Thursday, April 12, 2007

Scott Burnside Does It Again

I mentioned earlier that Scott Burnside holds low expectations for the New Jersey Devils. But I never expected to see something this skewed.

Understand, I believe the Lightning are going to be a dangerous team for New Jersey to face. But there's a rule of reviewing that your summary follows from your analysis. Let's check Burnside's analysis:

  1. The Devils' sick bay. Burnside notes that the Devils are healthy and together for basically the first time all year, ending with "but their durability and productivity will bear a close watch."

  2. Patience, patience, patience. His conclusion: "The Devils ranked first in the NHL in fewest penalties taken per game (10.1 minutes), so beating them five-on-five will be crucial for the Bolts." No discussion of the Lightning.

  3. Scoring, anyone? This is really a recapitulation of the first point: "With the aforementioned top point producers still hobbled, it'll be up to young guns Zach Parise (31 goals to lead the team) and Travis Zajac (17 as a rookie) to shoulder more of the load." The way they've been doing all season. In fact, it will be up to them to shoulder less of the load.
    1. And about that other point? "The conference's No. 1 seed, Buffalo, scored almost 100 [92, actually] more goals than the Devils." Yes, that would be an issue, if they were playing Buffalo. Also an issue would be that Buffalo gave up half-a-goal more each game (41 for the season). If they were playing Buffalo.

      They're not. They're playing Tampa Bay which scored 37 more goals than the Devils [which means 92-37 = 55 less than the Sabres, making the above comparison even sillier] but also gave up 60 more [3/4 of a goal a game].

  4. The Brodeur factor. This is an outright rave, as it should be:
    Effervescent Brodeur is coming off a sensational season that saw him establish a new record for wins in a season (48). He finished third in save percentage and goals-against average while playing more than any other netminder in the league. With Brodeur having played in 78 games, the theory is that, at some point, he will begin to wear down. It's more wishful thinking on the part of opponents than a real theory, though. Even if it does happen, don't expect it to happen in the first round.
    Burnside's words, not mine. Compare to:

  5. Who's minding the net? The Devils enjoy the ultimate in netminding stability with Brodeur, but the picture is a little bit fuzzier for the Bolts. Coach John Tortorella isn't one to coddle his players and has been known to call out any and all, including his goaltenders, a habit that has not endeared him to the netminding fraternity.

So, of the five points, the first might be a speculative negative for NJ; the second is a clear NJ win; the third, if it were placed in the context of Round One and not Round Three, is advantage-NJ, the fourth is an Unqualified Rave for NJ, and the fifth is a data-backed Speculative Negative for Tampa Bay.

So what is Burnside's conclusion (after a Wishful Thinking Key Matchup, a recapitulation of "The Devils Are Injured! The Devils Are Injured!" and an indifferent review of the Lightning's defence?
Given the Devils' injury problems and the attendant paucity of scoring, it might not matter that the Lightning have the worst penalty-killing record of any playoff team. Everyone says goaltending trumps scoring in the playoffs. We take the contrary view here and like the Lightning's superior offense to carry the day. Tampa Bay in seven.

Burnside did the same thing last year, neglecting to consider the Special Teams play of the Devil's opponent in his analysis. This year, he casually mentions it, without noting the magnitude (The Lightning were the worst team in Penalty Kill Percentage in the entire Eastern Conference—including those who didn't qualify for the playoffs—and second-worst in the league, ahead of only the Kings. No wonder the nicest thing he can say about their defence is that "underappreciated defenseman Dan Boyle [-5]" scored a lot)

Unless we conclude that Burnside is blinded by some previously-unrevealed hatred of Lou Lamoriello, the conclusion doesn't follow from the data presented.

The only remotely good news is the suffering of others: if Burnside is correct, the team of at Scott at LG&M and the team of Professor Berube at Crooked Timber (the referenced post is here) will be Unhappy in Seven as well.

But I'm rooting for Scott's team (especially considering their opponent) and wouldn't be surprised to see The Professor's boys playing the Sabres in the second round.*

*Wouldn't be happy; it would mean all of Buffalo's first eight wins [and any losses] would come in New York State, making them formidable in the Conference Finals. Then again, since they are the Old Team, I wish them All the Best. For now.

(Cross-posted from Marginal Utility.)

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