Plinko Pays Some Debts Comment Count

Brian March 27th, 2018 at 1:10 PM

3/24/2018 – Michigan 3, Northeastern 2 – 21-14-3
3/25/2018 – Michigan 6, Boston U 3 – 22-14-3, Frozen Four

I've seen NCAA tournament games like Sunday's before: one team gets down, and gets desperate, and dumps all that energy into a relentless pursuit of the puck. Sometimes it's Michigan overturning a 3-0 deficit against Denver to win. Sometimes it's Boston College dominating just about every second despite being down 2-1. Most of the time when this team gets even, they keep going. BC's tying goal in 2004 was game over even if it took overtime. Shots were 45-17 in a game Michigan led the vast majority of. If North Dakota had scored on Shawn Hunwick, that was also game over.

So: Sunday. After about 30 minutes where Michigan had the edge in zone time and staked themselves to a two-goal lead, BU scores on a wraparound, then amps up their forecheck. The ice tilts their direction. When Quinn Hughes isn't on the ice, Michigan barely attempts a controlled zone exit, instead flinging the puck up the boards to BU defensemen. They dump it back in to continue the cycle. The game started to feel like Michigan's recent Big Ten playoff outing against Wisconsin, which this space called Michigan's worst of the year despite the fact that they won it.

And BU scores. They score when Josh Norris flips a pass back to Joe Cecconi in the face of two forecheckers. Cecconi makes a bad situation worse by trying to fling the puck up the slot. Turnover, unchecked guy directly in front of goalie with puck, goal, tie game, game over feeling.

The ensuing three minutes are more of the same; Michigan does not register a shot attempt and BU has a couple of dangerous chances. Then Slaker takes the puck out of the zone—a tiny flag is waved—and gets rubbed out on the boards. This is about the least threatening way hockey players can be configured:

image

Slaker duly follows up on the defenseman the puck is wandering towards, and then something magical and very very stupid happens. That guy's attempted D to D pass gets caught up in the snow around the bench and turns into a perfect lead pass for Slaker. Horrified, the defenseman explodes in a shower of equipment and collapses to the ground, where he remains even now. Slaker then skates into the slot and shoots a puck off the other defenseman's shin that goes straight into the net. Various larger flags are waved.

That's more or less it. Michigan puts up an insurance marker a bit later but in a game like hockey even when you're playing badly and giving up a bunch of zone time to the opposition, a one goal lead is usually enough with 13 minutes left. They put up a stat at the beginning of the third that Michigan was a brazillion and one when leading after two and BU was 2-6 when trailing. 

Slaker's goal combined with Michigan's second, which bounced off the end boards and behind the goalie directly to Brendan Warren, and the BU wrap-around goal to lend the proceedings the distinct whiff of Barely Weighted Hockey Plinko. This is why it was very exciting to get in the tournament: it's usually pretty random and this year there is no dominant team that threatens to make it less so. The top seed got blown up by Air Force, which is a movie we've seen before.

Once you're there, though… I have to admit that mixed in with the hope and nervousness is a certain nihilism, because of this terrible format and hockey's failure to address the goalie revolution that shot save percentages skyward. I shook my fist at hockey plinko when Northeastern scored to even a game in which Michigan had a 2-to-1 shot advantage, and muttered something positive about it under my breath when Michigan scored on a harmless-looking play to retake the lead. They don't quite even out.

But here they are, no more or less deserving than Carl Hagelin or TJ Hensick or dozens of other Michigan hockey players who had the misfortune to have the puck bounce the wrong way instead of the right way. Cooper Marody, Tony Calderone, and Dexter Dancs wiped out the best line in the country in game one; Quinn Hughes spent the weekend looking like he had rockets in his skates; the team as a whole mercifully stayed out of the box for the vast majority of both games. Insofar as it's possible to earn anything in single elimination hockey, Michigan has earned their way to their first Frozen Four in seven years.

May our continued existence continue to entertain the hockey gods.

BULLETS

PONCHO TIME? Hockey borrowed something from basketball.

I'll allow it.

This is too random. Some randomness in a tourney is fun. Without it there's no point in playing. Too much randomness and the format is clearly broken, with annually unsatisfying champions that have no real claim to being the best team. This is too random:

After going 12-0 against No. 4s in the first three years, No. 1s are 31-21. A No. 4 seed has won at least one game against a No. 1 in each of the last 13 seasons. Since realignment came about, No. 4 seeds have won eight of 12. …

In the case of those four seeds that became national champions — Yale in 2013 and Providence in 2015 — they were the last teams in the tournament. Providence qualified by .0002 RPI points over Bowling Green in 2015. This year, Duluth was the last team in by .0001 points over Minnesota. In any other year, UMD would've been a No. 4 as well. However, BU, Princeton and Michigan Tech winning their conference tournaments changed all of that.

Air Force turtled against SCSU and got lucky, like they did against Michigan some years back. The prevalence of blocked shots and super high save percentages makes that strategy pay off way too often; the sport should take radical steps to increase scoring, so that individual games are more indicative of who's actually better at doing hockey.

Stayed out of the box! Four power plays against on the weekend. One fairly badass goal from Northeastern and that's it. Given the margins here any more would have been disastrous.

But it was rough against BU. Per College Hockey News, Michigan was out-shot-attempted 63-31 at even strength. M helped bridge that gap by blocking almost a third of BU's attempts (19); BU only blocked 6 of Michigan's. Michigan benefited from the randomness this year. Hooray.

I take solace in the fact that Michigan played ND dead even this year and it didn't seem like the Irish were ever able to lock Michigan in their own zone like BU did, even when they trailed in both games of the Michigan sweep.

If Michigan does get OSU that's… sort of okay? 0-5 on the year is far from ideal, but the playoff outing was just about even at 5v5, and even though Michigan was swept in multi-goal games in late January they had huge ES Corsi advantages in both games. (55-31 and 43-23.) I ain't scared of those guys.

Hughes. Before this season my personal ranking of defensemen I've seen play for Michigan went like this:

  1. Jacob Trouba
  2. Mike Komisarek
  3. Zach Werenski
  4. Jack Johnson
  5. Jon Merrill

Hughes is flying up the list despite not even being drafted yet. He's… #3? I think I'd take him over Werenski. His absurd skating nullifies most of his size deficiencies…

…and late in the year he's learned what he can do at this level. He's still a bit wild and will turn the puck over in a bad spot a couple times per game, but that's because he's trying—and largely succeeding at—stuff that nobody else has the ability to even attempt. Here's an excellent twitter thread highlighting some of the things he did in the BU game.

Etc.: Michigan, those loveable underdog scamps. Berenson watched from the stands.

Comments

SFBlue

March 27th, 2018 at 2:02 PM ^

You gotta hand it to the Michigan counter-attack in the BU game. Both of those last two goals before the open netter went against the momentum of the game. 

Pepto Bismol

March 27th, 2018 at 3:54 PM ^

This "Plinko" nonsense is the lamest ongoing take on this site.  You just boiled down a 6-3 win in a 60-minute game to a single defensive zone turnover that took about 5 seconds. That was Plinko and there was nothing anybody could do about it!  And then, to boot, stated that a 1 GOAL LEAD WITH 12 MINUTES LEFT is essentially insurmountable. Fantastic.

I guess I wouldn't mind it as much if you didn't imply that ONLY hockey is determined by a hot player or a lucky bounce. 

Remember Michigan-MSU, 2015?  Yup, Barely Weighted Football Plinko. JT Was Short? Football Plinko. FSU's Orange Bowl punt return? Plinko. Derrick Walton's rim-out against Oregon? Basketball Plinko. Morris against Duke? Plinko. Kentucky's shot to eliminate Stauskas & Co.? Plinko. Trey Burke v Kansas? Plinko. Webber's Timeout? Plinko. Minnesota's failed QB Sneak in 16? Plinko. Monsoon? Plinko. Jordan Poole? Plinko. Hell, 2018 Michigan free throws? Plinko - every single game.  Those are all just as random as a BU turnover or a deflected puck.

The insistence of this blog that a hockey outcome is basically out of anyone's control is grating.

Yeah, it's complete craziness that a 4 seed would upset a 1 seed.  WILD, I tell you!  Can you imagine a basketball 1-seed losing to a 4-seed?  That could NEVER happen, could it?  (Hi Virginia. Hi Xavier.)  There's way more room between MSU and whatever Syracuse was ranked (#6 vs #42 per KenPom). That alone is a much bigger upset than any tournament hockey result pretty much ever, and that basketball Plinko outcome wasn't even a blip on the all-time hoops tourney upset radar.  The same clash of playing styles and personnel that allows a Syracuse anomaly is just as existent in hockey, regardless of whether it's as easily identifiable to the layman.

#27 Air Force (they'd be ranked higher now) beating #1 is not the craziest outcome to ever happen.  Not in any sport.  Not by a long shot. Has the #1 college football team ever lost?  And in doing so, did that mean that the entire format of the sport is broken?  I wasn't here at the time, did you call for a 3-game football series to ensure our polls are unimpeachable when Michigan lost to App State?  And while we're here, if a single hockey game's outcome is so random, what would THREE random outcomes prove anyway?

Maybe, just maybe, these are college kids and upsets happen.

In every sport on the planet, you can retroactively boil down a close game to an error here, a lucky bounce there, a questionable call at the end, etc. We do it in football. We do it in hoops. We definitely do it in baseball, although nobody talks baseball here.  We complain about the call in the last second, but we all know there were a billion plays and decisions that would have changed the course of the game. JT was short, sure, but we also didn't tackle Curtis Samuel and Speight threw two picks, etc.  An end result of a contest is a culmination of the entire scope of events. 

For some reason beyond my understanding, this blog doesn't apply these universal sports standards to hockey. Nope. Hockey is just 10 idiots running around slapping each other with sticks willy-nilly and sometimes that rubber disc accidentally goes in the net thingy. And that's a Plinko!

Northeastern scored on a deflection. HOCKEY IS RANDOM!  Well sure, sometimes. So are fumble recoveries. Michigan controlled that hockey game and won in the end, as they should have.

Yeah, BU was pressing down a goal in the 3rd. That's how Nick Boka and his zero goals busted ass straight up the ice and outskated all of BU for the insurance goal. That wasn't random.  That wasn't a lucky bounce. That was BU being desperately aggressive and Michigan taking advantage.

Loyola-Chicago is in the Final Four because of rational, structured sport. Meanwhile, Michigan beating BU & Northeastern is luck and only luck?  To quote a great man who definitely cares about these things and would never mail in a half-assed take:  "Whatever."

lhglrkwg

March 27th, 2018 at 4:26 PM ^

Are you aware of how many teams are in college hockey? Air Force is #27 of....60 teams. You seem to not be aware of this.

And I don't know what to tell you if you can't see that a weird deflection in a hockey game resulting in a goal is far, far more impactful than a single fumble or single 3 pointer in basketball. BU was really outplaying us in the 3rd and we got very lucky that a) that puck took a weird deflection and b) college hockey is inherently very low scoring.

You're one of the only people I've ever seen attempt to die on this hill

Pepto Bismol

March 27th, 2018 at 5:00 PM ^

And this is twice you've tried to come over the top of me on a hockey point. Stop. I know how many teams are in college hockey. I'll forward you my hockey fan resume if you'd like.

I don't see how that matters. There are 130 football teams. There are 350 basketball teams. What's the point?  I'm guessing you are trying to say the 27th hockey team equates to the 45th percentile/157th best school in basketball? Is that where you're headed? Because that's not how that works, math guy. 

 

Weird deflections can happen. Yeah. You also need to have offensive zone possession, a shooting lane and bodies in front of the net for that to happen. There's chance in all of sport.  A single fumble in the redzone or deflected interception returned for 6 is every bit as meaningful and game-turning as a hockey goal. And THOSE plays in football are often much less a product of momentum and far more luck-oriented than a hockey goal which infers that you were in the oppositions zone and shooting a puck at the net.  That's not luck. You worked for that opportunity.

I'm dying on this hill because you're too obtuse to acknowledge the very basic truth that EVERY sport swings on the random. Every single one. Baseball errors lead to rallies. Singular basketball foul calls can lead to Michigan's first half lineup debacle against Montana. How did Michigan's three point luck change the look of the A&M game versus the FSU game? No difference there? 

Northeastern got a deflected goal. They also missed a couple wide open chances late in the 3rd. Dancs blew a golden backhand chance in the 2nd.  The point of the game is to create as many scoring opportunities as you can and hopefully cash in when you do. Same as ALL SPORTS.  And 9 times out of 10, the team with more possession and quality chances wins the game. Same as ALL SPORTS.  And you'd see that if you weren't casually paying attention while split-screening Price Is Right.

You're in Brian's camp. I get it. I think you're silly to buy into his theory. It's poorly thought out and I think only a simpleton would die on YOUR hill - that none of the preceding activity matters in a hockey game, only the single seconds when the puck crosses the line. 

Very rarely do you walk out of a hockey game saying "Holy crap, we got away with one there". It definitely happens. It also happens in every other sport on the regular. (Hi Manbun!)  My insistence that hockey is way less random than it's made out to be on MGoBlog is just as pointless as your insistence that it is.

All we all set here? 

Mgrad92

March 27th, 2018 at 5:11 PM ^

No, two things, because it's not a good idea to bring the College Football Playoff into this.

  1. Proving whether hockey's luck factor allows a more random outcome than other sports seems like it would be trivial (for someone with better statistical and advanced analytical kung fu than mine).
  2. Regardless, it seems like we can agree that single-elimination tournaments — while great entertainment — are not a great way to identify a season's best team or recognize the best body of work.

wile_e8

March 27th, 2018 at 5:37 PM ^

Proving whether hockey's luck factor allows a more random outcome than other sports seems like it would be trivial (for someone with better statistical and advanced analytical kung fu than mine).

I can't find the original post, but IIRC this was pretty much the reason why Brian started calling it hockey plinko back in the day. The low amount of scoring in the average game means that a few fluky bounces can have a huge effect on a game in a way that doesn't happen in football or basketball. Basketball games have 60-80 possesions with discrete results that tend to average out over time. Football games have lower amounts of scoring but a large number of plays that gradually build up towards a score. Hot goalies, hitting the post instead of the goal, awkard deflections, etc. have a way bigger effect on a hockey game than any single play or player in football or basketball. Surprises can still happen, but a lot more weird things have to add up. 

Also IIRC he noted baseball as another sport that has a large amount of randomness in individual games, but at least that NCAA tournament is double elimination. 

Alton

March 28th, 2018 at 9:05 AM ^

Hockey and baseball are more random than basketball and football.  That should be obvious to even the most casual observer.  Just look at the records of the champions.

Look at the average winning percentage of teams to make the Stanley Cup finals or the World Series:  pretty much always under .700.  As a matter of fact, a .700 winning percentage in the NHL is 57+ wins and in MLB is 113+ wins.  In other words, it pretty much never happens.

In the NBA, a .700 winning percentage is 56-24, and in the NFL a 12-4 team is easily over .700.  In other words, the championship teams in those sports are pretty much always over .700 (especially in basketball).

In college, they solve the baseball issue by making the tournament double-elimination.  You can't do that in hockey, but you can play best-of-three.

Kevin13

March 27th, 2018 at 5:46 PM ^

elimination basketball tourney is not a great idea and should be thrown out. It's crazy a nothing school from Chicago is in the final four of basketball. I think it actually adds to the excitement. Put the teams on the floor or ice and let the game be deteremined  in competition.

I love the upset and uncertainty of the hockey tourney. Sure a bad bounce of the puck can cost a top team, but it happens every year. It's happened to Michigan in both good and bad, it's part of the game. It's tough to win an NC. You have to have a good team and definitely get some luck, that is how it's always been.  I had said a while back heck if UM gets in you never know a break here or there and a big save here and there and we could find ourselves in the Frozen Four and who knows from there. So we got a break or two and if we continue to win we should not celebrate an NC because we weren't the best team in the regular season?

I think it actually gets boring when the top teams always win. I'm a huge football fan, but getting really tired of Alabama, Clemson, OSU always in the playoffs and playing for an NC. GIve me some big upsets, make it so any team can really win it. Parity is what makes it more exciting.

 

South Bend Wolverine

March 27th, 2018 at 11:18 PM ^

I actually don't think that's really the point of a tournament.  The point of a tournament is to determine a champion by a process that is broadly acknowledged to be a) fair and b) awesome.  If we're in the best-team-determining business, tournaments, especially single-elimination ones, are a statistically horrible way of doing this.  The only way to really get close to that goal is a soccer-style "everyone plays everyone, home and away" model.  That can also be really entertaining, and definitely gives you a legitimate champion every time, but it's a very different beast from a tournament.

As an added note, while I do acknowledge that there is a substantial plinko element to the hockey tournament, I think Brian is going a bit far in the nihilism department here.  I agree with the reforms he proposes, and I think ratcheting the randomness down a peg or two would be good.  But I won't go so far as to call the tournament process "meaningless," as he did (I think it was on Twitter) the other day.  If Michigan manages to pull this thing out, it's going to mean one hell of lot to me & to plenty of other folks as well.

lhglrkwg

March 27th, 2018 at 6:22 PM ^

I get what you're arguing. I'm not suggesting that the tournament is a coin flip or plinko. I am suggesting the hockey is far more susceptible to having a weird bounce completely alter the outcome of a game in a way that does not happen in football or basketball. Of course upsets happen in every sport, but the format of the NCAA hockey tournament is far less likely to see the actual better team advance than in the CFP or the NCAA (basketball) tournament. The horrible record of 1-seeds in recent years obviously points to that conclusion. A whole season of hockey and the 1-seeds only have something like a .600 win pct. That doesn't happen in football or basketball

Mgotri

March 27th, 2018 at 4:48 PM ^

How bad of an idea is expansion? There's probably not enough teams to go to 32, but 24 or 20 could be reasonable. A bad looking site says that in basketball 1 seeds are 51-22 against 4 seeds. Thats about the same as hockey and no one is calling for the basketball tourny to change formats. 

Could the problem be that teams are just too close in talent right now? I can't remember the last time I watched a truely dominate college hockey team roll through everyone. 

Communist Football

March 27th, 2018 at 6:09 PM ^

Like the Champions League and a number of other tournaments, you could have a two-game series for the Round of 8 and onward, where the total number of goals for and against determines the winner, with overtime in the second game serving as the tiebreaker.

That way, you're not adding an excessive number of games to the tournament (only 7 additional), but you are reducing the randomness.

Alton

March 28th, 2018 at 9:09 AM ^

Two-game series were pretty awful in hockey.  I remember going to a Michigan v Notre Dame playoff game in Yost where Michigan had lost 8-4 the night before.  As I sat down, I was asking myself why in the world I am at a hockey game where my team is starting out down 4 goals.

They work in soccer because the games are inherently low scoring, and it's a pretty common strategy for the underdog in an elimination soccer game to attempt to tie the game 0-0.  That doesn't happen in hockey--the underdog can't play the whole game hoping for a 0-0 tie.

As long as you play game 2, why not play game 3 as well?

MariBRO Manningham

March 29th, 2018 at 3:26 PM ^

I always love seeing hockey analysis on this blog. Its my favorite sport and its great that michigan warrants it again. But Im curious what Brian would have had Norris do on the regroup to Cecconi in their own zown. 

 

For starters, as brian states, the team besides Hughes was not even attempting a game of puck control, or true break outs. This more than BU being truly the better team, led to the hemming us in the zone, getting point shots on net, and being about to out shooting us by abig margin in the 3rd. The obvious counter to this is to control the puck, not play north and only north hockey, and work the puck east/west, open up passing lanes, stretch the forcheck, and even regroup when nothing is open. Norris, picked up a loose puck at the blueline, and rather than simply give it right back to BU at the red line where they can dump it or enter the zone keeping our tired players on the ice, he reversed, a roll away for non hockey lingoists. and dished the puck back to a non pressured D-man with time and space to survey they ice. 

 

Hear is where Brian and I might disagree. He says Norris dished it back with two guys seemingly already bearing down on Cecconi. I believe they were in front of Norris and only dashed past him AFTER the regroup pass. Cecconi has to Corral the puck, survey the forcheck, and decide, but he had the time to do this effecticely. He should have realized that he had no option but to also reverse, take the puck behind net and set up another breakout. Instead he elected to take a risk. Im just a believer that he was not put in a bad situation by Norris. Norris tried to keep possesion rather than feed more puck possesion to BU for free which would allow them to continue to pound shots on Lavigne and Pound our D on the forcheck. Puck possesion is key. Cecconi has to be better there. Norris made the correct play

MariBRO Manningham

March 29th, 2018 at 3:26 PM ^

I always love seeing hockey analysis on this blog. Its my favorite sport and its great that michigan warrants it again. But Im curious what Brian would have had Norris do on the regroup to Cecconi in their own zown. 

 

For starters, as brian states, the team besides Hughes was not even attempting a game of puck control, or true break outs. This more than BU being truly the better team, led to the hemming us in the zone, getting point shots on net, and being about to out shooting us by abig margin in the 3rd. The obvious counter to this is to control the puck, not play north and only north hockey, and work the puck east/west, open up passing lanes, stretch the forcheck, and even regroup when nothing is open. Norris, picked up a loose puck at the blueline, and rather than simply give it right back to BU at the red line where they can dump it or enter the zone keeping our tired players on the ice, he reversed, a roll away for non hockey lingoists. and dished the puck back to a non pressured D-man with time and space to survey they ice. 

 

Hear is where Brian and I might disagree. He says Norris dished it back with two guys seemingly already bearing down on Cecconi. I believe they were in front of Norris and only dashed past him AFTER the regroup pass. Cecconi has to Corral the puck, survey the forcheck, and decide, but he had the time to do this effecticely. He should have realized that he had no option but to also reverse, take the puck behind net and set up another breakout. Instead he elected to take a risk. Im just a believer that he was not put in a bad situation by Norris. Norris tried to keep possesion rather than feed more puck possesion to BU for free which would allow them to continue to pound shots on Lavigne and Pound our D on the forcheck. Puck possesion is key. Cecconi has to be better there. Norris made the correct play