The news out of the Olympics today is that John Tavares of the New York Islanders is out for the rest of the season after suffering a knee injury. This is a significant hit to the New York Islanders. They lose their best player. He is currently the third highest scoring player in the NHL.
As big a hit as this is to the Islanders, realistically it changes little in the NHL story this year. The New York Islanders have little realistic shot at making the playoffs with or without Tavares.
Despite the hit to the Islanders, the Olympics are good for hockey. The best hockey in the world is played every four years. It far outdoes anything the NHL offers us. The medal round games will likely be the best hockey games we have seen since at least 2010 in Vancouver.
The playoff round at the Sochi Olympics has been played. Four teams remain in the medal round. The qualifying round of the playoffs consisted of the 5th through 12th place finishers in the round robin. Its winners moved on to play the top four teams in the round robin. Here are the results:
Slovenia 4 Austria 0. The Slovenians took a quick lead on an Anze Kopitar power play goal. It grew when Jan Urbas added a short handed goal. In the second period, Sabahudin Kovacevic added a third goal (he had assisted earlier on the Urbas goal). Jan Mursak added an empty net goal to go with an earlier assist. David Rodman also had two assists. Robert Kristan stopped 30 shots for the shutout in the Slovenian goal. Mathias Lange was the losing Austrian goal with 31 saves. Slovenia moves on to face Sweden.
When I watch the Olympics, I often look for non-NHL players who appear capable of being NHLers. While none of these have stood out to me so far, there is a bit NHL player who has looked like he is good enough to play a much bigger role in the NHL. He is Sami Vatanen of Finland. He is a rookie with the Anaheim Ducks in the NHL.
Vatanen has been the top defenceman on the Finnish team that has qualified for the quarterfinals. They played a strong defensive game against Canada and Vatanen was a big part of it.
In the NHL Vatanen has scored 14 points in 31 games so far this year. He is a third line defenceman on the first place Ducks. He often plays with limited ice time. In fact, he is seventh on the Ducks when ranked by ice time per game on defence this season.
The preliminary round has just completed in the Men's hockey tournament at the Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Teams were sorted into three groups of four teams each that played a round robin tournament. Here are the results:
1. USA. The Americans won all three games they played, but did not collect a perfect nine points since they required a shootout to beat Russia. They were led offensively by Phil Kessel who leads the tournament in scoring so far. TJ Oshie and Joe Pavelski have also had strong offensive performances. Jonathan quick has been their top goalie.
The NHL may be on hiatus for the Olympics, but hockey remains in North America. The AHL is still playing out their schedule, even though some of their players are in the Olympics on some European teams. I last looked at the AHL standings in late January. At that time, the Manchester Monarchs (LA Kings affiliate) were pulling away from the pack in terms of points, but there were some remaining questions because they have more games played than many teams. They have further increased their points lead to three points over the second place Abbotsford Heat (Calgary Flames affiliate). Abbotsford may have two games in hand, but Manchester has a better winning percentage. In fact, Manchester leads the league with their .670 winning percentage - which is tied with the Springfield Falcons (Phoenix Coyote affiliate). Manchester is starting to pull away from the pack. This might be the point in the season when the AHL regular season champion has emerged from the pack to never look back.
Canada has a recent history of a younger goalie taking over from a veteran starter in the Olympics. In 2002, Martin Brodeur took over for Curtis Joseph during Canada's gold medal run. In 2010, Roberto Luongo took over for Martin Brodeur in Canada's gold medal run. To complete the pattern, it was expected that Carey Price would take over for Roberto Luongo in the 2014 Olympics.
In Canada's first game of the Olympics, Price was chose to play against Norway. He didn't get challenged much but he did let in a bad goal when he got caught out of the net. Luongo was given game two against Austria. He played quite well and got a shutout. Based on those two games alone, Luongo deserves the chance to be Canada's number one goalie. Will he be given the start against Finland?
I think the most interesting development from the first day of the Men's Olympic Hockey tournament has been the goaltending for the Czech Republic. I assumed their number one goalie would be Ondrej Pavelec of the Winnipeg Jets. He is the only NHL goaltender on their roster. Granted he isn't having the greatest season. He currently is posting a .901 saves percentage and a 2.97 GAA. Their other goalies are KHLers in Jakub Kovar and Alexander Salak. They are both posting solid numbers in the lesser league. Kovar plays with Automobilist Yekaterinburg and has posted a .934 saves percentage and a 1.91 GAA. Salak plays for SKA St Petersburg and has posted a .933 saves percentage and a 1.86 GAA. As good as those numbers would be in the NHL, they are in the later part of the top ten in the KHL.
The big surprise came when it was announced that Pavelec would be the healthy scratch goaltender for their opening game against Sweden.
For several years the answer to that question had been Alexander Ovechkin. Ovechkin moved to right wing last season. Actually it's not quite that simple. He often lined upon the power play at left wing and at even strength on right wing. He made all star teams at both last year. However since he isn't a dedicated left winger anymore, he is a poor choice as best left winger in the NHL.
If we look at the top scorers in the NHL, we see Patrick Sharp leads left wingers with 59 points. Taylor Hall is next with 56 points. Last year's first team all star left winger, Chris Kunitz has 55 points. The other man worthy of mention is Henrik Zetterberg with 48 points, but in only 45 games played. Those are the candidates to be top left winger in the NHL. It isn't the same quality of players you would get if you ranked the top few players in any other position. This is a problem that has existed throughout history. The top left wingers of all time pale in comparison to the top players at any other position.
One interesting story this season is that the Vancouver Canucks and New York Rangers effectively traded coaches. Alain Vigneault went to New York and John Tortorella went to Vancouver. As we have hit the Olympic break we can start to draw conclusions. Neither coach has turned their new team into a top contender but both have slid shots at a playoff berth. Vancouver might be pushed a little harder to get their playoff berth due to a tougher conference and tougher travel.
I think the most meaningful change from this coaching "trade" is a change to the Canuck system. In the past, Daniel and Henrik Sedin have led the league in offensive zone starts. This was done in order to maximize their offensive performance. Why use your best offensive players in defensive situations? Tortorella has discontinued the level to which this is done. The Sedins may lead the Canucks in offensive zone stars, but they are far back from the league lead. Among players with 30 or more games played, Henrik Sedin is 55th by offensive zone start percentage and Daniel is 56th. Has this cost the Vancouver Canucks?
Last summer, Steve Simmons made an ill-advised comment about Corsi in his weekly column. He wrote:
Another reason why I have next to great difficulty for the CORSI analytic statistic in hockey. I saw a team adjusted CORSI ranking for this past season. Tyler Seguin of the Bruins was rated fifth best in the NHL. The same Seguin whom Bruins coach Claude Julien kept on the third line, moving rookie Carl Soderberg from press box to first-line centre when Patrice Bergeron got hurt. I’ll take Julien’s instincts over strange numbers anytime
This prompted me to write a response. As predicted in that response, time has made Simmons comment look even stupider. His comment suggests that something is wrong with Corsi ranking because a player he doesn't agree with does well. This would be equivalent to somebody arguing that goals cannot be a meaningful statistic because Joe Pavelski is currently fifth in the NHL in goals and there is no possible way that Pavelski is the fifth best player in the NHL. It is a strawman argument that comes from not understanding what goals or Corsi measures.
What makes Simmons look even sillier is that Tyler Seguin would be the line in the sand that he draws. Seguin is a young talented player who was clearly ready to break out. His puck possession numbers showed it. Watching him play would show it. Steve Simmons couldn't see it.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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