Hockey This Week | Playoff Forecast: Awesome! By PuckSage
There is nothing better in sports than hockey playoffs. It doesn’t matter if it’s a college tournament, or the National Hockey League’s road to the Stanley Cup, it’s suspense, adrenaline, agony, ecstasy, angst, anger and adoration for riveting hour after hour. Some years the playoffs roll around and even though it’s exciting, there are clear cut favorites who steamroll their way to finals, which is still all kinds of enjoyable.
Other years, when fans are very lucky, it’s a battle royal waiting to happen with five or even more teams all with a legitimate shot at the most difficult prize to win in sports. It’s one of those battle royal years. There are at least three teams in each conference who can make a strong claim towards being the favorite. There are another two or three who if they make it in can do a whole lot of damage based with just a hot run or two.
Out west the St Louis Blues could go from near lottery team to Presidents Trophy winner in one season. They’ve been getting stellar goaltending, their defensive system doesn’t allow you to get in on the goaltenders or get off many shots. They also lay claim to a roster full of guys with big bodies who know how to use them. Unfortunately for them, the goaltending and management of shots against is about eh only areas they count as elite. Goal scoring is not their forte, their powerplay isn’t going to intimidate anyone, and they’ve fed their young nucleus on a steady diet of playoff hockey.
The quiet storm in the west resides in Smashville. The Nashville Predators don’t dominate the league in any category except powerplay. But they are more than competent everywhere else. With the depth they added in Gill, Radulov, Kostitsyn, and Gaustad, they can plug in solid players for any missing part, and keep rolling. While recent history shows you don’t really need a bona-fied offensive stud to carry you, many feel it never hurts.
The Vancouver Canucks who will win the Northworst division have allowed forty more goals than their central division leading counterparts the St Louis Blues, on the other hand only one team in the west, the Detroit Red Wings have scored more goals, and that’s just by one. The Canucks are near the top of the league in special teams, which hasn’t stopped them from being a sub-.500 team lately, even before Daniel Sedin went down. With their top goal scorer sidelined, and teams having learned from last year’s playoffs how to handle this team, one wonders if they can make it as far as last year.
The two best words to describe the Detroit Red Wings roster this year are “dinged” and “aging”. While Jimmy Howard can be a difference maker this is not the same team that went to the cup finals back to back in the not too distant past. That team would be wearing bags over their heads if they had both their powerplay and penalty kill in the 20s this late in the season. No one playing on those teams would even contemplate having a goalie as good as Howard and having given up a double digit number of shorthanded goals. But, those things are fact. If healthy and engaged Lidstrom, Datsyuk and Zetterberg are more than enough to give other teams fits, but can they win it all?
In the east the New York Rangers have run into some potholes but might just snatch the Presidents Trophy up along with the division honors. With more regulation or overtime wins than anyone in the league they certainly know how to get the job done with a minimum of fuss. But you can’t help but wonder how well they can maintain such a low shots against total in the intensified playoff battles.
Having allowed the 6th least shots against all year when things hit high intensity, and suddenly Lundquist who has battled injury and played a lot of games is facing 35-40 shots versus the middle twenties if the wheels will stay on. Of the true heavyweights heading into the playoffs the Rangers have one of the poorer offenses, and a powerplay that looks up at 28 teams isn’t helping.
The Boston Bruins have been inside out, upside down and turned around for at least ten or twelve weeks, or at least that’s the optimistic view. Arguably with better goaltending of late the ship is no longer in danger of being swamped. With several players returned from injury and Rich Peverley on the cusp, the team could enter the second season looking much like the one what ended the last NHL playoffs, or better still for them the one who went on a rampage in November and December. This team could flame out in the first round or knock a few heads before the last dance is played.
The New Jersey Devils are somehow an invisible team this year. It doesn’t matter who they beat or where they stand, no one notices. That’s a pretty neat trick for a team that could easily finish the season with four thirty goal scorers. When you mix in a league leading penalty kill that has racked up a league leading 14 shorthanded goals for you’ve got a potent mix. The questions for this contender lie in their ability to keep the goaltending hot, and an eclectic group of defenders on the same page.
With the return of Jordan Staal, Kris Letang and Sidney Crosby some consider the Pittsburgh Penguins the odds on favorite to win the cup. Given the play of Malkin and Staal this season it is hard to argue without a solid shakedown of the numbers. Marc-Andre Fluery has had two consecutive sub .900 Sv% playoffs going as low as the 13 game .891 two season ago. Their top six defensemen are a combined -27 in their careers in playoff hockey with only Kris Letang having a positive number +1. Add in the health issues of Letang, Staal, Malkin, Crosby and others over the course of the year and keep in mind that all of those are injuries that are easily repeated and you start to have questions about the team.
The other teams who can make something happen if things go right for them:
- Jonathan Quick is that damn good and he’s perfectly capable of stealing games with the suddenly stronger Los Angeles Kings offense in front of him.
- The Buffalo Sabres are getting a lot more Ryan Miller from Ryan Miller than they did earlier in the year, and funny how that and the rest of the team playing better has dragged them back up the standings.
- If the Coyotes can stay focused they will bite anyone who goes tries to win just by showing up.
With this many teams who can beat their opponents on any given shift, any given night, there’s no such thing as a safe bet going into the second season.
Hockey This Week
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