Monday, May 29, 2017

Stanley Cup Finals Preview

The Stanley Cup Finals begin tonight, and a team that most expected to be here is taking on a team that few saw coming. Pittsburgh and Nashville are the last two standing, but only one gets the Stanley Cup. Let's get to it.

(2) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (4) Nashville Predators

The Penguins have the offense to spare, with Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, and Evgeni Malkin, but they've needed some unsung heroes to get through a tough Eastern Conference, with players such as Bryan Rust, Jake Guentzel, and Carter Rowney getting ice time. The wild card here is in goal, where Matt Murray currently is the guy in goal after taking over due to a bad game four by Marc-Andre Fleury last series.

The Predators beat some of the best in the Western Conference in Chicago and Anaheim to get here, but now, their depth will be tested, as Ryan Johansen is out. The good news is that they've had two games to figure it out, and thus far, they are comfortable trotting out the likes of Fredrick Gaudreau and PA Parenteau to fill the void. Colton Sissons has filled in well as the number one center, and the reshuffling of the lines up front hasn't changed the way the Predators have done business. Defensively, the group is solid, and it's all backed by stellar goaltending from Pekka Rinne.

Prediction: Predators in 6

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Handicapping the Memorial Cup Field

The Memorial Cup Tournament is set to get underway this weekend in Windsor, ON, and the four teams were set when the WHL playoffs were wrapped up on Sunday when the Seattle Thunderbirds won in six games over Regina, who is slated to host next year's Memorial Cup tournament. Let's look at the teams in this year's tournament, and why each can claim that they have a chance to win.

WINDSOR SPITFIRES

The host team, the Spitfires had a crash landing during the OHL playoffs, losing in the first round to London, thus having to wait a while before they can play again. Injuries to the likes of Logan Brown and Logan Stanley were seen as culprits, and with the extended rest, the Spitfires boast considerable talent with Mikhail Sergachev, Jeremy Bracco, and assuming they're healthy, the Logans.

SAINT JOHN SEA DOGS

They were the most dominant of the three champions in the tournament, as they lost just twice en route to the QMJHL championship. Their best players are Thomas Chabot, Matthieu Joseph, and overager Callum Booth, though they also have NHL prospects in Julien Gauthier and Nathan Noel.

ERIE OTTERS

The OHL champions, the Otters had their share of adversity, needing seven games to dispatch last year's champion London Knights in the Conference semi-finals, but a team that boasts prolific scorers such as Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome always have a chance to do something special. Getting key role players in trade deadline deals such as Anthony Cirelli and OHL playoffs MVP Warren Foegele pushed them over the hump.

SEATTLE THUNDERBIRDS

League champions for the first time in their 40 year history, the Thunderbirds rode Matt Barzal's play into a fairly dominant start to the playoff run, sweeping top ranked Everett in the Conference semi-finals. That momentum manifested itself into a six game win against the top team in the Canadian Hockey League in the Regina Pats to win the championship. Ethan Bear, Ryan Gropp, and rookie Carl Staniowski have played key roles in addition to Barzal.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Finally Their Time

In the 40 years that the WHL has been in Seattle (for the purposes of this particular franchise, we're not counting the Totems team that played prior to the current incarnation), the Breakers/Thunderbirds have never won a league championship. Yes, they have been to the Finals, getting swept by Lethbridge in 1997 and losing to Brandon in five games last year. Last night, all of that changed, as they claimed their first WHL title in franchise history by beating the Regina Pats in six games. Alexander True scored the title-winner and in the process, pushed the Thunderbirds to their second Memorial Cup, as they hosted the tournament in 1992.

This Thunderbirds team was likely the last chance at a championship, as they are going to be losing playoff MVP Matt Barzal, defenseman of the year Ethan Bear, and Ryan Gropp to the pros. Goaltending looks secure with Carl Staniowski still in the fold, as he is not draft-eligible for another year. The big question, as it is with any successful team, is what coach Steve Konowalchuk will do, as he has overseen the transformation from an also-ran when he took over as head coach in 2011 to a championship team now. With many pro teams that could be looking to fill vacancies, as well as a Buffalo Sabres team that still needs a head coach, it may not be long before Konowalchuk moves up in the coaching world.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Conference Finals Predictions

It's down to four teams now, and the playoffs will resume Friday with the Western Conference finals. Without further ado, let's get to it.

(1)Anaheim Ducks vs. (4) Nashville Predators

The Ducks had to hold off the Oilers to get here. None have been more important to the team's push than Ryan Getzlaf, who had often been maligned when it came to recent playoff history. Certainly, Randy Carlyle behind the bench has helped, as he was instrumental in settling the team down when they were in numerous holes, but it's been the likes of Shea Theodore and Nick Ritchie who have been stepping up when the team has needed them the most. If there is a concern, it is in goal, where things continue to be on rocky ground at times.

The Predators' path may be unprecedented, given their ranking, but having key players at full strength has been a major key to their success. It has helped that Pekka Rinne has played like the world-beater that he's capable of being while the team continues to get contributions up and down the lineup. Playing disciplined has also helped, and it figures to be key again against a physical Ducks team that can capitalize on mistakes at any time.

Prediction: Predators in 6

(2) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (2) Ottawa Senators

The Penguins showed their playoff prowess by shaking off a 3-1 series lead loss to eventually close out the Washington Capitals in seven games. As has been the case in every series, it's been the unheralded players that have come up big, with Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust playing hero in game seven. That doesn't mean the likes of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby haven't done their part, though, as Malkin leads the team in playoff scoring while Crosby continues to be the engine of the team. Marc-Andre Fleury gives the Penguins a good problem in goal if and when Matt Murray comes back from injury.

The Senators continue to show resiliency, as they played part of the Rangers series without Erik Karlsson. He will be needed, as the Senators didn't fare so well without him. Craig Anderson has been the man in goal while Kyle Turris has become the clutch player that the Sens needed. All hands will be needed if the Sens hope to pull an upset.

Prediction: Penguins in 7

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Ridin' High in April, Shot Down in May

It's been an interesting pro hockey career for David Rundblad, to say the least, as he was drafted by the St. Louis Blues in 2009. He never played for them, as he would be traded to the Ottawa Senators before the season ended for the first round pick in 2010 that became Vladimir Tarasenko. Before making his debut with the Senators in 2011, he played in Sweden, where it looked like he would fulfill his full potential. His time in Ottawa was short-lived, as in his first NHL season, he was traded to Phoenix for Kyle Turris. Most of his time there was spent with the AHL affiliate before he was traded in 2014 to Chicago, where he would log the most NHL time in the 2014-15 season, as he was a replacement for Michal Roszival while he was injured. That season also marked a high point, as he would go on to have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup as a member of that Blackhawks team. This season, he played in Switzerland, and beginning next season, he will take his game to Saint Petersburg, Russia, as he signed with SKA Saint Petersburg of the KHL.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

An Ice Makeover

The Kootenay Ice were a bust on the ice this season as they await their new crop of talent to come through in the coming years. However, their ownership will see new people, as the Chynoweths sold to a group based out of Winnipeg that will keep the team in Cranbrook, BC. The new ownership didn't waste time in leaving their mark, as they made over the logo, converting to the logo you see here. The "Ice" wordmark is cleverly hidden in the logo, which earns points. Moreover, it means business, something that the old logo didn't quite do, as it was practically a carryover from their days in Edmonton. Uniforms will be unveiled at a later date, according to team officials.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

NHL Conference Semi-Finals Preview

EASTERN CONFERENCE

(1) Washington Capitals vs. (2) Pittsburgh Penguins

The Capitals had all they could handle in a six-game series with Toronto, but in the end, they did manage to pull through. They did so despite Alex Ovechkin providing just three points (all goals). Having a balanced attack that includes TJ Oshie, Niklas Backstrom, and Justin Williams should help offset Ovechkin's struggles, particularly as he is shaking off an injury scare in the last game of the Leafs series. Braden Holtby continues to hold down the for the Capitals.

Pittsburgh had a relatively easy time with the Blue Jackets en route to a five-game series win. In spite of having to go to Marc-Andre Fleury thanks to Matt Murray being injured, the Penguins have shown some resilience, particularly since Kris Letang is out for the playoffs. It helps that their big guns (Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Sidney Crosby) all produced in the series.

Prediction: Penguins in 7

(2) Ottawa Senators vs. (4) New York Rangers

The Senators went to overtime in virtually every game of their series against Boston. Like Pittsburgh, they had their share of adversity, and like Pittsburgh, their big name players came up big when it counted the most. Erik Karlsson is still the engine that gets the offense going, and having Bobby Ryan finally show why the Senators traded for him a few years ago have been big factors. Craig Anderson has played well, but it's been Clarke MacArthur that has truly come up clutch after missing most of the season because of concussions.

The Rangers have ridden their defense to a six-game victory over Montreal. Henrik Lundqvist still has a few great games left in him, and the defense in front of him tightened up when it counted the most. Offensively, they may wish to ramp things up a little, as Mika Zibanejad led the team with four points. That means the likes of Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello need to pick things up a little.

Prediction: Senators in 6

WESTERN CONFERENCE

(1) Anaheim Ducks vs. (2) Edmonton Oilers

The Ducks had little difficulty in disposing of the Flames in a sweep. Their offense was well-balanced, with Shea Theodore emerging as a new option on the blue line. Getting Corey Perry to produce a little more would help, but with everyone bunched into the 3-5 point range, it could also be beneficial in keeping the pressure off of Perry to perform. In goal, John Gibson was healthy, but also rather shaky, as he was pulled from a start in the series. Goaltending bears watching here.

The Oilers are going to go as far as Connor McDavid and Cam Talbot will take them. Other than a game four clunker, Talbot has been as good as he's been in the regular season. McDavid is undoubtedly the man on the Oilers, but it's been the big boys (Patrick Maroon, Zack Kassian, and Darnell Nurse) that have come up big offensively and defensively.

Prediction: Oilers in 7

(3) St. Louis Blues vs. (4) Nashville Predators

The Blues took care of the Wild in five games thanks to Jake Allen righting his game in time. Despite Vladimir Tarasenko not being much of a factor in the series, the Blues got some production from other players, most notably Alex Steen and Jaden Schwartz. Vladimir Sobotka's presence has really helped defensively.

The Predators had their way with the Blackhawks in a sweep, giving up less than a goal per game. Pekka Rinne was on top of his game, and will most likely need to be again this series. Offensively, everything goes through the JOFA line (Viktor Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen), but it's been PK Subban that has been a game-changer with his puck-moving skills from the blue line that have made it harder to key in on Roman Josi.

Prediction: Predators in 6