Thursday, April 15, 2010

All Things Hockey, Playoff Edition Part I


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:

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.


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.


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.


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



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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


Can Quick hold on? Will Luongo prove doubters wrong?


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.


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


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.)


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


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.

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