Monday, August 30, 2010

And We All Pulled The Trigger USSR 5 Canada 3





Game Four. Vancouver.

Colin, aka Mr Debakey, another 'original' Oilogosphere man, did the work for games four and five and you are going to love it. Serious details including a breakdown of the Russians. He also sent along his notes on the game and that is what we are going to start with. Great stuff and thank you Colin. Thank you very much.

After successful outings in Toronto and Winnipeg, The Team Canada Express hit the ditch in the middle two matches of the Super Series.

Black Dog has already touched on some of the problems with the Canadian roster of 37 [count 'em!] out-of shape guys.

Mikita, Glennie, Tallon and Eddie Johnston were all late additions. The CAHA bowed to NHL pressure and replaced four contract breakers; Bobby Hull, Gerry Cheevers, JC Tremblay and Derek Sanderson. Guy Lapointe was also drafted in to replace Jacques Laperriere who stepped aside due to a new baby.

For Harry Sinden, the Canadian leg of the series became a series of exhibition games, searching for 19 guys who could do it.

I think the original plan saw three lines:

Mahovlich Esposito - Cournoyer
Hadfield Ratelle Gilbert
Ellis Clarke Henderson

With the rest filling as needed.

After the debacle in Montreal, Team Canada swung into Plan B for Games 2 and 3.

Clarke's line was left intact. The other two lines were built around wingers for Esposito and a center for Cournoyer/Mahovlich. This reflected the inability of the Rangers line to get untracked. With Bobby Hull banished and Hadfield stalled, Sinden couldn't count on either of the NHLs 50-goal men.

Even though Plan B had worked, someone decided to implement Option 3, Operation MacBlender, in Vancouver.

Clarke's line continued as a force.

The other 8 forwards consisted of two Centers Esposito and Perrault lined up with three sets of wingers:

- The Rangers pair of Hadfield and Gilbert.
- The Canadiens pair of Cournoyer and Mahovlich.
- The third pair had new boy Dennis Hull on Left Wing while Bill Goldsworthy returned on the Right.

Additional changes saw the return of Dryden in goal, so to did the defense pair of Seiling and Awrey.

Park, Bergman, White & Stapleton made up the rest of the D.

Option 3 failed.

Actually, Bill Goldsworthy strangled it at birth. Goldsworthy took stupid intimidation penalties on each of his first two shifts. The ensuing powerplays saw shooter Lutchenko and tipper Mikhailov team up to convert two long shots into goals. The game Ken Dryden didn't have a chance on either.

Bobrov had last change in Game 4. He didn't seem to worry about match-ups as long as Kharmolov was kept away from Ron Ellis [my favourite player in those pre-WHA days].

So, seven minutes in and its 2-0 USSR. Canada's pressing and Option 3 sees the forward lines constantly evolving. Its a scrappy game. It feels like were going shift after shift without any real scoring chances. Id get all the players noted, they'd bang the puck around for 90 seconds. Change. Id note all the players. They'd bang the puck around. Change. Note. Bang the puck around. Change. Note. Bang. Change.

Funny thing is, I recorded about the same number of events for both Games 4 & 5. It sure didnt feel like it.

I recently found a copy of the September 1971 issue of Hockey World magazine in my moms basement [ed. Insert blogger joke here]. The cover reads:

Ken Drydens Dilemma: What to do for an Encore

Well, one year later he has one helluva dilemma on his hands.

Burned badly in Game 1.

Now, in Game 4, he's scorched early by the trio of Mikhailov, Lutchenko and Goldsworthy.

Dryden is a basket case; a simple shot leaks through his pads and dribbles past the post. Don Awrey saves a similar shot from staggering across the line.

It started on another ineffectual Canadian power-play. The puck is passed back to Dryden. He stops it. The fans cheer. The restless Vancouverians jeer and catcall as the Soviets build their lead. After the game, Phil Esposito make his famous Disappointed speech.

His target, the grandparents of the Matt Cooke Fan Club, spit and scratch themselves.

Team Canada scored 5 minutes into the 2nd period on an end-to-ender by Gilbert Perrault. Canadas kid burned the Soviet's Kid Line Anisin, Bodunov & Lebedev. Bobrov shows no mercy and immediately pulls the Kids plug. Shadrin & Yakuchev take their spot in the three-line rotation with Anisin staying on the wing.

The Rangers pair of Hadfield and Gilbert played their last shift midway through the third. Neither were particularly bad, but not good either. Gilbert did have a goal disallowed [fairly] in the 2nd period. Hadfield didnt play again in the Series. He did play in Sweden, however, cutting the Swedish Captain open with a two-hander across the chops.

Dennis Hull scored a late goal for Canada. A nice goal. Other than that he spent his first game blasting shots at Tretiak from the blueline. He was also Minus-7 in Scoring Chances, the team leader.

So, I ask myself why Goldsworthy? I'm not criticizing, just wondering.
Why him and not Jean Pronovost, another right winger, but with better stats?
[Plus, Pronovosts smarter, right? Gotta be.] Now that I'm at it, where were Fred Stanfield and Jacques Lemaire two smart & skilled guys who scored more than a Point-per-Game. And did Vadnais turn them down, or was it no Seals allowed?
I'll try to find out.
(Colin emailed me afterwards to note that Vadnais was no longer a Seal so this reference was incorrect but perhaps they didn't even want former Seals? Sorry LT. ;) )

Home ice advantage ends. USSR 2 Wins, Canada 1 Win, 1 Tie.

In the vernacular of the day, Bummer, man.

-----------------------------------

Colin also sent along the pics above and originally I was going to post the Hawks' picture here as this was the first game that all three would play in the Series and then I was going to post the Sinden picture for game five. I decided to post Sinden here as well because this is the game that he has a serious impact on and its not in a positive manner.

Lapointe is injured in game three and Savard gets hurt in practice so they are replaced by Seiling and Awrey and while they were awful in game one I cannot really blame Sinden for this. The remaining D on the roster are Dale Tallon, Brian Glennie and Jocelyn Guevremont. Tallon and Guevremont were 21 years old. Glennie was, well, a poor man's Don Awrey from what I can tell. So the options are limited. Telling though is that when Stapleton is iffy for game eight it is Tallon who is tabbed to replace him. Sinden saw enough between G1 and G4 of Awrey and Seiling (Seiling would also get into G5 because Savard was still out) that neither were considered for the concluding game.

Up front and in goal is where problems arise with Sinden's choices imo. As mentioned at the end of the last post Mikita's conditioning was not there and Cashman's lack of discipline was an issue so I can understand their removal from the lineup. But the Canadians have been playing a winning hand from day one. Now they are weakened on the back end. You would think that Sinden would stay with as much of the lineup from games two and three as he possibly can. Put out Perreault as the fourth centre and spot Ratelle with him if you are still not sure about number eighteen (although Ratelle was good in game three). Bring back Gilbert to replace Cashman if you think he may, like Ratelle, be able to get going.

Instead Sinden makes a total of eight changes instead of the two absolutely necessary ones and the two that make some sense. Peter Mahovlich, their primary PK man, is gone. So is Ratelle. And so is Parise. In their spots come Hadfield, Dennis Hull and Goldsworthy, who played one ES shift (two shifts total) in G2.

And Esposito, excellent in both Toronto and Winnipeg, gets replaced by Dryden who was poor in game one.

The club is set up for failure. I don't understand the goaltending move. I can see why Hadfield and Gilbert get in. They were so good the season prior that perhaps Sinden figures they can get untracked. If they do then he can go back to Plan A.

But overall its a bit of a mess. When its all over with Hadfield and Awrey will not play again against the Russians. Goldsworthy somehow makes it into the lineup one more time. Unbelievable. Anyhow here are some of our totals. I have more data to post and hope to add it in here tomorrow (Tuesday). Colin has amassed some terrific stuff, my problem is I am too dumb to format it so I can plug it in here properly. So a lot more details to follow but for now here is a simple breakdown of what he came up with:









So here are the totals: Corsi ES 68-64, PP 6-3, SH 1-7, Total 75-74 Scoring Chances ES 27-26, PP 3-0, SH 0-2 Total 30-28

So first, Dryden. He looks terrible at times but he is not at fault on any of the goals. They are all five bell chances. The problem is that he really only stops a couple of those through the game. Not to say that Esposito would have stopped any of the five but Dryden fails, as he did in game one, to change the game for the positive. On the other hand Tretiak makes the stops, especially in the second when at a pivotal point in the game he makes save after save when the Canadians come on. So while Dryden cannot be faulted at the same time he is not making a difference. Would Esposito have done so?

On the blue things are pretty well according to Hoyle. Park and Bergman are not as good as they have been but their numbers are either in the black or even. They are on for the last goal of the game along with Esposito, Hull and Goldsworthy (this happens twice to this line), the Soviets gain control in the Canadian zone and the Canadians are running around and never touch the puck until they fish it out of their own net. Its not a great game for this pair but they don't get killed either.

White and Stapleton come into their own this game with one unfortunate exception. They are both in the black in Corsi and they kill in the scoring chances, both having a nice plus in a tough game for a few players. They have one tough moment. With the game two to one and the Clarke line having two great opportunities to tie it up they line up for a faceoff in the Russian zone. It comes to Henderson who pushes it back to the point weakly. The Russian winger busts past him and Stapleton does what he does. He gambles and pinches. He and the winger meet at the puck and the Russian pushes it to the centre who has come hard. Two on one. Three to one USSR. Stapleton lives by the sword and this time he dies by it. Its unfortunate timing.

The thing is the Canadians keep coming on after this goal. Cournoyer had two (!) breakaways on one shift and gets turned away each time and then on the power play Gilbert beats his man and takes a pass from Hadfield in the crease. The problem is that the pass hits his skates before he can get his stick down and while Tretiak is beaten it is ruled that Gilbert has directed the puck in. Perhaps its inadvertent but its not a bad call. Soon after Awrey and Seiling, who had been reasonable to this point, do Canada in. Awrey goes back to retrieve a shootin. He has all the time in the world and still somehow he hashes it, losing the puck. The Russians chip it to the corner where Seiling has three attempts at it. He fails and the puck ends up in the net once again. (This is the first goal that Esposito, Hull and Goldsworthy are on for, their coverage is abysmal.)

Awrey won't play again after tonight as Lapointe draws back in and Seiling will play one more game until Savard is healthy. They aren't as terrible as they were in game one but they cannot handle the Russians at all. Six Canadians end up in the red in scoring chances. All three of the Esposito line, Gilbert at a minus one and this pair. They also lose the Corsi battle. Its not a total disaster for them but its obvious that they cannot compare to Lapointe and Savard and Canada needs the latter two badly.

As for the forwards well its a mixed bag allround. Poor doomed Goldsworthy taps in a rebound after Esposito hits the crossbar but he takes two absolutely horrible penalties in his first shifts of the game and the rest of the game his teammates have to dig out of that hole. He actually jumps onto the ice for his first shift and immediately hacks the puck carrier, elbows him in the head and then elbows him in the head after the whistle. Later in the series the Canadian discipline is just awful but here is where, like Cashman in game three, it begins to rear its ugly head. After the first goal against Hadfield and Gilbert get a turn, then Mahovlich and Cournoyer and then the Clarke line. There is a nice push from the Canadians and then Goldworthy skates out and takes another penalty. Next thing you know they are two down. Sinden still sticks with him however and the end result is pretty awful. In the box for two goals against. On the ice for two more. He scores one and Hull scores another at the end of the game but these two and Esposito between them have a tough tough game. Hull adds some speed to the lineup and while he is not very good one can see why he may get another chance.

Hadfield is not a factor. He cannot keep up. This will be it for him. He has had two shots at it and nothing doing at all and so he falls on the depth chart below Parise and Hull. Gilbert also has little impact but he is in the mix physically and he can at least stay with the play and so when Sinden looks at his options at RW and sees him, Cashman and Goldsworthy he gets the edge.

The Clarke line has a pretty typical game for them. They bend but they don't break and their scoring chance numbers are tremendous. Ellis especially is very very good. At one to nothing they come on hard, at two to one they almost score twice and early in the third they cue another Canadian charge.

This is the story of the game. The Russians score and then the Canadians come on hard. They outplay the Russians, get their chances and then it gets derailed by a penalty or a bad pinch. It happens in the first when they are down one to nothing. After the Russians score their second goal the game goes into a lull. Then Perreault scores early in the second on a beautiful end to end rush and the Canadians are all over the Soviets until the bad Stapleton pinch. Down three to one they come back hard again only to be undone by the Awrey/Seiling gaffes. After that then the Russians pour it on to finish the second. But even in the third the Canadians come back. Ellis and Bergman have great chances, Goldsworthy scores, Mahovlich has two great attempts and Perreault is turned away in tight. A goal on any of these and its a one goal game again.

Its not a great game for the Canadians but the reality is that like every other game played in Canada they have the edge. Its closer than in any other game but once again they outchance the Soviets, albeit only by one at ES. And they outdo them in Corsi numbers as well.

The Canadians are booed off the ice and panic has set in. The results say that the Russians are the better team but the reality is that the Canadians have, even with their conditioning, their lack of preparedness, their lineup issues, been better in every game so far. They have been done in by better goaltending in game one and one could contend in this game as well but the ice has been tilted in their favour. We know how this all ends up of course but as we head to Russia it will be interesting to see what happens as the Canadian lineup comes into focus. I have watched game six and game eight and I can say that I was surprised by those contests, just as I was surprised by the first four.

Games five and six are almost ready to go up so stay tuned. Also considering the positive response that this has brought (thanks very much by the way) and the interesting conclusions we have come up with so far I just wanted to announce that I'm going to be carrying on with this little project. We're going to look at the 74 series between the Soviets and the WHA, the Canada Cups, the Olympics, basically any of the best on best tournaments that I can get footage for. Also hope to look at the Miracle on Ice and, if possible, some Oilers' playoff games from the eighties.

We'll see if we can find out a little more about some of those past great moments in both international and NHL hockey.
Finally here are Colin's charts:























Saturday, August 28, 2010

Losers




And so it has come to this. Khabibulin will be going away. Maybe for a month. Maybe for longer. As the father of three young children my tolerance for folks who have a bunch of drinks and then get behind the wheel is pretty well zero. People talk about deterrence not working in terms of stopping folks from not thinking but I'm pretty sure that if the first drunk driver stopped tonight was executed at the roadside by the cops that would probably get a lot of people's attention.

Our millionaire goaltender friend was lucky in one respect, that being that he didn't run into anyone that day.

And so he is going to go away and then he may be suspended and if anyone thinks that an aging goaltender coming off of back surgery who is going to miss camp and then probably a portion of the season is going to be able to provide even adequate goaltending for the Oilers this year, well raise your hand. We could probably fit the lot of you into a Honda Fit. More likely on a moped.

The biggest losers in all of this are the Oilers of course. This signing is the one that just keeps getting worse and worse. It makes the Souray deal look like the gold standard in comparison. Four years for an aging injury prone keeper was bad enough and inevitably he went down last year. Now its probable that another year is going to be wasted with DD and ADD between the pipes. The best part about the Khabibulin deal, other than the Oilers are stuck with it, is the fact that the market has been flooded with younger cheaper alternatives each of the last two summers and will probably be again next year. They could likely have this year's Cup winning goalie for half of Khabibulin's ticket and just a single year if they so desired.

This team hasn't missed the playoffs four years (soon to be five) because they need a new arena or because of Edmonton or the fans or bad luck. Its been bad management through and through and here is just another example of it. Oiler fans get ready because we're heading for the lottery. Again. And then get ready to wave goodbye to Hemsky and Penner because I would guess that playing through their primes with these losers probably isn't what they have in mind when it comes to their futures.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

We All Squeezed The Stick - Canada 4 USSR 4




Game three. Winnipeg.

First of all thanks to Julian Albrecht for doing the heavy lifting on this one and tallying all of the data. Julian has been commenting in the Oilogosphere since the beginning. I actually met him on the last good night for the Oilers, game six in 2006. Nice fellow. Thanks for this Julian.

Most of what Julian did was the counting, he made a handful of notes as well which I have tried to credit to him in the following writeup

The game three lineup is similar to the lineup in game two as one would expect. In game one the Canadians actually had the better of it but Seiling and Awrey got eaten alive and the Rangers' GAG line was poor and so those five took the gaspipe along with fourth liners Redmond and Berenson. In came Mikita to centre Frank Mahovlich and Cournoyer and Parise and Cashman to flank Esposito. Goldsworthy came in as the second spare forward as Sinden went with six defencemen, Savard, White and Pat Stapleton drawing in.

And Tony Esposito in net.

The results were hard to argue with. The Canadians had the better of the Russians in almost every aspect, scoring chances were lower but they again outchanced them. They had the better in Corsi and in faceoff zone starts.

So in game three only one change. Goldsworthy is out (he played two shifts in G2) and Jean Ratelle who struggled in game one is back in as a second spare.

Gary Bergman (2) - Brad Park (5), Guy Lapointe (25) - Serge Savard (23), Pat Stapleton (3) - Bill White (17)

JP Parise (22)-Phil Esposito (7)-Wayne Cashman (14)
Frank Mahovlich (27) - Stan Mikita (21) - Yvan Cournoyer (12)
Paul Henderson (19) - Bobby Clarke (28) - Ron Ellis (6)
Peter Mahovlich (20), Jean Ratelle (18)

All six defencemen were solid in game two. Stapleton and White were sheltered at first but as the game moved along they were given tougher sledding and did fine. Up front the Mikita line was sheltered to start off and also were given more responsibility as the game went along and they too responded very well.

And Tony Esposito was wonderful in his first start of the series so he gets to start again.

The game is a lot more sloppy in the first from Canada's point of view. I just watched an interview with Serge Savard (buddy is the shit btw) and he says that in game one the Canadians had no respect for the Russians. You have to play hockey scared a little he says and in game two he says the Canadians do so. Well at the start of game three it looks like the fear is gone. The passing is not crisp, the errors are pretty blatant. The shifts are ridiculously long again.

The Canadians talk about conditioning in all of these interviews. We weren't in good shape. Blah blah blah. True enough but in game three can you guess what the end result might be despite their conditioning issues? Well, here are the numbers.





















Scoring Chances Breakdown






1st 5-6 ES, 2-1 PP, 1-1 SH, 2nd 12-7 ES, 3-1 PP, 0-0 SH, 3rd 7-3 ES, 0-0 PP, 0-3 SH Totals 24-16 ES, 5-2 PP, 1-4 SH, 30-22 Overall



Corsi









1st 12-14 ES, 3-1 PP, 1-5 SH, 2nd 22-16 ES, 5-2 PP, 0-0 SH, 3rd 13-17 ES, 0-0 PP, 0-4 SH Total 47-47 ES, 8-3 PP, 1-9 SH, Overall 56-59








Faceoffs are pretty even. Overall its sixteen in each zone with twenty six in the neutral zone. At ES its eleven in Russia's end, twelve in Canada's, twenty two in the neutral zone. When on the power play there are five in the Russian zone and two in the neutral zone, both after Russian goals. Shorthanded there are four in Canada's zone and two in the neutral zone.


As always before we look at the players and their numbers a few notes on the game. Its very similar to game one. The Corsi is pretty well even, actually right on the money even at ES, with the Canadians holding the edge in scoring chances by a fairly wide margin. The Russians, as Julian notes, threw a lot of pucks at the net from long range, perhaps thinking of Lemaire's infamous goal on Esposito in 1971, and so this tips it a bit but the reality is that the out of shape Canadians are the better team. Again.

The difference is special teams. The Russians don't score on the PP although they have their chances. The Canadians are undisciplined. Cashman takes two slashing penalties in the offensive zone. The second one earns him a misconduct. Parise takes a needless tripping call in the neutral zone. White retaliates with a vicious slash which earns him a coincidental minor early in the third. And this doesn't include what doesn't get punished - two wild two handers by Bergman, low bridges by Clarke and Cashman. A lot of dirty stuff going on, probably on both sides, the Russians are certainly subtle about it though.

The Canadians don't pay the price when shorthanded. Peter Mahovlich is again the primary penalty killer. In the first he and his brother team up with Park and Bergman to kill most of Cashman's first infraction. Then Clarke, Ellis, Stapleton and White mop up. The second kill is the younger Mahovlich, Phil Esposito, Savard and Lapointe and in the third Sinden goes with Pete Mahovlich, Esposito, Park and White who are then replaced by Clarke, Ellis and Bergman. Park remains on for the entire kill.

The Russians threaten. They get some great chances. But Tony Esposito is excellent.

What kills the Canadians is their own PP which ends up minus two. (!) A terrible pass by Mahovlich just inside his zone on the first PP is intercepted and Petrov pours in alone and blasts one past Esposito. Then in the second Canada is on the PP and on a run that includes the three to one goal and eight out of the previous nine scoring chances. Not bad for a team that is so out of condition, eh? And then as Julian describes it:

the second Soviet goal is a bit odd, on the PK, puck in the corner, Mikhailov picks it out and fires it off the far boards. Kharlamov must have seen it coming, because somehow he gets behind the Canadian defence and picks it up for a breakaway from the blueline in.

Much like the first goal its a bonehead breakdown. Do the Canadians collapse? Nope. Henderson comes right back and scores.

And once again, regarding conditioning. The remainder of the period sees four chances apiece and the third begins with four straight Canadian chances as well.
So while Julian has this great line: There’s an extended break to fix the ice near the end. The Russians start taking shots on Tretiak to keep him warm, skating around. I assume the Canadians had a smoke and steak break, the camera doesn’t show them.

the reality is that while they probably were firing back sirloins and Du Mauriers in between periods their conditioning wasn't stopping them from being the better team!

As an interesting aside during the third I heard a PA announcement reminding fans that there is no smoking in the arena. Considering that you could smoke on an airplane at the time and that smoking and drinking while pregnant was standard practice I found the announcement to be a weird kind of anachronism.

Of course maybe they were just saying that there was no smoking because there were no cigarettes left. Mikita smoked them all.

But what kills Canada is a return to bad habits. Game two saw quick shifts. Game three sees a return to the lengthy shifts of game one. And so at the end of the second the Russians score twice after extremely long shifts by the Canadians. First the Esposito line gets caught out too long. Then Ratelle, Cournoyer and Frank Mahovlich take too long a shift and Mahovlich loses the puck at his own blueline. His teammates never get it back. Tie game.

So it ends up as a tie but once again the Canadians deserve better. They make a couple of bonehead plays and pay the price each time and they get back into bad habits and that costs them too.

Maybe when they talk about getting in condition they are talking about their ability to play three minute shifts. Short shifts you bunch of mod haired fuckers!

So first to the goaltending. Esposito is excellent again. The first goal is from inside the circle, Petrov puts it fivehole as 35 drops into the butterfly. Might call it a little iffy, certainly today you would, but back in the day, believe it or not, that was considered a standard play. The weakness of the butterfly goalie was that opening as he dropped. Petrov hits it. The other three are no doubters. Kharlamov on the shortie breakaway. A deflection on a point shot. A Russian left alone in the slot with all the time in the world picks the corner. By my count Esposito is left alone four other times one on one and only gets beat once, getting a piece of a Kharlamov shot that Park clears out of the crease as it trickles towards the net.

But he is great. He deserves the start in game four again. But as we will see a lot of changes in this lineup in game four, despite three points out of four in two games. In the end this lineup is the one that Sinden will run with but he switches it up after this game. Its a move I don't agree with at all.

On the blueline Sinden runs three pairs again. For the most part he rolls them. It looks to my eye like Bergman and Park tend to get the Kharlamov line quite a bit but overall there isn't much going on. Stapleton and White get a few more offensive draws than the other two pairs but they are also out at a lot of key moments of the game, including in the last couple of minutes so obviously Sinden trusts them.

Park and Bergman end up with terrific numbers again and its easy to see why. Park was considered the second best defenceman of that generation, behind only Orr. He is a tremendous skater, closes to his man immediately, moves the puck swiftly. He's not a gambler at all though. Makes the safe play. Does tend to leave his feet and sprawl at times though. Bergman, who I barely had heard of (I certainly did not know the role he played in this series), is the prototypical defensive defenceman. Just plain solid. Makes his reads, reacts quickly. Active stick. Good decisionmaking. Never leaves his feet.

For the third straight game they are either even or in the black. Just as in game one their numbers are extraordinary.

Lapointe and Savard are once again quietly effective. Did I mention that Savard is the shit? Seriously though you don't even notice these guys in their own end and against the Russian quality that's something. They are pretty well just even or barely in the black but unlike the other four (including Park) you don't ever look at a play and say 'wow did Savard or Lapointe ever blow that one'. I said it before - watching these two guys makes it pretty clear as to why Montreal would win five of the next seven Cups. Ridiculous. Watching G8 right now and its 1-0 USSR and they have their second straight five on three. Who's out there? 23 and 25. Says it all right there. At one point Savard is on the PK and the Russians pour down his side, he takes the puck easy as can be, starts skating and creates a TWO ON ONE the other way. Skates through the whole team, passes it off, gets back into position and then for good measure he breaks up the next Russian attack.

White and Stapleton take on more responsibility right away this game. An interesting pair. White is all legs and elbows and stick and defensive conscience. Getting around him is impossible. Very effective on the PK. The Russians pass the puck crazily and the end result is Canadian defenders chasing the puck and sprawling everywhere and Esposito bailing his club out. When White is on the ice you see a man up to the task. At one point he is caught in a two on one down low on the PK. A minute before Park, in the same situation, panicked and slid to the ice. Esposito was forced to make the save. Here White turns calmly and takes his man. The Russian with the puck is in no position to score and so he is forced to pass and the puck slips harmlessly by his teammate who is tied up completely.

Stapleton on the other hand is pure chaos and I think that is the main reason he and White pay the price in Corsi a bit. He is a bit small and struggles with the Russian forecheck. He looks like he is slightly overmatched, not badly like Seiling and Awrey but there is always the impression that disaster is impending. But, having said all of that its just an impression. He does not give up the five bell chances. He gambles and then he recovers. In the third Kharlamov goes inside out oh him just outside the blue and as he steams by him you figure this is it but Stapleton pivots and CATCHES Kharlamov. And he does it immediately. Buddy doesn't even get a shot. Just an absolutely dynamite skater.

Near the end of the game Lapointe disappears to the dressing room. A pulled muscle the announcer calls it (how does he know?) but it turns out that he was taken into the boards heavily and injured his leg. The result will be that Lapointe will miss game four. Savard too. He has a fractured ankle (hairline) and before game four Sinden announces that he is done for the series. Luckily for him he is wrong. With the six defencemen in the lineup tonight Canada goes undefeated.

Up front there is a little bit of chaos at times. It becomes apparent pretty quickly that Sinden is not sold on Mikita despite the quality of play he got from the veteran in game two. Mikita was a late invite and it seems that his conditioning is even worse than his teammates. He goes hard and gets off the ice, taking short shifts (imagine the concept) and Ratelle begins to pick those up and then in the second Ratelle moves into a permanent position between Mahovlich and Cournoyer and Mikita only sees spot duty after that, including, strangely enough, some four on four time in the third. For Mikita it seems that the spirit is willing, as they say, but the flesh, not so much, and I believe that if the Sinden had his druthers he would go with the aging superstar. Ratelle gets sheltered absolutely, he does not see a defensive zone draw until the third. Mikita, on the other hand, gets three defensive zone draws to only one in the Russian zone, plus the four on four time, so its obvious that Sinden trusts him. There are a few moments where Mikita looks great and he is dangerous. He draws a penalty and he has a couple of excellent shifts but there are other times where again he is a step behind and the result is that this ends up being his last game in the Series. There is only a spot for one more centre after Clarke and Esposito and Ratelle, while being sheltered, scores a nice goal on a give and go with Cournoyer and generates a nice 5 to 2 ratio in scoring shances. In game one he had the same opportunity and did nothing. Here he runs with it and keeps himself in the mix.

For the wingers on this line, Cournoyer and Frank Mahovlich, they have mixed results. They get sheltered and yet their Corsi is poor and their scoring chance numbers are in the black but barely. Its become clear that their fantastic numbers in game one had a whole lot to do with playing with Esposito and Mahovlich is not much of a factor at all. He, like many of the Canadians, is in his thirties. Sinden doesn't go with many kids at all whereas the Russians are loaded with players who are under twenty five years old. The Big M. Not so big.

His little brother is the other spare forward and he does his usual work on the PK and also sees some work at ES, generally filling in here and there. He picks up Mikita's shift a couple of times and when Cashman gets a misconduct halfway through the third he steps in and takes his place. As usual he does decent work at ES. Nothing in terms of scoring chances, barely in the black in Corsi. Overall a typical game for a guy who does a pretty good job as the spare man on the roster.

The Esposito line does well. Phil is driving the bus here. Heck, he built the bus and now he's driving it. Parise and Cashman do what they do. They bang and crash and cycle and Parise bangs one in himself and Cashman sets up Esposito for a second. Not bad work but they are sheltered a lot and they also get burned for the third Russian goal and their discipline is abysmal. Parise takes a bad penalty and Cashman takes two and essentially gets himself thrown out of the game in the third. Cashman walks the line the whole game and is lucky that he only gets called twice. This costs him his spot in the lineup I have to believe although Sinden is still trying to find the right mix (and throws game four away to do so, imo). The failure of the GAG line in game one has hurt the club badly. Although Ratelle and Gilbert work their way back into the lineup the fact that they can't kill the soft shit right from the start means that Sinden has to break up the exceptional Esposito line from game one. Canada wins G2 and ties G3 with Espo centring the pluggers and Mikita and Ratelle centring 27 and 12 but its probably not what Sinden had in mind coming into the series. The failure of Hadfield, a fifty goal scorer, to have any impact at all does some damage. The Esposito line holds its own in G2 and G3, maybe comes out slightly on top, but does so with favourable conditions. Compared to Esposito's work in G1 and later in the series its not enough. Its good but 7 is dragging a couple of anchors around with him, slightly anyhow.

Finally there is the one constant, the Clarke line. They get Kharlamov, a lot, and they get nearly all of the defensive zone starts until late in the game and yet they are in the black or even (Ellis gets dinged a bit playing with other linemates in the third). Henderson scores, again, and is probably the most dangerous Canadian forward. There is one play which illustrates why these guys do so well. Late in the third the Russian have control in their zone, buddy steps over the blueline and fires a crossice pass. Park steps up and knocks it down at centre ice and suddenly flying into the bottom of the picture heading toward the Canadian goal is the Russian left wing, looking for that pass. Thing is, even if Park doesn't make the play it doesn't matter because Ron Ellis has position on his man, stride for stride, he has a step on him and he has him absolutely and totally in check. What a hockey player. There's a pile of guys on this roster who are sexier than Ronnie Ellis but there are few players who are as good as he is.

So we are now three games in and while the games have been close it has been Canada as the better team in all three cases, especially at even strength. In this game when it was three to one in the second the Canadians are absolutely dominant. Mikita slides one just wide and then nearly tips one by Tretiak who then makes a big save on Frank Mahovlich and soon after watches helplessly as Esposito beats him and also misses by inches. Kharlamov scores but the Canadians respond with the Henderson goal and then Ratelle sends Frank Mahovlich in all alone.

Not to discount the Russians, as Esposito had to make some dandy saves himself, but its Canada again in this game. In interview after interview the Canadians talk about their poor conditioning and how it cost them but the reality is at this point in the series they probably deserve to be up three to nothing despite their conditioning, their initial lack of respect for their opponent, the struggles of a few players who get bumped from the lineup.

So what does Sinden do going into game four? Well he, I don't know if panics is the right word, but he makes some odd lineup decisions for game four. Esposito, excellent in both games, gets replaced by Dryden. Seiling and Awrey, burned so badly in G1, draw in for the injured Savard and Lapointe. And up front Ratelle, Mikita, Cashman, Parise and Peter Mahovlich are all goners despite Ratelle's better play in G3 and the other four playing both G2 and G3. The returning hero Mikita will captain the club in Czechoslovakia and Cashman will be involved in an awful incident in Sweden in an exhibition game there although for once he will be the receiver, not the giver, but they will not play the Russians again.

Despite my admiration for Mikita I can't blame Sinden for his removal from the lineup. The old goat is not up to speed and one imagines he might have gotten torn apart on the big ice in Moscow. Watching G8 last night its no doubt that Ratelle was the better choice, indeed Ratelle was the better player in G3. Whether it was adrenalin or just one last hurrah Mikita was terrific in game two but game three shows Sinden that he cannot keep up and I tend to agree. While he is killer on the draw and he is probably the smartest player on the ice (seriously, buddy is a savant) the legs aren't there. So he has to go. Would have loved to have seen him in his absolute prime though. One of the all time greats.

As for Cashman while he does what he can and he's not an absolute liability its pretty clear that Esposito needs better on his wing. And the discipline is an issue. Gilbert returns in game four and he is a far better player than Cashman but having said that Goldsworthy also draws in. What the fuck?!

As we will see the seeds for the series victory were planted in Toronto and Winnipeg. Sinden meanders a bit now, partially due to necessity (the injuries to Savard and Lapointe) partially due to madness but the roster that he ices in game eight contains all six defencemen who play games two and three and nine of the eleven forwards.

The work on games four and five is done, thanks to Mr. Debakey, hopefully to be posted at the beginning of next week unless I get run over by a bus. If I do, raise a pint for me, would ya? ;)

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Little Things


Here is a picture I took on a beach in PEI of a pretty girl getting photobombed by a homeless man.

Just got back from two weeks on the fair island and in the weeks prior to that I was in Fernie and Sudbury so essentially I am back in the saddle and out of vacation. Have to win that damn lottery although I guess it helps to play it to win it.

A number of months ago I wrote about how life is mostly comprised of small moments - you have your weddings, your births, graduations, buying a house, all of that good stuff of course - but for the most part your day to day is made up of little things and once you are settled down and you have your family you are pretty well looking at these little things for years, at least until your own kids start to make their own lives.

And so this past two weeks was made up of many of these wonderful little things. Going with Jenn to the family cottage to overnight without the kids. Having lunch and a pint on a patio with a good friend. Taking the boy to a lighthouse and climbing to the top with him (shitting my pants all of the while I might add). Swimming in the ocean with the kids. Taking the father in law out for lobster for his birthday. Making a campfire on the beach. Drinking a cold beer before noon.

Did I mention the eating and the drinking?

Back at it now, just a little fatigued. Did 1150 kilmoetres on Saturday and while that made for an easy drive to finish it off I think the downside is that its going to take a few days and plenty of alcohol to make things right.

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Very little has happened with the Oilers in the last little while. We are still waiting for the Souray issue to be resolved and it would be nice to see Gagner and Cogliano get signed sometime soon I think. I don't think there is any doubt that this club is going to be pretty fucking shitty again this season and I will post on that in the next week or so. I am going to have plenty of time to myself as Jenn pays the piper for going on vacation with numerous shifts in the next little bit. Also for those who have been following our little project here I have the G3 data from Julian and hope to watch the game in the next few days and get that up and then G4 and G5 are done (thanks to Colin (Mr. Debakey)) and they will go up immediately afterwards.

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I did want to say something about Fernando Pisani's signing with Chicago. First of all I am not surprised by the money. Here is a guy who has been wracked by illness and injury for the last few years and I thought he would be lucky to get an offer at all. Of course the fact that he is making less than a guy like Strudwick, for example, is ridiculous, but you could run through NHL rosters and find a couple of hundred players who are getting paid far too much or too little I would say. Fernando looked pretty well done last season. Once again he fell ill and on top of that he had a bad back to deal with. He may very well be finished and its disappointing that he wasn't the first to begin and end his career as an Oiler. When he was stricken with colitis back in the winter I wrote the following:

Some frightening news today. Fernando Pisani has been sent home halfway through the roadtrip as his colitis has flared up again.

Now I'm no doctor, although I play one on TV, but I would presume that if its serious enough to send him home then its pretty serious. And what this means is that the end is probably in sight for Fernando Pisani. Even if its just a minor flareup the red flag has been raised and in a bottom line business its unlikely to me that he will be able to get another contract next season. Its difficult to see any club signing an aging winger with health issues that can knock him out of the lineup at any time.

Fernando seems to have been around forever but as Scott Reynolds has pointed out he actually has not yet qualified for his NHL pension yet, just over thirty games short of the four hundred needed. Its a little sad to see this as until his first major bout with the disease two seasons ago Fernando was the poster boy for reliability. From 2001/02 in the AHL to 2006/07 he played 76 games or more every season, providing around 15 goals a year - 26 in the AHL, 17 in the AHL and 8 in 35 games in Edmonton, then seasons of 16, 18 and 14 with the Oilers. Even in 2008 when he came back from colitis he scored 13 in 56 games and then last season he scored 7 in 38 games, limited by a broken ankle.

Consistent.

Reliable.

Underrated.

It may be early to eulogize his career (I certainly hope so) but Fernando will be remembered for two things, maybe three. The last remains to be seen.
First of all there is the type of player that he was. He was a guy who would chip in those fifteen goals but his role for this franchise was one that they sorely need today. He was a guy who could check and outscore the best players on the other team, a guy who could win puck battles and forecheck very well, a guy who could separate his man from the puck, an outstanding penalty killer and a guy who was extremely low maintenance. He was the ultimate 'bottom six' guy, as conventional wisdom calls the guys who don't score a lot of goals, but on every Oiler team he played on he was a top six guy in terms of helping the club win, which is the point after all.

And of course there was the wonderful run in 2006. The two goals to even up game six against the Wings. The shortie to win game five gainst the Canes. The goal and then the near miss in the third period of game seven. For two months Pisani scored and then he scored again. BIG goals. CLUTCH goals. ;) If he had stuffed that shot past Ward late in game seven and the Oilers had gone on to win he likely would have won the Conn Smythe. There have always been 'regular' guys who have gotten hot for a series or two, guys like John Druce or Chris Kontos, but nobody from this family of players ever went on a run like Fernando Pisani. And all of this while doing the heavy sledding.

What a player.

And if this is it for our man from Edmonton he will be the first player of any note (and Reynolds and I have this argument all of the time but I stand by my case - a guy who has played his entire career with the organization, seven seasons (or parts thereof) with the big club, a playoff hero is a player of note) to have played all of his career with the Oilers. Randy Gregg almost did before he came out of retirement for a short twirl with the Canucks but Fernando would be the first.

An eighth round pick, a local boy, a guy who showed great dedication coming back from his original bout with this awful disease.

Here's hoping that it is just a minor flareup and that he will be back next week. I hate writing about a guy using the past tense.

But if not and this is the beginning of the end then its right to recognize an underrated guy who has never sold the fans or his teammates short in any way. Here's hoping for good health for Fernando Pisani.

So of course it turns out that the third did not come to pass.

Fernando Pisani symbolized a lot about the Oilers this past decade. He was a longshot pick who developed into a guy who could play the other team's best, shut them down and outscore them back when the club had no money (or no willingness to spend it). Tough minutes winger, outscorer, damn good hockey player. Call him what you will. He did all of the little things well, the things that win you hockey games.

And when the club had that sweet sweet run he was the guy who was a major part of that success.

And then he got paid, paid too much probably, although if he had stayed healthy he may have covered that bet. Problem is he did not and as his body broke down he became another bad contract on a club with plenty of them. When he was signed Duhatschek wrote that the Oilers saw him as a possible thirty goal man which may speak to the hockey acumen of those in charge of course although it would have been nice to see a healthy Pisani playing with Smyth and Horcoff or, say, Penner and one of the offensively gifted kid centres. We may have seen a little more then.

No matter. Its past now.

And as vets and guys who could play were moved along Pisani was asked to do what he always did. The heavy lifting. And so he did his best, even as his body failed him. I don't blame the Oilers for moving on although I think he could still help this team, if even in a fourth line role. He is better than a few players on this roster. And at that price its not much of a gamble. Having said that they probably had seen enough missed games and decided to move on.
You can add another word to those I mentioned above. One that gets thrown around far too often about athletes and sport but it does apply here.
Courageous.

Last season I hoped for two things, knowing that it was another lost season for Edmonton. An Olympic triumph for Canada. And for the Chicago Blackhawks to end their drought. Both came to pass.

Here's hoping that the hockey gods will smile on me and grant one last wish for me this season. A Chicago repeat and a chance to see Fernando Pisani play a meaningful part in it.

Good luck and the best of health to you and thanks for the memories.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

It Was Back In Old '72 Canada 4 USSR 1





Alright so the results from game one were interesting, eh? Its funny because I looked back at the introduction to the post and what I wrote before I watched the game. Before this I don't recall ever watching an entire game. I've seen a million highlights of course and maybe I saw all of game eight once but I was four when the Series was on and so I don't recall much, if anything. And so in the introduction I wrote what I had always been told. The Canadians were overmatched. Their fitness was poor. The Russians taught them a lesson.

The truth? Well the Canadians outchanced the Russians and had the better of the play. They jumped ahead by two and if they had a bit of luck they might have been further ahead. The Russians did come back, preying on the Seiling/Awrey pairing and the Rangers' line especially and taking advantage of poor goaltending by Dryden. And still in the third the Canadians came on. Down one they dominated and again a break or two and they would have taken the lead back. They lost the game but it was one that they deserved to win.

Game two is a terrific game to watch. Just as game one introduces us to many of the greats of that generation - Park and Lapointe, Esposito and Frank Mahovlich, Clarke and Ellis, so does this game showcase many more. For Canada there are many changes to their lineup and a change in their approach to the lineup as well. In game one they rolled four lines and went with five defencemen. Two of the defencemen weren't up to the task, Awrey and Seiling. They are both out of the lineup for the game at Maple Leaf Gardens. Also out are the entire GAG line - Hadfield, Ratelle and Gilbert as well as two thirds of the fourth line, Redmond and Berensen. Only Peter Mahovlich survives the purge. Tony Esposito replaces Dryden. The rest of the lineup looks like this:

Gary Bergman (2) - Brad Park (5), Guy Lapointe (25) - Serge Savard (23), Pat Stapleton (3) - Bill White (17)

Bergman and Park were very good in game one and so they remain in the lineup. Lapointe did fairly well once he replaced Awrey, he is joined by Serge Savard. And Stapleton and White, both Blackhawks, draw in as well.

Why six defencemen? My opinion is that Sinden just saw two of his best four get smoked. Lapointe was a spare originally. Maybe he's hedging his bets by dressing six. If two struggle then he can still rely on two pairs. Just a theory of mine. It turns out that these will be the six who end up playing the games down the stretch in Russia. In this game they are certainly all up to the task.

Up front Sinden goes with three lines and two spares. The lineup is an interesting one.

JP Parise (22)-Phil Esposito (7)-Wayne Cashman (14)

Frank Mahovlich (27) - Stan Mikita (21) - Yvan Cournoyer (12)

Paul Henderson (19) - Bobby Clarke (28) - Ron Ellis (6)

Peter Mahovlich (20), Bill Goldsworthy (9)

I'm sure Sinden would have rather had Bobby Hull wearing 9 than Goldsworthy.

So these are the lines. The Clarke line remains together. No surprise there. The numbers for them Corsi wise weren't flattering from game one but they were definitely the second best line after the Espo line. That Peter Mahovlich sticks also makes sense. He is on the first PK pair and in game one he saw a little bit of extra icetime separate from Berensen and Redmond. The one surprise, as I see it, is the separation of the Esposito line from game one. They were dominant but I can understand Sinden's thinking here, especially after viewing the game. Mikita is still very good but he not the superstar from the sixties when he was arguably the best player in the game. He is a playmaker first and foremost and so one can see him clicking with Frank Mahovlich and the Roadrunner (Cournoyer). On the other hand a line with him and the grinders Cashman and Parise would probably not have worked. Indeed they may have gotten smoked. Not a match. So Sinden rolls the dice and splits up the one line that really generated a ton for him in game one.

Before we get to the numbers here are a few observations on the game. Its at the old Gardens in Toronto. I've been to plenty of hockey games in Toronto, including the semifinal of the Canada Cup in 1991 and Wendel Clark night two seasons ago, and I have watched probably hundreds on TV over the years. Watching this game I have never experienced such an atmosphere at a hockey game in Toronto. Indeed it might compare to a playoff game I saw in the old Chicago Stadium (the second last game at that old rink) in terms of noise and tension and excitement. The fans are intent and passionate and its a lot of fun to see. Everyone is actually on the edge of their seats, leaning forward, watching the game. Don't see that these days.

In my comments on game one I referred to the play as similar to beer league. Now this was not a shot at the players. They are smaller and slower than today's professionals but the quality is obvious. I was referring to the sloppiness, the four minute shifts, the lousy goaltending, the lackadaisical backchecking. It reminded me that my own season starts very soon. Time to get into shape. Pass me another beer, would ya?

Almost immediately game one is different. The first faceoff sees a line change from both teams. There is mayhem in the first period as the officials seem unclear as to who is the home club and the Russians often send line after line over the boards during a stoppage, trying to get the matchup they want. Sinden does the same. No Canadian wears the C but it is clear that Mikita, while he wears an A, is the de facto captain. He leaps over the boards during stoppages to argue vociforously with the officials that Canada has the last change. Strange stuff, this confusion, but it is cleared up in the first intermission. In any case it is obvious that Canada has learned from game one. There is the odd longer shift but for the most part they are short. When the Mikita line hits the ice at the four minute mark it is the sixth Canadian forward shift of the game, its absolutely modern. At the same time in game one I would guess the second line was working on their first shift still.

There is linematching going on. Sinden tries to get Clarke out against the Russian star Kharlamov and the Russians are also trying to work their own matchups out. And, by my eye, there is some early juggling by Sinden when it comes to faceoffs. He favours the Clarke line for defensive zone draws and the Mikita line is sheltered early in the game as are White and Stapleton. More on that later as well as some interesting machinations when it comes to the Canadian PK.

The game itself is far more entertaining and it is extremely well played. The checking is close. The goaltending is excellent on both sides with all five goals scored on absolute five bell chances, four of those with the goalie facing the shooter one on one, the fifth being a shot right from the deep slot.
The Canadians play almost a perfect game at even strength as they give the Russians no room to manouver. As the new additions find their legs it becomes clear that they have three strong lines and three very good pairings on the back end. I am interested to see what game three brings because by my eye only Goldsworthy looks out of place here. And you know what? Canada again is the better team, not overwhelmingly so, but they are better and this time they get what they deserve.

And also I forgot to mention another Canadian international hockey archetype that emerges here - the star player who is a role player in the big tournament and who plays a big role in the triumph. Just as Toews and Nash and Richards are the checking line in Vancouver and they emerge as a dominant force so does Peter Mahovlich, a spare forward in game two, play the hero with probably the best performance as a penalty killer I have ever seen. His short handed goal in the third is one of the greatest goals I have ever seen and he singlehandedly kills a penalty in the second as well.

Here are the numbers:











Scoring chances total as follows, Canada first. ES 10-7, PP 4-0, SH 2-5 Total 16-12. Of note in the first the Russians only have three chances, all on the PP. In the second they again only have three, this time though they are at ES. Also of note, no scoring chances against when on the PP, more on that in a bit.



Corsi totals as follows, Canada first. ES 49-37, PP 4-1, SH 2-12. Canada cuts their events against down by almost a third. Only four events with the man advantage, one of those is the Esposito goal 6v5 and one is the Cournoyer goal. Indeed each Corsi event with the advantage is a scoring chance.



Total faceoffs 5v5 - offensive zone 14, neutral zone 20, defensive zone 11 - note that in the first two periods there were only five defensive zone draws for Canada. Pretty good, they had twelve in the Russian zone. In the third there are six draws in Canada's zone at ES but half of those come after the game is out of reach.

Total faceoffs 5v4 - offensive zone 3, neutral zone 5, defensive zone 1 - the defensive zone draw was because of an icing at the beginning of the third

Total faceoffs 4v5 - offensive zone 1, neutral zone 2, defensive zone 6 - notes below on Sinden handling the defensive zone draws.

Before we get to a look at individuals, forward lines and D pairings here are a few other notes. Canada scores one powerplay goal, one shorthanded goal, one goal at even strength and one goal after Esposito has drawn a penalty. Although scored six on five (and marked as such above) it is essentially an ES goal. Cashman retrieves the puck and gets it to Esposito who tucks it in. The extra man, Cournoyer, is not part of the play yet.

In game one Canada's power play always featured a forward as the fourth man, either Esposito or Berensen, and a hodgepodge of D that includes everyone but Awrey. Even Bergman plays the PP in G1. The Russians get three SH chances and a SH goal in G1. On their first PP of this game Canada runs out Mikita as the fourth forward. He immediately coughs it up and although he is able to get back to prevent a scoring chance (the Russian shoots wide), it is the last time tonight that Sinden goes with this alignment. After that it is either Mikita or Esposito between Frank Mahovlich and Cournoyer while Park and Lapointe man the points. Mikita takes the shortest shifts of all of the Canadians so often he starts the PP and then is replaced by Esposito. I believe that except for a half minute at the end of one PP this is what Sinden runs out all night long.

On the PK he runs it as follows, in order: Peter Mahovlich, Frank Mahovlich, Ron Ellis, Bob Clarke, Phil Esposito, Wayne Cashman. He changes this up a couple of times as the Russians score a powerplay goal and generate a lot with the man advantage but that is how they run for the most part with the younger Mahovlich playing a ton. When there is a defensive zone draw on the PK if its on the right he sends Mikita out to send the draw. If its on the left he sends out Clarke. In three of the four cases where this takes place they win the draw and then get off the ice to be replaced by Frank Mahovlich. The fourth time Mikita gets thrown out of the circle. Then Peter Mahovlich steps in. They drop the puck but then blow the whistle for a bad drop. Mikita steps in again but they disallow this at which point he skates off and is replaced by Clarke (!). I've never seen that before. Clarke wins the draw and then once the puck is cleared he heads to the bench.

Some pretty funny shit.

On the back end on the PK they run out White and Stapleton quite a bit. The PK runs from being very good to just hanging on by a thread at times. The first kill they only give up one chance but its an absolute five bell job, cross crease pass, your man is wide open and Esposito slides over nice and easy and makes it look easy. The second PK its White and Stapleton again as well as the Mahovlich brothers, a couple of chances against this time, including another one that Esposito makes the proverbial 'miraculous save' on.

So this is one difference between game one and two. The Canadians have the better of the play in the first, indeed they don't allow a scoring chance against at ES but Esposito bails out the PK twice. Goaltending.

There is one kill in the second period. Here Sinden sends out Park and Lapointe. The results are far better. The only scoring chance is one for Frank Mahovlich; his younger brother puts on one of the best exhibitions I have ever seen as he kills about a minute of it off by himself.

The game turns on two kills in the third. With the Canadians up 2-0 the Russians burn Bergman and Park with a breakaway pass; the Russian misses and then passes the puck to an uncovered teammate who scores. Almost immediately afterwards they earn another PP. And this is where Mahovlich (Peter) scores an unbelievable goal. The rest of the PK is uneventful as first Lapointe and White and then Park and Bergman so the honours with varied forwards.

The Russians PP almost gets as many scoring chances as they do at ES. Stopping it is key in this game and in the future and the Canadians manage to get the job done tonight but the results are a little uneven and one can see where this is going to be a problem down the road.

The D pairings are fairly reasonable. Park and Bergman take on the majority of the defensive draws in the first two periods while Stapleton and White are sheltered, they get all neutral or offensive zone faceoffs up until the third. Savard and Lapointe only get a couple of defensive draws in the first two periods. Truth is though, the Russians get very few draws in Canada's zone in periods one and two so while I do think Sinden runs out Park and Bergman as much as he can I also think he is able to do so because Canada has the advantage. In the third the Russians come on a little and get more draws in the Canadian zone. I think Sinden goes to a regular rotation at this point for a few reasons. He can't run Park and Bergman out over and over again. Also while they have been good they have not been great. And finally I think that the other two pairs have been fine and thus have gained the coach's confidence. White and Stapleton are in the red when it comes to scoring chances but they are in the black in Corsi (as they should be considering their zone starts) and the reality is they are pretty solid back there. Its not like game one where Seiling and Awrey are on their heels. These guys do okay and actually in the third they end up just fine even with the defensive zone starts.

The real revelation though is the Savard/Lapointe pairing. When they are on the ice the Russians do not threaten. Their Corsi numbers are fabulous and they come out on top in scoring chances as well. Lapointe, the spare in game one, plays the PP and when the game is on the line it is he and White who get sent out to kill the penalty.

And Savard? Think Duncan Keith if you're looking for a style of play. Effortless, he skates miles and miles, relieving the Russians of the puck time and time again, spinning away from them easily, moving it up ice. Watching him and Lapointe and knowing that Larry Robinson will join them on the blue in Montreal you realize how their club was so dominant for years.

Up front lets start with the spares. Goldsworthy plays two shifts in total. In the first he gets an offensive zone faceoff and the Russians immediately take it down the ice and lay siege to the Canadian net. His second and last shift is on the PP. The PP does nothing while he is on and the only play of note is his bumping of Tretiak as he skates by after the whistle. He has amazing sideburns though. Mutton chops or goalie sticks I think they would be called.

We noted Peter Mahovlich's work on the PK and other than the same ES shift referenced above he sees very little of the ice otherwise early on. As the game wears on though he finds himself spelling Mikita a few times. Either Mikita's back is injured (he struggles with back problems later in his career) or, more likely, the aging superstar's legs aren't there. In the first period Mikita looks a bit lost, his timing is off, as might be expected, more worrisome is that he looks slow. He is sheltered, like White and Stapleton, but as the game wears on he takes on a bigger role and in the third he looks excellent, breaking into openings for scoring chances and setting up Frank Mahovlich for the backbreaker goal soon after Peter Mahovlich's shortie. On that shift he speeds into the zone and gets a nice chance, then wheels back once the Russians gain possession. As the Russian defenceman begins to come out of the zone Mikita charges in suddenly and strips him of the puck. Going behind the net his original pass is stopped but he retrieves the puck and feeds Mahovlich in the slot for the goal.

In the third, probably because Mikita has found his legs, his line is no longer sheltered. They take draws in all three zones, including two consecutive in their own on one shift, and they have the best marks for Corsi and scoring chances of any forward line in the third after two fairly quiet periods. Mikita does take the shortest shifts of any Canadian forwards though, which probably helps his cause. He races out, does his thing, heads to the bench. Here Peter Mahovlich gets a few extra shifts as he jumps on to finish the shift.

One last thing about Mikita. Regular readers here know that he was my favourite player growing up, the best player on a mediocre Blackhawks' team. I never saw him in his prime though, when he was arguably the best hockey player in the world and as a boy I probably only saw him play a dozen times, if that, and I cannot recall any of that at all. So I have to admit I was a little excited to see him play and as you can tell I kept an eye on him. He would only play one more game in the series and seeing him struggle in the first period I can guess why. He's no longer the speedy youngster who centred a line so fast they were called the Scooter Line. No surprise that after a summer of doing nothing he has a tough time with the Russians when he steps on the ice. But the fire that shows when he is arguing his points with the officials and as he discusses situations with Sinden on the bench soon lifts the older man and in the second he begins to come on and in the third one can see what he once was as he nearly beats Tretiak himself, sets up Mahovlich, drives the play up ice as his club tries to hold the lead. It was a lot of fun to watch.

Ok so a couple of more notes on the Mikita line. As I said they were sheltered in the first two periods and I would have to say that was because of their pivot but Mahovlich who was so dominant in the first game, doesn't even get a sniff at all. The Russians are matching and so I'm thinking this has something to do with it plus its a closer checking game. In any case for the big M its not happening. Cournoyer does little as well but about midway through the game he begins to get going. He had gaudy numbers in game one but he was riding coattails for those, imo, as Mahovlich and Esposito drove the bus. Tonight though he begins to live up to his nickname. He takes a pass but he is offside as he splits the D in the neutral zone. His next shift Frank Mahovlich hits him, again splitting the D, at the blue, this time he is barely offside. There is no replay but its damn close. And so at the beginning of the third Park steps over his own blue on the PP and hits Cournoyer as he tears down the right wing. He hits him in full stride and the Russians still haven't caught him today and he scores one of the most beautiful goals you will ever see. Simple as hell. Dman hits winger in full stride with the headman and the winger cuts in and beats the goalie from his offwing. a thing of beauty though.

And that seems to give the little guy that confidence and so he and Mahovlich and Mikita buzz the Russians in the third and its a good thing because the Canadians need it. A failure in the third from these three and the game may have ended differently. Instead they have a pretty nice Corsi and while they are low event when it comes to scoring chances they are in the black and that matters.

Esposito drives the bus, man. He had an excellent game one and for his troubles he loses his wingers and gets Parise and Cashman. These guys are solid but they have hands of cement, its all hack and whack, and so Espo is on his own and he ends up even steven, which will do in this case. Plus he draws two penalties. The first two periods this line is pretty solid, its only in the third where they take a bit of a bath and its really not too bad. They're not sheltered and they get shit moving in the right direction quite a bit. A few longer shifts hurt them a bit and they get dinged on those. Overall though they hold their own and while Espo's goal is 6v5 its pretty well ES as discussed earlier.

And not mentioned yet. The Canadians play it pretty dirty this game. In G1 Clarke slewfooted a Russian and then clubbed him over the head for good measure and in this game he is sticking everything that moves. He is joined by Parise, who bulldogs one Russian to the ice, Mikita, who seems to have forgotten his Lady Byngs but perhaps not his homeland as he comes in stick high again and again and Cashman who grins toothlessly as he rakes his opponents across the face liberally. A dangerous game to play with the Russian PP but certainly it would have not been an easy game to play.

Finally we come to the Clarke line. In game one their Corsi numbers were not great but they were pretty solid. They gave up few chances and invariably got the puck moving in the right direction. Tonight they are killer. No reward on the scoresheet but without them its probably a different game. In the first two periods they get the bulk of the Dzone assignments (there are few of course) and they invariably finish in the Russian end. Their scoring chance numbers lead the team, both by raw numbers and differential, and their Corsi numbers are over the top. They are dominant. A fantastic game by all three. And this mostly against Kharlamov who is not a factor and ends up sitting for nearly the entire first half of the third, when the game is decided, as he garners a misconduct after freaking out after Clarke abuses him rather vigorously at the end of the second.

So that's game two. The Canadians are better and they get a deserved result. They're not a whole lot better but they are better, especially at ES. The Russians get few chances at ES and its hard to win a game like that and on the PP Esposito turns aside their best chances. And at the end of the game Hewitt is talking about how conditioning is no longer a factor for the Canadians. Funny how that narrative has turned so quickly, eh?

Two games in and the Canadians are the better team in both. Next up, Winnipeg.

Friday, August 06, 2010

If There's A Goal That Everyone Remembers USSR 7 Canada 3



OK so 1972. The original international best on best series. It was supposed to be a walkover for Canada and instead it ended in almost the most dramatic way possible, last minute heroics from Paul Henderson clinching the series but just barely.

The series should never have come to that. The Canadians were woefully unprepared. Their scouting reports openly mocked the Russians and as a result the Canadians were mentally and physically lacking. Overconfident and in terrible shape they were unable to cope with a quality Russian side. Adding to the difficulties was the sheer size of the Canadian squad. A trimmed down roster that was ready to play likely would have done far better than the bloated (literally) club that faced off for Game One in Montreal. Throw in that they were missing the best player in the game in Bobby Orr and the best winger in Bobby Hull and one can make a case that there would have been no drama if they had been ready for what was coming and had both of those players on their roster.

No matter, the drama that resulted has created a legend and legends. The Mahovolich goal. Esposito's speech and leadership. The Clarke slash. Paul Henderson. The Canadians overcoming all odds - the deficit in games, poor officiating, their own shortcomings, the bad food, the internal strife - indeed from 72 nearly every Canadian international archetype has sprung with the exception of the big goaltending performance. Dryden wasn't really up to that.

From Esposito the leader came Messier and Mario Lemieux, Mike Richards and Scott Niedermeyer.

From Henderson came Sittler and Lemieux again, Crosby and Eberle who more than any Canadian has seemed to channel the 'clutch' international goalscorer.

Nearly every Canadian team has had the unsung heroes like Bill White and Pat Stapleton and Gary Bergman and Ron Ellis. Those who arrive as youngsters and relative unknowns like Clarke and Savard and depart as household names, guys like Keith and Toews. There are those who have their moment of glory and then fade away, especially in the juniors (remember John Slaney? Jimmy Waite?) just as Paul Henderson did, a workmanlike solid player for many years but never the star he was for that brief moment. Of course off the ice he never faded away.

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First was game one (naturally ;) ) and its an interesting one to watch. Plenty of the players who skated out in Montreal barely saw the ice again and for good reason. The Russians exposed plenty of players badly that night. Just as Brent Seabrook and Patrice Bergeron proved in Vancouver and others have proven in the past being a good or even very good NHLer might mean jackshit when you're facing international quality. And so it was for a long list of guys who got taken out to the back 40, as my Dad would say.

Sinden's roster for the first night was made up of the guys who had the best training camp. In some cases I would guess this to mean the most fit guys. This was an era where in training camp players actually got into shape and the offseason regimen was mostly golf, drinking and smoking (for those guys who didn't hold down summer jobs). Canada dressed four lines and five defencemen. After the first game they would dress six defencemen the rest of the way. The roster was as follows:

Defence - Bergman (2) - Brad Park (5), Don Awrey (26) - Ric Seiling (16), Lapointe (25)

Esposito (7) - Frank Mahovlich (27) - Cournoyer (12)

Ratelle (18) - Hadfield (11) - Rod Gilbert (8)

Clarke (28) - Henderson (19) - Ellis (6)

Berenson (15) - Peter Mahovlich (20) - Mickey Redmond (24)

Pat Quinn likely learned at the knee of Harry Sinden because Sinden just rolls them for the most part. I'm interested to see the results from later games because there is no attempt at linematching at all. As the game goes on by my eye the Clarke line (which follows Esposito) gets some defensive zone draws. Not sure if this is by design or not.

The power play generally included a forward on the point, either Esposito or Berensen (?) and while Park would be the guy you figure would be out there Seiling and Gary Bergman rotate in that fifth spot as well.

Shorthanded Berensen and Peter Mahovlich are one pair, Frank Mahovlich and Esposito are generally the other. Ellis and Clarke also see some duty.

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The game is an interesting one. The hockey is a lot different from today. There is a lot of one on one play from the Canadians. Also they take extremely long shifts. You will note in the charts that quite often one line will be on for a couple of events for and then suddenly they get bombarded or they are on for a goal against. They would be on for a couple of minutes and quite often be in the Russian zone and then the Russians would counterattack and it would be in the net. Also when the Russians got possession in the Canadian zone there would often be four or five shots directed at the net, maybe a chance or two as they both controlled the puck and retrieved it very well. The Canadians on the other hand might get a flurry of chances in close but usually the play in the Russian zone tended to be on the outside.

A couple of notes as well. Dryden was poor. I have the second Kharlamov goal as a non scoring chance, no screen, very top of the faceoff circle, it was a great shot but Tretiak was stopping that type of shot easily all night (and I did not grade those as scoring chances).

The game reminded me of a beer league game frankly. Not trying to be a dick when I say that either. There were long stretches of play with no whistles and a lot of quality play but it was, well, sloppy. Both teams played hard and there were a lot of blocked shots and chances seemed hard to come by. Lots of long shots that were easily stopped or missed the net. But when there was a chance it was generally a five bell one. That is why I have a few misses as chances, I know that's usually a no-no but in my mind if a guy is standing all alone and he whiffs on it or misses the net its still a scoring chance, essentially if he connects its in the net.

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So here is the data. Scoring Chances are shaded and marked as Y. My Excel skills are nonexistent so please forgive. I would say that is pretty accurate, give or take an addition error or two. The jist is there anyhow.

















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Scoring Chances breakdown



Scoring Chances (Canada first)



1st 6-3 ES, 7-3 PP, 0-1 SH

2nd 7-3 ES, 2-0 PP, 0-1 SH

3rd 9-10 ES, 1-0 PP, 0-0 SH
Total - 22-16 ES, 10-3 PP, 0-2 SH
32-21 Overall


And here's the corsi numbers.



Corsi

1st 13-19 ES, 13-4 PP, 0-5 SH
2nd 20-17 ES, 0-0 PP, 3-6 SH
3rd 21-23 ES, 3-0 PP, 0-0 SH
Total 54-59 ES 16-4 PP, 3-11 SH

Observations


The game was extremely close right until about there were eight minutes left in the third period and at that point the Canadians had outchanced the Russians by a decent margin, had had thirteen of the past fifteen Corsi events and had six straight unanswered scoring chances including the Clarke goal.



Overall Canada did outchance the Russians at EV and on special teams, though not by a huge margin but a combination of puck luck (at one point Hewitt makes a point of noting that Frank Mahovlich would have scored on a few chances but was showing rust) and poor goaltending by Dryden makes the difference. The goaltending battle was interesting. Tretiak's positioning was excellent and the reality is that he makes very few fivebell saves. The puck just hits him. He looks the modern goaltender. All angles covered and no holes. Dryden on the other hand scrambles everywhere. On a few of the goals he has little chance but then again he never stops anything. Russians score seven goals on twenty two chances. And we're not talking tap ins. They shoot it, Dryden is moving and it goes through him.



The Esposito line got dinged at the end of the game but overall they are absolutely dominant. They are pressing and then they get scored on and then they remain on the ice (this happens all of the time, a line gets scored on and Sinden leaves them on) and they get weary and the Russians bring it down the ice and score again. And then they are on for the last shift when Lapointe goes a little bananas (there's actually a throat slash gesture, perhaps the first) and they have five events against. Even with those two shifts they are positive for scoring chances by a big margin and also in Corsi (except Esposito who is a minus three). Throw out those two shifts (-5 SC, -9 Corsi) and they post the following:



Mahovlich SC +13 -1 Corsi +23 -10, Esposito SC +12 -2, Corsi +20 -14, Cournoyer SC +9 -1, Corsi +19 -7



Pretty damn impressive. They carry the play all night and Mahovlich is Canada's best player by far. Funny though that midway through the game the commentator says that he will be a big help as long as he wants to play. Sound familiar?



The Clarke line is interesting. They get dinged Corsi wise but come out on top in terms of scoring chances. As noted before by my eye they took more than their share of own zone draws, not sure if by design or because the Esposito line often took very long shifts that ended in their own zone. When the Russians got possession in these situations they invariably managed to direct shots at the net, quite often in bunches but they were usually from the outside or from distance. Clarke's line in exactly what the Oiler shave been missing since 2006 - three guys who checked hard, moved the puck in the right direction, won battles, minimized the damage when their opponents had the puck. Ellis is fantastic, extremely smart. And Bobby Clarke? Outstanding. I saw him in his prime but forgot what a player he was. Tenacious, vicious, smart, everything you want in a player. I'd take a team of Bobby Clarkes. Hell if the Oilers had one or two they'd be a playoff team. Seriously.



All six players on the top two lines would play major roles in the rest of the Series but the same can't be said for the rest of the forwards. The Rangers GAG line of Ratelle, Gilbert and Hadfield fare okay numbers wise but they were pretty awful. They are supposed to produce offence but only have one scoring chance as a line and a handful of pucks directed at the net. They get caught deep a couple of times and the puck ends up in their net. Gilbert shows best of the three, Ratelle is ineffective and Hadfield is invisible. Hadfield would get one more game in and that is all. They are so poor that in the third when the Canadians are rolling and pressing for the equalizer they barely see the ice. Its the only time Sinden doesn't roll them straight.



The fourth line has mixed results. They are low event which is good and they end up even or minus one in Corsi. Redmond is a turnover machine at the blueline and he doesn't play another game. Berensen is solid but only plays one more game. He doesn't create enough offence to hold his spot I think. Peter Mahovlich shows the best of the three and he is the one guy who gets a regular spot in the lineup for the Series. Like his brother he is a big man and the Russians struggle to contain him. While the numbers are the same as his linemates he does have a strong game and thus earns his spot.



The backend is a mixed bag. Bergman and Park are quite strong and end up a plus in both metrics, they do get dinged late in the third a bit. Park is terrific and Bergman, an unheralded defensive defenceman, is solid, brekaing up a two on one easily, angling his men just fine. In other words although he benefits from playing with Park he holds his own and never looks out of place.



On the other hand the second pair gets smoked right from the start. Basically when Park and Bergman are on the ice the puck is in the right end and when Seiling and Awrey are on the ice its the opposite. Awrey, Bobby Orr's partner, is absolutely outclassed. His scoring chance numbers are not horrible but he is driving the results the wrong way, most notably when Kharlamov blows by him and scores the third goal on a pretty innocuous play. After that he barely sees the ice and Lapointe takes his spot.



Like Awrey Seiling struggles and is the cause of a lot of his own misfortune. Where Park and Bergman move the puck out quickly Seiling struggles with the Russians and quite often the puck ends up in the Canadian zone for lengthy periods of time because he loses footraces or puck battles. He is also left grasping for air a few times in one on one situations where the Russians open gaps and end up with scoring chances, a few which end up in the net. He is a team worst minus 14 in Corsi although Awrey would have lapped him as he is a minus nine in just over a period of play.



Seiling and Awrey get pulled from the roster. They reappear in game four - I am interested to see what their numbers are there. Strange that Sinden went in that direction after the Canadians won game two and should have won game three with a different roster. I guess we'll see what the numbers show.



As for Lapointe he shows well, a plus in scoring chances and a slight minus in Corsi. He cements his roster spot and forms part of the six guys who will play down the stretch in Russia.



As I said at the beginning this series created legends but it also created myths. Game One was supposedly about the Russians teaching Canada a lesson but Canada outchances the Russians and until about eight minutes left actually do so by a decent margin. Tretiak is good but not outstanding as the stories say, if anything the Canadians get some bad bounces, especially on the power play. Dryden on the other hand is poor. Even with Awrey and Seiling and some ineffective forwards and Dryden this is a game that Canada may very well have won handily. Interesting stuff and not what I expected at all.