Not a fan of NHL analytics

May 15, 2019 3:01 AM

The following is an example why technical handicappers deduced St. Louis will capture the Western Conference Final series with San Jose: Since Jan. 1, the Blues (29-10-5) own the second-highest percentage of points (63 of 88, .716) in the NHL.

Sounds great — but it’s a lousy rationale.

If these “analytics gurus” were so smart, the same line of reasoning would also conclude an easy series victory by Calgary (55 of 84, .655 since New Year’s) over Colorado (44 of 84, .524) in the first round. As we know, the Avalanche lost Game 1, then swept the next four to oust the Western Conference regular-season champions. In fact, starting in late December, the Avs went on a tear of a mere three wins over a 21-game span — that’s a quarter of the entire season.

So if you go by Colorado’s record since “the streak” ended on Feb. 21, they went 16-19-6 (.463) — the poorest of all 16 playoff clubs.

And if St. Louis is No. 2 overall in the calendar year who was No. 1? Oh, yeah, President’s Trophy champion Tampa Bay, which went “62 & 0” this season (62 regular-season wins, 0 in the postseason).

Talk about contradictions.

Regular readers of this column understand I often defy traditional handicapping analytics — the numbers are respected, but I utilize other techniques, too — yet still select winners.

Blues get spilt

How did St. Louis gain a road split in NorCal? Nothing that any of the “analytics” guys ever talked out.

The patient defense and the fourth line, which has offered virtually no secondary scoring all playoff year, received a pair of goals by No. 4 center Oskar Sundqvist — that was a Fantasy Hockey grand slam pick. The Swede, who won a pair of Stanley Cup rings with Pittsburgh, also drew a pair of penalties.

Besides, in San Jose’s last eight playoff series dating back to 2016, they’ve split the first two homes games seven times — there’s a statistic I can believe in. The lone victory pair came in last season’s sweep of Anaheim.

Why am I still a believer in the Sharks? Because Vladimir Tarasenko, and to a lesser extent, Ryan O’Reilly, have done nothing to dent the San Jose defense through the first two games.

Bruins in control

Carolina already rallied from a two-game deficit to defeat Washington in the first round. But those first two games were close, falling on an empty-net goal and in overtime. Dropping two games in Boston was entirely different — they were mugged.

Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour adjusted his defense by utilizing seven blue-liners so he could always gain at least a partial favorable match-up against an offensively-deficient Islanders roster. However, the Bruins have all four lines on the goal-scoring path, including third and fourth lines centered by Charlie Coyle and Seth Kuraly. Kuraly was responsible for slowing down the Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin, And now he’s doing the job on Sebastian Aho.

All those breakdowns by Carolina’s defense were as much created by the Bruins; the Canes are playing like deer looking into headlights.

Speaking of defense, when will Brind’Amour finally pull goalie Petr Mrazek? Down 4-0 after two periods in Game 2 seemed quite opportunistic, but according to Carolina’s radio broadcast, the Canes are the only team in the league not to pull their goalie all season (except due to injury). Inserting Curtis McElhinney in goal when the series moves to Raleigh will get the “Caniacs” all excited — the two split time throughout the regular season — but is the talent gap between the clubs just too wide?

Something that may be noteworthy: Boston used 12 different skaters on defense this season, mostly in the first half due to injuries. Now healthy, the depth advantage is huge. No. 12 was Connor Clifton, who has learned to play within himself and think “team first” rather than take cheap shot penalties. That’s why is in on the playoff roster, offering quality minutes, especially after Charlie McAvoy was serving his suspension.

Let’s see the analytics guys counter that argument.

Wednesday

Sharks at Blues: The Sharks outplayed the Blues for more than 45 minutes of Game 2, yet lost. Not this time. SHARKS

Thursday

Bruins at Hurricanes: No matter the goalie, the Carolina defense seems to be in disarray, especially on the penalty-kill. That’s reason enough for a play on Boston on the road. Gee, I haven’t even mentioned the play of goalie Tuukka Rask, playoff scoring leaders Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Marcus Johansson — the scent of a sweep in is the air. BRUINS

Last week: 1-1

Season: 51-66

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