Friday, April 15, 2011

Thoughts on Defending Poor Play

Late this morning, there emerged something of a minor twittle battle between Mike Vogel (@VogsCaps), Senior Writer for and reporter for Caps365, and a couple of Caps fans who want to see some change in the lineup. The issues arose over Vogel's praise of Neuvirth and Chimera. It all appeared to start with his tweet saying "I believe we will see Fehr at some point. We won't tonight. No sense in changing anything after team's Game 1 performance."

Chimera, making his "did you seriously
ask if I plan on scoring tonight?" face
This clearly made a few people frown while they were at home, thinking of Chimera's season-long inability to produce offensively, team-worst +/-, and being one of two "minus" skaters for Washington in Game 1. Soooo the fans began to say as much. In my opinion, Vogel began to dig himself deeper into a hole by responding with asinine and unfounded statements, which I imagine is simply the job of a team's beat writer. People who are paid by a given sports team are expected to defend the decisions of that team's management. Most fans expect and know this, aggravating as it may be. But an issue arises when fans call out a team's writer on his unsubstantiated claims, and the writer actually chooses to respond: "@VogsCaps: Thought 25 was v-good in Game 1. Physical presence. @jnestoriak: hate to disagree but after 25's performance in G1 i'd like 16 in tonight"

This is when a writer needs to avoid "poking the bear." Those of us who are not paid by the Capitals are free to look at the stats and watch the game and know that Chimera was a major liability on the ice, as he has been in most of the games this season. To say that a player like Eric Fehr, who has been a clutch player on the team and has been one of the league leaders in goals scored per 60 minutes the past couple seasons, should sit in favor of Chimera because 25 had a "physical presence," and that alone makes him a "v-good" player... that's a joke.

This is his serious face. That
is not even my attempt at humor.
The play of Michal Neuvirth also was pulled into the foray when a fan questioned coaches' decision making abilities: "@VogsCaps: Cup goes to team with 16 wins, not save % champ.@RajeevAnanda: coaches also think goalie wins are more important than even strength save %."  Vogel followed up that cheap-shot with this beauty: "@VogsCaps: Understand. Also know Niemi was 6th in ESSP in '10 playoffs. @RajeevAnanda: even strength sv% is how you reliably get those wins."  Yes, clearly 16 wins is the stat that matters in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Here's the problem with implying that save percentage doesn't matter: there are 16 teams in the playoffs. Pointing out that Niemi was 6th in that area means that he was in the top 25% of playoff goalies in that particular statistic - 27 goalies played in the 09-10 playoffs. All he did was confirm RajeevAnanda's point: that save percentage leads to wins. While I don't have the breakdown on even strength and special teams save percentages, I do know that of the 16 teams' starting playoff goalies, Neuvirth is tied for dead last in overall regular season save percentage with the Lightning's Dwayne Roloson. Of all goaltenders to play 25 or more games in the regular season, Varlamov is 6th overall, while Braden Holtby sits between Tim Thomas and Pekka Rinne when you include all goalies that played even one game.

Now I do not agree with the notion that Neuvirth should be pulled. He played very well in Game 1, and you have to go with the hot hand. That is how Niemi got his starting gig, and it's what you need to do to win. I do think Chimera needs to spend some time with Vogs in the press box, though.

Feel free to make baseless generalizations because it is your job, but don't insult the fans by getting defensive when they rightfully challenge you, and by extension, the Capitals. We want to see them in the Cup as much as anyone in the organization does, so we want our best players out there when it matters. Fehr, like it or not Boudreau and Vogel, is one of our best players. Don't say that save percentage is not as important as wins while ignoring that save percentage is one of the most crucial ways to win just because the team's worst goalie is inexplicably the starter for the third straight year. All that being said, Vogel is one of the best Caps writers (as you would expect based on his position), and this was a rare mis-step on his part. For a more in-depth comparison of Fehr and Chimera, see my earlier post on lines.

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