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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.

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The King’s Justice: Bettman’s NHL Comes Down Hard On Raffi Torres


Raffi Torres Gets 25 Games For Hit On Marian Hossa.

Many who watched this week’s installment of the NHL playoffs felt that the sometimes overwhelming stream of minor, major and misconduct penalties handed down early in games were a message from the league saying, essentially, enough is enough. They were wrong. The message was received today; first by Raffi Torres, now the entire league.

Similar to the article I wrote the day after Hossa was sent to the hospital by Torres, this suspension was based both on a body of work, and a league-wide perception that the NHL has been relatively ineffectual in handling headshots until this point. I suppose we can call them ineffectual no longer.

Nevertheless, this does highlight the vast inconsistencies with which the NHL has operated this spring. When you compare Carkner’s suckering of Boyle, or Asham’s handiwork on Schenn, or Carl Hagelin’s headshot on Daniel Alfredsson (which could effectively end his career), are these offenses really, in Hagelin’s case, 22 games apart in severity? In other words, does the punishment fit the crime?

The answer? Yes and no. For the individual hit in question, of course no. Torres does not deserve to be banned for 25 games for that hit on its own. Think of it this way. If Phoenix were to make it to the Stanley Cup final, having gone to game seven in each series, he would be hoisting the cup in a suit. So, considering how stiff the punishment is, let’s be honest about what this is: on one hand it’s a league exasperated with a player’s refusal to learn from his previous mistakes and get up with the times; on the other hand, Torres has been used to serve the league’s wider ambition this week: to better police the game and stem the madness.

And oh, there has been madness. It seems as though the early theme of the playoffs has been bloodshed, and the fans’ apparent love for, or aversion to it. The TV ratings are off the charts, specifically in the Philadelphia/Pittsburgh series, which has been by far the most violent. 2.7 American viewers tuned into game three in that series, making it the most watched hockey game in America in a decade.

This puts the NHL in a precarious position, balancing on a fine line between the embrace of violence and the responsibility to maintain player safety. For the moment, with this exhaustive suspension on Torres, it appears the NHL has moved decidedly towards the latter, but who knows, it may not be long before rivalries are renewed and the blood begins to spill again. And remember, this is Raffi Torres getting 25 games. We’ve yet to see what happens in a similar situation involving a star player. The worst that’s been handed out was a one-gamer to Nicklas Backstrom for cross-checking  Rich Peverly in the face.

For some reason I doubt we’ll see even 5 games thrown at say Alex Ovechkin, who also has several suspensions, if he launches himself at someone’s head and causes a severe injury. That is the nature of Bettman’s justice: just, as long as the league can afford it.

Nevertheless, they may have gotten this one right. Now if they could only get the next one right they’d really be on a roll.

Written by Jesse Borg.

Update: here’s a link to Shanahan’s video on the matter

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