Thursday, May 04, 2006

 

NHL: Eastern Conference Round 2 Matchups

Wow, the top 4 seeds in the West are gone while the East is a bit more ‘normal’ with their top 4 seeds moving on. I figured Calgary would struggle offensively, but not quite so much as they did against the Ducks. Those who were proclaiming Jerome Iginla as the greatest forward in the NHL (and there were many) ought to realize by now that he’s not incredibly gifted at creating offence for himself and his linemates. Iginla is a great 2-way forward, but he isn’t gifted enough offensively to be the #1 guy in the NHL.

Thanks to the shocking Western results, and the fact that Peter Forsberg isn’t the greatest force of evil in the universe any longer, I went 1 for 4 in the West and 3 for 4 in the East for a 50% success rate overall. I might as well be a stinky primate spinning a giant wheel (Yes, Maggie also went 4 for 8)

Carolina vs. New Jersey

The Devils/Rangers series did not give us a true look at the New Jersey Devils thanks to the utter suckiness of the Rangers, who were obviously the product of their two star players (Jagr and Lundqvist), both of whom were injured and ineffective.

Since the Devils ripped apart the overmatched Rangers like a Hulkamania t-shirt, they are suddenly a popular bandwagon for mediots and other fanboys to jump upon. While the Devils have generally been a good playoff team for the past decade, past years’ results are not necessarily a good indicator of present and future capabilities. Doesn’t it seem that the Devils had it too easy? Even the late-season Vancouver Canucks could have provided a better challenge.

The Carolina Canes? Their initial shakiness against Montreal only drove more non-believers to bleat that the Canes weren’t ‘for real’, despite the fact they basically swept the Habs after making a regime change in goal. From the looks of it, Carolina seems to be the ‘underdog’ in this series.

New Jersey – Their BIG advantage comes in goal, with Martin Brodeur as the ‘devil you know’ versus Cam Ward the Cinderella story. Brodeur may be the most overrated goaltender of all time, but he’s still got a great track record in big games and you know the level of solid goaltending that he’ll provide. D00d has played 144 career playoff games and has a miniscule 1.84GAA! He’s not easy to beat when the Devils are on their game.

Ward? I know he’s had great numbers in the AHL and CHL and he’s had an amazing 4-game run in these playoffs, but let’s not forget he was pretty awful during the regular season (3.62GAA and 88.2 SV%) and he’s only 22 years old. Counting on a very young rookie goaltender without an established track record isn’t the safest of propositions. It worked for Ken Dryden, but not so much for Jim Carey and Blaine Lacher.

The Devils main disadvantage is their reliance on one line for offence. Although Jamie Langenbrunner had a shocking output in Round 1 (8 points in 4 games), the Devils clearly rely on the smurfy trio of Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, and Patrik Elias to provide the majority of their offence. Apart from those 4, the rest of the forwards are pretty much grinders and defensive specialists. If the Canes can shut down the first unit, the Devils may run into the same problem the Calgary Flames had where their lack of offence couldn’t keep up with their defensive ability.

(Edit: So, it's been brought to my attention that the main Devils line was broken up. It's true that Elias was spread out, but the main PP unit consists of those same 4 forwards and Brian Rafalski. The Devils rely on those 4 very heavily for the offense when they are mashed together.

Another factoid...out of all playoff-bound teams, only Calgary (212) had fewer GOALS FOR than the Devils (242). The Devils PP% (17.7%) was also the 2nd worst among playoff-bound teams. Obviously, it's not the OFFENSE that drives them)

The Carolina Hurricanes have a lot more offensive punch up front, which they will need to escape from the tight checking of John Madden, Jay Pandolfo, Richard Matvichuk, and the rest of the defensive demons.

As I wrote about yesterday, I’d be seriously concerned about the health of their forward corps and the ineffectiveness of Doug Weight and Mark Recchi. Justin Williams, Ray Whitney, and Josef Vasicek all have some big health issues plaguing them and the Canes depth up front is taking a serious hit because of it.

Given those health issues, and the experience and playoff capabilities of the Devils, I’m picking them to triumph in 7 hard-fought games over the Hurricanes.

Ottawa vs. Buffalo

The Sens/Lightning series proved to be a quick disappointment thanks to the fact that the Lightning have crappy goaltending and a thin defence. Well, at least the press conference tirades by Fonzie were quite entertaining. Otherwise, the Lightning just could not match the offensive power of the Senators as they spent a lot of time digging pucks out of their own net. The losses of players such as Jassen Cullimore and Dave Andreychuk severely depleted their defensive capabilities.

The Sabres also had a relatively easy time with the Philadelphia Flyers, who were too beset by injuries and infighting to play the physical brand of hockey that Philly teams are generally known for. Apart from Ryan Miller letting in some weak goals in Games 3 and 4, the Sabres had their way with the plodding Flyers and the Rebound Machine. Game 6 had to be the absolutely worst elimination game I’ve ever seen one team play. The Flyers obviously gave up from the opening whistle, and I wonder how far they could have even gone had they won the series. As more news trickles out of Philadelphia, it’s obvious that their crappy medical staff (just ask Eric Lindros and Dave Babych) did wonders again as the Flyers have more casualties than an infantry unit in Iraq. Oh, and who the hell trades for Petr Nedved? Bob “Must go!” Clarke, that’s who.

Now, the Sabres will face an opponent that has just as much speed as they do, plus the ability to play a more physical game than the Flyers were able and willing to. Oh, and the Senators have a goaltender that doesn’t have more bounce than the Michelin Man. Both teams are very adept on Special Teams, and this should shape up at the best series of Round 2.

The goaltending battle pits two rookie netminders who took over the #1 during the season and have performed well in their new roles.

The Senators may not even want Dominik Hasek to come back since he’ll likely be rusty and prone to re-injure himself. The Sabres? Ryan Miller was pretty shaky for 2 of the 6 games against Philly, but he’s also older and more experienced and less likely to blow up mentally. While Ray Emery has made great strides in his focus, he still remains a bit of a mental risk.

Regular Season:
Miller – 2.60GAA and 91.4SV%
Emery – 2.82GAA and 90.2SV%

Emery has been enough for the Senators, but not nearly as effective as Ryan Miller. The Sabres have a clear advantage in goal.

Defensively, the Sabres have a solid unit that meshes very well together, but they lack the star power and skill level of the Ottawa Senators. Wade Redden, Zdeno Chara, and Andrej Meszaros are all more skilled than any defenseman on the Sabres roster. The defensive-minded Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov match up well with Jay McKee and Teppo Numminen. I’d take the Senators D core over any other D core in the league.

Up front, the Sabres have an amazing spread of depth as they basically have 18-goal scorers playing as fourth liners. There are no defensive easy shifts to be expected against a team that can throw out an offensive weapon at every opportunity, giving the Sabres that sort of edge throughout each game.

The Senators also have some fine depth up front, but tended to rely more on their big unit of Spezza, Alfredsson, and Heatley to do the bulk of their scoring. The top 3 of the Senators account for 36% of their goals, compared to 28% for the Sabres trio of Afinogenov, Briere, and Drury. The big X factor has become Martin Havlat, who’s been on fire since his return and leads all Senators with 10 points in 6 playoff games. Havlat helps spread out the Senators offence a great deal and he can drive defenders nuts with his cocky style.

Given the skill advantage of the Ottawa Senators on defence and up front, and the fact that they can play have a physical dimension that the Sabres can’t quite match, I’m picking them to prevail in 6.

Comments:
"Smurfy Trio" LOL, that was good.

Your assessment of the Devil offence is pretty accurate, although I think they have 2 offensive lines, but all the offence will come from them (unless Madden gets on a tear again).

Parise - Gomez - Gionta
Elias - Brylin - Langenbrunner

I think the Devils will get it done in 6.

Your Ottawa / Buffalo predicition is spot on. The biggest factor will be the ability of Ottawa's defence to outmuscle the Sabre forwards.
 
Yeah, I've been ripped elsewhere for lumping in the Devils as 'one line' wonders :)

Their main PP does concentrate their stars with a forward on the point. Brylin really needs to step up his production as does Parise (though counting on rookies isn't wise)
 
(small correction: Havlat with 10 points in 5 games, not 6)

I'd say Ottawa has just as balanced an attack as Buffalo. With McGrattan on the bench there isn't really any Sens forward who can't score goals (with the possible exception of Varada, who seems to be way off his game in the new NHL). I don't see Buffalo doing well here at all, barring a collapse from Emery or the return of Clutch Chris Drury.
 
I''m suprised Philly lacked the evil it usually does. Maybe, its because they didn't have the Leafs to beat up this time...

In any event, i'll hop on the Canadian team bandwagon and root for Ottawa. It wouldn't be bad to see Buffalo advance either, they deserve to win sometimes, not a lot else going on in that town (anyone see Buffalo 61?).

Can't believe Calgary went down in flames, har, har.
 
Jes,

Your absolutely right about the powerplay. It still revolves around 5 guys, Elias - Gomez - Gionta up front with Rafalski and Langenbrunner at the point.. You should see who Lou puts out there sometimes on the 2nd PP line (Jason Weimer.. a PP force!)

Of the 2 guys you singled out to produce, Brylin definitely is the one who needs to pick it up. Zach Parise has gotten most of his points for the year in the last quarter of the season, and has really benefitted from being put on the first line. He can be counted on to score one once in a while.
 
Jes, I'm coming to egg your house.

Apartment.

Townhouse.

Whatever.
 
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