2 Observations While Watching the 2008-09 NHL Stanley Cup Finals

Watching the NHL Stanley Cup Finals between the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburg Penguins, two things struck me.

Observation One: Huge Linesmen

The linesmen are the biggest, strongest men on the ice. No one pays them any attention. They might as well be invisible. But they’re the biggest guys out there. Compare them to the players. And the linesmen aren’t wearing pads.

Ever since Mike Cvik came into the league they trend has been towards bigger linesmen and more athletic referees.

Observation Two: Length of Pass Predicts Game Outcome

The length of passes a team makes are an accurate precusor to the outcome of the game. Detroit makes many short, crisp passes. Pittsburg makes fewer, longer passes. Detroit leads the series 2-0.

I have no data for this theory but I’ll noodle about to see if I can find some.

This I do know: short passes have a very high percentage for completion. And the puck always moves faster than the players. So a team using many short passes keeps the puck in possession moves up the ice as a unit.

Greater speed means more opportunities for speed differential with the opposition — the main way one-on-one moves are made. It also means many of the players on a team are moving at roughly the same speed, so they move together through zones and can keep passing.

So why doesn’t everyone use short passes?

It’s hard. It means the players have to skate more. It means all the players have to be able to skate well and need to be working in synch.

But when it happens it’s a thing of beauty. Watch the Red Wings and you’ll see it in action.