Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Game One a Good One, Game Two Will be Better

Game one provided us with as good a hockey game as we could have hoped for. The first period was full of excitement. Anaheim had a stretch where they must have been in the Ottawa zone for a full two minutes. The physical play in the game was great, as both teams finished checks, and Emery really did stand on his head to keep the Sens in that game.

Pahlsson kept the Alfredsson-Spezza-Heatley line in check, but he did take some stupid penalties that gave Ottawa several chances to take all of the momentum. His linemate, Travis Moen, scored the game winner and it showed why Anaheim has gotten this far. Depth. Say it twice. Now say it again. It is the KEY to winning in the new NHL. Without it, you're just the Phoenix Coyotes.

Keys for Game 2:

Physical Play: For the Senators to rebound from such a heart wrenching goal, they need to come out and start finishing checks right from the opening faceoff. When Chris Neil is out there, he needs to get under the skin of some of the Ducks. Anaheim is usually very calm, cool, and collected with their only real goon being Brad May. But if Anaheim takes penalites it leads to...

Power Play: The Senators were given several oppurtunities, including a 5-3 in the first period for over 90 seconds. They couldn't convert, and Anaheim fed off the crowd from that point on. Special teams are so important in the Playoffs and Anaheim has hot at killing penalties the last few games. Expect Ottawa to change some things on one of their unites.

My Prediction:

Ottawa comes back strong after a disappointing Game 1. Gigure will be scored on early and be shaky from that point on. Expect Emery to have another great one.

4-2 Sens.

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Stanley Cup Preview

I'm sure that this isn't your first choice to come and find information, so I'll leave the basic statistics out. You won't find team records, away/home goal differential or +/- comparisons in this post. So I'll just get right to it.

How they got here:

Anaheim ran through the Western Conference in 16 games, something unprecedented by a Western team in the past few years. They started off their quest by beating several people's "dark horse," the Minnesota Wild. They then went on to beat a very popular Vancouver Canuck team in an Overtime filled second round. Many questioned whether or not they would have enough left to take on the favored Detroit Red Wings, but their Giguere proved to be rock solid in net as they took six games to beat the Wings.

In three chances to finish a team at home in these Playoffs, the Ducks are 3-0, which shows that they have the killer instict needed to go all the way.

Ottawa got through the Playoffs in 15 games, allowing no team to take more than one game from them. The Senators' list of victims is very impressive. They started by beating the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team whom many people thought could make a lot of noise. Then, they went up against New Jersey and this was a series that Martin Brodeur was set to dominate. But Ray Emery outplayed Brodeur the whole series and the Senators' offense was very impressive. In the Conference Finals, the Senators, like the Ducks, faced the favorite and disposed of the Buffalo Sabres easily.

The Senators started this year very slowly, and compared to the past few years, the Senators were not picked by many to make a huge Playoffs run. The loss of Zdeno Chara was a blow in free agency, but key players have stepped up.

Keys to the series:

Goaltending. At this time of the year, goaltending is what wins games. Giguere and Emery are both hot right now and coming off series wins against two big offensive clubs. Gigure has had a tendency this postseason to lose his confidence if scored on early while Emery has responded better to that situation. However, if Gigure has a solid first period, he continues to have a great game. And remember, JS Gigure is a Conn Smythe winner. He knows that he can get it done.

ADVANTAGE: Anaheim

Experience. The Ducks are returning to the Finals after losing to the Devils in seven games in 2003. So Teemu Selanne, JS Gigure, along with guys like Scott Neidemayer and Chris Pronger have been there before. Those four players may be the most important for the Ducks in this series, and all of them have been there before. Neidemayer is a proven winner from his days with New Jersey, while Gigure is a Conn Smythe winner and Pronger just played in the Finals last season.

Ottawa, on the contrary, is making its first ever trip to the Cup. Emery is in his first year starting and didn't even begin the year as the starter. Their big line, made up of Heatley, Spezza, and Alfredsson, are all new to this, as is their most important d-man, Wade Redden.

ADVANTAGE: Anaheim

REST. The NHL Playoffs are the most grueling time in all of sports. At this point, every single body has bumps and bruises that won't heal until next season (or until they're hoisting that silver thing.) Both teams went through their conferences quickly, but the Senators finished their series before the Ducks and have had more time to sleep in a few extra days.

ADVANTAGE: Ottawa

My prediction:

It makes me sick to think Barry Melrose correctly predicted the Ducks to get all the way to the Finals. They have shown remarkable resilience by getting down in the series to Detroit and managing to battle back after their big defenseman served a one game suspension. Andy McDonald, Chris Kunitz, Corey Perry, and Samuel Pahlsson will all need to contribute. Pahlsson will be huge in this series because he'll have the task of going up against the Jason Spezza line.

Both teams have high powered offenses with a very solid defensive core. Goaltending will come through in the end, and Ray Emery will only be better after this series. But come the end of it, the Ducks will once again be mighty.

Anaheim in 6

So whose complaining about those new jerseys now?

Series Schedule:

Game 1 - May 28th @ Anaheim
Game 2 - May 30th @ Anaheim
Game 3 - June 2nd @ Ottawa
Game 4 - June 4th @ Ottawa
Game 5 (If Neccesary) - June 6th @ Anaheim
Game 6 (If Neccesary) - June 9th @ Ottawa
Game 7 (If Neccesary) - June 11th @ Anaheim

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Sens Advance/Keys to Tonight's Game/RANT OF THE WEEK

Congratulations to the Ottawa Senators for completely dismantling my prediction that they'd be out in six games this round. They completely dominated the Sabres. I can't really comment on the game because of...well, I'll let you read about it in my rant of the week.

But the Senators are amazingly dynamic. Chris Phillips and Wade Redden are probably the second best top d-line pair left in the Playoffs and Alfredsson, Spezza, and Heatley make up the most talented top line. Ray Emery has been the wild card all Playoffs, and there's nothing better than a hot goaltender in the Finals.

Tonight, the Wings try to avoid elimination and will attempt to beat the Ducks on the road.

This series has completely turned around since the Game 3 "debacle." However, in the last two games, the Ducks have only outscored the Wings 6-5, including a 2-1 win in OT in Game 5.

Keys to Tonight's Game

Stars: In the past two games, Teemu Selanne has been alive with two goals, two assists, including a game winner. He has outscored Pavel Datsyuk 2-0. It's no secret that Datsyuk and Zetterberg are keys to Detroit's success and they have been shut down the past two games.

Home Ice: The Wings worked hard all season for home ice advantage and now, it belongs to the Ducks. There will be no octupus thrown on the ice during intermission in Anaheim. The crowd will be rocking, hoping to see Anaheim get back to its first cup since 2003.

Rattling the Goalie: Both goalies have let up at least five goals once this series. Both regrouped last game. Who will be the victim this time?

RANT OF THE WEEK
I was in a hotel watching the last seconds of the Sabres-Senators game and was practically licking my lips for Playoff OT. Nothing better, right? Well, according to NBC, something is. Horse racing. Bill Clement informed me that they would update us on the game, but for now, they were going to focus on some horse named Street Sense and his pathetic odds to win the Triple Crown. FOR TWO HOURS. No announcement was made that it would switch to Versus, but the hotel didn't get it anyway.
NBC made a commitmenet to make the game of hockey grow in America. At the very least, make an announcement to the fans that the game will continue on Versus. But that's besides the point. No one needs two hours coverage in order to watch a horse race. Heck, the pre-game show to the SUPER BOWL isn't that long.
The NHL needs to pull out from NBC. Their coverage has been decent, but how can you stayed partnered with a network that pulls off your sudden death main event? It's ridiculous. Not to mention that the NHL was the laughingstock of the entire sports world the next day.
If you ever wanted to know your place in
the world, it's
somewhere behind taking a horse out of his stall.
This was just one of the quotes made by various sports analysts the next day.
That should say it all.

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Friday, May 18, 2007

NBA Series Crash and Burn...Big Plus for NHL

The past two nights have not been good for the NBA.

On Thursday, the Detroit Pistons put away the Chicago Bulls and ended any chance the Bulls had at coming back in the series. The matchup was generating tons of buzz because after being down 3-0, the Bulls had battled back to make it 3-2 and they had Game 6 at home. But they gave in to history, and were deafeated.

Now, the other marquee series, Phoenix-San Antonio is all but over. Unless the Suns can make up this 20 point defecit in the fourth quarter, I doubt there will be a Game 7. The NBA has no one to blame but themselves for this crappy ending. I mean, come on, the suspensions to Diaw and Amare were idiotic. This is meant to be a hockey blog, so I won't go into detail as to why. But the point is, the NBA no longer has excitement to offer.

That's where the NHL comes in.

Take a look. Even if you're favorite team is out, the excitement level in these games are unbelievable.

The Sabres-Senators is our version of the Bulls-Pistons. Can the Sabres come back from a 3-0 defecit? They took Game 4 and now have Game 5 at home. Ryan Miller keeps them hanging by a thread every game. Can he keep it up?

The Ducks-Wings series is basically Suns-Spurs. Two of the bestteams in the entire league battling it out in an incredible series. We even had a marquee suspension. (Pronger)

The really good news for the NHL, is that horse racing is the main event tomorrow, and who really cares about that? The games this weekend are scheduled to be on NBC, and hopefully, as people are watching Street Sense prepare for glory, they'll take a look at the excitement the NHL has to offer.

Hmm. The Suns have cut the lead to 12 and there's a foul shot to come. If they can come back, I'll make another entry tonight...er, this morning.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Ottawa Goes Up 3-0: Strength Breakdown/Rant of the Week

One thought occured to me as I saw the Senators take the Sabres to school by defeating them 1-0 to take a three games series lead. Everything Buffalo had as a strength during the regular season has been utterly non-existent in this series.

Consider:

Home-Ice: The Sabres had been one of the best during the Regular Season and the Playoffs, but in this series, they dropped the first two at home.

Defense: The Sabres have prided themselves on playing two way hockey and using their speed to beat their opponents. I saw several odd man rushes occur against they tonight. In once case, there was not even a Sabre in site as Meszaros skated in and hit one off the post of Ryan Miller's goal.

Offense: You think Sabres, you think of two things. New jerseys and goals. I said that the series MVP would be Maxim Afinogenov, and if he would chip in more then one goal, he might be. But where is Chris Drury the other 59 minutes and 52 seconds of a game? What happened to Daniel Briere? Sophomore Derek Roy? Thomas Vanek? The list continues, but when you're getting beaten 5-2 and 1-0, something isn't right.

You heard it right. The Sabres were the best team, and the defense and offense were both amazingly balanced strengths.

What usually isn't the case in a series where a team is down 3-0, is the goalie actually playing well. If you look at the games, Miller has given up five goals on 34 shots, four goals on 32 shots, and one goal on 32 shots. When a team gives up over 30 shots three straight times, the defense is failing.

What I didn't mention, is that Buffalo has failed to register over 20 shots 2 of the 3 games in this series. Ray Emery hasn't had to be amazing, just solid.

The NHL's last hope for ratings from America in the Cup is for Detroit to get there and push it to a seven game series in which Steve Yzerman and Terry Sawchuk make returns.

Rant of the Week
As the Playoffs get into the later rounds, refs are "eliminated" as well until only the refs with the best track records are officiating the games. With such as small group, why is there still a gray area when it comes to calling penalties in OT? In the Anaheim/Detroit game, Ryan Getzlaf was hit with a head shot and there was no call. In the next minute, a call for hooking was made. Maybe the head shot went unnoticed, but if it did, why do we have a two referee system?

On the topic, what about goaltender inteference? Hockey is a fast, physical game. Goalies are going to get run into. If a goalie is bumped, it should not be counted as goaltender interference. If a goalie keep his balance, it should not be counted as interference. Why is a goaltender allowed to whack a player screening him in the shins, but if a player so much as taps a goalie, a 2 minute penalty is called.

At the very least, a suitable solution is to change up the time for penalties. For instance, the penalty for shooting the puck over the glass shouldn't be the same as hooking. A one minute penalty would suffice. In the case of goaltender inteference, look at a 1 minute penalty for accidental contact, two minutes for any contact that could have been adverted. They do it for high sticking, why not everything else?

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Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Conference Finals Have Potential

If the Rangers couldn't have made it, then this is the next best thing. Just a few months removed from a brawl that involved everyone on both teams, the Senators and Sabres have their rematch. All of Canada will be watching as Ray Emery leads this year's "Canada's Team" against the President Trophy winning Sabres.

Keys to the Series:

Goaltending. This holds true for every Playoff series In this case, we see two goalies who haven't had much experience. Ray Emery has been playing the best of the two. He outplayed Martin Brodeur which is not something many can claim they have done. He was big wildcard coming into these Playoffs but has become Ottawa's biggest weapon.

Revenge. It's tough to believe that the two teams won't have their moments of violence. Nearly every series has so far but in this case, it's about revenge. The team that can keep a cool head will be going to the Cup. Ray Emery can't put on that wild grin as he did in the regular season. One fight or outburst could result in a suspension. At the same time, coaches need to protect their players. Expect Chris Neil to play alongside Spezza or Alfredsson from time to time.

The series is going to be about offense which is why the Western Conference series is such a nice change of pace.

Expect a lot of 2-1 or 1-0 games from Anaheim and Detroit. While Anaheim has tons of depth and weapons, Detroit has one of the best defensive schemes in the league and Nick Lidstrom will play his 27-28 minutes every game.

Keys:

Hasek. Against San Jose, Hasek let up goals in the first minute of almost every game. Against a team like Anaheim, who feeds on momentum, he needs to get a good start each time. The Wings did a great job coming back, but it'll be harder against J.S. Giguere who might be the best at shining in the postseason.

Rest. Anaheim has finished their opponents in the first two rounds in a total of 10 games. It's taken Detroit 12 games. While it may not seem like a lot, it means that Detroit has had to take an extra trip to Calgary and San Jose before coming back home. Anaheim has been able to finish out each series at home and has had the chance to get refreshed from any injuries.

I don't have much more time to type this entry out, so I'll cut to my predictions:

Buffalo vs. Ottawa
BUFFALO in 6
Series MVP: Maxim Afinogenov

Detroit vs. Anaheim
ANAHEIM in 7
Series MVP: Andy McDonald

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Sunday, May 6, 2007

Rangers Must Win

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know the NHL has practically no fan base in America. Sure, there are some loyal cities. Colorado, Detroit, Philadelphia, etc. The problem? Even those places had their bad moments this year. What's the answer? A big market Stanley Cup.


I want to see Rangers-Red Wings.

Think about it. The markets of New York and Detroit, two of the biggest in America for ANYTHING squaring up in hockey's greatest game. Jagr and Hasek headlining the stars as Michael Nylander and Dan Cleary make for America's good guys. Sean Avery becomes the much loved villian while fans make a connection with coach Tom Renney. Ratings would skyrocket just because of the viewers in New York that would switch off the Yankees in order to see the Rangers in the Cup.

But is it possible? The Rangers are down 3-2 to the best team in the league. They had a 1-0 lead with 16 seconds to go in the last game and due to their inability to win faceoffs, put themselves in a position to lose and that's what they did.

So what if the Rangers did lose? Or what if the Wings lost as well? Here are the remaining teams and the impact they would have if they made the finals:


San Jose: The Sharks don't have a hot goalie. Joe Thornton has been forgotten by everybody not living in San Jose or Boston, and the market just isn't there. The Wings better finish them.

Anaheim: They would get more love than the Sharks and they have the stars that could attract viewers. Even the casual fans know the names 'Selanne' 'Pronger' 'Neidemayer' 'Giguere.' That alone might be enough to get some viewers watching.

Buffalo: They would actually get a decent crowd. They have no problem selling out their own arena, but if you ask anybody who their best player is, you'll get a few shrugs and some wiseguy who calls out the name Brett Hull for no reason other then Brett Hull is in every picture of the 1999 Cup.

Ottawa: Canada is going to be watching no matter what, but as far as America goes, a Canadian team even being involved in the Finals is a step down.

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Series Summary- Thankfully, I Was Wrong About The Series!

I'm not going to lie, had I been right about the way each series would go, it would have been a really boring few days. Instead, we were treated to:

Roberto Luongo making over 60 saves in a LOSING effort to the Ducks. Anaheim is really incredible with amount of offense they have and the fact that they've only played 10 games in these Playoffs is remarkable considering they play in the West. It's funny that no one is talking about their jerseys now, eh? I really feel for Roberto, though. For those of you who didn't see it, in the second OT, a Vancouver player was absolutely demolished by one of the Neidemayer brothers. As the puck slid to the other Neidemayer (Scott), Luongo apparently put his hand up as to signal it should have been a penalty on Rob and didn't get set. The next thing anyone knew, the puck was in the net. Congratulations to Anaheim but welcome Roberto Luongo, the new best goaltender in the NHL.

Over in another part of Canada, Ottawa was busy doing something that hasn't been done often in the Playoffs - absolutely demolish Martin Brodeur. In this case, pure offense was no match for pure defense. We've been waiting for that Ottawa team that was going to break through in the Playoffs. Not many people thought it would be this year. This was the only series I wasn't able to follow this round, so I'll keep my comments brief. Ray Emery has just established himself as a premier goaltender and you have to believe that if the Rangers can slip by Buffalo, the Sens have a great chance to go to the Cup.

Back out West, we find the Wings and Sharks in some truly exciting games. Down 2-1 in the series, the Red Wings score with under 20 seconds to go in the game to avoid going down 3-1 in the series. High from adrenaline, the Wings take the game in Overtime. After a 4-1 loss in Game 4, it would seem as if the Sharks have lost any momentum they once had and Detroit will end this one in six. The Wings penalty killers have been great this series, only allowing two goals. Hasek has been shaky in the start of games (he's allowed a goal at the beginning of almost all of them) but has steadied out by the end of the first. More on this series tomorrow.

Finally, the most important series in the Playoffs. (See my next post) This one has been nothing but exciting. The Rangers winning in Overtime at MSG. What could be better? How about Chris Drury tying about the game with just 7 seconds to go and then Maxim Afinogenov breaking a cold streak to win it in Overtime? Goaltending has ruled the day. Lundquist has played a great series while Ryan Miller has been forced to find ways to mentally stay in a game that finds most of the action at the other end. More on this series in my next post.

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