Crosby and Company Come Alive

May 28, 2008 by Tyler  
Filed under Hockey Columns

After Sidney Crosby, and the rest of the Penguins were nowhere to be found for the first two games of these Stanley Cup Finals, the young guns finally made an appearance. Sparked by Crosby’s two early goals and the gritty physical leadership of the crafty veteran Gary Roberts, the Penguins gave their hometown fans something to cheer about.

Detroit continued their torrid pace of secondary scoring, getting goals from both Johan Franzen and Mikael Samuelsson on the evening. However, it was the lack of finish by their top guns in Datsyuk and Zetterberg that spelled the difference in this game for Detroit.

One of my favorite playoff quotes held true tonight and it goes something like this:

” In the Stanley Cup Finals, the team whose best players are the best players will always win the game”

On this night, it was clearly Sidney Crosby who was the game’s best player as he came out with a vengeance in Game 3 after being called on the carpet for his illustrious performance thus far in the series.

Crosby’s Boring Interviews

Crosby pulled out every cliche in the book during his post-game interviews. Here is a sample of Crosby’s robotic interviewing skills.

We still have a ways to go,” Crosby said. “It is just going to get tougher from here.”

“We had to leave it all out there tonight,” [...] “It wasn’t easy, but it was a good one for us.”

“It wasn’t that the chances weren’t there, it’s just that finally one went in for us.

“It was a big game,” Crosby said. “Every one from here on is a must-win, so we have to be sure we play well.”

It’s no secret that I believe Crosby is good for the game and he is a well coached in his public address approach, but he has the personality of a dead moth.

I much prefer the broken english of Alexander Ovechkin, who was spotted during Game #3 speaking with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. When asked what he and Bettman were talking about, Ovechkin smiled and said:

“Raising the salary…getting more money”

Alexander then calmly continued by saying that he was really talking about the World Championships and life in general. At least he has a sense of humor.

On Malkin

Pierre Lebrun thought Malkin was “electric” in Game 3. I’m going to have to disagree with Pierre on this one. While Malkin was considerably better than he had been in the previous two games, it would be a stretch to call his performance “electric”. Lebrun point out not that Crosby carried the team on his back, which I will agree with (even though it was quite obvious). As much as I have said I am tired of all of the hype around Crosby, Sidney was by far the best player on the ice in this game.

Get Your Game 5 Tickets

Detroit fans, be sure to pick up your Stanley Cup Final tickets because Game 5 is coming your way and it should be a dandy!

Thank Your Lucky Stars

May 14, 2008 by Tyler  
Filed under Hockey Columns

NHL News And Hockey Equipment ReviewsI’m not going to sit here and proclaim that after one victory, the Dallas Stars are back in the series with the Detroit Red Wings, but the Stars’ “stars” finally showed up.

I’d like to introduce Detroit fans to a few of the Dallas players that they had not seen in the first three games of this series.

Red Wings, I’d like you to meet my good friends Mike Modano, Brendan Morrow and Marty Turco – glad you could join us fellas!

I believe that prior to Game #4, Dalls Observer scribe Richie Witt said it best:

Admit it. The Stars are out of ideas, out of gas and out of the series.

Morrow hasn’t been a factor, Modano’s been a ghost, defenseman Matt Niskanen has coughed up a couple of costly gaffes and, most damaging, Turco has been average. When the Stars have needed him to stand on his head, he’s again fallen on his face against Detroit.

I’m certainly glad that Dallas decided to make an effort to win one game, otherwise my prediction that this series would go seven games would have looked foolish. At least if the Wings finish the Stars off in five games, I won’t have quite as much egg to wipe from my face.

Marty Turco has to be perfect for the Dallas Stars to have a chance at beating the Detroit Red Wings, that is no secret. However, Dallas is behind the 8-ball and it may be a case of too little too late for the fledgling Texas team.

Noteworthy News

  • Philadelphia Flyers defenceman Braydon Coburn could be cleared to play Game 4 of the NHL Eastern Conference final Thursday after a puck nearly hit his eye on Sunday.
  • Sami Lepisto’s goal at 3:59 of overtime led Finland to a 3-2 victory over the United States in the world hockey quarterfinals. IN other news, Derek Roy exploded for three goals and added an assist to propel Canada past Norway 8-2 in the quarterfinals. Canada will face Sweden in the semifinals Friday in Quebec City.
  • Scott Mellanby, who played more than 1,400 games with five NHL teams, has been hired as a consultant to rookie Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis.
  • One win away from their first Stanley Cup final berth in 16 years, the Pittsburgh Penguins are far removed from Michel Therrien’s famous tirade just two and a half seasons ago. For those of you unfamiliar with Therrien’s remarks, let me refresh your memory:

“It’s a pathetic performance,” Therrien said in a post-game clip that ran all over North American television for days and weeks. “Half of the team doesn’t care. That defensive squad — I am really starting to believe their goal is to be the worst defensive squad in the league. They are doing such a great job to be the worst defensive squad in the league. They turn the puck over. They have no vision. They are soft. I have never seen a bunch of defencemen as soft as this…We should take 50 per cent of their salaries because they play only 50 per cent of the time.”

On that note…enjoy Game #4!

Dallas Versus Detroit Preview

May 8, 2008 by Tyler  
Filed under Hockey Columns

Brendan Morrow Looks To Lead The Stars Against Detroit In The 2008 Western Conference Final

2008 Western Conference Final

It all starts tonight as the Stars and Red Wings face off for the Western Conference Championship. The

Stars have taken the long road playing two 6-games series’, while the Red Wings have cruised to the conference final seemingly without effort. Both teams, however have something to prove.

Breaking Down Dallas

The Dallas Stars, in particular Marty Turco, have been known to have a tremendous regular season only to pull a swift disappearing act in the playoffs. The Red Wings were at this same point last year, but fell to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions.

Brendan Morrow has been impressive thus far, providing both grit and talent on a consistent basis for the Stars. Sergei Zubov, since coming back from a foot injury, has shown flashes of the offensive prowess that made him the Ranger’s leading scorer back in 1994 when they won the cup. Yes, that’s right…Zubov led the Rangers in scoring, besting the likes of Mark Messier, Adam Graves, Tony Amonte and even Alexei Kovalev!

Marty Turco has been nothing short of stellar to this point in the playoffs. He may finally have shaken that playoff monkey off of his back, but Detroit will be a huge test fro Turco. One has to wonder if Detroit has a huge mental advantage over the Stars and Turco before this series even begins. You see, Marty Turco has never won a game against Detroit in Joe Louis Arena! Yep, never. In fact, he is only 2 wins against Detroit all together and we know he’ll need to double that statistic if the Stars are to move on to the Stanley Cup Final.

Turco’s performance will dictate the outcome of this series for the Dallas Stars.

Is Detroit The Real Big “D”?

This Detroit team is one that has such a balanced attack that it stifles even the most season

ed of coaches when it comes to matching lines. The Red Wings can come from all angles with offense, and have been the beneficiary of an unlikely hero in Johan Franzan who leads all playoff scorers with 11 goals this post season, two more than Philadelphia’s R.J Umberger.

Osgood, who has finally garnered the respect of Mr. Babcock, has unseeded the elderly Dom Hasek in the Detroit goal. As much as Turco is the key for Dallas’ chances in this series, Osgood has to continue to be on point for the Wings. Osgood is a perfect 6-0 in this year’s post season, but he will need help from Kronwall, Lidstrom, and the crafty veteran Chelios to keep the Stars’ offensive attack under wraps. Stifling the Stars’ explosive power play, which is second overall among playoff teams, will be crucial to gaining control of the series.

If Detroit can continue to receive balanced scoring and Osgood is able to make some key saves in penalty kill situations, look for Detroit to pull out a win in this series.

Who Is Going To The Cup Final?

Predictions have never been our strong suit at NHL Digest, but this series should go the distance. Sometimes these things are just too close to call. It all comes down to confidence and momentum so this is the prediction:

The team that wins Game 1 will win this series in 7 Games.

Red Wings Versus Avalanche Preview

April 24, 2008 by Tyler  
Filed under Hockey Columns

Roy Fights VernonShane Giroux Breaks Down the Series 

Break out your copy of Tomb Raider, slip on the Doc Martens and crank up the Pearl Jam. That’s right, it’s retro time!

The Colorado Avalanche are set to face the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference Semi-finals in the NHL playoffs. And predictably we’ve been subjected to many lame quips – such as the one above – due to the history between these two clubs.

And if you don’t know the history, you might want to pick up Adrian Dater’s book Blood Feud. And I’d also hope that you’re a new fan to the game otherwise I’d ask what rock you’ve been under for the last few years.

History is just that…or is it?
However those days are long past and I much prefer to look to the future than to look to the past. I mean really, what does the series history between these teams mean to this series? Not a hell of a lot in my eyes.

Joe Sakic, however, begs to differ:

“I know the guys who were around for that time, we’re definitely excited. We can feel it. You know the buzz around the whole city is there,” said Sakic.

There are 12 players – 4 for the Avalanche and 8 for the Red Wings – still with a bittersweet taste left in their mouths from the rivalry. Well, Draper certainly still has the taste of something in his mouth still.

So it is entirely possible that the previous feud will ignite a passion in some of the older players that may not have been there if the Avalanche had ended up facing the Sharks and the Wings had to duke it out with the Stars.

Regular season routing
During the regular season, the Red Wings put a beating on the Lake Erie Monsters. The Wings shut them out on three separate occasions and also posted a 4-2 win late in December.

Avalanche fans can take solace in the fact that the squads iced by the Avalanche during those games were far different than the current squad.

Adam Foote, Ruslan Salei and Peter Forsberg were obviously not in an Avalanche uniform for those games, Joe Sakic has not played a game against the Red Wings this season, Paul Stastny and Ryan Smyth have only been in the lineup twice and Karlis Skrastins was in the lineup for all 4 games.

That’s a pretty significant boost. The team is stronger, tougher and more experienced than they were a couple months ago.

But how do they match up against a strong Red Wings team?

Offensive Output
The Avalanche need to fend off the first wave from Datsyuk and Zetterberg while keeping an eye out for the second wave from Hudler and Franzen.

Combine that with Lidstrom and Rafalski on the back end – and Tomas Holmstrom’s back end – and there is plenty of offensive firepower to keep an eye on.

On the flip side, Osgood will need to be wary of crash-and-bang players like Ben Guite, David Jones and Ryan Smyth.

Jordan Leopold and Ruslan Salei have stepped up on the back end for the Avalanche and have provided some much needed points from the point.

Defensive destruction
Deadline day acquisitions Adam Foote and Ruslan Salei have been dynamite for the Avalanche. Foote shut down Gaborik and anchored down a shaky defensive squad. Ruslan Salei plays on the PP and PK and has stepped it up physically. I don’t think I could ask for more from either of those players.

Scott Hannan has become invisible which is exactly the way I like him. If I’m not noticing him that much, then he’s not making mistakes. I invariably expect a defenceman to do his job so when he does, I tend not to make mention of it.

Frankly it’s because I spent so much time being defensively responsible during my hockey playing days that I simply expect it. If I could do it, I think an NHLer should be able to do it.

The Red Wings squad is led by Nik Lidstrom, supported by Brian Rafalski

Goaltending gonads
Yes, I used the word gonads. Mainly because I drew a blank while trying to think of a “G” word to go with goaltending.

Jose Theodore was brilliant down the stretch and turned it up a notch in the playoffs, as he has done in the past.

At the other end, Chris Osgood has taken over the reigns after Hasek let in one too many long shots for coach Mike Babcock’s lightning.

So you’ve got a resurging young goaltender battling it out with a resurging veteran. Can youth trump experience? I like to think so.

And make no bones about it, if the Avalanche are to win this series, they are going to require Jose Theodore to be no less than bloody brilliant in every game.

Coaching quarrel
Mike Babcock is an excellent coach. Joel Quenneville has been an above average coach thus far in the playoffs.

If Q wants to outcoach Babcock, he’s got to stay simple. Don’t screw with the lines after a loss and have your players know their roles.

During the Minnesota series, as soon as Gaborik set foot on the ice, Foote was already up and ready to hop over the boards without being told.

Having your players think on their feet certainly keeps the game interesting, but if they can settle into a routine, that helps them concentrate on their matchup much more effectively.

Oh, and don’t pull a Keenan and yank Theodore while down 4-2 in a game 7. Just don’t.

Stats breakdown
This will be quick and dirty as stats aren’t my forte.

P
DET 6 4 2 0 0 .667 2.83 2.00 1.22 11.5 91.3 40.3 24.0
COL 6 4 2 0 0 .667 2.83 2.00 1.29 20.0 85.7 30.2 33.3

So after one round of playoff action, the basic stats are a draw for these two teams. The special teams game and shots for/against per game show something to keep an eye on.

The Wings are firing off 40 shots per game and the Avalanche are allowing 33. I don’t expect the Wings to be able to get off 40 per game against the Avalanche like they did with Nashville but even 30-35 shots from this team is a lot of rubber for Theodore to be handling every night.

And in a shocking turn of events, the Avalanche powerplay is nearly doubling the output of the Red Wings powerplay. That will even out a bit as the series wears on. You can see that the Wings are killing penalties with over 90% efficiency so don’t expect a 20% effective Avalanche powerplay.

With Tomas Holmstrom in one crease and Ryan Smyth in the other, it should be an interesting special teams battle. Hopefully the ride the Avalanche’s PP squad is on won’t end any time soon.

Final words
I don’t do series predictions but if I had to go with my gut, I would say Wings in 6. If I go with my heart, I would say Avs in 5. You know, one token win so Wings fans don’t feel too bad.

Now go ahead and prove me wrong, Avalanche.