February 23, 2015

The Beautiful Game and the Fear of Failure

For those who have not yet read the piece, today Igor Larionov penned an incredible article at theplayerstribune.com titled “The Beautiful Game.” In it, he discusses his past as a member of the Russian Red Army team and the sacrifices they made to be great. (Side Note: I highly recommend the recent ESPN 30 for 30, Of Miracles and Men about the same team) However, the most interesting aspect of the article was his comments on the Russian style of play. Despite playing in the constrictive communist regime, the team played an incredibly beautiful style of hockey requiring the highest level of skill, creativity and chemistry. As he describes,

If you watch video of us back then, it barely resembles the way the NHL is played today. It’s more similar to how Barcelona plays soccer. Our philosophy was about puck control, improvisation, and constant movement. Now, the game is all about “north-south,” chip-and-chase. We moved side-to-side and swooped around the ice looking for open spaces. A backward pass was just as good as a forward pass. You didn’t have to see your linemate. You could smell him. Honestly, we probably could have played blind.”

Despite NHL teams implementing some of these general principals, his assessment of the chip-and-chase game is accurate. However, what I found even more interesting were his reasons for this change and what I believe we, as fans, do to encourage this simplification.

February 19, 2015

System Analysis: Red Wing Power Play Drop Pass

As we draw closer to the playoffs, the ability to execute at special teams becomes increasingly important. As goals become tougher to come by, a good power play can determine the outcome of an entire season. Due to the skill of teams today, most special teams play is decided at the blue line. I’m going to breakdown how and why the Red Wing’s drop pass took their Power Play to the top of the league and why decreasing their reliance on this play could improve their efficiency even further.

February 16, 2015

Wings Drop Potential Playoff Preview

In a game that had the look and feel of a playoff matchup the Wings once again came up short to Carey Price the Montreal Canadiens. Despite controlling play for the majority of the game, the Wings struggled to get shots to the net and when they did Price what there to answer. The loss is extremely disappointing, especially as the team prepares to for this tough west coast road trip. If there is a single silver lining to be had, Jimmy Howard appears to have shaken off the rust after his first start and looks ready to carry the Wings once again. A tough loss for sure but should provide confidence that the Wings are still clearly the more superior team, and will be come playoffs.

February 15, 2015

System Analysis: PK Breakdowns Threaten Wings' Playoff Chances

During Howard's injury the Red Wings went on an impressive run, going 9-2 without their number one starter. However during this streak the team carried by the offense as the Red Wings killed off only 73% of their penalties during this streak. For comparison, the Buffalo Sabres penalty kill is at 73.5% on the season. On Saturday night the PK problems continued as the Wings gave up 2 power-play goals against the Winnipeg Jets. The first was an incredibly bad goal that can only be attributed to Jimmy Howard's rust. However the second was the result of poor penalty killing, particularly by Darren Helm and Joakim Andersson. Two very subtle but smart plays allowed the Jets to move 200 feet, generate two scoring chances and take a 4-3 lead, all in under 15 seconds.

February 14, 2015

Shootout Dooms the Wings Again

The Winnipeg Jets came into town as the Red Wings aimed to revenge their embarrassing effort against Pittsburgh. Thankfully this was also the first start for Jimmy Howard after the ugly groin injury he suffered 35 days earlier. The Wings started out strong and jumped out to a 3-1 lead. However sloppy play and a rusty goaltender allowed the Jets to take control and if not for some late game magic by Smith & Datsyuk the team could have seen their first back-to-back regulation losses of the season. In OT the team would survive a breakaway against and a full 2 minute penalty kill to send the game into the shootout. In the shootout Jimmy was surprisingly excellent, but the team gave him no run support and the Jets we able to escape Motown with the extra point.