Friday, March 24, 2017

Allen vs Tulsa Game Preview, Makowski Suspension, A Look at the ECHL Standings & Why Road Teams Win More

Allen takes on Tulsa tonight in a game that on its face isn't very meaningful. Allen is pretty much locked in as the #2 seed in the Mountain Division and Tulsa will not make the playoffs. They will be mathematically eliminated the next time they lose a point or Kalamazoo gains a point.

- It is an exaggeration to say one game turned around both of these team's season but you can make the argument that is exactly what happened on November 29, 2016. Tulsa came into that game with the #1 record in the ECHL at 14-5-1-0 while Allen was ranked #20 and in last place in the Mountain Division with a record of 8-11-0-0. The game was in Tulsa and it was a defensive battle that is rarely seen by Allen fans. At the end of regulation the scored was tied 0-0. Both goalies were great but Riley Gill was phenomenal in goal for the Americans. Allen won the game 1-0 on an excellent individual effort by Greger Hanson as he stripped the puck from the defenseman at the red line, skated up the left wing and scored from his favorite spot in the faceoff circle. Just prior to Hanson's unassisted heroics Riley Gill made stops on two point blank shots and Bryan Moore was denied on a breakaway. It was a dramatic and emotional 1-0 win for the Americans.

- Allen and Tulsa headed in opposite directions after that game. Since that time Allen's record is 33-6-3-2 and they have climbed from #20 in the league to #3. Since that 1-0 overtime loss Tulsa's record is 12-27-5-1 and they have gone from the #1 team in the league to #21, well out of the playoffs.

- You might ask what does Allen have to play for this weekend? They are almost assuredly going to be the #2 seed in the playoffs, no better and no worse.  Maybe it is best to rest some players and prepare for the playoffs. I got the answer to that question loud and clear when I stopped by the Allen Event Center (AEC) yesterday morning to drop off over 125 free tickets for veterans and their families as part of the Seats For Soldiers program sponsored by the blog and the Allen Americans. I decided to go by the locker room to see if anyone was around since it was a day off after an all night drive back from Missouri. It was eerily quiet with no activity on either sheet of ice with one set up for football and the other empty. The Americans locker room was dark except the equipment manager's office where Tim Abbott was busy as always preparing for the next game. In the darkness you could see light from under coach Martinson's office door. I knocked on his door and sure enough he was going through video of the Missouri game play by play, frame by frame. When I arrived he was breaking down the Missouri overtime goal.  What was every player doing on that play, how many seconds had they been on the ice, how did they react to the rush.

- After my video lesson was completed I had a chance to ask coach Martinson about whether he will do anything different now that it is almost guaranteed Allen will finish as the #2 seed and play Idaho in the first round of the playoffs. It will come as no surprise that Martinson has no different approach whether he is battling for first place or not. It is not in his DNA to let up and his goal is to get as many points as possible in the remaining eitght games. If he can't catch Colorado or Toledo for the top spot in the Mountain Division or Western Conference he can try and get more points than any team in the Eastern Conference. Right now Allen has one more point than any Eastern Conference team which could mean home ice advantage if Allen makes the Kelly Cup finals. When I asked Martinson about Idaho getting three players assigned by the Texas Stars, who will not make the playoffs, he said what he always says that he doesn't spend any time worrying about things that are out of his control.


- Tulsa arrives in Allen for two games (Friday & Saturday) playing for pride and jobs for next season. Tulsa has lost a lot of players to the AHL including their two best goalies. They have lost their last six games and are 2-6-1-1 in the last 10 games.

- Allen will be playing with a short roster tonight with Greger Hanson and Spencer Asuchak in the AHL, Bryan Moore out with an injury and David Makowski suspended. The ECHL hasn't announced the Makowski suspension but will sometime his morning. As mentioned yesterday the rule under which David received a game misconduct in Missouri comes with a minimum three day suspension. The league could either announce their final decision on the length of the suspension or what happens more often, announce an indefinite suspension with a final determination next week.  Either way Makowski will not be playing this weekend. Look for Dyson Stevenson to take shifts at forward and defense to make up for the loss of Makowski. Allen will have only five defensmen in the lineup.

- Here is a match up between Allen and Tulsa:

                                     ALLEN                                TULSA

Team Record               41-17-4-2 (88 points)              26-32-6-1 (59 points)
Division Ranking         2nd - Mountain                        5th - Central
Conference Ranking   3rd - Western                          11th - Western
League Ranking         3rd                                           21st
Last Game                  3-2 Loss (Missouri   )               3-2 Loss (Toledo)
Goals For                   254                                           178
Goals Against             183                                           215
Power Play                 23.2% (63/271)                        9.9% (25/252)
Penalty Kill                 85.4% (44/309)                         78.4% (58/268)
Most PIM's                 Mathers (238)                           Halabi (172)
Leading Scorer          Costello  (31-78-109)                Ladd (14-17-31)
                                   Hanson (33-38-71)                    Brewer (11-21-31)        

-  Here is how Allen and Tulsa rank in the ECHL in some statistical categories:

Penalty Minutes Per Game: Allen 1st (20.55) - Tulsa 6th (17.58)
Goals Scored Per Game: Allen 2nd (3.97) - Tulsa 24 (2.74)
Goals Allowed Per Game: Allen 2nd (2.86 ) - Tulsa 16th (3.31)
Shots For Per Game: Allen 20th (31.66) - Tulsa 3rd (34.34)
Shots Against Per Game: Allen 23rd (34.67) - Tulsa 8th (30.49) 
Power Play Percentage: Allen 4th (23.2%) - Tulsa 27th (9.9%)
Penalty Kill Percentage: Allen 2nd (85.4%) - Tulsa 25th (78.4%)

- The stats above that jump out at you are on special teams where Tulsa is the worst in the league on the power play and one of the worst on the penalty kill. Allen's special teams have been outperforming their numbers as they have been close to 30% on the power play and over 95% on the penalty kill.  If Allen is to win tonight they must take advantage of their big advantage on special teams. It may be a tough task ask as four of the five regulars on the power play unit (Asuchak, Hanson, Makowski, Roy) will not be in the lineup.

- Tulsa is ranked much higher than Allen in shots per game (#3 vs #20) and shots allowed (#8 vs #23). Allen overcomes their low shots per game by having one of the best shooting percentages in the league (12.5%) while Tulsa has one of the worst (7.9%). Allen overcomes their high shots allowed per game by having outstanding goaltending with a GAA of 2.80 and save percentage of .918 compared to Tulsa with a GAA of 3.26 and save percentage of .892.

- The game tonight will be number 11 of 14 these teams play this season. Allen is 7-3-0-0 in the first ten games, have won five of the last six and in the last meeting on February 4 the Americans beat the Oilers in Tulsa 9-1. In the last five games these teams have played the winning team has scored at least five goals (6,5,6,8,9). Look for the possibility of a high scoring affair tonight.

- Officials scheduled for the game are referee Jonathan Sitarski (#23) and linesmen Chase Wilkinson (#68) and Christopher Williams (#0). Sitarski is a new name to me. If the ECHL runs short of referees because of needs in the AHL they sometimes have to add referees during the season. Sitarski is shown as a referee in the USHL for this season so not sure how many ECHL games he has officiated.


- I talk about the Mountain Division standings all of the time but took a hard look at the other divisions this morning and noticed some interesting things:

- In the North Division the Brampton Beast are in first place. After their struggles since the franchise began it is great to see them having success. The Wheeling Nailers made the Kelly Cup finals last season but may not make the playoffs. They are in fifth place and four points out of a playoff spot with seven games remaining.

- In the South Division Florida is way ahead and will win the division. South Carolina, who was Allen's opponent in the finals when they won their first Kelly Cup in 2014-15 is struggling to make the playoffs. They are in fifth place and two points behind Orlando for the final spot. There could still be a lot of changes in this division as there are only four points separating second place from fifth place.

- The Central Division is all set for the playoffs. Mathematically things could change but it is unlikely. Toledo is the #1 seed and will play #4 Kalamazoo in the first round of the playoffs and #2 seed Fort Wayne will play #3 Quad City. Tulsa, Indy and Wichita all had very disappointing seasons. You have to wonder if coaching changes will be made for next season.

- Here is a link to a story that is not hockey related but something you will find to be an interesting read and certainly applies to hockey. It is about the NBA and talks about why home teams won 67.9% of the NBA games in 1987-88 but now win only 57% of the homes games. The way players socialize on the road, the impact of taking charter flights and alcohol consumption all play a factor. Check out the story "Inside the 'Tinderization' of today's NBA"

DID YOU KNOW: Allen is on pace to finish the season with the second best win percentage in the five years Steve Martinson has been the coach. Here is the win percentage for each year along with how the team finished in the division standings. Needless to say the first four years all ended with championships.

2012-13:   .659   (1st place)
2013-14:   .629   (3rd place)
2014-15:   .736   (1st place)
2015-16:   .618   (2nd place)
2016-17:   .688   (2nd place) - eight games remaining

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