Much of my inspiration comes from watching my hometown team. The range of emotions I have during the 82-game regular season is overwhelming to say the least. Coming into Thursday my club has gone an underwhelming 1-2-1 in their last four. It hasn’t been all that bad in terms of their play and how they continue to “keep peppering” the opposing net minders.
Devan Dubnyk and Carey Price are two premier goaltenders in this league, as we know. These two faced off against my team during this somewhat average time frame. The game against Dubnyk and the Minnesota Wild saw the Blues post 42 shots.
In the game against Price and the Habs, the boys posted 30 shots. St. Louis beat Dubnyk just once and quadrupled their scoring against arguably the best goaltender in the NHL in Price on Tuesday night.
All together, the Blues hit the net 151 times the previous four games prior to hosting Dallas Thursday night. They found the back of those nets just eight times. Therefore, good teams will run into great goaltending throughout the regular season. However, a lot can be said about a “good” or “average” hockey club based upon how often they pepper their opposition.
Are the Knights really that Golden?
If the playoffs started today, the Golden Knights of Las Vegas would have home ice in the first round of the playoffs. Yes, they’re a scrappy bunch that have benefited from new expansion rules. Yes, they have great novelty in the sense that absolutely no one thought they would be this competitive. Looking at their overall play, is this really sustainable for 50+ more games?
The Knights hit the net on average 32 times a game and surrender 30 a game. On paper that is somewhat solid. However, it does not show up in their goal differential where they are just +9.
On average, that is not a typical top 10 club (Knights are currently seventh in NHL). They are scoring 3.44 goals a game which is great, but are giving up 3.11 goals a game. The Knights pepper, but they get peppered just as much, which can’t happen when you don’t have a true #1 goalie (Malcolm Subban).
Las Vegas might make the playoffs, but no one knows for sure at this point. My estimation tells me that they will slowly start to slide and their weaknesses will unfold soon. It has been a phenomenal story thus far and nothing can take away from that, but you need a goalie. If the Knights make it to the postseason it will be remarkable, but I wouldn’t bet on them going much further.
Lightning Strikes in Bunches
As of Dec. 6, and for much of the season so far, Tampa has sat atop the league standings. They have gone about their business with great peppering, 5-on-5 play and goaltending. Having the best line in hockey has also helped their cause (Namestnikov/Kucherov/Stamkos).
The Lightning are seemingly a complete team who are healthy and ready to make another cup run like they did in 2015 and 2016.
Tampa Bay hits the net the same amount as their opposition hits their own (32) on average. The leg up the Lightning have is that they have a former first rounder guarding their crease (Andrei Vasilevskiy).
They have scored an average of 3.7 GPG and given up 2.51 GAPG, which is fantastic. This group leads the league in goal differential at +32. They are a legitimate Cup contender for their impeccable strengths on both ends of the ice and their lack of weaknesses.
It’s not just in their stats, it’s in their overall play. They are relentless on 50/50 pucks and are hounds along the boards. It all starts from the goal line still. Having a #1 in Vasilevskiy with no controversy with another #1 (Ben Bishop) there will help them go on a long run when the playoffs start.
So, maybe it’s not the peppering. Maybe it’s just the boring and simple fact that you must have great goaltending and be solid offensively and defensively.
“What does it all mean Basil?”
I’ve changed my mind. Peppering is a solid act that helps open the flood gates in any hockey game. However, it is almost never the single most important piece to a contending team in winning a hockey game. Ask the 2012 and 2014 Los Angeles Kings. Those guys won a Cup as an eighth seed and had both occurrences happen with dominant goaltending from Jonathan Quick.
The goalies are always the most important pieces like pitchers and quarterbacks in the playoffs, which is all anyone cares about. Three-time Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw will always say “if you don’t win, what’s the point” (MLB Network) in having a great regular season?
The shots are a nice stat that can draw a couple conclusions to how a game was played, but not really why a team won or lost. Why else would players overuse the phrase ‘we got pucks to the net’? It’s because hockey is such an intricate game where the only obvious and understandable postgame lines involve ‘pucks in deep’ and ‘pucks to the net.’
You need to score more than the other team. Anyone can do that during the regular season, but not everyone can 16 times in the postseason. I don’t believe the Knights can, but the Lightning certainly can. I like saying “we need to pepper” whatever goalie my team is playing against, but really we just need to battle and score more goals than the other team.
Hockey is very simple for fans at the end of the day.
“From Our Haus to Yours”