Preview: Game #46 Leafs @ Bolts – How Grandmaster Boucher was beaten

Before the start of the game, Ben Bishop will come out onto the ice as the starting goaltender for the Tampa Bay Lightning and skate diagonally from the home bench to the home net, and I will find this amusing.

It should be a shock to absolutely nobody who reads my work that I was on the high school chess team. I’ve always taken a bit of a tacticians approach to analyzing sports (the only thing that actually angers me when watching a sports game is when the BC Lions punt on third and short. I can handle devastating touchdowns against, baseballs hammered by opposing players into the gap with the bases loaded and even when I did have a hockey team to cheer for, I could shrug off an overtime winner. But I can’t forgive punting on third and short.)

Guy Boucher was also a tactician. And now he is no longer much of anything. Jon Cooper is now the coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and they’ll be no closer to a playoff spot.

I’m sure we all remember the moment:

The Tampa Bay Lightning in 2011 were the team that could. They had Steven Stamkos, Vinny Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis, of course, but they also deployed a fantastic checking line with Adam Hall, Nate Thompson and Sean Bergenheim, Boucher was not only one of the pioneers of zone matching along with Vancouver’s Alain Vigneault, but he employed a defensive trap known as the “1-3-1” that helped shot prevention and counter-attacking.

But that moment above ended that, according to Jeff Marek, who made reference to an exchange between Tampa GM Steve Yzerman and Boucher when Boucher was fired.

Marek says that after that game, General Manager Steve Yzerman as “livid” and personally went to Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren to apologize. He cited that game as the moment that Boucher lost the room and Yzerman’s faith.

According to Marek, after that game, veteran players like Martin St. Louis who was the lone forechecker in that “stall” moment against Philadelphia, began to tune Boucher out.

If this is what happened, it explains a lot.

The nosedive in possession metrics the past two seasons makes a lot of sense when you understand that Tampa Bay had a handcuffed coach trying to play his system without the core element of his system.

It would explain a lot. The Lightning went from an economic success story the first year under Yzerman and Boucher, and the bottom fell out partway into the next season. The possession metrics bear out what happened to the Lightning afterwards:

  Corsi Tied Rank
2009-2010 45.7% 27th
2010-2011 51.2% 13th
2011-2012 47.6% 26th
2013 44.4% 27th

(via Hockey Analysis, of course)

There’s a difference that football, hockey and baseball et. al are more fun to watch on TV than chess. Chess is all strategy, but occasionally in tight games, broadcasters will make reference to coaching decisions as part of a “chess match”. I don’t like these comparisons. There are no flukey bounces in chess, it’s one concentrated mind against the other. Even the right decisions in a sports game can turn out poorly and even the wrong decisions can turn out correctly. There’s a reason some sports teams are thinking more economically, in that they’re trying to maximize how they can get good value out of every player or asset and thinking less conventionally.

There was an interesting post over at mc79hockey yesterday, one that highlighted how sports can learn from an outsider perspective. I’m not saying my 2-2 record at the Vancouver City Championships makes me a chessmaster who has all the answers, but the point is moreso that I interact daily with a small online community that try to break down hockey to its core and identify the things that make us good at hockey.

In part trying to make things right with the league and its television audience, Steve Yzerman may have frittered away one of the market inefficiencies he had tapped—that teams are often run too conventionally. Guy Boucher in 2011 looked like, frankly, a genius, and no other strategy deployed by a Lightning coach has helped harness the raw talented power of the Big Three in Tampa and led them for a deep playoff run.

To finish the chess metaphor from above, the first thing the Lightning will do tonight won’t be to send Ben Bishop diagonally from the bench to the crease. White pawn to King 4.

Broadcast Info:


Puck Drop: 7:00 PM EDT

Numbers Game:

  Tampa Bay Toronto
Corsi Tied % 44.2% (27th) 43.7% (29th)
5v5 GF/GA Ratio 1.10 (8th) 1.08 (11th)
Team Shooting % 9.7% (3rd) 10.5% (1st)
Team Save % .916 (20th) .926 (13th)
Team PDO 1.031 (8th) 1.032 (1st)

Special Teams:

  Tampa Bay Toronto
PP Success 19.9% (12th) 19.2% (14th)
5v4 GF/60 5.87 (17th) 6.67 (12th)
5v4 SF/60 40.4 (30th) 44.8 (21st)
PK Success 80.1% (22nd) 87.0% (3rd)
4v5 GA/60 6.11 (13th) 4.67 (3rd)
4v5 SA/60 48.4 (17th) 40.8 (5th)

Starting Goalies:

  EV SV% Quality Start Rate Starts Quality Starts
Ben Bishop 0.928 65.00% 20 13
James Reimer 0.928 53.57% 28 15

Data via and Hockey Analysis.


The Bolts have been on the road for a while, so it’s difficult to gauge just how Jon Cooper, Boucher’s replacement, uses his bench. On first bluff it looks like he’s a proponent of zone matching in some cases—Eric Brewer and Matt Carle are getting a lot of defensive zone starts in recent games, but Victor Hedman is the one matched up against the top forwards. He’s seen primarily Eric Staal and Tomas Plekanec in the last two games.

As for forwards, he hasn’t banked heavily on Stamkos at all at the offensive end, in contrast to Boucher. Stamkos has started just 15 offensive zone shifts in the last three games. That’s in contrast to Guy who put Stamkos on the ice in the offensive zone 19 times in two games against the Leafs so far this season. Generally, that top line got about half the shifts that came off an offensive zone faceoff and now it looks like it’s been cut to 25-30%. Still working on how much offence that takes away.

Here were the Bolts lines last time out against Carolina:

Teddy Purcell – Steven Stamkos – Martin St. Louis
Ryan Malone – Vincent Lecavalier – Dana Tyrell
Alex Killorn – Tom Pyatt – Richard Panik
BJ Crombeen – Nate Thompson – Pierre Cedric-Labrie

Eric Brewer – Matt Carle
Sami Salo – Victor Hedman
Keith Aulie – Radko Gudas

Ben Bishop
Anders Lindback

Since blogging isn’t nerdy enough already I’m going to start calling Dana Tyrell “The Knight of Flowers”. As for Ben Bishop, he’s been pretty good since being traded to the Bolts. 5 quality starts (games with .913 save percentage or higher, OR an .885 save percentage and two or fewer goals against) in eight, although Tampa has only won two of them. Their problems extended beyond goaltending.

For the Leafs tonight, these lines look… not bad:

Clarke MacArthur, Joe Colborne and Matt Frattin playing together in the same NHL game? Not bad. Henny said that John-Michael Liles and Ryan O’Byrne were going to round out the pairings, so Jake Gardiner probably sits again tonight.

But I’ve learned to not even bother writing out the Leafs lines because there’s invariably a surprise scratch every night.

The goaltender for the Leafs will be James Reimer. I presume Ben Scrivens will play tomorrow against Florida. On the surface, I prefer the idea of playing the backup against the stronger opponent in a back-to-back and thus aim for a split, but I’ve never really tested that theory with any data, so I’ll go with Carlyle’s gut.

For now.