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.

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