess Victor Hedman had a part in it, too. Correcting the coaching situation after six seasons, the Penguins appeared to play as a team people expected to see when Bylsma was coaching. The point is the Penguins have two of the best offensive players playing on their team.

When you look at the past Stanley Cup winners, they simply do not have two. Chicago has Patrick Kane. What did Los Angeles and Boston have? Detroit only won the Cup because of a very young and inexperienced Penguins team. The Wings were a veteran team that ran circles around the young whippersnappers. Of the teams that lost in the finals, there are no outstanding players. Joe Thornton is on the downside, Henrik Lundqvist is also at the tail end of his career. In fact, goalies are limited in the fact they are a defense only even though Pekka Rinne may want to argue that.

If we look at the Leafs or Oilers, they have a player each that will be the next great players. Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews are only one player on their team. After these two, most people will find it difficult to name another star player let alone another player at all. Patrick Kane is all alone on the Hawks. Ovie has shown that having good talent around you doesn’t win cups. Having a great offensive defenseman like Erik Karlsson hasn’t won Ottawa the cup. Carey Price of Montreal is only one man. No, there is no team with two great players on their roster.

The Penguins have the fortune to have two great players to build around and have done so with their three Stanley Cup victories. These two players make it difficult for teams to play against and with the support they now have, there is no reason why they couldn’t win two additional cups before they retire. The Penguins won back to back cups because of two players and their supporting cast. Though possible, it doesn’t look like any other team is in a position to win two in a row without having two great players. Winning a third and possibly a fourth remains the reality for the Penguins alone.

Supporting this idea of four in a row is the goaltending. The Penguins have it in Matt Murray. With Kessel, Guentzel, and the additional young cast members the supporting offensive strength is there to help push the Penguins further. The Penguins could have two or three offensive line. The checking role is supported by youth and experience. There is no worry here. The defense has been the main weakness as stated by the media and anyone with a mouth or ability to construct sentences. Somehow the Penguins won two cups with this defense. The key here is goaltending. The defense doesn’t have to be great, just good enough and this is what the Penguins have. Injuries have shown the Penguins to have depth, and this depth is created by the leadership of the veterans and coaches.

Finally, I believe Mike Sullivan to be a better coach than Bylsma and many of the opposing coaches he faced in the playoffs. Jacques Martin is an undervalued coach who has helped Mike Sullivan. In fact, maybe he is why the Penguins do not need a great defense. Then there Rick Tocchet is another issue for me, however, I have heard positives about him such as helping Phil Kessel. The fact remains that the coaching staff is stable and a very important reason to why the Penguins have won two cups in a row.

What makes the Penguins special are Crosby and Malkin. Other teams have the same or similar attributes the Penguins have but do not have these two players. Having one of these players may get you a cup win or maybe two in three years, but it will not give you the possibility of winning three or four Stanley Cups in a row. Penguins fan or not, it would be great to see a dynasty once more.

Is Jake Guentzel Good?

Tied for the most points by a rookie in postseason scoring. Led the playoffs with 13 goals. Won a Stanley Cup. Was fourth in playoff scoring with 21 points with only Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, and Phil Kessel ahead of him. Is Jake Guentzel the next superstar in ice hockey?

Statistically speaking, Jake had 16 goals and 33 points in 40 games for his first year. Combine this with his 25 playoff games and Jake played 65 games, scored 29 goals for a total of 54 points. In an 82 game season, he would have scored 37 goals and have 68 points. The 37 goals are close to Sid’s 39 goals and beats Malkin’s 33 goals as rookies. The guy Jake reminds me of the most, Patrick Kane, scored 21 goals in 82 games and had another 9 goals in 16 games during his rookie year. These two are close, but does this indicate stardom for young Jake Guentzel?

I would say the new rating systems of hockey analytics would bear out that Guentzel is a good players. Compared to Crosby and Malkin, Jake comes close to their analytics numbers. If you look at the postseason metrics, Jake’s CF% (Corsi for % in all situations) is 5 below Sid and 1.8 below Malkin. The relative Corse is worse for Jake, and the same positioning and range is similar when looking at Fenwick. His metrics match that of Phil Kessel more so than that of Crosby or Malkin. What about Patrick Kane, the player I say Jake resembles? Jake’s stats are actually better than Kane’s and Jonathan Toews for that matter.

Even though this is a very shallow study of Jake Guentzel, I believe this indicates his future potential. His 40 regular season games and 25 playoff games provide a good first year set of data to analyze young Jake, and the stats indicate a very good player was found by the Penguins organization. His AHL stint shows that Jake’s performance at the NHL level isn’t a fluke. During the 2016 AHL playoffs, Jake scored 5 goals and 9 assists in 10 games. He was tied for the team lead in goals and led the team in points during the playoffs. During the 2016-17 AHL season, Jake had 21 goals and 42 points in 33 games. He finished 12 points and 3 goals behind Tom Kostopoulous who played 74 games that season.

I conclude that Jake Guentzel is a good hockey player and the statistics show this. In fact, I imagine he will continue to get better. I do not expect him to be a Crosby or even a McDavid level of elite player, but Jake is good enough to be feared like all good offensive hockey players.

NHL Top 100

The Stanley Cup Finals ended with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin being, in the media’s mind, as legends now cemented in greatness with their third Stanley Cup. The talk about the NHL’s top 100 players came to the forefront, and the discussion about Malkin’s not being in the top 100 started once more. In February, it was discussed and now once more it is being discussed. What will it take for him to move up in the list?

I am not a fan of this type of list. If we look at Sidney Crosby and his greatness as a hockey player, one element to his game that often mentioned is his work ethic and determination that is not related to scoring. Without watching him play, it become difficult to see this. A few Youtube pundits have mentioned how great he is when you see him live at the arena instead of the tely. His skill as a hockey player magnifies for those that have seen him. Sidney represents a problem with these types of lists. He is on this list because we can see him, but what about players from the past?

The first issue about this list is what determines greatness. This is not very objective as there are different requirements. Even if we develop an objective list, how do we rate players from the past? How do we rate Georges Vezinas? How many of us has seen him play in a consistent manner? We hear about how great he was, but compared to what? Consider the earlier years of the NHL where teams like Montreal could stack their team with homegrown talent. Is the Rocket Richard great because of the team around him or was he truly a great player? Is offense the main key to rate a player? If so, then why is Ovechkin in the top 100 and not Malkin? Offensively, Malkin is better. If it is about goals then we can find other examples. Do we include goalies or defensemen? These players do not score much.

There is the time period players played in. We only need to go back to the 80s and early 90s when everyone scored and compare to today’s scoring where 100 points is an amazing feat. What about the Original Six years or the period before that. Rule changes have altered how players play as have goalie equipment.

Rating the top 100 of anything or even the top ten is a waste of time but a boon for the fluff writers. These people talk hockey but spend very little of their writing, speaking, and gesturing about actual hockey. Most of these people see very little hockey or have a limited scope of what they see. Even I have a limited scope as I cannot watch every team with any consistency. The NHL Top 100 is a subjective rating where players are placed not on their skill but team achievements and current popularity. Is Jonathan Toews or Alexander Ovechkin better than Evgeni Malkin? How do we know Milt Schmidt is better than Malkin? We don’t and may never know.

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Goal or No Goal

Understanding the NHL and the rules is an important element to understanding how a game is played. However, this knowledge doesn’t always provide an answer to why a decision on ice by the Referee is made. The lack of understanding the rules and interactions between players and Referees can lead fans to angst and the wrong conclusions. Game six of the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals had two incidents related to a goal and no goal that need better comprehension.

If you watch the videos of NHL Referees or players mic’d up, you begin to see the relationship between the two groups and how a game will be called. The Referee notifies the players how they will call the game and even tell the goalies their intent. There are discussions between the two groups of why the Referee made or did not make the call. It is clear the Referees are trying to not influence the game but will try to take care of the goalie, “We’re gonna protect ya.” That is a statement from the 2016 playoffs between Pittsburgh and Washington. Referee Jean Hebert, I believe, makes this statement to Braden Holtby during game three. This entails quick whistles and penalties if needed.

Refereeing is not only an objective job but also a subjective one. All fans can recall a moment of where the Referee did not call an obvious penalty during a game or called a “ticky-tacky” penalty. These are subjective and is easily understood when you listen to the Referees interact with the players. Their intent is to let the players play without interfering. There is an intent to call a game evenly and even if the Referees do not admit to make things even, there appears to be attempts by Referees to correct a bad call with another bad call. This is where we see penalties that sometimes do not make sense in the scheme of how the game is being officiated.

There are downsides to allowing these players play. Skilled teams are hampered by lesser skilled or even defensively minded teams as infractions are ignored in the attempt to allow teams play. If we look at the 2017 Stanley Cup games we see the uneven calling not only during a game but between games. If we look at one of the earlier games, Conor Sheary is crosschecked multiple times before a penalty is called. P.K. Subban hits Sidney Crosby in the head a few times without a penalty called. This isn’t a one-way issue as the Penguins were guilty of similar infractions such as game five’s event where Crosby was gently dribbling Subban’s head on the ice. It can be agreed upon that there are plenty of no calls and bad calls where no single event is truly the major event we like to make it out to be.

The first of Game Six’s issues was the no goal by Colton Sissons. Forsberg shoots the puck from Murray’s right. Murray initially stops the puck and from Referee Pollock’s position this looks like a save as he cannot see anything on the left of Murray. There is about a second before the whistle is blown. Before the whistle and unbeknownst to Pollock, the puck is on edge and rolling away from Murray across the crease about a foot away before the whistle is blown. It is roughly less than a second before Colton Sissons dives and knocks the puck into the net. There are two issues with this play. The first is the whistle and the second is the goal. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YkYZJPJqI4U)

Per Rule 38.4, this was a good no goal call. Paraphrasing this part of the rule, “”The video review process shall be permitted to assist the Referees in determining the legitimacy of all potential goals. This would also include situations whereby the Referee stops play or is in the process of stopping the play because he has lost sight of the puck and it is subsequently determined by video review that the puck crosses the goal line and enters the net as the culmination of a continuous play where the result was unaffected by the whistle” we see that Pollock’s call could be overturned, but in this case, the puck was not moving into the net prior to the whistle and Sissons made contact with the puck and knocked it into the net after the whistle was blown. This was no longer a continuous play. The Referees made the correct call based on the rules.

The next issue is the quick whistle. This is the subjective part of the game where the Referee made an assumption and likely for the protection of the goalie. Keep in mind the conversation between Holtby and Hebert or even look at other instances of the keeper getting the puck and in the attempt to pass it to a teammate the whistle is blown. This is simply part of the game. We either like the call or hate it based on whose team it affects. Now we can argue did some of the penalties called against the Penguins and not called against the Predators later on was an attempt to fix things or make someone happy. That is a personal decision as the Referees aren’t likely to state their intent.

The second issue was Patric Hornqvist’s winning goal. There were some fluff commentators and fluff sports writers stating it was goal tender interference. Honestly, I don’t believe most if not all of these people actually understand hockey, but that is my opinion. In this case, Justin Schultz shoots the puck wide and to the left of goalie Pekka Rinne. It hits the boards behind the net and only Hornqvist reacts to the rebound. Rinne is next to react as he drifts to his left partly outside his crease where he is converging with Hornqvist’s attempt to retrieve the puck. Hornqvist is trying to skate around the moving Rinne but cannot avoid Rinne as Rinne lifts his left leg in a kicking motion to impede Hornqvist. Hornqvist hits the puck out of the air against Rinne’s elbow or glove and the puck enters the net. A goal. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tENiCpaIk9A)

People and one Canadian mouthpiece I am specifically thinking of believes this is goalkeeper interference. He apparently ignores Rinne’s kicking motion. Predator coach Peter Laviolette asks for a coach’s challenge. Good decision as anything can happen. What do the rules state? Paraphrasing Rule 78, “Protection of Goalkeeper

(b) If an attacking player initiates any contact, other than incidental contact, with the goalkeeper, while the goalkeeper is outside of his goal crease, and a goal is scored, the goal will be disallowed.

(NOTE 1) In exercising his judgment under subsections (a) and (b) above, the Referee should give more significant consideration to the degree and nature of the contact with the goalkeeper than to the exact location of the goalkeeper at the time of the contact.

  1. In a rebound situation, or where a goalkeeper and offensive player(s) are simultaneously attempting to play a loose puck, whether inside or outside the crease, incidental contact with the goalkeeper will be permitted, and any goal that is scored as a result thereof will be allowed.”

It is clear that this was incidental contact on Hornqvist’s part as he was outside the crease and Rinne was impeding Hornqvist while Hornqvist was not initiating contact. This was also a rebound of sorts and Hornqvist was attempting to play the puck while Rinne was hoping for a miracle, I guess.

 

As difficult as it is for Nashville Predator fans to digest and Penguins haters to accept, these two events were valid in every way. Yes, Pollock’s whistle appears to be a quick whistle, but that is subjective to the fans. There are plenty of instances during the NHL season and playoffs where a quick whistle was blown when the puck was secured in the goalies glove or appeared to be frozen by the goalie. This doesn’t make it easy for an impassioned fan to accept without pain, but this is the reality of sports. I am sure there are plenty of fans for Edmonton that would wish for a quick whistle or a call for interference. There truly are bad calls or ignored calls, but this happens to every teams in all games. As fans, we should be allowed to be upset but also recognize that it is part of the game.