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Hockey Challenge 2014

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Playoff Preview

I feel a little bit better. I got my fire and brimstone out yesterday over the folly that is the playoff schedule and I think I feel better.  I've heard some arguments as to why Seattle chose to do what it did and quite frankly not a single one of them is compelling to me.  I tend to be the type of person that prefers my sports teams make decisions based on facts and stats and not based on unproven theories and feelings.  Not everyone is like me though and I can appreciate that, I just don't have to agree with it and this is my forum to express that. It is pretty clear that this decision was based on business and not on hockey and that bothers me. See the tweet that Nick Patterson put out yesterday in response to a question about it.

There is no point in wasting any more energy on it as the schedule can't be changed and the silver lining is that, as I stated in the post, the order of the games doesn't actually have an effect on the probability of winning games. If Seattle can turn off their brains and simply go out and take care of business, the order of the games may not matter.

So let's talk about hockey. I know I've been absent for the better part of the second half of the season (I hope you all will excuse me) but I have been saving my energy and time for the playoffs and I want to see if we can break down the prospects of a Thunderbirds playoff run here.

Up first is the first ever playoff battle between the Tbirds and their rivals from the north who I affectionately refer to as the "Rats", the Everett Silvertips. For those that don't know, Seattle and Everett have a history that goes beyond their geographic proximity. Bill Yuill, owner of the Silvertips, was once the owner of the Thunderbirds and sold out to Russ Farwell and company so that he could start the expansion Silvertips. From that moment, the two teams were destined to be fierce rivals. Everett enjoyed instant success reaching the WHL finals in their first season, a feat Seattle has only managed once in their history. (Side note: I wasn't around back then but I was told by friends that initial attendance in Everett was actually not very good and only started to pick up towards the end of the season as they began their run)

If you regularly read this blog (or took a look at the entry from yesterday) you'll know that I'm a big stats guy. I've missed more Tbirds game action this year than I have in the 2 or 3 previous seasons combined. It is because of that fact that I have to rely upon a combination of what I've seen on the ice and the statistical measures of the two teams to attempt to figure out what might happen in this series.

Seattle secured 4th place this weekend and "home ice" in the series but they were actually outscored on the season. 238 goals for and 249 goals against (-11). Seattle needed a +5 effort on Sunday just to arrive at that total.  Everett, on the other hand, used a furious rally to end the season to post a positive goal differential of 218 goals for and 206 goals against (+12).

Everett comes in with the #4 ranked defense (by measure of Massey Ratings) and the 12th ranked offense. Seattle comes in with the 6th ranked offense and the 11th ranked defense. A good defense generally beats a good offense.

In the games that I have seen, I haven't been very impressed with how Seattle has played and particularly late in the season. Some would say that Seattle actually has decent team speed but they don't often play at a high speed. Our players don't read the play fast enough and the breakouts aren't generally executed with speed. This causes clogs in the neutral zone and a lack of speed at the opposing blue line and leaves players with little choice but to "chip and chase" or "dump and chase".  This is why Portland just toys with Seattle and beats them up. Portland just plays at a different speed from Seattle.

The Silvertips are a different story though. They don't play at "Portland speed". They employ a very disciplined and structured defensive strategy and pair that with an excellent goaltender in Austin Lotz.  They have just enough offense lead by Josh Winquist and his 47 goals and 93 points to grab early leads and squelch opposing offenses. It has worked so well lately that they haven't lost in regulation in 13 games while posting a +21 goal differential. They have won by nearly 2 goals per game during this streak.

EDIT: It should be noted that Lotz left the game against Portland on Sunday and there has been no update on his status and whether he suffered a serious injury. This would obviously change the entire series.

In short... Seattle would probably have preferred to play against Spokane.

So what does Seattle have to do in order to win this epic, historical, initial series against their I-5 rivals. Quite simply, they have to beat them up. They are already without forward Kohl Bauml who suffered an unfortunate compound fracture of his leg and is likely out for the season. Forwards Logan Aasman and Tyler Sandhu are listed as having "returned" on the weekly report but Sandhu has been a healthy scratch.  They are a little banged up.

Everyone hates "dump and chase" and I see it on here frequently that all Seattle does is "dump and chase". Well... I'm here to tell you that I'm not a big fan of the dump and chase either but I think it gives Seattle their best chance to win.  Seattle isn't built for skill. They don't have enough guys who can read the play and create on their own. They have some skill... but not enough. What they do have in bundles is size and strength.  When Seattle has been at its best is when they have been able to dump SMART into the corners with forecheckers attacking with speed, punishing defenders, forcing them into turnovers should ultimately create scoring chances.

If they do this, they can generate momentum, some early goals and force the Silvertips to take more chances on offense.  If they don't do this... and they allow Everett to get leads of a goal or two, it could be a very long (or short) series. This should become evident pretty quickly. The effectiveness of the forecheck should be pretty obvious. If Everett is able to avoid the big hit and escape pressure and make a good first pass, they'll be off and running. Seattle must also avoid dangerous hits and penalties while executing this forechecking strategy. It goes without saying that at times Seattle has struggled to balance their physicality with taking penalties.  Take a lot of penalties while chipping and attacking and not only will they get hurt by the Everett PP chances but they will instinctively back down the aggressive nature of the forecheck. It is a fine line between aggressive and undisciplined and it is also the key to the series for the Thunderbirds.

So... prediction time.

Predictions are like A-Holes... everyone has one and most of them stink.

That said... I think Everett is coming into the series on a huge roll and they are buying into the systems and concepts of their coach.  I think Seattle is coming in scuffling, hasn't settled on lines for much of the season and depends too much on the brute force of their forecheck to generate offense and I don't know that they will have enough creativity to be able to come from behind against Everett.

I really hope I'm wrong.... but I think Everett probably takes down the series in 6 games.


stbird said...

I hope your wrong too. T-Birds have to me more physical. All close games, T-Birds win in 7. I cant wait. Let's Go Birds!

Unknown said...

The t-birds might have been minus 11 in goal differential, but they were also minus 26 against Portland in Portland, that kind of skews the numbers. They also had a skid where they gave up 7, 5, 7, 10, and 7 (somehow won that last game) and having another -23 in goal differential when they were getting to the end of playing with a short bench for an entire month.

Everett is the hottest team in the league and hasn't lost in regulation in 13 contests, but is only +21 in those games, that means they are just scrapping by every night. Lotz has played in 29 games since the start January and twice he played one period and twice he played about half the game. Is he tired? Is he hurt? He's played 15 more games and 1000 more minutes than he did last year, does that make a difference?

I'm looking for Sunday's game to remind the boys of how to play their style of hockey. I think the T-birds are the more talented team. I think Everett relies on one line to give them just enough scoring. Seattle will have the last change in 4 of the games, they have to find a combination that stifles Winquist, Nikolishin, and Khaira. I'd be tempted to put Hickman with McKechnie and Yak to give the line a bit more muscle for the home games. Barzal and Gropp need to continue their growth together and Troock has to play on the edge without falling off it, show off the hands, skating, and physical talent he posesses. I think Delnov needs to show off the same traits as Troock, he has the skill to be a dominant player. Lipsbergs needs to get on another of his hot streaks and I think it is about time for that to happen.

I'm going with the Pollyanna call and say T-birds in 6. I'll be at the first 3 games (not sure if I can get off early enough to make it to Everett for game 4). I just hope I get brained with a cowbell at game 2.

Thunnex said...

Two very minor things I would argue.

One... Seattle has to play Portland just like Everett did so I don't really give us credit for getting our doors blown off only against Portland.

Second... +21 in 13 games is pretty good in my mind. Sure it isn't Portland-like dominance but winning by nearly 2 goals a night for 13 in a row is pretty good hockey.

Anonymous said...

Everett is the better defensive hockey team. As for their late season +21 goal differential, How many empty net goals in that equation? Not saying they don't count and maybe there are none, but are they any that inflate that number? Also, just for comparison, in 10 games vs. Portland Everett was outscored 23-43 and were 2-7-0-2. In 12 games vs. Portland Seattle was 4-8-0-0 and were outscored by the Winterhawks 33-62. Where the T-birds really got beat up in the goal differential dept. was that stretch of 6 games at the beginning of January when they were decimated by injuries and got outscored 40-15. Remember, a year ago the T-birds allowed 3.97 goals per game in the regular season but just 3.14 in 7 playoff games against Kelowna, the 2nd highest scoring team in the league last season. It will be interesting to see if they can do that again this time around.

Mr Tell13 said...

I think that comparing the goal differential between Seattle and Evt is a moot point.

You could argue that it shows that Evt was not able to score in an empty net 5 out of the 13 games.

In arguing the stats, you can also say that each time that the tbirds are blown many of theses goals are irrelevant? if you loose by 4 goals, is it that much of a big deal to let 2 or 3 more goals in? (statistically it is ...but as far as team defense is probably do not matter much)

What I get from that is that what Tyler describe is true about EVT. They get the lead and hold on for dear life. And they have been really good at doing it consistently.
Tbirds have been erratic. Either capable of the best or the worst and theses numbers prove that.

I should be a VERY fun serie!

Sea in 6

Thunnex said...

Some of the goals can be explained away... sure. Seattle loses 7-0 to Portland and maybe the 7th goal didn't matter.

Over the course of a 72 game season though those things tend to even out.

Seattle beat Vancouver 6-0 in the second game of the season. Should we explain away goals 5 and 6 from that game as well?

That's my point.

Like I said... stats are NEVER going to tell the entire story but they do tell some of the story and they tend to be pretty accurate. Seattle won a lot of close games and got buried in a handful of others.

Unknown said...

Yes, Seattle and Everett played Portland about the same number of times, but I outlined 11 games where the T-birds are a combined -59 in goal differential, so in the other 61 games they were +48. I guess it depends on which T-bird team shows up, the team that got beat like a drum in about 1/7 of the games or the team that had a pretty good goal differential for the rest of the season? The goal differential in the 61 games would be around 7th in the league, the T-birds finished with the 7th most points in the league this year.

Anonymous said...

I went to buy my tickets this morning online and was surprised at how many seats, and good ones, were left for a Saturday night tilt versus the Tips. Any thoughts on that? Nothing else really is going on sports wise this weekend that I can think of.

Anonymous said...

Even more surprising is that half-priced Tuesday for game 3 is looking much emptier than it was during the series with the Rockets last year. I have invited several people who don't want to go due Saturday due to the insulting $26 ticket price. Our staff's belief that an Everett/Seattle playoff rivalry is the spark that will ignite the overall popularity of WHL hockey (and possibly NHL hockey) looking to be an exaggeration at this point, but we'll have to wait and see how walk-up sales do.

Jon said...

Here are the rough tickets available for the first 4 games.

Saturday game Game 1 in Seattle: Free Seats: 3333
Sunday game 2 in Everett: Free Seats: 4207
Tuesday game 3 in Seattle: Free Seats: 3677
Friday game 4 in Everett: Free Seats: 4470

Note, these are estimates taken from the online pick your seats seating charts. So it is a ballpark estimate.

So you can see that both buildings are at about 50% filled right now.

Anonymous said...

God Bless Jon and his data driven heart!

Mr Tell13 said...

What would be an acceptable price?
the 18-26 range is comparable to the 19-24 range that they offer in Portland and Vancouver for MUCH bigger arenas. (they both hold more than 10000)

Jon said...

Playoffs have always been this way for attendance.

Both teams use group sales to draw a lot of fans in (Seattle more then Everett). Putting together groups take planning from the customer side. Groups also like to plan ahead (think church night out, boy scouts, etc). SO, having roughly a weeks notice to try and draw in the fans that went to those groups is a very difficult task, no matter what market you are in.

I just looked, and Portland is running about 75% sold for games 1 and 2, but there are two reasons I see this. Number 1 is the most obvious, WINNING. Number 2 is that they have known for 28 months now (ok, slight overkill on that estimate) that they had home ice, could plan ahead, know the dates, and market them.

Anonymous said...

I don't see $26 a ticket as insulting, they raise the ticket price $2 each round and have since 2001 when I started going to gamesl

Anonymous said...

Thanks Jon for the info. Wow that is allot of seats left, I thought the with the media blitz, IE:

Theodore on Silvi

Jim Riley's write up in the Times

Coach K's interview with Furness

That the sales would pick up.

Maybe between now and Saturday night they will.

Thanks Jon!

Anonymous said...

I will say this about the $26 ticket price. Sure, you may have been paying it since 2001, and if I was to guess the acceptable ticket price, I'd say it would be the same price as tickets cost during the regular season. If the league is drawing going fewer fans to the games every postseason, as it seems to be that way, why go fish for a few extra dollars and discourage people further? There are many sports that can demand more money for playoff tickets, minor league/junior hockey evidentally does not have that kind of pull. Remember, the people who speak on here think with the mind of a dedicated fan, but not represented on here are the casual followers.. The ones who fill their fair share of the arena, as we are finding by looking at that seating chart.

Anonymous said...

I agree with that last comment! It tells me that the regular season draw relies just as much on people who are there for a social happening as it does people who are actually passionate about hockey. Birds are the only ticket in town this weekend.. No Mariners, no sports at UW. There has to be a reason why the games suddenly stop being a big draw, and I think it is because this league relies heavily on fans who go for fun but don't care who wins the cup. Charge too much and you lose those people.

Jon said...

To the last two anonymous posts.

Lets take the Seattle Storm as an example. We can argue they are minor league in this city. Lets say you went to one of their games with a bunch of your friends, paid $16 a seat, and had a couple beers. And lets say you had a good time.

Now they are in the playoffs. You had no idea they were in, or when the games were. What would it take to get you back to a game? You went to the regular season game as a social outing. Would you expect to pay $16 again? Would that be enough to get you back to a playoff game? Would you pay $20? $25?

Anonymous said...

Hi Jon- I see what you are saying there completely. I guess my point here is 'adjust for the market that you are in.' If you ask me, sure.. It makes sense to charge more for a playoff game. But something is happening attendance-wise in the WHL that clearly separates them from the Storm. It's not a matter of comparing our hockey team to this or that, but rather accepting fact that something negatively affecting crowd size and trying to figure out exactly what that is. Maybe that playoff model does work for the Storm, but it is not working for the T-Birds and the Silvertips. Maybe it's poor advertising or marketing. I'm not griping just to gripe or for the sake of my wallet, I'm fishing for the answer.

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