Posts Tagged ‘Nashville Predators’

NHL Playoffs: 1st Rd. Predictions

As we enter the 2009/2010 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs, Sporting Vancouver would like to go on the record with 1st round predictions.

Let’s start with the Western Conference:

1st seed San Jose Sharks vs 8th place Colorado Avalanche

Everyone, by now, knows all about the San Jose Sharks and they’re Jekyll and Hyde routine once the playoffs start.  During the 82 game regular season, the team dominates.  Joe Thornton is constantly at or near the top in league scoring, Evgeni Nabakov is a brick wall, and the tremendous depth on offense and defense overwhelms everyone in their path.  Then the playoffs start.  Nabokov turns into “NaboSIEVE”, Thornton runs and hides, the other 1st liners turn invisible, and the team doesn’t seem as tough as it did…the Sharks turn into the minnows.

This year they have added Dany Heatley to their front line, and look much better all around.  They are facing an upstart Colorado Avalanche who have surprised many teams with their youthful exuberance, speed, and quickness.  The Sharks will not be taken by surprise by this team.  They know what they are getting into.  They know the expectations on them to get to the Stanley Cup Finals.  They know they should easily beat the Avalanche.  That is why they will lose to the Avs whose young players just don’t know that they’re not supposed to win.


2nd seed Chicago Blackhawks v 7th place Nashville Predators

The Chicago Blackhawks have gotten exponentially better each of the last 3 years.  Their young stars have developed, and gained a large amount of playoff experience.  This team appears poised to take the next step.  They have stars up front, led by Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews and on defence with Duncan Keith.  Their goal-tending remains a question and expect Nashville’s Renne to be the better goaltender in this series…but it just won’t be enough.

Blackhawks in 6

3rd seed Vancouver Canucks v 6th place Los Angeles Kings

The Los Angeles Kings are one of the big surprises in the NHL this season.  Their great young players like Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown are now solid veterans and the core of the team.  Sprinkle in some veteran leadership with Ryan Smyth, and a superstar young defenceman in Drew Doughty and you have the stars aligning to create quite a team.  They have enough depth up front, enough depth on defence, and good enough goal-tending in Jonathan Quick to give the Northwest Champion Vancouver Canucks all they can handle.

The Vancouver Canucks have been dealing with serious injury troubles all season with among the highest man-games lost total in the league.  They have seen a revolving door on defense all year and continue to play without their top shutdown defenseman Willie Mitchell.  Their remaining defense are all banged up with each of them having missed some time to injury this season.  All-Star goaltender Roberto Luongo is having a below average season by his standards and looks to put it behind him with a clean slate in the playoffs.  Up front the Vancouver Canucks are as good as anyone in the league.  Look for Art Ross Trophy winner Henrik Sedin to combine with his brother Daniel to come up with at least one goal a game.  Contributions from Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler, Mikael Samuelsson, and Pavol Demitra are critical as, no doubt, the Kings will be focusing all of their defensive energy towards shutting down the twins.  Penalty killing will be critical for the Canucks as they will, no doubt, find their way into the box quite often against this speedy LA team.

The Kings will be good, but look for Ryan Kesler to neutralize their top line.  At the end of it, the Canucks offensive depth will be too much for the young Kings to handle.

Canucks in 5

4th place Phoenix Coyotes v 5th place Detroit Red Wings

This is the battle of the 2 teams that nobody wanted to meet.  An upstart Phoenix Coyotes who no team has yet figured out, and a late surging and finally healthy Detroit Red Wings who have all the playoff experience in the world.

Right off the bat, you have to give the goal-tending edge to Ilya Bryzgalov and the Phoenix Coyotes.  This will be key as if they are to have any chance in this series they will need to have the better goal-tending.  How do you handicap the Wings’ chances?  They are built for the playoffs.  Pure and simple.  They should beat everyone they meet.  Problem is, they’re playing a very good, hard-working defensive team who, to put it bluntly, have basically been slapped together in the last number of months…even head coach Dave Tippet wasn’t hired until after training camp started.  They have been winning games with defense, goal-tending, and elbow grease all season. Then they added some scoring punch at the trade deadline with Wojtek Wolski and Lee Stempniak.  Now what?

This series will be very interesting.  In the end, I expect that the Red Wings, having finally gotten rolling, will find a way to eliminate the Coyotes (unless Gary Bettman has decreed that his team has team must win to keep them in Phoenix).

Red Wings in 6

Eastern Conference

1st seed Washington Capitals v 8th place Montreal Canadiens

Not many are giving the Montreal Canadiens any chance of winning this season.  After all the President’s Trophy winning Washington Capitals have run roughshod over the entire Eastern Conference for 82 games, even while missing Alex Ovechkin for 10 games where they still managed a 7-2-1 record.  Montreal proponents point to the Capitals’ goal-tending as the chink in their collective armour.  That’s like saying Scarlett Johansson’s feet aren’t that sexy.  Its minor and insignificant and nobody cares.   The Canadiens’ goal-tending with Halak playing at his best is, at best, only somewhat better than what Theodore can provide for the Caps.  For Montreal to have a chance here, the difference in goal-tending will have to be huge and their power-play needs to go lights out.   Yes, there is some doubt as to whether or not Capitals star centre Niklas Backstrom will be able to go to start this series but it won’t matter.  The Capitals are too good to not win this one.

Capitals in 5

2nd seed New Jersey Devils v 7th place Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers have given the Devils everything they can handle all season winning the season series with a 5-1-0 record.  They Flyers physicality and offensive depth should be enough to make New Jersey coach Jacques Lemaire worried.  The big difference here will be goaltending.  The Flyers goal-tending has improved with Brian Boucher stepping it up this year but the Devils have Martin Brodeur who is still proving he can get the job done.  The Devils difficulty traditionally has been goal scoring, though they feel they have addressed this with the addition of Ilya Kovalchuk.  This series will be interesting and will likely go the distance which facours the more experienced Devils.

Devils in 7

3rd seed Buffalo Sabres v 6th place Boston Bruins

This series will have excellent goal-tending with American goalies Ryan Miller and Tim Thomas.  You would have to give the edge to buffalo in net but Boston’s net-minder certainly can get it done as well.  This one will come down to Buffalo’s speed and scoring against Boston’s physicality and defense.  Home ice advantage could definitely prove to be important in this series as both coaches will look to get their match-ups with the last change.  This one is tough to call.  Will Bruins’ star forward Marc Savard return from concussion to help the team’s offense? Expect this one to go the distance…again, with the home team taking it.

Sabres in 7

4th place Pittsburgh Penguins  v  5th place Ottawa Senators

Ottawa goes into this series hoping to pull out an upset against Sidney Crosby and the defending Stanley Cup Champions.  They do so without one of their top scoring threats and prized off-season acquisition Alexei Kovalev.  Pittsburgh appears to have the edge in every category; goal-tending, defense, and forwards.  It would likely take a miracle for Ottawa to win this series.   That being said they have some grit and drive up front with players like team captain Daniel Alfredsson.  Unfortunately, this won’t be enough to counter Crosby, Malkin, and Staal.

Penguins in 5


Stripes Offside on This One

I have tried to stay out of this one.  I didn’t plan to be writing a blog about this Burrows/Auger controversy but it just won’t go away.

For those who have been living in a cave here is a recap of what has been going on:

On January 11th at GMPlace, the Vancouver Canucks played host to their conference rival Nashville Predators with whom they are competing for a playoff spot in a vital “4-point game”.  Prior to the game, video evidence shows Stephane Auger pulling Vancouver Canuck Alex Burrows aside for a 31-second conversation.  Now, I have seen refs talk to players briefly during the play before a faceoff, after a penalty, or even after a disputed goal….I don’t ever recall seeing a ref talk to a player for such a long time before the game even starts.

The game would proceed with multiple penalty calls to both teams and play was quite even until late in the game.  With the game tied 2-2 in the third period Alex Burrows is called for unsportsmanlike conduct (or diving) and assessed a 2-minute penalty by referee Stephan Auger on a play that looked like a legitimate trip.   Then, with about 4 minutes left in the 3rd period of a tied game with the Canucks on a power play, Auger strikes again calling Burrows on an extremely dubious interference call…so dubious in fact, it is safe to say that only Stephan Auger thought it was a penalty…he probably should have called it 2 minutes for wearing 14 blue (Burrows’ number and jersey colour).  Everyone in the building was dumb-founded.  Watching on TV I was bewildered as to why Auger would call this penalty and was wondering how much he had bet on the Predators.  Everyone seemed confused.  Everyone except Burrows that is.

You see, Alex Burrows knew why Stephane Auger had singled him out with a penalty that wasn’t a penalty late in a tie game.  He knew why Auger seemed out to get him because, before the game, Auger told him he was going to get him.  You see, in a previous game Alex Burrows had embarrased Stephane Auger by embellishing a hit from behind resulting in a 5 minute major.  So, Auger figured he would get back at Burrows by embarassing himself again and calling a penalty that wasn’t a penalty to try to screw Burrows… and his team…and the fans…and the, to that point, unquestionable integrity of the NHL’s officials…and, yes, the game of hockey itself.

This vindictive and disgusting debacle of a penalty call, coupled with a subsequent dubious penalty call against the Canucks, cost them at least 1 crucial point in the standings and up to a 4 point swing in the standings against a team they are jockeying with for a playoff spot.  The Predators did score on the ensuing power play to take the lead with only a few minutes to play.

After the game, an irate Alex Burrows, who managed to wait til the game was almost over (3 seconds left) to voice his displeasure to Auger resulting in another misconduct penalty, could not restrain his disgust and, unprecedently, spoke to the media about the incident.  He described how Auger had singled him out before the game and told him that he was going to get him, and how he did a wonderful job staying true to his word, punishing the Canucks late in the game.  Auger allegedly even went as far as winking at Burrows after one of his phantom calls.

As Sporting Vancouver predicted on Twitter, Alex Burrows was fined by the league while referee Stephan Auger received no discipline.  The league quickly buried the issue, down-playing the incident as well as they could.  They claimed that they had investigated the incident and found no impropriety on Auger’s part…it sure didn’t take them long.  Did they even bother investigating it?  Do they not think this is important?  If there is any question at all as to wether or not the league referee’s are calling a game based on anything other than the rules…if there is any doubt as to their motivation shouldn’t an extensive investigation take place?  You would think so….but, you see, this is Bettman’s NHL.  An NHL that never admits wrongdoing no matter how many non-traditional hockey market teams fail, no matter how many times they crap the bed on league discipline, and, now, no matter how many dirty refs there are in the league.

After seeing this head-in-the-sand routine by the NHL on this issue, it leaves your humble blogger to wonder “what would stop a referee from mortgaging his house, betting all the money on a game he is officiating, and making sure the team he betted on won the game”?  Not the NHL.  Not Gary Bettman.  Not Colin Campbell.  Apparently, they are positively sure that there was absolutely no chance of any impropriety by Stephane Auger after their extensive one (1) day investigation in which the only person interviewed on the matter was….Stephane Auger.  Might as well write the referees a blank cheque…I think I might sign up for reffing in the NHL….I could make MILLIONS in hockey bets.  Wait a minute….bet…Bettman….bet…Bettman…