Thursday, 22 November 2007

The Axe Has Fallen

The NHL's coaching fraternity has suffered its another loss this season, and Glen Hanlon is the man on the outs. After a 5-1 loss last night at the hands of their divisional rival, the Atlanta Thrashers, the Capitals fired head coach Hanlon after posting a 6-14-1 through 21 games this season. They are the worst team in the NHL right now with 13 points, four points back of the Barney Rubble Hairpieces, Edmonton Oilers, and Los Angeles Kings who all have 17 points. Their 47 goals-for thus far is only a goal better than both the Long Island Broncos and the Phoenix Coyotes who are last in that department. Taking these stats into consideration, is it any wonder why changes with the Capitals had to be made?

Bruce Boudreau has been named the team's interim head coach. Boudreau has compiled a 103-45-11-16 record with the AHL's Hershey Bears. He led the team to the Eastern Conference championship and the Calder Cup finals in each of his first two years in Hershey, winning the Calder Cup in 2006. This season, the Bears were 8-7-0 thus far. He will make his debut as head coach on Friday in Philadelphia against the Flyers.

The Capitals trail the Florida Panthers by eight points, and have looked nothing like the team that was supposed to be a lock for the playoffs this year, if you took Ted Leonsis at his word.

On his blog, Mr. Leonsis writes, "I can't sleep. I was up at 4:30 am this morning. I am in pain. I am angry. I want desperately for us to turn it around and win some games as does everyone in our organization." I think that speaks for just about every Capitals' fan this season as well.

What has been working? Ovechkin is playing pretty well, having scored 14 goals and 23 points thus far. Nylander has been the setup man that Washington needed, having recorded 14 assists and 19 points. Viktor Kozlov has stepped in and produced as well, scoring three goals and 13 points.

Where did it go wrong? Losing Alexander Semin for all but six games so far this season has hurt the Capitals. Niklas Backstrom has looked overwhelmed at times as a rookie, having only recorded one goal and nine points so far. Tom Poti has been anything but an offensive threat from the blueline, having only recorded four assists in 15 games.

Defensively, the Capitals have been horrible. If it weren't for Olaf Kolzig, their record could be much worse. The Capitals' defencemen are a collective -17 this season, with only Brian Pothier and Jeff Schultz above zero in the plus/minus department. Shaone Morrisonn is a team-worst -10, but has played in every game. Why is he still in the lineup? He clearly has a problem stopping opposing players.

This team is a long way from being an elite team in their division, let alone their conference. It will be a long, hard climb back up from the basement, but it has to start Friday. If they need an example, they should look at the team that beat them last night. Atlanta, who started 0-6 this season, has climbed back to second in the Southeast Division, sporting an 11-10-0 record. They are playing good hockey, and everyone appears to be on the same page.

The Capitals can still make the playoffs. There's no doubt that they can be a plucky team who scraps for every point. The only question is will the team be willing to fight for every point for another 60 games? Only time will tell.

Happy Thanksgiving, Mr. Hanlon. Here's your pink slip. Who's next?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


Connie said...

I have wondered (on more than one occasion) what the deal is with the +/- stat. And it wasn't until recently where I've heard other people question it's function as well. So I don't feel so dumb in asking: what's the deal with the +/-?

Wikipedia has a good overview of it, but don't you think the stat is more of a reflection of how the team is doing as a whole rather than a player as an individual? Take Alex Ovechkin (since this post is about the Caps), you can't deny his talents, but when you look at his +/- he's a 0. Why? Because the team is doing terribly.

Henrik Zetterburg - he's +9 and his team is dominating the West.
Dany Heatly - +15 and the Sens are annihilating the East.

So, is it wrong to argue that this particular stat isn't as relevant as other stats when looking at individual players?

Teebz said...

Plus/minus is the reflection of the number of goals scored by your team or on your team while you're on the ice in an even-strength situation. It is a very telling stat to give you an idea how a player performs in an even-strength situation since most of the game is played 5-on-5.

The fact that Ovechkin is a zero suggests his team scores as many goals during even-strength play as they give up. That means that he's either scoring goals or stopping them. Zetterburg is a +9, but scores a pile of his points on the powerplay, meaning he's average in plus/minus. Heatley, though, is a beast during even-strength, and his plus/minus reflects that. He has been on the ice for 15 more even-strength goals than his team has given up.

Connie said...

Hmm...touche, sir. I guess I always forget that the +/- stat is for even strength situations... But I see your point.

bob said...

Sometimes I think plus/minus is misleading. Example: A D-man passes up ice and goes off for a change. One more pass, shot, score. An assist for the D-man, but no plus because he'd gone off, and a guy who just showed up and had nothing to do with the play gets the plus. And the empty-net plus-minuses are also a misleading reflection. If an attacking team scores a goal, it gets six pluses (or, if it's scored on, it gets six minuses). But I haven't been able to figure out a better way to do it... I mean, a guy scores a 3-on-5 goal, shouldn't he get two pluses???

Teebz said...

It's still a relevant measurement as to how a player performs in a 5-on-5 situation which, for most of the game, is how the game is played.

There are no plus/minus stats handed out for powerplays because the team with more players has an obvious advantage.

When a team is playing against a team that has pulled its goalie, there are still only five minuses given to the team with five non-goaltender players, not six.
And that is the correct call because the advantages are even: one team has more offenive players to score a goal in exchange for the risk of having an empty-net goal scored against them.

I look at it this way. Last season, Sheldon Souray scored 26 goals and 38 assists for 64 points in 81 games. Those are fairly decent stats. He also scored 19 PP goals. However, he was a -28 overall, meaning he was on the ice for 28 more even-strength goals scored against Montreal than the Canadiens scored. That's simply brutal.

Yes, he has a cannon-like slapshot, but he is lost in defensive zone coverage.