Do The Thrashers Have Large Talons?

Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Falconer at Buffalo

This was my second trip to the new Buffalo Arena. On my first trip it was named after some other corporate entity and now it is named after a different corporate entity. Despite playing a game of musical names, the building remains one of my favorite places to see a game among the nine NHL arenas I have visited thus far.

Getting to the arena was easy and we found $5 parking a short walk from the front entrance. The arena in Buffalo has one main entrance and all the fans file in through multiple doors into a three-story high glass atrium. After you pass through the doors you then stand in line to have you ticket scanned--which means you don't have to wait outside in the cold as long—an important arrangement in chilly upstate New York. You then turn to your right or left to go up an escalator to the main concourse level.

We arrived fairly early so we had time to stroll around the place. There is a good amount of space on the lower concourse and you can move around quite easily. The same cannot be said of the upper concourse which was rather crowded and hard to navigate. There are also fewer ways for you to go between the upper and lower concourses which means that you don't really have time during the intermissions to dash downstairs for something like you do in Atlanta.

The biggest drawback to their arena is the food, which is extremely boring at best. Our local ECHL team, the Gwinnett Gladiators has more interesting food choices than this place. The menu consisted of: popcorn, piazza slice, candy, cotton candy, pretzels, soft drinks, peanuts and beer, of course. When I asked the guy sitting next to me what was good to eat here he said "I don't know. All I ever get is beer" which may sum up the dining interests of the typical Sabres fan. Certainly the menu doesn't really entice you into spending money on something new or different. Seems to me that Buffalo could earn some more concession dollars with a better menu.

My seat was in the very first row of the upper deck (Section 313) right behind Lehtonen (for periods 1 and 3) so I had a great view--very similar to my seats in Atlanta--but nearly three times as expensive.

Buffalo fans gave me a LOT more grief about my Thrashers jersey than the Pittsburgh fans did. I was encouraged to go back to Atlanta several times. A few people just stared at me like I had two heads or something. When I first sat down the fans next to me gave me some good-natured kidding about being in the wrong section. There was some good banter back and forth as the game remained close until the very end. The people on my right explained that they came to this particular game because the Thrashers had ended the Sabres points streak at the start of the season and they were hoping for a bit of revenge.

Perhaps the most striking thing about walking around the arena is that virtually everybody was wearing the new Buffalo jerseys with the Buff-a-slug on the front. The new jerseys just became available this season and seemingly every man, woman and child had one in their possession.

I went down by the glass for warm-ups and saw another couple on wearing a Lehtonen St. Patrick's Day jersey that had been autographed. There was a Buffalo STH who had created a large sign for Eric Boulton. She was standing next to me by the glass and explained that Boulton used to go to her husband's gym and that he was "good with the kids" (her kids were also on the glass to say hello). Jon Sim skated by and touched his stick blade to the sign and shook his head with this funny expression like he was sorry that she was wasting her time on a 4th liner like Boulton.

After both national anthems were sung the game began and the Thrashers had the puck in the Buffalo end most of the first period. The Buffalo goal came on one of their few offensive chances. I was surprised that the game was not more of shoot-out given the offensive nature of both squads. The Thrashers did an outstanding job of limiting Buffalo's speed through the neutral zone. The goals that the Thrashers did give up were on close in shots that Lehtonen had very little chance to stop. I though Kari played outstanding despite giving up three goals. For what it is worth I talked to someone who watched the Buffalo feed on CenterIce and the Buffalo play-by-play guy stated that the Thrashers outplayed the Sabres and that Buffalo was fortunate to win the game.

The failure of the Thrashers power play in the 1st period really came back to haunt them, because you only get so many opportunities to score against a top team and Atlanta tossed away their man advantage chances early on. Without crunching any numbers it seems to me that a weak power play has become a real drag on the Thrashers offense of late.

Hossa was fairly invisible with just one power move to the net, I know that he left the bench at one point so perhaps he has some injury we were not made aware of. Kovalchuk was forced to the outside far too often, needs to try to cut back to the middle more often in my opinion. The failure of Krog to cash in on point blank slot chance on PP in the third really hurt, a goal there would have tied the game. I'm glad they called up Krog to give him the answer but he sure looks like a NHL 3rd line center and not a solution for the 1st or 2nd line center problems. The Holik, Vigier and Slater group were the best line in the game. As much as it pains me to admit this, Vigier had another good game in what has been a good month for him.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Road Trip Reverse Skate

Today is a slow day in Road Trip 2006. The SO went shopping and I'm sitting at the Barnes and Noble so I can use the internet (some people still use dial-up at home--can you believe that?) without waiting half an hour for things to reload.

One thing that has really surprised me is the lack of NHL clothing here in Erie, PA. The Penguins and Sabres are both close by and yet there is very little in the shops at the malls. I did see one Malkin T-shirt but that pales in comparison to the zillions of Steelers stuff and college football jerseys hanging everywhere. This is just one more data point (along with declining local TV ratings) that makes me wonder if the move from ESPN to OLN/VS has really hurt the NHL's position in the American sports scene. Or was it simply the lockout itself? Did casual fans realize they didn't really miss hockey when it was gone for a season. Personally, I don't care if hockey isn't the number one sport as long as all the games are shown on broadcast TV (I have CenterIce) but the decline in local TV ratings has me concerned that next year we could see some cutbacks in the number of games carried by local stations.

The Sabres won yesterday so they are now five points ahead instead of just three. Still that takes nothing away from the battle between the 1st and 2nd ranked teams in the conference this Saturday. I'm assuming that Hartley will start Lehtonen what with the Sabres absolutely scoring at will against every team in the league. Perhaps Hedberg will get the Senators on New Year's Day.

Yesterday I found the perfect thing for Go Time Malone (too bad he died a while back). I purchased it anyway, perhaps we will have to use it for the next Smirkin Chicken Shootout.

Adventure Cat has settled into her basement apartment but is bored without a window to look out of, so she is working on a blog post of her own.

This afternoon I'm headed out to the local civic ice rink so I'll be ready to dominate the Rec League after the holiday break.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Falconer at Pittsburgh

We arrived in Pittsburgh about two hours before game time. The game was a sell out, even the standing room tickets sold out. People who buy standing room tickets have to stand behind a 5 foot high wall to watch the game--which means that socket puppet sized bloggers wouldn't be able to see the game. I went inside as soon as the doors opened and observed warm-ups down by the glass. I saw one other Atlanta fan there in a blue Hossa 18 jersey. Over the course of the evening I spotted about 5 Thrashers jerseys in the arena.

After warm-ups I strolled over to the Penguins All-Star Game Voting Area and voted for all Thrashers just for the heck of it. The computer voting at the Igloo was not fixed as I was able to register my five votes for the True Blue. For the most part Penguins fans gave me very little grief about wearing the opposition colors--to my surprise. This is perhaps one of America's greatest sports towns where and I figured I'd hear more things said. The two guys next to me gave me some good natured ribbing which grew less and less as the game wore on.

The Pittsburgh game production is a shadow of the over-hyped overly-loud version we get in Atlanta. They didn't give us commercials disguised as games every television time out for which I was thankful. They did have some on screen advertising. They didn't have corporate sponsors for everything like Atlanta does..."This toilet flush brought to you by Peerless Faucets". On the downside they lacked an organ player and their video boards really lacked imagination. Also their video replays were rather limited. There were very few replays of great saves or scoring chances.

I'm one of the few people who really likes watching hockey games at the Igloo. Even way up in the upper deck you are much closer to the ice than you would be in the new arenas in Chicago or Denver where you feel like you're a mile away from the action. Yes, the Igloo is cramped and the concourses are narrow and the food is very 1980s-ish but YOU CAN SEE THE HOCKEY GAME which is the reason I go to NHL games, something the new areas seem to forget.

This was my six or seventh game at the Igloo and I have to say that Penguins fans know more about hockey and their hockey team than the average person at the stands at Philips. I over heard an intelligent breakdown of the Penguins special teams and a list of why Robert Scuderi sucks so bad in the seats around me. On the other hand, I was really shocked at how quiet the building was last night. The sold out crowd made surprisingly little noise even when they had a 1-0 lead in the game. Perhaps, this is why Atlanta fans are constantly exhorted to "MAKE NOISE" to avoid the silence.

The game itself was fairly frustrating to watch. The Thrashers were given several power plays in the 1st and looked like they had never practiced playing with the man advantage. Then in the second the Thrashers were able to put together some good scoring chances. Fleury made a terrific save to deny Atlanta a goal but Lehtonen was equal at the other end. Both teams missed an open net scoring chance (how did Malkin miss that one?). Gonchar got burned for two breakaway chances but he came back to make a fantastic move on Kovalchuk, while Kozlov seemed to just run out of real estate. The Kozlov goal from the side was scored from such an extreme angle that I thought Fleury had allowed a soft goal but after watching the replay I think the credit should go to Atlanta for some great side-to-side passing which put the Penguin's goaltender in a very vulnerable position.

One of the things that I found most interesting is how much fear the Penguins fans had of Kovalchuk. Even when he came in and had the puck on his backhand and was forced off to the side you could hear Pens fans saying "Don't let him shoot" or the classic "oh shit!" I'm sitting there thinking that Kovalchuk isn't even a position to score and they're all freaked out.

After the game we drove the final two hours to the relations place and Adventure Cat was very glad to get out of the car.

The Buffalo game isn't until Saturday. I'm pulling for Carolina to beat them tonight in regulation which would give the Thrashers a chance to pull within spitting distance of 1st in the East if they beat the Sabres.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

High Fives and High Sticks

Well our road trip was kicked off in fine fashion with the Thrashers stealing a point from Tampa in the dying seconds of the game as Jim Slater deflected a Bobby Holik shot with a high stick. After the game we swung by the house to pick up Adventure Cat for the road trip and I had a chance to watch the replay several times and I have little doubt that it was an illegal goal. Some nights you get the breaks and other nights you don't.

I think the most frustrating thing for me watching the Tampa game was the failure of the Thrashers defense to realize that you can't just blindly rim the puck around the boards because Tampa ALWAYS has someone take position about half way up the boards to steal that hard around play. The other thing that was annoying is how the Thrasher wingers also failed to adjust and prevent that guy from keeping the puck in deep.

Well, it is off to Pittsburgh today. I plan to wear my shirt with Kovalchuk pointing his glove so if I end up dead you'll know why.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Road Trip!!!!!

After tonight tonight's home game verus Tampa I am hitting the road for the Atlanta games versus Pittsburgh and Buffalo this week. I should have some road trip reflections in the coming few days as internet access allows.

Three Point Games

So I'm watching the USA-Germany game at the World Junior Championships (The USA lost in OT by the way) and the broadcasters were discussing how the WJC had gone to a format in which a regulation win was worth 3 points, an Overtime or Shootout Win was worth 2 and a OT or SO Loss was worth 1 point. Basically every game is worth three points. If you win in regulation you get all three, but if it goes past regulation you have to split.

I have to say that I really like this format because it still allows the OT and SO formats (which is good) but it also rewards teams for winning in regulation and stops some games from being worth 2 points and others 3 points (combined total) as in the case in today's NHL.

While I was ruminating on this concept, I got to wondering how this type of system might have altered last year's playoff race, so I dumped all the teams into a spreadsheet and made the proper adjustments. Below are the 2005-06 standings under both the old system and the WJC three point system.

OTT 113 161
CAR 112 152
BUF 110 151
PHI 101 135
NJD 101 134
MYR 100 133
MON 93 126
TBL 92 123
TOR 90 121
ATL 90 121
FLA 85 110
NYI 78 102
BOS 74 97
WAS 70 90
PIT 58 75

The three point game system would NOT have altered which teams made the playoffs in the east. Toronto and Atlanta would both end up two points behind Tampa Bay. However it would have made Philadelphia Atlantic Division champions and made them the 3rd seed with home ice advantage in the playoffs instead of New Jersey.


DET 124 175
DAL 112 150
NAS 106 146
CAL 103 145
ANA 98 135
SJS 99 133
COL 95 132
VAN 92 126
EDM 95 123
LAK 89 121
MIN 84 116
PHX 81 109
CBJ 74 95
CHI 65 82
STL 57 71

Out west the alternative system would make a difference in terms of which club made the playoffs. Edmonton would have missed the postseason and Vancouver would have been invited to the dance instead. Dallas which rocked in the extra session last season still would have finished in 2nd place in the west.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Cheer

Merry Christmas readers!

I'm hoping that one of these packages has a new face shield. The one I have is so scratched up I can barely see out of it lately.

This holiday season will kick off my first ever two-game Thrashers road trip (which is odd when you consider I've done a three game Chicago Wolves road trip before). We will head up to Pittsburgh after the home game on the 26th for the road games at Pittsburgh and at Buffalo and visit family in Pennsylvania. I'll be wearing my true blue but I doubt I will end up on camera since my seats are way up high. I'll post some comments about the road games but unfortunately the family still has dial-up so that will reduce the internet time.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Devil Comes Down To Georgia

I'm still basking in the glow on an all around terrific game by the Thrashers against the New Jersey Devils. For this post I'm going to skip the stats and just reflect on the game.

Both teams scored a fluky goal that went in off their own defensemen. The Devils scored first with a puck that went off of McCarthy early in the 1st. The karmic fates (or whoever is responsible for making the bounces equal out in the long run) balanced things off quickly by giving Holik a goal that deflected off of a Devils defensemen to produce a 2-2 tie late in the first period.

This is one of those games where the boxes core simply is not going to tell you everything you need to know. Besides the two "own goals" Marian Hossa made an absolutely terrific "save" on a dribbler that Kari Lehtonen slowed, but didn't quite stop. If Hossa doesn't reach in there and snag that puck it was clearly going to drift over the goal line.

Another play that will not be in your boxscore is the blown scoring opportunity by New Jersey where they picked up a rebound and had about one foot of open net along the ice and the player shot it just wide. Of course this was balanced out by Jimmy Slater blowing a gimme goal scoring chance himself.

There also some great hits in this game as well as nice cycling of the puck down low. Kovalchuk's line in particular had a long cycle in the corner just prior to McCarthy putting the loose puck past Brodeur.

I'm not sure if New Jersey always struggles this badly against the cycle or if this was more a case of them being tired from playing the night before. They came to play early but once the Thrashers pulled ahead 3-2 the Devils seemed to be thinking about their Christmas vacation a bit. To their credit the Thrashers came out focused and exploited New Jersey's fatigue. With this game so close to the Christmas holiday I wouldn't have been surprised to see them mentally off instead they seemed rearing to go.

A real Tip of The Hat to Shane Hnidy. This guy was scratched for about two weeks to start the season and then only played sparingly. I saw him standing alone on the concourse back in October and wished him well, but it was clear he really wanted to be on the ice. Since Sutton's injury he is getting major minutes after being paired with Havelid and he has not only filled in well on the defensive side of things, but he has also chipped in a couple of goals. This is a guy who hadn't scored in something like 200 NHL games which is 2 and 1/2 seasons. Nice way to pump some life into your NHL career, eh?

It was nice to see a game where the crucial goals came from players other than the big three (Kozlov, Kovalchuk and Hossa) The first three goals were from two defensemen (McCarthy and Hnidy) and a checker (Holik). Kozlov and Kovalchuk added insurance tallies later. It just goes to show how tough the Thrashers are to beat if they can generate some scoring from their non-super stars at even strength.

If any of the Thrashers game production people read this, I just want to say that the "Devil Went Down to Georgia" Penalty Box video clip is an absolute classic. While I grow weary of many of the video entertainment, I hope they never stop showing this little segment. It makes me laugh every time when Peter screws up his face during the "and it made an angry hiss" line. As far as I'm concerned they should still be showing that 25 years from now when the Devils come to visit.

Finally, I want to thank the Devils for providing the Thrashers with so many dramatic victories. It was that insanely wild come back win over New Jersey last spring that finally got me to start this blog about the team, so they deserve a little credit for getting this thing off the ground.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Missing Andy Sutton?

How much has the absence of Andy Sutton affected the team? Is it Sutton's absence that produced the team's defensive woes?

Well I have a partial answer to the question. (If you don't care about how I got the numbers skip to the next paragraph.) As I noted in my previous post about the team's recent slump a big part of the problem was an increase the number of even strength goals against. So I then decided to look at who was on the ice for the December even strength goals against. Of course, some defensemen play a lot more than others so I took the each defenseman's even strength minutes in December and divided it by the number of ES goals allowed in the month. This gives a measure of even strength effectiveness. The more minutes between goals allowed the more effective you are in the month.

OK here is your list of Thrasher defensemen from most effective to least effective in the month of December

Even Strength Minutes between Goals Allowed
29.5 Steve McCarthy
20.5 Nick Havelid
19.8 Shane Hnidy
18.1 Braydon Coburn
14.3 Greg de Vries
11.6 Vitali Vishnevsky

Looking at this list I think Coach Hartley ought to give Steve McCarthy more minutes. He has been twice as effective at even strength as de Vries and Vishnevsky in December. Now I suspect that McCarthy is being sheltered a bit and they are not playing him against the opposition's top lines but his play lately suggests they ought to give him an opportunity to prove himself against better opponents.

The other thing that stands out is the Havelid, Hnidy and Coburn have all been equally effective. Since Havelid is almost always paired with Hnidy I'm not surprised that their numbers are similiar. Havelid has remained the Thrashers top defensemen even after switching sides to accomodate his new partner Hnidy.

I have to give a tip of the hat to Coburn. Frankly he looked bad when I watched him in the minors but he has played very adequately so far since his call up. I really hope it continues and he turns into an asset for the team in the long run. In fact, Coburn's strong play makes it very possible Don Waddell could deal one of the soon-to-be-free agent defensemen (Sutton, De Vries, Vishnevski) for a center.

So, my partial answer is the Thrahsers recent defensive woes were more about a sharp decline in offense and a problems in the De Vries-Vishnevsky pairing rather than Sutton's unique contributions to the offense and the defense.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Bigger Nets?

Colin Campbell was come out in favor of large nets for the NHL saying: "I know this is going to rock some traditionalists, and I can say this because I'm one of those, but I really think we've got to look long and hard at bigger nets."

If you look at this from a historical perspective scoring in total's NHL is much closer to the all time low than it is to the 80s high. Across NHL history the average goals per game is around 6.4 per game. Goals per game is down around 5.3 in the current season. I would like to see the NHL move back towards that traditional number.

During the lockout, I went and looked at the scoring rates for the NHL, AHL, OHL, WHL, QMJHL, and the national leagues of Sweden, Finland, Russia, Czech Republic, Slovakia and the Swiss League. Over the last twenty years scoring has declined in every single one of those leagues. If scoring is declining in every elite hockey league, that indicates to me that some fundamental change is afoot. In other words, scoring isn't down because of some minor rule that can be altered.

Scoring is down in leagues with the larger Olympic sized ice and it is down in leagues that use the NHL sized sheet. So that tells me that increasing the ice size in North America isn't going to necessarily boost goals per game in the NHL.

I asked a NHL scout about the decline in scoring and he said "Just go back and look at tapes from the old days. The guys are smaller, they technique is terrible by today's standards and the equipment is bigger." It is true, when I pull out some of those highlight videotapes, the goaltending is laughably bad at times. It is also true that the NHL is increasing dominated by large goaltenders.

Well the NHL can't tell players to play with less skill, nor can they ban goaltenders larger than 6 feet. Some additional shrinking of equipment could be legislated, but I'm not convinced it would make a 10%-20% increase in scoring to get us back to the historical average.

So put me down as favoring larger nets. The goalies are bigger, they are better trained and they cover more of the net. If we could use a time machine to bring back Richard, Howe and Gretzky they would all find it harder to score, so let's restore some balance to the offense/defense equation and give those talented shooters some place to put the puck.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Slump Busting

For Thrasher fans December has been a month without much holiday cheer. After winning the first two games of the month the team has fallen on hard times blowing leads and getting blown out (TB, NYI). A five game winless steak haunts the team.

To cure the disease you need to figure out what the problem is, so what exactly is the cause of the most recent slump? I've seen some people point to the injury of Andy Sutton as the cause. Now I'm not a huge Sutton supporter, but I'm open to the evidence so I sat down and did a quick look at the month-by-month output of the Thrasher offense and defense so far this season.


Offense Average

Defense Average














I think even the math-challenged can see what is going in the table above. The Thrashers offense has suffered a dramatic collapse. So far this month the offense has declined 41% from the production levels seen in October and November. While not quite as extreme as the decline in offense, the defense has also suffered allowing 21% more goals than it did during Oct-Nov period of time.

Where is the offense drought coming from? Is the power play to blame or even-strength play. Well I did some quick calculations (i.e. I did not remove the SO goals so this isn't perfect) and looked at the Thrashers Goals Scored per game and then broke it down into power play goal production and Even Strength + Short Handed Goal production.

Thrasher's Offense Production


Goals per Game

PP Goals per Game

ES + SH Goals per Game













Again the above table is pretty stark. You can see that Power Play goal production is down a bit, but the decline is not enormous. The same can not be said of goal production at Even Strength which is roughly half of what we saw in Oct-Nov period. Ouch! Those are some ugly numbers for a team that hopes to be a contender. Atlanta simply MUST convert more of those even strength chances of they are going to pull themselves out of this slump.

What about the defense? I hear a lot of complaints about the team's penalty killing sitting in my section of the stands. So I ran the numbers and separated out the team's Goals Against Average per game into Power Play Goals Against and all other Goals Against (ES+SH).

Thrasher's Defense by Manpower Situation


Goals Against per Game

PP Goals Against

ES + SH Goals Against













This chart is pretty stark as well. While the Penalty Killers may have given up some dramatic last second goals, it is the even strength situations that are really killing this team. You simply can't win in the NHL if you give up two and a half goals every game at even strength. Now how much of that is due to the absence of Sutton requires more data crunching and I don't have time at the moment, but I may in the next couple of days. But let me just say that when I watch the games it isn't the Havelid-Hnidy defensive pairing that is hurting us most nights. More than anything it has been the de Vries-Vishnevsky duo that are skating back to the bench with their heads hung low.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Old Measuring Stick Game

I wrote a nice post after the Pittsburgh game only to have to vanish through some problem with blogger. Oh well, we play them again in a few days and I'll get another chance.

Tonight the Thrashers take on Anaheim a team that just so happens to be 1st overall in the NHL point standings. For the Thrashers this is a classic measuring stick game as they get to test themselves against another highly ranked team and also a rare game against the Western Conference.

So far this season Anaheim has used a top ranked offense and a rock solid defense to reach the top spot in the standings. One would certainly expect their defense to be outstanding since they have 2 of the top 10 defensemen in the league. The luxery of having either Pronger or Scott Niedermayer on the ice gives them a major advantage when they play a team like Atlanta that has two scoring stars on different lines. They don't have to pick their poison as they can play a great defensemen against each scoring star.

The Tale of the Tape
ATL.. ANA...CatagoryRank among the 30 NHL teams
4th.....2nd.....Offense (GFA)
17th...4th......Defense (GAA)
9th.....1st.......Goal Differential (GFA-GAA)

9th......1st......Power Play Percentage
23rd....8th.....Penalty Kill Percentage

15th....4th......Shots on Goal For
15th....6th......Shots on Goal Against
19th....4th......Save Percentage

When you look at the numbers Anaheim should clearly be the favorite. The Thrashers rank lower in every single catagory. Still I like this club's chances. They do seem to play better when the pressure such as when they ended Buffalo's point streak back in October or last fall when they had to win almost every night to stay in the playoff race.

I'm also looking forward to seeing Jason Krog play again for the Thrashers with Larsen and Mellanby out of the line up. I've liked Krog ever since I saw him play against the Chicago Wolves in the 2002 AHL Championship (which the Wolves won).

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Why are NHL teams letting TicketMaster steal their money?

Being a season ticket holder in Atlanta has advantages and disadvantages. The worst part is that hockey only matters to a segment of the city and people are not buzzing about the team after a big win or a hot streak. The good news is that not only can you get tickets to most games, but those tickets are quite reasonable by NHL standards.

We will be heading to Pennsylvania for the holidays and plan to take in the Thrashers-Penguins game in Pittsburgh and then the Thrashers-Sabres game at Buffalo on the 30th.

Here in Atlanta we have season tickets. Back when we first signed up money was an issue so we bought in the cheapest section then available for season tickets. The season ticket per-game price back then was $12. Now several seasons later we are still only paying $17 per game for our seats. (This year Atlanta even made the cheapest seats available for season tickets, only $10 per game--can you believe it? An entire season for just $440!)

I had forgotten how much cheaper tickets are here until I went to Buffalo's site. The cheapest ticket in the upper reaches of the building sell for $45. That's a pretty steep "cheap ticket", but then again the Sabres are the top team in the Eastern Conference. So perhaps, they are simply charging what the market will bear.

Then I went to the Penguins site and that their cheapest tickets were $35. This is a team that has made the playoffs in how long? I guess Pittsburgh really is a sports town if they can move tickets at those prices on the promise of two young players, Crosby and Malkin.

Ah, but here's the rub, you don't actually get seats for $35 because Ticketmaster absolutely screws you over after you place your order. I chose the print-at-home option for ticket delivery which was advertised as only costing $2.50. But after you order your tickets they tack on a "convenience charge" and an "order processing fee" it all that adds a whooping $13.40 on top of the $35 for the actual ticket.

Now I want to point out that Buffalo uses a Ticketmaster alternative called This alternative ticket delivery system "only" tacked on $5.50 in charges for the exact same print-at-home delivery method.

I really want to rail about how ridiculous the Ticketmaster charges are, but rather waste my breath I'll simply point out that by using Ticketmaster NHL teams are leaving money on the table. What am I talking about? As a fan I spent $51 on a ticket for the Buffalo game and $48 on a ticket for the Pittsburgh game--very similar amounts. But notice that the Sabres are going to receive $45 of the $51 I spent, while the Penguins are going to receive just $35 of the $48 I spent. You tell me which team is getting the better deal here. (Unless Ticketmaster has some sort of kick-back program where the team's receive a cut of the convenience charge.)

The Penguins are stupid to keep using Ticketmaster when they could use the site that Buffalo uses. If the Penguins switched they could either a) lower the effective price of tickets purchased online by their fans and perhaps draw more fans; or b) raise their prices so that they get the $8 difference between what Ticketmaster charges and what charges to do the same thing.

So hats off to the Buffalo Sabres for making sure that the money their fans spend supports the NHL franchise and a wag of the finger to the rest of the teams using Ticketmaster. Also hats off to the Thrashers who make sure that a segment of their seats are quite affordable to the local fans. I'm sure prices will rise if we make the playoffs, but even then they will be cheaper than many other cities.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Penalties Drawn November Update

With November coming to a close it is time to examine the Thrashers penalties drawn for that month. The man-advantage minutes drawn are listed in the table below.

Who had a good month? Well Jon Sim, Jim Slater and Hossa and Kozlov again led the team is getting the favorable call from the referees in November repeating their October success. To be perfectly honest I'm rather surprised to see the same four names atop the November leaderboard. Jon Sim in particular spent some time in the recesses of the Bob Hartley's doghouse and didn't always get a ton of ice time, yet he still managed to be his usual irritating self (well at least to the opposition). Mellanby drew 6 minutes which is better than his big fat zero in October. Larsen and Vigier also had up months.

Who fell on hard times? Steve Rucchin dominates that list. In October he managed to draw 14 man-advantage minutes but fell back to zero for November.

Player Oct Nov Season
Sim 16 16 32
Slater 15 16 31
Hossa 16 12 28
Kozlov 9 10 19
Holik 12 6 18
Rucchin 14 0 14
De Vries 6 6 12
Kovalchuk 6 6 12
Larsen 2 10 12
Vigier 4 8 12
Kapanen 4 6 10
Vishnevski 8 2 10
Metropolit 2 6 8
Exelby 2 4 6
Havelid 4 2 6
Mellanby 0 6 6
Sutton 2 4 6
McCarthy 2 2 4
Boulton 0 2 2
Popovic 2 0 2
Hedberg 0 2 2
Lehtonen 0 2 2
Bench 12 12 24
Unknown 12 8 20

Of course, some players draw a lot of penalties but they also take a lot of penalties as well. Take Holik for example, he drew 18 man advantage minutes but then he also was called for 26 man disadvantage minutes which makes him a net negative for the season.

Who was the most net positive for Altanta? Sim leads the way again with a positive 14 minutes with Hossa and Kozlov right behind him. Slater and Holik draw minutes but then give them back with penalties of their own.

Holik and Vishnevski also had down months. Rounding out the bottom ranks are four defensemen (Havelid, Exelby, Sutton and Vishnevski). Which is hardly surprising since the position they play requires them to haul people down if they get beat.

One thing that really surprises me is Kovalchuk's -4 minutes on the season so far. With his speed and skill he really should be drawing more minutes. I can't help but think that his diving tendencies in past years have given him a reputation among the referees and he is not getting the benefit of the doubt when he goes down.

Player PIM Drawn PIM Taken Net
Sim 32 18 +14
Hossa 28 16 +12
Kozlov 19 8 +11
Rucchin 14 8 +6
Slater 31 26 +5
Kapanen 10 8 +2
Popovic 2 0 +2
Boulton 2 0 +2
De Vries 12 12 0
Larsen 12 12 0
Lehtonen 2 2 0
Hedberg 2 2 0
Coburn 0 2 -2
Metropolit 8 10 -2
Kovalchuk 12 16 -4
Hnidy 10 16 -6
Mellanby 6 14 -8
Holik 18 26 -8
Vishnevski 10 20 -10
Exelby 6 20 -14
Havelid 6 24 -18
Sutton 6 27 -21
Bench 24 20 +4

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Hossa MacFarlane Figure Coming in March

It looks like my Ilya Kovalchuk MacFarlane figure will soon get company as a Marian Hossa in Thrashers blue is scheduled for release this March. A Heatley in Ottawa colors is coming out in case any of you want former Thrashers on your shelf.

The NHL after 2 Months

Now that October and November are in the books I sat down to calculate the Pythagorean Standing so far this season. What are the Pythagorean Standings? Basically it uses goals against and goals for to predict each team's winning percentage. Over the long haul the ratio of offense and defense is an extremely accurate predictor of how many points a team will earn. The reason I'm like looking at the Pythagorean Standings is that the extra points for OT and SO losses can sometimes obscure which teams are playing well and which teams are not during regulation.

So here is a comparison of the Pythagorean Standings and the actual NHL point standings as of 12/1.

Eastern Conference Pythagorean Standings

















































































A couple of things stand out when you look at the Eastern Conference. Ottawa is a much better team than you would think just looking at the standing. The Senators have the 4th best offense in the entire NHL and their defense is slightly above average (12th overall). However, they have had an unusual amount of bad luck in close games and that has placed them lower in the standings. Their luck should even out more as we play more game and I would expect them to climb up the standings.

The mirror opposite of Ottawa is New Jersey. The Devils have an outstanding defense (6th overall) but their offense is just stinking up the joint (27th overall). If these trends continue they will likely fall out of the playoffs. On the other, Elias might finally get his game and gear and they might pull their offense out of the basement. If not, this year could mark the end of Devils string of playoff appearances.

The other team that ranks higher than I expected is the NY Islanders who have a solid offense so far (9th) and a below average defense (20th). I have to admit I'm surprised by their play so far this season but right now they playing like a playoff team.

The top team in the conference is Buffalo which has the best offense and a middle of the pack defense (15th), but Buffalo is simply blowing teams out of the water with their scoring. The 2nd best offensive team in the NHL is Nashville, which is averaging 3.50 goals per game. Buffalo is waaaay ahead of them averaging 4.16 goals per game, which is very impressive.

Bringing up the rear are the Flyers who have been awful on offense (25th) and defense (29th). I find it hard to believe the offense has been that bad with players like Forsberg, Gagne, Pitkanen, Richards and Carter. I never would have expected this sort of collapse.

The Thrashers remain in the top three carried by a very strong offense (5th) despite losing Savard, Bondra and Modry from last year's squad. The defense has improved to 14th in the league. Those numbers will probably decline a bit as the team hits a brutal January and February schedule but they are beating the teams they should beat and stockpiling points before heading into rough seas in 2008.

Western Conference Pythagorean Standings

















































































When I look at the Western Conference there are fewer differences between the Pythagorean Standings and the actual NHL standings. The Pythagorean standings suggest that Edmonton may not be the 3rd best team in the west and that Colorado might just edge out Minnesota for the last playoff spot.

Anaheim, San Jose and Nashville remain the cream of the conference. Detroit is really struggling to find offense (22nd in the NHL) as their power play has been terrible all year, but their outstanding defense has kept afloat all season 2nd. Minnesota has similar problems to Detroit, a weak offense (21st) and a solid defense (10th)--but they can look forward to a stronger offense once Gaborik and Demitra are healthy and playing together again. Vancouver is like a more extreme version of Minnesota--a strong defense (7th) is keeping them afloat, but only the lowly Blue Jackets are averaging fewer goals per game on offense.

Everyone talks about how the Western Conference is stronger, but those bottom teams are pretty bad. Chicago should be a bit better once Havlat comes back. Wonder if Phoenix regrets spending all that money on Jovo this summer? Their defense is dead last in the league. Of course the Kings might have similar regrets about Rob Blake and their 27th ranked defense.

Summary: So if the NHL teams continue to play as they have so far I would expect a fair amount of change in the East but not so much in the West. Look for OTT and NYI to move up into playoff position while NJ Devils and Tampa Bay or Toronto get squeezed out.

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