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.

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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.

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.

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.

PENGUINS ON ICE

Posted in Pittsburgh, san jose by yankhockey on February 15, 2009

I was planning on talking about the sudden downfall of the Sharks when suddenly the news came down that the Michel Therrien, coach of the Penguins, had been fired. For those of you unfamiliar with the situation, the Penguins have two of the highest scoring forwards in the league in Sydney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, as well as other offensively talented folks as Miroslav Satan, Peter Sykora, and Jordan Staal, as well as world class goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury… who went to the Stanley Cup finals last year by the way… are currently sitting five points out of a play-off spot.

Once the Penguins started to fall down the standings anyone paying attention became concerned for Therrien’s job. When they proved themselves completely unable to climb back up the standings it was no longer a matter of if, but when. The only question remaining is why the Penguins were so eager to try let Therrien right the ship when it was obvious it was already sunk.

For once I’m actually in favour of a coach firing. Not that I completely blame Therrien. I think most of the blame belongs to GM Ray Shero who dropped the average weight of his team by 60 pounds in the off season. Matt Cooke is no Ryan Malone. But regardless, Therrien couldn’t put together a good defense if he had the help of the Maginot Line. When you have Crosby and Malkin on your team, your offense is pretty much set (even though, with all that firepower, they still rank 23rd in the league on the power play), you gotta concentrate on not giving up more then you score, and that’s something that Therrien was never able to do.

Defense has been the Achilles’ Heel of the Penguins for years. This year they’re loaded with fast, offensively minded defenders, which is fine if you have a couple that can be rough and tough with the opposing offense. Hal Gill is the only guy they got who’s real tough to play against, and they have him playing offensively. Ryan Whitney would be a great defender if he could play as big as he is. The rest of them wouldn’t know a body check from an unemployment check. With a quick glance at the Penguins’ defense shows you exactly the problem, they always try to play the puck. Any junior coach will tell you, as a defender, you play the body. If you are on defense your role is to protect your zone first and foremost, and if you happen to be a Bobby Orr type you can turn that into an offensive chance, but there is no shame in rubbing out a player and letting your offense provide the offense. When you play the puck then the player can sneak their way around you, especially in the East where fancy puck-handling is as common as the rink ice. Is it any wonder that the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs can pot six on you?

I don’t know that replacement coach, Dan Bylsma, can change that at all, or if he even wants to. The problem lies not in the defenders, but in the way they’ve built and coached this defense. Whatever occurs now, Therrien definitely had to go. I’ve felt for a few years now that the Penguins have been floating on Crosby alone, and were absolutely over achievers. I do think they are a play-off worthy team, and that they can’t even seem to find their way into the post season is reason enough to change coaches.

The Canucks were in a similar situation until they went and won four straight. Until that point it was hard to say who would be fired first, Therrien, or Canucks’ coach Alain Vigneault. The Canucks are another team that isn’t good enough to over-achieve their way into the finals, but should definitely be in the post-season, and their fans demand nothing less. Just look what happened last year when they lost something like seven of their last eight. GM Dave Nonis was fired, but Vigneault was given another year to prove he could bring this team into the playoffs. Frankly, I thought they both should have been fired, especially since long time captain Markus Naslund implied that as long as Vigneault was coach he wasn’t coming back. Naslund is the highest scoring Canuck in history… what has Vigneault done for you lately Vancouver?

I have to mention the Sharks before I’m done tonight though. They’ve won a single game in their last seven. Sure they’ve picked up some overtime points, but losses are losses. They’re fighting Detroit and Boston for the honor of being called the best team in the league, so though it would be the most glorious and unlikely downfall in the history of sports if they missed the playoffs entirely (if that’s even mathematically possible at this point), they still don’t want to give up any possible points.

The bigger issue is that they’ve given up 11 goals in the last two games. Those games were against Buffalo and New Jersey, good teams to be sure, but hardly goal scoring juggernauts. The two main reasons the Sharks have been so good this year are their defense and their goaltending. Surprisingly, they were winning more games when both their defense and goaltending were ravaged by injuries. Now that the team is the healthiest it’s been since the beginning of the year they’re suffering from an epic (on their terms) losing streak.

THE ICE STORM

Posted in san jose, Vancouver, What Going Right by yankhockey on December 24, 2008

I went to my first (and likely only, these games are expensive) NHL game last night in San Jose. Got home really late so I didn’t have time to gather all my thoughts for a post, so another late post today. The Sharks were playing the Canucks, and like practically every Sharks/Canucks game I go to, the Canucks were embarrassed on the ice. Last night, 5-0 Sharks, the last pair of goals coming within the first minute of the second period.

Going to games always brings my entire hockey history into mind. In 1996, while I was still in high school, I had a teacher whose name was Dave Beauvais. I loved having him as a teacher, there was something very honest about him. He taught history, but he didn’t teach history from books, he taught the kind of un-PC history that’s all the rage these days. He was from Detroit, and he was a huge Red Wings fan. No matter where he went he always carried around a full Paul Coffey mug (serious). Since I found myself wanting to emulate the man I began to pay attention to hockey.

Even though he influenced me to give it a try, falling in love with hockey was all me. Before I found hockey I was a fan of baseball and that was about it. I would watch football, but I never really liked it much, and I’ve never liked basketball. I did like soccer, but we live in the States and finding soccer on television outside of the World Cup is nearly impossible.

Hockey instantly drew me in. It’s the only game where you have to be tough and nimble at the same time. It’s the only game where intangibles could actually be measured in things like speed, grit, ability to fight, ability to pester. It’s the only game where a penalty is equally exciting regardless of which team you are rooting for. Hockey is an amazing game that too many people miss out on because they “can’t see the puck”, which is really sad because within a few games following the puck becomes natural, especially now with HD games where the puck is big enough to eat a Denny’s Grand Slam off of. Hockey is power and finesse, and that dichotomy kept me coming back for more.

The very first NHL game I went to was also a Sharks/Canucks game. I don’t think there was any reason for it, I think it just happened to be a weekend my father was able to take me to a game. It was 1997, both teams were pretty sad that year. The Sharks were fielding a team consisting of a talented Jeff Friesen, big Owen Nolan coming off a decent first year with the team, and a  young Patrick Marleau, not yet the leader he would become, they had some decent defense in the guise of Marcus Ragnarsson, Mike Rathje, and Al Iafrate. The Canucks had the makings of a powerhouse, but not the finish. They had just picked up Mark Messier, Pavel Bure was absolutely lighting it up, they had Alexander Mogilny, Markus Naslund, Jyrkki Lumme, a high scoring rookie defenseman Mattias Ohlund, Todd Bertuzzi, Trevor Linden was still on the team, that’s a line-up that should have scared the pants off of everyone, but going into their 19th game of the season they had only won three games.

I believe the goaltenders were Mike Vernon for the Sharks, and Garth Snow for the Canucks, not exactly a pair of Vezina winners. The game ended 5-2 Canucks (they weren’t shut-out? Amazing!). I don’t remember many details of the game, but I do remember Pavel Bure playing like nothing I’d ever seen. I hadn’t yet picked a team to root for because I didn’t have any roots with a team, but watching Bure skate made me want to root for him, so I started cheering for the Canucks despite their dismal play for the next few years. Then, when he was gone, it was too late and I stuck with them.

The first hockey game I ever went to was in Salt Lake City. I went with my father when I was about seven to see the Golden Eagles, who were an IHL team at the time. I don’t remember much about the game, but I do remember enjoying the experience much more then the times we went to see the Jazz play. I’m sure I was too young to really appreciate the game, but I have no doubt that I was fascinated with the men flying up and down the ice at high speeds, the thunder of the boards when there is a big hit, the sound of puck hitting the crossbar. It’s the sounds that strike me the most when I go see a game live. I remember once my father and I sat near the glass. The sounds there were so intense it was incredible. I felt really drawn into the game, like I was a part of it. Maybe that is true in basketball too, but it certainly never happens in football or baseball. They need to find a way to pick up those sounds better for television. Nothing says hockey like a blade on ice, or the strike of a slapshot. When you are up close and you can hear the grunt of players hitting each other, and calls for passes, well that’s even better.

Hockey is a special kind of game whose exclusivity makes it so much more fun to be a fan. Whenever I meet someone from a city that has a hockey team I always ask them if they follow their team. If they say yes then I know we’ll be fast friends. Being a hockey fan is like being part of a cult, fans of other sports don’t trust us, no one wants to talk to us, we all gather in a big meeting place and practice rituals no one else understands, and we’ve always got each other’s backs (unless you’re an Edmonton fan in Calgary).

As for the game last night, well, as a Canucks fan I don’t have much to say about it other then I really need to stop attending those games. Maybe if I attend some Minnesota games the Sharks can start shutting out a division rival.

WHAT’S GOING RIGHT:

It’s holiday time so I’d like to wish a Happy Channukah (or as I like to call it, Jewish Memorial Day) to my Jewish readers. Merry Christmas to my Christian readers, along with all you non-Christians celebrating the season. A Happy Kwanza to my readers looking to connect with the traditions of Africa. And a late Joyful Eid al-Adha to my Muslim readers (thought I’d forget about you huh?). So many merries, happies, and goodies to you all.

A TALE OF TWO CITIES

Posted in Detroit, Players, san jose, Surprise of the Week, Vancouver by yankhockey on December 19, 2008

The Sundin saga ended yesterday with a bit of a twist… Vancouver. I found myself a little surprised he didn’t end up back Toronto, especially after Brian Burke became their GM. But once he limited his choices to Vancouver and New York I was sure he’d be playing home games at Madison Square Gardens in no time. And I wasn’t the only one either, many analysts – paid analysts – thought so too.

The thing is that the contract that Sundin signed in Vancouver is very similar to the one offered him in the pre-season. $10 million, pro-rated to almost 7 for the remainder of the season. The only difference is the length, one year instead of the original two. He could have signed that contract months ago. Even if he didn’t want play until late December, as is currently the plan, he still could have negotiated a similar deal before the season started, it certainly didn’t merit months and months of speculation.

That’s really the key to all of this; the time all of us hockey fans and writers have spent thinking about Sundin. Why was that all necessary? What, exactly was Mats waiting for. You have to speculate that Mats really didn’t want to end up in Vancouver, he wanted to play in New York or probably Toronto. If he had wanted to play for Vancouver he’d have signed a contract before today. New York couldn’t give him the contract he wanted, Toronto may not have even tendered him one. In the end, and despite his best efforts, the money ended up being his preference.

So what does this mean for the Canucks? Well, the team is currently sitting in a tie for first with Calgary with the line-up they have. Even without Luongo they are playing decently. This means that they have to make room on their team for a guy who hasn’t played in like 9 months. It means they have to take one of their players off the roster so that a man who couldn’t sign their contract until yesterday can maybe make some sort of difference in their season. Don’t get me wrong, Sundin is a great player, one of the best of his generation, but is that enough of an excuse to start moving players around on a successful team? That’s the same question being asked in New York, who would have to move a player of consequence to make room for Sundin.

So who’s going to be moved? Will it be Taylor Pyatt who has been unable to have the type of season he shared with the Sedin Twins during his first year on the team? Will it be team hopping Steve Bernier who has yet to become the goal scorer everyone thought he would be? Will it be young forwards Jannick Hansen or Mason Raymond who are talented and exciting, not to mention near the top in team scoring, but can still be moved down to the AHL without much problem? Knowing coach Alain Vigneault, it could go any way. Likely Sundin will begin playing with his old linemate from Toronto Kyle Wellwood and one of either Raymond or Bernier. But Vigneault loves to line juggle and Sundin may see time with the Twins, Demitra, maybe even Ryan Kesler.

Sundin can still score, and he’s still a leader. Vancouver will still get some production from him. The bigger question is will the fans forgive him for what he’s put them through. Well, they will if he leads them deep into the post season. But if he gets off to a slow start, or ruins the team chemistry, then he’ll be the next Messier in Vancouver.

SURPRISE OF THE WEEK:

So the Sharks get off to the best start in the history of the league and then proceed to lose two straight. Their loss in Columbus isn’t that surprising. Columbus is a better team then people give them credit for, and they ended up losing in overtime during a well played game on both sides. But HOLY SHIT did they get destroyed by Detroit. If any game was ever a “message” game, it was this one. The defending champions and second best team in the league based on record meeting the young upstarts. Detroit came out and said “Not in my house!” 6-0. It wasn’t even close. The Sharks got utterly destroyed. This may have been a preview of the post-season, and Detroit showed they can beat anyone.

WHOLE LOTTA SHAKIN’ GOING ON

Let’s see, what’s happened since the last post I wrote. Ok, we got five jerseys unveiled, two numbers retired, two devastating injuries, and a partridge in a pear tree. God, where to begin? Frankly, I don’t want to start anywhere because all of these occurrences just make me mad. The jerseys are horrible, one of the retired numbers doesn’t make any sense, and the injuries could cause their teams all kinds of troubles this season (for Dallas losing Morrow it could mean the deepest part of the sewer, for Vancouver and Luongo it may mean missing the post season). But, I am a hockey writer, and as a hockey writer I must remove my own misgivings to properly cover the news of the game, so let’s get on with it. Because of the length of today’s entry there will be no questions at the end.

IF INGESTED, USE THIRD JERSEY TO INDUCE VOMITTING:

In the weekend of weekends for third jersey fans five new jerseys were introduced. The Sharks started things off with their new horrorshow of a sweater. It even has a name: BlackArmor. That loud banging sound you hear combined with a throbbing pain in your forehead is you hitting your head against your desk. Don’t be alarmed, it’s a reflex like sneezing, yawning, or laughing at people who buy this jersey. I’ve never thought San Jose had a particularly good jersey scheme, but it has seemed to work if their continued use of teal is any indication. But this is so very lame. Not Dallas Stars lame, but pretty sad for a such a great hockey market. I mean, is black a theme or something? And giving it a name? Ugh. The logo itself looks too much like an AHL or ECHL logo for my tastes. Well San Jose, you didn’t do any worse then anyone else this year.

After the Sharks it was the Ottawa Senators’ turn to show how not to spend money. Also, is it just me or does Dany Heatley trying to look intimidating just look silly. The guy is a great hockey player, but he still looks like he’s eighteen. Wow, it’s black, and it says “SENS”… incredible. It must have taken a six year old four minutes with a crayon to work that one out. And what’s in this “Back in Black” campaign? I realize that the Senators have had black in their jerseys forever, but I thought the main color was always red. Am I wrong about this? Did they have a period of time when they wore primarily black? Whatever the case, I hates it.

Then the Coyotes came out and said “We want to do something different.” And something different they did. I’d like to take a moment to thank the Coyotes for doing something that’s been sorely missing from this alternate jersey season: create something entirely new. Oh, it’s plenty ugly, but it has a new main logo, new shoulder logo, and “Coyotes” script mark on the pants. I don’t know what’s up with all the black, I actually really like the Coyotes’ red. I lived in Phoenix for a time and I could say with confidence that the earthen red they wear suits the city. Overall the jersey is totally unremarkable though. The main logo is way to small, the little red sleeve forearms look pathetic, and seriously what’s with the black?

Then it was time for the Kings to do something completely different. They said “We want to stand out from the crowd, be unique.” And so they went with black… Ok, maybe they did what everyone else did but they must have had a unique slogan…. right? Seriously… did all these teams hire the same damn people? I mean, is black the new black or something? Are they planning on rescuing some hockey players captured by the Vietcong in a daring midnight raid? The new logo is decent I guess, it’s more of a mish-mash of previous logos then something totally unique but it looks fine. I just swear, if I see one more black jersey I’m gonna punch Gary Bettman.

So then, on Sunday Tampa Bay ended the parade (well, not really, since the Bruins will be unveiling theirs later today). And all I can say about it is I LOVE IT! Sure, there’s a little black on the sleeves but look at all that blue! And if I’m not mistaken there’s a little bit of silver in there too. And white. Who cares if it’s the most boring piece of crap I’ve seen since Manos: The Hands of Fate, the colors make me feel so alive.

Alright, I’m done with that charade, it sucks, they all sucked, looking at them just makes me mad. So let’s move on to something more positive.

IF YOU DIDN’T REVEAL A THIRD JERSEY, RAISE YOUR BANNER:

On Sunday the Maple Leafs raised the number of former captain and home town favorite Wendell Clark. Cap’n Crunch’s number 17 went up into the rafters in Toronto to take it’s place amongst some of the games greats. He got the name Cap’n Crunch because of his brutal hits, as well as his awesome ‘stache. He was a scrapper, a body checker, and a bruiser. He could score some goals too, over 40 in ’93, but his role was the adrenalin gland of the Leafs. This number retirement is exactly what the whole concept was meant to represent. Clark is no hall of famer, he wasn’t the best player in his era. Hell, he wasn’t even the best player on his team. It wasn’t his point totals that retired his number, it was the love from his city, and his love back. This leaves Maple Leaf nation with a good feeling, they love Clark there, and have even after he left for other teams. That his number joins Ace Bailey’s is an honor well deserved.

In a more questionable retired Saturday, Montreal retired Patrick Roy’s number 33. We all should know enough about Patrick Roy to understand why they might do this, but for those new to the sport, let me give a brief history. Roy came into Montreal as a rookie and won the Stanley Cup right off. He won a bunch more games for them including another Stanley Cup (the last they have won). And then it all fell apart in one game. After letting in 9 goals in a period and a half Roy was finally pulled from the game. Feeling like his coach left him in just to humiliate him (they didn’t have a good relationship) Roy demanded and trade and never went in goal for the Canadiens again. He was traded to the Avalanche where he won two more Stanley Cups, became the winningest goaltender in NHL history, and uttered one of the best sports quotes of all time.

I can understand why anyone would want to retire Roy’s number. Colorado already has. The thing is… they hated Roy in Montreal for demanding that trade. After that trade the Canadiens had no success in the post season at all, if they even got there. It’s great that they are able to forgive, but you shouldn’t forget. A guy should go from arch-nemesis to in the rafters just cause his numbers are huge. Granted, he did a lot for that team while he was there, but he spit in their faces and stormed out. There’s no going back from that, or at least, there shouldn’t be. But, I guess love is blind and Patrick Roy is a French-Canadian hero. Just look at all the goaltender’s he’s inspired; Jean-Sebastian Giguere, Roberto Luongo, Jose Theodore. Ok, I’ll let this pass this one time, but don’t be doing anything like it again Montreal!

ALWAYS STRETCH BEFORE EXERCISING:

Ok, I’ll be brief. Brendan Morrow and Roberto Luongo both left games on Saturday with injuries. Morrow’s requires surgery and he is done for the year. Luongo’s is still undetermined, he will be having an MRI on Monday, but walked unaided to a press conference after the game so it doesn’t look too bad. Of the two Morrow’s is by far the most damaging to his team, and not just because it’s for the entire year. Dallas needs leadership and scoring, and Morrow brings them both. Without him they will be completely disheveled, like the Lost Boys without Peter Pan. The Canucks will miss Luongo, he’s one of the best goaltender’s in the league. But in his place Curtis Sanford won his second game in a row, and the Canucks have an amazing prospect by the name of Cory Schneider who not only rocked the pre-season, but is making complete fools out of AHL shooters posting a record of 10-1 with a .945 SAV% and a 1.37 GAA. Frankly, I’d really like to see what the kid can do in the big show, and I think Canucks’ fans will too as soon as they stop hyperventilating.