2010 Stanley Cup finals: Why is home ice such a big advantage?

hawksfans2.jpgSo far, the Stanley Cup finals has been a “homer” series. That’s a term sports writers use when the home team wins every game. Chicago, in particular, was an amazing 7-1 on the road before the Cup finals. Conversely, the Flyers are a league-best 9-1 – including a seven game winning streak – at the Wachovia Center. Apparently, Philly’s home ice dominance trumped Chicago’s road savvy.

The question is: why, exactly, are these two teams playing so much better thanks to home cooking? Let me break down some of the possibilities, analyzing why some make sense and some fail.

Coincidence and context

This might be the top point, even if it’s the least satisfying. Every game is different and, after all, fans aren’t the ones who are skating so how much of an impact can home ice advantage really have? This is a small sample of games, so you cannot exactly draw too many conclusions from five games.

Also, think about one of those classic standbys: “the sense of urgency.” Philadelphia had a lot more to lose in Game 3 and Game 4, which showed in the considerable difference in effort between the two teams. Meanwhile, Chicago would have dropped three games in a row, so winning Game 5 was – on some level – more important for them than it was for the Flyers.

Michael Leighton at his best

Now, I’m not sure why, but Leighton is an incredible 6-0 so far at home. Is the former member of the Carolina Hurricanes sensitive to heckling? I’m not certain, but either way he’s been outstanding in Philly and ordinary-to-bad in Montreal or Chicago. Leighton is 6-0 with three shutouts, a 1.48 GAA and a 94.9 save percentage at the Wachovia Center.

Let’s take a look at some of the more “nuts and bolts” pluses of being the home team (plus more analysis) after the jump.


mohawkflyersfan.jpgThe final change

Home teams receive a chance to make the final line change, which might be a bigger factor now that Joel Quenneville and the Blackhawks adjusted their combos so well. Chris Pronger is the biggest impact player in this series, so the fact that the Flyers can make sure he’s on the ice at the right times in Philly could be a big deal.

Players often say that it doesn’t matter who is on the ice, but I think matchups are very relevant. That being said, it’s still only a subtle tactical advantage – especially since splitting up Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews should keep one of both of them away from Pronger at least some of the time.

Faceoff advantages?

Aside from getting the last change, the other inherent advantage with playing at home is that the home team center benefits from a momentum advantage during faceoffs.

I studied the games and noticed that it probably didn’t make much of a mark on faceoffs won vs. lost. The Blackhawks won more than they lost in the circle in four out of five games in this series, although the one Flyers’ faceoff advantage did come when they were at home.

Rabid fans, conclusion

Perhaps the biggest advantage is the most obvious one, then: each city can pack in more than 20,000 screaming lunatics. While the larger crowds in Chicago helped them go a little louder than the gang in Philly, both produce ear-splitting noise that must fluster their opponents.

Overall, it seems as if the home ice disparity is a result of a combination of factors. Some of them seem pretty subjective (fans, context), some are minimal (faceoff advantages) and others could go either way (the final change). Either way, the teams seem – at times – to be so close that maybe a slight gust of wind can change the course of each contest.

For a least one more game, the Flyers hope that the home cooking trend continues – whether it’s justified by reason or not.

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    Sharp to undergo hip surgery, expected recovery is 4-5 months

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    Patrick Sharp‘s difficult season is now over.

    The Dallas Stars announced on Saturday that the 35-year-old forward will undergo hip surgery on Tuesday. The recovery time, according to the club, is between four and five months.

    Sharp is in the final year of a five-year contract with a $5.9 million cap hit, per CapFriendly

    “We are going to get the surgery done and let him heal. He’s going to train and let’s take a look at him,” said Stars GM Jim Nill, per NHL.com. “We’ve had conversations. If he comes back, he wants it to be Dallas. He thinks he’s a Dallas Star.”

    Not only has Sharp dealt with injuries on the ice, but he is dealing with a personal matter off it.

    From the Dallas Morning News:

    But in battling through two concussions, hip pain, and his dad’s fight with leukemia, Sharp has shown significant fortitude. The Dallas chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association nominated Sharp Saturday as its candidate for the Bill Masterton Trophy, given each season to a player who displays the attributes of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.

    “It shows what kind of person he is and what kind of hockey player and leader he is,” said Stars captain Jamie Benn. “I think that’s why he’s a winner at every level he’s played at. I think that’s why he’s a great leader for this team and a great guy for a lot of these young guys to look up to.”

    Sharp was first sidelined with a concussion in October. He was then placed on injured reserve with another concussion in December.

    He has been held to just 48 games, with eight goals — his lowest total since the lockout-shortened season — and 18 points.

    ‘That was embarrassing,’ says Boudreau after Wild lose to Canucks

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    The Wild continue to struggle and fans on Saturday expressed their frustration.

    Think about this: The visiting Canucks are terrible at scoring goals, ranked 29th in the league in that category. Yet they managed to score four goals in the second period against the Wild. So bad was Minnesota’s performance to that point that there was a Bronx cheer directed at goalie Darcy Kuemper after he made a save on a harmless shot and fans later booed the Wild off the ice into the intermission.

    It’s bad when the Canucks, 27th in the overall standings, embarrass an opposing team.

    The Wild failed once again to clinch a playoff spot after a 4-2 loss. That score flattered the home team, which got late goals from Ryan Suter and Eric Staal. Too little, too late. Afterward, coach Bruce Boudreau lit into his team.

    “That was embarrassing. I’m embarrassed,” Boudreau told reporters. “To me, if I was the fans, I’d be booing even more because they pay good money for this.”

    As far as the playoffs are concerned, the Wild are in, even if they haven’t yet officially secured a spot. Sports Club Stats is giving them a 100 per cent chance of qualifying for the post-season.

    But prior to this month, Minnesota looked like a team that could do some serious damage in the playoffs. That’s not to suggest they are suddenly incapable of going on any prolonged run but they very clearly have some issues that need to be addressed over the next few of weeks.

    “Yeah, it wasn’t good enough,” Jason Zucker told the Pioneer Press.

    “We are leaving guys open. We aren’t winning battles. We are hanging our goalies out to dry. … I don’t think we’re prepared enough to start some periods and they score and we’re not being resilient enough to come back.”

    Meanwhile, for the Canucks, this game should provide at least a glimmer of optimism for their fans. Less than 24 hours after his college season ended with a double overtime loss to Boston University, Brock Boeser signed an entry-level deal and made his NHL debut versus the Wild.

    What a debut it was.

    Boeser, a first-round pick of the Canucks in 2015, scored the winning goal and was tied for the team-lead in shots on goal with four alongside Reid Boucher, who also scored twice.

    The unfortunate news? Jack Skille left the game with an ankle injury and didn’t return. The outlook doesn’t look good, as Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins said afterward, “I wouldn’t expect to see Skille in the line-up for a while.”

    Only eight games remain in Vancouver’s season.

    Another shutout for Bobrovsky as he steals one for Blue Jackets

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    Sergei Bobrovsky continued to make his case for the Vezina Trophy on Saturday afternoon when he stopped all 36 shots he faced in a 1-0 win over the Philadelphia Flyers.

    The win helped the Blue Jackets avoid what would have been their first three-game losing streak of the season.

    In a game where his team was outshot by a 36-21 margin and managed just a single goal (an Alexander Wennberg tally in the second period), it would not be unfair to say that he probably stole a couple of points for his team as the Blue Jackets continue to compete with the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins for the top spot in both the Eastern Conference and the entire NHL.

    Bobrovsky being the difference in a game is nothing new for the Blue Jackets lately because he has been a brick wall in their net for much of the season. But for as good as his performance has been overall, it is over the past few weeks where he has really started to establish himself as a Vezina Trophy front runner.

    With his win on Saturday the Blue Jackets are now 9-0-2 in his past 11 starts.

    Bobrovsky remains the NHL’s leader in pretty much every major goaltending category, collecting his 40th win (first in the NHL), raising his overall save percentage to .934 (also first in the NHL), his even-strength save percentage to .940 (also first in the NHL), and recording his seventh shutout (tied for second, just one behind Braden Holtby).

    He has four shutouts in the month of March alone.

    There are a lot of factors you can point to for the Blue Jackets’ massive turnaround this season, but none of them have been bigger at this point than the play of Bobrovsky.

    He has already won the Vezina Trophy once in his career, and he is putting together a pretty convincing argument to win it again this season.

    Goalie nods: It’s Anderson vs. Price for first place in the Atlantic

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    The Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators are locked in a fierce fight for the top spot in the Atlantic Division, and they will have one more chance to take advantage of a head-to-head matchup on Saturday night.

    It will be the fifth and final meeting of the regular season between the two teams — and third in the past eight days — as the two teams enter the night separated by just a single point in the standing (Montreal has a one point lead).

    Montreal won the previous two head-to-head meetings this month, topping Ottawa in a shootout on March 18 then coming back the next night with a 4-1 win.

    As expected, both teams will be going with their No. 1 goaltenders on Saturday night with the Senators turning to Craig Anderson and the Canadiens starting Carey Price.

    With wins in eight of his past 11 starts, a stretch that has seen him surrender more than two goals in a game just two times, Price is once again playing at that Vezina Trophy level we have seen from him in years past. His overall numbers for the season may not be quite as dominant as we have seen over the past couple of years but right now he is one of his zones where he looks nearly unbeatable.

    Anderson has been on a similar roll for the Senators in recent weeks and has only lost three of his past 12 starts … two of them came at the hands of the Canadiens.

    Elsewhere on Saturday…

    — It was Richard Bachman vs Darcy Kuemper in Minnesota for the Vancouver Canucks-Wild game, while Sergei Bobrovsky went against Michal Neuvirth in the Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Philadelphia Flyers game.

    Braden Holtby will be in net for the Washington Capitals when they host Mike Smith and the Arizona Coyotes.

    — With Tuukka Rask out for the Boston Bruins’ huge game against the New York Islanders, Anton Khudobin will get the call. No word yet from the Islanders on who they will start after going with Jaroslav Halak on Friday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

    Eddie Lack was the first goalie off the ice for the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday and is expected to start against Cory Schneider and the New Jersey Devils.

    — No word yet from the Chicago Blackhawks or Florida Panthers for their game.

    Frederik Andersen looks for his third shutout in a row when he starts for the Toronto Maple Leafs in their game against the Buffalo Sabres. Robin Lehner gets the call for the Sabres.

    Brian Elliott is back in net for the Calgary Flames after having his personal 11-game winning streak snapped against the Washington Capitals this past week. He faces his former team, the St. Louis Blues, who will be starting Jake Allen.

    Martin Jones gets the start for the San Jose Sharks when they visit Pekka Rinne and the Nashville Predators.

    — It is a rare night off for Cam Talbot in Edmonton as Lauent Brossoit will make his first start since Feb. 21 when he gets the start against the Colorado Avalanche. He has made just two relief appearances since then. It will be just his third start of the season. The Avalanche have yet to announce their starter for the game.

    Antti Raanta goes for the New York Rangers when they visit the Los Angeles Kings. Jonathan Quick is in the crease for the Kings.