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.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Mon-day Blues

A second period blowup resulted in the Montreal Canadiens finding themselves in a 4-0 hole at the end of 40 minutes and began the 3rd period short handed due to an implosion from the Montreal players. After a strong start to the game, the Canadiens surrendered four goals in the 2nd period, the first coming off a shorthanded rush by Boyd Gordan and Mike Knuble. From there the Caps received goals from Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, and Alexander Ovechkin. Canadiens goaltender Jaroslav Halak was replaced by Carey Price after the 3rd goal from Fehr.

It's amazing how the Canadiens started to self-destruct right after the Boyd Gordan goal, their defensemen started running around in their own zone and giving the Capitals forwards time and space with and without the puck. Teams will not succeed against the Caps by standing still while watching them move the puck - they're too talented. Laich and Ovechkin's goals were virtually identical in the fact that both players made subtle plays to move into the soft areas of the offensive zone giving themselves separation from the defense and just enough time to get off quick shots that ended up in the back of the Montreal net. The Canadiens efforts to entice the Capitals player into taking penalties failed miserably as Washington did an amazing job of keeping their composure, resulting in stupid penalties including a 10 minute misconduct by Scott Gomez and an extra minor penalty for Tomas Plakanec.

A goal by Plakanec on a Montreal powerplay early in the 3rd gave the Canadiens and their fans a shot of life as they cut the deficit to 4-1. However, the Caps thrive on playing games with large leads, and a 3 goal lead is plenty enough to allow them roll their lines and stretch the ice. This resulted in Washington being able to capitalize (no pun intended) on chances taken by the Canadiens and their ability to pull away from the defensive matchups the Canadiens' coaching staff wanted in this game. A goal in the final minute of regulation ended the game with Capitals handily downing the Canadiens 5-1.

One thing the Capitals will look to improve on is their powerplay going 0 for 7 Monday night and are now 0 for 14 on the series. Also, Semyon Varlamov saw his first postseason action stopping 26 of 27 shots. Game 4 will be on Wednesday night at 7pm et on TSN.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Capital Comeback!

Well the Washington Capitals certainly didn't make it easy on themselves or their fans but were able to come from behind to beat the Montreal Canadiens 6-5 in overtime Saturday to even the series at 1-1. Nicklas Backstrom got the game-winning goal just 31 seconds into overtime where he beat Jaroslav Halak high on the glove side for his 3rd goal of the game.

Questions concerning Alex Ovechkin and his lack of presence in Game 1 were answered when Ovie had a goal and added 3 assists helping his team to vicotry. Though he impacted the scoresheet, Ovechkin struggled to get open and place shots on net at first but stepped up his physical presence, immediately contributing to his team's success when coming back from a 4-1 deficit late in the 2nd period. When asked about the adjustments made to his game, Ovechkin stated that he felt more comfortable in this game and stressed the mental importance of the win for his team heading into Game 3.

The Caps outshot the Habs for the second consecutive game, 37 to 24, seemingly solving Montreal's net-minder by beating him high. Caps' starting goaltender Jose Theordore was chased early in the 1st period, surrending goals on the game's first two shots. Semyon Varlamov relieved Theodore and stopped 19 of the 22 shots he faced.

By going up 2-0 early, the Canadiens were able to set the tone and play their game aimed at frustrating the Captial forwards by getting their sticks in shooting lanes and clogging up the center of the ice in their own zone making it difficult for shots to get through. In the offensive zone, the Canadiens focussed on keeping pucks deep and in the Washington corners, much like we saw in Game 1.

Defensive play by the Captials continues to be an area of concern, particularly for Mike Green, where several goals were scored because of his soft plays on the puck. On Canadian forward Andrei Kostitsyn's second goal, Green did not do a good enough job getting back to the net after he was caught out of position on a failed attempt to clear the zone, then did not engage Kostitsyn who was planted in front of the net and scored off of a feed from Mike Cammelleri. When Montreal took the lead late in the 3rd period, Green had a chance to clear the puck to the boards as Cammerlleri and Plekanec we're pressuring, but made a soft play on the puck which allowed Plekanec to move the puck over to Cammelleri then failed to tie up the stick of Plekanac who had an easy tap-in when he got the return feed from Cammelleri. I would hate to be Green during his video meeting.

Washington Head Coach Bruce Boudreau has a tough decision to make when considering who will start in Game 3 on the road in Montreal Monday night. Theodore was drafted by the Canadiens in 1994 and was with the team until the 2005-2006 season so with the hostility he's likely to face by the Montreal crowd and with the mental impact of Saturday night's performance, starting Varlamov doesn't sound like a bad idea.

Despite the worries on the defensive side of play, the Captials' offense seems to have ignited which was the main reason for their success in the regular season. The mental impact this game had on the Canadiens after leading for much of the hockey game remains to be seen but expect even more physicality and grit in Game 3 especially if Glen Metrpolit is back in the lineup for Montreal.

The game can be seen on Versus Tuesday night at 7pm et.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Capital Upset

The Washington Capitals and the hockey world were stunned by the 3-2 overtime loss suffered at Verizon Center Thursday Night. Tomas Plekanac scored in overtime by gaining entry into the Caps' zone, cutting to the middle, and letting a shot go from the high-slot area to beat Jose Theodore. Washington defenseman Joe Corvo was giving Plekanac way too much room to operate once he gained the zone, and seemed to be partially screening Theodore on the play.
The Caps dominated much of the first period outshooting the Habs 19-7 and winning almost every physical battle in all three zones. However, once the second period set in, the Capitals' bad habits came out that had been of concern all season. Montreal seemed to step up the tempo and their forecheck resulting in Capital turnovers and scoring opportunities for the Canadians. One thing (among the many) that the Caps need to do better are line changes in the second period - the long change from the bench to the defensive zone had their defense caught for extended shifts several times. The Capitals are not a good enough team in their own zone for their defense to get stuck on the ice only to turn the puck over and make poor decisions. This problem can also be helped by the wingers giving more support to the defense, giving them an outlet for breakout passes.
The goal scored by Nicklas Backstrom that broke the 1-1 tie very early in the 3rd period brought the fans back into the game and brought out shades of the regular season Capitals. But Canadians goaltender Jaroslav Halak had other ideas and put on a show in net. Halak ended the night with 45 saves on 47 shots. While the shooting continued throughout the rest of the game by the Capitals, the Canadians were winning more and more physical battles, especially in their own zone. The absence of a forecheck directly led to the game-tying goal by Scott Gomez. Gomez was able to carry the puck out of the Habs’ zone unmolested, picking up speed through the neutral zone, dodged a check by both Backstrom and Ovechkin, and then dished the puck to Brian Gionta, before heading to the net for the return feed that made it a 2-2 game.
Wait…Ovechkin?  Alexander Ovechkin? Was that the first time I mentioned his name in this post? Probably because he registered zero shots on goal in his 26-plus minutes of ice time. Hard to believe for the reigning MVP who finished 1st in the regular season with 368 shots on goal, and he also did not factor into the Capitals scoring. So, what do we usually see when Ovechkin is held scoreless? A one-man wrecking machine that punishes every player who touches the puck. That did not happen as well. Double-teamed all game, the Montreal Canadians did a great job with their gap control and placing their sticks in his shooting lanes. Caps head coach Bruce Boudreau called out Ovechkin directly in a post game interview.
“When you get almost 50 shots on goal and Ovechkin doesn’t get any and you have four power plays, there’s something (wrong),” Boudreau said. “They took him away pretty good, but I just didn’t think he was very good tonight.”
I suspect we’ll see a strong response to these comments at Ovechkin when the Caps are back in action Saturday night at Verizon Center.
Now, I have to give credit where credit is due, and the Montreal Canadians played as well as they could have played. I already mentioned the performance of Jaroslav Halak but the Habs’ big named players came through in a very big way. Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez, and Tomas Plekanec all registered points for Montreal and these players knew they would need to play well in this series if they were to make a stand against the heavily favored Capitals. The challenge for Montreal will be if they can sustain this level of play as the series continues.
Expect Scott Walker for Washington to be in the lineup Saturday night to agitate the Montreal defense as I’m sure it was difficult to watch his team from the press-box. The game can be seen on Versus at 7pm et.

Game Notes

Some observations from the games or parts of games, which I watched last night:
Shane Doan was amazing for the Phoenix Coyotes last night – he really sent a message to his teammates that he’s there to compete. Who cares if he’s not scoring goals? Doan was hitting everything and anything that moved. The Coyotes went 3 for 4 on the PP, an area I said they needed to improve on here, and they converted on their chances by keeping their powerplay simple. They got bodies in front and shots from the point on 2 of the PPGs. Ilya Bryzgalov was amazing, as usual, stopping 38 of 40 shots faced. Great start for the Coyotes.
The Pittsburgh Penguins looked like they were going to run away with their first game of the post season, converting on their first powerplay opportunity early in the 1st period on a one-timer form Evgeni Malkin. However, the Ottawa Senators responded with the next 3 goals and really did a good job of setting the tone on the road. A lot of whistles and stoppages took the sold-out Mellon Arena crowd right out of the game which is very frustrating for a home team. The Senators also took advantage of Marc Andre Fluery’s struggle to control rebounds and track the puck. I don’t particularly feel Sens’ goaltender, Brian Elliot, played great – he was just untested. With the offensive power that the Penguins have in their lineup, they need to produce more than 25 shots on goal. Sidney Crosby only had 2 shots on net and Bill Guerin looked awful. I don’t know what reasoning Coach Dan Bylsma had for scratching Mike Rupp, but the Pens needed his energy and physicality in the lineup.
With all the pressure of success in the post-season surrounding the Sharks, an unlucky bounce of the skate of defenseman Rob Blake handed San Jose a loss on home ice against Colorado. I only watched about a period and a half of the game before having to catch the highlights late last night, but I was really impressed at how the Sharks started the game immediately firing every puck on net. Avalanche goalie Craig Anderson, looked very sharp from what I saw but who knows if he can sustain that type of play when fatigue sets in. From the highlights I watched, Devin Setoguchi looked to be the best player on the ice for San Jose, producing an assist and registering 6 shots on goal. The sentiment here in the Bay Area regarding the Sharks is….well, not good.
I only caught about the final 3 minutes of the New Jersey/Philadelphia game, but from the highlights it looked like Brian Boucher was outstanding for Philly. Boucher stopped 23 of 24 shots and despite the Flyers only putting 14 shots on net, they were able to slip 2 passed Martin Brodeur. Ilya Kovalchuk looked a little snake-bitten having trouble putting the puck in the net – if he gets going, the Flyers could be in trouble.

Get ready for some great action tonight with Washington/Montreal and Vancouver/LA.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

And so it begins...

As the second season gets underway tonight, let’s take a quick look at the Eastern Conference matchups:
Washington vs Montreal
We can beat the drum all day about the skilled forwards in the Caps’ arsenal with Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom, and we’ll even throw Knuble in there but what GM George Mcphee has really focused on was filling in the depths of their 3rd and 4th lines with big-bodied players that bang. Jason Chimera, Matt Bradley, David Steckel, and Scott Walker (not very big but known as an agitator) have all been either acquired or developed into forechecking machines that are crucial during playoff runs and will be relied on heavily if the Caps are expected to go deep. Jose Theodore has certainly done a good job down the stretch to eliminate any potential question marks for the Caps in goal. In my opinion, and for many others, the Caps’ Achilles heel lays in their defensive zone play. Mistakes are made often by the Washington defense when they are pressured, checked, and forced into making a sub-optimal decision with the puck. This can be attributed to the aggressive breakout Washington adopts in order to utilize the stretch pass. I suspect Washington will try to limit their aggressive style of play much like we saw in their final regular season meeting against Pittsburgh. Now, how does this affect Montreal? They will not be able to handle the play of Washington in. this matchup The Canadian forwards are not big enough to establish an aggressive enough forecheck to cause the Washington defense to turn the puck over. Halak will have to be stellar to give Montreal a chance.
My prediction: The Capitals sweep the Habs in 4 games.
New Jersey vs Philadelphia
What do you get when you have two of the NHL’s high-premier offensive weapons and a future Hall of Fame goalie? A big problem for the Philadelphia Flyers who, more or less, backed into the playoffs. Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk will be depended on for producing the Devils’ offense, especially on the power-play. New Jersey will have to capitalize on the Flyer’s goaltending, or lack thereof, to overcome the physical game the Flyers bring to the table. Philly will rely on their role players like Dan Carcillo to get under the skin of the Devils’ skill players and force them to take penalties. Expect this matchup to have the nastiness of the old Broadstreet Bullies.
My prediction: New Jersey in 6 games.
Buffalo vs Boston
It’s hard to say which team will emerge victorious in this matchup because of the hot and cold streaks and also injuries these two teams have dealt with all season. Boston could really use Marc Savard and Buffalo could use Tim Connelly in their respective line-ups. This series will come down to goaltending. Tuukka Rask for Boston has had a stellar season after taking over the full-time position from Tim Thomas and Ryan Miller has had a Vezina-caliber season and is the reason the Sabres won the division. Thomas Vanek can be a huge impact for Buffalo’s offensive if what we saw at the end of the season is the Austrian-born winger heating up – Vanek score 5 goals in his final two regular season games.
My prediction: Tough to call but I’m going to say Buffalo in 7.
Pittsburgh vs Ottawa
The Penguins will kickoff their defending Stanley Cup bid against the Ottawa Senators who I think will only be as good as how Spezza and Alfredsson perform. The Sens do not have the depth to allow these two top forwards go cold at the wrong time. The Penguins are stronger than some of the inconsistencies we saw this season. The return of Gino Malkin to the lineup adds a more offensive dynamic to the Penguins’ top six forwards. Also, with a healthy Sergei Gonchar on the blueline, the Pens have the potential to have the most potent power play of any team. There’s no reason to believe Sidney Crosby’s Art Ross caliber performance during the regular season will not continue, we know he can perform and excel when the pressure is on and expect Sid to take his game to another level (scary to think!) if the Pens heat up.
My prediction: Penguins in 5.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Western Matchups

I think we are more likely to see more upsets in the Western Conference playoff matchups because of the strength of each team. The seeding does not necessarily indicate the strength or ability for a team to succeed in the playoffs. We all saw an example of this when the 8th seeded Anaheim Ducks uprooted the top seeded and President Trophy winning San Jose Sharks in the 2009 playoffs. The Ducks, just one season removed from winning the Stanley Cup, had much of the same roster and played with desperation right from the start which caught the Sharks off guard. The Sharks find themselves a #1 seed again this season so let’s start off with their matchup in my Western Conference outlook:

Sharks vs Avalanche

Although no one in San Jose will admit it, they were hoping to face the Avalanche in the first round. Colorado started to fizzle towards the end of the regular season, didn’t quite back-in to a playoff position, but their inexperience and possibly worn-down team is an indicator that they are arguably the weakest team in the playoffs. The Sharks have the ability to overcome last season’s disappointing first-round exit and build momentum against a team like the Avs. I think we’ll see a mentally prepared Sharks team that will come out firing against this young Avalanche squad. A perhaps rested Craig Anderson could start this series really hot but if the Sharks can pepper the goaltender with shots, especially from the blue-line, Anderson could tire. This series doesn’t go without the possibility of this Avalanche team surprising everyone like they did in the regular season. This team is as talented as they come, and when it came time for them to win (on the road against Vancouver to clinch), they came through.

My prediction: The Sharks take the series in 5 games.

Chicago vs Nashville

Question marks in goal for the Blackhawks will prove to be their major obstacle in this first-round matchup against the Predators. You have to think, Head Coach, Joel Quennville will go with Antii Niemi to start the series with the way he finished the regular season for the ‘Hawks, but still, an unproven goaltender is always worrisome for a team with high expectations. I think Chicago lucked out that they did not end up playing a team with more offensive weapons such as the LA Kings or Colorado Avalanche, where if their goaltending woes continue, they could have a major problem. Chicago has a talented group of goal scorers in Kane, Hossa, Toews, Sharp, etc., and these forwards will be relied on to break through the strong defensive system of the Nashville Predators. If they go cold, we could see an early exit for the Blackhawks. The Nashville Predators will rely heavily on their goaltender, Pekka Rinne, who boasts a 2.53 GAA and a .911 save percentage, and their defensive core anchored by Olympic gold medal winner, Shea Weber.

My prediction: If the ‘Hawks forwards go cold and their goaltending gets spotty, we could see an upset here. However, I see the Blackhawks winning this one in 6 games.

Vancouver vs Los Angeles

In what will possibly pan-out to be the most entertaining series offensively, this matchup features a healthy mix of young talent and veteran presence for both teams. The Kings have the potential to make some Canucks fans very angry with an early exit with the veterans up front and their young dynamic players. Ryan Smyth, Michal Handzus, and Justin Williams all have playoff experience to bring to the table for the Kings young forwards – and let’s not forget the playoff experience that shutdown defenseman Rob Scuderi will provide as he has made a trip to the finals each of the past two seasons including one Stanley Cup ring. Then you have to look at the young talent on this team. Captain Dustin Brown is one of the most ferocious forecheckers in the league, Anze Kopitar has been tremendous this season setting career-highs in goals, assists, and points, and how can we forget Drew Doughty and his amazing success as a second-year player finishing the regular season 2nd on the team in scoring and winning a gold medal with team Canada earlier this year. The Canucks will have their work cut out for them.

Vancouver has a cup-caliber team in my opinion. Roberto Luongo proved to the world that he can win against the best players in hockey with his gold medal performance earlier this year. The Canucks have grit in forwards such as Mason Raymond, Alex Burrows, and Ryan Kessler. All three players are seemingly getting better every season under coach Alain Vigneault and can put the puck in the net. The name “Sedin” is not going to sneak up on any team in the post season but it sure makes it difficult when you have to defend against two of them. Had it not been for Daniel’s injury that caused him to miss 19 games, we probably would have seen him with just as many points as brother Henrik at the end of the season. One area for concern for the Canucks is their record on the road, going 19-20-2 on the year.

My prediction: Canucks win in 7 games.

Phoenix vs Detroit

An unfortunate draw for the Phoenix Coyotes has them up against the Detroit Red Wings. I touched on the difficulties of playing Detroit in an earlier post but with the goaltending we've seen from Ilya Brizgolov, you can bet that Mike Babcock and the Wings are not looking past this year's surprise team. Detroit is rich with playoff veterans and know exactly what it takes for a championship run reaching the finals the previous two seasons and winning 16 of their last 21 games to finished the season in a surprising 5th seed. The big question mark for Detroit is, like other teams, their goaltending. Rookie Jimmy Howard will most likely get the nod by Babcock but if he falters, will Chris Osgood have what it takes to bail him out?

My prediction: Detroit wins in 6 games.

Photo from

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Playoff Picture

The playoff picture is set. Out west the match-ups are as follows

#1 San Jose vs #8 Colorado

#2 Chicago vs #7 Nashville

#3 Vancouver vs #6 Los Angeles

#4 Phoenix vs #5 Detriot

In the Eastern Conference, Ollie Jokinen failed to score in the shootout for the New York Rangers who lost 2-1 to the Philadelphia Flyers Sunday afternoon giving the final playoff spot to Philly. With the win, the Flyers moved up to the 7th seed and Montreal fell to 8th. Here are the matchups:

#1 Washington vs #8 Montreal

#2 New Jersey vs #7 Philadelphia

#3 Buffalo vs #6 Boston

#4 Pittsburgh vs #5 Ottawa

Over the next couple of days I will try and give my analysis of each playoff matchup including which series have upset potential.

Steven Stamkos and Sidney Crosby each finished the regular season with 51 goals for a 2-way tie for the Rocket Richard trophy - Alexander Ovechkin finished the season with 50. Henrik Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks finished the season 1st overall in points with 112 points to win his first Art Ross trophy.

Image courtesy of

Saturday, April 10, 2010

As The Season Winds Down...

The New York Rangers are halfway there. Their 4-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers Friday night was just step 1 of 2 for them to receive a bid to this year's Stanley Cup playoffs. Montreal, Boston, and Philly were all able to clinch a playoff birth with a Ranger's loss had it not been for Marion Gaborik's unassisted goal late in the 2nd period that beat Brian Boucher over his catching-glove. Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger, could not handle a bouncing puck in the neutral-zone then made an errant pass that was stolen by Gaborik and put home for his 42nd goal of the season. If Montreal wins tonight against the Maple Leafs then the Rangers and Flyers will battle it out Sunday in Philly to determine which team gets the 8th and final playoff seed. if Montreal loses their game, then the Flyers could advance to the post season with an overtime loss to the Rangers Sunday. Bottom line is that the playoff picture will not be set until Sunday afternoon.

The Boston Bruins clinched a playoff berth with their 4-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes earlier today. The Bruins had shorthanded goals from Daniel Paille, Blake Wheeler, and Steve Begin all on the same penalty-kill 1:04 apart while defenseman Matt Hunwick sat in the box for hooking. The goals set an NHL record for quickest shorthanded goals and the most shorthanded goals scored on one penalty-kill. The Bruins will close out their regular season against the Washington Capitals Sunday at 12pm et on NBC.

Here's highlights from Modano's last game in Dallas. Its kind of long but very emotional.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Thursday Wrap-up:

The NCAA Frozen Four saw two blowout games as Wisconsin trounced the Tigers of RIT 8-1 and BC wiped up Miami 7-1. Wisconsin just dominated RIT for the entire game while we saw more of the tight checking physical game that was expected at the start of the BC/Miami game. Boston College score on 2 of their first 3 power play opportunities. Early in the 3rd period, Miami closed the gap to 3-1 but an onslaught of soft goals put the game well out of reach for the Redhawks. This is the 4th time in the last 5 seasons that Miami had their season ended by BC. The National Championship game between Wisconsin and BC will be played tomorrow night at 7pm et on ESPN2.
The National Hockey League saw 9 games in action Thursday night, a loss by Montreal and a win by Boston moves the Bruins up into 6th and demotes the Canadians to 7th place in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. The Pittsburgh Penguins concluded their regular season home schedule with a win against the New York Islanders 7-3, Sidney Crosby took the lead in the Rocket Richard race netting his 49th goal of the season. Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning, tied Alex Ovechkin for 2nd place in the Richard race, plotting his 48th goal on the year in a 4-3 shootout win at home against the Ottawa Senators.
Out west, the Dallas Stars edged the Anaheim Ducks in a 3-2 shootout win as the Dallas fans saw what could be Mike Modano’s last game at American Airlines Arena. Modano had a goal and an assist including the game-tying goal near the end of regulation – he also added a goal in the shootout. The San Jose Sharks extended their lead for 1st place in the conference by beating the Vancouver Canucks at home 4-2, Joe Thornton had the eventual game-winning goal and was a plus 2. 76 penalty minutes were amassed between the two teams in the 3rd period as things got a little heated on the ice. The Sharks conclude their regular season at home Saturday night against the Phoenix Coyotes.
The game to watch tonight: The New York Rangers play host to the Philadelphia Flyers in a must-win game to keep their playoff hopes alive. The Rangers need to win tonight and Sunday against the Flyers with at least one of those wins in regulation in order to clinch the final playoff spot.   

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Frozen Four

The NCAA Frozen Four gets underway this evening at Detroit’s Ford Field. The votes (though few) are in and it seems that the majority think the Miami Redhawks will be crowned National Champs. The Redhawks, who look to redeem themselves for last year’s stunning loss to Boston University, take on the high powered offense of Boston College who are coming off a 9 goal performance against Yale two weeks ago. Miami will rely on a tight-checking physical game like we saw against Michigan in order to avoid having their season ended by BC for the 4th time in the last 5 seasons.
The Wisconsin Badgers are seeking their seventh national title will faceoff against the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) Tigers, this being the Tigers’ first Frozen Four appearance in their 5th season at the Division I level. RIT has upset top seeded Denver University and New Hampshire in the preliminary rounds, but have their hands full against this very talented Wisconsin squad. With 4 of the 5 top scorers for Wisconsin being NHL draft-picks, they are my pick to win this year’s national title.

My predictions for this round:
Wisconsin         4
RIT                   1
Miami               3
BC                    2 (OT)
Coverage can be seen on ESPN2 beginning at 5pm et.

Photo is from

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Here's the shootout goal by Matt Duchene from last night. I like the celey.

'Super Tuesday'

Tuesday's action concluded with the 8th and final Western Conference playoff spot clinched by the Colorado Avalanche. After the Flames fell 2-1 to the Sharks, Avalanche rookie forward Matt Duchene scored the only goal in the shootout on Roberto Luongo to seal the deal for his team. How about the huge confidence boost for this kid? At 19 years old, with a chance for his team to come back from the worse point total in the Western Conference a season ago, he faces Roberto Luongo of all goalies, and buries with a spectacular deke and perfect puck placement to the top corner. Now with seeding up for grabs, head coach Joe Sacco has to think about resting his number one goaltender, Craig Anderson. The Avs have three games left on their schedule including their final regular season game at home Sunday afternoon against the Los Angeles Kings, which could determine who they play in the first round.
The Eastern Conference saw all three Rocket Richard candidates score goals which put Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin in a tie for first place with 48 goals each, and Steven Stamkos sits one goal behind at 47. Crosby’s Penguins suffered a 6-3 loss at home against Ovechkin’s Capitals and Stamkos’ Lightning were shelled on home ice 8-5 by the Carolina Hurricanes. More to come on the race for the Rocket.
As far as Tuesday’s impact on the Eastern Conference playoff picture: the Flyers jumped over idle Boston into the 7th seed with 86 points and the Rangers failed to gain two points against the Sabres, and currently sit on the outside with 82 points. The Rangers are back in action tonight in a crucial game against the Maple Leafs, a win would keep them in 9th place but would ensure a playoff birth if they can sweep the Flyers in their home and home series Friday and Sunday. Atlanta suffered a crippling loss against the Devils last night which all but knocks them out of the playoff hunt – any points by Boston their 3 remaining games would mathematically eliminate the Thrashers from playoff contention.
Check out the Rangers vs Maple Leafs tonight on Versus at 7pm et.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Flames or Avalanche?

I've been wavering back and forth with whether or not the Calgary Flames will make the post season. Two nights ago I tweeted that they will not. The observation was made after watching their game in Chicago Sunday against the Blackhawks. The Flames were dominated for pretty much all of the game and did not seem to be playing with any sense of urgency. Jerome Iginla was a minus two with only one shot on net and Mikka Kipprusoff let in some questionable goals most notably the snipe by Patrick Kane from the perimeter.

Its simple, if the Flames lose at home against the Sharks and the Avalanche win in regulation on the road against the Canucks then its game over for Calgary. Both teams are in action tonight. The recent faltering Avalanche are coming off an OT victory against the Sharks but have lost the red hot Peter Mueller to a concussion. The Avs are a young group of kids with a clearly exhausted goaltender in Craig Anderson. Anderson has never played more than 31 games in the NHL in a single season and is now at 69 games. 2 things the Avs have going for them right now are:

1. They hold the 8th seed and are in control of their own fate.
2. They have a game in hand against the Flames.

It is these two reason that I think the Avs will make the cut and send the Flames packing. We'll see how 'Super Tuesday' plays out!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Against All Odds: The Phoenix Coyotes

We all love the Cinderella role that teams take on when entering their season’s playoff run. These underdogs take the form of a heart-driven team that overcame the odds and surpassed expectations in a pursuit to defy what the majority anticipated. We’re currently a witness to Butler’s Cinderella run towards a NCAA men’s basketball national championship and we saw what the Arizona Cardinals accomplished in the 2009 NFL playoffs but another diamond has emerged in Glendale Arizona: The Phoenix Coyotes.

Written off for dead before the season was even underway, the Phoenix Coyotes filed for bankruptcy before the conclusion of the 2008-2009 season. Their then coach, Wayne Gretzky, resigned due to the conflicts faced as an owner of the team, talks of a move to Canada filled the media circuits and the team was sold to the NHL before training camp started. On September 24th 2009, Dave Tippett, took over as head coach for the team fresh off an ousting from Dallas after the Stars miss the playoffs for the first time since he took over as head coach in 2002. Tippett made controversial moves sending prospects Viktor Tikhonov, Mikkel Boedker, and Kyle Turris down to San Antonio of the AHL. These prospects were slated to be the future of the team and thought of by many, including General Manager Don Maloney, as an immediate need for this team to compete this season. Tippett’s thought process was to let these players develop and gain confidence at the AHL level instead of relying on them for too much too early in their NHL careers.

Through the first 25 games of the season, the Coyotes went 13-11-1 maybe doing slightly better than what people expected. The next 25 games, however, saw the ‘Yotes achieve a 15-6-4 record accumulating 34 points of a possible 50 during the span. Phoenix, all of a sudden, had confidence to build on. A 9-game win streak after the Olympic break and some brilliant Trade Deadline acquisitions in Lee Stempniak, Wojtek Wolski, and Derek Morris had the Coyotes cruising towards the top of the divisions and clinching a playoff spot on March 27th. Now, with 3 games remaining in the regular season and a chance, though remote, for the team to take over the top spot in the conference, the Coyotes look to the post season and I started to evaluate whether or not they actually have what it takes to win the Stanley Cup.

What needs to happen for this team to win?

First and foremost their powerplay needs to improve. They currently rank 28th in the league at 15.1% and we all know how hard goals are to come by during the post-season so special teams is a very important aspect to a team’s success.

Veterans need to play their role whether it being the best player on the ice or most inspirational in the room. Captain Shane Doan’s goal-drought is now at 25-games and although it hasn’t affected much of the team’s overall success, once the post-season begins and pressure sets in, he’s going to have to lead by example and start putting goals up on the board. Defensemen Adrian Aucoin, Ed Jovanovski, and Mathieu Schneider will be relied on to anchor the blue-line with veteran presence, hard hitting, and shot blocking.

Coyotes’ Strengths

It all starts and ends with goaltending. Ilya Bryzgalov has been, in my opinion, fantastic. Currently tied for 1st in the league with 8 shutouts, the 6’3 Russian goaltender has playoff experience including a Game 7 win and back to back shutouts in 2003 as well as success in the ’07 playoffs with Anaheim. In this being his 8th NHL season, he is having a career year in games played, goals against average, shutouts, and saves all legitimatizing his candidacy for a Vezina Trophy. If I’m a player in the Phoenix Coyotes’ dressing room, I’m confident in my starting goaltender and a believer that he gives us a chance to win every night he’s between the pipes.

The NHL trade deadline proved to be a great success with the acquisitions of Lee Stempniak and Wojtek Wolski. I’m not sure what’s in the water in Phoenix, or if the desert has these kids thirsty, but Stempniak has lit the lamp 13 times in the 15 games he’s been with the ‘Yotes and Wolski has 14 points in 15 games with his new squad. Now imagine if Doan can get his game back on track and these two players continue their offensive assaults – I wouldn’t be too happy facing them in the first round.

Possible 1st Round Opponents

With the difficult regular season that remains (home against Nashville, at LA, and at San Jose) the Coyotes will most likely finish 4th in the Western Conference and will take on the 5th seeded team. Seeding is still up for grabs but it’s possible they’ll draw Nashville, Los Angeles, or Detroit in the first round. I can tell you that all the #1-4 teams do NOT want to draw Detroit in first round. Well-coached and well-versed with playoff experience, they’ll no doubt be a tough first round opponent for whoever faces them. Taking on LA in round one would be an interesting and exciting matchup with both teams having young rosters sprinkled with some veteran talent. The Coyotes are 2-2-1 thus far in the season series with one final game to be played in LA on Thursday night. If the Coyotes take on Nashville in round one, we could be treated to a defensive-minded series with a solid goaltending duel between Pekka Rinne and Ilya Bryzgalov.

It’s hard to say if the Coyotes have what it takes to make it deep into the post-season, if they don’t draw Detroit in the 1st round, I would expect to see them in round 2. Either way, there’s one thing these players can keep in their minds: they have nothing to lose. No one expected them to succeed in the regular season and look what they’ve accomplished. It’s clear that the players wanted the franchise to stay in Phoenix and you can be sure that this Cinderella story will end with a standing ovation whether its from a series loss, or hoisting the Stanley Cup.

Don't worry, Calgary is still not making the playoffs...the list is coming soon.

Quick Notes

I guess the Rangers weren't too happy with Mike Babcock's decision to start Osgood for the first time since Jan 27th in their game against the Red Wings. The Flyers skated to a 4-3 victory Sunday afternoon and gave themselves a little breathing room.

Calgary failed to gain 2 points against the Hawks Sunday and with an Avalanche overtime victory against San Jose, they find themselves further on the outside with few games remaining.

Coming up list of why the Calgary Flames will be hitting the links next week instead of competing for Lord Stanley's Cup.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Time for the best goals of the week!

How about Zach Parise's goal at #3? The net presence of this kid is very impressive.

Martin St. Lous' goal at #1 is a little man making a big man's play. How many times have we seen a player like Ryan Getzlaf use their big frame to create space and drive the net - very impressive.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Saturday Notables

Three big wins in the East tonight as Boston beat Toronto in OT, Montreal blanked Buffalo 3-0, and the New York Rangers made it 3 in a row as they took down the Florida Panthers.

Montreal and Boston keep their hold on 6th and 7th place respectively but add 2 more points their season totals. New York is now tied with Philadelphia for the 8th and final spot but still remain on the outside due to the number of wins Philadelphia has over NY. Philly faces off against Detroit tomorrow at 12pm et on NBC to try and stop the bleeding.

Stay tuned for how Sunday's games play out and shake up the playoff picture especially with both Calgary and Colorado in action. Also, look forward to my analysis on the NCAA Frozen Four and who I think will emerge as this year's National Champion.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Friday Night Action

A couple of noteworthy situations happening in the show tonight:

The Avalanche and Flames are battling out a pivotal game in Colorado. A Flames loss clinches playoff berths for Vancouver and Nashville. The Canucks can also clinch with a win or overtime loss against the Ducks tonight in Anaheim.

The Flyers continue to shoot themselves in the foot dropping their second game in as many nights against the Canadians and as this post is being written, the Rangers are holding a 3rd period lead against the Lightning. Bad news for the Flyers after watching Montreal leap over them in the standings, they'll face-off against the scorching Red Wings Sunday on NBC as the Wings look to make it 8 wins in a row. Their playoff fate will come down to their final two games of the season against the Rangers but look for Philadelphia to fall short.

One final note while watching the Blackhawks and Devils tonight in an exciting shootout win by Chicago, is that you have to think Joel Quenneville will go with Antii Niemi for the rest of the regular season and into the playoffs. Niemi stopped 32 of 33 shots and had 3 saves in the shootout to keep his team in the fight to the end. These are the kinds of games, especially on the road, that players and the coaching staff will gain confidence in their goaltender.

Thursday, April 1, 2010 goes a little more in depth regarding the tough path down the stretch for Atlanta. Story here.