A Fan of the Game

Sports Talk, Straight Talk

Guest Column: NHL First-Round Predictions

Nathan Skytta is back again — this time with predictions for the first round of the NHL playoffs.

For the first time in almost 20 years, the Detroit Red Wings will not start their run towards the Stanley Cup at home in front of the fans at Joe Louis Arena. In a season that was plagued with injuries, featured a rookie between the pipes, and contained league diversity with no real powerhouse, the Wings struggled out of the gates.

Led by gold medal winning head coach Mike Babcock and a plethora of skill and determination, the Wings overcame their injuries and got their lineup back together. Oh and that rookie in net? Well, he turned out to be a possible rookie of the year finalist.

The Wings finished fifth in the conference and are going to take on the fourth-seeded Phoenix Coyotes, in the first round of the playoffs. The Coyotes will put up a challenge for the Wings, but after finishing the season as one of the hottest teams in the league, the Wings should be favored in advance.

RED WINGS IN SIX.

In another matchup in the Western Conference, it’s the No. 1 San Jose Sharks versus No. 8 Colorado Avalanche — a matchup that will be worth watching. The Sharks barely missed having to face Detroit, but the road to the second round didn’t get any easier when they were paired up against the Avs. The Sharks need to be on their ‘A’ game in order to have any chance of advancing.

SHARKS IN SIX.

The No. 2 Chicago Blackhawks will take on the No. 7 Nashville Predators. This may be the highest scoring series out of the eight first round playoffs because each team has struggling goaltenders and stars that can put up big numbers when given the chance.

PREDATORS IN SIX.

In the last Western series, it will be the No. 3 Vancouver Canucks facing off against one of the scariest teams in the league, the No. 6 Los Angeles Kings. Both of these teams have great goaltending, but it will be the matchup of the Kings defense against the all-star duo of the Sedin twins that determines who comes out victorious.

The Kings are the Cinderella team of the NHL this season and are unpredictable, so this series is one worth watching.

KINGS IN SEVEN.

In the Eastern Conference, it’s the President’s Trophy winning Washington Capitals versus the Montreal Canadiens. This matchup pits Capitals starting goaltender Jose Theodore against his former mates from Montreal.  The Capitals have too much firepower for the Canadiens and should win this series convincingly.

CAPITALS IN FIVE.

Future Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur will lead his No. 2 New Jersey Devils against the No. 7 Philadelphia Flyers, in hopes of clinching another Stanley Cup title. This is the time of year where Brodeur seems to always step up his game — just what any team wants to hear when facing the goaltender with the most wins in NHL history.

DEVILS IN FIVE.

Silver medal-winning goaltender Ryan Miller and his Buffalo Sabres face the Boston Bruins and their rookie goaltender Tuukka Rask. The Bruins are going to have a challenge beating Miller and his teammates, so the Sabres should easily win this series, but at this time of year, anything is possible.

SABRES IN SEVEN.

Last but not least, it’s the No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins versus the No. 5 Ottawa Senators. Both teams struggled down the stretch, but the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Penguins should advance. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin should lead the charge against the Senators, who lost their star Alex Kovalev to a torn anterior cruciate ligament this past week. The Senators have a challenge ahead of them, but hopefully they can make it an interesting series.

PENGUINS IN FIVE.

Anything can happen in the first round of the NHL playoffs, so tune in and see some of the exciting hockey that the last 16 teams in the league have to offer. Versus and NBC will have all the coverage starting Wed., April 14.

–Nathan

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

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

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 77

Quite the HA HA! game for the Sharks as they beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-2. That’s a little Gus Johnson reference for all you March Madness fans.

After taking out two bottom feeders in Minnesota and Dallas, the Sharks proved that they may very well be regaining old form by beating Vancouver. It wasn’t a full 60 minute game, but San Jose wasn’t built in a day.

Vancouver won the first period with a constant forecheck and a goal by the annoying Sedin line. Add the twins to my giant list of people who I can’t stand. That’s all you hear about with the Canucks — Sedin this, Sedin that. They’d be nothing without them. I’m sick of it.

But alas, it wasn’t to be the Swedish meatballs’ night. The Sharks dominated the second period as they do all the time. Three goals came to fruition with Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski netting them.

Heatley shot a wrister on the power play to tie the game, 1-1. Marleau scored on a breakaway after deking Roberto Luongo. No “Luuu” chants here. Patty had a more explosive reaction than usual, which was awesome to see. It’s his 42nd goal. He also recorded three assists for a four-point night.

The San Jose heartbeat stops as Jumbo goes down. (From SJSHARKS.com)

Pavelski took notes from the nearby San Francisco Giants and batted the puck into the net after an initial shot deflected into the air.

Then — PANIC. Joe Thornton rammed awkwardly into the boards and went down in a heap. Jumbo needed extra help to get to the locker room. Any ripping of Thornton can cease now. If there is one positive, it’s that he hasn’t missed a game in a Shark uniform (I’m fairly certain of that).

He’s getting a bit more energetic while working with Ryane Clowe and Torrey Mitchell on the third line. It looked to be his left knee that was injured. But we all know what we’ll hear tomorrow morning: “Lower body injury.” That’s Top-5 worst things about hockey — the crappy injury reports.

I hope he’s all right.

The Sharks sunk back into old play again and struggled in the third period. Vancouver barraged them with wave after wave, but somehow San Jose withstood it. They did allow one Canuck goal, but Clowe sealed it in the final seconds with an empty netter.

So, while I’d like the headline to be “Sharks continue winning ways,” it’s going to be “Thornton leaves game injured, return questionable.”

Raining Blood

Manny Malhotra was struck in the face by a puck late in the game, and blood poured out of his face. Not sure where exactly it hit, but the blood wasn’t stopping. Stitches will probably seal that right up, though. I can’t fathom being hit by a frozen puck in the face.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 39  VAN 24; Clowe led with seven.

Scott Nichol returned from injury after missing two games. Rob Blake was back on the ice tonight as well after missing almost all of the third period versus Dallas. Blake had two assists on the night to continue his hot streak.

It’s another back-to-back for the Sharks as the Avalanche will be at the Shark Tank, Sunday.

–Ray

March 28, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 72

Quite the truth-is-out-there game for the Sharks as they showed some effort but ultimately lost to the Vancouver Canucks, 3-2. The “truth” stands for the Sharks’ actual true potential, and it was featured in the third period.

Before that, the effort was spotty.

After such a nauseating loss and an unplanned practice, you’d think the Sharks would at least come out fierce — nah, too much to ask. Continuing their horrible play against Dallas, the Sharks allowed Vancouver to score twice in the opening frame.

Listen guys, you’re not giving yourselves chances with these bonehead penalties in the first periods of games. This time you took three penalties — that’s 30% of the period in the penalty box. And Vancouver scored on two of those power plays. It’s sickening.

Ryane Clowe scored on a nice finesse play, skating down the right side and crossing the crease for a wide open net. Good thing Clowe scored; I was prepared to rip him some more for his comments the other day. I’ll mention them anyway. In the game against Dallas, Brenden Morrow said he wanted to fight Clowe, and as we all know that didn’t happen. Here’s his quote, taken from David Pollak’s blog:

Dude! Kent, is that a puck? I'm not sure what to do with it. Me either Manny, let's just watch it. (From SJSHARKS.com)

“I told him I wasn’t going to fight him, that I’d fight Barch,” said Clowe. ”I probably should have fought him (Morrow), but I have a hard time fighting guys who are the top players on other teams. I don’t know.”

Well Clowey, I know. You have a major malfunction in your brain. Stop being a wuss. I realize you don’t want to be perceived as a goon a la Matt Cooke, but you’re supposed to be a top player for San Jose too. And I do recall Joe Thornton and Ryan Getzlaf fighting in the playoffs. With a nose that size, you should be able to fight the world. Next time you face the Stars, I better see you and Morrow tango.

Back to the game we go, and the third period showed us what the Sharks can do when they start skating. Relentless forechecking led to a Joe Pavelski goal late in the game. Goalie Roberto Luongo saved the game for the Canucks, literally. A few breaks the other way and this game could be a Sharks victory. But when it rains, it pours. And boy is it coming down. Four straight losses for the men in teal.

Logan and Torrey

Playing on a line with Manny Malhotra, these two sped around the ice with authority. I’d say these were the two best Sharks on the ice. Couture got called up for the game finally after tearing up the AHL. He probably won’t be here too long, but I’ll say it again: put him on a line with Joe Thornton! I want to see if they have any chemistry. Of course Thornton isn’t playing great so maybe it’s for the best they stay apart.

Shut the Lu Up

I’m so sick of hearing “Luuuu” after every save Luongo makes. So annoying. If he isn’t even looking and the puck hits him, the fans will chant it. Enough. Seriously.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ14  VAN 17; Jamie McGinn and Douglas Murray led with three.

San Jose is back on the ice tomorrow for the second game of the back-to-back. It’ll be against the Flames at Calgary.

–Ray

March 19, 2010 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 30

Quite the just-like-old-times performance for the Sharks in their 4-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks. The Sharks roster finally looked like it should be with a couple exceptions. And with the added aspect of facing former Sharks, Christian Ehrhoff and Steve Bernier, it was a reunion of sorts.

Got to mention the injuries, returns and transactions. Devin Setoguchi and Rob Blake returned to the lineup tonight; Benn Ferriero and Jason Demers were sent down to Worcester because of that. Of course this was Torrey Mitchell’s second game back so he’s still getting used to NHL-level speed.

Jody Shelley and Brad Staubitz are still out with injuries, so Frazer McLaren played on the fourth line. Derek Joslin retained his spot on the defense upon Demers’ reassignment.

OK so the game — a slow back-and-forth game. One team would control for 10 minutes, then things would switch. Vancouver got on the board early in the first and controlled the play. McLaren scored his first NHL goal to tie things up before the first ended. He took a big hit behind the goal-line but stayed on his feet and kept his stick on the ice. Joe Pavelski found him and it was an easy tip-in. Glad to see Frazer add his name to the list of first-time scorers this season; Ferriero, McLaren, Demers, Logan Couture and Ryan Vesce all have scored their first NHL goal so far this season.

The Sharks dominated the second period, outshooting Vancouver 15-4; however, they only managed one goal, which came from Dan Boyle on the power play. It was a cool goal to watch on the replay because you saw how much Boyle moves on the man-advantage. One second he would be up high at the point, five seconds later he was down low. Always keeps his skates moving in a very fluid motion.

Captain Rob Blake made his return against Vancouver (From SJSHARKS.com)

San Jose backed off during the last frame but withstood a fierce Canucks forecheck. The Sharks capitalized on a counterattack, as Manny Malhotra deked — yes deked — goalie Roberto Luongo fairly easily. Thirteen seconds later Jamie McGinn notched his fourth goal of the season after Jed Ortmeyer battled beyond the goal line and sent the puck to the crease.

Let’s go back to the decision to send Demers down to Worcester. Coach Todd McClellan cited bad play in the defensive zone as the reason for the reassignment. Demers and Joslin were battling for the final defenseman spot with Rob Blake returning and T-Mac said Joslin played better over the last 10 games. Demers has definitely not played up to par lately. I think back to last game where Demers attempted a stretch pass only to have it intercepted and turned into an Edmonton goal.

T-Mac said before he likes how Demers takes risks, and now he’s going back on that? I don’t get it. Demers is clearly learning from Boyle how to be an offensive threat and doing a pretty good job at it. He has one goal and 12 assists in 27 games. He’s been one of the league’s most surprising rookies and you choose Joslin over Demers? I’m sorry, but this is a dumb move by T-Mac. Joslin is a joke of a player and isn’t going to amount to anything.

Perhaps it will help Demers not to play with Kent Huskins and actually someone good down in Worcester. Huskins was on the power play tonight again. Stop doing that T-Mac. Just stop. Demers needs to be on the power play and Huskins needs to be sent down. No one will claim him off waivers.

Other Notes

Hit-O-Meter: SJ 16  VAN 14; Jamie McGinn (4) and Devin Setoguchi (3) led the team.

The Sharks wrap up November with a 9-2-3 record and are the first team to reach 40 points.

All eyes will be on San Jose on Tuesday when the Sharks battle the Ottawa Senators. Dany Heatley versus his ex-girlfriend. Should be good.

–Ray

 

November 30, 2009 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inside the Shark Cage, Vol. 3

The Sharks take on the Ducks tonight at Anaheim and it should be a bruising contest. In an interesting roster move, The Sharks sent Jamie McGinn down to Worcester and brought up Frazer McLaren, who is known as a tough guy. After all the things I’ve heard from coaches about playing their own game and not worrying about the other team, this throws it for a loop.

Frazer McLaren giving a Canuck the business

Frazer McLaren giving a Canuck "the business"

So much for playing a speedy, offensive affair as the Sharks are known to do; they plan on adapting to Anaheim’s slower, hit-filled game. I guess it’s worth a shot considering our fast style didn’t work in the playoffs last year. But alas, it’s only one player. We’ll see the effects at 10 p.m. eastern.

Things to look for

1. Saku Koivu’s debut for Anaheim

2. Will Marleau-Pavelski-Clowe line continue their first game performance?

3. Any chemistry from Thornton or Heatley?

4. Who starts in goal for Anaheim? Giguere or Hiller?

5. Nabokov

Slow Starts

Last years division winners in the Western Conference (Detroit, Vancouver, San Jose) are off to a combined 0-5 start. Detroit was swept by St. Louis, while Vancouver dropped a game in Calgary and was shutout by upstart Colorado today.

St. Louis will be dangerous — so long as Keith Tkachuk and Paul Kariya stay healthy. They already have four goals combined in two games; however, one of them will get injured this year — it never fails.

Detroit’s backup Jimmy Howard played in the second game and looked, to put it lightly, sub-par. He allowed to goals in 13 seconds. I really don’t think he will ever be ready for the NHL; he’s a full-time AHLer.

October 3, 2009 Posted by | Hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment