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Puck Daddy Power Rankings: Stupid schedules, fancy stats and Bryan Bickell

Ryan Lambert
Puck Daddy
NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Philadelphia Flyers
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Apr 22, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; New York Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault speaks to the media after defeating the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 in game three of the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center. (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)

[Author's note: Power rankings are usually three things: Bad, wrong, and boring. You typically know just as well as the authors which teams won what games against who and what it all means, so our moving the Red Wings up four spots or whatever really doesn't tell you anything you didn't know. Who's hot, who's not, who cares? For this reason, we're doing a power ranking of things that are usually not teams. You'll see what I mean.]

5. The Rangers' power play

It's pretty amazing, isn't it, how awful — and to some extent unlucky (four posts in the last two games) — the Rangers have been in this playoff series in particular. Yeah, they were struggling with the man advantage against the Flyers as well, but not like this.

In the first two games of the series with the Penguins especially, it's like they've never played together before. The shots are there more often than not, but everyone just seems bewildered by what's going on every time they draw a penalty. “There's only four guys out here? I think they messed up. Hey, someone tell Bylsma he can put someone else out here. Are you guys listening? Hey!”

To that extent, the Penguins are more than free to take all the penalties they like, and boy have they taken a lot. They've put the Rangers on the power play 13 times in the series, and gone on it themselves just eight. In that baker's dozen, totaling some 23 minutes of total time, the Rangers put 19 shots on goal, which isn't a terrible total or anything, but not one has gotten past Marc-Andre Fleury.

That and the four posts is combining to make him look very good indeed, and the Rangers are in no way helping their cause despite the fact that they're piling up a bunch of shots. Both Pittsburgh goals on Monday came almost immediately after Ranger power plays, and boy does that not help the perception.

However, the Rangers might just have an explanation for all this underwhelming play...

4. Stupid schedules

I'm not often one to give a lot of sympathy to anyone for all the losing they're doing, but the fact that the Rangers have had two days off in the last week is a bit much from the NHL, isn't it?

Games 6 and 7 against Philadelphia back-to-back, and then Game 1 against Pittsburgh after one off day. Then another off day, before Games 2 and 3 on consecutive nights. The NHL rarely does this to a team in the regular season, and any explanations about how lightweight the travel has been doesn't make a lot of sense. Five games in seven days is five games in seven days, even if they're all at home and the team rolls out sleeping bags and stays overnights in the dressing room. It's a lot to ask.

So yeah, you can make fun of the postgame boohooing Alain Vigneault did about the schedule, but he's 100 percent correct that this is in no way fair to his team. Maybe he should have been more vocal about it before the game, since that's when it really would have mattered (and not come off as sour grapes) but his team's down 2-1 in no small part because of this. They're running on fumes at this point, and the off day yesterday probably helped a lot.

There's also the fact that these games are at Madison Square Garden, which is always booked extremely tight, and so that's on the Rangers' venue. But it's not on the Rangers themselves. And it sucks.

By the way, the Kings/Ducks series — a literal bus ride from one rink to the other — got two days off between Games 2 and 3. Chicago and Minnesota got that many between Games 3 and 4. What fun.

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3. Smugness

One of the things you always hear about people who still have a problem with the “advanced stats” crowd is that these people are too smug. Sure they're right most of the time, but do they really have to remind you of this fact every time they're right (which, again, is far more often than not)?

When people write things like this, entitled, “Why Most People Need To Shut Up About ‘Advanced Stats’ In The NHL,” the answer is yes.

The new argument, which has somehow only become prevalent in the last month or two, is not that advanced stats don't tell you anything — the Leafs' doom this season all but guaranteed that talking point would be torpedoed — but rather that they don't tell you anything you didn't know. Of course teams that shoot the puck more are going to score more goals, etc.It is, however, difficult to tell exactly what the point of that latest screed (against advanced stats? For them maybe?) was.

There's the argument that they don't reflect probabilities with regard to odds put on the sport by gambling companies. Which is nonsense. Travis Yost did the math and found that over the last seven years, if you bet on every series winner based on nothing but their score-adjusted fenwick for over the previous 20 games, you would be correct 68 percent of the time. Ask any gambler if that's a good. Vegas is pretty obviously behind on this sort of thing; their over-under on the Leafs point total this season was 96.5, and I kick myself every day for not taking out a mortgage to bet the under on that. The stats showed just how bad of a line that was, and how bad of a line that was showed how little people were betting based on this data.

The argument was also that teams can sustain high shooting percentages (they pretty much cannot), and that citing corsi and fenwick isn't actual analysis (kind of correct). If you can incorporate the latter into your analysis, then that's a great tool for you to use, but there is after all more to hockey than shot attempts for and against. But again, if you're more right than wrong using them, then that says something. It might not be groundbreaking, but you're going to succeed regularly.

And people are really digging into these numbers now too. Yost and Dellow and Tulsky are doing phenomenal work with them, and often using them as jumping-off points, rather than stopping there. They, then, are often more right than the people who cite straight corsi data. That's how life works, right? You have more information, you know more. Simple.

We do need to continually get new ways to find the data that we're calling “advanced,” and redefine what “advanced” even is, but that's anything. And we will, as a community, do that. You just gotta give it a minute, and maybe not rely on what Vegas thinks a team will do.

2. The Preds' offense

So the Predators made very quick work of that coaching search, hiring Peter Laviolette to run things just a few weeks after he was spotted leaving Bridgestone Arena. There was never real any mystery about it, or will-they/won't-they drama. They knew who their guy was, and they hired him fast.

It's going to be terribly interesting, I think, to see what the offensive players on this team — your Colin Wilsons and Filip Forsbergs and Calle Jarnkroks and Patric Hornqvists and Craig Smiths — are able to do under a coach who is not Barry Trotz. What will it mean for Seth Jones, or hell Roman Josi or Shea Weber?

It's tough to foresee a lot of big changes with respect to the Preds' roster next year; they'll add a quality prospect, of course, but there's no guarantee they keep him up. And yet this is going to be a completely new look to the team. That old identity of there is going to be balled up and thrown unceremoniously in the garbage. All anyone talked about on the day Laviolette was introduced was how much he wants to go forward, which says a lot about what Trotz didn't want to do.

1. Bryan Bickell

Bryan Bickell shouldn't, you'd think, have six fewer goals in his last 31 playoff games than he did in his last 107 regular-season games. So maybe you're wondering why it is Bickell has been a force of nature in the last two postseasons after being pretty much a dud in both of the preceding regular seasons.

The answer, it should not surprise you to learn, is luck. There's no question that he just seems to find an extra gear, but the fact that the puck is going in this often is down, very simply, to shooting percentage. Prior to last night's game, there was nearly a 10-point jump in his personal shooting percentage, following an 8.8-point increase in 2013. Remarkable, really.

But it sure doesn't explain how he can make this crazy breakout pass to Marian Hossa. Or how Hossa got that free in the first place.

You wonder how much of that $4 million a season just the playoff version of Bickell is worth to the Blackhawks. It's gotta be more than half, right? You put up with the deeply so-so performances from October to March because you get this after April. The real question, one supposes, is how many more springs like this he has in them.

(Not ranked this week: A change in the discipline system.

The best thing I've ever read in 30 Thoughts was not the suggestion that Eddie Olczyk would leave the NBC broadcast booth to either become an executive or even coach in Carolina. Instead it was the suggestion that he would take over from Brendan Shanahan as the NHL's head of supplementary discipline. Hoo boy would that be a laugh, and not just for all suspension videos containing the phrase “Stop it right there...”

Brent Seabrook wouldn't have even gotten a second look for that hit on David Backes, and any time a Red Wing looked at someone sideways, he'd be rung up for a four-gamer so fast it'd make his head spin. What a world that would be. I hope it happens.)

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