• Is Barry Trotz a magic man? Early Capitals’ advanced stats say yes

    The Hockey News
    Barry Trotz (Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)

    By Dom Luszczyszyn

    It’s still too early to make any meaningful judgments, but so far it looks like the Washington Capitals’ biggest problem has been solved.

    The Caps have been a notoriously abysmal defensive team for a while now, and missing the playoffs last season meant changes had to be made to the former powerhouse. The biggest one was bringing in coach Barry Trotz, arguably the most reputable defensive coach in the game.

    While changing the coach isn’t always the right call, it was clear that Adam Oates wasn’t getting the most out of his players, specifically his best one, Alex Ovechkin. The same can be said for Trotz, who was well past his expiration date in Nashville. Washington and Trotz were a perfect fit.

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    Looking back through the past seven years in Washington paints a dark picture of what over-reaction looks like. During the Bruce Boudreau era, the Capitals were a force to be reckoned with, but one playoff series against an overachieving Montreal team with a hot goalie changed all that, and the Caps haven’t been the same since. Not only have the Caps been bleeding in the defensive zone, but they were no longer the offensive juggernaut they once were.

    The addition of Trotz has changed that. The offensive output may still be average, but the Caps have become a significantly tighter defensive unit. They have the eighth best 5-on-5 shot suppression rate in the league in the early goings at 48.6 shot attempts against per 60. That’s 8.4 fewer attempts than the year before. Why does that matter? Over a full season, that translates to almost five extra wins, based on the assumption every six goals gets you a win. Last year, that would’ve not only pushed Washington into the playoffs, it would’ve given them home-ice advantage.

    A lot of credit for that has to go to Trotz, but he wasn’t the only addition. The Capitals signed defensemen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik away from the Penguins over the summer, immediately shoring up their top four. Niskanen leads the Caps in ice time and has looked decent in driving possession. Orpik has been better than he was as a Penguin, but that might be because he’s getting much easier zone starts. The two have been important factors in creating balance on the Caps blueline.

    To see how Trotz has really impacted the lineup, though, it’s best to look at each player individually. It’s only been five games, but it seems like the players are buying in to what Trotz is selling. Across the board, players who were on the team last year and have played the most this year have seen a dramatic reduction in shot attempts against them while they’re on the ice. The samples are small, but it’s very encouraging to see that the effect applies to everyone here (sorry Brooks Laich).

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    The most drastic improvement? Alex Ovechkin, who has shaved 20 attempts per 60 minutes from last season. The added defensive capability wasn’t at the expense of his offense, either. In fact, shot attempts while he’s on the ice have increased slightly (from 58 to 62) and he’s potted five goals already. Ovechkin’s terrific play so far should be comforting news to Caps fans, as rumors of his demise have been greatly exaggerated.

    Has Trotz not only fixed the Caps woes, but also turned Ovechkin into a defensive stalwart? The early results back up Trotz’s reputation.

    All stats via war-on-ice.com

    Follow Dom Luszczyszyn on Twitter at @omgitsdomi

  • AHL keeper misplays shot from center for outrageous goal

    Jared Clinton
    Binghamton Senators' goaltender Andrew Hammond misplays a bouncing puck from center that resulted in a St. John's IceCaps goal. (via YouTube)

    One of the wonderful things about hockey is that the names of players can enter the lexicon of the hockey fan to signify things that are much more than just the players themselves.

    Take, for instance, the Forsberg. The term evokes the image of his one-handed goal that led the Swedish men’s team to a gold medal in 1994’s Olympic games. And how about Gordie Howe Hat Trick? The ferocity of Howe’s play and his absurd amount of talent was enough for the term to be coined and the recognition given to any player who registers a goal, assist, and fight in a game.

    For Maple Leafs fans, there are some terms that hit a bit closer to home. One of which, for all the wrong reasons, is The Toskala. Infamously, former Leafs goaltender Vesa Toskala once allowed a goal to Rob Davison. The catch? The “snipe” came from 197 feet away from Toskala’s goal.

    It took a few funny hops and it’s happened to the best of keepers, but a goal of this ilk has become synonymous with Toskala in hockey circles. Vancouverites may argue otherwise, claiming it to be the mark of Dan Cloutier.

    In any event, Andrew Hammond, an undrafted goaltender who is currently under contract with Ottawa, is going to be hoping that Binghamton Senators fans have shorter memories than most.

    During the first period of Binghamton’s 6-5 loss to the St. John’s IceCaps, the 26-year-old keeper allowed a goal he’d surely like to have back:

    The looping puck from center ice was Jets’ prospect Carl Klingberg’s first of the season, coming just over a minute into the contest. All told, Hammond would allow six goals in what was surely an off night for the goaltender.

    Here’s hoping the young netminder can laugh it off.

  • All eyes on torrid-scoring Connor McDavid tonight in Buffalo

    Ken Campbell
    Connor McDavid (Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

    The Buffalo Sabres are bad, epically bad, and they’ll get even worse once they trade away Tyler Myers and Chris Stewart. (To Detroit and Boston, respectively, is our guess.) And while they have a lot of company in the dregs of the NHL standings, their chances of getting one of Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel are looking very, very good.

    (Depending on how the New York Islanders do, there’s a chance the Sabres could get a crack at both. And while the early results don’t favor that possibility, remember, it’s the Islanders we’re talking about here.) Read more

  • Memorable night for young guns as three rookies register first point

    Jonathan Drouin (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

    In 50 years, there will be three separate sets of grandkids hearing tell of Tuesday night’s NHL action. The reason being for rookies Jonathan Drouin, Adam Lowry, and Seth Griffith, it was the night they registered their first NHL point.

    The Bruins’ Griffith and Jets’ Lowry both registered their first of what will hopefully be many NHL goals, while the shifty Drouin notched an assist on the game-tying goal in Tampa Bay’s overtime victory over the Calgary Flames.

    Drouin, who has been lauded for his playmaking ability, showed it off in fantastic fashion. The 19-year-old Quebec native won a puck battle below the Flames goal line, worked the puck up the boards, and made a seeing-eye backhand saucer pass that landed right on the tape of defenseman Jason Garrison:

    Valtteri Filppula pushed the blast by Garrison home. In overtime, Drouin would get an excellent opportunity on a 2-on-1 with Steven Stamkos – with whom Drouin lined up with throughout the game – but was stopped on an incredible save by Karri Ramo.

    For Griffith, he’ll be able to tell his children and grand children about an absolute laser of a shot:

    A product of Wallaceburg, Ont., Griffith was a rookie sensation at the American League level last season, putting home 20 goals and 50 points. The goal couldn’t have come at a bigger time, either.

    With the Bruins down 3-2 to the San Jose Sharks, Griffith’s big-league snap shot found the back of the net and brought the Bruins even. The Bruins would go on to win the game 5-3, thanks in large part to Griffith’s timely tally.

    Finally, Adam Lowry, the son of former NHLer Dave Lowry, did what his father managed to 164 times at the big league level:

    With the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps last season, Lowry stood out for his gritty play and nose for the net and was a large part of what made Winnipeg’s farm club so successful. As an AHL rookie, Lowry amassed 17 goals and 16 assists, good for 12th on the team in scoring.

    His big body and powerful forechecking ability are what got him into the lineup with the Jets, but they certainly won’t shake a stick at him contributing in other ways on the score sheet. Lowry’s marker would stand as the game-winning goal.

  • NHL postpones Maple Leafs/Senators game after Parliament Hill shootings

    Matt Larkin
    Ottawa's home arena, the Canadian Tire Centre. (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)

    It’s a horrific day for Canada, as a shooting tragedy has shaken the nation’s capital.

    At least one gunman opened fire at Ottawa’s National War Memorial Wednesday morning, wounding a soldier, who was later pronounced dead. The assailant then moved to Parliament Hill, firing upon and wounding a security guard before the assailant was killed, reportedly by the Parliament’s sergeant-at-arms.

    Police continued a hectic chase after the incident and more shots were fired, suggesting multiple attackers may still be on the loose. Parliament itself and an increasingly large portion of the downtown core is on lockdown as police continue their pursuit. Prime Minister Stephen Harper was safely moved away from Parliament Hill and out of harm’s way.

    The Hockey News’ thoughts are with the citizens of Ottawa and anyone affected by these atrocities. It feels trivial to bring hockey into the discussion, but it’s our job to tell you everything you need to know about the sport.

    UPDATE: The NHL has officially postponed tonight’s game. It posted the following on its website:

    Read more

  • Slava Voynov’s lawyer says, ‘there was no crime here’

    Ken Campbell
    Slava Voynov and family celebrate after the Kings won the 2014 Stanley Cup. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    The lawyer for Los Angeles Kings defenseman Slava Voynov said he interviewed the victim of Voynov’s alleged domestic abuse incident for more than an hour Tuesday and, “it’s clear to me there was no crime here,” and doubts his client will even be charged with an offense.

    Craig Renetzky, a criminal lawyer who is representing Voynov in the matter, said the language barrier, both on the part of Voynov and the alleged victim, has created a misunderstanding and that the victim’s injuries that caused her to be hospitalized were the result of an accident. Voynov was arrested early Monday morning at a Los Angeles area hospital after staff at the hospital notified police of a possible domestic abuse case. Voynov was immediately suspended indefinitely by the NHL, but has yet to be charged with anything pending a police investigation. Read more

  • Rumor Roundup: Will the Oilers shop Eberle or Yakupov?

    Jordan Eberle (Getty Images)

    Though the Edmonton Oilers finally won their first game of the season, their early-season struggles continue to generate trade speculation.

    Hockey Night in Canada’s Don Cherry told Sportsnet 590 he thinks the Oilers must trade one of their good young players if they’re to improve in the near future. Cherry expressed concern about the Oilers goaltending, but when asked if they should contact free agent Martin Brodeur, Cherry doubted Brodeur would go there.

    Cherry also believes right wing Jordan Eberle would fetch the best return, as he doesn’t feel anyone could be interested in struggling winger Nail Yakupov. However, TVASports’ Renaud Lavoie claims there are teams interested in the 21-year-old right wing. Read more

  • Should the Pens re-sign Marc-Andre Fleury before the playoffs? Of course not

    Adam Proteau
    Marc-Andre Fleury (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

    In somewhat of a surprising move, Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford told ESPN.com Tuesday that Marc-Andre Fleury’s future as goaltender for the Pittsburgh Penguins is secure:

    “As long as I’m GM here, he’s my goalie,” Rutherford said. “My plan is to re-sign him when the time is right. When that is, I don’t know, if it’s during the year or after the year, but I do want to re-sign him. I believe in him.”

    It’s tempting to file this under the “What Do You Expect Him To Say?” category, but let’s assume Rutherford isn’t just making this bold statement as a confidence-booster for Fleury as he enters this especially pressure-packed year and may actually re-sign the 29-year-old before his contract expires. Then let’s ask the question that would be begged by such a move:

    Why? Why would you recommit to a goaltender who, since he won a Stanley Cup with the team in 2009, had four straight seasons of sub-.900 save percentages in the playoffs? Last year, Fleury’s SP improved to .915, but even then, that number is deceiving: a pair of shutouts against the Rangers in the Eastern Conference semifinal inflated his SP, but out of 13 games he played for the Pens in two rounds, Fleury posted a SP at or below the modest .900 level seven times.

    And you’re telling me this is the kind of asset who deserves a vote of approval in the form of a contract extension before the playoffs even roll around? Sorry, but I don’t get it. Read more