Thursday, May 16, 2002

So how does Carolina effectively combat this successful Leaf strategy? The Red Baron, (Red Berenson) Coach of Michigan, efficaciously utilised a counterpoint against Michigan State.

During Michigan's first two powerplays yesterday, it seemed as if Michigan State was the team with the man advantage.The Spartans' penalty killing unit - first in the CCHA with a killing percentage of .925 - was swarming all over Michigan and not allowing it to get any rhythm going with the extra man.

The key to the Wolverines' success on the powerplay this season has come at the point, with junior forward Mike Cammalleri and sophomore defenseman Mike Komisarek swinging the puck from side to side and firing bullets at the opposing goaltender. But Michigan State's penalty killing unit purposely put pressure on the point, which threw the Wolverines out of their comfort zone in the first period.

But Michigan associate head coach Mel Pearson saw a weakness in the Spartans' penalty-killing strategy, and he immediately informed Berenson and the Wolverines of this loophole.

Pearson's solution was to try and take the focus of the powerplay away from the point and to force the puck low in the zone. Pearson's plan also consisted of "rotating down low and trying to do back-door passing because (Michigan State) was pressuring at the points. Pearson appears to have been a prophet, as it was a backdoor pass on the powerplay which won the game for the Wolverines.

The Leafs used this approach effectively on Hoglund's tip-in of Dempsey's point blast. Rotate down low then feed the points looking for tip-ins and garbage.
"Our penalty-killers are on our [first two] lines, so that gives them the extra burden to have to log a lot of ice time. That was a real test for them," Quinn said.

So how does Quinn and the Leafs, a team dragging its bruised butt to Carolina, manage to play its best lines on power plays and for penalty killing. Is it a Super-human Kenyan marathon conditioning plan? Nope. Quinn doubleshifts his first two lines in a pre-determined pattern.

Double-shifting your first line provides a hidden advantage against any team that is not doubling up. The drawback is, however, fatigue and ineffectiveness as the game goes along.There are several ways to combat this. In order to draw conclusions we must look at how the Ice Time is dividend amongst the lines.

1st line – 40%
2nd line – 30%
3rd line – 20%
4th line – 10%

Based on this data we can see that if we doubleshift the first line they will play 50% of the game played at even strength. Couple this with Power Play and Penalty Killing duties, this will seriously tax even the highest endurance forwards. Besides fatigue the injury risk for these forwards increases immensely. Teams who doubleshift the top line and have them on the top PP/PK units will suffer an inordinate amount of injuries with their top forwards. One way to combat this is to eliminate PK duty for these forwards. This will allow them some extra rest time. But there is a better way to doubleshift and allow full PK/PP duty especially for the team with two good lines. The secret is in the data above. If we take the 2nd line and double shift them on the 4th line we have effectively made the ice time equivalent to the top line. Besides the fact this group can be better rested with the "rest" between shifts and get the "matchup advantage" you have created a more effective top line by combining them into the 2nd & 4th lines. So some coaches will take their best line and use them in the 2nd & 4th slot rather than the 1st line slot and put their 2nd best line in the top line slot. If you have two very good lines you have just found a way to play the top lines for 80% of the game at even strength. With this knowledge you can see the 3rd line only has to be a serviceable group of players who won't allow a bunch of goals to be an effective line. With this knowledge, we can see the need for top 6 forwards and a group of decent bangers to solidify any team into a contender.

Leafs killed 7 straight penalties in the second period, punishing a Hurricane power play that was clicking at a success rate of 20.4% against Montreal. Why is the Leaf's penalty killing so effective? They are playing a very tight box, forcing Canes to the outside. This way the puck carrier, whether behind the net or along the corner boards, is forced to make the first move. In addition, Leaf forwards are putting huge pressure on Carolina's point men. As in the Ottawa series, the Leafs are willing to pay the price.

Two-players short. The best way to play this situation is by using a
triangular formation (the circled players shown in the figure), where two penalty killers
play low to cover the deep attackers and the remaining penalty killer plays high to cover
the opponents point men.

When the attacker XLD has
control of the puck high in the offensive zone, LD and RD play-the-pass between the deep
attackers while LF plays-the-pass between the remaining attackers.

If the puck is moved behind the net (see figure), do not go behind the net because
the majority of time you will lose that battle to the opponents out front! When the puck
is moved behind the net, play the percentages and force the puck carrier to make the first
move. Generally in this situation, one of the attacking defensemen will move in toward the
slot for a shot. LF should constantly read the positioning of the attacking point men as
well as the puck carrier behind the net. He should move to the slot along with either
defenseman and communicate with his teammates along the way.

When you gain control of the puck, freeze it, skate with it, or shoot it down the ice
surface. Either way, you knock precious time off the clock.
The Canes 8-2 bombing of Le Club du hockey made me spit fire. Kick the Habs derrieres onto St. Catharines Street. Letting Audette away with that lethal two hander across the back and allowing Markov to skate-kick was inexcusable. F*** Theodore and f*** Montreal. The Canes must understand they are here to win a Stanley Cup. Participating in the love-fest on St. Denis was bulls**t. When you let up on a team, even when you're up 8-2, in the Stanley Cup playoffs, it bodes ill. And tonight they paid the price! The Leafs have a big tough core of young defencemen. McCabe, Cross and Dempsey will cut you rather than look at you. Roberts will knock you on your ass every chance he gets. If the Canes don't get more physical, especially with Mogilny, this will be a short series.
Two Interesting Hockey Links. . . Over at Salon today: first, a cartoon by Keith Knight; and a brief broadside at NHL violence by the Wall Street Journal's Allen Barra. The only problem I have with the piece is that Barra, like many other sportswriters, simply doesn't have the passion for the game of ice hockey that he has for other sports (in his case, baseball), and that makes it hard for me to take him too seriously. In fact, while Barra identifies violence as the problem with the sport, it nearly isn't as significant a problem as the fact that the players have become too fast and too big for the ice surface.
New sheriff in Texas: Mustache man Dave Tippett, a tough journeyman back in his playing days, is set to be hired to coach the Dallas Stars.
Huzzah for the new guy: Everyone please welcome new PuckHog blogger, Eric McErlain.
On to the 3rd Round: Time to look back at my picks from the last round and feel shame. I was spot on the money only for one series. I got the winner wrong on two others (though I correctly picked the number of games it would take for one of them), and was off by one game in my Colorado pick.

Prediction: Sens in six. Reality: Leafs in seven.

Prediction: Colorado in six. Reality: Colorado in seven.

Prediction: Detroit in five. Reality: same.

Prediction: Habs in six. Reality: Carolina in six.

My fiancee has decided that from now on, whomever I pick to win she will assume is going to lose.

Isn't that sweet?!
McPhee On Next Steps For Caps: Capitals GM George McPhee was live online taking questions from readers of the Washington Post on Tuesday. You can find the transcript here.

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

Top Three Playoff Goats: #3. Brent Johnson, Goalie, St. Louis Blues: Every kid who plays ice hockey around the world is taught that when clearing the puck from the defensive zone you always clear the puck up the wings, using the boards if possible. One never, ever, clears the puck up the slot. Defy these rules, and risk paying the consequences. In game four of the Western Conference semi-final, Johnson forgot this basic rule and cleared the puck right onto the stick of Steve Yzerman, who promptly deposited this gift in the net -- a goal that proved to be the difference in a 4-3 Red Wings victory, a win that essentially put the series away before it was known Chris Pronger's knee injury would knock him out for the rest of the season.

#2. Michel Therrien, Coach, Montreal Canadiens: In game four of their series with Carolina, Montreal led on home ice 3-0 with a little more than 16 minutes left in the third period. A win would have given Montreal a commanding 3 games to 1 lead over Carolina, but then the whole shooting match came apart. Carolina, with its back literally against the wall, was crashing the Montreal crease and goalie Jose Theodore with abandon when Stephane Quintal took a routine cross-checking penalty. Therrien was incensed, and he let the refs know it -- in this case perhaps a little too vigorously. He was slapped with a bench minor, giving Carolina a two-man advantage and a way back into the game. They scored three times in the third to tie the game before winning in OT, 4-3. Montreal never recovered, getting crushed 13-3 over the remaining two games of the series.

#1. Ricard Persson, Defenseman, Ottawa Senators: If the thuggish Maple Leafs manage to win the Stanley Cup, it's this seldom-used defenseman they have to thank -- in particular his unnecessary hit in Game 6 of the Eastern Conferernce semifinal. Ironically, Persson delivered his gift hit to pugilist Tie Domi, an infraction that led to a four minute power play that allowed the Leafs to tie Ottawa before the end of a first period where the Senators had been dominating play. The Leafs never looked back after that, winning game 6, 4-3 before clinching the series at home last night.

Is this the last straw for Killer?: LCS wonders if our parting vision of Doug Gilmour will be of him sitting under a shower of broken glass. Killer looks like he already has both feet in his mouth, if not in retirement.
New coach in Philadelphia: The Flyers' most recent trip on the coaching carousel stopped at Ken Hitchcock, recently booted from his duties at the helm of the Dallas Stars. The best mustache outside of hockey (Bill Clement) thinks he might make for a good fit, but, "It will be interesting to see how the players adjust to his system, which calls for very little continuous skating and a lot of stopping and starting. There are definite places to be and places not to be in Hitchcock's system. Donald Audette and Jyrki Lumme were unable to adapt to the style in Dallas. Not all of the Flyers' players will make it work. But with every change behind the bench there are changes on the bench."
Who'd a thunk it? Not me. The Senators just could not get it going last night. Except for a flurry in the third period, they did not do much. And someone needs to smack Seannie Mac and Radek Bonkers on the backs of their heads. Heck, anything to get them to score a fricking goal!

Not that it matters now. Let's Go Leafs!

Tuesday, May 14, 2002

Pand-eee-monium in TO

Leafs and Cujo play flawless D dominating Sens with a sens-a-tional 3-0 victory at the ACC. Czech, Tomas Kaberle made a beautiful play to set up Russian Alexander Mogilny for a 2-0 leaf lead. McCabe fired a thirty-five footer a few minutes later to beat Lalime through the six-hole. Yes "buy". The Pride and joy of Twillingate Newfoundland, Gary Roberts, is the real story of the Leafs triumph against the Isles and now Ottawa.
No puck? Thanks to a wicked storm Sunday night, and a wayward tree yesterday, my home was without power yesterday. Thankfully, it was cold out, so the lack of AC was no big deal.

But the lack of puck was a pain. At least I missed the cringe-worthy excercise of watching the Habs get bounced from the playoffs in Flyer-like fashion...

With power restored today, I look forward to the massochistic experience of paying bills and blanacing my checkbook in between Toronto defensive breakdowns and Ottawa Senator goals. Crap.

My fingers are crossed for a minor Bay Street miracle.

Oh, and Charles, congrats on the Slovakian horde... now if only the World Championships meant something you could actually be proud!
Bruce Garrioch of the Toronto Sun gives Sens the CHOKE SIGN.
AFTER ALLOWING THE MAJORITY SHARE OF 17 GOALS IN THE LAST 3 GAMES, Jose Theodore has said good-bye to any chance of winning the Hart Trophy. My prediction, Theodore, another flopper and guesser from the backwoods of Quebec, will be at best a journeyman backstop like another Quebecer, Felix Potvin.

Monday, May 13, 2002

Since the great hockey philosopher Anatoly Tarasov picked up the Hockey Handbook, written by a young Toronto fitness guru, Lloyd Percival, the Russians and subsequently the Europeans have employed training methods shunned by most NHLers.Although Percival's emphasis on aerobic and lateral training was disdained by most of the league, Gordie Howe and the 1950 Red Wings utilized the "wacko" ideas to great advantage.

Peter Bondra talks of a unique concept for last summer's Slovak training camp.

"All the guys I used to play with and against before (were at the camp)," explained Bondra. "And I know all those guys. I think it is good to know each other. Some of the young guys I didn't know and it was good to get a chance to meet them. At the same time, it was good to practice with the team, especially with the big season coming up for the Slovakian National Team with the Olympics. It was good to get together and get ready for the Olympics."

The camp also included some unorthodox training methods, including swimming in mountain rivers, biking, and even climbing with heavy packs, all to improve teamwork.

The most intriguing part of the camp was the mountain climb, which helped with physical conditioning, emotional training, and teamwork building. The mountains in Slovakia are part of the Alps and are extremely steep. The Slovak players worked in teams to complete their task, which was to carry their bags up the mountain. Bondra's simple description of the experience was: "It was tough."

He went on to describe the afternoon. "It was in the High Tatras where I am from. It was an exciting practice: something different to do. You had a team of two or three guys carrying 130 pounds to almost the top of the mountain to a cabin. It took us almost three hours one way. It was really tough. At the same time, it was hopefully something that will help me through the season. You feel like you go there and it is tough and you don't give up and you go to the end, and in our season it is to win a Stanley Cup. It was a tough practice to go through."
So much for the Habs! They are down 8-1 an the close of the 2nd period. They just quit! I can't watch the 3rd period :-(
Dirtiest players: ESPN's poll of the dirtiest players of all time seems thin. But it does have four hockey players: Bryan Marchment, Claude Lemieux, Ulf Samuelsson, and Bobby Clarke. Tie Domi, Marty McSorley and Dale Hunter almost made the list.

But what about Kirk Maltby or Gordie Howe?

Page2: Dirtiest pro players

Sunday, May 12, 2002

Leafs game for # 7

In a game fraught with give-aways and defensive errors, Alexander Mogilny grabs a pass from Leaf face-off king, Travis Green, and beats Lalime high on the stick side for the winner. Gary Roberts continues to turn in stellar performances for this battered and bruised Leaf team.

Canes' D makes monkeys out of Montreal

The Flying Frenchmen had no appeal this night as Artis Irbe was stellar.

Redemption is sweet

In a scene reminiscent of a Toronto street party after Canada's first men's hockey gold medal in fifty years, tens of thousands of Slovak hockey fans poured onto Bratislava streets to welcome their hockey heroes home. Diminutive Slovakia, a nation of 5.4 million, conquered giant Russia, 4-3 Saturday in Sweden to claim its first World Championship.

"Everybody has this kind of a dream in his heart," captain Miroslav Satan told the crowd. "I did not expect it to come true so soon.

A great day for hockey and a great day for the new nation of Slovakia.

"This is just indescribable," said Stastny, the former Quebec Nordiques star turned general manager of Slovakia's hockey team. "It was a gradual, rising euphoria. People the last few days back home, I don't think they worked.

"This is, without a doubt, the greatest success of the country. Our people suffered after the Olympics. They felt an injustice. And this is probably the best revenge."

While the elite six hockey countries of Canada, Finland, Sweden, Russia, Czech Republic and the U.S. got direct byes into the qualifying round at the Olympics with the NHL on break, Slovakia had to play in the preliminary round while NHL games were still on.

Stastny watched in dismay as his team was unable to dress a full lineup in the preliminary round because players had difficulty freeing themselves from their NHL clubs. Slovakia finished 13th out of 14 teams.

While over 60 NHL players said no thanks to Team Canada, every single Slovak star available made his way to Sweden.
It looks like the Wings are going to be tough to beat. Monday night should be a great one for hockey fans....