Nov 092013
 
The Saturday meeting between Vancouver and Los Angeles is the first of five.  (Credit. nhl.com)

The Saturday meeting between Vancouver and Los Angeles is the first of five this regular season.
(Credit. nhl.com)

If you’ve been a Canucks fan for the last couple of seasons, you’ve probably wished a plague on the entire Los Angeles Kings roster at one time or another. Between the heated playoff battles, the taunting tweets, the mimicked slogan, there’s no love lost between these 2 teams, and the thought of a casual Saturday game between them likely sends you into a fit of anxiety.

It’s a brand new season, of course, and now both teams to renew their rivalry, with the first of 4 regular season meetings in La-la-land tonight at 7:00 PM. The Canucks won 2 of 3 meetings with the Kings last season, and were 1-0-1 at the Staples Center. As of this morning, they’re 4 points up on their now division rivals, but the Kings have 2 games in hand.

What to Watch

Another battle of Olympic proportions.

Jonathan Quick may very well be Team USA’s starting goaltender for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. And of course, Roberto Luongo, and his pretty darn good start to the season, surely has him still in competition for a spot with Team Canada.

Luongo’s numbers are just a tad better than Quick’s at the moment. Luongo’s 0.916 save % is 19th in the NHL, while Quick’s 0.901 save % is 35th. Luongo’s 2.23 GAA is 16th in the NHL, while Quick’s 2.48 GAA is 24th.

Luongo is playing just a tad better as well. He hasn’t allowed more than 2 goals a game in his last 7 starts, and has a 0.935 save % in that span.

Before Quick posted a shutout against the Buffalo Sabres in his most recent start on Thursday, he had allowed 3 or more goals in 8 of the 13 games he’d played.

Who’s Hot

Coach John Tortorella has juggled the Canucks’ lines in the early season, and his most recent line combinations have been working really well. At the very least, the team’s secondary scoring concerns have been somewhat alleviated as the second, third and fourth lines have produced 8 of the Canucks’ last 10 goals.

In particular, the second line has been quite effective. Mike Santorelli, perhaps the biggest surprise of the season, has a 3-game point streak, and has a total of 5 goals and 12 points in 18 games. Linemate Chris Higgins with 6 goals and 10 points in 18 games as well, including 5 points in his last 6 games. Alex Burrows, who just recently returned from injury, recorded his first 2 points of the season in the Canucks’ most recent game, a win against the San Jose Sharks last Thursday.

For the Kings, Anze Kopitar has 5 points (3 goals and 2 assists) in a 3-game point streak, and leads the team with 16 points. Likewise, Mike Richards has 5 points (2 goals and 3 assists) in a 3-game point streak; he sits 2 points behind Kopitar for the team lead in points.

Who’s Out

No new additions to the Canuck’s injury list, thank goodness. Jordan Schroeder remains out along with Dale Weise and Jannik Hansen. Meanwhile, David Booth is with the Utica Comets on a conditioning stint. He notched an assist last night as the Comets finally won their first game of the season.

For the Kings, Jarret Stoll is questionable for the game, and Jeff Carter, who is currently tied for the Kings’ team lead in goals (5), is on the injured reserve and won’t play.

May 302012
 
New Jersey Devils vs Los Angeles Kings

Having lamented the current state of the NHL in part 1 of my Stanley Cup Finals preview, let’s at least acknowledge the fact that both the New Jersey Devils and Los Angeles kings aren’t exactly passive, defensive teams.

In fact, it could be argued that both teams have made it this far because they have, more than any other teams in the postseason, been able to combine their strong defensive systems with excellent forechecks. These are two teams that like to apply pressure in the offensive zone (thank god).

Now, onto breaking down the actual match-up between the New Jersey Devils and Los Angeles Kings.

Goaltending:

Kings

What I said pre-season: B (“There is an embarrassment of riches at this position in Los Angeles […]. The Kings move up this list as (Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier) continue to develop”)

Now: A. Jonathan Quick has been the best goaltender in the playoffs so far and was neck-and-neck with Henrik Lundqvist for best goalie in the league this year. He plays the position aggressively, and it will be interesting to see if a strong Devils attack can exploit this and get Quick caught out of position.

Devils

What I said pre-season: B- (“This is probably Martin Brodeur’s final season.”)

Now: B. I wonder, if the Devils win the Cup, does Brodeur retire? Or does he come back to defend? While his play has dropped off the last few seasons, he was a steady performer this year, helped by a Devils approach that protected him from having to face many Grade A scoring chances. Brodeur’s numbers  (2.04 goals against, .923 save percentage) have been good in the post-season, but he’s had soft moments in each series. He’ll need to raise his game against the Kings.

Bottom Line: Some would have you believe that Brodeur’s experience is a positive factor over Quick. However, since the lockout only the Red Wings in 2007-08 have won the Cup using a goalie who’d won one before (Chris Osgood). It’s hard to believe, at this point in the playoffs, previous experience is much of a factor. Which means the Kings get a big nod at this position.

*****

Forwards:

Kings

What I said pre-season: B+ (“If Dustin Penner can demonstrate any kind of scoring consistency, this could be the Conference’s best group of forwards”)

Now: B+. It took 82-games for Kings forwards to live up to their potential, as they struggled immensely during the regular season. The first line – Dustin Brown – Anze Kopitar – Justin Williams – has dominated the post-season, with Brown in particular playing the best hockey of his career. But these playoffs have been a “return to glory” for Dustin Penner (10 points), Mike Richards (11 points) and Jeff Carter (9 points). Together, they represent one of the tougher, better second lines in the entire NHL, and have helped the Kings go from second last in league scoring (2.29 goals per game) in the regular season to third in the playoffs (2.93). Dwight King (5 goals) has provided the third line with much needed offense. This is a physical group that, while not exactly fast, anticipate the play very well.

Devils

What I said pre-season: B (“This might be a sneaky-good offensive group, although the bottom-six could use work”)

Now: B+. Despite the bounce-back season from Patrick Elias and the terrific rookie season of Adam Henrique, the Devils were middle-of-the-pack (15th) in league scoring during the regular season. However, over the course of the year they added Alexei Ponikarovsky and Steve Bernier to the roster, and promoted Steven Gionta. Each of those moves has improved the team’s third and fourth lines, turning the Devils into a four-line squad capable of pinning opponents in the defensive zone. This depth compliments the offensive talents of Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk, who enter this Final as the most talented offensive players on either roster. This is a very good group, although Patrick Elias hasn’t produced much this spring (18 games, 4 goals, 6 points).

Bottom Line: The Devils have the better talent and the stronger fourth line, but no line is playing better than the Kopitar line right now. Consider this match-up even.

*****

Defense:

Kings

What I Said pre-season: A (Drew Doughty […] remains a Norris Trophy candidate. Jack Johnson […] looks like a legitimate first pairing guy. The rest of the group is an average mix of youth and experience”)

Now: A. Despite trading Jack Johnson to Columbus for Jeff Carter during the season, the Kings retain their A-grade thanks to the emergence of Viatcheslav Voynov and the stellar season from Willie Mitchell. Mitchell and Matt Greene give the Kings two terrific, physical shut-down defenseman. Meanwhile, Voynov and youngster Alec Martinez can skate and provide excellent first passes out of the zone. In fact, the Kings compensate for a lack of speed from their forwards by transitioning the puck from defense to forwards  quicker than most other teams in the league. Finally, after roughly 12-20 months of mediocre play, Drew Doughty has rediscovered his elite game this post-season, and is the best defenseman in the series by a country mile. Finally, this is a blueline that has the green light to join the attack, helping the Kings generate more odd-man rushes than most.

Devils

What I said pre-season: C (“[…] Henrik Tallinder and Anton Volchenkov are two of the best defensive defencemen in the league. Otherwise it’s an average group with below average skill”)

Now: C+. As expected, the lack of skill hampered the Devils blueline for much of the season, as New Jersey’s group struggled to move the puck up to its forwards effectively. However, the late season addition of Marek Zidlicky and the promotion of Peter Harrold from Albany brought much-needed speed and passing skill to the Devils defense. This has paid off in the post-season, with both players getting the majority of powerplay time and leading New Jersey to the fourth-best powerplay in the post-season (18.2%). Meanwhile, Bryce Salvador is playing his best hockey in years, leading the defense with 11 points (9 at even-strength) and tied with Anton Volchenkov for most hits by a Devils defenseman (37). This is a lunch pail, no-name group that is very reminiscent of the Cup-winning Hurricanes blueline of 2005-06.

Bottom Line: The offensive gap between the two teams has closed a bit, but the Kings remain the more dynamic blueline. When you add that Los Angeles gets to play Drew Doughty 25+ minutes a night, this category is a mismatch for the Kings.

*****

Coaching

Kings

What I said pre-season: C+ (“Let’s make it two years in a row for Murray to find his name on the “Fired Watch.”)

Now: B. The best thing that could have happened to the Kings was firing Terry Murray, who hadn’t been past the first round of the playoffs in some 15 years. Full disclosure though – I thought the hiring of Darryl Sutter was going to be a disaster, and I was wrong. Sutter was example B to Ken Hitchcock’s example A in the whole “mid-season coaching replacements do better” hypothesis. Sutter’s pushed the right buttons and demonstrated that, for all his failings as a general manager, he remains a quality head coach.

Devils

What I said pre-season: C+ (“[Peter] DeBoer’s preferred puck possession style never really fit with the Panter’s mix of inexperience and grinders.”)

Now: B. Finally graced with a solid nucleus, DeBoer has finally delivered on the promise he showed while having great success in the junior ranks. He’s taken the Devils disciplined defensive approach and grafted his own philosophies onto the team, delivering the most dynamic New Jersey squad since the early 2000s. DeBoer plays hunches and isn’t afraid to mix up his lines or lineup to get the matchups he needs. He’s the real deal.

Bottom Line: A very even matchup. Sutter has a slight edge given his Stanley Cup experience but DeBoer is the more flexible coach. Let’s call this a wash.

*****

Special Teams:

Kings: The Kings have dominated this post-season despite a pretty terrible powerplay. There is a distinct lack of creativity to their approach. Having said that, L.A.’s penalty kill has been superlative, with Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar dangerous shorthanded (2 goals each).

Devils: The Devils over-aggressive penalty kill, which was the league’s best in the regular season, has been exploited in the playoffs. The powerplay, on the other hand, has been surprisingly strong.

Bottom Line: It’s this simple: Kings wretched powerplay versus Devils’ awful post-season penalty kill. The team that wins this matchup wins the special teams category. Given the likely poor ice conditions in both arenas, the penalty kill will have a slight edge. Which means this category goes to the Devils by a whisker.

*****

Intangibles and Random Thoughts:

  • It’s the rare a team without a dominant top-line defenseman wins the Stanley Cup. Advantage: Kings
  • Despite having a lot of offensive talent on the Kings roster, it’s rare a team wins the Stanley Cup having scored so few goals in the regular season. Advantage: Devils
  • The Kings haven’t had to do a lot of travel this post-season, but it’s still been more than the Devils. It will be interesting to see how New Jersey travels West (given the Kings, with all their off-days, were able to get to the New York area and acclimatize well in advance of Game 1). Advantage: Kings
  • Anton Volchenkov will probably get the match-up against Anze Kopitar, but Kopitar is so strong it’s hard to see the “A-Train” earning much more than a draw in this battle. Advantage: Kings
  • Both teams will probably match their top-lines against one-another, with the Kings wanting the Kopitar line up against the Zajac line, and the Richards line against the Henrique line. Even if Kopitar/Zajac is a wash, it wouldn’t surprise to see the Richards line more productive than the Henrique line. Advantage: Kings
  • Since 1980, there have been six “coastal” Stanley Cup Finals, featuring a West Coast team versus an East Coast team. Only the Anaheim Ducks have won it on behalf of the Western Conference. Advantage: Devils
  • The Kings have gotten to the Stanley Cup Final so quickly and easily that they’ve had a lot of time off. It means they’re healthy, but also means they haven’t had to face much adversity. The Devils have had a tougher road, which could mean they’re more battle-hardened. Advantage: Devils
  • Even though the Kings’ fourth line had a pretty good series against the Coyotes, they in no way have had the impact of New Jersey’s Bernier-Gionta-Carter line. The Devils have had terrific fourth lines in their Cup-winning seasons, and through three rounds they’ve had one again. Advantage: Devils

*****

Stanley Cup Prediction: Kings in 6

Bottom Line: This could be a surprisingly entertaining series featuring two teams that play physical, aggressive styles. The Devils might have the most talented forwards, but the Kings have the stronger goalie and blueline. Pre-season I said I had “Chicago, LA and Vancouver rated roughly the same” as the Western Conference’s best teams. The firing of Terry Murray took the Kings’ greatest impediment to success out of the equation. With Wayne Gretzky watching, expect Dustin Brown to raise the Stanley Cup over his head, completing one of the most unexpected championship runs in NHL history.

May 142012
 

Phoenix Coyotes (3) vs. Los Angeles Kings (8)

Season Series: L.A (3-1-2)

What we learned about the Coyotes in the Second Round: That they’re Cinderella at the ball. Hard to give too much credit to a team that has been routinely outshot (-9.5 shots for/shots against differential in the playoffs) and only had one powerplay goal in the second round. Mike Smith has been terrific yes, but the Desert Dogs were fortunate Nashville found the Phoenix nightlife to their liking. Then again, there are a couple of notorious partiers on the Kings team…

What we learned about the Kings in the Second Round: After a rather miserable 82-game season, this Kings team has become the fearsome squad many pundits predicted could be a darkhorse Cup contender way back at the beginning of the season. It’s not a very fast team, but the Kings move the puck well, are big, and might have the best forecheck left in the playoffs. Los Angeles is averaging 3.00 goals per game right now (tied for 3rd in the post-season and best remaining with the Devils), which is the type of production that should be expected from this group of forwards. Jonathan Quick has been the best goalie in the league this spring (.949 save percentage). Darryl Sutter got some good minutes out of the fourth line against St. Louis (which he didn’t do against Vancouver) and even Dustin Penner (5 pts in 5 games against the Blues) is rolling.

Quick Decisions:

Coaching:  Even (Sutter’s been to a Cup Final as a head coach before, but Dave Tippet has had a great playoff behind the bench leading his less-talented team to two series wins)

Goaltending: Even. Quick has been the playoffs’ best, but the Coyotes don’t get this far without Mike Smith performing like a superhero. Smith gets the benefit of the doubt, although the Kings made Brian Elliott look human last series.

Defense: Kings. Both teams are exceptional defensively. The difference is the Coyotes still give up a ton of shots (even if they’re from outside scoring areas). The Kings are able to clamp down a bit more and they have Drew Doughty, who showed flashes of dominance early in the Blues series.

Offense: Kings (Los Angeles’ top two lines are more talented than what Phoenix can put on the ice, and they’re hot right now. Having said that, Phoenix has gotten timely scoring from every line. Consider this a slight edge that could grow larger if Jeff Carter could ever get going).

Special Teams: Even. Neither team is lighting up the powerplay right now and yet both teams have extremely strong penalty kills. This, coupled with the strength of both goalies, points to a low-scoring series.

Prediction:  Kings in 5.

*****

Notes on the Dearly Departed:

St. Louis Blues

Cause of Death: Injuries to Alex Pieterangelo and Jaroslav Halak.

Prescription: Stay the course. Brian Elliott was inconsistent at times in the second round, meaning interest in dealing Jaroslav Halak in the off-season should be limited. Otherwise this is a team in the headed in the right direction (especially if Patrick Berglund can carry his playoff performance into next year).

Nashville Predators

Cause of Death: Off-ice distractions that tore the dressing room apart.

Prescription: Let Ryan Suter go – the Predators have some good young defenseman primed for NHL exposure, and they could use the money to help keep Shea Weber long-term. Move back-up goalie Anders Lindback in a package that can return a top-six scoring forward. Let Alex Radulov go – sure he’s talented, but it’s clear now he doesn’t have the intangibles that lead to NHL playoff success. This could be a classic case of a team stumbling before taking the next step. There’s still a lot to like in Smashville.

Apr 092012
 

With the first round series between the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings scheduled to start on Wednesday, here is a brief look at the season series between the two teams.

In the Regular Season

The Canucks won the season series against the Kings, but just barely. They took 5 of 8 points (2-0-1 record); the Kings took 4 of 8 points (2-2-0).

November 10, 2011: Vancouver Canucks 3 @ LA Kings 2

In their first meeting of the season, the Canucks raced to a 3-goal lead in the first period. A Trevor Lewis elbowing major and Drew Doughty cross-check gave the Canucks a 5-on-3 powerplay early in the first period. On the two-man advantage, Sami Salo wired a shot from the point and beat Jonathan Quick. Then, with the team still on the powerplay, Andrew Ebbett deflected the puck off of Wille Mitchell to give them a 2-0 lead. For good measure, Aaron Rome got his 2nd goal – in just his second game of the season – which would eventually stand the game-winner.

The Kings mounted a small rally. Doughty got the Kings on the board midway through the second period with a slap shot from the side boards. And with time winding down in the third period and Quick on the Kings bench for an extra attacker, Mike Richards scored on a deflection to cut the Canucks’ lead to 3-2 and make things interesting. However, this is as close as they would come as Roberto Luongo recorded the win.

December 31, 2011: Vancouver Canucks 1 @ LA Kings 4

With 6 wins in 7 games, the Canucks had a great opportunity to end 2011 on a positive note with a New Year’s Eve meeting in LA. But after the Canucks scored an early goal, just 3 minutes into the game, they let the lead slip away and the Kings went on to score 4 unanswered goals.

Bieksa scored the lone Canucks goal, finishing off a good pass and play from Henrik and Daniel Sedin. Bieksa’s marker was in the midst of a season-high, 7-game point streak in which he had 8 points (1G-7A). From December 15 to January 7, Bieksa had 12 points (2G-10A) in 12 games.

Brad Richardson, Matt Greene, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams scored for the Kings. Kopitar’s goal came after the Canucks couldn’t capitalize on a 4-minute powerplay courtesy of a Mike Richards double-minor for high-sticking. As Richards came out of the penalty box, the Kings went 3-on-2 going the other away and Kopitar cut across the crease and backhanded the puck past Luongo.

On this night, the Canucks struggled painfully to clear the zone. And when they did, they just couldn’t generate enough sustained pressure to beat a strong Jonathan Quick.

January 17, 2012: LA Kings 3 @ Vancouver Canucks 2 (SO)

In their third meeting of the season, the Canucks and Kings traded a couple of goals each before the Kings eventually won in the shootout.

First, it was Dustin Penner who deflected a Drew Doughty shot and scored the game’s first goal. Then, Daniel Sedin scored a powerplay goal early in the second period to tie up the game. Late in the second period, while on a powerplay, Justin Williams pounced on a juicy Willie Mitchell rebound to give the Kings a 2-1 lead. David Booth then tied things up in the third period, converting on a beautiful cross-crease pass from Jannik Hansen. Mike Richards recorded the shootout winner.

March 26, 2012: LA Kings 0 @ Vancouver Canucks 1

The fourth and final meeting of the regular season may very well be the most accurate preview of the two teams’ first round playoff series.

Manny Malhotra opened the scoring just 3 minutes into the game by streaking down the left win and wristing a nice shot off the post and past Jonathan Quick. From that point on, it was a tight and low scoring affair.

The Canucks in particular went into a defensive shell the rest of the night. They mustered a mere 25 shots on Quick with 13 of them coming in the third period. Roberto Luongo was huge, stopping all 38 Kings shots.

Who’s Hot: Canucks

Before Daniel suffered a concussion in March, Henrik was struggling and had just 4 assists during a stretch of 12 games. However, since then, Captain Hank has stepped up and finished with 11 points (1G-10A) in his last 8 games. Just as important, he has stated that he is feeling more confident and wants the puck more.

With 81 points (14G-67A) in 82 games, Henrik led the Canucks and all Western Conference skaters in the regular season. Especially with Daniel’s status unknown (though he did skate in practice this morning), it’s no secret his production will be critical to the team’s success during this playoff run.

Who’s Not: Canucks

After surgery in the off-season, Ryan Kesler, last year’s 41-goal scorer and Selke Trophy winner finished the 2011/2012 regular season with 22 goals and 49 points in 77 games – a far cry from his 73 points last season and 75 points the season before that – including a woeful 2 assists in his last 12 games.

There seems to be little doubt among the Canucks faithful that Kes will find his beast mode once post-season play begins.

Here’s hoping.

Who’s Hot: Kings

It’s hard to imagine where the Kings would be without Jonathan Quick’s play this season. Once thought to be expendable because of the play of Jonathan Bernier – sound familiar, Canucks fans? – Quick should be a Vezina candidate and is easily the the Kings’ MVP.

Quite simply, Quick has been a rock in net for LA. He has a 35-21-13 record, a league-high 10 shutouts, a 0.929 save percentage and a goals against average of 1.95. He doesn’t give up much during each game so taking advantage of offensive opportunities will be key for the Canucks. He’s managed to earn the Kings at least a point in 10 of his last 12 starts, going 8-2-2 to finish off the season.

Who’s Not: Kings

Dustin Penner has been a huge disappointment for the Kings this season. His 17 points (7G-10A) in 65 games are his worst season totals, not including his 2005/2006 season in which he 7 points in 19 games. In his last 23 games, Pancakes has just 4 points (2G-2A).

Apr 042012
 

With 98% of the NHL season behind us, it’s time to fill in an imaginary awards ballot.

But before we get to that, let’s take a moment to consider two more dead teams:

Calgary Flames

What went wrong: No team had an easier stretch drive schedule among teams fighting for the last Western Conference playoff spots than the Flames did. They failed to reach the post season because they couldn’t score. The Flames as a team are currently 25th in shots on goal per game. They’re 3-9 in shootouts, rivalling Montreal (5-11) and Carolina (0-6) for the league’s worst record in the skills competition. Jarome Iginla, Olli Jokinen and Curtis Glencross will finish the year as the team’s lone 20-goal scorers. None of them are consistent (Iginla’s slow starts have become legendary). Calgary sits last in the league in faceoff performance.

What went right: Mikka Kiprusoff carried the team all season with stellar play between the pipes. When finally healthy for the second-half Mark Giordano played well. He has 16 points after the All-Star break and has helped Calgary reach 11th in the NHL on the powerplay. Mike Cammalleri has struggled to stay healthy with the Flames but when dressed has scored at a 30-goal pace.

Off-Season Gameplan: It’s been said in this space more than once, but this aging Calgary team desperately needs a rebuild. After three years of missing the playoffs there’s clearly not enough talent in the lineup to reach the post-season. There isn’t enough organizational depth right now either to create hope for better days in the future. This may the last chance Calgary gets to shop Jarome Iginla before seeing his value depreciate completely on the marketplace.

Winnipeg Jets

What went wrong: There was lots of talk pre-season about what the travel schedule would do to not only the Jets, but other teams in the Southeast Division. Clearly it was a factor for the Manitoba team, as Winnipeg has put together a terrible road record (13-21-5). The penalty kill is below 80%, which hurts a team that’s short-handed a lot (25th worst). As well as Ondrej Pavelec has been at times this season, he tired down the stretch (3.13 goals against in March) and currently ranks 57th in the league in save percentage (.906). Alex Burmistrov was improved this season, but his offensive progression has been slow (just 28 points in year two). Eric Fehr (3 points, 35 games) was a bust, while Tanner Glass (-12) was asked to do too much.

What went right: Blake Wheeler (61 points) and Evander Kane (29 goals) have taken steps forward as top-six, even top-line players. Dustin Byfuglien has had a strong second-half. Off the scrap-heap, Kyle Wellwood has been an effective offensive player (47 points despite just 14:57 per game in ice-time). The MTS Centre has proven to be one of the few home-ice advantages left in the NHL.

Off-Season Gameplan: Continue to build around a very solid core. Veteran depth, particularly the type that could improve the defensive side of Winnipeg’s game, would be helpful. Mark Scheifele will get the Burmistrov treatment next year. If Scheifele’s ready, he could supply enough offense to bring the playoffs back to Manitoba.

***

Now with that little bit of ugly business out of the way, let’s take a quick look at who deserves award recognition for the 2011-2012 NHL season.

Hart Trophy – Evgeni Malkin

Runners-up: Jason Spezza; Henrik Lundqvist

Malkin has been arguably the league’s best player this year. Lundqvist is probably the most valuable, but goalies rarely win this award. A Hart nomination is the feather-in-the-cap to a marvellous season from Jason Spezza.

Norris Trophy – Zdeno Chara

Runners-up: Alex Pieterangelo; Erik Karlsson

Chara wins because he’s put forth his strongest offensive season while retaining defensive dominance (+33 leads all d-men). Karlsson’s had a magical season but his defensive play remains average. Under Ken Hitchcock, Alex Pieterangelo has arrived, breaking the 50-point barrier but more importantly playing extremely well defensively night in, night out.

Vezina Trophy – Henrik Lundqvist

Runners-up: Jonathan Quick; Mike Smith

The Rangers success gives Lundqvist the nod over Quick, whose Los Angeles Kings team have been in a playoff dogfight all season. Mike Smith’s career rejuvenation in Phoenix gives him a slight edge over the two St. Louis Blues goalies (Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott) who’ve split too much playing time to be considered.

Selke Trophy – Patrice Bergeron

Runners-up: David Backes; Anze Kopitar

Bergeron wins almost 60% of his draws and is one of the league’s premiere penalty killers. Backes has flourished under Ken Hitchcock, leading Blues forwards in goals, points, hits and blocked shots. Kopitar deserves greater recognition, is leading the Kings in points once again but, more importantly to this category, has been Los Angeles best defensive player as well.

Calder Trophy – Gabriel Landeskog

Runners-up: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins; Matt Read

Not only is Landeskog tied for the rookie points lead, but he’s an incredible +23 and has played in all situations for the Avs down the stretch. He’s a future captain. Nugent-Hopkins is the most offensively-gifted rookie, but injuries have prevented him from running away with the freshman scoring crown. Matt Read leads all rookies in goals and has become an important player in the Flyers lineup.

Adams Trophy – Ken Hitchcock

Runners-up: Paul Maclean; John Tortorella

Hitchcock’s turned a middle-of-the-pack team into arguably the best team in the Western Conference. Paul Maclean has done wonders in Ottawa, taking a Sens team destined for a lottery pick into the playoffs. Tortorella’s nomination is a reward for guiding a team that’s out-performed its roster’s talent level all season.

 THOUGHTS ON THE FLY

  • Another take on possible NHL awards, this one from ESPN.
  • Let’s just get this out of the way: Mike Milbury was a joke as a general manager and he’s a joke as a commentator. His take on league affairs is almost always neanderthal and ultra-traditionalist. Attacking Sidney Crosby gets your name in the paper though.
  • This definitely should be on any list of craziest goals of the year. It also epitomizes the difference in heart between the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs.
  • At this point, wouldn’t it be for the best for everyone if the Washington Capitals missed the playoffs, fired their coach, and re-built their approach around Ovechkin’s offense than see the gutsy Sabres (one of the best teams in the NHL since the All-Star Game) come up short?
  • Quietly, Willie Mitchell’s having one of the best defensive defenseman seasons in the NHL this year. Granted, the ultra-conservative Kings gameplay helps in that regard.
  • Still without a contract, you have to expect the Edmonton Oilers are ready to walk away from Tom Renney. The talk is Todd Nelson, coach of Edmonton’s AHL farm team, will get a long look. Hard to believe he’s the guy who can take this young team to the next level.
  • It’s a small sample size, but the Nashville Predators are 4-3 in Alex Radulov’s seven games. The big Russian has 3 goals, 6 points in that span and has fit extremely well into the lineup.
  • For all of those people ready to anoint the Stanley Cup to Pittsburgh, let’s acknowledge the fact that the Penguins are actually 25th in the NHL in team save percentage. Marc-Andre Fleury, not Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby, will have the biggest say in how far the Penguins go in the playoffs.
  • Speaking of which, the Chicago Blackhawks, for what it’s worth, are 27th in the NHL in team save percentage. Numbers-wise, Chicago’s entering the post-season with the worst goaltending amongst remaining teams.
  • Some other interesting Pre/Post-All-Star Game numbers: Winnipeg was 22nd in league scoring during the first half; 3rd so far in the second half. Buffalo was 25th in the first-half; 5th in the second half. Going the other way, Vancouver was 3rd in the first half scoring-wise; 15th in the second half. Washington was 9th in the first half; 26th in the second half.
  • Defensively, the Bruins have gone from 4th in the first half to 22nd in the second half. Minnesota from 8th in the first half to 25th and Pittsburgh from 10th to 23rd. Improving their defensive play in the second half were teams like Buffalo (26th to 7th), Anaheim (23rd to 8th), Colorado (21st to 5th) and Ottawa (27th to 13th).
Apr 212010
 

Before this series started a lot of people expected a flaky Luongo and a Jonathan Quick who caved under the pressure of his first playoffs. If that’s what you expected you were like surprised to find Jonathan Quick lead the Kings to a 2-1 series lead heading into game four, and Luongo throw some respectable numbers up on the board. Throw away the debate that Don Cherry stirred about about whether or not Luongo is fit to be captain because there’s definitely no change happening any time this season.

Luongo had us all worried with his play after the Olympics and his play down the stretch but while Canucks look to find excuses for entering game four down 2-1 to the LA Kings, Luongo shouldn’t be one of them. They say statistics can prove anything and that’s certainly the case because if you look at Luongo’s line through three games his .880 SV% and 3.20 GAA average are not flattering in the least. What’s worse is those numbers don’t truly reflect the way he’s been playing. I don’t blame him for any of the goals save the soft one he allowed before getting pulled last game.

Take a step back to game two where coming out of the game Luongo had a .915 SV%. Luongo’s been on his game and he’s playing better than any of us expected, but certainly like we hoped. His save in game one on the goal line was the Roberto Luongo we wanted to see in this series and it’s the Luongo we got. Unfortunately, his stats have been a victim of poor penalty killing. While they say your best penalty killer has to be your goalie, there’s no doubt that he is not at fault for any of the goals allowed when down a man. He’s paid to be that guy but he needs the team in front of him to do their job too. Luongo’s only fault was the fourth goal he gave up to LA in game three before being pulled and even that isn’t a bad sign. The pull in my mind was a mercy pull, something to let him take a rest so that he can come back and win game four.

Looking at Luongo’s opposition, Quick in game three looked the most beatable he has of the three games so far. He’s not invincible, and he showed signs that his heroics from games one and two are fading. The Canucks can beat him and they have to use a combination of screens, an abundance of shots, and their power play to do so. The Canucks need to win this game, make it a three game series, and go back to Vancouver with home ice advantage. If they’re going to do it, they’re going to have to tighten up in other areas because Luongo (for the first time in a while) isn’t the issue. Luongo’s stepped up to bat for his team, now it’s time for the team to step up to bat for him. The Canucks are going to come out flying tonight and he’s going to be standing tall.

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