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It is time to complete my playoff predictions today by looking at the Stanley Cup finals. Here are my first round predictions, here are my second round predictions and here are my semi-final predictions. These predictions haven`t gone well. I have a 5-9 record, which is worse than a random coin toss should be able to do. I see that as a success in Gary Bettman`s aims for the NHL. One thing Bettman wants is parity. Essentially this means that no team is better than any other. There are no best teams. Anyone can wind up in the Stanley Cup finals. It can be an eighth seed versus a sixth seed. Neither of those teams is particularly memorable but they will give us a Stanley Cup final. It may be the worst Stanley Cup final in terms of the talent playing in it - its major competition here is 2006 when Carolina and Edmonton met in the finals. Those two teams have only been good enough for one playoff berth since that year. The fans do not get a memorable Stanley Cup final. They are cheated by the NHL system. Their prize is a potential shutdown of the league for the beginning of next year.
First of a two-part preview of the 2012 Stanley Cup finals.
History: The L.A. Kings are in rarefied air for many reasons. It’s only the second Stanley Cup finals berth in franchise history. Second, they’re only the second No. 8 seed to ever reach the finals (the other was the 2005-06 Edmonton Oilers, who lost in seven games to the Carolina Hurricanes). Thirdly, this is only the fourth time that a team from California has reached the finals; the other two berths were by the rival Anaheim Ducks, who won the Cup in 2007 and lost in the 2003 finals to the New Jersey Devils. The Kings are undefeated on the road this postseason (8-0), becoming the first team to go unbeaten away from home on the way to the finals. Finally, this is the lowest combination of seeds (the Devils are the No. 6 seed) in the Stanley Cup finals since the NHL switched to the current format for the 1994 postseason. (It’s hard to determine official conference seeding before then.)
The Memorial Cup concluded yesterday. I wrote about the round robin results here. Here are the results:
Shawinigan 6 Edmonton 1 - Tie Breaker This game wasn’t close. It was unlike the round robin game between these teams that Edmonton won 4-3. Shawinigan took a 6-0 lead and Edmonton scored a late game to prevent a Gabriel Girard (undrafted). Morgan Ellis (Montreal prospect), Kirill Kabanov (NY Islanders prospect), Michael Bournival (Colorado prospect) and Anton Zlobin (undrafted) all scored a goal and an assist in a balanced attack. Brandon Gormley (Phoenix prospect) added two assists. Henrik Samuelsson (2012 draft eligible) scored the Edmonton goal. Laurent Brossiot (Calgary prospect) was the losing goalie.
This past week, Bob Mackenzie indicated on TSN Radio that the Maple Leafs would not be interested in goaltender Roberto Luongo. This seems to be a sentiment echoed throughout the media and I happen to agree with it. Don’t get me wrong, I think Luongo is a great goalie and will be good for the next five years at least, I just don’t think the Maple Leafs are interested in someone of his age with that type of contract.
About a month ago I posted an article suggesting that the Maple Leafs target two goalies in free agency: Josh Harding and Scott Clemmensen.
I still hold the same opinion as I did then; the Maple Leafs need to give James Reimer a chance to be the starting goalie they think he is, but if he falters they need a proven veteran backup that can carry the load. Harding and Clemmensen both fit the bill and they should be had with short term, low cost contracts. The Leafs must also consider how well Ben Scrivens has developed at the AHL level. And although they will not go into the season with only Reimer and Scrivens as the only two goalies on the roster, he just might be the starting goalie at some point next year.
On the one hand, the Phoenix Coyotes should be thrilled that they made it to the Western Conference finals for the first time in franchise history. On the other, they should be disappointed that they were dismissed in five games by a team that finished two points behind them in the Pacific Division during the regular season.
But the biggest regret for the Coyotes should be the fact that everything that worked during series victories against the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators failed against the L.A. Kings. (More on the royal juggernaut during previews for the Stanley Cup finals.) In 11 games against the Hawks and Preds, the Coyotes allowed 21 goals (1.9 goals per game); in five games against the Kings, they allowed 14 (2.8 goals per game). Consider the flip side to that equation: they only scored eight goals in five games against the Kings (1.6 goals per game) compared to 29 goals in the first 11 games of the playoffs (2.63 goals per game). So they scored 1.3 fewer goals per game and allowed 0.7 more goals per game. Not a recipe for success.
This is the fourth article in a series looking at the Toronto Maple Leafs organizational depth by position. Thus far I have completed my review of goalies, defensemen and center icemen in the organization and that leaves us with wingers to round things out. As I stated in my previous article, most forwards can play multiple positions and often do throughout a season, I will do my best to categorize players as centers, left wingers or right wingers. For example, I am including Nazem Kadri in the right winger evaluation. Although Kadri plays center with the AHL Toronto Marlies, he has almost been exclusively a right winger in his stints with the Maple Leafs which suggests that he will be a winger at the NHL level.
Left Wingers on 2011-12 roster:
Last year at this time, the Washington Capitals were contemplating what went wrong after the Tampa Bay Lightning swept them right out of the conference semifinals. They vowed to get better, be more responsible, and play a better two-way system.
Here we are a year later, and the Caps lost (again) in the conference semifinals. They played better defense, but their offense was clearly weakened. Last year, they averaged 2.56 goals per game over nine playoff games, slightly better than the 2.07 goals per game they averaged in 14 games this postseason. Additionally, they gave up 2.67 goals per game in the playoffs last year, and that number dropped to 2.14 goals per game this time around. (This, of course, was a huge drop from the 3.14 goals per game they averaged during the 2010 playoffs, but then again, they lost in the first round that year.)
This is the third article in a series looking at the Toronto Maple Leafs organizational depth by position. Thus far I have completed my review of goalies and defensemen and next up will be a look at the organizational depth at the center ice position. Since most forwards can play multiple positions and often do throughout a season, I will do my best to categorize players as center, right wing or left wing. For example, I am not including Nazem Kadri in the center evaluation. Although Kadri plays center with the AHL Toronto Marlies, he has almost been exclusively a winger in his stints with the Maple Leafs which suggests that he will be a winger at the NHL level.
Center’s on 2011-12 roster:
What an up-and-down season for the Washington Capitals. After changing coaches, not making moves at the trading deadline, pretty much (unofficially) putting a freeze on contract extensions and barely making the playoffs, the Caps eliminated the defending champion Boston Bruins in the first round before bowing out to the New York Rangers in last night’s game seven of the conference semifinals.
After undergoing an identity transplant this season, the team managed to right the ship for the playoffs. — sorta. Their biggest find was Braden Holtby, who entered the playoffs with no postseason experience and only 21 regular-season games played, but ended with a 1.95 goals against average (sixth-best in the league), a .935 save percentage (also sixth) and all seven of the Caps’ wins, not to mention constant lauding by myriad members of the national media.
Although the Eastern Conference Finals match-up hasn’t been set yet, it’s time to say goodbye (belatedly) to the Philadelphia Flyers, who proved that match-ups mean everything. Against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Flyers scored a league-high 30 goals and averaged 27.5 shots per game. But, in five games against the Devils, they scored just 11 goals, and after getting 36 shots in winning Game 1, they averaged just 24.5 shots per game over the final four games. (S/t NHL.com for the stats.)
Overall, the Flyers averaged 3.73 goals per game during the playoffs, but just 2.2 against the Devils (after averaging five per game against the Penguins) — and scored fewer goals (seven) combined over the course of the series’ final four games (all losses) than they did in both game two and three against the Penguins, when they scored eight goals per game.
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