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There’s a tough reality about games that go deep into overtime: spreading ice time around goes a long way towards sustaining the performance of your best players (yay!), but it also means that the bottom of your roster has to get through the odd shift without costing you (booo). You roll the dice every time you throw your low-liners over the boards (please just get it deep, please just get it deep), and on Wednesday night Tampa Bay crapped out.

On the ice for the Candiens game winner was one veteran in Eric Brewer (35), along with rookie Radko Gudas (23), rookie Nikita Kucherov (20), rookie Richard Panik (23), and a guy in his third-ever NHL game straight out of junior at age 20, Cedric Paquette. The 6’1″ 198 pounder most-recently played with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada of the QMJHL, scoring 83 points in 63 games.

An initial review of the OT-winner made me wince: Paquette, who played the least of any player on either team in Game 1 made the error that cost his team the game. Ouch.

…BUT WAIT! There’s good news: it wasn’t entirely his fault. ACTUALLY, It was barely his fault – it was a damn tough read and Tampa got a damn tough break.

Let’s dive in.

***

The play starts with Daniel Briere finding a soft spot and getting a shot. He’s being fronted by Eric Brewer though, and his attempt gets blocked. You’ll see in the frames further down, the block kicks up to Josh Gorges at the point.

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In the frame above you have pretty good defensive positioning, bordering on great. Radko Gudas has Dale Weise, Cedric Paquette has an eye on Michael Bournival (could be a tighter), Brewer is on Briere, Nikita Kucherov is in perfect weak-side winger defensive positioning, and Richard Panik is in a great strong side winger spot. It’s team-by-team whether he should be helping on Briere here or not.

Anyway, the shot gets blocked and ricochets up to Josh Gorges. You can see who’s on who below. Read the rest of this entry »

sid d

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Last night was bad news for the Columbus Blue Jackets. They played a great first game on the road in Pittsburgh. They twice led, once by two goals. They outshot the Penguins. They kept the Pens big guns from doing much damage. And they still lost.

Game 1 came down to Sergei Bobrovsky: he didn’t make the stops he normally would, and it cost them what realistically could’ve been a win.

Pittsburgh managed a Houdini-like escape from the close contest with the “W,” but if they hope to improve in Game 2, which they most certainly do, they’re going to need a bit more from Sidney Crosby between the whistles, and a bit less after them.

The Penguins captain played fine in the first contest, picking up an assist in a game that saw him spend the lion’s share of the game in the o-zone. But watching him play, I couldn’t help but think that part of what makes him so great – his competitiveness – also hinders him occasionally. It most certainly allows opponents to (wrongly) feel on his level.

Over half of Crosby’s ice time in Game 1 was spent against Brandon Dubinsky, a player who takes great pride in antagonizing his opponents, particularly ‘ol number 87. And, while he periodically ignored Dubinsky early, Sid eventually found himself caught up in the personal battle, which is exactly what Columbus wants. He seems unable to let the hacks and whacks go and settle for dominating between the whistles – he engages. Remember the battle vs. Claude Giroux that got the best of him?

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Pittsburgh Penguins' Crosby fights with Philadelphia Flyers' Giroux

Crosby is one of the most efficient point-getters in playoff history – the guy knows what he’s doing – but I think the Penguins would benefit in this particular series from him dismissing the pests on Columbus like he’s covered in Deep Woods Off, rather than flailing wildly every time they buzz around his head.
Read the rest of this entry »

Sidney Crosby

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This is my second full year as a member of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association, which means I’m one of the folks who has the privilege of voting on the annual NHL awards. I’m once again taking the responsibility seriously, as the awards can actually affect the lives of players (particularly in a financial way), and they most certainly affect the historical record of our game.

The goal of voting is simply to award trophies to players who legitimately earned them during the given season. That means where there are obvious answers, you give them, and don’t try to get too cute about it. And, of course, having stats to back up your opinions is pretty key.

Aside from my own viewing and opinions, I largely used NHL.comExtra Skater, and HockeyDB for research.

(My 2013 ballot can be read here.)



(1) NHL Trophies

HART TROPHY (“to the player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team”) — Five selections

I choose to vote for the Hart Trophy a very specific way, which I’ve laid out in full here. The short form of that piece is basically this commentary by Tyler Delow:

“’Player adjudged most valuable to his team’ can mean two things. The lunatic interpretation is ‘Player whose share of the total value of his team is greatest.’ This is the one people are adopting. The sane people interpretation is ‘Player who provides the most value to his team’ with “value” being simply a raw counting number, not factoring in how much total value his team has. I mean, on the criteria these people are explicitly adopting, Zack Stortini could win the Hart, if you put him on a team with 19 mes. “Well, that team was the worst team in NHL history, but Stortini is undeniably miles ahead of all those Dellows.”

And this quick add-on from myself in that piece:

So my point is, after that long walk, let’s say the Hart was for “value provided to team,” literally. What would be the point of that? What are we trying to identify? The worst team who had the most disproportionately great player? That’s just a luck award for one of the league’s best players. It would be pointless.

That’s just my personal take on it. Just thought I’d let you in on how I choose to vote.

Anyway, on to the actual votes! Read the rest of this entry »

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Western Conference Predictions can be found here.

Columbus (4) vs. Pittsburgh (1)

Prediction: Pittsburgh in 5

Why: This series is just ripe for overthinking, isn’t it? Columbus has been very good at times this season, and the Penguins are typically overrated. Their d-corps looks questionable at times. Marc-Andre Fleury has been a nightmare in recent playoffs to the point where he’s needed to see a sports psychologist. The Islanders pushed the Penguins pretty hard in the first round last season…the Islanders!

But c’mon now.

Pittsburgh tallied 109 points this season despite losing over 500 man-games to injury, and that speaks volumes about the coaching. The team is getting healthy at the right time, while the Blue Jackets are looking to start the series without Nathan Horton, R.J. Umberger and Nick Foligno. In Pittsburgh. The big three of Malkin, Crosby and Neal will all be in the lineup, as will Kris Letang, who’s played three games since his stroke, tallying three points and eight shots in an average of over 24 minutes a night. That Penguins powerplay is a force.

Columbus’ best hope is that Sergei Bobrovsky significantly out-performs Marc-Andre Fleury, but even if that happens I don’t see much of an upset shot here. I get it, it’s the playoffs, and anything can happen yada yada yada, but I just can’t make it work in my head.

Philadelphia (3) vs. New York Rangers (2)

Prediction: New York Rangers in 6

Why: I think the Rangers have the edge by a hair at nearly every position.

* Henrik Lundqvist or Steve Mason, who do you want in your net?

* While the difference isn’t that significant, I like a top-four of McDonagh, Girardi, Staal and Stralman over Coburn, MacDonald, Streit and Timonen.

* I think the Rangers have more game-breakers (Rick Nash, Martin St. Louis, Derek Stepan, Brad Richards and more) than Philly (Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek…Brayden Schenn?).

* The Rangers have better possession numbers.

I feel like the Rags took awhile to figure out how to play under Alain Vigneault, and now that they seem to have it, the ex-Canucks coach will have his team well-prepared for playoffs. This is Craig Berube’s first kick at the can leading the Flyers into the post-season, so I don’t really know what to expect there.

It’s not that I expect this to be a walk or anything – a Philly win would hardly be jaw-dropping. I just think Rangers have a slight edge in a lot of categories.

Detroit (4) vs. Boston (1)

Prediction: Boston in 6

Why: This was a bummer draw for both teams. The Red Wings “aren’t” an eight-seed, the way the Kings “weren’t” when they won the Cup. Sure, they technically are, but they’re better than their spot in the standings, partially because of injuries. And now, the Bruins get a tough draw, while the Wings, a team who could probably take down five other teams in the East, get the toughest matchup in hockey.

The Bruins are just too battle-tested to believe there’s any reason they’ll get upset. Yes, they have some young, unproven guys in the lineup, but the bulk of that roster is the epitome of “been there, done that.” They play hard, they play “the right way” (which is to say they know not to cheat positionally), and they wear teams down.

I like what the Wings are doing, but as things currently stand, the Bruins still The Bruins.

Montreal (3) vs. Tampa Bay (2)

Prediction: Montreal in 7

Why: This series is a virtual coin toss, but if Anders Lindback is between the pipes for Tampa staring across the ice at Carey Price, there’s reason to believe the Habs might have a leg up.

The Canadiens really needed another “game-breaker” in my mind, and the acquisition of Thomas Vanek gave them that. On their back-end, P.K. Subban strikes me as another guy from the game-breaker mold who seems unfazed by big moments, and could make the difference in a close series.

While the Lightning still have the incredible Steven Stamkos, who you may have heard of, they rely offensively on depth scoring from a couple smaller, younger players (Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat). I don’t think that’s an outright terrible thing, but to step into the Stanley Cup Playoffs in The Centre Bell as rookies, you’d expect that maybe they’d be a bit distracted for awhile. They’ll be keyed on as point-getters by Montreal, which should make things harder too.

Every game they played this year was close. I expect the same from this series.

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Minnesota (4) vs. Colorado (1)

Prediction: Colorado in 6

Why: My biggest question mark with the Wild is in net. They’re heading into the post-season with a plan to lean on Ilya Bryzgalov, who’s been very good for them since they acquired him from Edmonton. Unfortunately, Bryzgalov is a career .913 goaltender (just below average for a starter), and that’s thanks in no small part to three seasons in Phoenix behind a tight defensive system that saw him post a .921, a .920 and another .921. Since then he’s played 101 games and has been borderline awful on the whole, which I tend to think is probably the goalie he actually is. His .908 save percentage in the post-season (38 games) isn’t all that stellar either.

The Colorado Avalanche are the NHL’s 4th highest-scoring team, scoring an average of three goals a game (okay, 2.99, whatever), which doesn’t bode all that well if your team isn’t super-comfortable with who’s between the pipes.

I do believe that the Avs are a gettable team. Certainly their abysmal possession numbers are concerning, and I’m not a huge fan of their d-corps (quite the opposite actually), but if Varlamov can give them the saves they need, I think they’ve got the grit and talent up front to get through the Wild in the first round. I particularly like that their core is so young. When that puck drops Thursday in Colorado, the Wild are going to need to weather what I think is going to be a pretty overwhelming initial storm.

Chicago (3) vs. St. Louis (2)

Prediction: Chicago in 6

Why: The St. Louis Blues are going to be brutal to play in playoffs. They have one of the NHL’s finest d-corps, legitimately good-to-great goaltending, and enough talent up front to make them tough to deal with.

But, they just happened to draw the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blues “collapse” down the stretch really hurt their odds of winning the Cup.

Read the rest of this entry »

rinaldo22

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(As is the case every time the NHL playoffs start up, it’s time to evaluate the matchups on a very deep, complex level: based purely on jersey aesthetics.)

This may not be the case for all hockey fans out there, but when I turn on the TV to watch a hockey game, my enjoyment of said game is affected by the uniforms being worn, the way they work together, and how they work with the crowd around them. I can barely watch the Panthers (sorry), for example, regardless of opponent.

A couple simple things matter:

* Contrast: Oilers/Flames is going to be better than Senators (white/red/black)/Hurricanes (white/red/black).

And…

Simplicity: Clean, two-coloured jersey matchups – say Red Wings/Leafs – is going to be better than busy, multi-colour jersey matchups – say Florida/Colorado or something. (Oof, the thought of that.)

We all have our personal preferences – for me, I find red-on-red matchups less pleasurable than cooler colours. So we might not agree entirely on the order of the list below, but that’s only because you probably have bad taste and I don’t.

Without any further ado, here are this year’s eight playoff match-ups, ranked by jersey aesthetics. Obviously it differs depending on which team is home or away, so take the rankings to mean a general take on any combination of the main uniforms:

8) Pittsburgh/Columbus

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Having Penguins/Blue Jackets as the worst jersey match-up does sort of contradict my own rules, I admit that. The contrast between the two sweaters is nice. But, there’s sharp contrast in every series this year, and let’s be real: the Penguins need to go back to their simplier, more-yellow, Lemieux-era jerseys, and the Blue Jackets do as little with a red/white/blue color scheme as possible.

There’s no real terrible match-ups this year. This one is just kinda blah. Read the rest of this entry »

HC Davos' Robbie Earl poses with the trophy after winning their final game against Dinamo Riga at the Spengler Cup ice hockey tournament in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos December 31, 2011

HC Davos’ Robbie Earl poses with the trophy after winning their final game against Dinamo Riga at the Spengler Cup ice hockey tournament in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos December 31, 2011 / REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

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There are literally thousands of reasons why some amazing young hockey players never make it. Some are from the genre of BS that your Dad’s buddies tell you to explain why they fell short (knee injuries, coach hated them, relationship issues), some are legit (knee injuries, coach hated them, relationship issues), and some just…are. There’s a lot of luck involved with fringe players, and sometimes the dice roll comes up snake eyes.

Whatever the case, we all have dozens upon dozens of stories of players that we thought were virtual locks to make it to the bigs, and for whatever reason things just didn’t go as planned.

I was thinking about a couple of those guys the other day when I threw it out on Twitter: who’s the best player you’ve ever seen in major junior or college hockey that didn’t make it? I got a ton of feedback, so I thought I’d compile a list. (If you’ve got a name that’s not on here, add it in the comments.)

Obviously my bias is going to be skewed towards more recent years (if you go back too far points get way skewed), and in my case, heavily from the WCHA (NCAA), so again: I call on you to help us fill in the blanks. Also, I’m going to be using the definition of “never made it” loosely. While impressive in its own right, I’d say under a 100, 150 games or so total is a decent loose definition of a guy who never established himself in the NHL.

Notes:

* The list is predominantly forwards, because nobody has any idea how to judge d-men and goalies without watching them and #points are #neat

* You know how to read stat lines, but a reminder:

Games Played Goals Assists Total Points Penalty Minutes Plus-Minus

* The list starts with more recent players that I’m more familiar with, and gets older (and more major junior-centric) as you work downward.

* Teams like Atlanta, Carolina, Nashville, St. Louis and Toronto seems to come up a lot amongst players who fell just short, for whatever reason.

* This isn’t to embarrass the guys who were so close for not making it, or to call them out – it’s more to admire how great these players were/are, and to drop our collective jaws in awe at the incredible things they did in the sport and it still wasn’t good enough. It’s just good context for how hard it is to really make it.

Lets dive in.

Robbie Earl

Best season:

2005-06 U. of Wisconsin WCHA 42 24 26 50 56

Career peak: 47 NHL games with the Minnesota Wild.

Current status: Playing for Zug, Swiss-A league. Point-per-game guy there.

Comment: It’s mind blowing to think that Robbie Earl didn’t make it. He might be the best skater I’ve ever played against, he had a great shot, and even hit hard. I would not have predicted Joey Crabb having a longer NHL career than Robbie Earl back in college (no offense to Joey). Read the rest of this entry »