All Things Hockey, Playoff Edition Part II

TFLN- Playoff Edition

I have never read Texts From Last Night, but I am familiar with the idea. I also talk almost exclusively about hockey with friends and family during the NHL playoffs. I’m not going to be able to put together what happened on 4/18 by myself, so hopefully this will help bring me to an actual recap.

My Dad:

“Marleau looks hurt.”

I actually buy this one. Marleau hasn’t been going to the net like he usually does, he hasn’t been physical at all and he just doesn’t have the pop that his game usually does. I didn’t see it myself, but once he said it, I think that this is plausible. He looked great against Phoenix on the last night of the season, and I didn’t see anything that shook him up in games one or two, but something definitely looked off in game 3.

“Watch the tape. The bad play in the sequence at the end of the game last night was not by Boyle or Nabokov. It was by Murray. Why did he reverse the puck? Kind of a lazy play. He had Thornton on the other side all alone ready to break it out, with no pressure on that side from the Avs.”

Maybe. I mean it isn’t wrong, for sure. The thing is, I just can’t bring myself to look for blame on that play. I really just think that it was a freaky play, one that can’t be put on anything but bad luck. Obviously there was a level of laziness that can be assigned to a number of players, but at the end of the day it was just the sort of thing that only seems to happen to the Sharks. I made plenty of dour jokes about God hating the Sharks and luck, neither of which are realistic, so I guess I will just blame quantum mechanics, particle physics, the Heisenberg Uncertainty principle and chaos theory for putting that puck in the net.

High School Roommate, Andrew:

“Heatley is hurt we are going to get swept by the Aves.”

Easy buddy, don’t jump. Besides, we already won game two but all but eliminated (read: eliminated) a sweep.

“Anderson is playing like Hiller did last year for the Ducks.”

Eerily so. I give him credit, but it is something that I had thought many a time since the beginning of the series.

Dave Damashek:

“The San Jose Sharks have to have taken over for the Boston Red Sox as the hardest team in sports to root for these days.”

First of all, I don’t actually know Damashek, he said this on Bill Simmons’s podcast. But it is a fair point. The Sox pre-2004 (between like 1995 and then) kept coming up just short. Obviously, the Sox had a much longer run of coming up short that made it so frustrated. The thing is, the Sox rarely had the best team from 1918-2003, and the fact is the Sharks have had what could be the elite squad in the NHL the last few years, and yet they have fallen short making it all the more frustrating. And by the way, my first reaction Sunday night was to compare the Sharks loss to the 2003 Aaron Boone game. The certainty that we had control in overtime followed by a freaky, almost implausible sudden death defeat (in 2003 because Boone had been an automatic out for 7 games) left the exact same empty, helpless, frustrated and pissed off feeling with me when the game was over.

Fraternity Brother, Lou:

“Heatley was benched.”

An interestingtheory, but I don’t buy it. Heatley was the best Shark in game one. You can’t put your best corer on the bench like that. I agree that it looks suspicious, since Heatley was fine at the end of game 2 (he played on the powerplay before Seto scored and nothing appeared to shake him up), and now appears to be headed back, but I just don’t see the Sharks sitting him down at this point.

High School Teammate, Mike:

100% understandable. at least youve had the past few yrs to grow accustomed to being very very frustrated…. well see how things go this yr (major sic’s)”

Believe me, each successive year makes the frustration 100x worse. It isn’t something you get used to. The good thing is that the Sharks have outplayed the Aves badly for 2 games now, and I still would pick them if I could somehow be objective. That is as positive a note as I am going to get too, so let’s take a look at the rest of the NHL which was as good as the Sharks were bad the past few days.

Award Watch

The NHL Awards, with the exception of the Conn Smythe, are regular season awards. That being the case, we may as well wrap up Awards Watch for the season, by making official picks for the big NHL trophies.

(For the MVP, I’m going to wait, and do it on its own)

Calder

I had a long debate with my friend Austin (featured above) about the Calder race late Tuesday night. Austin, an Avalanche fan, was adamant that Matt Duchene has been the best rookie in the National Hockey League. I was adamant that he was wrong.

My choice remains unchanged, which is to say that as much as I resent his donning of Canadian colours (as opposed to American colors) in international competition, Tyler Myers is the clear cut rookie of the year. With due respect to Austin and to Matt Duchene (who has had a great rookie campaign by any measure to be sure), the key part of that sentence is ‘clear cut,’ which is to say that it isn’t even close.

My argument was that Myers has been the number one defenseman, leading the team in ice, for the number three seed in the West. This alone is a great ROY resume, but it does go deeper than that. Myers is a special player, who brings Chara-esque size and defensive zone ability to a Norris Trophy type of skill set. Watching the Sabers from any sort of analytical disposition, Myers sticks out as a special player.

If you want to compare him directly to Duchene, that comes out for Myers too. Duchene is indeed a good player with a chance to be a star in the NHL. Myers, on the other hand has a chance to be the best player at his position. Duchene has a really nice skill set, but chances are he is just another 70-85 point winger, and while they are hardly a dime a dozen, there are a few in every class.

The statistics favor the Buffalo defenseman as well. Consider the following two categories: first, points. Duchene has 55 to lead all rookies, but Myers is just 7 behind, and from the point. Since Myers is a defenseman, which gives him the edge in scoring (Myers is 11th amongst defenseman, Duchene doesn’t crack the top 50, coming in at 66th among forwards. The second number of importance is 9. That is the number of front page statistics (on NHL.com) that Tyler Myers ranks in the top 10 in rookies for. Not among defenseman, among all rookies. He leads rookies in games played (82), time on ice (amongst players with more than 20 games), shifts per game (same) and assists. He also ranks top 10 in points, goals, power play goals, shooting percentage and is second in plus/minus.

All of that pales in to comparison, though, to the most compelling and convincing reason that Tyler Myers deserves the Calder Trophy, which I stumbled upon the next morning. Mark Recchi was on the NHL Live radio show. EJ Hradek asked him about the key matchup in the upcoming series that Recchi was looking for against Buffalo.

Without hesitation, Recchi answered “We have to find a way to contain Myers.”

He didn’t say, “Myers is a good player.” He didn’t say, “Myers is a tough guy to go up against.” He didn’t even say, “It will be tough to match up with Myers.” He used the word contain. Recchi is in the same division as Myers, so he played him 6 times this season. He has also seen his fair share of hockey, having played in the NHL for almost 1600 games. That is a lot. I don’t think I have done 1600 of anything, Recchi has played an NHL game 1571 times. He knows what he is talking about. Myers was the first thing he mentioned. Containing a D man. That’s how good this kid is, even if he is a G-D Benedict Arnold.

The Final Ballot- 1.Tyler Myers, 2. Matt Duchene, 3. Jonathan Tavares, 4. Jimmy Howard, 5. James VanRiemsdyk

Adams

The case for Dave Tippett is pretty simple. Last year, the Coyotes were a bad team, with an inexperienced coach, and they missed the playoffs by 12 points, finishing in 13th place.

This year, they brought back essentially the same bad roster. There were two main differences. First, the team was marred in controversy regarding potential ownership changes and relocation. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this wasn’t responsible for the turn around.

The other difference was behind the bench. No one wants to come right out and blame the great one, but he was learning on the job, and it was a difficult situation. This year, they hired Tippett through the chaos at the beginning of the year. If Gretzky wasn’t at fault, he was at least unable to turn the situation around. Tippet was.

I have said it before, there really isn’t a star on the roster (with due respect to Shane Doan or Wotjek Wolski). Their defensemen are good, but not great. Bryzgalov is having an unbelievable season, but he has been there for a couple of years, and it hasn’t made the difference. Watching Phoenix, it is clear that they win as a well coached team that comes to play every night. That is been the difference, and that is why Tippett is the only one who warrants talking about for the Adams Trophy.

The Final Ballot- 1. Dave Tippett, 2. Cory Clouston, 3. Joe Sacco, 4. Lindy Ruff, 5. Todd McLellan

Selke

The Selke trophy, given to the best defensive player in the NHL, is probably the most visceral of the awards given each June. It is nearly impossible to narrow down the award on numbers alone.

Some stats help, but nothing narrows it down. Plus minus is a good indication, but Alex Oveckkin led the league, and no one in their right mind would say he was the best defensive player. Takeaways have given Pavel Datsyuk the award couple of times (and rightfully so), but Alexander Ovechkin and Maxim Afinogenov are in the top 11 in that category. Besides, so much more goes into defense than can be calculated.

That isn’t to say that stats, can’t be used, in fact they should. The first category, though, in the vetting process should be the eyeball test. Does the guy get beat on the rush? Does he get back in the zone every time? Is he physical? Plenty of guys do those things, and if they do, then you move to stats to determine the favorite.

For me, Ryan Kessler is the guy. Does he pass the visceral test? Yeah. So let’s go to the stats. Datsyuk is way ahead of Kessler in takeaways, but Kessler has the two spot. The thing is, Datsyuk is nowhere near the top of the league in blocked shots, and Kessler is in seventh. He isn’t at the top of the league in hits, but that is because most hits forwards throw are on the other end of the ice. Anyone who watches the Canucks knows that Kessler is a physical guy in his own zone.

Ryan Kessler has been underrated since he came into the league, but that should change this year, since Kessler should win the Selke.

1. Ryan Kessler, 2. Pavel Datsyuk, 3. Mike Fisher, 4. Sidney Crosby

Vezina

I really don’t want to say that it is Ryan Miller, and that if you followed hockey this year, you don’t need an explanation, and leave it at that. But it is Ryan Miller, and if you followed hockey this year, you already know that. Bryzgalov has put together a great campeign and warrents mention (Brodeur on the other hand

Back in the USSR

The KHL playoffs are streaming this morning on ESPN3.com, the same network that can’t get the NHL. Anyways, I couldn’t be more excited. What better way to get my mind off of the tragedy of the Sharks loss last night than with the league that is single handedly trying to rejuvenate the Soviet empire? I have no idea what to write about it, other than “it is freaking awesome!” so I’m just going to write down everything that comes into my head and hope it works.

First of all, the game is in Russian on the webcast, rather than with translations. This sounds like a bad thing, but it actually is significantly enhancing the experience. I haven’t been this excited to not be able to understand something since I tried to watch “Lost” my junior year.

I looked up the rosters on the official English Language website of the KHL, Wikipedia. Unfortunately, there really weren’t any players that I recognized. This would b e a good time to mention that the teams are HC MVD (I thought that was a television abbreviation along the lines of LAK or NYR, but it turns out that is the team name), and AK Bars. I don’t know anything, including where they are from, about these teams, other than that Ilya Kovalchuk played for the Bars before he came to America. Anyways, as far as the rosters, it was a little bit disappointing. Alexi Morozov (aka one of the biggest busts in NHL history) plays for the Bars, as does Danis Zaripov, who played for the Russian Olympic team, but that is it, and there isn’t anyone of note on HC MVD. So no Federov, Jagr, Yashin or Radulov. Oh well.

For some reason, listening to what song they are playing between play is supremely entertaining. It is mostly a stream of techno so far. Disappointingly, though, it isn’t Russian Techno, but American pop techno. So far, we have heard “Call on Me” by Eric Prydz, a Cascada song (can’t remember which one) and “Sandstorm” by Darude. Come on, Russia! You are the bastion of techno! Don’t let the imperial capitalist pigs of the West drag down your proud national spirit, expressed in the form of synthesizers and pounding artificial beats!

It has been 20 long years since Mr. Gorbachev tore down that wall, the Soviet Union was disbanded, and the Cold War was thought to be over. Today, though, in 2010, and only now, am I willing to declare the Cold War officially, 100% over. There are two reasons for this. First of all, the Soviets er, uh, Russians and the Americans are leading the charge towards a nuclear disarmament (BUT OBAMA SUCKS BECAUSE WE STILL PAY TAXES! WHAT HAS HE DONE? REPEAL HEALTH CARE! GO TEA PARTY!..by the way, I can’t print my new name for the Tea Party movement, since there is a 99.999% chance you would be offended by the language, just know it was funny. I promise).

I discovered the second, and frankly more important reason while watching the introduction to the KHL game. The music playing in AK (still haven’t looked up where they play) was none other than Europe’s “The Final Countdown.” That’s right, one of the themes from Rocky 4. None other than documentary that logged the US defeating Russia in the cold war via boxing match. And now it is played in Russian hockey arenas. The war is over.

There audio track of the game now has a woman conducting an interview in the background of the play by play (like there are 2 audio tracks being played simultaneously). I am so confused. Is it a production error? Maybe. Is it intentional? I don’t know. I can’t imagine why you would need 2 commentaries at the same time, but that is probably because my feeble American brain has been corrupted by the vices of capitalism and so called freedom of democracy, in which the bourgeois play the role of invisible dictator, and cannot comprehend the complexities of the glorious Russian system.

Goal! AK Bars are on the board making it 1-1! Unfortunately, nothing goofy happened and it basically looked like a goal being scored in the NHL. I couldn’t be more disappointed.

This, unfortunately, is AHL level hockey. Of course, I knew that before this game based on the fact that Radulov is the best player in the league by quite a bit, Robert Esche is the best goalie, and, well, because I watched Russia’s Olympic team, but it is clear watching it that this has a long way to go if it thinks it is going to challenge the NHL.

I think that the coach for AK is the Russian National team coach. I have no idea, though, since every Russian hockey coach is required to have the same bad haircut, be a little bit overweight, and just basically look exactly the same.

I looked it up, he isn’t. I have never been happier to be wrong, considering it speaks to the above theory.

5 Ideas for Fake “What if X Didn’t…” NHL Commercials

I actually like the commercials that are running all over the games right now, with the classic moments being thrown into reverse, followed by the ‘what if question.’ They are a more than adequate version of the NBA’s “Where Amazing Happens’ ads. Fortunately, like the “Where Amazing Happens’ campaign, even though they are solid ads they are almost too easy to mock, so let’s take a shot.

1.What if Raffi Torres wasn’t a douchebag? A clip of a ref with his arms at his side, then backing up to Milan Michalek lying motionless on the ice, then floating up until his head goes flying into Torres’s elbow, then about 4 seconds (unless it is in slow motion, then it will be like 10), until you get back to the point where Michalek was actually touching the puck. Yeah I’m still bitter.

2. What if David Stern Didn’t Plant Gary Betteman as the NHL commissioner? An empty rink, with a ‘2005 NHL Playoffs’ banner visible.

3. What if the NHL Players’ Union Had Their S*** together? Same thing. Equal time right? And yeah, I’m still bitter.

4. What if Jaques Lemaire didn’t almost kill hockey? A 45 minute clip of teams trying and failing to enter the zone, followed by Brodeur’s inflated numbers coming across the screen.

5. What if God Didn’t Hate the Sharks? I liked this one so much, I actually made it.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UriEZkREJMA

Shorter Hockey Thoughts From The First Few Night Of Action

- Unfortunately, as I have mentioned before, Santa Clara’s cable system doesn’t get Versus. I have started a small movement to try to get the administration to add it to the lineup. If you are interested in helping (it would be much appreciated), go to the facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=112407142124340&v;=wall&ref;=mf#!/group.php?gid=112407142124340&ref;=ts.

- On that note, thanks to the literally a few people who emailed media services to try to get Versus at SCU.

- Rather than wrapping up everything that I have to say about round one thus far in a column that would run around 4500 words in addition to all of this stuff, let’s go with a more digestible ‘shorter hockey thoughts’ version of a recap.

- Randy and Drew (Sharks announcers) said that there is going to be an emphasis on faceoff violations in the playoffs. My question is this: WHY THE HELL WOULD THERE BE AN EMPHASIS ON FACEOFF VIOLATIONS? WHY? “Guys we need to slow down stoppages, make the games drag out, and enforce petty violations without making the game more competitive, more entertaining, or in any way better! Stat!”

- What the hell was going on with the doors at Mellon Arena Friday night? Multiple times, hits sent guys flying through the boards, including Sutton, after he had already hit Leopold a few feet away. Good thing this is it for the Igloo.

- Joe Pavelski saved the Sharks season. I am convinced of it. If Pavs doesn’t put ‘er home with 30 seconds left in game 2 Friday night, the Sharks were done. Now that he did? I would bet just about anything on them in this series. The Avalanche have thrown everything that they have in games 1 and 2 and the Sharks have, for the most part, held it off, with only Craig Anderson keeping it close.

- Absolutely tremendous 100% clean hit by Andy Sutton on Jordan Leopold Friday night. Leopold had his head down, and Sutton came across and caught him perfectly. Elbow was in, he led with his shoulder, and he didn’t leave his feet. Sure, he caught Leopold high, but that was a textbook example of the puck carrier not protecting himself. I don’t think that there was anything wrong with it. More important, though, was the elite club that Sutton joined after the game, when he added “are you an expert,” to “practice,” and “playoffs?” in the ridiculous post-game quote lexicon.

- I missed the best storyline in the Buffalo-Boston series, one that hasn’t been built up as much as it should be. Really, we have the present going up against the future, with Zdeno Chara and Tyler Myers. They are the only two players in the NHL that physically, are unlike anyone else. Obviously, there isn’t much direct competition between defensemen on opposing teams, but the chance to watch the Slovakian giant, and the youngster from Houston, Texas, which I believe is in British Columbia, for 60 minutes in the same rink is exciting.

- Ovechkin getting zero shots in the Caps opener is shocking. Watching him, and taking into account the amount that he is on the ice, it is absolutely unbelievable that he could not get a shot. He can create a play that leads to one every time he touches the puck. Thursday, night was just a genuine no-show. The Caps can’t win the series, let alone the cup, if they get that Ovie for the next few games.

- Going back to Chara, everyone knows about the huge size, unmatched strength, booming shot, and uncanny shutdown ability, but the things that make Chara so incredible are the fact that he is an unbelievably agile skater for his size, and he has a great knack for jumping up in the zone.

- As of the second period of the Habs-Caps game, my main thought is “DUN-DUN-DUN, DUN-DUN-DUN-DUN, DUN-DUN-DUN, WOAH-OH-OH-OH-OH!” Also, I can’t believe that a 1 on 2 shot from the faceoff dot was just described as ‘Ovechkin’s best chance of the series.’

- Finally, the Canadians are getting the Mike Cammalleri that they thought they were getting when they signed him from Calgary, rather than the one that the Flames signed from Los Angeles.

- Cisco doesn’t seem to understand how ‘time zones’ work.’ (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Uz3wQRFbvg) Or, generally, advertising. Or school. Then again, I haven’t been in elementary school for a few years. Do semi-unknown Canadian actresses routinely show up prior to field trips these days? (and if you are wondering what that has to do with hockey, I have seen that commercial approximately 1800 times in the past few days)

- Starting in 2012, take “John Carlson/Tyler Myers” over “The Field” for the next 12 Norris Trophies. Pencil that in. The only doubt I have is whether or not that should start next year.

- If you want to rank the best players in the NHL in tiers, tier one is Crosby and Ovechkin. Nicklas Backstrom is in tier 2. If he wasn’t in Ovie’s shadow, he would be getting credit for carrying a franchise.

- Who told Versus it would be a good idea to model every original show that they do after ‘Mohr Sports?’

- Cisco gets the worst ad award, obviously, but the best I have seen so far has to be the Wayne Gretzky LG commercial.

- My favorite type of music is Jim Houghson’s voice. My favorite song is “A Howitzer.”

- I love every single series going 1-1. Obviously, with the exception of the Sharks, you want to see the most hockey, and the wildest, closest matchups. This year has certainly delivered that through the first weekend with OT’s, and every team taking a sweep off of the table already.

- This is where I would write something about how devastating the Sharks game 3 loss was, or how upset I was, or even how well they played, that is if the loss hadn’t rendered me unable to think rationally, or even coherently at this point.

What I Like About: Alexander Ovechkin

There are so many things to love about Ovechkin if you are a hockey fan. Dude brings it every night. He is electrifying to watch. You never know what he is going to do next, but most of the time it will be something that brings you to the edge of your seat if not to your feet.

I have written about plenty of those things before, but there are two intangibles that get overlooked often times because of Ovechkin’s immense skill. Those things are an undying love of playing hockey, which is evident when you watch #8, and a passion for winning that can only be described as ‘Jordan-esque.’

To me, there is one situation that brings this characteristic to light consistently (although just watching him play does as well). Everyone knows about Ovie’s enthusiastic goal celebrations. Cherry called him out for jumping into the boards. He has his signature one knee sweep of the ice. He made headlines for his charade when he scored his 50th goal last season. What gets overlooked though, is that Ovechkin often gets equally, if not more, fired up, when his teammate scores.

No one celebrates harder when he is on the ice for a goal. Either this guy really cares about getting plusses (possible, he lead the league in them this year), or he gets genuinely fired up for his teammates. You might not like his aggressiveness, or even the vigor with which he celebrates his own goals, but it is hard not to like how much he appreciates his teammates’ successes.

Homer Note of the Week

(Warning: I am writing after the Sharks’ loss in game 3. I am still mad. This could be…less than diplomatic.)

Ok, so I am bitter. Maybe I am just bitter. But really, Colorado? Listen to the radio broadcast, and the call of the last goal. Dude reacted like he had just seen the prettiest goal in the history of hockey to win the Stanley Cup.

The fact is this: The Sharks beat the crap out of the Avalanche for 180 minutes. Two freaky goals (fluky doesn’t cover it) have kept the Avalanche in this series. We are a better team, and anyone in their right mind would take the Sharks with even odds to come back and win.

Seriously, you have created about 3 legit scoring chances in the series. You 5 marshmallows in game 2 to stay in it, nad your goalie had the best day of his G-D life to get game 3 in what can only be described as grand larceny. To all you Avalanche fans, running your mouths, talk to me when you win a single race. Sure, you are up 2-1, but the shots have been 51-17, 52-22 and 129-69. Craig Anderson isn’t Vladislav Tretiak. He is gonna crack.

2 gifts from God, who clearly hates the Sharks for some reason, have kept you in this series, but anyone in their right mind knows that the Sharks are better, and there is no way I would trade our team for their situation.

So keep your shirts on.

(Sorry, needed to get that out.)

Goal of the Weeks

The Sedins combined skill, savvy, passing, flash and ESP to score this one. It is an absolutely incredible play. Probably the goal of the year for my money.

http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/embed.swf

Hit of the Weeks

I had a bit of trepidation, posting this video, since you hate to see someone get knocked out the way Leopold did, but this was just an absolute hammer dropped by Sutton, and at the same time an effective defensive play, the two things you look for with physical play. I would know, I’m an expert.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u18CBH2s7-4]

Save of the Weeks

This week’s best save was made by…Patrice Bergeron? The play that Crosby made Friday night may actually have been even better, but between the hustle showed by Bergeron, and the fact that if he doesn’t do that they may very well have missed the playoffs, Bergeron gets the edge over the other half of the duo that dominated the 2004 World Juniors.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJhIbCoT2DM]

All Things Hockey, Playoff Edition Part I

OOOOOOHHHH YEAHHHHHHHH!!

Those, the words of hockey fans across North America as we prepare for the best time, bar none, of the calendar, Gregorian or otherwise (I know it isn’t like you were out there saying ‘but which calendar!?!?!?!’ but it warrants mentioning anyways. The Playoffs are that good.). The playoffs are here, and there is plenty to talk about it, so to quote Adam Carolla let’s GET IT ON!

(Deep breaths)

(Strap in, we are going comprehensive for these breakdowns)

(4) Pittsburgh Penguins – (5) Ottawa Senators

What I Like About Ottawa

Spezza-Alffredsson-Michalek is one of the best lines in hockey. Below them, the Sens have gritty guys like Ruttu (a nice way of saying he is a prick), Kelly and Phillips. Really, though, my favorite part about the Sens is this:


[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gi5nCd1ZVrw]

What I Dislike About Ottawa

Depth is the issue. It isn’t a coincidence that I went right to guys who sound like third liners after mentioning their first line. The Sens are also a bit soft on the blueline. Phillips is solid, Volchenkov is good, but they lack a solid 3-5. Elliot is also unproven, and it is going to be tough relying on him in the playoffs. They probably won’t have to for long.

What I Like About Pittsburgh

There is plenty to like about the Penguins, like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury, they have been their two years in a row, #87, they have good special teams, Sid the Kid, Jordan Staal, and the Cros.

What I Dislike About Pittsburgh

They have been shaky in the regular season this year. Crosby has picked up his game, but they miss guys like Miroslav Satan, and have battled injuries and inconsistencies. On the other hand, they have gotten it done when it matters for the last two years, and there is no real reason to think they can’t again.

Storylines

Phoenix has gotten all the attention as the underdog story, but Ottawa missed the playoffs by a large margin last year, then dumped their leading scorer. The main line will be the Pens’ title defense though.

Pick

Pittsburgh in 5

(3) Buffalo Sabers – (6) Boston Bruins

What I Like About Boston

Zdeno Chara had a rough year. It was not his best. He is still the best defenseman in the league when he is on his game, though, and can single handedly swing a game.

What I Dislike About Boston

Scoring is going to be damn near impossible for the Bruins in this series. They were dead last in the NHL in goals for, and they are going up against arguably the best goaltender in the league.

What I Like About Buffalo

Ryan Miller can steal games from anyone, all-star teams included, as we saw in the Olympics. I also like that he probably won’t have to here. I like Tyler Myers a lot, but I’ll get into that later. I also thing that people are sleeping a bit on the Sabers offense. They were 10th in the league in scoring, even though they lack a marquee scorer, so they can fill it up on occasion.

What I Dislike About Buffalo

To be honest, there isn’t much. I certainly think that they can hang with anyone in the East. Their defense is a little bit shallow, and their forwards are largely unproven, but there aren’t any glaring weaknesses here.

Storylines

Will either team manage to crack the 10 goal mark for the series?

D-FENSE! D-FENSE!

Pick

Buffalo in 6

(2) New Jersey Devils – (7) Philadelphia Flyers

What I Like About Philly

I had cheese steak last month for the first time at Tony Luke’s (supposedly one of the good ones), and it was absolutely amazing. The sourdough, the sharp provolone…I’m not a good enough writer to describe how great it was. Unfortunately, that is the only nice thing that I can say about the Flyers, and it isn’t even really about the Flyers, since (with apologies to friends and readers Chris, Ryan, Steve and Tyler), I can’t stand that organization.

If pressed, I would say I like James VanRiemsdyk, but in a ‘I hope he gets traded because I want to be able to root for a good young American player’ way, not in a ‘he will swing the series’ way.

As a team, though, my favorite thing about them is that there was a story about adultery amongst teammates and crashing a frat party about them in the span of about 7 months. That probably won’t help against the Devils, though.

What I Dislike About Philly

I liked Brian Boucher quite a bit as a backup. Not so much as a starter. Also, all the stuff above was stuff I don’t like about the Flyers.

What I Like About New Jersey

Here is something you never thought you would see, if you followed hockey from 1994 to 2003: The Devils are just plain fun to watch. They have a bunch of great guys, highlighted by Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise. Paul Martin is a stud on the blueline and they have outstanding depth.

What I Dislike About New Jersey

I really don’t trust Brodeur (or wouldn’t, if I was a Devils fan, I should say) like I once did. He is still ok, but if I were to rank the goaltenders in the tournament, Brodeur probably comes in around 10. Not bad, and certainly good enough to win a couple of rounds, but the Devils can’t rely on the guy like they once could.

Storylines

Geographical, divisional rivalry is nice. Who had the best cheating scandal…Brodeur with his sister in law, or the Flyers with teammates wives?

Pick

Devils in 4

(1) Washington Capitals – (8) Montreal Canadiens

What I Like About Montreal

They have cool jerseys. Maybe the best in the NHL. That’s about it in this series.

…ok that’s not exactly true. I like that they are going with Halak. I like that they have great team speed. I like that they don’t seem afraid of Washington.

What I Dislike About Montreal

I just don’t like it that much. Washington is a better team here, plain and simple.

What I Like About Washington

This barely needs to be printed. They have three of the most skilled forwards in the game, one of the best offensive defensemen, and good depth scoring to boot.

What I Dislike About Washington

RJ Umberger may…here me out…he may have a point. It is no secret to anyone paying attention that the West is much stronger than the East. Teams like Chicago and Vancouver, down to Nashville and Colorado are strong at both ends of the ice. Washington is good, I mean effing staggeringly good, offensively. No lead will ever be safe against them. But they aren’t good at both ends. One way teams have survived in the East. Washington doesn’t play much D, Boston doesn’t do much to scare you on offense. Sure, the Caps numbers don’t look that bad, but that is because the control the puck well enough that they don’t need to play all that much defense. That will change eventually, and it remains to be seen how they will handle it.

Storylines

Theodore is playing his old team. He also has Varlamov looking over his shoulder. He is the most interesting player here.

The trash talking is already on for this one. Theodore was called out as unintimidating by former teammate Thomas Plecanec. Theodore responded by kindly pointing out that he was not Jaromir Jagr.

Pick

Halak steals one, maybe 2…Caps in 5

(4) Phoenix Coyotes – (5) Detroit Red Wings

What I Like About Detroit

First of all, I just want to point out that sports are the only context in which the words ‘what I like about Detroit’ have been written in the last 15 years. Having made that unprovoked shot below the belt, the Wings have been playing the best hockey in the NHL, bar none, since the Olympic break. Jimmy Howard has been good since then but…

What I Dislike About Detroit

Clearly, he is still their weakness. A rookie in net always will be. Also, I find myself not completely fooled by their resurgence in the later part of the season. I think that they are a better team than the one that was out of the playoffs at Christmas, but not as good as the one that has been on a tear of late. They are being given a little too much credit, and I think that they are more appropriately seeded at 5 than people think.

What I Like About Phoenix

The Coyotes, are extremely coached and they bring it every night. It is easy to chalk overachieving teams up to those attributes, but it is clear when you watch the Dogs that you get their best shot every night. I like that you can count on Phoenix to show up and work hard, and play a sharp game every night. They also have one of the best goaltenders in hockey, in Ilya Brzgalov, who is capable of stealing a couple of games.

What I Dislike About Phoenix

Unfortunately, every team brings it in the post-season, and therefore teams like Phoenix almost always get smoked out and exposed for being not that talented in the first round. Teams that are made up primarily of cast offs and third liners (which is largely what the Coyotes) rarely do much, even ones as professional as the Coyotes.

Also, I dislike Tyson Nash as a color analyst. He sucks.

Storylines

Easy jokes- Does Gary Betteman get his name on the cup if the Coyotes win the cup?

Can Detroit carry their immense momentum into the playoffs?

Pick

Closer than you might think, but I’m taking the Wings to win in 7 after Bryzgalov steals at least 1.

(3) Vancouver Canucks – (6) Los Angeles Kings

What I Like About Los Angeles

The Kings have a great, and somewhat underrated D core. They have two young two-way studs in Johnson and Doughty, an underrated lock down guy in Green, and solid veterans in Scuderi, Jones and O’Donnell.

What I Dislike About Los Angeles

Johnathan Quick is good. He is going to be good for a while. He was also playing for the Winged Beavers of Avon Old Farms when I was in high school, and I graduated less than 2 years ago. Translation- he probably isn’t ready to put a team with a fairly unremarkable group of forwards on his back through the playoffs.

What I Like About Vancouver

Obviously, it starts with Luongo for the Canucks. There is no question that he is an elite goaltender, but there are way more people questioning him han ever before in his career. Still, he is the strongest point for the Canucks. Also, if you have the chance to get a pair of twins that can play on the same line and use ESP to combine for 180 points, I would hit that up. Just saying.

What I Dislike About Vancouver

Their depth at forward and defense is weak. Beyond a top 6 that is great, the Canucks don’t get much up front. Same goes for defense where they have a few solid guys, but certainly don’t go six deep.

Storylines

Can Quick hold on? Will Luongo prove doubters wrong?

Pick

LA just doesn’t scare me that much when it comes down to it. Vancouver in 5.

(2) Chicago Blackhawks – (7) Nashville Predators

What I Like About Nashville

The Predators have a top 2 on the blueline that equals or surpasses any in the game of hockey. Shea Weber and Ryan Suter are both bona-fide stars at the Defenseman position, and will be the core for the Preds as they approach the playoffs. Also, Rinne may not have staggering numbers, but he is a good goaltender who could frustrate the Blackhawks should he get hot.

What I Dislike About Nashville

Their forwards really just aren’t that good. Patrick Hornqvist is definitely a bit underrated, but that is really the only guy that I have something positive to say about, and he led the team (tied with Steve Sullivan) with 51 points. That isn’t a typo. 51. Only them, Boston (Bergeron at 52, and I addressed their scoring issues), and Phoenix (who I can’t really explain in the first place, and Doan has 55) don’t someone with at least 62 points (and the number would be 69 had Jeff Carter stayed healthy and not been held to 61 by injury). 6 guys with upwards of 40 points is good, but not outstanding, and there comes a point in most series’ that you need a guy to step up. I don’t think that Hornqvist is the guy.

What I Like About Chicago

The Hawks are something of the Washington of the West. We know their outstanding offense. They have defensemen that can rush the puck. They can put up a lot of scoring and do it fast. I actually like Chicago, probably a bit more than Washington, and the reason is simple: grit. Guys like Johnathan Teows, Dustin Byfugdlein and John Madden provide a toughness that a team like Washington can’t match.

What I Dislike About Chicago

Without Campbell, the defense isn’t outstanding beyond Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. The real problem, though, is at goaltender. I am a long way from trusting Antti Neimi with a cup run, and Christobal Huet has proven himself incapable of getting it done at the NHL level anymore.

Storylines

Believe it or not, I have seen this picked as an upset on multiple media. I don’t see it.

Pick

Hawks in 6

(1) San Jose Sharks – (8) Colorado Avalanche

What I Like About Colorado

Statsny is a good player, Tucker has a bit left, Svatos and Hedjuk are definitely assets and Craig Anderson has been good.

Their main attribute though, is that they have lots of young talent from guys like Yip, Galiardi, Stewart, O’Riley and Duchene.

What I Dislike About Colorado

But they aren’t there yet.

What I Like About San Jose

There is a lot to like about the Sharks. They have 3 great defensemen, and 3 more that can be capable at worst. Nabokov has the ability to shit it down as well as anyone in the league. They roll out the best line in hockey. Logan Couture has transformed the third line with his emergence, and made Malhotra-Couture-Mitchell/Ortmeyer/McGinn one of the most dangerous third units in the league, adding to the intimidating Thornton-Marleau-Heatly and Pavelski-Clowe-Setoguchi trios.

What I Dislike About San Jose

The Sharks are going to be fine, even if they get down a couple of goals at the beginning of a game, or if they drop game 2 or 3. They are a better team, and they should be fine. The fans, though, are probably going to be blind to this fact. The second that something goes wrong, there is going to be a hypertense s***storm around San Jose amongst fans and media. This sort of negativity could creep onto the ice. I hope it doesn’t.

(And that, ladies and gentlemen, was a rational, reasoned, unbiased breakdown of the Sharks. Thank you.)

Storylines

I’m hearing that apparently the Sharks have had some issues in the playoffs. Not sure what this is about.

Pick

Sharks actually got a bad draw here. The Aves have played them well. They are a better team though, Sharks in 6.

Thank You, Mike

(Written last Saturday)

Mike Modano, for my money the greatest American hockey player of all time, will probably play his last game tonight. He has yet to make it official, and has even hinted that “I might come down with Favre-itis.” He showed no signs of that disease, on Thursday night, when he played what looked to anyone watching like Mike Modano’s last game in Dallas.

As a Sharks fan, I should be ecstatic to see #9 hang up the outdated but iconic Tacks he refuses to dump in favor of lighter, stronger boots. I should be glad that the original jersey flow, a trail of white black or green following Modano as he flew through the neutral zone, is a thing of the past. I should have been pumped, not only because whenever another team loses a player your team gets better by comparison and not only because the Stars share the pacific division with the Sharks. I should be glad to see him go because Modano owned the Sharks like no other player. He killed us. Again and again.

I don’t know the stats, although I’m sure they are around 2 ppg. I don’t need to know them, though. I saw Modano rack up a couple of points seemingly every time he came to town between 1998 and 2007. I saw him decide seemingly every big game between the two teams over the same span. I even saw a step slower Modano kill us the last few years when he shouldn’t have any more, and I couldn’t have been less surprised when he notched 2 to break the American born scoring record (and for the record I clapped when he did). Basically, I saw him get the puck, and I knew I should be scared. Usually, I was right to be.

I wasn’t glad to see Modano leaving the NHL, though, at least not for those reasons. Instead, I was sad. I was sad that I won’t get to watch Modano play anymore. I was sad that I didn’t get to see him live one more time. I was even a little bit sad that he would never scare the hell out of me in a Sharks-Stars playoff game.

The only solace that I took in his last game wasn’t that he is going to be gone, but that it was time for him to go. Modano is about to turn 40. He hasn’t scored 80 points since 2003, compared to a pace well above a point per game before that. He hasn’t scored 60 since 2006. At times this year, he looked past his prime enough that I wrote “it is more depressing than anything to watch the greatest American player of all time (Modano) now that he has lost a step.” Modano wasn’t completely useless, he scored 28 points in 56 games, a respectable pace for sure, but he just isn’t the same guy that was so electrifying earlier in his career.

For thirteen years now, I have counted myself among the many die hard Sharks fans. In that time, the Dallas Stars have played the role of rival for me. Since I have been a Sharks fan, the Stars have always been at the top of the division with the Sharks, and the two have even gone at it in the playoffs a couple of times. Still, I never (sports)hated the Stars like I did the Ducks. The reason for that is simple. There was a time when I was a Stars fan.

Still, that was a long time ago, and I probably should have moved past that by now, but I never have. I had more reason to dislike the Stars than I could have needed. They took the Sharks out of the playoffs in a painful 2008 series. They went at it for the Pacific in 08, 07, 06, 04, and 01. I even have a pretty healthy dislike of plenty of guys, including but not limited to Steve Ott, Mike Ribiero, Ed Belfour and Darian Hatcher (the only one that I grew to dislike after rooting for him in Dallas), that played for the Stars.

I never could hold them on that level though, and the reason was Modano. Mike was just a fun guy to watch play, and even though the Stars hadn’t been my team for a long time, through this pseudo-rivalry, I retained respect for him and for the Stars. When he makes it official, I’ll get into it a little bit more, but the fact is, I, like most fans, will miss watching the dude play.

That’s 3300 words, and I probably am less than half done…we are going to need to break this up. Look out for a couple more lead in columns, and the rest of the All Things Hockey nonsense that you have come to expect in the next couple of days.

The Santa Clara Column

It isn’t my best work, partly because I still have trouble with 450 words (you can’t convince me that the freedom to elaborate the internet brings isn’t a good thing for sports writing), but mostly because I have no say in the editing, and let’s just say I think this one got cut up a little bit too much, but I wrote the column for The Santa Clara’s sports section this week. I haven’t decided whether or not to post the ‘directors cut’ (version that wasn’t brutally murdered by editors), but I will post the link so that you can check it out if you are so inclined. Needless to say, I am less than thrilled with the way that this turned out, but here it is anyways.

(also, the title, which sucks, isn’t mine)
(I feel compelled to defend myself…don’t bother reading this if you are skipping the column, but the jokes got edited and made less funny, the thing had flow that got completely destroyed in editing, and the wording makes me sound like a 5th grader writing a book report–I think it is pretty obvious where it got changed. Aren’t editors supposed to make work better? This sucks.)

All Things Hockey, April 4th, 2010

Happy Easter, everyone. What better way to celebrate the holiday that means the playoffs are right around the corner than with an edition of All-Things Hockey?

(I thought about calling it ‘resurrection edition,’ but it seemed in poor taste. Let’s get going.)

Mailing It In

In the last episode of All Things Hockey, I solicited questions for a weekly running section. I said that it would be solicited by me, only if I remembered, and probably sporadic. I would like to thank those of you who contributed, because for the first time in the history of this blog, it actually over-delivered. I got 5 or 6 questions that I could touch on. So, since there hasn’t been anything that leapt out as worthy of leading with, I am going to go ahead and kick it off with the first ever All-Things Hockey Mail Bag.

Is Steve Ott possibly the best player ever to play against the Sharks on March 31st in any year?

- Wally (Hailey, Idaho)

This question combined the three things in the world that I hate above all else: Steve Ott, the Sharks losing, and research. Obviously, it is in reference to Ott’s hat trick against the Sharks on Wednesday night. I was lucky enough to have missed most of this game, a 5-1 loss, so I can’t really break down Ott’s performance. From what I saw, which was a large part of the first and second periods, as well as highlights, I wil do my best.

I will start with the obvious. Ott was…

(this is harder than I thought)

Clearly Ott played…

(Nope I can’t do it.)

Number 29 on the team wearing black on Wednesday night at the American Airlines Arena had three goals and therefore people familiar with the game of hockey would consider this a strong performance. That wasn’t so hard.

Ok…putting aside my hatred, which is deep and well documented, Ott’s first goal was a hard working one, in which he beat Nabokov to the glove side, which was made easier by the fact that Nabokov made the questionable decision to cut holes in his glove and to wear a 15 pound weight on his wrist coming out of the Olympic break. Personally, I think that Nabokov made the wrong play, with the holes and the weight, but he is a professional, so maybe there is some reason behind it.

The other two goals were scored on shots from the top of the crease on passes, that isn’t fair grounds for criticism, obviously, but they weren’t spectacular plays either. It was, of course, a good game, but to the question, was it the best that the Sharks have seen from an opposing player?

Well, the Sharks haven’t played on March 31st since 2004, when they beat the Kings 3-0. Unfortunately, although they gave up 4 goals twice, 5 once, and 3 three times on the date, I couldn’t find box scores for any of the games before 2003.

So yeah, it was probably the best that the Sharks have seen for this particular date. This compelled me to head to Wikipedia to find a dictator or criminal who had been born on 3/31 in order to prove that the day is a sort of cosmic bastion of evil, or to find some terrible natural disaster or massacre. Ott beating the Sharks couldn’t just be coincidence, right?

For birthdays, unfortunately I struck out, finding Jack Johnson (boxer), Gordie Howe, Cesar Chavez, and Tom Barasso, but no Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin or Hussein, much to my chagrin. On the other hand, I did find a massacre in 1918 that took place in Azerbaijan. 12,000 Muslims were killed by Bolsheviks and Armenian revolutionaries. 12000! What the hell, Steve? What do you have against ethnic Azerbaijanis? Jesus, didn’t he know that the 31st is known as Day of Azerbaijani Genocide the world over? Is that an association he wants? Apparently it is.

(Also, Isaac Newton died, which makes sense, since Ott scoring a hat trick seems to defy physics. Wikipedia is fun.)

I want to make very clear that I don’t support hockey players contributing to ethnic genocide in Western Asia 92 years ago, but apparently Ott does, and I think that is sad. I hope that answers your question.

What teams in each conference need to be on upset alert?

- Andrew (San Francisco)

First of all, let’s define an upset in the context of the NHL playoffs. A 4/5 matchup can be a surprise, but it certainly isn’t profound enough to get the label upset. The obvious games that can be labeled as upsets would involve the 1/8 matchup and the 2/7 matchup. These two are, without a doubt, worthy of the term. The three seed, though, needs to be evaluated on a case by case basis.

A six seed is usually a team that was in something of a playoff race, and usually pretty well out of contention for the division. That makes them capable of being in the range of someone who could pull an upset. The ambiguity, though, arises from the three seed, which is the lowest division winner. Often, this team is the 4th or 5th best in their conference. If that’s the case, then it isn’t fair to label a 3/6 an upset. That doesn’t necessarily mean that if the 4 seed has more points, the three can’t be upset, but often times that is the case.

So let’s look at this year. Washington, San Jose, Chicago and the Atlantic winner (Pittsburgh or New Jersey) will definitely be strong enough teams to be labeled upsets (they are strong enough teams that they need to be considered contenders, even if they have the 3rd or 4th most points). In the East, Buffalo has actually snuck up on the Atlantic teams, and has done so in a division with four playoff teams. So, should they lose in round 1 that would certainly go down as an upset.

Out West, it is harder to label Vancouver a strong enough favorite to be ‘upset.’ That isn’t to say that they aren’t a good team, quite the opposite, but they are actually built more like a team that would be pulling an upset with a strong goaltender and a couple of tope end scorers. If they played Detroit, they may not even be favored.

That brings me to the answer for the question, although the last statement steps on it a bit. Unsurprisingly, none of the favorites look primed to go down to me, as far as the first round is concerned. Rather, the area where an upset would occur would be from a frisky 6/8 seed. Right now, the simple answer to the question would be whoever plays Detroit. Obviously San Jose and Chicago have questions, but I thnk that they are just too good to go down to a team like Nashville or Los Angeles. If they face the Wings, though, they will be high on upset alert.

In the East, the 6-8 seeds look weak to me. Boston doesn’t have any scoring, especially without Savard, Philly doesn’t know who their goaltender is, although if they want to find him, they should check the IR, since that is where all of their tendys seem to be, and Montreal is generally a pretty uninspiring group that will probably go with Price, a goalie who is capable of stealing one or two, but just as capable of giving a couple of games away. Should Atlanta or New York manage to unseat one of those teams, I really don’t think they pose any greater of a threat. I could see a team getting hot and knocking off Pittsburgh in the 2 seed, to be honest (they look like a classic year after championship hangover group with the exception of 87 to me), but I don’t see that coming from any of the lower seeds in the East.

Why does James Wisniewski get suspended for 6 games for the hit on Seabrook when Ovechkin gets 2 games for a much worse hit and taking Campbell out for the rest of the year?

- Austin (Ketchum, ID)

I pretty much covered this a couple of weeks ago. I don’t want to repeat myself too much, but suffice to say I think that the suspension on Wisniewski’s suspension was justified and then some.

I won’t break down the hit again to justify this (if you want to see what I thought, read this), but let’s get to the comparison, leveled by an Ovechkin hate cool aid drinker (yeah I’m talking to you, Grill).

It would have been easy to say there is none, Wisniewski’s hit was worse and say that is that, just like it would have been easy to say that Ott isn’t the best player the Sharks have played but he did have the best game. Like the last one, though, I will get into it a little bit deeper.

Wisniewski wears number 34, which I can only assume is in homage to Adolf Hitler becoming fuhrer of Germany in 1934 (just kidding…)

The question that is actually at stake here is intent versus result. If you look at the result of the hit than sure, Ovechkin’s is worse, with Brian Campbell going down for the rest of the year. The problem is, such a large plethora of factors go into a player getting hurt, that to use it as a basis for discipline is unfeasible. If you look at intent, on the other hand, Wisniewski’s hit was exponentially worse. He left his feet and went right for the head of Seabrook, extracting revenge on a player who didn’t have the puck.

The only possible intended result of his actions was to hurt Seabrook. It is impossible to watch the play and say that if anything else had come of the hit, it was not by Wisniewski’s design. This wasn’t the case with Ovechkin who was stupid in the way he finished Campbell into the boards, but the result of the play was due largely to a dangerous circumstance which came about during standard play, not by maliciousness on Ovechkin’s part. For that reason, it doesn’t make sense to punish Ovechkin any more based on the outcome of the play.

Who is going to win the World Cup?

- Rob (Los Angeles)

That isn’t an NHL question. It isn’t even a hockey question. Read the rules.

And Germany will win the World Cup.

You need to be more concise. It is hard to read your entire columns because they are too wordy and long.

- Wally (San Francisco)

No I don’t. These are meant to be comprehensive. As to wordiness, I can’t altogether disagree, but I think that I have a wandering, insightful tone, rather than a detrimental wordiness. In my defense, the columns that I write (not the All-Things Hockey editions) are usually pretty manageable, under 2000 words at any rate. You can easily read something like that in 10 minutes. If you can’t break off 8 minutes to read, I don’t know what to tell you.

As for the ATH editions, sure, they usually read around 5000-6000 words, which, admittedly, is long. I go off on tangents that have nothing to do with hockey, and try to cover as many subjects as possible. The thing is, if you look at them, the are broken up in to 7 or 8 sections in a typical edition. It isn’t as though I am rambling on for 2000 words about a particular Patrick Marleau backcheck. Usually, these are a series of columns that are actually pretty short, around 800-900 words. Take the section after this mailbag. It is on a pretty prevailing subject, in my opinion, which is going on in the NHL, and I go through it in less than 600 words. That is fairly concise if you ask me.

If you can’t carve out half an hour to plow through the whole thing, fine. Pick and chose. Read the shorter stuff at the end, and then read the lead in column the next day. Pick and chose stuff if you want. This is meant to be a fairly comprehensive look at the state of hockey for a given week, and that is pretty tough to fit into a single page.

Also, if you have to blame someone, blame our education system. I have been brought up in a system in which higher grades clearly correlate to higher page counts. No matter what teachers say, they are much less likely to reward a 10 page paper with a failing grade than an 8 page paper. On top of that, when you are assigned a paper, it is usually billed based on page count, so to get it done, you have to hit a certain number of words, rather than a certain amount of subject matter. This has lead to a desire to be wordier and long winded that may have carried over into this writing.

Actually, that isn’t necessarily true; I just needed to make this answer longer. Isn’t irony fun?

Which players need to step up for their teams to go far in the playoffs?

- Andrew (San Francisco)

Time to look at San Jose for this one. There are two guys who need to be big gamers, something they have never been, in order for the Sharks to make a serious run. The first is Nabokov. He has been bad lately. He has struggled, historically, in the playoffs. The Sharks will need both of these trends to change, though, for the Sharks to be the cup favorite they should be.

The other player that the Sharks need to step up is Joe Thornton. For the most part, my attitude towards the Sharks playoff strugogles has been that it isn’t some great failing of the team’s psyche, just some ill timed slumping that is bound to correct itself if the team stays together. Thornton is the one player that I’m not so sure that this is the case for. He has never had a great playoff resume, and he has absolutely disappeared at times, something that the Sharks can’t afford from their best player. Thornton’s problem seems to be intensity. When intensity steps up, as it does in the playoffs, Thornton seems unable to match that step.

Eventually, he will need to this year. The Sharks are good enough that they don’t rely on Jumbo like they once did. Guys like Marleau and Heatley, even Pavelski and Setoguchi can step up for the Sharks and win a series, maybe even two if Thornton mails in another May. Eventually, though, the Sharks will need their number one center to do what he does in the regular season if they are going to win the cup, and anything less would be a failure fin San Jose.

Elsewhere, it is pretty simple. Teams need their best players to be their best players. There really isn’t one that I can identify, though. If Crosby is great, the Penguins have a chance. If Ovechkin steps up, the Capitals are probably the favorite. If Kovalchuk and Parise are great, the Devils could return the Cup to Newark (30 days without a murder!).

Everyone looks at goaltending as the determining factor for playoff success, but really it comes down to who gets the most out of their star players. Sure, you have your 2006 Canes, who didn’t have anyone step up other than Cam Ward, but for each one of them you get three Penguins getting Crosby and Malkin, Wings getting Zetterburg and Datsyuk and Lightning getting big springs from Lecavalier, Richards and St. Louis. Really, then, everyone has guys that they need to step up for them to go deep, but nowhere are these questions more pronounced than in San Jose.

Handcuffed In Net

Tim Thomas has, to put it honestly, had an absolutely terrible season. At this point it would be foolish for a (likely) playoff bound Boston team to do anything other than take the starting job away from the platoon that last year’s Vezina winner has enjoyed with Tuukka Rask, and give Thomas a front row seat for the playoffs with Rask tending to the crease.

After Thomas was shelled in his last outing, that appears to be what Coach Claude Julian will do, but the move to the Finnish rookie comes months after it had been made clear who should have been the man in Boston. While it would be unfair to pin the Bruins drop entirely on Thomas when the team has lost all of its scoring punch (through injuries to Marc Savard and the trade of Phil Kesell) and gotten a lackluster year from its best player (Zdeno Chara), his decline certainly was a contributory factor. Sticking with him as a feature goaltender may well have kept the Bruins in the race for the 8 seed, rather than a more comfortable playoff spot.

The problem is, they had a specific reason for staying with Thomas, and they are hardly the only franchise that finds themselves in this predicament. 2009-2010 has seen many a goaltender take a large, often long term contract, like the one that Thomas was given by the Bruins, only to be questionable in net, and at times even be outplayed for the starting role.

A desire to get a return on the investment made (or even the desire to keep trade value high), kept a number of goaltenders in starting roles, even for contenders, for a much longer time than they should have been.

Money kept JS Guigerre in a platoon role, with the more skilled, less paid Jonas Hiller behind him, hurting the Ducks, but maintaining Jiggy’s trade value for a deal with Toronto dumping a 6 million dollar contract. Christobal Huet was kept in the mix for the Blackhawks despite an absolutely dismal year and a better performance from Antti Neimi, thanks to a financial commitment to the Franco goaltender by a team already strapped for cash for the next three years at $5.6 million. The Capitals have been more reluctant to go away from Semyon Varlamov in order to justify Jose Theodore’s $4.5 million contract, but they have platooned the struggling veteran with the rookie that should be taking the reins.

Ultimately, come playoff time, it will be Rask, Varlamov, and Neimi in net (and Hiller on the links), but these teams have definitely failed to effectively walk the line between getting their money’s worth on the cap, and putting the best product on the ice.

Homer Note of the Week: Lining Up

Last week I talked about the fact that the Sharks were shuffling lines down the stretch, in an effort to shake things up before the playoffs. As you can tell from the preceding sections, I am ready to start looking forward to the playoffs and taking a look at what will happen when they begin.

Looking to the playoffs for the Sharks, here are my picks for the lines that coach McLellan should use in the second season.

Marleau-Thornton-Heatley

Sure, this is top loading the scoring a bit more than you should like, but the Sharks can’t pass up the opportunity to go into the tournament with the best line in hockey. As I said earlier, Joe Thornton is as crucial a player as anyone in these playoffs, and the Sharks will need him to win. It will be much less of a load on him if he is playing with two other superstars to take off some of the pressure.

Setoguchi-Pavelski-Couture

Seto and Pavelski have made up the second line for much of the year, and both are good players who can provide strong secondary scoring. On their wing, though, I am being a bit aggressive by throwing a player with just 3 NHL goals in the second line. The fact is, though, Couture is a scorer. He has averaged more than a point per game the last three seasons in the OHL and the AHL. While he may not continue at such a tepid pace in the NHL, he should be given the chance, and will have that with Seto and Pavs. He has performed extremely well since his call up, and can contribute offense probably better than anyone other than the Sharks top 5 forwards. Clowe has filled this spot for much of the year, but Couture’s game fits better with Setoguchi and Pavelski (more on Clowe below).

Clowe-Malhotra-McGinn

Clowe and Malhotra bring as much offense to a third line as anyone that you will see in the NHL. Clowe is a grinder with good hands in front of the net who can pile up points when he is on, and Malhotra has a great shot that makes him a threat to create opportunities, even if he isn’t a plus skater or stickhandler. Putting McGinn with them makes this a complete scoring line, and makes more sense than going half way towards a checking line with a more defensive guy like Ortmeyer or Nichol.

Ortmeyer-Mitchell-Nichol

To be honest, I would rather see Frazier McLaren with the grit and power that he brings on this line with Ortmeyer and Mitchell, but it is unrealistic to put Scott Nichol outside of the top four lines. Mitchell has been playing well of late, but he is clearly the fourth center on this team right now. At any rate, this is a fourth line that you don’t have to be afraid to throw out. At home, I think the Sharks match strength with strength and play their top 2 lines against opponents top units, but if they have to take a shut down shift, Ortmeyer, Nichol and Mitchell are a luxury in that they will be able to shut down opponents, even though they won’t bring much offense.

Goal of the Week

Once again, it is Max ‘how do I not do this more often’ Afiogenov, who dances around what appears to be the Toronto Marlies, and beat JS Guigerre, tying his career high with 23 goals.



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Save of the Week

The save of the week is mostly for context here, but it is via Nashville Predator Pekka Rinne. David Paron made a couple of great moves, walking through the Nashville defense late in the game in an attempt to tie it for the Blues. Rinne made a sprawling save on Paron, who had managed to elevate the puck, saving the game for Nashville.


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Shorter Hockey Thoughts

­- Funny stat of the week: The St. Louis Blues goal differential (-1) is 2 worse than that of the Nashville Predators (+1). The Blues have 13 less points and are 7 spots lower in the standings.

- Aaaaannnd reason number 7,289 that the Canadiens should either get something for Jaroslav Halak or make him the starter…brought to you in the form of a 1-0 win over the Flyers.

- In the interest of positivity, I am going to pretend that I didn’t see that weak Guillerme Latandresse wrist shot hit you in the shoulder, then somehow trickle over you and into the net on Friday, Evgeni.

- From the ‘what the hell was he thinking’ department, Alain Vigneualt left Roberto Luongo in the net for all 8 goals that the Canucks gave up Thursday night, in an 8-3 loss. Hey, any time you have a chance to kill your goalie’s confidence in a meaningless game a couple of weeks before they playoffs, you gotta do it.

TOP 8 / bottom eight

On the Down

23. Dallas Stars- Bonus downs for having Steve Ott give them the edge over Minnesota

24. Carolina Hurricanes- They were better in the second half, but 2010 was a season lost to injuries in Raleigh.

25. New York Islanders- They have youth and skill, but even as it develops, they will need to find depth to compete.

26. Tampa Bay Lightning- The Vinnie contract poses problems for signing Stamkos in a couple of years.

27. Florida Panthers- There is a nucleus here if they can keep it and build a bit.

28. Columbus Blue Jackets- Enter: rebuild. Playoff appearance #2 for the franchise is a few years away.

29. Toronto Maple Leafs- Overachieving, but still in the Eastern basement.

30. Edmonton Oilers- Like Carolina, the Oilers have been plagued by injuries. They have too much skill on that roster to be as bad next year.

On the Up

8. Detroit Red Wings- Once again, the hottest team in hockey.

7. Phoenix Coyotes- I have no idea how.

6. Pittsburg Penguins- I just don’t see a repeat from this group.

5. Buffalo Sabers- Miller makes them a threat to win the East.

4. New Jersey Devils- The Kovy trade makes a lot of sense right now.

3. Chicago Blackhawks- Quietly holding the 2 spot in the West.

2. San Jose Sharks- They have managed to hold on to 1 in the West through a pretty big lull post-Olympics.

1. Washington Capitals- Impossible to argue with 112 points and 5 games to go

Non NHL Update


Unsurprisingly, the clash between the Windsor Spitfires and the Plymouth Whalers was billed as a showdown between projected 1 and 2 picks Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin. As such, it will likely that Hall got the better of Seguin, when his Windsor squad knocks off Plymouth in the OHL semis (it is 2-0 now and neither game has been close). That isn’t fair though.

Hall has a ton of help with the likes of Ryan Ellis, Justin Shugg, Greg Nemisz, Cam Fowler (the likely #3 pick in June), Zach Cassian and Adam Henrique, all future NHLers (and good ones). Plymouth, on the other hand, has a couple of solid players, but relies much more heavily on Seguin than Windsor does on Hall. The main takeaway from this series should be that Windsor is the hands down Memorial Cup favorite, rather than taken as a Hall victory over Seguin.

Award Watch

Vezina

Ryan Miller (Buffalo Sabers) – Still. Tuuka Rask has made a charge but he doesn’t have enough of a body to take it from Miller, who has been spectacular all year.

HM- Tuuka Rask (BOS), Thomas Vokun (FLA), Ilya Bryzgalov (PHX)

Adams

Dave Tippett (Phoenix Coyotes) - They clinched a playoff berth, and they have challenged San Jose for the Pacific Division crown. It has to be Tippett. It just has to.

HM- No one comes close.

Calder

Tyler Myers (Buffalo Sabers )- Jimmy Howard has garnered some buzz of late, but I would still give the nod to the Buffalo Sabers rookie defenseman.

HM- Jimmy Howard (DET), Matt Duschene (COL)

Hart

Alex Ovechkin (Washington Capitals)- I am going to keep giving Ovie the nod, having recorded more assists than his competition in the Richard race, and waaay more goals than anyone else in the points race.

HM- Sidney Crosby (PIT), Henrik Sedin (VAN)