Friday, September 7, 2007

Righties and Lefties

Ok, one more tangent before I dive into the rest of the much anticipated dissection of the Habs' lineup. I promise. Ok, I don't promise. But I'll try.

When looking at lineups, I get a little obsessive about who is right handed and who is left handed. For good reason, at least as far as obsessions go. The Habs, like many teams, are a little heavy with left handers (more on that later). That's not good, as on any one forward line, or any one defensive pairing, you need a balance of lefties and righties.

Here's why: most players shoot and pass best on their forehand. Some are so dependent on one side, that they'll go to illegal lengths to change the curve of their stick. How many times have you seen someone set up perfectly on one side of the net, with both goalie and defenseman out of position? But he doesn't shoot. No, he wastes precious milliseconds spinning to his forehand to get a better shot. In some cases, that's all the goalie or defenseman needs to get back in position. Or if he does try to get off a backhander, it's so weak that it'd be lucky to go in the general direction of the net.

So for forwards, it's just a matter of odds. Not everyone is going to get a puck on their forehand in the offensive zone, even if you had all left-handed left wingers and right-handed right wingers. But if each line could have just one right hander, that'd be preferable, esp on the penalty kill.

But for blueliners, it's a necessity. It's just much easier to catch the puck hurtling around the boards on your forehand. And not just because that's the side where they're most comfortable. But also because the curve of the blade is better suited to catch the puck.

Bob realizes much the same thing. Look at who he has picked up the past couple of years: Mike Johnson, Sergei Samsonov, Aaron Downey, Patrice Brisebois, Tom Kostopolous, and Brian Smolinski. All right handers. Even Hamrlik's signing could be attributed in part to restoring balance, as he's supposedly as good on his forehand as his backhand. In fact these types of players are preferable, as they aren't dependent on one side alone.

And Carbo has taken advantage of the rebalancing, esp with his defensive pairings. Last year, he paired up his dmen more or less like this (on the left are the lefties, the right are the righties):

Markov(L) - Komisarek(R)
Souray(L) - Rivet(R)
Bouillon(L) - Dandenault(R)

So Hamrlik's ambidextrous ability hasn't taken Souray's spot so much as Rivet's. I'll argue (later) that Streit will be the one to take Souray's spot in the top 4.

But why so many left handers? When I was growing up, I was always told to play with the stick that seemed most natural. For whatever reason, I felt most comfortable with the left handed sticks -- even though I wrote right handed, threw right handed, picked my nose right handed. Actually the latter was more of an ambidextrous activity, but you get my meaning.

I'm guessing that for whatever reason, most players feel comfortable from the left side. I doubt it has anything to do with the dominant side for other activities, ie, if you write right handed, then you play hockey left handed. From what I know only 10% of the world is left hand dominant, so hockey would have dreadfully few right handers. So how does it break down? Who knows?

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