It is a popular story in sports when an improbable team makes a run and wins it all. It is also a story that rarely ever happens. This season the team that best fit the Cinderella role was the St Louis Blues. At mid-season it looked like they were in the race for a lottery pick in the draft and they wound up finishing strong and placing sixth in the West Conference. That got them a lot of believers including high profile bloggers such as Puck Daddy (Greg Wyshynski). The St Louis playoff run ended the way a lot of Cinderella playoff runs end. It ended in failure. There is a reason why the team is so improbable to be such an underdog and those reasons almost always win out. Cinderella is left in a field with a pumpkin and a few mice wondering what happened.
In general it is a bad thing for plan A to fail and to be forced to change to plan B during a best of seven playoff series. An example of this is when a team has to change goalies in mid-series in the playoffs. Despite this, the last three teams to win the Stanley Cup have all done this. The 2006 Carolina Hurricanes changed from Martin Gerber to Cam Ward, the 2007 Anaheim Ducks changed from Ilya Bryzgalov to Jean-Sebastien Giguere and the 2008 Detroit Red Wings from Dominik Hasek to Chris Osgood. The first team to do this is 2009 is the Washington Capitals who have changed from Jose Theodore to Simeon Varlamov.
Theodore may be a former Hart Trophy winner in 2002, but his career has not gone particularly well since. In the first game of the series against the New York Rangers, Theodore played badly allowing four goals on only 21 shots. He was the main reason Washington lost. In the next two games the Capitals turned to rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov. Varlamov has only six regular season NHL games played. He has succeeded so far in the playoffs. He has stopped 56 of the 57 shots he has faced and sports a playoff leading 0.50 GAA and .982 saves percentage.
Teams have played either two or three games each at this point in the playoffs. I think it is the earliest meaningful point to try to pick an early playoff MVP. I think the clear choice at this point is Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Malkin leads the playoffs in both goals and points with four and seven respectively.
Malkin is carrying on his dominance from a regular season where he won the Art Ross Trophy. His offensive totals have made large jumps every season in his young NHL career (from 85 to 106 to 113 points). If he has another jump like that next season, I think many people will begin to call him the best player in hockey (and some people are already making arguments of that nature).
Malkin is off to a great start in the playoffs so far. Will he keep it up and help the Penguins have a deep run?
Last season as the Pittsburgh Penguins went to the Stanley Cup finals, there was a big screen set up outside Mellon Arena where thousands of fans watched the games. It was a successful promotion which likely paid off as the fans present at these viewing parties were more likely to buy Penguins memorabilia and to attend Penguins games in the future. However in yesterday’s game three of their series with the Philadelphia Flyers there was no viewing party. NBC vetoed it.
NBC had the television rights to the game. They obtained them by paying the NHL nothing in advance and sharing revenues after the fact. This agreement gives NBC the right to dictate some NHL policy. This is policy which is against the NHL’s best interests.
An obvious follow-up to yesterday’s post on Daniel Carcillo’s suspension is to look at a similar situation where Mike Cammalleri of the Calgary Flames was not suspended. Early in the third period of Calgary’s game one vs. the Chicago Blackhawks, with the game tied 1-1, Cammalleri sucker punched Chicago’s Martin Havlat right off the faceoff. For his efforts, Cammalleri was given a two minute penalty. The main differences that the NHL has played up in explaining the lack of a suspension in this case is that it was a close game (so the resulting penalty mattered) and Cammalleri is a skilled player as Calgary’s top goal scorer this season. Cammalleri is not a goon. At 5’ 9” and 185 pounds he is on the small side for an NHL player. Thus Cammalleri is not a repeat offender and he was not “sending a message” at the end of a game.
With seven seconds left in game one of the Philadelphia Flyers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins playoff series, a game Pittsburgh was winning (and won) 4-1, Daniel Carcillo of the Flyers took a faceoff against Maxime Talbot of the Penguins. The game was getting out of referee control at the time. There had been 26 minutes in penalties handed out in three separate incidents in less than the last twenty seconds of the game. Philadelphia was killing a penalty. This seemed like an unusual move for the Flyers. Carcillo is not a penalty killer. He averaged two seconds per game (!) on the penalty kill this season. He only took twenty faceoffs all season. Carcillo is the man who led the NHL in penalty minutes both this season and last season (his NHL career has only been two seasons long). It was a suspicious enough move that the linesman even warned Carcillo not to do anything stupid. When the puck was dropped, Carcillo hit Talbot in the head with the butt-end of his stick and/or punched him. Talbot was not hurt in the play and Carcillo was not penalized. The NHL reviewed the situation and decided to suspend Daniel Carcillo for game two and fine Flyers coach John Stevens $10,000 for setting up the situation so that his team could “send a message” for the rest of the series.
The Minnesota Wild front office will look different next season. Their coach Jacques Lemaire quit at the end of the season. He had been their only coach in franchise history and had built a very successful system that had made the Wild a much better team than their talent level would have predicted. Minnesota is a team that has only ever had one player who can be considered a scoring star in Marian Gaborik. Despite the fact that Gaborik is injury prone and was held to 17 games played this season, Minnesota barely missed the playoffs this year finishing in ninth place in the West Conference. It was a common, but incorrect, opinion that the problem with the Wild was Lemaire’s defensive scheme. The theory was that it prevented the Wild from offensive success. A much more reasonable theory is that the Wild had little offensive talent and their defensive scheme was what gave them the success that they had. The man who was at fault for the lack of offensive talent is the general manager Doug Risebrough. Yesterday, the Minnesota Wild announced his firing.
One question I try to answer is at what point in their careers, a player establishes himself as a Hall Of Famer. At what point does it no longer matter what he does or does not do for the rest of his career because he has done enough that he should make the Hall of Fame? This season I think Alexander Ovechkin got himself to that point.
Ovechkin is only 23 years old and most likely has the majority of his career ahead of him and yet he has already done more than most players will do in their lifetimes. In four seasons he has won the Hart Trophy once, the Art Ross Trophy once, the Richard Trophy twice, the Calder Trophy once, the Pearson Award once and he has made the First Team All Star at left wing three times. In this season the awards have not yet been presented, but he is a likely favorite for another Hart and Pearson Trophy as well as the First Team All Star. He is the most likely choice by fans as the best player in the game today. That is a Hall of Fame career in and of itself and it is probably only a portion of Ovechkin’s entire career.
The first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs is underway soon. It is time to make predictions. Last year I managed a respectable 10-5 record in the playoffs. Let’s see how I can do this year.
San Jose defeats Anaheim This is the first time ever for this battle of California series. Anaheim is much stronger than a typical eighth seed. They are two years removed from a Stanley Cup victory and retain much of that talent. They have further young scoring talent in Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan. They can be a strong playoff team if Jean-Sebastien Giguere provides goaltending. However, San Jose is the team to beat this year. They are the most well rounded playoff team and coming off a first place finish in the regular season. The Sharks will get pushed in the first round, but they should be too much for the Ducks.
Every year I like to post my NHL award choices at the end of the season (here is last year’s version). My picks are not who I think will win the awards but rather who I would vote for. They are the players I think deserve the awards.
Selke Trophy- 1. Mike Richards Philadelphia Flyers 2. Mikko Koivu Minnesota Wild 3. Eric Staal Carolina Hurricanes
I think it is possible that Pavel Datsyuk may be the winner if it is not Richards. Datsyuk does not play nearly as many minutes in defensive situations as these choices and is therefore a poorer choice. This trophy should go to a player who is used in as many of his team’s defensive situations as possible and Datsyuk doesn’t qualify. Here is why I support Mike Richards.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
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