Saturday, 7 April 2012

Playoff Primer: Boston Bruins

Bears are awesome

The Goods
Ask any guy which team most resembles a bear, and, besides the above picture, they'll pick this one.

They've got a soft "honey" heart with Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin. They dazzle you with speed and their plus-minus. They've got skill to boot. 

But the exterior of this team is built like a tank. Lucic. Thomas. And "Tiny Norris" CHARA. They'll maul you if you get close (i.e. Vancouver last year), and hell, they're very good at it. The core of this team is the same that lifted Lord Stanley last year, and if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

This bear is not broken.

The Bads
But there's a small problematic question that much of the universe is dying to answer: What did Boston do to keep up with the rest of the league?

Vancouver adapted to Boston, Philly and Pittsburgh did too. New York became the new Boston, and St. Louis is trying to too. 

Is this team still the watermark for success? Or is this team, just a year old, a relic of the past? May the Bruins have lost at their own game?

Tuuka Rask's injury, after he outplayed Vezina Trophy holder Thomas most of the year, does not bode well. Marty Turco, here we go.

The Bruins win the Cup if...
Thomas still has enough in the tank to play like last year, Philly/Pittsburgh beat each other up enough to be weak in the East, and the Western representative isn't a particularly physical one.
The chances of all three happening are rare, to say the least, but history does occur in patterns.

Playoff Primer: Vancouver Canucks

Van City
Did not know about the bottom one. On the fence about it...

Vancouver came within three periods of lifting the cup last season. They had more skill than essentially rest of the league. Unfortunately, they ran into a wall. A very physical wall that broke them in half. And had a highly unorthodox style of goaltending.

The Goods
Henrik Sedin! Ryan Kesler! The scoring ability on this team is ridiculous. Seriously, it's disturbing. The twins operate on another level, then they send out their second line and then they send out their fourth line against your top line, and they're the best shutdown line in hockey. This forward corps is likely the best in the West. They've also got depth in large amounts with the acquisition of Pahlsson.

They realized the twins got ran by Lucic and Bergeron (Bergeron! Running people!), so they went and got Zach Kassian. Boom. They'll float like a butterfly, and then sting like a 4 by 4.

Also, the defence and the goaltending hasn't changed from their stature last year - it's either better or at the same level of excellence it was in the Cup Run.

The Bads
The pieces have gotten a little better... but is this team any different, or any better, than it was last year? The major difference through the season was three bonafide scoring lines, with Sedin, Kesler and Hodgson, but Vancouver clearly believes it was the lack of physical toughness, not the lack of scoring, that beat them in Boston last year (it was neither - it was Thomas outplaying Luongo) and traded Hodgson, who some people saw as the next Linden, for Kassian, whom the jury is still out on.

Schneider's gotten better. Luongo's still Luongo. The defence is healthier - but Daniel Sedin, half of the twin dynamos, isn't. That's very very bad.

They win the Cup if...
Daniel Sedin returns heroically in at least the second round, if not the first, and puts up staggering numbers alongside Henrik Sedin again. Luongo/Schneider need to bring their best, especially against Boston, Pittsburgh and Philly, if they make it out of the West.
All in all, this team should beat everyone in the West - on paper, it's got the elements to do it. The question remains if they will.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Playoff Primer: St. Louis Blues

I didn't know such a logo existed. Now I do!

This is one of the other 3 teams in contention for the President's Trophy. Astute fans will remember their last run to the President's Trophy, that was followed by a first-round playoff exit and years of wallowing in the also-ran pile.

Things clicked when Jack-Adams obviousnominee Ken Hitchcock looked at this team and quite plainly said - "You guys shouldn't suck". This team has David Backes, David Perron, Alex Pietrangelo, Barret Jackman, and in the ludicrous trade with the Avalanche, Kevin Shattenkirk and Chris Stewart. Just looking at that list, it's formidable.

But the St. Louis Blues would not be where they are without what might be the best single-season tandem in history, Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliot. You think I'm being generous? Both players are top 5 in GAA (5th and 1st), top 7 in Save Percentage (7th and 1st), top 5 in shutouts (5th and 2nd)... They may be the best two goalies since Glenn Hall and Jacques Plante... on St. Louis.

St. Louis is so fricking deep in goal they sent away Ben Bishop for peanuts just because.

They've cooled off.

I wish there was more to say, but they've stopped utterly dominating the rest of the league. Halak has had a stretch now where he's been bad-ish. This team plays a choking defensive style, waits for the mistakes and spins the game right back at you, scores and waits again.

Will win the Stanley Cup if...
Halak and Elliot return to their form, and Backes dominates the board play like he has done with exceptional skill all of this year. They have had the ability to beat almost every other team in the league this year, with their choking style. But they've began to choke - is this a lull before the domination? Or something more sinister...

Playoff Primer: New York Rangers

I always liked this logo

(If you're wondering why there are no Oilers blogs, try watching some of their games. Aside from Nugent-God-Hopkins and Eberle, as well as some inspired moments by Devan "Ohh" Dubnyk, there's close to nothing redeeming about the team. I'll have another off-season primer or two, plus a draft day analysis after the lottery)

I'm starting a series of 16 posts that detail the goods of each playoff bound team, and where I expect them to finish.

New York is one of three teams with a chance at the President's Trophy, and they've been at that pinnacle for most of the season. A team that played in the Winter Classic, celebrated a full adulthood since their last cup championship, and has been playing at a level that doesn't seem to correlate to the play of the superstars present on this team.

Depth, like no other team, and a willingness to work harder than any other organization in the playoffs right now. Nobody's scared of the hands that Callahan has, they have Gaborik for that. What they are scared of is his willingness to go to the tough corners, the front of the net, take a beating, score a goal and shove it in your face. These Rangers are oxen that don't give up. They just don't. And that's scary.

Also - it can't hurt that your goaltender is the unsung Henrik Lundqvist, who should win the Vezina almost every year prior for making this team competitive. Now that the coaching is preaching a blue-collar game, Lundqvist is having a career year. The irony is he may yet have the Vezina stolen from him by Quick.

I've got to come up with a better name for this section.

If anything is bad about this team, it is because it is plain. They signed Brad Richards to a massive contract. They expected him to rip up the league, play with Marion Gaborik and overall destroy this league like he did in Dallas last year. He hasn't. Gaborik has been deadly, but you put defenders on those two and this team is, well, plain.

Simply put, they lack the star-pedigree of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Vancouver and Los Angeles (Heh. Hollywood).

Time will tell whether that's a good thing or a bad thing.

Will win the Stanley Cup if...
The hard work they bring comes up in spades. Heh.
Lundqvist can be better than any other goaltender in the league. Richards and Gaborik could be the most dominant pair in the playoffs. Dubinsky and Callahan can pace, check and score better than other teams.
Can they beat Crosby/Malkin/Staal or Giroux/Hartnell/Jagr? Erm...