Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Capitals Shootout Revisited

I talked to numerous people about last night's shootout throughout the day today. Here is the best analogy I heard...

Think back to the Jacksonville playoff game. One a huge two point conversion, the Steelers decide to throw a fade route to the right corner. Except Roethlisberger doesn't get the ball all the way there. No matter. Hines Ward is playing out of his mind and basically wills the ball into his hands. A Sean Mahan hold negates the play, but what a catch nonetheless.

Fast forward to later in the same game. The Steelers, facing another two point conversion, throw a fade to Nate Washington in the left corner. The ball is poorly thrown. Nate Washington looks like he doesn't know how to spell fade let alone run one. Ball game.

Now...

Nate Washington is taller and faster than Hines Ward. In theory, he is better built for a fade route. But in crunch time situations, physical attributes don't reall mean anything. Why? Because when games are on the line, you put the fate of your team in the best players hands.

Erik Christiansen is Nate Washington in this scenario. He has a particular value to the team (solid wrist shot, good shootout skill). But it is positively, absolutely, undeniably clear that Evgeni Malkin is/is becoming/will be a better hockey player than anyone in this town could have ever dreamed him to be. Don't take my word for it. Read Bucci's take on him, cause it's all true.

Like Malkin, Crosby has never been a particularly potent shootout player. But did that stop Therrien from sending him out there in the Winter Classic? No. Every single person knew that Crosby would have the chance to win it, not because he is the best physical skills for a shootout (the best physical tools to run a fade route if you are sticking with the Steelers comparison), but because he is the man you want with the puck at the end of games, regardless of the situation. Malkin had matched Ovechkin goal for goal in the game and hit for hit, had the crowd chanting his name...and yet he isn't a good enough shootout scorer, so he doesn't get the chance to even up against AO again.

Yes, it is only a regular season game. Yes, Ruutu, Christiansen, and Letang are all more than capabale in a shootout. But think back to the Steelers game and ask yourself: do you throw the ball to Hines Ward or Nate Washington when you need two points? Do you give the puck to Malkin...or someone else? Hines had been jawing all game with Jags defenders, not unlike Malkin one-upping Ovechkin as much as he could in his goal celebration. I'm inclined to go with the star with the swagger instead of the person who looks good on paper.

11 comments:

Johnny said...

Normally I don't like knee-jerk reactions like this. Its a long season after all. But after watching highlights on youtube from the game, I mean...christ, what more does Malkin have to do to assert that he is the alpha dog on this team now? He damn near helicoptered Ovie through the glass, racked up some points, played with energy...give him the puck at the end!

Anonymous said...

I think its a bit different than stone hands nate washington on a fade route. It would be more like if Washington was exceptional only catching fade route and nothing else. Washington can't even run the route. Washington is more comparable to Malkin because they have the physical skills but can't deliver in the situation.

The Duke from Dukes Court said...

I don't like the comparison of Nate Washington and Erik Christiansen.

Erik Christiansen has proven to be a stud in shootouts, Nate Washington has never shown any ability to catch a fade pass, (or any kind of pass for that matter).

If I am picking who I want in a shootout I pick Erik Christiansen everytime.

Jimbo said...

Regardless of who you would pick in a shootout, when will the Pens start treating Malkin like he is one of the best players in the world? Give him his own damn line when Crosby comes back and if he is playing out of his mind, put him in the damn shootout. If this was Crosby, people would be flipping out, but for some reason Malkin gets treated differently.

blueline said...

Comparing Erik Christensen to Nate Washington only works if you're comparing how they both play in a regular game situation. But, when it comes to shootouts, Christensen is among the Top-5 all time in converting shootout chances. I can't agree with this comparison at all.

And Geno will get his own line when the Penguins overcome their dearth of scoring wingers.

blueline said...

Comparing Erik Christensen to Nate Washington only works if you're comparing how they both play in a regular game situation. But, when it comes to shootouts, Christensen is among the Top-5 all time in converting shootout chances. I can't agree with this comparison at all.

And Geno will get his own line when the Penguins overcome their dearth of scoring wingers.

Sam said...

The heart of the argument still stands true, regardless of what you think about Christensen. Malkin is a war horse with hands of silk and being dubbed the unquestioned leader of this team with Sid out. Christensen is turning into a field goal kicker/punter...he has a specific job and occasionally gets a tackle to save a touchdown. He could morph into something more, but really, people would be all over him if he wasn't so dominant in the shootouts.

Ruutu over Malkin was the debatable choice. I can see arguments both ways. Ruutu probably gave the better chance for getting that extra point, but imagine if Malkin comes in and scores and we end up winning. The confidence from that game would carry Malkin all season.

An anecdote I remember reading a few times: Go back to the Rose Bowl 2 years ago, when USC faced 4th and 2 on the Longhorns 45 yard line with 2:13 to play and the Trojans up by 5. They go for it and decide on a power run for Lendale White. White was theoretically the best choice for that play and for short yardage situations, not to mention he was a hell of a running back. But standing on the sidelines was the HEISMAN winner Reggie Bush. It was the most important play of the most important game for the Trojans that year and easily the biggest moment of any of these kids lives...and the best player in the nation is on the sidelines? If he doesn't get the ball there why is he the best and most valuable player? If Malkin is the best and most valuable player on the team why doesn't he get the puck in the shootout?

blueline said...

A valid argument, Sam, and Malkin's the best player on the team. No doubt he's the most-skilled player on the ice.

But, just because someone's your best player doesn't necessarily make him the right person for the job. Let's say Malkin's a sledgehammer and can break up concrete, but would you use a sledgehammer to chop down an oak tree? Very unlikely.

Your argument that #16 has become the equivalent to a punter or kicker rings more true...Christensen has not become the big, scoring forward we hoped, and if he wasn't so adept in shootouts, he'd likely be paying for room-and-board with Michael Scott at Dunder Mifflin- Scranton branch.

Sam said...

I hear Michael Scott has some extra room since Dwight turned him down...maybe we should consider sending Eric his way.

I don't think Malkin is as inept in the shootouts as a sledgehammer knocking down trees (although the image of Malkin hitting a tree with a sledgehammer cracked me up), but I definitely get what you're saying. While he may not be the sharpest tool in the shed when it comes to shoot outs, I do think he could develop into one. He has the skills, and I feel more often than not he likes to come down the ice in those situations and find holes to rifle the puck into, instead of making a move to beat the goalie which seems to be the preferred technique of successful shooters. He's only 21...labeling him as a shoot out failure seems a bit premature, but I think Therrien has already made up his mind about him. The only way to find out is if he keeps getting chances.

I think one other more subtle point about the advantage of him learning how to perform in the shootout is that 2 of our shooters would be filled for the long term with him and Sid. Both should be around for the forseeable future, and if they both found success in that area it would be one less thing to worry about. Not a huge deal, but something nonetheless.

blueline said...

I think we need a Gonchar-led intervention again with Geno and Therrien.

Therrien: Geno, you need to be better in shootouts.

Gonchar: (interprets in Russian)

Geno: Ok. I practice.

Good discussion, Sam...love the back and forth.

Sam said...

I enjoyed it as well. You bring up solid points.

That would be nice if Therrien said that to him. If Malkin doesn't have his own line when Sid returns, Therrien should be fired.