It’s an early game in Detroit today. Luckily NASCAR finished on time, so there were no TV conflicts in my house. None of the duct taped cars won, so I was pretty disappointed.
— Justine Galo (@Aviewfromabroad) February 24, 2013
It’s an early game in Detroit today. Luckily NASCAR finished on time, so there were no TV conflicts in my house. None of the duct taped cars won, so I was pretty disappointed.
— Justine Galo (@Aviewfromabroad) February 24, 2013
In a strange scene from Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena yesterday afternoon, the Red Wings fans began to chant “USA! USA!” during the last 30 seconds of their team’s 8 – 3 defeat of the Vancouver Canucks.
For better or for worse, I know that this has happened in other hockey arenas before.
And while there’s nothing wrong with showing a bit of patriotism from time to time, there is indeed a time and place for such showings.
I’m not convinced that Red Wings fans picked the right place nor right time given that only 5 of the 20 players dressed for Detroit were born in the USA.
Thus, after much thought, research, and coin-flipping, I have come up with the Top 10 Reasons Why the Detroit Fans Were Chanting “USA! USA!”:
10. They got tired of singing along to Don’t Stop Believing and Sweet Caroline (credit to @transcendwebs).
9. They are still bitter at Roberto Luongo and all of Canada for beating Team USA at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
8. Related to #9, they were cheering for their US-born netminder Jimmy Howard (and his American backup Tom McCollum for that matter).
7. They really wanted to affirm their US-born players: the 2 goalies (as mentioned above), Justin Abdelkader, Drew Miller, and Brian Lashoff…at the risk of insulting their 6 Canadians, 4 Swedes, and one each from Switzerland, Russia, Finland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic.
6. Chanting “United Nations! United Nations!” doesn’t have the same ring to it (credit to @lyteforce).
5. They were being very considerate and wanted to cheer up Canuck Americans Ryan Kesler, Chris Higgins, Keith Ballard, Jordan Schroeder, Andrew Alberts, and Cory Schneider.
4. They were inspired by a video tribute to Hacksaw Jim Duggan (see below) during the previous stoppage in play (credit to @DaveLeeSon1).
3. None of them were in their seats for the Star Spangled Banner prior to the game.
2. They wanted to do something fun before leaving the arena only to find that their cars are gone (credit to @browntobure).
1. They were giving a special shout-out and welcome to CHB writer @concretefluff who moved to Los Angeles last week.
After 6 consecutive wins, the Vancouver Canucks fell a bit back down to earth last week. They did win a relatively low-key game against the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday, but then blew leads in back-to-back losses to the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues.
Without a doubt, the highlight of the last week was Henrik Sedin passing Markus Naslund as the Canucks’ franchise scoring leader. Against the Stars on Friday, King Hank assisted on brother Daniel’s goal to tie Naslund, and a bit later in the game, passed Naslund with a beautiful cross-ice assist on Alex Burrows’ marker. For good measure, he recorded another 2 points on Sunday against the Blues – an assist on Ryan Kesler’s first goal of the season, and also, his own first goal of the season.
This week, the Canucks embark on a four-game road trip through the Central and Pacific Divisions.
Tuesday, February 19, 2013 at Chicago Blackhawks (5:30 PM start)
The Canucks won the two teams’ first meeting back on February 1st behind some great goaltending from Roberto Luongo and Jordan Schroeder’s shootout winner. To-date, this stands as 1 of the Hawks’ 3 losses this season – they are 12-0-3 with all 3 losses coming in the shootout.
Patrick Kane is off to a hot start with 21 points (9G-12A) in 15 games, putting him in a tie with Steven Stamkos for 3rd in the NHL in scoring. (Stamkos has played 1 less game, however.) Starter Corey Crawford remains sidelined due to a suspected concussion.
With the Canucks placing Andrew Ebbett on waivers yesterday, it is expected that David Booth will make his season debut against the Hawks.
Thursday, February 21, 2013 at Dallas Stars (5:00 PM)
The Dallas Stars ruined Hank’s night last Friday by coming back from a 2-goal deficit and posting a 4-3 win at Rogers Arena. With 3 minutes left in the third period, Surrey native, Brenden Dillon, scored his 3rd goal of the season, which stood up as the game-winner.
Undrafted in junior and undrafted in the NHL, Dillon is a good story for the Stars in the early season.
Friday, February 22, 2013 at Nashville Predators (5:00 PM)
After last season’s offensive explosion of sorts, during which they ranked 8th in the league in goals per game (2.83), the Nashville Predators have somewhat reverted back to form, currently ranking 30th out of 30 teams and scoring a measly average of 2.06 goals per game. Losing Ryan Suter in the summer has surely hurt. And now, they’re also missing Patric Hornqvist (leg injury), who had 27 goals for them last season. Still, they sit 5th in the Western Conference, thanks in large part to gaining 5 “loser points” (1 in OT and 4 in the shootout).
The Canucks and the Preds split their 4 games last season with both teams winning two games each, one at home and the other on the road.
Tuesday, February 24, 2013 at Detroit Red Wings (2:00 PM)
For a team going through a turnover of sorts, the Detroit Red Wings are doing a decent job of staying in contention for a playoff spot. Sure they lost Niklas Lidstrom, Brad Stuart and Jiri Hudler, but they’ve been able to break in guys like Damien Brunner, Tomas Tatar and Brian Lashoff into the lineup. They’ve also given Jonathan Ericsson a larger role in the back end.
The Canucks had a 2-1-1 record against the Wings last season. Henrik Sedin paced the Canucks with 4 assists while Daniel had 2 goals and 3 points. Darren Helm scored 5 (1G-4A) of his 26 points last season in the 4 games against the Canucks.
Yesterday, we previewed the Eastern Conference. Today – the Western Conference:
1. St. Louis Blues – 60 points
Why: The time is now for the Blues, who are strong in all areas and backstopped by one of the best pairings in the league (Jaroslav Halak, Brian Elliott). A Conference Finals appearance, at the very least, should be expected. Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pieterangelo are among the best young defensemen in the game and eat up minutes on the back end. The addition of rookie winger Vlad Tarasenko should give the Blues three scoring lines with grit.
2. Los Angeles Kings – 58 points
Why: The Kings finally played to their potential in last year’s post season, winning the Stanley Cup after a difficult regular season. There’s no reason to expect similar struggles this time around, especially with the lockout-related layoff recharging some of the players’ batteries. An injury to Willie Mitchell hurts somewhat, but should give more icetime to second-year defenseman Slava Voynov, who was the reason L.A. could part with Jack Johnson at last year’s deadline. The Kings are extremely deep at centre, with Anze Kopitar a dominant two-way force (although he’s starting the season with a knee injury). Jonathan Quick was the NHL’s best goalie in 2012, and is supported by Jonathan Bernier, who could easily start for a number of other teams.
3. Vancouver Canucks – 50 points
Why: The window on the Canucks’ Stanley Cup dream is quickly closing. Injuries have rendered Ryan Kesler a question mark, and without him it’s hard to see where the goals will come from beyond the Sedin line. David Booth’s injury also adds to these offensive woes. The team is deep in net, and really needs to move Roberto Luongo as soon as possible to fill gaps up front. The blueline is very solid but unspectacular, with Jason Garrison likely to struggle to repeat last year’s goal-scoring performance. New starting goalie Cory Schneider was the only significant Canuck to spend time playing during the lockout. Expect this team to be slow out of the gate.
4. Detroit Red Wings – 54 points
Why: The Red Wings blueline looks rather suspect, especially when you consider two former Maple Leafs (Carlo Colaiacovo, Ian White) will be expected to shoulder top-4 minutes. Actually, the Wings will likely go as far as two youngsters take them: If Brendan Smith can step in and fill some of the offensive void left by Lidstrom’s retirement, that will be a major boost to the team’s fortunes. Similarly, if Damien Brunner can find chemistry with Henrik Zetterberg, it will fill the void left by Jiri Hudler’s departure. Pavel Datsyuk remains an elite player, and Jimmy Howard is a proven commodity in goal.
5. Nashville Predators – 52 points
Status: Status Quo
Why: The Predators will be successful as long as Pekka Rinne remains a top-end goaltender in the NHL. Thankfully, Rinne played throughout the lockout, and should be in top-form right out of the gate. Yes, the loss of Ryan Suter has an impact, but not as much as you may expect, as youngsters Jonathan Blum and especially Roman Josi are ready for additional minutes. Up front, the team is filled with strong skating grinders, with Craig Smith the most likely Predator to experience a bump in offensive performance. This team will never win pretty, and the style of play likely to be found during this shortened season may actually be to their benefit. For what it’s worth, reviews of Sergei Kostitsyn’s play overseas during the lockout were extremely positive.
6. Phoenix Coyotes – 52 points
Status: Status Quo
Why: Mike Smith came out of nowhere to dominate between the pipes, lifting the Coyotes all the way to the Western Conference Finals. A similar level of performance should get them safely back into the playoffs, although an injury would be devastating (the drop-off in quality to backup Jason LaBarbera is massive). Oliver Ekman-Larsson was a point per game defenseman in the AHL, and looks ready to assume the mantle left by Niklas Lidstrom as the best Swedish defenseman in the NHL. Nobody squeezes more out of marginal NHL talent on the third and fourth lines than coach Dave Tippett. Steve Sullivan is unlikely to replace the performance of Ray Whitney (off to Dallas), which means the time is now for Mikel Boedker and Martin Hanzal to find their offensive game. In all honesty, the Predators and Coyotes are arguably the same team playing in different coloured jerseys.
7. Chicago Blackhawls – 51 points
Status: Dogfight for a playoff spot
Why: The elite talent to be found on the Blackhawks roster – and there’s a lot of it – is held back by questionable goaltending. Corey Crawford was inconsistent in goal last season for Chicago, and Ray Emery wasn’t much better. The defense unit is largely unchanged and should be strong, although Duncan Keith’s play dipped slightly in 2011-12. Up front, Marian Hossa should be ready after a devastating playoff hit from Raffi Torres, and Patrick Kane played very well overseas during the lockout.
8. Minnesota Wild – 49 points
Status: Dogfight for the playoffs
Why: Since when has spending a lot of money on unrestricted free agents led to on-ice success? Granted, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are huge improvements to the Wild roster, but this remains a work-in-progress lineup. Mikko Koivu should thrive with Parise on his wing, but the real key to the Minnesota attack this year will be the development of Mikael Granlund. If Granlund is Calder Trophy-worthy offensively, that should push the Wild into playoff contention. The defense behind Suter is thin and relatively young, and who knows how he will respond to greater responsibility than what he had in Nashville. Nik Backstrom is better-than-average in goal, but has been injury prone of late. His backup – Josh Harding – also has injury issues and was diagnosed with MS in October. Raised expectations and a slow start could cost coach Mike Yeo his job.
9. Edmonton Oilers – 49 points
Status: Dogfight for a playoff spot
Why: Let’s be clear – on paper, right now, it’s hard to see the Oilers as a playoff team. However it’s very likely they will improve upon every grade listed above over the course of the season. That’s what happens when young teams develop and get better. It should also be noted that only the Flyers had more players active during the lockout than the Oilers. Rookie Jeff Schultz has dominated the AHL, and could be the most exciting rookie defenseman to hit the NHL since Sergei Zubov. NHL-calibre play from the rookie Schultz, and injury-free play from Ryan Whitney, will give a significant boost to the Oiler blueline. Meanwhile, the team is loaded with offensive talent up front. Jordan Eberle, in particular, looks like he might be ready to join elite status. Finally, there isn’t a more respected coach internationally than Ralph Krueger. If he lives up to his reputation, it’s just one more reason why the Oilers can make the playoffs.
10. San Jose Sharks – 49 points
Status: Dogfight for a playoff spot
Why: The Sharks nucleus remains formidable, but beyond Logan Couture, it is also aging, with the best days behind Joe Thornton, Dan Boyle and Patrick Marleau. San Jose remains a team with a good top-six and a sketchy bottom six group of forwards. The blueline is the team’s strength. Brent Burns is still recovering from off-season surgery and had a disappointing first season on the West Coast, but has the talent to be a solid #2 defenseman. Brad Stuart and Doug Murray are solid defensively, while Marc-Edouard Vlasic is underrated. In goal, Antti Niemi continues his history of inconsistent play, and may be pushed by backup Thomas Greiss.
11. Dallas Stars – 46 points
Status: Dogfight for a playoff spot
Why: The Stars have rolled the dice in the off-season, loading up with aged veterans Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr in efforts to get the team back into the playoffs. It’s quite possible this strategy could blow up in the team’s face, as older players will have their energy and bodies taxed during the shortened season. Top-line forward Jaime Benn is also sitting out with a contract dispute, making it even more likely the Stars get off to a poor start. The blueline is thin, although Alex Goligoski has untapped potential as a puck-mover. The key then is how well Kari Lehtonen can play, and how healthy he can remain. Lehtonen was Vezina-calbire last season.
12. Anaheim Ducks – 44 points
Why: Like their state rivals in San Jose, the Anaheim Ducks boast a very solid offensive nucleus in their top two lines (Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, Teemu Selanne) but little depth beyond that upfront. The hope is rookies Nick Bonino, Kyle Palmieri and Devante Smith-Pelly can fill the talent gap, but that’s asking a lot (especially Smith-Pelly, who hasn’t shown much in the AHL). The addition of Scott Niedermayer as an assistant coach is hoped to help the stalled development of Cam Fowler and Luca Sbisa. They must improve to support what is otherwise a slow-footed, veteran blueline. In net, Jonas Hiller had a poor 2011-12 and must rebound for the Ducks to get into the playoff race. A slow start could see some major changes to the roster, not to mention coach and management.
13. Calgary Flames – 43 points
Why: There’s just not enough talent on this roster to win a playoff spot, which means it will take a superhuman season from Miikka Kiprusoff to get the Flames to the post-season. At his age (36) that’s a lot to ask. Meanwhile, the team’s best player, Jarome Iginla, has already suffered a groin injury and has a lot of wear and tear on his 35-year old body. The additions of Jiri Hudler, Roman Cervenka (out with a blood clot) and Dennis Wideman are band-aid solutions to solving some of the offensive issues that have plagued the team recently. You can question each players’ willingness to compete and they’re likely to be found in Bob Hartley’s doghouse at some point. In fact, a poor start to the short Flames season could see both Kiprusoff and Iginla finally dealt, in efforts to better secure the team’s future.
14. Colorado Avalanche – 41 points
Status: Wild Card
Why: Whereas the Capitals are the biggest question mark in the Eastern Conference, welcome to the biggest question mark in the West. They could win the division; they could end up in last place. The Avalanche certainly feature talented young forwards up front (Matt Duchesne, Gabriel Landeskog, Paul Statsny), but the contract dispute with Ryan O’Reilly is a significant blow. He’s the team’s best two-way player – Colorado’s version of Ryan Kesler – and without him there’s a significant lack of grit and defensive acumen amongst the forward group. The defense looks like a mess. Erik Johnson is still struggling to find a consistent, top-level NHL game. Rookies Tyson Barrie and Stefan Elliott may be asked to add speed and puck-movement to a sluggish blueline, but both play a high-risk game. Semyon Varlamov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere are a goaltending duo with strong potential but prone to streakiness. Keep in mind – only 5 Avs players were active during the lockout.
15. Columbus Blue Jackets – 38 points
Why: Essentially, the Blue Jackets have blown themselves up by trading Rick Nash, and are starting from scratch in terms of building a winner. They’re going about it the right way this time, with a focus on building from the net out. They could be better than they’re rated here. Sergei Bobrovsky was lights-out during the lockout in the KHL and has high-end potential. A strong season from him would be the first strong goaltending season Columbus has had in years. On defense, Jack Johnson played very well after being dealt from the Kings, as did Nikita Nikitin (from St. Louis). Add James Wisniewski to the equation and suddenly you have a mobile, solid puck-moving top-three. It’s in their own zone where there could be problems. The biggest hole is up front on offense, where youngster Cam Atkinson looks primed to break out. There’s some decent grit and speed in the mix, but goals will be very hard to come by.
Photo credit: Toronto Star
After winning a second consecutive Presidents Trophy and then falling to the eventual Stanley Cup champions, Los Angeles Kings, in the first round of the 2012 playoffs, and after almost nine months of wallowing in the what might have been, the Vancouver Canucks will finally hit the ice again this Saturday to start the 2012/2013 NHL season.
The team released their 48-game regular season schedule this weekend. They’ll be playing 4 or 5 games against each Northwest Division opponent, and 3 games against each of the other teams in the Western Conference. They’ll play 0 games against teams in the Eastern Conference.
Because of the shortened season, Canucks fans, unfortunately, again won’t see the likes of Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos in Vancouver. Regardless, there are still some marquee match-ups on tap; here are 5 of them:
Saturday, January 19th vs Anaheim Ducks
The Canucks want to make it up to fans for putting them through the 113-day lockout, and they’re starting on opening night. The Canucks have promised a full night of festivities, including selecting a lucky fan to drop the ceremonial puck before the game, giving the jersey of the players’ backs, and offering 50% discounts on team merchandise and $1 hotdogs, popcorn and drinks.
Friday, February 1st vs Chicago Blackhawks
This will be the two teams’ first meeting since Duncan Keith’s cheap shot to Daniel Sedin’s head. For his transgression, Keith earned a 5-game rest before the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Canucks sorely missed their leading scorer, fizzled out in the first round of the playoffs, and fans have been demanding for their pound of flesh ever since.
Monday, January 28th at Los Angeles Kings
The last time the Canucks tried to avenge a playoff loss, they beat the Bruins in Boston in a spectacularly entertaining and dirty game. It was a Saturday matinee game in January, but also, the peak of their season. Likewise, the Canucks will want to win this rematch against the Kings, but they have to also understand that this game is only game 6 of 48.
Saturday, March 30th at Edmonton Oilers
The Canucks play the Oilers and their phenom five of Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Nail Yakupov and Justin Schultz five times this season – twice at Rogers Arena and three times in Edmontom – but this is the only one televised nationally on CBC Hockey Night in Canada.
Saturday, March 16th vs Detroit Red Wings
Even without Nicklas Lidstrom manning their blueline, the Red Wings are still a big draw in Vancouver. They still have some firepower and skill in the lineup with Pavel Datsyuk and new captain, Henrik Zetterberg. After leaving for a few years to play for the Canucks and the Florida Panthers, the ever-quotable Mikael Samuelsson re-signed back with Detroit this past summer.
Photo credit: National Post web. REUTERS/Adam Hunger
Hopefully the holiday season has you in a much more festive mood than the current state of the NHL, and if not, we here at CHB ask that you please drink more Rum & Egg Nog (pretty sure Tom provided the best recipe last year).
Anywho, with the year winding down and us in need some content to keep the dust bunnies from collecting on the site, I sent out the call to our contributors to see what they could remember from the past year & what they can foresee for the next (which you’ll learn more about tomorrow).
J.J. Guerrero (@canuckshockey)
2012 was supposed to be the year the Canucks would take that one final step towards winning their elusive first Stanley Cup. With a largely intact roster from the 2011 team that fell one win short and the addition of a second-line power forward in David Booth, they were certainly poised to make another run at it.
However, as GM Mike Gillis admitted, the Canucks peaked seven days into 2012. Led by Cory Schneider and Cody Hodgson, they exacted revenge on the Boston Bruins, beating them in a Saturday matinee in Beantown, a win which probably ranks among the most memorable in this franchise’s history.
It’s just too bad the calendar read January 7, 2012 instead of June 15, 2011.
The Canucks were physically and emotionally-spent after that win and played less than stellar hockey the rest of the way. They somehow snagged a second consecutive Presidents’ Trophy, but were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs by the Los Angeles Kings.
With Ryan Kesler and Alex Edler coming off major surgeries, the Sedins, Alex Burrows, Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa a year older, and the salary cap expecting to shrink with a new CBA, the window for this core may be closing and 2012 may prove to be a year of “what-ifs”, unfortunately one of many in the Canucks’ 41 years.
Matt Lee (@mattlee61)
2012 was a pretty bizarre year for the Canucks not only on the ice, but off of it, too. Going into the season, a lot of the talk was about how Vancouver would tackle the Stanley Cup hangover (which was of course answered with their season ending in 5 playoff games). But on the ice, you’d be hard pressed to find any particular game which gave you a reason to stand up and cheer. For me, only a couple games seemed to stood out, one of which was the Boston Bruins rematch back in January. The highlights speak for themselves, though:
Almost hard to believe the Canucks called it “just another game” after watching that, huh?
The other game which also proved memorable was the Canucks in Detroit back in February. The Red Wings had a lengthy home winning streak going at the Joe, and Vancouver was still the cream of the crop in the NHL standings. The game had the makings of a classic, and it was in every possible way.
But again, off the ice it was a circus. The fallout from their abrupt first-round playoff exit ushered the era of Cory Schneider and the (still going) exodus of Roberto Luongo. If the NHL lockout ends any time soon, it’ll just be a matter of time before the Luongo trade rumours swirl once again.
That doesn’t even include some other bizarre happenings: The Cody Hodgson trade rocked the city, Ryan Kesler’s continued rehab from another major surgery sparked worry among fans about how ready he will be in the event of a shortened season, and the signing of Jason Garrison in July was met with some cheers and some jeers… And the guy hasn’t even played a game yet.
Clay Imoo (@canuckclay)
2012 started off with so much promise. The Canucks entered the year having just passed the mighty Minnesota Wild for the Northwest Division lead – a lead they would never relinquish for the rest of the season. Then came that fateful game in Boston on January 7.
In the highly anticipated Stanley Cup Finals rematch, the Canucks prevailed 4-3 in a fight-filled affair. At the time, Canucks fans were on top of the world having just defeated their nemesis. However, the team struggled at times for the rest of the season despite locking up a second consecutive Presidents’ Trophy. In fact, even General Manager Mike Gillis admitted that the game may have taken an emotional toll on the team.
Add in a struggling power play and Duncan Keith’s dirty elbow on Daniel Sedin, and Vancouver looked over-matched in their first-round playoff series against the eventual Stanley Cup winners the Los Angeles Kings.
Victoria Pattison (@concretefluff)
Looking back on the 2012 season for the Canucks, I have to say it peaked early for me.
January 7, 2012 was the only game that really mattered to me in 2012. It was the game that should have happened on June 15, 2011. But it was more than just beating the dirty bears, it was also the first sign of the big changes the Canucks would make in 2012.
My favorite gum-smacking coach may say that he only started Cory Schneider because he wanted to let him play in his hometown, but no one believes that. It was a chance for Luongo to redeem himself and Vigneault didn’t trust him enough to let him have that chance. Schneider, was epic in that game. He played himself into the number one goalie spot.
Every game after the Boston game, seemed to be lack luster. Even when we won games, it seemed to me like it was by happenstance not due to actually working hard. I don’t blame the Canucks. Having a short summer break after a long, hard season with a heartbreaking Game 7 loss I didn’t think we would actually make it that far again.
That said, I didn’t think we would go down to the Kings in Round 1. The only thing more painful than watching Raymond fall down and Edler’s defensive meltdowns in Round 1 was reading the LA Kings snarktastic twitter posts.
— LA Kings (@LAKings) November 2, 2012
Photo credit: The Checking Line
Let’s just get this out of the way first, shall we?
This first round was a bloody disappointment.
Welcome to the deadpuck era 2.0 – to a style of play that see goal prevention more successful than goal creation.
Where goaltenders dominate, and the flow of the game – much improved since the lockout – has returned to slogging through muck.
It’s an game filled with interference and Wild West justice, where league’s least skilled players may attack, hurt and render obsolete its most talented.
Look, playoff hockey is supposed to be many things – faster, more physical, more passionate. But what it shouldn’t be is more boring.
But that’s what it’s been.
The league has become stronger defensively in general, and the playoffs have only amplified that. This is shaping up to be the lowest scoring first-round of the last five years, if not longer.
First Round Goals Per Game:
|Western Conference||Year||Eastern Conference|
God bless that Pittsburgh-Philadelphia series, which on its own has saved the league from having the lack of goals be a bigger negative story. The Battle of Pennsylvania averaged 9.33 (!!!) goals per game. The rest of the Eastern Conference games have been snore-fests (4.47).
Skilled teams are falling by the wayside in these playoffs, which, unless Philadelphia or Nashville win the Stanley Cup, reverses the historic trend that shows scoring teams persevere.
The only question is if this is a one-year anomaly or not.
The decline in scoring league-wide in recent years; the rise in shot-blocking; the reduction in penalty calls this season and power play goals (only the Sharks scored at a rate higher than 10% on the powerplay after the All-Star Game!); the defensive collapse in front of the net and other strategies lead me to believe things are only going to get worse unless rules are changed.
With that cheery thought in mind, let’s take a look at the Second Round match-ups in the Western Conference.
St. Louis Blues (2) vs.Los Angeles Kings (8)
Season Series: Los Angeles Kings (3-1)
What we have learned about St. Louis:
They have come of age. When the Blues hired Ken Hitchcock, they did so to determine once and for all whether the young players they’d assembled on their roster were good enough to win together. Manhandling the Sharks in the first round answered that question. Winning in five games also gives them some rest ahead of another round of significant travel against a gruelling West Coast team. The Blues have four lines that can contribute, although in reality only the top-two lines are a threat to score.
What we have learned about Los Angeles:
That they look like another Darryl Sutter team – the 2004 Calgary Flames that went on a Cup run. Jonathan Quick remains a brick wall in goal (Miikka Kiprusoff-esque) and Dustin Brown did a pretty terrific Jarome Iginla impression against the Canucks. Having said that, the absence of Daniel Sedin for three games (all losses) and the poor play of Ryan Kesler were significant factors in L.A.’s win. They’re a good team – better than your usual eighth place team – but the stars were aligned a bit for them in round one. Oh, and the fourth line barely plays.
Coaching: Blues. Slight edge to Hitchcock because he’s won a Cup but both coaches have their teams playing about as well as possible.
Goaltending: Kings. Both teams have put up microscopic goals against totals but if I had to pick one goalie from this series to win a seventh game right now it would be Jonathan Quick, not Brian Elliott or Jaroslav Halak.
Defense: Even. Alex Pieterangelo is playing better than Drew Doughty these days, but Willie Mitchell had the series of his life against the Canucks. Both teams execute their defensive systems flawlessly.
Offense: Blues. A slight edge here to the Blues, as Andy McDonald and Patrick Berglund had impressive first rounds. Can they continue? Meanwhile, the potential is there for L.A.’s offense to explode, but a strict commitment to Darryl Sutter’s system could mean on-going sporadic production from Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. If the Kings are to win this series, they need one of their big guns to get hot.
Special Teams: Blues. The Blues powerplay was third-best in the league post the All-Star Game, and lit-up the Sharks at a rate of 33%. Both teams have very good penalty kills.
Prediction: Blues in 6.
Phoenix Coyotes (3) vs Nashville Predators (4)
Season Series: Tied 2-2
What we have learned about Nashville:
They are who we thought they were – arguably the most talented, deepest Predators team in franchise history. They proved they can skate and out-play the Red Wings five-on-five as their powerplay (league best in the regular season) failed them in the first round. At over 20-minutes a game, rookie defenseman Roman Josi was leaned on and played a sound series against Detroit.
What we have learned about Phoenix:
That Mike Smith has pretty much transformed himself into goaltending coach Sean Burke, who at his best was among the league’s elite netminders. This is a Phoenix team that found surprising scoring depth in round one – no remaining Western Conference team had as many different round one goal scorers as Phoenix did (11). Otherwise, this is a Coyotes team that won a playoff series by taking advantage of the counter-attack and being opportunistic. Territorially, thanks to their bend-don’t-break defensive scheme, the Coyotes were outplayed much of round one by the Blackhawks.
Coaching: Even. Two of the best coaches in the game.
Goaltending: Even. Pekka Rinne has a bit longer resume, but Mike Smith was all-world for Phoenix in round one.
Defense: Predators. It’s an underrated blueline in Phoenix, but Ryan Suter and Shea Weber were dominant against the Red Wings. The Predators should get Hal Gill back as well, which should give them a boost on the penalty kill and an additional match-up advantage. Forwards on both teams are expected to play both-ways, but the Predators don’t give up nearly as many shots as the Coyotes do.
Offense: Predators. The Coyotes surprising scoring in the first round could be attributable to poor play from Chicago’s Corey Crawford. Ray Whitney is an elite, intelligent attacker but the rough style of play found in these playoffs limits his effectiveness at even strength. Let’s not forget Nashville was one of the highest scoring teams in the league during the regular season. Alex Radulov is probably the player in this series most capable of dominating play.
Special Teams: Predators. Phoenix’s special teams were very good against a Chicago team that struggled in this area during the regular season. Expect a bit of a drop-off. Nashville’s powerplay struggled against Detroit. They’ll need a better second round performance if they hope to beat the Coyotes.
Prediction: Predators in 5.
Finally, a quick word on the departed:
Cause of death: A lack of secondary scoring and Duncan Keith’s elbow.
Prescription: Stay-the-course, get what you can for Luongo, and try and find a 25-goal scorer or strong playmaker who can mesh with Ryan Kesler.
Cause of death: Poor goaltending and a massive concussion to Marian Hossa, care of Raffi Torres.
Prescription: Upgrade in net. Otherwise there’s still much to like about this Chicago team.
Detroit Red Wings
Cause of death: Age. This team is just not as deep or capable on defense or up front.
Prescription: Use their cap space on Zach Parise and/or Ryan Suter. A Rick Nash trade would be worth exploring too. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Jaromir Jagr end up here either as a PP specialist (if he doesn’t resign in Philly).
San Jose Sharks
Cause of death: Age. See the Red Wings above.
Prescription: Shake up the core. It would not be a surprise to see Patrick Marleau and/or Danny Boyle moved to bring fresh pieces into the fold. The Sharks will try to take a quick step back to take a giant leap forward before Joe Thornton is completely washed up.
For his hit on Kyle Clifford, Byron Bitz was suspended by Brendan Shanahan for the next 2 playoff games. No issues here. Like I said yesterday, it wasn’t necessarily malicious, but it was still a dangerous hit on a player in a vulnerable position.
Now compare that to Shea Weber’s *ahem* play on Henrik Zetterberg:
For grabbing Zetterberg’s head and slamming it into the glass a la Blake Griffin, Weber was issued a $2,500 fine.
I have three words to describe this: What. A. Joke.
Late last season, the NHL swore to take steps to eliminate head shots. To underscore the point, they suspended Aaron Rome for an unprecedented 4 Stanley Cup Finals games – the equivalent of 48 regular season by Sheriff Shanny’s own calculations. In the preseason, they suspended players for 5, 7, 8 games.
All those seem like faded memories now.
Watch the video again.
Weber makes no play on the puck. He doesn’t throw a check. He doesn’t even to pretend to. He goes straight for Zetterberg’s head, grabs it and smashes it against the glass hard enough that Z’s helmet cracked.
In this era of supposed heightened awareness on concussions and player safety, this merited a mere $2,500 fine, which Weber will pay off by about the 2 minute mark of tonight’s game.
What. A. Joke.
Vancouver Canucks (1) vs. Los Angeles Kings (8)
Season Series: Vancouver (2-1-1)
It was an anti-climactic season for the Canucks, who despite injuries to Ryan Kesler and Daniel Sedin and an up-and-down season from the blueline still found a way to win the President’s Trophy as the league’s best team. A big reason for the success was in net, as Vancouver’s tandem of Roberto Luongo (2.41 goals against) and Cory Schneider (.937 save percentage) put the Canucks near the top of the NHL’s goaltending ranks. In fact, after the All-Star Game only Phoenix and St. Louis had a better save percentage than Vancouver’s .930. Ironically, this Canucks team enters this post-season with many of the same questions it had last post-season. Is there enough secondary scoring on the team? (Not if David Booth and Mason Raymond remain MIA.) Is the defense deep enough? (Probably if Dan Hamhuis can continue his terrific campaign.) Can Luongo “win the big one”? (Probably, but if not Vancouver has the best back-up in the league.) It’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out this time around.
This is not how the Los Angeles Kings season was supposed to go. Armed with Mike Richards, the Kings looked like a team that would vie for home-ice advantage and not scrape into the playoffs. Low scoring teams are usually cannon fodder once the post-season begins, and the Kings look primed to fulfill that destiny. Offense has been the sore point all season – only Minnesota scored fewer in the regular season, and a coaching change (from Terry Murray to Darryl Sutter) didn’t really help much. Drew Doughty, Richards, Dustin “Pancake” Penner, Simon Gagne and Jarrett Stoll all struggled to score. Jeff Carter, added at the deadline, offered hope scoring at a 30-goal pace before hurting his foot. Now he’s a question mark as the post-season starts. Nonetheless, there were some bright spots for the Kings. Goalie Jonathan Quick’s 1.95 goals against average, .929 save percentage and 10 shutouts effectively saved L.A.’s season. Anze Kopitar took another step towards becoming the best player in the Western Conference, scoring 76 points and playing a strong two-way game. No team gave up fewer shots-per-game after the All-Star Game than the Kings (24.8).
Key Player, Vancouver: Daniel Sedin
Daniel Sedin is one of the best snipers in the game, and together with brother Henrik gives the Canucks an elite first line. The longer he sits in the first round waiting to recover from his concussion, the better it is for the Kings, who desperately need to win a few 1-0, 2-1 games to pull off a series upset.
Key Player, Los Angeles: Drew Doughty
Doughty’s performance this season has been arguably worse than his disappointing 2010-11 season. Talent-wise though he remains one of the few defencemen in the league capable of dominating play at both ends of the ice. With Daniel Sedin out, it’s one less offensive Canuck player the Kings have to keep in check. If Doughty can keep Henrik Sedin at bay and jump-start L.A.’s powerplay, he could turn a short series on paper into a long one.
Coaching: Even. Both coaches have their critics but they tend to get maximum effort out of their roster.
Goaltending: Even. Jonathan Quick has had a Vezina-esque season playing behind a stifling defense, but the 1-2 punch of Roberto Luongo and Corey Schneider has been elite as well.
Defense: Kings. Both of these teams are loaded with two-way talent and feature strong bluelines, but the Kings under Darryl Sutter have become a suffocating group to play against.
Offense: Kings. The biggest edge in any category as long as Daniel Sedin is healthy. Otherwise it’s much closer, especially if some of the underperforming Kings find life.
Special Teams: Canucks. Los Angeles’ 17th ranked powerplay hurts them against a Canucks team that’s likely to take penalties.
Prediction: Canucks in 5
St. Louis Blues (2) vs San Jose Sharks (7)
Season Series: St. Louis (4-0)
How successful was the Blues regular season? With 109 points, St. Louis had their best record in 12 years (1999-2000). This maturing team was 43-15-11 under coach Ken Hitchcock, who implemented a physical defensive system upon his arrival that pressures puck-carriers and forces turnovers. Goaltenders Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott split the workload like an old-school tandem, resulting in a league best 1.78 goals against average and .932 save percentage. The 2011-12 season was also a coming out party for a couple of young Blues. Alex Pieterangelo was the team’s best offensive and defensive defenseman, earning Norris Trophy buzz and leading the blueline with 51 points. T.J. Oshie had a career-high 54-points, while David Backes led the team with 24 goals and vaulted himself into Selke Trophy consideration. Quietly, Andy McDonald returned from injury and played at almost a point-a-game pace, giving the Blues three potential scoring lines. Potential scoring lines is the key word there, as defensive responsibility remains the priority on a Hitchcock hockey team. The Blues will go as far as their offense can take them.
It seems like the San Jose Sharks have been destined to win a Stanley Cup forever. Instead, this year’s 7th place finish likely serves notice that the championship window for this group of players is closing fast. San Jose earned 41 points in its last 41 games, worst among all playoff teams. Goaltending was a big factor in the team’s poor play, as the Sharks goals against rose more than a half-goal-per-game (0.52) after the All-Star Game. San Jose’s attack was 10th in the league, but it too has suffered from some inconsistency, with key scorers Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau scoring just 4 goals each since March. Ironically, it’s the much-maligned Joe Thornton (39 points in 35 games since the All-Star break) who’s been the team’s best offensive player down the stretch. On the blueline, Dan Boyle remains the team’s biggest offensive threat, while Brent Burns has been a bit of a disappointment as the team’s #2 defenseman. Marc-Edouard Vlasic is the team’s best shutdown d-man and the only one who can skate (apologies to Douglas Murray and Colin White). This is probably it for the Sharks – their last run at a Cup before the core is altered.
Key player, St. Louis: David Backes
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Backes matched up against San Jose’s top line. His success against Joe Thornton will dictate the length of this series.
Key player, San Jose: Antti Niemi
San Jose only wins this series if Niemi can equal or surpass the goaltending performance of the Blues. The Sharks need him to get hot, fast.
Coaching: Blues. Big advantage here for the Blues. Not only does he have a Stanley Cup ring, but Ken Hitchcock has modified his approach to communicate better with today’s modern player.
Goaltending: Blues. Not only did the Blues lead the league in all goaltending statistics, their goals against actually dropped as the season went along. Let’s not forget the last time Jaroslav Halak was in the playoffs he looked like Patrick Roy.
Defense: Blues. Both teams have solid bluelines, but St. Louis top players are committed defensively in a way San Jose’s aren’t.
Offense: Sharks. The Sharks offense was dormant most of the year but they ramped it up after Martin Havlat returned (3.1 goals per game over their last 10 games). San Jose’s top-end talent has a higher ceiling than that of the Blues.
Special Teams: Even. San Jose’s powerplay was second overall for the year and they were the only team to score at a rate higher than 10% after the All-Star Game. However, their penalty kill is a major weakness (29th in the league; 30th after the break). The Blues have a strong penalty kill (7th overall); average powerplay (17th).
Prediction: Blues in 7
Phoenix Coyotes (3) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (6)
Season Series: Phoenix (3-1)
There’s some cruel irony in the Phoenix Coyotes winning their first division title as a franchise in what is likely their last season in the desert. Much of the credit belongs to two people: coach Dave Tippett and goalie Mike Smith. Tippett’s defensive system allows the Coyotes to give up shots (only Ottawa and Carolina gave up more per game) but keep scoring chances in the middle of the ice to a minimum. It’s an approach that helped make a name for Ilya Bryzgalov and, this season, helped Mike Smith become a Vezina Trophy candidate. Not only did Smith resurrect his career, but he was practically unbeatable after the All-Star Game (.941 save percentage). It should be noted though that Tippett’s system (and, in turn, Coyotes goaltending) has failed in recent post-seasons as gifted offensive teams (namely the Detroit Red Wings) have found ways to get the puck into key scoring areas. And while this is a Phoenix team that can skate, hit and defend, scoring doesn’t come naturally (18th overall). Terrific seasons by Ray Whitney (77 points) and Radim Vrbata (35 goals) were offset by an absence of offensive flair at the centre ice position. Phoenix enters the playoffs without a single pivot having scored more than Martin Hanzel’s 34 points.
The Chicago Blackhawks overcame much on their way to a 101-point season. For starters, team goaltending has been mired in the bottom-third of the league all year. Chicago’s .899 save percentage since the All-Star Game tied with Boston for worst among playoff-bound teams. That the Blackhawks were solid defensively (9th in shots against) all year only amplifies their challenge between the pipes. The absence of Jonathan Toews also threw the team’s attack into a flux. The captain had 57 points in 59 games prior to a concussion, but taking Toews out of the lineup contributed to a 0.57 goals-per-game decrease in Chicago’s offense after the break. Viktor Stalberg has emerged (22 goals) in a supporting role, but Brendan Morrison (0 points in 11 games), Michael Frolik (5 goals in 63 games) and Andrew Brunette (12 goals) have disappointed. As a result, Chicago features a talented but extremely top-heavy attack that doesn’t go beyond its first two lines.
Key Player, Phoenix: Mike Smith
Without a dominant Mike Smith performance it’s hard to see how the Coyotes can muster enough counter-attack against Chicago’s deep blueline to win the series. The “Desert Dogs” need Smith to steal a couple of games.
Key Player, Chicago: Jonathan Toews
The captain is questionable for Game 1, and without him, Chicago is missing their leader, best two-way player and best faceoff man. Patrick Kane is a creative player but out-of-position and a defensive liability at centre (winning just 42% of his draws). With Toews in the lineup, the Blackhawks also become a much harder team to defensively match-up against. If he’s healthy, this is probably a short series.
Coaching: Even. Quenneville has won a Cup but there’s been whispers of a lethargic season behind the bench. Meanwhile, Dave Tippett might just be the best NHL coach to not have a Stanley Cup ring.
Goaltending: Coyotes. Mike Smith had a regular season for the ages, but Corey Crawford has had playoff success before. He could surprise here.
Defense: Blackhawks. Phoenix’s forwards play a better defensive system and Oliver Ekman-Larsson has emerged as a legitimate top-line defenseman. But Chicago gets the edge given its deep blueline. Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Nick Leddy, Johnny Oduya and Nik Hjalmarsson are among the best top-5s in the league.
Scoring: Blackhawks. This is a mismatch if Toews is healthy; if Toews isn’t healthy this is closer than you may expect. Phoenix’s goals per game in the second-half: 2.56. Chicago’s in the second-half without Toews? 2.59.
Special Teams: Coyotes. Chicago’s special teams are arguably the worst in the playoffs. While the Coyotes powerplay is anything but powerful, they’re a top-10 penalty-killing team.
Prediction: Blackhawks in 6
Nashville Predators (4) vs. Detroit Red Wings (5)
Season Series: Tied (3-3)
It’s an exciting time to be a “Smashville” hockey fan, as the Nashville Predators had their best regular season in five years. This year’s edition retained the qualities the franchise has been known for – stellar goaltending (Pekka Renne had 43 wins and 5 shutouts) and a strong blueline led by Shea Weber (19 goals) and Ryan Suter (46 points). Where this team differed from there history was on offense. This aggressive, bulldog Predators team was the highest scoring Western Conference squad after the All-Star Game, and finished 8th overall in league scoring. It was a balanced attack featuring seven players with 40-or-more points and the league’s best powerplay. The acquisition of Alex Radulov (7 points in 9 games) also gave Nashville its first legitimate top-line centre since Peter Forsberg donned the mustard orange in 2006-07. The team went 6-3 with the Russian sniper in the lineup, including an impressive 4-1 win over Detroit on March 30th. Tough, fast, and now capable at both ends of the ice, this could very well be the most talented Nashville Predators team of all-time. Their time is now.
While it may have been another 100+ point season in Detroit, the Red Wings actually had their worst regular season points-wise since 1998-99. And while the team was its usual strong self in a variety of categories (7th in goals for and goals against; 5th in shots for, 3rd in shots against), there were some cracks in the team’s foundation. Their road record was 25th in the league and is the worst among Western Conference playoff teams. Their special teams finished in the bottom-half of the league. Niklas Lidstrom had his worst point-totals since 1994-95, while Pavel Datsyuk failed to score 20-goals for the first time since his sophomore season. Dan Cleary, Tomas Holmstrom and Todd Bertuzzi failed to combine for 10 goals after the All-Star break. Still, there is a lot of talent on the roster, as demonstrated by the team’s 23-game home-winning streak. Niklas Kronwall and Ian White had strong seasons on the blueline, while Valtteri Filppula (66 points), Jiri Hudler (25 goals) and Johan Franzen (team-best 29 goals) kept the Red Wings attack potent. When healthy, Jimmy Howard proved he could carry the Red Wings if needed.
Key Player, Nashville: Alex Radulov
The Predators would have beaten the Canucks last year if they had a single gamebreaker in their lineup. Now they have that gamebreaker and are going up against a Red Wings team that is similar to the Canucks in style of play. A successful series on the scoreboard from Radulov probably means the Predators win the series.
Key Player, Detroit: Jimmy Howard
This is a greying Red Wings team that may find themselves at times physically dominated by the younger, potentially hungrier, Predators. For a long time Detroit has iced teams that haven’t had to rely on goaltending to succeed. This could be the year, and the series, where that dependence is reversed.
Coaching: Red Wings. A slight edge as both Mike Babcock and Barry Trotz are terrific coaches.
Goaltending: Predators. Pekka Renne is an elite netminder; Jimmy Howard is improving.
Defense: Predators. Both teams play well defensively, with Detroit arguably underrated in this area. It’s on the blueline where Nashville has a slight edge. Weber and Suter are the best one-two punch in the league.
Offense: Red Wings. Slight edge here as the Red Wings have greater depth among their forwards. But this is the best attack the Predators have had in quite some time.
Special Teams: Predators. The Predators have the best powerplay in the league and a top-10 penalty kill. The Red Wings have struggled in both areas.
Prediction: Predators in 5