March 13 2011 07:36PM
The round up comes to you this time around from Austin, with nothing but Shiner, brisket and hipsters as far as the eye can see. The first two are good for certain, and because I'm a very tolerant man, I'll should be able to manage being in the presence of a bunch of Lambert-esque types until next Saturday night with minimal fuss.
At any rate, in this week's review of matters near and far, the Flames hit a patch of turbulence, the Flyers' lead atop the East shrinks, and the concussion issue isn't just an undertone any more.
The club lost a difficult game to the Canucks last night, and it was yet another occasion where Calgary's special teams showed up as a poor second to those deployed by Vancouver. Through the first five games of the season series, the PP is 1-17 while giving up 7 PP goals in 20 chances. The Flames aren't completely uncompetitive at EV against the Canucks, but they certainly aren't better, and they'd have to be by a fair margin to overcome that sort of differential. Shooting 5% on the PP compared to Vancouver's 18% doesn't aid matters, but the differences in the two club at 5v4 go beyond the percentages.
Calgary has had the man advantage for about 32.5 minutes in 5 games, generating 20 shots in that time. That works out to a rate of 36.9/60, or about 5 shots/60 less than the full season numbers posted by the Oilers, who sport a league worst 41.7/60. The Flames have averaged 48.4/60 for the full season, so they fall off by about a quarter when they play the Dys. The Canucks are middle of the pack in terms of allowing shots 5v4 at 50.6, so it isn't like the Flames are facing some sort of PK juggernaut, either.
The numbers aren't much better looking when the Flames are down a man. Calgary has allowed Vancouver 39 shots in 35 minutes of PP time, or a rate of 66.7/60. That's about 20% higher than the Canucks' normal rate of 55.1/60, and the Flames normally allow 48.3 shots/60, which certainly might lead one to believe that there's a mix of personnel and tactical issues at work.
Calgary does look a step slow every time they end up chasing the Sedins around, which I suppose puts them in the company of virtually every other team in the NHL, but it's still a problem if these two face each other in the playoffs, and I suspect it's an insurmountable one.
The one other thing that struck me last night was that the Flames could use another decent forward and an actual NHL defender irrespective of the opposition, so one has to wonder why Jay Feaster even bothered with the two moves he made at the deadline. He wasted a 7th on Modin by the looks of it, and Brett Carson isn't going to play again absent injury, which means that the team's depth is not significantly better than it was before the end of February. As an aside, it isn't like they need the help, but the addition of Higgins might well aid the Canucks quite a bit. Useful guy, that one.
That lack of improvement in personnel has really sealed the team's fate for this year, because they needed those extra players to have any hope at all to win a series, at least to my eye. I try to be a realist in these matters, and I'm not going to shine things up here. Calgary's record against the West's potential playoff teams isn't very good at all. The club is 15-18-4 against every team from 11th place Minnesota up, with 8 of those 15 wins coming against Dallas and Nashville.
7-18-4 versus Vancouver, Detroit, San Jose, Chicago, Phoenix, L.A., Anaheim and Minnesota doesn't fill me with optimism, and the Flames aren't unlucky to have that sort of record against those clubs. Calgary has done a good job in killing off a lot of bottom feeders to get in position, but until I see them outplaying good teams more than once every few weeks, I'm not jumping on any bandwagon.
Are the Oilers still really on the recieving end of karmic payback for the good fortune they enjoyed in the '80s? Sam Gagner is the latest victim of the Curse of the North Saskatchewan, losing a battle with Ryan Jones' skate blade the other night while sitting on the bench. Samwise joins Penner, Hall and Hemsky on the list of Oiler scoring leaders that have been traded or hurt in the last two weeks, so if I were Jordan Eberle, I might think about asking out of the lineup until next fall.
The perp in the Gagner affair got a going over from the folks at Copper and Blue, with Jones' scoring chance numbers under the scope, and they aren't pretty for the pending UFA. 3 years at 2M a year sounds about right, Tambo ;-)
The West has a really compelling race for the last 4 or 5 playoff spots, with a bunch of decent teams scuffling about in the mix. The East, meanwhile is really down to a battle for 7th and 8th, with half a dozen teams left, including the Leafs, who dug themselves out just in time to knock off Buffalo last night.
It would be an unlikely occurence if Toronto made it in to the second season, particularly with a goal differential in the -20 to -30 range. The worst team by differential to get in since the lockout was Boston in 07/08 at -10, so unless the Leafs really go on a run, any playoff berth on their part will speak more to the poverty of the East's last 8 or 9 clubs than any excellence brewing at the ACC. Well, at least on-ice excellence, since their off-ice performance is hard to question.
Another team still alive is Atlanta, who came from way down to beat Philadelphia in OT last night. They aren't very good, either, and to be honest, the two best clubs in the race might be the Rangers and New Jersey. Jersey's continuing roll is something else, and as Matt Fenwick sort of pointed out, should remind people that percentages always bounce back to at least some degree.
Meanwhile, the rumblings about a Flyer collapse are beginning to grow, with Daniel Briere pointing the finger at complacency. The usual questions about their goaltending are still bubbling under the surface, but Bobrovsky and Boucher have been servicable, and the last few seasons should have shown that mere servicability in net is the requirement for a team to win a Cup. If Pronger is healthy, they're still a good team with a fine forward corps, so I wouldn't take too much pleasure in any current struggles.
Headshot, boom :
The league's main story over the last few days has been the newly inflamed debate over the way players treat each other on the ice. Max Pacioretty's Chara-assisted impact with the stanchion has been the talking point since Monday night, and the week since has had all sorts of back and forth on the issue, a couple of Montreal based companies rattling a sabre or two, and a slightly suspect rumour from Bob McCown regarding the future of Sidney Crosby tossed into the mix just for fun.
The GMs are meeting in Florida with all of this noise going on, and no matter what does or doesn't get done, I do hope that entire suite of bulding, equipment and behavioral issues gets examined. As prominent as the specific matter of headshots and brain injuries has become, there's a whole range of OSH issues that the league and players should be confronting. Darren Dreger noted a couple of weeks ago that Calgary's glass will be replaced this summer. I simply wonder why it took this long for the change to be made. Is it some sort of newly-solved mystery that seamless glass was a potential hazard due to the lack of give?
Helene Elliot's column that I linked above has a few folks talking the talk regarding rink safety, but it's clear that both the league and players have some catching up to do in terms of equipment as well. Better helmets and softer shoulder/elbow pads should be mandated.
This decades-long practice of letting players use whatever they want is just asinine for an industry that grosses in the range of 3 billion a year and given that the NHL uses its better players as the linchpin in the marketing strategy, you'd thnk that the league and PA might see a worthwhile benefit in keeping those men on the ice. There are always risks inherent in the game, but the stubborness both the PA and league have shown in mitigating those risks is out of step with what should be a shared interest in the good health of the employees.
The issue of player behavior is likely the one that will be hardest to change, since the competitive nature of the game always has the potential to push players beyond good sense. Still, the NFL has established a set of rules to limit contact to the head as much as possible. Is that game less violent? Are the players less driven? I doubt it, and the NFL game is about as entertaining as ever. I can't really see why taking away head contact will make the NHL less compelling. I know that I seem to end up repeating this point virtually every time the subject gets raised, but I hope that the league doesn't require a few guys getting crippled or worse before the penny drops.
That's all for this week. If you see anything that you're interested in, leave a link in the comments.