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.

Auston Matthews keeps goal streak alive, gives Leafs 1-0 lead in third

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These are the moments Toronto Maple Leafs fans were dreaming about when they drafted Auston Matthews. At least those bold enough to picture such great things, so soon in his career.

Speaking of so soon … that’s not how you’d describe a 1-0 goal happening in the third period of a game in this Leafs – Washington Capitals series, but it took that long to break the ice in Game 6.

It took a very lucky bounce for the puck to find its way to Matthews … but the finish was pure skill. With that, the remarkable rookie now has a goal in four straight games (with an assist thrown in for good measure).

The lead wouldn’t last long, however, as Marcus Johansson scored to tie it 1-1.

Things could get awfully nervous for Toronto as they try to force a decisive Game 7 in Washington, but that was a huge goal by Matthews either way.

Clarke MacArthur, Craig Anderson made Sens win that much more emotional

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It could have been over for Clarke MacArthur plenty of times during his turbulent NHL career. Scratch that, his turbulent hockey career.

His team walked away from his salary arbitration award. MacArthur’s seen plenty of people give up on him. And then, when he finally found a home with the Ottawa Senators, concussion issues threatened to end his playing days.

Yet, there he was on Sunday … drawing a penalty in overtime and then scoring on the ensuing power play to help the Senators advance beyond the Boston Bruins.

He didn’t deny that he imagined very different possibilities during his darker moments.

And, as uplifting as his story was – seriously, just watch this interview and try not to root for the guy – it wasn’t the only emotionally charged moment from Game 6.

Nicholle Anderson was on hand to cheer on Craig Anderson in this one, and the two were able to embrace after the contest:

As violent and intense as the playoffs can often be, MacArthur and Anderson reminded us of the gentler human side of it all.

Erik Karlsson played through hairline fractures in foot to help Sens advance

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Remember when many were keeping an eye on Erik Karlsson after he was seemingly cramping up after logging more than 40 minutes in an OT contest against the Boston Bruins?

It’s possible he was also dealing with that sort of ailment, but he earned some “hockey tough” kudos on Sunday after word surfaced that the Ottawa Senators defenseman was dealing with hairline fractures in his left heel through the series.

Sportsnet’s Jason York refers to the issue as “two small fractures” while ESPN’s Joe McDonald went into specifics, noting that Karlsson explains that the injury happened on March 28 (and was why he missed some games late in the season).

There’s some optimism as the Senators ready for the New York Rangers, at least according to Karlsson.

Hmm.

Either way, that’s impressive stuff from the Senators defenseman, and the sort of information that usually only surfaces after a team has been eliminated. We’ll see if he’s hindered by such issues as the playoffs go along.

Gaudreau, Granlund and Tarasenko: 2017 Lady Byng finalists

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The NHL officially announced the nominees for the 2017 Lady Byng on Sunday, and they’re a star-studded bunch: Johnny Gaudreau, Mikael Granlund and Vladimir Tarasenko.

The PHWA determines “the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”

(Did Tarasenko help eliminate Granlund’s team in a gentlemanly fashion?)

For more on the three finalists, click here.