Thursday, May 19, 2011

Get Forwards and Prosper!

Is there a possible bigger NHL playoff choker in this century so far than the San Jose Sharks?

Logically, this should have been the playoffs where the Sharks got over the hump? Recent history has shown a team that has made a deep run the previous season will follow up with another deep run and most likely will snag the Cup.

Happened last season as the Chicago Blackhawks won it all a season after they made it to the semis. It happened in 2009 when the Pittsburgh Penguins returned to the Final a year after they lost and subsequently beat the Detroit Red Wings on the second go-round.
The Wings themselves proved the maxim by losing in the semis in '07 to the Anaheim Ducks and then the following season taking the Cup.
The Ducks in '06 got Roloson-ed in the semis by the Edmonton Oilers and in '07 fought (literally) back to win the Cup.

San Jose had even done what looked like all the right moves to enhance their chances. They got a "better" goalie dumping longtime Shark Evgeni Nabokov for the '10 Cup winner Antti Niemi. They have a Norris Trophy level defenceman in Dan Boyle seemingly with plenty left in the offensive tank.
They changed coaches a few seasons back and got rid of the "genius in his own mind" Ron Wilson and replaced him with someone (Todd McLellan) from a Cup winning organization (he was formerly an assistant coach with the Wings).
Joe Thornton no longer is a playoff choker as emphasized by his fantastic overtime heroics so far in the 2011 playoffs.
Newsflash, Mr. Jeremy Roenick, Patrick Marleau is not "gutless" at all. He had 5G 1A in the sweep by Chicago last season and he's stepping up so far vs. Vancouver with goals in each of the first two games.
So what is going on with the Sharks?

Their defence has been bad to horrible with the only plus player over those six semi-final games in these two seasons being Jason Demers and only barely at a +1. The two biggest culprits are
Boyle, despite 6A in 6GP, being a -4 and Douglas Murray who is a -5 after last night's -3 nightmare.

Worse are the forwards not named Thornton or Marleau as not only are they minus monsters but Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Ryan Clowe and Joe Pavelski are a collective -13 and have a less than impressive total of zero (yes, you heard that right) goals and 7 assists in those six semi-final games so far over the two seasons.

So through six games in the semis, the only forwards to score Shark goals have been Marleau with 7, Logan Couture with 2, Joe Thornton with 1 and big Ben Eager with another.

Just these past two games alone have seen six different Canuck forwards light the lamp.

Maybe there is your answer as the special teams in both the Sharks series vs. the Hawks and the Canucks have been a wash as they all had their powerplays working quite well (as witnessed by the two powerplay goals by San Jose in Game 2 countered by the three from Vancouver).
The San Jose forwards have simply been outplayed by both the Canuck and Blackhawk forwards over the past two seasons at even strength.

If the Sharks do not come back and win this series, GM Doug Wilson is going to have to seriously Jonathan Cheechoo a few of these unproductive Shark forwards out of San Jose and get some more reliable scorers. So maybe Ben Eager's hit on Daniel Sedin is not the reason the Canucks took control of the series at all. Maybe it's more about the other underperforming Shark forwards and the Maxim-um Lapierre efforts the Canucks forwards are now coming up with in rd. 3.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Wither the Sedins...and Kesler

For some again bizarre reason the media seemed shocked that the Sedin twins are not producing in the playoffs. Start off with the fact the playoffs are not the regular season so the Sedins don't get to feast on wimpy Northwest non-playoff teams at all and there's your answer pretty much. Why is this not obvious to people whining about the Sedins' lack of production? Both the Nashville Predators and the Vancouver Canucks have a lack of production so far in this series and it's following the exact same pattern of their regular season tilts.

During the regular season games these two clubs averaged a paltry 3.5 goals per game and that included two empty net goals. Throw in the netminding of Pekka Rinne and Roberto Luongo and is it any wonder goals are hard to come by?

Versus Nashville this season Daniel had a goal and 2 assists, Henrik had 3 assists in the four games. You can pretty much expect the same in the playoffs. Just for the record, Alexandre Burrows was the Canucks' leading goal scorer with 3 goals in the 4 games vs. Nashville in 2010/11.

Expecting anyone to score in bunches in this series is beyond ridiculous.
It may happen in one game or two but overall this was predicted to be a low-scoring series and so that prediction is coming true.

But what may you ask about the Anaheim series in rd. 1 where Rinne was a sieve and gave up tons of goals?
No different from their regular season meeting where the Ducks and the Preds averaged 7 goals a game.

It comes down to matchups period in the playoffs (and in the regular season really).
Anaheim's speed, size and skill is tough for the Preds to deal with.
The Sedins' lack of speed and size means basically the Preds are thankful Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan ("Don't forget me!" adds Teemu Selanne) are not Canucks.

What baffles me most about the media's obsession with the Sedins' non-production is they should be more surprised if the twins did dominate vs. Nashville. There is no track record to suggest they can. They'll hopefully be a factor in this series but to expect the Sedins to rack up the 18 points Getzlaf, Perry and Ryan (who was suspended for two games in the first round and basically looks like he cost the Ducks a shot of at least a Game 7) got vs. the Preds in the previous round is unrealistic.

Also, haven't the local reporters been following the Canucks all season long and been covering the NHL playoffs for decades? Do they not realize that finishing first overall is often not an indication that a team is ready-for-primetime playoff success? Did they not notice the Canucks play in a very weak division hence the point total is vastly overinflated relative to the other division leaders in the Western Conference?

So the Canucks finished first overall in goals for and on the powerplay.
Last I looked the playoffs are a different type of hockey. Otherwise don't you think San Jose and Washington would both have Stanley Cups by now?

Now we could go on about Ryan Kesler's goal drought but you have to factor in that in rd. 1 with Manny Malhotra out, Kesler had to revert to his old shutdown center role. With very little Canuck powerplay time vs. Chicago, it also meant the number of chances he got to score were reduced drastically as GM Mike Gillis pointed out.
To top it off (again with the matchups?) anyone with access to the Web, would have known that Kesler did the following in the regular season:
vs. Chicago 4GP 0G 2A even +/-
vs. Nashville 4GP 0G 0A -5

If everyone would like the Sedins and Kesler to score at their regular season rate, I'd suggest they petition the NHL to expand the playoffs to allow the Calgary Flames in next season. The Sedins and Kesler racked up 8G and 22 pts vs. the Lames in their 6 regular season games.

Until that happens, we aren't going to see the Sedins or Kesler on the scoreboard as much as their overall regular season totals suggest they should be. Do not despair, though, as they along with many of the other players on both teams in this series that will find goals hard to come by thanks to superior netminding. Just cross your fingers, Canuck fans, that Luongo does not let in another softie that swings the series in the Preds' favor.