Thursday, November 13, 2014

James Russell Howard III

 With a couple days off there has been little to report on the Red Wings. We are 15 games in and I am pretty satisfied with the teams play at this point. While only 5th in the division, a single win would jump the Wings all the way to 3rd and put them only 3 points out of 1st. As discussed in my first month review, the possession numbers have also been very good suggesting this success should continue. The biggest improvements have been in their defensive play and in Jimmy Howard’s return to form. While my shot tracking project should shed some light on this going forward, for now I wanted to take a look at what has changed between this year and last on the defensive/Jimmy Howard front.

Monday, November 3, 2014

System Analysis: We Lost to the Sabres?!?

Last night the Red Wings dominated possession but a inability to finish as well as a few defensive miscues allowed Buffalo to hang around and steal the win. After the game, Smith was asked about the two goals against the Red Wings. Te reported hinted that since they were the result of scrambles in front, the blame falls on the defensemen. Smith was very quick to disagree with him and talked about how it was more about getting pucks out of the zone and problems with their defensive system than the D clearing out bodies in front. I'm going to take a quick look at the goal and I’ll show you why I think this instance, Smith is absolutely correct.

We start with Smith having the puck behind the net and a man closing in on him. You can see here that his options are pretty limited. There is no winger on the wall for a direct breakout pass, and #24 is in great position to stop a hard rim from leaving the zone.

Trying to make something out of nothing, as Smith is one to do, he makes a soft chip to where the winger should be and hopes they win the footrace. Unfortunately Andersson and Miller are both slow to get there and the Sabres recover the puck.

Now the D takes the puck down low but we can see the Red Wings are in pretty good defensive positioning. Andersson is the new “center” playing down low, the wingers have collapsed low to help protect the scoring area. DeKeyser is covering the front of the net and Smith is eliminating the potential pass to his man. Smith could be more focused on his man and less focused on the puck and someone should be closer to #17 but so far so good. Now the camera angle makes it difficult but I'll try to explain whats going on.

The puck carrier reverses and curls back up the wall. Now Stewart has entered the picture for the first time, having occupied the defender's spot on the blue line. Since Stewart has become the "d-man" following the pinch he is Miller’s responsibility. However we see Miller is focused only on the puck carrier. Ignoring his defensive responsibilities Miller comes in to try win the puck.

Miller creates a battle along the wall and now Stewart, DeKeyser and his man come into the pile as well. The puck eventually gets by DeKeyser and heads back behind the net. This is where the trouble begins. As a defender you should always try to be between your man and the net. Miller’s attempt to win the puck allowed Stewart to get between Miller and the net, a big defensive no no. Now Stewart has inside positioning and is headed straight for the net.

Now Stewart is off the wall and no one goes with him. Smith's man now has the puck behind the net. I'm not sure if he knows Stewart is there, but he makes a good play to force his to make a play back into pressure. With all the Red Wings on once side of the ice, Smith wants to force the play back into where the defenders are so they can make a play.

However, Smith’s defensive positioning depended on getting help from the defenders coming back from the wall battle and allowed an easy passing lane on the right side. No one comes across with Stewart and Glendening is focused only on the puck. With no one close enough to help, a quick pass on the tape forces Jimmy in transition and it ends up in the back of the Red Wing's net.

A few bad decision eventually turned into a game tying goal. Andersson not being on the wall to receive the pass from Smith, Miller losing his man after jumping in to win a battle, and Glendening/Smith not keeping their head on a swivel all combined to cost the Red Wings a point in the standings. While many people will jump to Smith not getting the puck out, I personally have no problem with that play. The Red Wings are and forever will be a possession team, in a bad spot he attempted to make a play to keep possession. The worst case scenario for that play was exactly was happened, Buffalo winning a battle on the wall which was not exactly a horrid outcome. However I do acknowledge that I am a huge Brendan Smith fan and I may have some bias when viewing this play. That said, based on what I see the blame falls more on the forwards for failing to stay with their guys then the defenders.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Red Wings First Month Review

We are officially one month into the hockey season. After 10 games the Red Wings find themselves with a 6-2-2 record, good for 14 points, 4th best in the league. While it is still a bit early to make any definitive claims about the Red Wing's future, I'll take a look to see how we got here and give some of my observations on the Wings play to this point.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Wings Dethrone the Kings

An offensive explosion in the first period led the Red Wings to a big win over the tired and injured LA Kings. It looked like it would be a good night early as the Wings scored on the PP only five minutes into the game on a beautiful passing play. When they added three more goals before the first period ended it seemed like they had it in the bag. The Kings showed their championship pedigree as they continued to battle back eventually cutting it to 4-2 in the third period. King's Captain had a penalty shot and the chance to cut the lead to one, but a big save by Jimmy Howard gave the Wings the wiggle room they needed. Datsyuk would add an empty netter to seal the deal. One month into the season the Wings are playing great hockey and can claim to be one of the top 10 teams in the league. With a bit of a softer schedule coming up in November, there is no reason that the winning should end now.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Top Line Steps Up

Despite starting the game on separate lines, a lackluster start from the Red Wings forced Babcock to rejoin Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Abby on the top line. The result was three goals in the third period two from Abby and Datsyuk tacked on a beauty with under a minute left to seal the deal. Not the best effort from the Wings as they struggled early in the game and fell behind due to some defensive miscues. However they finally got some offense from the big guys to make a tough call early and the defensive issues irrelevant. A great win for the Wings but they still need some offense from the middle 6 if they're going to continue winning like this.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Wings Give Back 2 Points to the Flyers

Two nights after stealing two points after getting dominated by the Penguins the tide turned as the Red Wings thoroughly outplayed the Flyers only to fall 4-2. The Red Wings had a Corsi of 72.53% at EV but again seem unable to find the back of the net. Sheahan scored early after the new Kid Line used their size to work the puck in front, but it was given right back when Grossman caught Kronwall and Tatar sleeping in the d-zone. Then Ericsson attempted a dangerous and aggressive play on Voracek, and managed to get a stick on the puck, but Voracek did enough to hack it into the middle and give Raffl a breakaway. The Red Wings would tie it up again after Helm does a great job to retrieve the puck and find Pavel alone in front. But what was in my opinion a soft call on Kronwall found the Flyers on the PP and Schenn sneaks one through Monster. Smith was unable to get the puck to the net when out on the 6-5 and the Flyer find the empty net to seal the deal.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

OT Win Gives Perspective

Down 3-1 with only 3 minutes left, the Red Wings were getting the result they deserved. Dominated for most of the night, the Penguins completely controlled the neutral zone. While the Penguins had multiple odd man rushes the Wings seemed to be dumping the puck in continually and throwing sloppy passes all over the ice. The Power Play was held scoreless again and the Penguins seemed to be on cruise control. Howard gave up two goals I'd expect he would want back while the Red Wings could seem to get nothing by Greiss at the other end. Following Kunitz's goal to put the Penguins back up by 2 I had little hope that the Wings would get even a point from this match. Then a great pass from DeKeyser saw the Captain split the defense and fire an absolute missile top shelf to cut the lead to one with 3 minutes remaining. Then despite the Pens controlling the puck and looking to score on the empty net and seal the victory, the Red Wings somehow held on and made one last rush down the ice. Datsyuk, with a man draped over him, walked to his backhand, patient as ever he passed back to Kronwall who fired a wrister on net to tie the game and earn the Wings a point. After being outplayed for 57 minutes I was perfectly content with a tie, and with only a minute left in OT it seemed like we would be headed to the shootout. With only a minute left Greiss fights off a shot by Smith on a 3-2 and the puck finds its way into the corner. Z goes in after it and gets a stick on the Pens outlet pass, pushing in right into the slot where Abdelkader would jump on in and fire one in off the post to steal a Red Wings win.