An incredibly entertaining first round that resulted in the Eastern Conference turning upside down and the west saw series domination by no one but resulting in a mostly chalk second round. Kudos to the performances put forth by the Phoenix Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche and L.A. Kings who performed more than admirably in each team’s first playoff appearance in many years. The L.A. Kings and Colorado Avalanche showed they will be a viable team for quite a while as each young group of players will only learn from this experience and continue to get better and better. Seven of the eight series went at least six games which means round two has got an awful lot to live up to.
Now that round one is in the books we look forward to the round two match-ups:
4. Pittsburgh vs. 8. Montreal
The Canadiens did what most thought was impossible once the series got to a 3-1 Washington advantage. It was thought that the Caps were vulnerable for an upset but not in the way that Montreal ultimately pulled off the upset…with defense. Washington couldn’t score and conventional wisdom tells you that if Montreal can shut down Washington then certainly they will be able to do the same thing to Pittsburgh… right? Not likely. First off the Canadiens relied much too heavily on Jaroslav Halak to be just about perfect. Halak may have a few more games in him like that but he cannot play that way night in and night out the rest of the way. Furthermore, the Penguins are a much more physical team than Washington and as a result can wear you down much more effectively than the Caps could. There is also the ever present intangible the Penguins have and that is their experience. Washington was unsure of whether they could win when things got bad, but Pittsburgh does not have that doubt in them because they know (after coming back from 2-0 twice last season and a 5-0 loss in game 5 to the Red Wings in the finals) they have the ability to beat anybody at any time no matter what the circumstances. While Montreal will prove to be a tough opponent for Pittsburgh it’s unlikely that Crosby and company will be ousted by a tenacious Habs squad. Pittsburgh will move on.
6. Boston vs. 7. Philadelphia
This may be the most entertaining match-up in this round on paper. Both teams play a very physical game so a lot of big hits will be traded. Aside from that however the Flyers have the advantage. While both teams relied on secondary scoring to advance to round 2 the Flyers have much better primary scoring options. It’s unlikely that Carter, Briere, and the rest will be held in check this time around. Boston showed an inability to score (nothing like the team I thought they would be when I picked them to win the east preseason) over the course of the season and that probably won’t change. For that reason I’m taking Philly.
1. San Jose vs. 5. Detroit
Congrats to San Jose for finally fighting those first round demons and advancing to round 2 for the first time in what seems like forever. Lucky for San Jose they managed to advance without much scoring from their big three (Marleau, Heatley, and Thorton). They will definitely need that to change if they want any hope of besting the Red Wings. Once again we can talk about x’s and o’s all night long but when it comes down to it I just can’t pick against Detroit. Every year it seems like they are ripe for the picking by an up and coming western conference team and Detroit always proves everyone wrong. Therefore I am picking Detroit to pick off San Jose.
2. Chicago vs. 3. Vancouver
Both teams escaped what look like would be first round upsets by third period comebacks. Lucky for us they did because last year’s battle in the same round between the two teams was must see TV and this year will likely be even better. Both teams are great up front with Kane and company for Chicago and the Sedin twins and crew for Vancouver. There will be offensive chances galore for both teams, so what do you look to in a match-up like that? Goal tending of course. To be frank, Chicago’s netminding has been awful so they are already at a disadvantage in that category; now add in the fact that they’ll be battling Roberto Luongo on the other end and it’s even more trouble for the Hawks. However, last year they were able to get to Luongo and they can certainly do that again this year. All the Hawks need out of their goaltender is to play adequately and they’ll handle the rest. I picked Chicago to win the whole thing at the beginning of the year and I won’t back down now… Chicago wins.
1. Washington vs. 8. Montreal
Jaroslav Halak is the key to this series. All Halak has to do is keep Washington at bay, if he can manage to do that the Canadiens will get plenty of scoring chances against Washington’s swiss cheese defense. Two things we know for sure: Montreal cannot stop Washington from scoring and Washington cannot stop Montreal from scoring. Number one key as I mentioned is Halak but also it is vitally important for Montreal to play extremely well disciplined hockey every minute of every game. Technical mistakes will be made that’s just the nature of the game but making bad decisions (bad passes, lazy puck pursuit, etc.) and taking bad penalties will be the end of Montreal’s playoff life. Washington has enough talent to overcome the mistakes it will make and the lack of adequate defense and spotty goaltending but Montreal does not. Many people think Washington is ripe for the picking—and that may be true—but if Montreal does not keep their mistake ratio compared to Washington’s very low the Capitals will blow them away. Even when Montreal does say take a bad penalty they have to rely on the playoff experience of the guys on their roster to take someone with them to the box, every little bit matters. If Montreal can do those things they’ll win; but that said I’m taking the Capitals in five.
2. New Jersey vs. 7. Philadelphia
Philadelphia will win this series. It has little to do with the Flyers’ abilities and more to do with New Jersey’s inadequacies. The Devils rely too heavily on scoring first then using the neutral-zone trap and Marty Brodeur to stifle the other team. New Jersey will not always score first and have a lead to protect, nor do they have the capacity to come back from being down 2 or more goals should Philly get that far ahead. It is not 1995 anymore and the new NHL is not conducive to New Jersey’s system yielding a great amount of post-season success. They have also put a proverbial wall in front of their biggest scoring threat in Ilya Kovalchuk. Every game will most likely be close because of how the Devils play but it’s Philly’s series to win.
3. Buffalo vs. 6. Boston
Ryan Miller is the best goaltender in the world today and the Boston Bruins cannot CANNOT score. Enough said, Sabres take the series.
4. Pittsburgh vs. 5. Ottawa
Crosby has been hot of late but that includes two games against the New York Islanders who have a really small defense and that results in a ton of scoring chances and many goals. The Penguins have had a hard time stopping team’s from scoring while also not having the greatest scoring prowess themselves (granted Gonchar and Malkin have been hurt so that should sure itself up). It has been said that the Penguins simply needed to get to the playoffs and now that the time has come they will be more motivated to get their act together, build on the experience of the last few years, and go on to get back to at least the conference finals. However, I think the Ottawa Senators may have something to say about that. The Senators have been one of the best teams in the conference over the last month of the season and are playing incredibly well as a unit. Losing Alex Kovalev will be a setback for Ottawa but they still have Daniel Alredsson, Jason Spezza, and Mike Fisher so they will not be longing for scoring presents on the ice. Their defensemen are all pretty big so that will match-up relatively well with the Penguins’ lines from top to bottom. Scoring chances will require much more work for the Penguins against Ottawa than it was versus the Islanders. Perhaps the biggest flaw for Ottawa is Brian Elliot’s lack of playoff experience. While experience matters at all positions it is most important for goaltenders unless you’re Ken Dryden or Patrick Roy. Nevertheless, with how the Penguins have been playing (inconsistent) they are ripe for an upset and I think the Ottawa Senators will do just that.
1. San Jose vs. 8. Colorado
Being technical in analyzing how I think this match-up will go is perhaps a waste of time. San Jose has been here time and time again and Colorado is a team that has overachieved all season long. I think in time Colorado will be very good but it just is not in the cards for them this year. San Jose has more experience, are an overall better team, and will simply not lose to Colorado. San Jose takes this series.
2. Chicago vs. 7. Nashville
Having Nashville in the playoffs is always nice because whatever helps hockey grow in non-traditional markets is a good thing for the game and the league. Nashville has been here before but has not managed to get past the first round (no shame in that since they’ve played Detroit in every playoff appearance in their short history). What gives Nashville the best chance at success in this series is that they don’t rely on any one person to provide all of their offense. Steve Sullivan, Patric Hornqvist, Martin Erat, Jason Arnott, J.P. Dumont, and Shea Weber all had 40+ point seasons which is a very positive sign since Chicago cannot simply focus on one guy in hopes of keeping the Preds at bay. The problem for Nashville is that on the season they gave up as many goals as they scored which does not bode well when playing the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, and co. in a best four-of-seven series. While I root for hockey success in Nashville for the good of the game I think Chicago will be too much for the Preds and will move past Nashville on their way to the Cup Finals as I predicted at season’s opening.
3. Vancouver vs. 6. L.A. Kings
It is great to see the L.A. Kings back in the playoffs. I have been saying since the offseason that this team was for real and they certainly did not disappoint all season and here they are in the post-season. Anze Kopitar has been phenomenal all year and Jonathan Quick has been solid in net wire-to-wire. I said before the year started that not only would the Kings make the playoffs but they would also win their first round series and I will not back down from that. Unfortunately for the Kings (and for me) they have to go up against arguably the best line in hockey all year—i.e. the Sedin twins with Alex Burrows and sometimes Ryan Kesler. Oh and that Roberto Luongo guy isn’t half bad either. A lot of people think this is the year for Vancouver to overcome what they’ve faced in the past and finally come out of the West. I will go against my head in picking this one and say that the Kings will take the series, but they better rely heavily on Rob Scuderi’s cup winning experience from a year ago because they will need it.
4. Phoenix vs. 5. Detroit
Poor Phoenix. Ownership issues stemming back to the offseason, not knowing where they were going to play this year before the season started and even where they will be next year has not been finalized. Despite all of that the players banded together and not only got themselves into the playoffs but home ice in the first round, great right!? Wrong. All of that hard work yields them the reward of playing the Detroit Red Wings in the first round, what a reward for a great season eh? We could break down match-ups until the cows come home but it would be silly for me to pick against Detroit. I hope Phoenix gives Detroit a great fight and even manages to beat them, but that is unlikely and that is why I am giving this series to the Red Wings.
Enjoy the start of the most wonderful time of the year!
First off I have to take this time to congratulate the Team USA U-20 squad on winning the World Junior Championship over Canada in one of the best games I’ve ever seen at any level. The flow of the game was back and forth the whole time with Canada wiping away a two-goal Team USA lead in the final three minutes of regulation before Team USA took the 6-5 win in overtime. Canada once again had an incredibly talented team and for the second year in a row had the home crowd behind them but Team USA did not let that effect their level of focus and that is to be greatly respected. So congrats to both teams on an incredible game and hopefully it is a prelude to what we will see in Vancouver in February.
Refocusing on NHL news this is the perfect time to welcome the Philadelphia Flyers back to the contenders table. I’ve been particularly critical of this team thus far because they had way too much talent to be playing so poorly. Michael Leighton has provided some much needed stability for them in net posting a 7-0-0 record with an astounding 2.14 GAA; any team with a netminder playing like that has a chance to win every night. The rest of the team has uped their level of play as well but tactics and strategy do not explain why the Flyers have all-of-a-sudden returned to respectability. In a game against Pittsburgh last week the Flyers defeated the Penguins 7-4; throughout the game there were many opportunities that the old Flyers would have taken to win the “battle of the tough guys” causing their team precious penalty minutes in the process and ultimately losing the game. But these new Flyers kept their cool, stayed focus on the real task at hand and that was winning the game on the scoreboard. It’s a fundamental change that should be credited to Peter Laviolette as well as the on-ice leadership of the Flyers. If they keep their focus (while managing to stay healthy) and continue to get decent goaltending the Flyers will not be a team people want to play down the stretch and into the playoffs.
On the flipside are three teams who haven’t played well and do not seem likely to turn things around anytime soon; those teams are the Carolina Hurricanes (not much to say about them, they are embarrassingly bad in every way), St. Louis Blues, and Columbus Blue Jackets. All three teams made it to the playoffs last year and were expecting big things this year but so far have flopped. St. Louis may be the most intriguing of these teams because they actually have a very good road record at 12-5-4 but are terrible at home going 6-14-3. Traditionally in hockey it is a little “easier” play games on the road because players worry about getting and protecting leads rather than entertaining the fans but in the case of St. Louis it is pretty extreme. Perhaps their new coach can inspire them to translate their road game play into a few extra home wins but for the moment their home performance and overall record as a result are embarrassing. St. Louis is much too talented to be in such a big hole at this point in the season.
As for Columbus what’s happening to them is what many people feared might prior to the season—that is that Steve Mason would not be able to play up to the level he did last year and the team would suffer as a result—that has come to fruition. Mason’s GAA is a deplorable 3.31 and while there is plenty of blame to go on the defense in front of him the team is built to basically rely on Mason night in and night out. Maybe it is unfair to place so much blame on Mason but that is the situation the powers that be in Columbus have structured the team that way. It isn’t that their plan all along was to have Mason be the cornerstone of the team, but with how he performed last year management seemed to make the determination that they would make him that piece and did little to sure up their defense. So either Mason (or Garon) step it up or Columbus will be a lost cause until they get better defensemen and defensive forwards.
The 2010 Winter Classic by all accounts was a big time success and I agree completely. The magic of the day was not tarnished by anything; the weather was great, the ice held up extremely well, the fans were fired up, and the game itself was spectacular. Three cheers for everybody who helps make this game happen because it’s certainly a treat for everyone and congratulations to the Boston Bruins and the Philadelphia Flyers for putting on a great show leaving us all wanting for more.
In the meantime the other big news to come out over the holidays was the announcement of the various Olympic team rosters set to take the ice next month. At the moment the easy favorites to win the Gold Medal are Canada and Russia with the Canadians possibly holding a slight edge over Russia because the tournament will be held on the smaller North American size ice along with the fact that the games will be held in Canada which instantly gives them a boost. On the other hand, one might say that the games being held in Canada yields a slight advantage to the Russians because Canadians traditionally have a ton of pressure on them to win the Gold Medal anyway but now that pressure is intensified since Team Canada will be playing on home ice. Although there is a fair amount of pressure on the Russians as well there will no doubt be a lot less on them than on the Canadians which will allow them to simply relax and play hockey without worrying about any other distractions. Despite those factors it is still a virtual toss-up between the two teams in trying to pick the favorite but you can’t really go wrong either going for gold and everyone else likely battling for the bronze.
On the rest of the NHL front there are a number of teams streaking in both the right and wrong direction. The San Jose sharks are currently the hottest team in the league as the smoked Edmonton 4-1 on Saturday to improve their win streak to eight. Despite the streak the fans in San Jose are cautiously optimistic as they’ve been down this road before. In each of the last three years the Sharks have posted over a hundred points—winning the President’s trophy last year—and faltered come playoff time. This year’s teams is by far the best they’ve ever had but the question is can they finally carry over this success into the post-season.
Another team enjoying recent success is the Philadelphia Flyers. Despite losing to Boston in the Winter Classic on Friday, the Flyers have won four out of five and have earned at least a point in five straight. There is a long way to go for the Flyers who have dug themselves quite a hole but it seems they have managed to turn things around and make a legitimate push toward the playoffs almost overnight.
The Calgary Flames are also in the midst of a four game winning streak after coming from behind to defeat Toronto 3-1 on Saturday. This is a team in a situation similar to San Jose in that they have had a decent amount of regular season success that they have not been able to translate into the post-season. Strong goaltending has always been there for Calgary but what separates them from last year’s squad is a much stronger blueline with the addition Jay Bouwmeester in the offseason who is a plus 13 to date. It is his presence that has helped Dion Phaneuf up his game a bit and also takes some pressure off of Kiprusoff which is why this year is probably Calgary’s best chance they’ve had in years to advance deep into the playoffs.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are streaking as well but in the wrong direction. With their 3-1 defeat at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday afternoon the Penguins have lost four in a row, scored only one goal in two games, and blew a 3-0 lead to the Buffalo Sabres earlier in the week. In a long season there are many ups and downs but the alarming thing for Pittsburgh is the way they’ve been losing. There is a long way to go and the Penguins have too much talent for such a streak to continue but they’ve got to find a way to score more consistently and protect leads when they get them.
The worst of the losing streaks belongs to the Atlanta Thrashers who have lost 8 games in a row after a great start to the season. There’s really no surprise it’s simply Atlanta being Atlanta until they show me otherwise.
Well that’s a run around the league a little bit. I hope everyone enjoyed the Winter Classic and have a great time ringing in the New Year! Have a great 2010 everybody!
The third annual Winter Classic is only days away! There is plenty of hype about the mystique of Fenway Park with its stories baseball history and coupling that with the return of hockey to its roots by playing an outdoor game. The stage will be magical, the fans excited in stadium and out, the media frenzy is on, and the players are psyched as they day gets closer. However, despite all of that there is a strong possibility that the game itself will flop big time. Although the Philadelphia Flyers have made some strides recently they still are not a very good team while Boston is pretty well put together and getting a little better as the season goes on. Philadelphia has problems that go so much deeper than just tactics and strategy; it’s rumored that some of the guys do not get along off of the ice and I tend to buy into that because it is certainly being manifested in their poor on ice play. There is no doubt that plenty of teams over the years have played well and even won championships across sports with a group of guys who do not generally get along, but it seems to run deeper than that for the Flyers. There is also the issue of the Flyers caring more about winning the fight than winning games night in and night out which also needs to be addressed down to each individual player. Perhaps they tried to fix some of their off ice issues and on ice focus by firing John Stevens and hiring Peter Laviolette but it seems unlikely that changes coaches will help that. Thus far a coaching change has made little difference despite some recent success; I think that’s true because the problems for the Flyers come down to the players respecting one another in hockey terms. There is no doubt the Flyers have a ton of talent on their team but each player has to take do what they do best every night while stepping aside in some aspects and let other players who may do something a little better to take the lead in that area. But if the players do not respect one another then they will all try to do everything on their own with complete recklessness and it results in a losing team. It is unlikely that this will be made apparent in the Winter Classic because of so many extra elements surrounding the game [or so we hope for the sake of the event] but while watching the game keep some of those things in mind and see if the Flyers have made any strides in rectifying the situation or if they show why they are currently well out of a playoff position in the East.
A lot to cover so let’s get going.
1. The Philadelphia Flyers fired John Stevens after four seasons in which he had experienced quite a bit of success. In the 2006-2007 season the Flyers were awful and Stevens followed up that season by leading the Flyers to the Eastern Conference Finals where they were eliminated by the Penguins. Then of course last season Stevens had the Flyers in the playoffs again only to see their cross-state rivals once again eliminate them from the playoffs. Granted, there is nothing good about losing but there is really no shame in getting eliminated from the playoffs by one of the best and eventually the best team in the league. Thus far this season the Flyers have been mediocre but are hardly out of playoff contention currently sitting in 13th in the East but it games in hand on every team in front of it so if it wins those games in hand a playoff spot would belong to the Flyers. It remains to be seen what will happen with this early season coaching change—and I was forced to eat my words about midseason coaching changes last year by Pittsburgh who made a coaching change then went on to win the Stanley Cup—but I do not think it will make one bit of difference for Philadelphia. There is a fair amount of talent on the team and Ray Emery has been pretty good in goal but the Flyers problems focus more on trying to win a fight on skates rather than a hockey game. Physical play is in fact important and it’s a significant piece toward becoming a championship team but being undisciplined is a dagger in the heart of victory. They also have to play much better defense in front of whoever is in net because in their last nine games they have given up at least three goals on seven different occasions. No offense to new coach Peter Laviolette but the Flyers are who they are and so I don’t think the season will go any differently with him than it would have with Stevens. (please see the following link for my preseason thoughts on the Flyers http://sportsroids.com/2009/09/27/eastern-conference-outlook/)
2. As much as I enjoy watching Alex Ovechkin play he is really making a name for himself as a dirty player. All of North America saw his knee-on-knee hit on Sergei Gonchar is last year’s second round playoff series, and now Ovechkin has served a suspension for doing the same thing to Hurricane defensemen Tim Gleason (Ovechkin also sustained an injury on that same play). There are some other questionable plays on Ovechkin’s record and if they continue to build up it will taint his image. No other player in the league can impact the game any more than Ovechkin can with his incredible offensive presence but hockey is a game of honor and if Ovechkin continues his dirty play he will have to answer to some pretty tough guys who will not go quietly. So if I’m Caps coach Bruce Boudreau I am making it clear to Ovechkin that has to keep better control of himself and stop with the dirty play for otherwise the Caps championship aspirations will be in serious jeopardy.
3. The Carolina Hurricanes got their first road win of the season in 14 tries by defeating the defending champion Penguins. Why the Hurricanes are so bad is a headscratcher but a sarcastic congratulations from me to them on their first road victory of the year. Here’s to many more road wins… or at least one more anyway.
4. Despite having recently lost two-in-a-row the Buffalo Sabres are quietly having a very successful season led by the incredible play of Ryan Miller. Anytime your netminder is posting an incredible 1.90 GAA you’re more than likely going to win a lot of games. But despite such great numbers Miller cannot go it alone and thus far he certainly is not. Tim Connolly and Derek Roy are leading the way with 21 points (6 goals 15 assists for each) with wingers Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek not far behind with 19 and 18 points respectively. Buffalo is not a flashy team but they are very consistent and find themselves ahead on the scoreboard come the end of the game and that’s all that matters. Their power play is less than stellar putting them 21st “best” in the league but they counter it with a penalty kill that is 3rd best in the league and that is very important/impressive—it also helps that the Sabres stay out of the penalty box. The Sabres were very good last year before being crushed by injuries in the stretch run but so far this team is better than last year’s and if they keep this up the East needs to be on notice because fore you know it you’ll be shaking the hands of the Sabres and wishing them good luck in the next round.
There’s much more to talk about but it will have to wait for next time…
P.S. To everyone making comments, thank you so much and please continue to do so. Many of them have not been posted to the site (as you may have noticed) but I do not have control when those are posted so please keep the comments coming for they will be posted shortly. Thanks everyone.
As the hour draws closer and the puckheads continue to salivate over the tease that is the hockey preseason it is time to supplement the appetizers before the hockey fest begins.
Eastern Conference Preview:
I’ll start by predicting who I think will make it to the playoffs (in no particular order) then we’ll look at least briefly at where each team stands. So here are the top eight teams in no particular order:
Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers (Carolina Hurricanes?), New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers, Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Montreal Canadiens, and the Washington Capitals.
The Pittsburgh Penguins should probably be the favorites going into the season because their team is a lot the same and they are the champs until someone else wins the title. They did lose Rob Scuderi but overall you have to like their chances to defend their conference title.
The New York Rangers lost Scott Gomez but have added Marian Gaborik who—if he can stay healthy—will add scoring power to a pretty solid but not spectacular line-up. The nice thing about the Rangers is that even if they do not score a ton of goals Henrik Lundqvist will keep them in most games, will steal a few, and will overall give them a chance to win most every contest they are involved in. Having a chance to win every game is not actually winning them however and that’s where Gaborik is going to be important for them. If Gaborik stays healthy he scores enough goals to get them enough points to get them into the playoffs. In the event that Gaborik does get hurt that will leave New York on the outside looking in and will open the door for the Carolina Hurricanes to sneak into a playoff spot. Carolina too is a solid team but Cam Ward cannot do it alone and they will not be able to rely on Jussi Jokkinen to play all year the way he did in the playoffs. But if any team should fall off at all (i.e. the Rangers) that opens the door for the Canes. Either way, neither team will be a serious Stanley Cup contender.
The New Jersey Devils are channeling their inner 1995 by bringing Jacques Lemaire back to captain the ship. Nothing has changed for the Devils since 1995 and as a result they can continue like a well-oiled machine with their new, old, coach. New Jersey is very much a system team so with Martin Brodeur playing behind that system you have to pencil them into the playoffs and as championship contenders. Some players have changed since last season’s first round exit to Carolina but it matters not as the methodical Devils will be back in the playoffs again.
In each of the last two years the Philadelphia Flyers have put very good teams on the ice but have run into a freight train headed to the finals in the form of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Flyers got tougher by adding veteran Chris Pronger but their folly has arguably been in goal and that is an issue that still has yet to be worked out. Philadelphia went across the pond to lure Ray Emery back to North America so the verdict is still out on whether the goaltending problem is fixed (one might argue that Emery’s attitude will cause more problems than it will solve). Bottom line, the Flyers talent will get them to the playoffs and at that point all they’ll need is solid (not spectacular) net play to put themselves in a position to win the Stanley Cup.
Boston’s future is bright because their talent level is a lot the same as last year. Phil Kessel was traded for some draft picks which speaks to how confident Boston is with their team from top to bottom. They still have Chara manning the blueline and they can score at the drop of a hat. There were a lot of questions about Tim Thomas last year and he’ll have to answer those same questions again this year. If Thomas is able to play consistently well the Bruins will learn from their experience last year and should be considered favorites to at least reach the east finals.
The key for the Buffalo Sabres is to stay healthy. Last season Buffalo was a clear playoff team until injuries struck them like a wrecking ball and their playoff hopes came crashing down. So if the Sabres’ stars stay healthy they will be a force, if they do not then Buffalo is not a force… it’s that simple.
The Washington Capitals can score like none other. In the offensive zone 5-on-5 and on the power play they are just about unstoppable. The Caps are greatly lacking defensively but certainly score enough to make up for that over the course of a long season. The biggest downfall of Washington last year was in net and that is their greatest unknown once again. Semyon Varlamov was certainly much better than anyone could have expected in the playoffs last season but is he the answer long term? There is no doubt that Varlamov has talent but he is still young and with being young come growing pains that every player experiences. If Varlamov grows quickly then there’s reason to believe the Caps can win it all, but if he doesn’t then it the fans in DC will be “rocking the red” to the second round of the playoffs and no further.
The Montreal Canadiens did three very good things in the offseason: let Kovalev go, picked up Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez, and got rid of Kovalev (did I mention that already). Alexi Kovalev is a very talented player but he was too inconsistent and caused too much drama in a place that creates enough drama on its own. Gionta and Gomez provide stability as leaders on the ice and can put points on the scoreboard. Both players spent time in New Jersey so each know how to play a role to perfection. As long as Carey Price can keep his confidence up and the fans give this team a chance they can be very dangerous.
As for the rest of the conference there is very little to talk about. The New York Islanders are clearly rebuilding so the best anyone can hope from them is that John Tavares and company just improve from game to game. In my estimation the Islanders have far more problems off the ice (on the business end) than they do on it. The isles know they are rebuilding and are taking steps toward becoming a good team in time. This is in contrast to the Lightning, Thrashers, Senators, Maple Leafs, and Panthers.
Tampa has a lot of talent but did nothing with is last year and do not have a goaltender that can take them anywhere. Atlanta is just plain bad and probably will not improve very much in all likelihood. Ottawa keeps changing coaches, do not gel as a team, have lost one of their best players in Dany Heatley, and decided that adding Kovalev was the best way to stabilize/improve their team (very dumb). Toronto cannot decide whether they want to try to win now or build for the future. Last year they had enough talent to stay at the top of the non playoff teams for most of the year and this year they are in about the same spot. Lastly are the Florida Panthers who do not have a whole lot of talent (after having lost bouwmeester ) do not get much fan support which makes for a very bad situation.
So that’s the east in a nutshell (believe it or not). Tune in next time for the west preview as well as my Stanley Cup Finals pick and winner.
Well it has been a long time coming for but finally the NHL season is upon us and as such so is the return of the NHL section of sportsroids.com. I am just as excited as anyone for the season to rev up again so let’s get right to it.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are back to defend their title and with the exception of the loss of Rob Scuderi the team is about the same now as they were on the day they won the cup. Despite that, repeating is going to be a daunting task because not only are they the defending champs but in order to repeat they will have to reach the Stanley Cup Finals for a third year in a row. At the same time they still have two of the best players in the world on their team so it will be interesting to see how the story develops in Pittsburgh.
As for the rest of the league there are a lot of intriguing stories to keep an eye on including some old faces in new places (for example Dany Heatley to San Jose, Marian Hossa to Chicago) as well as the return of a few from their disappearing acts (Ray Emery in Philadelphia, Theo Fleury in Calgary). There are also plenty of questions to be asked about both up and coming teams as well as those who have been on the cusp but have not quite made that next big step:
In the East, can Washington play just enough defense this year to get them into the Conference Finals and possibly make their first finals appearance in the Ovechkin Era? Will Philadelphia finally get the consistent play in net they have lacked the last two years that will likely get them over the hump? Does the Southeast Division continue to be a two horse race or can Tampa Bay finally put their talent together well enough to become serious playoff contenders? And what is actually going on in Montreal and Ottawa, have they finally got their respective acts together?
Out west, will Chicago seize this opportunity to dethrone the Detroit Red Wings in the Central Division? Is Dany Heatley the answer to San Jose finally translating their regular season triumphs into post-season glory? Are the L.A. Kings poised to translate their young talent into a playoff appearance? Is Calgary ready to kick their first round exit habit of the last few years? What is the deal with the Coyotes, are they moving or what?
Of course along with all of the aforementioned questions there are to two major events on the horizon this year in both the Winter Classic (January 1 at Fenway Park) and the Olympic hockey tournament in Vancouver this February. There is so much to talk about and look forward to this season. Over the next few days I will go through a preview of each conference, give you not only who will win each but what other stories to watch out for like what teams will overachieve and those that will disappoint.
So much to do and talk about, it’s great to be talking puck again. We here at sportsroids.com are very excited to start year two of hockey blogging, it’s great to have you with us!
ESPN is reporting that the long term deals recently signed by Marian Hossa in Chicago and Chris Pronger in Philadelphia are being investigated by the NHL. In short the league is considering whether the two players were asked about when they would retire in order to front load a long-term deal to circumvent the salary cap. In my view no matter what these probes turn up the two aforementioned deals along with contracts worked with some Detroit Red Wing players are obviously to get around the salary cap. This rule bending simply needs to stop. At the end of the day the salary cap’s intention is to give medium to small market teams a chance to field championship caliber teams and by making these long term deals the rich teams are simply doing what they’ve always done and spending their way to the top. If the richer teams continue to do that the viability of the league as a whole is in jeopardy and that’s not good for any time. Some argue that the viability of the league generally is an issue for the league officials to deal with and that individual teams have a responsibility to do what they can to win and that’s it. However, in reality “bending” the rules designed to make and keep the league prosperous hurts everyone including the teams on top no matter how many playoff appearances or championships they may bring in. More teams in contention in more cities means better U.S. TV deals and higher sales of merchandise which means more money for everyone consistently over the long haul. So to the big market GMs of the world think about the long term consequences of your actions before you decide to upset the balance by bending the rules to get a competitive edge.
The NHL has announced that the 2010 Winter Classic will be held at Fenway Park between the Boston Bruins and the Philadelphia Flyers. Generally speaking I could care less who is playing in this game because as a fan of the sport and of the unique nature of this game I will be watching and will enjoy it from start to finish. That said, I cannot understand why the NHL and NBC have decided that a Bruins-Flyers match up will have a better draw in the U.S. than say a Bruins-Capitals showdown. It is true that both teams have large television markets and that will result in a huge draw from the two participating cities alone. However, there is no bigger star in the NHL today than Alexander Ovechkin; no matter what you think of him I think all fans agree that he is one of the most exciting hockey players in the whole world from his on ice performance to his off-ice personality. Not only would people in the DC and Boston area be excited about this game, but hockey fans throughout the country and casual sports fans alike would go out of their way to watch Ovechkin play in a game as special as the Winter Classic has become. Not only should Ovechkin and the Caps be playing this game instead of the Flyers for star power but also because Philadelphia playing in this game against Boston pushes away the idea of a Penguins-Flyers Winter Classic at Beaver Stadium for many years. That makes deciding to put Philadelphia in this match-up a double whammy of blunders on the part of the NHL and NBC. The ratings will suffer this year because Ovechkin is not in it (and should be) and because a potential future contest that could also result in huge ratings and fan turnout in person has been push back indefinitely. So again, while I will be watching this game no matter who is playing in it–and it is possible that this match-up will still get a huge draw and be largely entertaining–I still think the NHL and NBC have hurt the potential of the Winter Classic not only for 2010 but for the near future as well.
Day one of the draft has wrapped up without any major surprises as far as the draft picks themselves go. John Tavares, despite all of the secrecy, was eventually selected first by the New York Islanders and Victor Hedman second to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Perhaps a bit of a surprise was Brian Burke not wheeling and dealing to get Toronto into that top spot as some speculated but it probably depends on who you ask. Biggest trade of the day was certainly Chris Pronger to Philadelphia for Joffrey Lupul which means the Flyers are putting a lot into next year as Pronger may or may not play past next season and Lupul just signed a four year extension. One might think the Flyers would try to dump salary but Pronger’s salary is much bigger than Lupul’s and Pronger probably will not play much longer. What the Flyers ultimate plan is will play out when free-agency stars July first but for now it’s a bit of a questionable move in my view.
Day two of the draft has started out with a bang as Jay Boumeester has been traded to the Calgary Flames for Jordan Leopold and a third round pick. Finally the Boumeester saga can end as rumors have been floating around about him since the latter stages of last season. Calgary must see an awful lot in Boumeester for not only have they essentially traded two players for him but the deal includes Jordan Leopold whom the Flames picked up at the trade deadline in March. Calgary certainly needed to sure up their defense if they want to make a serious push in the playoffs for that was a major let down last season. Although Boumeester is still set to be a free agent come July 1st the Flames will more than likely make him a lucrative offer that Boumeester will want to take as he is from Western Canada and is rumored to really want to play in that area. If the Flames do sign Boumeester that should make them favorites to win the Northwest Division as long as Kiprusoff can stay fresh by playing much less than 76 games. As times goes on we’ll see how big these moves really are but for now they are the most newsworthy changes of the offseason.
What an incredible night for Marc-Andre Fleury in Philadelphia as he helped the Pittsburgh Penguins get a strangle hold on that series. Not to be outdone however where the Canes and Devils who played a game that had quite an ending Tuesday night and that’s where we’ll start.
Coming into Tuesday’s game the Devils and Canes had traded overtime wins on the other team’s home ice and despite New Jersey’s dominating game one performance this looks like it can be quite a series. Carolina came out of the gates blazing building a 3-0 lead that was kept from getting worse by Martin Brodeur’s stellar play. The Devils were dominated for 39 minutes 30 seconds until Brian Gionta netted New Jersey’s first goal as the second period came to a close ripping the momentum from Carolina’s grasp. In the first nine minutes of the third period the Devils road the momentum into the net twice more to tie the game at three and looked to have taken control of game four. As the third period came to a close the contest looked destined for overtime where by all accounts the Devils would have held a marked advantage; NOT SO FAST! With time winding down in the third the Canes blast a shot from the blue-line that clips a skate in front and gets by Brodeur with only .2 seconds remaining! The goal was one of the most incredible plays in playoff history and perhaps in all of hockey. Buzzer beaters are a common occurrence in basketball but certainly not in hockey. For those of us who were able to catch the game witnessed history in the making. There really is no such thing as a bad shot in the playoffs, just ask the Carolina Hurricanes. The series is now tied at two and the story will just keep getting better.
Meanwhile in Philadelphia, Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury was frustrating tens of thousands of Flyer fans by turning in one of the best performances of this young playoff season. After Crosby quieted the crowd by getting the Penguins on the board first Fleury did his part in keeping them silent for most of the rest of the game. Fleury was by far the best penalty killer for Pittsburgh who seemed to give the Flyers every chance in the world to allow Philly back into the game by taking Penalty after Penalty. But every chance Philly got was turned away by the absolute brilliance of Fleury. The final scored ended up being 3-1 Penguins but if not for Fleury the Penguins may very well have lost the game 5-3. Although he had some confidence issues this year the Penguins goaltender always seems to show up when the game is most important. Take note ladies and gentlemen because we may be witnessing the early stages of what could be a Conn Smythe Trophy candidate come early June. Pittsburgh now has a commanding 3-1 lead over the Flyers heading back to the Steel City for game five and a potential close out night. If the handshake line is indeed formed on Thursday night Flyers fans can address their complaints to Marc-Andre Fleury
Well the playoffs are now in full swing as every series will have played two games by the end of Saturday. So let’s take a look and how the respective series are unfolding:
1. Boston Bruins VS 8.Montreal Canadiens
The final score of game one was about what everybody expected but the level of competition between the two clubs was probably higher than most thought. Boston roared out to a 2-0 lead but the Canadiens battled back to tie the game at two before ultimately going down 4-2. But the rivalry is hot and despite the perception of a major mismatch it doesn’t seem likely to be over anytime soon. Game 2 is tonight before the series shifts back to Montreal so we’ll see what surprises are in store for us.
2. Washington Capitals VS 7. New York Rangers
Jose Theodore didn’t make it past the first game as he was benched for rookie back up netminder Simeon Varlamov after Washington’s 4-3 loss at home to the Rangers. Again many people felt the Rangers were completely outmatch by the fire power of the Capitals and that the only chance the Rangers had offensively is if Theodore didn’t play well. Theodore did not play all that well in game one and the Rangers stole one from Washington but surely things would be different now that Theodore was benched. Varlamov did indeed play very well in net for Washington Saturday afternoon as the Rangers were only able to net one behind the rookie netminder. Unfortunately for the Caps Henrik Lundqvist was up to the challenge and shut Ovechkin and company out. Now the series shifts back to New York with the Rangers having a commanding lead and looking for the sweep. Sportsroids when against the grain in predicting a Rangers win in this series and so far the Rangers have no disappointed.
3. New Jersey Devils VS Carolina Hurricanes
In a series that many felt would be evenly matched has surely turned out to be that way. After game one the Canes looked to be greatly overmatched; but after Carolina took game two in overtime we’ve got ourselves a series. The two teams are so similar in every aspect of the game and that makes the series a virtually toss up on paper. Sportsroids said Carolina in five and although that seems unlikely now we are sticking to our guns! Regardless of what happens there is a lot of great hockey ahead of us in this series.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins VS 5. Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers seemed greatly outmatched after game one but game two was an entirely different story. Philly took the earlier lead but Pittsburgh battled back to tie. Then the Flyers took another lead only to see penalties allow the Penguins back into a game seemingly headed to the win column for the Flyers. But take nothing away from Pittsburgh, they dominated game one and although were largely outplayed in game two they took advantage of Flyer mistakes and now have a strangle-hold on the series. Don’t expect the Flyers to quit though as they move home to play in front of their rowdy and very unforgiving fans at Wachovia center. Sportsroids told you this would go seven games, and although that is still possible if Pittsburgh wins either of the games in Philadelphia the Flyers will be in serious trouble. The Flyers won’t fold but don’t expect Pittsburgh to take their proverbial foot off the gas.
1. San Jose Sharks VS 8. Anaheim Ducks
People were wondering if the Sharks were finally ready to take it to the next level or if the same old Sharks would show up again in the playoffs. One game does not a series make but for at least one night it’s the same old Sharks. Granted, the Ducks are not far removed from a Stanley Cup Championship but the Sharks at least need to score a goal. There is still a long way to go but if San Jose continues to play like they did in game one they will be making an early exit.
2. Detroit Red Wings VS 7.Columbus Blue Jackets
As I write this post the Red Wings are leading the Blue Jackets 3-0 at the second intermission, this after winning game one 4-1. The Blue Jackets have been a great story all season but the playoffs are too much for them and so they are done.
3. Vancouver Canucks VS 6. St. Louis Blues
The Blues were another good story going into the playoffs but after making a pretty good showing in game one they were completely shut down by Vancouver in game two losing 3-0. Like Columbus, St. Louis is an up and coming team with great goaltending but they appear to be severely overmatched by the Vancouver Canucks.
4. Chicago Blackhawks VS 5. Calgary Flames
Game one of this series was probably the most entertaining game of the first round so far. Game one had everything you could want in a playoff hockey game: lead changes, scrums, great individual battles, fantastic goaltending and overtime! Sure Martin Havlat ended the party early by scoring only 12 seconds into the overtime period but if game one was any indication of how the rest of the series will go then this and the Carolina-New Jersey series have the potential to become classics.
Like you, we at sportsroids will be watching intently to see how the rest of round one unfolds. Enjoy the ride hockey fans!
Every team in the NHL has now played at least 41 games which means the halfway point has officially been surpassed so sort of mid-season review is in order to see where things have gone and where we are headed as the stretch run approaches. Boston, Detroit, and San Jose are clearly the three best teams in the league each achieving high marks each by adding their own flavor. The second tier of teams includes the likes of the New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, Chicago Blackhawks, Calgary Flames, Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey Devils, and Philadelphia Flyers who can all make a ton of noise in the playoffs and should not be forgotten about.
The halfway point’s biggest disappointments have to be Edmonton, Pittsburgh, and Dallas in no particular order. Edmonton was picked to win the Northwest division by many and now sit tied for last place with 45 points. Their expected top players are underachieving not scoring very much and although defensively they aren’t terrible, good is not a good adjective either. Last year’s East champions are floundering in Pittsburgh currently sitting in the 8th spot and are losing players like crazy seemingly on a nightly basis. The Penguins have suffered a number of injuries this season (and even before the season began) including superstar Sidney Crosby who is out with a knee injury (see http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/injuries?teamAbbrev=pit for a complete list of their injuries). This has resulted in a large number of AHL players having to skate for Pittsburgh but nevertheless they are not playing well and look far from last year’s finals form. As for Dallas, well last season’s conference finals appearance and subsequent thrashing by Detroit seems to be having a lasting effect. To follow the 4-2 series loss the Stars signed trouble free agent Sean Avery (who has been dismissed by the team), are getting unusually poor play from Marty Turco with subpar defense in front of him and oh by the way they are in 12th in the West.
Enough doom and gloom there are some brighter points to perhaps balance these sob stories and they are the reemergence of the Chicago Blackhawks and the stellar play of the sleeper Phoenix Coyotes. The Coyotes may be in financial trouble by they are playing like a team bound for the playoffs and ready to ruin another team’s cup chances. Meanwhile the Blackhawks have evolve into quite a formidable team who can certainly do more than spoil the cup dreams of other teams come mid April. There is so much more to talk about and so little time but sit back and buckle up ladies and gentlemen for the second half of the season is sure to entertain men, women, and children alike. Just sit back and enjoy the ride as we watch the world’s greatest athletes charge toward sports’ most coveted trophy.