Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sunday Potpourri: The Change Edition

With the federal government looking to stimulate the depressed economy through huge tax breaks and the infusion of almost obscene amount of stimulus money what does Sarah 416 Palin come up with to deal with this state's fiscal issues? A government hiring freeze. That's some quality thinking there pose-queen. It would be silly to move some of the 28 billion dollars that is invested in the U.S. stock market and real estate and instead invest it in the people and/or infrastructure of Alaska. That wouldn't be a shrewd investment would it ... I mean ... not as shrewd leaving as leaving the current investments (which suffered an 11 billion dollar decline in total value) in the U.S. stock market. Malls in Virginia > People of Alaska. Don't change a thing Sarah 416. The absurd entertains me.

There were big changes in UAA's line combinations last night. Did ya notice? Brian Bales moved up to skate with Josh Lunden and Kevin Clark reuniting a line that was productive earlier in the season. Ken Selby got out of jail and skated with Grant and Crowder on the 2nd line. Nick Haddad and Sean Wiles teamed up with Jade "Wings" Portwood on a checking/energy line while Parkinson centered Tyler Moir and August Aiken. Here's what I said last week ...
Recreate a pure energy line. As I see the lines right now there simply isn't an energy line. Talented players are spread through lineup. There is much good that can come from such a strategy. But the team seems to be missing an element. My example here is a line like Tuton, Tassone and Corrin was in the past. Here's my lines:
Lunden, Clark, Bales
Grant, Crowder, Aiken/Selby
Moir, Parkinson, Portwood
Wiles, Haddad, Selby/Tuton
It's definitely a change when I pretty much nail something like that hence my reason for pointing that out.

The biggest success from the line changes was exactly what I wanted to see. The 4th line, the energy line, the checking line or what I want to call the "WHiP Line" was highly effective last night. On Friday night I thought the 3rd line of Moir, Parkinson and Portwood was UAA's best line ... On Saturday it was clearly Wiles, Haddad and Portwood making good things happen. They didn't have as many scoring chances as the other three lines but they made it all go with their solid physical play. They didn't have to backcheck much ... they were pretty much always deep in the MTU zone. That's a lotta beef coming atcha if you're an opponent. Wiles is 6" 4" and 207lbs ... Portwood is 6' 3" and 200lbs ... Haddad is just 6' 2" and 198lbs at center. And they can all get up and done the ice well. I like it. I hope Coach Shyiak liked it. I want more of it. A line that can put that much pressure and damage on the opponent doesn't have to even contribute to the score line to be important to the overall effort. Give those three guys the honor of being starters next week I say.

I think Brian Bales with Kevin Clark and Josh Lunden accomplished exactly what I thought it would. It relieves Kevin a bit from all the playmaking duties. He was definitely more of a presence in front of the MTU net on Saturday night. He had more than a few scoring chances and shots from the slot. These three showed some chemistry earlier in the season when they skated together. I hope we see it next weekend versus DU. Brian looked good both nights in terms of his effort. I think he picked his play up a bit. On more than one occassion he and Kevin combined by having one or the other's back which led to chances. His desire was evident.

Tommy Grant, Paul Crowder and Ken Selby is perhaps a work in progress. Ken hasn't seen a lot of ice time this year and skating with UAA's top two scorers it may take another game or two for him to find his stride. He looked good. I'd say there were at least 2 times where I saw him in a particular place on the ice and wished he was somewhere else. But that's nothing more than rink rust and getting used to linemates. He played well enough to warrant an ongoing opportunity to prove himself ... and that is something I don't think he's really ever had. Grant and Crowder have a natural chemistry which is due in large part to Paul I think. He has an uncanny knack for finding his linemates. Give him some time to gel with Ken and maybe Selby could blow up the same way that Grant has done.

August Aiken has some good potential. He played his best game last night. He is quick and can handle the puck and again had more than a few solid shots last night that challenged Nolan. Craig Parkinson is a playing well at center. He obviously is the teams best faceoff guy and his goal on Friday night should convince him that he is more than just a greasy goal scorer. Tyler Moir is really coming into his stride at this point in the season and perhaps putting the "rookie" label behind him. I thought he was good around the net this weekend and strong on the puck when cycling. Give these three guys time enough together and I can imagine them becoming a productive 3rd line.

Nils Backstrom is having his best season. His defensive play is dead-solid. Mistakes from him are few and far between. He scored a sweet tip-in goal last night when he saw an opportunity to rush in and took it. Beautiful. He was responsible, committed and led by example. He was arguably the best player on the ice overall on the weekend. He looks more focused. I thought Mat Robinson didn't have the best series. Robbie is so damned solid regularly and awesome often enough that if he has a couple of hiccups they are really noticeable. He had a couple of hiccups this weekend. He'll put that behind him no problem. Curtis Leinweber was a scratch on Saturday night. I'm really high on him (as I believe the coaching staff is also) so I'm not enthusiastic about him sitting. On the flip side I like Luka Vidmar playing versus sitting. But it looks like someone has to sit as I think Jared Tuton is likely to take up permanent residence on the blueline. Jared is a coaches dream. He plays anywhere a coach asks him to. He plays exactly the way a coach wants him to in whatever role. And he does any/all of that as good as anybody else would. His goal on Friday likely cemented him in that position. Kane Lafranchise is/has been/and will remain solid, dependable and potentially dangerous offensively. Trevor Hunt continues to surprise me with some deft puck handling in the offensive zone. Keep it up Trevor. You're definitely having the best year of your UAA career.

On the weekend, the Seawolves got 3 of 6 goals and a total of 6 of 15 total points from the blueline (3 goals and 3 assists). That is something that has been missing on a consistent basis since earlier in the season. Hopefully, this past weekend is the first sign of some future consistency in that area.

The Seawolves are 2 points away from 8th place thanks to Mankato's ineptitude versus Duluth this weekend. St. Cloud however got three points on the road at CC and are 3 points clear of UAA in 7th. Duluth's sweep of Mankato puts them 2 points ahead of CC and 2 points behind CC and Minnesota who are tied for 4th (the Gophs have games in hand after a bye weekend). A home ice playoff for the Seawolves as a possibility is still valid. If the parity in the league continues as it has then it's likely that the number of points for a home ice spot could go as low as 26 or 27 (down from the usual average of about 29). So to get a sniff of a home ice spot the Seawolves would have to find a way to get 12 points in it's last 10 league games. Six of those 10 games are on the road at DU, Minnesota and Duluth. The only remaining home league series are St. Cloud in two weeks and North Dakota a month from now.

12 points huh? 6 wins in 10 games is perhaps a tall order based on the existing record. And let's be honest here. The next 4 weekends of WCHA hockey contains the toughest part of the 08-09 schedule. But perhaps ... just perhaps, the Seawolves can find that high level of play on a consistent basis that we've seen from time to time this year. The success that North Dakota is having recently should be a good example for the Seawolves to look at. I go up and down that roster and compare it to UAA's and quite honestly there isn't some huge gap in talent. That team believes. They are playing with vast amounts of confidence and never seem to give less than 110% effort. In the old "will vs. skill" equation they are getting it done with lots of "will".

Coach Shyiak gets some credit here from me for being more emotionally involved on Saturday night. He worked the referees moreso than he usually does. He's never cheap with the pats on the back to players coming off the ice and I noticed lots of that on Saturday as well. The zebras as a whole weren't horrible with the one notable exception of not applying the new icing rules correctly most of the time. This season we were supposed to see more wave-offs whenever a pass is attempted and doesn't connect. It has been sporadically applied in games I've seen on TV and the regular UAA linemen appear completely clueless.

And I'm not going to talk about goaltenders. I said last week I thought Bryce should get the nod for #1. There was nothing wrong with the way he played Friday night. Neither of the MTU power play goals nor the short-hander that tied the game were his fault. And so Jonny O gets the start on Saturday and there was nothing wrong with the way he played. I wouldn't fault any of MTU's goals against him. That was a lot of not talking about them eh?


Anonymous said...

What really bugs me about the new icing rule, is that the players KNOW they can't leave the ice, yet they still try to change up.

Tech was "caught" doing this repeatedly! If the league is going to employ this rule, they need to consider giving a delay of game penalty when warranted. It really did slow down the games when the linesmen had to continually make their players go back on the ice.

I agree about the line changes, there seemed to be more energy on the ice on Saturday. I think Leinweber sat on Saturday because he flubbed the pass that led to the SH goal on Friday. Nothing wrong with sending a message.

Donald Dunlop said...

If Leinweber had to sit then I hope it was because the Coach told him to play conservatively when he sent him out with a minute to go on the PP. If not, then Coach needs to look in the mirror. You're leading 3-2 with less than 3 minutes and you get a 2 minute power play and you don't play conservatively?????

I pin that loss on the bench and not on the players on the ice.

Anonymous said...

Donald, right on with your comments, will add that was happy about the play Sat night after Fri night's game and that we pretty much stayed out of the box for the weekend except for Crowder's bad penalty, Clark's tripping-I didnt see it but assume he was retaliating for getting knocked down in front of the net, and Wiles' penalty-which especially pissed me off-and then to top it off after Tech' PP score he skates over to the bench with a f%$#$%@$g smile on his face- he deserves a benching.

Anonymous said...

I’ve been playing with some numbers to see how well they stack-up against my perceptions. While you can make claims that agree with what you want by picking cherries, I think they back my observations.

UAA is actually outscoring their opponents at even strength. In goals per game, with an equal numbers of skaters, the top 5 WCHA teams are: DU (2.67), NoDak and SCSU (2.44), Wisco (2.28), Minny (2.13) followed by UAA (2.06). In giving-up goals at even ice, the order of the 5 stingiest is: Duluth (1.33), UAA (1.67), Denver (1.83), NoDak (1.89), and Kato (1.90).

Things really go craptistic with people in the box. The four teams weaker on the PP than the conference average (its a small smidgeon more than a goal per game), in order of mounting futility are: DU (0.94), SCSU (0.83), Tech (0.65), and UAA (0.44). If that weren’t enough to salt my beer, the four teams that are below the conference average at denial on the PK are: Duluth (1.11), Tech (1.30), Kato (1.50) and, lugging the red lantern, UAA (1.72).

Those following dutifully, and ready for the quiz at the end, may have spotted a really odd thing. UAA has surrendered more goals short handed than at even strength (31-30). Though I’ve not looked for such a thing, I’d expect that stat to be approaching hen’s teeth uniqueness. The 4 teams with fewer PP goals than PP goals allowed are: SCSU (-3), Kato (-5), Tech (-13), and really out there UAA (-23).

UAA still has the fewest PP’s per game in the conference (.90 less than the average) but up a lot from where they were after the ridiculous officiating in the games aginst CC here in Anchorage and I started keeping track. Also they have given-up the 3rd most opportunities (.71 more than the average), but continuing to come down. Who they have and haven’t played is a factor, and some teams are more prone to spending time contemplating the error of their ways on the other side of the ice from the team benches.

There’s stats and reality. For a while I’ve seen a complete reversal of what was happening when UAA regularly killed 2 to 3 minutes of 5 on 3 in nearly every game earlier in the season. The team was defeating their opponent at the ’Wolves blue line, almost always at one of the points. They denied entry to their zone for well more than half of the clock ticks the other team was up 2 men. (The 5 or 4 kill wasn’t as spectacular, but it was much better than things have been of late). I haven’t put hash marks on my palm to get any kind of accuracy, but it seems that other teams are in the zone and set-up with more than disturbing regularity when they come up the ice on the PP now.

Conversely, we have very little time on the PP with possession in the attacking zone, because we are being denied it, or trying to gain possession along the boards after a dump. (This weekend against the technophiles, I some improvement.)

I’d think an effective drill for gaining the zone with possession is hard to devise and work at practice. It’s also likely that the narrower sheet on campus would make any reps somewhat pointless.

What to do, what to do?


Suze said...

In reading the rule book tonight, I found this gem:

"PENALTY—If a team intentionally delays the line change it shall
be warned. This serves as that team’s warning for the
remainder of the game. If that team intentionally delays a
line change later in the game, a bench minor penalty shall
be assessed (see 6-15)."

Wouldn't players trying to sneak off the ice on an icing call be delaying the line change? Or am I not interpreting that correctly?

Donald Dunlop said...

That would be the correct interpretation. WCHA refs get to pick and choose what they call when they want to call it.

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