Tyson Barrie, Semyon Varlamov

Leafs collapse should be cautionary tale for young Avs

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The collapse of the Toronto Maple Leafs — a collapse that was widely predicted by hockey’s burgeoning analytics community — should be a wake-up call for anyone who still doubts the predictive value of shot-based metrics like Corsi, and what those statistics say about a team.

No, Corsi doesn’t tell the whole story; if you’re looking for a be-all-end-all hockey statistic, you’re not going to find one. But those who continue to ignore what’s already out there, well, frankly, we’re not sure how anyone can continue to ignore these stats.

Consider: the top three teams in Corsi (score close, 5-on-5) are Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston. The bottom three are Buffalo, Toronto, and Edmonton.

This is not some giant coincidence. Good teams possess the puck more than they don’t, and that’s all these shot-based metrics are trying to measure. There’s really nothing “advanced” about these stats.

A lack of puck possession can be overcome, at least in smaller sample sizes, by factors like goaltending, special teams, and high shooting percentages. However, as the Leafs are discovering, relying on those things can be a dangerous game to play.

In the Globe and Mail, this is what they’re writing about the Leafs, losers of eight straight in regulation:

Fixing what ails this franchise will not be easy. Doing it while in continued denial about its faults will be impossible.

There has been an unearned hubris around this group for a while, going back well before last season’s half season run, and it permeates the organization from the players to the staff, management and ownership.

And this is what they’re writing in the National Post:

Hockey is fighting its way through the early days of analytics, which long ago washed over baseball and are transforming basketball.

And in hockey, the basic puck possession stats — Corsi, which measures shots attempts for and against, and Fenwick, which excludes blocked shots — have often been met with derision, not least by the Leafs themselves.

For an up-and-coming team like the Colorado Avalanche, what’s happened to Toronto should be a cautionary tale. We say this because the Avs are currently 26th in Corsi, above only Buffalo, Toronto, Edmonton, and Calgary. And that’s generally not the kind of company you want to keep.

For all the coach-of-the-year buzz that Patrick Roy is receiving, if not for his starting goaltender, Semyon Varlamov, there’s just no way Colorado would have the sixth-most points in the NHL. Varlamov has made 1,715 saves this season, the most of any netminder in the league. If the Hart Trophy were actually given to the “player judged most valuable to his team,” he would have a strong case for winning it.

Now, this isn’t to blame the Avs for having a good goalie. Nor can you say their 10.3 shooting percentage, the second highest in the NHL, is just luck, what with all the young offensive talent they boast up front. When those guys get the puck in good spots, they’re going to bury a lot of shots.

It’s simply a question of, can you count on these things to continue at their current rate into the future?

History says no.

Last season, the Ottawa Senators led the league in 5-on-5 save percentage with the score close. They made the playoffs and Paul MacLean was named coach of the year.

The season before, the Florida Panthers led the league in 5-on-5 save percentage with the score close. They made the playoffs and many felt that Kevin Dineen, since fired, was snubbed big-time in the coach-of-the-year nominations.

On Saturday, Colorado beat the Sharks, 3-2, to clinch a playoff spot.

The Avs were outshot, 49-22.

Video: Canucks escape Arizona with another win for the moms

at Pepsi Center on February 9, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.
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With their mothers traveling on the road trip — Matt Bartkowski‘s mom, Beth, has become a cult hero in Vancouver after another priceless media interview — the Canucks took back-to-back wins, moving them right back into the thick of the playoff fight in the Western Conference.

After beating the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday, the Canucks held on for the 2-1 victory in Arizona on Wednesday, despite being without Brandon Sutter (broken jaw), Alex Edler (broken fibula) and Derek Dorsett, who was scratched from the lineup due to illness, as per Sportsnet’s Dan Murphy.

It was only a few days ago, following a home loss to the Calgary Flames, that it felt like the Canucks’ playoff hopes were essentially dashed. They fielded their healthiest lineup in months and couldn’t score and couldn’t win.

Two quick wins later, they’re two points out of a Wild Card spot in the West, despite getting outshot in Arizona.

Up by a goal in the third period, defenseman Alex Biega played the hero, pulling the puck out of the crease after it got by Ryan Miller on a backhand shot from Kyle Chipchura, maintaining Vancouver’s lead.

Phaneuf burned on Zetterberg game-winner in Sens debut

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A day after getting traded out of Toronto, Dion Phaneuf made his Ottawa Senators debut.

It ended with a 3-1 road loss for the Senators, and Phaneuf getting burned by Henrik Zetterberg on the eventual game winner early in the third period.

Zetterberg picked up the puck near the Ottawa blue line, beat Phaneuf to the outside, slipped the puck under the stick of the Sens’ newest blue liner and quickly roofed his shot on Craig Anderson.

“He made a real good play and you’ve got to give credit when credit is due,” Phaneuf told the Ottawa Sun.

“I put my stick there, he put (the puck) under and he made a good shot. I’ve got to have a better stick in that situation, but you’ve got to give him credit for that play.”

Phaneuf finished the night with a minus-one rating and two hits in almost 22 minutes of ice time, putting him second among Sens defensemen in that category behind Erik Karlsson, who played a whopping 33:30.

Phaneuf drilled Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser with a hard slap shot early in the third period.

DeKeyser played one more shift — all of 10 seconds — before exiting the game.

Video: Rangers shut out red-hot Sidney Crosby and the Penguins

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The New York Rangers are likely too far behind the Washington Capitals to take any legitimate run at the Atlantic Division down the stretch.

But winners now of four straight, the Rangers have opened up a bit of a gap between them and other Eastern Conference teams in the playoff race. New York scored a 3-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, winners in six of their last seven games, on Wednesday.

In the process, they held a red-hot Sidney Crosby off the score sheet, which has been a difficult, sometimes impossible task for opposing teams since about the middle of December. He entered this game with a seven-game scoring streak.

(In fact, New York held No. 87 to without a shot on goal in the entire game.)

Henrik Lundqvist stopped all 34 shots he faced for the shutout.

Kevin Hayes gave the Rangers the lead in the first period, before Dominic Moore and Jesper Fast put the game away in the third.

Pittsburgh remains in the second Wild Card spot in the East. The Rangers now move three points clear of the rival Islanders for second in the Metropolitan.

Video: Wideman hearing ‘a tricky case’ as NHLPA hopes to get 20-game suspension reduced

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There is no certain timeline for when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman might rule on Dennis Wideman‘s appeal, according to a report from hockey insider Darren Dreger on NBCSN, as the Calgary Flames defenseman hopes to get his 20-game ban for hitting linesman Don Henderson reduced.

“Now, ultimately what they’re hoping from a Wideman perspective and the Players’ Association is that commissioner Gary Bettman will rule and he will reduce the number of games suspended down from 20,” said Dreger during a segment on NBCSN.

“Is he going to reduce it by three games? Five games seems a bit of a stretch. And when might he do that? There’s no timeline on this.”