Tag: stats stuff


Is the hockey world wrong about Mike Smith?


Call it the Dave Tippett Effect if you want, but Mike Smith is putting together one of the quietest hot streaks in the NHL. The Phoenix Coyotes’ risky (but frugal) off-season pickup stopped 39 out of 40 shots against the Colorado Avalanche to notch his third win in a row.

Smith has been pretty much lights-out since allowing six goals against the San Jose Sharks to start the season (and even that game wasn’t really all his fault). He’s 5-2-2 overall with solid individual numbers, but his most recent games have been especially impressive:

Oct. 25: 34 out of 36 saves (OT loss to Dallas)
Oct. 27: 31 out of 34 saves (win vs. New Jersey)
Oct. 29: 37 out of 39 saves (win vs. Los Angeles)
Nov. 2: 39 out of 40 saves (win vs. Colorado)
Total: 141 out of 149 saves, 3-0-1 record.

Going into the season, I was concerned that a Coyotes defense that allowed the third-most shots in the NHL in 2010-11 would be exposed with a lesser goalie in net. These early results show that context matters, though; the Coyotes are currently tied for last place in shots allowed per game with the suffocating Nashville Predators but hinder opposing offenses anyway.

This start can be explained by some combination of three factors: a) it’s just a small sample size, b) Tippett’s system likely focuses on allowing a lot of shots but curbs quality chances and c) Smith is making as much of a difference as Bryzgalov did. Considering how much less Smith costs, option “C” must really make Don Maloney smile.

However you slice it, all that Smith and the Coyotes care about is producing yet another successful season against steep odds. Then again, betting against Tippett & Co. might be the foolish gamble instead.

Dan Bylsma transformed the Pittsburgh Penguins from a finesse team to a fighting bunch


In my mind’s eye, the Pittsburgh Penguins will always be a finesse team. Back in the Mario Lemieux/Jaromir Jagr Era, their teams were typically explosive on offense and soft on defense*, making them an adventure to watch on both ends of the ice.

* Aside from a few dirty hitters such as Ulf Samuelsson and one of my childhood favorites, Darius Kasparaitis.

Yet ever since current head coach Dan Bylsma took the mantle from Michel Therrien, the Penguins rapidly transformed from a cute and cuddly group into a rugged team that can go toe-to-toe with their cross-state rivals in Philadelphia. Another big thematic change came when the team traded downy soft offensive defenseman to Anaheim for forechecking demon Chris Kunitz. Although Kunitz isn’t a consistent fighter, his addition signaled that the Penguins would morph into a club that is uncomfortable to play against.

In fact, Puck Daddy points out the fact that the Pens are among the league leaders in fighting majors, lead the league in total penalties and rank second in total penalty minutes.

The question remains: is their newfound toughness a good thing? From the most basic standpoint, the mindset brings heightened security for stars such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin while conversely increasing the number of penalties the team must kill. Greg Wyshynski studied season-to-season results and didn’t find a conclusive trend while Seth Rorabaugh wonders if it’s such a good thing.

That’s all good and well, but is it becoming a problem? Leading the league in times shorthanded isn’t exactly a good thing. Granted, when you have the top-ranked penalty kill in the NHL, the severity of that issue is lessened, but that’s still a lot of time the Penguins have to spend playing defense for the most part. It’s also lot of time their two best players – Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin – are likely to ride the bench.

And while their penalty kill is obviously excellent, it’s not dangerous the same way the Flyers’ is with the scoring abilities of Mike Richards or Claude Giroux.

So are the Penguins better off playing their old, borderline pacifistic style or are they better off taking the good and bad that comes with getting into a lot of scuffles? Let us know in the comments.

John-Michael Liles’ hot start deserves more attention


Perhaps it’s especially appropriate to discuss under-the-radar performances this week, considering the fact that hockey fans, bloggers, writers and other people around the game might begin campaigning for write-in candidates regarding the All-Star Game voting.

One player who shouldn’t be ignored, even though he almost certainly will be is John-Michael Liles of the Colorado Avalanche. At one point not too long ago, the offensive defenseman was the source of derision, a scapegoat for the Avs’ newly found post-lockout struggles.

After putting up some solid but unspectacular numbers in his seven-year NHL career, Liles now finds himself quietly rising among the league’s leaders in points for defensemen. He nearly scored a hat trick tonight in Colorado’s dominant performance against St. Louis, scoring two goals and adding an assist to help the Avs beat the Blues 6-3.

Liles began the season red-hot. In fact, the 30-year-old defenseman broke an obscure scoring record for defensemen by earning at least one assist in the first nine games of the season, breaking a mark previously held by Ottawa’s Filip Kuba. It seemed like things were going back to “normal” after Liles went five games without a point, but he now has three games with at least one point (three goals and two assists overall) including his great game against the Blues.

That leaves Liles with an elite output to begin the 2010-11 season: he has almost a point per game with three goals and 13 assists for 16 points in 17 games. Sixteen points ties him for second place in the NHL for point scoring with Dustin Byfuglien; only Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang and Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom have more to their credit so far this season with 17 each.

Does this mean that Liles is an elite defenseman over the long haul? Not necessarily, but the veteran blueliner seems like he’s raising his game. His 22:57 average time on ice is a career high (he only averaged more than 20 minutes per game once in his career, during the 2008-09 season). He’s also making the most of those minutes; his +9 rating ties him for fifth place in the NHL in that category.

It’s not realistic for Liles to threaten a point per game pace for the entire season. Heck, that type of pace might be a bit much to expect from anyone not named Mike Green in this era of hockey. But one thing is certain: Liles isn’t getting the credit he deserves for an outstanding first 17 games.

If nothing else, he’s come a long way from the days when he was a popular choice when someone was looking for a scapegoat.