Bottom Of The Barrel: Have Blaze Reached A Turning Point?

Things get worse, before they get better. We find excuses to avert our eyes”

VNV Nation: “Testament”

You fioat right down, to the bottom of the barrel.  But then you get back on up”

This last weekend could be a significant event for the Coventry Blaze season. After a long, long wait Chuck Weber finally got his first win against an Erhardt Conference team after beating Nottingham on penalty shots in a protracted war of attrition at the Skydome. The same weekend saw Cardiff do the Blaze a favour by beating Hull, thus confirming the Blaze would in fact qualify for the Challenge Cup QF’s against the Braehead Clan

Much has been made of the “improvement” of the Blaze since Marc Lefebvre has left, so I decided to take a quick look at the statistics thus far in a range of areas to see just how the team have done since Lefebvre was fired on November 19th. Here’s a statistical breakdown

LEAGUE POSITION

When Lefebvre was fired – 6th. Now: 9th

Not the best of starts, is it?

COMPARATIVE RECORD

Blaze record under Lefebvre: 9-15 (37% won) – Blaze record since Nov 19th – 3-12 (25% won)

Ah. Erm…OK. Blaze need to win 6 of the next 9 just in order to equal Lefebvre’s record over 24 games. That’s…not exactly an encouraging start. But apparently the tedm have been playing noticeably better, improving, working harder according to all watching, so let’s dive a little deeper, shall we?

GOAL DIFFERENCE:

Blaze goal diff under Lefebvre: -17 (24 games) – -0.6/game – Blaze goal difference since – -14 (15 games), -0.9/game

 Oh. So they’ve got worse defensively, too, it would appear. This is…well, not looking brilliant so far. What about those much-maligned offensive problems?

GOALS SCORED PER GAME

Under Lefebvre : 58 in 24 (2.41 GPG) – Goertzen/Weber : 60 in 15 (4 GPG)

That’s some jump. The Blaze, despite injury problems, have nearly doubled their offensive output since Lefebvre has left, despite missing many of their top forwards. That’s some effort. And a rare sign of positivity.

GOALS CONCEDED PER GAME

Under Lefebvre: 70 in 24 (2.41 GPG) – Under Goertzen/Weber: 51 in 15 (3.4 GPG)

Oh. This would back up the whole “getting defensively worse” hypothesis. Which is interesting, since according to the vast majority of fans the Blaze have been BETTER defensively recently with a new system.

But wait. There’s a possibility here…if the Blaze are conceding more but better defensively, it must be the goalie’s fault, right? Maybe Brian Stewart’s struggling a little more recently. Let’s compare shots:

SA under Lefebvre: 885/24 games = 37 shots against – Under Goertzen/Weber – 540/15 = 36 shots again.

 So, Blaze are now conceding one shot less a game…but still giving up 36 shots, and now conceding a goal more a game. That implies that perhaps Brian Stewart did indeed have a stellar start to the season and possibly inflated Lefebvre’s numbers massively, since they’re giving up one shot less a game but conceding one goal more.

Basically-in every category bar one, the Blaze have got worse since firing Marc Lefebvre. This doesn’t exactly make for optimistic reading right now.

REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL

However, all is not yet lost for Coventry. In fact, this stuff is good news. Because after a coach is fired you EXPECT teams to struggle initially. Coaches having to adjust to a new league, players having to adjust to a new system, and simple time for measures to take effect.

Yes, the Weber era has really not started as many would hope. If it wasn’t clear to people before the coaching switch that firing Lefebvre would only be the start of a long and arduous process, the above proof that despite fan expectations and perceptions of the team “playing better and working harder” the Blaze have actually got either worse or stayed the same in every category except one suggests that Chuck Weber’s efforts haven’t even begun to have a noticeable effect where it counts most-on the ice and in results.

But this brings us to this weekend.

While statistically one game doesn’t make a monumental difference, it’s arguably an indication that, just possibly, things are starting to turn around in Coventry. All the stats prove above is that everything is progressing as it should-the “teams improving massively and instantly under a new coach midseason” idea is in fact a myth. It’s a fine example of the placebo effect as seen in medicine, in which because you’re being TOLD that this measure (whether it be a pill or a new coach) is going to do your team good, so you want to believe that it does in fact do a huge amount of good. While statistically the Blaze have got worse under Weber, let’s look at what he HAS achieved.

The fact that Weber has been able to hold the season anywhere near on the rails recently with this team, given the injury problems, should give Blaze fans cause for hope. Yes, there is deterioration in the statistics, but they’re nowhere near as marked as one would expect under Lefebvre given the opposition and Blaze’s injury problems. To improve the Blaze’s main problem area (scoring) so markedly despite missing most of his top six is some achievement…to have his defence conceding less shots despite missing half of them through injury (including his best defensive defenceman) is nothing short of miraculous. Couple that with the fact that Lefebvre’s defensive statistics and goals against were propped up by a goalie playing absolutely out of his mind and that Weber’s also having to deal with the inevitable statistical regression inherent in that, and to keep the drop in statistics as small as it has been is nothing short of a triumph.

This Sunday may well have been the first real sign that Weber’s measures are starting to take things in a better direction. Beating Nottingham is tricky on any night. This is the first time the Blaze had beaten them with a starting goalie in net. It was a game that saw them come from behind, only concede one goal to Nottingham (previously, they’d conceded an average of three goals a game against the Panthers attack) play in a disciplined fashion and, for one of the first times this season, give up less PPs than they had.

In short, it was arguably the first sign this season that they’re starting to do things right that they previously didn’t under Lefebvre. Comparatively, it was a MASSIVE leap forward.

They say that things often have to get worse before they get better. Maybe, the Blaze have now fallen as far as they’re going to, and Sunday is the first concrete sign of recovery. Certainly, there is hope that this weekend could be the turning point that Blaze fans have been praying for.

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