The first round of the playoffs may have been the best opening round as a whole in years. The Columbus Blue Jackets traded blows and goals with the Pittsburgh Penguins and had the Metropolitan division winners looking just a bit weak. The loss of David Backes due to a suspend-able hit by Brent Seabrook was clearly the tipping point of the series between the Saint Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks. The San Jose Sharks went from unmitigated domination of the Los Angeles Kings to going into the night with a whimper.

The Philadelphia Flyers played a pretty even series with the New York Rangers that came down to a memorable game seven decided by one goal; the series was also the coming out party for Steve Mason who put up a stellar 1.97 GAA and .939 sv%. The Alex Goligoski and Shawn Horcoff led Dallas Stars put a two game scare into the Anaheim Ducks before succumbing to a focused and superior team. In the battle between snowy Montreal and snowbird heaven Tampa Bay, the Lightning went down in the opening rounds only sweep, minus Vezina Trophy finalist Ben Bishop. In the opening round the Boston Bruins lost the opening game to their Original Six rivals, and then laid them in the dust in four straight wins.

Biggest surprises of the first round:

  • 169 players having more goals than Sidney Crosby, including Luke Schenn, Bryan Allen, Raffi Torres, Jordan Caron and Devante Smith-Pelly
  • How much Jonathan Quick struggled in the first few games, and that Sutter didn’t go to Jones full time.
  • Paul Stastny ending a playoff run with well deserved accolades like “heroic performance” being thrown his way, even around all the love for the shiny new rookie.
  • Paul Martin weighing in at over a point per game. Yes, that Paul Martin.
  • Alex Goligoski gaining zero attention while playing 28:30 a night, putting up 4 points and being a +7 in a six game losing series.
  • How well the very young Colorado Avalanche held together through some very tough games.

Top 3 series of the opening round:

  1. Columbus Blue Jackets vs Pittsburgh Penguins, the pure drama in this matchup was amazing to watch.
  2. Minnesota Wild vs Colorado Avalanche; There is so much young potential in this series it is staggering, Coyle, Neiderrietter, Brodin and Spurgeon we’ll see more of this year, MacKinnon, Landeskog, Hishon, and Duchene we’ll have ot wait until fall for more from.
  3. Chicago Blackhawks vs Saint Louis Blues, as far as the best hockey played game in and game out this series wins, but the drama level wasn’t quiet as high as the other two series.

The 2010 draft class was universally viewed to possess two elite forwards, and numerous quality NHL players. Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin were talked about all year long, and at the draft the pair were selected first and second. Both launched their careers the autumn of their draft year, and both had international celebrity status before they ever took a shift. The other 208 men taken in that draft are determined not to be afterthoughts.

Jeff Skinner vs Tyler Seguin

Entering the year Skinner leads Seguin in goals, assists and points with a line of 188gp 64g 67a 131p to Seguin’s 203gp 56g 64a 121p. Over the course of the season, assuming both play a roughly equal number of games: Expect Skinner to increase his goal lead.

To date, 40 players drafted in 2010 have played at least 1 game in the NHL.

This season: 15 more players drafted in 2010 will play in the NHL.

Quinton Howard of the Florida Panthers: Scores 5+NHL goals.

Ryan Johansen of the Columbus Blue Jackets doubles his career point total with 33 or more points this season.

Charlie Coyle of the Minnesota Wild has as many goals this season, as he had points (14) last season.

Carolina Hurricanes defensmen Justin Faulk scores 10 goals.

Anaheim Ducks forwards Emerson Etem and Devante Smith-Pelly combine for 25 goals.

Taylor Hall gets his first NHL 30 goal season.

The debate  angst over the 1-3-1 deployed by the Tampa Bay Lightning last night against the Philadelphia Flyers is both amusing and reveals how little attention most people were paying to what the two teams were screaming with their actions.

  • The Tampa Bay Lightning were saying: We’ve spent a week filling our pants at the thought of your offense.
  • The Philadelphia Flyers  were saying: Ah, solid defense? No fair, we wanna take our marbles and go home!

All the hand wringing about trapping and boring hockey are completely worthless and insensible. There are a dozen different styles of hockey, and all of them have managed to hold loyal fans. The Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadians, Dallas Stars and Toronto Maple Leafs all employ different systems and each team has their own fans inside and outside their market. More importantly, a team that can win in a number of ways is much more likely to gain and retain new fans.

Games to watch:

  • The best east meets west showdown should be the Boston Bruins playing host to the Edmonton Oilers. 7pm ET
  • Western Conference purists can rejoice in a LA Kings – Vancouver Canucks matchup.

Two rookies made news last night:

  • Devante Smith-Pelly provided what might have been the only bright spot for the floundering Anaheim Ducks when he got his first NHL goal last night against the Nashville Predators and the 7 Million Dollar Goalie Pekka Rinne.
  • Skating onto the ice with Rinne was the man who after a three point effort would end the night atop the rookie scoring race Craig Smith, certain Canadian broadcasters are rumored to have protested the scoring race change as Smith has the bad grace to be both American and from a non-traditional hockey market.

And finally, the NHL should actually start talking about the All-Star game in the coming weeks. Two guys who deserve to be there who haven’t been, or haven’t been recently have been picked at not so random for general voting for those of you who can’t make up your minds who to fill the ballot with.

  • Teemu Selanne (age 41) who has been carrying the Ducks, and many a fantasy team on his back may not get more than ten or twelve more years in the NHL in which he has a chance to play in the All Star game. For him we’ve already started using the Twitter (and I suppose Chime.in ) tag #SelectSelanne. If you don’t know who he is that’s ok, just type him name into Youtube and sit in awe.
  • The other is a guy who got his first round of major NHL attention for his play by being selected for team Canada at the last Olympics. He was the NHL’s first star this January, and then went on to score the game winning, Stanley Cup clinching goal in game seven. Patrice Bergeron can be cheered on with #PickPatrice.

 

The Western Conference has quite a few storylines to keep the NHL’s scribes busy this year, most on the ice, some off. Ownership issues reign supreme in Coyote territory, the Blues and Stars are likely to change hands soon, and several major players are entering their walk year.

Northwest Division:

The northwest is pretty clearly divided between the haves and have-nots, of all the western divisions I expect my predictions here to hold up best.

Calgary Flames. As long as Iginla is healthy this team always has a shot. If they somehow managed to get some scoring depth the sky is the limit. They’ll likely finish second in the division.

Edmonton Oilers, still a so young the squeak. They will win about any game that their opponent allows to become a track meet and shootout, and lose any time they have their perilously thin backend exposed.

Vancouver Canucks. While not as talented as last season, two of the additions bring a higher level of mental toughness than was seen on the ice from this team last year. Marco Sturm and Byron Bitz probably don’t have a shot at the Conn-Smythe next June, but they can sure as hell support whoever of their teams leading lights gets closest to it. They should win the division again, for what it means.

Minnesota Wild. Unless one or more of their prospects turns out to be a stud this season they appear to have shuffled the deck chairs and done little else this off seasons. The trades weren’t bad but did they address the problems and not create other problems just as pressing? A bubble team that could as it stands finish anywhere between 7 and 11.

Colorado Avalanche. Fans in Denver and surrounding area should take advantage of the opportunity to watch Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog play without the pressure of making the playoffs. This team drafted well, but the current defense and likely penalty kill will drag this team into the lottery abyss.

Central Division:

This is honestly the  most interesting division in the west to forecast.  You can make a reasonable argument for any of the five teams to win the division. Unfortunately for the teams in the division this isn’t because any has an overwhelming strength at all positions.

Chicago BlackHawks, like the Wild, they did a great deal of deckchair shuffling to questionable effect. Having had the opportunity to watch Steve Montador and Sean O’Donnell, not to mention Jamal Mayers live and over the course of several season I’m not sure how they push this team over the top or even nearer it. On the other hand the cup hangover should be long over for the talented young core who are still hungry. Probably in the playoffs.

St Louis Blues What has been a combination frat party and hospital ward for the past two or three years could turn into an uptempo hard checking playoff team if it can tone down either of those aspects. Talented yes, focused, sometimes, healthy, in spurts.  If you really want to know where the team will finish, pull out your d30 and roll it a few times that should be just as accurate as anything anyone else can tell you.

Nashville Predators. Same Preds different year. Great defense, top notch goaltending and a giant question mark about where the goals will come from. This year there is the added question of which if any of Suter, Weber and Rinne will return next season. Fun times in Music City.  Almost certainly a playoff team, and possibly the division winner.

Columbus Blue Jackets. What an interesting off season. They imported a sniper. They imported a powerplay quarterback, and they (in theory) lowered their overhead. If things gel, and certain new defensemen can avoid multiple suspensions they too have the weapons to make the post season.

Detroit Red Wings, will this be the victory lap for Lidstrom? Who knows. The odds of this team making the playoffs come down to a flip of the coin. They have some huge talents, huge liabilities and huge unknowns.

Pacific Divsion

Far and away the strongest division in the conference it honestly wouldn’t surprise me to see the conference finals come down to two teams in the division.

Phoenix Coyotes. With the departure of Bryzgalov in the off season they are the weakest link. Not a playoff team, and possibly a lottery team.

Dallas Stars. With last seasons renaissance in goal, a mostly stable roster, a team that learned to play without a superstar forward, and the infusion of a seemingly rejuvenated 30+ goal scorer they might be the sleeper in the conference to make it to the post season. I’d be surprised if they didn’t flip positions with the Coyotes and make it in to the playoffs over them.

Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks had their most important player move happen when Jonas Hiller came off the injured reserve. With a full season under his belt and having managed to be a plus player in the post season after 75 games in the red Cam Fowler should be an even more important piece of the roster. Devante Smith-Pelly may end up in the Calder conversation. Oh yeah, they’ve got these guys named Bobby Ryan, Corey Perry, and Ryan Getzlaf up front who are supposed to be pretty good too (if anyone can confirm this leave a comment) to play with Vishnovsky. All this will likely lead them to third in the division.

LA Kings. If this team can gel as a unit and put up more goals they are likely to be finish around the 110 point mark.

San Jose Sharks. This is one of those teams that seams to own the regular season without even a signed offer sheet on the playoffs. They have a very good chance of winning the division if they can keep their goaltenders from having to be any better than average.