Saturday, May 26, 2018
Washington Capitals: The Capitals have had a lot of adversity and playoff demons to overcome to make their second Stanley Cup Finals in their illustrious history. Maybe this time, they will actually win a game in the Finals. Every success and failure begins with Alex Ovechkin, who has finally gotten the support he needs to make it to this point. Evgeny Kuznetsov has been one of the better players on the team, and Braden Holtby has turned back the clock to when he was competing for Vezina Trophies. Defensively, they have held up surprisingly well, with John Carlson leading the way and Brooks Orpik playing surprisingly decent. They've had to overcome a 2-0 series deficit to Columbus in the opening round, beat their long time nemesis in Pittsburgh, and stave off a potential new overlord in Tampa Bay, battling back from a 3-2 series deficit in the process. If Washington is going to win, the supporting cast needs to continue to show up so Ovechkin doesn't have to try to do it all on his own.
Vegas Golden Knights: The neophytes of the NHL have made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in their first year of existence, the first to do so since St. Louis in 1968. Marc-Andre Fleury still has some life left, and if he gets hurt, they have confidence in Malcolm Subban. The defense is still largely a no-name group who was led by Colin Miller. While they are mostly second and third pairing players, a potential breakout star is Shea Theodore, who has all the makings of a top pairing player with offensive skill. Up front, they have a genuine top line in Reilly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault, and William Karlsson, and depth up front is just as good, with David Perron the best option for scoring outside the top line. They seemingly have answered every question asked of them, and they intend to answer the bell once more.
Prediction: This one is a tough one to call. Both teams have responded well to their respective coaching, and any and all questions of how each would respond to adversity, both have answered well. Ovechkin would love to win a Stanley Cup in his 14th year while the Gerard Gallant, Marchessault, and Smith would like to give the Florida Panthers one final middle finger. There's also the Blues pain factor, as at least two players from either team will be winning a Stanley Cup, further driving the stake into the Blues fans' collective hearts. I've been waiting for the Capitals' lack of depth to finally do them in and/or Vegas' luck to finally run out. My jinxing powers in hockey run hot and cold, so it's unpredictable as to which way it's going to go. I'm going with Golden Knights in 7.
Monday, May 21, 2018
In goal, there is Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban. Fleury was the big name of the team's expansion draft, and prior to the season, some thought he would face the same fate that Peter Sidorkiewicz would face when he was taken by Ottawa in their expansion draft in 1992. When healthy, Fleury proved that he still had something left and then some. Subban was destined to be a bust for the Boston Bruins, having never cracked the roster on a full-time basis. His pick up off waivers by the Golden Knights proved to be a smart move and one that would see them swap him for Calvin Pickard as a backup. Pickard is now in Toronto's system.
On defense, it's still a largely unknown group that is headed by Washington cast-off Nate Schmidt. Colin Miller, a pick from Boston, led all blueliners on the team in scoring while Shea Theodore, who was traded to Vegas so Anaheim could get Clayton Stoner's contract off their books, looks like a future star. Former Calgary defender Deryk Engelland proved to be the face of the team's leadership, as his ties to Las Vegas, from playing there previously in the ECHL to having a home there, all made it easy to call him the unofficial captain of the team. He also chipped in a respectable 23 points.
Up front, the offense is led by William Karlsson, a former Blue Jacket who was pegged to be a great penalty killer who occasionally chipped in offense. 43 goals later, and he blew expectations out of the water. Jonathan Marchessault was taken from Florida with the provision that Vegas also take Reilly Smith's contract as well. Turns out that Marchessault's 30-goal season in Florida wasn't a mirage, as he trailed Karlsson for the team scoring lead by three points (78 to 75) and Smith was fourth on the team in scoring with 60 points. Florida's crow eating isn't just confined to those two players, as you'll find out later. Other players that made their former teams look bad include David Perron, who was third in scoring on the team despite missing a few games to injury, and he made the Blues wish they had his production on the second line. Erik Haula was taken from Minnesota and Alex Tuch was thrown in on a trade because Minnesota wanted to protect their blue line. About that, Haula missed the 30-goal mark by one and finished fifth on the team in scoring, and Tuch looks like a solid player that the team can build upon, and both provide scoring that the Wild could have used.
Bill Foley owns the team, and he figured out right away that to build a solid team, he needed good hockey people. For all the grief George McPhee got for the Filip Forsberg trade while in Washington, his time as General Manager wasn't bad. Foley gave him another shot. Kelly McCrimmon was plucked from the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL to provide more insight. Remember when I said that the crow eating for the Florida Panthers wasn't over? That Gerard Gallant guy that they told to piss off last season at the beginning of a long road trip and left him at the airport did a pretty good job for the Vegas Golden Knights this year.
Yes, the Vegas Golden Knights making the Stanley Cup Finals is nothing short of amazing, so much so that people are calling it rigged. Look back on your predictions before the season and then tell me if you really expected any of this to happen.
Monday, May 14, 2018
So, how do I think this tournament will play out? Despite being eliminated in the first round of the WHL playoffs, Regina still has some pieces to become the second straight host team to take home the Memorial Cup tournament. Swift Current has possibly the most key pieces to win it all, and certainly, they have the best offense and hottest goaltender of the teams remaining. Acadie-Bathurst has some really good players and Dobson is an X-factor heading into his NHL Draft year while Hamilton has proven people wrong this year time and time again, beating a Sault Ste. Marie team that was widely thought to be the favorite to represent the OHL. Prediction? I think Swift Current walks away with the Memorial Cup trophy in a hard fought battle with Hamilton.
Friday, May 11, 2018
(1) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. (1) Washington Capitals
The Lightning have been fairly dominant, as they've dispatched the Devils and Bruins in five games each. Andrei Vasilevsky is proving to be the goaltender that the Lightning hoped for, their defense is coming out of its funk in time for the playoffs, and Nikita Kucherov is now the most dangerous offensive option. Steven Stamkos is still there, but he is now more of an X-factor, as teams seem to have forgotten about him.
The Capitals are a bit of a surprise, in that the goaltending was a major question mark coming into the playoffs. Braden Holtby entered the playoffs in game three against Columbus, and he's turned back the clock to his Vezina winning days. Defensively, they've been competent, and their offense has been carried by Alex Ovechkin and Niklas Backstrom.
Prediction: Capitals in 7
(1) Vegas Golden Knights vs. (2) Winnipeg Jets
Vegas has been fairly good in the playoffs, with Marc-Andre Fleury carrying the team on his back with stellar play in net. Their no-name defense has the best chemistry of any of the remaining teams, and a surprising offense led by William Karlsson is the impetus behind their success. A player to watch for to potentially break out this series is Jonathan Marchessault, who has the scoring ability.
The Jets have been great all season, though their question was whether they could keep it going in the playoffs. After a hard fought win against Nashville in seven, they've emphatically answered it with a resounding yes. Connor Hellebuyck appears to be this year's version of Matt Murray, with a playoff debut for the ages, their defense is coming together despite not having eye-popping numbers, and Mark Scheifele is becoming a superstar with his playoff run. The Jets are doing this without a great amount of help from Patrik Laine, and if he gets going, look out.
Prediction: Jets in 6
Wednesday, April 25, 2018
(1) Washington Capitals vs. (2) Pittsburgh Penguins
The Capitals had their struggles to begin the series against the Columbus series. Thanks to Alex Ovechkin putting the team on his back and Braden Holtby entering the series at game 3 and turning the clock back to last year's regular season, the Capitals are once again in the second round. Offense was never a problem in the series for them. However, they had some shaky moments defensively, and unless they can tighten things up there, it may be a short series. Holtby still has some issues, but he has looked his best all season, so he may be turning a corner.
Offense for Pittsburgh is on fire, as Sidney Crosby continued his dominance over Philadelphia. Their defense still has moments of lapses, but they did better this series. Matt Murray may be rounding into form once again, as he has each of the last two playoff seasons. Injuries to Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin bear watching.
Prediction: Penguins in 6
(1) Vegas Golden Knights vs. (3) San Jose Sharks
The Golden Knights were very good defensively, as they only allowed three goals all series against Los Angeles. Marc-Andre Fleury looks like he's also turned back the clock, and with a solid no-name blue line in front of him, the defense looks formidable. Offensively, they had some issues, but they made the goals when they counted, and look like they are just scratching the surface.
San Jose nearly matched the Golden Knights on defense, only allowing four goals to Anaheim in a sweep. They also showed some fire offensively, as they put up an eight spot in a game 3 win and also won by three in the first game of the series. Martin Jones looks every bit of the goaltender that the Sharks were hoping to get when they traded for him in 2015, and Evander Kane is producing on the ice for them. Like Vegas, though, the Sharks were rarely tested, so this should be a fairly even series.
Prediction: Golden Knights in 6
(1) Nashville Predators vs. (2) Winnipeg Jets
The Predators had their struggles against Colorado to begin the series, but once game 4 started, their defense began to tighten up, only allowing four goals in the last three games, and the Predators closing up the issue of slow starts that plagued them in the first three games. Though their defensemen were shut down offensively, as they only managed one goal the entire series, their forwards more than made up for it, especially the Austin Watson-Nick Bonino-Colton Sissons line.
Winnipeg had an easier time with the Minnesota Wild apart from a game 3 hiccup. Connor Hellebuyck is coming off consecutive shutouts, their defense is rounding into form, and like the Predators, they can kill you in many ways offensively. What it may come down to is which home ice advantage will win out.
Prediction: Predators in 7
(1) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. (2) Boston Bruins
Just as I get to this series, Boston emphatically closes it out.
The Lightning had little trouble in disposing a Devils team that simply didn't have the depth or playoff experience to stay with them. Andrei Vasilevsky is coming out of a late-season funk, their blue line is looking better, and their offense is so good that Steven Stamkos isn't even the second best option to score.
The Bruins had their issues with a Toronto team that was even in terms of ability. In the end, the Bruins outlasted the Leafs and will be coming into the series with some momentum. Tuukka Rask may have some issues, as he hasn't always been at his best, but the blue line in front of him is still capable. Offensively, this may be their most surprising aspect, as they have guys not named Brad Marchand that can kill you. David Pastrnak is becoming a stud, and they are getting production from guys like Torey Krug from the blue line.
Prediction: Boston in 7
Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Thursday, April 19, 2018
- When your goals per game equals one or less, you're not going to win any series. Anaheim averaged that, scoring 0-2-1-1 in each of the games. That's an indictment on the team's alarming lack of scoring depth, and given that Corey Perry did nothing...again, this figures to be a problem moving forward.
- Does one player really make a difference? Without Cam Fowler, the blue line seemed to be in disarray, and it especially showed in game three, where the Ducks just waved the white flag in giving up 8 goals.
- The Ducks are notorious for playing a goon style of hockey, and it caught up with them, when the Sharks could make them pay for their mistakes. The Ducks were undisciplined, and without when no one can step up to provide scoring, that equals disaster.
- For all the flak John Gibson gets for not showing up in the playoffs, he was surprisingly not bad, excluding the game 3 debacle, where nothing went right.
Another year of failure for the Ducks, headlined by the fact that their scoring depth is thin, plus their style of play can be thwarted by a more disciplined team, means that they are headed to the table, roasted and prepared with a nice orange sauce.