Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Eastern Conference First Round Predictions
Season Series: Tied 2-2
Washington has been playing fairly well as of late, winning six out of their last ten and three of the losses during that span have come in overtime or a shootout. The same can't be said for Montreal though, they're 3-4-3 in their last ten and have lost three straight. It looks as though Jaroslav Halak will be in goal for the Canadiens while Jose Theodore will man the pipes for Washington. Both teams have able netminders waiting in the wings (Semyon Varlamov-WAS and Carey Price-MON) in case any trouble arises.
Well this is what Washington has been waiting for all season; a chance to prove that they're not just a regular season fluke like San Jose has been the past few seasons. The Caps have arguably the best offense in the league, headed by captain Alexander Ovechkin. They lead the league in goals-per-game (3.82) and have the highest ranked power play in the NHL at 25.2 percent (nearly four percentage points higher than their closest opponent, Montreal). They're led by Ovechkin's 50 goals but not too far behind is Alexander Semin with 40, Nicklas Backstrom with 33, and veteran/garbage goal extraordinaire Mike Knuble with 29. Montreal may have the second best power play in the league, but they fail at 5-on-5 play. They scored a measly 130 goals while at full strength, good enough for last in the league. Brian Gionta led the team in goals with 28 but Tomas Plekanec led in points with 70. Neither team is great defensively. The Habs have two solid d-men in Andrei Markov and Marc-Andre Bergeron, but fall off after that. The Capitals have one of the best offensive defensemen in the league in Mike Green and their defensive core has some of the best blue liners in the NHL as far as plus/minus goes, but that's mostly a result of them scoring in bunches while at full strength. The Caps won in the regular season because they can outscore their opponents by large margins, but can their defense and goaltending hold up in the playoffs? In the first round, yes.
Prediction: Washington wins the series in 4
#2 New Jersey Devils vs. #7 Philadelphia Flyers
Season Series: 5-1 Philadelphia
Neither of these two teams lit it up at the end of the season as far as wins go. The Devils went 5-2-3 down the stretch but are on a two game win streak heading into the playoffs. The Flyers struggled to close out the season, going 4-5-1 in their last ten but won in dramatic fashion on Sunday in a shootout against the Rangers to clinch a playoff berth. New Jersey will have the postseason machine in net, Marty Brodeur (1.98 career GAA in the playoffs). Philadelphia will have the once playoff phenom Brian Boucher in goal as the team's final stopper.
You basically know what you're going to get when you play Jacques Lemaire and the Devils. Marty Brodeur is going to be a brick wall in net (although he hadn't been during the regular season against the Flyers) and they're going to play a defensive style that is incredibly boring to watch and drives opposing teams crazy (see: the neutral zone trap). As they have throughout most of their history, New Jersey has a solid defense. They have a bunch of guys most people have never heard of with Colin White, Andy Greene and Mike Mottau, but they're doing their job and doing it well. The one difference on this year's Devils team is the fact that they have a bonafide sniper in the form of Ilya Kovalchuk. It took Kovy a little while to become accustomed to the Devils style of play, but having him, Travis Zajac and the always dangerous Zach Parise on the same power play is very scary. The Flyers have been extremely inconsistent this season. Picked in the preseason by The Hockey News to win the Stanley Cup, Philly had to get a win in the last game of the season just to qualify for the playoffs. They were forced to dress seven different goalies this year because of injury, but otherwise, the Flyers are relatively healthy now. Philadelphia's leading scorer was the captain Mike Richards with 62 points and "just-off-of-injury" Jeff Carter wasn't far behind with 61, but it tails off after them. The Flyers no longer have the six guys with 25+ goals like they had last season. Scott Hartnell was in the penalty box more than he was on the ice this year and the losses of Mike Knuble and Joffrey Lupul hurt the team more than they thought it would. Philadelphia's two veteran defensemen, Kimmo Timonen and 2007 Stanley Cup winner Chris Pronger, along with the reemergence of Matt Carle, do give the Flyers quite a menacing blue line though. Philadelphia handled the Devils easily in the regular season, but will their physical style (and goaltending) do the same in the playoffs?
Prediction: Philadelphia wins the series in 6
#3 Buffalo Sabres vs. #6 Boston Bruins
Season Series: 4-2 Boston
Boston played pretty well down the stretch, winning four out of their last five and beating Buffalo one of those times. Buffalo stumbled during the regular season's final month, going 2-4-0 and failing at the chance of grabbing the No. 2 overall seed. Buffalo is going to have the 2010 Olympic MVP Ryan Miller in net while Boston is starting rookie netminder Tuukka Rask in goal.
Well if the Bruins plan on winning this series, they're certainly not going to do it by outscoring the Sabres. Forget the fact that Buffalo has Ryan Miller in net, Boston was dead last in the NHL in goals scored and since Marc Savard went down with a head injury, goals have been even harder to come by. They do have Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci along with veteran Mark Recchi, but that hasn't been enough to improve the B's scoring troubles. It's tough to name any other Boston d-man after Zdeno Chara with all of the injuries they have had. Dennis Seidenberg, Mark Stuart and Andrew Ference are all out and it has left the Bruins scrambling to find some answers. Rookie Tyler Myers has been a great surprise for the Sabres defense this season. He had 48 points and he along with veterans like former Anaheim Duck Steve Montador, make Buffalo's D a formidable opponent. Like their blue line, the Sabres offense isn't spectacular, but it does pack some serious punch. They have Thomas Vanek who led the team in goals with 28 and Derek Roy who led the team in points with 69. They also have Jason Pominville and Tim Connolly who had 62 and 65 points respectively. The Sabres are a very well-rounded team with a superstar goalie, but can they prove that what Boston did to them in the regular season was a stroke of bad luck?
Prediction: Buffalo wins the series in 6
#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #5 Ottawa Senators
Season Series: Tied 2-2
The Senators ended the season on a fairly high note, going 7-2-1 but lost their last two games of the season to Tampa Bay in a shootout and Buffalo in regulation. The Penguins were about average at the end, going 5-4-1 in their last ten. Ottawa's goalie will be Brian Elliott, starting in the playoffs for the first time in his career, and Pittsburgh will have the seemingly unflappable Marc-André Fleury in net.
The Penguins are trying to go back to the Stanley Cup Finals for the third straight year in 2010 and the Senators are the first stop along the way. Sidney Crosby tied Tampa Bay's Steve Stamkos for most goals in the league this season with 51 and is a viable candidate for league MVP once again. He's supported by last year's Art Ross Trophy winner, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan "the other" Staal and newcomer Alexi Ponikarovsky. The Pens also have quiet contributors in two-time Stanley Cup Champion Ruslan Fedotenko and Max Talbot. Pittsburgh's biggest flaw has to be on defense. After Sergei Gonchar, the Penguin defense really struggles. They picked up Jordan Leopold at the trade deadline, but it has done little to improve their 2.87 goals against per game, which was good enough for 20th in the league. The Senators offense is a lot like the Sabres; they're certainly not the Capitals, but they're not the Oilers either. They have veterans Alexei Kovalev and team captain Daniel Alfredsson to put the puck in the net along with Jason Spezza and Mike Fisher. The Sens have arguably the most intimidating defense in the league as well. They have Chris Neil (245 hits), Andy Sutton (197 hits) and Anton Volchenkov (153 hits and 172 blocked shots). The Senators are looking to play a very physical game against the Penguins, but will it be enough to overcome Pittsburgh's heavy supply of offensive talent?
Prediction: Pittsburgh wins the series in 5