Monday, December 13, 2010

Nabokov Lightning-bound?

News broke today that ex-San Jose Shark Evgeni Nabokov and his KHL team have parted ways and that the 35 year old net-minder is returning to the United States. As a free-agent, Nabby will need to clear waivers if he is to return to the NHL.

After a quick glance at the teams in the NHL, their standings, and their goaltending situations the Tampa Bay Lightning stood out to me as the likely destination for Nabby. Now, would another team below them in the standings put in a claim for him? Perhaps but as one member of Twitter suggested that Nabokov would command a $4 million+ cap hit, its unlikely that he'd fall into a large number of teams without an immediate need for a goalie.

I agree with that arguement knowing that many teams are strapped for cash so he'd best fit with a true contender but I have doubts that Nabby would be able to sign for that high of a price given the current market for goalies and the kind of season he's had in the KHL.

The Lightning would be a scary team with Nabokov between the pipes, somewhat reminicent to their 2004 Stanley Cup team when they had another Russian in net with Nikolai Khabibulin.

If my premonition comes true, not only will I be a genius and have to pat myself on the back, but which current Lightning goaltender will survive? Let the #DanEllisProblems ensue.
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Friday, November 26, 2010

Slap Shots

Only an idiot like Sean Avery would do something ridiculous enough that the NHL would need to impose a rule to prevent players from cheap antics to increase their overrated team's chance of scoring a goal. Or so we thought. Check out Chris Pronger getting caught being an idiot and having, what would have been, the game-winning OT goal waived off. Calgary would end up earning the extra point in the shootout:

A highlight from this game, and absolutely dirty play, was a well-executed toe-drag and snipe by Nikolai Zherdev for the game's first goal:

As pretty as it was, I'm not too happy as a coach watching Zherdev pull that move - if he fails, it's Breakaway City for the Flames.

I'm going to have to give the Snipe of the Night honors to Brad Richards and his lightning-quick release, leading the charge in the Stars' comeback win against the Blues:

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Pens/Caps 24/7 Preview

On December 15th, hockey fans and sports enthusiasts alike will witness the premiere of, what I think, is the most revolutionary insight into professional sports with the Pens/Caps 24/7 on HBO. I have absolutely loved the presentation of past 24/7 series and the Hard Knocks series but there are elements to the Pens/Caps that set it apart from the others.

Ovechkin vs Crosby

We've all followed and have witnessed this "rivalry" for the past 5 years and this production just fuels this fire that the NHL loves to promote. Though it can be argued that the emergence of Steve Stamkos as a true elite player in the NHL makes this a 3-horse race for 'best player in the world', but Ovechkin and Crosby have always brought out the best in each other when head-to-head.

Pens/Caps History

These teams have a enjoyed a recent heated rivalry especially after the Penguins elimated the Capitals in the 7th game of the 2nd round during the 2009 Playoffs. The Penguins would go on to be the eventual Stanley Cup champions so expect HBO to devote most of, if not all, of an episode on that.


Hard Knocks has gone into the dressing rooms, meetings, personal lives, and on-field dynamics for NFL teams but this will be the first time we'll get an in-season look where the games actually matter. Two teams that will, most likely, make the playoffs will show viewers just how damn important two points in the standings mean to everyone involved - players, coaches, GM's, and owners.

Perfect for Hockey Players

As a hockey player for most of my life, this is a visual delicacy of a culture, if you will, unknown to most people. At about the 8:40 mark of the preview, the footage of skate sharpenings, stick taping, lacing up, applying wax, and putting on gear truly sensationalizes moments we, hockey players, love about what we do. We've all felt, touched, and tasted what the cameras are capturing, serving as a tribute to our wonderful game and the dedication we put into striving to get better.

I cannot wait for this series to air and I am confident it will do wonders for our game.
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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ride the Lightning

For the five games on the NHL schedule tonight, fans were treated to an absolute light-show between the Lightning and Flyers - 15 goals were scored between the two teams (but scoring is down in the NHL, right?). The Lightning would win this game 8-7 but here's a video of the first 9 goals during the 1st period set to 'Flight of the Bumblebees':

Steven Stamkos continued his assault on the NHL in this game scoring his 3rd career hat-trick including this ridiculous snipe:

Stammer would add 2 assists in the contest on top of his goals and Martin St. Louis had 5 assists on the night. I wonder what Patrick Roy has to say about the Lightning's system now?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Avery Sucks

Sean Avery is a joke (nice tie buddy). Seriously. There probably isn't a bigger ass-clown in the game today. Here you see Latislav Smid trying to get Avery to drop the mitts and it looks like he wants no part in it - until Smid starts to back away...

Does this guy have any friends? Washington Capitals' coach Bruce Boudreau couldn't even stand coaching him, as described in his book 'Gabby'. Avery should dance with a true competitor and tough guy like John Erskine did today when Eric Boulton started unloading bombs on him:

One more thing I wanted to point out from today's NHL games was this shorthanded goal scored by the Atlanta Thrashers:

Aside from Ovechkin being able to avoid the scoring opportunity entirely by just curling towards the boards instead of the middle of the ice, why doesn't he just play the puck back towards the zone? I hate seeing some of the game's best players struggle to make the 'easy play' and it usually results in a goal against. The Caps were on the powerplay and when Little commits pressure to the puck-carrier, Ovi has to know that the situation now becomes a 4 on 3 - absent of Ladd forechecking - if he plays the puck to a teammate.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Some Thoughts

Here are some quick thoughts, mostly from tonight's action around the league:

I know there are ideas being kicked around regarding changing up the overtime format in the NHL. I like the idea of going from 4-on-4 to 3-on-3 but a quick tweak to the existing format would be to have the teams switch sides after regulation. That way each team has the long change during 4-on-4 play - one would think that there would be less shootouts and more overtime scoring. Just a thought.

When I got out of the gym tonight and looked at the score for at the Penguins vs Bruins game, it was 4-2 Pens after two periods, they were outshooting the Bruins 34-20, and Sidney Crosby had a goal and 2 apples. I thought, 'the Pens are starting to turn it around' - guess I was way wrong because I turned on the tube in just enough time to see the two-goal lead evaporated within 15 seconds. The Bruins would add three more (one was an empty net). If Marc-Andre Fluery doesn't find his game soon, the Pens are going to be in trouble - or Dan Bylsma.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Good Ad

Here's a little inspiration for anyone looking to get going before a workout or a game. This originally appeared on Versus a while back - looks like some changes have been made but I always thought it was cool.

Thanks Tommy Neer for posting on FB.
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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ramping Up

Do you feel it? Highlight reel goals, suspensions, hot starts, and struggles - the NHL regular season has all but washed away the yucky mundane feeling that there was ever an off-season. At least for me, anyway.

At almost one week into the start, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers have had impressive outings in each of their first two games. Now, it's way too early to even speculate if either of these teams will make the playoffs but here's what I like about these teams: The Oilers' youth movement and Leafs' defense.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Comeback Kids (or Vets)

The NHL pre-season concludes Wednesday with exhibition games matching NHL teams with European clubs. After these challenge games, the contests will count and I can stop banging my head against the wall.

Here are five players I expect to bounce-back from disappointing 2009-2010 campaigns:

5. Brad Boyes

After career-highs in goals (43) in 2007-2008 then points (72) in 2008-2009, the St. Louis Blues' sniper posted just 14 goals and 42 points last season. Boyes, who's in his third year of his 4-year $16 million contract, struggled - as did his team - to find the back of the net all season and was probably shopped at the trade deadline by the Blues but he comes with a hefty cap hit. I think finding more consistency as a team, will allow Boyes to get back on track as the goal-scorer we've become acustomed to.

4. Jerome Iginla

The two-time fifty goal-scorer saw his point totals drop off by twenty last season after the Flames missed out on a playoff birth for the first time since the 2002-2003 season. Management failed to find a suitable center that meshed with 'Iggy' even after Olli Jokinen came and went through Calgary. Though Jokinen is back for his second stint with the Flames, Iginla will likely start the season with youngster, Mikael Backlund, at center. The Flames will need Iginla to start the year strong as forwards David Moss, Ales Kotalik, Matt Stajan, and Daymond Langkow are all out with injuries.

3. Vincent Lecavalier

Granted, the Lightning haven't made the playoffs in three seasons but Vinny Lecavalier's goal totals have dropped from 40 in 2007-2008 to 29 in 08-09 and just 24 in 09-10. You would expect the former Rocket Richard winner to score more than twenty-four goals when he's making $10 millions dollars this season and is only in his second year of his 11 year $85 million extension. With the management overhaul in Tampa Bay, the addition of Simon Gagne, and the continuing ascension of Steven Stamkos, Lecavalier is poised to bring this franchise out of the depths of the South-Least division.

2. Dion Phanuef

The newly appointed captain of the Maple Leafs saw such a drop off in his play, that he was traded from Calgary in just his 5th NHL season. With a defensive group in Toronto big enough to concuss all of Buffalo's top 6 forwards, Phanuef can regain his confidence and re-establish his game in a city where the team is under the microscope but still expected to miss the playoffs.

1. Steve Mason

A true testament to the 'Sophomore Slump', Mason followed up his Calder-winning season with a dismal performance in 2009-2010. His GAA swelled from 2.99 in 08-09 to 3.06 in 09-10 along with an increase of his SV% from 0.916 to 0.901. Mason will certainly have to perform better if the Blue Jackets are to make the playoffs for only the 2nd time in this being their 10th season. The 6'4 net-minder reportedly came into camp in tremendous shape and started skating much earlier this off-season.
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Monday, September 20, 2010

Main Camp

This weekend I experienced my first NHL training camp by attending days one and two of the San Jose Sharks main camp. I don't think any other sport allow their fans that kind of access to their players or team personnel.

I was able to speak with GM, Doug Wilson, and Director of Pro Player Development, Mike Ricci, over the weekend - both were extremely friendly and forthcoming with information.

Watching the players take the ice for flow drills brought back memories of what training camp felt like for me when I played. Unfortunately, I was usually a bubble player so I sympathized with the players that made mistakes that were most likely due to nerves rather than lack of skill or poor decision making.

Highly paid players like Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Dany Heatley looked relaxed, but focussed, and were able to enjoy being back out on the ice with the boys.

Newly signed goaltender, Antti Niemi, looked pretty awful - his mismatching equipment included - getting abused by snipes from the Sharks' forwards. Dany Heatley was shelving pucks on Niemi so hard that Mike Ricci exclaimed, "he's shooting BB's today!" as he and the scouting staff enjoyed the success of the assembled forwards.

The inner-squad scrimmage was very entertaining for the capacity crowd on hand, Douglas Murray came to play as he pasted Devin Setoguchi into the boards early on. Seto got up with a smile and had the last laugh as he would score the game-winning goal off a one-time feed from Joe Thornton.

The competition looks strong from the depth positions at forward as well. It will be hard to cut players with size and toughness such as 6'4 235 lbs forward Brandon Mashinter who was a standout player in the YoungStars tournament last week in Penticton, BC.

It will be interesting to see how the roster is trimmed in the coming weeks.

Look for my review of the Sharks' annual Teal vs White game being played Tuesday night at HP Pavilion.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Let's Drop the Puck

Back to work for NHL players Friday as training camps open league-wide. Players will report to their respective teams for physicals and testing then hitting the ice tomorrow. 

The end of this interesting off-season was capped off by rookie camps and tournaments with many of the rookies/prospects earning a roster spot for main camp. The Vancouver Canucks hosted a YoungStars tournament in Penticton, British Columbia, my old stomping grounds when I attended an international tournament at the Okanagen hockey school. Fans were treated to some very entertaining games and were able to catch a glimpse of many first-rounders including Taylor Hall and Cam Fowler. Anaheim, San Jose, Calgary, and Edmonton were among the teams that were invited by Vancouver. 

For the players already with positions secured with the big clubs, some will sport a sweater with a new logo in the front for the first time ever - Mike Modano, Marty Turco, and Alex Frolov are to name a few. How will these players prove they still have what it takes to make impacts on their new teams?

Expectations will be high for Ilya Kovalchuk after his contract saga that resulted in rejections, investigations, a mandate on future long-term contracts, and fining his new team the New Jersey Devil for $3 million plus some draft picks. Kovalchuk's $100 million contract will certainly send a current Devil packing in order to move the team under the cap - you have to wonder how that's going to impact the Devils' locker room dynamic. I personally think the whole situation is setting itself up for a bust, but that's me. 

The Washington Capitals will do their best "San Jose Sharks" and "San Diego Chargers" impressions as it won't matter how their regular season finishes, they'll be measured in post-season success. Capitals' forward, Niklas Backstrom, told the media yesterday that after going up 3-1 against the Canadiens, the team relaxed which ultimately lead to the come-from-behind win by Montreal. 

Pre-season games will start next week and the regular season will begin the first week of October. It's finally starting to feel a lot like hockey season. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Fear the Kings

The Los Angeles Kings have signed defenseman Willie Mitchell to a 2-year $7 million contract today.

Mitchell adds veteran presence to the blue-line as the Kings lost Sean O'Donnell to free agency earlier this summer. If he stays healthy, Mitchell will be a great addition to this dynamic mix of physical defense with offensive upsides. BlogBooster-The most productive way for mobile blogging. BlogBooster is a multi-service blog editor for iPhone, Android, WebOs and your desktop

Monday, August 2, 2010

Hawks pass on Niemi; Sign Turco

Not surprisingly, the Blackhawks have walked away from signing Antti Niemi to the $2.75 million arbitration awarded to the Finnish goaltender. Instead, the Hawks have agreed to a terms with Marty Turco on a 1-year $1.3 million contract. Turco has played the past 9 seasons with the Dallas Stars and is a 3-time All-star.

Niemi becomes the 8th Blackhawk to depart from the team this off-season since winning the Stanley Cup. The likelihood of this outcome was fairly clear when GM Stan Bowman matched the 4-year $14 million offer sheet for defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson last month.  The organization feels that with preserving their young core, they can go deep with a solid net-minder such as Turco.

I agree with the Blackhawks' decision to let Niemi go as a UFA. Sure, he played well and posted some very solid numbers but I feel the driving factor there was the defense in front of him. Niemi's size allows consistency when facing the first shot on net, but rebounds are an area which he struggles if his defense can't clear the puck or buy him recovery time.

Chicago will definitely bury Cristobal Huet, along with his $5.62+ million cap hit, in the AHL leaving them with just over $3 million in cap space with still 5 roster spots to fill so there's more work ahead for the defending champs.

The market conditions for goalies this free agency along with cap management issues in Chi-town contributed to Niemi's departure. Where will he end up? The KHL? If I'm Ottawa Senators' GM Bryan Murray, I might think about dumping the injury-ridden Pascal Leclaire in the minors and signing Niemi.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Devil Rejected

Well, only 24 hours since the signing of UFA Ilya Kovalchuk, the 17 year $102 million contract has been rejected by the NHL. The league has five days to review the contract, yet it only took one for the league to determine the contract circumvents the salary cap.

More will be reported soon but I'm sure the issue has to do with the sub $1 million years at the end of Kovy's contract. Other players in the league (Hossa, Richards, Pronger, Zetterberg, etc) have similarly structured front-loaded contracts but none of those players' salary dips below $1 million.

The NHLPA can file a grievance against the league's ruling within 5 days then an arbitrator will make the final decision.

More to come.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Probert Passes at Age 45

Former NHL tough guy Bob Probert passed away today at the age of 45. Probert retired in 2002 totaling 163 goals and 384 points in 935 regular season games but was most recognized for his fighting ability. He amassed 3,300 PIMs during his 16 year NHL career. His best season came during the 1987-88 season where he had career-highs in goals, assists, points, and PIMs.

I remember the first Don Cherry Rock'em Sock'em Hockey video I got on VHS featured many Probert bouts that would pump me up for my games. Here's to you big fella, you will be missed:

FA Winners, Losers, and Question Marks

Let's take a look at some of the activities that have gone on during the free agency period:


Vancouver Canucks - After losing in the Western Conference semifinals for the second straight year, it was obvious that the Canucks were lacking depth in their defense. A trade that brought defenseman Keith Ballard to the team and the free agent signing of Dan Hamhuis, certainly bolster the Canucks' back-end and will surely boost them to be a favorite to win the Conference.

Pittsburgh Penguins - Losing Sergei Gonchar to the Ottawa Senators prompted the signings of Zbynek Michalek and Paul Martin to round out a solid group of defensemen.


Evgeni Nabokov and Marty Turco - The two high priced goaltenders looking for lucrative deals came up short in the offer department as they became unrestricted free agents on July 1st. Prior to free agency, the Philadelphia Flyers acquired negotiating rights to Nabokov sending a conditional draft pick to San Jose had the Flyers been able to sign Nabby. Now that Nabokov and Turco have decided to play the open market, the deals they've been looking for now seem to be absent from many teams with cap issues. It would be no surprise to see Nabby head to the KHL.

Question Marks:

Many were wondering what the bleep is Darryl Sutter thinking!? The Calgary Flames' GM have re-signed  forward Olli Jokinen to a two-year $6 million deal seven months after being traded from Calgary to New York. Also coming back to the Flames is forward Alex Tanguay after spending last season with the Tampa Bay Lightning scoring 37 points in 80 games. Tanguay had a career year with the Flames during the 06-07 season scoring 81 points in 81 games. One would think that Sutter's reign as GM is on the line if these moves do not pan out well for the Flames.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Top Four

Here are 4 things I took away from the 2010 NHL Entry Draft:

4. Tyler Seguin is a class act:

As I stood outside of the California Pizza Kitchen food stand on day two of the draft enjoying a hot cheese pizza, a crowd emerged around a young kid wearing a suit. At that point I had encountered many young prospects wearing suits but few had drawn a crowd such as this young gentleman. Sure enough it was Tyler Seguin signing autographs for each fan that approached him. After crowd #1 got their autographs, crowd #2 spotted the number two pick overall and made their way toward him. Seguin apologetically asked if he could get some food then come be back to sign autographs while he walked toward the same CPK food stand where I was chowing down. He turned away from the crowd and muttered "Jesus Chri#t" but not out of frustration -- more out of being overwhelmed at the attention. I smiled and said, "must be fun being on top, congratulations." He replied, "yeah, no kidding. Thank you."After Seguin got his pizza he walked by me again and said, "well, I got to get back out there."I smiled again, "have fun and good luck next season." And back he went signing more autographs and taking pictures with fan. I was impressed with his poise and patience with all the attention.

3. North America Rules:

As the World Junior Championship and the Olympic games would dictate, North American hockey players dominated the draft with 99 Canadians and 59 Americans selected. The 59 Americans included a record 11 in the first round and 22 total in the first two rounds. It was particularly exciting for me, being a California hockey native, that Beau Bennett and Emerson Etem were both selected in the first round numbers 20th and 29th respectively. This feat is proof that NHL expansion into non-traditional hockey markets has worked, and that California is producing great hockey players.

2. Not being selected on the first day is saddening to most:

For a hockey player like myself, just thinking that having your name called in any of the 7 rounds by an NHL GM would be a lifetime achievement and tremendous honor. But to many of the top ranked prospects, not having their names called in the first round was both disappointing and saddening. Still overwhelmed by the first round spectacle I witnessed, when I returned to the hotel, I must have seen at least a dozen prospects walk into the hotel with their heads hung low and a look of disappointment on their faces. It hit me that their goal is not just to be drafted but to one day play in the NHL. Many of these players do not have much to fall back on if they do not make it to the show and their chances of making it to the NHL diminish with each passing round.

1. Kirill's plummet was no surprise to me:

On the morning of Round 1, I was in the hotel lobby seeing all the prospects hanging with their families -- I saw Taylor Hall walk through a few times, broadcaster Dave Amber was setting up in the bar for an interview with Tyler Seguin, and I saw a skinny Russian kid in a cut-off and shorts all tattooed and acting cocky. It dawned on me that he was Kirill Kabanov, the troublesome Russian with top 10 skill but  off-ice issues that saw him go through several agents, kicked off the Russian World Junior team, and removed from his QMJHL team this season. Coming back to the hotel that evening without wearing a jersey and hat from an NHL team should have been humbling for the 17 year old, but I overheard him tell a gentleman in the lobby that he would for sure hear his name called early on Saturday morning. Well, it was a good thing he did not get picked until Round 3 because he may not have even been in the building had he been selected early in Round 2. The draft resumed Saturday morning at 10 am pt and at about 9:51 I was 2/3 of the way from the hotel to the Staples Center when I spotted Kirill Kabanov. Not being in his seat less than 10 minutes before the draft resumed was probably not a good thing, but to make matters worse was that he was running back towards the hotel! I don't know why he was going back but what I witnessed speaks to his character which was a deciding factor for teams to take a pass on selecting him.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Tyler vs Taylor

The first round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft will be loaded with talented defensemen but one thing is for sure – the first two picks will be forwards. Tyler Seguin is currently rated #1 on NHL’s Central Scouting list as the top prospect entering this year’s draft.
The 6’1 186 lbs center just completed his second season in the OHL with the Plymouth Whalers more than doubling his goal total from the previous season and tying for the league-lead in scoring with 106 points. Seguin, known for his playmaking and ability to make others better around him, impressed scouts and GM’s at the NHL Combine with his strength and tenacity.
The #2 ranked prospect listed by Central Scouting can just as easily go number one overall – Taylor Hall is coming off his second straight Memorial Cup championship as well as tournament MVP to cap off an outstanding junior career. Hall tied Seguin for the OHL lead in scoring but the award went to Seguin because he had more goals – Hall played 6 fewer regular season games but won a silver medal with team Canada at the World Junior Championship in December.
Some say that Seguin will have a better NHL career overall but Hall is probably more NHL-ready – something that the Oilers probably could use – so it’s anybody’s guess as to who Edmonton and Boston will take with the first two picks.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Turning the Page

Patrick Kane's OT goal proved to be somewhat anti-climatic for those who could not follow the puck squeak through the legs of Michael Leighton, but for goal-scorers, like Kane, they know when they score. For Michael Leighton, his mistake could be his last goal given up as a Flyer when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in July. Like many UFA's for both teams, cap issues and contract negotiations will decide what sweater is worn next season.

Also upon us is the 2010 NHL Entry Draft held on June 25th in Los Angeles where I will actually be in attendance when the world finds out whether the number one pick will be Tayler Hall or Tylor Seguin. With both players hailing from the Ontario Hockey League, Seguin currently holds the edge over Hall as of the last rankings provided by NHL Central Scouting. Hall, however, is coming off his second straight Memorial Cup win and MVP of the tournament as a member of the Windsor Spitfires.

Over the next couple of weeks, we'll take a look at some of the potential first round candidates and the teams that may draft them.

Shortly after the draft concludes, free-agency will open up and we'll exam the potential big names looking for new deals.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Playing With Fire

I'm sorry but I have to get a little "Ray Ferraro" on Peter Laviolette for his approach to Game 5:

Coach, you should be ashamed of yourself. After losing Game 1 in Chicago by getting into a gun battle, you thought it would be 'ok' to try and go toe-to-toe with the Hawks in their own barn? You knew Quenneville was going to change up his lines and you knew the arena was going to be rocking yet you decided not to adapt or take the crowd out of the game. Frequent stoppages of play and locking up the neutral zone would have made this game real boring for the fans and would have been harder for the Hawks to gain as much momentum as they did.

Ok, enough Chicken Parm for now, let's just say it was not a good showing by the Flyers who now find themselves with their backs against the wall down 3-2 heading back to Philadelphia Wednesday night. Re-establishing their game will be key in Game 6 with aggressive forechecking and better gap control - two things absent from Game 5.

Great response by Chicago after losing on the road Friday night. With Toews, Kane, and Byfuglien all playing on separate lines, the line juggling proved to be too much for the Flyers' defense - especially Chris Pronger who had a career worse -5. Pronger seemed to be caught just trying to do too much and was also in the Sin Bin when Byfuglien scored for Chicago on the powerplay.

With an extra day off favoring the Flyers, they will have a chance to rest up and put this game behind them. Logic predicts that Laviolette will go back to Leighton to start Game 6, who was replaced between periods after surrendering 3 goals in the opening stanza.

Game 6 is Wednesday night at 8pm et with coverage on NBC in the U.S.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


With the series back in Chicago tonight, the pressure has shifted onto the Blackhawks after relinquishing a 2-0 lead. Now a best-of-three series, watch for the Hawks to come out with intensity and pressure. They will try to get the crowd into the game early and feed off the energy of the 22,000+ in the "Madhouse on Madison".

The Flyers will continue their aggressive forechecking that helped them to their victories at home the last two games. Their win in Game 4 came with a grain of salt after watching a 4-1 lead in the 3rd dwindle to just one goal with a few minutes left in regulation. The 3rd period should serve as warning to the Flyers of the Hawks' ability to strike quickly and I'm sure they were happy that periods are not 25 minutes.

I think the Flyers will go with the same lineup but expect the Hawks to mix things up with their line combinations in hopes to jump-start their top forwards in Toews and Kane. Expect Marian Hossa to have a big game for the Hawks - he does not want his team heading back to Philly down 3-2.

Game 5 starts at 8pm et and can be found on NBC in the U.S.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Canucks Sign RFA Schneider to 2-year Contract

I just wanted to comment quickly on the Vancouver Canucks signing goaltender Cory Schneider to a 2-year $1.8 mil contract:

This move by Canucks’ GM Mike Gillis aligns the interests of the team and Schneider. Schneider, a former first round draft pick and AHL goaltender of the year will have probably close to 20 games a year to prove himself at the NHL level for a possible trade down the road. This accomplishes two things:

1. If Schneider heats up for 4 or 5 games in a row, it will keep the starting job more competitive for Luongo.
2. With Bobby Luo signing such a long-term contract, paying more for a backup means less games for him (at least for the next 2 seasons) preserving the Canucks’ investment.

No decision yet has been made on what the Canucks will do with last year’s backup, Andrew Raycroft, but it’s highly unlikely that they will have 3 goaltenders under one-way contracts.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

In Control; Hawks take 2-0 Series Lead

As expected, Game 2 was a much tighter game with both teams clamping down on defense and elevating the amount of physical play. A 22-second meltdown by the Flyers in the 2nd period resulted in a 2-0 hole after 40 minutes of play. In a failed attempt to clear the zone, Duncan Keith shot the puck toward the net and into traffic where Marian Hossa found the loose puck to notch his first of the series. The Flyers’ mishap had them reeling in their own zone and failed to tie up Hossa who probably wants to win the Cup more than any other player on the ice after the past two seasons of heartbreaking finals losses.
Again, stressing the importance of shifts after goals, the Flyers’ Arron Asham made an errant cross-ice pass in the neutral zone that was intercepted by Dustin Byfuglien. Byfuglien hit a buzzing Ben Eager who gained the zone and let a ripper go through a screening Matt Carle that beat Leighton on the glove side. Though the play occurred in transition, Carle cannot relinquish that shot to Eager so easily.
A power play goal a little more than 5 minutes into the 3rd for the Flyers cut the Hawks’ lead in half. The poor ice conditions favored a deflected Simon Gagne shot that took a couple of hops before beating Antii Niemi. For the remainder of the game, the Flyers played in high-pressure full desperation mode peppering Niemi with 33 shots total. Niemi answered the call putting on a show with his rebound control and ability to find pucks through traffic leading his team to victory.
Dan Carcillo did his job mixing it up and playing physical – although his best hit on the night was against his own teammate, Jeff Carter. I think we will see Carcillo in the line-up again tonight in place of James Van Riemsdyk.
Tonight’s Game 3 is a “must win” for Philly. If the Flyers can keep pace with the offensive pressure exhibited in periods two and three in Game 2 along with feeding off of the energy that will be present in the Wachovia Center, they have a chance for a win and to jump back into this series.
Coverage in the U.S can be found on Versus.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Setting Expectations

After the 6-5 lightshow witnessed in Game 1, here are four things to watch for in Game 2:

1. Physical Play

The wide open style of play in Game 1 has both coaches concerned with their teams ability to limit the amount of mistakes made in the defensive  and neutral zones. An increase in physical play will tighten up the game, which I think will favor the Flyers. Chris Pronger did a tremendous job in playing a shutdown game against big Dustin Byfuglien and I think that with Dan Carcillo in the lineup tonight, the Flyers will enjoy the similar benefits with his style of play.

2. Goaltending:

Both goaltenders did not have great games obviously and there will be a lot of focus tonight on who will respond stronger. There is more pressure on Michael Leighton to comeback with a strong game after being chased in Game 1, but the Flyers have all the confidence in him to respond which is why he is getting the start tonight. I think nerves were present for both goaltenders so we'll see them play tonight with more confidence and focus.

3. Mike Richards:

Absent from the scoresheet, as were each team's top line, I think Mike Richards will respond with a huge game. It may not be from a scoring standpoint but with Richards' ability to lead his team with relentless forechecking and physical play, he will rally the charge for his team to even this series.

4. Defense:

Tying into my point on 'Physical Play', the defense between these two teams have got to get better. Poor zone coverage lead to too many turnovers and second chances in Game 1. With tighter defense, each team will be able to do a better job controlling the pace of the game and clearing the zone. Game 2 won't be as entertaining as far as scoring goes, but we will see more of a complete hockey game.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

It Is Time

The Flyers and Blackhawks will get underway in within one hour to battle for the Stanley Cup. The Blackhawks were predicted by many to make it to the finals but the Flyers have emerged from the #7 seed to overcome predictions and probabilities.

This will be a true test of character for both teams having young forwards and "inexperienced" goaltenders.  The Blackhawks will rely on their speed in transition along with their skill players to set the tone. The Flyers will need to remain consistent with their tenacity - attacking the opposition to create their scoring opportunities.

I'm going to go against the grain and predict a Flyers victory in 7 games. I believe in this team. Disposing of the Devils in round 1 and defying the impossible with a comeback for the ages against the Bruins in round 2, the Flyers do not possess the word "quite" in their vocabularies. Their series win over Montreal along with the adversity faced throughout all of the postseason, is convincing enough for me to believe they have what it takes to win. The task will not be easy, by any means, as the Blackhawks certainly have the components to prove me wrong.

Now, let the puck drop and watch as history is made.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

How Sweep it Is; 'Hawks take series 4-0 at home.

Unfortunately for the Sharks, their loss in the Western Conference Finals was to a team that was just outright better. The Blackhawks showed different aspects of their game in each of their four wins of the series. They were able to hold a lead, dominate an entire game, respond after giving up a late lead, and show resiliency after being down early in a hockey game. These components are impressive for a team that will compete for the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1992 when they were swept by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Finding themselves down 2-0 to the Sharks today in Game 4, the Blackhawks were able to overcome the deficit and injuries in order to complete the sweep. The Sharks definitely controlled the pace for the first half of the game and I thought that the lazy tripping penalty taken by Devin Setoguchi would put the crowd and the Hawks right back in the game, except that the Sharks were able to extend their lead to two with a shorthanded goal by Patrick Marleau.  Things looked promising for the Sharks until a 4 on 4 goal scored by Brent Seabrook got the Hawks back into the game. If this goal was the catalyst for the Hawks, I'd say their 2nd goal scored by Dave Bolland was the turning point in this game.

With the puck sent deep into the San Jose zone, Logan Courture failed to engage Bolland behind the net and instead tried to make a play on the puck allowing Bolland to lift Courture's stick and escape with the puck. Physical contact on Bolland there would allow the Sharks' defense to body-up and position themselves to cover loose players and battle to get the puck out of the zone. 

From that point, the Sharks were playing on their heels lacking offensive pressure and taking bad penalties. It was one of those penalties that led to the go-ahead goal by big Dustin Byfuglien while Dany Heatley sat in the box for his second penalty of the game. How many times in this series have we seen Byfuglien score with assists from Kane and Toews? Giving this line too many opportunities to score throughout the series and no one should be surprised with the outcome.

Kris Versteeg added an empty net goal to lock up the win for the Blackhawks with a 4-2 final in front of their home crowd.

With the Philadelphia Flyers up 3 games to 1 in their series returning home to face the Canadiens, it looks like they will represent the Eastern Conference in the Finals.

Now turning to the offseason and with the upcoming draft, what will the Sharks do to shake things up? Patrick Marleau, who was by far the best Shark in this series, becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1st. It will be an interesting off-season indeed in the San Jose.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Tilted Ice; Hawks and Flyers go up 2-0

I thought that the fever I had over the weekend skewed what I saw from Game 1 of the Sharks and Hawks series. Though I knew I couldn't fully grasp what went on during the game, I did not feel like the Sharks played well enough to win from about the 2nd period mark until the end of the game and also thought they had difficulties containing the Blackhawks. I chose not to write about it after I saw the shot count and just thought maybe Niemi just stole Game 1 for the Hawks.

After watching Chicago win their 7th straight road playoff game last night, I don't think I was as delusional as I thought - I saw a lot of parallels in games one and two. The Sharks had difficulties executing on offense and containing the Chicago defense. There were many instances when the Sharks would either fumble pucks on received passes or just miss the net on scoring opportunities. The Blackhawks' defense, in my opinion, has been absolutely superb in this series - particularly in Game 2. They continue to activate in transition and are talented enough to get back into position on failed rushes up the ice.

One thing is for sure, the Sharks are in big trouble. With Nabby's confidence to be seemingly decreasing and with the series heading to Chicago, Game 3 appears to be a must win situation for the Sharks. Having two days off in between games should certainly help the Sharks refocus and watch some video but the pressure is definitely building.

I guess San Jose is not in as bad of shape as Montreal - the Canadiens haven't even scored a goal in their series against the dominant Flyers. Fever or not, I was not delusional when watching the 6-0 thumping on Sunday evening. The Flyers continued their success last night, shutting out the Canadiens for the second straight game. As that changes venue to Montreal, there are now question marks in goal for the Habs as Jacque Martin may turn to Carey Price to replace Halak as the starter for Game 3.

Game 3 for the Eastern Conference Finals is Thursday while the Western Conference Finals resume on Friday

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Blockbuster Matchup

The Sharks and Hawks will kick-off the 3rd round of Stanley Cup action Sunday, when they take to the ice in a much anticipated matchup thats leaving many scratching their heads on predicting the outcome.

Both teams have depth up front in the forward position which will stress the importance of line matchups for McLellan and Quennville especially when the series moves to Chicago. There's no doubt that the Blackhawks possess a more talented and threatening blueline, but the Sharks hold the edge in goaltending.

This series will feature 14 Olympians, many of which were teammates in February, and is expected to be hard hitting and high tempo.

Game one can be seen at noon pt on NBC

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

'Hawks Seize the Day; Advance to Conference Finals

I don't think any NHL city experiences an actual holiday where their teams' season ends, unless its the last day of the regular season in Columbus (apologies to my family), but the Vancouver Canucks were knocked out of Stanley Cup contention on exactly the same day as they were a year before by the same team.

Chicago came out blazing, with relentless forechecking, winning loose pucks, and getting shots on net - they had Vancouver running around in their own zone. Of course, that style of play will open things up allowing scoring chances for the opposition, which the Canucks started taking advantage of but could not produce. Roberto Luongo came up huge for the Nucks early on and it was very clear that he came to play.

With an injury to Alex Edler late in the first period, Vancouver's defense was shorthanded for the second straight game and noticeably began to wear down. Troy Brouwer's first career playoff goal was a result of a pinch by Shane O'Brien followed by a lacksadalsicle backcheck from Kyle Wellwood, resulting in a straight lane to the net and easy tip-in by Brouwer. Teams talk all year about the importance of shifts after giving up a goal and how a team will respond. Well, flat-footed and as about as sharp as a bowling pin, Kevin Bieksa missed a routine puck off the boards allowing Kris Versteeg an easy path to the net. Just like that, Vancouver surrendered two goals in 36 seconds. 

With all the momentum in their favor, the Hawks kept pouring on offensive opportunities while remaining responsible on defense. Any attempted rush by the Canucks, forced the puck-carrier to rush through defenders without support leading to...well... nothing. A slashing penalty called on the Blackhawks toward the end of the period seemed to be the Canucks' opportunity to get themselves back into the game, however, it only resulted in a shorthanded goal on a great individual effort by Dave Bolland.

Down 3-0 to start the third, Vancouver came out playing with a sense of urgency - as they should have. A great recognition for defenseman Shane O'Brien to step up on a rush, allowed him to sneak a shot passed Antii Niemi to close the gap to two goals. The goal sparked some life and offensive chances for the Canucks only to see their clear desperation taken advantage of by Partick Kane and Dustin Byfuglien. The two scored goals just 25 seconds apart silencing the crowd at GM Place and put the Hawks up 5-1.

Chicago Blackhawks Day in Vancouver was complete and the Hawks will now travel south the play the Sharks. Series preview to come.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Sharks Respond Big

The San Jose Sharks did a spectacular job in answering questions of how they would respond after losing 7-1 in Detroit with a 2-1 win to eliminate the Red Wings from the playoffs. Patrick Marleau broke the 1-1 tie 6:59 into the 3rd period, which would prove to be enough for his team win the game and end the series on home ice in front of 17,562 fans.

The Sharks dominated the first period of play outshooting the Red Wings 15-6 and hammering the Wings' defense with punishing body-checks leading to their scoring opportunities. In a conversation I had with TSN's Chris Cuthbert during warm-ups, he mentioned that when speaking with Mike Babcock, Wings' defenseman Brad Stuart was questionable because of the injury he sustained in Game 4. It looked like the Sharks did a tremendous job in targeting Stuart with check after check, wearing him down. It was also very noticeable that the Sharks aimed to play this game with much more defensive responsibilities as the defense did a great job gapping and the forwards were picking up their assignments in their own zone.

The Wings responded in the 2nd period, establishing their style of play and applying offensive pressure, outshooting the Sharks 14-3. Brian Rafalski broke the scoreless game 2:40 into the frame, with what we've seen all series from the Wings - screens in front of Nabokov. A breakdown in the defensive zone for the Sharks lead to the goal after some great forechecking by Todd Bertuzzi and Henrik Zetterberg allowed Johan Frazen to get the puck to Rafalski at the point for a shot. Joe Thornton lost his stick on the play allowing Bertuzzi to stand in front of Nabokov unmolested inhibiting his ability to see the shot. The lead, however, would only last 2:14 when Thornton tied the game off a reboud in front of Jimmy Howard while the Sharks were on the powerplay.

As the 3rd period began, the Sharks looked hungry to close out the series at home and worked hard in generating scoring opportunities. Joe Pavelski made a nice move on Niklas Kronwall, who had trouble with a bouncing puck, resulting in a penalty shot for Little Joe. It looked to me like nerves took over when his attempt sailed way high over the glove and net of Jimmy Howard. You could feel the concern of the entire arena that the penalty shot would be the best chance the Sharks would have, but then...A great job by the Sharks top line and a poor reverse by Brian Rafalski allowed Thornton to find Marleau open in the slot and Jimmy Howard did not stand a chance on stopping that shot. The Wings played with a sense of urgency and desperation for the remainder of the game while the Sharks clogged the middle of the ice blocking shots and clearing the zone. Evgeni Nabokov looked outstanding, especially down the stretch, and ended the night stopping 33 of 34 shots faced.

I found it amazing that the three players with perhaps the most pressure and scrutiny came up the biggest for San Jose. Nabby with his performance and response from Game 4, Marleau with the game-winning goal, and Jumbo Joe with the game-tying goal and the beautiful setup on the game-winner.

The Sharks advance to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2004

I want to send out a special thank you to Rick Peckham and Daryl Reaugh from Versus for giving us a chance to watch them work and for being so friendly before and after the game.

Sidney Cosby Tim Hortons Commercial

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Seeing Red

I think what we saw during the 7-1 blowout the Sharks suffered at the hands of the Detroit Franzens was a combination of defensive breakdowns and Evgeni Nabokov not being spectacular. Nabby didn't play poorly, he just did not play amazingly like we've seen him of late. The first four goals of the game happened in such a short span that the Sharks could never recover.

Lets take a look at what happened on the first four. Here's goal 1:
We've seen the Wings get bodies in front of goaltenders when getting shots through right? No surprise here, but we have also seen Nabokov being able to pick up pucks through traffic and making tremendous saves, especially in this series, it just did not happen here.

Onto goal 2:
A defensive breakdown by the Sharks just 2:10 after giving up the first goal puts the Wings up 2-0. You see three sharks converge on the puck-carrying Zetterberg, leaving Franzen wide open in front of the net. His big body and net presence contribute to his first of four goals on the night.

On goal 3 we see a combination of lack of a backcheck and below average goaltending:
At first I thought this was a result of poor gap control by the defense allowing Bertuzzi the amount of space to gain entry into the zone and room to move into the middle of the ice. But if you watch the end of the video, the Sharks defense just completes a line change so Rob Blake was just preventing Bertuzzi from driving wide and on net. The error is on Sharks forwards who get caught at the Wings blueline in transition, and Torrey Mitchell does a poor job backchecking. Instead of keeping his head on swivel and picking up Franzen, the trailer, he commits to the right wing who is already covered by Vlasic allowing Franzen to receive the puck in the slot with speed. It was a great shot by Franzen but I've seen Nabby make saves off shots like that especially when challenging shooters.

Clearly rattled at this point, the Sharks inability to clear pucks out of dangerous areas lead to goal 4:
There was nothing Nabby could do on this goal, no one pick up the rebound which allowed Franzen a follow up to his initial shot on goal.

The Wings did what they had to tonight and the Sharks need to develop amnesia as the series shifts back to San Jose. Game 5 is Saturday night.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Turning Point

When a playoff series concludes, there is usually a moment one can look back on and identify as a key instance that would shape the way the rest of the series would play out. For the San Jose Sharks, that moment was realized last night when Patrick Marleau scored 7:07 in overtime to put his team up 3-0 against the Detroit Red Wings. Both teams knew that heading into the overtime period locked at 3-3, that the next goal scored would be the most important goal of the season. If Detroit scores, the series becomes 2-1 with a huge momentum swing in Detroit’s favor. If San Jose scores, they hold a commanding lead in the series which a comeback from a 3-0 series deficit has only happened once in post expansion Stanley Cup playoff history. The latter held true and the Sharks now have the Wings with their backs against the wall.

Now the Sharks must continue to do the things that have been working for them – winning faceoffs, getting pucks deeps, and getting pucks on net with traffic in front. They know that they cannot write-off this series as being over now that they’re up 3-0 because if any team is capable of turning this around, it’s the Red Wings. After coming back from a 3-1 deficit in the 3rd period last night, the victory must be a huge confidence boost for the Sharks who have to figure that they are in the head of rookie goaltender Jimmy Howard.

The Red Wings will focus on the task in hand – win their next game. They know they cannot win the series in just one game or think about winning the next 2 or 3, they must focus on one game at a time. Though it is easier said than done, the fact that they were up by two goals in the 3rd period has to be in the back of the players’ minds.

The series continues with Game 4 tomorrow night at 7:30 pm et in Detroit. The Wings look to avoid being swept for the first time since 2003 when they were swept by Anaheim in round one.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sharks Bite First

In front of 17,562 screaming fans, the San Jose Sharks accomplished something that had not been done in their last 4 straight series openers - they won a hockey game. Their 4-3 win over the defending Western Conference Champions was exactly the right way to kick off a series against a formidable foe.

Some immediate adjustments made by Todd McLellan that I noticed in this game were the amount of time his top 6 forwards were receiving. The Heatley-Thornton-Mitchell then Clowe-Pavelski-Setoguchi lines were out there almost every other shift focussing on dumping pucks deep and matching up with the Red Wings' skill players. Joe Pavelski broke the scoreless tie 9:05 into the 1st period on the powerplay when Dan Boyle found him open in the slot for a quick shot on net. It was a 4 on 3 powerplay that had just expired, Thomas Holmstrom came out of the box, and Pavel Datsyuk shifted from the middle of the ice to the right anticipating a box formation as Holmstrom was coming into the zone. This caused Pavelski to be left wide open and in great scoring position. In the next 1:19, the Sharks would get two more goals to jump out to a 3-0 lead midway through the first. Dany Heatley got his first of the playoffs and Devon Setoguchi also tallied for San Jose.

The roof just about came off the Shark Tank after the flood gates opened but if there's one thing the Red Wings do probably better than any other team in the NHL is keeping their composure. After the third goal for the Sharks, Detroit captain Nik Lidstrom skated over to his shaken goaltender, Jimmy Howard, tapped him on the pads, and had a chat with him. One has to think it was to remind his goalie about the amount of time left in the hockey game for his team to get back in the game.

The Sharks played an almost perfect 1st period except for the missed defensive assignment that left Dan Cleary wide open on the backdoor to get the Wings on the board and out of the period 3-1.

The second period had the Red Wings getting back to their game - puck possession and offensive pressure. Neither team had many shots in the frame however a failed attempt to clear the zone lead to a goal scored by Johan Franzen cutting the lead to 3-2. The rest of the period was certainly controlled by Detroit and their puck possession style of play. Their aim was to lean on the Sharks until they tipped over. Their plan, however, was foiled by a questionable penalty called against Franzen at the end of the period that ended the period with the Sharks still on the man-advantage.

Joe Pavelski's second goal of the game just 50 seconds into the 3rd gave the Sharks breathing room making it 4-2. The two goal lead would only last another 2 minutes or so when Brian Rafalski scored to cut the lead in half with plenty of time left. The goal was the result of another defensive zone breakdown where the Sharks got caught watching the puck-carrier and Rafalski was able to sneak off his point undetected by Setoguchi and got a quick shot off the pass from Pavel Datsyuk.

The Sharks were able to clamped down defensively and worked hard on getting pucks out of their zone while keeping their shifts short. Detroit failed to get shots on goal in the 3rd only managing a total of 5. This made it easier for the Sharks to hang onto their goal advantage and the eventual 4-3 win.

Evgeni Nabokov played well, turning away 20 of the 23 shots he faced on the night including a shot by Lidstrom through traffic with under 30 seconds left in the game. It certainly was an impressive showing for the Sharks and a huge opportunity for them to head into Detroit with a 2-0 lead on the series.

Game 2 is tomorrow night at 5pm on Versus and Comcast (locally).

Presidential Curse?

For the second year in a row, the Presidents Trophy winners were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round as the Washington Capitals were uprooted by the 8th seeded Montreal Canadiens in 7 games. Last season the San Jose Sharks were upset by the Anaheim Ducks in 6 games. A huge difference in this series was that the Capitals held a 3-1 series lead heading home for a clinching game five. Never in NHL history had a #8 team down 3-1 come back to win a playoff series against a #1 seed. So what happened? Even Head Coach Bruce Boudreau said that he would have bet his house that his team wouldn’t have lost three games in a row and only scoring 3 goals total over that span. Columbus Blue Jackets forward RJ Umberger was probably so proud of himself after the comments he made in the regular season about a defensive team that doesn’t turn the puck over will beat the Caps in the playoffs. The Canadiens limited their turnovers and Washington did not have many odd man rushes in the series. Jaroslav Halak still made an incredible amount of saves as he faced 292 shots in the series, but the Habs turned themselves into shot blocking machines which clearly frustrated the Capitals’ skill players.
The Montreal defense, particularly Josh Gorges, did a great job in limiting the amount of space for Alex Ovechkin when he had the puck but it was almost as if this Capitals team did not watch video between games. They did not seem to make any adjustments to their style of play in the last 3 games of the series. Where was Bruce Boudreau on this one? 235 lbs Alex Ovechkin versus 202 lbs Josh Gorges - How do you take advantage of the 30+ pound advantage OV has when coming down 1 on 1 with Jorges? Try to dangle then curl to the middle and take a shot? No. Chip the puck past him and out-muscle the defender. If OV started doing that he would have accomplished three things:

1. If Jorges beats him to the puck, Ovechkin can deliver punishing body checks that lead to turnovers.
2. Jorges takes penalties trying to interfere with Ovechkin getting to the loose puck.
3. Ovechkin creates more space for himself because Jorges has to respect OV’s new option
No adjustments were made; Ovechkin kept coming down the left wing and trying to take the puck to the middle of the ice for a shot.
You definitely have to give credit to the Canadiens and Jacque Martin. If the Caps are to learn anything from this loss it should be that the Canadiens evolved themselves into a team that did what they had to do in order to win. Their skill players came through when they needed goals but they were not trying to over achieve the way we saw Alex Semin and Mike Green do. Semin never seemed to get it going throughout the whole series. There were times when he registered a lot of shots on net but peeling off the wing and sending a wrist shot toward the top corner from 60 feet out is not going to get you goals against a hot goaltender like Halak. And Mike Green did not seem to make any impact from the blueline like we saw in the regular season managing only 3 assists in the series and losing physical battles in the defensive zone.
As I write this, I realize it comes down to coaching. Maybe these players are not coachable or Boudreau doesn’t coach enough? They honestly play hockey like it’s a very skilled drop-in game. Case in point Montreal’s second goal, the Canadiens flipped the puck out like they’ve been doing late in the 3rd periods of each game, John Carlson was standing still on the blueline when the puck went over his head and down the ice, Mike Green, the weak-side D, came over and played the body on Maxim Lapierre to cancel him out, but then Dominic Moore was wide open to take the puck to the net. Where was the support? The closest player to Moore when he scored was the right wing, Mike Knuble. First of all, Carlson should have filled the middle lane when coming back into the zone except he hung around on the strong-side boards waiting for a pass and not moving his feet. So if Carlson wasn’t there, then the center (Niklas Backstrom) should have been to close off the lane. This was one of the many examples where simple hockey would have kept the puck out of the net.
What’s done is done and life goes on for the Caps. It will be interesting to see what kinds of moves are made in the off season for this team. They seem to be in search of a true #1 goaltender. Turco perhaps?
Stay tuned for another first-hand game report out of San Jose tonight. I will be in attendance as the Sharks kickoff round 2 against the Detroit Red Wings.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Wings Fly

In a do or die game for both teams, the Detroit Red Wings put a beat-down on the Phoenix Coyotes who were on home ice last night in Glendale. The 6-1 thumping was the first Game 7 of the 2010 playoffs and the Wings sent a message that had “Championship Caliber” all over it. The game last night looked like a clinic as Detroit scored 4 in the second period and managed to get 50 shots on net for the night. Pavel Datsyuk scored back-to-back goals 1:41 apart early in the 2nd and Niklas Lidstrom added two goals and an assist. The real turning point of this game was when the score was 3-1 in the second period and the Coyotes got a 5 on 3 powerplay but failed to convert resulting in goal by Brad Stuart after coming out of the box for serving his minor penalty. Prior to the goal, the Coyotes seemed like they could get themselves back in to the game with the powerplay opportunity. The 3rd period served to be a formality at that point for Phoenix.
The Red Wings will now travel west to play the San Jose Sharks. Game 1 is tomorrow night.
On tonight’s agenda, the Washington Capitals and Montreal Canadiens will play a Game 7 in DC as the Caps look to avoid a first round upset after capturing the Presidents Trophy as the league’s regular season champs. The game can be seen at 7pm et.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Luongo's Save

Here is the Luongo save on Ryan Smyth. Even though Luo was out of position when the puck came in front, he really didn't lose track of the puck. Great save!

Weekend Game Notes

I had a hockey tournament of my own this weekend in San Jose so I haven’t had a chance to post about the playoff games from this weekend. Per the picture posted, we left with some hefty hardware.
The Pittsburgh Penguins will be heading to round 2 as they closed out their series with Ottawa Saturday night. Pascal Dupuis scored in overtime as the Pens came back from a 3-0 deficit to take the series in 6 games.
Also finishing their series in 6 games, the San Jose Sharks beat the Colorado Avalanche Saturday night in Denver 5-2. Joe Pavelski had 2 goals including the game-winner.
Last night in Los Angeles, the Vancouver Canucks wrapped up their series against the Kings with a late 3rd period goal by Henrik Sedin to put his team up 3-2. Alex Burrows added an empty net goal with 1:07 left in regulation to seal the win for his club. Note that Roberto Luongo had an OUTSTANDING save on Ryan Smyth in the 2nd period – I will post the video later today. The Canucks won the series in 6 games.
The Phoenix Coyotes forced a game 7 in their series against the Red Wings yesterday as they won on the road in Detroit 5-2. Game 7 will be held on Tuesday at 6pm pt in Phoenix.
The Montreal Canadiens will return home tonight for Game 6 of their series against the Washington Capitals, two 1st period goals for the Habs were enough to stave off elimination Friday night winning 2-1 on the road. Alexander Ovechkin was the lone goal scorer for the Caps notching his 5th of the series. Game 6 can be seen tonight at 4pm pt on Versus.
And Finally, the Buffalo Sabres avoided elimination Friday night as they beat the Bruins on home ice 4-1. Jason Pominville scored the eventual game winner and Ryan Miller stopped 34 shots. The Bruins will try to close out the series tonight on home ice.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Shark Attack

With over 17,500 fans packed into the Shark Tank, the San Jose Sharks skated their way to a convincing 5-0 win over the Colorado Avalanche Thursday night. The atmosphere was amazing and energy was high, however I was disappointed that only about a third of the crowd were wearing the orange shirts handed out upon entry into the arena. It was a failed attempt at an “Orange Out”, which would have been an amazing spectacle, but I guess not needed for a win and 3-2 series lead.
The Sharks came out in the 1st period semi-flat and struggling to find rhythm in their game. A bit of line juggling by Todd McLellan may have been the reason for this as Torrey Mitchell joined the top line on the wing with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, and Dany Heatley played with Manny Malholtra and Logan Couture. Both teams seemed to be turning pucks over early on but failing to capitalize on each other’s mistakes. Even though the Sharks outshot the Avs 12-2 in the period, I thought the Avalanche did a better job in getting pucks to dangerous areas of the Sharks’ defensive zone. It was clear that Colorado wanted to keep their game simple and just get pucks on net when they were in the Sharks’ zone and clog up the middle of the ice in their own zone – much of what we have seen from them through the entire series. One thing I did notice that was different in this game, was that Colorado goaltender Craig Anderson seemed to be fumbling the pucks and had poorer rebound control but bouncing pucks were preventing the Sharks from cashing in on his mistakes.
It was apparent that the ice conditions were rather poor and continued to worsen as the 2nd period got underway, McLellan must have taken this into account plus the fact that Anderson seemed to be fighting the puck and had his team adjust accordingly. The Sharks simplified their game and really worked on just getting pucks towards the net and placing traffic in front of Anderson.
Sharks’ rookie Logan Couture broke the scoreless game with his first career playoff goal midway through the 2nd stanza. The Sharks had a 3 on 2 rush up the ice and utilized the center-lane-drive play. Patrick Marleau brought the puck into the zone on the left wing, Couture drove the center lane to the net, and Dany Heatley positioned himself high on the right side of the ice. When the near-side defenseman started to converge on the puck-carrier (Marleau), having Couture drive the net through the center forced the weak-side defenseman to commit to him, which allowed Heatley to stay high and remain open for a feed from Marleau. Heatley immediately shot the puck toward the net and a smart adjustment by Couture to gain inside position on the defender, allowed him to deflect the puck in the net past Anderson.
Minutes later, on a Sharks’ powerplay, Joe Pavelski scored with a slap shot from the point where Anderson had tripped on the play and was left way out of position. Even with the fortunate break for the Sharks, they simplified their powerplay by shifting forwards down low to create traffic and tie up defenders. Keeping with the consistency of a simple game gave the Sharks their third goal of the period when Douglas Murray made a short pass to Scott Nichol in the neutral zone, who then gained the offensive zone, shot the puck towards the net, a committing Anderson went down as the puck went wide, then caromed off the boards and onto the stick of a streaking Dwight Helminen who scored his first goal of the playoffs. The Avalanche defensemen did not do a good enough job with gap control on Scott Nichol, allowing him easy entry into the zone.
The Sharks had a firm hold on the game as teams entered the 3rd period of play, but the Avalanche came out with some chances early on. Their momentum, however, was stifled by an interference penalty taken by Kyle Quincy and were never really able to mount anymore of a comeback. Midway through the 3rd, in a terrific play to stay onside by Devin Setoguchi, Ryan Clowe rushed into the offensive zone, put the puck off of the pads of Anderson, and Logan Couture tapped in the rebound for his second goal of the game putting his team up 4-0. This was another example of poor rebound control for Craig Anderson; earlier in the series we saw an almost identical play where he was able to kick the puck into the corner rather than into the slot for a rebound chance. Shortly after the goal, a 5 minute charging major taken by Avalanche forward Cody Mcleod ended the night for Craig Anderson who ended up stopping only 29 of the 33 shots faced. Peter Budaj relieved Anderson only to surrender a goal scored by Patrick Marleau. McLellan reunited Thornton, Heatley, and Marleau for the powerplay resulting in Marleau netting his first of the postseason and giving the Sharks more confidence heading back to Denver for Game 6.
Colorado looked tired for most of the game and only had any sort of sustained pressure at the end of the 3rd period resulting in two posts hit keeping the game scoreless. It was great to see the Sharks make adjustments to their game in order to create and capitalize on more scoring opportunities. Also, good coaching by McLellan matching up Heatley-Malholtra-Couture against the offensive line of Tucker-Duchene-Yip – Malholtra won 7 of 8 faceoffs against Matt Duchene. Evgeni Nabokov was able to get into his rhythm, with goals in front of him, he was able to play his game with confidence stopping all 28 shots faced.
Game 6 will be in Denver Saturday night.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Heating Up

Now that most teams have played 4 games in their respective series, the Eastern Conference series leaders have hammer locks while we are now playing best of three out west.
The Capitals and Bruins emerged victorious in their games last night. Alexander Ovechkin finished his night with 2 goals and 1 assist to help the Caps win their 3rd consecutive game against the dwindling Canadiens – the Capitals now lead the series 3 games to 1. Miroslav Satan scored the game-winner in double OT to advance the Bruins’ series lead to 3 games to 1 over the Buffalo Sabres. Both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia hold 3-1 leads over Ottawa and New Jersey respectively, and both teams will look to advance to the next round tonight. Sidney Crosby has been absolutely spectacular for the Pittsburgh Penguins thus far, tallying 4 goals and 7 assists to lead all scorers in the postseason. The Flyers will be battling New Jersey without Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter, both are out with foot injuries and will require surgery.
It’s a much different story in the Western Conference. Last night, the Vancouver Canucks tied their series up against the Los Angeles Kings in a back-and-forth game at the Staples Center – Henrik Sedin was credited with the game-winning goal as the Canucks won the game 6-4. With the exception of Chicago/Nashville, all the series are now tied at 2 games a piece turning them into a best of three. San Jose looks to put the pressure on Colorado tonight, I will be fortunate enough to be in attendance for this game and am excited to give a firsthand report. Phoenix returns home against Detroit as the White Out in Glendale resumes after Detroit shut out Phoenix 3-0 at home two nights ago. Chicago and Nashville face off in a pivotal game 4 with the Predators leading the series 2-1. It is rumored that Brian Campbell may return to the lineup for Chicago after suffering a broken collarbone off a controversial hit from Alexander Ovechkin during the regular season.

Stay tuned for a game report from San Jose!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Boyle Incident

Ok, after having a couple of days to think about the Sharks 1-0 overtime loss in Colorado Sunday night, I feel like I need to comment on Dan Boyle’s errant play on the puck that ended up in the back of his own net. I’ve watched the replay several times and after listening to Brian Engblom’s take on the situation, I’d have to agree with him that this wasn’t Dan Boyle’s fault.
Now, the fact of the matter is that hockey is a team sport. You live as a team, you die as a team. The objective is not to point fingers at players on your team and say that the outcome of the game was one person’s individual fault because, let’s face it, the Sharks had plenty of opportunities to win that hockey game but they failed to convert on them. I don’t think that any of the players in the Sharks’ locker room are blaming Boyle for being down 2-1 in the series, but I know that fans are. I was one of them when I initially saw the play.  The responsibility of that puck staying out of the net is on the goaltender, Evgeni Nabokov. Nabby was caught sleeping on the play as Avalanche forward Ryan O’Reily did indeed get a stick on the puck when Boyle tried playing it behind the net. The angle at which the puck was played was so sharp that there was only a small amount of net that Nabokov had to cover in order to prevent the goal, but he was off the post and not even square to the puck allowing it to squeeze through his pads.
It has been the mental errors of this team that are causing them to lose hockey games. We will see how they respond in the all important Game 4 to tonight at the Pepsi Center. It has been confirmed that Dany Heatley will be back in the lineup tonight.