October 31 2011 02:26AM
All Hallows Eve is here in all its glory, with children headed to the door this evening in search of treats their parents would never let them near any other night, and those same parents openly regretting the sugar rush they're about to bestow on said urchins. Of course, for those of you in between those ages, Hallowe'en is about other pursuits, and those are perfectly fine as well. As an aside, when did this copious skin baring business start in earnest? When I was in university in the early 80's, you'd only see someone in their knickers if you were dating them, and even then it was iffy ;-) I'm not complaining, mind, just attempting to fill the gaps in my knowledge base.
Anyhoo, let's get to it. In this aggregation of notes, the Leafs hit a roadblock in the nation's capital, the Oil are cruising for now, and Vancouver snaps out of their funk with a bang.
Toronto followed Saturday's victory over the Pens with a bit of a scroungy performance against the Senators. The Leafs have been riding fortune a touch thus far, with outshooting numbers that would suggest that long term success isn't quite assured as of yet, and they were outplayed at EV by their provincial rivals Sunday night.
All that stipulated, one player who looks like he's finally making the leap to proper first pairing defender is our old pal The Dion. In those same outshooting numbers I posted above, you'll note that when Phaneuf is on the ice at EV tied, the Leafs have over 60% of the shots go their way. That's damned good even if he's getting a bit of lift in term of Zone Starts (55% OZone).
Ron Wilson's comments to the effect that Dion's the best at his position are premature, obviously, since we're talking about a sample size of 10 games, but Phaneuf's been good. Wonder if Darryl Sutter, when he's not planning world domination or whatever the hell he's up to these days, ever thinks he might have erred? Nah.
Edmonton finished the month with a fully legitimate win over St. Louis on Sunday, running out to a nice lead on the merits before closing the Blues out for a 4-2 final. As I alluded to in last week's column, Tom Renney has handed Horcoff and Smyth the heavy lifting so that the kids can prosper, and it's worked like a charm to this point, with Smyth collecting a pair of goal this evening.
What lies ahead, though, might tell the tale of Edmonton's season. They play 10 of the next 12 away from the Rex thanks in part to the annual CFR invasion, and if the Oilers are legit, we should get a better indication of it when their young players can't be sheltered quite as completely.
Sort of on this general topic, and as a service to Bruce McCurdy, who asked this question tonight via the Twitters, I compiled the difference between the eight Western Conference playoff teams' overall Fenwick number (EV shots and missed shots combined, expressed in percentages) with their performance when the game was tied, so that the score effects might be shown. Bruce's contention is that winning teams will have markedly lower overall Fenwick numbers because they get out in front and proceed to sit on the lead. He's not wrong about the point in general, but the degree that Edmonton has done so to this point is likely unsustainable:
As an FYI, the Oilers are on the same sort of points pace that Vancouver managed over the entire 10/11 season, so if the Oilers were sitting back in merely normal fashion, one might have expected the team with one of the best records in recent times to have the same type of spread. Not so. The only team even within 2 standard deviations of the Oilers' performance was Nashville, a team notorious for sitting back to an extreme level. One other note: it's really, really, early, so small sample sizes, the bane of any statistical analysis, are running the show here. I'll look at these numbers again in a month or so, and we'll see if Tom Renney has invented a new way to play hockey, or if things have begun to even out.
In an unrelated matter, Andy Sutton will get his time with John Law later today for his shot at the coconut of Gabriel Landeskog. I know the league uses in-person hearing for more serious cases, which might make one think he's headed away for a stretch. 6-8 games seems to be where the consensus is, given Sutton's repeat offender status, but after seeing Wojtek Wolski get nothing for his drive-by on Daniel Alfredsson Saturday afternoon, I'm wondering if we're headed back to Wheel of Justice territory.
The Canucks launched Washington on Saturday, as the Caps chose to spend most of the first period in the box, just as they had during their visit to Edmonton earlier in the week. The Canucks scored two PP goals and were on their way from then onward.
One of Vancouver's early season leaders is Chris Higgins, as the well-traveled forward appears to have a home on the west coast. Regulars to this feature at Flames Nation will know two things about this particular subject, the first being that I have a lot of time for Higgins as a player, and the second being that I take a shot at Eric Francis every time I get a chance;-)
EF, in an ill-considered tweet at last year's deadline, described Ales Kotalik as being equal to Higgins as a potential contributor, and questioned why on earth the Flames would consider re-acquiring the New Yorker. I've asked Pat Steinberg a couple of times if he'd query Eric about that, with no joy, but I'm genuinely curious to know his answer.
A few wins have quieted things a touch in Cowtown, although the rumours around Rene Bourque seem to continue on, as Lyle Richardson noted Sunday. I think Lyle has the basics of Calgary's circumstances down, since the one player that would really get another team's attention, Giordano, isn't going anywhere. As a result, unless a GM bumps his head and decides that Matt Stajan is the guy to push his team over the top, stasis might be the order of the day until February.
One area that still must have the club a bit vexed is the utter inability to generate shots on the PP. The Flames are DFL in that category thus far, averaging fewer than 35 shots/60. Anything north of 50 shots/60 would be acceptable, so you can see the gulf the club needs to breach in order to just be roughly competent. They aren't a bad team at EV, and Kipper looks OK so far, so special teams are the place to make a bit of headway.
That goes for Winnipeg as well, and then some, although most of their PK problems are related to sub-standard work in the nets, since the shots allowed figures aren't terrible. At any rate, poor special teams are the primary reason the club is in 14th at the moment, since the Jets appear to be more or less OK at EV.
One of the players that has been a pleasant surprise to this point is Alex Burmistrov, even if the boss did give him a time out early in the third period Saturday evening, as the Jets searched fruitlessly for an equalizer in Tampa. That small hiccup aside, the 20 year looks like the real article when he has the puck, and if he, Antropov, and Kane continue their time as a trio, they might finish the year as the club's best line.
Are the Bruins really whining about being mistreated by the officials? Really? Really? I'll put this as directly as I can, and pardon the phraseology if you will. As enjoyable as non-Canuck fans might have found the result, fairness compels me to note that Boston played like utter dickheads in last year's final, and the fact that the league chose to officiate those games like they were being played in 1977 was ultimately to their benefit. This year, they've often played like utter dickheads with the standard post-lockout rules being enforced, and they've paid the price. I'm sure I can find a tissue for them somewhere.
Marty Brodeur's shoulder is still acting up, with the Devils' netminder advising Tom Gulitti that it might never fully heal. New Jersey is a fringe team even when healthy, and given that the team has some financial issues, watching them scuttle along in the middle of the pack leads me to wonder if they might not be ripe for a salary dump or two come the deadline.
It's actually an odd thing to watch the Devils in their current state. Loophole Lou has been regarded as one of the league's savviest GMs for the last two decades, but his recent signature move, signing Kovalchuk, was openly bad, and his relationship with his best forward has been somewhat contentious. They just have the appearance of a team with a few nice pieces that's going absolutely nowhere, and that's even after Travis Zajac returns. As a Flames' fan, I hope you can trust me to recognize a team that's on the treadmill.
Cash on the Barrel Head:
Matthew Hulsizer's pusuit of the Blues might finally be nearing some sort of end point. The former Coyotes suitor signed a purchase agreement for the club a couple of days ago, for a rumoured figure in the 190M range. The purchase price includes the lease for the arena as well as the Peabody Opera House, which was not part of the original offering. NHL owners are always searching for extra dollars to fund their clubs, so it's possible that Hulsizer needed the concert revenue from an extra building as a sweetener to complete the sale.
Weren't the Coyotes supposed to be sold to Greg Jamison by now? It's been pretty quiet down in the desert, which might be a nice change from the way that business has been conducted in the past by Glendale's city council, but I just wonder where the actual non-taxpayer money will ever come from to float that team. Wonder if Jay-Z is interested?
That's all for this time. We'll be back next week with a special edition from the city that never sleeps.