Thursday, March 06, 2008

Matthew Lombardi, Mike Tyson and a Manatee

I've wracked my brains for something to write about the last couple of days and come up with nothing besides a parodic screenplay of Keenan grilling the players that will probably never make it to the blog. As such, Im forced to present my mental flotsam and jetsam, in no particular order.

1.) In defense of Matthew Lombardi. Or rather, in defense of my continued defense of Matthew Lombardi. I've posited more than once on here that Lombardi's apparently bad season can be attributed to situational rather than individual causes. His counting numbers suck (10 goals, 28 points, -7) as do many of his advanced stats (-3.9 CORSI, 1.53 ESP/60, ES +21, ES -31), so it's a bit of a tough task. But here goes.

The problem with the Flames is the bottom of the forward roster is a complete wasteland. There are 2 rookies that can barely hold their heads above water most nights (one of whom couldn't shoot a puck in the ocean from the beach), a litany of fringe vets (Primeau, Godard, Smith, Nilson) who vary from "slow" to "excruciatingly slow" and have the puck skills of a well-mashed rutabaga, a slowing PK specialist who was never one for the offense even at his peak, a sophomore suffering from the same affliction as Eric Nystrom -- and Matthew Lombardi. This sorry collection (excepting Lombo) has played 344 games combined this year, scored 18 goals and 47 points with a sum +/- rating of -43. Lombardi, as mentioned, has 10 goals and 28 points in 67 games by himself so far. In short, Lombardi is the Dark Helmet of the Calgary Flames; he's surrounded by assholes...

His QUALTEAM rating on behindthenet is -0.39. Only the perpetual forth-liners have a lower rating.

That's not the extent of Lombo's rough ride this year. Besides the lack of decent linemates, he's also had to deal with a lack of quality ice-time: he's averaged just a minute of PP time per game, which ranks him 12th on the Flames in that regard. He plays a lot on the PK, not the most offense rich environment, and a bunch at ES with aforementioned assholes (who can forget the ill-fated kid line of Lombo, Nystrom and Boyd that Keenan sent out to get sodomized night-in and night-out for about a 6 week period?). On top of all that, no center starts off more in his own zone than Lombardi. According to, Lombardi has taken more defensive zone draws (210) than offensive zone draws (207) at ES this year. Contrast that to Langkow (-60) and Conroy (-3), despite the fact that Craig has been Keenan's "shut-down" guy for a large portion of the season. Stephane Yelle is the only other regular skater who scores above Lombardi by this metric (+24), and they've been playing together a lot recently.

Bigger brains than mine over at Irreverent Oiler Fans have been talking about the relevance of face-offs position recently. Basically, coaches will try to get offensive guys out for offensive zone draws and vice versa. This is bad news for Lombo in a couple of ways: first, it means he's starting out in his own zone more frequently, which means an increased probability of suffering shots/chances against during your shift. Secondly, it means he's typically facing the opposition's offensive players to start the play. Add in the quality of his line-mates and the reduced probability of getting the play back up into the offensive zone, and you have his shitty CORSI and plus/minus stats.

The difference between his offensive and defensive zone draws isn't huge, so I think it's mainly an artifact of Keenan favoring the other centers/lines for offensive zone draws and leaving him the dregs (neutral zone/defensive zone draws). This is likely a consequence of the Flames lacking a true shut-down trio, in the "Nothing Line" sense of the term. If Conroy was instead skating with Yelle and _________ (insert warm body here), one could reasonably expect that combination to take the lion's share of own-zone draws, leaving Lombardi/Tanguay/Nolan to soak up the attacking zone face-offs left behind by Iginla and company.

As it stands currently, however, Keenan is left trying to match-up Conroy's line with the stronger opposition WHILE simultaneously trying to get them out for offensive zone draws. That's the paradox of having a scoring line which is also a de facto shut-down unit. Iginla and Langkow can take all comers, but they are frequently reserved for the better opportunities at the happy end of the rink, because they stand the best chance of taking advantage of it (and Langkow is TERRIBLE at face-offs as well). That leaves Lombardi to twist in the wind with Yelle and whoever: they can't reasonably be expected to shut-down the competition but neither can they be expected to outscore them. Hell, Im sure even Iginla would have a hard time outscoring the bad guys starting more often than not in his own end with Primeau/Moss/Nystrom and Yelle as his linemates. It's a bloody tough gig and it's setting Lombardi up for failure.

2.) Watching the Senators play right now is a lot like watching the Titanic sink slowly into the cold, black waters of the Atlantic. And apparently Martin Gerber would be more adapted to survive if the Sens happened to literally sink into the ocean.

3.) I put the whammy on Lee Stempniak, the poor bastard. I chose him in two of my 3 hockey pools, fully expecting him to score 30 this year.

After managing 20+ goals the last two seasons and being one of the Blues higher goal getters since his rookie year, the man who inspired "Stempniaked!" has just 11 goals this season and is barely averaging 10 minutes of ice-time per night these days. Perhaps he's been getting "Lombardied" by coach Andy Murray?

4.) Is anyone else cheering for the Capitals to make the play-offs? Besides it being a nice win for a beleaguered franchise, can you imagine how frenetic Ovechkin would be in the post-season? They might have to run him around the rink BEFORE the game like Don King used to have to do with Mike Tyson before fights.