Talking about the Rangers, unless I decide to talk about something else

Archive for November, 2015

Dan Girardi: Not doing so hot IMO

“Ask not for whom the blog tolls; the blog, it tolls for thee.” – John Donne

I have touched on this before, but our old friend Dan Girardi has been off to a bad start this season. To compare his on ice performance to a dumpster fire is an insult to dumpster fires everywhere. His raw Corsi (total percentage of shots on goal for/against; a 50% rating means you’re even) stats, per this tweet from Travis Yost, are 6th worst IN THE NHL. If you look at that list you’ll also notice that he has the highest total time on ice by quite a bit (he’s also typically amongst the minutes leaders for the Rangers every game), which concerns me because it means that not only is even strength possession number horrifying but he’s still being leaned on heavily by the coaching staff when the numbers strongly suggest that his usage needs to be pulled back significantly.

My thoughts on Girardi have been a little complicated. Possession numbers have never been kind to him, but as with all numbers they needed to be reviewed in the appropriate context. Girardi is constantly deployed against the other team’s best forwards, who, until this year, have seen their scoring rates drop when facing off against Girardi (For example, Ovechkin’s goals/game rate is about half as low as his career rate when facing the Rangers, and Girardi eats most of those minutes. I could look this up but I’m lazy and I will not. They mentioned it in the telecast during the last Rangers-Caps game and that’s good enough for me.). He also sees a lot of penalty kill minutes.

ACCORDING TO MY RESEARCH (don’t tell me I don’t work for you), from the beginning of the 2009-2010 season through the end of last year, he has averaged 23:48 of ice time per game. Considering he basically never misses time, he basically plays 30-something games in total ice time per year. And his minutes are HEAVY, man. All the shot blocking and hitting will wear a player down, especially considering Girardi isn’t an especially large guy (6’1″, 208 pounds listed, so assume both are lower).

It is hard for guys to play that many minutes season in and season out. Basically, it’s a skill that isn’t thought of that way, similar to durability and consistency. The problem is that Girardi isn’t outstanding athletically or skill-wise or skating-wise, if he declines at all it’s going to be hard for him to keep up with NHL-play. If he can’t keep up with NHL play, then who gives a shit if he has the endurance to play lots of minutes for almost every game in a season?

Which brings me to the problem: Girardi is having problems with basic NHL defenseman things, which would render one of his more valuable attributes essentially useless. One of the little things I keep noticing, every single game, is that he is having problems controlling the puck. Whether it’s along the boards or, worse, a clean open ice pass, Girardi is consistently mishandling passes. The reason this hurts is because, especially under pressure in your own zone, you get next to no time to play the puck in the NHL. Guys are on you immediately. When you flub a pass or mishandle a puck behind your own net, the other team gets on you and you either rush a pass (which usually is a bad one) or don’t move the puck at all (which allows a forecheck to continue). A lot of poor decisions Girardi has made with the puck have happened specifically because he’s not controlling the puck like a player in the NHL should.

Worse problem: he is making really brutal reads defensively. If you go to the Rangers’ team site and watch highlights and videos of some saves and goals allowed by Hank this year, you’ll notice Girardi pretty frequently ending up in spots that range from useless to outright dangerously bad. One that comes to mind is when Henrik Lundqvist made a save on a WIDE open Loui Eriksson in the first period against the Bruins on Friday afternoon. The Bruins win the faceoff, and then to his credit, Girardi blocks a shot. Next, the puck falls a few feet away from him and McDonagh flies up from Girardi’s left towards the player with the puck. As a defenseman, it’s Girardi’s responsibility to see his partner skating out to the high slot and immediately get back to the net front to make sure no one is open in the most dangerous area on the ice. Instead, he literally just stands still. Eriksson is wide open, his teammate makes an easy pass, and the only reason he doesn’t score is because our goalie is Henrik Lundqvist, praise be His name.

That is a single example chosen from many. Girardi’s play is a legitimate problem. The team has played over 20 games and this has been how he’s performed basically every single night. I realize I’m basically listing symptoms without giving a diagnosis, which I hate doing, but the way he’s playing makes me worry that Girardi may have lost a step and is now the dreaded “player at a different stage of his career,” which is a polite way of saying it’s about time to think about taking him out behind the woodshed. Hopefully he turns it around.

Let’s go Rangers.

The Rangers vs. Regression

“I’m from New York/Concrete jungle where blogs are made of/There’s nothing you can’t do/Now you’re in New York” – Alicia Keys

Despite some serious inconsistency in the team’s performances, the Rangers started the year off 10-2-2. That’s really good! Henrik Lundqvist has been the best goalie in the league so far! Guys like Oscar Lindberg and JT Miller are wildly outperforming expectations! Sure, guys like Nash (who’s been good otherwise) and Kreider (who’s been real bad) haven’t produced, but the overall lineup has averaged 3 goals a game! These are all good things, yes?

batman well actually

Oh no. No, no, no. Regression awaits. Fact. Death, taxes, and regression to the mean.

Lots of sites writers I enjoy have written pieces (like here and here) about the Rangers unflattering advanced statistics – 46.5% Corsi at 5 on 5 as it currently stands, 28th in the league – as if the team’s record is merely a house of cards waiting to be blown over by the wind from a flap of a hummingbird’s wing. The stat has been tracked long enough to show that a high Corsi (meaning here for the uninitiated) is usually a reliable predictor for team wins and success. Every year there’s a notable exception where a team excels and makes the playoffs despite having poor possession numbers – last year was Calgary, 2 years ago was Colorado, 3 years ago was Toronto, etc. Each of those teams came out of nowhere to succeed for a season defying the numbers then had (barring a major turnaround for Calgary this year) epic collapses the next year.

3 things:

  • First: my major problem with Corsi is that all shots are counted equally. That is categorically insane. An Ovechkin one-timer from the left side of the zone counts the exact same as a player weakly flubbing a backhander at the goal in an attempt to get a whistle. Not exactly iron-clad!
  • Second: the teams used as examples of Corsi regression victims all had one year of success out of nowhere then crashed back to Earth, and the Rangers do NOT fit that bill. The last 4 seasons have ended as such: Conference Finals, 2nd Round, Cup Finals, Conference Finals with half the defense missing at least one leg. One of these teams is not like the others, in a good way.
  • Third: Corsi is measured over all 60 minutes (or at least all 5 on 5 minutes) of a game regardless of the score, which also presents issues. The Rangers have gotten up by a few goals on teams early in games a couple time this year, and that drastically changes the way the game gets played. Consciously or not, all teams tend to play a drastically more conservative game; that requires opponents to play more aggressively, which consequently leaves them more vulnerable to counter-attacks off giveaways and mistakes. By nature a team that sits back that way is going to have an unflattering shot differential because they’re begging the other team to push the play. 2 of the Rangers worst Corsi games of the year were last week against Washington (went up 4-1 less than 7 minutes into the 2nd, – 29 Corsi differential) and Saturday against Arizona (up 3-0 just over 5 minutes into the 2nd, -16 Corsi differential) reflect that.

Since it’s ridiculous to poke holes in an argument without making your own proposal, here goes mine:

Step 1 is to view all advanced stats using only Close Score numbers. Close Score numbers reflect the statistics recorded during 5 on 5 play when the game score is tied, and when either team has a 1 goal lead in the 1st or 2nd period. This is when teams are both attempting to drive play and, in my opinion, give a better reflection of a team’s true effectiveness.

Step 2 is to take into account both the possession numbers like Corsi and High-Danger Scoring chances. This helps negate the Corsi issue in which the Michael Del Zotto Memorial 70-MPH Wrist Shot From the Point With No Traffic In Front (trademarked 2010) gets counted the same as Stamkos taking a clear path one-timer from the slot, as it provides context for how dangerous the shots taken were.

When viewed through this prism, the numbers for the Rangers this year have been just fine. Corsi at close scores is 50.6%. High-danger scoring chances at close scores are even better at 54.2%. Their overall possession stats are still a cause for concern, although that’s more because it points to how poorly the team has been in the defensive zone. We have years of evidence that show we should expect improvement on that front, but it should inspire some fear until we actually see that improvement. On the bright side, that fear is always tempered somewhat when you look in your net and Henrik Lundqvist is standing there. Advanced stats, as anyone who subscribes to them will tell you, are meant to complement what you see on the ice to give you a better understanding of performance.

The team’s play has been imperfect. Dropping into TOO much of a shell when you take a big lead isn’t the smartest move. I still worry about the play of Girardi and Boyle in the D-zone, Staal has been up and down, and McDonagh’s skating still isn’t at the level we’re used to. A couple forwards (KREIDER) have been straight up lost out there. Soon, team shooting percentage will drop by a few percentage points and Hank/Raanta’s combined save percentage will drop to something semi-human. PDO doesn’t stay at 106+ for 82 or more games.

When you build your team from the net out, as the Rangers have, sometimes you can get through these periods of at-times-uninspired play. It won’t be a formula for success come playoff-time, but the next 68 games are here for the team to work those kinks out. At this point, though, it seems to me like people are mistaking smoke for fire.

Carolina tonight. Since I wrote all this the Rangers will lose by 8. #LGR.

Happy Hour! – 11/6, @ Colorado Avalanche, 9 PM

“Come on and let’s do it/Blog it, my pony” – Ginuwine

Here’s a cool little musical performance! Chris Stapleton performing his song “Drink You Away” at the CMAs with Justin Timberlake!

  1. Chris Stapleton’s beard game, hat game, and bolo tie game are on a straight up different level. He can’t be stopped, you can only hope to contain him.
  2. Justin Timberlake is a good performer and I think he seems like a nice young man.
  3. Is your song being performed by a bearded man with gravelly voice? Are the lyrics about coping with heartbreak with whiskey? If you answered yes to these questions, I am interested in your music. Forward any and all suggestions to BillClinton @ aol dot com. (I have no reason for it, but I have a feeling Bill probably still uses AOL).
  4. Is Chris Stapleton an up and coming stud in the country world? Yes. Is Justin Timberlake a music icon? Of course. Is either of them the true star of this video? No. Ladies and gentlemen, I humbly submit to you (from about the 2:32 mark) THIS GUY:

    LOOK AT HIM

    Look at this man

That is how you own your moment on camera. Embrace the Nic Cage-esque hairline, put on your creepiest looking face, and emphasize your neck fat. Also, massive shoutout to the other guy over first guy’s shoulder keeping Patrick Swayze’s hair from the 1980s alive and well. TO HOCKEY WE GO!

LINK SPECIALS

ON TAP TONIGHT

  • The Avalanche of Colorado. They are 4-8-1, they’re near the bottom of the league in almost every single advanced stat, and have been generally horrendous. No player on their team has provided better examples of things not going how you want than, poor, poor Matt Duchene getting robbed not once, but twice in spectacular fashion. Colorado has a talented forward group in Duchene, Landeskog, MacKinnon, and old man Jarome Iginla, and an excellent goaltender in Semyon Varlamov, but the blue line is…. lacking. Really, the Rangers have no excuse to come out of here without 2 points.
  • It looks as though Rick Nash might miss some time with a back issue, meaning Emerson Etem would fill in and guys would get moved around the line-up. Personally, I hope JT Miller gets some top-6 minutes if Nash does indeed sit. At his best, he’s played great north-south hockey with a physical edge, except he’s shown he has the ability to set teammates up for really solid chances. Also, he’s like 22 years old (I could easily look this up; I will not look this up), so giving him those minutes when possible could really serve his development well.
  • Hank is playing tonight, which means we probably get Raanta tomorrow. I think Hank’s long overdue to get his first shutout, and I think tonight’s the night.
  • Fear: Nash sits, the Rangers score a bunch of goals and win easily. I don’t fear this in terms of anything affecting the team or Nash himself. What I fear is the inevitably shitty and lazy onslaught of Nash coverage and hot takes that will follow. No part of me will ever understand why human beings universally blame the best player on their favorite teams for every single thing that goes wrong. The best answer anyone ever has for this is “that’s the scrutiny stars have to deal with,” which is essentially just saying “ummm because.” Nash needs to produce points, sure, but he plays less than a third of every game and has done everything well (look up the advanced stats if you care to, but he is driving possession and scoring chances really well). Most likely, he’s hit a stretch of bad luck and will regress back to the norm. Reading coverage about Nash and the Rangers this year would lead you to believe that he’s the worst player on the team and that the team has lost every game by 7 goals. It’s lazy as hell to blame the best player for things going wrong (see: Ovechkin, Alex), and being lazy is easy. But if you’re interested in learning about hockey and what drives successful teams vs. what drags bad teams down, don’t ever listen to anyone giving you a piping hot “Nash sucks” take. They’re being lazy and, worse, they don’t have a clue what they’re talking about.

Game’s at 9. Let’s go Rangers.

Happy Hour!

Nash scoring on a shootout move

Nash scoring on a shootout move

“For the life of me/I cannot believe we’d ever die/For these sins/We were merely bloggin’.” The Freshmen, by the Verve Pipe

Howdy, and happy game day! I’ve decided to start running a new feature (Segment? Bit? I really should’ve thought this out better) before games that I’ll be calling Happy Hour. 2 reasons for this: first, casual references to heavy drinking will make me seem fun and cool and I am desperate for approval. Second, I really love this team and I want to make sure I spend more words pointing out things that are fun and interesting instead of constantly pointing out negatives. Alcohol puns, deploy.

LINK SPECIALS

Ya know, because it sounds like drink specials? God please like me.

  • How the ever-present threat of ‘backhand shelf’ influences breakaway dynamics – written by Justin Bourne at The Score (One of the best hockey writers there is), this post examines how scorers use the threat of the forehand-to-backhand-to-top shelf deke to beat, trick, and generally just be impolite to goalies everywhere. Provides an interesting insight into how Rick Nash specifically uses the threat of this move on so many of his breakaway goals (see the header picture for reference).
  • 30 Thoughts, by Elliotte Friedman – this weekly column is a must read for any NHL fan, with tons of insider tidbits and observations that don’t show up anywhere else. One item stood out, re: Henrik Lundqvist:

22. The last four seasons saw Henrik Lundqvist’s numbers drop in October, with his save percentage going                                 .929, .925, .908, .891. This year he was a monstrous .943, leading the Rangers to a strong start as coach Alain                             Vigneault tried to get others going in front of him.”

  • Blueshirt Banter – Lineup changes tonight – Blueshirt Banter is the only other Rangers blog on the internet. This post takes a look at why Girardi is being moved back to the top pairing with McDonagh despite having spent the last few games on the 3rd pairing, the reason Stalberg is back in the lineup while Etem will go back to the pressbox, and a mention of Dan Boyle being scratched for Dylan McIlrath.

ON TAP TONIGHT

  • Who to watch for on the Caps: Brayden Holtby is a stud in net; Evgeny Kuznetsov is off to a start best described via use of the Fire Emoji; Nick Backstrom remains one of the best playmaking centers in the league; new additions TJ Oshie and Justin Williams are both offensive weapons; Alex Ovechkin is the greatest goal scorer on earth and is bad at buying Batman costumes.
  • Prediction: Nash scores for the Rangers tonight, largely due to increased efforts to get to the net-front more consistently with or without the puck. That’s right, my bold prediction is that a 40-goal scorer from last year scores. I live on the fucking edge.
  • The Rangers’ power play (and offense in general, to a lesser extent) is going to try to put pucks on net every chance they get. Last game saw multiple odd-man rushes end without the puck even getting on net, and multiple power plays expired without a single attempt on goal. When the Rangers have power play struggles, they usually attempt to cure it with more north-south play, shots through screens, and, frankly, hopes and prayers for lucky bounces. Expect that this evening.
  • Tonight will be the most physical game of the season. Not only are the Caps tough, but there’s legitimate bad blood between the 2 teams after playing each other in the playoffs for the last 57 years in a row (all #s approximate).

It’s going to be fun tonight. Let’s go Rangers.

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