Tuesday, April 1, 2014

2014 Stanley Cup First Round Playoff Match-Up Predictions

EASTERN CONFERENCE

(Photo Credit: Steve Babineau - NHLi via Getty Images)

Boston Bruins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
-The Bruins wrapped up the Atlantic Division back in February (or so it seemed like it), and have been playing the best hockey of any team in the league for awhile now. It's not even debatable. They're 17-1-3 since the Olympics ended. Boston is better than any team in the NHL. The only team I can see knocking them off is Montreal, because all bets are off when those two meet. As for Columbus, they'll earn the second wild card spot for the franchise's second ever post-season appearance. Columbus being an improved team this year is not a surprise, but edging out teams like Toronto and Washington for a playoff spot certainly is. This series would provide the best goalie match-up in the East, with reigning Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky taking on this year's likely Vezina winner, Tuukka Rask. 

(Photo Credit: Rick Osentoski - USA Today Sports)

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Detroit Red Wings
-Despite a slew of early season injuries and a bumpy month of March, the Penguins dominated enough early in the season to build a comfortable lead in the Metropolitan Division. Star Forward Evgeni Malkin is scheduled to be back in time for the playoffs, and it appears Defenseman Paul Martin will be as well. Sidney Crosby is the most important player on the ice for Pittsburgh, but whether or not top Defenseman Kris Letang can play (currently recovering from a stroke) or not will be a huge X-factor. Injuries have also plagued the Winged Wheel, but their youngsters (especially Gustav Nyquist) have stepped up enough to earn the first Wild Card spot. If dynamic Center Pavel Datysuk can return from injury (knee) in time, and goalie Jimmy Howard can tighten up a bit, Detroit could be a real first round threat. 

(Photo Credit: Richard Wolowicz - Getty Images)

Montreal Canadiens vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
-Under the new playoff system, second and third place from each division will face off in the first round. While this series would be overshadowed by the others in the East, this would be the closest match-up. The Lightning were without Steven Stamkos for a good chunk of the season, and were able to remain among the East's top teams. Having a fresher Stamkos would mean trouble for the East if he got rolling. The Habs have also been a model of consistency, remaining among the upper echelon of the East for the bulk of the season. Goaltending would be the deciding factor. In the red corner, the Canadiens have Carey Price, fresh off a gold medal in Sochi. In the blue corner, the Bolts have big Ben Bishop (6' 7"). The former Senators prospect was getting strong consideration to be one of Team USA's three netminders, something no one expected coming in to the season. 

(Photo Credit: Seth Wenig - AP Photo)

Philadelphia Flyers vs. New York Rangers
-With the way the Metropolitan Division is shaking out, these two rivals have been on a playoff collision course for the other 2-3 match-up. They're last playoff meeting came in the 1997 Eastern Conference Finals, and there's plenty of history for NBC to hype the hell out of the rivalry angle. Philly has two games in hand over the Blueshirts, so they'll likely earn home ice. The Rangers have a deeper team, but the Flyers would have the best player in the series in Claude Giroux. We all know what New York has between the pipes in Henrik Lundqvist, but the difference in the series lies in the Flyers crease. Steve Mason has found himself on Broad Street, and has played very well all season. The Flyers history of poor playoff goaltending is well documented. If the former Calder winner (rookie of the year) can buck that trend, the Rangers could have a very disappointing trip up I-95.


WORTH MENTIONING: The Maple Leafs completely collapsed down the stretch (going 4-10-1 in March), and it will be another interesting off-season in Toronto. The Washington Capitals just aren't deep enough to get it done (I expect GM George McPhee to get the ax), and the Devils didn't win enough in March to keep pace with the other wild card contenders. 

WESTERN CONFERENCE

(Photo Credit: St. Louis Blues)

St. Louis Blues vs. Minnesota Wild
-The Bruins have been the class of the East for most of the season, and the same could be said about the Blues in the West. They can roll four lines, have arguably the best blueline in the league, and acquiring Ryan Miller at the trade deadline gave them the elite goaltender they needed to tie it altogether. On the flipside, goaltending is the reason Minnesota won't make a run this Spring. A month ago, I thought the Wild had a real chance to pull off a first round upset. Despite being without their starting goaltender Josh Harding (multiple sclerosis) since New Year's Eve, rookie Darcy Kuemper filled in admirably. Kuemper's play has recently come back down to earth, and I don't trust Ilya Bryzgalov in the playoffs. While the Wild currently are the first wild card, I think they'll slip to the second wild card spot. 

(Photo Credit: Jerome Miron - USA Today Sports)

Anaheim Ducks vs. Dallas Stars
-Before the Blues were the class of the West in 2013-14, it was the Anaheim Ducks who were running roughshod in the Pacific Division. A 3-5-2 stretch out of the Olympics, combined with the surging Sharks, closed that gap, but the Ducks will still walk away with the division. Ryan Getlzaf and Corey Perry are still one of the best top-line cores in the league, and they'll need to produce at their usual high level if Anaheim hopes to make a run. I think the Stars will make a big push in the last two weeks of the season to put themselves in the first wild card spot. Acquiring Tyler Seguin last off-season has put Dallas on the right track to becoming a true contender in the West sooner rather than later. The last NHL regular season game on the schedule is Dallas at Phoenix, and that could very well be a play-in game for one of the last spots in the West. 

(Photo Credit:  USA Today Sports)

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Colorado Avalanche
-The Colorado Avalanche's performance this year has been nothing short of stunning. A rookie head coach (Patrick Roy) and a very young line-up usually doesn't have you ahead of the defending champs in the standings. Not only are the Avs ahead of the Hawks in the Central Division standings, they've also gone 4-1-0 against Chicago head-to-head. Despite the lack of success against Colorado, Chicago has loads of playoff experience, and they're very capable of shifting their play in to a sixth gear. Injuries will play a key part in this series. Chicago is currently without captain Jonathan Toews (his injury isn't serious) and Patrick Kane (he's expected to be back by the playoffs), while Colorado is without their top center, Matt Duchene (he'll be out four weeks, which means he likely wouldn't be back until the second round). 

(Photo Credit:  Kelley L Cox - USA Today Sports)

San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings
-San Jose and LA is the best rivalry in the NHL no one knows about. When they play each other, their games don't start until 10PM Eastern or later, but the hockey junkies who stay up late know how good it is when these two get together. The Kings were downright awful heading in to the Olympics, but came out of the break very strong. San Jose has been consistently great throughout most of the season, and will continue to challenge Anaheim for the Pacific crown down the stretch. The Sharks have a history of underachieving in the playoffs, but they'll need to survive their Southern California rivals first. This series would be the best goal-tending match-up in the West, with both netminders (San Jose's Antti Niemi & Los Angeles' Jonathan Quick) already having their names engraved on the Stanley Cup. 


Worth Mentioning: The Phoenix Coyotes would have held off Dallas for the final playoff spot if starting goalie Mike Smith didn't get hurt in late March. I just don't see Thomas Greiss playing well enough to keep Phoenix in the top eight. Vancouver took themselves out of the mix, playing 11-19-4 hockey since the beginning of January. Nashville never really had a chance at the playoffs this season with goalie Pekka Rinne being out most of the season (e. Coli infection in his hip).

Monday, February 4, 2013

Weekly PT Rankings - Monday 2/4


Green = Cream of the Conference
Blue = Playing Well
Orange = On the Fringe
Red = No Bueno


Atlantic

Pittsburgh
New Jersey
NY Islanders
NY Rangers
Philadelphia

Northeast

Boston
Montreal
Ottawa
Toronto
Buffalo

Southeast

Tampa Bay
Carolina
Florida
Winnipeg
Washington

EAST
1) Boston
2) Pittsburgh
3) Tampa Bay
4) Montreal
5) New Jersey
6) Ottawa
7) NY Islanders
8) NY Rangers
9) Toronto
10) Carolina
11) Philadelphia
12) Florida
13) Winnipeg
14) Buffalo
15) Washington

CREAM OF THE CONFERNECE - The Penguins got off to a rough start this season, but the loss at home to the Islanders served as a wake-up call. Since then, they’ve beaten the Rangers, Devils & Capitals by a combined score of 13-4. The Bruins are rolling along despite the speed-bump vs. Buffalo. The Lightning look like they’ll be running away from the pack in a weak division.

PLAYING WELL -  Montreal has been a pleasant surprise so far this season. The younger Habs are stepping up and producing. Ottawa is here for now, but the loss of Jason Spezza is huge. New Jersey & the Islanders are keeping pace in a tight Atlantic Divison.

ON THE FRINGE – The Rangers win over TB was big on Saturday night. We’ll see how the additions of Darroll Powe & Nick Palmieri help with their bottom-line depth issues. Toronto is taking care of business against weaker teams. Carolina is in trouble when Dan Ellis is outplaying Cam Ward between the pipes.

NO BUENO – Philadelphia’s blue-line is still in shambles (Bryzgalov isn’t the issue, for once). Winnipeg has lost three in a row after getting off to a good start. Buffalo’s big win in Boston is a blip on their dismal radar (at what point is HC Lindy Ruff held accountable for their performance on the ice). Florida could find themselves moving up a class next week after winning two in a row after losing five straight. The Capitals will go as Ovechkin goes, and new HC Adam Oates better figure out how to get him going quick.

Central

Chicago
St. Louis
Detroit
Nashville
Columbus

Pacific

San Jose
Anaheim
Phoenix
Dallas
Los Angeles

Northwest

Vancouver
Minnesota
Edmonton
Colorado
Calgary

WEST
1) Chicago
2) San Jose
3) Vancouver
4) St. Louis
5) Anaheim
6) Detroit
7) Minnesota
8) Edmonton
9) Nashville
10) Colorado
11) Phoenix
12) Dallas
13) Los Angeles
14) Columbus
15) Calgary

CREAM OF THE CONFERNECE – Chicago-San Jose tomorrow night will be the center of the hockey world. Both teams have earned at least a point in every game this season. St. Louis is rolling along much the same way Boston is in the East.

PLAYING WELL – The battle for tops in the Northwest is real interesting. Vancouver is riding a strong Roberto Luongo at the moment. Minnesota looked like a legitimate top team in the West in the shootout win over Chicago. Edmonton will need to take advantage of 7 of their 11 February games being at home. Detroit is right where I expected them to be at the moment. Anaheim has been the surprise of the West so far. A 6-game road trip in the middle of February should be a good test to see if they are a Western contender or pretender.  

ON THE FRINGE – Nashville’s lack of offense is going to be an issue all year long (they have yet to score more than three goals in a game). Colorado won two in a row within the division this week, but no Landeskog will catch up with them at some point. Phoenix & Dallas are both enigmas wrapped in riddles right now.

NO BUENO – The defending champs can’t use a short off-season as an excuse for their slow start. Mike Richards and Jeff Carter need to be more consistent for LA. Columbus is right where they’re going to be for the season. Calgary didn't deserve to lose to Chicago on Saturday night, but things are still bleak for the Flames right now. A three game road trip (away from the local papers) gives them a chance to refocus. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Weekly PT Rankings - Monday 1/28/13

First off, hello. It's been months since I've last posted here. When the NHL Lockout happened, there was nothing interesting worth writing about. Chronicling the day to day details of a billionaires vs. millionaires battle, where they make progress one second and take three steps back the next, is too frustrating. Thanks to the good people over at Hooked on Hockey Magazine, I'll be kept busy over there covering the Rangers. When I'm compelled to write about other teams, you can find that work here.

All of that being said, today I'm debuting the Weekly PT Rankings. Unlike you're typical power rankings that rank teams 1-30, I will be breaking down where I think teams stand in their respective divisions and conference. I also break them down in to four self-explanatory categories: Cream of the Conference, Playing Well, On the Fringe, In Bad Shape.

Without further ado, here are the PT Rankings after just over one full week of play in the NHL:

Green = Cream of the Conference
Blue = Playing Well
Orange = On the Fringe
Red = In Bad Shape

Atlantic
-New Jersey
-Pittsburgh
-NY Islanders
-NY Rangers
-Philadelphia

Northeast
-Boston
-Ottawa
-Montreal
-Toronto
-Buffalo

Southeast
-Tampa Bay
-Winnipeg
-Carolina
-Washington
-Florida

Central
-Chicago
-St. Louis
-Detroit
-Nashville
-Columbus

Pacific
-San Jose
-Anaheim
-Dallas
-Los Angeles
-Phoenix

Northwest
-Minnesota
-Vancouver
-Colorado
-Calgary
-Edmonton

EASTERN CONFERENCE
1)      Tampa Bay
2)      Boston
3)      New Jersey
4)      Ottawa
5)      Winnipeg
6)      Montreal
7)      Pittsburgh
8)      NY Islanders
9)      NY Rangers
10)   Carolina
11)   Toronto
12)   Philadelphia
13)   Buffalo
14)   Washington
15)   Florida


WESTERN CONFERENCE
1)      Chicago
2)      San Jose
3)      Minnesota
4)      St. Louis
5)      Anaheim
6)      Vancouver
7)      Dallas
8)      Detroit
9)      Nashville
10)   Colorado
11)   Calgary
12)   Edmonton
13)   Los Angeles
14)   Phoenix
15)   Columbus

(Photo Credit: Bleacher Report)

Cream of the Conference – The Blackhawks’ and Sharks’ undefeated starts are reason enough to be considered the top teams in the league right now (Chicago is 1/8 of the way through their schedule without a loss). St. Louis is right there, with their only loss coming to Chicago. As for the 3 division leaders in the East: Tampa looks like they’re back to where they were two seasons ago, Boston’s only threat in the Northeast is Ottawa, and New Jersey has taken care of business against the teams they’re supposed to.

(Photo Credit: Jeff McIntosh - The Canadian Press)

Playing Well In the West, Anaheim looks like a more comfortable team under Bruce Boudreau (where the hell did Daniel Winnik's five goals come from?). In the East, Ottawa looks to be picking up where it left off last season. Montreal and the Islanders are younger teams that have been competitive in all of their games, and have good goaltending to back them up. A bad loss to Toronto is the only thing preventing the Penguins from being in the green group. Winnipeg is in this group for now, but it’s a matter of whether or not their goaltending can hold up over the long haul.

(Photo Credit: Matt Slocum - AP)

On the Fringe This group has a mix of underachievers and teams still finding their way.  The Rangers, Flyers, and Canucks need to play with more consistency and play for a full three periods. Minnesota, Dallas, Carolina, Detroit, & Nashville are all adjusting to new-look line-ups.  Toronto is two blown leads away from being a one-loss team. Calgary has played well since playing the Sharks in their opener. Colorado has four straight games coming up within the Northwest and are lucky the Brad Stuart hit on start forward Gabriel Landeskog didn't result in a bad injury.. Edmonton will go as their young scorers go.

(Photo Credit: Nick Wass)

In Bad Shape After starting the season with two victories, Buffalo was knocked off track in back to back losses by Carolina and let Washington get their first win of the season. Florida has been awful since an opening night trouncing of Carolina.  The defending champion Kings needed a week to get their first win of the season. Phoenix is missing starting goalie Mike Smith, and their only win came against Columbus. The Blue Jackets are still a bad team, but they look like a more competitive bad team as opposed to the doormat they were.