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Five Thoughts for Friday

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Andy’s return, Tyler Ennis’ effectiveness, coaching culture and more

Ottawa Senators v Edmonton Oilers Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

When it’s Friday, we have some Thoughts with a capital “T”. Here are five of mine:

Craig Anderson, back on top?

It was not that long ago that many, including myself, were certain Anders Nilsson had wrestled the title of number one goalie away from Anderson. When Andy went down with an injury, and Nilsson put together a run of stellar form, it seemed obvious that the torch had been passed. How quickly things can change in the NHL. Nilsson’s not the only one to blame for Tuesday night’s debacle against the Vancouver Canucks, but he’s now allowed 13 goals on his last 71 shots faced over his past three starts. Meanwhile, Anderson returned to the net on Wednesday and was one of the difference-makers in a 5-2 Sens win over the Oilers. Maybe the old warhorse still has a few battles left in him.

Where does this leave the Sens? It wouldn’t surprise me to see DJ Smith go back to a 50/50 split for the foreseeable future since Anderson’s days of starting the majority of the games are behind him and Nilsson is the one under contract for next season. As an added bonus, if Anderson were to string together a run of solid play there may still be an (extremely) outside chance he could be traded at the deadline to a contender in need of goalie depth.

Tyler Ennis, exceeding expectations

After DJ Smith took over the Head Coaching duties, Pierre Dorion brought in a number of former Toronto Maple Leafs: Nikita Zaitsev, Ron Hainsey, Connor Brown, and Tyler Ennis. Of the four, it would be fair to say that Brown’s had the most successful go of it; his partnership with Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Nick Paul in the role of a checking line has been particularly beneficial. But for my money, Ennis has had the second-most positive impact. What he lacks in size and physicality, Ennis makes up for with his speed and surprisingly effective skilled game. Ennis isn’t a threat to go through a defender in the same way as someone like Anthony Duclair, but he makes lots of plays that require more than meets the eye. Take his goal on Wednesday night against the Oilers:

As the threat of a 2-on-1 develops, Ennis first uses his speed to create clear separation from the Edmonton back-checkers. Then, he receives a not-so-great pass from the aforementioned Brown in his skates, kicks it to his stick, and buries a shot in tight without breaking stride. Not even every NHLer makes that series of plays. Ennis is now up to 15 points in 29 games, a 42 point pace, and his shot metrics are stellar. Micah McCurdy’s Hockeyviz.com model thinks highly of his play this season:

Ennis’ player card at hockeyviz.com
hockeyviz.com

Old trusty veterans who come over as coach’s favourites don’t always work out, but in the case of Ennis he’s been more than just someone who knows how to run the drills.

The Boston Bruins, destroyers of worlds....maybe?

On the one hand it’s way too early to be talking about this sort of thing, but on the other hand the Bruins are on a 130 (!) point pace after 29 games. To put that into historical context, the all-time record is 132 points (by the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens who went a remarkable 60-8-12). At their current pace, Boston would eclipse even last year’s Tampa Bay Lightning who finished with 128.

A pause here to remember how truly ludicrous it truly was that a 128 point team got SWEPT in the first round.

You probably all know why Boston’s winning the way they are: David Pastrnak is absolutely on fire, Brad Marchand remains one of the best forwards in the world, their defense is stingy and they’ve been getting lights-out goaltending from Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak.

But.

But, they’re also just above league average by most shot metrics and there’s a pretty decent case to be made they’re getting at least a little bit lucky. As a team, BOS is shooting 9.90% at 5v5, and their goalies are posting a scintillating .936 SV%. For comparison’s sake, last year’s Stanley Cup Finalist squad boasted a similar .930 SV% but only scored on 7.33% of their shots. With virtually no changes to their roster, I’d find it hard to believe that there’s much more at play here than a bit of good shooting luck.

Are the B’s good? Clearly. They might be one of the best teams in the league. Are they a threat to the league’s record books? I’m a lot more skeptical about that.

Coaching culture, hopefully changing

There has been a lot of digital ink spilled on the topic of abusive hockey coaches in the last few weeks, but I did want to add a small piece about something that I think has gotten a bit overlooked. All too often, when we talk about the player-coach relationship in hockey it’s framed as a one-way street where the player is beholden to the coach’s every whim and a player’s “coachability” is a direct reflection of their willingness to do exactly as told without ever voicing concerns to the contrary. As long as the culture of hockey coaching is that of a dictatorship, trying to make it a less benign form will only improve things so much.

Speaking from personal experience, the best coaches that I’ve had (in both hockey and other sports) were folks who approached coaching as a conversation between two people working towards the same goals. Ultimately, the job of a good coach is to win the players over to their side; and perhaps to compromise a bit if they can’t. This isn’t to say that players and coaches should exist on equal footing when it comes to crucial decision-making, but I’m hoping that as part of the changing landscape of hockey, and coaching, that the days of the dictator ruling with an iron-fist will become a thing of the past.

Best of the Decade?

You’ve probably noticed that with 2019 coming to a close, lots of publications have been putting together their “Best of the Decade” lists. We’ll be running a “Best of” feature on our site during the last weekend of December but I wanted to give the community a chance to have some input on some of the pieces. We’ll of course have a “All-Decade Team” article, probably arranged to be 3 forwards, 2 defensemen, 1 goalie, a “Best Goals/Plays” piece, and probably a “Funniest Moments” segment but are there an others you’d really like to see? Most rage-inducing Melnyk quotes? Best (worst?) trades? Iconic goal horns courtesy of Nightbreak?

Let us know in the comments!