A very wise man once told me, "You can have the greatest team in the history of hockey, and they can lose in the first round because the other team's goalie plays out of his mind for four games." The converse of what my dad told me is that you can have a fantastic team and lose because your goalie plays like a backup for four games. In the San Jose Sharks case, they lost because their goalie performed like he has since the lockout. It's a shame that it was a sweep, really, because it's pretty clear that these were the two best teams in hockey. Perhaps the Sharks can take the Prince Of Wales Trophy?
The two teams were evenly matched except for that one pesky position. I don't know if the Sharks, their fans or the mainstream media have learned the correct lesson from this playoff run though. The fans are calling for a rebuild and parts of the mainstream media are looking for a big-ticket goaltender. Soon, very soon, executives are going to realize that big contracts for goaltending are not worth it, and that throwing $4,000,000 plus at a goalie with one or two decent years harms their teams in the long run. Until then, we'll have goalies with enormous contracts like Evgeni Nabokov. San Jose's best bet next season? Pay Tomas Greiss and Martin Biron and use the $3,000,000 that's leftover to bolster the rest of the roster.
Scoring Chances for Western Conference Finals,
Games 30321, 30322, 30323, 30324
For those of you who are new to the concept of tracking scoring chances, a scoring chance is defined as a clear play directed toward the opposing net from a dangerous scoring area - loosely defined as the top of the circle in and inside the faceoff dots, though sometimes slightly more generous than that depending on the amount of immediately-preceding puck movement or screens in front of the net. Blocked shots are generally not included but missed shots are. A player is awarded a scoring chance anytime he is on the ice and someone from either team has a chance to score. He is awarded a "chance for" if someone on his team has a chance to score and a "chance against" if the opposing team has a chance to score. Vic Ferrari makes this all possible with his tools to evaluate Corsi, head-to-head ice time and scoring chances.
I'm tracking this series with the Sharks as the home team, so in any unlabeled sequence, the first number is for the Sharks, the second for the Blackhawks.
|Period||Totals||EV||PP||5v3 PP||SH||5v3 SH|
The chances were 53/53 at even strength -- in a four-game sweep. The Sharks were +13 on special teams -- and got swept.
There are a number of interesting things to talk about here:
Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Dany Heatley were winning the battle at home. The narrative was that Dave Bolland was winning their battle, but as we saw after game two, the narrative often lies. At Chicago, not so much. I'm not sure how much of that was due to being on the road and how much was due to Todd McClellan breaking out the Bass-o-Matic on his lineup in games three and four. I think the series may have turned out differently if McClellan would have left well-enough alone, but he would have been torn apart by the hockey media.
- San Jose's top pairing looks like they fared extremely well against the Hawks, but Douglas Murray and Dan Boyle only spent ~16 minutes against the Jonathan Toews, Dustin Byfuglien and Patrick Kane line.
Rob Blake and Marc-Edouard Vlasic spent ~40 minutes against the Toews line and the rest of their ice time was distributed close to evenly against Chicago's second and third lines.
Manny Malhotra was 7/3 at home and 2/12 on the road. His minutes in Chicago were limited almost exclusively to Toews and Patrick Sharp, whereas they were spread among the top three lines at home. He didn't fare well at all. He was skating almost exclusively with Logan Couture and Torrey Mitchell at home and one of McClellan's significant changes at Chicago was moving Malhotra to a line with Marleau and Heatley.
- Speaking of Logan Couture, he's become a personal favorite since I started this project a month ago and he did not disappoint in this series. He was 4/2 at home with Malhotra and Mitchell and he was 12/6 on the road with Thornton. He won the head-to-head battle (however small) against eight of the top nine Chicago forwards.
The Hawks stuck with the hard match of Dave Bolland on Joe Thornton for the entire series. It paid dividends at home when McClellan started bouncing Thornton around as Bolland got the best of him any time he was on the ice except with Couture and Devin Setoguchi. And the juggling ended with both the Toews and Sharp lines beating the heck out of the Malhotra - Marleau - Heatley line.
- Niklas Hjalmarsson played the series with both Brent Sopel and Brian Campbell and it didn't matter much to him. He wasn't seeing much of Joe Thornton, but his managed minutes look excellent by this count.
- Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook were on the ice for 62 of Thornton's 74 minutes in this series.
- The story of the series somehow remains Dave Bolland, even though he was getting beaten up pretty badly on the chances sheet.
Below are the chances broken out per 15 minutes of even strength time:
And Chicago's numbers. Notice Bolland - he was giving up two more chances than he was creating...per game.