Saturday, November 03, 2007

Is This the Best Flames Team Since '89, or the Worst?

I sometimes cannot honestly tell whether to laugh or cry when I watch the Flames, although I did a bit of both watching them at the Saddledome Thursday night vs. the Red Wings.

Whenever I watch games I like to think about the storylines going into the game and it usually helps me decide how I'm going to approach this blog. MG did a nice piece about game strategy in terms of line matchups, and I had the idea of writing a column comparing this edition of the Flames to the team that won it all in 1989 (not trying to tempt fate or anything.) I was also considering examining my claim from last year that the time to win is now - it's possible the Iginla-Regehr-Kipprusoff extention has changed that and we're back to being patient again. But as the game wore on I realized I have to ask what the hell is going on with this team...again.

As I just mentioned, MG wanted to look at the matchups - in the end, I don't think it really mattered. For one, every goal against was with a unique defensive group. Sarich and Ericksson on for 1st goal against, Phaneuf and Aucoin for the second, Ericksson and Warrener on the third, and Sarich and Regehr for the fourth. While there was no clear statistical trend, a couple defenceman stood out for all the wrong reasons.

Anders Ericksson played simply terrible on just about every shift. His positioning and decision making are horrendous and he was definately the Flames worst defenceman. The real suprise was how bad Robyn Regehr looked brutal. His +1 rating belied the fact he was often out of position and more often than not made bad outlet passes or simply couldn't handle the puck at all - he was Tony Amonte on defence.

Now, MG posists that (based on Desjardin's numbers which I don't fully understand) Phanuef is doing a better job at suppressing opposition scoring than Regehr. This is potentially true, but I also think there is a question of opponent quality. While Phaneuf is playing more minutes, Regehr's minutes more closely mirror the minutes of top players on the opposition, leading me to believe Keenan is trying to match Regehr with the opposition's best. Phaneuf is getting softer minutes which allows him to play longer and take advantage of his offensive instincts.

Up front, I often wondered (aloud) if Owen Nolan would ever win a puck race. Sure he drew a couple penalties, but he always looks like he's at a standstill out there. This was a guy that played for Team Canada in 2002 (although on the worst line with Lindros and Smyth). Does Nolan even have a purpose when out on the ice? Is there a reason shouldn't just sit him?

Mike Babcock got outcoached by MacTavish in 2006, but I don't think he's been outcoached since. Because of this, I don't think the matchups mattered much - Detroit simply outthought the Flames throughout the whole game. This looked like the 2007 playoffs all over again, with Detroit simply shutting down passing lanes and using their forecheck to cause turnovers. It doesn't help that the Flames basically do not have a defenceman capable of moving the puck, but it was a weakness that was certainly glaring on Thursday. And while hapless Flames fans intoned their team to 'at least hit somebody' Detroit moved the puck too well to let that happen. Except for the first 7 or so minutes in the first and 5 minutes in the third, the Flames were severly outclassed. Sure the Flames had a couple bad breaks in terms of posts or bounces, but this game was an illustration of the lack of consistency in the Flames game.

Is this the best Flames team since 89? Maybe on paper, but that's about it.

7 comments:

MetroGnome said...

To my eye, Phaneuf has been seeing at least as tough of match-ups as Regehr has so far. Part of that has to do with the fact that Keenan likes to play him with the Iginla trio - and that's who he tends to run against the big boys. I think he does this because the Sarich/Regehr duo aren't very good outlet passers.

The Desjardins GA/60 number is a relatively simple metric. He simply adds up the number of goals against that a given player's been on the ice for and converts it into a /60 minutes rate. Regehr's current number is more than 1 GA/60 higher than his rate last year - and he was playing more and more consistently seeing tougher match-ups in 06/07. And that doesn't even consider his PK stats (which are probably abysmal). I think he's really struggled so far this season.

Overall, I think this is just a "good" team. There's lots of very strong players but there's also a lot of very mediocre ones. In any given game, if the play of Iginla, Tanguay, Langkow, Phaneuf doesn't "overcome" the play of Nolan, Conroy, Eriksson, Godard etc, then the result will be a Detroit game. Or the recent Minnesota loss.

It's frustrating as hell to watch. Even more frustrating is the fact that the Flames have little cap room and the only tradeable pieces they have are the ones they need to hang on to.

therealdeal said...

Oh, I understand the GA/60 prorated thing, I'm talking more about quality of competition ratings. (It's just that I'm a bad writer, even reading it now I don't know how I came up with that phrase).

Again, I would disagree with you about Dion playing with Jarome. For one, if you look at TOI/G stats, Dion is far and away the ice time leader, followed by Aucoin (his on again off again partner). The next guy is Iginla who plays about 5 minutes a game less than Dion. Regehr is next, playing about 2 minutes less than Jarome. If you only use ES TOI the number between Regehr and Iginla get's closer, just over a minute difference compared to over 2 minutes for Phaneuf. Obviously there is some variability due to away games and such but to me this indicates the ideal 5 man unit for Keenan against top opposition is Iginla/Conroy/Tanguay/Regehr/Sarich or Aucoin.

To me, there will always be more soft minutes than hard minutes because the best opposition forwards play about 20-22 minutes a night on average. That leaves about 40 odd 'softer' minutes. A good defenceman can take advantage of about 30 of those minutes.

It may be a bit of a mix though.

I disagree with you a bit on Conroy - I think he plays the role of defensive conscience on that line (which isn't such a bad thing when Tanguay is out there).

Regardless, I agree it's damn frustrating to watch.

MetroGnome said...

The best defensemen on any team play the most - like Lidstrom and Pronger. They get the hardest minutes + SH + PP time and it looks to me that that's what's happening with Dion now. Prior to the game against the Red Wings, Preston was on saying Dion would be matched up against Zetterberg and Datsyuk and would have to step up to the plate.

The minutes bear this out if you look at the head to head figures. Phaneuf played the majority of the night against Lidstrom, Datsyuk, Zetterberg etc. and with Aucoin, Tanguay, Iginla and Conroy. Conversely, Regehr mostly saw, Lilja, Draper, Cleary and Rafalski and played behind the likes of Nolan, Yelle and Nilson. This has been the trend the couple of weeks or so, and Im guessing it'll continue as long as Regehr keeps struggling (and/or Dion keeps kicking ass).

The quality of comp numbers are a little problematic, I agree, and I wasn't considering them in my match-up post (they're basically an average of the on/off +/- rates of the opponents - I think the inclusion of off +/- in that formula creates problems).

As for Conroy on the first line - I dont think Iginla and Tanguay need a defensive conscience. They're a pure outscoring unit like the Datsyuk/Zetterberg/Homer line...what's needed in the middle is someone who can keep up with Iggy and Tangs, which is simply not Connie (as much as like him) at this point in his career. I honestly think Keenan would like to elevate Lombo, but he's currently keeping the 3rd unit afloat...

Anonymous said...

I'm happy for Phaneuf. I'd love to see Lombardi get more icetime.

therealdeal said...

The best defensemen on any team play the most - like Lidstrom and Pronger. They get the hardest minutes + SH + PP time and it looks to me that that's what's happening with Dion now

Perhaps Keenan thinks Dion is our best defenceman, and I agree that with your assesement that team's best defenceman do play in all situations. I just disagree that Dion is our best defenceman.

The minutes bear this out if you look at the head to head figures.

Ha ha (I'm laughing at myself.) Excuse my ignorance but how does this work exactly? Is it minutes played with x, is it t correlations, I honestly don't understand at it at all except that there are larger numbers besides some guys. I don't know how these numbers were arrived or what they mean though.

As for Conroy on the first line - I dont think Iginla and Tanguay need a defensive conscience. They're a pure outscoring unit like the Datsyuk/Zetterberg/Homer line...what's needed in the middle is someone who can keep up with Iggy and Tangs, which is simply not Connie (as much as like him) at this point in his career. I honestly think Keenan would like to elevate Lombo, but he's currently keeping the 3rd unit afloat...

Eh, I understand your logic, but Iggy and Tanguay are still doing perfectly fine, and like you say, Lombardi is propping up that third line. I think it creates a little depth (come on man, you're the first one to admit we're top heavy!)

Given that headtohead is accurate though, I'll be the first to admit you're right in terms of who Phaneuf is playing with and his competition.

But in that case that brings into the debate of whether the Iginla trio is sheltering Dion by outscoring the opposition so handily, because that would almost certainly inflate Dion's ability and numbers. Playing with the hapless group that Regehr seems to be playing with would also deflate his numbers, clouding the issue even further.

Even so, like I said in the post, Regehr sucked hardcore against the Wings, and he has not played great thus far, so I'd have to say we're pretty much in agreement in at least one way.

MetroGnome said...

I just disagree that Dion is our best defenceman.

But he has been by every conceivable metric thus far: goals, assists, +/-, minutes played, GA/60, hits, etc. Regehr isn't even close right now.

I think it creates a little depth (come on man, you're the first one to admit we're top heavy!)

it doesn't create depth if the guy is being carried and isn't contributing. 3 points between Iginla and Tanguay is almost absurd. I mean, you'd think a couple pucks would bounce off him and he'd more points by accident. Having Conroy play in the top and 6 and contribute little doesn't make the team any less top heavy - it just means you're hiding a guy in the top 6 and hoping he doesn't harm the play of the big guns too badly. And judging by tonight's game against the Avs, the chickens are starting to come home to roost for Keenan when it comes to this stratey.

The head to head thing is a little confusing at first. basically, it's a matrix. The number represents # of ES minutes played. So, if you click Phaneuf's name, you'll see who he played most against (and with, depending on the chart).

The Iginla trio might help Phaneuf's number, particularly the GF/60 rate, but I think we have to give Dion some credit for his GA/60 rate so far. He's seen tough match-ups and managed to deter scoring pretty effectively so far. I expect things will level out as the season progresses, but it's nice to see him excelling.

therealdeal said...

In regards to the Head to Head comparisons, specifically how are the minutes determined? (ie where do the raw numbers come from and how are they crunched).

And I still disagree with you on the Conroy thing, but I see your point. Even so, when you've got a leak with 11 holes it doesn't matter where you plug the holes with your fingers - there's always going to be one leak.