Ryan Whitney

Oilers’ Whitney upset with his plus-minus, stat nerds probably upset he’s referring to it

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Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal recently caught up with Ryan Whitney to discuss the defenseman’s ugly plus-minus rating. Whitney is minus-nine over his last five games, which plummeted him to minus-18 on the year — ranking him 847th out of 863 NHL skaters.

“I’m minus 18 in 34 games. Obviously that’s the worst it can be,” Whitney said, apparently unaware that James Wisniewski is minus-22 in 38 games. “Eight or nine of them have been empty-netters but there’s plays I have to be better on.

“The past two games have been pretty evident, with me being directly in a couple of [opposing] goals.”

Plus-minus has always been a controversial statistic (Matheson calls it a “shaky barometer of a person’s play.”) If you’re on the ice when someone else screws up, BAM — your rating takes a hit.

If you’re on the ice when a guy flips a 90-footer into an empty net, BAM — your rating takes a hit.

And so on. And so forth.

But nowhere is the plus-minus rating more reviled than in the advanced statistics community, where its mere mention sends people scurrying for their inhalers. And the stats community is so hot right now, thanks in large part to the MIT Sloan Sports Conference. It was attended by NHL GMs Brian Burke and Peter Chiarelli, who openly discussed their use of advanced stats — or, in Burke’s case, why he thinks “in hockey, statistics are more like a lamp-post to a drunk. Useful for support, but not for illumination.”

A big part of the hockey conversation at MIT was realizing Corsi and Fenwick numbers (plus-minus style stats that track shot differential) and situational-based stats (zone starts, etc.) are more than just Internet fodder. They’re boring and painful to read about, but it’s clear they have value and more front offices are using them.

Okay, look — I like to give stat nerds a hard time, mostly because it’s fun. Easy too. But it’s obvious in the wake of Football Outsiders, Billy Beane (Oakland A’s) and Daryl Morey (Houston Rockets) that the NHL will probably embrace sabermetrics at some point, because “boxcar” stats like goals, assists and plus-minus aren’t all-encompassing indicators of player value.

And if that’s the case, maybe Whitney will eventually be okay with his minus-18 rating.

Fight Video: Schenn, Chychrun drop the gloves as Coyotes score

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Brayden Schenn had a big game in Thursday’s 5-4 loss to the Arizona Coyotes.

He scored a goal and had two assists in the defeat, but he also dropped the gloves with rookie Jakob Chychrun.

As you can tell by the video at the top of the page, Chychrun went after Schenn because the Flyers forward flattened Coyotes defenseman Michael Stone (Chychrun got two additional minutes for instigating and a 10-minute misconduct).

The fight occurred just as Martin Hanzal scored to the go-ahead goal in the game.

The officials reviewed it to see if it would stand or not (ultimately it did).

The momentum swung Arizona’s way after that, as they scored 1:39 later to extend their lead to 4-2.

PHT Morning Skate: Scheifele and Seguin play rock, paper, scissors after pregame warmup

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

–How do you decide who gets to be the last player off the ice after warmups? Play rock, paper, scissors of course! (Top)

Connor McDavid has the city of Edmonton buzzing again. (The New York Times)

–The fight against Alzheimer’s means a lot to Leafs president Brendan Shanahan. (Sports Illustrated)

–Justin Bieber played hockey with a pro team in the UK and pulled off a serious celebration. (BarDown)

–Would Wayne Gretzky have set all those records if he was playing in today’s NHL? Mike Brophy weighs in. (CBC.ca)

–Six forgotten players that are off to fast starts in 2016-17. (USA Today)

Kings win ugly with Budaj, making things even uglier for Predators

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 31:  Drew Doughty #8 of the Los Angeles Kings reacts to the overtime goal of Jeff Carter #77 to beat the Nashville Predators 4-3 at Staples Center on October 31, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

How would you describe the Nashville Predators’ Stanley Cup bandwagon at the moment? A few flat tires? One of those abandoned school buses at a dump?

An unlikely occurrence – Peter Budaj winning four straight games for the Los Angeles Kings, all in overtime, all seriously in 2016 – puts a spotlight on an unsightly start for Nashville following a 3-2 OT decision.

In other words, it was another night where the Predators (early or not) didn’t look the part of Stanley Cup contenders.

Pekka Rinne has often been the scapegoat for Nashville’s losses, and his recent numbers justify some of the criticisms. Thursday doesn’t fall into that pattern, however. Instead, the Predators wasted a strong performance from their $7 million man, who stopped 42 out of 45 shots.

Budaj? He only needed to make 24 out of 26 stops to keep his unexpected winning streak going.

For the Kings and Predators, very different patterns continued on Thursday night.

Los Angeles has people wondering “How long can they win with Budaj?” and “Is there a team that can finally hog the puck against the Kings enough to expose him?” Don’t blame Kings fans who never want this strange sequence to end.

Nashville devotees, on the other hand, must wonder if they’re stuck in some sort of sick nightmare.

They’ve been a chic pick to win it all, yet they’re now at 2-4-1 with three away contests remaining on a challenging five-game road trip.

It’s early, but the headaches just keep multiplying for the Preds.

Mrazek comes up big as Red Wings win sixth in a row

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 21: Petr Mrazek #34 of the Detroit Red Wings looks on in the first period while playing the Nashville Predators at Joe Louis Arena on October 21, 2016 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Are the Detroit Red Wings for real or are they headed toward a humbling regression? We might have to wait until their goalies look human before that question can really be answered.

For yet another game, Detroit’s netminder was outstanding, with Petr Mrazek helping the Red Wings beat the St. Louis 2-1 via a shootout (and a pretty stressful shootout in that).

It took eight rounds until Henrik Zetterberg managed Detroit’s second and decisive tally of the “skills competition,” and now Detroit is on a six-game winning streak.

Mrazek made 31 out of 32 games through overtime and was only beaten by Alex Steen in that shootout, stopping seven of eight attempts. He’s faced more than 30 shots on goal in all six of his appearances in 2016-17.

It is not as if there has been a big drop-off when Jimmy Howard has taken the net, either. Howard has only given up one goal in his two games, winning both of them.

Are the Red Wings asking a lot of Mrazek and Howard? Yep. Just take a look a this lopsided possession chart from Natural Stat Trick for another reminder.


You can see why skeptics murmur about this six-game winning streak being fool’s gold, but the Red Wings keep finding a way to win. Usually, it’s their goalies who have been doing the heavy lifting.