2012 NHL Playoffs: 2nd Round Picks

I don’t have as much time as I’d like to elaborate on these picks, but I’m morally obligated to make them prior to any games beginning, so here they are. I’ll be doing a post-mortem on round 1, as well as a more detailed look at the rest of the playoffs, so stay tuned.

(If you’re up for a laugh, check out my 1st round playoff picks. I went 3/8! Bear in mind that I am not always  this foolish – I was 7/8 last year, and 6/8 the year before.)

WESTERN CONFERENCE

(2) St. Louis vs (8) Los Angeles

Winner: Los Angeles

Why: The Blues matched up really well against San Jose – bigger, faster, younger, and better goaltending. But the same can’t be said against LA. The Kings have tons of size up front – Kopitar, Carter, Brown, Penner, King, and Nolan – and  lots of speed between Richards, Williams, Lewis, Richardson, Stoll, as well as the aforementioned Carter and Brown. Furthermore, Jonathan Quick is about as good a goalie as you’ll find. Because both of these teams are so good – and so evenly matched – it may come down to who gets a break in a key game 4/5. And when the game is tight, I like to have Mike Richards on my side.

(3) Phoenix vs (4) Nashville

Winner: Nashville

Why: Speaking of evenly matched, how about Phoenix and Nashville. Great goaltending, tight defensive systems, very strong bluelines, and – at least on paper – a bit challenged offensively. The reason I like Nashville is that they have a bit more talent up front than in the past, adding a game-breaker like Alex Radulov, which helps bring more out of other skilled players like Erat and the Kostitsyn’s. And while Nashville’s two-way centres like Fisher and Legwand are countered by Phoenix’s Hanzel, Vermette, and Langkow, I prefer Nashville’s depth guys better – Gaustad, Halischuk, Bourque, Spaling –  to the players in Phoenix’s bottom-6 like Pyatt, Gordon, Brule, and Chipchura. Phoenix has been resilient all year so don’t count them out, but I think Nashville – for probably the first time in their history – has just a little more star power.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

(1) New York vs (7) Washington

Winner: New York

Why: This one is a struggle to explain, because I actually think that Washington is probably a better team from the goal out, but I like the Rangers to come through. Yes, Braden Holtby was majestic against the Bruins, and out-dueled last year’s Vezina and Conn Smythe winner Tim Thomas, but I don’t think lightning will strike twice. I’ve seen this story before, where the underdog goalie outplays the heavily favoured rival goalie, and it usually doesn’t last. In 2004 when Philly’s Robert Esche played unexpectedly well against New Jersey’s legend Martin Brodeur and forced them out in the 1st round. But he got worse in each round that followed, eventually losing to Tampa Bay in the Conference Finals. Same thing in 2010, when Brian Boucher was significantly better than Brodeur in a 5-game series win by Philadelphia. Boucher was terrible in the next round against Boston, before getting hurt and making way for Michael Leighton’s unexpected heroics (which again only lasted for about 1 round). I’m not saying that Holtby isn’t a good goalie, but there were no expectations of him beating the Bruins; now that they’re into the 2nd round, guess what: expectations.

And then there’s Henrik Lundqvist – the consensus best goalie in the world, and one with a history of success against Washington. He nearly stole their 1st round series in 2009 – a time when the Caps were a far more dangerous team offensively. The Rangers took a 3-1 series lead against the heavily favoured Capitals squad, solely due to the play of Lundqvist, before succumbing to the Caps’ then-dynamic attack. To my eye, Washington is no longer the same team, and though I think the series will be close, I like New York to once again squeak it out.

(5) Philadelphia vs (6) New Jersey

Winner: Philadelphia

Why: I think this series will be very interesting. Just like Washington is no longer the offensive juggernaut they once were, New Jersey is no longer the defensively stifling, systems-oriented team of their past. They actually have very good offensive depth up front with the likes of Parise, Kovalchuk, Elias, Zajac, Henrique, Clarkson, Zubrus, and Sykora, as well as a little more on the back-end with the deadline-day addition of Marek Zidlicky. In some ways, this will present a greater challenge to Philadelphia, whose defence is banged up with injuries to Grossman and Meszaros, and of course Chris Pronger. While Coburn and Timonen were matched up against Malkin and Neal, leaving only two truly dangerous Pens in the rest of their lineup (Staal and Crosby, the latter of which didn’t look right for most of the series), Philly’s depleted blueline will now need to stop the Elias and Henrique lines, and hope that Timonen and Coburn can shut-down the ever dangerous Parise-Zajac-Kovalchuk line.

All that being said, I don’t think New Jersey will win the series. Philly just has too much skill, and different types of players that complement each other. Small, quick, skilled forwards like Briere and Read mixed in with big, skilled forwards like Voracek and Jagr; gritty guys Hartnell, Schenn, and Simmonds; two-way players like Couturier and Talbot; and then there’s the guy that stirs the drink – a man whom Flyers coach Peter Laviolette boastfully called “the best player in the world” – # 28, Claude Giroux. I’ve  watched Giroux for years, from his days in Gatineau of the QMJHL, when he barely made the team as an undrafted 17-year-old,  to his play in the 2008 WJC for Team Canada, his quick 33-game transition through the AHL’s Philadelphia Phantoms, and now his gradual but steady ascent to the top of the NHL’s elite. He was very noticeable in his first-ever NHL playoff series in 2009, playing against the eventual champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

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(Go to 2:57 to see Giroux’s short-handed magic)

He was instrumental the following year in the Flyers’ unexpected run to the Stanley Cup final, scoring 10 goals (2nd) and 21 points (3rd) on his team in scoring. He was the 3rd most dominant forward in the NHL during the season, behind only Malkin and Stamkos, and during this year’s playoffs, he’s taken it to a whole new level, displaying a combination of speed, skill, grit, vision, and pure passion that very few players will ever possess.

I don’t think New Jersey will be able to stop him.

2012 Playoff Picks: The Method Behind the Madness

WARNING: The following hockey preview contains levels of detail that may offend casual hockey fans. Viewer discretion is advised.

I posted my picks yesterday, along with brief notes about what to expect in each series, but I didn’t go into much detail on why I was picking a certain team. The reality is that there are a million reasons why you could pick any given team at any particular time – you think a goalie will steal the series; a star player will exert his will upon the series; an inexperienced team will collapse, etc. Well this is my blueprint for how I decided on my picks. Continue reading

2012 Stanley Cup Playoff Preview

It’s been a long time. I know why I haven’t written in so long, and it’s because when I do, it takes, FOREVER. but I hope you enjoy the fruits of my labour with the following two-part series. Today, I break down the series’ in brief, along with my picks for the entire playoff season. Tomorrow, I go into further detail and tell you the rationale behind my thinking. Without further ado, here is my 2012 playoff preview. Continue reading

Your Guide to the 2012 World Junior Championships

If you’re a fan of the World Junior Championships, you know that they never disappoint. Year after year, they bring us some of the most exciting hockey you’ll ever see – particularly for Canadian hockey fans, who have been absolutely spoiled with gold medals and great memories.

Cue the goosebumps:

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Continue reading

Teemu Selanne: Return of the Finish Flash

In case you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know that Teemu Selanne makes his glorious return to Winnipeg tonight. According to TSN’s Sara Orlesky, Teemu has been looking forward to this day from the moment the NHL schedule was announced, way back in June. But regardless of how high his expectations are for tonight’s game, chances are that Selanne will be blown away by the outpouring of support he’ll receive from the vast sea of Jets fans. It will be an incredibly special night for Teemu and his family, who have flown down to .

Despite the fact that Selanne played just 3.5 seasons in Winnipeg, he is among the two most beloved Jets in history. And though Dale Hawerchuk had a much longer tenure with the Jets (9 seasons), Selanne is absolutely revered by virtually every Winnipeg hockey fan under the age of 35. That’s because of the connection we all have to his ’92-’93 rookie season, which saw him score 76 goals and 132 points, and break almost every rookie scoring in the books. But not only is Selanne the best rookie in NHL history, he also posted one of the most dominant goal-scoring seasons for any player, ever. In fact, only three players have scored more than 76 goals in a single season – Brett Hull, Mario Lemieux, and Wayne Gretzky. (Alexander Mogily and Phil Esposito have each tied his total of 76).

After many great years in Anaheim, including a Stanley Cup win in 2007, Selanne now ranks 13th all-time in NHL goal scoring, with 647 goals. And he has the second most goals among active players, just 9 goals behind Jaromir Jagr. So to commemorate one of the best goal scorers in NHL history, here are the three best hat-tricks in Teemu Selanne’s long, storied career. Enjoy the game! 😀

Top-3 Teemu Selanne Hat-Tricks

(3) Teemu dedicates hat-trick to a friend suffering with cancer:

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(2) First career playoff hat-trick (also first ever playoff goal):

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(1) Teemu Breaks Rookie Goal-Scoring Record!

Goals 1+2:

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Goal 3! (Most famous Jets goal ever)

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Bouncing the Bench Boss

 

Relieved of his duties - Former Caps Head Coach Bruce Boudreau (Photo courtesy NHL.com)

Apparently enough was enough. Two coaches lost their jobs Monday morning, as Washington Head Coach Bruce Boudreau and Carolina’s Paul Maurice each lost their jobs. Given the recent play of each team, neither was particularly surprising, but in my opinion, only one was justified. Continue reading

Lord of the Rinks: Return of the King

Crosby during warm up on Jan. 5, 2011 - his last game in the NHL. (Courtesy NHL.com)

January 1st, 2011 was the last time Sidney Crosby played with a clear head. That was the day of the NHL’s Winter Classic – a contest between Washington and Pittsburgh which took place at Heinz Field, home of NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers. With over 60,000 fans on hand, and millions watching on television, Dave Steckel’s blindside hit left Crosby reeling. (Link: Steckel hits Crosby) Though it’s now clear that he was concussed on the play, Crosby actually stayed in the game. Here’s what was written in the NHL’s post-game recap: Continue reading

Report on Jets

Courtesy nhl.com

Thoughts from the Jets’ inaugural month

Bolstering Byfuglien

If you’re getting tired of Dustin Byfuglien’s attention to detail – or lack thereof – prepare to be exasperated. Buff has demonstrated his recklessness on several occasions, seldom more obviously than Saturday night in New Jersey, where his neutral-zone carelessness led directly to Adam Henrique’s OT winner.  We all know Buff is a high-risk, high-reward player, but with only 2 goals in 15 games this year, many are beginning to wonder if the potential upside (he scored 16 goals in 42 games to begin last season) can offset the obvious drawbacks. Continue reading

Who’s on Top – November’s NHL Rankings

My version of Scott Cullen’s TSN “Power Rankings”. Like Cullen’s item, it isn’t meant to indicate the top team in the standings, but rather the team(s) I feel are most equipped to make a serious playoff run. (Although the two will naturally tend to overlap).

 

Written Monday, October 31st

SAN JOSE

This month: 1  |  Last Month: 1

Current Record: 6-4-0

After a 1-3 start to the season, the Sharks have come on strong, winning 5 straight games. (Thogh they lost tonight). The losing streak itself was a bit deceptive, as the Sharks essentially lost all 3 games by only one goal (lost 4-2 to St. Louis with an empty netter). Joe Pavelski is getting a big opportunity centering the top line between Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. He’s responded in kind, leading the team with 11 points (7G, 4A). As a whole, the Sharks’ top-6 (which also includes Clowe, Couture, and Havlat) is the best in the league, and their defence – led by veteran Dan Boyle and newcomer Brent Burns – is also very well balanced. Throw in solid goaltending from Antti Niemi, and this team is ready to challenge for its first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

*Cullen ranked them 12th initially, but has since moved them up to 1st

Key Injuries: None Continue reading

Sunday Jets Notes: Impact Players, Line Combinations, and Scheifele

Impact and Complementary Players

It’s interesting to hear people analyze a certain player’s role or importance. Most assumptions about players are inherently imprecise, but none more so than the labeling of players by their supposed line. Terms like “1st line centre” and “2nd line winger” get thrown around a lot, and are meant to reflect a certain level of talent as well as expectations for offensive production. But how do you know if someone is suited to the 1st line or the 2nd line? Doesn’t it depend in large part on their linemates? The ice time they receive? The specific opportunities (1st unit pp?) they’re afforded by their coach?

A concept that’s equally subjective, but which may be more precise involves splitting players into two categories: Continue reading