Sunday, November 30, 2008

How the Bruins Beat the Red Wings

Aside from being a major statement of legitimacy, last night's 4-1 victory over the Red Wings was a fascinating window into the Bruins' formula for success -- a formula that's resulted in a sterling 11-1-1 record in the month of November including wins over Detroit, Chicago, and Montreal, and a regulation/OT tie against the Rangers.

The Red Wings are a puck-possession team in the strictest sense -- they beat you by denying you the opportunity to dictate the terms of engagement. This strategy works more often than not, especially against shallow or streaky teams, by giving Detroit more opportunities than their opponents. This was in full display for the first 5-10 minutes of last night's game, when the Bruins were so far back on their heels that it looked as if they might just keel over and surrender.

But then a funny thing happened. The Bruins didn't buckle under the pressure. In fact, they flourished. By the end of the first frame they had scored enough goals to win the game. Despite a 10-7 advantage in shots, the Wings trailed 0-2. Even more startlingly, they rang up a 15-5 shots advantage in the second period but could only manage a 1-1 draw in goals.

Though this seems counterintutive at first glance, it points to one of the driving factors in Boston's hot streak: quality of shots. Take a look at the shot chart for this game, and imagine a box extending from the goal line to each faceoff dot, to the top of the circles and across the slot to the other side.

Now, note the number of shots that were taken inside this box: in the first period, the Bruins outshot the Wings in this area by a count of 5-4, including a goal. In the second, the Wings held a 7-4 advantage... but the majority of their shots were at the outer edge of the box or at sharp angles from the side of the net. In the third, Detroit managed a paltry one shot from inside the box, whereas the Bruins took 4 more and scored another goal.

Of course, there are other factors at play -- the Bruins blocked 15 shots to the Wings' 3, suggesting that a defensive wall around the crease was a major factor. The Bruins also outhit the Wings and created more turnovers, by slim margins. And ultimately they benefitted from better goaltending, as Manny Fernandez continued to challenge Tim Thomas' claim to the #1 position.

But the game boiled down to something simple: the Bruins found an antidote for the Wings' possession-based strategy. By forcing low-quality shots and diligently blocking as many as possible, they turned Detroit's leverage into a disadvantage -- nullifying long possessions, creating confidence for Fernandez and creating opportunities for quick-strike breakouts. What should have been a statistical advantage for the Red Wings (more opportunities = more goals) actually began to favor the Bruins, and by the 10-minute mark of the first period that theoretical advantage had turned into hard results.

It was a statement, all right, but also a shift in the philosophy of winning hockey games -- a curiously Zen approach to allowing the opponent's strength to become his weakness.

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Anonymous said...

Is this thing on? Here come the wusses, please get a life.

Anonymous said...

Bah dum chum.

Anonymous said...

OMFG!!!! Bruins beat the red wings!!! I was expecting the wings to have an undefeated season, now it's clear it is the almighty bruins who shall go 82-0-0.

Anonymous said...

Boston fans are tolerated because they have such a cute history of losing. You get so angry when you get eliminated from the playoffs, as if you didn't see it coming! So cute!

Anonymous said...

Just how vindictive are you feeling this morning, weasel?

The Bastahd said...

Wow... that truly is impressive... five comments within ten minutes undoubtedly from the same anonymous source. Tom... you really should be proud... this is a sure sign that you have made it!

Tom said...

LMAO... stop, you're gonna make me blush!


1) Either a frustrated Wings fan that his team lost a game or just a dink. Perhaps both. LOL

The Bastahd said...

"Either a frustrated Wings fan that his team lost a game or just a dink."

MY first thought was actually a Canadiennes fan... seems more their style.