Last night the Pittsburgh Penguins qualified for the Stanley Cup finals by defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1. This gave them a 4-3 victory in their semi-final series. They will meet the San Jose Sharks in the finals.
When a Pittsburgh team led by Sidney Crosby made the finals in 2008 and lost to Detroit and then returned to the finals in 2009 and won the Stanley Cup, I think many people pictured the Penguins being a regular participant in the finals. It turns out that they would not come back for seven years. Not until 2016 - this year. I think that is a sign that the team never was an elite team and suffered from some issues - most notably in their goaltending - that kept them from returning to the Stanley Cup finals for several years.
This Pittsburgh team isn't an elite team either. I use my often discussed definition of an elite team where an elite team must have elite players. They must have at least three players who are in or near their prime who are going to make the Hall of Fame. They also must have goaltending. Their goaltender must be in the elite group of goalies in the league who are Vezina Trophy candidates. This group of players does not guarantee that a team is an elite team but if they do not have elite players they cannot be an elite team.
Last night the San Jose Sharks qualified for the Stanley Cup finals by defeating the St Louis Blues 5-2 to win their semi-final four games to two. This is the first time San Jose has ever made the finals. They have some players who have had long successful careers without playoff success. A Stanley Cup would be a much deserved reward for Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Thornton is the active player who has had the most successful career without a Stanley Cup victory. San Jose will play the winner of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning series in the finals.
Unfortunately for fans the San Jose Sharks are no elite team. That probably comes as no surprise. There was no reasonable person who ever picked San Jose at the top of a power ranking during this season. In fact San Jose with a similar roster missed the playoffs last year.
My necessary but not sufficient definition of an elite team has often been discussed on this forum. Basically an elite team needs many things but perhaps the easiest to determine is player quality. An elite team needs to have at least three players who will make the Hall of Fame when they retire. These players need to be near their prime. Also goaltending is important. The team must have an elite goalie (one of the top 5 or so in the league). This goalie may or may not be included on the list of Hall of Fame players. Having the group of players does not guarantee an elite team but not having them guarantees that it isn't an elite team.
The Memorial Cup is underway in Red Deer, Alberta. It is the championship tournament for the Canadian Hockey League. Participating are WHL champions the Brandon Wheat Kings, OHL champion London Knights and QMJHL champion Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. Also participating is the host Red Deer Rebels who lost to Brandon in the semi-finals of the WHL playoffs. These four teams played a round robin. Here are the results:
1. London Knights 3-0. London went undefeated in the round robin. They had a dominant 20 goals for and only five against. Their offence was led by Mitch Marner (Toronto prospect) who had 13 points to lead the tournament and Christian Dvorak (Arizona prospect) who has 10 points and is second in tournament scoring. Olli Juolevi (2016 draft eligible) is leading their defence and Tyler Parsons (2016 draft eligible) is their top goaltender posting a .944 saves percentage.
Jonathan Drouin was a high draft pick for the Tampa Bay Lightning. He was selected in the first round third overall in 2013. He struggled to make the transition to being an NHL regular. He played 70 games for Tampa Bay in 2014/15 and though he scored 32 points, he was limited to four goals and showed defensive lapses.
This season had more problems. In November he asked the Lighnting for a trade. He was unhappy that he hadn't been given a frontline role with the team. His first part of the season was injury plagued and Drouin was sent to the AHL in January. Later that month he was suspended by the Lightning for failing to report to an AHL game vs. the Toronto Marlies. The Lightning organization claimed they were trying to trade Drouin. In March after the trade deadline had passed without a deal, Drouin reported to the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL and began to play hockey again. Late in the season he was called back up to the NHL. In the playoffs Drouin has been a significant player with the Lightning. He is their third highest scorer in the playoffs with 13 points.
On Friday the World Cup teams will finish filling out their rosters. In early March teams announced the first 16 players on their rosters. Before that happened I picked my first 16 for Team Canada and Team USA. Now I am picking the remainder of my teams. On Saturday I completed my Canadian roster and today I am completing my American roster. I will discuss my picks and any discrepancies between my roster and the World Cup roster that remain at that point.
The World Cup team left three defencemen spots and four forward spots open. I think it was a mistake to fill all three goalie spots because there is no more room should a goalie emerge who deserves a spot on the team. Thus on my team I left one goalie spot open, two defencemen spots and four forward spots. I argue that my first 16 is a better group than the actual World Cup selections. I selected Phil Kessel and Tyler Johnson who have been the two best players eligible for the American team in the playoffs and the World Cup team onitted them both. Thus the World Cup team will almost certainly have to select those two and has less flexibility for other forward picks because of some questionable early forward picks. We had five discrepancies between the World Cup team and my team. The World Cup team selected Ben Bishop, Justin Abdelkader, Ryan Kesler, TJ Oshie and Derek Stepan. In their place I had Justin Faulk, Tyler Johnson, Phil Kessel, Kyle Okposo and Bobby Ryan.
The medal round has just concluded at the World Hockey Championships in Russia. This will be my summary. I have previously posted the results of the preliminary round and the quarterfinals. Here are the results:
SemiFinal: Canada 4 USA 3. These teams had previously met in the preliminary round with Canada winning 5-1. This game was closer. Cam Talbot was the winning Canadian goalie and Keith Kincaid manned the American nets. Canada took a first period lead with goals by Brendan Gallagher and Brad Marchand. USA took over in the second period fighting back to a 3-2 lead. Dylan Larkin was impressive here with two assists. Canada fought back to take the lead 4-3 with Ryan Ellis scoring the winning goal. Canada advances to the gold/silver game and USA will play in the bronze/4th game.
On Friday the remainder of the World Cup rosters will be announced. In early March teams named the first 16 players of the 23 man rosters. That leaves seven players to be named at the end of this week. I also named my first 16 players for Team Canada and Team USA. Today I want to talk about who I would add to my first 16 picks for Team Canada and discuss any discrepancies that exist with the actual World Cup team at this point.
My first 16 picks had four discrepancies with the World Cup first 16. I chose Roberto Luongo, PK Subban, Taylor Hall and Claude Giroux in my first 16 picks. The World Cup team has Braden Holtby, Corey Crawford, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Jeff Carter in their place. I especially dislike the decision to fill all three goaltender positions early because in event a different goalie were to emerge as a top candidate for the team there would be no room for him on the team. Thus I have 1 goalie, 3 defencemen and 3 forwards to pick for my team. The World Cup team has no goalies, 3 defencemen and 4 forwards to pick.
Yesterday the quarterfinals were played at the World Hockey Championships. Today I want to look back at those games. You can look back at the preliminary round here. Here are the results:
USA 2 Czech Republic 1. Keith Kincaid was the winning US goalie. Dominik Furch was in goal for the Czech team. Tomas Zohorna opened the scoring for the Czechs with a first period penalty shot. Auston Matthews tied the game up early in the second period. This game ended in a tie but because a winner was needed they held a skills competetion event called a shootout. Auston Matthews was the only player to score to give the Americans a win and put them into the medal round.
I want to start by saying I have no inside information about the health of Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. I have not been able to look through their medical records or anything else that would give me the ability to assess their health beyond watching them play hockey games. I know that players who are hurt will frequently conceal their injuries from the public to play during playoff time. I also know that Crosby and Malkin have not been playing at their usual levels lately.
Sidney Crosby has 13 points in 14 playoff games. Crosby has two goals in his last two games but before that he hadn't scored since April 21st. That is unlike Crosby. During that time he took a slash on the hand from Alex Ovechkin. Perhaps that (or something else) has been holding him back. Perhaps his two goals show that he is overcoming this injury.
The so-called World hockey Championships are underway. This tournament is poorly named. How can you have the world championships of anything when several of the top players are engaged in another tournament? In this case several top hockey players are in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The 2016 tournament is taking place in Russia with games in both Moscow and St Petersburg. Sixteen teams are in the tournament and are divided into two eight team groups that play round robins. The top four teams in each groups move onto the quarterfinals.
One group (Group A) plays their games in Moscow and the other group (Group B) plays in St Petersburg. Here are the results of the preliminary round that concluded yesterday:
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
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