If there’s one thing that chaps me about the NHL’s critics, it’s their constant evaluation of playoff ratings, and assessment of hockey being “boring” because of low TV numbers.
The Los Angeles Kings/New Jersey Devils Stanley Cup Final isn’t producing the numbers that Boston/Vancouver did last year, and it’s not beating the NBA’s ratings either (this year’s game 6 ratings were actually better than last year, and the LA Kings owned social media interaction, but those are just details).
Well boo f’n hoo.
Look, I get it — the NHL is a business that sells the product of hockey to fans, advertisers, TV networks and the rest, and thusly it has to put a show on TV that a lot of people watch in order to swoon money away from all the afore mentioned parties. Fine.
Back in the day, the league scrambled to regain its post-lockout fan base, and was desperate to lure them back. Fans, viewers, and advertisers alike drooled over the “new NHL” that they were rewarded with, and ever since the NHL has seen its ratings and fan base grow exponentially. New rules were put in place to allow players more time and space to score, and impeding their progress was heavily penalized for the slightest obstructions. Players were paraded to the penalty box, and special teams dominated ice time. Goalies had their pad size decreased, got confined to a trapezoid shape around their net, and rightfully started getting lit up. Fighting became increasingly criticized, and thusly enforcers who contributed nothing besides their fists were put on notice that their services were far less necessary. Fans who came to see boxing matches were disappointed when the only thing that broke out was a hockey game.
Supposedly, the game was fun to watch “again” (it never wasn’t), and everyone seemed happy — except for goalies, tough-guys, all non-elite scorers who had to make defensive adjustments in their game to survive in the league, and also some elite players that took the retirement option rather than the adjustment one – well, everyone except most of the players, that is. So basically no one in the game was better for it, but all in the name of increased ratings and entertainment; everyone from the ground up made adjustments to produce a more entertaining on-ice product because the agreed consensus was it was a necessary evil.
But here’s the thing: you can modify the rules of the game and try to weed certain aspects/players out all you want, but eventually hockey players will adapt, survive, and thrive. Very few players really care if you find them entertaining or not (save for Sean Avery, et al), they just want to play the game they love, not get cut, make tons of money, and win. But they are aware of how their inflated salaries are funded.
Goalies are probably the best example of all – in the 80’s, scoring was probably at an all-time high, as Wayne Gretzky and others were making a mockery of modern goaltending by scoring 200 points in single seasons. Eventually, goalies got hip to it, bought bigger pads, invested themselves in honing their craft, and developed new styles of goaltending (see: Patrick Roy) that became the standard to learn from. Goaltenders even started handling the puck as well as some players, and scored goals (see: Martin Brodeur, Ron Rextall, etc).
In short, goalies got really good at stopping the puck, and scoring went down. Goalies were so good, people started to prefix Gretzky’s scoring triumphs with an asterix, because apparently they were achieved under crooked terms (despite the fact that legends like Gordie Howe, Jean Beliveau and Rocket Richard scored and set records on even worse goalies).
Talented goalies became a “threat” to the product of hockey; so almost as a punishment for getting so good at their position, goalies had to downsize their equipment, stay in a smaller space, and endure ongoing threats of making their nets bigger and other absurdities. All in the name of entertainment.
So they made the adjustments, scoring went up, and everyone was happy — for a while. That is, until goaltenders like Jonathan Quick, Pekke Rinne, Tim Thomas, and an apparently ageless Martin Brodeur were able to adapt, survive, and thrive — and stop a lot of goals from going in.
And once again, people complain that hockey is boring because they don’t get to see 20 goals go in every night – the same thing they criticize the last generation for being able to do — despite the fact that the stars of this generation like Sidney Crosby, Alex Oveckin, Steven Stamkos, Claude Giroux and others still score the way Gretzky, Lemieux, Yzerman, and Hull were able to in the previous one. Either you want today’s elite to score 50 goals in 50 games, or you don’t, pick your side.
The casual fan that the NHL tries so hard to entice into becoming a viewer/customer doesn’t get that every level of hockey player would kill to crack an NHL lineup, if only as a fourth line player whose job description is limited to getting the puck over the center line and dumping it in the other team’s zone and changing. They don’t get that playing defensive and positional hockey is as important as scoring goals in some scenarios,
They don’t get that the players they view as “boring” have been playing the game since they were able to walk, travelled a million miles through every small town in the world, had coaches bench them, been told they weren’t good enough, been cut from teams, put in 1000’s of hours in the gym, spent 1000’s of dollars on equipment and training, gave up summers to devote to self-improvement, studied the game, learned to get better at their position, fought, injured every bone and muscle in their body, and have basically done everything it takes to just be a “boring” player. Casual fans don’t understand why every player isn’t as flashy as Crosby or Ovechkin. They don’t get the thrill of skating down open ice on a breakaway, making a crisp pass that sticks where it’s supposed to, making a big body check, having anywhere from 20 to 20,000 people cheering or booing you, or just how electrifying it is to be better than the other 11 players on the ice for one brief moment and score a goal.
And they’re shocked and appalled when playoff hockey success becomes defined by grit, toughness, and will, rather than the finesse and freewheeling they see all year. They don’t like that prominent regular season scorers like the Sedin’s get roughed up in the playoffs and can’t score as often. This is the way the NHL has always been, and always will be. Through all the concessions of tweaks and modifications they make, the league works hard to protect its roots. The NHL’s regular season is a show, the playoffs are a showdown. Playoff hockey is the real version of hockey, played in the key that every young player was taught by every coach they ever had. Playoff hockey is about two teams battling through everything the other throws at them, and scoring more goals than them by any means necessary. Every pro, college, junior, and minor hockey player know that a switch gets flipped come playoff time.
They want more penalties called because they think it’ll make the game faster and improve its flow – because, you know, nothing keeps the game moving like 50 stoppages of play per game to call penalties. And if they don’t see the penalties called that they are assessing from the comfort of their couch, some have the audacity to claim hockey is rigged. Come on.
Casual fans don’t get it because they’ve never done it. They’ve never been in those situations, and likely never will. Heck, I’d wager a good number of people calling hockey boring can’t even stand up on skates. The NHL isn’t trying to appeal solely to former players, it’s just that people who’ve played know what’s really going on out there, and have a better grasp on how to emotionally engage the game.
To be fair, there are some great minds in hockey that never did ever lace up in the NHL – Bob McKenzie, Darren Dreger, James Duthie, Elliotte Friedman, and plenty others like them know their stats and inside information, no question – but the thing about stats and averages is that they may tell a good story, they can’t ever fully predict the happenings of a game as unpredictable as hockey is from shift to shift. Again, hats off to the insiders, but guys that have been on the ice immersed in those situations insiders try to predict the outcome of – guys like Ray Ferraro, Kelly Hrudey, Jeremy Roenick, Nick Kypreos, and up and comers like Justin Bourne – are the ones I’m going to lend my ear to when I really want to know what’s going through players’ heads. But that’s just me.
Inclusion may be the root of the entire problem – hockey is far more difficult to get involved in than other sports; you have to buy a lot of pricy equipment, plus facility and registration fees are high, whereas participation in sports like soccer and others require very little besides a ball and a sunny day. If there were as many grassroots hockey players worldwide as there are soccer players, maybe we wouldn’t be having this discussion.
So many exciting storylines have developed through these playoffs: LA entered as an eighth seed and dominated top teams, their incredible road victory record, the emergence of Jonathan Quick as an elite goaltender, Dustin Brown’s prominence and then disappearance, Dustin Penner’s redemption, the Radulov and Kostitsyn debacle in Nashville, Phoenix going farther than its franchise ever has and the fall out of their elimination, Martin Brodeur being 40 years old and still making ridiculous saves, Washington’s ongoing Ovechkin/coaching saga, Claude Giroux leading the playoffs in scoring while his team was eliminated for an entire round, every Tortorella post-game interview, and many more beyond those.
In the finals themselves, the first two games were decided in overtime, saw Kopitar score exciting goals, and now is featuring aNew Jerseycomeback when it seemed at first sight that LA was going to sweep the series. If overtime isn’t exciting enough for you, there’s even a plethora of Hollywood stars and other famous people attending games if straight-up hockey isn’t good enough for you – heck, even TMZ is covering stars attending Kings games/events.
But beyond all that still, you have two teams of players and coaches who are playing through pain and doing whatever it takes to accomplish what they’ve wanted to do since they were kids: win the Stanley Cup. It’s still the most difficult trophy to win in sports, and the lifelong goal of every person who’s laced up a pair of skates. To capture it is nothing short of a feat.
Anyone who doesn’t find entertainment in this extravaganza just doesn’t get hockey, and probably never will. The NHL wouldn’t agree with this, but if you’re reading this and are still one of the people calling hockey boring, please by all means, go watch basketball.
Wait, what happened? What day is it? What year is it? Where am I???
I think I blacked out — I was having the most amazing dream though….. I was dreaming that the LA Kings won the Stanley Cup…. but it couldn’t be…. they were the eighth seed in this year’s playoffs…. they’ve been bad or average at best since 1993 when they lost in the Finals…. they had to beat #1 seeded Vancouver, #2 seeded St. Louis, #3 seeded Phoenix, and then 3-time Stanley Cup champion New Jersey Devils and their future Hall-of-Fame goaltender…..
Wait, let’s watch this video and see if this really happened….
OMG THE KINGS REALLY WON THE STANLEY CUP
Besides my boyhood favorite team winning their first ever franchise Stanley Cup, highlights of this video include Anze Kopitar spinning around the Staples Center with a tilted crown and “California Love” by Dr.Dre & Tupac playing at the 42:43 mark, hearing Dean Lombardi tip his cap to Terry Murray and other builders of the team, seeing guys from the past like Luc Robitaille, Bernie Nichols, Ron Hextall, and of course Darryl Sutter get their hoist of the Cup, and my eyes getting a little misty at the 20:51 mark when the team picture is being taken and the chorus of U2’s “Beautiful Day” kicks in. Elementary school me would have come absolutely unglued. Adult version of me barely held it together. One can only imagine what would have happened if I’d seen Wayne Gretzky get another lift of Stanley.
It truly was a beautiful day.
Anze Kopitar’s game 1 overtime winner was unquestionably pretty, and there’s a lot more within the 10 second series of events that occurred prior to the puck crossing the goal line than one is able to see at first glance that made it even more spectacular.
First, the fact that this scoring opportunity even materialized is ridiculous, and a complete breakdown on New Jersey’s part.
1. Things start out as New Jersey defenceman, Marek Zidlicky, forced Dustin Brown to turn the puck over just before the Kings blue line (C). Up until this point, Kopitar (A) was covered by Zach Parise (B), and both were anticipating the puck heading towards the Devils’ zone.
2. When the original Brown/Zidlicky turnover occurred, Parise peeled off from Kopitar to aid the attack. Kopitar perhaps was anticipating a positive outcome of the breakdown and just kept heading to the other end in a straight line, rather than doubling back to help defensively.
3. Travis Zajac (A) responded and swatted at it, but wasn’t able to gain true possession, while Drew Doughty (B) was. Doughty then sent the puck up along the boards to Justin Williams (C), who was waiting near center ice. By the time Williams received the puck, Kopitar was waiting at center completely uncovered (D), as Parise was still deep in the Kings zone (E).
4. New Jersey’s last man back, defenceman Bryce Salvador, pinched on Williams (A) – why he would take a risk like that in overtime is beyond me, especially with an unhindered attacker heading towards his net. Before Salvador could engage, Williams (B) had the presence of mind to chip the puck to the middle (whereas most coaches would instruct you to chip it off the boards and into the zone to be chased down) to a wide open Kopitar at the Devils’ blue line (C), who had at that point been gaining speed since his own blue line. Parise is so far behind on his backchecking, he’s not even on the screen anymore.
5. By the time Kopitar made his shot, Dainius Zubrus (A) was incredibly able to catch up and touch him with his stick, but not with enough force to disrupt the scoring opportunity.
Regarding the goal itself, there are a number of amazing things that occur within the split seconds of it being scored (3 seconds from the time he takes possession of the puck at the Devils’ blue line to the puck going in). The whole scenario almost boils down to a battle of the wits when you slow it down and dissect it.
1. Kopitar throws a deke to the right that Brodeur bites on, but is able to stay with. As Kopitar moves to the left side of the goal, Brodeur continues to track the puck; sprawling across the crease with his right pad along the ice to thwart a goal being scored along the ice.
2. What happened next is where I believe Kopitar won the battle. While on his stomach, Brodeur flexed his right knee from about 2 feet out from the goal line, and elevated his right pad up to around a 45° angle, with his skate blade finishing approximately half way up the 4’ high post — one may assume to counter an anticipated elevated shot that Brodeur had baited by closing off the on-ice options. Brodeur is 6’2”, which means the length from his knee to his foot is approximately 1.5 feet, while the pad being elevated is 11 inches wide. Kopitar had the puck at the 4’ mark at the top of the crease – a 4’ distance and a 4’ high post create a 45° shooting angle for Kopitar. BUT Brodeur has his pad up, and by the estimated distance variables, Brodeur’s sprawl actually cuts the middle 13° out of Kopitar’s scoring angle, and reduces his total feasible scoring area by 40% down to an 18° angle in which he needs to raise the puck within to score – that’s a tough shot from that distance, even by NHL standards.
3. This is where I venture that Kopitar’s skill/instinct kicked in – as Brodeur’s pad came up, it obviously reopened the along-the-ice scoring option, which Kopitar held on to the puck long enough to draw out – in overtime of the Stanley Cup Final, 25 year old Anze Kopitar had the patience to outwait a 3-time Stanley Cup champion, 4-time goalie of the year, and 20 year NHL veteran within a 4’ space at top speed in a fraction of a second – and tuck it neatly right underneath within an even smaller 14° clearance, while Brodeur unsuccessfully scrambled to get his pad back down in time.
4. Kopitar buries the puck and game 1 in the back of the net behind Brodeur.
They say that in those split seconds, time seems to slow down. I’ve been in game situations like that – not an OT breakaway in the Stanley Cup Finals against a future Hall of Fame goaltender scenario, mind you – but I can attest that you do can have an odd amount of control in a finite window of time like that. Kopitar being the amazing player that he is, demonstrated that point to a tea, and made it count.
[originally post for www.betonhockey.com on May 30/2012 ]
There’s a big fuss being made over the fact that, for only the second time ever, an American captain will be hoisting the Stanley Cup for his team first at the conclusion of this year’s playoffs. While it is an interesting statistic, it seems that the same people that are so concerned with captaincy nationality are uninterested in discussing the birthplaces of each of Dustin Brown and Zach Parise’s teammates that they are leading into battle; and less interested in talking about where the coaches that these captains are taking orders from, originate.
We should examine the origins of the remainder of each team’s roster to see exactly where our nationalistic allegiances should be strewn. Let’s do that now.
LOS ANGELES KINGS
The active roster of the Los Angeles Kings features 25 players – 15 of them are Canadian, 7 are American, 2 are Russian, and 1 is Slovenian. Add 1 Canadian if you count head coach Darryl Sutter. The Kings have more Canadians in their lineup than the Ottawa Senators, and as many as the Vancouver Canucks – the only two teams based in Canadian cities that made this year’s playoffs.
Representing Canada (60%): Jeff Carter, Kyle Clifford, Colin Fraser, Simon Gagne, Dwight King, Jordan Nolan, Dustin Penner, Mike Richards, Brad Richardson, Jarret Stoll, Kevin Westgarth, Justin Williams, Drew Doughty, Willie Mitchell, Jonathan Bernier (Darryl Sutter).
Representing the USA (28%): Dustin Brown, Trevor Lewis, Scott Parse, Matt Greene, Alec Martinez, Rob Scuderi, Jonathan Quick.
Representing Europe (12%): Slava Voynov, Andrei Loktionov, Anze Kopitar.
Assessment: Predominantly CANADIAN.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
The active roster of the New Jersey Devils also includes 25 players – 7 of them are Canadian, 7 are American, 4 are Swedish, 3 are Czech, 2 are Russian, 1 is Ukranian, and 1 is Lithuanian. Add 1 Canadian if you count head coach Peter DeBoer.
Representing Canada (28%): Steve Bernier, Eric Boulton, David Clarkson, Adam Henrique, Travis Zajac, Bryce Salvador, Martin Brodeur (Peter DeBoer)
Representing the USA (28%): Ryan Carter, Stephen Gionta, Cam Janssen, Zach Parise, Mark Fayne, Andy Greene, Peter Harrold.
Representing Europe (44%): Patrick Elias, Jacob Josefson, Ilya Kovalchuk, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Petr Sykora, Dainius Zubrus, Adam Larsson, Henrik Tallinder, Anton Volchenkov, Marek Zidlicky, Johan Hedberg.
Assessment: Predominantly EUROPEAN.
If you’re basing your team allegiances upon the nationality content of each team, here’s how you should focus your cheering:
If you are Canadian, and want to cheer for Canadian players, you should be cheering for the LA Kings in the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals.
If you are American cheering for Americans, it’s your choice.
If you’re European cheering for Europeans, you should side with New Jersey.
[originally post for www.betonhockey.com on May 29th, 2012]
However unlikely it may have seemed at the beginning of this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, the Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils will meet in a seven game series to determine which team has earned the right to have their names etched on hockey’s greatest chalice.
I see the series boiling down to six main factors: goaltending, overtime, shots, scoring, special teams, and experience. Here’s a statistical rundown of how both teams have done in those categories up until now.
Jonathan Quick has had to appear in four less games than Martin Brodeur (14 to Brodeur’s 18), and has only felt the sting of losing twice, whereas Brodeur and the Devils have dropped five. Quick has also only had to be on the ice for 857:48 minutes of play, while Brodeur has had 1,089:40 – that’s 3 hours, 51 minutes, and 52 seconds more work than Quick has had to do. Quick also has 2 shutouts to Brodeur’s 1.
Quick remains perfect in overtime through two showings, while Brodeur has lost one of five appearances (game one of round two versus Philadelphia). Jarret Stoll and Dustin Penner of LA and Alexi Ponikarovsky, Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique (2) have been the overtime scorers.
Shots are scoring opportunities, and both teams will have to maximize and make the most of theirs if they are to beat either elite goaltender. Quick has faced 73 less shots than Brodeur (406/479), having to make less saves (384/442) and has let in 15 less goals (22/37), posting a better GAA (1.54%/2.04%) and save percentage (.946%/.923%) along the way. Zach Parise is second in the playoffs for shots (68) while Dustin Brown is LA’s leader (49). New Jersey’s Adam Larsson has 1 goal on 3 shots, for the highest shooting percentage of remaining players in the playoffs (33.3%), and Dwight King has LA’s best (25.0%), scoring 5 goals on 20 shots. LA has averaged slightly more shots on goal (32.9/30.4), but has given up slightly more shots against (29.0/27.6) on average.
Hockey ultimately comes down to scoring more goals than the other team, and the Kings have a slightly higher goals scored average (2.93/2.83) than the Devils; scoring 41 goals in 14 games to New Jersey’s 51 goals in 18 games. LA has also have let in significantly less goals per game on average (1.57/2.33) and in total (22/42).
Ilya Kovalchuk now leads the playoffs in points (18), but Dustin Brown is not far behind (16) and Anze Kopitar rounds out the Top 5 (15). Kovalchuk and Brown are tied with New Jersey’s Zack Parise and Travis Zajac for third in goals (7). Kovalchuk leads the playoffs in assists (11), while Brown, Kopitar, and LA’s Justin Williams all tie for second (9). Brown and Kopitar lead the playoffs in +/- (+13). Brown and New Jersey’s David Clarkson are tied for the playoffs lead in GWG with 3 apiece.
Interestingly, Martin Brodeur has tallied 4 assists through these playoffs, which is good enough for 88th overall in points. That ties him with LA’s Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene, and teammates Petr Sykora, Peter Harrold. It’s also better than 345 other players that are allowed to move outside of a 15’x28’ area every game; including LA’s Slava Voynov, Willie Mitchell, Jordan Nolan, Brad Richardson, Rob Scuderi, Alec Martinez, Colin Fraser, Kyle Clifford, and Andrei Loktionov, and New Jersey teammates Mark Fayne, Adam Larsson, Andy Greene, Anton Volchenkov, Jacob Joesefson, and Tim Sestito.
Special teams wise, New Jersey annihilates LA in power play percentage (18.2%/8.1%), and in power play goals scored (12 goals on 66 chances/6 goals on 74 chances). Ilya Kovalchuk leads the playoffs with 5 PPG, and LA’s best, Mike Richards, only has 2.
The Devils are outmatched on the penalty kill (74.2%/91.2%) though, giving up 16 goals on 62 penalty kill attempts, while LA has only given up 5 goals on 57. Being a man down almost doesn’t seem like a deficit for the Kings, as they’ve even managed to score 5 short-handed goals (Brown -2, Kopitar -2, Greene -1) and not give up any, while New Jersey has only mustered 1 (Salvador) and allowed 2.
The Kings have taken 80 penalties and received 196 PIM (including 4 majors and 3 misconducts) for an average of 14 PIM/G, while New Jersey has taken 77 penalties and 175 PIM (1 major and 2 misconducts), averaging 9.7 PIM/G. If averages hold true, it seems LA will have even less opportunity to improve on their one overbearing weakness. Their penalty kill prowess will have to remain impeccable if they are to continue defusing power plays, especially against a team that can score with the man advantage as often as New Jersey has. Dustin Penner has taken the bulk of LA’s PIM (26), and David Clarkson has the Devils’ highest total (20). Discipline would be in the best interest of both parties.
Advantage: New Jersey
When it comes to championship showdowns, Brodeur’s experience has resulted in 3 Stanley Cups and 2 Olympic gold medals — heads above all other individuals in this series. He also holds the NHL record for most shutouts in a Stanley Cup final (3 in 2003), amongst a slough of other NHL records and awards. Quick is only in his fifth NHL season to Brodeur’s more than 20; and Quick hasn’t won any awards or set any records to date, plus it’s only his third appearance in the playoffs. Quick is 26 years younger than the 40 year old Brodeur, though age hasn’t seemed to be a negative factor for the elder statesman… yet.
Teamwise, The Devils are 3-1 historically in the Stanley Cup Finals, while the Kings are 0-1. LA’s Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene have all appeared in a Stanley Cup final before… and lost. While winning the Stanley Cup is unquestionably every hockey player’s greatest motivation, players like those may be hungrier to not lose again, and to earn LA its first ever championship; whereas the satisfaction of winning is nothing new for the Devils, and may even be something that is taken for granted by them. Head to head this season, New Jersey won both meetings.
Advantage: New Jersey
By the six categories outlined, I have LA winning 3, New Jersey winning 2, and them drawing 1; thusly, by the numbers I have to give the Los Angeles Kings the nod for the Cup win. As early as June 6 and as late as June 13, we will see if the numbers game matters, or it doesn’t.
Predicted Stanley Cup Champions: LA Kings
It appears that since the LA Kings have been bad for so long, local Los Angeles TV stations have nearly no idea of what to do, say, or show on TV since they’ve become good at hockey again. It seems their graphic and sports departments had become so used to their irrelevance, they hadn’t felt the need to update the team’s displayed logo (or city location, or sport), or learn the proper pronounciations of the players it chooses to show highlights of. This trainwreck from Fox News 11 has the announcer talking about the the Kings’ game three victory over Phoenix, and saying something about some guys named Onjee Kopidoor, Brad Doty, and making references to the Kings having the ball and scoring touchdowns. To top it off, the highlight package concludes by showing the orange NHL logo that hasn’t been used in 7 years. The anchor, Liz Habib acknowleged her errors in a tweet, and then proceeded to apologize — whilst making another name pronounciation error (which she realized 6 hours later): Local media wasn’t even sure which Kings team was playing in town or even what sport they were competing in, as this graphic indicates a network displaying the NBA’s Sacramento Kings logo while referencing the LA hockey team in relation to the Lakers and Clippers. Hopefully this tweet from LA Kings twitter wasn’t their only tip-off: The goof led to a tweet and this televised apology from the network:
Fox 11 News also hasn’t felt the need to update the team’s logo since 1998, when the team last used this logo (glove bump to @vtecjunkie from Twitter for sending this one in to me):
And most recently, a new player named Jonathan Swift has joined the Kings, and is doing quite the job in goal:
In the meantime, the LA Lakers are doing their best to promote the Kings’ presence in town: Unfortunately, from the sounds of tweets from people inside the building, basketball fans aren’t quite as enthused (or aware) of their hockey playing counterparts:
Even in victory, KTLA can’t figure it out — the helicopter traffic reporter either thinks the Lakers won the Stanley Cup, or that the Lakers won the NBA title after being eliminated and the NBA Final not even being completed yet, or just doesn’t know what year it is. Either way, the Kings are the farthest LA sports team from his mind:
[originally post for www.betonhockey.com on May 2, 2012]
A puck bucket full of hockey thoughts to tee up….
Four of the eight teams remaining in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs have direct ties to Wayne Gretzky – The Great One played 18 games with the St. Louis Blues in 1996, 234 games with the New York Rangers from 1996 – 1999, coached 4 seasons for the Phoenix Coyotes from 2005 – 2009, and played 539 games with the LA Kings from 1988-1996, captaining them to their only Stanley Cup Finals appearance in franchise history. Had the Edmonton Oilers not been laughingly awful yet again this past season and lived up to hype and expectations, this could have been an all-Gretzky playoffs. Gretzky was known to have been vocal about wanting to win just one more Stanley Cup before he finished his career – is it that far-fetched to think that if one of those teams manages to win the Cup this year (there’s currently a 50% chance of that happening), Wayne might find a way to sneak on the ice and hoist the grail one last time?
Speaking of the Los Angeles Kings, they’re beginning to draw a lot of similarities to the underdog 2009-10 Montreal Canadiens – both entered the playoffs as the eighth seed of their conference, both eliminated the President’s Trophy winner of that season in the first round (Montreal beat Washington, Los Angeles ousted Vancouver), and both had/are having unexpected success in the second round (Montreal eliminating Pittsburgh, LA currently mauling St. Louis). The main difference though, is that it took Montreal 7 games to win both of those series – it only took the Kings 5 in the first round, and they are in the driver’s seat with a 2-0 series lead now. Of course, Montreal was beat in the third round, and LA’s playoff fate is not yet written. Los Angeles’ main criticism heading into this year’s playoffs was their inability to score – coming off a series sweep over St. Louis most recently, and with three players in the NHL’s top 25 playoff scorers (Brown, Kopitar, Richards), that ailment seems to be cured. Their goaltender remains a standout, and they’re shown their toughness is not an issue either, mixing it up frequently in both series. While both the Habs and Kings teams look similar, LA looks to be well on their way to faring far better.
A moment of discussion about a frame from game 2 of the Rangers/Capitals series…. The score was 3-1 Rangers with roughly 8 minutes to play in game 2, at which point Washington took a Too Many Men penalty. Caps’ coach Dale Hunter elected to have Alex Ovechkin serve that penalty. The announcer was quick to point out that Ovie’s serving of the penalty was a strategic move in hopes of springing him on a breakaway at the conclusion of the infraction, which is all well and good. My counterpoint to that is that on every team and every level I’ve played on, the player that generally went over to serve a bench minor penalty was an “expendable” player – maybe a fourth line or injured player, or just someone who wasn’t getting a lot of ice time for whatever reason that game, and it certainly wasn’t by any means because our coach had a strong confidence in their breakaway ability. So from that standpoint, it looks like Ovechkin may simply have been chosen for removal from participation in the game for 2 minutes when their team needed 2 goals really badly in a short amount of time if they hoped to win the game.
The chance of that breakaway opportunity actually occurring is relatively slim and more of a crapshoot; a hail mary play that is too low percentage to gamble on when the puck could just as likely be in a precarious scoring chance against Washington when the penalty expires. It seems like a positive spin a coach might pose to a psychologically fragile player that needs positive reinforcement to perform well so they don’t conclude that they are the team’s expendable player while sitting alone for two minutes or less. By the strategic logic, Hunter should have put Matt Hendricks, Washington’s shootout goal leader through the regular season, in the box for the opportunity at an uncontested run to the net.
It’s not like Hunter is afraid to clip Ovie’s wings if he’s not performing either— Ovechkin played 21 minutes in game 2 and was a -1 in the loss, while in game 3 he only saw 13 minutes of play (the least he’s ever played in a single playoff game), and scored the game winning goal. So the query point I want to raise is this: do you think Ovechkin serving that bench minor penalty was a strategic move for a chance at a scoring chance, or was it a knock towards his expendability and/or need to improve from coach Dale Hunter?
Further, the Caps should maybe consider making Ovechkin a dman if he’s only going to score from the point now.
The 2012 World Hockey Championships are nearly underway in Finland/Sweden, and the world’s “best” will be competing to improve their world rankings – Canada currently sits at fifth in the world, and will be looking to improve on that seeding with a decent roster, but one that does not include names like Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Roberto Luongo, Joe Thornton, and many other big name players that are available, but have elected not to compete for reasons of varying legitimacy. With many national rosters in the same boat, is it even fair to place as much value on this tournament as there is? Is there no way that this tournament can be played out at a different time of year where all of the world’s best hockey players can compete against each other to determine the world’s best? Or is it possible that the world’s best hockey players simply aren’t taking the tournament seriously enough when they should be jumping at the chance to wear their county’s colors on the international stage?