January 30, 2011

"Shoot from Anywhere" Still Works

Recently, The Hockey News blogger Justin Bourne wrote an article dispelling the “shoot from anywhere” strategy preached by so many coaches, either from the bench, or the couch. Bourne wrote it off as an outdated philosophy, and went so far as to say that the “shots on goal” statistic is no longer a valid way to judge which team was dominant in  game. He makes the point that goalies let in fewer weak goals then they used to in the eighties etc. While that may be true, taking lots of shots is still crucial to any team’s success.

Although today's butterfly goaltenders may not concede as many goals from outside shots, taking those shots can still benefit the offense. Long range attempts still create deflections, rebounds, and yes, even the odd goal. It may not seem worth it to some, but a chance at a fluke goal is better than ragging the puck until it eventually gets stolen. Just one good bounce could shift the momentum drastically, which in hockey is paramount.

If you want a real world example, look no further than the Detroit Red Wings. Justin Bourne argues that in a modern league, peppering the net does not work. One of the Red Wings’ trademarks, however, has been to do exactly that, and they have been one of hockey’s most successful franchises, both before and after the lockout. Detroit has been to the Stanley Cup Finals twice since 2005, and have been champions once. Try telling them “shoot from anywhere” is obsolete.

 You can even take a look at the daily box scores for further evidence. If a team, like the Chicago Blackhawks, for example, blows out another team, like the Edmonton Oilers, the obvious example, the Hawks probably out-shot Edmonton badly. Very rarely do you see a team score six or seven goals with less than thirty shots. To control a game, you must control the shot count.

Of course, as with any rule, there are exceptions. "Cross blue line, shoot, repeat" will only succeed in turning the puck over. But if you have a decent shot opportunity, and no quality passing lanes available, letting fly is a better option than holding on to the puck, or continuing to pointlessly cycle it around the side boards. Just like many other aspects of hockey, it may not be modern, it may not be pretty, but it works.

January 23, 2011

Smaller Goalie Pads, More Goals

A recent focus of the NHL promoting goal scoring. The mission made sense. The Dead Puck Era was producing just two or three goals per game, it was clear that this was a valid concern. Hockey was struggling down south, more scoring would grow the game. The cause was just, but the solution was flawed.

Since the lockout, the league has introduced several outlandish rules, the puck-over-glass penalty and the trapezoid among them. While these changes did usher in more goals, they did hockey more harm than good. The owners got one thing right, however.

Just before the lockout, in 2003/04, goalie pad length was limited to 38 inches. Prior to 05/06, pad width was cut from 12 inches to 11. Further restrictions were put on gloves, shoulder pads, and most other aspects of the goaltender apparel. This is one of the few steps the league made in the right direction, as pad size reduction is the only way to hike up scoring without compromising the game.

If you look back to the eighties and earlier, one of the most noticeable differences from that era to today is the goalie equipment. 'Tenders back then had dramatically less bulk (ignoring their bellies,) and as a result, depending on the decade, goal frequency was greater than or equal to the post-lockout NHL. What's more, that scoring came without the need to strip defensemen of their rights.

But an the years went by, more goaltenders switched to a butterfly style, and leg pads began to swell. The balance of power shifted toward netminders, and goals became increasingly rare. The trend continued on until the turn of the millennium, when so few goals were scored, soccer started to seem mildly intriguing.

So the lockout came around, and executives are searching for an answer for this conundrum. A sane person would figure,"we have this problem because goalie pads became too big, so the logical answer is to make them smaller again." Then there's Gary Bettman.

"Let's bump up scoring by creating these nonsensical rules that render defensemen helpless." What we have now is this peculiar quadrilateral behind the net to cage in the goaltender, and a culture where forwards can run circles the 'D, or plant their asses right on top of the crease, and their is not a thing the blueliners can do about it. That's practical right?

Instead of tampering with hockey's framework, the simple act of shrinking equipment can add excitement without ruining the game. After all, they are supposed to be pads, not shields. Unfortunately, the odds of the league taking this route are slim; common sense is not their strong suit. But if they happen to smarten up and make these changes, it would be a win-win situation.

More scoring would make hockey more popular in the States, and longtime fans would not have to deal with anymore strange rules. Everyone's happy! Except, of course, the goaltenders.