Category Archives: NHL

Five more years of the Arizona Coyotes.

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After four long years of uncertainty, the desert dogs have landed an owner. Last night, the Glendale City Council voted 4-3 on the lease agreement that guarantees at least five more years of the Arizona Coyotes.

Yes, you read that right. The Arizona Coyotes.

The team is changing the name to the Arizona Coyotes because the team was moved out of Phoenix and the America West Arena into Glendale and the arena in 2003. The move was essential because the America West Arena was not made for hockey. The floor barely fit an ice rink and the sight lines limited the 18,000 seat arena to just over 16,000 seats. Those factors paired with poor ownership and an unfortunate lease agreement in Phoenix ushered the team into a state of financial peril that they could not recover from.

Not even after moving to an arena built for hockey.

The team didn’t find success in Glendale for multiple reasons. It was still hemorrhaging financially because of prior ownership issues and the new location wasn’t exactly ideal. Although it was great for the Coyotes to be able to play in an arena built for hockey, it wasn’t so great for the people of Phoenix. A majority of the hockey fans in Arizona live in the East Valley or in Scottsdale, which equates to an approximate 60 to 90 minute drive during the week.

The Coyotes also struggled because of their coaching situation. While Wayne Gretzky is arguably one of the greatest hockey players of all time, it’s safe to say that he was not meant to be a coach in the NHL. In fact, he is the only coach in the Coyotes history to have a sub .500 win percentage (aside from Rick Bowness who coached the team for 20 games after Bob Francis left the team). Gretzky coached the Coyotes for 310 games, boasting only 310 points with a .473 win percentage.

The Coyotes didn’t start to find success on the ice again until Dave Tippett took over as the head coach in 2009. Since he took over, the team has boasted a .609 win percentage and worked their way to the Western Conference Finals in 2011-2012 despite the organization’s lack of ownership.

So, why is five more years in Arizona a good thing? Why isn’t it better to just move the team to Seattle, or Quebec, or to Kansas City?

It’s a good thing because the city is still a viable option for hockey. Before I moved to Phoenix, I don’t think that I would believe it. I would say the same thing that gets said by most hockey fans around the world.

The Coyotes have lost money for years. They can’t sell out their arena. They’re this, or they’re that. They’re just not capable of sustaining hockey in the desert.

…but it’s not true. Hockey does have a place in the desert. Since the move to Phoenix in 1996, Arizona went from 2 sheets of ice to 11. There are six rinks in the Phoenix metropolitan area. With that youth hockey is on the rise, along with attendance at and the overall awareness of the sport. Arizona is proving that it is a viable option for hockey, but it can’t happen without the right people wanting it to happen.

I believe that the Renaissance Sports and Entertainment (RSE) group and their partnership with Global Spectrum (the owners of the Philadelphia Flyers) can be that group of people that want it to happen. If they stand behind the product, behind the Arizona Coyotes, there is a very good chance that this team can succeed both on and off the ice. Dave Tippett has taken this ragtag group of second and third line players and found success. I can’t even imagine what he could do with a financial backer that could draw free agents to the organization.

I’m not saying that anything is going to happen overnight, but I am saying that the potential is there and that I have faith in the Arizona Coyotes.


2012 NHL Stanley Cup Finals: #6 New Jersey Devils vs. #8 Los Angeles Kings

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#6 New Jersey Devils vs. #8 Los Angeles Kings

There isn’t much for me to say that hasn’t been said before about these teams. Yes, I underestimated the Devils in the series against the Flyers, but I knew what they were capable of. I just expected more out of the Flyers in that series, but they did exactly what I expected them to do to a tired New York Rangers. They tore right through them. Sure, the games were close, but the Devils had them where they wanted them the entire series. It’s kind of sad that the team that gave the Devils the biggest trouble was Florida.

As for LA, I knew that they would beat Phoenix, but that didn’t mean that I wanted them to. The first two games were all LA, all of the time. The Coyotes came out flat and they weren’t prepared to play such a fast or physical game. To be honest, the officiating in that series was horrendous all around, but most of it was against Phoenix. I’m not going to call conspiracy and say that they did it because they didn’t want them in the Finals. That’s silly, but the referees did miss a lot of calls at big moments in each game, so it was kind of disappointing in that respect. Do I think that Phoenix would have won if the officiating had been a bit better? Probably not. They were still getting outplayed, but I think that they might have had a chance to squeak by in 7.

For this series, it’s going to be about stars. It’s going to be about depth. It’s going to be about goalies and it’s going to be about defense.

Yes, I realize that I just named every player on both teams, but that’s what it is about for these clubs. That is what got both of these teams as far as they have come.

Kovalchuk and Parise will be important players in this series for the Devils, just as Brown and Kopitar will be for the Kings. It shall be interesting to see if Jeff Carter decides to show up (yeah, I know he had a hat trick. Two 5-on-3 goals and a puck that hit him before it went in the net), but the Kings could use him. Also, it’s amazing that Penner has kept up his level of play. For the Devils, Zajac, Henrique and Clarkson have been wonderful and I can’t even imagine how scary the Devils will be if Ellias gets into it a little bit more.

As far as goaltending, Quick looked mortal in the round against Phoenix. He didn’t pull the same quick saves that he pulled against the Blues and the Canucks. He let in some soft ones (including one from the red line), so it will be interesting to see which Quick we get (not that both of them aren’t beyond incredible, because they are) and Brodeur has played stellar. He has silenced most critics (including me) with his play and it has been consistent. I am impressed by how well he has been playing throughout the playoffs.

In the end, this series is going to be tight. Everyone knows that, but everyone is also doing the same thing that I did in the Flyers series. They are underestimating the Devils and because of that, I’m going to have to say that New Jersey pulls it out in 7. Why? Because these teams are both strong and they are playing with the will to win as a team. I think that they will split the games until they get back to New Jersey, where NJ takes the series and the cup.

Conn Smythe to Kovalchuk (and Brown if the Kings win).

Prediction: Devils in 7


2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: New York Rangers vs. New Jersey Devils

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#1 New York Rangers vs. #6 New Jersey Devils

While I was 2 for 2 in the Western Conference in the second round of the playoffs, I was 0 for 2 in the Eastern Conference.

If you watched the Capitals vs. Rangers series, I wasn’t too far off. I knew that the series would be long and I knew that it would be close. In my opinion, the Capitals outplayed the Rangers more than the Rangers outplayed the Capitals, but that doesn’t matter at the end of the series. The only thing that matters is who comes out victorious four times and that was the Rangers. They took advantage of bad plays by the Capitals (Hello, Joel Ward) and they had their star players play like star players.

Henrik Lundqvist played like a king. He stole games and he kept his team reeling in the series. Their defenders, Girardi, McDonagh and Staal played their roles perfectly, shutting down Ovechkin, Semin and Backstrom, while also contributing offensively. Then they even got a little bit of offensive help from other defenders like Anton Stralman, but that’s not the story for me. Yes, the defense is filling the void that most of their offense has neglected, you know, goal scoring, but there are still two key forwards that are very much awake and alive.

To me, those forwards are Brad Richards and Chris Kreider. I will be the first to admit that I wasn’t sure how much Brad Richards had left in the tank, especially after that concussion scare at the end of last year. I mean, you just never known in hockey and when players are out for months at a time, it never looks good. When I saw Richards sign for an astronomical figure in the offseason, I couldn’t help but see flashes of Ranger’s past (mostly Chris Drury and Scott Gomez), because let’s face it, the Rangers like to spend money. And sometimes, I don’t think that they understand the fact that just because you have a boat load of money, doesn’t mean that you should unload it onto every “superstar” free agent that looks at your franchise.

Well, I will give it to the Rangers this time, because that was money well spent, at least this year, because Richards has had an answer for every thing this post season. He is scoring big goals, blocking big shots and making big passes. He is everything that this team needed and with Chris Kreider stepping in the way that he has, the Rangers are showing some signs of life, because with Dubinsky out (not that he was a factor this year, at all), Gaborik’s sporadic Houdini act and the only other real goal scorer showing up being Anisimov, it’s something that they need desperately.

The Devils on the other hand are firing on all cylinders. I mean, there is a similar story in New Jersey. Their star players are playing like star players. Parise is playing like a complete beast. Zajac is doing everything right down the center and contributing offensively. Henrique and Clarkson are waking up. Brodeur is playing above average and the defense is EVERYWHERE.

The part that I am enjoying the most about this Devils run is that people are starting to give Kovalchuk the credit that he deserves. I love Kovy. I think that he is a great player that is completely underrated. I know, how can a player that has a $100 million contract be underrated, but he is. I’ve heard countless people and analysts alike criticize both the Devils and him as a player for signing that contract, saying that he’s a good player, but is he worth it? Is he a playoff player? Can he do more than score goals? If you have watched these playoffs at all, I think that you can see that the answer to that question is an overwhelming, yes.

At the end of the Panther‘s series and at the beginning of the Flyer’s series, Kovy looked a little bit out of sorts. He looked like he was struggling with his reach and his shots were a little bit off target. Everyone asked if he was injured and in true playoff hockey fashion, he denied it. He said that he wasn’t hurt, but after another rough game, he took a game against Philly off. The Devils won without him and then he returned the following game, looking like a new player. I don’t know what happened in those few days that he was off, but whatever it was, it was big and beating the Flyers in five games was undoubtedly huge, because that just meant that he had time for his injuries to heal. And in my opinion, that’s bad news for New York.

During the regular season, the Rangers “won” the series going 3-2-1 again the Devils, but again, this is the playoffs. The Rangers struggled through Ottawa and then struggled through a heavy hitting series in Washington. The Devils didn’t exactly have a walk in the park with Florida, but they survived and then strutted right on through Philadelphia, outplaying them in every facet of the game. I think that the break that the Devils had might slow them down in game one, but I think that after that, they are going to remain as hot as they have been this post season. Their penalty killing has been relatively decent and that’s all you need against a team like New York, whose power play has looked rather mediocre thus far (not Kings/Coyotes mediocre, but mediocre nonetheless).

I think that this is another close series. The Devils play a similar system to Ottawa and Washington, a system that has been causing all sorts of fits for Torts and the Rangers, but the Devils do it better than the Sens or the Caps and I think that makes all of the difference in this series. I think that New York will play well. Better than their mediocre performance thus far, because of what’s at stake and because they have a great coach, but I’m not sure that they can put the Devils off edge. I think that unless the Rangers can get their power play going at a significantly higher rate, that the Devils are going to eat them up.

I’m expecting an episode of “star wars” in this series. For me, the focus is on Kovy/Parise vs. Gabby/Richards. Yes, there will be focus on the Hank/Brodeur battle, but to me, the superstar duo that outperforms the other, will be the ones that are competing for the cup.

Prediction: Devils in 6



2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: Phoenix Coyotes vs. Los Angeles Kings

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#3 Phoenix Coyotes vs. #8 Los Angeles Kings

If you asked a thousand people at the start of the playoffs who they thought would be in the Western Conference Finals, I can guarantee that not many would have chosen this match up. In fact, I would argue that I would be able to count those Nostradami (clearly, the pluralization of Nostradamus) on one hand, because let’s face it, no one saw this coming. Sure, some people picked Phoenix to get through the Blackhawks. It was a long shot, but there are upsets in every round of the playoffs, right? Right. So, why not.

Then they were matched up against for many, the Western Conference favorites, the Nashville Predators. There wasn’t an analyst out there that even put Phoenix in contention for this series. Everyone said that Nashville was the better team. They said that the Preds played a similar game to the Coyotes, but Nashville had better offensive talent, a bigger defense and their goaltending was just as good, if not better. Everyone said it would be over quick. Well, they were partially right. The Coyotes took the Predators by storm and closed the series out in five games. They played the same game that they played against the Hawks, but they tightened things up. They were better on the forecheck and they continued to capitalize when it mattered.

Phoenix is a confident team. I can’t state that enough and that’s a dangerous thing for the opposition. I’m not saying that LA isn’t, I’ll get to that, but Phoenix is playing with a level of confidence that is rarely seen in hockey. What do I mean by that? I mean, that every single player is contributing every single night. Sure, no one has their best game every night (besides Mike Smith), but the weight is divided among the forwards and the defenders. If Shane Doan isn’t going to get it done one night, Boedker will. If Boedker won’t, Brule will, etc. You get the point. The team’s depth shows up every single night. There was a lot of worry in game five that they might falter without their trusty defensemen Rusty Klesla, but David Schlemko picked up the minutes and fulfilled his role pretty well.

I guess what I am saying is that this team knows that everyone is pulling their weight. They know that that everyone is giving 110% every shift, every game and they know that everyone is in this for the long run. That’s where it gets scary, because they are playing like champions. You know, when I first moved out here and we started watching the Coyotes, we joked around a lot. We kept saying that it was going to be a Phoenix Coyotes vs. Philadelphia Flyers Stanley Cup. It was a nice thought, but let’s face it, it was unlikely. I remember thinking that yeah, it was probable that we would see the Flyers in there, but not the Coyotes.

Not yet.

Not with the ownership situation. Not with the possibility of being in another city next year. Not with so much uncertainty there. I mean, it has to affect them mentally. I think that we saw that a lot last year when they played the Red Wings, but this year is different. Very different. They’re confident and they know that they can do this. I know that I keep saying that., that they’re playing with confidence, but there’s not another word that I have to describe it. Watch them play and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about.

Despite the fact that the Coyotes are the number three seed and have taken out the Chicago Blackhawks and the Nashville Predators, they are once again being acknowledged as the underdogs, and to be honest, I can see why. The Los Angeles Kings are firing on ALL cylinders. Yes, it’s so serious that I capitalized all. They took down the Canucks with relative ease and then they swept the St. Louis Blues. I have to say that I didn’t see that coming. I had the Kings taking the Blues down, but not in four games. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me, but no team should be swept. Not at this stage in the game, but the Kings had an answer for everything that the Blues had up their sleeves. Personally, I think that the absence of Halak made all of the difference in the world. Again, I think that a lot of Elliot’s struggles were mental. He played a great series, but I think that he would have put up those surreal numbers that he put up in the regular season if the mental pressure wasn’t there.

That’s hockey though, especially playoff hockey. It is about pressure and how you react to it and this Kings team is pushing all of the right buttons. They are getting some scoring help from their bottom 6, but really, this team is all about their big players being the big players. Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards and even Dustin Penner are playing incredible hockey.  I know,  I didn’t believe that Mr. Pancake himself had it in him, but it’s true. This team is playing like the team that everyone predicted that they would be. If they can keep that tempo going and if Jeff Carter can put the puck in the back of the net, then this team is going to be very scary and very difficult to beat.

Especially with the physical presence of Mike Richards and Dustin Brown. Both players are playing perfect two-way hockey and every chance that they get, they are making someone feel it. They are landing big, clean hits and pulling all of the momentum in their favor. In my opinion, these are the two players that the Coyotes are going to have to watch out for. Sure, you have to look out for Kopitar. You have to look out for Stoll and Williams. You even have to look out for Carter and Penner, but Richards and Brown are the game changers. They are the guys that are going to go out there and make something happen. If the Coyotes want to take this series, they are going to have to hit just as hard and they are going to have to keep the momentum in check.

The regular season was split 3-3. There was a lot of physicality and for the most part the games were tight. I feel like this series will be split right down the middle. I feel like we are going to see some of the most defensive, stubborn hockey that we’ve seen yet in the playoffs and while that doesn’t sound exciting, it means that the goals that do go in are going to be big.

Real big.

I know that on paper the LA Kings match up better. They have better top end talent. They have a solid defensive core and Jonathon Quick is playing just as well, if not better than Mike Smith, but I still can’t count the Coyotes out. Sure, I’d like them to win because I have tickets to the Stanley Cup Finals if they make it, but this isn’t just about hometown allegiance. This is having faith in a team that I’ve seen play their hearts out. This is having faith in a team that I’ve seen play with confidence and that trusts every single player on the ice at all times. This is about having faith in a team that wants to win.

Either way, the one thing that I can guarantee is that this series will be long. It’s going to be all about bounces, about actions and reactions and in the end, one team is going to pull through and make life very, very difficult for the New York Rangers or the New Jersey Devils.

Prediction: Coyotes in 7

2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: Philadelphia Flyers vs. New Jersey Devils

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#5 Philadelphia Flyers vs. #6 New Jersey Devils

The Philadelphia Flyers dominated the Pittsburgh Penguins in every single sense of the word. They rode into the Consol Energy Center and took it to them. They didn’t give them an inch to breathe and they capitalized on every opportunity. The best thing about that series was the fact that every rookie on the squad answered the question that every hockey critic was posing, can the rookies perform under pressure? The answer was an astounding yes. Schenn played a very physical game and dominated the Penguins on both sides of the puck. Couturier played out of this world defense, stopping Evgeni Malkin at every twist and turn and Read scored big goals at the right time and that doesn’t even touch on Wellwood’s excellent play. The Flyers outworked and outscored the Penguins. They exposed the weak defensive core and took advantage of a goalie that lacked confidence in those around him.

You can’t talk about the things that the Flyers did right without talking about Claude Giroux. Giroux had 14 points in 6 games. In the last game of the series, he approached Laviolette and told him that he wanted the first shift in game 6. What did he do with it? He scored less than a minute into the game and laid out Sidney Crosby. There are a dozen articles out there that say that Giroux has earned the captaincy of the Flyers despite the lack of a C on his jersey. He has come out and been vocally supportive of their inconsistent goaltending. He has been a role player for the team and he has been the go to guy when they need some offense.

I could go on for hours talking about all of the things that this Flyers team is doing right, but it’s nothing you haven’t heard before. The offense that we are seeing here in the playoffs is the same offense that made them number three in the NHL. Unfortunately, we’re also seeing the inconsistent goaltending and the poor defense that we saw all season. Bryzgalov has been less than stellar. He is making big saves when he needs to and that’s important, but he’s letting in far too many soft goals. The only thing that he has going for him is the fact that the offense has been putting up so many goals. I guess if he can keep the other team from getting more than four goals, the Flyers still have a chance, but that’s not how things should work.

The defense hasn’t really done there part either. Sure, they played the highest goal scoring team in the NHL that has two of the best players in the NHL, but that’s no excuse for the amount of goals and odd man rushes they have let up thus far. The defense needs to tighten up. They need to pull a page out of Timmo’s book.

New Jersey on the other hand had a very tough series against the Florida Panthers. Did I think that the Panthers would just lie down and take it? No, but I also didn’t think that they would have made a series out of it. They are a young team that has a big upside, but I didn’t think that they would take it to seven games. Brodeur had a pretty good series. He showed that he is still capable of making big saves at the right time, but he is also showing his age. He is showing that he can’t get to the same places that he used to be able to and that his reflexes aren’t quite as quick. On that same note, the defense of the Devils has shown some pretty large holes that Florida exposed, particularly around the crease.

The Devils need to keep the Flyers from in front of the net. They need to clear them out and keep them to the outside. I know that sounds like a very general statement, but it’s what they need to do. They can’t afford to allow Hartnell and Simmonds to camp out in front of the net. They can’t allow Briere to sneak in and well, be Briere. They need Volchenkov and Green and Larsson and Zidlicky to get in there and clear them out. They’re going to need to play solid defense to even have a chance in this series, because their forwards are going to be outmatched and outworked. Sure, the Devils have a great first two lines. I would even say that they have a solid top 9, but each of those lines are completely outmatched by the Flyers forwards. You could make the argument that Parise/Zajac/Kovy is a better first line than Hartnell/Giroux/Jagr, but I don’t know. I think skill wise the Devils hold the advantage as Parise and Kovy are two of the best wingers in the NHL, but the chemistry that the Flyers have is what keeps them going.

If the Devils are going to make this a series they need to tighten up their defensive core and they need to play a strong special teams game. They need to score on their power plays and they need strong kills. They can’t afford to give up the short handed goals that the Penguins gave. They need to play better and harder than that.

In the regular season the series was split 3-3. The Flyers have scored 18 goals and the Devils have scored 15, so the Devils have shown that they can take the Flyers down. They have shown that they can score big goals, but can they do it in the playoffs? Can they knock out a team that is playing as strong as the Flyers have been? I don’t think so. This has nothing to do with my allegiance to the city. I’m not alone in this observation and after finding out the Kovalchuk is now out for Game 2, the Devils are going to have to overcome even more adversity. I’m just not sure that they can take down a team that is as hot or as deep as the Flyers.

Prediction: Flyers in 5

2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: St. Louis Blues vs. Los Angeles Kings

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#2 St. Louis Blues vs. #8 Los Angeles Kings

The St. Louis Blues beat the San Jose Sharks in every aspect of the game. They got better offense out of their forwards, better defense out of the back end and better goaltending from their pair of tenders, Elliot and Halak and it showed. They took the series in five games with Hitchcock’s defensive system taking over. It was something that the Sharks couldn’t fight through. It was something that they couldn’t handle and the Blues moved onward. The Kings on the other hand, shocked many in the hockey world by taking out the number one team in the NHL, the Vancouver Canucks. Part of that was because Daniel Sedin was out the first three games. The other part was Dustin Brown and Mike Richards and while Quick was a big part of it, we knew that he would be. He has been stellar all year and did not disappoint through the first five games of the playoffs.

The St. Louis Blues are by all means a defensive team that relies heavily on stellar goaltending and a counter attack. They have offensive firepower in Oshie and Perron and have gotten a lot of assistance from Captain, David Backes, but is it enough? I’m not sure. I think that the Blues need to get more help. MacDonald has been a pretty big part of the playoffs so far as well, but I think that they need their depth to take it to the next level. I’m not going to pretend to know the ins and the outs of the top 12 forwards on the St. Louis Blues, but I will say this. It’s the playoffs and everyone that hits that ice has to be a contributor. They have to play like they are in the playoffs and if they aren’t, then they are a liability.

If the Blues can play the defense that has made them the number three team in the NHL, they are still a dangerous team. They can still take this series and they can still move onto the cup. I am not trying to put the team down, because they are a well coached system with veteran experience from Arnott and Langenbrunner. They still have one of the most dangerous one-two’s in the crease, assuming that Halak is healthy in this series but they are going to need to step their game up to beat the Kings.

The Kings are looking more and more like the team that everyone thought that they would be before the season started. Mike Richards and Dustin Brown have continued to be gritty bruisers that get into the corners and force turnovers. Dustin Brown had two short handed goals in the series against Vancouver and Mike Richards had a stellar series. They are getting help from the back end as well. Doughty, while not living up to his paycheck, is playing good defense and has been a relatively decent quarterback for the team. Mitchell is pitching in more than I anticipated and Green isn’t doing so bad either.

It’s interesting watching this Kings team because everyone is stepping up. They are all taking it to the next level and the organization is getting help from everyone. even Mr. Pancake himself, Dustin Penner. Penner has been a liability since he joined the team. He is slow. He doesn’t put up points and he isn’t much of a two-way player, but that’s not the case in the playoffs. Sure, he’s still slow and he isn’t back checking like he should be, but he’s out there. He’s trying and he’s contributing offensively, which is something that these Kings need desperately.

I don’t see either of these teams lighting the lamp too frequently in this series. If we’re lucky, we’ll get a combined three or four goals a game. Either way, I think that this series goes the distance and that it will be decided by the offensive depth. Both sets of goaltenders have proven themselves. Both teams have solid, young defenders and the offense of each team matches up. It’s just going to be about who hits harder and who goes that extra mile.

Is it Backes, Perron, Arnott and Oshie? Or is it Brown, Richards, Carter and Kopitar?

I suppose only time will tell, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Kings take the Blues. If The Kings play like they did in the Vancouver series, the Blues are going to have a tough time overcoming adversity and I think that they will. I think that the Kings will play a physical game and I think that their offense will give them what they need to make it to the next round.

Prediction: Kings in 6



2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: New York Rangers vs. Washington Capitals

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#1 New York rangers vs. #7 Washington Capitals

Nearly everyone made it seem like the New York Rangers were going to streamline through the Ottawa Senators. They made it seem like the series was going to be over in a quick four or five games, but I had a feeling it was going to go a bit further than that. Did I think that it would go to seven? No. I thought it would probably end around game six, but when Ottawa took the 3-2 lead in the series, I won’t lie. I was hopeful for an upset. But it didn’t happen.

There weren’t very many times in the Ottawa series where New York looked like a dominant team. Don’t get me wrong. I would say that they played well, but I don’t think that they played nearly as well as they thought they would. Their offense was essentially nonexistent. It seemed like they just couldn’t outwork the Senators and I think that’s going to be problematic in the series against the Capitals. If players like Gaborik, Richards and Dubinsky don’t elevate their game to the next level, they may find themselves in a heap of trouble, especially if Washington’s stars keep playing the way that they are.

For New York to be successful, they need to be less reliant on Lundqvist. By that, I mean they shouldn’t be focusing on winning 1-0 games. They shouldn’t be hoping that Lundqvist keeps them in there. They need to get out there and they need to produce offense. They need their stars and their forward depth to put the puck in the back of the net and from what I have seen, I don’t know if they have it in them. I haven’t noticed much of Gaborik at all so far in the playoffs. The first round seemed like it was the Callahan and Boyle show (until he got hurt). I mean, looking at game 7 alone, the Rangers had to rely on their defense to not only hold off the Senators, but also to step their game up and put the puck in the net. I know that this isn’t the Capitals of two years ago that were running, gunning and putting up six goals a game, but I think that they have a little bit more offense in them than the Rangers will be prepared for.

The Capitals played a tough, physical series against the Bruins and the Bruins made sure that the Capitals knew that. The hits were huge and explosive. The game was kept tight to the outside. Every game was within a single goal. It could have gone either way at any time, but Washington came out victorious. It was kind of an amazing story if you think about it. I mean, the Capitals toppled the reigning Stanley Cup champions with their third string goalie and on top of that, they won the series despite big Z keeping Ovechkin at bay. I know that doesn’t sound like much. I know that a lot of people are down on Ovechkin, especially this year, but I think that big things are coming his way. Towards the end of the season it looked like the Great Eight finally got his legs under him and he was making some of the plays that he has become known for. He started becoming that prolific goal scorer that is difficult to contain. Even though he was held out of the third period in most games in the Bruins series, he still led the team with 5 points. If Girardi and McDonagh don’t shut down Ovechkin the way that Chara did, I think that they Rangers are going to be in a bit of trouble.

Ovechkin is only the beginning for Capital’s offense that is comprised of a plethora of depth and persistence that starts with Brooks Laich and works its way through characters like Chimera, Johansson, Backstrom, Ward, and Knuble. I’m not so surprised from the effort that these guys put forth. They are all hard workers and they are living up to their hype. I am however surprised by one player in particular, Alexander Semin. Semin is not exactly known for his presence in the playoffs. He’s not quite as “gutless” as Patrick Marleau, but he generally tends to be pretty invisible. This year, it is the exact opposite. I don’t know if it’s because it’s a contract year or what, but Semin has been everywhere. He is diving to making plays. He is getting in the boards. He is back checking and he is scoring goals. He is exceeding everyone’s expectations by a mile and if he keeps that up, the Rangers are going to need more than a little bit of help from Gabby and Hank.

During the regular season, the Capitals took the Rangers in their series three games to one, which says a lot. I know that regular season records mean nothing come the playoffs because it is indeed a different game entirely, but so far, I would say that works in favor of the Capitals and against the Rangers. Dale Hunter knows what he’s doing with the Capitals and it looks like he has them believing in a defense first system. He even has Ovechkin believing in it, which is pretty unbelievable. That doesn’t mean that he has him playing defense, because let’s face it, that will never happen, but he has him on the bench. He has him right where he should be and he’s okay with that. He’s okay with sitting when he needs to, but he’s also okay with playing two minutes straight on the power play. The Capitals are doing a lot of things right and I think that they showed that by beating Boston in game seven.

Prediction: Capitals in 6


2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: Nashville Predators vs. Phoenix Coyotes

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#3 Phoenix Coyotes vs. #4 Nashville Predators

In the first round, I went 7 for 8 in predictions. The only team match up that I got incorrect was Los Angeles vs. Vancouver and while it is considered an upset to many, I am not surprised. Maybe it’s because the Kings are starting to play a little bit more like the team that we thought that they would be prior to the start of the season or maybe it’s because the Canucks were without Daniel Sedin. Either way, I was rooting for the Kings the whole way in that series and I am glad that they got through to the second round. Now onto the match up at hand.

I don’t know if it’s because I moved into the Phoenix market, thus becoming a fan of the team or what, but this Coyotes team seems to play a lot harder and a lot tougher than I can ever remember them playing. This is a team without a true superstar. They don’t have a Claude Giroux. They don’t have Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby. They don’t even have a Corey Perry or Bobby Ryan. Some people might argue that by saying that they have Vrbata and Doan, a 30 goal scorer and a respectable veteran talent respectively, but they’re not quite the same kind of people. Vrbata’s 30-goal year could possibly be the quietest 30-goal year for any player in the NHL. To be honest, I am not sure that I would have known that he had 30 goals if I weren’t living here, and as for Doan, I have always known that he was a star. I have always known that he was talented and a leader by nature, but that doesn’t quite put him in that “Super Star” role. Their defense shines with young stars like Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larson, but being in the Phoenix market means that they are significantly  underrated and sometimes, undervalued. But in the playoffs, the story isn’t these players. It’s the depth chipping in. It’s Brule and Boedker and Vermette. It’s everyone fulfilling their roles and playing a team game, as a team.

And then there is the man that won them the Chicago Blackhawks series, Mike Smith, but again, not quite a super star. He is simply a man that has thrived in a defensive system. Don’t get me wrong. He has outplayed and out shined everyone’s wildest expectations. After the series with the Hawks was over, I watched an interview with Jonathon Toews where he said, “I don’t know what else we could have done.” And it was true. For anyone that missed the series, particularly the last game, you would see that there was nothing that they could have done. Mike Smith had an answer every shot and if he plays like that in this series, the Predators are going to be in for a very, very long series.

On the Predators side of the fence, they have four stars in particular that are making all of the difference. Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Pekka Rinne and Alexander Radulov. I would argue that Radulov isn’t living up to his expectations, particularly scoring, but he’s making his way around. He had 5 points in the series against the Red Wings, but only one of them was a goal and I am sure that’s something that he is looking to change. Like the Coyotes, the Predators have had their production come from their depth. They are another deep team that plays with a defense first mindset. They put you on the boards and outwork you and then as soon as you make one, tiny mistake, they pounce. And the thing with the Predators this post-season is that when they pounce, they don’t miss.

They took the Detroit Redwings down in 5 games and a lot of that was the Redwings beating themselves. Again, I’m not saying that the Predators didn’t outplay and out hustle the Wnigs, because they did a lot of the time, but the real difference maker was Rinne. Like the Hawks in Phoenix, the Wings could not solve their opponent’s goaltending and that’s the story in the West right now. Each series was stolen by stellar goaltending. I remember a few years ago, when the Hawks and the Flyers went to the Stanley Cup with mediocre netminders in Bouche/Leighton and Niemmi. Everyone asked, is the age of the superstar goaltender over? Is there no longer a need for the Lundqvists and the Haseks? I think that the Western Conference answers that question for you.

During the regular season, this series was split 2-2, with one of the Predators wins going to a shootout. So, in that sense, you have to give the edge to Phoenix, but at the same time, those games were earlier on in the season, and these are different teams. Mike Smith didn’t turn into this Mike Smith until the second half of the season and the Predators have acquired a significant amount of depth at the trade deadline and with Radulov returning from Russia. So, this series really is anyone’s game.

The Predators are a dangerous, dangerous team and I knew that coming into the playoffs. I knew that when the Wings drew them. It was the one team in the Conference that I wanted no part of, but alas, that’s generally how things work. The thing is, I think that the Coyotes match up much better against the Predators than the Redwings ever could. The defensive first mindset on both ends is sure to make this series a very, very close one. I imagine that it will look very much like a soccer series, with many 1 or 2 goal games. I could be wrong, but I don’t think that either team is sneaking that many goals behind Rinne and Smith.

I think that this series could go either way. I realize that every series can go either way, but I think that there is just so much going on here. The defensive systems and the scoring depth are just so prevalent in this series, but at the end of the day, my gut tells me it’s the Coyotes. I know that sounds biased because I live out here, but this team really is showing signs of something special. They are accomplishing feats that no one ever thought that they would be capable of and I think that by knocking out the former Stanley Cup champions, the Chicago Blackhawks, they are showing that. The Blackhawks were one of the top teams in scoring this year in the NHL and the Coyotes shut them down, so I am interested to see where this series goes.

Prediction: Coyotes in 7.


2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round Western Conference Predictions

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Western Conference


#1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #8 Los Angeles Kings

I don’t think that it is all that surprising that the Canucks won the President’s trophy again. They were a dominant team last year and not much changed for them in the off season. With the addition of David Booth, I believe they only got better. Luongo and Schneider have continued to play well. The Sedin’s had another stellar season and they had a fair amount of depth step it up. The only surprising turn of events for this team for me is that Kesler was invisible all season long.

Before the season, the Los Angeles were predicted to do some great, great things. With the addition of Mike Richards, they got some of the hard work, experience and grit that they needed. They locked up Doughty long term, and they had the tandem of Bernier and Quick in net. However, somewhere along the way, that potential just never blossomed into anything. It wasn’t the goaltending. Quick played out of this world all year. Their defense wasn’t bad, but their offense was almost non existent. Richards started strong, but fell off after sustaining an injury. Gagne has been out most of the year and the acquisition of Penner is still a terrible move. But before the deadline, they picked up Jeff Carter and even though he hasn’t done a ton individually, the team seems inspired. They’re playing better and more importantly, they’re scoring goals.

Vancouver is coming in strong. They are 8-1-1 in their last ten. Considering that they have been winning without their goal scoring ginger, they are a dangerous team. I can only imagine that they will continue to strive once he returns. I think this will be a close series, but only if Luongo can keep his head together. Somehow, between him and Schneider, I think they manage it. Also, I think that the experience that the Canucks have the past three years will help them outscore the Kings and take them into the next round.

Prediction: Vancouver in 6


#2 St. Louis Blues vs. #7 San Jose Sharks

When the St. Louis Blues added Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott, I knew that they were adding valuable experience that would help them develop their younger core. I knew that they would do good things this season and that they would be contenders in the playoffs. Their season started off slow, but before they could get buried they got a new coach. I knew that Hitchcock would do good things for the team. I did not, however, expect them to almost win the President’s Trophy. The St. Louis Blues have played out of this world defense and have have strong scoring depth. The biggest problem that they are having at the moment is which goalie should they start. Not because they are in the Capitals predicament, with both starters out, but because both of their goalies have been outstanding. Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak have been competing back and forth for the starting position and they have both been playing phenomenal. If that’s your biggest problem, I’d say that you are probably in pretty good shape.

In the off season, San Jose sent Heatley to Minnesota for Havlat and then shortly after that they sent Setoguchi there for Burns. They were two pretty huge trades that I thought would only make the Sharks that much more dangerous. I thought that those two trades might be exactly what they needed to make that extra push to get to the cup, but like the Kings, they didn’t live up to their potential. I suppose you could attribute that to Heatley’s injuries, but he’s only one player. The rest of the team is still comprised of huge, physical players that dominate. I suppose you could say that it was an off year. Their goaltending was less than desirable and they didn’t get the numbers that they usually get out of Thornton.

The Blues took the sharks in all four meetings this season. Their defensive play and their young core won out all season. It isn’t going to get any easier for the Sharks. They have the experience, and they have the depth, but how are they going to handle a healthy, young defensive team like the Blues?

I don’t think that they will be able to. I think it will be a tough, physical series, but I don’t think that the Sharks can overcome the defensive and goaltender prowess of the Blues.

Prediction: Blues in 6


#3 Phoenix Coyotes vs. #6 Chicago Blackhawks

The departure of Ilya Bryzgalov created a large amount of uncertainty for the Phoenix Coyotes, but it could not have worked out better for them. He wasn’t someone that they were going to be able to afford and his replacement, Mike Smith stepped up big time. Smith has been hands down the MVP for this team this season. He has single handedly kept this team in the race. Don’t get me wrong. Doan, Vrbata and Whitney have been offensive powerhouses. Boedker is developing well. Yandle and Ekman-Larsson have been great, and they have one of the best coaches in the league. Dave Tippett has continued to take this team to the next level and to overcome adversity.

The Blackhawks did one wonderful thing this season. They got rid of John Scott. This has nothing to do with my prediction for this series. I just hate John Scott. He is worthless. Good luck, New York. Anyway. Kane, Sharp and Hossa are still Kane, Sharp and Hossa. Keith and Seabrook are still Keith and Seabrook. Unfortunately, Crawford and Emery have not played as well as they could have. I think that this team would be a lot more dominant if their goaltenders could answer the call. At the moment, Toews is still out with a concussion, but he remains one of the hardest working athletes in the league. If he makes it back for the series, which they are saying that he will, he will definitely be a game changer.

But how do the offensive driven Blackhawks match up against the defensive minded Coyotes? The Coyotes took three of the four games from Chicago. Will that make any difference or even carry into the playoffs? It’s hard to say, but I think that for the Blackhawk, the Coyotes provide the biggest challenge out of the three Pacific Division teams that they could have played. That’s not a knock against San Jose or LA. I just think that the Coyotes have what it takes to frustrate and challenge the Blackhawks. It’s going to take a lot to break them down and get the puck behind Smith.

The Coyotes are the 3 seed in this match up, but they are far from the favorite. I can’t help but think that this is the year that the Coyotes make it out of the first round. I know that seems biased considering that I live in Phoenix, but they are just playing too tough. Mike Smith is playing too well. I can’t help but think that if the Coyotes get the Mike Smith they have had throughout the regular season, they are going to squeak past the Blackhawks.

Prediction: Coyotes in 7


#4 Nashville Predators vs. #5 Detroit Redwings

The Nashville Predators are the most improved team from last season. I don’t think that there are many people out there would disagree with that. With the addition of the bad Kostistyn, Gaustad, Hal Gill, and Radulov they are only stronger and deeper. Gaustad is the go to face off guy. The bad Kostitsyn has played much better alongside the better Kostitsyn. Hal Gill still looks like he’s skating in quick sand, but he is a big, big man and a shut down defender, and lastly, Radulov has been touted as the best player outside of the NHL. He hasn’t “proven” himself thus far, but he has only been back for a handful of games. With the shut down pairing of Weber and Suter, the deep scoring, and Rinne in net. I think that the Predators are the team to beat in the West. They’re that scary.

Detroit’s age is starting to show. Throughout the second half of the season, it seemed like they had more injured players than they had healthy. At one point, they were missing Lidstrom, Datsyuk, Franzen, Cleary, Bertuzzi, Kindle, Ericsson, Miller, Eaves and Howard. Most of those players are back, but none of those players are 100%. Also not at 100%, the rest of their roster. MacDonald is hurting. Zetterberg is hurting. Everyone is hurting. In their favor, Hudler and Filpula have had incredible seasons lining up with Zetterberg. They have gotten a lot of scoring from Miller and Abdelkader, and Ian White has done more than was expected from him. The late addition of Quincey will help the blue line depth, but I don’t know if it will be enough.

I think that this series will be tough for both teams. I’m not sure that either team could have drawn a harder match up. I think that this series is similar to the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia series in that vain. Regardless, I think that the fact that the Red Wings aren’t at 100% weighs them down and I don’t think that they will be able to break through the defensive play of the Predators. I think it will be close and that it could go either way, but if pressed, I’d say that the Predators take the series in 7 games.

Prediction: Predators in 7


2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round Eastern Conference Predictions

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Eastern Conference


#1 – New York Rangers vs. #8 – Ottawa Senators

I can honestly say that I did not expect the season that Ottawa put forth. During the draft, they made it pretty clear that this was a rebuilding year. Sure, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to tank and go for the first round pick, but I also don’t think that anyone expected them to have the year that they had.  Jason Spezza stepped his game up, Milan Michalek had a stellar year by almost doubling his career high for both goals and assists, Daniel Alfredsson played like a true captain, and Erik Karlsson outright dominated all three zones.

But how does all of that match up to the number one team in the Eastern Conference? It’s hard to say. On paper, you would think this series would be all Rangers, all day. They have one of, if not the best goaltenders in the NHL, a shut down defensive core, and solid depth up front. They have done just about everything right all year.

Yet somehow they still had a hard time beating the Ottawa Senators. Ottawa has taken 3 of four games against the Rangers. Two in regulation and one in a shootout. Honestly, I don’t think that the regular season numbers matter all that much, because come playoff time, it is all about that extra gear and you either have it or you don’t. Needless to say, I think that this series will be more interesting than it looks.

I think that the Senators are a quick and relatively young team that will use that to their advantage, but at the end of the day, you still have to get shots through the Rangers defense, and then after that you still have to beat Hank. I believe that this series will be all about goaltending. If the Rangers get the Lundvist they have had all season, I think that the Rangers take the series in 6.

Prediction: Rangers in 6


#2 – Boston Bruins vs. #7 – Washington Capitals

The Boston Bruins started this year on a very, very flat note. They came out looking like they were still hungover from their Stanley Cup celebrations. However, once November came, they reminded everyone why they won the Stanley Cup. I’m not going to lie. The way that they played in that month and a half stretch was down right terrifying. They weren’t beating teams, they were stomping them. They were dominant. They were physical, and they were scoring goals. Anyone who looked at that Boston team would easily have predicted them to repeat this year. Fortunately for the rest of the teams in the NHL, that streak proved to be a streak and nothing more. They are still a tough team with dominant players, but they now appear mortal. Tim Thomas is roared and ready to go after another stellar season. The only thing that I think might hurt them in the long run is the absence of Tukka Rask due to injury. Marty Turco, who has been playing in net for the Bruins lately, is ineligible for playoffs because he was signed after the trade deadline.

Sure, the absence of Tukka Rask as a back up to Thomas might seem problematic, but how about missing both of your starting goaltenders? That’s the boat Washington is currently sinking in. Both Vokoun and Neuvirth are out. They are playing AHL star goaltender Braden Holtby. He’s been playing well enough for the Capitals, but will that be enough for to keep the Bruins at Bay? It’s hard to say, but I certainly wouldn’t count the Capitals out.

The Capitals have taken the Bruins in three of their four meetings this season and their key players are starting to step their game up. Backstrom is back after receiving a concussion in January, Green is starting to get his legs going again, and most importantly, Ovechkin is scoring.

Honestly, I think that this series can go either way. If we see the Bruins from November and last year’s playoffs, I don’t think that anything can stop them. However, if the Capitals can continue the pace that they have been working at these past few weeks, they will make it interesting to say the least. I am picking the Capitals in 7 in this series.

Prediction: Capitals in 7


#3 – Florida Panthers vs. #6 – New Jersey Devils

When Dave Tallon took over for the Florida Panthers, there was a lot of criticism going around that he was simply rebuilding the Chicago Blackhawks. Whether that was his intention or not, it worked. He brought in former Blackhawks, Versteeg and Kopecky for some scoring depth, and then Scottie Upshall for good measure. He brought in some veteran presence with John Madden and Mikael Samuelsson, and then on the back end, the addition of Campbell. I remember Blackhawks fans laughing at Florida for taking the hit on Campbell’s contract, but realistically, there aren’t many better players in the league at quarterbacking a power play and getting the game moving. Campbell has played phenomenal for Florida and is a big part of their success.

New Jersey played this season like the New Jersey Devils we have known for years. Kovalchuk and Parise were dominant. Larsson logged huge minutes, Brodeur played good hockey and rookie Adam Henrique, had a stellar season. They got the scoring and the leadership where they needed it from their veterans and put together a great season. It wasn’t quite the Devils that we saw come together at the end of last season, but they were still a force to be reckoned with. In my opinion, the Devils are one of those teams that can beat any team on any given night.

The Panthers are in a bit of a rough spot coming into the playoffs having won only two of their final ten games, while the Devils are coming in hot, winning their last six. The pair of teams are 2-2 in the regular season, so it’s a wash. The Devils can be a scary team if all cylinders are going. I think that they’re a team that can go far under the right circumstances and I think that the Devils take this series in 5. It’s not that I discount the Panthers, because I think that they are a decent team. But the Devils are just playing that strong.

Prediction: Devils in 5


#4 – Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #5 Philadelphia Flyers

To say that this will be one of the more interesting first round match ups would be a vast understatement. Since Crosby’s second return, the Penguins have been nothing short of dominant. With Malkin, Crosby, Letang, Staal and Fleury all finally healthy at the same, the Penguins are a scary, scary team. In the 14 games since Crosby’s return the team has outscored their opponents 63 to 48, boasting a 9-5 record. In those 14 games, the Penguins took down multiple top tier teams including the Rangers and the Devils twice, and the Predators, while dropping two games to the Islanders. Unfortunately for the Penguins, two of those other two losses were to the Flyers.

When healthy, I would argue that there are few more complete teams in the NHL than the Flyers. I am not just saying that because I’m from Philadelphia and a fan of the team. I am saying it because it’s true. Where do you even begin with a team like the Flyers? Giroux took the necessary steps to the lead the team, Hartnell turned all-star (who thought you would ever say that?), the group of rookies including Read, Schenn and Couturier have done it all and then some, Bryzgalov pulled his head out of the humangous big Universe, and Jagr has provided a much needed veteran presence. That doesn’t even touch on the additions of Talbot, Voracek and Simmonds. There is a reason that the Flyers are one of the top scoring teams in the NHL. Sure, their defense leaves something to be desired (and by something I mean a 6’6, 220 lb monster named Chris Pronger), but they’ve managed to pull it together in the final stretch with the addition of Grossman and Kubina.

It’s been a rough season for the Flyers. They have been bitten by the injury bug a little more voraciously than most teams, but they’re making the best of the situation and are still one of the best teams in the league. It’s scary to think how this team would play with Pronger, Mezaros, and JVR back, not to mention having Grossman, Bryz and Briere at 100%.

The Flyers have taken four of the six meetings this season against the Penguins, and I would argue that they would have taken the last game if Giroux was in the game. But again, regular season statistics don’t always match up come playoff time, and it would be dumb to discount either team in this series. I think that they both have what it takes to take home the cup, and I’m not going to lie, this is a series I was looking forward to as the Eastern Conference Finals. In the end, to me, the Flyers are the Penguins kryptonite. There aren’t many teams in the league that can take the Penguins the way that the Flyers do. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying this series will be a sweep, but I do think that the Flyers take it in 6.

Prediction: Flyers in 6