Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Pirates Overpower Energy

It didn't come easy. No one said it would. It's always fun to have a seven-game series, but Game Seven means there is no tomorrow for one team. Today in Denmark's Metal Ligaen, the Aalborg Pirates and the Esbjerg Energy met in Aalborg's Cool East Arena with a berth to the final on the line, and, as you can see above, the Pirates are moving on to play for all the glory!

Head coach Brandon Reid commented to me earlier today that he felt the series should have never reached a Game Seven situation, but it's where the Pirates found themselves entering the game tonight. We already know that the Pirates won, but this was a back-and-forth series. Aalborg won Game One 3-1, Game Three by a 5-4 score in overtime, and Game Five on the strength of a 4-2 score. Esbjerg won Game Two by a 5-4 score in overtime, Game Four by a 4-2 score, and 2-1 in Game Six. All the wins came on home ice as well, so there was hope the trend would continue tonight.

Well, it certainly did, and the Pirates rallied to a 4-2 victory after falling behind 2-1 just 21 minutes into the game. Kirill Kabanov, the former New York Islander, scored a goal while Aalborg was on a five-on-three power-play to tie the game, and Mikkel Højbjerg added a goal in the latter portion of the second period and a second goal midway through the third period to put the Pirates up a pair with less than ten minutes to play.

Esbjerg, sensing the impending summer vacation away from the rink, applied more pressure, outshooting the Pirates 12-7 in the final frame, but netminder Tadeas Galansky turned aside all twelve shots to ensure the Pirates advanced to the final with that 4-2 victory.

Perhaps the best moment of the night, however, came prior to the puck being dropped. Brandon Reid, a former NHL, AHL, and QMJHL player, knows all too well about riding buses while following one's dreams, and he rallied the two teams to pay special tribute before the game to the Humboldt Broncos. The teams stood for a moment of silence together around the center ice area like so many other teams have, but it just goes to show that even an ocean away there are teams and players who understand the magnitude of the tragedy and want to pay their respects to their fallen brethren. I commend Brandon for putting this tribute together while coaching a half-dozen time zones away from the tragedy.

Looking ahead, the final will be the best versus the best as the top two teams in the Metal Ligaen will meet in the final. On the one side, you'll have the second-best team in the Aalborg Pirates who will face the best team in the Herning Blue Fox. So how do these two teams stack up against one another? Let's break this one down.

Herning, as stated above, was the top team in the Metal Ligaen this season with a 30-8-8-4 record for 110 points. They scored the most goals in 193 - 21 better than the next closest team - and were second-best in the league in allowing just 124 goals. They easily had the best goal differential, and were the least penalized team in the league with just 492 total minutes in penalties. The Blue Fox put the third-most shots on net this season with 1536 shots recorded, but were only fifth-best when it came to shots-against with 1338 recorded shots on their netminders. This resulted in the third-best shot differential, and they averaged 30.72 shots-for per game while giving up 26.76 shots-against.

Aalborg was the second-best team this season with a 28-15-4-3 record for 95 points. Aalborg was the third in goals-for with 156, but were a league-best in allowing just 111, resulting in the second-best goal differential this season. The Pirates were no strangers to the sin bin, ending up seventh of the eleven teams in total penalty minutes with 683. Aalborg recorded the fourth-most shots this season with 1518 recorded, but they were far-and-away the best team when it came to shots-against as they only had 1161 shots fired on their nets. Aalborg was 168 shots-against better than the next best team, and they had the best shot differential as a result at 357. This meant that Aalborg averaged 30.36 shots per game while only surrendering 23.22.

Before we get to the individual statistics, the page with the goaltending stats for the league is currently down. I've linked the page above in case they resolve it, but as of the time of writing the page was kaput. Sorry about that.

The coaches share a couple of bonds, so let's dig into that a little. Brandon Reid coaches the Aalborg Pirates while Petri Skriko returned to where he finished his career in Herning. Reid has been at the helm of the Pirates for the last three seasons while Skriko left a scouting position with the Calgary Flames to take over the Blue Fox this season. The Twilight Zone part of this coaching tandem is that Skriko spent 15 games as a Winnipeg Jet in his career while Reid played 259 games in Winnipeg as a Manitoba Moose, and both players suited up for the Vancouver Canucks for the majority of their time in the show. Cue the Twilight Zone music!

Individually, Herning had the top three scorers in the league this season as Toni Kallela led the way with 64 points, Lasse S. Lassen recorded 61 points, and Branden Gracel had 60 points. Those three men finished in that same order when it came to goals scored by Blue Fox as well as Kallela had 25 markers, Lassen had 24, and Gracel notched 23 goals.

Aalborg's Julian Jakobsen was the top scorer for the Pirates, finishing ninth in league scoring with 51 points. Olivier Hinse was eleventh in scoring with 47 points, and Mikkel Højbjerg finished with 44 points. Hinse was the top goal scorer with 20 markers while Højbjerg and Kirill Kabanov finished the season with 19 goals apiece.

Head-to-head, the two teams played five games. Aalborg went 2-1-2 while Herning was 1-2-2. Herning went 1-0-2-0 at home, and scored 14 goals on home ice while giving up nine in the three games played at Kvik Hockey Arena. Aalborg was 2-0-0-0 on home ice, and scored 11 goals while giving up just three in the two games played at Cool East Arena. Overall, Aalborg outscored Herning 20-17 in the five games. Herning's power-play was good on 7-for-23 (30.4%) in the five games while Aalborg's power-play was 8-for-21 (38.1%). Both power-plays surrendered a shorthanded goal in the five games.

The aforementioned Branden Gracel had a field day in the five games against Aalborg, recording two goals - one of which was on the power-play - and six assists against the Pirates. Jan Dalecky scored a pair, including a power-play marker, and added four assists while Toni Kallela also had two goals - yes, one was with the man-advantage - and three helpers. Overall, 14 Blue Fox recorded points in the five games.

On the Aalborg side, Martin Højbjerg, who appears to be injured at the moment, led the Pirates with two goals, including a power-play game-winner, and four assists in the five games against the Blue Fox. His brother, Mikkel, recorded five assists, Nikolaj Carstensen had two goals and three assists, and Jakobsen had a goal and four assists. In total, 19 Pirates had points in the five-game series.

In the end, though, all the stats mean nothing. We can try and decipher who will win based on these stats, but they play the games for a reason. Game One goes Friday in Herning before returning to Aalborg for Game Two on Sunday, back to Herning for Game Three on April 17, and Game Four will go in Aalborg on April 20. If more games are necessary, they will be scheduled as necessary.

While the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs are starting, the Metal Ligaen Playoffs are coming to a close, and it couldn't be a more exciting ending! Go Pirates!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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