Apr 162014
 

NHL_2014_StanleyCupPlayoffs

With the puck ready to drop for the 2014 NHL playoffs, a few of us at CHB make our predictions for the first round.

At least with the Canucks not making it, we can make our picks with our brains, rather than our hearts. Well, mostly our brains. We flipped coins, drew straws and other things too.

Western Conference

Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild

Victoria: Avalanche in 5. This prediction is based on the real fear that if Minnesota makes it too far in the playoffs we’ll all fall into a coma. Most boring hockey ever. So come on Avs, knock them out and save us all.

Matt: Avalanche in 5. This isn’t the same team that won the Nathan MacKinnon sweepstakes at this time last year. This is a ferocious, tenacious, deep team that has excelled under the marvelous coaching of Patrick Roy and is stable in goal thanks to the performance of Semyon Varlamov. Minnesota is good enough to perhaps steal a game, but a series? I’m not buying it.

Chris: Avalanche in 5. There is no reason to believe that Patrick Roy will tolerate the team losing to the Wild. Therefore, fear itself will propel the Avs through to the second round.

J.J.: Avalanche in 7. I’ve been waiting for the Avs to crash and burn all year, but they look like the real deal. Wild will give them some pushback, but I don’t think enough of one to take the series.

Clay: Avalanche in 5. Colorado is too young, too fast, and too skilled to lose to the Wild.

St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks

Victoria: Hawks in 6. As long as Toews and Kane are healthy, I see the Hawks rolling over the Blues fairly easily. They’re young, strong, talented and they’ve been here before and know how to win. Blues, not so much.

Matt: Hawks in 7. A first-round series that should really be worthy of a Conference Final, I’d hedge my bets on the defending champion over a team which – on paper – is built for the playoffs. This looks like it could be a physical series from start to finish, but again I believe the Blackhawks’ top guns will survive this war of attrition. How much they have left after this is another debate in itself.

Chris: Hawks in 7. I’ll be honest, I flipped a coin to determine who wins in 7 games. These two teams will beat the living daylights out of each other.

J.J.: Hawks in 6. The Blues are hurt and slumping; the Hawks are about to get Kane and Toews back. Unless Ryan Miller turns into a money goalie overnight – the eye test says he hasn’t had the impact the Blues had hoped for – Chicago gets this one.

Clay: Hawks in 7.  One of the most intriguing first-round series. It sounds like Chicago is healthy, while St. Louis is everything but.

Anaheim Ducks vs. Dallas Stars

Victoria: Ducks in 5. Teemu wants one last Cup and he’s gonna steamroll Seguin, Benn and the Stars to get there. I’m hoping, because I am not a Ducks fan at all, that eventually they run out of steam, but it won’t be in this round.

Matt: Ducks in 4. The Ducks, who finished first in the West, look like a team that has been in cruise control the last couple weeks. But they appear motivated by what I’d like to call the Teemu Factor. Selanne, who looks like he knows this will be his final season, wants another Stanley Cup ring and I like the Ducks to play hard for the best player the franchise has ever known. Dallas is a team just happy to be here.

Chris: Ducks in 5. May the power Wild Wing compel you. Seriously… is anyone taking Dallas?

J.J.: Ducks in 6. How the Ducks keep winning hockey games with one good line and a (relatively) no-name goalie baffles me.

Clay: Ducks in 5. The Stars might get one, but that’s it. Look for some of Anaheim’s younger players (Bonino, Fowler) to shine.

San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings

Victoria: Kings in 7. Because they can. With the addition of Gaborik to their already stacked scoring line-up – Carter, Kopitar, Doughty, etc. – they’ve got the advantage. Also, history dictates Sharks never win it all. This year will be no different and the Kings will put them out of their misery early.

Matt: Kings in 7. I know we say this almost every year, but the Sharks always look like a team that thrives in the regular season only to come up short in the playoffs. Los Angeles is a team that has struggled to find consistency on offense, but their club has a history of flipping the switch when it matters most. I’ll take SoCal over NorCal, yet again.

Chris: Kings in 6. Another series that will serve as a knock-down, drag-out brawl where only one team will survive. At least until round two.

J.J.: Sharks in 7. Jonathan Quick has been good, but the guys in front of him have had trouble scoring all year. This should be a familiar script for Canucks fans.

Clay: Sharks in 6. In this battle of teams that like to pound the Canucks, I like the Sharks’ firepower up front with Pavelski, Marleau, Thornton, Couture, Burns, and Hertl.

*****

Eastern Conference

Boston Bruins vs. Detroit Red Wings

Victoria: Wings in 7. Because the Wings are like the Goonies, they never say die. And because good should always triumph over evil.

Matt: Wings in 7. My upset special for the first round. Detroit has been ravaged by injuries all season, but their kids (Tatar, Nyquist, etc.) have helped fill in the holes quite admirably. With Henrik Zetterberg practicing and potentially nearing a return, things are looking up on the injury front. The same can’t be said for Boston, who’s already without some key bottom six forwards in Chris Kelly and Dan Paille, not to mention the questionable status of Patrice Bergeron.

Chris: I’m cheering for Motor City and wish them all the best in a long and glorious cup run. Bruins in 6.

J.J.: Wings in 6. I had a late pick in my playoff pool and lost out on all the Bruins who went early in the draft. I hope Datsyuk and Nyquist both have a big series.

Clay: Bruins in 6. They are hungry and right now the class of the East. Can’t believe I used the word class in describing these goofballs.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Montreal Canadiens

Victoria: Habs in 6. Sure they’ve got Steven Stamkos, but Habs have Pacioretty and most importantly Price. If he can channel his Olympic mojo, Bolts don’t stand a chance.

Matt: Habs in 7. My early nomination for the toughest series to call. The Bolts have been bolstered with the return of Steven Stamkos (11 goals in 20 games since his return), and provided goaltender Ben Bishop and forwards Valtteri Filppula and Ondrej Palat return for Game 1, should make for a tough test. Montreal is always a motivated club in the postseason, and Carey Price should have extra incentive after claiming the gold in Sochi.

Chris: Habs in 7. Il faut battre le fer pendant qu’il est chaud.

J.J.: Habs in 6. Ca-rey, Ca-rey, Ca-rey! PK and the Vanek-Desharnais-Pacioretty line aren’t bad either.

Clay: Habs in 7. The longer Bishop stays out, the better for Montreal of course. Intrigued by the young Palat and Johnson on Tampa Bay, but I think Montreal is deeper throughout the line-up.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

Victoria: Penguins in 4. Fleury has learned his lesson and won’t meltdown… at least not this soon. And Crosby, Neal, Kuntiz and Malkin will make quick work of….of…. whoever plays on Lumbus.

Matt: Penguins in 6. Every NHL postseason, there seems to be that one scrappy, annoying team that defies all odds and just doesn’t seem to go down without a big fight. The Blue Jackets reek of a team that is – perhaps foolishly – motivated to show the rest of the NHL that they’re worth being called a playoff team. The franchise hasn’t won a playoff game before, and the feisty Jackets should be able to embarrass Marc-Andre Fleury for at least a game or two.

Chris: Penguins in 4. Have to feel good for the Blue Jackets for givin’ ‘er a good effort. Pens already have the brooms.

J.J.: Penguins in 5. The Blue Jackets couldn’t beat the Penguins in the regular season; unless playoff-mode Fleury makes an appearance, I really don’t think they’ll beat them in the playoffs either.

Clay: Penguins in 5. Too much firepower up front for Pittsburgh. Plus that Crosby guy.

New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers

Victoria: Flyers in 7. This, kids, will be the series to watch. It will be long and scrappy in my opinion. AV has the ability to guide a team through the playoffs, but the Rangers have the history of failing early. Flyers have something to prove after a really crappy start to the season. If Giroux can stop with the stupid hits he’s got a history of in playoffs, then Philly will scrape through.

Matt: Rangers in 7. Long live the King. Henrik Lundqvist has been sensational down the stretch, scraping together a .949 save percentage in his final five games and looking as good as he’s ever been. The Rangers’ success hinges largely on his shoulders, but something should be said about New York’s 25 road wins, which are best in the Eastern Conference. It’s hard to see the Rangers not stealing a game on the road.

Chris: Rangers in 6. Because you know the darkest timeline has AV leading the Rangers to the Cup, right?

J.J.: Rangers in 7. Only because it would be so Canuck-y for AV’s new team to have some post-season success immediately after being fired by the Canucks.

Clay: Rangers in 7. Better goaltending. ‘Nuff said.

Nov 232013
 

Well, that was a big monkey of their backs.

After 5 consecutive losses, a stretch in which they scored a grand total of 6 goals, the Vancouver Canucks busted out of their slump in a big way, and beat the Columbus Blue Jackets by a 6-2 score.

Here’s hoping this is the start of some good puck luck for the good guys.

Read more #TGATT goodness past the jump.

Nov 222013
 

185443526_slide
(source: nhl.com)

Vancouver Canucks (11-8-4)
Columbus Blue Jackets (8-11-3)

The Blue Jackets are in Vancouver to take on the Canucks for their second and final meeting this season. In their last meeting in Columbus on October 20th, the Blue Jackets won 3-1. Blue Jackets goaltender Curtis McElhinney, was impressive with 37 saves.

The Canucks are looking for their first win in 5 games. Their current 5-game losing streak is their longest since an 8-game losing streak back in January 2009. And we all remember how they bumped that slump, right?

As for the Blue Jackets, they have won 2 out of their last 5 games.

Who’s Hot

Blue Jackets forward RJ Umberger has recorded a point in the last 3 out of 4 games (2 goals and 1 assist). Defensemen James Wisniewski is the Blue Jackets leading point scorer; he also has 3 points in the Blue Jackets’ last 4 games.

Despite the Canucks’ recent play, goaltender Roberto Luongo has been doing well with a 0.924 save percentage in November, including a 0.933 save percentage in his last 3 games.

Who’s Out

The Vancouver Canucks are still without Jordan Schroeder (ankle), who’s on IR and not expected back until late December.

The Columbus Blue Jackets are missing quite a few players. Brandon Dubinsky, the Blue Jackets second-leading scorer (5 goals) injured his foot in Tuesday’s game and will be out. The Blue Jackets are still without Nathan Horton (shoulder), Cody Bass (thumb), Matt Calvert (abdomen), Dalton Prout (back) and Marian Gaborik (knee).

Sep 302013
 

On the eve of the start of the 2013/2014 NHL regular season, I preview the 30 teams, one division at a time.

Rangers vs Islanders

Photo credit: MLB

Carolina Hurricanes

The Good

The top-line of Eric Staal, Alex Semin and Jiri Tlusty was one of the highest-scoring lines in the NHL last season, but the Canes have little scoring depth after that. Adding Jordan Staal last season helped address this, but at this point, Tuomo Ruutu and Jeff Skinner can’t reliably be counted on to stay healthy.

The Bad

I think it says enough when the addition of Mike Komisarek on defense is considered an upgrade.

The Outlook

Things won’t be rocking like a Hurricane in Carolina this season.

*****

Columbus Blue Jackets

The Good

If Marion Gaborik, Nathan Horton, Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky can ever stay healthy, the Blue Jackets may actually boast some scoring punch on its top two lines. They still do have a lot of ifs, but there’s no denying GM John Davidson has the team moving along the right path.

The Bad

Like the Canes, the Blue Jackets don’t have a lot of team depth.

The Outlook

Columbus was built to bump and grind it out with the best of them, which, playing in the old Central Division, almost won them a playoff spot last season. The East is a different beast, however, and being in the same division as the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders will force them to play a more wide-open game than they’d like.

*****

New Jersey Devils

The Good

With Hall of Famer, Martin Brodeur, already in the lineup, goaltending was never an issue in Newark. But now, they also have ex-Canuck, Cory Schneider, to take over when Brodeur decides to hang them up.

The Bad

After losing Zach Parise, the Devils finished 28th in goals per game in 2012/2013. Now, they’ve also lost their leading goal scorer, David Clarkson (Toronto), and 2nd-leading scorer, Ilya Kovalchuk (KHL).

The Outlook

While Brodeur and Schneider can keep the Devils close in games, regardless of how the team is playing in front of them, I’m not convinced UFA signings, Michael Ryder, Jaromir Jagr and Ryane Clowe can adequately replace the loss of Parise, Kovalchuk and Clarkson.

*****

New York Islanders

The Good

With John Tavares and Matt Moulson leading the way, the Islanders finished the 2012/2013 season with the 7th-ranked offense in the NHL. Now, it looks like Josh Bailey and Kyle Okposo are poised to take another step in their development and help out. Ex-Canuck, Michael Grabner, can also be counted on to score about 20+ goals.

The Bad

The Isles don’t have much back on d. Yes, they’ll score a lot. But they’ll also let in a lot of goals.

The Outlook

If another youngster or two – maybe a Griffin Reinhart – then the Isles may very well compete for one of the last playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.

*****

New York Rangers

The Good

The Rangers may very well benefit from a gentler, calmer, kinder (sometimes too kind) voice behind the bench in former Canucks coach, Alain Vigneault. But also, AV will also benefit from having an elite goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist, a deep group down the middle (Brad Richards, Derek Stepan, Derrick Brassard and Brian Boyle), some solid players on the wings (Rick Nash, Ryan Callahan), and some good, young players stepping in (Carl Hagelin, Mats Zucarello and JT Miller).

The Bad

The Rangers’ special teams weren’t exactly special last season – their PP was in the bottom-third of the league and their PK was merely average – and they didn’t add anyone specifically to address them.

The Outlook

After the Penguins and the Capitals, the Rangers should take one of the divisional playoff spots. How far they go will depend largely on how AV can motivate a group that seemed to get stale last season.

*****

Philadelphia Flyers

The Good

On paper, the Flyers seem to always boast one of the strongest, most balanced teams in the league, and this season is no different. Up front, they already had Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, Scott Hartnell, Sean Couturier and Matt Read in their top-nine. And then they added Vincent Lecavalier during free agency. In the back, they added offensive defenseman, Mark Streit, to a group that already included Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, Nicklas Grossman and Luke Schenn.

The Bad

The Flyers’ playoff hopes hang on Ray Emery, who hasn’t been a no. 1 goalie since the 2006/2007 season, and Steve Mason, whose last good year as a no. 1 goalie was his rookie year in the 2008/2009 season.

The Outlook

As their goaltending go, the Flyers will go. But hey, it wouldn’t be Philadelphia-like any other way.

*****

Pittsburgh Penguins

The Good

Where to start? Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, James Neal and Chris Kunitz highlight the attack, and Pascal Dupuis, Brandon Sutter and Jussi Jokinen provide more than adequate support. 21-year old Beau Bennett looks good too.

The Bad

Marc-Andre Fleury is still the Pens’ starting goaltender while Tomas Vokoun is out indefinitely.

The Outlook

The Pens should make the playoffs on the strength of their lineup alone. After that, all bets are off.

*****

Washington Capitals

The Good

Simply, the Caps’ offense. Alex Ovechkin is back. And so is Mike Green. Nicklas Backstrom scored at a point-a-game pace. Marcus Johansson and Troy Brouwer also improved. And while the league’s 5th-ranked offense and top-ranked power play lost second-line center, Mike Ribeiro, the Caps did replace him with Mikhail Grabovski.

The Bad

The defense is razor-thin. Green, fellow offensive defenseman, John Carlson, and defensive defenseman, Karl Alzner, head the group, but after that consists of some guys I’ve never heard of.

The Outlook

The Caps will make the playoffs, but will need some help in the back end to make any sort of an extended playoff run.

Mar 272013
 

It wasn’t exactly a masterpiece, but the Canucks won their 5th consecutive game last night, beating the Columbus Blue Jackets 1-0 in the shootout.

If you were looking for chills, spills and thrills, well, you went to the wrong place.

But hey, 2 points is 2 points, and with the win, the Canucks regained top spot in the Northwest Division, although the idle Minnesota Wild has 2 games in hand.

Read more #TGATT goodness past the jump.

Mar 262013
 

Mason Raymond of the Vancouver Canucks scores a spinorama goal in the shootout to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Photo credit: Globe and Mail

Rick Nash was the face of the Columbus Blue Jackets for nine seasons.

So it was a bittersweet moment when the only true superstar the franchise had ever had agreed to waive his no-trade clause to go to the New York Rangers.

The Blue Jackets had only made the playoffs once in its not-so-storied history. The Rangers boasted some big names in their lineup and had just made the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2007. It was obvious that Nash wanted to go to a team that had a legitimate chance of, not only making the playoffs, but also making a run for the Stanley Cup, and that team wasn’t Columbus.

If you thought Columbus would have seller’s remorse, think again. An informal Twitter poll done by Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch asked whether or not Columbus fans would do the Rick Nash trade again – the Blue Jackets received Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Tim Erixon and a first round draft pick in return – and the answer was overwhelming on the “Yes” side.

And who would blame them?

Perhaps it’s a by-product of a shortened season, but with only one-third of the season left to play, there’s not much difference between the two teams. The Rangers, who many thought would be legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, especially with Nash in the lineup, are barely clinging on to the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets, who many thought would occupy their usual spot in the bottom of the Western Conference, are only 2 points out of a playoff spot.

Starting at the top, where GM John Davidson has started to mold the Blue Jackets into a young, hard-working team, and through the lineup where guys like Dubinsky, Anisimov, Nick Foligno, Mark Letestu, Jack Johnson and Sergei Bobrovsky are leading the team on a nightly basis, there is, for the first time in a long time, a feeling among the faithful that their team can beat any team on any given night.

And it took the trading of their superstar in the summer to pave the way for their success so far this season.

Canucks Record

17-9-6, 40 points (2nd in the Northwest Division, 4th in the Western Conference)

Season Series

This is the third and final meeting between the Canucks and the Blue Jackets this season. Neither of the first two meetings were decided in regulation time. In their first meeting on March 7, Matt Calvert scored the OT winner for the Blue Jackets. Five days later, Mason Raymond scored the shootout winner to win the game for the Canucks and kickstart their current 6-2-0 run.

Who’s Hot

Sergei Bobrovsky has been the Blue Jacket’s best player this season. Playing in the final year of his contract, Bobrovsky is 8-1-2 in his last 11 starts. He is 3rd in the NHL in save % (0.927) and is 6th in both GAA (2.17) and shutouts (2).

Cory Schneider, who is getting his fifth consecutive start, has won 4 straight games and has allowed only 5 goals in that span.

Quickies

  • Keith Ballard will once again suit up on the third line with Andrew Ebbett and Alex Burrows. #kb4ward (Vancouver Province)
  • Jussi Jokinen and Kaspar Daugavins are on waivers, and the Canucks should make a claim for both of them. (Pass It To Bulis)
Mar 132013
 

In a serious case of déjà vu, it took more than overtime for the Canucks to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets and salvage the road trip.

I wonder how fans feel about that?

Oh my.

Read more #TGATT goodness past the jump.

Mar 132013
 

With a 2-1 shootout victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets in Columbus, the Canucks were able to avenge last week’s 2-1 overtime defeat to the same team in the same arena.

This time, highlights included the strong goaltending of Roberto Luongo and Mason Raymond’s spin-o-rama goal in the shootout.

In this video, I touch on Roberto Luongo’s strong game, David Booth’s aggressive play, Alex Burrows sliding into Luongo, boarding penalties, the goaltending situation, Cam Barker’s offensive prowess, and Tom Sestito’s decreasing playing time.

 

Mar 122013
 

Matt Calvert, Columbus Blue Jackets vs Cory Schneider, Vancouver Canucks

Photo credit: Lancaster Eagle Gazette

The Vancouver Canucks have easily dominated the Northwest Division in recent years. Heck, they’ve dominated it early this season, going 6-2-1 in their first 9 games against NW foes to-date (versus a 4-5-6 record against the rest of the Western Conference). But after a lackluster effort in Minnesota a couple of days ago, the Canucks have allowed the Wild to pass them in the standings.

In fact, at the halfway point of this shortened season, the Canucks have just 28 points in 24 games – good for a 6th place with 3 other teams in the Western Conference – and only 4 points up from tonight’s opponent, the Columbus Blue Jackets. They’ve been wildly inconsistent, especially in the last couple of weeks, and the frustration is clearly mounting among the team’s faithful.

In the meantime, the Blue Jackets are in the midst of one of their more successful stretches in their franchise’s history. Fresh off sweeping the Detroit Red Wings in a home-and-home series this past weekend, and unbeaten in their last 7 games (5-0-2), they are currently the NHL’s hottest team.

Add to that, they have the NHL’s hottest goalie. On Monday, Sergei Bobrovsky was named the NHL’s first star of the week after going 4-0-0 with a 0.77 GAA and 0.972 save percentage.

Think the Philadelphia Flyers are having a bit of seller’s remorse right now?

And as for the Canucks’ own goalies, well, right now, they’re struggling to make the critical saves at critical points in the game. Like, in the game’s first minute or so.

Canucks Record

24 GP, 11-7-6, 28 points (2nd in Northwest Division, 6th in Western Conference

Who’s Hot

After going goalless in the first 13 games of the season, Henrik Sedin has a 3-game goal scoring streak and a 7-game point streak (4G-5A-9P). Chris Higgins has 4 goals in his last 7 games.

For the Blue Jackets, Nick Foligno has 7 points (1G-6A) in his last 7 games. RJ Umberger has a 3-game point streak (2G-1A-3P).

Quickies

  • Roberto Luongo gets the start. (Vancouver Province)
  • Jordan Schroeder has been sent back down to the Chicago Wolves. It’ll be up to Andrew Ebbett now to get Dale Weise and Tom Sestito going. (TSN)
  • Manny Malhotra is also heading to Chicago to help the Canucks prospects with faceoffs. (Vancouver Sun)
Mar 092013
 

Much like the Canucks had problems getting going against the Columbus Blue Jackets, we had some technical difficulties of our own.

#TGATT is a day late, but don’t worry, it promises to be more exciting than the game itself.

Well, anyway, let’s just get to it.

Read more #TGATT goodness past the jump.

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