Thursday, October 8, 2009
Thursday Morning Cupcheck - The 2009-10 NHL On-Pace Awards
Bring on the new math!
Top of the morning, hockey fans! Last week we prepped ourselves for your favorite team's inevitable decline; this week, as many of you know, the 2009-10 NHL Season Began in Earnest! And I'm not sure if it's the exhilaration of seeing a painful 6-month offseason come to a close or these mescaline-laced PB&Js (hey, don't knock it 'till you've tried it), but I'm as pumped as a monster truck tire on FRIDAYFRIDAYFRIDAY!
We've only had a week of actual hockey, and already we can start making sweeping generalizations based on faulty math and unfounded theories! The beauty of having an 82-game, meaningless regular season is that after 2-3 games, pretty much everything that's going to happen is suddenly and starkly obvious. The downside? No more surprises over the remaining 79 games.
With that, I present my 2009-10 NHL On-Pace Awards, given out to the most deserving players based on their accurately-projected accomplishments, which annually shatter whatever fleeting "records" are still momentarily on the books.
The Tom Coughlin Award for Oktobadominance: That would be the 82-0-0 Philadelphia Flyers, Colorado Avalanche and Phoenix Coyotes. Could this finally be the year with three 82-0-0 teams? The math says "Yes!"
The BuccaLion Award of Hilarious Futility: This year's coveted trophy will have to be split between the two 0-82-0 teams, the New Jersey Devils and the Detroit Red Wings. Detroit gets a special nod, however, for carrying on the torch their Lion brethren so boldly seized from their legendary rivals in Tampa.
The Vezina Trophy: Despite strong 82-win seasons from both Ray Emery and Miikka Kiprusoff, you have to hand it to 82-0-0 Avs goalie Craig Anderson, whose 1.00 GAA, .973 save percentage and astonishing 41 shutouts set the bar this season.
The Alex Ovechkin Award for Being Alex Ovechkin: Annual Alex Ovechkin Award winner Alex Ovechkin has flown under the radar for several seasons, but this could finally be the year he makes the hockey media world sit up and take notice. With 137 goals, 246 points, and 464 shots on goal (could Ovechkin reach the mythical 500-shot plateau?), he narrowly wins out over Dallas Stars sophomore James Neal, who puts up 123 goals but --in perhaps the most me-first, anti-teammate display in recent history-- zero assists through 82 games. Small consolation: Neal will win the Kobe Award for his self-serving statistics.
Lunch Box Award: With 571 pims through 82 games, Jody Shelley will win this annual award given to the player who selflessly torpedoes his team's overworked penalty kill with the most minutes in the box. The Sharks will use this award to excuse their shocking 55-point season (rather than Dany Heatley's -109 plus/minus).
Meanwhile, for Stars fans the real question over the summer was "How will the Stars play under new head coach Marc Crawford?" Through two games, we can make some pretty accurate observations: lots of shots, lots of skating, spotty goaltending, and tons of overtime losses in the shootout.
While it's hard to judge a season based on two games -- especially against middle-to-low-tier teams like the Predators and Oilers -- we'll just go ahead and judge away. For starters, the tempo has certainly picked up, particularly in the first period -- long known around these parts as The 20 Minute Nap To Start The Game -- as Stars forwards actually do stuff like skate fast, shoot pucks on net, and try to (gulp!) score, like, y'know, goals.
While the effort is there, the execution among the forwards is still a little lacking, though three powerplay goals through two games sounds quite refreshing. More to the point, the 37 shots a game (those are pre-0-82-0 Red Wing type numbers) are coming from dangerous spots on the ice, off the rush, off the mad scrambles in the crease, and after cycling the point on the powerplay. Basically, the effort and aggression are there, but the goals have not been -- hopefully this will get corrected at some point in the first two games of next season.
As for the universally-maligned defensemen, they've been doing their job: Despite the wide-open style of play and obvious growing pains, the d-corps has been keeping shots down to an average of 25 a game. (Ironically, that's pretty much how many shots they allowed under Tippett's heavily-emphasized defense-first system.) New addition Skrastins has been phenomenal at keeping pucks out of the net, as well as Nick Grossman, and the only weak link is whichever defensive pairing is playing behind the Stars' patchwork fourth line.
The real wild card is, of course, in goal, where Marty Turco has allowed an average of 3.5 GAA and again has a sub-.900 save percentage. More to the point, despite playing in two overtime games, the Stars have only led for 12 minutes of the 70 they've played. Whenever the Stars' aggressive play gets the lead, Turco has given it right back, unable to hold a lead for longer than five and a half minutes.
The good news for Stars fans? With every lead-breaker allowed, the over-under on Auld's first start is pushed up by two games. At least Dallas fans now have that to look forward to.
Overall, I'd give the new coach a B, although had Neal not hit those two posts in the shootouts (and hence challenged Ovechkin's five goals through three games with five imaginary goals through two), I'd have given him an A+ ... which is the grade Head Necromancer Dave Tippett has gotten after reviving the Coyotes franchise from the dead. More on that later.
That's it for this week's stat-heavy Cupcheck. Tune in next week when we chastise fifth-round draft bust Jamie Benn for not scoring a hat trick in either of his first two games.