The first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs opens tomorrow. Here are my predictions on the first round series.
Washington defeats Montreal Montreal has Jaroslav Halak in goal, who is one of the hottest goalies in the league and that is reason to think an upset is not impossible, but Washington is too good. They have too strong a team. They were first place and had the biggest goal differential in the league. They have too many offensive weapons to lose in the first round to an eighth seed, who would have been 12th in the west with the same record.
Every year, I write my annual post on who I would be voting for if I had a chance to vote for the NHL awards. Here was last year’s picks. These are not predictions of who will win the awards; they are my picks as to who is most worth of winning.
Selke Trophy - 1. Jordan Staal Pittsburgh Penguins 2. Patrick Marleau San Jose Sharks 3. Jay McClement St Louis Blues Here is why I pick Staal and why I dislike several of the other top contenders. I think that three of Ryan Kesler, Pavel Datsyuk and Jonathan Toews and Staal will likely be nominated, so I expect that my other contenders wind up missing out.
There is one final game which most of the hockey world is watching today. The New York Rangers play at the Philadelphia Flyers for the final playoff berth in the East Conference. Both teams are currently tied with 86 points. The winner of today’s game will have 88 points and make the playoffs. The loser misses the playoffs. It doesn’t matter if this game is settled in regulation or not. The winner makes the playoffs and the loser does not.
I hope to see the New York Rangers win. They look like a stronger team right now. Philadelphia has goaltending issues. Injured is Ray Emery, Michael Leighton and Johan Backlund. Brian Boucher is forced to be the Flyers goalie. Boucher has a subpar .898 saves percentage and a 2.83 GAA. Jeremy Duchesne, who was a mediocre ECHL goalie last year, is their backup and will not be used if it is at all possible. This makes the Flyers a very beatable team. In the last ten games, the Flyers have a 3-7 record (with one regulation tie point). This is the worst record in the league over the last ten games in the league. The Flyers look like easy first round fodder should they make the playoffs.
Last year during the Stanley Cup semi-finals I wrote that no elite goalies were left in the Stanley Cup playoffs. At that time the four remaining starting goalies were Cam Ward of the Carolina Hurricanes, Nikolai Khabibulin of the Chicago Blackhawks, Chris Osgood of the Detroit Red Wings and Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The comment was heavily criticized as people wanted to argue that Osgood or Fleury were elite goalies. There was significantly less concern about ward and Khabibulin. The next NHL season is complete and it stands to reason that if any of those goalies were elite goalies last year, they probably still are. As elite goalies they probably would be in the running for the Vezina Trophy, post-season All Star teams or made significant contributions to their respective Olympic teams. None of these goalies clearly measure up this year.
The Edmonton Oilers have had a tough year. They finished last in the NHL this season. The AHL affiliate, the Springfield Falcons, also finished last in their league. For the Oilers, help is not on its way from their top minor team. Springfield has won 24 of their 77 games this season and has 63 points to sit in last place in the AHL. With 283 goals allowed, no team has allowed as many goals this season as Springfield has. Their 193 goals for is fourth worst in the league. Their -90 +/- rating is worst in the league.
Their top scorer is Charles Linglet. He has 74 points in 75 AHL games. He is currently in the NHL with the Oilers and has no points in his three NHL games. The only other two players with significant scoring totals this year are Chad Wiseman and Colton Fretter, who have 54 and 53 points respectively.
I have never thought that the Masterton Trophy nominations make sense. They do them while the season is still underway, which allows for the possibility that something happens to change the circumstances of a nomination before the season is over. Each team nominates a player regardless of if they have anyone who is a serious candidate. Could you imagine if the other awards were run this way? Does it really matter who the Columbus Blue Jackets would nominate for the Calder Trophy or the Tampa Bay Lightning might pick for Norris? We know neither nominee has a hope of winning the award.
What is the Masterton Trophy for anyway? The NHL says The Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy is awarded annually to the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey, but what does that mean? Teams seem to nominate players for being veterans or for overcoming an injury or for sticking around the game as a fringe player and eventually winning an everyday role or in some cases for being a good guy that they want to celebrate.
When I write about the Selke Trophy race this year, I get a few comments that suggest that Pavel Datsyuk should be considered the leading Selke contender due largely to his NHL lead in takeaways. Datsyuk has a sizeable lead in takeaways. He has 125 and Ryan Kesler of the Vancouver Canucks is second with 81. Datsyuk has 54% more takeaways than anyone else in the NHL. Is that one number enough to win the Selke Trophy as best defensive forward? I argue that it isn’t.
The main argument against Datsyuk winning the Selke Trophy is that he is not used in enough of Detroit’s prime defensive situations. He has only played 59 minutes shorthanded, while other Selke candidate forwards have upwards of 200 minutes shorthanded. If Datsyuk does not play in enough defensive situations, he isn’t as good a Selke candidate as one who does. That is not to say that shorthanded time is the only defensive situation, but it is a symptom of how Detroit uses Datsyuk. They roll out all four lines for as much of the game as possible and do not make much effort to play Pavel Datsyuk in defensive situations.
Yesterday I wrote about how many top seeded playoff teams have goalie issues as they enter the playoffs. This got me wondering about which team’s goalie are playing well. These might be teams that could have surprisingly successful playoff runs behind a top goalie.
Here are the top 10 goalies in the NHL since the Olympic break by saves percentage (neglecting a few with limited playing time):
The playoffs are almost upon us and it looks like none of the top seeds in the West Conference are without question marks in goal. The Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks have all either clinched their division victory or are expected to do so soon, but none of these teams have had strong goaltending recently.
Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo may have been the gold medal winning goalie in the Olympics, but he has posted a .891 saves percentage since then. That level of play is not likely good enough for a significant playoff run.
San Jose has another Olympic goalie in Russia’s Evgeni Nabokov. He has a .890 saves percentage since the Olympic break.
Chicago’s Cristobal Huet is from France. If France had qualified for the Olympics, he would have been their number one goalie. In the NHL he has been bad lately. He has posted a .833 saves percentage since the break.
The playoffs are not quite here, but I think we have seen enough hockey to determine which player has been the top trade deadline pickup. It has been Lee Stempniak who was acquired by the Phoenix Coyotes from the Toronto Maple Leafs for a fourth round pick and a seventh round pick. That is an extremely low price for the player who has led the NHL in goals since the trade deadline with 13. That is four more goals than anyone else in the league in that period and his team has played three fewer games than some teams in the league.
Stempniak has never been a big scorer. He scored 27 goals and 52 points in 2006/07, his career best year before this one, but has dropped into the 30’s of points every year since. Toronto considered him a player of little value and they moved him for that little value. Those kinds of trades rarely improve teams.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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