Monday, July 16, 2012

A Minor Among Majors

It may be the middle of summer and hockey may be the furthest thing from most people’s minds, however for 43 of the best under 17 players in Atlantic Canada, that statement couldn’t be further from the truth. Starting on Sunday July 15th in Antigonish, Nova Scotia the evaluation process begins for Team Atlantic’s entry to the 2013 World Under 17 Hockey Challenge.
Of the players invited, 35 come from Major Midget programs in the region and 7 from prep schools in Canada and the United States. The last remaining player comes from the PEI Minor Midget Hockey League. It is not too often that a minor midget player is invited to this particular camp but it does show that the leagues around Atlantic Canada are being watched and that if you are good enough you will be found.
Campbell Gallant is among the invitees and the lone minor midget player at the camp. He spent last season with the Mid-Isle Matrix program, where I had the pleasure of being his coach. Campbell finished tied for 2nd in team scoring and 3rd league wide, compiling 23 goals and 49 points.
With a knack for scoring big goals, Gallant scored 4 of the most important goals in Mid-Isle’s season. En route to a SPUD Tournament victory, he scored the overtime winner in the semi final against Halifax. During the last 2 games of the Provincial Finals Campbell scored both game winners and tallied 9 points overall including a 4 goal performance in the clinching game. The last goal of Gallants season proved to be the game winner again, this time at the Atlantic Minor Midget Championships.
No stranger to representing his Province, Campbell played for PEI at the Atlantic Challenge Cup at the Under 14, 15 and 16 levels. He was an assistant captain the last two years. He represented the PEI Rocket at the Quebec International Peewee Tournament and played in several tournaments in North America as part of the Andrews Hockey Program.
Having seen Campbell play for a couple years and coaching him last season the one thing that sticks out is his incredible release on his shot. The puck seems to explode off his stick and goalies rarely have time to react. Along with his shot Campbell believes his strength is his speed and the ability to fore-check aggressively. He believes that committing to an intense fitness program the last two summers has allowed him to bring his overall game to another level.
“I am trying to work on the mental aspects of the game” says Gallant “trying to learn how to be mentally prepared for every situation.” This statement shows to me that the one area I saw as room for improvement has already been identified by Campbell and he has begun working towards making it a strength. If he commits to improving the mental areas as well as he does with his off ice training and his on ice improvements there is no telling how far Campbell can go.
Gallant’s long term goals are to “hopefully get drafted by a QMJHL team or maybe play for a great school like UPEI someday” he says “but if I continue to work hard and try to improve everyday, who knows where the sport may take me.”
With the under 17 camp next week and another hockey season just around the corner, Campbell wants to make a good impression on the coaching staff next week with his speed and team play and follow it up by filling a major role with the Charlottetown Islanders of the NB-PEI Major Midget League. “I see my self as a power forward type with scoring ability,” said Campbell “and that’s the role I hope to fill with the Islanders next season.” Most people would think a player coming from minor midget would be happy with just being invited to the under 17 camp, not this player “for now I have my mind set on making team Atlantic” said Gallant.
Team Atlantic summer evaluation runs from July 15-19 and continues during the first part of next season. The roster will be announced shortly after the Monctonian Midget AAA Tournament in November. The World Under 17 Hockey Challenge takes place December 28-January 4 in Victoriaville and Drummondville, Quebec. The tournament consists of 5 Canadian teams and 5 International teams.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

QMJHL Entry Draft

The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League held its annual Midget Draft in Quebec City on Saturday. The 18 teams in the league selected players from Quebec, Atlantic Canada and Northeastern United States, even 2 players from Ontario were selected.
The expansion Sherbrooke Phoenix held the first overall pick and selected Daniel Audette from College Esther-Blondin of the Quebec Midget AAA league. Audette is the son of former NHL player Donald, who played for 6 teams from 1990-2004. The Esther-Blondin Phenix finished the season as National Runner-Up and were led by Daniel's 17 points in 7 games at the Telus Cup. At 5'7.5" and 166 pounds, Audette will be the offensive force driving the Sherbrooke team through their first couple of years.
Selection 2 belonged to the PEI Rocket and they added 6'2" Alexis Pepin from Quebec's Charles-Lemoyne Midget team. the 196 pounder will fit nicely into the young core of Rocket players. Cape Breton selected St. John's Pennecon Privateer Clark Bishop with the third overall pick. Cape Breton is in a rebuilding stage and the Newfoundlander's skating ability and offensive instincts may allow him to play right away.
The next 2 picks were used on defenceman as Gatineau selected Alexandre Carrier from Antoine-Girouard and Baie-Comeau picked Loik Leveille from St-Eustace both from Quebec. Carrier is 5'10.5" and 165 while Leveille stands 5'11" and 199.
In all 254 players were selected with the majority coming from Quebec with 162. The U.S produced 37 picks. Nova Scotia led the way for Atlantic provinces with 24 selections followed by New Brunswick with 12, Newfoundland with 9 and Prince Edward Island with 8. 2 players were selected from Magog in Ontario.
Their were a number of trades made over the weekend with the majority of them being draft picks for draft picks, however their is one worth mentioning. Shawinigan traded Memorial Cup hero Anton Zlobin, who scored both goals in the final including the overtime winner, to Val-d'Or. In exchange the Cataractes received Yan Dumontier and 3 draft picks, a second and third round selection this year plus a first round pick at the Import draft. Zlobin is a 1993 born player while Dumontier is a year younger.
The 2012-13 season promises to be a very exciting and competitive year. With last seasons powerhouses all losing top players the spotlight will most likely shift to Halifax and shine on 2011 first overall pick Nathan MacKinnon.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Final NHL Draft Rankings

With the Draft Combine wrapping up this weekend, junior and college hockey completed for another season and the Stanley Cup playoffs set to wrap up over the next week or so, it is time to take a look ahead to the draft on June 22-23 in Pittsburgh. Sarnia Sting, Nail Yakupov still tops the list, however the rankings after him have changed and in some cases dramatically.
Among new comers to the list Teuvo Teravainen ranks highest at #8. Starting the season on Jokerit's Junior club Teravainen finished up in the SM-Liiga scoring 18 points in 40 games. 8 points in 6 games at the World Under 18 tournament also helped Teravainen draft status. Henrik Samuelsson finds himself on our top 30 list as well as he is ranked 18th largely in part to his strong showing at the Memorial Cup (5 points in 4 games) and throughout the WHL playoffs for the Edmonton Oil Kings. The son of former NHL defence man Ulf Samuelsson, Henrik left Modo of the Swedish Elite league to come to Edmonton halfway through the season.
The top ranked defenceman is Everett Silvertip Ryan Murray. After his WHL team bowed out in a 4 game sweep, Murray was invited to represent his country at the World Hockey Championships as Canada's 7th defence man. With very little playing time, just being asked to play at the senior international level vaulted Murray to #2 on our list. Malcolm Subban of the Belleville Bulls is the top ranked goaltender for the draft. Subban is the younger brother of Montreal's P.K..
The Edmonton Oilers hold the 1st overall pick for the third straight year and really need defence man. Nail Yakupov might be to enticing to pass up on and would most certainly fit in with the Oilers young crop of forwards. Past #1 picks Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall both made the NHL the season they were drafted.
Here is our list of top 30 NHL prospects for the Draft. Previous ranking is in parenthesis.

1. Nail Yakupov (1) LW --> Sarnia, OHL
2. Ryan Murray (5) D --> Everett, WHL
3. Filip Forsberg (4) RW --> Leksands, SWE
4. Mikhail Grigorenko (2) RW --> Quebec, QMJHL
5. Matt Dumba (3) D --> Red Deer, WHL
6. Alex Galchenyuk (11) RW --> Sarnia, OHL
7. Morgan Reilly (7) D --> Moose Jaw, WHL
8. Teuvo Teravainen (NR) LW --> Jokerit, FIN
9. Griffin Reinhart (10) D --> Edmonton, WHL
10. Cody Ceci (18) D --> Ottawa, OHL
11. Jacob Trouba (6) D -->USNTDP, U18
12. Sebastien Collberg (12) RW --> Vastra, SWE
13. Brendan Gaunce (8) C --> Belleville, OHL
14. Olli Maata (9) D --> London, OHL
15. Matt Finn (14) D --> Guelph, OHL
16. Radek Faksa (15) LW --> Kitchener, OHL
17. Hampus Lindholm (27) RW --> Rogle, SWE
18. Henrik Samuelsson (NR) RW --> Edmonton, WHL
19. Derick Pouliot (16) D --> Portland, WHL
20. Malcolm Subban (21) G --> Belleville, OHL
21. Pontus Aberg (13) LW --> Djurgarden, SWE
22.Thomas Hertl (19) LW --> Slavia, CZE
23. Zemgus Girgensons (20) C --> Dubuque, USHL
24. Thomas Wilson (NR) RW --> Plymouth, OHL
25. Colton Sissons (NR) C --> Kelowna, WHL
26. Ludvig Bystrom (NR) D --> Modo, SWE
27. Phillip Di Guiseppe (28) LW --> Michigan, CCHA
28. Slater Koekkoek (24) D --> Peterborough, OHL
29. Martin Frk (29) RW --> Halifax, QMJHL
30. Andrei Vasilevski (17) G --> Ufa, KHL

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Predicting Winner's IS Rocket Science

After round 1 of these 2012 playoffs most "experts" were left scratching their heads. Like myself, Pittsburgh and Vancouver were the consensus pick to meet in the Stanley Cup Final. At the time it appeared to be a smart and safe pick, I mean with Vancouver being the best team in the NHL all year and the Penguins getting the best player in the world back a few games before the playoffs, who could argue. Well I guess Claude Giroux and Jonathan Quick strongly disagreed as they were instrumental in the upsets.

My overall predicting ability for round 1 proved that I am no "Rocket Scientist" , as I picked only 3 teams correctly. Nashville got by Detroit much easier than I expected as I figured that series would go the distance and on the flip side I thought New Jersey would finish up in 5 with Florida. Got the teams right but not the games. The closest to a perfect prediction I produced was New York, it took them 7 when I thought 6.

So if you are a person who likes to place wagers on sports (good thing I am not), maybe ignoring the rest of this article or picking the opposite of what I am about to share will be a great idea. However, here it goes.

St. Louis Blues vs. LA Kings:
Schedule: Sat April 28, Mon April 30, Thurs May 3, Sun May 6, Tues May 8, Thurs May 10, Sat May 12.
Head to Head: St. Louis 1-2-1 L.A. 3-1-0
Top Scorers Round 1: St. Louis was led by Andy MacDonald (4-4-8) and Patrik Berglund (3-4-7)
Dustan Brown (4-1-5) led the Kings and J. Williams and A. Kopitar each had 4 points.
Goaltenders: St. Louis: Brian Elliott 3-0, 1.37 GAA and a .949 Save Percentage
L.A.: Jonathan Quick 4-1, 1.59 GAA and a .953 Save Percentage
Special Teams: St. Louis Power Play 33.3% (6/18) and Penalty Kill 88.2% (15/17)
L.A. Power Play 11.5% (3/26) and Penalty Kill 85.7% (18/21)
Notes: This should be a goaltenders duel, as both teams are very defensive minded. With Jaroslav Halak missing at least the first 2 games, Brian Elliott has the reigns for the Blues. Both teams have a stud on the blue line as Drew Doughty leads all Kings players in ice time at 26:32 and St. Louis counters with Alex Pietrangelo and his 26:15 of ice time.
Prediction: St. Louis Blues in 6

Phoenix Coyotes vs. Nashville Predators
Schedule: Fri April 27 (Phx won 4-3 in OT), Sun April 29, Wed May 2, Fri May 4, Mon May 7, Wed May 9, Fri May 11.
Head to Head: Phoenix 2-1-1 Nashville 2-2-0
Top Scorers (thru game 1): Phoenix: Rostislav Klesla (2-4-6) and Antoine Vermette (4-2-6)
Nashville: Alexander Radulaov (1-4-5), Legwand and Bourque have 4 points each.
Goaltenders: Phoenix: Mike Smith 5-2, 1.91 GAA and a .947 Save Percentage
Nashville: Pekka Rinne 4-2, 2.09 GAA and a .929 Save Percentage.
Special Teams: Phoenix Power Play 22.7% (5/22) and Penalty Kill 91.7% (22/24)
Nashville Power Play 11.1% (3/27) and Penalty Kill 80.8% (21/26)
Notes: This should be another goaltenders battle as Mike Smith and Pekka Rinne have been front and center in their teams success. Nashville has the bigger names, (Weber, Suter, Radulov) but Phoenix has been getting contributions from everyone all year, led by Ray Whitney, who happened to score the OT winner in game 1. Nashville's top power play from the regular season needs to get on track as the Coyotes penalty kill is tops in the playoffs.
Prediction: Nashville in 7

New York Rangers vs. Washington Capitals
Schedule: Sat April 28, Mon April 30, Wed May 2, Sat May 5, Mon May 7, Wed May 9, Sat May 12.
Head to Head: 2-2-0 Split
Top Scorers Round 1: New York: Brad Richards (2-3-5) 4 others with 4 points
Washington: Alex Ovechkin (2-3-5) B. Laich and N. Backstrom have 4 points each.
Goaltenders: New York: Henrik Lundqvist 4-3, 1.70 GAA and .945 Save Percentage
Washington: Braden Holtby 4-3, 2.00 GAA and a .940 Save Percentage
Special Teams: New York Power Play 15.6% (5/32) and Penalty Kill 84.6% (22/26)
Washington Power Play 15.8% (3/19) and Penalty Kill 91.3% (21/23)
Notes: Holtby put up Lundqvist like numbers in round 1and will need to continue to do so for the Caps to have a chance. New York has a stronger defense led by Girardi (28:03 TOI) and McDonagh (26:21 TOI). This will be a tight series as both teams went the distance in tightly contested series. Washington played 7 one goal games against last years champs.
Prediction: Rangers in 7

Philadelphia Flyers vs. New Jersey Devils
Schedule: Sun April 29, Tues May 1, Thurs May 3, Sun May 6, Tues May 8, Thurs May 10, Sat May 12.
Head to Head: Philadelphia 3-2-1 and New Jersey 3-3-0
Top Scorers Round 1: Flyers: Claude Giroux (6-8-14) and Daniel Briere (5-3-8)
New Jersey: Travis Zajac (3-3-6) Kovalchuk and Clarkson each have 5 points.
Goaltenders: Flyers: Ilya Bryzgalov 4-2, 3.89 GAA and .871 Save Percentage
New Jersey: Martin Brodeur 4-2, 2.06 GAA and .922 Save Percentage
Special Teams: Flyers Power Play 52.2% (12/23) and Penalty Kill 69% (20/29)
New Jersey Power Play 20% (5/25) and Penalty Kill 66.7% (18/27)
Notes: Currently the Devils have the advantage in goal, if Bryzgalov can get his act together and not lose games for Philadelphia this will be an entertaining series. The winner could be decided by who stays out of the penalty box. The Flyers PP shredded Pittsburgh for 12 goals and the Devils clipped along at 20%. Both teams were lousy on the PK in round 1. Philly scored 30 goals in round 1 and Claude Giroux emerged as a great leader as he willed the Flyers the second round.
Prediction: Philadelphia in 6

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

West Playoffs: Preview and Picks

#1 Vancouver Canucks vs #8 Los Angeles Kings
Schedule: Game 1: Wednesday April 11, Game 2: Friday April 13, Game 3: Sunday April 15, Game 4: Wednesday April 18, Game 5: Sunday April 22, Game 6: Tuesday April 24, Game 7: Thursday April 26.

By The Numbers
Head To Head: Vancouver 2-1-1 L.A. 2-2-0
Vancouver Canucks: Special Teams, Power Play 4th (19.8%) and Penalty Kill 6th (86.0%)
Goals For per Game 3.0 (5th) and Goals Against per Game 2.4 (4th)
Los Angeles Kings: Special Teams, Power Play 17th (17.0%) and Penalty Kill 4th (87.0%)
Goals For per Game 2.4 (29th) and Goals Against per Game 2.2 (2nd)
Players to Watch
Vancouver: Henrik Sedin (14G-67A-81P) and Daniel Sedin (30G-37A-67P) Looks like Daniel will be ready for Game 1. Still waiting for the Sedin's to dominate the playoffs. Alex Burrows (28G-24A-52P) Third member of Sedin line, Sedin's take the majority of the defensive coverage allowing Burrows room to work. Ryan Kesler (22G-27A-49P) Dominated round 2 last year then took on a defensive role in rounds 3 and 4. Could be the difference if he plays all 4 rounds this year like the Nashville series last year. Roberto Luongo (31-14-8) and Cory Schneider (20-8-1) Luongo will start game 1 but we will see Schneider at some point in the playoffs. This could be the make or break point for Luongo's future with Canucks, Schneider is ready to be #1.
Los Angeles: Jonathan Quick (35-21-13) The only reason L.A. is in the playoffs. Will be in the running for the Vezina. Needs to be spectacular for the Kings to have a chance. Anze Kopitar (25G-51A-76P) The offensive leader on an offensively challenged team. Mike Richards (18G-26A-44P) Been through the battles with Philadelphia, plays in all situations. Needs to produce points.
~ Jeff Carter (LA) and Daniel Sedin (Vancouver) should be ready for game 1.
~ Vancouver's defence is better than last years with a healthy Dan Hamhuis and an improved Alex Edler
Vancouver Canucks in 5. L.A. can't score. Vancouver can. Yes Jonathan Quick could steal a few games but so could the 2 goalies at the other end. Vancouver is to deep at all positions.

#2 St. Louis Blues vs #7 San Jose Sharks
Schedule: Game 1: Thursday April 12, Game 2: Saturday April 14, Game 3: Monday April 16, Game 4: Thursday April 19, Game 5: Saturday April 21, Game 6: Monday April 23, Game 7: Wednesday April 25.

By The Numbers
Head To Head: St. Louis 4-0-0 San Jose 0-4-0
St. Louis: Special Teams, Power Play 19th (16.7%) and Penalty Kill 7th (85.8%)
Goals For per Game 2.6 (21st) and Goals Against per Game 2.0 (1st)
San Jose: Special Teams, Power Play 2nd (21.1%) and Penalty Kill 29th (76.9%)
Goals For per Game 2.8 (13th) and Goals Against per Game 2.6 (8th)
Players To Watch
St. Louis: Jaroslav Halak (26-12-7) and Brian Elliot (23-10-4) Goalies shared the load all year, will be interesting to see what Hitchcock does for the Playoffs. Suspect it will be status quo. David Backes (24G-30A-54P) Led team in scoring and is a defensive leader as well. Name is mentioned in the Selke discussions. Alex Pietrangelo (12G-39A-51P) Thriving under Hitchcock's system, strong in his own end and can put up points as well.
San Jose: Logan Couture (31G-34A-65P) Coming out party was last season, needs to continue to produce at crucial times. Joe Thornton (18G-59A-77P) Still puts up numbers but not so much in playoffs. Doesn't need to be the go to guy anymore. Patrick Marleau (30G-34A-64P) Consistency tends to be Marleau's problem in the playoffs, can be amazing one night and disappear the next. Joe Pavelski (31G-30A-61P) Needs to be a factor to take a little heat off of Thornton and Marleau. Antti Niemi (34-22-9) Won a Cup with Chicago the came to San Jose, has been inconsistent at times.
~ San Jose had to scratch and claw to get into the post season up until the last weekend.
~ Maybe as an under dog they can achieve what they couldn't as a contender.
San Jose Sharks in 7. St. Louis has had a remarkable year under the guidance of Ken Hitchcock. This series is a coin flip but I believe with the less pressure San Jose will come out on top in the end.

#3 Phoenix Coyotes vs #6 Chicago Blackhawks
Schedule: Game 1: Thursday April 12, Game 2: Saturday April 14, Game 3: Tuesday April 17, Game 4: Thursday April 19, Game 5: Saturday April 21, Game 6: Monday April 23, Game 7: Wednesday April 25.

By The Numbers
Head To Head: Phoenix 3-1-0 Chicago 1-2-1
Phoenix Coyotes: Special Teams, Power Play 29th (13.6%) and Penalty Kill 8th (85.5%)
Goals For per Game 2.6 (18th) and Goals Against per Game 2.5 (5th)
Chicago Blackhawks: Special Teams, Power Play 26th (15.2%) and Penalty Kill 27th (78.1%)
Goals For per Game 3.0 (6th) and Goals Against per Game 2.9 (22nd)
Players To Watch
Phoenix: Mike Smith (33-18-10) Had a fantastic season and crept into the Vezina discussion. Will need to continue strong play. Ray Whitney (24G-53A-77P) Turns 40 in May and led the Coyotes in scoring. The Wizard will have to work his magic for the Yotes to have a chance. Radim Vrbata (35G-27A-62P) Mediocre player before he came to Phoenix, has turned into a real scoring threat. Shane Doan (22G-28A-50P) Been in the Desert for every year the Coyotes existed. Leading Phoenix to second round would be a feel good story.
Chicago: Jonathan Toews (29G-28A-57P) Blackhawks leader looks to be ready to return, how effective will he be. Marion Hossa (29G-48A-77P) Do everything guy like Toews, Hossa can score and play in his own end. Patrick Kane (23G-43A-66P) Has game breaking skill, will need to provide it until Toews gets back up to speed. Corey Crawford (30-17-7) Young goaltender who experienced a tough series with Vancouver last year. Has a Cup finalist in Emery backing him up.
~ Phoenix won first Division Title in franchise history.
~ Kieth and Seabrook pairing for Chicago will be key to defence as goalies are just OK.
Chicago Blackhawks in 6. The Hawks have to much experience and outclass Phoenix in high end talent and difference makers. Mike Smith will keep games close.

#4 Nashville Predators vs. #5 Detroit Red Wings
Schedule: Game 1: Wednesday April 11, Game 2: Friday April 13, Game 3: Sunday April 15, Game 4: Tuesday April 17, Game 5: Friday April 20, Game 6: Sunday April 22 Game 7: Tuesday April 24.

By The Numbers
Head To Head: Tied 3-3-0
Nashville: Special Teams, Power Play 1st (21.6%) and Penalty Kill 10th (83.6%)
Goals For per Game 2.9 (8th) and Goals Against per Game 2.6 (9th)
Detroit: Special Teams, Power Play 22nd (16.1%) and Penalty Kill 18th (81.8%)
Goals For per Game 3.0 (7th) and Goals Against per Game 2.5 (7th)
Players To Watch
Nashville: Pekka Rinne (43-18-8) One of the league's top goalies the last few years, Always in the Vezina discussion. Alexander Radulov (3G-4A-7P) Played last 9 games for the Preds after coming back from Russia. Could be a game breaker. Martin Erat (19G-39A-58P) Preds leading scorer, needs to stay healthy and be a contributor every night. Shea Weber (19G-30A-49P) Cannon from the blue line, big reason Preds PP is #1 league wide, IF Detroit over commits to his side others will be open.
Detroit: Henrik Zetterberg (22G-47A-69P) Conn Smythe winner in 08. Pavel Datsyuk (19G-48A-67P) One of the best 2 way players of all time. Nicklas Lidstrom (11G-23A-34P) Turns 42 at the end of the month and still leads Detroit in ice time. Jimmy Howard (35-17-4) Has the ability to be a show stopper, may need it.
~ Nashville added pieces this year to contend for the Stanley Cup. Andrei Kostitsyn and Paul Gaustad add some depth but Radulov may be the guy that puts them over the top.
~ Detroit is one of the oldest teams in the league. Could be last chance at a run.
Flip a coin, but I will take Nashville in 7. I believe Radulov was the key, if he doesn't score he will open up room for others. Weber and Suter will outplay Lidstrom and Kronwall.

Stanley Cup Prediction
Like any other playoff year, a number of things will factor into who lifts Lord Stanley's mug. Who can stay healthy longer, will guys coming back from injury be effective, and the ever popular which goalie will get hot at the right time. That being said, I am like most pundits and see Pittsburgh and Vancouver in the finals. It will be another 7 game series and both teams are deep with elite level players at all positions. Vancouver comes up short again and Pittsburgh claims the Cup for a 4th time. Sidney Crosby earns the Conn Smythe.

Monday, April 9, 2012

East Playoffs: Preview and Picks

Finally the real season begins on Wednesday night, the regular season was decent but the playoffs is what every hockey fan lives for. 2 months of intense hockey games every night of the week, double and triple overtime games, upsets and blow outs, nothing better. In this article I will preview the Eastern Conference 1st round match ups and give you my predictions and why I picked them. The next article will feature the Western Conference and at the end my Stanley Cup prediction.

#1 New York Rangers vs #8 Ottawa Senators
Schedule: Game 1: Thursday April 12, Game 2: Saturday April 14, Game 3: Monday April 16, Game 4: Wednesday April 18, Game 5: Saturday April 21, Game 6: Monday April 23, Game 7: Thursday April 26

By The Numbers
Head to Head Record: Ottawa 3-1-0 New York 1-2-1
New York Rangers: Special Teams, Power Play 23rd (15.7%) and Penalty Kill 5th (86.2%)
Goals For per Game 2.8 (11th) and Goals Against per Game 2.3 (3rd)
Ottawa Senators: Special Teams , Power Play 11th (18.2%) and Penalty Kill 20th (81.6%)
Goals For per Game 3.0 (4th) and Goals Against per Game 2.9 (24th)
Players to Watch
New York Rangers: Brad Richards (25G-41A-66P) Already a proven playoff performer, winning Conn Smythe Trophy in 2004 with Tampa Bay. Marion Gaborik (41G-35A-76P) Rangers leading scorer has only played 34 career playoff games. Henrik Lundqvist (39-18-5) Top 5 in all major goaltender statistics, front runner for Vezina.
Ottawa Senators: Erik Karlsson (19G-59A-78P) 2nd year pro had a remarkable year leading all D in scoring by 25 points. First Playoff appearance. Jason Spezza (34G-50A-84P) Besides 2007, has been scapegoat for past playoff failures, will be looked upon for offence again this year. Craig Anderson (33-22-6) Only playoff appearance was in 2010 with Colorado. Will have to shine to give Ottawa a chance.
~New York is a strong defensive team lead by Henrik Lundqvist in goal with Marc Staal and Dan Girardi anchoring the blue line. Rangers captain Ryan Callaghan is a top 2 way player.
~Ottawa never quits on a game, they led the NHL in 3rd period scoring. The offence runs through Erik Karlsson.
New York Rangers in 6. Ottawa is a young team that overachieved this season. New York is stronger in their own zone then Ottawa and their offence can be just as explosive.

#2 Boston Bruins vs #7 Washington Capitals
Schedule: Game 1: Thursday April 12, Game 2: Saturday April 14, Game 3: Monday April 16, Game 4: Thursday April 19, Game 5: Saturday April 21, Game 6: Sunday April 22, Game 7: Wednesday April 25.

By The Numbers
Head to Head Record: Washington 3-1-0 Boston 1-2-1
Boston Bruins: Special Teams, Power Play 15th (17.2%) and Penalty Kill 11th (83.5%)
Goals For per Game 3.3 (3rd) and Goals Against per Game 2.5 (6th)
Washington Capitals: Special Teams, Power Play 18th (16.7%) and Penalty Kill 21st (81.6%)
Goals For per Game 2.7 (14th) and Goals Against per Game 2.8 (21st)
Players To Watch
Boston Bruins: Tyler Seguin (29G-38A-67P) Bruins leading scorer, had flashes last season as a playoff performer, He needs to be a go to guy this year. Patrice Bergeron (22G-42A-64P) Will be on the ice for every crucial face off and then some. Can be a game changer defensively or offensively. David Krejci (23G-39A-62P) and Milan Lucic (26G-35A-61P) Can these two be offensive leaders without line mate Nathan Horton. Tim Thomas (35-19-1) Conn Smythe Winner last season.
Washington Capitals: Alex Ovechkin (38G-27A-65P) Has performed decently in the post season but team has not. Has a tendency to try and do it all himself. Nicklas Backstrom (14G-30A-44P) Just came back from a concussion where he missed 40 games, needs to be productive right away. Alex Semin (21G-33A-54P) Caps cannot afford to have Semin pull his disappearing act again during playoffs, needs to be a contributor. Braden Holtby (4-2-1) Can he hold the fort, I believe Neuvirth should be back before the series is over.
~Nathan Horton (Bos) and Tomas Vokoun (Wsh) are unlikely to make a return these playoffs.
~Zdeno Chara vs Alex Ovechkin will be the key match up. Boston is really good at getting Chara on the ice against the other teams best player. Can Ovechkin attack Chara like Eric Staal did a few years ago or will he be a non factor because of the match up.
Boston Bruins in 7. I believe it will take Krejci and Lucic a few games to get going allowing the Caps to stay in the series. But when the Bruins need them most they will deliver in the end, just like last year. Ovechkin will have a hard time scoring against Chara.

#3 Florida Panthers vs #7 New Jersey Devils
Schedule: Game 1: Friday April 13, Game 2: Sunday April 15, Game 3: Tuesday April 17, Game 4: Thursday April 19, Game 5: Saturday April 21, Game 6: Tuesday April 24, Game 7: Thursday April 26.

By The Numbers
Head to Head Record: Florida 2-1-1 New Jersey 2-2-0
Florida Panthers: Special Teams, Power Play 7th (18.5%) and Penalty Kill 25th (79.5%)
Goals For per Game 2.5 (27th) and Goals Against per Game 2.8 (12)
New Jersey Devils: Special Teams, Power Play 14th (17.2%) and Penalty Kill 1st (89.6%)
Goals For per Game 2.8 (15th) and Goals Against per Game 2.5 (10th)
Players To Watch
Florida Panthers: Tomas Fleischmann (27G-34A-61P) Was apart of the highly touted Washington Capitals teams that didn't live up to the hype in the playoffs. 5 career playoff points. Stephen Weiss (20G-37A-57P) First appearance in the playoffs. Spent entire career with Panthers. Kris Versteeg (23G-31A-54P) and Brian Campbell (4G-49A-53P) Both won a cup with Chicago in 2010 and will be looked upon as leaders because of it. Jose Theodore (22-16-11) Has been solid for the Panthers and spectacular at times. Last playoff appearance was brief, while with Washington he didn't make it out of the second game in 2009 and 2010.
New Jersey Devils: Ilya Kovalchuk (37G-46A-83P) A grand total of 9 playoff games. Swept with Atlanta in 07 and out in 5 with Devils in 2010. Has something to prove. Patrik Elias (26G-52A-78P) Has been New Jersey's most consistent player over the years and has 2 Cups to prove it. Zach Parise (31G-38A-69P) Played every game this year after missing almost the entire season last year. Martin Broduer (31-21-4) Turns 40 May 6th, has 3 Cups and has won more games than anyone (reg. season). How much is in the tank.
~Florida hasn't been to the playoffs since 2000 and hasn't won a series since they went to the Cup Final in 1996. Coincidentally the Devils swept the Panthers in 2000.
New Jersey Devils in 5. Devils have all the experience and the game breakers. Florida should be happy just making it to the playoffs and build on it for next year. Theodore hasn't been trusted in the playoffs and arguably the best goalie ever is playing in the other end.

#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs #5 Philadelphia Flyers
Schedule: Game 1: Wednesday April 11, Game 2: Friday April 13, Game 3: Sunday April 15, Game 4: Wednesday April 18, Game 5: Friday April 20, Game 6: Sunday April 22, Game 7: Tuesday April 24.

By The Numbers
Head To Head: Pittsburgh 2-3-1 Philadelphia 4-2
Pittsburgh Penguins: Special Teams, Power Play 5th (19.7%) and Penalty Kill 3rd (87.8%)
Goals For per Game 3.4 (1st) and Goals Against per Game 2.7 (15th)
Philadelphia Flyers: Special Teams, Power Play 6th (19.7%) and Penalty Kill 17th (81.8%)
Goals For per Game 3.2 (2nd) and Goals Against per Game 2.8 (20th)
Players to Watch
Pittsburgh Penguins: Sidney Crosby (8G-29A-37P) Played only 22 games and looks to be at the top of it. Crosby has played 63 games the past 2 seasons and registered 103 points, ,that's 1.63 points per game.
Evgeni Malkin (50G-59A-109P) Art Ross winner carried the load for the Penguins offence this season, has a Conn Smythe Trophy to his name as well. James Neal (40G-41A-81P) Clicked with Malkin this year, hitting the 40 goal mark for the first time. Kris Letang (10G-32A-42P) Played only 51 games this year. If he can stay healthy the puck will get to the elite forwards consistently. Marc-Andre Fleury (42-17-4) Has been there done that, 2 finals appearances. Along with Malkin kept Penguins near top of league in absence of Crosby.
Philadelphia Flyers: Claude Giroux (28G-65A-93P) Dynamic player with insane skill level. Centers one of the best lines in the league. Scott Hartnell (37G-30A-67P) 2nd member of the Giroux line, had a breakout year and earned an all-star selection. Jaromir Jagr (19G-35A-54P) 3rd member of the Giroux line and at 40 years of age hasn't lost a step. Ilya Bryzgalov (33-16-7) proven regular season goaltender but hasn't done much in the playoffs.
~ Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are bitter rivals as their last 2 games prove.
~ Team that stays out of the penalty box has best chance of winning.
~ 2 highest scoring teams in the NHL
Pittsburgh Penguins in 6. Pittsburgh has too many elite players. Bylsma could go with 3 centers meaning either Crosby, Malkin or Staal will be on the ice at all times. Pittsburgh also has the edge in goal. If Philly had Chris Pronger in the line up, it might be a different story.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Pittsburgh Penguins: Hated or Feared

Are the Pittsburgh Penguins really hated as much as we are led to believe after the last week or are the power houses of the Eastern Conference a little scared about meeting them in the playoffs. The Penguins managed to keep pace with the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers all season long, even without the world's best player for 60 games. Now that Sidney Crosby is back and looks to be at the top of his game, Pittsburgh will be a major hurdle on the road to the Stanley Cup Finals.

During the last week the Penguins were ripped in the media by coaches for both the Flyers and Rangers as well as analyst Mike Milbury. Do they really feel this way about the Pittsburgh club or are they trying to gain a pyschological advantage going into the playoffs? The answer probably lies some where in the middle.

By now everyone has seen or heard about the Philly-Pens game last Saturday and heard the comments made from the Flyers coaching staff. Head coach Peter Laviolette was upset that Pens coach Dan Bylsma put his 4th line on the ice at the end of the game, when they hadn't played the last 10-12 minutes, calling the move "gutless". Flyers forward Daniel Briere was injured on a clean body check by Pens forward Joe Vitale during the shift. Flyers assistant coach, Craig Berube, took it a little further saying "Crosby and Malkin are the two dirtiest players on their team" and continued about Crosby "the guy gets away with too much, in my opinion, he whines to the refs all day and all night, it's a joke".

Earlier in the game Crosby and Flyers forward Brayden Schenn had a run in. After a whistle Schenn cross checked Crosby from behind, perhaps not happy with the shot he took from Crosby earlier in the shift. It prompted NBC analyst Mike MIlbury to say this. "Little goody two shoes (Crosby) goes into the corner and gives a shot to Schenn. Schenn was late to the party, he should have turned and drilled him right away, but I guess better late than never". Milbury also said "he couldn't help himself because theres a little punk in Crosby. He's not the perfect gentleman. He's not the sweet kid you see in interviews with his hat pulled down over his eyes. I'd say screw him, hit him". Milbury later apologized saying his comments were inappropriate, however the apology fell on def ears.

The Penguins lost that game 6-4 and then defeated the defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins 5-2 on Tuesday. On Thursday night Pittsburgh had a chance to wrap up home ice advantage with a win over the Rangers. Pittsburgh won the contest by another 5-2 score, however the focus after the game was on Pens defence man, Brooks Orpik. Orpik was going for a hit on Ranger Derek Stepan and intentional or not, delivered a knee on knee hit. Orpik received a 5 minute major and a game misconduct on the play. New York head coach John Tortorella had this to say about the hit, "It's a cheap dirty hit, I wonder what would happen if we did it to their two whining stars over there. I wonder what would happen. So I'm anxious to see what happens with the league with this. Just no respect amongst players. None. It's sickening". Tortorella was not done there "It's one of the most arrogant organizations in the league. They whine about this stuff all the time, and look what happens. It's ridiculous. But they'll whine about something else over there, won't they?"

Philadelphia already knows that they are going into Pittsburgh to start the playoffs, and the Rangers are the #1 seed and could see the Penguins as early as round 2. So were these comments made out of hatred in the Penguins or were they pre-meditated and meant to try and get an advantage in the playoffs?

Anyway before the playoffs start the Flyers are finishing the regular season in Pittsburgh on Saturday afternoon. Will there be more fireworks? Will the stars from both teams dress? If they do how much ice time will they see? All good questions that have yet to be answered, however we know one thing, the first round match up between the Flyers and Penguins will be very entertaining and very physical. The only question is will the winner have anything left for the next round.