Thursday, March 31, 2011

Well, it's not the defense

Quickie today: over the last 4 games, Lundqvist's numbers have been impossibly good: a save percentage of .982, with a goals against average of 0.49. But before you get too excited, we've also given similar numbers to the aggregate 4-game goalie of Tomas Vokoun, Craig Anderson, Tuukka Rask, and Jhonas Enroth. These four goalies have combined against us, over the last 4 games, for a save percentage of .972, with a goals against average of 0.73.

Those are your numbers for today.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Revisionist Eastern Conference Playoffs 2010

So, with my methods well understood (I hope?), let's look at some data. Last season, you may well recall missing the playoffs by a point. Here's how that broke down:

1. Washington - 121
2. New Jersey - 103
3. Buffalo - 100
4. Pittsburgh - 101
5. Ottawa - 94
6. Boston - 91
7. Philadelphia - 88
8. Montréal - 88

I don't want to sound like a bitter fan, claiming we deserved a playoff spot last season, but let's take a look at what our new, sane point systems would have heralded. Here's the breakdown using the old-school points system (each game is worth two points):

1. Washington - 109
2. New Jersey - 95
3. Buffalo - 92
4. Pittsburgh - 88
5. Ottawa - 88
6. Philadelphia - 81
7. Boston - 77
9. Montréal - 76

And here's how it breaks down using the soccer-style system (each game is worth three points):

1. Washington - 164
2. New Jersey - 143
3. Buffalo - 135
4. Pittsburgh - 134
5. Ottawa - 128
6. Philadelphia - 123
8. Boston - 116
9. Montréal - 112

Rather than looking at the benefits of the soccer system vs. the old-school system, here's what's interesting to me: these new systems seem to agree with each other more than either one agrees with the stupid system we use now. Both new systems agree that the Canadiens are the team that should have fallen short last season, and they agree that Philly deserved a higher ranking. They also agree that Buffalo should have beaten Pittsburgh in points (under the stupid current system, Buffalo was handed the #3 spot due to winning their division, but Pittsburgh actually had more points).

In fact, let's take a look at the one place the two new systems disagree: the #7 and #8 spots. They're actually tied in points: Boston is only handed the #7 spot because of my tiebreaker concession: they have more shootout wins. If we were to do away with the shootout entirely, that tiebreaker would fall to the season series victor, which was the Rangers, 3-1. Which means that without the shootout tiebreaker, the two new systems actually agree 100% on what the standings should have been, and it is not what they were.

I'm not saying we wouldn't necessarily have ended up with the goddamn Flyers representing the conference anyway. I am saying that it's interesting to note that the two sane systems I'm proposing agree with each other in terms of what the playoff picture should be, and that what the NHL actually does seems to disagree. And that we missed out on yet another Rangers-Devils first round.

I wonder if other seasons, or the Western Conference, will see a closer relationship between the old-school system and the soccer-style system than between either of those and the current, stupid system. More to come, when I get a chance.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Different Standings Systems

Hey, so, here's the first in what may or may not be a series of posts about possible systems of standings we could use instead of the really stupid system we use now. To start, let's talk about the really stupid system we use now.

Right now, if a game is tied after regulation, it goes into a 5-minute, 4-on-4 overtime period. If it remains tied after that overtime, it goes into a shootout, which is guaranteed to determine a victor. In the standings, the winner is given two points no matter what. The loser is given zero points if the game ended within regulation, but one point if the game was tied after regulation. This, as mentioned, is stupid.

It is stupid for exactly two reasons. One: the shootout is not hockey, and should not be used to determine points in the standings of a league that plays hockey. This is not immediately mathematically obvious, but is generally agreed upon by almost every single hockey fan that does not own a Sidney Crosby Snuggie. Two: some regular season games are worth more points than others, which is mathematically obviously a terrible idea.

In order to try to reduce some of the obvious stupidity, the GMs agreed to use "regulation plus overtime wins" as the first tiebreaker in the standings. In other words: if two teams are tied in points at the end of the regular season, the higher spot in the standings will go to the team that got more of those points not from the shootout. Good, that's a start. It actually resolves zero of the two issues I listed above, but it's a start nonetheless.

So, to further alleviate (or eliminate entirely) the really unbelievable stupidity, here are two other potential point systems we could be using, each significantly less infuriatingly stupid than the one we're using now. Both systems feature the benefit of using the same exact game structure we use now, just counting points differently.

System A: Old-School, or "do what we did before we started doing the stupid thing we do right now." If the game ends in regulation or in the overtime period, the winner gets two points, and the loser gets zero points. Because the winner won the damn game, which was worth two damn points. If the game remains tied after the overtime, each team gets one point (the two points are split among the two teams, who have tied). Then, because the NHL hates ties, have the shootout anyway, and use it to determine the "winner" of the game. This team gets no additional points in the standings, but records one "shootout win." We can use the shootout wins as the first tiebreaker, so they are not actually meaningless, but they're significantly less meaningful.

System B: Soccer-Style, or "just do what FIFA does, they are smarter than you." If you want to give two points to the winner and one point to the loser of every game that goes into overtime, fine. But then games are worth three points. So make a game worth three points! If the game ends in regulation, the winner gets three points and the loser gets zero. If the game ends in overtime or a shootout, the winner gets two points and the loser gets one. Holy shit two plus one is three you guys.

So, there are plenty of reasons that either of these systems would be all hells of kinds of superior to the one we use now. Most of them simplify to "the system we use now is stupid," so I won't go into that now. Here's what's cool, though: we can play "What If?" With the magic of arithmetic, we can find out how previous seasons since the lockout would have ended, if the NHL were using either of these obviously better systems instead of its astoundingly stupid one. Here are my methods:

First, the old-school system. If a game ended in regulation, we currently do exactly what we want in the old-school system (2 points to the winner, 0 to the loser), so no change needs to be made. If a game ended in the overtime period, we currently award 2 points to the winner and 1 to the loser, and we should award 2 to the winner and 0 to the loser, so each team needs to lose one point per loss within the overtime period. Then, if a game ended in a shootout, we still award 2 points to the winner and 1 to the loser, and we should give one point to each instead. So each team needs to lose one point per shootout win. So, for each team, if we subtract the number of times they lost within an overtime period and their number of shootout wins from their total points, we will get the number of points they deserve in the old-school system.

As for soccer-style, if a game was tied after regulation, we currently do exactly what we want (2 points to the winner, 1 to the loser). However, if a game ended in regulation, we currently give 2 points to the winner and 0 to the loser, whereas we should give three to the winner (and 0 to the loser). So each team needs to gain one point per regulation win. For each team, if we add the number of times they won in regulation to their total points, we will get the number of points they deserve in the soccer-style system.

Coming up next (possibly): some results! (I've calculated them for the Eastern Conference for every season, I haven't done the Western Conference yet at all. I'll post these results if I have time today or tomorrow.)

Rollin' rollin' rollin'

Hey so last week was Matt Cooke Week and then I was in a wedding over the weekend, but a lot has happened that was Positive, from a Hockey Perspective!

We just keep on winning hockey games, first of all. We're 6-0-1 in our last 7, and we're 8-1-1 in the last 10. Meanwhile, the Canadiens have lost a couple, and the Devils have lost enough that even Kovalchuk admits they're probably done for the season. As we keep winning and the right teams keep losing, we're now tied in points and games remaining with Montréal, in 6th (admittedly, Buffalo is 2 points behind us with a game-in-hand). So if Buffalo wins that game-in-hand, 6th, 7th, and 8th are all tied in points and games remaining.

More importantly, we've got a growing gap between us and the 9th-place Hurricanes, and the other teams that we previously considered to be in the race are becoming less and less likely. Here's where things stand right now:

5. Tampa Bay - 91 pts, 7 GR
6. Montréal - 87 pts, 6 GR
7. NEW YORK RANGERS - 87 pts, 6 GR
8. Buffalo - 85 pts, 7 GR
9. Carolina - 80 pts, 7 GR

I'm leaving Toronto, Atlanta, and New Jersey off from now on, barring miracles.

Tonight, nothing of import. Tomorrow night: Sabres at Toronto and Hurricanes at Washington at 7:00, Thrashers at Montréal at 7:30, and in case anyone is thinking about trying to catch Tampa (highly unlikely), the Senators are there at 7:30. Go Leafs, Caps, Thrashers, and Sens.

And as for our remaining schedule, not a lot of travel left: we're in Buffalo, on Long Island, and then in Philly before coming to play the Bruins, Thrashers, and Devils to finish the season. If I have time in the next day or two, I will try to post something more interesting than a standings update, but for now, this is good news!

Monday, March 21, 2011


So, sometimes I express myself creatively by writing poetry. My favorite form of poem to write is the double dactyl, which I enjoy for the same reasons all we little nerdlings enjoyed haiku in middle school: the rules are very simple to follow, and the form is short, so they often come out amusing. Here are three double dactyls I wrote today, following the announcement that Matt Cooke will be suspended for the remainder of the regular season as well as the first round of the playoffs.

On-the-ice, with-mal-ice,
Matthew David Cooke will
elbow your head or
collide with your knee.

he thinks that's okay 'cause
he gives to some charities


Flipacoin, rolladie!
Colin (That's l-I-n)
looked at Cooke's elbow of
Ryan McD.

got this one right even
though he's a Pen and there's
no injury!


Listen-up! Wisen-up!
Sir Super Mario:
Campbell did his part, now
it's up to you.

The question now is if
Cooke sees one second of
ice in round two.

A lighter note

Highlights from Puck Daddy's latest What We Learned (which is to say, if it wasn't clear, that all the following funny things were said by Puck Daddy and not by me):

Atlanta Thrashers: Say you're fighting for a playoff spot and have a game against a team you're only four points back of. A good way to help your cause is not to give up an 8-spot to them. I'm just sayin'.

Edmonton Oilers: This just in: Taylor Hall is pretty good. Now with math!

New Jersey Devils: Marty Brodeur on the Devs' Friday loss: 'It's a setback. We were doing well.' Problem is, one more setback and the season might be over. Sucks having to win 10 of 11, but maybe next time don't start out the season 0-184-3 or whatever MacLean did.

New York Rangers: Don't look now, but the Rangers have won four in a row and look fairly comfortable in their playoff position. What do you mean, 'games in hand'?

Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers became the first team in the East to back into clinch a playoff spot. Playing nothing but garbage teams for the past two weeks has really helped bring their game together.

Pittsburgh Penguins: 'Penguins players approve of a committee to study head hits.' Maybe that group will send a CSI team to scrape Matt Cooke's elbow for samples of Marc Savard's and Ryan McDonagh's brain matter.

In Which Mario Lemieux Probably Does Not Write Another Letter

A note before we begin: it is more important that you read these two articles by Larry Brooks than that you read this. Go read those. Then, if you still have time to read about the Rangers, come back here and read this. Thank you.

Man, I used to hate going to the Igloo, but I fucking love going to the Consol Energy Center.

Game started out with a few "huh?" calls: a missed goalie interference here, a trip-that-wasn't-a-trip-at-all there, Dustin Jeffrey sent to the box for something Matt Cooke did, and so on. Nothing remarkable, but a pretty good hockey game. By the second period, which Torts rightly called "brutal," the action was all Pens, all the time. There was no way we were winning this game on our own.

So the Penguins did us a favor and once again became the Flyers, despite Coach Dan Bylsma's continued, appropriate scratching of Arron Asham in the face of slightly more man-games lost to injury than even the Rangers have had this season (I believe the count was 288 for the Pens, 280 for us). I'm not here to debate the cleanliness of Matt Cooke's hit on Ryan McDonagh, which can be seen in all its glory here. Thankfully, few are defending this hit. But imagine me sitting in that arena, watching Cooke go off to the locker room, hearing an arena of Pens fans boo.

Maybe you were booing Matt Cooke for doing something stupid that could end a guy's career. Or at least something stupid that puts his team in a really bad position to win a hockey game. Maybe you were booing your coach for putting the 'A' on Cooke's sweater, thus lifting him up as an exemplar on the Pens. Or your hypocritical management, for using its creepily close relationship with Gary Bettman to whine about this kind of behavior while continuing to employ it. 'Cause there is no way you were booing Cooke's penalties, right?

Anyway, a few minutes later when Matt Niskanen irresponsibly got his stick up in Ryan Callahan's face, cutting open his nose (again, Penguin fans, I assume you were booing due to your disappointment in Niskanen?), the Rangers finally decided to start shooting the puck (the 5-on-3, which started 7:54 into the period, gave us our first shot of that period), and the whole game turned around. Once again, Penguin fans leave the building in shock, and I leave happy.

The question, of course, now becomes how long Cooke gets suspended for. No one is even debating how dirty that hit was, but no one knows what the NHL would do. If we are to listen to the Penguins, through either the owner's complaints that are so well-known by now, or the fans who complained that Trevor Gillies's recent 10-game suspension was too short because he's an obvious repeat offender, Cooke deserves at least the rest of the regular season, and probably however far the Pens go into the playoffs, as well. However, McD skated away fine, and this is a league that historically suspends to the injury, not the action. So, we'll see.

And stop calling them the "'Guins." It sounds stupid.

One more thing: 20-goal scorer watch! I off-handedly said to my girlfriend during some game in December or January, "you know what I would love? If this season, the Rangers had no 30-goal scorers and like 6 20-goal scorers. That would just be awesome."

Well, here we are, with nine games to go in the regular season. Our leading scorer, Ryan Callahan, has 23 goals. Behind him are Gaborik with 22 and Dubinsky and Boyle with 21 each. Stepan's at 19 and Anisimov's at 18. So, a new thing I'm gonna root for is at least one more for Step and at least two more for Arty. I'd love to be rooting for a team with six 20-goal scorers and no 30-goal scorers, wouldn't you?

Anyway, the point is: we come away from Pittsburgh with another two points, and we breathe that much easier coming into the stretch. Nine games to go.

I love going to Consol Energy Center.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


The right teams keep winning, and they keep doing it in regulation time. With the more-likely-out-of-the-picture Leafs beating the closest-to-breaking-in Hurricanes in regulation last night, here's what our little corner of the standings looks like right now:

7. NEW YORK RANGERS - 78 pts, 11 GR
8. Buffalo - 76 pts, 12 GR
9. Carolina - 74 pts, 11 GR
10. Toronto - 72 pts, 11 GR
11. New Jersey - 70 pts, 13 GR
12. Atlanta - 70 pts, 12 GR

(Atlanta is included mostly because I have a soft spot for them: they've got a hell of a hill to climb.) This is a 4-point cushion over 9th place right now, which is a more comfortable place to be than the one we've been in the last couple of weeks. We're back to well in command of our own destiny, and if we can get another few gifts and win another few games, we might even earn ourselves "breathing room," which is a thing I've read about: apparently some teams don't spend the last week of the season scrambling to make it into 8th. Sounds cool, right?

Anyway, here's a thing I might continue doing: looking at what this same set of standings would be if we used a sane point system. I think it might be fun to watch the ending scramble to get into the playoffs as it should be, while comparing it to what actually happens in the crazy land of bad math that is Bettman's NHL. Comment if you have an opinion one way or another about whether or not this remains interesting.

7. NEW YORK RANGERS - 68 pts, 11 GR
8. Carolina - 65 pts, 11 GR
9. New Jersey - 64 pts, 13 GR
10. Buffalo - 64 pts, 12 GR
11. Toronto - 63 pts, 11 GR
12. Atlanta - 62 pts, 12 GR

No commentary on that from me for now. Draw your own conclusions. I'll probably keep showing this.

Oh, right! Tonight's games! Flyers at Atlanta, Devils at Ottawa, Leafs at Florida, and if you're still crazy enough to think we can catch the Habs (who have 5 points and a game-in-hand on us), the Lightning are in Montréal. Also some other hockey: there are 11 NHL games tonight. If you've got nothing to do, sit at home and watch hockey!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Lineup for tonight appears to leave Christensen centering Prospal and Gaborik, but Avery is making the lineup after all. The healthy scratch? Wojtek Wolski, and we should expect a line of Avery-Stepan-Zuccarello. Okay, weird choice, but I'll have fun watching them. Also, looks like Eminger in for Gilroy.

Monday, March 14, 2011

I don't know why I did this

Let's imagine a restoration of sanity: if regulation time ends and the game is tied, the teams play an overtime. At the end of that overtime, the game is over. If either team has won, that team gets two points, and the other team gets zero. If neither team has won, they tie, and each team gets one point. Therefore, overtime games are not worth more than regulation games, which is silly. Also, no shootout.

So, we can actually calculate what this would look like, right now. Today, if a team wins within an overtime period, it gets two points, as it should. No change there. If a team loses in an overtime period today, it gets one point, whereas in the sane system, it should get zero. If a game goes to a shootout, we should pretend it ended there, in a tie. Therefore, each team should get one point. Today, the loser does get a point, but the winner gets two, and would only get one in the sane system.

So, for each team, if we take their total points, subtract one point per loss within an overtime period, and subtract one point per shootout win, we will get the number of points that team would have in a sane point system. Let's take a look!

These are the Eastern Conference standings, right now (listed with goal differential, also ignoring the division-winning thing):
1. Philadelphia (+37) - 91 pts, 14 GR
2. Washington (+18) - 90 pts, 12 GR
3. Pittsburgh (+30) - 88 pts, 12 GR
4. Boston (+41) - 85 pts, 14 GR
5. Tampa Bay (-5) - 85 pts, 13 GR
6. Montréal (+12) - 83 pts, 13 GR
7. Buffalo (+2) - 76 pts, 13 GR
8. New York Rangers (+27) - 76 pts, 12 GR
9. Carolina (-13) - 72 pts, 13 GR
10. Atlanta (-29) - 70 pts, 13 GR
11. Toronto (-30) - 70 pts, 13 GR
12. New Jersey (-28) - 68 pts, 14 GR
13. Florida (-18) - 65 pts, 13 GR
14. New York Islanders (-27) - 65 pts, 12 GR
15. Ottawa (-58) - 59 pts, 13 GR

Here's what they would look like using my sane point system:
1. Philadelphia (+37) - 85 pts, 14 GR
2. Washington (+18) - 82 pts, 12 GR
3. Boston (+41) - 80 pts, 14 GR
4. Pittsburgh (+30) - 78 pts, 12 GR
5. Montréal (+12) - 77 pts, 13 GR
6. Tampa Bay (-5) - 75 pts, 13 GR
7. New York Rangers (+27) - 66 pts, 12 GR
8. Buffalo (+2) - 64 pts, 13 GR
9. Carolina (-13) - 63 pts, 13 GR
10. New Jersey (-28) - 62 pts, 14 GR
11. Atlanta (-29) - 62 pts, 13 GR
12. Toronto (-30) - 61 pts, 13 GR
13. Florida (-18) - 56 pts, 13 GR
14. New York Islanders (-27) - 56 pts, 12 GR
15. Ottawa (-58) - 53 pts, 13 GR

What does this show us? Not much, I guess. The same eight teams would be in the playoff picture, but we and the Sabres would be switched. It also puts the ranking much closer to goal differential order. My initial inclination is that this would be a much better way to express how good a team is at hockey, but at the end of the day it gives a team somewhere between 4-5 points (Minnesota, New Jersey) and 11-12 points (Nashville, Buffalo), so it's only responsible for up to an 8-point swing, which is big for teams on the bubble, but statistically unlikely to make a big change in which teams make the playoffs.

Specifically, it shows us that Boston, as their goal differential shows as well, should be higher in the standings than they are, and that we belong a bit ahead of Buffalo. It also shows us that the Devils should be way closer to the playoffs than they are. Fuck the Devils and all, but it's shit like this that makes the NHL kinda bullshit. If overtime games weren't worth more points than regulation games, the Devils' basement-to-the-playoffs run would be realistic, which is shitty 'cause they're the Devils (and fuck them), but it's kinda cool for hockey.

Anyway, I'm not sure why I did this, or what it proves, if anything. But there it is. If I have time, I may go back and analyze the five completed seasons since the lockout to see what ought to be different, if anything.


OK, my apologies for this being exactly what Kevin DeLury posted a few hours ago, but I couldn't not repost this.

Apparently Andrew Gross was interviewing various Rangers today about the Rangers-Islanders rivalry, in anticipation of tomorrow night's game. Of the rivalry, Ryan McDonagh said "It's easy to see it's New York teams, but I don't know the history." So Gross pressed on and asked about the "Potvin Sucks!" chant (one of my favorite Ranger traditions). McD said that he heard it every night, but didn't know what it meant. He said he "figured it had something to do with the goaltender."

So Gross went on to set McDonagh straight on which Potvin sucks and why, going back to Potvin's big hit on Ulf Nilsson on February 25, 1979, which many credit with commencing the chant for the first time. In his piece, Gross goes on to point out that this hit occurred almost ten and a half years before Ryan McDonagh was born.

Not the worst weekend

So, this will mostly serve as a standings update, and the news is pretty good. As you recall, last week, teams had enough games-in-hand over us that, if they won them all, we'd have been out of the playoff picture. However, as they say, you have to win your games-in-hand for them to count, and this was a pretty decent week for them not doing that. The Hurricanes have earned one point of a possible eight in their last four games. The Leafs have earned three of eight in the same stretch. Even the Sabres and Devils lost games in regulation.

Meanwhile, we escaped California with two of a possible four points, in playing zero of a possible two good games. Yes, we battled for a while in San Jose, and yes, the Sharks are very good at hockey. But I can't help feeling like the third and overtime periods were just past our bedtime. Still, we played physical hockey and got enough lucky and enough Lundqvist to earn our way into the silly post-game fun-time that earned us a second point and time to exhale on the plane back to Eastern Standard Time. All things considered, I'll take it.

The bad news is, of course, Erik Christensen scored. He actually looked decent in his return in San Jose: the fact that he's soft was made up for by the rest of our forwards playing physical hockey, and he was able to do some good things with his stick on more plays than just the goal he scored. That would be good news even though I don't like him, except it makes it that much less likely that Sean Avery will be in the lineup as we need him to be down this stretch. Blah blah blah, the usual rant. I'm right, the end.

So, we stole a couple in Cali, the right teams lost now and again, and here's where we stand:

7. Buffalo - 76 pts, 13 GR
8. NEW YORK RANGERS - 76 pts, 12 GR
9. Carolina - 72 pts, 13 GR
10. Toronto - 70 pts, 13 GR
11. Atlanta - 70 pts, 13 GR
12. New Jersey - 68 pts, 14 GR

The Devils still get included, as if they win their game-in-hand, they pull exactly even with Toronto and Atlanta with 70 points and 13 games remaining. So, yes, everyone still has a game-in-hand over us, but it's only the one. And if they all win them, we still end up in 8th, 2 points ahead of the 9th-place 'Canes, and 2 points behind the 7th-place Sabres. Things are tight, but we're definitely in a better place than we were a week ago, despite playing less-than-stellar hockey on the West Coast. So far, so good.

Not much on the docket for tonight: just the Bolts in Toronto. Not the biggest deal, but Tampa could use a big win over a lesser team, and if Toronto could lose a couple more, it would be one fewer team we'd have to seriously worry about. Tomorrow night, on the other hand, lots of shit goes down. We host the Islanders back at the Garden, which is going to be lots of fun. They've been playing good hockey lately (4-0-2 in their last 6), and they always play up for us. We need to come back home and put points on the board - if we try to rely on the Islanders being an inferior team, we will be surprised when we are down by a couple of goals.

At the same time, the Thrashers will be at the Devils, and the 'Canes will be at the Sabres. For those of you paying attention, we want all four of those teams to lose as much as possible. What's most important, of course, is that neither game goes into overtime and therefore gets rewarded with extra points in the standings. Outside of that, clearly, let's go Thrashers, because fuck the Devils. Then, there's Carolina-Buffalo. Thoughts? If Buffalo wins, it gets that much harder to climb into 7th. If Carolina wins, though, we're back to one game from out of the playoffs entirely. Let's go regulation-time endings!

One more thing of note: our goal differential is +27 on the season. That's good for 4th in the conference and 7th in the league, one behind the goddamn Detroit Red Wings' +28. However, like the Chicago Blackhawks (+33 and in 7th), that isn't exactly turning into the wins you'd expect it to: ahead of us in the standings are Washington (+18), Montréal (+12), Buffalo (+2), and Tampa (-5). I'd like to take a look at goal differential compared to total points this season, and I'd like to see how that comparison would look if we used a rational standings system (replace the current point totals with 2 for an OT win, 0 for an OT loss, 1 each for getting to the shootout regardless of victor).

A statistical master named Nilesh's findings here lead me to believe that, in general, goal differential tends to still be a pretty good indicator of total points in the NHL, even with the shootout nonsense (in fact, he found that the Pythagorean Expectation model actually works better than it does in baseball). So are we and the 'Hawks just outliers? More on this, if I find the time to do math this week.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Torts Good and Bad (and whom to root for tonight)

I really don't wanna dive too deeply into this Zdeno Chara/Max Pacioretty stuff. My take is this: it is super-unfortunate. I've seen the hit, which I won't link to here, and it looked totally clean to me. I think labeling it with intent to injure is silly, and I think this news about Montréal police starting an investigation is kinda nonsense. That said, the injury that transpired was horrific, and could easily have been even worse. Everyone's outrage is understandable.

I'm not going to make a statement like "this is the NHL's fault." That's too black-and-white. And I support their decision to not suspend Chara further. However, in general, the focus on supplementary discipline is exactly the problem here. The "New NHL" has made a slight grab around the shoulder or stick tap anywhere on the body an automatic two minutes. In the ideal world of the New NHL, how was Chara supposed to take Pacioretty down? He had the jump on him, and surely, as a defenseman, Chara's job is not to watch Pacioretty skate on by. So, what: hit him softly and see what happens? In 1990, I think Chara sticks an arm out to slow him down a little. But no: the New NHL says that's illegal. So Chara has no choice but to throw his whole (gigantic) body at the guy. And it happens to be in an unfortunate location on the ice (where the New NHL's new boards have a lot less give than they did in the 90s, by the way).

Anyway, I started by saying I didn't really want to get into that. It sickens me, and I think it's another example of how the NHL actively makes decisions that end up making the sport more dangerous. I only bring it up because Torts made some comments on the subject that it's worth reading. He talks about the players "not [being] allowed to police themselves," and I think that's exactly the right way to put it. How many times in the last few seasons have you seen officials break up a fight before it happens? What about assigning an instigator penalty (which is now an automatic 17 minutes, by the way) to the guy who cleanly challenges an opponent who did something nasty to a teammate, while letting "choreographed, pre-arranged" fights (there's a stoppage of play, the coaches line up their "fighters" next to each other, the announcers say "oh boy, I think I know what's coming," and they're off) get off with 5 minutes each? Like that's the good kind of fight?

Now, think hard. When you see officials break up a fight before it happens, or when you see one of these nonsense instigator penalties, do they tend to clean up the game? Does it inspire players to cool down? Or does it make them more agitated, because they didn't have the opportunity to settle things like real men, like hockey players do? Does it maybe cause the game to get more out of hand? (YES, IT DOES.)

The point is: cheers to John Tortorella for calling that out to the media. May more coaches and GMs start to say shit like this, and may the Bettman/Campbell bonehead bifecta ever start to listen to the people who actually know hockey (or, like, retire?).

And, as the post title implies, jeers to Tortorella as well, for the usual: shafting Sean Avery. On a night when absolutely no Ranger forward was good, and when the Wolski-Stepan-Zuccarello line was particularly atrocious, Torts defaulted to his old standby and responded by benching Sean Avery. Avery, who looked no worse than anyone else (Dubinsky and Callahan notwithstanding), and who looked better than many, got a team-low (what else is new?) 8:28, including only 2:01 in the third. This 8:28 was a full 1:50 behind the next-lowest, perennial non-factor Ruslan Fedotenko. For comparison, Wolski, Stepan, and Zuccarello got 12:32, 14:34, and 15:05, respectively, while Avery's "linemates" got 14:36 (Prospal) and 14:48 (Gaborik, who scored despite being unimpressive).

Worse, all signs point to Avery being scratched Saturday night in San Jose, in favor of Erik Christensen. I won't go on another rant here about Avery and Christensen, because it will look like a dozen other posts this season. In short: fuck Erik Christensen, and fuck that move.

Anyway, standings. The Flyers did us a favor and beat the Leafs in regulation last night, but the Bruins gave up a 3-2 lead in the third (with some help from the officials) and lost to Buffalo in overtime. Which puts Buffalo at 74 points, tied with us, with two games-in-hand. Someone needs to start beating these guys, please. As for tonight, we've got the 'Canes in Washington, where Alex Ovechkin really needs to stay hot and win a game in regulation for us. If Carolina wins, the standings become a little more honest, and we officially drop to 9th. We've also got Atlanta at New Jersey. Go Thrash, because if the Devils can lose another game or two, this goddamn "miracle run" talk will end, and we can all go back to laughing at Ilya Kovalchuk a little bit.

I never know how to end blog posts.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


My band had a gig last night, so I didn't even get home and start watching the game until like 12:30. What a waste of staying up until 3 in the morning! Man, that was depressing.

First of all, what are the chances you give up three goals in the first period off of deflections off of your own men in front of the net? 'Cause that was one off of Girardi's skate, one off of Staal's shoulder, and one off of Anisimov's stick. On the first one, I thought, "you know, at least Girardi is making sure there aren't any Ducks in front of the net to deflect pucks in." In general, I guess that's a good sign? The Staal one was weird, but by the Anismov deflection, it was pretty clear that the Ducks were also doing something right. Say, that Bobby Ryan feller is pretty good at the hockey.

You know what the worst part is? Well, no, the worst part is obviously the standings. Of course, the Thrashers-'Canes game went to OT last night. And, as you know, that means Gary Bettman rewards both teams for "keeping the game exciting" by making their game worth more points than a normal, regulation game. So, that sucks. But you know what the second-worst part is? Giving a win to Dan "Mo' Money, Mo' Problems" Ellis! Fuck Dan Ellis! In our long-standing tradition of making goalies look better than they are, we let Dan Ellis make the most saves he's made so far in a game with Anaheim! And he's a jerk-butt!

Anyway, no real constructive comments here. We're a young team, we gotta learn to win games like these, and we will with time, if we stick to the plan. Meanwhile, as far as this season is concerned, things are looking grim. Here are the standings as of this morning:

7. NEW YORK RANGERS - 74 pts, 13 GR
8. Buffalo - 72 pts, 16 GR
9. Carolina - 72 pts, 15 GR
10. Toronto - 68 pts, 15 GR
11. Atlanta - 67 pts, 15 GR
12. New Jersey - 64 pts, 16 GR

It's that "GR" thing you should be looking at. We've played 3 more games than Buffalo and the Devils, and 2 more games than everyone else behind us. So, theoretically, if we were to sit still and let everyone play their games-in-hand, and they all won those games-in-hand, the standings would look a little bit more like this:

7. Buffalo - 78 pts
8. Carolina - 76 pts
9. NEW YORK RANGERS - 74 pts
10. Toronto - 72 pts
11. Atlanta - 71 pts
12. New Jersey - 70 pts

That's us, on the outside, looking in. Not too far behind, but outside the playoff picture nonetheless. At that point, we'd all be looking at 13 games to go. Time to catch Carolina and possibly also Buffalo, but we're really going to have to start to get hot down the stretch here. Buffalo, Carolina, Toronto, and New Jersey all have, and if we keep playing this way-under-.500 hockey, we could find ourselves in, like, 11th by the end of the season. Just sayin', that 7th-place thing is kind of a lie.

Anyway, we're off again until Saturday night at the Shark Tank. Meanwhile, tonight, the Sabres are in Boston and the Flyers are in Toronto. If Philly and the Bruins can do us some (regulation-time) favors, the pressure lessens a little. Late season playoff push: here we go again!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Monday Funday

It's amazing how beating the first-place Flyers 7-0, Lundqvist's league-leading 9th shutout (he was already league-leading at 8, actually), Callahan's first career hat trick (and it was of the Texas variety), Ryan McDonagh's best game yet, Richards challenging and subsequently getting his ass kicked by Dubinsky, calls so bad even the NBC guys got them right, and on top of it all using exactly the lines I wanted to use and scratching exactly the forward I wanted to scratch can all serve to turn a Ranger fan from nervous and depressed to elated in the course of a few hours, isn't it?

Nothing bad to say. Every hockey game should be this much fun. I'll just mention the one thing that everyone will quickly forget after such an exciting day: Stephen Walkom was responsible for all those awful calls, and should be fired.

Now, after beating the Senators and Flyers by an aggregate 11-1 for the weekend, we have a couple of days off before playing in Anaheim Wednesday night, then a couple more before playing San Jose Saturday night. By the next day, the Sabres will have played four games and the 'Canes will have played three, giving them each only one game-in-hand over us. So, it's a good time for those teams to lose some games. Meanwhile, all we can do is chill out and prepare for Wednesday. So, time to let loose with some fun things!

Fun Thing One, by way of Puck Daddy today, an educational film I call "Donald Brashear Shakes His Ass but Does Not Put His Beer Down until He Has Finished It":

Fun Thing Two, by way of this thing that appears to be a Thrashers-ish blog, a long time ago. You may have seen it back when it first made the Internet Rounds? I didn't. It's a music video starring a cute nerd and a ukelele. It's called "Puck the Bunnies," and it's written for those girls you see at every goddamn game - you know the ones. I'm reposting and dedicating it to sometime reader Melanie, non-reader Ruth, the ladies of Some Like It Blue, the ladies of Hab It Her Way, and any other actual female hockey fans who are given a bad name by Puck Bunnies everywhere.

Fun Thing Three, by way of that same Thrashers-ish blog, but recently: a flowchart that will help you decide which hockey team to root for. It's kinda hard to follow, because the creator didn't include, like, arrows on the lines or anything, but if you can follow it, it's worth it, because it's very funny. Way too big to consider embedding here, just follow the linky: This is the linky.

That's all! Go have a good day!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

ToIpP follow-up; oh and we won a game

So, yes, we beat the second-worst team in the league (and the one with the worst goal differential, by the way), by a pretty-resounding-if-you-ignore-the-total-breakdown-we-survived-for-about-ten-minutes-bridging-the-second-and-third-periods score of 4-1. That's certainly better than not beating them. Forgive me if I don't get all excited about it yet. Carolina lost in regulation, which was nice (and yes, the Devils won again). But let's remember the overall standings and games-in-hand situation. We have three games in the next week: Flyers, Ducks, and Sharks. We're gonna need to come away from those games with points. Let's see that happen, then I'll get excited.

Of note: Avery was still given the least ice time of any Ranger forward, but it was much more balanced. He got 11:32 while Christensen got 12:35, Prospal got 12:47, Zuccarello got 13:06, etc. Dubinksy was the only forward with over 20 minutes. Does more balanced ice time for our four lines lead directly to more winning? One game is hardly proof, but there are some numbers for you to think about.

Anyway, I wanted to follow up on yesterday's Time on Ice per Point post, as reader Chris left an interesting analysis in the comments (hooray for comments) and I wanted to make sure everyone saw it. Chris did similar math, calculating how much time on ice a given forward requires to score a point, but factored out all special teams. He used only even strength time on ice and counted only even strength points. The numbers, as he pointed out, look even better for Avery this way.

With stats now adjusted to include last night's game as well, Avery is good for a point every 32:52 of even strength time. This puts him behind Wolski, Gaborik, Stepan, Dubinsky, and Callahan - and ahead of every other Ranger forward. It puts him only 1:46 behind Cally and 2:22 behind Dubi, while he's 3:04 ahead of Anisimov, 4:02 ahead of Christensen, and so on. At even strength, he's one of the top six most valuable Ranger forwards, in terms of raw point production.

So what's the disparity? The difference is that he is never damn used on the power play. The other forwards' numbers are inflated by getting more time on the power play, when it is more likely that you will get points in less time. Avery averages only 25 seconds of PP time per game (ahead of only Brandon "all PK, all the time" Prust), so his Even Strength ToIpP (32:52) is almost exactly his total ToIpP (32:41). Meanwhile, you take someone like Mats Zuccarello, who averages 2:46 on the PP per game. His total ToIpP sits well above Avery's, at 28:49. However, that includes a bunch of power play points, and his actual Even Strength ToIpP is down at 40:07, significantly worse than Avery's.

Big hat tip to reader Chris here, as I think this is a much more relevant way of looking at these numbers. Again, there are a lot of things a hockey player contributes to a team that aren't raw point production, but this is a good way to analyze point production itself.

So this got me thinking: Avery's point production is better than a lot of other Ranger forwards, but his numbers are skewed by: a) low ice time, and b) virtually no PP time. Are those the same thing? Is Avery's shortened ice time simply a lack of use on the PP, or is he shafted on even strength time as well? Turns out: Avery's average even strength TOI per game is 11:17. Near the bottom of the heap (ahead of only Christensen and Prospal), but not by a ton: Dubinsky's is only 14:45, while most Ranger forwards fall between Zuccarello (12:32) and Callahan (13:53). At even strength, it looks like Avery is averaging only a shift or two fewer than he should be: weird, to be sure, but not really ground-breaking.

On the PP, as we saw earlier, Avery is given almost nothing: about 25 seconds a game (compare to Callahan's 3:21, Zuccarello's 2:46, Christensen's 2:10, etc.). This is where the real disparity in ice time comes from: special teams (needless to say Avery has seen a total of 8 shorthanded seconds all season long). So maybe that's the real story here.

Here's what we've definitely learned: those who say Avery doesn't deserve as much ice time as others because, despite his good play, he never finds the back of the net are full of shit. Avery is more productive at even strength, in terms of just raw point production, than the average Ranger forward, and if you want to use raw point production alone, he should be a top-six forward.

Here's what we've probably learned: given his solid production and play, it is still clear that Avery is getting a couple fewer shifts than he should be in each game. This is where the real question for Torts lies: why? What is it that he doesn't like that he's seeing from Avery? Or is it all pre-conceived, having nothing to do with what he actually sees?

Here's what we may or may not have learned: it's time to start trying Avery on the PP? He's proven to be very good in terms of production at even strength, where his ice time is a little lower than it should be, but he's been largely untested on the PP all season long. Meanwhile, our PP is shitty. Maybe it's time to give the Grate One a go.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Time on Ice per Point

So, the one argument that rational people against playing Sean Avery make is that despite all of his good play, he doesn't produce enough. It's a tale that summarizes the whole team's woes of late, but they say Avery gets lots of chances but can't find the back of the net. With only three goals on the season, it's a compelling one (of forwards that have played at least 10 games, only White, Boogaard, Drury, and Newbury have fewer). So, I decided to call on our old friend math, to see if he (or she, ladies!) couldn't help me sort this one out.

Math says that Avery has tallied 3 goals and 20 assists this season, for a total of 23 points. Math (by which, in this case, I mean also says that Avery has clocked 772:43 of ice time this season. This means that he has been good for 1 point every 33:36 that he is on the ice. How does that add up against other Rangers? Math and I had a party, to find out, for you.

Turns out: it adds up to comparable to everyone else. Avery's "Time on Ice per Point" (a statistic I just made up, that everyone everywhere should be using) is third worst among Ranger forwards, but it's actually right in the main mix. Let me explain.

On the "unreasonably good" side, we have Marian "yes, Ranger fans, he actually is still that good" Gaborik, good for a point every 22:57 of ice time. Second, boosted by what those in the statistics business call a small sample size, is Vinny Prospal with a point every 23:39. That will go down over time, it represents only 8 points in just under 190 minutes of play, and it will become a more reasonable number as the season goes by. He's good, but he's not that good.

On the "unreasonably bad" side, we have Brandon Prust, whose "ToIpP" is 39:52. This is largely to be expected: let's remember that this only measures numeric productivity and total ice time, which does not account for things like defensive play. For example, if a dude is a great penalty killer, and finds himself on the ice for every goddamn PK (and is still somehow pulling an even +/- for the season), that's gonna count against him, because it's a lot of minutes that he's on the ice doing a very good job, but not scoring goals. Just under him is the worst forward of the lot, Ruslan Fedotenko, with a 40:31. I don't really have a great excuse for this one, maybe he justs sucks a lot more than some people think he does.

Other than those four outliers, we have a pack of Rangers forwards all huddled together - all 9 remaining forwards (I did not include Alex Frolov, Chris Drury, Derek Boogaard, Todd White, or anyone with fewer games than Prospal) range between Callahan's 27:31 and Avery's 33:36 (Artem Anisimov, for example, edges Avery out by only 7 seconds per point).

So what have we learned? Well, obviously, ToIpP is not a tell-all statistic. It's good to show us how much offense a player tangibly puts on the board, but it doesn't account for a lot of play setup that he might do, or for a lot of defense that he might play. But it does tell us something if a player is grossly outside of where everyone else is (like Prust, who has a good reason for it, or Fedotenko, who maybe doesn't). And it does give us a solid argument against anyone who says a particular player doesn't put enough tangible points on the board, if we can see that his numbers are actually comparable to everyone else's.

OK, so in the name of offering some sort of hope using numbers, there is one statistic that is still good news for us: goal differential. Yes, teams below us, the Devils especially, are winning lots of games, and we're not. Yes, if teams below us won their games-in-hand over us, we'd be outside the playoff picture right now. But our +19 goal differential remains good for fourth in the East (by a comfortable margin of 10 goals) and tied for eighth in the league. Bill "Pythagoras" James tells us that we should be winning some more games here pretty soon.

Without getting into the boring details, the Pythagorean expectation formula tells us we're about 3 points in the standings behind where we should be, based on goal differential. Meanwhile, the 'Canes are about 8 points ahead of where they should be, by the same logic. So, there's some hope in that. It's all meaningless in terms of who makes the playoffs, of course; and in the New NHL, where the majority of teams have winning records, teams are constantly outperforming their Pythagorean expectations. But still, it's something. Maybe better things are to come?


It's getting ridiculous. Once again, we manage to play an entire game from behind, even when we score first. This time, we outshot the Wild fucking 41-19 (they didn't get a shot at all in the first 17:17) but still lost 3-1 (no, I'm not ready to throw Hank under a bus just yet, but the numbers do say that that's a save percentage of .842, to Jose "yes, he's still around" Theodore's .976). This was yet another incredibly frustrating loss.

At the risk of petitions (you know, from my countless readership) to rename this little Slice of Internet "Play Sean Avery," we really need to talk. Our only goal of the game went to The Artist Formerly Known As The Grate One, 3:13 into the first. He was rewarded for this effort with 7:07 of ice time throughout the remainder of the game, almost 3 and a half minutes less than any other Ranger. A whole 1:37 of this came in the third - in fact, Avery was given a total of only 3:49 once we were trailing - and none whatsoever came on the power play (if it can be called that), which went an unsurprising 0-for-4 in 8 full, uninterrupted minutes of shitty.

WHY? Seriously, a cookie to anyone who can give me a theoretically reasonable explanation for Avery's astoundingly limited ice time. For real, I will mail you a goddamn cookie if you can explain this to me rationally.

To clarify: playing Sean Avery is not the answer to all of our problems, which are many and mounting. All I'm saying is that it would fucking help. Those problems, by the way, are finally taking shape in the standings, for those of you who haven't been paying attention. With Carolina's win over Buffalo last night (yes, of course it went to overtime, so it was a 3-point game), we've officially slipped into 8th. Meanwhile, Montréal (whom it's becoming a joke to keep in the conversation about our standings) and Toronto both won as well. And they all still have games-in-hand over us. Let me spell this out for you:

6. Montréal, 77 pts, 17 GR
7. Carolina, 71 pts, 17 GR
8. NEW YORK RANGERS, 70 pts, 16 GR
9. Buffalo, 68 pts, 19 GR
10. Toronto, 67 pts, 17 GR
11. Atlanta, 63 pts, 17 GR
12. New Jersey, 60 pts, 19 GR

Yes, I'm including the Devils on this list. Guess what. If they win their 3 games in hand on us, they will be 4 points behind us. Two games. You don't think they can win two more games than we do down the stretch? Wake up call time.

So there's the reality of the situation. The playoffs, still considered a pretty sure thing as recently as a couple of weeks ago, are more and more in doubt every day. We've still only won two non-shootout games since January 19 (we've played 18 since then). Two points up-for-grabs last night: we got none. Four points up-for-grabs this weekend: two from Ottawa tonight, two from the Flyers on Sunday afternoon. Could we please start winning some goddamn games?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Staal and Fedotenko

Looks like we get both Staal and Fedotenko back tonight. Awesome. Newbury was sent to the Whale already, so that replacement is obvious. On D? I'm thinking Eminger, who got less than 9 minutes in the last game and less than 11 in the previous one, sits out. That's the right move, especially given how Gilroy's been playing lately. Top 6 D-men are Staal, Girardi, Sauer, McDonagh, McCabe, and Gilroy - I like this a lot.

As for the lines? Well, here's what Torts should do:

Dubinsky - Anisimov - Callahan
Wolski - Stepan - Zuccarello
Fedotenko - Christensen - Prospal
Avery - Boyle - Prust

And then he should leave those lines together all game long, and he should given them all good ice time. Here's what he's going to do, I'm betting:

Dubinsky - Anisimov - Callahan
Wolski - Stepan - Zuccarello
Prospal - Christensen - Boyle (three centers)
Fedotenko - Avery - Prust (zero centers)

With those third and fourth lines getting mixed and matched throughout the first period, decreasing ice time dramatically in the second, and ending up mixing everything up and rotating only two lines throughout the third, looking something like:

Dubinsky - Stepan - Callahan
Wolski - Christensen - Prospal
(Everyone else is on the bench)

I guess only time will tell. Better with Staal and Fedotenko than without them, certainly. Let's go Rangers!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Assorted Thoughts on Last Night's Loss

Thought number one: bleugh! So, we lost 3-2 to the team closest to a playoff berth's doorstep. A bad night for us in the standings all around, as we sat in 7th place and gained 0 points, while the teams in 5th, 6th, 8th, and 9th (each of which has at least one game-in-hand over us) each gained 2. Boo, additionally hiss.

Let's see. The game was at home, we lost in regulation by one goal, and we played almost the entire third period in the opponent's zone, getting chance after chance and not finding the back of the net. Sound familiar? Sounds a lot like the game we lost Sunday afternoon in Tampa, huh?

A quick word on the officials. I think maybe Torts was out of line in blaming the officials for deciding the Tampa game, if only because I thought their incompetence also led to Prust's goal counting when it shouldn't have. But that doesn't mean the officiating wasn't awful, and last night's was even worse. From completely unjustifiable calls against the Rangers in the first two periods to blatant ignorance of no-brainer calls missed in the third, I'm not going to say that referees Brad Meier and Dean Morton did intentionally screw over the Rangers because of Torts's comments on Sunday...but there's certainly enough evidence there to corroborate anyone who would make such an implication.


The two forwards I've been complaining about recently are Artem Anisimov and Erik Christensen. Let's talk about it. For a while, I've been on this kick that all Anisimov is good for is a spinorama now and again. I'm disappointed in the way he fails to actually play physically, and I'm fairly convinced that much of his success this season is due to centering Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan. I'd probably rack up a handful of assists and have a badly below-average faceoff percentage pivoting those two also. I mean, for the three shifts I got in before my heart gave out. But, I honestly thought he looked pretty good last night. Better than usual, anyway. If the rest of the guys can teach him to hit people, and he can spend the summer bulking up, I'm willing to keep giving him a chance. Good show.

Christensen, on the other hand, really pisses me off. Whenever I finally start complaining about him out loud to other fans, he turns around and produces a bunch of points. He never actually improves his play, though, is the thing! He gets more ice time because he gets more points, and that's fine I guess? Maybe I just don't understand hockey, but I feel like Christensen just keeps being in the right place at the right time and sometimes not doing the incredibly stupid thing. I guess there's value in that, but it pisses me off that he keeps getting points, while other forwards put forth a much more solid effort and don't get rewards.

To name names, here are a couple: Vinny Prospal and Sean Avery. First of all, I need to come to Prospal's defense here. Yes, he made a dumb play that led directly to the Jochen Hecht's ultimately game-winning goal. But it was exactly the kind of dumb play I like! The puck is out at the point, on a Sabre's stick, and Vinny dives to make the steal. It's an error of a couple of inches, but if he grabs the puck, he's got a hundred-foot breakaway in front of him. He misses, and takes a second to get back, and by then it's too late, but I'm really not convinced I hate that. I sure don't know that I bench him for it, and I certainly don't use "but you're down 2-1 in the third" as an excuse to play differently. I like to see risks like that, and Prospal being 36 instead of 24 don't change that none.

And now it is time for my regular rant on Sean Avery's inexplicably depleted ice time. Sunday afternoon, in a game in which we were just that one elusive spark away from tying it, Avery was given a whopping 4:14 of ice time, including 36 seconds in the 2nd and 18 seconds in the 3rd. Last night, in a game in which we were just that one elusive spark away from tying it, Avery was given a much improved 9:10, all even strength, admittedly better distributed. More than Prust and Newbury, less than any other forward.

I know he's not putting up numbers these days, even when he is getting ice time. But I look at the way he protects the puck with 3 guys on him and the way he eventually gets it out to some Ranger's stick every time, and I'm inclined to not care that his shot is awful; I'd rather have him out there in a pinch than a lot of the other guys that Torts seems to go to first, and I just can't wrap my head around why. It doesn't seem like Torts actively dislikes Avery, more like he default "I don't know what to do now" answer is "stick Avery on the 4th line for a while," and Sean has done nothing to deserve that but play good hockey. I just wonder if a couple of these one-goal losses might not have gone differently if Avery had been given a real chance to be a difference-maker? It's meaningless postulating, I know, but what else are blogs for?

Defense! First of all, small sample sizes notwithstanding (we're 0-2-0 with him in the lineup), I like Bryan McCabe so far. He hasn't yet done anything worthy of scorn as a defenseman, and he's been a presence on the power play so far. Cautious approval. The down side, as Scotty Hockey points out (that's more or less what he does), is that the Rangers already seem to be trying to make McCabe the guy that does the shooting, the trap we sometimes fall into with Gabby. A couple of times last night, Zuccarello should have taken a shot and instead passed it to McCabe for a much worse chance, because McCabe is the guy that does the shooting. Anyway, that's not his fault. Maybe it'll wear off. And he does have a pretty good, quick shot from the point, something we could use.

Meanwhile, I'm going to do the unthinkable here: I'm going to criticize Michael Sauer a little. Not just for being out of position twice in a row to lead to the Sabres' second goal, but I think he's been looking a step behind for a little while now. I'm not saying we cut the kid, I'm not even really saying we should do anything different with his ice time. All I'm saying is he hasn't been the surprisingly solid player over the last few games that he was a couple of months ago. That's okay. Do with it what you will.

Finally, a quick round of applause to Ryan Miller. Not that we couldn't have maybe won the game on our own anyway, but damn if that guy doesn't make it hard to come back from behind. He is good at hockey, from a goaltending perspective.

Onwards and ideally upwards, I guess? It's getting awful hard to look at all these one-goal losses where we worked really hard at the end as one-offs, as the bigger picture tells us we're 2-4-0 in our last 6, 4-8-0 in our last 12, and 7-12-1 dating back to January 13, when we played our most solid 2-way home game of the season and beat the Canucks 1-0. Since then, we have won only three games without the aid of the much-maligned shootout, though we have played 20.

You heard me: four shootout victories notwithstanding, we have won three hockey games decided by actual hockey out of our last 20. Gone are the very brief days when we were referred to as a "possible Eastern Conference contender." We've got the Wild Thursday night, the Senators the following night, and the Flyers again on Sunday afternoon. If we don't start consistently coming away from these games with 2 points, we're gonna find ourselves trying to scrape our way into eighth again come April. Anyone else feel like it's time to stop playing every game from behind?