Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Eastern Conference First Round Predictions

You need 16 wins now, but this is still the coolest tradition ever.
#1 Washington Capitals vs. #8 New York Rangers
Season series: 3-1 New York

New York Preview (Last ten: 6-3-1)
There was no shootout this year, and the Rangers are thankful for it. It took some huge wins against the Flyers and Bruins for it to happen, but the Rangers are back in the playoffs. Getting to the postseason didn't come without a cost, though. The Rags will be without their second-leading goal scorer (23G) and second-leading scorer overall (48 pts.), Ryan Callahan, who is out with a broken hand. But even without Callahan, the Rangers are still one of the league's best shot-blocking teams and can forecheck with the best of them. They have a solid defense led by youngsters Marc Staal and Dan Girardi and veteran Brian McCabe, but if the Rangers want to have any chance of winning this series, netminder Henrik Lundqvist is going to have to be nearly unbeatable. He posted 11 shutouts in the regular season and is probably going to need to post a few more for the Rangers to advance.

Washington Preview (Last ten: 7-2-1)
 The Capitals are a much different team than the one that got bounced in the first round by the Canadiens last year, even though they have pretty much the same players. Coach Bruce Boudreau changed the style of the team from a regular season-style of run-and-gun offense to a more playoff-style defensive kind of play. They have the usual suspects of Alex Ovechkin, Brooks Laich, Alex Semin, Mike Knuble and Nick Backstrom.
They play a more defensive style, but I still believe the Washington defense is one of the most overrated ones in the league. Mike Green is a defenseman who doesn't play very good defense and veterans Dennis Wideman and Tom Poti are battling injuries. They do have a good young D-pair in John Carlson and Karl Alzner that is probably their best duo. The X-Factor, though, will be net play for the Capitals. Expect to see both Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov in this series, and if either goes cold, it could be a quick out for Washington.

Everyone knows what the Caps went through in during that eight game stretch in the beginning of December. Anyone who watches the Caps or Rags (or watched 24/7) regularly knows Washington lost, 7-0, to the Rangers over that streak. But those who don't watch either team on a regular basis may not know that the Rangers demolished the Caps 6-0 in late February. But it took the Carolina Hurricanes to lay a emu-sized egg in their final regular season game for the Rangers to even make the playoffs for the first time since 2009. And in that '09 season, the Rangers lost to the Capitals in in the first round in seven games. Will it be the same outcome two years later?
Prediction: Washington wins the series in 6

#2 Philadelphia Flyers vs. #7 Buffalo Sabres
Season series: Tied 2-2

Philadelphia Preview (Last ten: 3-4-3)
They haven't played well at all lately, plain and simple. They've looked flat, bored and downright uninterested. But there is something the Flyers have that other teams don't -- experience. And a ton of it. The Flyers know what it takes to get to the Cup Final, and the majority of the season they were simply waiting for this very time of year. Can they flip the switch, though? Their depth says it's a good possibility. With three legitimate scoring lines led by Danny Briere, Claude Giroux, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, the Flyers can score at any given moment. But not only do the Flyers have offensive depth, they're deep on the blue line as well. If Chris Pronger returns (which many guess he will by Game 2 at the latest) he'll join a defense that includes arguably the most underrated D-man in the league, Kimmo Timonen, master of the overtime, Andrej Meszaros, Braydon Coburn and Matt Carle. The question, as it has been since Ron Hextall left, lies between the pipes. Can Sergei Bobrovsky handle the playoff pressure? We shall see.

Buffalo Preview (Last ten: 8-1-1)
Ryan Miller. That's it. Miller is this series for the Sabres. There's not much to Buffalo besides that guy. They have some quick scorers in Nathan Gerbe and Tyler Ennis and 73-point guy Thomas Vanek. They have last season's Calder Trophy winner Tyler Myers on defense to go along with vets Steve Montador and Andrej Sekera. Injuries are the big problem for this team, though. They won't have Jordan Leopold or Derek Roy for most, if not all of the series and could be without Jochen Hecht, Andrej Sekera and Mike Grier. But once again it's Ryan Miller. If he can be the Vezina Trophy winner he was last year, and the Sabres can continue their hot streak, it could spell a first round exit for the Flyers.

There's little doubt that if the Flyers play up to their potential they're the best team in the Eastern Conference. And that's what this series depends on, will the Flyers play up to their potential? I say yes.
Prediction: Philadelphia wins the series in 6

#3 Boston Bruins vs. #6 Montreal Canadiens
Season series: 4-2 Montreal

Montreal Preview (Last ten: 5-4-1)
Last season it was Jaroslav Halak who stole the show for the Canadiens. Who will it be this year? No playoff team has scored fewer goals at even strength than the Canadiens, and if the Habs want to advance they're going to need to put the puck in the net eventually. Tomas Plekanec leads the way with 22 goals and 57 points, but the next highest scorer is 10 points behind (Mike Cammalleri). The Canadiens did, though, finish in the top-10 in the league on both the power play and penalty kill. How? I have no idea.
The Habs have gone most of the season without their two best D-men in Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges, but P.K. Subban and 51-point man James Wisniewski have held down the fort. Carey Price has also shown he has the intestinal fortitude to handle the regular season strains, but can he handle the postseason?

Boston Preview (Last ten: 6-3-1)
I think, aside from if the Flyers play up to their potential, the Bruins are the best team in the East. They're tough, physical, good on the forecheck and carry the league's best goalie in Tim Thomas. Similar to the Sabres, if Thomas continues to play as well as he has played, there's no reason to believe the B's won't win this series. But there's always a little more than that.
For an offense that wasn't tremendous last year, Boston sports a fairly deep team up front. They have Milan Lucic who had a career year, topping the 30-goal plateau for the first time, and have strong centermen with Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. Their defense ain't too shabby either with the monster of a man, Zdeno Chara, and deadline acquisition Tomas Kaberle.

An Original Six matchup for the ages, this one is. The two teams (and fan bases, especially) don't like each other. Did the Bruins mature after what happened to them against the Flyers last year? Will the Chara hit on Max Pacioretty come into play in this series? I don't know, but if it does, look out. This could be a good one.
Prediction: Boston wins the series in 5

#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #5 Tampa Bay Lightning
Season series: Tied 2-2

Tampa Bay Preview (Last ten: 7-3-0)
After being minus for the majority of the season, the Lightning managed to be +7 in goal differential for the year. What does that say? I'm really not sure except for the fact that when the Lightning lose, they give up a lot of goals. Coach Guy Boucher has a style that sometimes works really well, and then again, sometimes doesn't. Their offense of Steven Stamkos, Marty St. Louis, Vinny Lecavalier, Teddy Purcell and Simon Gagne can put the puck in the net with the best of them. But their defense of Victor Hedman, Brett Clark and Pavel Kubina sometimes have trouble keeping the puck out. Rollie the Goalie (Dwayne Roloson) has been surprisingly good in net for the Bolts, and they need him to keep it up in order to win.

Pittsburgh Preview (Last ten: 8-2-0)
No Crosby, no Malkin? No problem. How have they done it? Without their top-2 scorers (and Jordan Staal for some time) for the majority of the season, I don't know how the Pens have remained in the upper echelons the Eastern Conference. If coach Dan Bylsma doesn't win the Jack Adams Award for coach of the year, the award is meaningless. How he has managed to change the entire team's playing style to work without Malkin and Crosby is truly amazing. They're not offensively deep by any means, though. In fact, they're pretty terrible at netting pucks, but James Neal, Staal, Alex Kovalev and Tyler Kennedy have done enough to grind out wins and get points for the Penguins. The main reason the Pens have remained so successful is their back end with Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik, Zybnek Michalek and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury was pretty bad in the beginning of the season, but he's back to 2008-09 form now, which is scary for any team he faces in the playoffs.

I honestly can't wait for this series -- a potent offense in Tampa Bay and a solid defense in Pittsburgh. Will the Pens score enough goals to advance? I think this is going to be a long series, but if the Penguins can't find the back of the net early, it could be quick out for the Pens.
Prediction: Pittsburgh wins the series in 7

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Western Conference First Round Predictions

Got to bring back Hayden Panettiere
#1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #8 Chicago Blackhawks
Season series: Tied 2-2

Chicago Preview (Last ten: 5-4-1)
The Blackhawks are coming off a disappointing loss at home against the Red Wings where a win would have clinched a playoff spot. Obviously the Hawks aren't the same team that won the Cup last season. They're sans Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Brent Sopel, Nick Boyton, Kris Versteeg and Antti Niemi to name a few. The positive, though, is they still have now Stanley Cup winners Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa as well as Duncan Keith and Brian Campbell. The Hawks sit at No. 4 in the league on the man advantage, but are in the bottom third on the penalty kill. Goaltender Corey Crawford is also playing in his first playoff series. Will the pressure get to him?

Vancouver Preview (Last ten: 7-3-0)
The Canucks are the run-away best team in the NHL. They have talent all over the ice. Everyone knows the Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel, but don't forget 41-goal scorer Ryan Kesler. Vancouver led the league in goals with 262, there's no doubt they can put the puck in the net. The Canucks also sport a tough, experienced defensive core with Sami Salo, Keith Ballard, Alex Edler, Dan Hamhuis, Kevin Bieska and Christian Ehrhoff. Surprisingly though, the wild card here may be their ever-solid goaltender, Roberto Luongo. Luongo had a 3.22 GAA in last season's playoffs and was anything but sharp.

The Hawks have knocked the Canucks out of the playoffs each of the past two seasons, but if Luongo can be the regular season Luongo, the Canucks should see the second round for the third straight season.
Prediction: Vancouver wins the series in 6
#2 San Jose Sharks vs. #7 Los Angeles Kings
Season series: Tied 3-3

Los Angeles Preview (Last ten: 6-4-0)
The Kings, had Justin Williams not gone down, may have been many folks' sleeper pick to come out of the Western Conference. But even without the former-Flyer, the Kings still have Anze Kopitar, captain Dustin Brown and deadline acquisition Dustin Penner. Veterans Michael Handzus and Ryan Smith will also provide some leadership on the front line. A solid defensive corps led by youngsters Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson (the Kings were the No. 4 PK unit in the league) with Jonathan Quick to man the pipes should prove to be a tough matchup for the Sharks.

San Jose Preview (Last ten: 7-2-1)
And then there's the Sharks. San Jose has finished first in the Pacific Division each of the last four years and first in the Western Conference in two of the last three. But aside from an appearance in the Western Conference Finals last season where they got swept by the eventual Stanley Cup winners, the Sharks haven't made much noise in the postseason. Everybody knows they have Joe Thorton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau, but they also have Calder Trophy candidate Logan Coture on offense who managed 32 goals on the season. Aside from veteran Dan Boyle, the Sharks don't have too many names on the blue line. After a hot start from Antero Niittymaki, last season's Cup-winning goaltender Antti Niemi ended up starting 34 consecutive games down the stretch for the Sharks and reached 30 wins for the first time in his career.

I want to pick the Kings here with all the talent they have out there on the West Coast Flyers, but being without Justin Williams, the Kings will have to wait one more year to make a Cup run.
Prediction: San Jose wins the series in 7

#3 Detroit Red Wings vs. #6 Phoenix Coyotes
Season series: Tied 2-2

Detroit Preview (Last ten: 4-4-2)
Well, here they are again. The Red Wings are back to where they've been basically as long as my hockey memory can go back. And it seems like every one of those years they've had Nick Lindstrom on the blue line, but they also have cup-winner Brian Rafalski, too. And who could forget Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen up front. And oh yeah, they have sophomore Jimmy Howard and his 37 wins in net. The Wings, as they have for a long time, boast one of the most talented teams in the Western Conference. Somewhat of a surprise though is the Wings' PK was near the middle of the pack at No. 17 in the league.

Phoenix Preview (Last ten: 5-3-2)
Can someone tell me who, besides Ilya Bryzgalov, is on the Coyotes? Please? Well they have captain Shane Doan who leads the team in scoring with only 20 goals (Detroit has 11 guys alone with double digit goals) and Norris Trophy candidate Keith Yandle on D. But to be honest, that's pretty much it as far as talent goes. The Coyotes seems to simply play well as a team, and that's why they find themselves in the playoffs.

The Wings ended the Coyotes' season last year in an exciting seven-game series. Can the 'Yotes return the favor this season? I doubt it.
Prediction: Detroit wins the series in 5

#4 Anaheim Ducks vs. #5 Nashville Predators
Season Series: 3-1 Nashville

Anaheim Preview (Last ten: 7-3-0)
After failing to qualify for the Playoffs last season, the Ducks are back and this time with MVP candidate Corey Perry. He's the league leader in goals with 50 and finished in the top-5 in scoring overall. Even after Perry, the Ducks still have big men Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan as well as the ageless wonder Teemu Selanne who had 31 goals and 80 points this season. The Anaheim defense doesn't have the same caliber of names the offense has (Lubomir Visnovsky and Toni Lydman lead the way), and they don't exactly know who their goaltender is going to be either (Jonas Hiller and Ray Emery are battling injuries, so Dan Ellis may be the Game 1 starter). The Ducks are going to look to slug their way to the second round, but against a Nashville team, that may be pretty tough.

Nashville Preview (Last ten: 7-2-1)
What can you really say about the Predators? They're a solid hockey team. They won't blow you away on the scoreboard, but they have six guys with at least 16 goals. Deadline acquisition Carrie Underwood...err...Mike Fisher is fitting in fairly well with an offense that already has Pat Hornqvist, Martin Erat, David Legwand and Sergei Kostitsyn. Nashville's defense is where they make their money, though. With one of the best defensemen in the league in Shea Weber along with Ryan Suter and Shane O'Brien, the Preds should be set on the back end. It also doesn't hurt that they have Veznia Trophy candidate, the 6-foot-5 monster, Pekka Rinne between the pipes. Rinne had 33 wins and a 2.12 GAA to go with the league's second best save percentage at .930.

I hate this matchup, but I love it at the same time. I think if either team played a different team in the first round, I'd pick them both to advance, but alas I can only choose one. It's a toss up, and I hope it's a classic.
Prediction: Anaheim wins the series in 7

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Wiz Wit Jason, Joe & Porter -- January 16, 2011

Click on the title link above to listen to the January 16th broadcast of Wiz Wit Jason, Joe & Porter.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

To All the Boosh Haters...

2.33 GAA, .917 SV%, 7-1-1 in last nine starts.

2.57 GAA, .915 SV%, 4-3-2 in last nine starts.

Without looking them up, whose stats are Brian Boucher's and whose are Sergei Bobrovsky's?

The first set of stats belong to the much maligned Boucher and the second to the often heralded Bobrovsky. But even after seeing the stats and watching him play, many still doubt the fact that Boosh can be a legitimate starting goaltender for the Flyers.

Boosh has better GAA (goals against average) than all of the following netminders: Jimmy Howard (DET), Carey Price (MTL), Jonas Hiller (ANA), Roberto Luongo (VAN), Cam Ward (CAR), Heinrik Lundqvist (NYR), Miikka Kiprusoff (CGY), Kari Lehtonen (DAL), Jaroslav Halak (STL), Thomas Vokoun (FLA), Corey Crawford (CHI), Anders Lindback (NSH), Antero Niittymaki (SJS), Michal Neuvirth (WAS), Niklas Backstrom (MIN), Ilya Bryzgalov (PHX), Dwyane Roloson (NYI), J.S. Giguere (TOR), Pascal Leclaire (OTT) and Johan Hedberg (NJD).

It is well known that coach Peter Laviolette plays the hot players and particularly the hot goalie. He did it last year when the recently waived Michael Leighton got on a streak and again last season when Boucher got hot. In the Carolina Hurricanes' 2005 Stanley Cup Championship season, Martin Gerber started 60 games for Laviolette's team. But who won the Con Smythe trophy that year? A man who played only 28 games for the Canes and began the season in the AHL--Cam Ward.

Look back to last season's Stanley Cup Champions, the Chicago Blackhawks. Their starting goaltender is no longer with the team and is now the backup to Antero Niittymaki in San Jose, Antti Niemi. Niemi got hot last year and rode the streak all the way to a Cup.

It doesn't matter who your goaltender is or what he has done before, as long as he is playing well now and during the playoffs, that's all that matters. Rarely in any other sport does the phrase "What have you done for me lately?" ring as true as it does with NHL goalies.

Many forget that Bobrovsky has only played a maximum of 35 games in one season in his hockey career. He's already at 26 games this season and fatigue may be setting in. So, for now, Brian Boucher is the Flyers' starting goaltender and if he continues to play well, and Laviolette is still the coach, plan on seeing Boosh between the pipes until further notice.

The Daily Collegian Online

The Daily Collegian Online
Click the image to visit the site