Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Way The West Will Be Won

Now it's time to talk about Big Boy hockey. Enough with the Leastern Conference, this is where bodies will be banging and goals...well, they'll be hard to come by sadly. Yes, as much as we like to say how good the teams are in the West, often it's that sloppy D and fast skating East that provides more exciting hockey as last night's action proved.

Even so, the West will still produce plenty of thrills so let's have a look at how the series break down.

Teemu's Farewell 
vs. the Hartford Whaler Unis

Look, you have to have a heart of stone to not cheer for Teemu Selanne to go out a Stanley Cup winner. It may not happen but at least coach Bruce Boudreau knows how to ice an exciting team be it the Washington Capitals when they were actually fun to watch to this Ducks team.

Now the big news is starting rookie Frederik Andersen in net over veteran Jonas Hiller. Is it news really? Anyone who has seen how starting a goalie with minimal or even zero NHL playoff experience can pay off, it's well worth the gamble. Considering Andersen's sparkling .923 save percentage puts him 8th among the '13/14 regular season leaders vs. Hiller's .911 (and also his Olympic hangover and late-season mystery illness) Boudreau is going with the better goalie as of now.

Another weird quirk is how top heavy the scoring is on both teams. After Ryan Getzlaf's 89 points and Corey Perry's 82, the next top scoring Duck is Nick Bonino with 49.

Dallas has the Tyler Seguin (84 pts) and Jamie Benn (79 pts) combo and then we get a defenceman in Alex Goligoski's 42 points in 3rd on the Dallas Stars' scoring list.(So what you're saying is the James Neal trade did work out?)

It's not like both teams don't have scoring touch throughout their lineups, it's just this past regular season we really didn't see it balanced out much through the entire roster all that much.

The Tong War

Last season the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings had a seven-game battle for the ages. The problem is it was a "battle." This is not exactly attractive hockey to watch unless you enjoy low scoring although the hitting was tremendous. Now there is a certain train of thought that people seem to think the Kings are a "good" hockey team because they won a Cup two seasons ago.

When you look at their lineup they do look good on paper but in 2012 they basically got hot. Darryl Sutter has somehow managed to suck the goals out of this lineup. It can't be all Sutter's fault as the Kings were 9th in goals for last season...oh, wait, they only had to play 48 games of that grind-it-out style vs. 82 this season...never mind.

Look at how well both Jeff Carter (hat trick in one game and 4 goals overall) and Drew Doughty (4 goals as well and Team Canada's top scorer with 6 points in the tournament) played at the Olympics. Now look at their stats with LA.

Carter, a former 46G man got all of 27G this season with the Kings decent but nothing like the two other 30+ goal seasons he had in Philly.

Doughty was looking to be the heir apparent as the premier offensive D-man in the league after a 59-point season in his sophomore year plus winning a Gold Medal being arguable Team Canada's best defencemen at Vancouver 2010. He had all of 37 points this season. Yeah, yeah, yeah, points aren't everything but he's not Brad Park in his later years with Boston (who still was putting up 50-point seasons being more crafty than speedy by then). Doughty is 24 years old. Sutter needs to let the guy loose and it can only help the Kings maybe win a few more games more easily and rest the other "stars" so they're fresher for the playoffs.

Therein lies the problem. The Kings have to work so hard to score a single goal let alone two, they are exhausted come playoff time. Reminder: This is not the 2012 hot streak to end all hot streaks playoff team.

Sutter helped the Kings win a Cup because he was parachuted in at exactly the right time. He joined the Kings for the last 49 games and gave them that shot of adrenaline (plus he lucked out with Jonathan Quick impersonating Sutter's 2004 playoff version of Mikka Kiprusoff). Sure the Kings got to round three last season but what a slog! They went toe-to-toe with both the St. Louis Blues (a 6-game series) and the San Jose Sharks (7 games) playing 11 one-goal games in the first two rounds.

Compare that to their 2012 Cup run where they played just two one-goal games in the first two rounds and dispensed of the Vancouver Canucks in five games and the Blues in a sweep.

Yet can the Sharks finally do it. Getting home-ice advantage (although this is not the NBA, eh) now vs. not having it last season is probably important given last year's series saw the home team win all the games. Meaning most likely this year we'll see some road wins between these two, of course.

All I know is what are the ageless wonders Patrick Marleau (age 34, 33G, 70 pts) and Joe Thornton (age 34, 65A, 76 pts) drinking and can I have some, please? Plus, need I remind anyone after yesterday's column, Jumbo Joe did not have to play in the Olympics and the Sharks had a paltry four players at Sochi--the fewest of any of the top four seeds in either conference.

vs. Man Who Never Leaves Ice

Are you as confused as to how Patrick Roy with the addition of basically just rookie (albeit one most likely headed to become Nova Scotia's second greatest NHLer behind the Bruin Killer...or maybe, on second thought, that guy in Pittsburgh) Nathan MacKinnon managed to get the '12/13 last-place Colorado Avalanche into first place in THIS division over the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks and the way way way better on paper St. Louis Blues?

There's a book in there somewhere especially if Saint Patrick becomes a god by leading the Avs to a Cup in the near future.

Now, sadly, the Avs are up against it in this series thanks to not only losing their top player Matt Duchene to injury but also losing their #3 center, the very useful John Mitchell, as well. They'll also be missing Cody McLeod and Tyson Barrie.

The Minnesota Wild really do have a shot at an upset here. With Ryan Suter playing an average of 29:24 minutes per game this season, guess who you Avs need to target hitting? Speaking of what Marleau and Jumbo Joe have been drinking.

Yet, here's the rub--Ilya Bryzgalov vs. Semyon Varlamov. You can stop laughing now and I'll throw this at you:
Bryzgalov went 7-1-3 after his trade from the Edmonton Oilers although his save percentage of .911 is very average. He's also either great or horrible in the playoffs. He hasn't been good in the playoffs since 2006 though so . . .

Team Very Injured 
vs. Team Now Healthy

Where oh where did the St. Louis Blues' season go? From Cup contender to Cup pretender is where.
We're seeing now why the Buffalo Sabres traded Ryan Miller rather than re-signing the upcoming free agent. He's been very average after a great start initially in a Blues' uniform.
The Blues are way too beat up with six regulars (Vladimir Tarasenko, captain David Backes, TJ Shootout, Vladimir Sobotka, Patrick Berglund and Brenden Morrow) out of the lineup.
The Hawks, on the other hand, have a rested Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane apparently ready to go after coming off their injuries.

So what looked like a terrificy difficult matchup may end up be a nice warmup for another Blackhawks' deep playoff run.

Also, to those out there enamored of Ken Hitchock. Here's his playoff record since leaving the Dallas Stars where he went to the Conference Finals in '98, won a Cup in '99, went to another Final in '00 among that team's 10 playoff rounds won in five playoff seasons:

w/ Philadelphia Flyers
'03 beat Toronto 4-3, lost to Ottawa 4-2
'04 beat New Jersey 4-1 and Toronto 4-2, lost to Tampa 3-4
'05 lost to Buffalo 2-4
'06 missed playoffs
'07 fired after a 1-6-1 start

w/ Columbus Blue Jackets
'07 and '08 missed playoffs
'09 lost 0-4 to Detroit
'10 fired after going 22-27-9

w/ St. Louis Blues
'12 beat San Jose 4-1, lost 0-4 to LA
'13 lost to LA 2-4

So out of nine full seasons since he left Dallas, Hitch's team have missed the playoffs three times, lost in the first round three times as well, lost in round two twice...and had all of one deep run to the Conference Finals way back in 2004.

I rest my case.

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