yankee hockey

ON TO GAME SEVEN!

Pittsburgh is the next team to move on to the second round with a sound thrashing of Philadelphia on Saturday. The Flyers were up 3-0 until the let the Penguins score four unanswered goals (five if you count the empty-netter) to win the game 5-3. I know the Penguins have Sydney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but when you are up 3-0 in the first you should win the game. This is why they say there is no safe lead in the NHL. Anyway, the Flyers didn’t really deserve to win the series. You have to show up every game in the playoffs or you won’t win. The Flyers showed up two games and one period and that is simply not enough. To be frank, the Penguins didn’t show up every game either, they just showed up more then the Flyers. I’d like to say that it looks like they will be taking on Boston but with both the Rangers/Capitals and Hurricanes/Devils series going on to game sevens it’s too hard to predict the next round.

Game sevens in the Stanley Cup are a thing of beauty, and the two series in the East heading that way should live up to that. The ‘Canes beat the Devils solidly 4-0 in game six last night, Cam Ward playing a helluva game for the shutout. This series has been so back and forth it’s hard to predict who will go into game seven with more momentum. The ‘Canes staved off elimination with  a superb game and will be going into New Jersey with much confidence, but New Jersey will be at home and there’s an age old saying in hockey: “Never bet against Martin Brodeur in the clutch”. Like most game sevens this will come down to goaltending. I said ‘Canes in six… let’s switch it to Devils in seven at home.

Meanwhile the Rangers had the chance to finish off the Capitals at home but were trounced 5-3 and now have to head to Washington to try once again to stop the Capitals onslaught. Lundqvist was not terribly good in this one, but that’s the kind of thing that happens when you face the offensive might of the Washington Capitals. This series rests entirely on Lundqvist’s shoulders. If he can keep the goals down to two or less then the Rangers can win, if he lets in three or more the Capitals will win. The real story in this series is the play of rookie goaltender Simeon Varlamov who has really played fantastic, much better the Jose Theodore could be expected to play. I had the Rangers in seven and I’m sticking to it.

Meanwhile in the West two series are going into game six. The Blackhawks tore up Calgary on Saturday winning by a score of 5-1. They go into Calgary now for game six. They really got to Kiprusoff in game five. If they can keep a steady attack on Calgary’s defensive end then they stand a very good chance of winning the series in six. If, however, they allow Calgary to dictate the play in the neutral zone then Calgary will put up a good fight. Calgary will try to clog up the neutral zone with bodies and checks, but if Chicago can score a goal or two then they’ll start to open things up. If Calgary scores first they’ll stay back and the game will be very low scoring. I said Chicago in four, let’s make it six.

Also in the West the San Jose Sharks gave their fans a heart attack with a 3-2 overtime win. The Sharks got out to a quick 2-0 lead and then managed to completely blow it in the third. Even though they won the game the Sharks proved that they cannot play with a lead, something so fundamental it’s hard to believe they won the President’s Trophy with such a lack of skill. Going into game six in Anaheim the feeling is that it doesn’t matter if the Sharks score first… or even second and third, because the Ducks know they can come back. If they beat the Sharks tonight there’s going to be a lot of confusing in San Jose, and a lot of nail biting in Detroit. I said Sharks in seven… I said that because of the skill of the Ducks, but the Sharks haven’t shown much skill of their own so I’m going to change it to Ducks in six.

As for the rest of my picks, they’ve been pretty spot on. I said Canucks in five, they did it in four. I said Red Wings in five, they also made it in four. I said Boston in four, spot on. In fact, I’ve only messed up the Philly/Pitt series, and of the series remaining, at least two stand a good chance at meeting my predictions. Not bad if I do say so myself.

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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.

SPECIAL PLAYOFFS WEEKEND UPDATE

I’m currently watching the Rangers/Capitals game. This has been the best series in the East. I expected Washington to win both games at home but they’ve run into a monster goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist. The more I watch this Rangers team, the more I believe they can go really far into these playoffs. They remind me of the Sweden team Lundvist won a gold medal with. They have some speed, some skill, some size… the only thing they are missing is a really good puck moving defense. Nik Antropov was the perfect pick-up (and for only a second!), he can complete the plays started by Scott Gomez, Markus Naslund, and Chris Drury. Even if New York wins today, I still think this will be a long series, Washington is too skilled offensively to allow a single goaltender to sweep them.

The series in the East that was supposed to be the most exciting, Flyers/Penguins, has been so very boring. Yes I know they went into overtime yesterday, but there was no drama, it was obvious the Penguins were going to win. It’s too bad, for awhile it seemed that the Flyers had it figured out, but then they started playing scared again. When you play scared you start making mistakes and taking penalties… see the overtime 5-3 for an example. The Flyers really need Darrien Hatcher to come back from his injury. Hatcher is such a great defensemen, he made me want to like the Dallas Stars. I couldn’t, of course, because how can they take a team from Minnesota and move it to Dallas? Plus, in ’99, Brett Hull’s foot was so in the blue paint (it was a stupid rule, but it was still a rule). Hatcher isn’t afraid of anything. If I had to travel through the mystical Realm of Spiders (where everything is spiders) I’d want Hatcher there to carry me. If I had to perform an exorcism I’d want Hatcher there to hold the possessed down. They should make stuffed Darrien Hatcher dolls for children who are afraid of the dark. The point is Hatcher wouldn’t let the Penguins run all over the place like they have been. If the Flyers can’t start playing with confidence it’s going to be a short boring series.

In the West the Blues/Canucks series is the best hockey I’ve ever seen. I guess that’s what happens when the two hottest teams in the league meet in the post-season. The Canucks are up 2-0 in the series, but there should be no shame in the Blues lockerroom. They haven’t lost a game, the games were won by the Canucks and Luongo. Luongo is proving that he really is the best goaltender in the game now. Whatever is in the water in Vancouver the two teams need to bottle it and bring it to St Louis cause these teams are playing better then anyone could have imagined. I hope it’s as electric in St Louis as it was in Vancouver. Last night the players couldn’t even hear the whistles.

I’m looking forward to the second game of the Flames/Blackhawks series. The ‘Hawks started the first game very nervous, but by the end were playing with the confidence they had in the regular season. Calgary is going to see a different team at the start of game two. I wonder if they can match the intensity and tenacity of the young Chicago stars.

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.

EASTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFF PREVIEW

We’re back with the Eastern Conference preview. The East is looking to have a much more interesting first round with teams being closer in terms of skill and a good chance of upsets. So let’s see how they’ll turn out.

1 Bruins vs 8. Canadiens

Bruins’ Strength: Their Own Zone

The Bruins have been killer in their own end of the ice. They have a great defense and a goaltender that was tops in the league in goals against average. Not only that, they have one of the leading Norris trophy candidates in Zdeno Chara and Tim Thomas is one of the leading candidates for the Vezina. What does that equal? It equals one tough time for any offense against them.

Bruins’ Weakness: Matching the Regular Season

The Bruins were lights out during the regular season. They were by far the best team in the East, and arguably the best team in the league. Remember, this is practically the same team that was eighth in the East last year and lost to Montreal in the round (wow, what a weird coincidence). Have they been playing above their level are year or were they for real?

Player to Watch: Milan Lucic

Lucic is one of those guys that every team would love to have. he had 17 goals and 136 penalty minutes. He’s what is commonly known as a “fire-cracker”. He needs to continue to play like a bulldozer on skates or the entire team may start to struggle.

Bruins’ Overview:

The Bruins are certainly the best team coming out of the East in the standings, but they haven’t played like the best team for a little while. They were outstanding at the beginning of the year… better then outstanding in fact, but they came back down to earth like all the other outstanding teams in the league this year. They’ll need to get the same all-world goaltending from Thomas if they want to make quick work of Montreal, if he can’t keep his play elevated it’ll be a long series.

Canadiens’ Strength: Montreal

The Canadiens are the life-blood of this city… nay, this province. They know it too. Every single player has the weight of all the history of this team pushing them forward. They know their fans won’t be satisfied with a first round loss, not in this, the hundredth year of their existence. If there has ever been a driving force powerful enough to change a game it’s a packed house at the Forum.

Canadiens’ Weakness: Cohesion

All year the Canadiens have had problems with team chemistry. It almost knocked them right out of the playoffs. If they are to survive the first round they are going to have to play like a team, not a bunch of individuals. It’s up to captain Saku Koivu to right this ship, and if there is anyone in the league who can it’s him. If this team has such little respect for each other that not even Koivu, one of the most respected men in the league, can get everyone to work together there needs to be an upheaval in Montreal this off-season.

Player to Watch: Carey Price

Last year Price backstopped them to first and then fell apart like a Yugoslavian car in the post-season. He’s going to have to find a way to fight those jitters and play like the phenom he’s shown glimpses of in the past. There’s nothing like an out of this world goaltender to change the face of a playoff series.

Canadiens’ Overview:

The Canadiens backed their way into the playoffs just squeezing in at the last moment. Luckily for them the worst teams in the league were in the East or they might have had to fight off Tampa Bay and Toronto, not just Florida. They are the underdogs of the underdogs this year despite having been picked during the preseason to challenge for the Cup. There’s still a chance, a slim one. If they are competitive enough they may be able to grab that chance.

Outlook: Bruins in four

I just think it’s too late for Montreal this year. They haven’t shown that they can compete with the big dogs, and Boston is the biggest dog in the East. While Florida was fighting tooth and nail to get into the post-season Montreal kinda just moseyed in. They aren’t ready to compete as hard as they will need to. Next year expect a much different look from this team, a tougher hungrier look.

2. Capitals vs 7. NY Rangers

Capitals’ Strength: Alexander Ovechkin

What else did you expect me to say… puck handling? Ovechkin is the difference between an ok team and one of the best teams in the league, he is just that good. Sure he’s got some interesting names around him like Semin, Green, and Backstrom, but he means such a huge difference to this team they may change their names to the Washington Ovechkins when he leaves the franchise.

Capitals’ Weakness: Everyone Not Named Ovechkin

Here’s the deal, if you aren’t named Ovechkin you are stoppable. One of the Rangers’ strategies may be to try to prevent anyone else from being effective, make Ovechkin do it all on his own. If they can succeed at that it may be enough to beat the Capitals. There are a lot of good names on this team, and a strategy to just try and stop Ovechkin will certainly backfire, so everyone else on the team better be paying attention or they might be made inconsequential to this series.

Player to Watch: Alexander Ovechkin

What, you thought I’d say Sergei Federov? Look, just watch him. Even if it’s for entertainment purposes only, watch him. He’s more fun to watch then a ball pit full of puppies. He’s more fun to watch then scrambled porn. He’s more fun to watch then a Godzilla marathon. He’s Alexander the Great

Capitals’ Overview:

This this team has been one of the most exciting teams all year, and no, not just because of Ovechkin. Mike Green became the first defensemen in my memory to score thirty goals (ok, so there have been defensemen who I remember who had scored thirty, just before my time). Alexander Semin has also had a break-out year. And Jose Theodore is one step away from proving that the last few years have been the fluke, not his Calder winning rookie season.

Rangers’ Strength: Defense

Here’s something I bet you thought you’d never hear. The Rangers gave up the third least amount of goals in the East. Who’da thunk it? The Rangers, a defensively sound team. It helps to have the best goaltender in the conference not named Broduer, especially when Broduer is out for most of the season. This year the Rangers have been more responsible on both sides of the puck, and while it has cost players points (the Rangers are 24th in goals for), it played a big role in making the post-season.

Rangers’ Weakness: Goal Scoring

I just said it, 24th in the league. With a roster including guys like Markus Naslund, Chris Drury, and Scott Gomez, who would have thought the Rangers would have such problems scoring goals. It’s actually not those three who have played about as expected, it’s everyone else. There’s been very little scoring beyond the top four offensive players. The addition of Antropov and Avery has really helped, and will help them in the playoffs as well, but they really need more goal production if they have any hope of matching the goal scoring of Washington.

Player to Watch: Sean Avery

There’s something about the playoffs that really works for Avery. If he’s a pest during the regular season then he is a super-pest in the playoffs. You will definitely be hearing Avery’s name, both in the “Avery scored” and “Avery was punched in the head by Donald Brashear” catagories.

Rangers’ Overview:

The Rangers are an interesting case. When the year began they looked poised to take the East by storm, then they just started falling like a slinky on a staircase. Luckily for them they didn’t make it all the way to the bottom, but even stopping the slide didn’t win back a lot of confidence. Still, it’s hard to turn your back on a team with Henrik Lundqvist in net and the leadership abilities of Gomez, Naslund, and Drury in the locker room.

Outlook: Rangers in seven

This was a really tough one for me to analyze, and I still don’t like what I just wrote down. The thing is, as poorly as they’ve played in the regular season, the Rangers are made for the post-season. There’s no way they can stop Ovechkin, but if they can score more goals then they allow from everyone not named Ovechkin they have a very good chance of winning it. In a battle of don’t let the puck through between Lundqvist and Theodore, I take Lundqvist.

3. Devils vs 6. Hurricanes

Devils’ Strength: Playing Through Adversity

The Devils lost Martin Brodeur for a very very significant chunk of the season. Any other team in the league that loses a player that means as much as Brodeur means to the Devils would have fallen by the wayside. These guys not only stayed afloat, they kept winning. There’s nothing the Hurricanes can throw at them that they won’t be able to fight through. If there is one team in the playoffs that wouldn’t lose morale down three games to none, it’s the Devils.

Devils’ Weakness: Defense

For years the Devils iced some of the toughest defenses in the league. This year they are surprisingly weak. The Devils are lucky to have had two amazing goaltenders because those goalies have seen a lot of shots. It’s shown in the last couple weeks as even Brodeur couldn’t pull any wins out of his magic goalie mask. The ‘Canes are big up front and it’s going to take a lot of effort from the Devils’ back end to keep them out of scoring position.

Player to Watch: Brian Gionta

He’s been hearing he’s too small to play in this league for years now, but he just keeps putting up big numbers. Gionta plays with the fire and tenacity of a man twice his size. He’s energizing on the ice and in the locker room. He’s going to have to keep up his torrid pace because if he disappears this post-season the Devils are going to find it hard to get the goals they need to win.

Devils’ Overview:

It’s hard to imagine the Devils being where they are having lost Brodeur for most of the season. That they continued to win without him says more about this team then if they had done it with him in net. If there’s been one constant over the last, say, 10 years, it’s that you can never ever count the Devils out, they always find a way.

Hurricanes’ Strength: Intangibles

Is it speed? Is it strength? Is it attitude? Is it puck luck? Whatever it is the ‘Canes have had it for the entire second half of the season. They just putting up amazing numbers, beating every team they face, and impressing folks like me. Whatever it is that is driving them right now it’s going to be hard to face in a seven games series. Intangibles have a way of wearing down the opposing team, so whatever the ‘Canes have tapped into, they should drink deeply.

Hurricanes’ Weakness: Cam Ward

Pointing out Ward as their weakness is in no way disrespecting what he’s done for this team down the stretch. He has been one of the best goaltenders in the league when they needed it most. I count him as their weakness because hasn’t been back in the playoffs since that magical year in 2005. He was the first rookie goaltender to win the Stanley Cup since Patrick Roy, and then he never go them back again until this year. This year he has been fantastic, but if he can’t rekindle the magic of his first post-season there is no reliable back-up to take over.

Hurricanes’ Overview:

These guys were the hottest team since the all-star break. They are on a mad scoring tear, they’ve let in significantly less goals then last year, and they know how to win. This is the best ‘Canes team since they won the cup, maybe even better then the Cup team. The Devils should be very afraid of this team.

Outlook: Hurricanes in six

Like I said earlier, you never want to discount New Jersey. It is very tempting to me to pick them to win this series because I assume they will. But when you start assuming things in the playoffs you begin to make mistakes. Carolina has been the best team in the East as of late, and the Devils definitely have not matched their level of play. I can’t ignore the skill and effort that Carolina has shown, so the only thing to do is pick them to win this series.

4. Penguins vs 5. Flyers

Penguins’ Strength: The Century Mark

In the entire league three people have made it to 100 points, two of them are on the Penguins roster. That is very very hard to ignore. The interesting thing is… they don’t normally play on the same line. That means there are at least two lines that, if you are the Flyers, you have to be very very concerned about. Unlike Washington there’s not just one guy you have to try and stop, there are two and that can really throw an opposing team for a loop.

Penguins’ Weakness: Toughness

In the off-season the Penguins lost Ryan Malone, Jarkko Ruutu, and Georges Laraque. And who did they replace them with? Miroslav Satan. This season they traded away their toughest defensemen Ray Whitney. Sure, the guy couldn’t play defense to save his life, but he could add some fire to a team that is ice cold. Watching this team is like watching a bunch of narcoleptics play. For all the goals they score, they are boring. Matt Cooke and Evgeni Malkin add a little spice, but against a very big, very tough Flyers team they don’t add enough grit.

Player to Watch: Evgeni Malkin

He put this team on his back and dragged them all the way to the finals last year. He’ll need to do it again this year too. He’s bigger then he looks, tougher then he looks, and a total bitch to play against. Crosby may be the spiritual leader of this team, but Malkin is who they will be counting on to score the points.

Penguins’ Overview:

This has been a hard team to read this year. First they were out of the playoffs and the way they were playing made it seem like they wouldn’t find their way back in. Then suddenly they’re scorching the league and fight their way to fourth. Which team will we see in the playoffs? Some of the players on the team are liable to relax when they think they get confident, the Penguins staff and other players will have to push those types into playing their best if they want to win this series.

Flyers’ Strength: Special Teams

They rank sixth in both penalty killing and powerplay, but the real secret weapon on special teams is Mike Richards. This year he scored short-handed goals three games in a row, he scored a 5-3 short-handed goal (the third of his career) and basically has written the book on special teams this year. Against a Penguins team with a very poor power-play he could really take advantage of that weakness.

Flyers’ Weakness: Goaltending

Ok, so people say this every year. Martin Biron never gets any respect in this league. The thing is, he’s never stolen a series for the Flyers. With all the goal scoring power on the other end (the same power that beat him in the East finals last year), he’s going to have to put up a wall. If he can show the Penguins that they aren’t going to get easy goals against him I take this all back, but if he lets in one goal he shouldn’t it’s going to simultaneously boost the Pens and sink the Flyers.

Player to Watch: Jeff Carter

Talk about a break-out year! Carter, for a long time, led the league in goal scoring before finally giving way to Ovechkin (but who wouldn’t). Now he needs to translate regular season success into playoff success. If he can be a complete monster in the offensive zone he’ll will cause endless headaches for the Pens. They need him to be the leading scorer of this series or they will struggle to put up enough points to win.

Flyers’ Overview:

The Flyers are like the Sharks of the East. Every year much more is expected of them in the regular season. Unlike the Sharks at least they made it to the conference championships last year, but like the Sharks they never seem to live up to their potential. This year, again, a lot was expected of them. They showed a lot of skill, but not when it mattered. They could easily have locked up first place in the Atlantic as New Jersey had lost their goaltender and Pittsburgh was faltering, but now they are third in the Atlantic, fifth in the East. They need to Beat Pittsburgh to prove they can be a force.

Outlook: Flyers in seven

If the game was “Who Can Be Beat Up the Most” the Penguins would definitely win. The Flyers want to avenge last year and will do it with fists, elbows, hips, shoulders… whatever they can throw Pittsburgh’s way they will. In the end it won’t be about scoring, cause there will be a lot of scoring. Frankly, I don’t trust that Biron has what it takes to be a winning goaltender, and I know that Fleury doesn’t. It’s going to come down to who wants it more and looking at the rosters of these two teams, Philly wants it more.

So there you have it folks. Playoffs start tomorrow and I, for one am incredibly excited. So good luck to everyone’s teams, I’ll see you Wednesday.

SHORT HANDED MAGIC

Posted in Philadelphia, Players, stats by yankhockey on February 22, 2009

In case you haven’t heard, you don’t want to go on the power-play against the Flyers. They lead the league in short handed goals… by a ton. And they are, in turn, lead by their captain Mike Richards who just happens to have tied a team record over the weekend by potting his seventh short handed goal this season against the Penguins. Oh yes, it was also his third game in a row with a short handed goal, and one of those three came while the Flyers were two men short which was the league record third time in his career he’d accomplished that. Oh yes, this is only his fourth full season with the Flyers.

How bug of a deal is seven? Well, the record is thirteen, set by Mario Lemiuex, and he’s unlikely to reach that. But at the rate he’s going ten certainly isn’t out of the question, eleven is probably in reach too. Only four players have ever scored more then nine; Lemiuex twice, Gretzky twice, Marcel Dionne and some guy named Dirk Graham who unfortunately scored his ten the same year Lemiuex scored thirteen thereby ruining a perfectly good opportunity to lead the league.

Scoring short handed is supposed to be a difficult thing to do, but the Flyers have been doing it like they’re on the power-play. Richards himself has nine short handed points, Simon Gagne has four goals and four assists, Jeff Carter has four goals of his own, even under achieving Glen Metropolit (who I continue to expect to pull out and awesome season and am continually disappointed by) has managed a short handed assist of his own. In total the Flyers have scored 16 short handed goals, which is ridiculous. Most teams, if they’re good at the penalty kill, and a little lucky, will pot eight or nine in a season total, the Flyers are looking at more then that from just one player.

I saw Richards’ seventh goal. It came off one of the laziest passes I’ve ever seen. I can understand that a team can get a little over confident on the power play, but when you know you are playing the best short handed scoring team in the league you have to know that you must be responsible. But then, being lazy and irresponsible, especially on the defensive end, has been the biggest criticism against the Penguins this year. In any case, it was a slow pass across the blueline that Richards picked up so naturally it almost seemed like it was meant for him. He was off then, all alone against Marc-Andre Fleury and with a slight nudge of his stick blade he sneaked the puck five hole. In the end it didn’t matter much, the Penguis won the game thanks to the Flyers’ goalie woes, but it was still embarrassing.

In fact, there’s nothing so embarassing in hockey then to let in a short handed goal. Unless you’re the team getting the short handed goal, then you can start teasing the opposing goaltender by chanting his name over and over and over again. The Flyers are a little unique this year in that scoring short handed goals seems to be part of their strategy. Most teams will take one when they can get one, but discourage most attempts because if you mess up the opposing team has even more advantage the other way. Something Philly is doing is right though, even with throwing caution to the wind they are still tied for seventh in the league in the penalty kill. I wonder how much of that is due to other teams being intimidated and trying to play it extra safe while on the power play? If the Flyers go far into the playoffs, I imagine that more teams will be trying to imitate that style in the future. They better hope they got a player like Mike Richards on their team if they do, though, because he may be the most powerful PK offensive machine tis league has seen in a very very long time.

DALLAS AND PHILLY DISAPPOINT OFF THE ICE TOO

Posted in Dallas, Philadelphia, third jersey, What Going Right by yankhockey on November 19, 2008

It’s a sad day in hockey when Carolina is the best at something, but when it comes to alternate jerseys that is certainly the case this year. Ok ok, I’m exaggerating. Buffalo, St Louis, and Pittsburgh have put out some absolutely beautiful sweaters this year, but so far Carolina’s has been the most imaginitive and original. You can add Dallas and Philly to the ranks of the unimaginative as of Tuesday when they released their very uninspired third jerseys.

Let’s begin with the worst in Dallas where their design team apparently believes that simple changing the color of a previously existing jersey is considered a radical change. Oh daddy daddy! Get me the white Dallas Stars jersey!

Feh!

Who got paid for that? I should be paid just to take all those jerseys off their hands and give them away to needy children. I’m trying so hard not to go down the “all Texans are inbred rednecks” road here, but if one of these miserable excuses of a jersey sells it’s the fans themselves taking that road. I’d even like to say that it’s better then the uterus jersey they put out a couple years ago (cause let’s face it, practically everything is), but at least that jersey required an a little creative effort to design. The new jersey is just lazy. No, it’s beyond lazy, if there is a word that is lazier then lazy, someone comment on this entry and let me know because it will certainly describe this jersey better then I can given my apparently limited vocabulary.

Now, on to Philly where their new jersey, while also being a bit lazy, does at least come with a history. That’s fine with me, I like it when a team and its fans appreciate the history of the franchise. So why do I call it lazy? I call it lazy because what’s the point? It all just comes down to a money grab in the end. These teams like the Islanders, Canucks, and Flyers who have put re-released original jersey designs are just looking for a way to make a little bit more money. If you liked the design so much, stick with it, don’t trot it out years later as an “alternate”, especially not in the case of the Flyers and Islanders where it’s just your current logo with slightly different color management.

This is why I started the post by stating that the Hurricanes are doing this best. They made something different for their fans. If i was a Carolina fan and I saw that jersey I might think to myself “That doesn’t look anything like any of my other jerseys, I might like to own that”. It’s an alternate jersey, make it something unique. Not Dallas Stars uterus unique or Boston “Winnie the Pooh” unique, but something cool like the Oilers did a few years back. Put something on the jersey that everyone can get excited about for ten or twelve games a year, and the rest of the year wear the classic jersey that your fans love.

The only teams I will let off this tirade this year are the Canadiens and Leafs who have had the same color schemes and logos since they played in Ancient Sumeria and are allowed to trot out throwbacks which bear resemblance to their current jerseys. To the rest of you teams; listen up! If you want to make a statement with a third jersey, make a bloody statement. Don’t make your fans continue to shell out cash for what amounts to slapping the same damn logo with a slightly different striping and shoulder pattern. And to the Dallas Stars – any money you spent designing your “third” jersey needs to be reimbursed, like now. I don’t see how any judge or jury could find that what you paid for could amount to a new jersey.

WHAT’S GOING RIGHT:

Division leaders are going very very right. As of Tuesday night, the division leaders in the NHL are a combined 74-21-14. They are lead by San Jose and Detroit and Boston who have lost a total of only eight games in regulation between them. Since the new CBA was drafted there has been a lot more parity in the NHL. It seems now, more then in any other time of my hockey memory, teams have a better chance of beating any other team then ever before. The competition in the modern NHL is so good you almost forget that there are still dominant teams… until you look at the standings. But that’s exciting too. It’s exciting when your team is either one of those teams in the lead, or playing that team and keeping it close, maybe even beating them. There’s a lot of adrenalin flowing in any hockey fans veins when their team is heading into the third period up a goal or two on the Red Wings, it’s fun. But the best part is, regardless of how far ahead in the standings the Wings are, once the post season starts there’s almost no way to guarantee they will even make it out of the first round. And that, my dear readers, is what competition is all about.

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.