yankee hockey

AN OBJECT IN MOTION…

Congratulations to the Red Wings and Bruins who both swept their series to move on to the next round. The Canadiens put up almost no fight against the Bruins, losing all four games rather desicively. This was the last season on the contracts of many players on Montreal so expect a completely different look to this team next year, including a new coach and possibly new GM. I also wonder about the future of Carey Price. He’s been good in the regular season but absolutely awful in the post, and the fans in Montreal do not have much patience for bad goaltending. Don’t forget this was the 100th year of the Canadiens’ franchise, losing in the first round in four is not nearly good enough. In Columbus meanwhile the Blue Jackets finally showed up to a game but were barely beaten in the end by Detroit. Getting to the post-season really showed this teams strengths, getting scoring a total of seven goals in four games really showed its weaknesses. If they can get a real center for Rick Nash and Steve Mason plays lights out for an entire year they’ll get another chance to prove themselves in the next post-season, but this year the experience was just too overwhelming for them. Still, big ups for making it for the first time.

I’d like to apologize to Marc-Andre Fleury for saying I didn’t believe he could win a game for his team. In the all important fourth game of this series he stopped 45 of 46 shots to lead the Pens to victory. Note he gave up six the game before and 3 the game after. Still, he proved that he is capable of stealing a game. Frankly, I think the bigger story in this series isn’t the play of Fleury but the lack of play from the Philly forwards. This team has gone anemix offensively and it hasn’t been too tough for Fleury to win the three games he has. I really wonder if Fleury can win games the same way if he comes up against the offense of the Devils or ‘Canes, which will be who he will face if the Rangers win the series in Washington. While the Flyers forwards have lacked confidence since the series began, the forward in New Jersey and Carolina will be coming in knowing they can score.

San Jose finds itself down 3-1 in their series to the surprise of practically everyone. Watching the game tonight I couldn’t help but think that they seemed completely unwilling to put a puck on net. They got plenty of shots, 31, but it was all the shots they didn’t take that cost them the game. Even on the power play it was all set up with no finish. I can’t tell you how many times I watched Joe Thornton sit behind the net until a Duck took the puck from him. He’s got to play as big and strong as he is if he is ever going to get on the scoresheet. Watching these guys you can tell their nerves are shot. They’re taking bad penalties, they’re sticks aren’t on the ice for passes or rebounds, and they are falling apart late in games. I’m not sure what the solution is, but I know it starts with their leaders. They won game three with the help of Dan Boyle and Rob Blake, who have been playing great all series. Now it’s time for Marleau and Thornton to carry the team. They both have great shots, they need to start taking them. Right now the rest of the team is feeding off their frustration, that has got to stop. They were the best team in the regular season, they can win three in a row even against the Ducks, but they have to start believing that.

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A SURVEY OF POOR PLAY

Right now a lot of people are asking “What is wrong with my team?” There are currently six series where one team doesn’t have a win including the surprising Rangers/Capitals tilt, and the not-as-surprising-when-you-think-about-it Ducks/Sharks series. So what is the source of these mysterious sweeps? Let’s take a series by series look to find out.

Rangers/Capitals

Let’s start out East where the Capitals are taking far too many shots from beyond the face-off dots. And why not? They scored a helluva lot of goals from there in the regular season. Right now, though, they are playing an inspired Rangers team backed by an inspired Henrik Lundqvist who is definitely one of the top three goaltenders in the post-season so far. What they need to do is start grinding it out, start pushing back at the Rangers defense which is good, not great. I admit it’s exciting to see Ovechkin cut into the middle after entering the zone and throw a monster wrist shot at the goal. The problem is, Lundqvist is seeing it too. They need to get the puck behind the net and keep possession of it and then find a way to get it on net with bodies in front. For the Caps it’s got to start with puck possession and then continue into gritty goals scored in the paint if they want to get back in this series.

Canadiens/Bruins

There really is no secret to what Montreal needs to do to win; keep pucks out of their net. Some of that weight needs to rest on the shoulders of Carey Price who has not had a good post-season. It’s not all his fault though, the rest of this team needs to be way more responsible with the puck. The defense in Montreal is more the decent and they do well with what they have to work with. The forwards on this team need to be much much more responsible with the puck. It’s the playoffs, it doesn’t matter what position you play you need to be defensively sound. You need to play all sides of the puck, and that includes top and bottom. The front line on this team is so focused on scoring goals (individual goals too) that they can’t see the whole picture of either the game or their own team. To get back into this series their philosophy has got to be we have to learn to skate backwards before we skate forwards.

Flames/Blackhawks

The Flames are suffering from the same disease they had in the last few weeks of the year: Lose the Lead Fever. They are playing very well, strong on the puck, smart plays, scoring goals, until they have a secure lead, then they fall apart. This team can no longer rely on Kiprusoff to keep them in games. He has proved this year that he no longer is the same goaltender he once was. One of their problems is that their tough players seem to be playing fancy, while their fancy players are trying to play tough. Iginla is right where he needs to be and the rest of the team needs to follow. Phaneuf needs to reel in the excitement a bit and start playing smarter. They’re going to have to learn how to clamp down with the lead and play to win, not to score. I’m not sure if that’s possible on a Mike Keenan coached team.

Blues/Canucks

The Blues are doing absolutely nothing wrong, they’re just playing against Roberto Luongo and the Canucks’ defensive core. The problem they are going to have is getting a secure lead against the Canucks. If they can ever get themselves two goals up they stand a decent chance at winning, but as long as Luongo is keeping his team in the game (and boy is he ever) the Canucks will be a hard team to beat. Even when they are down in a game they play with such poise and confidence it’s as if they’re a few goals up. That’s what having a goaltender like Luongo can do for a team. If I was in the Blues dressing room I’d tell them to just keep playing the way they are. They’re skating well, hitting hard, getting pucks to the net, they’re defensively sound, they don’t take many bad penalties (until tonight), and they find ways to get scoring chances throughout the game. They need to take this one game at a time, they may be down 3-0 in the series but they need to approach game four like it’s game one. they can’t think about the ramifications of a loss lest they become distracted and stop playing as well as they have.

Blue Jackets/Red Wings

The Jackets relied on Steve Mason to get them into the playoffs, that needs to stop right now. They need to start relying on their offense to get them on to the next round. You can’t beat the Red Wings 2-1 or 1-0 in the post-season, you have to start scoring goals against them. The more goals Columbus can score, the more weight gets taken off Mason’s shoulders and the better he can play. Osgood is beatable, even in the post-season. You just can’t get overwhelmed by everything. That’s really what I see in the faces of the young, inexperienced Blue Jackets. It’s their first post-season berth and they ended the season on such a strong note. Get back to basics, dump the puck deep, keep possession of it, get shots to the net. Once the shots start going in it’ll all come back to the guys and they’ll remember how to win again.

Ducks/Sharks

The Sharks defense is playing great. Nabokov? Excellent. The forwards? No sir, I don’t like it. Once again captain Patrick Marleau and first mate Joe Thornton have completely disappeared. This is the exact reason why they ran Thornton out of Boston. They actually managed to turn it around a bit tonight, they have to keep it going. All the things they did right tonight, grinding for the puck, getting bodies in front of the net, getting shots from in close not just from the blueline… all good. They have to take tonight as the beginning of a team-wide improvement. They are an excellent team and Nabokov keeps them in the game every night, now what they have to do is get Marleau and Thornton to take some shots, not just pass the puck around the rink like idiots until it’s picked off. Only the Sedins can cycle successfully in the post-season, and they’re twins damnit! The rest of the league has to GET SHOTS ON NET! Like I said, they got a bunch tonight on Hiller and showed a lot of improvement, next game they have to do it again, and then again, and then again, as many times as they can they have to get shots on Hiller. Oh, I almost forgot, get shots on him on the power play.

WORK ETHIC

Posted in Carolina, Columbus, Philadelphia, post-season, san jose, stanley cup by yankhockey on April 16, 2009

Watching the game ones that were on Thursday and Friday reminded me of something very important in hockey: effort wins games. Washington and New York put on a helluva show, both teams working as hard as they could for the win with New York finally getting the win (and let me thank them for making my prediction that they will win this series a little less absurd). Chicago and Calgary looked like they were going to put on a sloppy show until both teams picked up the play in the second period and turned a lazy game into an incredibly exciting game. The Vancouver and St Louis game was the best hockey game I had seen since the last round one in Vancouver when Vancouver beat Dallas 5-4 in the third overtime, both teams working so hard you could believe they were about to actually sweat blood.

On the other side of the coin there were four teams that I was surprised to see put out nearly no effort at all. Philadelphia apparently decided they didn’t feel like showing up for game one. While Pittsburgh took a cue from their opponent and played tough instead of fancy, the only Flyer I ever noticed during that game was Jeff Carter, unless you count noticing Martin Biron crumbling like a week old cookie (I think the announcers actually mentioned he had never won a game one in his entire career, I should research that). I guess Columbus was so blinded by the glamour of Detroit that they couldn’t see the puck because they played with all the skill of a clown full of cars. For a team that needed to come out of the gate like Sisyphus (look it up) looked more like Sissy-phus. The Hurricanes ran into a Martin Brodeur who remembered to put on his playoff underwear, but that is hardly an excuse to only put 19 shots on him. And Cam Ward looked like he was experimenting with stopping shots with his mind alone. And of all the teams to show up unprepared, the San Jose Sharks played with absolutely no tenacity at all. Except for the defense, the Sharks  were lackluster at best. Annual no-shows Marleau and Thornton had a total of two shots between them for the entire game. I guess Joe Pavelski must really idolize these guys because he had no shots of his own. of 35 shots, 16 came from the D, and another five from Setoguchi. That means that forwards not named Setoguchi had a total of 14 shots in the game.

There is very little, if any, consolation to any of these teams that there are at least three more games to be played. Teams like the Blues and Capitals can hold their heads high knowing that they went out there and were legitimately beat, but that the next game could very well be theirs. If you are Philadelphia, Columbus, Carolina, or San Jose it must feel like you’ve down 3-0 in the series. There is no excuse for showing up for the playoffs unprepared to play. It may be a best of seven, but each game needs to be played like a one and done. Being down one game to none may be acceptable in basketball, but in hockey that is a huge hole to climb out of. Hockey playoffs are grueling, hard fought affairs, and you want them to end as fast as possible. If you’re the Sharks the last thing you want is a five game series against the Ducks. Hell! You can barely stand a four games series. Well guess what, because you couldn’t win puck battles, get shots on goal, or leave your zone with gusto, now you’ve got at least five, likely more now that the other team knows you’re vulnerable.

San Jose is lucky, they have Rob Blake, Danny Boyle, Travis Moen, and Claude Lemieux, all Stanley Cup winners, in their locker room. Those guys can grab their teammates by the lapels and shake them until they shape up. Columbus? Not nearly as lucky. They’ve got quiet Fredrik Modin. The Flyers have Mike Knuble who won the cup his rookie season with Detroit… and then never went back. Of course the ‘Canes have back many of their cup winning players including their goaltender and blog favourite Rob Brind’amor (best hockey name in his generation?), so they may be alright. Only time will tell.

NHL playoff hockey is the best hockey on earth… when everyone shows up to play. These teams will get it right quickly, and if they don’t we won’t be forced to watch them anymore.

WESTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFF PREVIEW

Posted in Anaheim, Calgary, Chicago, Columbus, Detroit, post-season, predictions, san jose, St. Louis, Vancouver by yankhockey on April 12, 2009

With the match-ups now firmly set it’s time for playoff previews and predictions. I’ll start today with the West, and finish up tomorrow with the East. Before I begin though, I have to say that I have been waiting so very much for this time of year. We’re in for a treat because the Stanley Cup playoffs are the greatest event in sports.

1. Sharks vs 8. Ducks

Sharks’ Stength: No Weaknesses

The Sharks strength doesn’t lie in any one particular area, they just aren’t week any where. They are talented offensively, strong defensively, solid in net. Their forwards are defensively responsible, their defense is offensively gifted. There is no one area of need in this line-up.

Sharks’ Weakness: Injuries

The injury bug hit the Sharks at the wrong time, right at the end of the season. Though they are mostly healthy now it’s affected their gameplay. The last few weeks of the season they dropped a lot of games they should have won, even with their core intact. One reason is certainly that they didn’t need to win games anymore, having pretty much locked down their season. But don’t underestimate the amount of time it takes to get back on your rhythm when you’ve been injured. Not only that, but if they continue to be injury prone into the playoffs it could really hurt them.

Player to Watch: Joe Thornton

There’s a reason the Bruins got rid of Joe Thornton, and it wasn’t because of his regular season numbers. Pay close attention cause he’s about to perform his annual disappearing act. Along with him will be Patrick Marleau who is often harder to see in the post-season, if not entirely invisible. Thornton, though, is the one guy the Sharks will need to be on top of his game for them to make a splash in the playoffs.

Sharks’ Overview:

The best team in the regular season is out to prove that they can continue to play competitively into the playoffs. They’ve been such a tempting pick to win the cup for years now, but they always falter. This may be their best team yet, but circumstances may rise that cost them the Cup again. Still, this team bleeds effort so any team they play will have to really earn four victories to move on, there will be no choking this year.

Ducks’ Strength: Toughness

This team is big and tough. That’s the exact combination that brought them the Cup two years ago. They still have both Niedermayer brothers and Chris Pronger which makes them immediately the team you’d least like to meet in the first round.

Ducks’ Weakness: Too Tough

You always have to be careful you only take good penalties in the playoffs, and the Ducks are the kings of bad penalties. Public enemy number 1: Chris Pronger. You never want to take too many penalties, especially ones in your own zone in the playoffs, especially when you are playing a determined Sharks team. Pronger is most well know for high sticks, elbows, trips, and being a little too rough inside his own blueline. The Ducks don’t have the goaltending they used to so penalty killing is not going to be their strong point.

Player to Watch: Joseph Hiller

Hiller took over from Giguere as the number one starter this year, if not in title, in spirit. Giguere could still return to form in the post-season, but most likely you’ll be seeing Hiller in net for the majority of the games. If he can stand up to the Sharks endless attacks then he just might move his team to the second round.

Duck’s Overview:

Any team with Pronger stands a chance. Need proof? He went to the Stanley Cup finals with an awful Edmonton team, and then the next year won the Stanley Cup with the Ducks. It’s no coincidence that he was on both teams. But he’s just one of the tough sons of bitches on this team. Where they work best is against the body, and against an already bruised Sharks team that may be the difference maker.

Outlook: Sharks in six

When you look at a 1 vs 8 team, it may seem like a cake walk (see out East tomorrow), but in this case nothing could be further from the truth. The Ducks dropped because of surprisingly shoddy goaltending, not for lack of competitiveness. The Sharks better be prepared to get thrown about because the Ducks are going to try to punch their way into the next round. If Thornton, Marleau, and company are not prepared they may be out for the count.

2. Red Wings vs 7. Blue Jackets

Red Wings’ Strength: Experience

In the battle between the only two teams in the league with two word names, the Wings win the battle of experience. The defending champions are practically intact with the only significant change being the addition of Marian Hossa, which is hardly a minor tweak. Osgood in goal has done this many times before, often with success. Detroit’s grinders treat the post-season as their whipping boy every year and are certainly poised to start scoring timely goals again.

Red Wings’ Weakness: Goaltending

Osgood has been pretty awful all year. Now, this guy shines in the post-season so who knows what he’ll look like this year, but in the regular season Detroit was winning games in spite of his play, rather then with his help. Goaltending can make all the difference in the playoffs and if Osgood can’t hold up his end of the bargain, the Red Wings might not have enough firepower to win the series, especially because they are up against one of the two best goaltender’s in the conference.

Player to Watch: Pavel Datsyuk

Everyone is shortlisting Datsyuk for the Selke award, the trophy given to the best defensive forward in the league. That’s the kind of forward that makes all the difference for your team in the post-season. If Datsyuk can continue his stellar responsible play while at the same time scoring points at the pace he did in the regular season then he’ll probably end up being the most important player on either team.

Red Wings’ Overview:

As I said, they are the defending champs, and they once again got over a hundred points in the regular season standings, but they are also a year older now. Lidstrom is nearly forty, Chelios isn’t playing the number of minutes he used to, Chris Draper is getting older, Brian Rafalski is getting older… time keeps on ticking for these Red Wings. This may be the last chance these guys have to win a Cup with this same group before they begin to retire or head to free agency so they know that have to take advantage of this opportunity to win the Cup again.

Blue Jackets’ Strength: Goaltending

Do I even need to explain it? The Jackets’ rookie goaltender Steve Mason, who will probably will the Calder as rookie of the year, had the most shut-outs, was second in goals against average, and single handedly took carried Columbus into the post-season. He’ll have to get rid of the butterflies quick because there is no room for him to start slipping. If he can stand as tall as he did in the regular season he’ll out duel Osgood for sure.

Blue Jackets’ Weakness: Size

Other then outstanding forward Rick Nash, the Blue Jackets lack the kind of size that the Wings have, especially on the blueline. It’s going to be a fight to get into a good scoring position in the Wings’ end, and if the Jackets can’t win those battles more often then not then they won’t have many chances to score.

Player to Watch: Michael Peca

This cagey veteran shines in the post-season. His experience will be a big piece of this Blue Jackets’ puzzle. Without his voice in the dressing room these kids would be lost in the maze that is the Stanley Cup playoffs. Though his numbers continue to drop in the regular season, he was made for this time of year. Expect him to kick it up a notch this post-season.

Blue Jackets’ Overview:

I know I’ve kinda coloured these guys are also rans, but they are actually quite good. They have good young goalscorers, including the most exciting player in the West Rick Nash. They have a great goaltender. They’ve been getting great coaching from Ken Hitchcock who I think should be a Jack Adams finalist. All in all, they should be an entertaining team to watch.

Outlook: Red Wings in five

Like I said, Columbus is good, but in the playoffs sometimes it comes down to intangibles. What are intangibles? Well, they are things like experience, heart, grit… things that the Red Wings in all their years of post-season berths have come to understand and are able to whip out at will. This will be a great experience for the Jackets and they will play hard, but in the end the Wings are just too good for a team without much forward depth and with a rookie goaltender.

3. Canucks vs 6. Blues

Canucks’ Strength: Four Lines, Three Defensive Pairings

One thing the Canucks have been able to do all year is roll four effective lines, and three defensive pairs on the ice. Ever since Mats Sundin came on in December there hasn’t been a weak line on the team. Even if a line can’t score, that all four can be on the ice at any given time confidently is a major boon for this team. Likewise, their top five defenders are all first pair on any other team, with only Shane O’Brien or Ossi Vaananen holding up valiantly as the sixth. This means that no matter who is on the ice, the opposition must take notice.

Canucks’ Weakness: Special Teams

The Canucks have struggled on special teams all year. Though they have certainly improved in the last couple months on both the power play and penalty kill, they still rank 17th and 16th in them respectively. To make matters worse Vancouver is one of the most penalized teams in the league. If they can’t keep themselves out of the box against St Louis’ very skilled forwards they will find themselves coming from behind a lot.

Player to Watch: Mats Sundin

He hasn’t had the best season statistically, but this time right now is why the Canucks brought him aboard. He’s big, he’s skilled, and he’s hungry for the puck. If he can pick up his game for the post-season that means the Canucks will have two lines that demand first line attention from the opposition. Sundin is poised to show everyone what he’s capable of, and if he does, watch out!

Canucks’ Overview:

The Canucks are a very strong team this year. Had they not lost Luongo for more then a month they may have threatened the top two teams in points. There are three teams that no one wants to meet in the post-season this year, the Hurricanes, the Blue Jackets, and the Canucks. The have a ton of depth up front and on D, the have a goaltender many consider the best in the world, and they are ready to show Vancouver what it’s like to be home to the champions.

Blues’ Strength: Scoring

It’s kind of fitting that David Backes will get his first post-season experience against the Canucks since Canucks’ GM Mike Gillis attempted to poach him with an offer sheet during the offseason. This year Backes went from third line energy guy to a thirty goal scorer. He along with Brad Boyes, Keith Tkachuk, Patrik Berglund… the list goes on and on. This year the Blues had ten forwards with ten or more goals, the Canucks have nine. And Paul Kariya may be back for this series as well. That is a helluva lot of scoring potential.

Blues’ Weakness: All Flash, No Dash

Other then Tkachuk there is no grit on this team. They are made for speed and skill, not blood and guts. As many hockey people can tell you, sometimes blood and guts trumps speed and skill. Remember, this is not a one and done system. The Blues will have to play at least four games against the Canucks and in each one of those games they will be driven into the walls, cross-checked, shouldered, pushed, kneed… anything the ‘Nucks can do to get them off their game. Unless they can toughen up they may get beaten up.

Player to Watch: Chris “No Not That Mason” Mason

Chris Mason played very well this year, helping the Blues go from laughing stock to laughing all the way to the bank. The problem is that Mason has, in previous trips to the playoffs, shown that he is susceptible to the overwhelming pressing attack that opposing teams put on the goaltender in the play-offs. The defense in front of him is pretty good, but no better then the defense he had in front of him in Nashville. This series may come down to the last shot, and you have to ask yourself, who would you rather have facing that shot? Luongo, or Mason?

Blues Overview:

The reason the Blues are here, as opposed to say… Minnesota, is because they’ve been playing without fear. At some point, as they wallowed at the bottom of the conference, they said “Screw it!” and starting playing the game not to win but just to play. Like most games adults play for money, that’s the right way to play, but most athletes succumb to the stress of having to perform. When you play relaxed and fearless, like the Blues have been, you play better. Look at these guys!

Outlook: Canucks in five

The Blues were an exciting team all year, but in the end they just made it into the playoffs by the skin of their teeth. Problem is, playoff series aren’t won by the skin of the teeth. Sometimes the better team loses because the effort wasn’t there, but this isn’t one of those series. The Canucks have been sailing on effort all season, and don’t think now that they’re in the post-season that they’re going to disembark that boat. The Blues will have to want this more then anything else to win, but I just don’t see it.

4. Blackhawks vs 5. Flames

Blackhawks’ Strength: Variety

The Blackhawks offer a varied attack. They can score end-to-end, they can score off the rush, tic-tac-toe, garbage, from the blueline… everywhere! If you are facing the ‘Hawks you have to know what each player is capable of and how to defend them accordingly. Problem is, many of them are capable of any number of different sorts of goals so you never really know what’s coming.

Blackhawks’ Weakness: Youth

Many of the ‘Hawks best players are also their youngest… and I mean young. Their captain, Jonathan Toews, is only twenty. These players, though they may be some of the most skilled guys in the league, aren’t entirely matured. I’m not just talking about their personalities, I’m talking about their bodies. They’re going to be playing against men whose joints and tendons and muscles are at their peak. Injuries abound in the playoffs and often they occur in areas that are still soft in the early twenties like hips and shoulders. If Calgary plays rough it could really affect the ‘Hawks’ health.

Player to Watch: Brian Campbell

Campbell can make or break a postseason, just ask Sharks fans. If he plays disciplined then he could be the tipping point on the Blackhawks’ attack. If he plays too excited and fidgety like he did for the Sharks then he will take too many penalties and cost his team a lot of valuable time.

Blackhawks’ Overview:

It’s very exciting to have the ‘Hawks back in the post-season, not just because they are an exciting team but because the NHL suffers when this franchise suffers. They’ve made huge strides this year. They’re goaltending is back on track, their scorers have been healthy and productive, and their defense has been stifling. They want to prove that this year isn’t just a fluke, they want to be back atop this league and it all starts right here right now.

Flames’ Strength: Home Ice

There’s nothing quite like a home playoff game in Calgary. They call it the “Sea of Red” for good reason. The Pengrowth Saddledome can be very intimidating to play in even during the regular season. With 20000 screaming fans all in bright red packing the place during the playoffs there’s not a team in the league that wants to play there.

Flames Weakness: Disappearing Act

It’s already started. The Flames best players began to disappear the moment the Canucks started catching up to them. Todd Bertuzzi is a notorious post-season no-show, Mike Cammalleri and Olli Jokinen have never even been to the playoffs, and even captain Jarome Iginla has found it hard to score in the last few weeks. This time of year is the most important time to really get it going, you need your best players to be your best players and at this moment that is not the case in Calgary.

Player to Watch: Jarome Iginla

This team lives and dies by its captain. If Iginla can take it up a notch this post-season then the Flames will be scary. If, however, he can’t play to his level they’ll be out quickly. He needs to hit, score, and then hit some more. You can tell when he’s on his game so it will be clear early on whether there will be an early exit for Calgary or whether they’ll pose a real challenge to the Blackhawks.

Calgary Overview:

Their play as of late has not made the Flames a favourite anywhere outside of Calgary. Though they’ve had spots of great play, a lot of the year has been spent barely getting by. Yes they held the division lead for a long time, but it wasn’t due to the play of Iginla or goaltender Mikka Kiprusoff who has had an abysmal year by his standards. And then, once Vancouver got healthy Calgary lost ground real fast. To win this series Calgary is really going to have to want it.

Outlook: Chicago in 4

I believe this will be the only sweep in the West. Calgary has really shown their true colours in the last couple of months, and the result has been dropping from third to 5th, and frankly, of the bottom three of the West, Columbus and Anaheim are noticeably better teams the Calgary. Chicago is fifth best in the league in goals against, while Calgary is 21st. There is just too much goal scoring potential in Chicago, and too many disappointing seasons in Calgary, to see this series going any other way.

So there you have my Western Conference predictions.  I know it’s kinda weak that I didn’t take any upsets, but that’s what happens when the two teams with the highest upset potential, Anaheim and Columbus, end up playing honest-to-goodness powerhouse teams. The top four in the West this year are certifiably better then the teams below them and it will be obvious when all the series are done.

Tomorrow, the East where things are liable to be a lot more interesting.

Oh, and congratulations to Boston U. who won a hard fought NCAA championship beating Miami (Ohio) 4-3 in overtime.

LOOKING BACKWARDS

This weekend a illness floored your friendly neighborhood Yankee Hockey. It wasn’t too bad to keep me from watching the games, but my brains ability to function has been severely hampered. So today is going to be an easy one, I’m going to take a look at my early season predictions and see just how well I did (cause there is nothing like patting yourself on the back). With the season not exactly finished, some of the results may change, but I think I got it covered.

Western Conference

(preseason):

1. Detroit

2. San Jose

3. Calgary

4. Anaheim

5. Vancouver

6. St. Louis

7. Chicago

8. Edmonton

9. Los Angeles

10. Dallas

11. Columbus

12. Minnesota

13. Phoenix

14. Colorado

15. Nashville

(actual)

1. San Jose

2. Detroit

This particular battle has been going on all season long with Detroit and San Jose jockeying for position. I’m going to call this a win because, really, they’re like 1A/1B.

3. Calgary

This looks like it’s gonna stick, even though Vancouver made it super interesting (including beating them 4-1 last night to remain in the running for the third spot), but with two games left Calgary would have to lose more then Vancouver won and I’m not sure they will blow their last two games.

4. Chicago

I underestimated the goaltenders here. I knew the team was good, but I didn’t think Christobel Huet would play as good as he has, and I certainly never believed Khabibulin would return to form. They even threatened Detroit for a moment before falling back to earth.

5. Vancouver

Spot on!

6. Columbus

Good for Columbus. I’m glad they proved me wrong here. They can thank Steve Mason for that one, I think if they had stuck with Denis they may not have made it.

7. Anaheim

I’m actually a little surprised they’re even this high up after the season they have had. I guess when you have two Niedermayers, a Pronger, and a Selanne you can kind of tip-toe your way into the playoffs.

8. St Louis

Well, I was wrong about their position, and the play of Manny Legace, but I was right about their powerful offense.

9. Nashville

Look, I’d never heard of Pekka Rinne. Give me a break please.

10. Minnesota

You heard it here first folks. I’m the one who jumped off the Minnesota bandwagon this year while others put them as high as third in the conference. Of course Gaborik is going to get hurt, of course they aren’t going to score goals, so of course they are outta here!

11. Edmonton

Edmonton almost proved me right as the season wore down, but then they had to go and self destruct as they always do. They’re like the Mets of the NHL.

12. Dallas

You heard it here first again! Some “experts” even picked Dallas to win the cup this year. Thanks in part to Sean Avery, and in second part to Turco’s off year, Dallas will be playing golf this Spring.

13. Los Angeles

I really thought LA would be fighting for a spot at this time of the season. Still, they showed a lot of spunk and I look forward to putting them at number nine again next year. (Actually, this Jonathan Quick guy may move them up to eight).

14. Phoenix

15. Colorado

Phoenix almost made things interesting just after the All-Star break, but returned spiritual balance to the NHL again by falling down the standings like a comet. Colorado probably would have done much better had Stastny and Sakic not been out almost the entire year, but Budaij would have made sure they weren’t higher then 11 I’m sure.

All in all i’m rather proud of myself. Got about 30% right on, and the rest (except for a couple) were pretty close. What more could you expect from preseason predictions…. ok, expect for preseason predictions that are not paid for by a sports organization. Get off my back.

Eastern Conference

(preseason):

1. Pittsburgh

2. Montreal

3. Washington

4. NY Rangers

5. New Jersey

6. Ottawa

7. Philadelphia

8. Carolina

9. Boston

10. Tampa Bay

11. Buffalo

12. Florida

13. Toronto

14. NY Islanders

15. Atlanta

(actual)

1. Boston

Way to go Boston. Man I screwed up the East so bad.

2. Washington

I was close! You gotta give me this one at least.

3. New Jersey

I don’t know why I ever doubted New Jersey. Even with Brodeur out most of the season they still kicked everyone’s butt. Actually… now that I think about it, it was after Brodeur went down that the butt-kicking really began.

4. Philadelphia

A very well played season from Philly. They really won me over with their defensive work this year.

5. Carolina

Well, I knew they’d make it to the post season at least. Man they’ve been hot lately.

6. Pittsburgh

Damnit Pittsburgh! If you won’t be kind enough to win the conference like I thought you would, at least be decent enough to miss the playoffs. I hate these guys.

7. Montreal

So what was last year? Some kind of tease? I wouldn’t be surprised if these guys were out of the playoffs by the end of the week.

8. NY Rangers

How is it that two of my top five are struggling to even make the playoffs. The Rangers, especially backstopped by Lundqvist are just too good to be barely holding on to eighth spot.

9. Florida

I knew Florida was going to be better then people expected… but this good? They deserve a playoff spot, if only to justify not trading Bouwmeester.

10. Buffalo

Losing Miller really hurt. They were better then their record presents. Next year boys, nest year.

11. Ottawa

You know, it’s teams like Ottawa that screwed up my predictions this year. They’re getting an angry letter.

12. Toronto

One off, dang! Well, with Burke as their GM they’ll be back here again next year.

13.  Atlanta

Atlanta really benefited from the absolutely horrible play of Tampa Bay and the Islanders. Otherwise they’d be right where I put them.

14. Tampa Bay

See what happens when you fire Barry Melrose?

15. NY Islanders

They’re only here cause they are desperate for Tavares.

So my Eastern Conference predictions were a little of, but hey, my Western Conference predictions were pretty good right? It’s nice to get a little West Coast bias for once.

Come back because in the coming weeks we’ll have a ton of playoff discussion, including who I think will win it all.

WHO’S AFRAID OF THE BIG BAD WOLF?

Well folks, the best time of the year is nearly upon: playoffs! For those of you who have never experienced the wonder that is playoff hockey (and if you are one of those people… why are you reading a hockey blog?), playoff hockey is the greatest sporting event on the planet. Better than any Olympic event, better then any other pro-sporting event, better even then the World Cup of soccer. Playoff hockey is the pinnacle of sports, the Platonic ideal, the Paradise of Dante, only more exciting.

While I won’t say who I believe will win it all yet, I will make one prediction; there will be upsets. Oh yes folks, unlike the NCAA basketball tourney, upsets are the name of the game in hockey. Give any team seven games and they can pull off an upset. The thing about hockey is that hard work can sometimes trump skill, and you’ll never see harder work then in the playoffs. Why, just a few years ago the Edmonton Oilers went into the playoffs as the eighth seed and managed to fight their way all the way to the finals, and there’s a chance they could do it again this year (as in, there’s a chance that ever other team in the powerhouse Western Conference will resign from the playoffs giving Edmonton an automatic birth in the finals).

If you take a look at the top of the Western Conference you can already see it happening. San Jose has gotten injury prone at the worst possible time and has been showing how weak they are in defensive depth. Detroit, while obviously skilled in the forward and defensive positions, has been getting shoddy goaltending all year. Calgary probably won’t even be the third seed by the time you are reading this! And even if they are Kiprusoff has been so unpredictable this year I wouldn’t bet on them going to far into the post-season.

In the East the only real solid top three team is New Jersey, and only because with Brodeur back they are pretty much unstoppable. Boston has had a great year but has become susceptible to rough play recently and has shown just how undisciplined their young players are. It’s hard to count out any team icing Alexander Ovechkin, but after him Washington’s line-up reads more like a seventh or eighth rather then a division winner.

Yes sir, upsets are the name of the game. You wanna know the two teams that no one wants to play in the post-season? Columbus and Pittsburgh, currently both sitting in the six spot in their respective conferences. In Columbus you have rookie of the year (and probable Vezina candidate) Steve Mason in goal, and nothing beats a brick wall in front of the net in the playoffs. In Pittsburgh you have a couple of guys named Crosby and Malkin to contend with. Even though Fleury has hardly proved himself to be a great goaltender, with two hundred regular season points standing in front of him, who cares.

As for the four/five spots, everyone knows there is no such thing as an upset there. In the West it’ll be Chicago versus either Vancouver or Calgary, and in the East it will probably be Philly, maybe playing Pitt, or maybe Carolina or the Rangers. Both of those series should be fun to watch.

And the 7/8 spots? Well, there are a lot of teams vying for those spots. In the West I think it will be Nashville and St Louis, or Nashville and Anaheim, or St Louis and Anaheim… some combination there-in. Edmonton is close but I just don’t think they have enough talent to pull it out. Dallas and Minnesota just aren’t good enough this year for a final run. In the East I hate to take Montreal out of the post-season, but they just can’t compete this year. In the end I think they will back their way in, unless Buffalo goes on a major tear with Miller back in net. Florida has a good chance too, Montreal has control of their destiny this year. As of this writing the Rangers hold the seventh spot, and unless they completely implode they will probably keep it. They are a good team, better then they’ve been playing lately, and have a lot of post-season experience to help them out.

With less then ten games left in the season, some teams are already planning their strategies against their likely opponent, some are frantically trying to put together wins, and some are making reservations at the golf course. As for us fans, we’re trying to keep our blood pressure down as we anticipate the best time of the year.

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GOALIE GODS

Posted in Buffalo, Calgary, Columbus, Dallas, Montreal, New Jersey, NY Rangers, Players, predictions, Prospects, Vancouver by yankhockey on March 16, 2009

Martin Brodeur tied Patrick Roy’s all-time wins record over the weekend. Add to that the fact that he is only a few shutouts behind the current record and there is little you can say against him being named the greatest goaltender of to play the game. Some people might say that he is a few Stanley Cups away from being the greatest, but consider the era he plays in. There are thirty teams in the league now, and all of them are competitive. In years past, when the league  expanded, the new teams suffered from a lack of available talent, but with the arrival of European players, as well as better youth programs in the US and Canada, the talent pool is so big that many players of an NHL level of play are playing in the AHL or European leagues.

But I’m not here to argue Broduers case, he’s argued that enough with his play, I’m here to argue whether any goaltender we’re watching now will ever beat his wins total. So let’s look at the usual suspects.

Roberto Luongo:

The heir apparent of Brodeurs goaltending kingdom certainly has made a case for himself for the last four years. The problem is, unlike Broduer, Luongo spent a lot of time backstopping a horrible team; the Panthers. He just racked up too many losses in his early career to catch up. Ever after winning more then thirty (more then forty even) games in the last four seasons he still has a losing record.

Brodeur’s first four full seasons looked thusly:

27-11-8, 19-11-8, 34-30-12, and 37-14-13

Luongo’s:

12-24-7, 16-33-4, 20-34-7, and 25-33-14

Miikka Kiprusoff:

He leads the league in wins this year, but don’t let that fool you. He’s fallen off his game since he backstopped the Flames to the finals. As of the writing of this column, in the last four games he has let in well over twenty goals. He was doing the same thing at the start of the year, giving up twelve goals in his first two games alone. He’s done people, his fifteen minutes are up.

Marty Turco:

An interesting case could be made for Turco. He’s been a solid starter since he started his career, and has played in front of a winning team that entire time. However, this year he has proved with his play that he benefited from Dallas being one of the most defensively responsible teams in front of him. With their defense older and depleted this year he has struggled to win games at times and has given up far too many goals. He just doesn’t have enough years left to pull out the 300+ wins he needs.

Ryan Miller:

In the last couple of years Ryan Miller has really shown himself to be an elite goaltender. The only problem is he’s already 28 and this is only his third year as a starter. Miller is good, really good, especially because he can make a bad team good. But it looks like it will be too little too late for Miller.

Henrik Lundqvuist:

Now things are getting interesting. Lundqvuist is a great goaltender backstopping the only team in the league who can both attract and afford star players. Even though the Rangers don’t appear to be poised to compete for the Cup anytime soon, let alone a division title, Lundqvuist can win 30+ games a season through talent alone. He’s young, he’s good, and if he can stay healthy he may be able to compete for the wins title.

Carey Price:

If he starts playing like he did last year and shows that this year is just a sophomore slump Price could made a go at the wins title. However, if he was simply playing above his level last year and we’ll be seeing the Price of this year continue into the years to come the he won’t even be close.

Steve Mason:

The young phenom that is Mason is the best chance, in my mind, to make a go at this record. He is only twenty and will end up winning thirty this year. Not only that, if his numbers continue to improve, he may even make a go at the shutouts record. If he wins 35 every year for the next sixteen years, bringing him to Brodeurs current age, he’ll have 560, beating what Brodeur has now.

DEADLINE SPECIAL

Welcome to the Yankee Hockey Trade Deadline Special! It was, as I expected, a not so crazy day where only a few teams managed to get everything on their shopping list, and many teams moved horizontally rather then vertically. So let’s get to it.

The Big  Winners:

Calgary: The Flames are the big winners not because of their biggest trade, Olli Jokinen for  Lombardi, Prust, and a 1st, but because of the trade they made earlier for Jordan Leopold for two fringe defensemen and a 2nd round pick. Calgary’s offense didn’t need any sort of boost. Sure, Jokinen’s big body is helpful, just hardly necessary.  Their one weakness this year (other then Kipprusoff being sketchy at times) has been a shaky defense. Leopold is a great defenseman with a high offensive upside, he immediately makes Calgary tougher to play against. Jokinen is a good player, but he doesn’t make Calgary intimidating like Leopold does.

Phoenix: So they lost Jokinen, so what? He was hardly a force to be reckoned with in the desert anyway. What they did do was get a first, second, and fourth round pick, a bunch of good forwards in Scottie Upshall, Peter Prucha, Brandon Prust, Matthew Lombardi, and Nigel Dawes, as well as a decent defenseman in Dmitri Kalinin. They may be out of the playoff race this year, but next year they will be retooled and better then ever.

Boston Bruins: Mark Recchi was a pretty good pick up. He’ll help them more in the post season then he will now, but they didn’t give up much for him and somehow managed to get a second round pick in 2010 to boot. The addition that makes them big winners is getting Steve Montador in exchange for the currently injured Petteri Nokelainen, who isn’t even that good when he’s not injured. Montador is a great defensemen and immediately makes the toughest team in the East even tough. With Recchi and Montador on their squad they should go very deep into the playoffs.

Columbus Blue Jackets: They got rid of a goaltender they didn’t need, and in return got an experienced center they desperately need. This is a young team with almost not playoff experience, adding Antoinne Vermette, who went to the Stanley Cup finals two seasons ago, immediately makes this team a dark horse pick in the post-season.

Moving  Sideways:

New York Rangers:  Sure they got Derek Morris and Nik Antropov, and those two should shore up a bit of the holes in the Rangers’ ship, but what they really needed was a scoring winger. Antropov is both big and talented, but he’s a center who isn’t very good on the wing. They can’t put him with Gomez, and that’s really where they needed to add a player. Not only that they gave up young and talented Peter Prucha for Morris and that may end up hurting them in seasons to come.

Philadelphia Flyers: Already a scrappy team, I’m not sure why the Flyers felt they needed to pick up  gritty players like Jeff Carcillo and Kyle McLaren. With the most assets of any team in the league available for a big trade the Flyers fell surprisingly flat. Well, they didn’t need much, they didn’t get much, they are the definition of moving sideways.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Sorry if I don’t think that addition of Bill Guerin for next to nothing is a winning move. The Penguins needed someone to add some life into their line-up. Guerin will add some goals, but he definitely won’t add any inspiration. What they have right now is Evgeni Malkin and Matt Cooke trying to breathe some life into this team, and that’s just not enough. Rumour was they were looking to bring back Jarkko Ruutu, and that would have helped big time. Guerin just won’t put them over the top of anything.

San Jose Sharks: Here was a team that didn’t need to make any trade at all, and then they went and made two. They got rid of Kyle McLaren who is a good every day defensemen, and then picked up a poor replacement in Kent Huskins. And where exactly do they expect Travis Moen to play?

Anaheim Ducks: I really probably could have put them into the losing category because they didn’t pick up anything good, unless your idea of good is untested prospects. But they didn’t lose anything good either. Maybe… maybe Travis Moen, but he’s only pretty good. Now, they very well could have traded Pronger or Niedermayer and gotten a pretty penny back. That they didn’t means they must believe they can make it to at least the second round this year, but because they will probably be facing either the Sharks or the Wings if they do make it, I highly doubt that.

Big Losers:

Toronto Maple Leafs: They got rid of everything and got almost nothing in return. I know that Brian Burke loves picks, but he hasn’t often shown an ability to use them well. Vancouver still suffers from his drafting years, in Anaheim he benefited from the previous GM’s picks. If he thinks that Toronto fans will be patient as he tries to rebuild this team entirely from scratch he hasn’t been paying attention. Further, the two goaltenders they got, Olaf Kolzig and Martin Gerber, haven’t done anything to merit a starting job in a few years. What’s the plan there?

Florida Panthers: I appreciate that they want to keep Bouwmeester around for the playoffs. Getting to the post-season is a super big deal in Florida this year. I think they’re getting in with or without the guy, and they would have certainly gotten both players and picks for him. I’m sure they could have convinced either Philly or Vancouver who were both rumoured to be frothing at the bit for him to give up one of their roster defensemen in return. Bouwmeester is not going to mean the difference between the first and second round for Florida, they will be beat early on and then they will lose him in the off-season

Vancouver Canucks: So you see your divisional rival Calgary Flames make two excellent deals and you can’t do anything? Not a god damn thing? Look, I completely understand that if there are no good deals to make then you don’t make a deal, but you need a center and the Rangers pick up Nik Antropov for a second round pick. At this point GM Mike Gillis better re-sign the Sedin twins and Mattias Ohlund quick before fans start to think he is incapable of any action whatsoever.

Chicago Blackhawks: If this team wants to be considered one of the elite of the league then they needed to make a move. What move did they make? Sami Pahlsson? Really guys? Is that the best you can do? They have two starting goaltenders eating away at their cap space and they couldn’t rid themselves of either of them? This will come back to haunt them in the post-season.

Trading Day Oddities:

Dallas Stars pick up Brendan Morrison on the waiver wire: This is an oddity because Brendan Morrison is a Stars killer! He scored an awesome overtime goal a couple years ago against Turco in the playoffs that really killed the Stars. But, I guess keep your friends close, and your enemies even closer.

Three-way deal of nothing: The Kings, ‘Canes, and Oilers made what the most frustrating deal of the day with O’Sullivan going to the Oil, Cole going to the ‘Canes, and Williams going to LA. All three players aren’t exactly having banner years, emphasis on Williams and Cole there. O’Sullivan is the best of the bunch, and he’s going to the team least likely to make the playoffs. What an excercise in futility this trade was.

UPDATE!

Posted in Columbus by yankhockey on October 17, 2008

Michael Peca’s 10-game suspension has been reduced to 5 games. Chalk up one correct prediction for me.

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PECA PICKS A PECK OF PICKLED PENALTIES

Posted in Columbus, Players, This Weeks Questions by amanoidopera on October 13, 2008

Michael Peca was suspended on Saturday, indefinitely, for making contact with an official during the Blue Jackets’ opening game against Dallas. The incident began when Peca felt he was tripped while protecting the front of his net by Brendan Morrow of the Stars, who then went on to score a power-play goal while Peca was still getting off the ice. Peca chased after referee Greg Kimmerly after the goal pleading his case. From there things get a bit more iffy. According to the NHL Peca then hit the linesman with his stick. Peca told the Columbus Dispatch that he only grabbed his arm to slow him down. Whatever the case may be, the result was a game misconduct penalty, and an indefinite suspension which Peca plans to appeal.

From the videos I have seen there is definitely a trip from Morrow, but unfortunately the camera on the NHL website takes an unfortunate angle and the last we see of Peca he is racing behind the net to follow Kimmerly, and the other one is from, I assume, a camera phone and there is very little detail. In the camera phone one you can see Peca reach out for the official. The difference maker here may be whether he reached out with his hand or his stick. So while there is curently no way to tell exactly what happened back there for us internet searching hockey fans, you know that the NHL execs have everything they need to suspend Peca for any amount of time they choose.

The thing is, there’s never an excuse to contact an official, ever. Missed calls, especially for the hard fought space in front of the net, are always going to be a part of the game. Officials, like fans, are human, having only two eyes to watch an entire rink. If you think following the flow of the game is tough in the stands, try it at ice level. Not everything is called, and while it’s appropriate, especially for an assistant captain and vet like Peca, to argue missed calls, it is never appropriate to bump an official. And you have to believe that whatever Peca did, the official felt he was disrespected, because hockey refs are not known to hand out game misconducts willy-nilly, he felt that Peca had crossed the line.

This is hockey, this isn’t baseball where officials get bumped all the time, there is no precedent for contacting officials in the NHL. Peca has played enough years, especially in a leadership role, to know this. If you’re frustrated on the ice, you take it out on your opponent. You run their goalie, hit their young stars, fight with their goon, you don’t ever take it out on the official.

The real question at this point is how many games will Peca get suspended for. My feeling is that, since the official felt threatened that should be justification for one game. Of course, if he did do something as foolish as use his stick on the ref then you’re looking at more then ten. My gut is telling me that even if Peca just grabbed Kimmerly’s arm like he claims, the league is still likely to suspend him for five games so that they can show their officials that they’re being protected. The real question is whether this will set a precedent for the rest of the year. Will the league be suspending people left and right for incidental contact on refs?

The official NHL highlight can be viewed here (it’s the second goal on the highlights list)

The camera phone video can be viewed here

THIS WEEKS QUESTIONS:

Each Monday I will address some questions for the upcoming week in hockey. Here is the introduction to This Weeks Questions!

Will Keith Tkachuck continue to score like it’s 1999? Will Jarome Iginla ever score a goal again? Will Calgary’s defense remember how to keep pucks away from their net? Will the Rangers ever lose a game?  Will a long road trip stifle the Canucks suddenly powerful offense? Who can backstop the Blackhawks to a victory? And finally, will Barry Melrose win a game behind the bench so his friends at ESPN don’t have to keep making excuses for him?

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