Hockey: The Wars Out West
Where’s the Wild West going to go? Best guesses:
These are two teams who were massively affected by the new CBA, with
Offense: The league has done what the coaches and GMs have been hesitant to do: give the youth they have more ice time. It’s worked, though you have a “dead space” in player ages in their scoring, with scorers being 28 or younger or 35+. They have 7 forwards with 20 or more goals, and two of the best shut-down men in the league.
Goaltending: The supposed weak point on both teams, Roloson has the best numbers for
Anything Else: The biggest wild card is Yzerman. He is warming up at just the right time, and the man is made of iron come the playoffs. The wrong Red Wing got the Conn Smythe award in 2002 – without Yzerman,
Verdict: The Wings are a favorite to take the Cup this year, and this match up isn’t going to change that.
Offense: Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Modano led the Stars in scoring this year. It was a nice return to form after the horrible aberration that was last season. Arnott finally lived up to his rookie season promise, and secondary scoring filled out nicely. Guerin had an awful year, and will try to make up for it now.
Defense: Zubov had the second best year of his 13 year career, and Boucher doubled his previous best in goals to 16 this season. Most of the rest are shut-down men, and solid ones at that. With the Avalanche, Blake is once again going to get the first call in every situation, but he can be spelled offensively by the speedy and accurate Liles.
Goaltending: The “We Have Faith In Aebischer” line held until March, when he got shipped off for the injured Theodore. Budaj was… okay in relief until Theodore got healthy, but they don’t see him a anything more than a back up. Turco had his stats inflated with shaky months in October and February, but otherwise has been solid. He is having the worst season of his career, but that means a 2.55 goals against average and 41 wins. Advantage
Special Teams: The Avs went 18.8% on the power play and 84.6% PK, while the Stars rated a 17.7% power play and 83.7 penalty kill. What was a clear advantage to
Anything Else: Special teams could tell the tale here, and
Offense: The Flames’ leading scorer finished 51st in the league, and they only managed to get six forwards to 10 or more goals, and only three managed 20. They are fast and tough, but the finish just isn’t there. A reborn Selanne, skating without pain for the first time in years, leads a surprising Ducks offense with 40 goals, followed by McDonald’s 34 which is four more than his previous best season points total. Youth and speed make up the bulk of the team, but the anchors are still the veterans.
Defense: The other biggest off season signing was by the Ducks, getting Scott Niedermayer. Burke believes in building his teams around a stud defenseman, and Niedermayer is it. After him comes the trade for Fedorov, Beauchemin, and it looks more and more like Burke knows what he’s doing. O’Donnell is a rock solid shut down man. The Flames defensive corps is in the top three of the league, and their best is the amazing rookie Phaneuf, whose 20 goals are the third highest of any rookie defenseman in NHL history. A slew of current and former Olympians follow, including point man Hamrlik.
Goaltending: There is a reason why
Verdict: If anyone can get more than two goals against
In what may be the worst trade in the Bruins 80 year history, Joe Thornton came to
Offense: Three players are the Sharks’ offense: Cheechoo, Marleau, and Thornton, and Marleau’s only here because he plays the power play with Cheechoo and Thornton. Ekman has been blessed with being the left wing on the top line, but anyone could be. The Predators don’t have anyone to match those numbers, but the scoring they have is much better distributed throughout the line up with 5 20+ goal scorers. They also have two of the best face-off men in the league in Perreault and Sillinger, and they love to grind at teams. Even so, having the Richard and Ross trophy winners means
Goaltending: Vokoun is lost to the Predators for (at least) the playoffs due to a blood disorder, and new starter Mason has been good, but has never seen an NHL playoff game from the ice. Toskala is also a playoff virgin, but has far outplayed Nabokov during the season and should get the start. A draw.
Injuries: The Predators are hoping Legwand comes back in time for Friday, but their big loss is Vokoun. The Sharks are tickety-boo.
Anything Else: Frightening note of the year:
Verdict: Missing Vokoun will weigh heavily on the Preds. They allow six more shots per game than the Sharks, and the Thornton-Cheechoo combination can bury them.
Now let’s wind ‘em up and set ‘em loose!