Friday, April 25, 2014

The Hits Keep on Comin'

Like many Jackets fans I spent yesterday basking in the glow of Game 4. The improbable comeback. The unbelievable crowd. Just everything surrounding the fact that this series sits at 2-2 after the happenings at the corner of Front and Nationwide on Wednesday evening.

That entailed reading a number of articles and blog posts, and even taking in a podcast or two, from all sources: Columbus, Pittsburgh, and national media types. A rather generalized summary of each:

Columbus: "That was AWESOME! We're 2-2! You've waited 14 years, is this fun or what!?!?!!"

Pittsburgh: "OMG Fluery! FLUERY!! WTF? Where are Crosby and Malkin?? Why? WHY?"

National: "This is a nutty series. Nobody can hold a lead. And Fluery has gone and screwed up...we told you it would happen!"

Both fan bases are equally correct in thinking the series could easily be 3-1 in their favor right now. So, how exactly are the Jackets keeping pace with the Pens?

The Jackets are doing it with possession and in forcing the Pens to play the full 200 feet. I've just started to understand the advanced stats movement, but I'm not going to include them here. Instead, let's look at good, old fashion, "traditionalist" stats on getting and keeping the puck. In other words, old-timey possession stats.

Here are the shots, hits, giveaways (GV), takeaways (TK), and face off percentage (FO%) for the first four games:

Game 1

Game 2

Game 3

Game 4

As you can see, things are pretty close through the series, with the exception of hits where the Jackets are just running away with things. (We'll get to that in a bit.) In this case, pretty close seems to favor the Jackets a little bit. If shots and face offs and were lopsided towards the Pens, they'd be getting their way a lot more and the series probably wouldn't be 2-2. No big secret, if the Jackets want to win this series they can't get in an open ice skating contest with the Pens.

Shots and hits seem to get a lot of focus in this series. Shots are a pretty good indicator of possession, you can't shoot the puck if you don't have it. Hits are also a pretty good indicator of possession, but in the opposite way, more hits usually means less puck time. Since the Jackets are a dump it in, punch you in the face, "Gimme that puck," kind of team they are naturally going to have more hits than the Pens. With that context, looking at the hits each game compared to the shots...the Jackets had the puck very little in Game 3, and had it a whole lot in Game 4.

This series is now a 3 game sprint to the end. If the stats continue to be close, the Jackets have a real good chance to get 2 wins out of the last 3 games. They have to continue to forecheck and get pucks to the net. Now that this is at least a 6 game series, the hitting and puck possession should wear on the Pens more - physically and mentally.

Not to mention throwing pucks at the net from the blue line just might go in.

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