Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Plot Thickens

As the postseason fast approaches, there's new developments daily in the race for the final postseason spots. Most of them involving teams dropping out of contention, but a few involve a narrowing of the gap between playoff inclusion or exclusion.

Below are the current standings along with the Sat to Sat 3/22-3/29 records of the teams that have been gunning for the final playoff positions.

* Standings shown as of Sun Mar 30.

Eastern Conference:
7. Philadelphia- 3-0-1
8. Boston- 3-0-1
3. Carolina- 1-0-1
9. Washington- 3-0-0: 2 points out

So... we're down to the final week and both Buffalo and Florida have dropped out of contention (Florida officially and Buffalo for all intents and purposes), but Washington is continuing to charge hard.

Fascinating thing that has happened in the East is that as Washington won their last 4 games (all on the road), Carolina has come within reach... setting up a monster game Tuesday night at home against the Hurricanes. Assuming Boston and Philly continue to play well, this could determine the division winner (with 2nd place being left out entirely).

Western Conference:
7. Colorado- 3-1-0
8. Vancouver- 0-3-0
8. Nashville- 3-0-0: 2 points out
8. Edmonton- 3-1-1: 3 points out

Obviously a lot to still be decided in the West with three teams tied for the final playoff spot (Colorado is probably safe as they're 4 points up on the pack). Edmonton is at a disadvantage in that they have 2 few games left that Vancouver or Nashville (2 vs 4), but should they get 2 points against Calgary on Tuesday, it could set up a big game Thursday night in Vancouver.

Nashville still seems to be in the best position for the 8 spot given that while the Northwest division teams will continue beating up up on each other, the Preds finish with a home and home vs St. Louis and then visit the Blackhawks for their last game.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The More Things Change

Four days have gone by since the last update so it's time to answer that vexing question of "has anything changed?"

In the interests of space, as well as actually being able to draw some conclusions, we'll address the question through the basic lens of making vs missing the playoffs. Fear not, Montreal, Detroit, San Jose and Pittsburgh... the focus will be back on you once the actual postseason begins.

Below is represented the Sat-Tues results of the teams that "most likely" have either a shot of cracking or falling out of the top 8 in each conference.

* Standings shown as of Wed Mar 26.

Eastern Conference:
7. Philadelphia- 2-0-0
8. Boston- 1-0-1
9. Washington- 1-0-0: 2 points out
10. Buffalo- 0-1-0: 5 points out
11. Florida- 1-1-0: 5 points out

Conclusions to draw... Buffalo and Florida (particularly Buffalo) suffered painful losses Wednesday and are in danger of slipping out of contention.

Western Conference:
7. Vancouver- 0-1-0
8. Colorado- 1-1-0
9. Nashville- 2-0-0: 2 points out
10. Edmonton- 2-0-0: 3 points out

Conclusions to draw... Things should stay interesting to the final weekend. Debatable at this point whether Edmonton or Nashville is at a better spot (given both are currently on the outside looking in). Edmonton gets to play the teams they're chasing, but then... Nashville doesn't have to play the teams they're chasing.

Nashville may well be in a better position, but the Northwest Division (Vancouver, Colorado, Edmonton and oh yeah, Minnesota and Calgary) games will be much more fun to watch.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

A New Point in Time

Well, there have been a few interesting developments since the last musings written here. Below is a recap of where things stood a few days ago with any new developments between Wednesday and right now (Sat afternoon prior to the 7:00EST games)...

Western Conference:
1. Detroit- likely all good in first place. Update... same.
2. San Jose- "hopefully" solid in the 2nd spot. Update... affirmed, with a bullet.
3. Northwest Division- a hodgepodge race with Minnesota, Calgary, Vancouver and Colorado all jumbled up, with all teams seemingly destined to make the playoffs. Update... the Wild appear to be pointed towards the division title and Colorado appears to be inviting both Nashville and Edmonton to make things interesting in the race for the 8 spot. The thought here is that Colorado should be a good enough team to hold off the challengers, but it's certainly not a done deal.
4/5. Anaheim / Dallas- pointed towards a 1st round battle with each other. Update... same.

Eastern Conference:
1. Montreal / New Jersey / Pittsburgh / Ottawa- all going for 1st in the Conference, but doesn't seem terribly important who gets the top spot. Update... same as it ever was.
2. NY Rangers- needing to cement their spot in the playoff mix. Update... seem to be good now.
3. Boston- same as NYR. Update... getting perilous.
4. Philadelphia- perilous. Update... have passed the Bruins.
5. Playoffs challengers- Buffalo, Washington, Florida & Toronto all hoping to squeeze in. Update... nobody seems to be distinguishing themselves, but particularly Buffalo and Washington still very much in the mix.

So... a few days have gone by and what has changed? Not an awful lot, but in the West, Edmonton has entered the playoff conversation.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

T minus 10

Getting down to the wire, only a few teams have 10 games left, everyone else with 8 or 9... pretty much all of which are divisional games. As we've reached this late point in the season, things have sorted out a bit, but still some intriguing (and some not so intriguing) races left. It's likely that some unexpected things will happen other than what's below, but at this point, here's what seems to be in play.

Western Conference:
1. Who will finish 1st? Likely Detroit, but it doesn't really matter.

2. Who will finish 2nd? Now, here's a more interesting question. It's all but guaranteed that 2nd will belong to the winner of the Pacific Division, with the "non-winners" in the Pacific finishing 4th and 5th... and having to play each other. Here's to hoping that the Sharks can hold on to their 5 point (with one game still in hand) lead and Anaheim and Dallas have to beat up on each other in the first round.

3. Who will finish 3rd? It's a four team race right now with Minnesota, Calgary, Vancouver and Colorado within 2 points of one another. I'm sure each team would like to take the Central Division, but the reality is that the three teams that don't still "should" take spots 6-8 and make the playoffs. Anything is possible, but all of these teams have enough talent that a current 4+ point cushion over teams on the outside will likely be enough.

Eastern Conference:
1. Who will finish first? Again, same as in the West, it doesn't seem terribly important. Here, it's a closer race, though, with 3 if not 4 teams having a legitimate shot.

2. Who will make the playoffs, period? Here's where things get interesting. The Rangers and Bruins are in 6th and 7th respectively, 5 & 3 points up on 9th place Washington, but with the Caps having played one more game than either team.

Assuming that NY and Boston are safe (which could easily come into question with a loss or two), then you get to the 8th place Flyers... who have been free-falling as of late and are 2 points up on Washington and 3 up on Buffalo (with the Sabres having a game in hand). This 8th spot (again, if not the 6th and 7th) likely will be up for grabs until the end with either the Sabres or Caps pushing to make the dance. It's possible the Panthers could even pop into the Flyers spot, but not terribly likely given that they're 4 back and have the two other teams between them and Philly.

What do I think will happen? I think the West will pretty much play out as it stands now and in the East, I think the Flyers will make way to the Caps.... with the Sabres potentially taking the Bruins spot should they implode. The Caps will be particularly interesting to watch as they're on a 6 game roadtrip (what, is the Circus in town?), but I think they're up to the task. Again, it will be all about... resiliancy.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Down the Homestretch

There were some interesting games played tonight... of the 5, 3 featured teams knocking on the door of the 8-spot in the East, 1 a team with still a mathematical chance of making the playoffs in the West and 1 a team looking to avoid playing either Anaheim or Dallas in the first round.

In the East, Buffalo, Florida and Washington all were victorious... pulling them within 3, 4 and 4 points respectively of Philadelphia. The Flyers have played less games then these rivals, which sets up a very interesting early tilt against the Bruins on Saturday.

The other game to look for results on tomorrow is a virtual elimination game with Buffalo traveling to play the Maple Leafs. If Toronto winds up the loser in regulation, that could be it for their playoff hopes given that Buffalo is right now closest to catching the Flyers.

Quite the fun time of year.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

"He's Not Dead Yet"

Resiliency. It's a tough thing for a hockey team to acquire, but when there, often separates the Stanley Cup winning teams from the skilled, but not quite over the hump, competition.

If you look back at the last few Playoff seasons, there were some pretty resilient teams. Three years ago, Tampa Bay had to win a game 6 in Calgary and then go back to Tampa and win game 7 of the finals. Two years ago, you had a Carolina team that got shellacked 5-0 by Edmonton in game 6 and then rebounded in game 7 to claim the Cup. Last season we unfortunately never got to see what mettle Anaheim was made of because... they were just that good.

It will be fascinating to see what role resiliency plays in the upcoming playoffs... and regular season stretch drive for that matter. The below column from Ross McKeon for Yahoo! Sports chronicles the San Jose Sharks recent playoff woes as well as a few thoughts about how this season might be different for the Sharks. Will it?;_ylt=AuuwnATpxxJSiERqXMQ8OGZ7vLYF?slug=rm-sanjosesharks031108&prov=yhoo&type=lgns&

In addition the playoffs themselves, there's interesting story lines around teams pushing to make it to the final 16. There will likely be more teams on the brink and plots that develop between now and the end of the regular season, but one of the most interesting right now is Washington.

The Capitals had a horrendous beginning to the season which resulted in the replacement of their head coach. Since that time, they've played solid hockey as a team as well as relied on the wizardry of all-world left wing Alexander Ovechkin. This push to the playoffs might be too much of an uphill battle, though, especially given the events of earlier this week. On Saturday they led the Bruins 1-0 with only a few minutes remaining, only to implode led by Donald Brashear and his 6 minutes in penalties... leading to a 2-1 loss. The very next day they played the Penguins in a superstar matchup of Sidney Crosby vs Ovechkin and were well on their way to getting at least a point when that was snatched away by a Nicklas Backstrom "own-goal" on a clearing attempt.

After two losses like this and being 6 points out of the 8 seed, the Caps proceeded to win their next game 3-2 over Calgary and now sit 4 back of Philadelphia in the race for the last playoff spot. It could be that Washington is just too far back (and has too much competition with the Leafs and Panthers also pushing to catch the Flyers), but if Washington does pull off the comeback, they'll be a scary playoff opponent for anyone, both because of Ovechkin and what they would have to have in spades to reach that point... the aforementioned resiliency.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Sharks Win Sharks Win

Goodness gracious, nice win by the Sharkies over Nashville. What's important about this one wasn't at all the points gained in the standings (one has to question whether the Sharks would be better or worse with home ice in the playoffs), but how they played considering the circumstances of the game.

Here's the circumstance (represented by the Western Conference Standings):
Team / Points
1. Detroit - 98
2. San Jose - 90
3. Calgary - 82
4. Dallas - 89
5. Anaheim - 85
6. Colorado - 82
7. Minnesota - 81
8. Vancouver - 80
9. Nashville - 78

Think Nashville really wanted this game? Yup... I reckon they did.

Now, look at the shots on goal (a "pretty good" indicator of how a game was played):
San Jose - 42 shots on goal
Nashville - 27 shots on goal

Yikes. You could say that Nashville should have been more desperate and put out a better effort, but I'd say you'd be wrong... the Sharks really did play that well. It was only some exceptional goaltending by Dan Ellis that kept the Predators close. Good stuff.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Wicked Cool Arena

Not much original content here, but the below paragraphs (from the slightly further below website) describe what is pretty universally acknowledged as the coolest new arena in the NHL.

"There are monuments to hockey everywhere. In the second level of the arena (parts of which is very visible before you even enter the arena) contains jerseys from every high school team in the state and some that don’t exist any more. (For example, Monroe, a St. Paul school that closed in 1977, has a jersey in a prominent place as you enter from the south.)

There are old arena pictures on all levels, flags with hockey history written on them, a tribute to college hockey’s Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier winners (the male and female puck equivalent of the Heisman) and a Wall of Fame where those who have played at Xcel on and off the ice signed a puck."


Sounds so very cool...

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Canadians Sure Do Like Their Hockey

Saturday... for most people in the U.S. it's a great day... first day of the weekend, a chance to relax, a chance to get nutty, and an all around good time.

Canadian folk can of course share all of those same thoughts on the day, but between the months of September and June (wow, the NHL season sure is long) they have something else to look forward to each Saturday... "Hockey Night in Canada."

It's not that us Americans with NHL Centre Ice can't watch as well, but rather the symbolic difference brought to you be broadcast television... they've got "HNIC", we've got "Football Night in America." In short, hockey just isn't as big of a deal here as it is north of the border (makes me wonder why the NHL thinks it better to have a team in the hockey hotbed of Nashville, TN rather than Hamilton, ON, but that's a topic in and of itself).

In the immortal words of N.D., I say of the Canucks (all Canadians, not just the professional mens Ice Hockey players in Vancouver) "Lucky."

Friday, March 7, 2008

Why I like who I like - Eastern Conference Playoffs

Back for more... after several days ago pontificating on the various Western Conferences combatants, it's time now to take a look at the East (same as before... somewhat, but not exactly in order of either preferred or expected playoff performance):

1. Montreal - If the playoffs were contested based on franchise history and fan obsession level, there's no doubt that Les Habitants would be adding come June to the names of Canadiens players engraved on the Stanley Cup. Even though that's not "exactly" how the playoffs work, the Canadiens still do have a better than average shot at representing the East. They've got excellent scoring in Kovalev and Plekanec and a very intriguing wild card tending goal in Carey Price. Yes, it would have been laughable at the start of the season to view this team as a serious contender, but not quite so funny now.

2. New Jersey - The seasons come and go and always there seems to be a team to be reckoned with coming out of New Jersey. They lose Scottie Gomez up front and Rafalski on D to free agency... no worries, still have Martin Brodeur to roll out there in net. It is of course well beyond a cliche, but any Brodeur-led team has a shot in the playoffs.

3. Carolina - Maybe it's just that I can't assimilate for myself the idea of Raleigh as a hockey hotbed, but I'm not expecting big things from the Canes. Course if the community having it's "hockey chops" were the criteria for success, probably wouldn't have seen the last three Cups wind up in Anaheim, Tampa and yes... Raleigh.

4. Pittsburgh - The Pens trade deadline move could wind up a fascinating discussion point should this team falter. By pretty much all accounts, they acquired a great player in Hossa, but if they don't advance far, naysayers will point to the lose of Colby Armstrong as being an insurmountable blow to team chemistry. With the ability to put touchdowns in the net via Crosby, Malkin and now... Hossa, chemistry will likely work itself out.

5. Ottawa - May win the conference, may miss the playoffs. Yes, this could be said for other teams as well, but nobody personifies this great unknown quite like the Sens (well, maybe the Sharks, but that's a topic for another dissertation). Just seems like the psyche of this team is a bit muddled for them go far.

6. New York Rangers / Boston - Good teams, but each just seem a bit flawed to be part of the elite this season. The Rangers have more star-power in Jagr and fast-emerging Brandon Dubinsky, but I don't see either running the table in the East.

7. Philadelphia - Now, this is a fun team! Secretly, I hope the Flyers do make the playoffs, get on a roll and advance all the way to the Finals. Here's how I see it would play out in my imaginary world... overtime of game 7 (which due to scheduling conflict with the Circus, has to be moved from the Western Conference team's arena to Philadelphia), and the Flyers go two men down due to them starting a brawl because "someone looked at them cross." After they then give up the Cup-clinching goal, they start fighting again. Their opponent of course wants to celebrate with the Cup so they send their minor-league affiliate out to continue fighting the Flyers whilst the regulars celebrate. The Philadelphia fans think this whole turn of events "frickin awesome" and congratulate themselves and their team on "winning the fight."

8. Washington - Remember the disclaimer at the beginning about "not exactly in the order of expected finish?" More than any other team, that was written for the Capitals. The way they're playing right now, they may be the scariest team for anyone to match up against. Led by the most exciting (if not also the best) player in hockey in Alexander Ovechkin, the Caps are filling the net in waves. The trade deadline acquisitions of the solid Cristobal Huet and Sergei Fedorov as well as annoying Matt Cooke cannot be overlooked either.

9. New York Islanders / Buffalo - Good hockey history and in each city. Good teams as well, just not good enough.

10. Atlanta / Florida - See above, just without the history (or the fans that care).

11. Tampa Bay - Almost amazing that a team with Vinny Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis could be in last place, but they're last with a bullet.

12. Toronto - Not in any way likely to happy, but how great would it be to see the Leafs pull a rabbit out of a hat and get into the playoffs (not even going to entertain the thought of them winning a round or two)? Would Cliff Fletcher then be considered to have "done a great job" as the GM? Thus far, his contribution has been to ask the Leafs top 4 or 5 players to waive their no-trade clauses... each request being met with a resounded no. Again, it's not likely but any Leaf success would bring to mind the Bad News Bears and the crowd chanting "let them play, let them play."

Thursday, March 6, 2008

US vs Russia 1980 Olympics

Very cool stuff... the accompanying note on You Tube describes this clip as a newly discovered audio feed of the game (edited down to about to about 10 minutes here) which was then matched up with the TV footage.

Yep, goose bumps.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Sharks like Senators

No, I don't mean that the Sharks have a particular fondness for the Ottawa players, but rather... watching them play the Senators tonight both made me feel the teams were very similar and gave me reason for optimism that the Sharks can make a playoff run this year.

It wasn't long ago that the Sens were labeled as the good, but not great team with excellent players that could never put it together come playoff time. Granted they didn't win the Cup last season, but to get to the finals as they did was only a stone's throw away.

Anyhoo... even if the Sharks had wound up with a 2-1 defeat tonight, it wouldn't have been that maddening. The take-away from the game would have been that they outshot handily one of the best Eastern Conference teams and were very much in a position to win. Had the eventual result been a defeat, you could have said that they played solid and if not for a defensive miscue and questionable penalty call would have won 1-0. Now, since you can't expect your beloved Sharkies to never give up a goal, you could have added in the recent 6-4 fire and brimstone display against Le Canadiens to balance things out. All in all, you would have felt pretty good, and justified in that.

However, the pucks fell the right way, Cheechoo drove the net, Marleau took advantage of opportunity and... they win. Good victory, but with either victory or defeat, the parralels would remain the same betwixt the two teams. Offensive power up front (see: Thornton, Joe; Cheechoo, Jonathan & Marleau, Patrick as well as Alfredsson, Daniel; Spezza, Jason & Heatley, Dany) as well as solid bordering on spectacular D in Brian Campbell and Wade Redden respectively.

Up until last season, the pundits felt Ottawa was destined to be a team of unfulfilled potential... much as the Sharks can (rightly so to this point) be viewed. However, Ottawa got through to the dance that is the Stanley Cup Finals, so the logical conclusion after watching these very similar teams play is that San Jose can as well.

All this being said and then the icing on the cake... Sharks win, Sharks win, Holy cow, Sharks win.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Why I like who I like - Western Conference Playoffs

I went through my playoff wishlist two days ago, but thought I would find entertaining (for who? for me, of course) to go through the various potential combatants...

Western Conference in no particular order (an all inclusive even though I'm not sure LA didn't drop down to the ECHL):

1. San Jose - A very interesting team. Definite star power with Thornton and Cheechoo up front and Campbell and Rivet (well, maybe not a star, but solid) on the blueline. As a team that I've got a particular local affinity for, they've been absolutely maddening in their lack of a killer instinct. To steal a phrase from our dear President Bush, I'd like someone to "look into their eyes and see their soul," but... will have to see "it" to believe it.

2. Anaheim - Scary good team. With Teemu back in the fold along with Captain Scott and the ever improving Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, this team is peaking at the right time as they look to defend their title.

3. Detroit - Great potential. Fantastic scoring up front with Zetterberg and Datsyuk, the requisite nastiness with Downey and Draper and solid goaltending provided by... someone. The key to their postseason success with be the healthy return of the blueline corps in Rafalski, Chelios and above all, Lindstrom.

4. Dallas - NKOTB (New Kids On the Block) with a bang. The addition of Richards to this lineup puts them in the same scary good category as Anaheim. Definitely one of those teams that it hard to tell exactly how they win all the time (well, I guess by giving up less goals than they score... whereas other teams have to score more than they give up), but with Richards in the mix... wow. Big question mark to this team is in goal as Turco needs to improve on last season's playoff performance.

5. Calgary - A team that just barely deserves their own writeup, but having a nasty good Captain like Iginla and game-stealer like Kiprusoff gives them potential.

6. Minnesota / Vancouver / Colorado - Some interesting pieces to each of these teams (see: Gaborik, Marian; Luongo, Roberto & Forsberg, Peter), but not quite enough there.

7. Nashville / Phoenix / Columbus / St Louis / Chicago - Gotta love 'em for trying hard. Here's to hoping the revival continues in Chicago and the Hawks are back in the playoffs soon.

8. Edmonton / LA - Teams looking to build for the future. LA by putting complementary pieces around Kopitar and Johnson and Edmonton by offering $50M contracts to their other teams fourth-liners.

Monday, March 3, 2008

C'est Magnifique Le Sharkies!

Goodness gracious. Didn't see coming the Sharks putting up a six-spot on the 1st in the East Montreal Canadiens. Not to jump on the Coach Ron bandwagon, if such a thing exists, but great to see the effort put out there tonight.

Good times, good times.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

My NHL Wishlist

In the spirit of thinking that I should get (or at least covet) what I want, I chronicle here my desired NHL bracket breakdown. To tether myself to reality, first are the current standings, and then what I'd like to see as a fan.

Current standing as of March 2:

Eastern Conference
Team- Pts
1. * Montreal- 81
2. * New Jersey- 80
3. * Carolina- 73
4. Ottawa- 80
5. Pittsburgh- 79
6. Boston- 76
7. NY Rangers- 74
8. Philadelphia- 73
9. Buffalo- 71
10. NY Islanders- 69
11. Washington- 68
12. Toronto- 68
13. Atlanta- 64
14. Florida- 64
15. Tampa Bay- 59
* = Division Leader

Desired Eastern Conference 1st round matchups:

(1) Montreal vs (8) Toronto... I know it likely won't happen given the hole the Leafs would have to climb out of, but doesn't mean I can't wish.
(2) New Jersey vs (7) NY Rangers... nice rivalry matchup.
(3) Washington vs (6) Boston... again, not likely the Caps will mount the comeback, but would much rather watch Ovechkin than... uh, the Carolina players.
(4) Ottawa vs (5) Pittsburgh... compelling simply due to the star power.

More likely matchups (but, still with personal hope in play):

(1) Montreal vs (8) NYR.
(2) New Jersey vs (7) Philly.
(3) Carolina vs (6) Boston.
(4) Ottawa vs (5) Pittsburgh.

Eastern Conference 2nd round matchups:

(1) Montreal vs (6) Boston... nice Original Six series.
(2) NJ vs (5) Pittsburgh... will reveal whether the Pens paid too much to get Hossa.

Eastern Conference 3rd round with hopeful result:

Montreal def Pittsbugh... if Cary Price does in fact turn out to be Patrick Roy. If he doesn't, then the Pens need Crosby and Malkin to be... Crosby and Malkin.

Western Conference
Team- Pts
1. * Detroit- 90
2. * Dallas- 87
3. * Minnesota- 77
4. Anaheim- 81
5. San Jose- 80
6. Calgary- 77
7. Vancouver- 74
8. Colorado- 74
9. Nashville- 74
10. Phoenix- 71
11. Columbus- 69
12. Chicago- 66
13. St. Louis- 66
14. Edmonton- 65
15. Los Angeles-56
* = Division Leader

Desired Western Conference 1st round matchups:

(1) Detroit vs (8) Colorado... actually, I think Dallas will finish first in the West, but would like to see this former "blood on the ice" rivalry.
(2) Dallas vs (7) Vancouver... Richards vs Luongo.
(3) Calgary vs (6) Minnesota... Chris Simon vs Calgary PD after he goes mental yet again.
(4) Anaheim vs (5) SJ... I know the result I would like to see.

Eastern Conference 2nd round matchups:

(1) Detroit vs (4) Anaheim.
(2) Dallas vs (3) Calgary.

Western Conference 3rd round with expected (not gonna say hopeful as that would imply liking one of these teams) result:

Dallas def Anaheim.

Stanley Cup Finals... GO EAST!!!!! (yes, that's more hope than expectation)