On ‘score effects,’ and the challenges of playing with the lead

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If you haven’t heard the term “score effects” before, you’re getting a great example of the phenomenon in the Pittsburgh-Columbus series, where it seems the first key to winning is falling behind by two or three goals.

Per Extra Skater, here are how Games 3 and 4 played out in terms of shot attempts:

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It’s not hard to see what happened in both games. The team that fell behind was the one that attacked and dominated possession in the latter stages, while the team that took the lead went into a defensive shell.

This is typical in hockey. We see the same sort of thing in football, when a team with the lead employs a prevent defense and allows the opposition to do pretty much anything but score. Hang back. Don’t blitz. Hope the clock runs out.

But is it a good strategy? Or, in other words, as much as it’s intuitive to avoid things like turnovers at the opposition blue line when you’re playing with a lead, is dumping it deep — essentially handing possession back over — and making sure you’re in good defensive position really the smart play?

Another question: even if a coach tells his players to keep attacking and avoid playing scared — and coaches definitely tell their players this at times– how big a psychological challenge is it for players to actually do it? After all, nobody wants to be the guy who makes the boneheaded turnover that costs his team the game. Best to just dump it in. Or if you’re in your own end, chip it out. Nothing wrong with living to fight another day. Right?

Obviously, this is not a new debate in hockey. How to play with the lead has been a consideration since, well, probably since the first lead was taken. What’s different now, though, compared to maybe 10 years ago is there’s all sorts of statistical evidence to show coaches exactly what happens when a team goes into a defensive shell.

And make no mistake, there are NHL coaches and general managers who look at these stats. Not all of them maybe, but definitely some. Take the Minnesota Wild, who reportedly endeavored this season to stop dumping the puck in so much after considering some statistical analysis which concluded that carrying the puck in — even if it brought more risk into the equation — was the optimal way to enter the zone.

“You don’t need to take any chances when you’ve got a lead,” said¬†Pittsburgh forward Craig Adams. “At the same time, you can’t sit back. That tends to give you more problems than if you just stick with your game. We did that a bit [Wednesday], especially in the second period. We were in our end way too much. We still want to get a lead.”

Game 5 goes Saturday in Pittsburgh.

PHT Morning Skate: Marc-Andre Fleury’s ‘thank you’ letter to Pittsburgh

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–Sean McIndoe provides a list of 12 teams that are facing a high amount of pressure this off-season. The Canadiens still need a center, the Caps need something to get over the hump and the Avs need to shake things up after having one of the worst seasons in recent history. (Sportsnet)

–Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has moved on from the Pittsburgh Penguins, but it’s pretty clear that he won’t forget his years there. Fleury mentioned all of his best memories in a “thank you” letter to the people of Pittsburgh. “So thank you, fans. I wish I could put into words how much of an impact your support has made on me and my family. We have become Pittsburghers.” (The Players’ Tribune)

–The Hockey News handed out some of their own (made up) awards for the 2016-17 season. The Mario Lemieux Award, which is given to the best player in the NHL, went to Edmonton’s Connor McDavid. The Wayne Gretzky Award, given to the league’s most valuable player, also went to McDavid. (The Hockey News)

Scott Darling has moved from Chicago to Carolina this off-season. As of right now, he doesn’t have his old no. 33, but he’s working on getting it from forward Derek Ryan. The goalie even tried having open negotiations on Twitter. In the end, they were able to get something done. (BarDown)

–The Boston Bruins didn’t make a ton of noise during the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, as they just seemed to fly under the radar. Beat reporter Joe Haggerty handed out draft grades for each of the team’s selections. First-rounder Urho Vaakenainen only fetched a B-minus. (CSN New England)

–Teemu Selanne found out he was going to the Hockey Hall of Fame yesterday. His incredible career got going with a legendary rookie season that saw him score 76 goals and 132 points. Those are numbers we’ll probably never see again. (NHL.com)

Report: Capitals keep Connolly for two years, $3 million

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Earlier on Monday the Washington Capitals did not extend a qualifying offer to restricted free agent Brett Connolly. Even with that decision there were indications the team was still looking to re-sign him before he became an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

On Monday night the team reportedly did just that.

According to TSN’s Bob McKenzie the Capitals have agreed to terms with Connolly on a two-year contract that will pay him an average annual salary of $1.5 million per season.

He played the 2016-17 season on a one-year deal that paid him $850,000.

The 24-year-old Connolly appeared in 66 games for the Capitals this past season, scoring 15 goals and posting excellent possession numbers to make him a valuable depth player for a team that won the Presidents’ Trophy for the second year in a row. But after being held without a point in his first seven playoff games he found himself as a healthy scratch for the remainder of their second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, being replaced by Paul Carey.

 

Trade: Vegas sends Marc Methot to Stars

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After being selected in the expansion draft Marc Methot‘s stay with the Vegas Golden Knights was a very brief one.

The veteran defenseman was traded to the Dallas Stars on Monday evening in exchange for a 2020 second-round draft pick and goalie prospect Dylan Ferguson.

Ferguson was just selection by the Stars this past weekend in the seventh-round.

It has been expected that Vegas would continue to deal players it selected in the expansion draft as it looks to build its organization from the ground up, and draft picks seem to be their desired return at this point in trades.

After making 12 selections this past weekend thanks to their many pre-expansion draft dealings, the Golden Knights have already started to stockpile future draft picks in several trades. They already have 11 draft picks, including three second-round selections, for the 2019 draft (which is still two years away) and already nine for the 2020 draft (three years away!). That total includes another three second-rounders in 2020 including the pick they just acquired for Methot.

They also have Pittsburgh’s second-round pick in 2020 in exchange for taking goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury in the expansion draft.

As for the Stars, they are clearly looking to reshape their defense after taking a pretty significant step backwards this past season. They were 29th in the NHL in goals against.

In 68 games with the Ottawa Senators this past season Methot scored zero goals while recording 12 assists. He spent most of his time the past few seasons playing alongside Erik Karlsson. He might get an opportunity to play next to another Swedish star in Dallas if the Stars decide to pair him with John Klingberg.

Vegas picked a lot of veteran defensemen in the expansion draft with the hopes of potentially flipping them to other teams (Jason Garrison, Alexei Emlin, Clayton Stoner, just to name a few). If the return for Methot on Monday night is any indicator of what to expect, you should probably expect more future draft picks to come their way if they end up dealing any of them in the coming weeks.

Stability, Stanley Cup aspirations ‘a breath of fresh air’ for Mike Smith

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The Calgary Flames officially introduced their two newest players on Monday afternoon when they welcomed starting goaltender Mike Smith and defenseman Travis Hamonic to the organization.

The addition of Hamonic gives the Flames what should be an outstanding top-four on defense as he joins a blue line that already features Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie and Dougie Hamilton.

While that defense might be one of the better ones in the Western Conference, the Flames are hopeful that Smith can help solidify a goaltending position that was a major question mark this past season and a significant weakness for much of it.

It’s not only a big move for the Flames, but it also seems to be an exciting one for Smith as he goes from a team in a clear rebuild mode that hasn’t made the playoffs in five years to one that suddenly has Stanley Cup aspirations.

On Monday, Smith was asked about what it is like for him going from a team that was constantly surrounded by uncertainty off the ice and what it will be like to play for a team that wants to keep getting closer to a Stanley Cup.

“It’s a breath of fresh air,” said Smith. “It’s something I have been begging for quite some time now. I am a competitor, and I want to win real bad. I feel like this move is an opportunity and a challenge and I am going to take it on full steam. I really respect this team, playing against them is always a challenge. I look forward to being on this side of it and helping this team be real successful.”

Smith spent the past six seasons in Arizona, compiling a .916 save percentage during that time. He is coming off of a 2016-17 season that saw him go 19-26-9 in 55 games with a .914 save percentage.

Flames goalies finished the season with a .910 mark as Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson spent most of the season splitting time in the crease. Neither goalie will be back this season making it the second year in a row they have completely overhauled the position.

With a defense that figures to be one of the best in the Western Conference and an offense led by young stars Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Matthew Tkachuk the Flames are clearly in a win-now mode. That is going to put a ton of pressure on Smith to solidify the position. That pressure does not seem to bother him.

“The position calls for that,” said Smith, via the Flames’ website. “I’ve taken it upon myself to be that guy, every time I go on the ice.

“I’m one guy who wears his heart on his sleeve. I want to win so bad that sometimes it can work against me. I think, though, with experience in the league I’ve learned how to handle that, how to be a solid force back there. I think I can bring some leadership, be a calming influence back there.”