The second round of the AHL playoffs completed yesterday. My first round coverage was here. Here are the results from the second round:
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins defeat Providence Bruins four games to three. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is the Pittsburgh Penguins farm team and Providence belongs to the Boston Bruins. Providence had a 3-0 lead in this series and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton fought their way back to win the series with four straight wins. Trevor Smith and Chad Kolarik were the top scorers for the Penguins. Brian Dumoulin led their defence. Brad Thiessen played very well in their goal. Chris Bourque and Carter Camper led the Providence offence. Matt Bartowski had been their top defenceman until he got called up in the playoffs. This may be an excuse for the Providence loss. Niklas Svedberg was their goaltender.
Over the last couple of weeks the NHL has announced the nominees for the year end awards. Earlier I posted the people that I would vote for if I had an award ballot. That is not my predictions about who will get nominated, but rather who I think is deserving. Now that we have seen the nominees, I want to comment upon who I think should win the award and what the nominations mean. Given our shortened season, there has been less time for players to distinguish themselves as likely award winners, so I think some of these award races are more uncertain than they usually are.
Calder Trophy - Brendan Gallagher Montreal Canadiens, Jonathan Huberdeau Florida Panthers, Brandon Saad Chicago Blackhawks. The only nominee of this bunch I would have voted for was Huberdeau and I think he will win it. While there are narratives that lead to all three winning, I don't buy into the cases for Gallagher and Saad. Gallagher is a very hard working player in a big market in Montreal. This makes him a popular player but he cannot do the things that Nail Yakupov does easily and makes look effortless (and sometimes makes it look like he isn't trying even when he succeeds). Yakupov also outscored Gallagher in a lower scoring conference (which was effectively a different league given no cross-over games). I think he would have been a better nominee. Saad is given a lot of credit for cracking a tough Chicago Blackhawk lineup and getting some first line minutes. What is rarely mentioned is how Chicago was in need of a first line left winger and he got auditioned along with some other players and given Chicago's talent none looked out of place. This shows he is an NHL player, but also one who is benefiting from the circumstances in which he plays. I think Jonas Brodin was a better nominee as he played a much bigger role in Minnesota with much more icetime than Saad. He was a far more important player to Minnesota than Saad has been in Chicago.
The preliminary round of the World Hockey Championships concluded yesterday. Ilya Kovalchuk of Russia leads the tournament with 13 points. In second in scoring is Petri Kontiola of Finland. He has 12 points. This is a bit of a surprise since Kontiola is not an established NHL player.
Kontiola was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2004. He was 19 years old at the time. In 2007 he decided to leave Finland to play in North America. He spent two years in North America and spent most of his time in the AHL. He played well in the AHL and was an all star in that league. Despite that he wasn't given much of a shot to make the NHL. He was given 12 games played with the Blackhawks in 2007/08, where he scored five points. He was kept in the minors for the entire next season. His entry level contract had ended and instead of staying in North America where he would likely make AHL money and ride the busses, he opted for a pay raise to play in the KHL.
The World Hockey Championships are underway in Stockholm, Sweden and Helsinki, Finland. The preliminary round has completed earlier today in Europe. An eight team group played in Helsinki and another one played in Stockholm. Here are the results:
1. Finland. The host team won six and lost one. Tw of their wins were in overtime. In the World Championships point scheme this is 16 points - three points for a regulation win and two for an overtime win. Petri Kontiola led the Finns in scoring with 12 points. Juhamatti Aaltonen and Janne Pesonen provided some scoring depth. Antti Raanta was their top goalie.
2. Russia. They were probably the most dominant team in this group. They had five wins and two losses and looked more dominant in their wins than Finland. Ilya Kovalchuk has been the highest scorer in the tournament so far. Alexander Radulov also was a top scorer. Yevgeni Medvedev led their defence. Ilya Bryzgalov has been their most successful goalie. Surprisingly, Sergei Bobrovsky was not added to the team.
The first round of the playoffs is over with two series playing back-to-back games six and seven in the last two days and the second round set to start on the next day. The NHL's "hurry up" season due to the lockout continues into the playoffs. It will be interesting to see if this increased rate of games will make a difference as the playoffs continue. Should I be picking against teams that go to game sevens in the future?
My first round predictions went pretty well. I picked six right and missed two. The series i missed are the first and last to complete. I picked Vancouver and Washington to win in the first round. I think that a 6-2 result in the first round is about as good as can be expected. Anyone doing better than that (and that includes me in earlier years) required some good luck as well as good predictions.
Here are my second round predictions:
One of the more surprising moves at the trade deadline this year was the Washington Capitals trading 2012 first round pick Filip Forsberg to the Nashville Predators for Martin Erat and minor leaguer Michael Latta. I picked this as a good longterm move for Nashville and a bad longterm move for Washington. There are few players with Forsberg`s potential and you don`t give them up unless you get something significant in return. The only justification for the deal was that Martin Erat was a difference maker, but he hasn`t been. Erat has been a non-factor in his four playoff games so far. He hasn`t scored any points. He missed game five with an upper body injury and it isn`t clear if he will be back. Even if he is healthy, Washington may not want him back in the lineup and will use his injury status to help save face.
Including the regular season, Erat has played 13 games for Washington. In that time he has one goal and two assists. He hasn`t been a significant player for the Caps. He is signed for the next two seasons with a $4.5 million salary cap hit. That makes him look overpriced going into the future. The saving grace for Erat is that he isn`t actually paid $4.5 million in either of those seasons. He is to be paid $3.75 million next year and $2.25 million in the final year of his current front-laded contract.
The team with the worst regular season record that has qualified for the second round of the playoffs so far is the Ottawa Senators. They did so by defeating the Montreal Canadiens four games to one. While this result is not entirely a surprise, as the Sens finished seven points behind the Habs in an injury-filled season. With Erik Karlsson and Craig Anderson back in the Sens line-up they are clearly a better team than they were through much of the regular season. There is another reason for the Sens improving over the course of this season that many have overlooked. They have a strong group of rookie forwards who are making a big impact with the team. Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Mika Zibanejad, Cory Conacher and Jakob Silfverberg all have three points or more in their five playoff games so far. Ottawa has developed new depth at forward during the course of this season and that is a strong reason they are better now than they were in the regular season. This clearly looks good for the future of the franchise.
When the playoffs began I made my predictions. While I was expecting to be surprised in a lot of the series and to have a reasonable number of my predictions proven wrong, there are certain things I was pretty certain about. I looked at the Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New York Islanders series and saw a mismatch. Pittsburgh is the team I think is most likely to win the Stanley Cup and the New York Islanders are just lucky to be there. The Islanders took a team with not much talent beyond John Tavares and slipped into the playoffs with a strong streak at the end of a shortened season.
Five games into the series Pittsburgh leads three games to two. Likely the Penguins will win this series but I am surprised it's not over yet. The Islanders have not had strong goaltending. Evgeni Nabokov is posting an .847 saves percentage. Those numbers sustained over any long period get players sent to the AHL. How can a team that barely made the playoffs have a number one goalie posting a .847 saves percentage and still not be eliminated? I suppose defence is an answer. The Isles have allowed the third fewest shots per game. That is despite the fact their defence doesn't scare anyone. Lubomir Visnovsky, Travis Hamonic and until he missed game five Andrew MacDonald lead their defence.
The first round of the AHL playoffs completed today. The first round is a best of five series in an attempt to keep the AHL season a reasonable length (something I don't imagine the NHL would consider). This makes the first round results in the AHL a little more unpredictable then the NHL first round that is a best of seven series. Here is a summary of the first round series:
Providence Bruins defeat Hershey Bears three games to two. This was the last first round series as it ended tonight. It was probably the closest of the first round series. Providence is the Boston Bruins minor league affiliate and Hershey belongs to the Washington Capitals. Carter Camper was the top scorer in this series for Providence with eight points. He had support from Chris Bourque and defenceman Mark Bartkowski. Niklas Svedberg was their goaltender but he did not play a strong series posting a .887 saves percentage. Hershey was led by Peter LeBlanc who also posted eight points and Joey Crabb, with Dmitry Orlov contributing from defence. Philipp Grubauer provided their goaltending.
I am very interested in the question of how early in the season/playoffs an eventual award winner establishes himself as the frontrunner and as such I try to pick winners as soon as I can and update my selection as a new player takes the lead. Yesterday I picked Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals as the Conn Smythe leader based on his first two games of the playoffs. His third game was not as strong. He allowed four goals on thirty shots in Washington's 4-3 loss to the New York Rangers. This knocks him out of the Conn Smythe lead but with a playoff leading 1.61 GAA and a .944 saves percentage he has to still be considered a contender if Washington makes a playoff run.
I think the new Conn Smythe leader is David Krejci of the Boston Bruins. He leads the playoffs with seven points and is tied for the lead with a +5 +/- rating. A lot of Boston's success against Toronto has come from their number one line and Krejci is its leader.
Krejci has a history of playoff success. He was the top scorer in the 2011 playoffs when his Boston team won the cup. If Boston makes a cup run this year, he would have to be a top contender. Will that happen?
About The Puck Stops Here
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