April 12, 2007

Same Year, Second Season Part II

To continue in the West:

Detroit vs. Calgary

In Goal: A toss-up. Teams that sign Hasek do so for one reason - to win the Cup. As brilliant as he is, he's also a pain in the ass (Ed Belfour, anyone?). Kiprusoff is another money goalie, coming up big when the game is on the line.
Up Front: Detroit had a reputation for soft play during the season, something that they addressed with Calder and Bertuzzi coming in trades. They are fantastically deep and the skill is all there, but one of their big names has a question mark: Datsyuk hasn't produced in the playoffs (3 goals in 42 games). The Flames, who have relied heavily on their goaltending in recent years, finally have some scoring outside Iginla and whoever he lines up with. But their bread and butter is still outworking teams with a heavy-pressure forecheck and attacking the puck carrier. It worked well enough for a final appearance two years ago and for 43 wins this year.
On the Blue Line: The Wings awesome skill continues throuh the defense, with multi-Norris winner Lidstrom and the ageless Schneider leading the way. The 45-year old Chelios is FINALLY slowing down, but they're more than capable of filling his minutes. The opposite holds true in Calgary, where the anchor is sophmore Phaneuf, who's going to be getting more than one Norris himself before his career's over. There are veterans here, too (Hamrlik and Warrener), but they're in a supporting role.
Special Teams: Surprisingly, neither team excelles on special teams, with the Red Wings at 21st on the power play and 7th in penalty killing, and the Flames at 10th and 18th. One thing to note is Calgary's 15 short handed goals, so they're always looking.
Other stuff: Zetterberg has has 10 game winning goals this season, tied for the league's best.

Detroit wins if: They don't try outrunning the Flames, and focus on set plays and moving the puck more than holding the puck and forcing the action.
Calgary wins if: Kiprusoff stands on his head (again) and they can keep control of the puck, forcing Detroit to chase them.

Prediction: Detroit

Anaheim vs. Minnesota

In Goal: The Ducks had a minor contreversy last season when Bryzgalov proved to be starter Giguere's equal during the season, replacing him in the playoffs and having a stellar run. Giguere reclaimed the starter's role this year, but has had family issues of late, and it's doubtful he'll be in any time soon. The Wild seem to have a habit of finding goaltenders. When top goaltender Fernandez went down to injury, Backstrom filled in and got even better numbers than Fernandez - arguably the best goalie in the league this year. Then there's third-string Josh Harding, with a .960 save percentage in seven games... What I'm saying is these boys are strong between the pipes.
Up Front: Selanne became the oldest player to post back-to-back 40-goal for Anaheim, and he drives this engine as far as the forwards go; but they've worked a lot of youth into the line up, and everyone knows their designated roles. There's not a lot of mixing and matching here, but then there hasn't needed to be, with secondary scoring coming from the solid youth movement. For the Wild, anyone who thinks this is a dull team needs to either give their head a shake or go watch basketball. This is a fast, dangerous team that loves to counterattack and uses the stretch pass as well as anyone in the league. That being said, the oft-injured Gaborik is head and shoulders above any of the other skaters for the Wild, and if he can be neutralized, your odd of beting them increase exponentially.
On the Blue Line: Ducks GM Brian Burke (could someone please nominate this American as the next NHL commisioner?) builds his teams from the blue line out, and he has two of the league's best in Pronger and Niedermeyer. Both are incredibly talented offensively (128 points between them) and defensively, can eat 30 minutes minutes in a game, and are on the ice in any situation. Minnesota, on the other hand, lets the forwards handle the offence, with their top scorer (Burns) having just 25 points for the season. It's a solid bunch who are used to shut down opponents rather than press an attack, including former Duck stud Carney.
Special Teams: It's said that special teams are more important in the playoffs; if that's the case, these teams are going to have quite the series. The Ducks ended the season with the 3rd best power play and 4th best kill; for the Wild, it was a 6th best power play and 2nd best penalty kill.
Other stuff: The Ducks are one of the few teams to carry a goon (Parros, 1 goal, 102 minutes in penalties, 32 games) this year, but so does Minnesota (Boogaard, 1 assist, 140 minutes in penalties, 48 games).

Anaheim wins if: They can keep up with the Wild. Good positional play will counter a lot of Minnesota's speed, but keep a heavy eye on Gaborik.
Minnesota wins if: They can entice the Ducks into a run-and-gun game. Minnesota is a team of master improvisers, and can turn an attack around quickly.

Prediction: Anaheim

Vancouver vs. Dallas

In Goal: It's a battle of twins, starting here. Luongo has never been in the Stanley Cup before, and is eager to see what the second season is like. This isn't to say he hasn't handled pressure: both he and Turco have represented Canada at world championships, but those are one-game tourneys, not seven game slugfests. His endurance will be tested. Turco has yet to emerge from Ed Belfour's Stanley Cup-winning shadow, and each year in the last two seasons he followed a solid regular season by going 1-4 in the playoffs with a goals against over 3.30, and that's not going to be good enough to win.
Up Front: The Canucks were mostly disappointing offensively this year, with few players meeting scoring expectations. The exceptions would be Daniel and Henrik Sedin, and no, you can't mention one without the other. They've been in the league long enough to not only expect physical play, but have learned how to play off hits and even to relish the opportunities. Every team in the league knows that you have to stop the Sedins, and they still hit career highs. Dallas has also had a rather dismal season for scoring, fighting injuries and cold streaks for most of their scorers for much of the year. With their health back (so they say - it is the playoffs, after all) this is a solid team, but their fast skaters aren't their finishers and vise-versa. They need to establish a physical presence before their game clicks.
On the Blue Line: The Canucks can boast of a strong and versitile defense corps who have no fear in joining the rush, contributing 13 game winning goals. After the first four, however, the skill level slides; but what team doesn't can't say that? Dallas has two absolute hammers on their side in Zubov and the ever-improving Boucher, and Sydor and Daley can chip in points, but for the most part the rest focus on clearing the puck out and keeping Turco safe.
Special Teams: The Canucks know what they do best, having the 18th best power play but the top penalty kill in the league. But then, they had to, being short-handed a 5th worst 436 times (59 more than Dallas). The Stars ended the season at 9th on the power play and 11th on the penalty kill.
Other stuff: In four games, these two teams split the season series; every game ended 2-1.

Vancouver wins if: They can get more than two goals. If they can pick up the first win, Turco has already heard all about his playoff record, and he (and the Stars) could start squeezing their sticks and getting the yips.
Dallas wins if: Vancouver plays to its habit of sitting back in the third period, if they have a lead. Coming back is always possible agains the Canucks, so long as the players feel that they can beat Luongo - not an easy thing. But when it comes to a series, one comeback can change momentum for all the games.

Prediction: Vancouver

Nashville vs. San Jose

In Goal: Though probably going with Vokoun, the Predators have two starting-caliber goaltenders with Mason ready to go at any time after splitting starts with Vokoun 38-44. For the Sharks, it's also a problem of bounty, as Nabokov and Toskala ended the season with near-identical stats and a similar number of games played. Nabokov will get the start, but like with Nashville, he'll feel the pressure of having a capable back-up who wants to start.
Up Front: The Predators have has lots of injury trouble, but nearly succeeded in taking first in the West from Detroit. Legwand has finally bloomed into a number two draft pick, and the acquisition of Forsberg added an extra step to the whole team. Though they lack a 30-goal scorer (see "injuries", above) they do get goals from a variety of sources, and love to do it on the rush. San Jose has had their top players slip a little in total scoring, but also a couple increase nicely (Michalek and Clowe). The addition of Guerin gives them yet another finisher for teams to worry about, boosting a scoring depth that was once three players deep.
On the Blue Line: Shea Weber is Nashville's answer to Calgary's Phaneuf: he hits like a truck and knocked in 17 goals in his second year. Timonen also has a nice eye for the goal, and the rest of the line up is filled with a solid mix of maturing youth and seasoned vets. The Sharks have placed and enormous amount of pressure on some very young players, and for good reason: they can handle it. Erhoff is in his third year; Carle in his second; and Vlasic is a rookie who should, if there's any justice in the world, get some notice for the Calder trophy this year. Those are the Shark's top three scoring defensemen, and they're doing just fine, thanks.
Special Teams: Another case of opposites facing each other here. On the power play, Nashville finished a mediocre 19th, while the Sharks were second. For the penalty kill, the Predators finished 3rd, with San Jose 14th.
Other stuff: Cheechoo had a bit of scoring trouble earlier in the season, but finished with 15 goals in his last 18 games.

Nashville wins if: They bump and grind. This team is grittier than sand in vaseline, if I may quote the Talking Heads. Thornton isn't as easily distracted as he used to be, but young players can get suckered into an emotional game, and that's one the Predators will win.
San Jose wins if: They get to play with a special teams duel. Power plays are low-impact, and their top players are just a little better than Nashville's. I think.

Prediction: Toughest series to predict. I'll go with San Jose, but barely.

Right then, that's it. I'm off to watch the game. For the next two months. 8)


posted by Thursday at 6:29 pm


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