A Fan of the Game

Sports Talk, Straight Talk

My NHL Playoffs Preview

It’s that time of year again for 16 teams to lace up the skates and compete for the most coveted trophy in sports: the Stanley Cup. No postseason compares to the NHL playoffs — the speed, the excitement, the will to win it all.

The Eastern Conference features a lot of the same faces this time around like Pittsburgh, New Jersey and Washington. The Western Conference showcases some fresh faces with Phoenix, Los Angeles and Colorado. Pittsburgh and Detroit have faced off in the Finals the last two years, and a three-peat isn’t quite out of the question. Series by series, here are the matchups and predictions.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

No. 1 Washington vs. No. 8 Montreal

The Capitals put up 121 points and 54 wins this season and are bulldozing through their opponents. If Alexander Ovechkin didn’t miss time from injuries and suspensions, he would probably have won the races for goals and total points. But this team is going to need a goalie to lead them to the promise land. On the heels of a stellar comeback-type season, goalie Jose Theodore will get an easy first matchup against Montreal. Montreal will wish they had never made the playoffs.

WASHINGTON IN FOUR.

No. 2 New Jersey vs. No. 7 Philadelphia

Has there been a more confusing team this year than the Flyers? Pegged by many to reach the Stanley Cup Finals, they’ve been in disarray throughout the season. Starting goalie Ray Emery didn’t pan out and ended up injured and out for the season. Captain Mike Richards is going to need to put the team on his shoulders once again. And it’s no surprise the Devils are here. Last season, the Devils were ousted by an upstart Carolina team, but it’s hard to see that happening again. It will be a tough series, though.

NEW JERSEY IN SEVEN.

No. 3 Buffalo vs. No. 6 Boston

It’s hard to believe it was just last year when Boston made it to the Conference Finals. Since then, they traded Phil Kessel and lost Marc Savard to injury, which put their offense in a serious grind. It didn’t help goalie Tim Thomas struggled mightily, but now they have 23-year-old Tuukka Rask who suffocated opponents with a 1.97 goals against average and a .931 save percentage. The goalie on the other side is no slouch either — USA starter Ryan Miller. This series comes down to whom can put the puck in the net. Buffalo has 12 players with 10 goals or more, and Boston’s leading goal-scorer has just 22.

BUFFALO IN SIX.

No. 4 Pittsburgh vs. No. 5 Ottawa

The defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins find themselves facing a somewhat surprising Ottawa team. With all the talent Pittsburgh has, it’s a mystery as to why they never compete for a top seed. But the regular season doesn’t matter anymore, of course. This is where the Penguins excel having been to the Stanley Cup Finals two years in a row. The Senators were already overmatched, and now after losing Alexei Kovalev for the year from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, the Sens are the dead horse preparing to be beaten.

PITTSBURGH IN FIVE.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

No. 1 San Jose vs. No. 8 Colorado

If there’s any NHL topic that’s been exhausted, it’s the playoff woes of the Sharks. They dodged a bullet in not having to face a red-hot Detroit team. The Sharks shouldn’t have any problem taking out the Avalanche early. The Avs haven’t played well since the Olympic break, goalie Craig Anderson’s massive workload has caught up to him, and key players Peter Mueller and Matt Duchene are recovering from injuries. With that being said, the Sharks still don’t have the confidence to sweep a team in the playoffs or beat them in five games. San Jose will take the series, but not without shooting themselves in the foot a couple times.

SAN JOSE IN SIX.

No. 2 Chicago vs. No. 7 Nashville

This could get ugly really fast. Chicago must be disappointed with blowing a golden opportunity in the last game of the season against Detroit. If they won, it would have meant a number one seed and home ice advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs. That puts Nashville right in the crosshairs of an angry team led by seemingly-always disgruntled coach Joel Quenneville. The Predators have heart, though, and they never quit. Despite the high probability of being skinned alive, Nashville will give it all they have.

CHICAGO IN FIVE.

No. 3 Vancouver vs. No. 6 Los Angeles

Of the eight Western Conference playoff teams, only Vancouver has a losing record away from their building. This gives the Kings a chance to pull off maybe the only upset of the first round. Los Angeles has a young core of players similar to what Chicago has. The Kings have players like Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar that can keep them a playoff threat for many years to come. For Vancouver, it’s all about goalie Roberto Luongo and twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin. If you stop the Sedins, you’ll win. It’s a simple concept, but few teams can accomplish it.

LOS ANGELES IN SEVEN.

No. 4 Phoenix vs. No. 5 Detroit

Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t a typo. The Coyotes really are in the playoffs and a fourth seed no less. They shocked the hockey world after being in fire and brimstone the last several years. Ownership questions, gambling scandals and relocation considerations bogged down this franchise. But with new coach Dave Tippett, Phoenix got revitalized and finished with 50 wins and 107 points. Their reward? The hottest team since the Olympic break. Near the midpoint of the season, the Red Wings were out of the playoffs dealing with a stockpile of injuries. But they’re back to Stanley Cup form and are once again dangerous. The Western Conference can only hope Phoenix can pull a miracle and oust Detroit. But let’s be real. This is Detroit and these are the playoffs.

DETROIT IN SIX.

–Ray

April 14, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 82

Quite the rip-roaring game for the Sharks as they kept their hot streak alive with a 4-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks. Things got nasty in the third period and there ended up being 96 penalty minutes.

Gotta love it.

This was a great game for the Sharks all around. They showcased their offense, defense and some heart, giving Sharks fans everywhere hope heading into the playoffs.

It was a playoff atmosphere. The pace started off fast and Vancouver was pressing hard, but the Sharks pushed back and struck first on a Joe Pavelski goal. That goal was all thanks to Ryane Clowe’s boardwork and deking. Clowe’s ripping opponents to pieces on the scoresheet, and he also fought Aaron Rome tonight.

Clowe is what we like to call a prototypical hockey player.

San Jose kept the gas pedal down by exploding for three goals in the second period. Logan Couture, Joe Thornton and Manny Malhotra tallied the markers.

Torrey Mitchell assisted on Couture’s and Malhotra’s goals, which gave him his first multi-point game of his career. Torrey is officially back.

The third period is where things got scrappy. The Sharks took three penalties in quick succession to put Vancouver on a decade-long power play. And guess what? The Sharks killed it all off behind spectacular goaltending by Evgeni Nabokov.

After Jamie McGinn skated out of the penalty box, he had an altercation with one of the Sedins, and McGinn received a ten-minute misconduct for some odd reason. That’s what sparked everything.

Devin, we're back in first in the West. Show me your "O" face! (From SJSHARKS.com)

Scott Nichol cross-checked Mikael Samuelsson in the back, who dived like a little punk. When Samuelsson came back, he tried to stir the pot with Rob Blake, and Blake proceeded to punch him right in the face.

Samuelsson is a wuss. I’ve never liked him — to me he was never a Shark — which stems from his Red Wing days. He’s just an annoying pest who can’t take physicality. Much like the entire Canuck team and his former Detroit team.

Joe Thornton was getting into it with a Sedin, still talking trash for some reason. These Sedins really need to shut their mouths before they get hurt. Yap yap yap all you want twins, but someone is going to wreck you with a giant hip check one day.

Sensing that his meatball-less teammates were in trouble, Alexandre Burrows blatantly interfered with Thornton. That started a pile up, with Thornton in the middle throwing punches and ripping the helmet off a Sedin (as you can tell, I don’t know which twin but it really doesn’t matter).

Niclas Wallin and Ryan Kesler actually dropped the gloves, but it was a nice, cozy bearhug.

After all of this, the Canucks finally got on the board and ended Nabby’s shutout. Vancouver scored again soon after to actually make it a game.

Knowing that it wasn’t over, the Sharks calmed down and locked the game down for good.

This is the kind of game I’ve been wanting to see for a while now. I mentioned a while back how I wanted to see a brawl and the team needed it. Well, this was close enough and when you see Thornton getting in the mix, it always bodes well.

It would have been a good last regular season game, but there’s still one more.

Three teams in the West are tied with 98 points, so it’s still a mystery as to who the Sharks will play. The Kings, Predators or Avalanche are fine, but not Detroit. I hear some talk of “you shouldn’t be afraid of Detroit and to face them early.”

Yea, about that. I’ll take the easiest road possible to the Stanley Cup, thanks. While there would be no doubt of an explosion of optimism if the Sharks could beat the Wings in the first round, I don’t want to take chances. I’m sure people were saying similar things about the Ducks last year — anybody but Anaheim. Look what happened there.

Seto’s effort

This is worth mentioning: in the third period, Devin Setoguchi blocked a shot, took it and skated all the way down the ice, and put a shot on goal. That block had to have hurt, but he sucked it up and started a dangerous forecheck. That counts as a point in my book.

Right Wing Jason Demers?

Coach Todd McLellan is experimenting with Demers up front with Nichol and McGinn. It’s not permanent as he does play some defense during the game, but I like the concept. It’s like a mini Dan Boyle playing forward.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 22  VAN 16; Setoguchi and Pavelski both had three.

The Sharks finish the regular season with a home game against Phoenix, Saturday.

–Ray

April 9, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

NHL Power Rankings

1. San Jose Sharks 13-3-0
Entering Nov. 11, the Sharks boast the NHL’s loan undefeated record at home (9-0). The “Shark Tank” as fans call it, has been a dead zone for opposing teams as well as an imminent loss. Under the new coaching regime, the Sharks offense is reaching is potential, with the most goals for in the league. The defense has stepped up with the offseason acquisitions of Rob Blake and Dan Boyle, providing leadership and guidance for the Sharks fairly young defense. Most importantly, San Jose has shown character in being able to come back in games in which they trail, something absent the last few years.

2. Detroit Red Wings 9-2-2
The defending Stanley Cup Champs find themselves at number two in the power rankings. Marian Hossa has been exactly what they expected, netting 8 goals and adding 9 assists, in only 13 games played. Detroit is still playing as advertised, with a tough defense led by Niklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski. Goalie Chris Osgood has split time with backup with Ty Conklin and neither has put up stellar numbers, making it difficult on Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, the Wings offensive juggernauts. Both carry the Wings offense again this year, although Datsyuk has only put in 3 goals. With right-winger Johan Franzen coming off injury, Detroit is going to start spreading the wealth.

3. New York Rangers 11-5-2
After 18 games played, no one would think that youngster Nikolai Zherdev would lead the team in points, but that is just the case with 5 goals and 9 assists. Markus Naslund, a big free agent signee, has been doing his part with 5 goals and 8 assists. With the exception of a hat trick last week, center Chris Drury has been struggling. Scott Gomez has had problems with finding the net, only scoring 3 goals thus far. Drury and Gomez are key to the team’s success. They have to improve, but with a goalie like Henrik Lundqvist and his 1.99 goals against average, the Rangers will be in every game.

4. Montreal Canadiens 8-2-2
Left wing Alex Tanguay leads the team in points with 14, along with defenseman Andrei Markov. Montreal is fourth in the league in the goals per game category with 3.42. With the combination of that offense and goalie Carey Price, the Canadiens are a very dangerous team. Price has a 2.61 GAA and .917 save percentage, keeping games close. The problem the Canadiens have is on defense. With the exception of Markov, not many defenseman are contributing. Roman Hamrlik has 5 points, but the rest have 2 points or less. The offense will not be able to carry the team the whole season. The defense must get involved if Montreal expects to win the tough Northeast division.

5. Boston Bruins 8-3-3
Archrival Montreal got the nod over Boston because of their head-to-head matchup earlier in the season, a shootout victory for the Canadiens. Boston has been a very formidable opponent and the record shows that. On average, the Bruins get outshot every game, but goalie Tim Thomas has been exceptional, boasting a 1.85 GAA and two shutouts. For the offense, Marc Savard is the unquestioned leader of the team with 16 points. The next best offenseman has only 9 points. Savard is also second on the team in penalty minutes, putting added pressure on the penalty kill unit. With Savard being off the ice constantly, more players have to step up if the Bruins are to legitimately challenge Montreal.

6. Buffalo Sabres 8-3-3
Buffalo has one of the best penalty kill units in the game, which helps them cover their own mistakes. Along with doing that, goalie Ryan Miller has a GAA just over 2. Buffalo is a team that just gets it done and they score when they have to. Their records at home and away are virtually identical making them a team to bet on every night.

7. Washington Capitals 8-4-2
It’s been a breakout year for Alexander Semin so far, leading the league in points with 22 (11G 11A). Alex Ovechkin has been an assist man this year, with 7 helpers and only 3 goals. It’s safe to say an Alex is going to score every night the Caps play.

8. Chicago Blackhawks 7-3-3
Captain Jonathan Toews has been having a tough time lately, with only 1 goal in 13 games played. Patrick Kane has picked up the slack, however, leading the team with 18 points (7G 11A). The problem for Chicago is goaltending. Nikolai Khabibulin has started seven games and Cristobal Huet has started six. Rumors are swirling that Khabibulin could be traded at any time, but with a 7-3-3 record, it doesn’t look like it is much of a distraction.

9. Pittsburgh Penguins 8-4-2
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin only have a combined 7 goals, yet lead the team in points. How is that possible? Both have a staggering number of assists. Malkin has 18 assists on the year, and Crosby has 13. As good as it is to see both helping their teammates, Malkin and Crosby need to start being more selfish and put the puck in the net if Pittsburgh wants to get better.

10. Anaheim Ducks 9-7-1
After such a terrible start, Anaheim has climbed back into the hunt for the Pacific division and the Western Conference. Over the last ten games, the Ducks are 7-2-1, making them one of the hottest teams in the league right now. A troubling stat, though, is they have more goals against, then for. They better get that straightened out quickly.

November 11, 2008 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Sharks Report III – San Jose 4 Detroit 2 Final

Wow! What a great game to watch!  It was phenomenal to see the Sharks play the way they did tonight.  In 3 days they beat both conference champions from last year, the Penguins and Red Wings.  Tonight’s game was complete domination by San Jose in all aspects of the game.

The Sharks outshot Detroit 33-27, which was a big statement of tremendous forechecking.  The Red Wings had 14 shots in the third period that brought the numbers closer together but, for the most part, Detroit was held to bad shots and very few legitimate scoring chances.

Patrick Marleau exhibited blazing speed tonight slicing through various pairs of Detroit defenseman and Jumbo Joe Thornton laid a big hit on Niklas Lidstrom, showcasing his hard-nosed side.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic celebrates with Jamie McGinn after McGinn notched his first career goal

Marc-Edouard Vlasic celebrates with Jamie McGinn after McGinn notched his first career goal

The Sharks used their size and speed to overpower the Red Wings.  Hits were 29-16 wearing down a possibly tired Detroit team coming into a back-to-back.  Detroit players won’t list that as an excuse, however.  Nor should anyone blame this loss on Ty Conklin, who played wonderfully tonight despite allowing the 4 goals.  Detroit giveaways and losing battles for lose pucks were their downfall.

Todd McClellan can now relax after beating his former team in his first opportunity.  He outcoached Mike Babcock the entire game putting out matchups that worked and sticking with them.

Devin Setoguchi, who had two assists tonight, really showed me something.  This kid puts 110% on the ice and takes advantage of every shift, and every loose puck.  He can grow into one of those players who makes everyone around him better.

Joe Pavelski is a Red Wing killer.  His first NHL goal came with 5.9 seconds left at Detroit to beat the Red Wings.  From then on, he has scored or gotten a point in so many games against Detroit.  I love this kid.  His wrister is wicked.

Joe Pavelski > Detroit

Joe Pavelski > Detroit

Jamie McGinn, Sharks rookie, scored his first career NHL goal in only his second career game.  Great story.  He got it by working hard and poking the puck through Conklin’s pads.  Congratulations, Jamie.

The defense as a unit shut down Datsyuk and Zetterberg, keeping them off the score-sheet.  Despite their mental lapse in the first twenty seconds of the second when Marian Hossa scored, they played spectacular.

The Sharks are now 6-0 at home, cementing HP Pavilion, or the Shark Tank, as one of the toughest places to play.  Sharks fans are among the most passionate in the world, selling out game after game and making it tough on opponents to get their bearings.  Keep it up, fans.

One thing is for certain: The Red Wings have just experienced the best team in the National Hockey League.

The San Jose Sharks.

Ray wins! Nathan loses!  Time for Nathan to put on some Sharks stuff after his Wings lose to the almighty.

-Ray

October 31, 2008 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment