Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Can Bufallo avoid playing a road game outside of the NYC area?

(cross-posted belatedly from Marginal Utility)

The seedings are set. Burnside's first-round pick against the Swampers has once again gone down in flames, with the final game producing only one even-strength goal. The seeding, not to mention my optimal scenario, would not have the Sabres play a road game outside of the NYC area unless they reach the Stanley Cup Finals.

BUFFALO (1) v. NY Rangers (6). As noted previously, the Sabres didn't look fast against the Islanders. But I'm more inclined to attribute that to the team they played also being fast. Against the clutching, aging Berubes, expect a return to form.

But what the Berubes lack in speed, they make up for, sometimes, in scoring ability. The bad news is that, during the regular season, they scored precisely as many goals at the Sabres gave up.

The two teams split four games in the regular season, with the visitor winning all games, but their last meeting was December 1st. And Ryan Miller is not the alternating goalies that Bob Hartley used. Look for the Rangers to take two games at most; I'm expecting a sad but proud MSG after elimination in Game Six.

OTTAWA (4) v. New Jersey (2). My heart says this goes seven, and Brodeur wins the final game.* But the Senators are a stronger team than Tampa Bay, got some rest, and have some history to avenge. I would love to be wrong here—the Devils are starting to score, and Brodeur hasn't given up an even-strength goal in nearly three games—but Ottawa in six appears the way to bet.

*My heart also feels strange about Dany Heatley now that he's not playing for the Thrashers, but this isn't a Bertuzzi thing by any stretch—more cheer that he did not become another Vladimir Konstantinov. It's nice to see him able to play at all and the possibilities the Thrashers had when I was in grad school are nearly a hockey-career-generation past.

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New York Area Professional Hockey Update

(cross-posted belatedly from Marginal Utility)

No, I didn't expect the Berubes to sweep the Thrashers.

I had been thinking all week about writing a post about my naivete in taking Scott Burnside at his word in this post when he said they one thing I wanted to hear:
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.

I noted at the time that they were "Burnside's words, not mine," but I believed them.

For most of Games 2 and 3, and for the second period of Game 4, Brodeur looked human.

Since then, he's been Brodeur. And tonight he reminded everyone why, even those who would pick Roberto Luongo around whom to build a team (due to the age difference), there's no better right now.

As the Anonymous commenter said in the previous post at Marginal Utility, "Not to mention that [Burnside] takes shaky TB goaltending tandem to out duel Brodeur in game seven at The Swamp." That would have to happen now for the Lightning to take the series. Not currently the way to bet.

As for the series involving two New York State teams, I've noted elsewhere and before that I will never begrudge Buffalo getting a break from the officiating. But it would have been nice to see them have to go another game or two, since my best-case scenario right now has the Sabres playing every game in the first two rounds in the State of New York. As a friend who has managed to watch their games said, though, "I thought Buffalo was a fast team during the regular season, but the Islanders [played] right with them."

The future is encouraging.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

One Down, 2007 Version

It was more thrilling than I would have liked, but it went more according to my analysis than Burnside's.

Yes, Lecavalier and St. Louis scored, but no one else came close. And the "sick bay"—Gionta, Gomez, Elias, and Madden—produced a goal (Gionta) and four assists (Gomez three, Elias one), while Parise (+2) scored two goals

Meanwhile, Dan Boyle had an assist (on the power play) and was -1 on the night for Tampa Bay, while Lecavalier and St. Louis (both +2) played as well as could be expected.

It took just over a minute to break the tie.

I remain optimistic, more confident in Scott's prediction (which is probably my best-case scenario against Tampa Bay's offense) than Burnside's or even The World's Most Dangerous Professor.

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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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