Petshark: Talking Stick
by petshark on 12/30/11 at 02:00 PM ET
We thought The Big Three was thing of the past, to be contemplated only to the tune of Auld Lang Syne: Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley playing on the same line. Apparently, the number three never dies. It is as big today as ever it was:
“We have to have the understanding that three is a very important number for us. Three is the be-all and end-all,” McLellan said. “It’s either hurting us when we give up three or helping us when we score three.” -Working the Corners
Like a holy trinity, three goals are the secret to everything: “the first to three,” “a 3-2 league,” “the most dangerous lead.” Well, that last one is pretty old. I like it because it illustrates my reason for being highly suspicious of any psychological or predictive theory that turns a number into a grail: you get ahead by three and you get sloppy. It’s hogwash, of course. A team can fall apart or get it together at any time, but people take it into their heads and their hearts and give it power.
Three is a lousy number to rely on. Ever ride a tricycle?
Take the Sharks’ most recent losses. No two teams could be more different than the ‘Nucks and the Ducks, especially in relationship to the Sharks. Games against the Ducks are bound to be rough and tumble affairs, a divisional rivalry. The Ducks are flailing around at the bottom of the standings. Games against the Canucks are rife with complaints about the calls and yearning for pugilistic resolution of disputes rarely satisfied. The Canucks are looking like they could make another trip to the Finals. Yet both Sharks games were decided by one goal: the third.
To suggest that there is much difference between losing a 2-1 game and a 3-2 game is high folly. It sets up a belief system that you must score three goals and once you do, you’re in the clear. Fail, you panic and collapse into despair. Succeed, you may slack off, losing 4-3. It is not a helpful sort of target.
If a team needs a target to shoot for, how about the net? Or how about six goals? Get six and you are more likely to win than if you only aim for three. I understand that the goal trinity theory is based on statistics, that this seems to be the current tipping point in NHL games. That’s fine for betting but no statistic should change how you think about this game right now.
I’m uncomfortable with the use of statistics as predictors at all. Statistics only tell you what has happened, they do not tell you what can happen, they do not determine what will happen, unless you let them into your head to sprout into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Until that last game against the Canucks, the Sharks were 5-0-0 when tied after 2. Guess what those zeros made me think? They would not hold. Zeros are very bad numbers, they look like eggs and eggs break easily. Most things seek the middle and avoid extremes, even the weather, even statistics. Even the Blue Jackets, outliers for so long, have some company in the standings now. The Ducks and the Islanders are dropping back to fill in the gap.
I’m not saying that streaks and statistics are not helpful. They are very helpful as diagnostic tools. You can identify patterns and prepare for the future accordingly. Unfortunately, looking for trends and patterns that make sense with the Sharks is a frustrating task. Seems like they win when they are winning, they lose when they are losing. I’m starting to think they are immune to outside influences. They haven’t had a losing streak longer than three this season, though they’ve had three winning streaks of four or more. They’ve lost three to Anaheim, does that mean they will lose three to Vancouver?
I’ll make one prediction based on my “statistics change” theory: Monday’s game will not end 3-2.
So what to make of these home losses against the Ducks and the Canucks?
“It was another one-goal night but the unfortunate thing is that we were short that one goal,” he said. “Once again, tonight, I think we matched their opportunities and chances. I think they just found a way to get that third one and we didn’t.” -ibid
How do you match the Ducks one night and a couple later you match the Canucks and the score stays the same? I’m no Canucks fan, but if Thursday night’s game is any indication, a team that can match the Canucks ought to have shellacked the Ducks. Like the Canucks just did after going to overtime with the Sharks the night before.
What are we supposed to make of that? “3 goals are really important?” Is this is code for “we can expect our team to allow two goals a game, no matter who they are playing”? How about they stop that. I would get right behind a philosophy of “any goals against are too many and must be answered thrice.” That’s a use of three I could applaud.
What about forgetting three or four or one or numbers all together? A race to a certain number of goals smacks of a long game, a complicated plan that can fall apart if one little step along the way gets missed. Forget the long game. Stop thinking about playing 60 minutes instead of 20 or 40. Start the new year with much smaller bites.
Win every minute, forget it, start the next. That would be enough.
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About Petshark: Talking Stick
Native of Northern California. Hockey fan since 1998... sort of... there's a hiatus in there that I still can't explain.
I want to know about anything and everything related to the sport and the spectacle. I watch, I react, I write it down.
My interest in the Sharks was initially a matter of geographic convenience and regional loyalty because that seemed to be how it worked. I had no prior interest (at all-- AT ALL) in professional sports of any kind. When I met hockey, it might have set off a chain reaction of general sports fandom. It hasn't, I don't think it will. At all.
Since then, that interest developed into full blown (mostly sort of usually almost completely) exclusive loyalty to the Sharks.
I started blogging a couple years ago on wordpress. I still occasionally put things there that I don't think fit here because they are not about the Sharks. Wherever my words wander, here on Kuklas Korner, they will (usually) hang on to a teal thread.
I can be found in cyberspace on Twitter @petshark47, or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org