Category Archives: Roy

Grindhouse: Western Conference Second Round Preview

As we move into the second round of this year’s playoffs, we’re bound to hear one verb a lot in the Western Conference: grind. You commentators better whip out your thesauruses now, because this Western Semi-Final features some of the most defensively oppressive teams in the league.

I sincerely hope everyone enjoyed the Penguins and Flyers imitation of lacrosse games in round one, because you might not see another goal for awhile, if you’re watching the west.

Let’s consider some statistics on each of our final four teams:

#2 St. Louis:

  • First during the NHL’s regular season in Goals Allowed per Game at only 1.89.

  • 21st in the league in Goals Scored per Game with just 2.51

vs.

#8 Los Angeles:

  • Second in the NHL in Goals Against with 2.07 allowed per game over the regular season.

  • 2.29 Goals Scored per Game. Good enough for second-worst in the NHL. That’s right. Second-worst regular season offense to the second round of the playoffs.

Forget the seeding in this match-up. It’s not second seed versus eighth seed. This is a battle between the number one and two defences (and two of the worst offences) in the NHL. The only thing that can be definitively said about this series is that it will be tight.

Does Quick have some more upset-magic left?

Neither team possesses much of an edge in goaltending. The Blues can play either Brian Elliott or Jaroslav Halak, and both will be stellar. The King’s, meanwhile, have Jonathan Quick, a Vezina candidate and criminal mastermind who is responsible for stealing their first round series against the Canucks.

As for offense, LA has some star power in Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Mike Richards, and Dustin Brown, but St. Louis has the only two players in this series who are in the top ten in playoff scoring, with Andy McDonald and Patrik Berglund, who have eight and seven points, respectively.

So what it really comes down to, both offensively and defensively, is whichever of these two hard-working teams… works hardest.

My prediction: St. Louis takes the series in 6 games, and wins at least one game by a score of 0.5-0 when the referees decide, in the 8th overtime period, that a puck stopped on the goal line should count as half a goal, and that they’d like to get home in time to see their children grow up.

#3 Phoenix:

  • Fifth in Goals Allowed during the regular season with 2.37 allowed per game.

  • 18th in offense with 2.56 Goals per Game.

vs.

#4 Nashville:

  • Tenth in Goals Against with a whopping 2.50 allowed per game.

  • An impressive eighth in goal scoring, at 2.83 Goals per Game. The clear offensive juggernaut of the Western Conference Semi-Finals.

Once again, trying to pick a favourite in this series based on goaltending is pointless. Pekka Rinne is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, and the Chicago Blackhawks are still arguing that the league forgot to put a net in Phoenix’s end of the rink after Mike Smith finished their first round series with a 1.81 GAA and a .953 Save %.

Offensively, picking a winner is easier. But I have a feeling that if I was to ask by show of hands who knew that Ray Whitney was the highest scoring player on both teams during the regular season I’d get a crowd of full pockets. The 39 year-old finished tied for 9th in the regular season with 77 points, but had only a goal and two assists in the first round.

Nashville famously beefed up their tenth-best offense by convincing Alexander Radulov to emigrate from the KHL shortly after the trade deadline. Radulov had five points in five games against Detroit in the first round, but his elite talents suggest he is capable of much more. The Predators will likely continue to score by committee, as they did all season long, but having a game-breaker like Radulov in the line-up gives them an added edge over the Coyotes.

Unless the game goes to overtime, and then we can assume Mikkel Boedker will find a way to get the puck in the net.

With Raffi Torres serving out a life sentence in Rikers for his hit on Marian Hossa, Nashville’s top defensemen can breathe easy. No Torres means that the Predators have a clear advantage in size and physicality from the likes of Shea Weber, Paul Gaustad, Jordin Tootoo, and, when healthy, Hal Gill.

My prediction: Nashville in 7 games.

If one thing is clear about the second round, its that the excitement in the Western Conference is not likely to come in the form of crazy dangles, and highlight reel goals. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t expect excitement. It’s going to be a battle. And I wouldn’t be surprised if there aren’t a few casualties before its all over.

Written by Roy Heron.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Oh How The Mighty Have Fallen: Elimination Night in the NHL.

Here we go. A week into the playoffs and we’ve already got our first two teams headed for the gallows. And for those of you emerging from a week-long nap, shouting “Florida Panthers!” and “Washington Capitals!” Boy, are you in for a nasty surprise.

Especially if you happen to live on Canada’s West Coast.

Yup. The Vancouver Canucks and Pittsburgh Penguins are both facing elimination tonight. And before we try and figure out which club has the better chance at a stay of execution, let’s look at what’s gone wrong so far for these two former powerhouses:

Pittsburgh

In a word? Defense.

My lack of cable television (AKA money) coupled with being too lazy to go to a local establishment to watch these games means that I’ve been watching this series in less than superb quality on various websites that offer free live streaming of sporting events (don’t tell anyone). Usually, I have to squint at the grainy picture to guess at where the puck is if its being moved around at high speeds. Lucky for me though, in any Pittsburgh-Philadelphia game, I can be sure that the puck is one of two places:

a) the back of the net,

or

b) the referees pocket while both teams use the ice for a bar fight.

Said "Bar Fight"

It’s been a wild one alright. A total of 32 goals scored in just three games. Those of you who loaded up on Penguins in your hockey pool will notice that you are doing alright despite the fact that the Pens haven’t won a game yet… Unless of course you have Marc-André Fleury.

Pittsburgh’s netminder has been a disaster so far, and if the Penguins want to limit the Flyers to less than 8 goals for once, Fleury needs to be Fleury again, in Game 4.

Vancouver

Offense.

Well, maybe that’s a little unfair. The Canucks have run into Jonathan Quick. In the last two games of the series, Vancouver has outshot LA 48-26, and 41-20, and managed just two goals combined in those games. Part of that is Quick, who has been spectacular, another has been the absence of Daniel Sedin—which ranks at about a 7.5 on the valid excuse meter. But, as is usually the case when a team drastically outshoots their opponent and fails to outscore them, a big problem for the Canucks has been generating second and third scoring opportunities. Aside from a few pointless snow showers courtesy of Ryan Kesler, Vancouver has failed to make life difficult for Quick. That has to be high on their list of priorities for Game 4.

So, which team has the better chance of surviving tonight, and forcing a Game 5?

The answer is: Vancouver.

Other possible captions include: "My head hurts this much", and "and I was like, Keith, don't shoot"

Truthfully, I wouldn’t be surprised if neither team is eliminated tonight, but in order for the Penguins to beat Philadelphia, they have to commit to changing their style of play, which clearly isn’t working so far. Someone has to stand up in the dressing room and say, “Guys, this might sound crazy, but what if we try and play defense?”

I honestly don’t see that happening. The Penguins seem to have one thing in mind at all times. Scoring. So far in this series, the puck has barely left the linesman’s hand for the opening face-off before the Penguins have put it in the Flyers net.

But the Flyers are too good offensively to be beat in a track meet. So if the Penguins are to win tonight, they will need Fleury at his best, and a commitment to defense.

On the other end, one of the things Vancouver needs to win tonight, it appears they will get. And that’s Daniel Sedin back in the line-up. So Henrik can finally stop running around like a chicken with its twin brother cut off, and the Canucks can get back to scoring.

Assuming that Cory Schneider doesn’t fall asleep from a lack of action in his own end, Vancouver should get solid goaltending, so a few good bounces past Jonathan Quick could be enough to keep them alive.

Did anyone else just hear that? Was that a collective sigh from the Vancouver Police Department?

Written by Roy Herron.

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This Is Your Captain Speaking…

In hockey, team captains are designated with the letter ‘C’ sewn into their jersey on the left side, right over the heart.

But for certain teams competing in this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, spectators don’t need a letter to tell who their captain is.

Take the Los Angeles Kings’ captain Dustin Brown for instance. Brown finished the regular season 76th in the league with 56 points. At the trade deadline, with the Kings struggling to produce offence, Brown’s name appeared in multiple trade rumours. According to hockey analysts and insiders, Brown was the kind of guy LA might be willing to part with in order to obtain more scoring to help them in the playoffs.

Now that the playoffs are underway, we’re seeing what kind of guy they would have given up.

Dustin Brown is not LA’s most talented player. Not if we’re talking about pure offensive talent. But typically, you don’t get to be captain of an NHL franchise just by being the best player on the team. Sure, Sidney Crosby is the best player on the Pittsburgh Penguins, but Ryan Callahan is not the best player on the New York Rangers. Not even close.

Every good captain—whether or not they’re gifted with the ability to rally their troops in the dressing room before the puck drops—raises his level come playoff time, and provides his team with an example to follow.

That’s what we’ve seen from Dustin Brown so far.

It’s not just that Brown leveled Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin Sunday night, and then scored the game-winning goal to put LA up three games to none in the series. (Despite my assertion that Brown is not his team’s best offensive player, he leads the Kings with five points in the first three games of the playoffs).

But it’s the other ways he leads the Kings. It’s what he said and did after hitting Henrik that make him a real captain. He accepted his fate—fate being a euphemism for getting tackled by Kevin Bieksa. Then, on the next shift, he received a clean hip-check from Bieksa, and what did he do? He got up and continued to play hockey. No slash at Bieksa’s knees, no punch aimed at the back of his head. Not even a single taunt aimed at his aggressor.

Surely Alex Burrows watched wide-eyed from the Vancouver bench, unable to comprehend a body check that didn’t result in a solid 10 seconds of face-washing.

And after the game was over, and Brown was asked about the response he received for slamming Sedin, he showed no lack of respect for his opponent, saying “They reacted like any team would when one of their better players gets hit like that. That’s part of playoff hockey”.

As simple, and perhaps cliché, as his words may seem, that’s the kind of player you want representing your hockey team. The kind of guy you don’t trade away because he strives with every play, and every action, to embody the spirit of a winning hockey team.

We need only look at the other eighth-seeded team in this year’s playoffs to find another example worth following:

In game 2 of the Senators-Rangers series, rookie Carl Hagelin delivered an armoured elbow to the head of Senators’ captain Daniel Alfredsson, knocking him from the game.

Alfredsson spoke to reporters the next day, and after confirming that he had suffered a concussion on the hit, and expressing doubt on whether he’d be available to play in game 3, he addressed the hit itself: “Carl is not that kind of player,” Alfredsson said. “In the intensity of a playoff game, things happen. It’s one thing the league is preaching, no blows to the head… he got his elbow up… things happen, it’s playoff hockey.”

Just like that, with that familiar refrain, Alfredsson sent a clear message to the rest of the Senators: there will be no Matt Carkner-on-Brian Boyle type retribution—partly because both Carkner and Hagelin would be suspended for game 3—but also because that’s not how the Senators are going to win this series, and Alfie knows it. If anyone knows the Ottawa Senators, it’s Daniel Alfredsson.

That’s why he’s still here. Those of us with good memories may remember that Ottawa was supposed to be rebuilding this season. But even before their successful season, when Sens fans were bracing themselves for a long and painful rebuilding process, there was never much—if any—talk of trading Alfredsson. Why not? Rebuilding your franchise is supposed to start with trading away your best players for draft picks, isn’t it?

Because no matter where you are in the standings, you don’t part with natural leaders, and you certainly don’t tarnish a legacy.

Leaf fans will recall the Sundin debacle. There’s no need to get into it again. Those wounds are still fresh.

The Senators know what they have in Alfredsson. They’ve had it for over ten years. And now that the conversation about having seen Alfie’s last playoff game can begin—even if he returns for another season, there is no guarantee that this Senators team can surprise everyone by making it back to the post-season next year—we can be sure that he’ll go out as the captain of the Ottawa Senators.

Here’s hoping he’s got a few more games left in him.

Written by Roy Herron.

A Marathon of Guts

With the Stanley Cup Playoffs now under way, we’ll likely be hearing a lot about courage. Gritty performances. Guts. Gumption.

It’s playing through the pain, persevering, and (usually) coming out on the winning side that turns ordinary athletes into heroes.

Canada has no shortage of sports heroes, no shortage of memorable gutsy performances. Players who overcame obstacles to win when it mattered most. One-eyed Steve Nash putting up 20 points and helping the Phoenix Suns down the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Semi-Final of the NBA playoffs. Paul Kariya coming back to life after getting Scott Stevens-ed, and then scoring a game seven forcing goal on the kind of slapshot we’ve all tried in a shinny game at one point and never come close to scoring on

But today is the anniversary of a completely different class of gutsy performance. Today we’re thirty-two years removed from the beginning of Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope. The day dictionary-writers could finally complete their definition of courage.

The great thing about courage in sports, is that it increases the level of excitement around the game, and inspires us regular folk to be courageous. But interview any moderately humble athlete after a significant individual performance, and he or she will talk about the win. Getting the ‘W’. Either the performance plays second-fiddle to the team achieving victory, or it’s made unimportant by a failure to do so.

But as humble as those athletes may or may not be, they play for the team. They play to win. And the win means glory.

Rarely in sports are we privileged enough to have an athlete who plays for us.

So, as we all enjoy the commencement of another gruelling 16 team Battle Royal, and watch numerous players fight through injury to help their team capture the Stanley Cup—hockey’s greatest honour. Let’s remember Terry Fox—who played through the pain, laid his body on the line—not for glory, but for us.

Western Conference Playoff

They’re here. Finally. Games that matter. Games with so much anticipation built around them that the first drop of the puck will bring a cheer from the crowd, and every shift will see at least one player try and remove their opponent from the rink via body-check. So, with the pace of playoff hockey as a barometer for our Western Conference preview, let’s get right to it.

1. Vancouver (51-22-9)  vs. 8. Los Angeles (40-27-15)

This is a series that will provide a lot of future Bob McKenzie’s with their ‘shocking upset’ pick of the 2012 playoffs. There are a couple of legitimate reasons for this:

The first is Jonathon Quick. You’ll see Quick’s name if you so much as glance at the top five of any statistical category for netminders. He finished the season with 35 wins, a 1.95 GAA, .929 Save %, and league-leading 10 shutouts. He should be a Vezina candidate when it comes time to hand out awards, and he’s the kind of goaltender capable of stealing a first round series.

Daniel Sedin. Or Henrik. It's too close to call.

The other big one is Daniel Sedin. At this point, Daniel’s status for Game One is still up in the air. To be fair, if Vigneault knew whether or not Daniel was going to play, he’d be under no obligation to make that knowledge available to guys like me, or, slightly more important guys like Darryl Sutter, who might find it helpful to know what the Canucks first line and powerplay is going to look like. But since Daniel’s injury is a concussion, and trying to predict the success of a return from concussion is, to quote Sidney Crosby: “pretty hard”, it’s safe to assume that his health will be a major factor in the series. There’s no real need to explain why. The only advantage I can see to having just one Sedin in the line-up is that Jim Hughson won’t need to be on a first-name basis with Henrik all night.
Though he probably still will be.

But bigger than any legitimate reasons for predicting an upset in this match-up is the fact that most people just don’t like the Canucks. Actually, that’s not strong enough. The Canucks are widely regarded as the most hated team in the NHL. I, for one, am not going to dispute this. Anyone who wishes to should make sure to watch a few of Ryan Kesler, Kevin Bieksa, Alexandre Burrows, or even Roberto Luongo’s interviews first. Here’s just one example for you: In an interview earlier this week with TSN, Burrows spoke about the importance of getting Daniel Sedin back in the line-up, saying, “He’s a world-class player, he’s a top player in the league, won the Hart Trophy last year…”  Nice try Alex, but I’m pretty sure you’re talking about Corey Perry.

So most people just plain don’t want to see the Canucks win. But as fun as it is for us Eastern Canadian hockey fans to imagine Vancouver going home in the first round (hopefully Burrows would cry), they’re still the best team in the NHL for the second straight year, and anyone who has watched them play can’t help but appreciate why. So, you might hear Canuck-haters around you in the bar tonight, talking about how the Kings are poised for an upset win, and the Canucks are poised to fall flat on their face, and one of those people might be me.

But don’t count on it.
Canucks in 6.

  1. 2.                  St. Louis (49-22-11)  vs.  7. San Jose (43-29-10)

I’ll admit it. The past few years I’ve been guilty of picking the Sharks to win the Stanley Cup based solely on the premise that you can only fail so many times. But, as a Leafs fan, I’m slowly learning just how faulty that premise is. So, I’m not going to make the same mistake again. I promise.

This series will be an interesting one no matter what the final outcome is. After years of being the favourite in just about every playoff series, San Jose finds itself as the underdog to the Almighty… St. Louis Blues? For real?

The Blues season is nothing to scoff at though. They finished tied with the New York Rangers, only two points behind the Vancouver Canucks for the President’s Trophy. Similar to the Los Angeles Kings, the Blues made a mid-season coaching change, bringing in the distinguished Ken Hitchcock, and like the Kings, the Blues success is all about defence. Two former Canadian team cast-offs in Brian Elliott, and Jaroslav Halak have combined to make St. Louis the NHL’s stingiest team this season, allowing only 165 goals against. Elliott returned to Ottawa in February to play in the All-Star game, and finished the season leading all NHL goaltenders with a 1.56 GAA, and a .940 save percentage.

But the Blues limped into the post-season, going 4-3-3 in their final ten games. And with the series opening on Thursday, a decision has yet to be made on who will start in goal.

On the other side, the Sharks battled hard to get into the playoffs, and went 7-3-0 in their final ten games. Not much needs to be said about their wealth of playoff experience, but there have to be some positives to take from consistently losing in the Conference Finals.

Additionally, San Jose wins the Star Power ‘looks good on paper’ match-up. Martin Havlat is finally healthy, Brent Burns joins Dan Boyle on the back end, and Logan Couture has proven himself worthy of being mentioned ahead of Thornton, Marleau, and Pavelski.

And if Ryan Clowe can continue to provide gritty playoff-style hockey alongside an ability to break up plays from the bench, the Sharks should be successful.

Damnit, I said I wouldn’t do this.
Sharks in 7.

 

  1. 3.                  Phoenix (42-27-13)  vs.  6. Chicago (45-26-11)

Toews is the swing-man in this series. No one is going to argue that.

Sure, Phoenix is a pretty good team, and last year’s throwaway from Tampa Bay, Mike Smith, is proof that Dave Tippet can turn any goaltender into a regular-season Vezina candidate (See: Ilya Bryzgalov), but let’s not kid ourselves, Captain Serious is the closest thing this generation of hockey fans has to Steve Yzerman. A healthy Jonathon Toews to go alongside Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp, and Viktor Stalberg (just kidding…or am I?) makes the Blackhawks a cup contender once again. No Toews, and the twenty-five people inside the Jobing.com Arena will be cheering very loudly at the announcement that hot dogs are now half-price in the lobby.

The Toews Factor

And then when they realize the Coyotes have won the series they’ll agree that that’s pretty cool too.

So I hate to do this to you fantasy players, but I don’t see any other way:

Toews in: Chicago in 5.

Toews out: Phoenix in 6.

 

  1. 4.                  Nashville (48-26-8)  vs.  5. Detroit (48-28-6)

Screw the suspense. Nashville is going to win this one. I know both teams have near identical regular-season records, but does anyone remember Shea Weber’s playoff beard from a year ago? That thing was awesome. Clearly even Weber’s face knows that the Predators belong deep in the post-season.

And if facial hair doesn’t do it for you , he’s got 19 goals, 30 assists and a plus 21 rating combined with the ability to physically dominate any of Detroit’s skill players.

Nashville’s defence doesn’t end with Weber either. If Detroit finds their way past him, they’ll be met first by Ryan Suter (7 goals, 39 assists, plus 15), then by arguably the best goalie in the league, Pekka Rinne.

And for those of you who remember Nashville as the boring team who couldn’t score from last year’s playoffs, take a gander at their league-best powerplay percentage this season: 21.6.

Adding former-Hab Andrei Kostitsyn and KHL superstar/guy who hit his own coach in the face with his stick (Alexander Radulov) certainly won’t hurt either. And throw in Paul Gaustad down the middle for even more size and defence

So, while Detroit is still the experienced, elite puck-possession team they have been for what feels like forever, Nashville gets the nod in physicality, defense, and yes, offense.

Oh, and don’t worry, Brett Lebda was picked up on waivers by Columbus earlier this season, so the only thing that could make this season worse for Leaf fans (Lebda getting his name etched into the Stanley Cup for a second time) is a non-possibility. So breathe easy, and feel free to cheer for the Preds.

Nashville in 6.

So, that wraps it up for the West. In my opinion, there really isn’t a dud series in the whole bunch. My advice is take a quick nap in the afternoon and stay up late for those 10:30 pm games.

 

Written by Roy Herron