Saturday, 30 April 2011

Saturday Recap - 4/30

Boston at Philadelphia
First Period
1:52: David Krejci scores the first goal of the series early in the game. Last year it was his injury, coupled with Simon Gagne's return, that swung the series in the Flyers' favor. Brian Boucher bit too early and Krejci was easily able to go around him for the goal. Milan Lucic, while he didn't get an assist on the goal, started it with strong play down low which is a good sign for Boston as he was largely invisible during the first round against Montreal. The crowd which was raucous just moments ago is really quiet at the moment.

11:02: Danny Briere answers back, putting home a rebound for his seventh of the playoffs, going around Tim Thomas for a goal similar to the Krejci one. Ville Leino made a nice play entering the zone, leaving the puck at the blueline for Braydon Coburn to pick it up and get a shot on net.

12:20: Leino proves he doesn't let anyone get in the way of a loose puck as he knocks down the referee on his way to the corner.

12:55: Thomas makes a great save on James van Reimsdyk on a pass from Claude Giroux and the Flyers have been putting on a lot of pressure since the Briere goal. Those two are starting to become one of the top duos in the league as they gain more and more experience.

16:06: The Flyers kill off a goalie interference penalty on Zac Rinaldo who is playing in his first career NHL game. It was a curious call as both Rinaldo and Dennis Seidenberg both ran into Thomas on a rush it it looked as if Rinaldo was trying to stop, but couldn't because Seidenberg was draped all over him.

19:24: Nathan Horton continues his strong play during his first career playoff run with his fourth goal in the dying seconds of the first period. Seidenberg made another great pinch as he did on the first goal. Horton was given plenty of room to get two whacks at the puck before scoring and the Flyers defense aren't working the front of their net with their usual bravado.

End of period: Both teams spent the period feeling each other out. Neither team was rushing or trying to force plays that weren't there and there weren't any big hits. Both goalies were alright, all three goals were on rebounds and scrambles in front of the net.

Second Period
 2:34: Mark Recchi gets enough on a shot to put the puck just over the goal line. The Flyers do not look good in their own zone as nobody was able to pick up Recchi or clear any rebounds. Right now they are on pace for their fourth goalie change of the playoffs.

5:11: Kris Versteeg takes an unnecessary slashing call as the Bruins are starting to dominate Game 1. The Flyers have no sense of urgency whatsoever and the Bs are taking advantage.

7:42: The Flyers kill off the penalty as the Bruins power play continues to be their weak spot. But they are right back on it as Briere takes another bad penalty, this time for tripping Seidenberg in the Flyers zone. The Flyers don't appear to be focused and it is hurting them right now.

9:58: Briere gets a great chance coming out of the box, but shoots just wide. The Flyers penalty kill is doing a great job as the Bruins are having trouble entering the zone and cannot get set up. They will now get their chance on the power play that went 5-for-35 against Buffalo as Brad Marchand takes a slashing call.

12:37: The penalty is killed off as Thomas was strong, making four tough stops. The Flyers get another power plays Johnny Boychuk high sticks Nikolay Zherdev.

15:26: Boucher doesn't even react as a shot by Adam McQuad that is going well wide is deflected by Horton back towards the net and in. Right now the build is as quiet as it can get as nothing is going right for the Flyers.

17:14: Brad Marchand seals the deal in the second period. He scores on a rebound and he was left open in front as the Bruins have been all game. The Flyers are flat and Sergei Bobrovsky comes in to see his first action since Game 2 of the Buffalo series.

17:30: van Reimsdyk scores right off the faceoff on a wrist shot over Thomas' glove. It was a clean win by Giroux and a nice little pass by Sean O'Donnell to put the puck right in the wheelhouse for the quick snipe.

End of period: The Flyers looked absolutely horrendous this period. Their forwards were ineffective and their defense looked lost. The Bruins have buried all of their chances and aren't giving the Flyers anything right now. The Flyers have taken a lot of stupid penalties and have been careless in their own zone. They have been making everything easy for the Bruins.

Third Period
3:50: Bobrovsky makes a good glove save on a Seidenberg shot from in close as he gets into the game. Best thing for the Flyers to see is he made it look easy and was able to hold on to it.

8:30: Giroux show some amazing stickhandling as he turn Chris Kelly inside out and sends van Reimsdyk in alone then almost scores himself before being hauled down by Andrew Ference who takes a hooking penalty.

10: 57: The Bruins kill off that penalty easily as neither team has threatened at all. the Flyers PP unit goes back to work as Krejci takes a slashing call.

12:01: The Flyers will have plenty of room as Marchand takes a penalty to give them a 5-on-3.

13:02: Mike Richards gets his first of the playoff just after the first penalty expires. He walks out of the corner then rips a short-side shot by Thomas. The Flyers are playing much better this period, showing the Bruins Game 2 will not be nearly as easy as this one. It is his first goal since April 5, a span of 10 games.

14:59: Marchand scores a goal as the puck is cleared from the crease before Patrice Bergeron knocks the puck off a defenseman's stick right to Marchand for the tap in.

Greg Campbell scores to make it 7-3. Coburn does nothing to tie up Campbell's stick as he glided in unimpeded.

Final score: Boston-7 Philadelphia-3

Story of the game: The Flyers did not play smart at all today. Almost all seven of the Bruins goals were on player where the goalscorer was able to get behind the defense without anyone noticing. Even when there were four Flyers in deep, they didn't seem to communicate with one another and spent a lot of time running aorund instead of playing the sound positional game they need to in front of the goaltending backing this team. They were also undisciplined, taking five slashing calls away from the play. Even though the Bruins power play has been dreadful throughout the playoffs, this didn't allow the Flyers to get any consistent attack.

Player of the game: Dennis Seidenberg made two risky pinches early in the game and they both led to Boston goals as they got the advantage early. He quietly played very well in his own end, leading all players with a plus-4. David Krejci did a lot of the scoring with two goals and four points, but a lot of that was getting lucky bounces while Seidenberg was consistently making his own plays and getting the puck away from danger.

Nashville at Vancouver
First Period
7:19: Martin Erat records the Predators fifth shot on goal which is as many as they had the entire first period of Game 1. The Preds are doing a much better job forechecking and taking the puck to the net, showing the urgency that was lacking the first game when they seemed to forget you can't win if you don't score at least one goal.

10:30: Nashville gets Roberto Luongo scrambling as they send a flurry of shots on net and were getting to the rebounds. They had two shots on net, one blocked and a few just wide for their best scoring chances of the series so far.

15:07: Vancouver kills of an interference penalty on Mikael Samuelsson. After getting a number of quality chances early in the game, Nashville has a hard time just entering the zone. When they did get a clean entry, Vancouver was winning all the battles and clearing the puck every time.

19:36: Patric Hornqvist takes a hard hit from Alex Edler, but doesn't let it faze him as he gets right back up and get a shot on net.

End of period: Once again, there were no goals at the end of one period. Nashville has looked way better and has as many quality chances in period one as they did in Game 1. They outshot Vancouver 12-6, more shots than they had the first two periods of Game 1 when they were out shot 16-5 in the first and 30-20 in the game.

Second Period
2:00: Alex Burrows opens the scoring shorthanded. He went on with Ryan Kesler, tried to center a pass only to have it go off a skate and take a fortunate bounce right back to him. Pekka Rinne was sliding across to take the shot from Kesler only to leave the side of the net wide open.

2:35: Martin Erat takes a Shea Weber shot off the side of the head after it deflects off a stick while he was jumping out of the way. To give you an idea of how much that sucks, watch this.

2:56: Vancouver gets another chance shorthanded, this time on a 3-on-1, but the puck slid off Keith Ballard's stick and the chance was nullified. Vancouver gets a third chance as the penalty expires, but Kesler shoots it high as the penalty benefits Vancouver more than Nashville.

7:33: Jordin Tootoo takes a bad tripping penalty and Ballard is lucky he wasn't seriously hurt on the play. Going back for the icing call, Tootoo taps the back of ballard's knee just enough to send him crashing into the base of the boards. Nashville likks off the penalty however to keep the deficit at one.

19:18: Rinne makes a fantastic save on Kesler on a wraparound, getting to the glove side of the net in an instant as Kesler made a quick turn and got off a pretty good shot.

End of period: A much closer period saw Nashville out shoot Vancouver for the third consecutive period, but they have yet to score. Vancouver had plenty of chances to extend their lead with Kesler leading the charge most times, but a lot of their shots were blocked or sent wide.

Third Period
5:41: Luongo makes a great glove save on Blake Geoffrion. The line of Tootoo, Nick Spaling and Jerred Smithson has been the best of the game so far and they had a great shift right before and their strong forechecking is leading to some quality chances.

10:46: The Preds go in offside after the best shift of the game. They has possession of the puck inside the Vancouver zone for about a minute and had all their players running around. The Sedins looked awful and they haven't done much all game. Meanwhile the line of Mike Fisher, Sergei Kostitsyn and Patric Hornqvist were making plays at will.

11:15: Tootoo gets a breakaway and Luongo answers with a great leg save. A very similar play to the Fisher breakaway in Game 1.

18:53: Ryan Suter finally scores for Nashville on a goal Luongo would love to have back. With Rinne pulled, Suter went into the corner and in desperation, threw the puck to the front of the net where it when off Luongo's stick, caromed off his left skate and into the net.

End of period:Nashville outplayed Vancouver all period and it finally broke through for them. The shots were 15-5 in the period, 36-15 in regulation and the way Rinne and Luongo are playing, the fans in Vancouver better get comfortable. The edge going into overtime definitely goes to Nashville who have been by far the better team and they will certainly get a jump from the tying goal.

Overtime 1
0:18: Kevin Bieksa takes a hit from Kostitsyn and goes down awkwardly, jamming his hand into the boards. This could be bad because not only is he a quality shut-down defenseman, but if they have to play only five D-men they will get tired much quicker and mental fatigue leads to a lot of overtime goals.

4:18: Rinne makes an amazing save on Daniel Sedin on his best opportunity of the game. A takeaway at the blueline by Henrik led to the glorious chance at the doorstep on a rebound.

6:57: Nashville gets the power play when Vancouver has too many men on the ice. In overtime penalties are rarely called as refs generally let the players decide things, but this is one they have to call.

17:45: Rinne makes one of the best save you will ever see, this rivals the Thomas save in overtime of Game 6. Daniel Sedin fakes a slapshot then sends the puck over to Bieksa for the one-timer. He had the whoile cage to shoot at, but Rinne manages to get his stick on that. Even ESPN has to give him credit for that one on tomorrow's top 10. But it's hockey so they probably won't.

End of period: Both goalies came up big a few times as we have now played 80 minutes without a winner. Vancouver had the better chances, out shooting Nashville for the first time in five periods. They could have had even more chances, but they had a lot of offside calls against them as they seem too eager to try and get those 2-on-1 and 3-on-2 rushes. The Sedins have played their best hockey of the series in that period. The Nucks will need them to be better if they hope to solve Rinne more than once a game.

Overtime 2
5:45: Rinne channels his inner Dominic Hasek, rolling on his back and getting a glove on a shot by Daniel who went around the crease and had a wide open net.

6:20: Vancouver takes another penalty the referees have to call. It is a delay of game for flipping the puck over the glass. This is one rule I really wish they would get rid of. It should really be treated as an icing call as both plays are made for the purpose of resting tired players on the ice. Why one gets the player two minutes is beyond me.

14:51: When it was looking like both goalies were in a zone and this game may not come to a conclusion anytime soon, Matt Halischuk ends the game, firing a wrist shot into the top corner. Luongo doesn't make a good play on the goal at all as he was on his knees before the puck was even shot, leaving Halischuk plenty of room over the glove to put it where mom hides the cookies.

Final score: Nashville-2 Vancouver-1

Story of the game: For the second straight game, it's the goalies. They combined for a .962 save percentage this game and are .969 in the series (.970 for Luongo, .968 for Rinne). While each team played well on the defensive side of the puck, they each had their chances to put the game away, especially Nashville who had two power plays in the extra frames.  As strong as Luongo was, he made two mistakes that cost the Canucks a 2-0 series lead by letting a shot go in from behind the goal line and biting way too early on the overtime goal. The Predators now have home ice advantage as they need three more wins and they have three games at home. The Sedins showed up for the series in overtime, but they will have to be much better at creating chances and finishing as scoring is going to come at a premium. Like Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos and every other sniper, they have to learn to crash the net and score on scrambles in front. They can score those pretty goals in the regular season, but it doesn't work often in the playoffs.

Player of the game: It was Ryan Kesler through regulation who despite not scoring a goal, got an assist on the Burrows goal and created chances throughout the game. He was solid defensively, giving the Predators little room to work with in the Vancouver zone. He deserves a mention, but Rinne stole the show in overtime as the Canucks had four or five opportunities where they could have easily ended the game. He faced nearly as many shots in overtime (11) as he did in regulation (15) and they were much better quality, especially once the Sedins got going.

Flyers/Bruins Roster Changes And Ruff Times Continues in Buffalo

I'm channeling my inner puns with that headline.

Some are wondering if the Boston Bruins' historic collapse to the Philadelphia Flyers last year will have any effect on their semifinal series this year. That would be the case if the same two teams were playing each other, but that is not the case as there have been 16 roster changes between Game 7 last year and the end of the series this year including 10 for Boston.

The core of the Flyers is still the same, but the have added even more depth. Their third pairing has been upgraded from Ryan Parent and Lukas Krajicek to Sean O'Donnell and Andrej Meszaros. Up front they lost veteran sniper Simon Gagne and grinder Arron Asham who have been replaced by Kris Versteeg, who came out on the right side of Game 6 last year, and inconsistent (that's being generous) Nikolay Zherdev. In goal, Michael Leighton finished up the series after Brian Boucher went down with an injury, but it is Boucher who will once again be starting the series.

The Bruins have made many changes throughout the roster. They have replaced an injured and largely ineffective Marc Savard with Nathan Horton who had three goals including two overtime winners in his first playoff series. There is a lot more sandpaper on the forward lines as Vladimir Sobotka, Miroslav Satan and Blake Wheeler were replaced by Greg Campbell, Chris Kelly and Brad Marchand, players who are much better at mucking it up and winning battles in the corners which is exactly what you need to win in the playoffs. Tim Thomas brings his experience back to the net over Tuukka Rask.

There are some similarities too. Both teams have a monstrous defenseman to punish anyone willing to get into their territory. But while Chris Pronger is coming into the series relatively rested and is still one of the meanest and nastiest players to go up against while Zdeno Chara doesn't use his size to his advantage nearly enough and tries to poke check too often when he could easily take the body. Mike Richards and Milan Lucic have both underachieved as neither have a goal so far in the playoffs after showing how clutch they can be last year.

The Bruins will certainly remember the collapse last year, but they have had enough turnover so that it doesn't matter as this is a completely revamped team.

Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff has received a contract extension. Ruff, while failing to lead the Sabres to the Stanley Cup, has gotten a lot out of his teams. Only once in 14 years have the Sabres gone below 82 points. That was the 2002-03 season when only one player who finished the season in Buffalo had more than 35 points. With the exception of the first two season after the lockout, he has had little offense to work with, but the Sabres have remained competitive. Their leading scorers in each year and their finish since Ruff took over goes as follows:

  • 1998-98: Miroslav Satan - 46 points - 89 points, third in division, lost conference final
  • 1998-99: Miroslav Satan - 66 points - 91 points, fourth in division, lost Stanley Cup final
  • 1999-2000: Miroslav Satan - 67 points - 85 points, third in division, lost round 1
  • 2000-01: Miroslav Satan - 62 points - 98 points, second in division, lost round 2
  • 2001-02: Miroslav Satan - 73 points - 82 points, fifth in division, missed playoffs
  • 2002-03: Miroslav Satan - 75 points - 72 points, fifth in division, missed playoffs
  • 2003-04: Danny Briere - 65 points - 85 points, fifth in division, missed playoffs
  • 2005-06: Maxim Afinogenov - 73 points - 110 points, second in division, lost round 3
  • 2006-07: Danny Briere - 95 points - 113 points, first in division, lost round 3
  • 2007-08: Derek Roy - 81 points - 90 points, fourth in division, missed playoffs
  • 2008-09: Derek Roy - 70 points - 91 points, third in division, missed playoffs
  • 2009-10: Derek Roy - 69 points - 100 points, first in division, lost round 1
  • 2010-11: Tomas Vanek - 73 points - 96 points, second in division, lost round 1

Now that Terry Pegula is the GM and is committed to spending money to build a champion, Ruff will have the  best opportunity to coach a contender in his career. When he had the elite players, the Sabres were contenders, going to the 1999 Stanley Cup final and winning the 2006-07 Presidents' Trophy for the best regular season record. But Dominic Hasek, Briere, Chris Drury, Mike Peca and Brian Campbell have all left for greener pastures, leaving Ruff second liners and backup goalies to try and win with. If they can keep their star players for a change, they certainly have the coach to lead them.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

A Little Guy With A Big Hart

The NHL announced the nominees for the Hart Trophy today, with Corey Perry, Daniel Sedin and Martin St-Louis being the finalists for league MVP. The general consensus is the award will go to either Perry or Sedin while few have mentioned St-Louis.

While Steven Stamkos had another great year in Tampa Bay, save for the final 28 games in which he had five goals, that was due in large part to St-Louis. The winger assisted on 25 of Stamkos' 45 goals, a whopping 55.6%. And other than Stamkos, coach Guy Boucher had few others he could put on the ice to produce any offense. Vincent Lecavalier had a decent season with 25 goals and 54 points in 65 games, but the majority of his totals came at the very end of the season when he totaled 17 goals and 33 points in the final 32 games. Other than that spurt, he was largely invisible this season with eight goals and 31 points in the other 33 games while missing 17 due to injury including 15 in a row from Nov. 12 to Dec. 11 with a hand injury.

The Bolts have other guys to help out, but they were big this season in name only. Simon Gagne had 17 goals in five more games than it took him last year and he looked nothing like the 30-goal scorer he used to be. Ryan Malone had 14, down from 21 and Steve Downie's 10 was less than half his production from last season.

Sedin had a lot more to work with, including his brother Henrik who won the Hart Trophy last season. Ryan Kesler tied Sedin for the team lead with 41 goals and since they don't play on the same line it means there was even more offense because they weren't getting all their points together. Alex Burrows had 26 goals and while Mikael Samuelsson's 18 goals were down from the 30 he scored last year, that total represents an anomaly as he has only reached the 20-goal mark one other time and he averages 17.6 goals every 82 games.

Perry has the benefit of playing on the best line in hockey with Ryan Getzlaf (76 points in 67 games) and Bobby Ryan (34 goals, 71 points). He also has the legendary Teemu Selanne (80 points in 73 games) and Lubomir Visnovsky (68 points, leading all defensemen) to provide support.

St-Louis's offense was also way more important to his team as Tampa's goaltending situation was much shakier than that of Anaheim and Vancouver. The Lightning had four goalies combine for a 2.73 goals-against average and .903 save percentage, while the Canucks' Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider combined for a 2.14 GAA and .928 sv % and the Ducks had five goalies combine for a 2.72 GAA and .915 sve % and those stats would have been better had Hiller not missed 33 of the final 34 games, including the playoffs with vertigo.

Both St-Louis and Sedin were consistent all season while Perry had half of his points in the final 30 games (25 goals, 47 points). While those totals are impressive, I would like to see the MVP be consistent all season, not just have one good stretch. Had Perry played better in the beginning of the season, they wouldn't have been in such a fight to make the playoffs in the first place.

Sedin had the best team around him and it shows in points percentages when these players didn't score. When St-Louis was held without a point, the Lightning went 7-11-3, taking 17 of 42 possible points for a .405 points percentage and Perry had a very similar number as the Ducks went 10-15-1 taking 21 of 52 points for a .405 points percentage. Sedin's Canucks had a much better record when he didn't score, going 8-10-0, taking 16 of 36 points for a .444 points percentage.

The most valuable player is the one the team simply can't afford to loose. Each of these players played an important role, but Sedin had others around him who could get the job done when he didn't and Perry was really only good for a portion of the season. Those two can make some cases, but St-Louis is the only one who consistently shows unmitigated value to his team. Last year it should have been Ryan Miller or Sidney Crosby. This year it should be St-Louis.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Top Stay-At-Home Defensemen

Nicklas Lidstrom, Zdeno Chara and Shea Weber were announced as Norris Trophy candidates on Monday. As they are every year, these are some of the top offensive-minded defensemen in the game; Lidstrom finished second among defensemen with 62 points, Weber was tenth with 46 and Chara was 19th with 44. Should Weber or Chara win it, it will be the first time since 1983-84 someone won it while scoring fewer than 50 points when Rod Langway had 33. He remains the only true defensive defenseman to win the award as all others have had the offensive edge to their game.

Some feel there should be an award for best defensive defenseman, something I would be for as they are seriously underrated. Players such as Kevin Lowe, Adam Foote, Scott Stevens (later on in his career) and Vladimir Konstantinov were instrumental to their teams' success. They award the top defensive forward, it only makes sense to reward those who are supposed to be concentrating on the back end. Here are the top defensive defenseman on each team, the guys who contributed less than half a point per game and still made a major impact on their team.

Anaheim Ducks - Toni Lydman
Lydman only had 25 points, but still finished second among defensemen with a plus-32. His rating was 14 points higher than the next closest Duck, Lubimir Visnovsky who had 68 points this season. His 141 hits were second on the team and his 178 blocked shots were sixth in the league. Of his 22:10 played per game, 3:43 was spent shorthanded.

Atlanta Thrashers - Ron Hainsey
No Thrashers defenseman had more combined hits and blocked shots this season as Hainsey had 51 and 173 respectively. He was the only member of their defense to have a positive plus-minus rating at plus-3.

Boston Bruins - Dennis Seidenberg
Seidenberg only finished at a plus-three, but he made thing very difficult for opposing players.
He led the Boston blueline with 161 hits and 174 blocks and was third with 12 steals. Only Chara played more shorthanded than Seidenberg's 2:14.

Buffalo Sabres - Tyler Myers
Myers overcame a terrible start and was a plus-15 from Jan. 21 to the end of the season. At 6-foot-8 he is able to take up a lot of room in the defensive zone, which is why he plays 2:41 shorthanded each game. His 98 blocks were fewer than last year, but he played more physical raising his hit total to 107.

Calgary Flames - Robyn Regehr
If there was an award for best defensive defenseman, Regehr would be nominated every season. He was 13th among defensemen with 180 hits and was second on the Flames with 143 blocks. He finished 19th in the league among D-men with 3:12 shorthanded time on ice per game. Jay Bouwmeester played more, but Regehr played way more physical while finishing with a slightly better plus-minus.

Carolina Hurricanes - Tim Gleason
No defenseman on the Hurricanes was more physical than Gleason who had 215 hits and 141 blocked shots while playing 20:57 per night, 2:43 of which is spent shorthanded. He finished the season with a minus-11 rating, but with only 16 points and Carolina finishing 18th in the league in goals for/against ratio, that is a respectable total. 

Chicago Blackhawks - Niklas Hjalmarsson
In only his second full season Hjalmarsson led the Hawks blueliners with 166 blocks, was second with 32 steals and was fourth with 46 hits. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook were the only other defenders to play more than 2:00 a game shorthanded. 

Colorado Avalanche - Adam Foote
In his last season, Foote was still one of the best defensemen for the Avs. That may not mean as much as it did 10 years ago, but no one who played more than half a season killed of penalties as much as Foote who was out there 2:50 per game. Colorado had the second worst plus-minus ration in the league at minus-40, but Foote at a minus-nine with only eight assists wasn’t at fault for that.

Columbus Blue Jackets - Jan Hejda
Hejda was a force this season with 152 hits and 158 blocks; he also won 100% of his draws (he only took one, but still…). Of players who finished the year in Columbus and played at least 41 games this season, Hejda was second in total and shorthanded time on ice and plus-minus, while only accumulating 28 PIM.

Dallas Stars - Stephane Robidas
Robidas was 14th in the league with 3:17 shorthanded ice time per game and always played against the other teams’ top lines. He also ranked fourth in the league with 216 hits and was second on the team with 135 blocks. 

Detroit Red Wings - Brad Stuart
This could have easily gone to Kronwall, but Stuart has been very reliable and underrated all season. He out hit Kronall (131 to 113) and played more shorthanded (3:32, seventh among all D-men, to 2:55). Stuart’s plus-4 rating was one point shy of Kronwall’s mark even though he had 17 fewer points.

Edmonton Oilers - Theo Peckham
Pechkam’s minus-5 rating was the best of any Oilers defenseman who played a full season. He was a bull, finishing eighth among all defensemen with 196 hits while piling up 198 PIM. 

Florida Panthers - Mike Weaver
The only full-time Panthers blueliner to finish the year with a positive plus-minus, Weaver led the team in blocked shots (132) and takeaways (47, 12th among D-men). Almost 16% of his time on ice was with the Panthers down a man (3:15 of 20:48 per game).

Los Angeles Kings - Willie Mitchell
Though he missed 25 games to injury, Mitchell was outstanding on the back end, playing 3:24 shorthanded per game (11th in the league). He had 35 hits, 85 blocks and 12 take aways. Those numbers prorated over a full season become 50 hits, 122 blocks (second on the team) and 17 takeaways.

Minnesota Wild - Greg Zanon
Zanon led all Wild D-men in hits (169, 36 more than Brent Burns) and blocks (212, 80 more than Nick Schultz) by a wide margin while playing the third-most minutes (21:32). He is also the only one to spend over three minutes (3:02) killing penalties.

Montreal Canadiens - Jaroslav Spacek
The Canadiens had different defensemen lead them in almost ever category, but Spacek was their most consistent. In 59 games Spacek led the Habs blueliners with a plus-nine. He also had the most take aways per game (0.51).

Nashville Predators - Kevin Klein
Klein was a wall in the defensive zone, leading all Nashville blueliners with 173 blocked shots, 60 more than captain Shea Weber. He also finished third with a plus-nine and played on the penalty killing unit more than any other Pred (3:10).

New Jersey Devils - Anton Volchenkov
Lo and behold! A Devils player actually finished with a positive plus-minus. Volchenkov actually finished fourth with a plus-three. Had he played a full season, he would have been in the top-25 in hits and blocks. 

New York Islanders - Andrew MacDonald
Picking the best Islanders defenseman is a bit of an oxymoron, but MacDonald had a solid season. He led the Islanders backend with a plus-nine rating, 160 blocks and 49 steals while leading them with 23:24 per game in his first full season.

New York Rangers - Dan Girardi
Getting a puck past Henrik Lundqvist is hard enough, but opposing shooters have to get it past Girardi first. One of only two players this season to combine for over 400 hits and blocks, Girardi got in the way of a league-high 236 shots, 24 more than Zanon, while also registering 195 hits. He was 18th in the league playing 3:12 shorthanded a game.

Ottawa Senators - Filip Kuba
The Senators choice is just like the Islanders, no choice is wrong mainly because no choice is right. He only had 23 hits in 64 games, but 104 blocks (133 over a full season) and 22 steals (28) and was second on the team with 2:29 shorthanded per game. 

Philadelphia Flyers - Andrej Meszaros 
Meszaros experienced a revival in Philly this year after two miserable years in Tampa. He delivered 189 hits (11th among NHL D-men) and blocked 139 shots. He led the league in plus-minus for most of the year finishing in a tie for fifth (plus-30) with teammate Matt Carle, Adam McQuaid and Daniel Sedin. 

Phoenix Coyotes - Adrian Aucoin
Aucoin's steady presence allowed Keith Yandle to develop into one of the highest scoring blueliners in the league. His plus-18 paced the team and he added 134 hits, tops among their defense. He was called on nearly threes minutes each game to kill penalties.

Pittsburgh Penguins - Brooks Orpik
One of the most physical players in the league, Orpik had 194 hits in just 63 games, prorated to 253 over a full season which would have led all D-men. At 3:44, he averaged just two seconds per game less on the penalty kill than Zbynek Michalek.

San Jose Sharks - Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Pickle had 147 blocks and 30 steals this season while finishing second among Sharks defensemen with a plus-14. Only Dan Boyle played more each game and no one played more shorthanded. 

St. Louis Blues - Barret Jackman
Jackman was the only defenseman to play an entire season with the Blues and finish with a positive plus-minus (plus-3). He had 78 hits and 114 blocks in only 60 games, he would have been in the top-20 in blocks had he played a full season. He values is clearly in the defensive zone as he played 2:49 per game shorthanded and 0:02 on the power play.

Tampa Bay Lightning - Mattias Ohlund
Ohlund was a calming presence on a shaky Tampa blueline. He led their defense with 135 hits and had 136 blocked shots. A big reason he was a minus-seven was he only had five points and Lightning goaltending was terrible early in the season.

Toronto Maple Leafs - Luke Schenn
The other player with 400 combined hits and blocks, Schenn led the league's D-men with 251 hits and added 168 blocks. Only Dion Phaneuf played more overall and no one was on the ice with a man disadvantage more often. 

Vancouver Canucks - Kevin Bieksa
In just 66 games, Bieksa posted a plus-32, good for second overall. He was second on the team with 104 hits and third with 93 blocks, while leading with 50 take aways. He played the fourth most minutes on the Vancouver blueline (22:28) and third most shorthanded (2:40).

Washington Capitals - Karl Alzner
This was difficult as there was plenty of capable defenders in America'a capital. Alzner finished second to offensive-minded John Carlson with a plus-14. One of only two defenders to play all 82 games, Alzner had 98 hits, 132 blocks and 24 take aways while playing exactly one period a game. 

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Saturday Recap - 4/23

Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh
First Period
13:08: Brooks Orpik with the first good scoring chance of the day rings a shot off the post. It rang like a church bell, echoing throughout the CONSOL Energy Center. Quite possibly the best noise in hockey, the super-quick, high-pitched ping is a symphony to a goalie.

16:57: Beautiful rush by Tampa with Simon Gagne, Teddy Purcell and Vinny Lecavalier. Six quick passes, a shot off both posts and an easy tip in on the rebound by Gagne. They could have easily taken a shot five times, but showed amazing patience on the play spreading out the defense.

17:43: Lightning does strike the same place twice as Steven Stamkos scores his first career playoff goal on a rebound in front. Like I said about Ovechkin last week, these are the goals he's going to have to score as those one-timers and snipes aren't going to work often in the playoffs.

19:28: The penguins do an amazing job of keeping control of the puck on a delayed penalty, effectively increasing their power play by about 25 seconds.

End of period: Though the Lightning scored two quick goals, the period belonged to Dwayne Roloson whose play early on kept them from being in a hole early. The Lightning were out-shot 13-8 in the period, with most of their coming in the last five minutes of play. By the way, I love P.J. Stock as an announcer. Known more for fights like this, once he gets used to talking on air (he stumbles and pauses at times) I think you'll see him behind a desk for a while.

Second Period
1:55: Tremendous pass from Stamkos to Lecavalier for their third goal of the game. Once again patience is key as Stamkos waits with the puck in the corner while three defenders are on him before making a centering pass to a wide open Lecavalier.

5:31: Like he did last year against Boston, Gagne saves his best for when his team needs it the most. He scored four goals in the final four games of that series after coming back from injury and he has two today. His second goal ended Marc-Andre Fleury's day and Tampa has taken complete control of the game.

7:00: Stamkos does it again, going to the net for a rebound on the power play. Right now the Lightning are outworking the Penguins in every facet; outracing them to loose pucks and winning battles in the corner. Wins in these areas are directly leading to goals. Stamkos is known more for scoring with his wicked one-timer and superior skill, but is doing exactly what he needs to do in the playoffs and is having the type of domination game he is more than capable of.

9:39: With Pittsburgh on the power play, Kris Letang takes an ill-advised cross checking penalty negating their man advantage after just 19 seconds. They needed a goal there to have any chance at a comeback. It seems like a stretch, but there has already been a four-goal comeback and several three-goal comebacks this year, proving anything is possible at this time of the season.

End of period: The Lightning out-shot the Pens 10-7 in the second, but the advantage seems way higher in their favor. Tampa seemed to dominate and Pittsburgh looked lost for most of the middle frame.

Third Period
2:54: An awful penalty by Alexei Kovalev leads to another power play goal for the Lightning. He high-sticked Dominic Moore on the backcheck even though the puck was nowhere near him. Pavel Kubina scored on an absolute blast from the top of the circle. Along with Roloson's strong play early on, one of the biggest stories of the game is the power play for both teams. Tampa Bay is now 2-for-3 while Pittsburgh is 0-for-5.

5:45: Another bad penalty, another power play goal for Kubina, this time from right in front of the net. Goalie Brent Johnson took a roughing call after getting tangled with Sean Bergenheim.

6:36: Rupp scores and the Pens have finally showed up. The crowd, which is half-empty now, has something to cheer about for the first time since early in the game. The goal came on a shot from the slot off a pass from Kovalev who finally showed some kind of emotion a little too late as the game is already out of reach.

8:22: Pittsburgh takes advantage of terrible defensive zone coverage by Tampa. They had all five skaters and Roloson chasing the puck, leading to an easy goal for Chris Conner.

11:00: There is no chance of the Pens coming back in this game, but they have really turned on the forecheck and have the Lightning scrambling in their own end. They are hitting and attacking, sending a message for Game 6 that they will not be beaten as easily on Monday. If they can keep the Bolts on their heels and let them know goals will be much harder to come by and they will fight harder to score themselves, they may have an advantage in the next game.

13:46: In an attempt hit everything that moves, Max Talbot takes another bad penalty for Pittsburgh, this time for hitting Victor Hedman from behind. Dominic Moore responds, proving that stupid and unnecessary penalties are so much harder to kill off. Coach Guy Boucher has finally taken Stamkos and Marc-Andre Bergeron off the points on the power play, giving his role players their rare minutes with the man advantage.

16:35: The Pens are cutting ruts to the penalty box and Kubina nearly gets a hattrick as he rings one off the post. Orpik and Steve Downie get thrown from the game as the refs are making sure the game doesn't get out of hand and turn into the type of retaliation game the NHL has tried so hard to get rid of. For the second time this game, Rolson tries to settle down his teammates, taking time to get his equipment adjusted so thye can get a breather.

Final score: Lightning-8 Penguins-2

Story of the game: After dominating most of the first period, the Penguins lost focus after two quick Lightning strikes. They started pressing way too much even though they had penalty of time to settle down, play their game and tie it up. Instead they gave up the puck way too much and the Lightning's best players played like they should, creating tons of chances and scoring on most of them. Every member of their top two lines and their offensive blueliners were dangerous all day and the steady attack wore on the Pens before long. When they Pens tried to respond in the third period by playing a physical game, their plan backfired and they took too many stupid penalties, digging themselves into a hole impossible to climb out from. Each team had six power play opportunities; the Lightning were shorthanded early and were able to kill them off and buried their chances on the power play later in the game, netting four goals while the Penguins didn't get one.

Player of the game: Steven Stamkos was a bull in the first two periods, crashing the net and scoring his first two career playoff goals in a game where they absolutely needed him to be their best player. he showed patience with the puck and didn't let the Pens' physical game discourage him early on.

New York at Washington
First Period
5:59: Mike Green scores his first playoff goal in almost two years as the Caps get off to a quick start. they are determined not to collapse this year like they have the past two years against Pittsburgh and Montreal. Right now the Caps are letting Rangers fans know they can in fact hear them and have responded appropriately by dominating play with five unanswered goals since that point in Game 4.

7:55: Capitals fans respond to New York with their own "We are louder" chant. Gotta love when fans of each franchise go against each other like that. One of my favorite memories ever is from last year when Flyers fans did their own ole chant after dominating each game in Philly. It definitely makes the games a more fun and intense experience.

13:49: Green takes his second shot off the face this season, he missed 26 of the last 28 regular season games after taking a Brooks Oprik shot near the eye on Feb. 6 and an elbow to the head from New York's Derek Stepan a few games later. If he's hurt badly this could be a devastating injury for the Caps as he has had points in every game this series after pulling a disappearing act that would make Houdini proud in each of the past two playoff years. They showed a replay of the shot and several screws on the helmet came undone revealing the type of courage hockey players have and what they will do to win just one more game in the spring.

End of the period: Just like the rest of the series, this period was tight and hard-fought. The Caps out-shot the Rangers 13-6, but most of them were from far out and easy stops by Lundqvist.

Second Period
0:43: Amazing play by Marc Staal to take a great scoring chance away from Alex Ovechkin. It could easily be 2-0 Caps right now, but Staal's quick stick saves the day. The Rangers are going to have to be that attentive all game as they are not going to get many scoring chances against this hard-hitting Capitals team so they need to keep chances against to a minimum.

7:04: Ovechkin gets another chance and flys by a tired Staal before pulling the puck across the crease and scoring on a backhand. It's only two goals, but the Rangers are in a hole now. Both times the Rangers have scored three goals have been at MSG. The two previous games in Washington, they have a combined two goals. And with Michal Neuvirth playing as calm as he is and sucking up any shot near his glove hand like a black hole, it will be tough for them to fight back.

 9:10: "We are louder" chant starts again, but I don't think this will backfire like it did in New York.

14:37: Great news for the Caps as Green has returned to the bench. It will be interesting to see how much he plays the rest of the game. Seeing him back indicates it is a facial injury, not a head/concussion problem as he likely wouldn't play the rest of the game if that were the case, especially with the Caps in control like this.

17:19: John Erskine with a hard hit on Brandon Prust leads to an interference call. A solid hit, but a little too early as the puck hadn't reached Prust yet. This is a huge power play for the Rangers as their offense desperately needs to show some signs of life and this is the time to do it.

End of the period: The Caps learned quite a bit last year and it shows in their play. They are not trying to win this game 8-0, they are playing solid in all three zones and making sure everyone is back on defense while capitalizing when they have a chance to score. It will take an unbelievable effort in the third period for the Rangers to come back from this.

Third Period
7:00: Pierre McGuire notes Mike Green is still on the bench, but has not played a shift since taking the puck off the face. There is a pretty good bruise on the side of his face. It's a good call not playing him. The Capitals are doing just fine and there is no need to rink injuring him even further.

9:35: Marcus Johansson shows amazing speed and nearly sets up a goal by Jason Chimera. I have never seen anyone skate that fast, he made it from his own goal line to the top of the faceoff circle in the Rangers zone in about five seconds flat. He looked like Pavel Bure out there.

16:23: Johansson does it again this time setting up Semin who buries the shot past Lundqvist. This officially seals the win for the Caps. It was a beautiful pass as Johansson channeled Adam Oates this time, saucering the puck over Staal who had fallen to the ice in an attempt to block the pass.

18:52: Boyd Gordon makes a great play in the crease to put the puck out of danger as the Rangers were pressing hard. This is exactly the type of play you wouldn't have seen last year and it looks as if they have gotten used to playing defense first when they have to.

19:28: Wojtek Wolski breaks up the shutout bid for Neuvirth, but it doesn't matter as there is only 30 seconds remaining in the game. Sean Avery shows his true colors by starting a scrum after the fight, putting the Capitals on the power play for the remainder of the Rangers season.

Final score: Washington-3 New York-1

Story of the game: Ovechkin continues to get stymied when trying to score on far shots, but is cashing in on chances down low. He should take notice and stop taking those shots. The Caps have learned how to win playoff games, holding the puck in the corner in the offensive zone, taking valuable time off the clock and grinding their way to a win. This was especially evident during the last three minutes when Lundqvist was pulled. Instead of trying to score the fourth goal, they just made sure to get the puck out of the zone without icing it. It is the first time an Ovechkin-led Capitals team has played a series that went less than seven games as Washington becomes the second team, and first from the East, to advance to the second round. Right now they are looking like a good bet to make the Stanley Cup final.

Player of the game: The whole team played well, but Michal Neuvirth was there to keep the Rangers off the board until the game was all but over. The Caps were out shot in each of the last two periods by a combined 21-14. Neuvirth was a vacuum and helped control the pace of the game. He made some key saves and gave the Caps the confidence they needed to close out the series like they haven't been able to the past two years.

Montreal at Boston
First Period
8:05: With Thomas way out of position, Michael Ryder makes a save on Tomas Plekanec. The first goal is going to be huge and Ryder, not known for his work in his own zone, keeps it a scoreless game. Maybe he should do that full time.

10:38: A bad giveaway by Carey Price lead to a glorious chance in front for David Krejci. Price gets into the game in a big way as he made a good recovery and stoned Krejci. Looks like goals are going to be hard to come by today.

End of the first: It must be a warm day in Boston and the ice seems chippy and the puck is taking a lot of bounces. The ice should get better as the game goes on and it gets cooler, but for now it is going to be difficult to make plays. They are better off throwing the puck on net and crashing for the rebounds.

Second Period
19:08: The game is heating up as Tomas Plekanec and Brad Marchand exchange a couple blows and get matching minors for roughing. This has been a very physical series and plays such as this are to be expected. It will be interesting to see if the ensuing 4-on-4 will open up the game and create a few more scoring chances.

End of the period: There was not too much action to report as both teams were very cautious on the bad ice. Plus I was eating dinner. Shots were nine-six in favor of Boston compared to a 12-10 advantage for them in the first. This game is going to come down to either a missed defensive assignment or a bad bounce near the goal. With the second period starting 4-on-4, the teams may try for a quick strike to start the final frame. This is just the fourth game to go scoreless in the first two periods, with the other three coming in the first two days of the playoffs.

Third Period
0:33: The Canadiens have a gaping net with a loose puck in front, but no one is around to tap it in. Moments later the Bruins would have a great chance of their own. Just like I thought, the game really opened up 4-on-4 and it's been an exciting start to the third.

4:33: Marchand opens up the scoring with his first career playoff goal. Mark Recchi is a beast in the offensive zone, creating chances and dishing the puck well throughout the entire shift. He gets a luck break off a broken stick in front, but the puck bouncing right back to him after trying to make a centering pass left him and the net wide open for the easy goal.

11:02: There has already been as many shots this period as in the second. Both teams have ramped up their attack as they can sense the end of the game.

13:56: Jeff Halpern answers for Montreal and the third line scores a rare goal for the Habs. They needed a goal from them as they have had little depth during the series after their first line who has been shutdown this game. Mike Cammalleri had the first line's best chance earlier in the period, but ripped a shot over the net on a shot from just above the slot.

End of the period: Both teams found the net this period, but it remained a strong defensive battle forcing the game into overtime. The Bruins tried to win the game 1-0 after their goal, so naturally Montreal was able to come back and score. It's just like prevent defense in football, what it prevents is you from winning. When they were forechecking hard they were keeping play in the Montreal end and had the opportunity to increase their lead. Instead their will play more hockey tonight.

Overtime 1
1:40: Nice save by Thomas on a tricky Mathieu Darche shot that changes speed on its way to the net. Didn't look dangerous, but those are the type of shots that go in in overtime.

5:00: The Habs sustain some serious pressure in the Boston zone as they were out for a long shift. This is most clear when Lucic can't get the puck away from a Canadien tied up with another Bruin when he is just a few feet away from him.

8:08: Terrible miscue by Price almost leads to a Boston goal. Trying to handle a puck near his crease, he loses it in his feet, but falls on it after colliding with Marchand trying to shove the puck in. Looked for a moment the overtime winner would be similar to this play.

11:15: Thomas makes a great save, snatching the puck headed towards the top corner on a one-timer by James Wisnieuski. Shortly thereafter Mike Cammalleri make a great play on the backcheck, poking the puck away from Lucic who had the opportunity to take a shot from the slot. Both teams are playing great, trying to limit their chances and showing the desperation and determination you would expect when a Game 5 in a 2-2 series is in overtime.

13:45: Bergeron and Chara combine to block a shot on another empty net opportunity for Montreal. Thomas is lucky this game hasn't ended already.

16:12: Bergeron has a great chance all alone in front and gets tripped trying to take a shot. This is the perfect time for them to get their power play in order as they haven't scored on it yet. Personally I think it could have been called for a penalty shot.

End of the period: This looks like a game that could go on for a while as both teams refuse to give an inch. Both goalies have made some mistakes, but have been able to recover. Boston had a great chance to end it, but their power play was abysmal.

Overtime 2
2:51: Roman Hamrlik takes a shot from the point, but pauses before taking it allowing Price time to square up to the shot. I have been seeing that all day, they would be better to take a wrist shot with the rolling puck than to wait for it to settle down so they could take a slapshot. When puck is rolling  and the goalie is not ready, it can dip and dive and cause them fits.

5:35: the save of the season as Thomas stones Brian Gionta one a one timer from the slot on a 2-on-1 rush. A great pace so far this period considering the players must be getting very tired by this point.

9:03: Nathan Horton ends it on a rebound in front. Both goalies have been in such a zone, especially Price who wasn't running and scrambling around nearly as much as Thomas. It's unfortunate to see anyone lose a game like this.

Final score: Bruins-2 Canadiens-1

Story of the game: This was a defensive battle all the way. Both Thomas and Price were on top of their game and when they weren't, their teams were the to bail them out, especially Boston. This may have been the best goaltending performance of the playoffs yet. Every inch of ice was fought for and it was a pretty much perfectly played game on both sides. The few mistakes that were made were covered for

Player of the game: This could have gone to either goalie, but it was Thomas who came out with the win. His save on Gionta was fantastic, while Price let up a rebound that went straight to Horton. Those stiff pads aren't treating him well at the moment. Thomas ended up with 38 saves on 39 shots while Price countered with 42 on 44. Thomas showed tonight he is a battler as he was all over the net, smothering Montreal's best chances all game.

Los Angeles at San Jose
First Period
3:36: Wayne Simmonds opens the scoring on a deflection of a Rob Scuderi, huge goal for the Kings who are looking to avoid another meltdown today. I'm not watching this game, just checking the boxscore and seeing the highlights as the Bruins-Habs game is not yet over.

7:14: Kyle Clifford this time. I wish the other game would end so I can watch this one. Very similar start to Game 3.

8:42: Look who decides to show up. Dustin Penner scores his first of the playoffs and his first in 18 games.

17:38: I finally get to tune into the game after the damage has been done early.

18:39: Just noticed Antero Niittymaki is in goal when they showed Niemi on the bench. He allowed three goals on just four shots and I think the fact he owns a purple Sharks hat is a reason for his bad performance. The hockey gods would surely smite anyone wearing that thing.

End of the period: They did an interview with Kyle Clifford during intermission. He has a huge bruise on his face and his eye is red. Looks pretty good for a guy in the playoffs. Jonathan Quick has a good period, stopping all 19 shots fired his way.

Second Period
3:07: Niclas Wallin takes a hit from Kevin Westgarth and goes through the plexiglass, which then pins his arm keeping him stuck in the corner. A pretty funny sight, though he is lucky it wasn't the heavy glass still found in some arenas or he would be in some serious trouble.

5:43: Marleau scores as Jonathan Quick takes his skate off the post for just a second after he makes a save on Wallin.

End of the period: It was a well played period for the Kings who didn't sit back and defend their lead. Despite being outscored 1-0 in the middle frame, they played much better than the first. They were outshot 15-12, but in the first it was worse at 19-six. A terrible start by Niemi is a big reason they are up, but it looks like they won't squander another big lead.

Third Period
1:19: Niittymaki makes an unbelievable save on Drew Doughty keeping it at a two-goal deficit. It looked as if he was down and out after losing his stick, but he manages to get his glove on it. It is a huge save as it looks like it will be tough for the Sharks to beat Quick tonight.

8:32: Quick answers Niittymaki with a huge save on Logan Couture who was left all along in front. It looked like he didn't know just how much room he had as he rushed the shot when he had more than enough time to make a quick move.

18:12: Dany Heatley makes a save on Jarrett Stoll with Niittymaki pulled for the extra attacker. This is the first time I even noticed him tonight.

Final score: Kings-3 Sharks-1

Story of the game: After three quick goals, the Kings were able to hold on for the win and extend their season for another game. The best thing was, while they were certainly out played at times, they never sat back and solely focused on defense, attacking whenever they got the chance, though Niittymaki was perfect in relief keeping the Sharks in the game.

Player of the game: Jonathan Quick tied a career high with 51 saves as he was under siege all night and responded admirably. Many of the shots were quality chances, especially late in the game. He stopped all five shots from Joe Pavelski and Devin Setoguchi and eight of nine from Patrick Marleau. After two bad games in Los Angeles, Quick showed he has the ability to forget about bad games and looked calm despite the barrage he faced.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Bahston Announcahs

Before I get into it, let me just say this. I'm not trashing Jack Edwards because he's a homer. Pretty much every team announcer is, that's what they get paid for. However, there is a major difference in in announcing a game while focusing more on the home team and being a fan with a microphone. I am writing this because he is arrogant, does not know hockey well and (this goes more for Andy Brickley) people with Boston accents should not be on TV. I've been to a few Bruins games, but I still can't find this Gah Den place they seem to play at when I'm not there.

I tweeted a link a few days ago from the Puck Daddy blog on Yahoo! Sports. But Twitter is not enough, this deserves a full blog post. The video shows Jack Edwards being his usual loud-mouthed, pretentious self. He is almost as bad at announcing as Mike Milbury is at being a GM. Let's break down the video.

0:53 He's (Benoit Pouliot) trying to make a name for himself here in the playoffs. He's lining up against Andrew Ference, he's a much bigger man and he's got a real tussle on his hands here. Going for a wrestle and Ference gets the takedown, no surprise.

The first part of that, when you read it, sounds like a complement, but Edwards is ripping on him. Since when is fighting someone bigger than you, trying to help out your team and give them some momentum, a bad thing? Pouliot should be lauded, instead Edwards slights him. And after that, is overcome with joy that Ference won the fight even though he was talking about how Pouliot is not a fighter literally seconds earlier. He should be commended for going after Ference who has 20 career fights compared to three for Pouliot.

Then  Brick comes in talking about Pouliot's "gutless hit" moments before the fight. This after Edwards made such a big deal of Pouliot missing the hit. While watching the replay Brick was complaining the hit was from behind even though that very replay showed Pouliot making contact with the spoked B on the front of Johnny Boychuk's jersey.

2:02 Gives it away to Peverly, he scores. Rich Peverly, isn't that rich.

Wow, did you come up with that all by yourself? Because that's genius. Isn't that rich. His name is Rich. That took me a while to figure out, I guess it's just too complicated a connection for me.

2:42 The last time the Bruins had a three goal lead in the playoffs...I'm sorry, we had some kind of electrical interference I couldn't complete that sentence. 

Well Jack, allow me to help you out there. The last time the Bruins had a three goal lead in the playoffs, they chocked badly, leading the the biggest collapse in sports history. Still don't remember? Yep, it did indeed happen and too many men on the ice burned your beloved franchise again.

2:55 Hamrlik goes down as if SHOT. GET UP! Here comes Cammalleri, Montreal trying to nurse RIDICULOUS calls out of the referees. Just a great hit in the Montreal zone and Hamrlik trying to dive for a penalty.

OK, first thing. If it is such a great hit, then how is he diving? If a hit is hard enough, the guy is supposed to go down. The video on Yahoo! cuts it off, but you can see the hit here. In that video Michael Ryder and Roman Hamrlik blatantly hit the boards and go down at the same time, yet somehow only Hamrlik is diving. He calls it a great hit, but Ryder is the one getting hit. I wonder how deep into his ass he had to go to pull that call out. Seriously, Ryder has the puck, Hamrlik comes up on him, gives him a shove and they both fall into the boards. Awkwardly too, right at the base of the boards where they don't give at all, but there's no respect for that, instead it's "GET UP." I'm willing to bet if he didn't play for Boston, Edwards would call Patrice Bergeron a wimp.


I know they're both the same color, but you're supposed to be excited when the puck goes in the net, not Subban. And who gets that excited over an empty net goal? If the goal seals the Stanley Cup then sure, scream all you want, but this is Game 3 of the quarterfinal. He's more excited than the first time  a 13-year-old sees a naked girl.

Change your underwear and get over yourself.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Thoughts From The First Weekend Of Playoff Action

  • If Ovechkin really want to have an impact these playoffs, he needs to go to the net more. His attempts to shoot the puck past everyone from beyond the faceoff circles isn't working and it probably won't do him any good any time soon, especially on a goalie like King Henrik. If he is going to end up on the scoreboard, he is going to have to crash the net with more regularity like he did in Game 1 and when he deflected a goal in during Game 3. Teams have learned to get in the way of his shots, limiting his effectiveness. He needs to start scoring goals from 3-5 feet from the net or the Caps are going to underacheive again.
  • Martin St-Louis, despite his 5-foot-8 and 176 pound frame, easily one of the toughest and strongest players in the league. He's the first player this year to show why hockey players are the toughest, especially come playoff time. After taking a stick to the face from Pittsburgh's Zbynek Michalek, he underwent a double root canal and played two nights later. He didn't hold back either as he led the charge for the Lightning, ending the night with a goal and two points, both of which came on the power play. In true hockey player form, he played down his effort in the post-game interview, saying he was more motivated by being down by a game than trying to avenge his injury on which there was no penalty called. 
  • Seven inches taller and 46 pounds heavier than St-Louis, Detroit's Johan Franzen took a hit from Shane Doan in the first period of their Game 2 matchup and went headfirst into the boards and opening a cut that took 23 stitches to close. The crowd showed their appreciation when he came back with a bandage on his forehead and a bloody nose and took a brief skate just to stretch out a little. They roared again when he led a rush a few minutes later. Later, he took a facewash from Doan and didn't even flinch as he crashed the net like usual. 
  • Speaking of Doan, I really wish he played in a market where more people could watch him. I haven't seen him too often myself; I have read plenty of good things about him, but it wasn't until Game 2 that I realized just how good he is. He played a tremendous physical game and nearly single-handedly brought the Coyotes back when they were down four goals, registering two goals and three points before their comeback attempt fell short. He deserves to play somewhere more than 12,208 people can appreciate what he can do. Some place like, say, I don't know...Winnipeg.
  • After losing John Madden, Adam Burish, Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg, Brent Sopel and Ben Eager, many thought the Blackhawks would be able to overcome their sudden loss of depth. After all, they have one of the best cores in the NHL with Jonathan Toews, Patricks Kane and Sharp, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. The Canucks have been exposing the rest of the Hawks, flying all over the ice and causing last year's champs to run around, often looking lost. They 14 players signed for next season and only $8.4 million to sign the rest, so they will have the same issues next season. One place they really needs to spend money on though is a goalie not named Marty Turco. I have a hard time beleiving they won't keep Corey Crawford, but they need a reliable veteran to give him a break. He started 27 consecutive games down the stretch as they didn't trust Turco and his .897 save percentage, but now he looks tired and is not inspiring the confidence in the team Antti Niemi did last season.
  • Brent Seabrook took two hits worthy of following the NHL's new concussion protocol and spending 15 minutes in a quiet room for diagnosis. He didn't go after the first one and you could clearly see him and one of the officials talking about the hit on the ice. One of the criticisms of the rule was what would happen in the playoffs when a team's best player may have to be out at a critical moment of a game. I'm sure Canucks management were upset to see Seabrook out there but that is what happens when you have a subjective rule like that. However, it is great to see some progression and even if the rule needs some tweaks, they are certainly going in the right direction.
  • Lastly, here is a quote from Flyers coach Peter Laviolette after Game 2 against Buffalo. I believe it sums up the playoffs perfectly. "As far as that emotion and intensity you're talking about, it's called the Stanley Cup. And it's worth fighting for."

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

The March Madness Method

It was brought to my attention right before the March Madness tournament this year that there are plenty of people who fill out brackets even though they know very little about college basketball. They don't know enough to pick the winners by the best team, so a popular method is to choose by which mascot can defeat the other. For example, when UCONN Huskies and Butler Bulldogs faced off in the Championship, you would have to decided who would win in a fight, a husky or a bulldog. Clearly, by this method, that would be a very close game (for the record I know UCONN won and the game was last week, I'm just using this as a for-instance. Also, I can't believe I'm writing about basketball at the moment).

I thought it would be an interesting idea to try this with the Stanley Cup playoffs. So here is how the playoffs will turnout if the teams with the most dominant nicknames win. For the record, I was 12 of 16 in predicting playoff teams including five of six division winners (everyone but Philly, I chose Pittsburgh) and seven teams in the exact position they finished (Washington, Boston, Atlanta, Vancouver, Phoenix, Calgary and Edmonton).

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals 
1. Washington Capitals vs. 8. New York Rangers
This first series poses a problem that will come up a few times and that is what exactly is the nickname. A capital is more of a symbol than anything else, but since their secondary logo features an eagle, I'm going to go with that.  A Ranger to me brings up images of an Army Ranger. This will be a hard-fought series as both are incredibly proud. The Capitals may not be that big, but they are fierce and if you enter their territory uninvited, you will be in trouble. Plus they can fly like the wind and have amazing vision that can spot even the smallest openings. The Rangers have technology at their disposal, but if they have vision anywhere near an eagle, that's good for them. However, they definitely have an edge in coordination and teamwork as well as a number of tools at their disposal.
Result: In a series that goes the distance, the Rangers pull off the right attack at the right time and comes away victorious - Rangers in seven.

2. Philadelphia Flyers vs. 7. Buffalo Sabres
Once again, what exactly is a Flyer? Their speed and power conjures up images of fighter jets and that will go up against...a sword? A sabre is a highly finesse weapon and when used correctly, can inflict lethal damage. But can it fly? If I have a fighter pilot bearing down on me, guns blazing, I want a little more than a sword on my side.
Result: It doesn't matter who is guiding the Sabres, the Flyers, with a barrage of high-tech weapons, will make quick work of them - Flyers in five.

3. Boston Bruins vs. 6. Montreal Canadiens
A proud province versus a bad bear. Bruins are ferocious, powerful and massive and can physically dominate opponents without batting an eye. There's not much you can do to come away in one piece other than run the other way. Then you have the French-Canadiens. If there's one group crazy enough to take on a bruin, its them; remember these people burn police cars when they win the first round. They will definitely not back down from this battle and will bring plenty of reinforcements. However, they are definitely known more for their elegance than their power and will most certainly have trouble with the bruins' claws.
Result: They won't go down easy, but the Canadiens simply lack the brute strength and savageness of a bruin - Bruins in six.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 5. Tampa Bay Lightning
Lightning lives by the quick-strike attack. You can easily miss it; blink and you're done. A penguin is among the toughest animals on earth. They withstand the most extreme conditions in the Antarctic where few other animals can possibly survive, but their strength is nearly all defense while the Lightning is a powerful offensive force. Penguins can deal with freezing cold, but extreme heat is way out of their element.
Result: One of the most powerful forces of nature going up against a bird that can't fly? Easy - Lightning in five.

Western Conference Quarterfinals
1. Vancouver Canucks vs. 8. Chicago Blackhawks
Here we have English-speaking Canadians and a fictional WWII hero against an actual WWI infantry division. Johnny canuck may have defeated a cartoon version of Hitler, but the original Black Hawks were true heroes.
Result: An actual army? C'mon, no contest - Blackhawks in four.

2. San Jose Sharks vs. 7. Los Angeles Kings
A shark may be the greatest predator in the world. They not only inflict a ton of damage themselves, but they can smell something wounded a mile away. They strike fast and hard and when they have you in their grip, rarely are you coming back. A king has the respect of everyone and can control armies. However I don't think swimming is a major qualifier for being a king which give a shark a bit of an edge in the water.
Result: Royalty may have people who will do anything for them, but fighting a shark is probably not one of them - Sharks in five.

3. Detroit Red Wings vs. 6. Phoenix Coyotes
It's something that can fly, but what it is specifically isn't known. I have a feeling if it were something dangerous like and eagle or hawk, they would say so rather than covering it up with the car back story of Detroit. A coyote is a scavenger and while it may not be one to openly attack something while it is at full strength, but it knows how to survive.
Result: The Red Wings have the advantage of flight, but the Yotes are used to surviving difficult situations in the desert - Coyotes in seven.

4. Anaheim Ducks vs. 5. Nashville Predators
Ducks are simple creatures and unless you're hiding bread from them, they won't bother you much. A sabre-tooth tiger was one of the greatest hunters back in the day and even if it is one against an entire flock, ducks won't do much more than annoy it.
Result: Ducks fly together...then get eaten by sabre-tooth tigers together - Predators in four.

Eastern Conference Semifinals
2. Philadelphia Flyers vs. 8. New York Rangers
This is a tough one. One one hand you have an air attack dropping bombs on the ground, on the other you have the army launching land-to-air rockets back at them. I'm sure the ground defenses are fine, but the speed and ability to fly have to be an advantage in this series.
This is going to be a hard series to win, but you have to give the advantage to the one that flys - Flyers in seven.

3. Boston Bruins vs. 6. Tampa Bay Lightning
As vicious as bruins are, its hard to believe they can do much against lightning. They will certainly offer more of a fight than a penguin, but attempting to claw at the hottest element on the planet most likely won't end well.
Result: Much like the Penguins series lightning is just too powerful - Lightning in six.

Western Conference Semifinals
2. San Jose Sharks vs. 8. Chicago Blackhawks
Each of these teams have a solid attack and a tough defense. The advantage comes in where the fight is. A shark, as skillful a hunter as they are, won't have much of an effect on land. Once in the water however, it's the U.S.S. Indianapolis all over again. This infantry division will find out the hard way
Result: This series will come down to home ice advantage - Sharks in seven.

5. Nashville Predators vs. 6. Phoenix Coyotes
Desert dogs may be scrappy, but how will they handle a 900 pound cat with fangs? My guess is not very well. Coyotes can gang up on them and chip away here and there, but their attack is weak compared to the Predators.
Result: They will just be too powerful to handle - Predators in five.

Eastern Conference Final
2. Philadelphia Flyers vs. 6. Tampa Bay Lightning
The most explosive force nature has to offer against the very best of human ingenuity makes for a great series. Surely modern aviation technology can absorb most lightning strikes, but when is enough enough? Flyers can take hit after hit, but something will go askew somewhere.
Result: It may take a while, but lightning will eventually cripple the Flyers - Lightning in seven.

Western Conference Final
2. San Jose Sharks vs. 5. Nashville Predators
These are two of the top hunters in history. In terms of attack and defense, these teams are evenly matched. It all comes down who can go into the other team's territory and come out on top. The Sharks have home ice in the series which will certainly help. However, a tiger has been known to take down animals that rule the water while sharks aren't known to go on land.
Result: San Jose can't win in Nashville, but Nashville can steal a win in San Jose - Predators in six.

Stanley Cup Final
5. Nashville Predators vs. 6. Tampa Bay Lightning
The final matchup is intense. Lightning continues with white-hot offense while these tigers have survived some of the harshest conditions in history. They should be able to take anything the Lightning can throw at them. They should also be able to dish out a healthy attack of their own, probably the best one the Lightning have seen all playoffs. This will be an epic duel featuring two of the top forces nature has ever had to offer.
Result: Predators may have been one of the top carnivores in history, but nature eventually won over and it will happen again as an extremely lethal attack carries the Lightning to the Cup - Lightning in seven.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Team MVPs - Western Conference

Central Division
Detroit Red Wings - Nicklas Lidstrom
Where would the Wings be without Lidstrom's steady influence? The soon-to-be-41-year-old is second on the team with 62 points and still plays over 23 minutes a night. His hot start (3 goals, 20 points in 18 games) is a big reason Detroit didn't find itself in a battle to make the playoffs for the second straight year. Runners up: Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg.
Playoffs: The big question mark here is goaltending. Jimmy Howard has had an average season and it is highly unlikely Chris Osgood will be able to deliver like he did in the Springs of 2008 and 2009. Unless he improves his play in a hurry, don't expect Detroit to be much of a threat. Unless Johan Franzen gets out of his funk, they may not reach the Conference final.

Nashville Predators - Pekka Rinne
If it weren't for Tim Thomas, Rinne would be the front-runner for the Vezina Trophy. In 63 games, he is second in save percentage (.930), third in goals-against average (2.12) and fifth in shutouts (six). He sees an average of 30 shots a game and receives little goal support (Nashville's 2.63 goals per game is 21st in the NHL) making he performance much more meaningful. Runners up: Shea Weber, Ryan Suter.
Playoffs: Rinne is going to have to be even better as it gets harder to score in the playoffs. They had the chance to put Chicago on the ropes last year, but allowed a shorthanded goal to tie Game 4 while on a five-minute power play. Surely that will motivate them. Their defense, lead by Shea Weber and Ryan Suter had better be nasty if they hope to win a round for the first time in their history. If they play Phoenix in the fird round they'll have trouble, but if they face Los Angeles, they should be able to take advantage of injuries to Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams.

Chicago Blackhawks - Jonathan Toews
With the Hawks in danger of not making the playoffs after winning the Stanley Cup last season. Then their captain went on a run with 13 goals and 39 points in 24 games; they went 14-6-4 over that span and can clinch a playoff spot with a point tomorrow against Detroit. He is more than just points as he leads Hawks forwards in plus-minus (plus-25) and ice time (20:44) and is fifth in the league in percentage of team draws taken (35.4%), winning winning 56.7% of them, the best winning percentage of any player in the top 10 in team draws taken. Runners up: Patrick Sharp, Corey Crawford.
Playoffs: It looks as though they will play Vancouver in the first round, a best-case scenario for them as they defeated the Canucks in each of the past two Springs. They are going in with momentum and while defeating the Canucks won't be easy, should they get past the first round they can certainly do some damage. As the eighth seed, Edmonton made the Stanley Cup final in 2006 and Montreal made the eastern Conference final last season and the Hawks are way better than each of those teams.

St. Louis Blues - David Backes
It was a disappointing season for the Blues as injuries derailed a promising start. Backes was one of the lone bright spots, returning to 30-goal form and leading the team in plus-minus (plus-30) by 13 points. He was physical, leading the team with 211 hits and is third with 93 PIM while taking nearly a quarter of the faceoffs. The 2010 Olympian is also one of only two players to play in every game. Runners up: Andy McDonald, Jaroslav Halak.
Offseason: They need to get a veteran defender. They have good young defensemen, but Barrett Jackman and Carlo Colaiacovo are the only two who have played at least 300 games. they will benefit largely from having a healthy forward unit as five forward missed significant time, including David Perron who only got into 10 games, scoring five goals.

Columbus Blue Jackets - Rick Nash
He's gonna get help one of these years. Until he does, it's up to Nash to do everything for the Jackets. He led the team in goals (32), assists (34), GWG (7), shots (305), take aways (47), even strength (14:59) and power play (3:39) time on ice for forwards. Runners up: R. J. Umberger, Antoine Vermette.
Offseason: They need a number one center more than any other team in the league. They also need scoring depth and defense. Steve Mason wasn't terrible this year so they will probably hold on goaltending.

Northwest Division
Vancouver Canucks - Daniel Sedin
Pretty much anything you need to know can be found here. Runners up: Roberto Luongo, Ryan Kesler
Playoffs: If the don't get to at least the Western Conference final this year, they will almost certainly be labeled as chokers along with San Jose, Washington and Ottawa in years past. Losing Manny Malhotra will hurt, but they have Ryan Kesler who is more than capable of stepping into the checking role. The West is an extremely tough conference, but the Cancusk look like they are primed to go on a serious run.

Calgary Flames - Jarome Iginla
Iginla has 15 more goals and 17 more points than the next closest Flame. Take away his poor start and he has 40 goals in just 66 games, a 50-goal pace. He more than doubles the next closest player in power play goals (13) and plays two more minutes per game than any other forward at even strength (16:50). The Flames have gone 21-8-5 since Jan. 21 to get within sniffing distance of a playoff spot with Iginla scoring 23 goals and 43 points in those 34 games. Runners up: Alex Tanguay, Miikka Kiprusoff.
Offseason: They only have $6 million to work with, so it might be a better idea to not go after many free agents. Spending too much money for a quick fix will only mean many more years of mediocrity. It starts with the draft this year which is extremely important as the Flames are ranked 27th in THN's Future Watch for the team with the best prospects.

Minnesota Wild - Mikko Koivu
Koivu is one of only three players to have a positive plus-minus for the Wild this year. He leads the team with 43 assists, 21 power play points and 0.86 points per game and all forwards in ice time (19:29). He plays in every situation as only Matt Cullen is also among the top five in power play and shorthanded ice time. Runners up: Martin Havlat, Brent Burns.
Offseason: Their top three defensemen of Brent Burns, Marek Zidlicky and Nick Schultz aren't bad, but it gets pretty thin after that. They are 25th in shots against per game (32). They also need a goal-scoring winger to play with Koivu to improve their 2.44 goals per game.

Colorado Avalanche - Matt Duchene
This was a tough one as not a single regular finished the season with a positive plus-minus. Runners up: Paul Stastny, John-Michael Liles.
Offseason: They need to start a rebuild this summer. With Duchene and Stastny, they have the potential to have one of the best one-two punches at center in the league and should Erik Johnson develop like he was supposed to in St. Louis, he could be their defensive anchor for years to come. They need to find a goalie, they were spoiled getting Patrick Roy in the first year of the franchise and haven't found a suitable replacement since he retired in 2003.

Edmonton Oilers - Taylor Hall
The first pick of 2010 was on his way to a very good rookie season before getting hurt in a fight. His negative-9 rating was respectable for a first-year player on a bad team. despite missing a number of games, he leads the Oilers in power play goals (eight), shots (186), and is third among forwards in time on ice (18:12). This most certainly would have went to Ryan Whitney who had two goals, 27 points and a plus-13 before getting injured and playing just 35 games. Runners up: Jordan Eberle, Ryan Whitney.
Offseason: They are rebuilding and it looks as though they have a solid core of forwards to work with and Devan Dubnyk's save percentage of .916 shows promise in net. Should they get the number one pick, they should use it on Adam Larsson, a defenseman playing in Sweden. They were horrible in their own end this season, 28th in goals-against per game (3.16) and 21st in shots-against per game (31.8).

Pacific Division
San Jose Sharks - Logan Couture
Couture was second with a plus-19 and only Patrick Marleau had more goals, power play goals and game winning goals, but it was Couture who carried the team early in the season when all the veterans were struggling. He was very consistent and not counting April, he only had fewer than four goals in a month once. Runners up: Patrick Marleau, Antti Niemi.
Playoffs: THN's Ryan Kennedy pointed out in a blog the Sharks below average regular season could mean a strong playoff. They now have a goaltender who has on the Stanley Cup and have faced long-term adversity for the first time in years. They could easily make the Conference final or the second consecutive year.

Phoenix Coyotes - Keith Yandle
Yandle has led the Yotes in scoring for most of the season and will most likely be a Norris candidate. He leads the Coyotes and is second among league defensemen with 48 assists and is tops on the team in ice time by almost three minutes (24:20). He was consistent all season and helped the team that finished 24th in offense last season climb to 13th this year. Runners up: Ilya Bryzgalov, Shane Doan
Playoffs: The Coyotes are hoping to win just the second playoff round in their history and first since 1985 when they were the Winnipeg Jets. Their offense has greatly improved and though their defense dropped slightly, they should be in good shape to play to Game 8 this Spring.

Los Angeles Kings - Jonathan Quick
The Kings didn't have a whole lot in the way of offense this season, finishing 24th in the league with 2.54 goals per game. Quick is fourth in the league in goals-against average (2.23), 11th in save percentage (.919), fifth in shutouts (six) and ninth in wins (35). With 60 games played, only Tim Thomas, Tomas Vokoun (56 each), Jonas Hiller (49) and James Reimer (34) have played fewer games among goalies ranked higher than Quick in those categories. Runners up: Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown.
Playoffs: They did a good job at not burning out Quick during the regular season, so he should be refreshed for the playoffs. Losing Kopitar and Williams to injury is a big blow. Kopitar is their best skater and Williams is one of only two players with a Stanley Cup ring. According to, Kopitar is still out for another four weeks, but Williams could be back in round one.

Anaheim Ducks - Corey Perry
Perry bested his career high in goals by 18 to become the only 50 goal scorer of the season. Of those, he had a team leading 11 game-winning goals, 4 shorthanded goals and was second with 14 power play goals. He also plays more than any other Ducks forward (22:13 per game) and is second on the team overall. HIs 25 goals in the past 29 games is a big reason the Ducks were able to overcome Hiller's vertigo and secure a playoff spot. Runners up: Teemu Selanne, Jonas Hiller.
Playoffs: The status of both Hiller and Ray Emery is unknown, but with the best line in hockey (Ryan, Getzlaf, Perry), they should be a challenge for whatever top-ranked team they face in the first round. They were able to upset the President's Trophy-winning San Jose Sharks in the first round of 2009 and don't be surprised if they can do it again this year.

Dallas Stars - Brad Richards
Every game is important to the Stars as they have been on the bubble for most of the season, so when Richards went down with an injury, its no surprise they lost the first four games without him. Points lost in those game could mean the difference between making the playoffs and playing golf next week. Richards has a career high 27 goals while playing in a career low 71 games. He leads the team with 75 points, 21 power play assists, 5:19 minutes per game on the power play and is first among forwards with 21:42 played per game. Runners up: Loui Eriksson, Brenden Morrow.
Playoffs: Should they make it in, it is hard to believe they will do much damage. While Richards is a Conn Smythe winner, Kari Lehtonen only has two games of playoff experience when he went 0-2 with a 5.59 goals-against average and .849 save percentage against the Rangers in 2007. It would be surprising to see them win a round.