yankee hockey

LET THE SECOND ROUND BEGIN!

Posted in Anaheim, Calgary, Carolina, Chicago, NY Rangers, post-season, san jose, stanley cup, Washington by yankhockey on April 28, 2009

Two great game sevens tonight. The final game in the New Jersey/Carolina series was everything you could have hoped for and more. Game seven in the Washington/New York series took a surprise twist. All in all, a great night for hockey.

First we’ll visit Washington who looked like they were going to let the game get out of hand in the first. It was a Rangers sort of game for the first two periods; not a lot of shots, not a lot of space, not a lot of power plays. You could see the Capitals start to find their feet at the end of the second though. Third period was all Caps. Lundqvist played an incredible game, but in the end it was a shot from the face off dot that beat him. Sergei Fedorov raced down the right side of the rink and then hit the breaks. Using the defender as a screen he snapped a wrister right under the bar over Lundqvist’s shoulder to give the Caps a 2-1 lead with just over four minutes left in the third. I was actually thinking right before it happened “Wow, Fedorov still has some wheels.” And he certainly did. It was Fedorov’s 52 post-season goal, and it turned out to be the game winner. Even though there were four minutes remaining the Rangers couldn’t put together even the slightest offense. In the entire third period they had only one shot on goal. The Caps took over that period like pirates boarding a ship. In the last minute and a half, as the Rangers tried to put together a comeback, they couldn’t even get the puck into the offensive zone to get Lundqvist to the bench. In all Varlamov had to make 14 saves in what turned out to be an easy win, but it certainly didn’t look that way at the start.

Washington came back from a 3-1 series deficit to win this one. I thought this team was in over their head. Until game five they looked like they had no idea how to beat the Rangers. Then, suddenly, their talent showed up like it had taken the wrong bus. This team is very good, and who knows how this series would have turned out if they had started with Varlamov instead of Theodore, they probably would have won in five or six. The Rangers are a very good team too. I know I shouldn’t like them, but the personalities on the team are all great guys. I really like Drury, Gomez, Naslund, Lundqvist, Mara… can you dislike a team but like it’s players? With Tortorella behind the bench starting the season next year I expect them to finish better then seventh.

But the game in New Jersey… wow! I wish that it had been on Versus instead of cage fighting. I only saw highlights, but I imagine the game was of the highest intensity. No one expects Martin Brodeur to give up a game tying goal with less then two minutes left to play, so certainly NO ONE would expect Martin Brodeur to then give up the game winning goal with about 30 seconds left to play. You could see it in his face after he gave up that fourth goal. He was already blaming himself for losing the series. And really, who else is he going to blame. All he needed to do was keep the ‘Canes to three goals or less and he failed. When was the last time Brodeur lost in the first round? It’s going to take a little research so allow me a moment… Oh wait, it was last year, how did I forget that? Well that’s two years in a row now that Brodeur has been out early in the post-season, but this year has got to be even more disappointing.

The ‘Canes played a great series and certainly deserved to win. This series was so fun to watch because the two teams were so similar in design. Cagey veterans, speedy youngsters, goal scoring defensemen, cup winning goaltenders… Now the ‘Canes go on to meet Boston which will bring a different sort of game to the table, but that’s for Friday’s entry.

Meanwhile, in the West on Monday two series were decided in six. The eighth seeded Ducks beat the Sharks with ease, while the Blackhawks took care of the Flames.

The Sharks/Ducks series was an interesting one, if only for the ramifications. Once again the Sharks are out prematurely. Even the President’s Trophy can’t save them from post-season disappointment. The Ducks beat the Sharks so easily it makes you wonder exactly what time of year the Sharks believed it was when they got onto the ice. Don’t get me wrong, the Ducks are a good team and they can stand up to any team in the league, but you have to wonder what happened to the Sharks team that was the best in the league this year. So what do you do now? Fire the GM that built the President’s Trophy winning team? Fire the coach that coached the President’s Trophy winning team? Where does the blame lie? They’re going to be looking at the leadership in the team this offseason and I expect changes when the season starts up next year. Don’t be surprised if they make a few trades in the meanwhile.

In Calgary the Flames attempted to match the run-and-gun style of the Blackhawks without success. It was a shoot-out of a series and in the end the young stars of Chicago were no match for an injured defense and old forward line of Calgary. The Flames proved they could score with the best of them, but also proved that they are a team that can no longer prevent goals against. Even their once all-world goaltender fell flat. The Blackhawks move on to the second round not as bruised as they would have been from Flames past. Can Khabibulin play himself back into the Stanley Cup? Well, we have at least one more round to find out.

Tune in Friday for my second round predictions.

Advertisements

THE SEASON THAT WAS

Well folks, the end of the season is upon us, and the reason for the season is about to start, so what better time then now to look back on all the significant events that have transpired through 2008-2009 in the NHL.

Injuries Galore:

There are injuries every season, but has any season seen an IR list like this year? It started small with Erik Johnson of the Blues hurting his knee by getting his foot stuck between the brake and accelerator of a golf cart during spring training. The knee required surgery and he was out for the season. Then Burnaby Joe Sakic ended up hurting his back big time, missing a significant chunk of the season. And then, with his return on the horizon, he gets his hand stuck in a snow blower, requiring surgery to repair it. Sakic is hoping to play the last three games this season. I had believed that this would be his last season. I think now he’ll come back, he wants to end it on a full season. But the Avs trouble didn’t end there, their young star Paul Stastny ended up getting injured not once… but twice! The first time missing more then 20 games, the second time… well he’s still out. Mike Richards, he of post-season glory and expensive off-season contract, ended up breaking his wrist early in the season and missing a lot of games. Then, in his long anticipated first game back… he broke his other wrist, out for the rest of the season.

In the goalie category the league lost it’s two best goaltenders long term to injury. Martin Brodeur tore a tendon in his elbow and lost 16 weeks to injury, the longest period of time he’s been out in his career. On the other coast Roberto Luongo suffered a pulled groin muscle, and after reaggravating it a few weeks later trying to come back early, ended up missing more then two months. Will it hurt his Vezina chances? Maybe. And then Ryan Miller goes down at the most inopportune time, leaving Buffalo without a solid netminder, and out of the playoffs. And I think we’re all done talking about DiPietro and his injury problems. How’s that fifteen year contract going Long Island?

In the Sharks category… who hasn’t been injured? Their entire D-corps has been out at one point or another, their starting goaltender went down… hell, I’m surprised HP Pavillion hasn’t been placed on the IR. The worst of it has been happening recently. That’s what we call a case of BAD TIMING.

Record Breakers:

Brodeur came back into the spotlight by winning his 552 game, breaking Patrick Roy’s all-time record. I’m sure New Jersey was expecting to celebrate that earlier in the year, they should be glad they got to celebrate it at all. In Washington Mike Green managed not to just break the team goal scoring record for consecutive games… he managed to break the league record (for defensemen). Green is a phenomenal offensive player… will it be enough to garner him a Norris Trophy? Also in Washington, Alexander Ovechkin became the first player to score 50 goals three times in a Capitals uniform, further justifying his “Greatest-Player-In-The-Game” status.

Melrose, we hardly knew ye:

In the most celebrated coaching hire in decades (at least, if you work for ESPN), Barry Melrose started the year behind the bench in Tampa Bay. After trying to prove to both the fans and the players that old school, hard-working hockey is better then flash-and-dash hockey for about a week, he was fired and allowed to go back to hockey analysis where he really shines. Meanwhile new coach Rick Tocchet has managed to keep them in the Tavares hunt, apparently to management’s great satisfaction.

The trade that wasn’t:

For a year… A YEAR… all I heard about was how the Panthers were going to trade Jeremy Bouwmeester. Oh how the excitement built up as the trade deadline came close. Oh how the fans of teams in the hunt held their breath trying to imagine Bouwmeester on their blueline. What’s that? The Florida held onto him for their playoff run? And now they aren’t even in the top eight with only a few games left to play? And they’re going to lose him for nothing in the offseason? Way to go Florida… way to go.

Toronto institutes a “No Stanley Cup Ever” program:

Brian Burke, fresh off riding another GM’s players into the Stanley Cup, left Anaheim and moved over to Toronto where he immediately began to trade off players. The thing about Burke is, he hates prospects. Just ask Vancouver where his handy work left them hard pressed for the kind of young talent most other teams have in their line ups. Unfortunately for both Burke and Toronto, there isn’t a Stanley Cup winning team already in place for him to leech off of. You know what, as long as he can build a decent US Olympic team I’ll forgive him anything… not sure Leafs fans will though.

Wait a minute… penguins can’t fly!:

Oh, how much joy I had when I thought the Penguins were going to miss the post-season. Alas, you just can’t stop a team with Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, no matter how much the rest of the team might try. Still, it is better for the league to have this team in the playoffs. Just please please please not another Stanley Cup appearance… I don’t think my delicate constitution could take that.

To celebrate, or not to celebrate:

Don Cherry stuck yet another foot in his mouth (how many does he have in there now… fourteen?) when he started complaining about Ovechkin’s exciting, over the top goal celebrations, and lauding Crosby’s stoic “Oh, did I just score? How intriguing.” nothing celebrations.  We all get that you enjoy things that blend into the background quietly Mr Cherry, especially your clothing (want some more examples). Look Grapes, anyone who watches Ovechkin score a goal… or a linemate for that matter, and doesn’t get excited for the game of hockey is either dead or a xenophobic loud mouth. And to think, because he’s on the CBC, Canadian citizens pay his salary.

Well, there’s been plenty more including a great Winter Classic, some incredible rookie sensations, a few veteran comebacks, and even a fight or two. But there is one event that we should not, ever, let slip past our notice this season.

Colleen Howe, Mrs Hockey, passed away at the age of 76. They say behind every good man is a great woman, and never was it more true then in this case. Mrs Hockey not only supported her husband emotionally, she supported him professionally too, acting as his manager. She was instrumental in getting hockey players the kinds of competitive contracts they have today. When she began as Gordie’s manager he was the third highest player on the team, despite being by far the best. Thanks to the negotiating skills of Colleen, the Red Wings were forced to give him the raise he deserved. She’s been honoured more times then I can list, and her death is likely the reason that the Hockey Hall of Fame will, from now on, be allowing women to be honoured. The passing of Mrs Howe is a sad and tragic event for anyone who loves hockey, and so it is with great regret that I make it the final moment of note this season.

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.

MARTY’S BACK

Posted in New Jersey, Players by yankhockey on February 26, 2009

So Martin Brodeur came back yesterday after missing pretty much the entire season up to this point and all he managed to do was shut out the Avalanche. Granted, it is the Avalanche without Joe Sakic and a just-back-from-horrible-injury Paul Stastny, but Brodeur hasn’t played a game since November 1st and he achieved his 99th career shut-out. Think he’ll get to 100 before the year is out? Uh, yeah. Not only that he is now only six wins away from the all time record in wins. Had he not been injured we would have been celebrating all this before Christmas and now it would have been forgotten in the midst of playoff hunts and the trading deadline, so it’s nice to have him come back strong now so our excitement for the end of the regular season can coincide with our excitement for Brodeur. There’s always something magical about people approaching milestones at the end of a season. Like Roger Maris hitting 61 on the last game of the season.

There’s little doubt that Brodeur is the greatest goalie of this generation. I’m well aware that Patrick Roy was incredible between the pipes, but even a man of his boundless ego would have to admit that Brodeur is better and more consistent then he ever was. Brodeur is not going to just beat his total wins record, he’s going to shatter it. The man will be 37 in May, and seeing guys like Eddie Belfour, Curtis Joseph, and Brian Boucher play well into their forties leads me to believe he’s got at least 90 more wins in him, and probably 15 more shut-outs. And that’s only if he starts to slow down in his old age.

What is almost lost in all this though is the treatment of Scott Clemmenson by the Devils. Clemmensen stepped in when Broduer went down and kept the Devils from falling down the standings. In fact, under Clemmensen’s backstopping they took over the lead in the Atlantic Division. And what do they do when Brodeur comes back to thank him? They send him down to the AHL. The Devils have apparently decided that Kevin Weekes will be Brodeurs back-up despite the fact that he has never done anything in his career to show that he is capable of consistently winning games at the NHL level, which Clemmensen certainly did. What are they worried about? That he’ll have to go through waivers? Trust me guys, no one is picking up his contract, you’re paying him regardless, might as well go with a winner.

Of course, the fact the Brodeur will play every remaining game probably was a factor. Why leave Clemmensen to rot on the bench when he could be getting valuable experience actually playing the game of hockey at the AHL level. Still, in thanks for everything he has done for you this year, you might as well leave him in the bench and allow him to soak up NHL glory. Even though he won more games for them this season (25) then he ever should have been able to, if they go on to win the Stanley Cup and he isn’t on the bench I don’t believe he gets his name engraved on it (correct me if I’m wrong though). That would be a true shame. Of course, there’s nothing to say he won’t make his way back up come playoff time, especially because I don’t see the Devils having any confidence in Weekes come post-season.

SENIOR MOVEMENT

Posted in Philadelphia, Surprise of the Week, Veterans by yankhockey on October 24, 2008

I already gave some love to the youngsters in the league, but they aren’t alone in making an impact. There have been a few veterans this year who have shown that they can still play the game. A few vets have even shown that they can still be on the top of their game. Here are five players over 35 who are creating a real buzz in the NHL this year.

Keith Tkatchuk age 36: It’s been more then ten years since Tkachuk has scored 40 or more goals. This year, seven goals in six games. Are you kidding me? Keith Tkachuk? This isn’t the same Keith Tkachuk that arrived in training camp out of shape a couple of years ago, this is a Keith Tkachuk that aims to be one of the best players in the league again. Right now he’s on pace to beat Gretzky’s single season scoring record. Not that I believe he’ll even come close, but wouldn’t it be exciting if he could manage 50-in-50? I remember a commercial for hockey, possibly for a video game, where Tkachuk described his name as the sound of a puck hitting the back of the net. Well goaltenders, that’s true again this year, so be careful when playing against the Blues.

Joe Sakic age 39: Burnaby Joe Sakic has never had a bad season in his entire career. With eight points in seven games this year it doesn’t look like he plans on slowing down. He still has the most glorius wrist shot in the league. He’s still the scariest player on the Avalanche, and that’s saying a lot. This guy has been the face of the franchise since it was The Nordiques! In an age of heavy player movement, that’s is truly the most incredible part of his glorious career. I truly believe that this is Sakic’s last year, and not because he’s too old to play, but because I think he wants to move into the off-ice part of his career. Not only that, he doesn’t want to be like Brett Hull and go out with a whimper. If this is his last season he’s going to want to be huge.

Rob Brind’Amour age 38: With three goals and one assist in five games, Brind’Amour is poised to have yet another season of over achieving. The thing about Brind’Amour is that he’s been a pretty solid point producer his entire career, with a few off years, but no one really gives him much credit. At 38 he should be on the decline of his career, but this guy never declines. He won’t score more then 82 points, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be a big part of this team if the Hurricanes are going to go to the post-season this year. He’s the best leader this team has had and there will be a large vacuum when he departs, but that won’t be for a couple seasons I’m sure, so he’ll have time to groom another.

Niklas Lidstrom age 38: I remember reading about how, when Olympic hockey comes to Vancouver in 2010, Lidstrom was going to be 40 years old. “40?” I said, “That can’t be right.” But sure enough, it was. I can’t believe this guy is already 38 because he plays like a teenager. He has so much energy, so much speed and strength, and so much innate skill, when you watch him on the ice he looks 20 years younger. When you look back through the years you suddenly remember that he’s been dominating this league for a long time, but then you watch him again and it’s like the first time. With two goals and four assists in six games it looks like it will be another point producing season for the old timer, but you must always remember with Lidstrom that it’s his defensive play that wins him the Norris Trophy every year.

Martin Brodeur age 36: Ok, I was fighting this because it just seemed to obvious. But what can I do? The best goaltender in the league is at it again, already posting two shutouts, a GAA of 1.30, and a win/loss record of 5-1. There’s no getting past the fact that Brodeur is the BEST player 35 or older playing in the NHL. He’s outplaying everyone this year, and I’d like to say I’m surprised, but the only thing that surprises me is when he gives up more then two goals. How can a goalie be that good? How many years are we going to measure every other goaltender to Brodeur? Everyone we’ve tagged as his successor; Luongo, Turco, Kiprusof… have been having way below par years, but Brodeur just keeps on rolling. That’s why he’s the ultimate hockey old timer.

Now I have a question for ESPN.com. Have you guys been reading my blog? Less then a week after my Youth Movement article, the front page of their hockey site has the exact same headline, though their articles are formatted differently. Still, is it merely coincidence that my interest in hockey’s youngsters pre-dated ESPNs by mere days? Well ESPN, if you are reading this, there’s no need to steal my ideas, you can always just put me on the payroll. And if you are not reading this, why not? It’s a good blog with a lot of cool hockey analysis, you should be reading it.

SURPRISE OF THE WEEK:

This weeks surprise are the still winless Flyers. This is a team I believed was going to be a contender in the East. Not that it’s too late, but going winless through six is no way to start off as a playoff contender. This is a better team then 0-3-3. They have some small goaltending issues, but their offense and defense are sound. They’ve been outplayed, badly.  They aren’t the only team off to a slow start, and as the year goes on things will begin to even out, but if it wasn’t for the World Series sports fans in Philly wouldn’t be too optimistic right now. Management may feel the need to shake things up, if I was John Stevens I’d be doing everything I could to inspire my team to grind out a win before I’m out the door.