Tuesday, May 4, 2010

All Things Hockey, Playoff Edition Part III

(Note-This was mostly done by Thursday night when the second round opened, but on Wednesday night, I came up with a stomach flu that made it impossible to think clearly enough to get it done, so almost a week late, here is the first round wrap up and second round preview I’m sure you have been holding your breath for.)

1. San Jose Sharks - 5. Detroit Red Wings

Advantage Detroit

All I canthink of here is history. The Wings don’t lose in the playoffs. The Sharks do. As a franchise, Detroit has always had the Sharks number (I have no idea if that is true and I don’t feel like looking it up, but we always seem to struggle at the Joe). The only other thing that I would say is that Datsyuk was on a freaking mission in game seven. If he plays like that he will give anyone fits.

Advantage San Jose

As close and excruciating as it may have seemed, the Sharks effectively dominated their first round matchup with the Avalanche. Of course, a veteran squad like Detroit will be harder to control than the young Aves, but then again the Sharks won’t have to, because Jimmy Howard has shown no indication that he is capable of standing on his head like Anderson did (that isn’t to say that Howard has been bad, just that he hasn’t given indication that he is capable of a run like that of 50 save performances). On the other hand, the way the Sharks were firing, only a hot goalie was going to stand in their way (and in the end, not even that could do it). God help the Western Conference if the first line wakes up.


It seems silly to even point out that I will be rooting for the Sharks.


As a Sharks fan, I am confident. I really like the way they are playing, and if San Jose is on their game, it doesn’t matter who is lining up on the other side. Sharks in 5.

2. Chicago Blackhawks - 3. Vancouver Canucks

Advantage Vancouver

The Canucks will certainly take the edge that they have on the defensive end of the ice. Antti Neimi was passable against Nashville, and the young goaltender’s confidence will certainly grow as the postseason progresses, but he is still a rookie. Luongo, on the other hand, remains one of the league’s top goaltenders through his struggles, and represents a pretty decided edge in net for the Canucks. The other factor that the Canucks need to exploit if they are going to take down the Hawks, is depth. Vancouver has a plethora of talent beyond their top 6 forwards, with players like Mason Raymond, Steve Bernier and Pavol Dimitra contributing two way games, and a level of depth at the forward position that Chicago can’t match on paper.

Advantage Chicago

Hossa, Kane and Teows anyone? How about Seabrook and Keith on the point? Vancouver has the depth, but Chicago has 5 of the 6 best players (at least 5 of 7) in this series. Believe it or not, this could work towards their advantage.


I really would like to see Vancouver come out here for a couple of reasons. One is that I think that the Sharks, if they can get past Detroit, have a better shot at the ‘Nucks than the Hawks. The other is that I just like Vancouver. Kessler, Ehrhoff and the Sedins are some of my favorite players. Also there are their sweet 1990s jerseys that will forever give Vancouver a place in my heart.


Unfortunately, it goes against my heart, but I see Chicago coming out of this one. Vancouver could take it, without a doubt, but I think that the Kane goal in game 5 of the Nashville series was a turning point for this team, and that they will be a force to be reckoned with for the rest of the playoffs. Hawks in 6.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins – 8. Montreal Canadaiens

Advantage Montreal

Jaroslav. Halak.

He is going to need to steal in the neighborhood of 3 games in order fot the Canadiens to have a prayer in this one. Then again, he did just that and the Canadians should have won 5 of the 7 games that they just played against the best team in the regular season, so clearly they can’t be written off.

(On a side note, I need to beat my chest a little bit on this one. I have been a huge Halak guy for a couple of years. I put faith in him in the Olympics for Slovakia, being bullish on them. Before that, I was yelling about him needing to play in last year’s playoffs over Carey Price. So allow me to give myself some credit for being right on this one. For once.)

Advantage Pittsburgh

Outside of goaltending, it is really top to bottom. At forward, the Pens are stronger at top end talent, defensive play, depth, and special teams. That doesn’t leave much in the way of weakness for le Bleu Blanc et Rouge to take advantage of. Really, though, the single biggest advantage for the Penguins is Sidney Crosby, who seems determined to settle any debate about who the best player in the league is, and was by far the best player in round one.


The Habs are a great franchise, and it is fun to see them go deep. Plus, it is always fun to root for the underdog 8 seed. On the other hand, Crosby is putting together such a virtuoso performance thus far in the playoffs, that having lost Ovechkin, the league really needs to see Sid keep going. For my own entertainment, I have to go against the instinctive underdog pick and say I want to see the ice birds keep playing.


On the same page as my heart with this one. The Penguins are too deep, and have too many Sidney Crosbys (1 is too many) to be taken down by a team like Montreal. Even if Halak plays out of his mind again (and even he is likely to return to earth a bit), it shouldn’t be enough to take more than 1 or 2 games. Penguins in 5.

6. Boston Bruins – 7. Philadelphia Flyers

Advantage Philadelphia

Advantage Boston


This is the matchup that everyone had in mind when they looked at the bracket this year, right? ‘Can’t wait for that Winter Classic rematch!’ you all said, no? Me neither. But somehow, that is what we ended up with, as the Boston Bruins are somehow going to get home ice in the second round. As for an interest, it just comes down to likability, and Zdeno Chara is a hell of a lot better than Chris Pronger in that regard, something that can really be extrapolated down the roster. You gotta go with baked beans over cheesesteak in this one.


It is tough to say, since none of the 6-9 seeds in the East were able to really distinguish themselves down the stretch. I like Boston’s goaltending, and they have some solid bite that a banged up Philadelphia squad really can’t seem to match, so give me the Bruins in 6.


Washington Capitals

The Caps fell just short, and became the second consecutive President’s Trophy winner to go out in the first round. Jaroslav Halak played out of his mind after being reinstated from the bench after Cary Price failed to instill a jolt in Les Habitants. Even though it took the Habs 7 games to get rid of the Capitals, and it took back to back 50 save performances to do so, it was an all around brutal performance from the best team of the regular season, and one that is leading to some tough questions around the beltway.

They are questions that should be asked, too, since the Habs could realistically have taken out the Capitals in less than 7 if not for the heroics of John Calrson and Nick Backstrom in game 2, the Habs could easily have taken over earlier. Still, the Capitals were a dominant regular season team, and a first round exit won’t sit well with this franchise.

Ovechkin has taken some heat since the end of the series for failing to come up big when it mattered for Washington. This is probably unfair. Ovechkin was, as always, all over the ice, he just failed like everyone else to solve Jaroslav Halak.

Still, a first round exit for a 1 seed and Presidents’ Trophy winner begs a lot of questions. They will be likely to change something to try to get this team where it wants to be this summer. The Sharks responded by bringing in Dany Heatley. The Capitals can’t swing a piece like that without moving a significant asset to free up space. Really, they shouldn’t, either. They are still a young team and will be back in the coming years. Chances are they just need reps, but the early exit will make for an interesting offseason for Ovechkin and company.

New Jersey Devils

This is the big question mark in this section. What the hell happened in New Jersey. I think that the answer is pretty simple: the Devils just underperformed. Sure, the Flyers were a bit better than your typical 7 seed, but there is no way that they were a better team than New Jersey. That is what happens in the playoffs, though. Ask any Sharks fan. Teams step up and others step down. Four wins isn’t that many. This year, New Jersey was a victim of that.

Still, there has to be more to say about the Devils. They really were one of the most interesting teams in the league this year, and besides, saying that sometimes teams have a bad series really doesn’t explain much.

The best transition is to address something that no one seems to want to talk about, and something that has shaped the award nominations for 2010. That is the fallacy of Martin Brodeur.

No one is trying to say that Brodeur sucks, or that he hasn’t had a great career, so calm down, Newark (30 days without a murder-http://www.wnyc.org/news/articles/152898!). What I am saying is that he has been the most overrated player in the NHL for at least 5 years now, and yet he will somehow escape blame despite being outplayed by Cam Ward and Brian Boucher, neither of whom is likely to join him in the hall of fame, in back to back years. Brodeur was the beneficiary of the dead puck era that his team helped to create.

Brodeur has been great, but he has been the beneficiary of a lot of elements. If Felix Potvin or Mike Dunham, the next goalies taken after Brodeur in the 1990 draft, went to New Jersey instead, do we look at them as potentially the greatest goaltender ever? Probably not, but they definitely would have received significant boosts. More pertinently, though, if the Flames took Brodeur, rather than Trevor Kidd with the pick 9 earlier, and Brodeur never crossed paths with Jaques Martin, Scott Stevens or Scott Niedermeyer, I am sure we would look at him differently.

That actually brings me to my next Devils related point. All that has been made of the Devils in the media has been that they are a Jaques Martin style clog it up team. The problem is, they don’t have the two aforementioned Scott’s, and the game has changed with the subtraction of clutch and grab and the red line. The Devils aren’t dumb. They built a team around skill and speed, with one of the most skilled group of forwards in the East starting a couple of years ago.

This year, they were built like a team that could wheel, and outscore teams. Their style, though, was cramped by Martin and his trap and chase game that stifled Marian Gaborik in Minnesota. Now that he is gone, that team should be dangerous next year. Look for their goals per game to go way up.

The more interesting question, though, is how the Kovalchuk trade will be remembered. Kovy has made it clear that he intends to test the free agent waters (as I said, it has been clear that he wanted to since he turned down Atlanta’s offer, and he has said as much since the Devils lost), so even if he re-signs, it should be noted that it will be because of New Jersey’s pitch more than because he was traded there.

So, disregarding a potential return, it is impossible to call the move anything but a failure. That doesn’t make it a bad move, though. I wrote at the time that Cormier, Bergfors and Oduya was a lot to give up for a couple of months of Kovalchuk, and it looks even more true after a first round exit. Still though, it was a gamble, and gambles don’t always pay off. This one didn’t but that doesn’t make it an error.

Buffalo Sabers

This is another one that I didn’t see coming. They say defense wins championships, and the Boston D core with Tukka Rask in net is certainly formidable, but between Ryan Miller and a deep blue line, the Sabers looked primed to go deep into the tournament. Alas, they didn’t hold up to that end and so American Hero Ryan Miller will watch the rest of the tournament from the bench.

It is hard to pinpoint what it was that kept the Sabers back. Obviously, their goaltending and defense wasn’t a problem, but they had sneaky deep scoring. Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy, Jason Pomminville and Tim Conolly made up a solid and underrated core of forwards. Jochen Hecht, Drew Stafford and Paul Gaustad are solid complimentary guys. This team was better than they got credit for, until they ran into Boston.

As for the series that ended up taking them down, the Buffalo Boston matchup was a close one that really just was a few bounces away from working in the Sabers favor. The 2 OT game comes to mind, in which the Sabers blew a 2 goal lead in the third, but it wasn’t the only one. Two of the B’s other wins came in the form of a 2-1 game decided on a 3rd period goal by Patrice Bergeron, and another saw a 5-3 win after an empty netter after a back and forth game that the Sabers led 2-0 and 3-2. Each game, with the possible exception of game 6, the clincher, was up for grabs, the Sabers just couldn’t seem to hold on to any of them in the end, and it sent them home early.

Ottawa Senators

The 4-5 matchups in hockey are funny. On paper, you would expect them to be the closest of the first round matchups, with the teams separated by only one seed. Oddly enough, because of the 1-2-3 division winners seeding, this is largely not the case. That is what happened in the East this year. On top of that, there were a pretty clear 1-2-3-4 in the Eastern hierarchy, leaving the Sens with a really difficult matchup despite their respectable seed.

Still, Ottawa kept it close with Pittsburgh. They had game 6 wrapped up, and were primed to send it to the ‘Burgh for game 7, but 2 third period goals sent it to OT, and the dagger was delivered by Pascal Dupuis, ending it for Ottawa.

As good a season as was had by the Sens, it was probably for the best. Injuries absolutely decimated this team and they would have limped into the second round (and that is being kind). Milan Michalek was out with a torn ACL to match Alex Kovalev’s, Alfredsson was supposedly playing hurt, leaving their forwards decimated without the two top line level guys.

Still, Ottawa had a good year. They may not have gotten what they liked out of Cheechoo, but Michalek was able to salvage the Heatley debacle and let’s be honest, no one saw this quick of a turnaround for Ontario’s forgotten team. They got production from a previously unknown lineup, and a 5 seed exceeded all expectations. They were dealt with by Pittsburgh, but it still has to be considered a good season in Canada’s capital.

Phoenix Coyotes

Never has a lower seed taking down a higher seed felt less like an upset than in the case of the ‘Yotes and Wings. Hats have to be off around the league to the job that has been done, taking a team in turmoil, without an exceptional roster, and putting them in contention. Still, a first round exit seems about right for Phoenix.

They can be happy to have sent it to game seven though. Sure, a deep run may have had lasting impact on hockey in the Valley of the Oppressively Hot Sun (actually it wouldn’t have, but everyone seems to think it would have so I am going with it), but by creating a little bit of buzz, it will at least….

What the hell am I talking about? Phoenix should have seen their last game. I am sick and tired of people making excuses for that franchise. Look how great their fans are, almost selling games out during the stretch! They are all wearing white, they must love hockey! Please. You watched 2 playoff games and decided Phoenix could be a hockey market? That’s funny, because I looked at their revenue sheet and saw that despite 4 home games in the playoffs, they will still come out at a substantial loss. I watched a game in November where I could count the people sitting in a given section on two hands. Why is everyone so desperate to save hockey in Phoenix? I just don’t get it.

Anyway, I shouldn’t be taking away from this team. The job that Tippet has done is remarkable. The players deserve a lot of credit as well. No one did more with less than Phoenix did this year. I just hope they do it somewhere else next year.

Nashville Predators

There are some things you just don’t come back from. The Predators were primed to put themselves in a position to pull off the biggest upset of the first round (and that is with Montreal-Washington up in the air, still), up a goal with just a minute left, and Marian Hossa in the box for 5 minutes. Rather than burying the heavily favored Hawks, though, they somehow gave up a shortie to Pat Kane, sending the game to OT and with that, the series had swung.

Sure, they could still have won the game on the 4 minutes of ensuing overtime power play, or battled back in game 6 to force a winner take all situation, but really, the Kane goal sealed the fate of the Predators. There are some losses that you just don’t come back from. The Predators giving up a late, shorthanded goal was one of them. Playing a superior team, a Chicago win became a foregone conclusion with the Preds crushed and the Hawks up 3-2.

It didn’t help that the Predators likely had the weakest roster in the playoffs. Pekka Rinne played well for them, Barry Trotz is one of the best coaches in the NHL, and they have a solid core of defensemen with Ryan Suter, Shea Weber, Dan Hamhius and Denis Grebeshkov but their forwards severely lack luster, and even their strengths are somewhat unintimidating. To be frank, the Predators are the team that I would have liked to see in round one for the Sharks. The big surprise wasn’t that they let it slip away after pushing the Hawks to the brink, but rather that they pushed them there in the first place.

Los Angeles Kings

The Kings got a lot of buzz as an upset candidate. They came out of a division with three playoff teams, including the conference leader, play a versatile game, and only had 2 points fewer than their first round opponent, the Vancouver Canucks. It didn’t work out, though, as the Canucks took over after an initial scare and ended the Kings season in 6. For me, this leaves goaltending issues in Los Angeles.

Johnathan Quick was the guy this year, but Jonathan Bernier is in the system as one of the game’s top goaltending prospects, and while Quick jumped out to stellar numbers this year, he had some issues over the 82 game schedule. Quick isn’t exactly old, having played his second year in the NHL, but the Kings will likely have to decide where they are going in the next year or two, and it probably means cutting ties with this year’s backup, Eric Ehrsberg.

The hope for the future in LA is on the blueline, though. They have two of the best young defensemen in the world in Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson. Guys like Matt Greene, Randy Jones and key addition from Pittsburgh Rob Scuderi round out one of the best D corps in the league. The Kings are a young team, and with forwards like Dustin Brown, Alex Frolov and Anze Kopitar, they can build around that core for a promising future for the Kings.

Colorado Avalanche

It is easy to look at the Avalanche’s performance in the quarter finals as an overachievement from a young team. In a sense it was, since no one had this team in the playoffs, let alone putting the fear of god in the 1 seed San Jose Sharks (ok, maybe some people did, but no one would have if it hadn’t been the Sharks). From my perspective, the series itself was something of a shellacking, with the Sharks losing the two games that they did in fluky fashion, and basically dominating an inferior team.

If the Avalanche season is taken as a whole, though, it is in a much different perspective. More than an overachieving group, the Avalanche showed a glimpse of a bright future this year. The team brought 12 forwards and three defensemen 25 years of age or younger to their playoff roster this year. Headliners of this youth include Matt Duchene (19 years old), Ryan O’Reilley (19), Chris Stewart (22), TJ Galliardi (22), Peter Mueller (22, who didn’t even play due to injury), and Paul Statsny (24). To get playoff experience with that many young guys on the roster is extremely valuable and could well help the Aves get to the top of the Western Conference in the next couple of years. Colorado doesn’t have much in the way of prospects coming up, but that is largely due to the fact that they have all of their blue chippers playing in the NHL at young ages.

It clearly wasn’t their year, as much as their veteran/journeyman goaltender, at the seasoned age of 28 tried to make it so in the first round. They got worked by a better team, but in defying all odds to make the playoffs, they gave the Western Conference a scary glimpse of what is to come in the Rocky Mountains with the most promising young core in the NHL.

I Hate California

Here are my thoughts from Phoenix’s win over Detroit to force game 7 on Sunday Afternoon:

The piece connecting the seat to the handles on the stationary bike I was riding while I should have been watching the game was gray.

My iPod is still black.

I rode 21.3 miles in 60 minutes, and burned 749 calories.

Why, you may ask, did I describe the stat bike I was riding when I promised a recap of game 6? Because I didn’t see game 6. I should have, too, since it was on NBC, the one network carrying hockey that we do get at SCU, but I didn’t. That’s because when I went to the gym to work out while I watched the game, I asked the attendant to change the channel, to the hockey game, which is on NBC, which is channel 11 ( I swear on Dany Heatley’s life I told him all three of those things).

I then went and began my work out on the bike. His response to my request was to say ‘sure,’ then to come over a couple of minutes later, presumably to honor the request, but instead what he did was this: He turned the TV (the same one that is constantly on NBC when garbage like the Bonnie Hunt Show or Ellen is on) to channel 11, NBC, per my request. It was on commercials. Fine, I had my game, I knew that it was on the right network, he could go back to his desk. But he didn’t. Instead, he noticed that it was on commercials.

Presumably, since I know for a fact that this kid got into Santa Clara, he doesn’t have an IQ of 42 and knew that if I wanted to watch the game, and that I told him it was on NBC, I wouldn’t hold it against him if I had to sit through a couple of ads before the game came back on. Unfortunately, that isn’t a presumption that I can safely make, because instead, in a virtuoso performance of stupidity, this idiot decided that I would rather watch the NBA game, which was ALREADY ON THE TV NEXT TO THE ONE HE WAS CHANGING.

Then, in what can only be described as the worst customer service I have seen since, well, the last time that I went to Santa Clara’s dining hall, he ignored my ‘excuse me’s. Then, he walked away. Fine, I thought, I’ll watch the basketball game for a few minutes, then get him when he comes back by. But no. This guy left the gym which he was getting paid to supervise, and didn’t come back for over 45 minutes.

In his defense, he was probably still drunk, or at least hung over, from the night before (after all, he was asleep when I got to the desk to ask him to change the channel). On the other hand, he was getting paid. He knew he had to go into work. That isn’t a defense at all.

So why ‘I hate California?’ Because for an hour, while I was peddling and staring at the bike, and occasionally glancing at a devastatingly uninteresting NBA game, I legitimately wanted to transfer. This didn’t seem like something that happened in a place where most kids aren’t spoiled by perfect weather and the spiritual home of participation trophies. It doesn’t happen in places where people don’t for some reason take the NBA, which would be dead if it wasn’t being propped up by ESPN, more seriously than the greatest game in the world (I’m not even an NBA hater like a lot of hockey fans. I enjoy it for the most part, and I have watched quite a few playoff games when hockey wasn’t on. It just isn’t in the same league as the NHL, entertainment wise, and it is impossible to enjoy when I know that I am missing a hockey game for it.).

So if it still sounds like I’m bitter, I’m not. I’m angry. I’m sick of a sense of entitlement amongst workers who don’t know a single thing about customer service. I’m sick of an obsession with a league that isn’t as good as its competition, yet receives all the attention. And I’m really sick of having to work out at the worst run gym that I have ever been to.

Malley Center in particular, California as a whole: Get off you’re a**. Do something. You are not owed anything by the people who pay your salary. At what point did it become ok to do the bare minimum, and to do it spitefully when you are working? Last time I checked, this country’s unemployment rate is reaching 10%. Fire these lazy, contemptuous scums. Find someone who will actually do their job. I don’t even blame the workers (well I do, but I don’t just blame the workers). Doing a crappy job and just scraping by with the bare minimum has to be grounds for dismissal. If you are a boss, it is your job to bring some GD accountability to the workplace. If you are a worker, and you don’t like your job, you need to pretend you do, or we need to find someone who does. Thank You.

Anyways, I am glad as hell that the Red Wings and Coyotes went to game seven, but I couldn’t tell you how it happened. Who knew it was symptomatic of a larger problem.

Having said all that…

I Love California

It is all worth it.

Allow me to brag for a paragraph or two. This Sunday, the second of May, was one to remember. It began by making the 40 minute drive from Santa Clara University to the beautiful beaches of Santa Cruz. The company on the ride was a close friend, and ohbytheway six sorority girls. Good ones.

After making the drive through the beautiful Santa Cruz Mountains (although I was a bit distracted from their allure on this occasion), we arrived at the beach. There, we met 65 friends (fraternity brothers), and over 200 girls, almost all of them attractive. The girls broke out their bikinis as we coached them through a 5 round volley ball tournament, with the beneficiary being multiple sclerosis, and, you know, us. (By the way, that isn’t ‘dude there were like 200 girls.’ There were 22 teams of 10. Do the math.)

Anyways, the sun was great, the beach was great, the girls were beyond great, and all in all, it was a great day. It got even better, though, as me and a couple of different friends were forced to skip out shortly after the tournament wrapped up and took our towels, sun burns and 20 phone numbers back to Silicone Valley. It would have been nice, hanging around, talking to the girls and DDing for them if need be, but what we went back to was actually able to top it.

How were we able to top a great beach with more or less every good looking good girl at SCU (there are plenty, by the way)? Because we had the best of the other world back in San Jose. After a quick stop at school, we ended our day at the beach with…that’s right…a playoff hockey game, when we headed to the tank and caught game 2 of the Sharks and the Wings.

At the arena, we got an electric crowd, and a game that didn’t disappoint, with the Sharks staging a third period comeback to take a 2-0 series lead back to the Joe in Detroit. To top it all off, the 5:00 start allowed us to walk out of the arena with daylight and grab a bite to eat before taking the evening to actually be college students and get ready for the week ahead.

So yeah, I think I can put up with the BS for a couple more years as long as California sprinkles in a few days like that to make it all worth it.

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