April 19th, 2013 — Uncategorized
This is probably the most asked, least answered question in Boston sports. The answer is complex, and involves more than a few moving pieces.
The Bruins have certainly had less than average amounts of injuries, and unfortunately the two most prominent injuries have been to their top scorer, and their most important skater. Brad Marchand’s speed, ability to agitate, and his zero delay shot release are game changing. He is at this point one of the two or three best forwards in the division. Patrice Bergeron is the teams most important player. Not only is he the most skilled faceoff man in the NHL, he’s stunningly reliable, the number of non injury bad games he’s had in his career can be counted without exhausting one’s fingers, possibly without reaching a second hand. When both are out, the team is missing speed, scoring, puck control, leadership, and winning attitude. Chris Kelly’s loss was crucial to the galloping inefficiency and creeping malaise, but that’s is something that has its real impact in the next section.
When the Bruins won the Cup, they rolled four solid line, and had a defensive unit they could rely on. They were very much a Top 9 team with a fourth line capable of contributing at a level that many teams struggled to get their third line to impact the game at. This year they are very, very much a Top 6 – Bottom 6 team, and they have a similar issue with their bottom six to the year after Chicago won their Cup. Some pieces that are the same, but not having career years all at once, and some players who are either playing way under their expected level or who were out for an extended period.
When Chris Kelly went down, the already anemic third line flatlined. Chris Bourque, Jay Pandolfo, Jordan Caron, Ryan Spooner, Kaspars Daugavins, and Jamie Tardiff all trooped in and out of the line. Part of the problem is that when Peverley slid over to center he started trying to do too much in a year where he was already struggling. Part of it the problem is that the most promising players weren’t given legitimate opportunities. And part of the problem is just how many moving parts have been involved, especially as the lines were frequently shuffled trying to get players like Sequin, Lucic, Horton, and Krejci going as well.
Defensively, the team rushed Dougie Hamilton to the NHL before he was ready, this is a management failure, but speaks to a dearth of passable defenseman available in the off season. Hamilton certainly hasn’t been a disaster, but he’s experienced the peaks and valley’s of a rookie, and despite his size has been overpowered and beaten one on one for pucks. The question of if this would have been less serious in full season with more games and travel versus the current high compression is unanswerable, but either way another year of physical growth would have ameliorated some of the valleys in his play and freed up other defensemen from keeping an eye on him in addition to playing their own game. With McQuaid’s injury, Aaron Johnson was pulled into the lineup. While he’s possibly more skilled and a better puck handler than Mcquaid, he doesn’t have the raw aggression of McQuaid, and that means opposing players don’t slow up and look for support going to his corner.
When your top paid forward, David Krejci, has the same number of goals as a guy getting six minutes less of even strength time on ice a night and plays most games on the fourth line you have a genuine problem. There’s no doubt you have an issue. Nine goals isn’t a bad total for the season thus far but either of them is in the top four on the team.
Milan Lucic has gotten the most attention for scoring decline, and deserves it. He doesn’t look like himself most nights. But this dip in his scoring isn’t nearly alarming as Johnny Boychuk year over year decline since he spent his first full season in the NHL. In thirty nine games he has one more point than Shawn Thornton who has played less than half as many minutes. Part of the issue is that he’s just not shooting the puck much, Boychuck has just 64 shots to date, Thornton in the same number of games, and significantly less shifts has 46.
And yes, the powerplay is unenviable at just under 15%, but they haven’t been good at that in years.
Claude Julien has earned the right to a very, very long leash in his coaching tenure. But his fetish or veterans over rookies or young players is again strangling the teams creativity, and energy. Jay Pandalfo’s heart and professionalism are unquestionable. The rest of his body is not really fit for NHL action any more; and yet 18 times he has gotten the call to play over a younger, fitter, more skilled player who likely figures into the teams long term future. In those 18 games he is scoreless, based on his career total of 226 points in 899 NHL games, the expectations certainly were not high. Ryan Spooner, Jordan Caron, or Jamie Tardiff could just as easily have filled those games, and likely out performed him, Spooner and Tardiff were having very respectable years in the AHL at the time of their recall. For that matter when Chris Bourque was sent down his 19 game stint produced points, just four of them, but combined with his speed there was at least a going concern each shift for opposing defense to deal with.
And even on the veteran front, just as Corvo and Wideman and Ryder deserved to be scratched in favor of other players in the past, so too have several players this season. For all that he’s slowly starting to rebound in his own end, Ference could have used a breather, Boychuck likewise, and with so many healthy bodies circling the ice and the cap space the entire Krejci, Lucic, Horton line could and probably should have been sent to the pressbox more than once this season as there were more than a few nights all three were on the ice but not in the game.
One of the biggest issues with this team is complacency. This starts at the top. Players who know training camp is jut a formality and they can go on with the drudgery of the regular season don’t star the season in right state o mind. It isn’t just about having nothing to win with a good effort in training camp, and the off season leading to it, it is that the having nothing to lose in either time period.
This goes way beyond just this season. Part of it is a drafting tendency. The team has too many nice guys, and maybe two intermittent fire eaters. Regardless of what you think about his politics, you only had to watch one period of Tim Thomas playing to know he was one thousand percent in the game. It didn’t matter if it was policing his own crease, smashing his stick on a shot even he had no chance on, or skating out to check an opponent taking liberties with one of his team mates, he was all in from warmup until the game was in the books.
Who can you look at on the team and say that about? Which of the prospects likely to hit the roster in the next year or two does that describe? Does that describe Redden or Jagr? The same answer applies to all those questions; No and no one. This has been true for years, the last palyer to say anything not in the mold of generic athlete mutterings, or whatever the front office was saying was Steve Kampfer, and he was deported about as fast as the Brain Trust could find a dance partner.
Where’s this teams Wayne Simmonds or David Backes? Apparently the front office is either blind to that need of the teams, or doesn’t want it.
March 3rd, 2013 — Olympics
Just about four years ago the US and Canada put on two of the best hockey games of the last quarter century. But, like all teams that team USA is not the one we’ll see in a few years. If I’m playing general manager, there are some players I do bring back, and others I just say no to, at least as of now.
- Ryan Malone would not be on the short list today. His production has trailed off, he’s not been especially healthy the last few seasons, and he’ll be thirty four before this year is over. Great guy, if he hangs up the skates before the Olympics, he might get tapped for an assistant coaches spot.
- Chris Drury, nice guy, already retired.
- Tim Thomas, while its nice to think he’d be back to world beating shape after a year off, it is unlikely.
- Ryan Whitney, hasn’t played even when healthy for a woeful Oilers club this season.
- Jamie Langenbrunner, has experienced a notable decline in the past few years, will turn 38 this summer, and has had injury issues,
- Brian Rafalski, retired.
- Erik Johnson, is admittedly playing on a poor team, but not especially productive offensively which isn’t how offensive defenseman earn their pay.
- Phil Kessel enormously hot and cold, not a great two way player and has struggled to score goals this season which is what he’s paid to do.
- Ryan Kesler, good faceoff man, good passer, physical, good skater, can’t stay healthy to save his soul.
- Ryan Callahan, well above average for two way play, but prone to long slumps offensively, and injuries as well.
- Joe Pavelski, seems to have declining returns in the playoffs. That could be the team, that could be his doing, but I lean towards team.
- Paul Stastny, did not impress me during the last Olympic’s, has had declining production since them, but did have solid World Championship numbers in 2011-12.
- Ryan Miller, while his heroics a the last Olympics seem ot be the last time he played at an elite level, you have to take into consideration the quality of the team in front of him. A quality that has gotten the longest tenured coach in the NHL booted this season.
- Jonathan Quick, anyone who needs to know why should simply look at last seasons record, both his individual stats, Cup win and the number of games he only gave up one goal in.
- Tim Gleason, anyone who can be a plus player with all the years he’s spent on the defensively woeful Carolina Hurricanes.
- Jack Johnson has a boatload of international experience, will probably have been named Captain of the Blue Jackets by then, offensively talented.
- Brooks Orpik solid two way defenseman with a double handful of physicality, some international experience and would be among the teams elder statesmen.
- Ryan Suter a top ten defenseman in the NHL, no-brainer.
- David Backes, certainly one of the best American forwards in the league.
- Dustin Brown, great mix of skill and physicality.
- Patrick Kane almost certainly the best pure goal score from the USA, and has a maturing game away from the puck. Knows how to win.
- Zach Parise versatile, talented and lots and lots of international experience.
- Bobby Ryan perennial thirty goal scores do not grow on trees, willing to play physical, willing to shoot.
That would be my starting point based on the 2010 Olympic roster. The next post will focus on filling the roster out. I’ve counted out as many as twelve players I expect to put together a pool of about twenty players including at least two or three goalies.
July 20th, 2012 — Collective Bargaining Agreement
The current labor situation is filled with reasons to reexamine what we know. Let’s start with the facts:
- The NHL Ownership has staked out a position that appears to be a draconian assault on the players union.
- Anyone paying attention for the last two or three years knows that this CBA is first, second and third a dispute between the various classes of owners.
- The NHLPA in the last labor dispute was to put it in precise technical terms rolled and raped.
- Despite the war drum beating that led to the hiring of Donald Fehr, the PA has done little to convince anyone they won’t backdown.
- The NHL will not survive as we know it if a season is missed.
- Star players who take part in the process will take a hit in public perception, regardless of outcome if the dispute drags on.
It’s now been a week since word of the owners proposal hit the media. The owners haven’t made any public move to retreat from what many consider a declaration of war. It is hard to argue that this failure to address it does not in fact amount to an endorsement of the so called leak. The players association has not taken any visible position on this. No player I’m aware of has taken a position. Given Donald Fehr’s reputation, the number of active players, and likely PA employees who were part of the last lockout, it is unlikely that even if Fehr proves entirely ineffective, that the players will agree to the proposed terms.
The owner versus owner dynamic is still the axis of this fight that is most important. Teams like Montreal, Toronto and Boston can spend at a nearly unlimited level. Not every team can and even among the deep pocked teams with abundant fans not all will. Among the 29 ownership groups there are likely four camps of various size and cohesiveness. The first will be the owners bleeding money even with revenue sharing. While likely the tightest group, those who see a fix for their woes will be pliable, it could be an arena deal that gets them out of a bad situation and into more revenue, or could simply be reduction in the amount they are forced to spend.
Group two will be the group who are in a market they haven’t managed to saturate yet and are most sensitive to the effect a lockout will have, likely this will be the group of “swing voters” who go in whatever direction they think will prevent even the threat of a work stoppage. Group three is made up of the owners who believe they can spend their way to success and don’t care who they run over. Ten minutes before the next CBA is ratified they’ll have half a dozen ways to circumvent the parts they don’t like as part of their general operations plan.
Group four is the most interesting to me. This group will be the owners who have money and intend to keep it. They aren’t interested in a lockout, but won’t allow a deal that will affect long term revenue negatively. They will be in favor of any plan that keeps revenue sharing at just barely above the point where average management of an NHL team will keep it in existence. A fly on the wall who hears owners or their representatives talking the non ticket and arena sales revenues benefiting everyone will be listening to this group.
Earlier this year, two time Vezina winner, Jennings Award winner, Conn-Smyth Winner, and Stanley Cup Champion Tim Thomas would (likely) be taking the season off. He has one year remaining on his contract, had some personal issues to deal with and even waived his no trade clause after years of balking at doing so to give the Bruins some room to work with. He’s also a politically aware American who went through the last NHL labor dispute. Given his level of play in 2003-4 in the AHL where he put up a .941 save percentage in 43 games, and then went to Finland during the lockout with a lot of other NHL talent and put up world beating numbers, the last lockout probably cost him a great deal of money. By making it know ahead of time he was dedicating the year to family, the hockey camps he’s protecting his health, his brand image by being semi-retired, and staying out of the infighting that will likely consume another NHL season.
June 25th, 2012 — Uncategorized
The Jordan Staal trade short circuited a hype fest that could have gone on all summer and right up to the trade deadline. It’s kinda disappointing honestly. Sure it’ll be fun to see how many times announcers and the press confuse them this season, but hey there are other players who we’ll all get to talk ourselves sick about.
The Ducks don’t want to move him. If they did they would have gotten in on some of the big name players in the last two years. Or they would have traded him for a boat load of picks in this draft. Left wing tends to be the weakest forward position for a lot of teams. And a team as starved for depth as the Anaheim is, shouldn’t be looking a signed all star in the mouth.
Anyone not smart enough to grab him when Florida was dangling him years ago, probably hasn’t wised up. A good solid stroll through the stats will show he’s being used much more defensively in Calgary than Florida. A deeper look will show that for the first two years he was there the scoring was more tightly concentrated than his last two years in Florida showing how much less talent the Flames had than the Panthers in forwards.
Despite the hopes and dreams of 29 other fan bases, I don’t see Zach moving on unless the Devils are getting ready to fold.
Cabbies across the continent can rest peaceful in their beds. The 140lb bane of all livery drivers is a darling of ownership, and too promising a talent to be tossed aside for anything that hasn’t gotten to the point of criminal behaviour that threatens fans or team staff. Even if despite the denials of others he is the only twenty something millionaire to ever go out and party.
Peter Chiarelli and Cam Neely have spent forever bad mouthing him and trying to replace him. Those things don’t go hand in hand bros, you might wanna work on that.
Unless someone medicates Scott Howson or Nash and company expand their list, Rick Nash is likely to be a Columbus Blue Jacket for a while longer.
June 1st, 2012 — Uncategorized
Recently some interesting and oh-so-timely news came out of one of the Boston newsies regarding one of the Bruins goalies possibly being traded. While there was certainly a reason behind that article, I’m not sure it was a reasonable writeup.
If you look at the way goalies are developed and handled across the NHL, both now and over the last decade or so there is an absolutely explicit path to stability in the crease. One older veteran goaltender, one young goaltender. The Montreal Canadiens tried going with two youngsters in Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak and abandoned the model pretty quickly. The Washington Capitals spent a couple seasons with Varlemov, Neuvirth and Holtby, and quickly jettisoned a youngster for a veteran.
The Saint Louis Blues had great stability with the veteran Elliot and the young Halak this season. The Minnesota Wild, health aside, have enjoyed stability in the crease with their goaltending duo. Jimmy Howard in Detroit has been nurtured in his development by a series of elder statesman. It’s pretty simple, two veterans can work, like in New Jersey, an older and younger goalie can work, but no one ever relies on two young goalies.
So when we look at the Boston Bruins goaltending assortment, we see a pretty clear mix in the system We have the elder statesman, who has been there and done that, and is still able to do so; Tim Thomas. We have a young, and goaltender who can play well in the regular season in a limited role but hasn’t ever played more than 60 games or performed well in the playoffs; Tuukka Rask. Then there’s Anton Khudobin, only a handful of NHL games to his name, just one professional playoff appearance to his name, and ten months older than the player immediately ahead of him on the depth chart.
After that things get murkier. Lars Volden and Zane Gothberg will both turn 20 this year, and both are college boys. It is unlikely either will be playing anywhere professionally in the next year or two and three years is a more likely break in point. Michael Hutchinson made some impressive strides in limited duties for the Providence Bruins. Next up is Adam Couchraine who’s entry level contract expired on July 1 and has not managed to claim much playing time in the AHL or even the one NHL callup.
Adam Morrison and Niklas Svedberg have both been signed this season. Morrison bad his pro debut for the Providence Bruins this spring, and Svedberg has some Euro experience but neither is much closer to the NHL than Gothberg and Volden. A further spanner in the mix is Karel St. Laurent who played in 21 games for the Reading Royals and four for the Providence Bruins in his first year pro last season.
So, the question to ask yourself is: If you’re an NHL club in win now mode, where do you put your trust? Do you break the trend that has been successful for teams and go with a 20-22 year old and one or two guys in their middle twenties who haven’t established themselves as winning playoff goaltenders? Another option would be bringing in one or more free agents. Of course any new player in the system, free agent or promotion especially in goal, the most important position in the sport, will have a shakedown period and the margin between a division win and deep playoff run, and having team breakup day in the middle of April isn’t as wide as it used to be.
May 16th, 2012 — Collective Bargaining Agreement
With the CBA negotiations looking more and more likely to vent heat from both sides, the possibility we will see a large number of high end UFA’s all at once is growing daily. In addition to those top UFA’s this season: Suter, Parise, Semin, Selanne, Whitney, Jagr, Parenteau, Holmstrom, Garrison and more if there is cancellation of this season, the next year the market gets even more mouthwatering. Add in some or all of: Crosby, Iginla, Staal, Quick, Alfredsson, Backstrom (goalie), Perry, Getzlaf, Thomas (goalie), Vishnovsky, Lupul, Streit, Hartnell, Clowe, Howard and well, you get the picture. Coming out of the last lockout we saw a number of players sign with friends to teams and go for it all. We also so the Avalanche load up with a who’s who of hockey in their last cup win.
Even going with just the players from this year, that’s more talent than most teams boast. Even cup winning teams. If the labor negotiations stretch to a point where the season is shortened, say camp starting the week before (American) Thanksgiving, and the first real games being played on December first, organizations hungry for a championship might be willing to accommodate the wishes of a group of players who all wanted to play together for one (shortened) year for a reasonable sum.
Say for example the Coyotes sale does actually go through. They currently have 17 players signed for next season, and total cap hit of just under $35,000,000. If they somehow magically (wanted and got) all nine of the above, to sign one year deals for $3,300,000 they could trade a few other pieces for roster space and draft picks or assign players back to the AHL, and still have wiggle room under the cap for injuries, and or other additions. The nine would have a total cap hit of $29.7 million, and for a team in need of a shot in the arm that could be just what the accountant ordered. Even Nashville would be in position to make a similar move, they have only 12 players signed for next year and already have a solid goaltender.
Assuming the dispute did cancel next season, the possibility of one or more super-teams goes up. A team that could play a duo consisting of a combination of a well rested Quick, Thomas, and/or Howard in net is absolutely frightening. If they managed to push each other to still higher levels of performance the potential goaltending records for the year are absolutely mind-numbing. Forward lines that had Parise, Staal, Iginla, Afredson, Crosby, Semin, Selanne would be unlike anything the NHL has ever seen. We aren’t talking an All Star semi-competitive practice billed as a game, or even an Olympic campaign where the players practice together for a couple weeks. We’re looking at months of synergy building practice, play, and travel from some of the biggest talents in the game.
April 26th, 2012 — Uncategorized
The season is over. In the wake of a hard fought series against a team that had the Bruins number all season, it’s hard to see how anyone can be devastated. This isn’t the loss to the Flyers after going up three games to none. It’s not a loss to a truly hated team like the Canadiens. It isn’t even loss where there was a complete breakdown and most of the team didn’t show up like in the last playoff tilt against the Carolina Hurricanes.
The top players could have been better. Marchand had one impact game. Krejci as was the case all season showed up when he wanted too. Lucic was limited in impact. But as a whole the top six were not effective, and the defense was lacking in consistent physicality. Denying that Adam McQuaid is both more physical than Corvo, Mottau or Zanon is just silly. He’s also better equipped to deal with hits and drives of the large aggressive forwards of the Capitals.
For that matter, as much as the top nine forwards tried, only Lucic is over 200lbs and aggressive. Rolston is listed at 215lbs but not exactly going to make anyone cower in fear, Jordan Caron is 202lbs and has a bit too much puppy bounce to scare anyone. That’s it for 200lb plus forwards other than Shawn Thornton on the entire roster. The Capitals on the other hand had only two forwards and one defenseman on the whole roster listed below the 200lb mark.
In goal, the series saw Tim Thomas allow one less goal than last years first round series against the Montreal Canadiens. He turned in a more than reasonable 2.23Sv% and 2.14GAA. The issue was at the other end of the ice where shots on goal came from the blueline or the wall. The powerplay was again a wasted two minutes. Only two players had more than one goal. The Bruins, and likely no NHL will ever go anywhere when the top two scorers in a playoff round are Rich Peverley and Andrew Ference. The two are good soldiers, but they should not be leading the army.
Was uneven and curious officiating an issue? Yes. There were calls that should cost people jobs. They were about even in which team they put at a disadvantage, but the Bruins powerplay was worthless and they didn’t capitalize on the chances to put the puck in the net, on the ice at least, it comes down to the teams failure to execute.
April 11th, 2012 — Uncategorized
Most years in order to win a championship in the NHL you need to have a goalie play above average and contribute to the win. That isn’t the same as giving a team the chance to win, or simply not costing the team a win. There have been exceptions to this, namely belonging to the Red Wings teams of the last two or three cups.
16: Brayden Holtby. With only 21 NHL games to his credit, he’s got to be the best defense on a team who’s effort has been highly uneven all year. Realistically he’s got almost no pressure on him considering he’s third on the teams depth chart. (Alternates for the Capitals would be Neuvirth or possibly Vokoun)
15: Corey Crawford: He’s not had an impressive season, no goalie likely to start this post season had a worse save percentage this off season. Keeping that in mind, last year as a rookie he stepped up and improved both his save percentage and goals against average in the playoffs.(BlackHawks alternate Emery)
14: Scott Clemmensen: His next NHL playoff game will be his second. He does have the advantage of familiarity with his first round opponent. (Alternates for the Panthers Theodore or maybe Markstrom)
13: Marc-Andre Fleury: The flower has wilted in his last two playoff appearances with sub .900 save percentages. If he hadn’t been to the promised land he’d be lower. Even the year he was part of the Cup win, he gave up more goals than any other goalie. (Alternate for the Penguins is Johnson)
12: Ilya Bryzgalov: Not a playoff goalie thus far in his career. His last two post season have had worse numbers than the regular season. (Alternate for the Flyers Bobrovsky)
11: Anti Niemi: Yes he’s been there and done that, but not with this team. Further his post season numbers have dipped in comparison to the regular season in each post season appearance. (Alternate for the Sharks Greiss)
10: Jimmy Howard: Gamer. One of those guys who’s numbers improve in the post season. (Alternates for Red Wings Conklin, Macdonald)
9: Roberto Luongo: Despite the loss in the finals last year, he still had a better save percentage than the previous two winning goaltenders. (Alternate for the Canucks Schnieder)
8: Martin Brodeur: Been there, done that three times but the last trip to the post season was double plus ungood. (Alternate for the Devils Hedberg)
7: Craig Anderson: One playoff series one save percentage of .933 on a team that only got into the playoffs because he could scramble. (Alternate for the Senators Bishop)
6: Pekka Rinne: Not great playoff numbers, and an off season but one of the best pure talents in the league. (Alternate for the Predators Lindback)
5: Henrik Lundquist: Whatever he’s done in the regular season over his career has been nearly undone by an aggressively mediocre playoff performance, but that’s bound to change right? (Alternate for the Rangers Biron)
4: Mike Smith: With a little more experience he might break the top three, on the other hand holding the eventual Stanley Cup champions to two goals in your first 120 minutes of NHL playoff experience isn’t a bad baptism by fire. Not a bad regular season this year either. (Alternate for the Coyotes Labarbera)
3: Jonathan Quick: Career year behind a team playing confidently, and ready to go far. (Alternate for the Kings Bernier.)
2: Brian Elliott & Jaroslav Halak: Either one is having a high end year, Halak has ripped the heart out of opponents as a duo, there’s not a better pairing this year in the NHL. (Alternate for the Blues would be whoever doesn’t start.)
1: Tim Thomas: Reigning Conn-Smyth winner, reigning Vezina trophy winner, defending Stanley Cup champion, he’s been there and done that recently. Looked sharp of late and has elevated his numbers every post season in the last three seasons. (Alternates fort he Bruins possibly Khudobin, Rask, Hutchinson….)
April 9th, 2012 — Uncategorized
It’s that time of year, when anyone who hasn’t managed to completely abandon social responsibility goes into hibernation for several hours a couple times a week. The NHL playoffs are here.
1: New York Rangers vs 8: Ottawa Senators
The Rangers have the advantages in goaltending, in playoff experience, penalty kill and in team toughness. That’s not to say the Senators are pushovers, but the Rangers had 10 more fighting majors than the Senators. The Senators own a noticeably better powerplay, a more powerful offense overall, and better leadership. Age is roughly the same with the Senators have a larger spread between their players ages.
On paper the Rangers should win this series handily. Unfortunately we don’t know how healthy Lundquist is (again) and the Senators won the regular season series against the “superior team”.
2: Boston Bruins vs 7: Washington Capitals
Can you say goalie issues? I knew that you could! The Boston Bruins still have a healthy Tim Thomas and that’s a damned spiffy thing to have. Unfortunately between the two teams there are two goalies who have never played an NHL playoff game (Khudobin, Holtby), one goalie ineligible to play at all (Turco), and count ‘em three goalies currently injured (Rask, Vokoun, Neuvirth) which makes for exciting times for the coaches. For the Capitals who were likely to find themselves out matched in goal anyways, it makes it worse that their likely starter Brayden Holtby has just 21 NHL games (14-4-3) to his name, and none of them playoff games and only seven of them this season.
The Capitals won the season series against the Bruins, on the other hand three of those games came during that ice defiling slump they were in. The bad news for the Bruins who have since resurrected their team identity is that the Capitals have Backstrom back. On paper I thin almost anyone has to give this series to the Bruins, but the Capitals won’t make it easy.
3: Florida Panthers vs 6: New Jersey Devils
These two teams are both making their return to the second season. The Sons of Sunrise as an organization haven’t been in the playoffs in forever, but Brian Campbell and Kris Versteeg lifted the Stanley Cup together, Samuelsson, Sturm, Bergenheim, Kopecky, Madden, and Jovonovski bring in another 500 or so games of NHL playoff experience as well. The Devils have an odd mix of experience and new blood, Broduer has been there and done that. but almost no one else has seen even the conference finals. Most haven’t made it out of the first round. Ilya Kovalchuk who should be on the Hart Trophy short list has only played in one playoff game in which his team won. Zach Parise hasn’t seen the second round of the playoffs since his second year in the league, and he wasn’t expected to be a cornerstone of the team then. Adam Henrique is of course a rookie, and even though he probably deserves the Calder Trophy, he hasn’t played even one professional playoff game and none since the Memorial Cup run a few years back.
The goals for department favors New Jersey slightly, the goals against is a dead heat. The penalty kill is a walkoff for the Devils, but the Panthers hold the edge in the powerplay. The Panthers both generate and give up more shots than the Devils. This series will probably go the distance, with more playoff experience on the Panthers side, unless MB30 looks like the guy of 10 or even 5 years ago, you should not be shocked if the Panthers advance after their first ever division title.
4: Pittsburgh Penguins vs 5: Philadelphia Flyers
There will be no love in these games. Not unless its a love of winning and rubbing ones opponents face in it. The teams hate each other, the fans would cheerfully massacre the other cities, and the coaches aren’t over fond of each other either. This will be as compelling to watch as last year Boston vs Montreal series, and should be the best opening round matchup in either division.
With the relative tightness of the race, this series will come down to guts and discipline. The Penguins are better at home, the Flyers better on the road. The powerplays have identical proficiency, the penalty killing edge is in the Penguins favor, the teams delivered an identical number of hits, and the Flyers blocked more shots. While neither Bryzgalov nor Fleury did anything they wanna brag about in the last few days of the regular season, neither one had a bad March with the edge going to the Flyers keeper. Fleury has been to the promised land and Bryzgalov has not. That said, Bryzgalov has the better post season save percentage, and Bryzgalovs career save percentage against the Penguins is much, better than Fleury’s against the Flyers (.930 vs .901).
As Jim Ross would say, this one fixes to be a good old fashioned slobber-knocker.