15 Days Out: Coach Swap!

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As one of the few competent Canadian teams in the NHL, the Vancouver Canucks have been watched with rapt attention the last few years. Coach Alain Vigneault had optimized the Sedin twins as much as possible to squeeze every last creepy-twin point out of ‘em, but still the team repeatedly disappointed in the playoffs.

Meanwhile, in New York, John Tortorella encouraged an egalitarian, block-all-of-the-pucks philosophy that yielded decent results. But after four and a half seasons without a Cup (page me when you hit 38), “decent” results weren’t enough, and Torts’ caustic media persona was no longer welcome in Manhattan.

So they swapped! Tortorella is the new coach of the Vancouver Canucks, and Alain Vigneault is the new coach of the New York Rangers. The personality stories alone would make the move worth it, but this season should also bring us some new data about how coaching does or does not drive a team’s performance. Personally, I think NYR got the far better side of the deal.

Plus, Torts is now like 3 time zones away. Water-bottle squirting yutz.

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Stan Galiev’s Breakout Game

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Photo credit: Sean Kilpatrick

Washington Capitals prospect Stan Galiev entered last season as a high-rated prospect, a talented Russian forward with lots of promise. After winning multiple championships with the St. John Sea Dogs and dominating the QMJHL, Galiev was rated #29 on Hockey Prospectus Top 100 Prospects list for the 2012-13 season.

Unfortunately, when Galiev first played for the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears, he looked lost at times. He struggled on defense, not surprising considering how easy things came for him in juniors. The game was just a little bit too quick for him.

Galiev, however, finished on an upswing after a demotion to the ECHL’s Reading Royals, scoring 47 points in 46 games (including this sick goal). He also scored 11 points in 13 playoff games to help Reading win the 2012-13 championship. Over the summer, Galiev trained with renowned fitness guru Steve Saunders in Amish country along with Dmitry Orlov and Semyon Varlamov. Instead of sulking, a determined Galiev worked even harder.

Because of that hard work, Galiev was arguably the team’s best player in Washington’s first preseason game of the year Saturday. Less than one week into training camp, Galiev might have turned a corner in his development.

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16 Days Out: The Honeymoon is Over in Pittsburgh

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Our friends at the Pensblog wrote an interesting item last week about how the five-year post-championship grace period is already over for their Penguins. If that’s true, it’s gonna be an interesting season for Pittsburgh, as we find out exactly how traumatized that team has become following two epic flameouts in the postseason. It’ll be like a funhouse mirror for Caps fans.

Marc-Andre Fleury had an .883 save percentage in last season’s playoffs and has not peeked above .900 since 08-09. The team chose to bone up its roster at the trade deadline by getting older and slower. Dan Bylsma, all of a sudden on the hot seat, received from Ray Shero a vote of support slash kiss of death. The team fared very poorly when Crosby and Malkin were off the ice, and those marquee players– now 26 and 27– are nearing inevitable declines as they enter their late 20s.

This isn’t me saying the Pens are doomed– they’re not the Maple Leafs or anything. They’re just gonna be a fun team to watch as they work their way through the kind of issues that can derail a team. Then again, maybe Beau Bennett will put up 30 goals and everything will be hunky dory.

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17 Days Out: Bailamos!

“Bailamos” is about to begin its third season as our official goal celebration song. Let the ruythtyrhthnmn take you over. First person to put this video in the comments of each winning game recap is an extra special person.

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18 Days Out: Hey, Don’t Make Plans for Fridays

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Happy Friday, people. Enjoy it, ’cause for the next few months, your Fridays belong to Uncle Ted’s team.

In November, December, and January, you will have precisely one Friday free each month. You will use it to do Important Things like watch Point Break on Netflix, cook brownies for yourself for discernible reason, and perform a double-blind cohort study to determine if there’s any meaningful difference in the taste between Coors Light, Miller Lite, and Bud Light (hypothesis: there is not).

But then it’s back to the salt mines, where you will be required to watch Friday night hockey on 14 different occasions. The good news is we’ll be here with you, not meeting strange women, not playing fooesball at a dive bar while listening to 12 Play, and not playing laser tag with 14-year-olds at the mall.

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19 Days Out: Steve Oleksy vs Jack Hillen in a 4D Battle

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Photo: The great Clydeorama

The Capitals are stocked with three excellent defenders in John Carlson, Karl Alzner, and Mike Green. Each brings something to the veritable table: Carlson has an offensive upside, Mike Green is a power play maestro, and the stay-at-home Karl Alzner is threatening to crack a 2.5% shooting percentage any day now.

You can pair those three any way you want, but it is still unclear who else among the other Caps D-men is up to the job of playing in the top four. Here’s a lovely chart  from Greg Sinclair that illustrate’s how Caps D were used and how they performed last season:

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20 Days Out: Must Have Brouwer’s Power

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I’m not trying to make this series coincide with jersey numbers, but when the Rangers call upon you ya gotta step up.

Troy Brouwer had an excellent 2012-13 season. He improved his 2011-12 goal total by one despite playing 35 fewer games. But he did so by scoring on 7 of the 28 shots he took while on the brower play, a feat I don’t expect him to repeat in 13-14. That doesn’t mean we should sleep on Troy B though; in fact, he will be a crucial factor in the team’s success this season.

I expect Brouwer to be paired with Mikhail Grabovski and Martin Erat, two players known for being stout on tough defensive assignments and driving play in the offensive zone. Brouwer will be expected to be the line’s finisher, a pretty cozy job if you can find the work. His well-above-average 14% shooting percentage should serve him well on the second line, but the secret will be to shoot like a maniac.

We know he’s got the set-up men; we know he’s got the skill; now Brouwer has to become the kanooblian force at even-strength we’ve always hoped he’d be. If Brouwer crashes the net and takes — let’s say– 7+ shots for every 60 minutes he’s on the ice, the Capitals will have two deadly scoring lines. But if Brouwer won’t shoot or if his lofty shooting percentage drops, the second line will be inert, allowing opponents to focus on shutting down Ovechkin and the top line instead.

That’s a lot riding on Brou-Brou.

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21 Days Out: Brooks Laich is Brooks Laich

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Normally, I’d put some stat analysis or some opinion in here, but today– 21 days out from the beginning of the season– let’s just appreciate Brooks Laich.

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22 Days Out: Jason Chimera Will Be Better

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It varies from year to year, but the average shooting percentage in the NHL is somewhere just south of 9%. There’s a lot factored into that (like power plays and the gap between forwards and defenders), but it basically means one out of every eleven shots becomes a goal.

Unless you’re Jason Chimera. Chimera put 92 shots on goal last season and came up with just 3 goals. That’s a 3.3 shooting percentage. Normally, with that volume of shots (about 2 per game), a guy like Chimera would come up with about 8 goals — maybe 14-15 goals in an 82-game season. Although he’s never been an elite shooter, Chimera was absurdly unlucky last year. It won’t last.

The goals will come for Jason Chimera in 2013-14. Take it to #thebank.

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23 Days Out: Joel Rechlicz Bobblefist Night in Hershey

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On Saturday, December 21, the Hershey Bears will host the Worcester Sharks at Giant Center. That’s reason enough to get excited, but the Bears’ promotion schedule has a note next to the game: Joel Rechlicz Bobblefist Night courtesy of UGI.

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