Thursday, October 20, 2016

Mavericks Report: Stumbling out of the Gate

The Mavericks Report is back, although much like my laptop charger decided to take a dump over the weekend, so too did the Mavericks. In their season opening weekend in Allen, TX, the Mavericks picked up where they left off. Unfortunately, the last anyone saw of the Mavericks, they were getting kicked out of the playoffs by the Americans, who would go on to win the Kelly Cup. The Mavericks were never truly in the first game despite two goals from Radolslav Illo and a goal from Dane Fox, as the Mavs fell 6-3 on Saturday. Sunday wasn't much better, as the Mavs couldn't muster a goal in a 4-0 loss to the same Allen Americans.

The Mavericks play tomorrow at Wichita before coming home to open that portion of the schedule against the Indy Fuel.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

I Watched This Game: The Auston Matthews Edition

"I Watched This Game" makes a return this season, and what a better way to kick it off than the NHL debut of the 2016 first overall pick Auston Matthews. The Toronto Maple Leafs traveled to Ottawa to take on provincial rival Senators, and it was certainly an entertaining game.

The highlights, as written from the Senators fan perspective, since I opted for the 2006 red Senators sweater and ended up getting paired with a couple of Maple Leafs fans in a sea of Blues and Blackhawks fans.

  • The Sens' intro was pretty creepy, as the players' faces were on the back screen as they were being introduced one-by-one.
  • That didn't take long, as Matthews scored his first goal on a nice behind the goal pass by Zach Hyman found Matthews in front, and he didn't miss.
  • The Sens tie it up after Erik Karlsson's shot gets knocked down by Bobby Ryan in front, who finds the puck quickly and deposits it past Frederik Andersen. If the Sens can get 30 goals from Ryan, they will finally be getting the player that they thought they were getting.
  • The Sens take the lead on a laser from the blue line by Karlsson. In case you forgot, he was the team's leading scorer for a reason.
  • Matthews scores number two on a nice drive to the net after pick-pocketing a Sens player in the neutral zone.
  • DAMN YOU, AUSTON MATTHEWS! A hat trick in the second period puts the Leafs back up by one.
  • Derick Brassard ties things back up after another Leafs relapse defensively. Remember this, as it will be important later.
  • DAMN YOU, AUSTON MATTHEWS...AGAIN! A give and go with William Nylander sees Matthews put the Leafs back up by one.
  • Kyle Turris sends the game to overtime as he scores, and in the process, is showing that the injury issues of last season are behind him.
  • Turris scores the game winner in overtime after Matthews fails to cover Turris in time.
The Leafs-Sens match-up was nothing short of exciting on both ends. While Matthews was a dynamic force offensively, he also has a few things to clean up before he can be the player he wants to be, though he did own up to the mistake in overtime that sent the Leafs home with just the one point. Also, you do have to play defense, and the Leafs far too often, had some trouble with that, as for every goal they scored, the Senators had an answer. Similarly, the same could be said for the Sens, though Craig Anderson did bail them out a handful of times, stopping Mitch Marner on a shot.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

I Watched This Game: Pre-season Special

The NHL regular season begins in six days, and with players still fighting for roster spots, that means hockey games sometimes take place in cities where there isn't an NHL team. Case in point: yesterday in Kansas City, where the St. Louis Blues took on the Washington Capitals. Naturally, the Blues playing here makes sense, since the Blues recently struck an agreement to partner with the ECHL's Missouri Mavericks, thereby making the Mavericks not only an affiliate of the Islanders, but also the Blues. Rather than give a blow-by-blow account of the game, I'll just put in the observations of the game.

  • Seemingly, it was youth music night, as the intermission band was a Metallica tribute band called Hammerhedd, which consists of three youths. For being kids, they handled the material quite well, especially since it was mostly from the 80's portion of the discography. Also, the National Anthem was performed on guitar by a 13-year old. Again, no complaints here, as he did quite well.
  • The Capitals dominated the shots on goal, and the results showed, as they won 4-2.
  • I know it's preseason, but there were opportunities to shoot that Vladimir Tarasenko passed up on.
  • The Sprint Center was a hazardous place, as a fan was forced to leave after taking a errant puck to the head while a referee skated off on his own power after getting his legs taken out by a falling Tarasenko.
  • The Blues still have work to do, and clearly, not having that physical presence that David Backes provided will take a toll at some point during the season.
  • Christian Thomas is making a case to stick with the Capitals after a two-goal night. Meanwhile, Jay Beagle and Daniel Winnik put up three point nights each.
  • Braden Holtby wasn't in net. No matter, as Phillip Grubauer had a fairly easy night in goal, as the Blues couldn't muster many shots during the game.
  • Attendance for the game was comparable to a Blues game and would have been more than a few other teams in the NHL.
Those were the views picked up from the game, and I will see you on Wednesday for Opening Night.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Getting Back in the Air


2015-16 record: 35-39-8 (82 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Blake Wheeler

The high of making the playoffs two seasons ago faded when the Jets had trouble keeping pucks out of the net. With the team generally staying the course when it comes to how they want to build the team, that meant growing pains for a lot of the prospects who came along during last season. It wasn't until a bounce of the ping pong ball that the movement gained some steam, as the Jets were elevated to second overall in the draft. There's still things to figure out, but the future beyond this season looks bright.

It was an all-around bad year for the Jets, as the offense barely made the middle of the pack status offensively. While it was relatively top heavy, with the likes of Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, and Dustin Byfuglien carrying the load, there is a logjam of youth that is ready to contribute, with Nikolaj Ehlers already there and any of Patrik Laine, Nic Petan, and Joel Armia, among others, at the doorstep. The offense will have to improve from within. Similarly, the defense is in the same spot, as they were 22nd overall despite trotting out Byfuglien and Tyler Myers. Now, with the uncertainty surrounding Jacob Trouba and his contract issues, that could cause a few more problems. It would help the defense a little more if goaltending was more consistent, as incumbent starter Ondrej Pavelec was hurt for half the season and when he was healthy, he wasn't great. Connor Hellebuyck got a taste of NHL action, but needs another year in the AHL while Michael Hutchinson is a back-up in every sense of the word. Special teams were outwardly dismal, as the penalty kill suffered, but the power play was even worse. Laine should help the power play, but the Jets will need to stay out of the box a little more to improve the penalty kill.

Prediction: 5th in the Central Division

The Jets are committed to a youth movement, but first, they may wish to solve their back line issues, especially since trouble could be ahead if there isn't a resolution to the Jacob Trouba situation. At the very least, their offense should see an uptick thanks to a potential superstar in Laine.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Getting Over the Hill


2015-16 record: 56-18-8 (120 points)
Lost to Pittsburgh in Conference semi-finals
Captain: Alexander Ovechkin

It wasn't supposed to be another season ending in disappointment for the Washington Capitals. Not after picking up clutch performers such as T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams last off-season. Not after winning the Presidents' Trophy by a wide margin for the best regular season. And certainly not to their playoff nemesis the Pittsburgh Penguins, who would go on to hoist Lord Stanley at the end of the playoff season. The Capitals didn't make any major moves, but expectations are the same as before: win a Stanley Cup.

Offensively, it always begins with Ovechkin, who scored 50 goals for the third straight year. Oddly enough, he didn't lead the team in scoring, as Evgeny Kuznetsov had his breakthrough year and led the team with 77 points, six more than Ovechkin. Offense is certainly not an issue, but getting a player that can score the dirty goals in front of the net may be a need moving forward, and perhaps Brett Connolly, a former first round pick in 2010, can finally fulfill his potential in that manner. Defensively, depth could be an issue, particularly since there is no true workhorse on the blue line, but a group of solid players. Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen proved to be reliable together, but the Caps would benefit better with a healthier John Carlson. In goal, don't expect Braden Holtby to carry the load the same way he did last season, not after Phillipp Grubauer showed that he could fill in when needed. However, on the days Holtby starts, expect sterling goaltending, as he is just now entering elite company when it comes to the league goaltending, as evidenced by his Vezina Trophy win. The power play was in the top five, as it should be when you're boasting the likes of Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, and Niklas Backstrom. The penalty kill was even better, finishing second, though it remains to be seen just how much of an impact Lars Eller could have, as he is replacing Jason Chimera and Mike Richards.

Prediction: 1st in the Metropolitan Division

Unquestionably, the Capitals will make the playoffs. However, until they solve their inability to get to the Conference Finals in the Ovechkin era, all doubt will remain. In short, it will be Cup or Bust for the Capitals this season.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Bottom of the Ocean


2015-16 record: 31-38-13 (75 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Henrik Sedin

From an unexpected playoff push two seasons ago, things almost immediately fell apart for the Vancouver Canucks since then, as in most categories, they managed to hover near the bottom, including the standings. Yet, they opt to seek for a band-aid approach in a last-ditch effort to get the Sedins another playoff berth before they retire despite the need to eventually identify some young talent. It's going to be a wild ride in Vancouver, one way or another.

A team that features the Sedin twins should not be second to last on offense, yet thanks to various injuries, underperformers, and young players not quite reaching their potential, that's what happened. Their solution? Sign Loui Eriksson to a six-year deal, and while it may solve the revolving door that was the third forward spot on the Sedin line, it is still a chasm to fill, as only Daniel Sedin and Jannik Hansen scored more than 20 goals last season. Getting improved numbers from the likes of Bo Horvat, Sven Baertschi, and Emerson Etem are a must. They were only marginally better defensively, though a top pairing of Ben Hutton and Chris Tanev isn't going to scare anyone. To that end, the Canucks traded for Erik Gudbranson, which will add physicality to the blue line in need of it, though it came at the cost of Jared McCann. A healthy Alex Edler should help, as will improved depth that could see as many as two rookies on the blue line. In goal, things get murky, as Ryan Miller is in the final year of his contract, and despite posting mediocre numbers, enters the season as the starter. Jacob Markstrom earned an extension and should be cutting into the number of Miller's starts. The power play, predictably, was awful, and the hope is that Eriksson, as well as new assistant coach Doug Jarvis, can boost that unit. The penalty kill was middle of the pack, though it did miss Brandon Sutter for half the season.

Prediction: 7th in the Pacific Division

No one is quite sure what the Canucks are doing to ensure future success after the Sedins, as the rebuild has hit some snags. Truthfully, it would be no surprise if the Canucks are closer to the Nolan Patrick sweepstakes, otherwise known as the 2017 NHL Draft. The Canucks want the playoffs this season, but at what cost will it be to their future?

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

More Pain Ahead


2015-16 record: 29-42-11 (69 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: TBA

Entering their 100th year since they formed, the Toronto Maple Leafs are in the midst of a painful, to put in coach Mike Babcock's words, process of rebuilding. That pain last season resulted in being dead last in the standings, yet brought them a sense of hope, as the lottery went their way and they were able to draft Auston Matthews. The pain will continue, but with a youthful core learning on the job, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel.

Offensively, when your leading scorer only amasses 45 points as Nazem Kadri did, you know your offense is terrible. Of course, they also let their only 20-goal scorer from last season leave, as P.A. Parenteau went back to the New York Islanders. For better or for worse, any success of the youth movement will largely hinge on Matthews, who draws comparisons to Jonathan Toews. If true, the Leafs will have their true number one center not seen since Mats Sundin last played there. There are other young players ready to make an impact, as Mitch Marner, William Nylander, among others, will vie for spots, but having a healthy James van Riemsdyk, as well as an improved Kadri will be key. To ensure that opposing players don't take too many liberties with the group, the Leafs signed Matt Martin, and along with Leo Komarov, will be just as important to the development. Defensively, they were still bad going by rankings, but shaving 17 goals off the total was a sign that the blue line is getting better. The problem is that only Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner qualify as top four defenders at the moment. There's a lot of bodies competing for the next four spots, but no true standouts, though Martin Marincin showed his worth on the penalty kill. In goal, the Leafs are hoping newcomer Frederik Andersen will be able to replicate his numbers with Anaheim, but this will also be his first true starting job, as he's always split with John Gibson. Jhonas Enroth was signed to buy Garret Sparks a little more time with the Marlies. Predictably, the power play was awful, and it will probably be that way again until it is known just how much of an impact the kids will make. The penalty kill was middle of the pack, which was a by-product of the team buying what Babcock was selling.

Prediction: 8th in the Atlantic Division

It'll be another long year for the Maple Leafs, yet it appears that fans are willing to buy into pain now for sustained success later. After years of short fixes and trading away draft picks, getting a player like Matthews may very well be the thing that changes their a few years.