Wednesday, May 30, 2012

#257: Stanley Cup Final 2012

---Not a Complete Surprise---

This has been the worst season for predicting winners on this blog.

Through three rounds, SOGD (Shots on Goal Differential) + SV% (Save Percentage) remains dead even at 7-7 (old model is 6-8).

The only prediction that can really be "touted" here is that, once again, the Stanley Cup winner will have had a positive SOGD (the last "threat" to that prediction, Phoenix, went down relatively quickly).

We have a #6 seed hosting a #8 seed when the Stanley Cup Final opens tonight in front of 2,412 fans at the Prudential Center.

First, what happened in the third round:

Western Conference

#3 Phoenix vs. #8 Los Angeles

The new system said Kings in 6.

The old one said Kings in a sweep.

It landed right in the middle with a 5-game victory for Los Angeles.

I'd almost have to argue that the old system was closer. If not for a very impressive Game Four performance by Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith, this could have been done as quickly as L.A.'s last series vs. the Blues.

The Kings peppered Phoenix to the tune of 14 more shots per game (on average). In this league, you cannot repeatedly take this kind of punishment and expect to win. It can happen, but a goaltender can realistically only steal you one series like this. They can't win you 16 games.

Kudos to Mike Smith for a valiant effort. His team lost by more than 2 goals only once (and the one 2-goal loss was made so because of an empty net at the end).

Eastern Conference

#1 NY Rangers vs. #6 New Jersey

Official pick was New York in 6.

Other system had New York in 7.

The Devils rallied to win 3 straight after falling into a 2-1 hole against the Rangers. I'm not even entirely sure how they managed to do it.

For the series, the Rangers only outshot the Devils by 8. Total. Not per game. Total. And, the Devils lost a 3-0 game where they outshot New York by 14. So, I am at a little bit of a loss to explain this one.

The stats tell me that Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist was a bit of a goat. If the Devils scored, they won (New York's 2 wins were by virtue of shutout). There was also, apparently, some questionable officiating. Whether that's true or not, Steeltown Sports' motto is: "Champions Overcome."

Who would have thought that the Devils' toughest matchup through three rounds would have been the Florida Panthers, who took them to double overtime in the deciding Game 7?

Now, let's review the regular season SOGD and SV% of the Finalists:

Eastern Conference
6. New Jersey +0.7 (.907)

Western Conference
8. Los Angeles +3.2 (.924)

By now, this alone should tell you who is probably going to win it all.

Stanley Cup Final

#6 New Jersey vs. #8 Los Angeles

If you're looking at this from L.A.'s point of view, some might think this will be another cakewalk series. And why not? The Kings have lost all of 2 games this postseason, vanquishing #1 seed Vancouver, #2 seed St. Louis, and #3 seed Phoenix in short order.

Now here comes a #6?

Stats aside, this series does have a bit of intrigue.

Both the Devils and Kings started rebuilding at about the same time, and in three seasons, they've made it to the ultimate stage.

New Jersey is looking to send legendary netminder Martin Brodeur out a winner (if they win, Brodeur will almost certainly retire). After plenty of punishment, the deal that brought Ilya Kovulchuk from Atlanta to the Garden State is bearing fruit. Travis Zajac (the player who helped end my "Florida in 6 (in Overtime)" prediction has rebounded from what was thought to be a season-ending injury.

The Kings, meanwhile, have a few players who have been close to hockey's Holy Grail (Mike Richards, Jeff Carter) but never drank from it. A superstar who's hungry (Anze Kopitar), and a defenseman who has won it all and was signed for big bucks by Los Angeles to do what he's done (Rob Scuderi).

The Kings have been very good at outshooting their opponents. The Devils can be very good at shutting teams down, at least to the point of limiting them to poor quality chances. The post-lockout rules have made it difficult to completely re-realize the hated neutral zone trap.

In goal, you have a first-ballot Hall of Famer (whom I've mentioned), and a "quick"ly rising star (and Vezina Trophy candidate) in Jonathan Quick.

And, of course, we have the New Jersey DEVILS vs. the City of ANGELS.

(Well played, Mayans. Well, played.)

So, will the Kings be crowned? Or will the Devils reign?

Official Steeltown Sports pick: LA in 6.

SOGD only indicates Kings in 5.

Both systems have had the same projected winner in 12 out of 15 series this year. I have a feeling that will not be a normal thing going forward.


"Hey, Mike," you might be thinking. "This blog is called 'Steeltown Sports,' but you haven't had a Pittsburgh-related blurb since your chart-topping radio show was on. What gives?"

Well, thanks for asking.

Truth is, if you've read this thing with any regularity, you know most of my thoughts on the Pirates (who are the only team really in season right now) always boil down to "Bob Nutting doesn't care to spend money to win as long as people keep coming to the ball park."

There isn't even a dead horse left to whip.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

#256: NHL Playoffs 2012 - Round 3

---Not According to Plan---

I'm taking a beating here at "Steeltown Sports."

That statistical "edge" that I thought I had discovered in picking series winners is either having an off year, or the game is evolving to where Shots on Goal Differential (SOGD) and Save Percentage (SV%) are no longer the key statistics.

Through two rounds, SOGD + SV% is dead even at 6-6 (old model is 5-7).

Now to the "what happened in Round Two" segment.

Western Conference

#2 St. Louis vs. #8 Los Angeles

Both systems picked Blues in 7.

Instead, it was the Kings sweeping my projected Western Conference champion out of the tournament.

The culprit would appear to be Jonathan Quick, the Kings' goaltender. Quick posted a series SV% of .939, which completely countermanded St. Louis' SOGD advantage for the series (an average of 3.2 shots better per game).

His counterpart, Brian Elliot, posted an anemic .850 SV%. Still Elliot would have had to have been almost as good as Quick to have kept the Blues around.

#3 Phoenix vs. #4 Nashville

Both Steeltown Sports picks took Phoenix in 6.

I personally enjoy those times when I go against what seems to be "the world" with a prediction and win. Granted, Phoenix only took 5 games to oust expert favorite Nashville, but maybe the Preds would have won another game in the series had the team not suspended forwards Andrei Kostitsyn and Alexander Radulov. Still, you have to admire a franchise that would take two of their top ticket-sellers out of the lineup for home playoff games.

This was the duel where both teams had a regular season SOGD in the negative, which is the mark of doom for whether a team can win the Stanley Cup. Again, only two teams since 1990 have won when their regular season SOGD was in the negative (the 1991 and 2009 Penguins) - and that was due to some drastic trade deadline/late season improvements.

The story of this series, though, was netminder Mike Smith, who posted an impressive .946 SV%, including surrendering only one goal over the final two games to put the Predators away.

Nashville outshot the Coyotes over the course of the series by a +4.6 margin, but Vezina Trophy candidate Pekka Rinne (who I believe should win the award this year) was not up to Smith's level, posting a rather pedestrian .909 SV%. And that number is only bolstered by excellent showings in Games 3 and 4.

Clearly Smith is the main reason that Phoenix has advanced to the Western Conference Final, but you have to wonder who would have to be left off to make Smith a Vezina candidate, as well.

Eastern Conference

#1 NY Rangers vs. #7 Washington

Once again, both systems were in alignment, picking New York in 6.

I barely got the winner right in this series, and, if not for a double minor in Game 5 by Washington's Joel Ward that ended up leading to a dramatic Rangers power play goal in the waning seconds...followed by the GW in OT on the second half of that PP...I'd be talking about Braden Holtby once again.

Well, I'll still talk about him. The young goalie proved to be up to the task. His only "shaky" game was Game 1 where he only faced 14 shots but allowed 3 goals, two in the third.

But he posted SV% of .900 or better the rest of the series, including an admirable .935 in the finale on hostile ice. It could certainly be argued that he, overall, outperformed the man on the other side of the rink, Henrik Lundqvist, who saw an average of 4.6 shots less for the series.

The "what ifs" for the Capitals will haunt them until at least October. What if Ward doesn't take that penalty? What if they could have gotten a break in their Game 3, 3OT contest and ended it before Marion Gaborik did?

Still, I would argue that a good what-if for Washington would be: What if Holtby didn't keep them in pretty much every game.

#5 Philadelphia vs. #6 New Jersey

The picks -

Official Steeltown Sports pick: Flyers in 7 (in overtime).

SOGD by itself: Flyers in 6.

This was the only series that differed at all (just the number of game), but they were both wrong.

This was a series that truly bucked the trend. Unlike the St. Louis/Los Angeles series, where the Blues were expected to (and did) outshoot the Kings, the Flyers were expected to have that advantage over the Devils.

It couldn't have been further from the truth, as New Jersey launched an average of 5.8 more shots on Ilya Bryzgalov of the Flyers than they saw fly at Martin Brodeur.

The first three games of the series seemed to lead me to believe that my prediction of a "dynamite series" was on. We enjoyed two overtime games and a road win and it looked like the rivalry was on. But Philadelphia couldn't stay out of the penalty box in the last two games, which, more than anything, hindered their own chances at scoring. The Devils were only able to capitalize on 2 of the 9 power plays they saw in Games 4 and 5, but that was nearly an entire period that the Flyers would have been shorthanded.

And unlike the Penguins, the Devils defense doesn't tend to cheat forward allowing for shorthanded breakaways.

In this, the Devils scheme was superior. Brodeur didn't have a superb series, but he came up big on the road in Games 2 and 5 in Philadelphia.

Now, let's review the regular season SOGD and SV% of the NHL's Frozen Four:

Eastern Conference
1. NY Rangers +0.7 (.920)
6. New Jersey +0.7 (.907)

Western Conference
3. Phoenix -2.0 (.925)
8. Los Angeles +3.2 (.924)

Washington and Nashville, two of the three conference semi-finalists remaining with a negative SOGD, were eliminated.

Western Conference

#3 Phoenix vs. #8 Los Angeles

No doubt, this is being billed as a "which goaltender will blink first?" kind of series.

Smith and Quick have no doubt been the stars of their respective clubs, but there's more experience on the L.A. side, and the statistics are on their side, too. The Kings' defensive capability should help out their netminder, whereas Smith is probably about out of gas.

Phoenix ousted a Chicago team without much of a goaltender, then beat a Nashville team who is inconsistent in keeping shots away from their net.

Los Angeles was able to beat two teams who could shoot the puck and make a save. And they didn't have home ice advantage for either series.

It's for series like this that the SOGD connection was made. The Kings will be the first #8 seed since the 2005-2006 Edmonton Oilers to make the Stanley Cup Final.

Official Steeltown Sports pick: LA in 6.

SOGD only indicates Kings in a sweep.

Eastern Conference

#1 NY Rangers vs. #6 New Jersey

New Jersey's defense and legendary goaltending vs. New York's balanced attack and Vezina candidate.

You know the drill by now. The Capitals, with a back-up back-up (typed twice on purpose) goaltender, were just a goal or two away from upsetting the East's top seed. New Jersey has also been pretty good about staying out of the penalty box, but the Rangers are pretty good at drawing penalties.

New York will need to have patience to win this series. And considering that each of their first two rounds went the distance, the Rangers will have plenty of that.

If New York wins, it will be a deliberate, low-scoring affair, as they beat the Devils at their own game. If you see scores that exceed 3-2, expect that the Devils will have the larger number. I don't anticipate the Rangers scoring more than 3 goals in a game (an empty-netter being the lone exception).

Official Steeltown Sports pick: New York in 6.

SOGD alone (where both teams are dead even) has Rangers in 7 (using home ice as a tie-breaker).

Both systems have had the same projected winner in 11 out of 14 series with only one more prognostication to make.


If the above comes to pass, and you can bet that the NHL wants a New York/Los Angeles Final for ratings purposes, the new system has the Kings winning it all in 6. The previous model has LA in 5.

The way things have gone, though, we'll be trying to determine if Brodeur will go out in style or if a city that never sees naturally occurring ice will be celebrating with Lord Stanley's chalice.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

#255: The End. For Now.

---SSL Broadcast #92---

In the banner at the top of this blog, there is the tagline "Pittsburgh-based Sports talk & analysis that leaves the conflict on the field."

I have tried to carry that message in my blog posts and my radio shows, occasionally failing when it came to certain topic (nobody's perfect).

Still, as I wrap up the radio version of my brainchild, at least for now, I feel that I have done justice to my personal mission. I did my best to make sure that my opinions were well thought out, especially the ones where I took a stronger than average stand. And I don't recall a single instance where I said something contrary, argumentative, or controversial for its own sake.

Talk radio, and especially sports talk radio, should be a venue where all feel welcome. Where ideas, not people, are built up and torn down. Where a host can responsibly respect even the most differing of opinions without going into the all-too-cliched, "You're an idiot" rant.

Today's broadcast will probably seem a little self-centered, as it was the final show and I provided a platform for any followers I had to wish me well as I leave WMBS after 6.5 years. Still, I made sure to start off with the sports, at least.

Sports topics discussed on the final SSL on WMBS:

- Steeler 2012 draft may be the best of the Tomlin era.

- Pirates are scoring now, but now the pitching isn't holding up.

- Power can't beat anyone not called "The Orlando Predators."

- A little bit of Stanley Cup playoffs.