Friday, December 31, 2010

strike when the iron is hot

Time to get Real Clear on the Avs' season. I had predicted that what we had here was another transitional-type rebuilding year: get the kids some experience, continue to evaluate and improve, make a move towards contention over the next two seasons. This scenario did assume no work stoppage and a CBA bearing a resemblance to the current one, right or wrong.

But this prediction was incorrect. What we actually have is the team's four best players having career years. Stastny, Duchene, Chris Stewart and John-Michael Liles are all playing better than they ever have--Stastny perhaps not as impressive as the others--Milan Hejduk is having an unexpectedly great year for a man of 88, putting up a point a game, and when your four best players are having career years? When you're the highest-scoring team in the league? You're not rebuilding. That's your year.

And yet the team is still in the transition/rebuild portion of the standings, on the playoff bubble. So what gives?

There's two clusters of problems. (1) The defense is still small, though bigger and better than at the beginning of the season. And the team, partly as a result of this, still gives up a lot of shots. And when you give up a lot of shots, you need a goalie who stops a lot of shots.1

That's the problem. (2) Craig Anderson has, after a sterling start last season, shown himself to be less than a franchise goalie. He and Budaj ended with the same save percentage and goals-against average even last year, remember, and nobody was calling for the team to be turned over to Boods at that point. Anderson has been consistently inconsistent: three great months last year, oft-injured and completely out of rhythm all this year.

I'm far from blaming all the team's woes on him--when Stewart and McLeod are on the shelf, the forwards are small and not hard enough to play against2, the team starts slowly, and they're not great at maintaining leads or extending them. None of that is Anderson's fault.

But a save percentage of .900 and a GAA of 3.19 isn't going to help the team capitalize on the epic year the forwards are having. Nor is Budaj's 3.05/.897.

So there's options. The team could stay the course, re-up with both Anderson and Budaj, who are both free agents again after this year, and hope the defense matures and that the goaltending combo puts up more of a 09-10 2.64/.917 than this year's more-than-three/under .900. There's a bit of merit to this plan, I concede, but I don't think it's reasonable--or safe--to assume that this year's level of offensive production is just always going to be there. My plan? Go big. Plug the hole in goal and try for the deep playoff run this year.

True, the last few cup champs have had average goalies and superior defenses, but that's not an option for this club, not this year. This year, what we need is a high-level goalie who can steal some big games, a goalie who can face a lot of rubber and keep that ol' save percentage nice and high. Like say .919 or better the last six seasons.

Greg Sherman, don't waste this year. Go get Thomas Vokoun.

-Collision, staying late after practice to work on his world-historically bad slap shot

Girl hugging horse courtesy of
Fill in the dots horse courtesy of
Thomas Vokoun picture courtesy of the internet.

1You probably think this is stinking obvious, but I assure you that it is a matter of subtle brilliance; it is just that I am a truly superior teacher, capable of making the obscurely difficult transparently simple.
2Last night, the Avs gave up a 3-0 first-period lead and had to win in a shootout against the young, talented, but bottom-of-the-standings Edmonton Oilers. If David Koci--who I actually like and respect--is dressed for any reason at all, that reason is to hospitalize Zack "Huggy Bear" Stortini, get his team fired up, and stanch the goddamned fucking bleeding already. I therefore conclude that coach Joe Sacco is even less interested in heavyweight fighters than I am.

Monday, December 20, 2010

made a dream last night

his face is young
his hands are old
the past is empty
blind & cold
ball of sweat
on his back
grabs the dirt
stains his shirt
push all day
rest at night
do some hobbies
drink to forget

--Minutemen, "plight"

Kind of a weird night last night. In the aftermath of my biggest piece of writing in like forever, I put my head down, put a beer into me, and started rocking out to early Blue Oyster Cult. Blue Oyster Cult: Tyranny and Mutation

Somewhere in the night, I had a goal-judge's-eye view of Greg Mauldin scoring what my dream knew to be a shorthanded game-winner. He got low and ripped it high on the glove side. He was wearing the captain's C, and the strangeness of that plunged me upward through the membrane separating dream from life in mind. Gred Mauldin

I...don't often dream about athletic young men. But Mauldin's a nice story--career AHL guy, former high-school chess team member (as am I!), occupier of Joe Sakic's old locker, and scorer of shorties, saddener of the Minnesota Wild* and fan of the infinitely estimable Mike Grier (and if you aren't, you should be, too). Not sure this is the sort of player/man I'd've guessed would Haunt My Dreams, but I can live with it.

-Collision, day to day w/ dread-tinged malaise

*I wanted to flip this and call them the Mild, but then they'd be Winnesota, and I'm not cool with putting any win into that state.

Mauldin action image yoinked from Yahoo!. Thanks Yahoo!. Album cover image yoinked from Amazon. Thanks Amazon.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

this is just to say

that Cody McLeod's Retirement Tour continues apace, with his earlier goal against Steve Mason and last night's tally against Brian "Calder Cup 2012" Elliott. Go it, Highlander!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Gnashing My Teeth at the Goalie Guild

Anybody else read this guy? I want to like him: his heart's in the right place, and he sure tries hard a lot. But he can't pull his head far enough out of his ass to challenge his own assumptions--crucial for a scout--and his weird obsessions with guilds, knights, and other white bullshit just get in the way. (Also his goalie assessment charts don't list height/weight, which strikes me as an unfathomably bizarre omission in a league currently obsessed with goalie size. Why make your consumer go anywhere else for such basic information?) Favorite nuggets of nonsense from this one include:

"Especially in the last 10 months, Evgeni has had to deal with more adversity than any other year in his career. And since emotional and mental adversity only makes a goalie stronger, he has an even wider professional scope of stopping pucks than ever before."

The listed adversity that's made Evgeni Nabokov a better goalie? Getting curb-stomped as the Russian goalie in the Olympics; reamed by the Blackhawks in the playoffs. So...being shitty at stopping pucks is now good for a goalie. Makes them stronger.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, The World's Strongest Goalie in the World!

Oddly, Goalie Guild Justin doesn't mention winning 8 of 22 games, or putting up a .888 save percentage in the KHL as adversity, nor getting no-tendered by the Sharks--and then everybody else in the NHL--then having to move to Russia, then, as mentioned, sucking, then quitting his job and relocating his family back to the States. Last I checked, stress at work and moving were hecka stressy.)

Also, what the fuck is a "professional scope of stopping pucks" and by means of what metric is its width measured? Is Lundquist's stoppuck 10 proscopes wider than Pascal Leclaire's? 20? 1,000?

Also also: who says adversity only makes goalies stronger? Nonsensical assumption rooted in a certain essentially magical orientation to the game and to the position. Faugh.

Not only has Tampa Bay experienced tremendous success with another Russian goalie by the name of Nikolai Khabibulin,

Not entirely sure what this has to do with anything. If you could document that the goalie coach was then and is now Russian? Maybe this would matter. Otherwise this makes about as much sense as the Oilers giving Ray Emery a tryout because they once had some success with Grant Fuhr.

Goalie Justin's examples for rock-solid, confident goalies who lift up the spirits of their teams? Well, his examples include 2 entire players, one of whom is Carey Price. Yes, the Carey Price who lost his job last year (and the year before) and who has been outstanding for nearly three whole months in a row as of now.

"one thing that Nabokov brings on a nightly basis is making the right saves at the right time" not something any consistent watcher of San Jose would say. Nor would anybody on an opposing team be likely to say "well, you know, the one thing about Nabby is that we really know we're not going to get one by him in a big moment of a big game".*

"In my opinion, tandems only work when there’s a true veteran in the mix, or both goalies are capable of going on very intense winning streaks."

What the fuck does this even mean? That second part means "tandems work when one guy starts and wins a lot of games", which...well, hard to argue with that, but what in blue hell is a "true veteran"? Are they better at being in tandems than fake veterans? Or do they suck compared to ersatz rookies?

His basic point--Nabby's been a good goalie for 10 years and Tampa Bay doesn't have pro-caliber goaltending right now--is obviously true; dressing it up in all this weird, incoherent pontificating, though, serves that point poorly, like a falsified novice goalie with a skinny, amateur puck-stopping scope.

-Collision, pushing a guy onto his own goalie

*I want to be fair: 40-38 career playoff record, .913, 2.29--these are outstanding numbers, and I believe he's a very good goalie. I just don't believe his "intangibles" are worth anything, and I defy Goalie Guild Justin or anybody else to provide actual examples of these...


Jew Grimson and I had a date to argue through the latest resumption in the hostilities between the currently-out-of-the-playoffs 'Hawks and the currently-tied-for-first Avalanche. Grimson had something come up--probably despair over the prospect of watching Marty Turco--so I had to riff the game essentially solo. Which is part of the reason this post will be half game-notes and half season-so-far. I can't bring myself to bang out notes on most of the games, because I'm already in playoff mode, where every win launches me into a 70/30 relief/yay split and every loss forces me into rageboodespairhate tailspins. I'm really a lot of fun to be around.

Grimson weighed in with a predictably muddled prediction:

5-2 Blackhawks, both Avs goals=Stastny, Toews with 1, Keith with 1, & Stalberg & Skille for the rest

I posted up at a local watering hole a bit early, wetting my whistle and whetting my appetite with a few minutes of Preds/Isles (so you didn't have to). Right as I got the game fired up, the Isles went on the power play, a disturbing, depressing sight.

Isles power play makes me sad, like watching a street kid try--and fail--to run a hustle on a Connecticut senator.
Seriously, the Isles are like a little-kid gang, with Roloson and like 1 other adult telling tales of street fights and honor to children...
The kids fidget & finger their broken bottles, their lengths of pipe & chunks of brick; they dream of spilling blood and earning colors.
Roloson smiles when they talk, but some nights he weeps alone with rage: 'they're just *kids*' he rasps 'and they never got a chance to be'.
He's still man enough to protect them, still fool enough to think it's the right thing to do. Eventually they all embrace doom.
Not entirely sure why I was thinking about Gladiator at Law...

I had a realization recently: I kind of hate the Blackhawks sweater. Sure, I still have my Portland Winterhawks jersey, and I even wear it every once in a while, but this "best logo in sports" nonsense has got to get a sock stuffed into it. The colors are horrible and the design is really really busy. Fuck it and fuck the Blackhawks.

Game started pretty fast, both Turco and Andy hung out to dry over and over again. Hawks were pressing, and the Avs were getting behind them pretty regularly, which ended once Turco got the hook. To gain the zone against the Hawks is pretty difficult, requiring a well-coordinated dump-in. There's no way to just chip in the biscuit, chase it down, win some battles, and start your offense. You either have to lug it in, which good fucking luck already, or dump with your wings already heading hard to that spot. The numbers haven't been kind to the Second City skaters this year, but it's impressive how their depleted D corps still makes simply setting up your offense a degree-of-difficulty move.

Hawks did what the Sharks did a lot in the playoffs last year, gaining the zone mostly with soft cross-ice dump-ins. Not sure exactly why this continues to work, whether it's a personnel issue, a certain Av d-man getting targeted, or a hole in Sacco's scheme, which can be addressed positioning-wise... It's a problem, because it consistently works, and allows the bad guys to start cycling, which inevitably results in the Avs getting nervous, running around, ceding the prime territory in front of the net, yielding uncontested shots, and, on a night when Andy wasn't sharp, goal after goal. Several times the Hawks had such dominance that regular-strength shifts looked like power plays. Big, skilled teams really neutralize the Avalanche speed advantage this way; it's a systemic advantage, whereas the fleet-footed Avs squad has to wait for situational moments of advantage. Better scheming may be necessary.

Fairly mediocre fight by John Scott against David Koci--Scott won, but not a dominant effort by any means. Next Koci sighting was him bellowing down the bench before the third, probably at McLeod, who was busily huffing his smelling salts, waving them around and bugging his eyes. Great, great moment.

Avs power play boasted a boatload of the beauteous passing around the horn that drives fans beserk--I'm issuing a half-pass, because they were missing Stewart's bullish bulk and Hejduk's hands. Without these two triggermen, the Avs are composed mainly of setup types. Also they're still--still!--missing the threat of a slapshot from the point. Mueller may bring this, but with his concussion nightmare, it's probably best to view him as a promising prospect, not as a guy who's terribly likely to come back. So I have no idea where this necessary weapon is going to come from.

As for the end? Well, Dater declared the game another typical not-ready-for-prime-time performance, with maybe 5/6 minutes to go and the Avs down for the first time in the game. I countered, weakly, with little more than nominal hope, a gesture at hope.

Then, as the game logs all recount, Matt Duchene and Tomas "New Kid on the Block" Fleishmann scored a minute apart, and I was stalking around the bar fist-pumping and scaring the shit out of the 3 people still there, all of whom were watching football idly. (Best comments from a young couple were "hey, this is a good-ass hockey game" and, when we were talking about the fight "yeah, I saw that...your boy got his ass lit up." Which, well, look: Koci didn't win that fight, all right, fine, I get it. But I've seen John Scott light up a dude, and Koci didn't get lit up. He said, defensively, for the second time in a single post.)

Bonus conversation after the game w/ Bogdan von Pylon! VP suggested that Turco might hang it up*; I say noway he does anything but hang out, take the high road, act like the classy veteran, and hope desperately that the team carries him to a cup. Is this going to happen? No. Is everything dark and sad for the Blackhawks? Also no! John Scott is a legit bad man who will blacken many an eye, and that will soothe some, and for a coach as quick with the hook as Big Q, I've gotta believe that Turco's hugging pine and wearing a ball cap for the rest of the year. So you got that goin' for ya.

Because there's noplace else to put this, Marek Svatos and Marty Skoula get beat down and Skoula gets hospitalized in this massive brawl and Tyler Arnason is still walking around a free man. Good looking out, universe. Also, way to go after Svatos--that 5-10, 185 menace is a really impressive notch on any bully's belt.

-Collision, having a Koci-like day

View from the other side. Nice work.

Hawks logo stolen from Cool site.

*McLeod has scored on Brodeur and Turco this year--plus somebody else who I forget**--and I think it's pretty likely anybody he scores on this year will and should retire. Highlander Farewell Tour 10-11, MOTHERFUCKERS!

**Looks like that third goal was against Columbus? Which, they have a team and some goalies and stuff, so...neat! Also, as mentioned: farewell.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Paul Stastny Is an All-Star (in my Pants)

Couple weeks back, Jew Grimson--the grimy weeper--and I were back-n-forthing about the upcoming All-Star Game. With the new format, we might actually see the 8 best centers in the the game, unencumbered by the limitation of picking the top 4 each from the East and West. So, naturally, the topic of Toews (OH-VER-RATE-ED! boo!) and Stastny (THE WORLD'S...GREATEST...THIRD-LINE CENTER...IN THE WORLD! yay!) came up.

Grimson thinks "Top 5? No way. Top 8 Maybe." I went home and pounded through all my magazines and came up with the following list.

Stastny: 81 games played, 20 goals, 59 assists, +2, 50 PIM, .5 faceoff percentage.

Guys What I Admit Be Better'n Stastny1
Malkin (67, 28-49, -6, 100, .4)
Crosby (81, 51-58)
Backstrom (82, 33-68)
Thornton (79, 20-69, 17, 54, .539)
Kopitar (82, 34-47, 6, 16, .497)
Datsuyk (80, 27-43, 17, 18, .551)

Guys What I Consider 'Bout the Same (Tie Goes to the Guy with His Dad's Name in the Rafters)
Sedin (82, 29-83)
Getzlaf (66, 19-50, 4, 79, .474)
Toews (76, 25-43, 22, 47, .573)
Staal (70, 29-41, 4, 68, .418)
M. Koivu (80, 22-49, -2, 50, .569)
Sharp (82, 25-41, 24, 66, .517)
B. Richards (80, 24-67, -12, 14 .515)
M. Richards (82, 31-31, -2, 79, .507)
Carter (74, 33-28, 2, 38, .524)

No Thanks
Antropov (shockingly high numbers last year) (76, 24-43, 13, 44, .434)
Weiss (80, 28-32, -7, 40, .524)
Plecanec (82, 25-45, 5, 50, .49)
Zajac (82, 25-42, 22, 24, .529)
Tavares (82, 24-30, -15, 22, .475)
Spezza (60, 23-34, 0, 20, .505)

Obviously, I rate faceoffs pretty highly--and note that at the moment, Stastny is taking as many faceoffs as anybody not named Sidney Crosby. I also rate--maybe overrate--durability, and don't have much use for 30-goal scorers who end up a minus on the season.

So...according to my metrics, The World's Best Third-Line Center...IN THE WORLD is no worse than the 7th-best center in the game, essentially the same as Toews: both top-notch two-way centermen who are a notch below Datsuyk in that category.

In case you were wondering.

Now, does that mean he'll be an All-Star? I doubt it. Every name above his on the list is really likely to make it (maybe not Kopitar, still underrated and on a slumping team as I write this), Toews is a lock, based on reputation and last year, and you've got to think the Flyers will contribute at least one center. Which is more or less why I'm writing this: Stastny won't make it, but he deserves a bit more pub than he gets.

-Collision, 1 assist, +2, 7 PIM

1This is mostly based on my sense of how last year's numbers reflect average years they could be expected to have going forward, taking into account Stastny's 5 year, 33 million wing-wang contract.

Image stolen from: