Tuesday, October 31, 2006

QOTD: Is 5-on-5 Hockey Boring?

In today's Al Strachan column in the Sun there were a couple interesting quotes that I thought I would look into a little further:

"If it weren't for power plays, we'd be watching soccer on ice. Take out the goals that are scored in an unbalanced-manpower situation these days and you're usually left with something along the lines of a 1-1 game."

So far this year there have been 973 goals scored in 166 games, an average of 5.86 GPG - 1.92 per game on the powerplay. That means if you take out the "unbalanced-manpower situation" we'd actually have something along the lines of a 2-2 game (3.94 GPG at even strength).

"Scoring is up, but only because power-play scoring is up. On many nights, not much happens the rest of the time."

If you compare pre-lockout scoring to this season, the results aren't as dramatic as you would think:

03-04: 5.14 GPG (1.396 PPGPG and 3.741 ESGPG)
06-07: 5.86 GPG (1.916 PPGPG and 3.946 ESGPG)

So scoring is up 14% per game this year compared to 03-04. Of that increase, ten of those percentage points can be attributed to increased powerplay goals and the other four percentage points are due to an increase in even strength goals per game.

Those stats are a little misleading though. I don't know how many games Mr. Strachan watches on an average night but I've seen countless games this year when there was quite a bit going on when the teams were at even strength.

Although scoring is up only 14%:

In 03-04, only two teams averaged more than 3 goals per game (Ottawa - 3.15 and Detroit - 3.07). Twenty-two of thirty teams were under 2.7 goals per game.

In 06-07 so far, half the league's teams (15) are averaging over 3 goals per game. Buffalo is scoring 4.55 goals per game and there are thirteen teams averaging more goals per game than Ottawa was pre-lockout. The total league-wide goals per game are not as high as they could be, because of the scoring ineptitude of teams like Philadelphia (2 GPG), Los Angeles (2.07 GPG), Columbus (2.11 GPG), Boston (2.11 GPG), Phoenix (2.33 GPG), NY Islanders (2.4 GPG), New Jersey (2.45 GPG) and Calgary (2.5 GPG) - these teams are putting up numbers that would land them in the bottom half of the league in scoring, even before the lockout.

It is true that some teams rely way too much on their powerplay to score goals - in fact, Columbus has scored 52.6% of their goals so far with the man advantage and even a high-scoring team like San Jose has scored over half (52.5%) on the PP. But there are 13 teams who score the vast majority of their goals (70%+) when they are NOT on the powerplay:

Percentage of goals scored on the PP (GPG):
Ottawa - 18.8% (3.2)
Detroit - 20.7% (2.64)
Toronto - 26.2% (3.23)
Philadelphia - 27.3% (2.0)
Nashville - 27.3% (3.3)
Calgary - 28.0% (2.5)
Buffalo - 28.0% (4.5)
Tampa Bay - 28.1% (2.9)
Phoenix - 28.6% (2.3)
Washington - 28.6% (3.2)
NY Rangers - 28.9% (3.5)
Vancouver - 29% (2.6)
Carolina - 30% (3.3)
Atlanta - 31.1% (3.5)
Chicago - 31.3% (2.9)
Boston - 31.6% (2.1)
New Jersey - 33.3% (2.5)
Anaheim - 33.3% (3.2)
St. Louis - 34.6% (2.6)
Colorado - 35.1% (3.4)
Dallas - 35.3% (3.1)
Edmonton - 36.4% (3.0)
Montreal - 36.4% (3.3)
Pittsburgh - 36.4% (3.7)
Los Angeles - 37.9% (2.1)
Florida - 38.9% (2.8)
Minnesota - 40% (2.7)
NY Islanders - 41.7% (2.4)
San Jose - 52.5% (3.3)
Columbus - 52.6% (2.1)

I think the message is that if you want action at even-strength and exciting, high scoring games, they are definitely games there to be found, but there are teams who are really struggling 5-on-5. If you watch a Columbus-Islanders game you likely won't see much more than 2 even-strength goals a game. But if you watch a Buffalo-Ottawa game (one of 8), there's a good chance you could see as many as six goals at 5-on-5 (they average 3.3 and 2.6 even strength goals per game respectively).

To make a blanket statement about the league is both inaccurate and unfair to those who are working to improve the product - when I turn on the TV there are many games that keep me on the edge of my seat. However, what these numbers seem to show is that there are quite a few teams who don't have the talent to compete five-on-five and this is something that is worth exploring further, especially in light of the fact that the IIHF would like to scale back the percentage of Europeans in the league from 30% to 20%.

Strachan's Article

Tonight's Games (Oct 31)

San Jose at Florida 7:30 PM
Ottawa at Montreal 7:30 PM
Chicago at NY Islanders 7:30 PM
Nashville at Vancouver 10:00 PM

Game of the Night

Tonight we'll go with a Northeast division game between Ottawa and Montreal. Both teams have played 10 games and won 5 but Montreal has an extra three points by virtue of three shootout losses.

The Sens were red hot up until a Saturday night meeting against Zdeno Chara and the Bruins - in the three prior games they had scored 21 goals in three games. Although Martin Gerber was brought in to be the #1 goalie, he has been outplayed by Ray Emery thus far. Captain Daniel Alfredsson has gotten off to a very slow start with just 6 points in 10 games. Fortunately they have enough depth to overcome a slump by one of their stars. Spezza and Heatley are tied for the team lead with 13 points apiece.

Montreal has alternated between winning one and losing one over the past eight games. They are coming off an exciting shootout loss against Toronto on Saturday. After slumping for most of last season, Sheldon Souray has bounced back strong and is leading the team in scoring (coincidently it is also a contract year for Sheldon). Captain Koivu has recovered from his eye injury last year and the Habs' new addition Sergei Samsonov had his first multi-goal game against Toronto. This is another situation where the backup is outplaying the starter so far, as Huet has yet to match his great success from last season.

TSN is reporting that Wade Redden is questionable for this one, David Aebischer will get the start for the Habs, and Alexei Kovalev will be centering a Russian line with Samsonov and Perezhogin. This is the second meeting so far this year between these two teams - Ottawa won the first one 3-2 in Montreal. These teams are pretty evenly matched and are both deep up front. I expect this one to be close and high scoring, maybe even in Overtime - and I think Ottawa will take the two points.

AP and Getty Photos

QOTD: Trade Game - What is Gagne worth?

The Question of the Day feature has been on hiatus for a couple of days while I started analyzing the new IIHF study. Today's question is a little late so we'll have two for Tuesday.

When I was young I didn't have the best imagination, although my best friend and I did invent "The Trade Game". How it works is that you each play a GM and orchestrate trades to the best of your abilities based upon your negotiating skills. Today we're going to look at:

Simon Gagne

His name has popped up in a few trade rumors this year and I even heard Forsberg's name mentioned although that will only happen if Philly ends up way out of a playoff spot.

In the comments, you can make me an offer for Gagne. You can be any GM you choose - all that is required is for us to come to terms and complete a trade that will benefit both side.

That said, Simon Gagne is on the block - make me an offer and the best one will be mentioned in a future column. If I had to bet I'd say that Gagne stays - he's too important to that Flyer team and is the only pure goalscorer they have.

Monday in Review

Tonight's Three Stars:

1. Peter Forsberg - 2 G, +2, 6 SOG
2. Richard Zednik - 2 G, 1 A, +2, 8 SOG
3. Brent Sopel - 2 G, +2.

Game Thoughts
* Peter Forsberg is amazing. He put the team on his back tonight and really put on a show. Robert Esche was strong in goal which will do wonders for his confidence.
* The Flyers needed this one tonight - it may be early in the year but two points lost now can come back to haunt you later in the year. Former Flyer Brian Boucher played very well in net for the Hawks
* Tuomo Ruutu made his return to the Hawks lineup and did not register a shot (or a point) Once Havlat returns it will be interesting to see how (and if) these two play together
* Here is a little friendly advice for the Thrashers or anyone else who is playing the Leafs anytime soon:
The Leafs REALLY like using this pass across the crease to Tucker on the PP. In fact their powerplay has two plays that they frequently try to setup - the shot from McCabe from the point and the pass to Tucker.

* As mentioned early the Thrashers have REALLY had a lot of trouble with the Leafs recently.
* In a high-scoring, back-and-forth game, the Ducks blew a two goal lead but pulled out a win in the shootout. Giguere gave up 5 on 24 shots which broke his streak of 5-games without giving up more than 2 goals. Giguere has been very strong early in the year, even with Bryzgalov looking over his shoulder and waiting for him to mess up.
* Amazingly, the Ducks still have not lost a game in regulation time.
* This game featured goals by 10 different players (including 5 playes who had multi-point nights)
* Teemu Selanne is another star who is off to a very slow start so far, but he will pick it up shortly I'm sure.
* LA finally got some pretty good goaltending (and it wasn't from Cloutier) along with two goals from Brent Sopel. Sopel wasn't anywhere near 100% when he was acquired last year but he is proving this year that he was more than just a throw-in in the deal.

Images from Associated Press and Getty Images

Monday, October 30, 2006

Classic Video: Gretzky 802

Tonight's Games (Oct 30)

Chicago at Philadelphia 7:00 PM
Atlanta at Toronto 7:30 PM
Anaheim at St. Louis 8:00 PM
Washington at Calgary 9:00 PM
NY Rangers at Los Angeles 10:30 PM

Game of the Night

Atlanta at Toronto

This one could be a high-scoring affair. The Thrashers come in having lost just once in regulation time in 12 games but Toronto is a team that they traditionally have had trouble with. Over their past seven meetings the Leafs have outscored Atlanta 33-7 although it's worth noting that the Thrashers were without Lehtonen for most of last year.

Bryan McCabe should probably write a cheque to the Thrashers to compensate them for all the extra money he earned last season, due to their poor play. McCabe had 15% of his points in the four meetings against Atlanta last year. So far he has not played like a $5.75 million dollar player although Saturday's game in Montreal was one of his best of the season.

Atlanta has scored 43 goals in 12 games (3.58 per) thus far, while allowing just 29 (2.42 per). The Leafs have scored 38 and have given up 43. I've already documented Raycroft's recent struggles but it will be interesting to see whether he gets the start and if so, how well (or poorly) he plays. There are much better goalies in the league right now that are forced to split time in net and at some point Raycroft is going to start losing starts to JS Aubin.

The Leafs are trying to finish the month on a good note after an inconsistent first few weeks of the season. Atlanta can tie Buffalo for first in the conference with a win tonight. The East is extremely tight thus far with Buffalo and Atlanta leading the pack, and another 11 teams between 10 and 13 points. That said the Leafs need to get back on track soon or they'll find themselves in 12th/13th. Toronto is at home and coming off a big shootout win on Saturday. They seem to have the Thrashers' number, so until the Thrashers can prove otherwise, I'll take the Leafs.

Discrediting the IIHF Study Part III

Looking at the various European leagues compared the CHL, I found some interesting figures:

Draftees between 1989-2003 that have played a minimum of 1 NHL Game:

Under 100 Career NHL Games:
Slovakia - 55.6%
Finland - 54.5%
OHL - 53.7%
QMJHL - 53.7%
WHL - 49.7%
Czech - 47.7%
Russia - 46.3%
Sweden - 44.1%

Over 400 Career NHL Games:
Russia - 28.4%
Sweden - 25.8%
Czech - 25.7%
WHL - 20.7%
OHL - 20.1%
QMJHL - 15.4%
Slovakia - 14.8%
Finland - 14.3%

I still have a lot more research and analysis I would like to do but at first glance it seems that their major argument that "a healthy ratio between North Americans and Europeans in NHL is 80/20 (80 percent North Americans/20 percent Europeans, as opposed to the current 70/30)" is off-base. My numbers seem to show that the percentage of Europeans who are drafted (specifically from the Russian, Swedish and Czech leagues) that go on to successful careers is significantly higher than the percentage of players drafted from the CHL.

To be continued...

Sunday in Review

Tonight's Three Stars:

1. Milan Hejduk - 2 G, +1, 5 SOG
2. John Michael Liles - 3 A, +1, 22:01 TOI
3. Scott Hannan - 2 A, +1, 21:59 TOI

Game Thoughts:
* Joe Thornton finally gets goal #1 in game #12. Thornton had a 12-game goal-less streak last year and still finished with 29 to go along with his 96 assists. With 14 points in 12 games, he's off to a great start but I expect even better production out of him this year.
* Nabokov picked up the win for San Jose as the rotating goalie-system continues...
* The West is looking like a 10-team race with St. Louis, Chicago, LA, Columbus and Phoenix jockeying for draft position, but it's early and things could change. Calgary is near the bottom of the Conference but I have to think that won't last.
* The Sharks got two more PP goals and now have 21 on the year, clicking at a VERY impressive 28%
* Marty St. Louis scored once again, giving hope to those who think he can once again establish himself as an elite offensive player. In his past three seasons he's put up 33, 38 and 31 goals and he has 7 thus far this year - maybe his skills haven't fallen off dramatically as some people think.
* Colorado looked good as they beat Minnesota - backstopped by Jose Theodore who stopped 20 of 21
* Milan Hejduk scored twice as the Wild lost for just the second time this year
* Gaborik missed yet another game and is still at least a week away from making his return

More Thoughts:
* I still have a hard time believing that Perreault's best offer was with a team at the bottom of the standings. I've never been a fan of his game but the fact remains that the guy is the best in the business when it comes to faceoffs and that is a huge asset in the playoffs. Aside from that he also has 217 career goals and put up 22 goals, 57 points in 69 games last season - he's fourth 20+ goal season in 5 years. I guess Calgary has other plans at center...
* In case you missed it, Ed Belfour was involved in an "incident" at a nightclub on Friday and somehow Alex Auld ended up going to the hospital for stitches:

"The witness who contacted reporters said a belligerent Belfour had to be coaxed out of the bar by teammates.

Auld said he was hurt when they reached the hotel lobby.

"They have the marble floors there, and they're slippery," Belfour said. "We were just horsing around with each other, I dropped my bottle of water and we all slipped. Alex hit his head when we fell down."

Police were called by the hotel and Auld was taken to a nearby hospital for stitches. Police in Garden City said there was no report."

"Hey Alex come here.. I just want to talk.." (Photo from Belfour.com)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Classic Video: Neely Highlights

Tonight's Games (Oct 29)

San Jose at Tampa Bay - 5 PM
Minnesota at Colorado - 8 PM

Game of the Night

These teams were once frequently found at the bottom of the league's standings. Times have changed though, as the Lightning have already won a Cup and the Sharks may be on the verge (although it is extremely early in the year).

San Jose is starting a five game road trip (including four through the Eastern Conference) that will also see them make stops in Florida, New York (Rangers), Pittsburgh and Minnesota.

An interesting note for this game is that we'll get to see the #1 overall picks from 1997 and 1998 - Vincent Lecavalier and Joe Thornton. In 98 the Sharks picked Brad Stuart two picks after Lecavalier went to Tampa Bay and Stuart was a key component of the Thornton trade last season. Because they have similar experience and both went in the same draft position, it makes for an interesting comparison:

Joe Thornton: 601 GP, 189 G, 559 PTS. Playoffs: 46 GP, 8 G, 27 PTS
Vincent Lecavalier: 556 GP, 185 G, 410 PTS. Playoffs: 39 GP, 13 G, 26 PTS

Thornton has put up better point numbers while Lecavalier has had better success in the playoffs (and has won a Cup). Last season the big deal was Thornton to Boston and I wouldn't be shocked if Lecavalier was one of the big names to move this year - Tampa simply has too much salary tied up in three assets and in my opinion Vinny's contract is the most tradable at the moment.

Tampa has gotten much better goaltending this year thanks to an offseason trade for the underrated Marc Denis. San Jose has gone with a the Toskala-Nabokov rotation and tonight is Nabby's turn. He has won just two of five but both games were shutouts. Toskala had won his first five before losing the other night in Nashville.

One final note is that rookie D-man Matt Carle has been playing great hockey so far. If you haven't heard of him yet, you will.

The Lightning are playing decent .500 hockey while the Sharks have been very good but not amazing - not on the level of Anaheim, Minnesota and Dallas thus far. I expect them to assert themselves on this road trip to remind the league that they are the team to beat in the West, largely in part to their depth down the middle and in goal. I'm going with San Jose tonight - Tampa is too unpredicatable and Nabokov is going to need a good performance to keep his spot in the rotation.

Discrediting the IIHF Study Part II

Of the 4018 Players drafted between 1998 and 2003, 1190 were drafted from Europe (29.6%). Of those players:

718 Never played in the NHL (60.3%)
71 Played between 1-10 games (6.0%)
94 Played between 11-50 games (7.9%)
69 Played between 51-100 games (5.8%)
61 Played between 101-200 games (5.1%)
36 Played between 201-300 games (3.0%)
32 Played between 301-400 games (2.7%)
21 Played between 401-500 games (1.8%)
88 Played 500+ games (7.4%)

Of all draftees, 81.2% played less than 100 games but for Europeans that percentage is a little less (80.0%), albeit slightly higher than CHL draftees (78.8%).

Looking at players who have played over 500 games, 6.1% of all draftees examined fell into this group but this percentage was significantly higher for European players (7.4%).

It also should be noted that a significant number of European draftees never came over to North America to play, either due to their wishes or the their team's lack of desire to get them across the pond. Under the old CBA there were significant advantages to drafting a European player as his rights would be protected by the team that drafted him until Age 31. Thus we saw a lot of teams in the later rounds drafting a player and keeping on eye on him without ever making a true effort to sign said player if they did not develop the way the team was hoping.

If we only look at the 1590 players who were drafted AND played at least one game in the NHL, the results get very interesting:

Of the 789 CHL Players:
- 52.1% played under 100 games
- 28.5% played between 101-400 games
- 19.4% played over 400 games

Of the 472 European Players:
- 49.6% played under 100 games
- 27.3% played between 101-400 games
- 23.1% played over 500 games

These figures show that looking at all players drafted out of the Canadian Hockey League and Europe over a 15-year period, the European players are 19% more likely to have a successful NHL career (if success is defined simply as 400+ GP) than the CHL-drafted players.

To be continued...

Saturday in Review

Tonight's Three Stars

1. Tomas Kaberle - 3 G, 1 A, +2, 29:36 TOI
2. Sidney Crosby - 3 G, +3, 4 SOG
3. Jaromir Jagr - 1 G, 3, A, +2

Game Thoughts
* Sergei Samsonov had his first big night as a Hab but was upstaged by Tomas Kaberle who scored his first three goals of the year plus another in the shootout
* JS Aubin got the win and although the Leafs blew a late 2-goal lead I think he may have earned the start on Monday thanks to his performance in the shootout
* If you're a Leaf fan you've got to find it disturbing that they have allowed 4+ goals in 7 of their last 8 games
* This is the third straight 5-4 game the Leafs have played in on HNIC - further proof that hockey has not been this exciting in quite a while
(AP Photo/Ryan Remiorz,CP)
* Chara faced the Sens for the first time and scored the winner on a blast from the Powerplay.
* On a positive note for Ottawa, Martin Gerber played well for the third game in a row while Tim Thomas picked up his first win of the year amidst rumours that Boston may be in the market for a goalie

(AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
* Another disaster for the Flyers tonight at home. Nittymaki let in four of nine shots and Pittsburgh had a 4-goal second period to break the game wide open
* Malkin scored for the fifth straight game and added two assists while Crosby had his first career hattrick.
* After the game the Flyers' locker room was closed for 20 minutes for a team meeting. Off-ice moves aside the Flyers still need help up front and on D.

(AP Photo/H. Rumph, Jr.)
* The streak is over in Buffalo as they were knocked off by Atlanta. A very impressive accomplishment for a great Buffalo team but don't look now.. the Thrashers are just 2 points behind in the standings
* The Sabres battled back to tie the game on four occasions, but they just couldn't beat Lehtonen in the shootout, which was happening at the same time Toronto/Montreal were starting their shootout and New York/Florida were well into theirs. I've said it a few times already but NHL Center Ice is just a dream come true.

(Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

And in other action...
* A point-less Andy Hilbert scored in the 10th round of the shootout for the Islanders. Ed Belfour had another very strong start for the Panthers:

Ed Belfour (season): 17 goals, 339 minutes, 163 shots = 3.00 GAA, .896 svp
Andrew Raycroft (last 6 starts): 26 goals, 346 minutes, 170 shots = 4.51 GAA, .847 svp

* In the other net, Rick Dipietro got win #2 on the season
* Carolina scored 3 goals in 43 seconds (Staal, Adams and Cole) to knock off Tampa Bay. Cam Ward gave up 4+ for the fourth game in a row and sixth time this year. In the Spring, the Ward-Miller debates were rampant but so far this year there is no comparison
* Lecavalier continued to play well for Tampa, putting up 2 points. What's ironic may be that the better he plays, the better the chances that Tampa will move him at some point.
* Marty Brodeur had his second straight shutout and Columbus was involved in their third straight (on the losing end for two)
* The NHL may be much more wide open but when Jersey is on top of their game they can be just as effective shutting down the opposition as they used to be
* The Kings scored twice but still lost - this time to Dallas. On the season they have just 25 goals in 12 games.
* Dallas did suffer one loss - Steve Ott broke his ankle and will miss the next 2 months.
* Detroit continued to roll, behind two from Holmstrom and one from a kid named Valtteri Filppula who, according to the IIHF study is a marginal, below average player who should have stayed in Europe (congrats on your first NHL goal Valtteri).
* The Ducks went to Bryzgalov and got another shutout - they still haven't lost a game in regulation so far
* The Blackhawks may get some good news this week as Tuomo Ruutu should be back they are still playing through several key injuries
* Calgary got two from Iginla who got to see firsthand one of the centers that the team could have added but did not. Jason Arnott played another strong game and potted two goals - what a great addition he was for this Preds team
* Dwayne Roloson had the second shutout of the night in the highly anticipated Ovechkin debut in Edmonton. Not to beat a dead horse or anything but it's just wrong that it takes 90 games of his career before Alex the Great played the Oilers - and based on the numbers on "After Hours" on CBC, 93% of respondants to a survey agreed that all teams should meet at least once a year
* Phoenix snapped their big winning streak at one, as the Rangers won big behind a big night from Jagr
* JR was a -2 to bring his season total to -8. If Phlly stops getting shelled and JR doesn't retire he may challenge for the league lead but if Hatcher keeps this up (-14) nobody will catch him.

Thumbnails from Getty Images and AP Photo

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Discrediting the IIHF Study Part I

So by now everyone has read about the new IIHF Study. The study is "based on research of European players who were drafted and/or signed from IIHF clubs and who went on to play in the National Hockey League (NHL) and/or in the minor leagues and/or in the Canadian major junior leagues (CHL)."

One of the major findings of the study was that:
"The major research of the 621 Europeans shows the following:
• 62.5 percent (388 players) are non-impact, marginal or below average"

So I decided to do a little research. I looked at the 15 drafts between 1989 and 2003. Keep in mind that the numbers are slightly lower due to the fact that many of these players are still active and will increase their games played as time went on (the study had a similar disclaimer). Here's what I found:

1989 to 2003 NHL Drafts

4018 Players Drafted

2428 Played in No NHL Games (60.4%)

299 Played 1-10 NHL Games (7.4%)
316 Played between 11-50 NHL Games (7.9%)
221 Played between 51 and 100 NHL Games (5.5%)

210 Played between 101 and 200 NHL Games (5.2%)
122 Played between 201 and 300 NHL Games (3.0%)
97 Played between 301 and 400 NHL Games (2.4%)
81 Played between 401 and 500 NHL Games (2.0%)

70 Played between 501 and 600 NHL Games (1.7%)
69 Played between 601 and 700 NHL Games (1.7%)
53 Played between 701 and 800 NHL Games (1.3%)
26 Played between 801 and 900 NHL Games (0.6%)
16 Played between 901 and 1000 NHL Games (0.3%)
9 Played over 1000 Games (0.2%)

Under 100 Games = 81.2%
101 to 500 Games = 12.6%
500+ Games = 6.0%

I will be delving into these numbers with more depth but at first-glance it seems like 37.5% of Europeans being above average, not marginal and impact players is pretty impressive. Maybe they have made a case for drafting MORE Europeans...

To be continued...

Tonight's Games (Oct 28)

Ottawa at Boston 7:00 PM
Atlanta at Buffalo 7:00 PM
Tampa Bay at Carolina 7:00 PM
Toronto at Montreal 7:00 PM
Florida at NY Islanders 7:00 PM
Pittsburgh at Philadelphia 7:00 PM
Columbus at New Jersey 7:30 PM
Los Angeles at Dallas 8:00 PM
Detroit at St. Louis 8:00 PM
Anaheim at Chicago 8:30 PM
Nashville at Calgary 10:00 PM
Washington at Edmonton 10:00 PM
NY Rangers at Phoenix 10:00 PM

Game of the Night

There are thirteen games on the schedule for tonight, none more anticipated than Atlanta's trip to Buffalo. As you know, the Sabres are going for their 11th straight win tonight which would set the NHL record set by Toronto in 1993.

The Thrashers are coming off a shootout loss against Philadelphia where Kari Lehtonen finally got the night off - well at least for the first 65 minutes. Given that Hedberg was 4-0 in shootouts last year and Lehtonen missed a great deal of time with groin injuries it was shocking to see Lehtonen come off the bench for the shootout. Still the Thrashers picked up a point and are only 3 points behind Buffalo in the East.

Tonight's matchup has the two leading goal scorers in the league (Hossa and Drury - 10 each), the two leading scorers (Hossa and Afinogenov - 16 each) and quite possibly the two best young goalies in Miller and Lehtonen.

This should be a great one to watch and although the streak has to end sometime, I just don't think it will be tonight - I'm going with Buffalo.

Friday in Review

Tonight's Three Stars

1. Olaf Kolzig - stopped 42 of 44
2. Pascal Leclair - stopped 38 for 38
3. Niklas Lidstrom - 2 G, +3, 29:03 TOI

Game Thoughts:

* First a stat for the geniuses at the IIHF: 17 goals were scored tonight and 10 were scored by Europeans.
* Chris Chelios is playing fantastic hockey - once again he played a huge role in holding off the opposition for the win in the last minute of the game.
* The Kings had 38 shots on Pascal Leclaire and he stopped them all. In 12 games the Kings have just 23 goals.
* The Ducks still haven't lost in regulation time while Minnesota improve to 9-1.
* Both Lidstrom and Modano had a pair
* Olaf Kolzig played amazing tonight and absolutely stole the point for Washington. The Canucks ended up with two points but for me it didn't matter

Friday, October 27, 2006

Tonight's Games (Oct 27)

Los Angeles at Columbus - 7:00 PM
Anaheim at Minnesota - 8:00 PM
Detroit at Dallas - 8:30 PM
Washington at Vancouver - 10:00 PM

Game of the Night

Combined, Anaheim and Minnesota are 15-1-2. Everyone expected that the Ducks would be a Cup contender thanks to their addition of Chris Pronger, but the Wild did not generate much pre-season hype.

Anaheim has yet to lose a game in regulation time. They are coming off a big 6-2 win over Edmonton and have gotten great production out of their youth. Possibly the biggest surprise is that JS Giguere has re-established himself as the team's #1 and has been nothing short of outstanding (1.81 GAA, .940 SVP).

With Roloson finally out of the picture, Fernandez is proving that he can carry a team on his own (1.53 GAA, .949 SVP). Youngster Pierre-Marc Bouchard appears ready to elevate his game to the next level which is great news for an already revamped offense. Star forward Marian Gaborik has played just 65 games in each of his last two seasons and he is already missing time with a groin injury. In previous years Gaborik was the Wild's main source of offense but it seems now that they can stay more than competitive without him.

When these two teams met exactly a week ago the Ducks held on for a 2-1 win at home. I'm predicting that the Wild return the favour tonight in their own building.

Classic Video: Shortest OT in the Cup Final

Wednesday and Thursday in Review

Thursday's Three Stars

1. Jason Spezza - 1 G, 4 A, +3
2. Dany Heatley - 3 G, +3, 6 SOG
3. Martin St. Louis - 3 G, +1, 6 SOG

Wednesday's Three Stars

1. Roberto Luongo - 32 saves, shutout
2. Chris Pronger - 3 A, +3
3. Henrik Sedin - 2 G, 1 A, +3

Game Thoughts (two days)

* Congrats to Lindy Ruff and the Sabres for winning 10 straight. Shootouts or not this is a great accomplishment and if the Sabres can get one more win on Saturday they'll make it through the whole month with a perfect record
* Congraulations also to Joe Sakic for point #1500 - what a classy individual and often-underrated player
* I think TSN made a mistake and accidently replayed a game from last October. I distinctly remember a Heatley hattrick vs Toronto and a big Sens win. Turns out that he has 9 goals and 7 assists in his last 7 vs the Leafs - as do most of the other Sens.
* Good job by Ottawa in keeping their composure and hurting the Leafs where it really counts
* A great example of why you don't make quick judgements too early in the year - after scoring 11 in their first six, the Sens have 21 goals in their last three. I think it's safe to say that the Sens are back.
* Good idea by Phoenix to bring in a backup goalie who can actually stop the puck. Morrison's stats (6.13 GAA, .790 SVP) were atrocious and his track record is not much better. A career .871 save percentage just doesn't cut it in the NHL.
* BIG win by Philly tonight. They gritted one out and their stars came up big in the shootout. Forsberg made his return and showed flashes of playing at a world-class level, especially in OT
* Good game between Nashville and San Jose. Toskala lost his first of the year which has to be a bit of a relief for Nabokov.
* Joe Thornton had another 3 assists and still no goals.
* Boston almost pulled out a point thanks to an amazing save late in the game by Tim Thomas but Montreal scored with 1.2 seconds left
* New Jersey played a typical Devils game and Brodeur got his second shutout of the year
* For one period, Marty St. Louis played like the player who tore apart the league a couple seasons back
* Hasek looked very good two nights ago against the Sharks. In the third period he and Chelios (the two oldest players in the league) were the two best players on the ice
* Also, Luongo got his first shutout as a Canuck, his first of many for the guy who I believe will one day go down as the best goalie in team history.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Must See TV

If you're a hockey fan and you don't have NHL Center Ice, you don't know what you're missing. Seriously.. you have NO idea.

St. Louis notches a natural hattrick in the second.

Heatley scores his third of the game to make the score 6-2 Sens.

Andre Markov scores on the powerplay with 1.2 seconds left to win the game.

Flyers and Thrashers in OT - Forsberg has a dominant shift where he almost singlehandedly wins the game but Hossa comes back the other way, fights off two checks and almost bangs it in with seconds left in OT.

Lehtonen comes in for the shootout.
Gagne scores on a sweet move.
Kozlov ties it up borrowing Forsberg's famous move from Lillehammer.
Forsberg goes top shelf to take a 2-1 lead.
After two misses, Nittymaki forces Kovalchuk to go wide and miss the net for the win.

Brodeur shuts out Florida.

Miller shuts out the Islanders.

Nashville is up 3-2 on San Jose.

Canes breakup the shutout but lose 5-1 to Tampay.

And that was just between 9 and 10 pm..

Classic Video: Winning one for Ray

QOTD: Who should own each number?

If I had to pick one player in the league to wear each number, here's my list:

1 Roberto Luongo
2 Mattias Ohlund
3 Dion Phaneuf
4 Rob Blake
5 Nicklas Lidstrom
6 Wade Redden
7 Keith Tkachuk
8 Alexander Ovechkin
9 Mike Modano
10 Marian Gaborik
11 Daniel Alfredsson
12 Jarome Iginla
13 Pavel Datsyuk
14 Brendan Shanahan
15 Dany Heatley
16 Trevor Linden
17 Ilya Kovalchuk
18 Marian Hossa
19 Joe Thornton
20 Robert Lang
21 Peter Forsberg
22 Daniel Sedin
23 Scott Gomez
24 Martin Havlat
25 Chris Pronger
26 Patrik Elias
27 Scott Niedermayer
28 Brian Rafalski
29 Tomas Vokoun
30 Martin Brodeur
31 Curtis Joseph
32 Kari Lehtonen
33 Zdeno Chara
34 Miikka Kiprusoff
35 Marty Turco
36 Jussi Jokinen
37 Olaf Kolzig
38 Pavol Demitra
39 Dominik Hasek
40 Henrik Zetterberg
41 Martin Skoula
42 Robert Esche
43 Philippe Boucher
44 Todd Bertuzzi
45 Dmitri Kalinin
46 Roman Polak
47 Marc-Andre Bergeron
48 Daniel Briere
49 Dan Fritsche
51 Brian Campbell
52 Adam Foote
53 Derek Morris
54 Hannu Toivonen
55 Sergei Gonchar
56 Sergei Zubov
57 Garth Murray
58 Dan Hinote
59 Chad LaRose
60 Jose Theodore
61 Rick Nash
62 Martin Rucinsky
63 Josef Vasicek
68 Jaromir Jagr
71 Evgeni Malkin
73 Michael Ryder
74 Jay McKee
76 Andrew Peters
77 Chris Gratton
79 Alexei Yashin
80 Kevin Weekes
81 Miroslav Satan
82 Martin Straka
83 Ales Hemsky
84 Guillaume Latendresse
85 Rostislav Olesz
87 Sidney Crosby
88 Eric Lindros
89 Alexander Mogilny
90 Enver Lisin
91 Sergei Fedorov
92 Jeff O'Neill
93 Johan Franzen
94 Ryan Smyth
95 Danny Markov
96 Tomas Holmstrom
97 Jeremy Roenick

Tonight's Games (Oct 26)

Due to some technical difficulties last night, the three stars and game thoughts could not be posted. I will try to get those up a little later today.

Montreal at Boston - 7:00 PM
Atlanta at Philadelphia - 7:00 PM
Florida at New Jersey - 7:30 PM
Buffalo at NY Islanders - 7:30 PM
Toronto at Ottawa - 7:30 PM
Carolina at Tampa Bay - 7:30 PM
San Jose at Nashville - 8:00 PM
Edmonton at Phoenix - 10:00 PM

Game of the Night

Atlanta at Philadelphia

Many people will be watching with interest tonight as a new era begins in Philadelphia.

The Flyers have been off since Saturday so they have had time to regroup, refocus and should come out with something to prove. It won't be easy for Philly as the Thrashers have only lost once in regulation time, but they will catch a break by getting Atlanta at the tail end of three games in four nights on the road.

The Flyers will go with Niittymaki in goal and may catch another huge break if they end up facing Johan Hedberg. Lehtonen has started every game so far and this is probably a good time to give him a night off.

Philly is starting a 5-game homestand and this really is a huge game for this franchise, now led by John Stevens behind the bench. Forsberg is a question mark at this point but he is close to returning. If the Flyers can't come out strong against a tired team and potentially a backup goalie when they are rested, at home and playing with a new coach then it may be a long year in Philly. But, in my opinion this Flyers team is going to put on a show at home and prove that this season is far from over.

Ovechkin OK?

According to ESPN.com Ovechkin was walking around in the locker room after the game and said it was "Just a little shot to the leg."

Also according to ESPN.com (in their boxscore), the Capitals got goals from Joe Murphy and John Gruden, assists from Mike Pudlick and Rob Zettler, and help on the blueline from Dimitri Yushkevich.

Assuming they at least got the game story right, it seems like the Caps dodged a huge bullet - it looked pretty bad at the time.

Ovechkin Injury?

Alexander Ovechkin was helped off the ice with just over 2.7 second remaining in the game tonight after taking a slapshot in the foot. He was unable to put any pressure on the injured foot as he left the ice and was brought to the dressing room.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

QOTD: Who is the Oldest, Smallest and Heaviest?

10 Oldest Players:
Chris Chelios - born January 25, 1962
Dominik Hasek - born January 29, 1965
Ed Belfour - born April 21, 1965
Gary Roberts - born May 23, 1966
Scott Mellanby - born June 11, 1966
Joe Nieuwendyk - born September 10, 1966
Curtis Joseph - born April 29, 1967
Mark Recchi - born February 1, 1968
Rob DiMaio - born February 19, 1968
Teppo Numminen - born July 3, 1968

10 Youngest Players:
Jordan Staal - born September 10, 1988
Phil Kessel - born October 2, 1987
Anze Kopitar - born August 24, 1987
Sidney Crosby - born August 7, 1987
Guillaume Latendresse - born May 24, 1987
Kristopher Letang - born April 29, 1987
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - born March 30, 1987
Luc Bourdon - born February 16, 1987
Gilbert Brule - born January 1, 1987
Michael Blunden - born December 15, 1986

10 Shortest Players:
Brian Gionta - 5'7"
Steve Sullivan - 5'8"
Scott Nichol - 5'8"
Nigel Dawes - 5'8"
Sergei Samsonov - 5'8"
Francis Bouillon - 5'8"
Jiri Hudler - 5'9"
Manny Legace - 5'9"
Ryan Shannon - 5'9"
Eric Perrin - 5'9"

10 Tallest Players:
Zdeno Chara - 6'9"
Derek Boogaard - 6'7"
Hal Gill - 6'7"
Andy Sutton - 6'6"
Brad Norton - 6'6"
Eric Cairns - 6'6"
Nik Antropov - 6'6"
Chris Pronger - 6'6"
Jassen Cullimore - 6"5
Brian McGrattan - 6"5

10 Heaviest Players:
Derek Boogaard - 270 lbs
Raitis Ivanans - 263 lbs
Zdeno Chara - 260 lbs
Hal Gill - 250 lbs
Andrew Peters - 247 lbs
Andy Sutton - 245 lbs
Dustin Penner - 245 lbs
Todd Bertuzzi - 245 lbs
Jassen Cullimore - 244 lbs
Georges Laraque - 243 lbs

10 Lightest Players:
Jiri Hudler - 154 lbs
Steve Sullivan - 155 lbs
Niklas Kronwall - 158 lbs
Ryan Miller - 160 lbs
Petr Prucha - 161 lbs
Pierre-Marc Bouchard - 162 lbs
Manny Legace - 162 lbs
Martin Biron - 163 lbs
Dave Bolland - 168 lbs
Jocelyn Thibault - 169 lbs

Based on the medians, the typical NHL player is 6'1, 200 lbs.

I think it's amazing that there are more players at or over 6'3" (167) than under 6 ft (150) when guys who were huge physical presences on the ice like Vladimir Konstantinov and Bobby Clarke were listed at 5'11, 176 and 5'10, 176 respectively.

Classic Video: Sakic vs Gilmour

Tonight's Games (Oct 25)

Atlanta at Carolina 7:00 PM
Florida at NY Rangers 7:00 PM
San Jose at Detroit 7:30 PM
Los Angeles at Minnesota 8:00 PM
Vancouver at Chicago 8:30 PM
Washington at Colorado 9:00 PM
Edmonton at Anaheim 10:00 PM

Game of the Night

Atlanta at Carolina

The pleasant surprise in the East thus far meets the biggest disappointment (outside of Philadelphia). Atlanta has lost just once in regulation in nine starts. Kari Lehtonen may finally be living up to his potential, posting a 1.96 GAA and .929 save percentage so far. If he keeps this up and stays healthy the Thrashers could be a threat in the East. However Atlanta's offense is very top heavy and they may need to make a trade or two to shore up their depth (which is why Conroy makes a lot of sense for them).

Marian Hossa has been fantastic through the first 9, scoring 10 goals and adding 5 assists - leading the league in both categories. After a slow start Ilya Kovalchuk, one of the league's most explosive players, has 5 goals and 10 points in his last five games.

There has been an increasing amount of talk about the division-heavy schedules and it's my opinion that something NEEDS to be done for next year. A good example as to why is the Thrashers' schedule so far - in their first ten games they play Florida three times, Carolina, Tampa Bay and Washington twice each. With a schedule like that they may as well make it like baseball and play three at a time against each team. The Thrashers have been playing some great hockey but nobody outside the Atlantic has seen them play except Boston. Without a doubt, having 40% of the schedule played within the division is too much.

As for Carolina, the defending champs are off to a slow start. They have played better as of late though, winning three in a row before losing a 1-goal game to the Sabres and in OT to the Islanders. Cam Ward has been pretty average in net and John Grahame has given up 10 goals in his first two starts. The Canes have a strong group up front led by Brind'Amour, Whitney, Staal, Williams, Walker and Cole but I wonder but they are lacking that star offensive defenceman that most Cup winners (and all recent Cup repeat winners) have had. Still I expect the Hurricanes will be near the top of the Conference when all is said and done, due to their strong depth and great coaching. Carolina has been off since Saturday so I would expect a very strong performance out of them - I'm going with the Canes in this one.

Tuesday in Review

Tonight's Three Stars

1. Patrick Eaves - 1 G, 1 A, +1, 3 SOG, 5 PIMs (fight with Tucker)
2. Evgeni Malkin - 1 G, 1 A, +2. 5 SOG
3. Dany Heatley - 1 G, 1 A, +1, 5 SOG

Game Thoughts:
* Tonight's Ottawa-Toronto game looked very familiar. I feel like I've seen that one before. It will be interesting to see how the Leafs respond on Thursday in Ottawa. That game will say a lot about the makeup of this year's Leaf team.
* After a strong start, Andrew Raycroft has given up 19 goals in his last 5 starts
* Darcy Tucker needs to realize how valuable he is to his team. Going into the game tonight he had been in on 1/3 of the Leafs' goals. They simply cannot afford to have him break his hand pounding on some kid's visor. I admit I've never been a huge fan but Darcy is better than that - and more important.
* I don't want to be like Tony Kornheiser with the mentions of my fantasy team but it IS worth mentioning that Wade Redden finally picked up his first point on the year. Shockingly he had played 191 minutes over the 7+ games before that first assist.
* The Sens have found their punch - 14 goals in 2 games and six different goal scorers tonight. It really was just a matter of time..
* Evgeni Malkin. Wow. Four games, four goals. MANY more to come.
* The Pens got goals from Crosby, Malkin and Staal and great goaltending once again from Fleury - all top two picks
* The way Staal has played it is going to be very tough to send him down.
* Seriously is there a worse team right now than Phoenix? They made Calgary look like an offensive juggernaut and have given up 44 goals in 10 games.
* Mike Morrison's three starts: 5 goals on 29 shots, 3 goals on 13 shots (1 period), 3 goals on 9 shots (1 period+)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

QOTD: Are French goalies drafted higher?

So far there are 45 goalies who have won a game this season:

* 10 goalies from Quebec
* 14 from the rest of Canada
* 21 from the rest of the World

All 10 Quebec goalies were drafted in the first or second rounds (average position 20.1) while only 10 of the remaining 35 goaltenders from outside Quebec were drafted in the top 60 (5-1st rounders and 5-second rounders). The average draft position of the Canadian non-Quebec goalies is #150 and for all other goalies the average position is 132.

Quebec-born goalies:
1 Marc-Andre Fleury
4 Roberto Luongo
8 Pascal Leclaire
13 Jean-Sebastien Giguere
16 Martin Biron
20 Martin Brodeur
25 Marc Denis
26 Dan Cloutier
44 Mathieu Garon
44 Jose Theodore

Canadians born outside of Quebec:
25 Cam Ward
40 Alex Auld
52 Manny Fernandez
54 Chris Osgood
99 Ray Emery
122 Chris Mason
124 Marty Turco
135 Andrew Raycroft
161 Mike Smith
188 Manny Legace
275 Ed Belfour
275 Dwayne Roloson
275 Curtis Joseph
275 Curtis Sanford

American and European Goalies:
1 Rick DiPietro
2 Kari Lehtonen
19 Olaf Kolzig
29 Hannu Toivonen
44 Ilya Bryzgalov
53 Mike Dunham
63 Peter Budaj
90 Vesa Toskala
116 Miikka Kiprusoff
133 Jussi Markkanen
138 Ryan Miller
161 David Aebischer
168 Antero Niittymaki
199 Dominik Hasek
204 Nikolai Khabibulin
205 Henrik Lundqvist
214 Cristobal Huet
219 Evgeni Nabokov
226 Tomas Vokoun
232 Martin Gerber
275 Niklas Backstrom

* Undrafted goalies were given a draft position of #275.


* French goalies are likely overscouted - it seems extremely hard if not impossible to find a "steal" in the late rounds that was born in Quebec.

* Goaltending is the one postion where you can often find stars in the later rounds, for example:
#116 Miikka Kiprusoff
#124 Marty Turco
#138 Ryan Miller
#199 Dominic Hasek
#204 Nikolai Khabibulin
#205 Henrik Lundqvist
#219 Evgeni Nabokov
#226 Tomas Vokoun

* Goalies from outside Quebec seem to be undervalued at the draft - 61% of the goalies drafted in the first round that are playing are from Quebec although French goalies make up only 22% of the total sample.

Classic Video: Mike Krushelnyski

Tonight's Games (Oct 24)

New Jersey at Pittsburgh - 7 pm
Ottawa at Toronto - 7:30 pm
Phoenix at Calgary - 9:30 pm

Game of the Night

Ottawa at Toronto (home and home series)

Traditionally this has been a fairly one-sided series in recent memory - at least until April comes around. Sens fans know that they clearly have the better team, led by Alfredsson, Heatley, Spezza, Redden, etc.

The Leaf fans know that the Sens just can't seem to win when it truly matters:
Toronto has already lost three games this year via the shootout, picking up pretty much where they left off last year in that regard. Bryan McCabe has gotten off to a slow start with just one goal so far, but as Terrell Owens' publicist would say, he has 28.75 million reasons to be happy right now. Another player on defence who landed a long-term contract and has struggled offensively is Tomas Kaberle, who has just 2 assists. That said the Leafs are averaging 3.33 goals per game which is more than I would have predicted based on the talent they have up front.

The Sens have a struggling D-man of their own in Wade Redden who is still looking for his first point on the season. The Sens are coming off an eight-goal explosion against New Jersey and will try to use that momentum and start moving up in the standings. For the Leafs, Raycroft is the undisputed #1 guy at this point while the Sens may have a bit of a goaltending controversy:

Ray Emery: 2-1, 1.47 GAA, .952 SVP
Martin Gerber: 1-3, 3.31 GAA, .898 SVP

No matter who gets the start, I'm going with Ottawa to take the game at home tonight. They are already 12 points behind Buffalo and if they want to contend for the division they can't afford to lose games like this one.

Monday in Review

Tonight's Three Stars:

1. Ilya Kovalchuk - 3 G, 1 A, 7 SOG
2. Petr Sykora - 1 G, 3 A, +1, 4 SOG
3. Slava Kozlov - 4 A, 5 SOG

Game Thoughts:

* Buffalo is now an amazing 9-0. Before we start mentioning them challenging the league record of 10 wins by the Leafs it's worth noting (as my best friend, a Leafs fan pointed out) that the Sabres have won three games in the shootout and these games would have ended as ties in the old NHL. Still, whether you wan to add the asterisk or not I continue to be more and more impressed by this Sabres team.
* The day that Colorado started to slide from being a team that terrifies you in the playoffs was October 1, 2002. That was the day they traded Chris Drury for Derek Morris, a trade that I don't think I will ever understand.
* Janne Niinimaa didn't exactly turn in a Messier/Namath performance tonight - 0 points, 10:43 TOI, -1, 1 SOG
* San Jose has rotated their goalies through the first 8 games but Toskala is doing everything he can to try and steal the job. Combined the Sharks now have three shutouts already
* Joe Thornton is still looking for goal #1 yet the Sharks are playing so well that not many have noticed
* Ilya Kovalchuk exploded for the hat trick tonight with three PPGs as the upstart Thrashers moved to 7-1-1
* Colorado got three goals on 5-3 powerplays to go up 3-1 in the game and coasted to a 6-1 win. The Avs have three young scorers up front in Svatos, Wolski and Stastny who will be relied on in a secondary scoring role if Colorado will contend for a playoff spot. So far they have produced..
* Vancouver came an inch or two away from their third straight comeback on the road but Zubov kept the puck on the goal line with under :30 to play. The Stars moved to 8-1 but according to the AP story the arena was half-empty due to the Monday nighter being played in Dallas. At this point I'm thinking the fans have a better chance of seeing a winner if they watch the Stars rather than the team with the stars on their helmets.
* Luongo has only given up more than 3 goals once in his first nine games in Vancouver.
* The Coyotes are off to their worst start in franchise history (since moving to Phoenix) and there are no signs of things getting better any time soon - they are now 2-7 although they did score their first goal in three games (JR of all people)

Photos from Getty Images and the Associated Press