Thursday, 31 January 2013
As much as a Stanley Cup winning team can fly under the radar, the Blackhawks are a team that is almost always right in the mix but always get over-looked when looking at the teams with the best shot at bringing home Lord Stanley's cup. To no one's real surprise the Blackhawks got off to a hot start in 2013. Led by their captain Jonathan Toews who has 7 points in 7 games, the Blackhawks have been untouchable and are on top of the NHL standings with 13 points.
You can contribute the Blackhawks early success to 3 key areas- The penalty kill, top players performing and Corey Crawford coming up big. When a team is playing well everything just seems to click and the Hawks have been able to click early on.
It would be difficult to look at the Blackhawks early success and not give credit to the penalty kill, in fact their penalty kill has been lights out allowing only 1 power play goal through the first 7 games. The Hawks have been shorthanded just 8 times and have a 96.3% success rate ranking them 2nd, a complete "180" from last season when the Hawks found themselves ranked 27th.
The penalty kill has played a huge part in the Hawks winning and their best effort came on Sunday night when they blanked the Detroit Red Wings on 6 power players. Corey Crawford has been a beast for the Hawks between the pipes and has the best save percentage (.957) on the penalty kill alone. Crawford also shined in the shootout loss on Wednesday coming up big helping to kill off a 5 on 3 that lasted 1:23 and made a huge save to help kill it off.
But as much credit is given to Crawford for the lights out penalty killing you also need to tip your hat to the Blackhawks defence. Marcus Kruger and Michael Frolik have turned out to be fantastic on the penalty kill and have even out worked Jonathan Toews and Dave Bolland on the first unit.
The Stars Have Been Stars
As key as getting production from your 3rd and 4th line players is to the success of a team, if their star players aren't helping to contribute the success will be short lived. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marion Hossa have all gotten off to hot starts combining for 26 points through the first 7 games. While everyone expects Toews and Kane to be lighting up the league the real surprise is the hot play of Hossa who has recovered nicely from his concussion in last years playoffs. Hossa has scored 5 goals, putting up 9 points and has arguably been the Hawks hottest player to start off the year. In addition to the big 3, Patrick Sharp has put up 6 points and defencman Nick Leddy has put up a solid 5 points.
The Blackhawks have been scoring goals all throughout the line up and deserve some major credit for coming into the season after a short training camp, immediately heading out on the road and for bringing their games to next level- what they're doing is nothing short of incredible.
Perhaps what has been most amazing about the Hawks 6-0-1 record is they have played 5 of their first 7 games away from the United Center and they still must go through 5 more road games before getting to play a game in front of their home fans. After the tough road trip the Hawks will have the benefit of playing a 7 game home-stand and if their strong play continues can all but lock up the Western Conference in the next month.
Back to the original question- Are the Chicago Blackhawks the real deal? Yes they are the real deal- they have almost complete control over the west, are 3 points up on the St. Louis Blues in their division and they haven't shown any signs of slowing down their incredible start. In fact the shootout loss to the Wild on Wednesday may have been good for the Blackhawks serving as a wake-up call as they embark further on their road trip. Their defence against the Wild wasn't as sharp as it has been and if they want to continue their hot streak will need their defence to be sharp almost every night.
While their dominate penalty kill will likely stagger off, their offence and defence have always been strong. Barring any injuries and hoping Corey Crawford keeps up his stellar play the Blackhawks could be the team to watch in the Western Conference and I wouldn't be surprised to see them in the Western Conference Finals.
Monday, 28 January 2013
[caption id="attachment_2197" align="alignright" width="266"] Vladimir Tarasenko[/caption]
First we'll take a look at the St. Louis Blues best rookie Vladimir Tarasenko who has been on fire putting up 8 points while averaging roughly 14 minutes of ice time. Taresenko is leading all NHL rookies in scoring, is an impressive +5 and is the early favourite for the Calder Trophy. It doesn't hurt Tarasenko that the Blues are arguably one of the best teams in the tough Western Conference and will likely make a deep playoff run providing the rookie lots of time and opportunities to develop his game.
Tarasenko has quick hands, incredible vision and top notch speed- all the qualities needed to be an elite NHL player. The kid has the complete package, only time will tell if he can live up to his full potential.
The next rookie turning heads around the league is Tampa Bay Lightning forward Cory Conacher who is 2nd in rookie scoring with 7 points. Much like Tarasenko, Conacher is only averaging around 15 minutes of ice time but is still managing to put up solid numbers. Depending on what side of the fence you're on Conacher is also considered to be one of the early favourites in the running for the Calder Trophy. The Lightning have no shortage of stars with Steven Stamkos, Matt Carle and Martin St. Louis but the next name you'll want to learn is Cory Conacher.
Conacher went un-drafted but managed to catch on with the Norfolk Admirals in the AHL and helped lead them to a Calder Cup championship. Conacher was named top rookie in the AHL last season putting up 80 points and the Admirals wouldn't have had the success they enjoyed without the star rookie. With his relatively short stature 5 foot 8 and 190 pounds many are touting him to be the next "Martin St. Louis", heck that guy had a fairly decent career no?
The rookie to garner the most "talk" and speculation over the first few games is Oilers First overall pick Nail Yakupov- unfortunately the talk hasn't all been positive. After scoring a goal to tie the game with 4 seconds left against the Los Angeles Kings, Yakupov took off for a controversial celebration. Despite all the talk about Yakupov from his goal celebration he really hasn't lived up to expectations early on putting up only 2 points in the first 4 games.
Yakupov may be having a difficult time adjusting to the smaller NHL ice and having less time to make your decision in the flow of a game- but he's looked good. No matter how his rookie year pans out, Yakupov will be a focal point around the NHL for years to come.
Next we move to Yakupov's teammate- Justin Schultz who has proved he was worth the hype this offseason ranking 3rd in rookie scoring with 5 points. Not
[caption id="attachment_2199" align="alignright" width="300"] Justin Schultz[/caption]
only is Shultz putting up points he's also eating up ice time, averaging 24 minutes a night- pretty solid minutes for a rookie. Schultz has great vision and poise with the puck and has elevated his game ranking amongst the top NHL defencemen.
Schultz is coming off a great start in the AHL putting up 48 points in 34 games and with only 6 penalty minutes. Schultz knows how to shutdown the opposition without taking a penalty, an invaluable skill for a young rookie defenceman. The Oilers lucked out getting their hands on Schultz who may turn out to be an elite NHL defenceman one day.
Next we'll take a look at the Boston Bruins top young defenceman Dougie Hamilton. Hamilton hasn't exactly gotten off to a brilliant start on the blueline but is starting to look more comfortable with the Bruins. He's one of the top 4 Bruin defencemen averaging roughly 18 minutes a night and putting up 3 points. Look for Hamilton to get more and more comfortable carrying the puck and jumping up in the rush- hopefully potting his first goal in the next few games. Much like Schultz, look for Hamilton to evolve into a top notch NHL defenceman in the future.
Lastly we'll touch on one of the highly touted NHL prospects from out West- Mikael Granlund with the Minnesota Wild. Granlund has put up 2 points in the Wild's first 4 games and has adapted well to the NHL. Look for Granlund to really up his game and turn into one of the top rookies in the league this year, he has all the potential to be a future NHL star.
Other rookies who haven't quite gotten off to fast starts- at least on the scoreboard. Include Alex Galchenyuk with the Canadiens, Mikhail Grigorenko with the Sabres and Brendan Smith with the Red Wings. Look for these 3 to step their games up over the coming weeks and start putting up some major points for their respective teams.
My early predictions for 2 of the final 3 top rookies are Vladimir Tarasenko and Cory Conacher. Who do you think will be one of the top rookies at the end of this shortened season?
Friday, 25 January 2013
It hasn't been an easy road for Nazem Kadri to crack the opening night roster. He took lots of criticism from former coach Ron Wilson on being to small, not being tough enough and playing poor defence. Former Leafs GM Brian Burke also had harsh words for the prospect during his tenure, claiming that Kadri was "running out of time". He's been called out for being lazy and coming to camp out of shape, some fans loved him and others wanted him shipped out-of-town for bag of pucks. Either way there has always been controversy surrounding Nazem Kadri. But to his credit he's gone down to the minors and battled hard after each setback, it appears now that all the struggle has been worth it.
Since being benched by Toronto Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins for putting up only 3 points in 9 games, everything Kadri touches turns into goals. He put up 23 points in just 18 games with the Marlies and earned himself an invite to Leafs training camp. After his success at training camp he earned himself a spot centering the 3rd line between James van Riemsdyke and Leo Komarov and the 3 of them did not disappoint in the season opener arguably the Leafs best line in the game.
One could easily make the case that Kadri has been the Leafs best player through 4 games, recording at least a point in all 4 and leading the team in points with 5. His speed and skill have been on full display and he's been the best Leaf on the ice each night. But everyone expects Kadri to be an offencive juggernaut so there are no real surprises he's making the most of his opportunites on the power play and centering the 3rd line, the real surprise is his commitment to the physical aspect. Early in his career you wouldn't catch him the corners or laying hits and anytime a player touched him he'd go whine on the bench. In the first 4 games he's been in the corners and dirty areas of the ice, laying hits and taking big hits just fine. He's turned into the all around player the Leafs wanted him to be.
It's still early on in the season but so far Kadri has looked good- in fact he's looked fantastic. He's been one of the bright spots for the Leafs and it looks like he's finally found his game and the game required to be successful at the NHL level. His "Hockey IQ" has improved drastically making him less predictable and more of team player and he's now a more lethal weapon on the ice then ever before! Everything points to this being a breakout year for Nazem Kadri, his chance to prove he's a NHL player and not a bust. Maybe Kadri's spark may give the Leafs the jump to make the playoffs for the first since 2004.
Tuesday, 22 January 2013
The Canucks are currently 2 games into their 48 game season and both Schneider and Luongo have started a game- both losing their first appearances. The Canucks have made it clear they want to move forward with Cory Schneider between the pipes and have Roberto Luongo back him up for now. But after the new number 1 netminder struggled in the opener things became a little more complicated in the Canucks goal crease. In order to smooth things over the Canucks must ship Roberto Luongo out of town as fast as they can or risk a goaltending war that will be a major distraction for the already banged up Canucks.
Sure Schneider had a rough start in the season opener, surrendering 5 goals on 14 shots and getting pulled in favour for Luongo- but it was the first game of the season after a 113 day lay-off, the Canucks defence played horribly and they're missing many key offencive weapons, you can't entirely blame Schneider! A side note for all Canucks fans freaking out about the rough start on Saturday- 12 other NHL goalies had a horrible day as well, just look at Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick. Schneider has proved he is more than capable of being the Canucks number one goalie with his play down the stretch and in the playoffs last season. He's going to get better as the season goes on and he'll be just fine- is it really worth ruining the kids confidence by keeping Luongo around and starting him every other game?
Not only will Schneider's play improve as the season goes on but the Canucks will as well. Right now their whole 2nd line has virtually been lost due to injury, their defence couldn't stop a peewee hockey team right now and some of the most talented goal scorers were unable to score in the shootout against the Oilers. It doesn't matter who's in net the Canucks team from opening weekend wasn't going to win either game. It's still early, players will become healthy again, Ryan Kesler will return and Schneider will bounce back.
Keeping Luongo only adds to the drama in Vancouver. When a team isn't winning the goaltender usually shoulders the most blame and having a "back-up" of Luongo's skill level only adds to the contraversy. How long till fans are chanting they want Luongo in net like they did last year for Schneider? In order to avoid chaos in the lockeroon, amongst the team and for the goaltenders, it's best if Luongo is sent packing. Sometimes having a solid goaltender as a backup pushes your starter to play his best, but in a case with Schneider and Luongo it's more of a distraction that would only hurt the the team. Luongo himself has stated it's time to move on, he wants to head somewhere and turn over a new leaf- this is now Schneider's team. Keeping Luongo around is like the Toronto Maple Leafs still allowing Brian Burke to make trades after being fired.
This is the perfect time for the Canucks to trade Luongo. It's early on in the season, he hasn't sat been sitting on the bench gathering dust and the Canucks could use some help with all the injuries. In a shortened season there's no time to get off to a slow start, with some healthier line-up the Canucks would be better off. Forcing players to play in front of 2 different goalies constantly isn't going to help chemistry and the Canucks could continue their slow start falling further behind. The Canucks made it clear Schneider is their man, keeping Luongo around as "insurance" doesn't help Schneider with his confidence and keeps controversy over the team and the goalies. It's tough enough to play in a Canadian hockey market and even tougher to be a netminder in a Canadian hockey market, why make it worse for your goalie?
The best thing for the Vancouver Canucks to do is trade Roberto Luongo as of yesterday to solidify that they are serious about moving forward with Cory Schneider between the pipes. The don't need the goalie circus to affect the team and could use the reinforcements Luongo would fetch. If the Canucks are serious about fixing their goaltending woes expect Roberto Luongo to be a member of another NHL club by the end of the week.
*Hey guys I've been nominated for a Shorty award- click this link and vote for me please! Username @Hockeylife30
Monday, 21 January 2013
Let's talk about the games from NHL opening weekend- which featured all 30 NHL teams. While it may be too early to start judging teams based off their first showings, it's never too early to start talking hockey!
[caption id="attachment_2111" align="aligncenter" width="580"] Jonathan Toews celebrates a goal much to the dismay of the Kings[/caption]
Chicago Blackhawks (5) vs. Los Angeles Kings (2)
- Each member of the Los Angeles Kings- who won the Stanley Cup before the lockout- were given a chance to take a 2nd lap with the coveted Stanley Cup raised above their heads. Arrogant, cocky, or deserved? you decide, but it really seemed to spark the Blackhawks.
- Patrick Kane scored a goal from such a dirty angle that nothing was clean about it. That goal was also the first tally of the 2013 NHL season.
- Jonathan Quick did not look sharp- his angles were off and he wasn't the Quick we saw throughout the Stanley Cup playoffs. But it is only the first game of the season and he is coming off back surgery- give him a week he'll be fine.
- Marian Hossa made quite the return scoring 2 goals and adding an assists after being knocked out of playoffs, literally, on a hit from Raffi Torres which left Hossa concussed.
[caption id="attachment_2115" align="aligncenter" width="600"] A little scrum from the game[/caption]
Pittsburgh Penguins (3) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (1)
- This was supposed to be the big ticket game on Saturday afternoon, after their intense battle in the first round of the last years playoffs but it simply didn't live up to expectations. There were a few penalties but no big fights, Claude Giroux didn't smoke Sidney Crosby, and neither Crosby nor Evgeni Malkin found the back of the net.
- Good news, both goaltenders seemed to have bounce back from their rocky playoff showings. Marc- Andre Fleury had a .963 Save Percentage and Ilya Bryzgalov had a respectable .923 and really couldn't be blamed for the Flyers loss.
- Luke Schenn made his Flyers debut but was less then stellar tipping a shot into his own goal.
Ottawa Senators (4) vs. Winnipeg Jets (1)
- I know that the Senators put up 4 goals but this game really showcased the fact that the majority of players hadn't played since last may, this was a very sloppy game early on.
- Erik Karlsson started the year where he left off last- on fire- putting up a 3 points.
[caption id="attachment_2117" align="aligncenter" width="620"] Kadri opens the scoring[/caption]
Toronto Maple Leafs (2) vs. Montreal Canadiens (1)
- This was a game between two teams who will likely finish pretty low in the Eastern Conference and it showed- by most accounts a pretty boring game.
- I'm not to sure whether the Leafs actually played well or whether the Canadiens were just flat out horrible. I know it's just 1 game but it may be a long year in Montreal for Habs fans.
- Nazem Kadri had a big night scoring the first goal for the Leafs in 2013 and being arguably the best player on the ice for either team. Kadri was scoring goals and laying hits, he looked very good.
- Mike Kostka made his NHL debut and had a very successful night playing in the top defence pairing despite the majority of fans not knowing who Kostka was. But if he keeps up his strong play fans will quickly learn his name.
New Jersey Devils (2) vs. New York Islanders (1)
- Despite being 40 and having to deal with a tough shortened season, Martin Brodeur was able to pick up the win in his first game of 2013.
- New Jersey gets off on the right foot after losing Zack Parise in the offseason
[caption id="attachment_2120" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Lucic celebrates his goal[/caption]
Boston Bruins (3) vs. New York Rangers (1)
- Talk about lockout rust from Vezina winning goalie Henrik Lundqvist! Lundqvist did not look like the king last night, but did manage to make a huge goal-line save on a arguable call- possible save of the year candidate?
- Milan Lucic stayed true to himself scoring the Bruins first goal, taking a boarding penalty and then being kicked out of the game after chirping the Rangers bench. Good to see Lucic's new daughter hasn't affected his play on the ice.
- If there were any doubt that Tukka Rask was ready to step out of the shadows and into the limelight, those doubts were put away after he stopped 20 of 21 shots, to solidify the win for his team.
Tampa Bay Lightning (6) vs. Washington Capitals (3)
- After reaching the 60 goal plateau last season, Steven Stamkos kicked off 2013 with 2 assists.
- Rookie Cory Conacher made his NHL debut and scored a goal- not a bad debut for the kid. Look for Conacher to have a big year in Tampa being the AHL's best rookie last season.
- Alexander Ovechkin made his debut at left wing and managed to do absolutely nothing, heck he couldn't even draw a penalty properly as he was called for a dive.
- It may only be 1 game but it looks like the Lightning have the potential to challenge for a playoff spot this season.
Florida Panthers (5) vs. Carolina Hurricanes (1)
- First off, did anyone at all see this coming after the Hurricanes offseason moves?
- Another surprise the Panthers actually sold out for their home opener!
- Jordan and Eric Staal combined for 0 goals while Alex Kovalev notched a goal and added 2 assists coming up big for the Panthers, despite nobody knowing he was playing for them.
- Jose Theodore made 41 saves in the win, who said the Panthers needed Roberto Luongo?
St. Louis Blues (6) vs. Detroit Red Wings (0)
- After losing Niklas Lidstrom to retirement there were questions about the Wings defence- but I don't think anyone expected them to be that bad!
- Vladamir Tarasenko made his NHL debut and scored 2 goals, throwing his name into the mix for potential rookie of the year debate.
Columbus Blue Jackets (3) vs. Nashville Predators (2)
- The Columbus Blue Jackets won after trading franchise player Rick Nash to the New York Rangers...
- This was a surprising win for the Blue Jackets who were left with virtually a AHL team after the Nash deal- but then again it's only the first game.
[caption id="attachment_2121" align="aligncenter" width="720"] Jaromir Jagr[/caption]
Dallas Stars (4) vs. Phoenix Coyotes (3)
- What a game for one of the ageless wonders Jaromir Jagr who recorded his 666th career NHL goal. He finished off with 2 goals and 2 assists giving him the league lead in points.
- After a fantastic year leading the Coyotes to the Western Conference Finals, Mike Smith had a rough start between the pipes finishing the night with a .846 Save Percentage. Luckily there's still plenty of time for him to turn it around.
- After being traded to the Stars from the Sabres, Derek Roy won 70% of his faceoffs.
Minnesota Wild (4) vs. Colorado Avalanche (2)
- Danny Heatley scored 2 goals and both were assisted by offseason acquisition Zach Parise.
- The Avalanche's young stars weren't able to hold off the relentless attack of the Wild veterans.
Anaheim Ducks (7) vs. Vancouver Canucks (3)
- Everyone knew the Canucks were a little banged up both on offence and defence- but no one knew they would be this badly off.
- Remember how Cory Schneider was going to replace Luongo- yeah that didn't last too long as Schneider was pulled in favour for Bobby Luo after 5 goals.
- Much like Jagr- Temmu Selanne never seems to age. He's back for another NHL season with the Ducks at age 42 and is off to a fast start with 2 goals and 2 assists on opening night.
[caption id="attachment_2123" align="aligncenter" width="630"] Thomas Vanek scores 1 of 2 goals[/caption]
Buffalo Sabres (5) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (2)
- How about Thomas Vanek? Despite a somewhat sluggish start from the winger- he picked his game up scoring 2 goals and assisting on the other 3. A 5 point night for Vanek giving him the NHL scoring lead.
- Sabres goalie Ryan Miller looked in mid-season form, looking sharp and keeping the Sabres afloat until they found their scoring touch. Looks like it may be a bounce back year for Miller.
- The Flyers have started their season 0-2, it's still early on but not a good start for Bryzgalov and the Flyers.
- Hartnell took 1 boarding penalty and hit Tyler Ennis from behind which went uncalled, unlike last years Sabres, this years decided they would do something and stand up to Hartnell. Drew Stafford, yes Stafford- challenged Flyers tough guy to a fight to stand up for his linemate Ennis. There's a new breed of physical Sabres in town and I like them.
- Sabres' youngsters- Cody Hodgson, Marcus Foligno and Mikhail Grigorenko looked good and sparked some youth into the rest of the team.
San Jose Sharks (4) vs. Calgary Flames (1)
- Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Dan Boyle all hade multipoint games.
- The Flames drew first blood and dominated the first period but their flame was put out in the second period.
- Flames rookie Sven Baertschi looked impressive in his debut.
Pittsburgh Penguins (6) vs. New York Rangers (3)
- The king Lundqvist seems to have fallen off his throne early on, losing his second straight game and being pulled against the Penguins.
- The Penguins are proving they are for real defeating their 2nd divisional foe in as many nights. As a result the Penguins are now 4 points ahead of both the Rangers and Flyers.
- Evgeni Malkin lead the way with 3 assists and Crosby managed his first point of 2013.
Minnesota Wild (1) vs. Dallas Stars (0)
- The first shutout of the 2013 season goes to Wild goalie Josh Harding.
- Zach Parise scored the games lone goal, earning his big contract signed this offseason.
Edmonton Oilers (3) vs. Vancouver Canucks (2) S/O
- Sunday evening saw the first shutout and the first shootout of the 2013 season. The young Oilers had a comeback win against the banged up Canucks in the shootout.
- Luongo started the game- all be it as he was scheduled to anyways but was able to drag out a point for his Canucks. Does it make a whole lot of difference in the long run? Probably not, the Canucks have made it clear they're going through with Cory Schneider but it does give folks something to talk about.
- Jordan Eberle scored a beautiful goal to put the Oilers on the board beating Luongo from a sharp angle. I stick by my claim that Eberle will challenge for the MVP award.
Chicago Blackhawks (6) vs. Phoenix Coyotes (4)
- Coyotes goalie Mike Smith continues his rough start with another poor performance allowing the 6 goals against, for a total of 10 goals against in 2 games- the good news for him is his counterpart didn't fare that much better as Ray Emery let in 4.
- The Blackhawks seem to for real, still early on but with 2 back- to -back wins on the road to kick off the season, there isn't much to complain about.
- Marian Hossa continued his hot start by potting another 2 goals in the win.
How many people were happy to see the NHL return over the weekend? It was a fantastic weekend of hockey- Some teams got out to hot-starts (Blackhawks, Penguins) while others dropped their first 2 games (Flyers, Rangers). What did you think of this weekends games? Which one's did you watch? What was your favourite highlight- goal or save? I hope you enjoyed the 2013 NHL Opening Weekend!
Friday, 18 January 2013
1. New York Rangers
What's not to like about the Rangers- They have solid goaltending, top notch forwards, shutdown defenceman, a coach who speaks his mind and they went out and acquired a piece to help them become even better. The "Blue Shirts" finished first in the East last season and with the addition of Rick Nash and not losing any key players they are easily the team to beat in the Eastern Conference. With Richards, Gaborik, Staal and Girardi- the Rangers arguably have the most talented roster.
Key Players to watch- Rick Nash was acquired to help get the Rangers into the Stanley Cup Finals, a goal which they fell just short of last season. Will the acquisition of Nash pay off? Or will Nash crack under the pressure in the big city. Will Henrik Lundqvist be able to match his Vezina winning season and retain his throne as the King? Also keep an eye on how many games the Rangers play Lundqvist in this 48 game sprint, they have a solid back up in Martin Biron who is capable of carrying some of the load and still putting up "W's".
2. Pittsburgh Penguins
Similar to the Rangers, the Penguins have a star studded lineup that is used to winning. With a healthy Sidney Crosby and the emergence of Evgeni Malkin and James Neal look for the Penguins to start off the season hot. They signed Thomas Vokoun which will allow them to rest Marc- Andre Fluery before the playoffs where they will need him to step up after his pitiful performance last year against the Flyers. Just for a minute take in the fact that Crosby may be their 2nd line centre- yeah the Penguins are that good!
Key Players to Watch- This will be Crosby's first full season in 2 years, and because of the lockout will be a shortened season anyways. There are reports that Crosby is in the best shape he's ever been- Crosby is ready to the hit ice to prove he's fine and still a top notch players.
3. Boston Bruins
Depending on how well Tukka Rask adjusts to being the number one goalie without Tim Thomas around- the Bruins could easily win their division which would see them in 3rd in the conference. While the Bruins don't exactly have all the skilled finesse players the Rangers and Penguins have, they have the type of players who are willing to do the dirty work to help the team win. Everyone on the Bruins has a role, from Milan Lucic to Tyler Seguin each player has a role they must fill. Every member of the Bruins have bought into their system and they're as deep a team as you'll see in the Eastern Conference- look for them to come out early and play physical hockey while other teams are still trying adapt.
Key Players to Watch- Rookie defenceman Dougie Hamilton will likely be on the roster opening night and should have an immediate impact on the blue-line. How will Tukka Rask adapt to being the number one goaltender- this team will only be as good as Rask plays, remember they're used to having Thomas bail them out.
4. Carolina Hurricanes
[caption id="attachment_2062" align="alignright" width="300"] Jordan Staal[/caption]
The Hurricanes made it clear this offseason that they're ready to make another Stanley Cup run. The additions of Jordan Staal and Alex Semin will help add more offencive depth taking the pressure of Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner. The Staal brothers should have instant chemistry and push each other to be better- combine that with the steady play of Cam Ward between the pipes and the Hurricanes have a recipe for success.
Key Players to Watch- Jordan Staal will finally get the opportunity to play top 6 minutes and will be counted on to deliver and help lead the team, how will he adapt to the bigger role?
5. Washington Capitals
I have the Capitals a little lower than most, but I think this is a good spot for them. After losing Alex Semin and head coach Adam Oates moving Alex Ovechkin to wing there's lots of questions that need to be answered. Which Ovechkin is going to show up? Who is this team- is it the high scoring team that would light up opponents but choke in the playoffs or a defence first team that wants to win 2-1 games? With the addition of Mike Ribeiro and Braden Holtby emerging from the shadows the Capitals are set for another solid season that will see them make the playoffs.
Key Players to Watch- After a sub-par season from the Capitals captain Alexander Ovechkin will need to find his game again if the Capitals are to have long-term success. After a injury plagued campaign for Mike Green, he is now healthy and will need a big year on the blue-line to prove he's worth the money and hype.
6. Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers shouldn't have any trouble putting up points with newly named captain Claude Giroux, Danny Briere, Brayden Schenn and Scott Hartnell but will be weak on the blue-line without Chris Pronger and Matt Carle and no one know's what's up with Ilya Bryzgalov. The Flyers will make the playoffs but will have a rocky season.
Key Players to Watch- After being named captain and putting up 93 points last season it will be interesting to see how Claude Giroux adapts to his new role and if he can keep up his production from last season. After being traded from the Leafs, Luke Schenn will have an opportunity to be a key defenceman yet fly under the radar unlike in Toronto- that should help him find his confidence again.
7. Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning went out and acquired a new young goaltender in Anders Lindback to become the new starter. With the red hot Steven Stamkos, playmaker Martin St. Louis and captain Vincent Lecavalier leading the way offencively for the Bolts they should be able to break into the playoffs.
Key Players to Watch- After reaching the 60 goal plateau last season it will interesting to see what Steven Stamkos has planned for an encore this year.
8. Buffalo Sabres
It was a disappointing year for the Sabres last season, falling just short of the 8th and final playoff spot- but this year I see them snatching the last playoff spot and returning to the post-season. If the Bruins get off to a rocky start and don't win the division, the Sabres are the next viable option to win the division which would bump them up to the 3rd. Ryan Miller is bound to have a bounce back year, Marcus Foligno is poised for a full season in the NHL and rising star Mikhail Grigorenko will put up his fair share of points- the Sabre should have no problem scoring goals.
Key Players to Watch- Will Ryan Miller be able to bounce back from a slow start and continue the hot streak he was on at the end of last season? Just how good will Marcus Foligno be- good enough to win the Calder?
9. Ottawa Senators
The Senators are an interesting team. They had a surprising year last season when they made the playoffs and excelled, but for them to do that again is highly unlikely. This season everyone know's not to underestimate the Senators and they'll have a tough time with the constant divisional play. Erik Karlsson had a Norris winning season but will be hard-pressed to do the task again, could be a roller coaster year for the Sens.
Key Player to Watch- Can Erik Karlsson prove he's an elite defenceman and last year wasn't a fluke? Daniel Alfredsson is getting older, how will he hold up in the 48 game sprint?
10. Florida Panthers
The Panthers made the playoffs by the skin of their panther teeth- more specifically points earned for lost shootouts. While the shootouts will play a major part in this years shortened season, the chances of the Panthers getting lucky again are slim. They have young stars in Jonathan Huberdeau and Kris Versteeg but their luck will run out.
Key Players to Watch- Will goaltender Scott Clemmensen be able to get the job done?
11. New Jersey Devils
Yes the New Jersey Devils made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals and gave the Los Angeles Kings a legitimate run for their money and may deserve to be a bit higher but losing Zach Parise this summer really puts the Devils behind the eight-ball. Adam Henrique will be called upon to help fill the void left by Parise.
Key Players to Watch- Martin Brodeur is another year older and who know's if he'll be able to keep up his all-star type numbers in the extra tough shortened season
12. Winnipeg Jets
There's not a lot to say about the Jets- they were the feel good story of the NHL last season after being moved from Atlanta, but they are still very much the Atlanta Thrashers team that couldn't win. Look for Evander Kane and Andrew Ladd to lead the team but it could be another long hockey season in Winnipeg- good thing fans are just happy to have their team back.
13. Toronto Maple Leafs
Will the Toronto Maple Leafs finally end their playoff drought? Unfortunately for Leaf fans that doesn't seem to be in the cards this season. The Leafs
[caption id="attachment_2065" align="alignright" width="150"] Zazem Kadri will get his chance to prove he can play in the NHL[/caption]
desperately need to add a proven veteran goaltender but are choosing to give James Reimer and Ben Scrivens a chance- there's nothing wrong with that in the long run but it will likely result in the Leafs failing to reach the post-season again.
Key Players to Watch- goaltenders Ben Scrivens and James Reimer as they battle for the starting job. Will be interesting to see how Nazem Kadri will adapt to centering the 3rd line and finally being given a chance to prove himself.
14. Montreal Canadiens
The Canadiens had a rough season last year and it doesn't look like it will be much better this season. As of right now they have failed to reach an agreement with defenceman P.K Subban and have bought out Scott Gomez. Carey Price will have to come up big night in and night out for them to have much of a chance most nights. Look to see if they keep rookie Alex Galchenyuk all season and how his offence will help the team.
15. New York Islanders
After deciding to cut Ryan Strome and Griffin Reinhart after training camp, it looks like the Islanders may be going into a re-build in an attempt to get a top pick in the 2013 draft and allow their prospects more time to develop. It will be a long season on the Island, that will likely see them finish last again.
Key Players to Watch- John Tavares should still put up solid numbers despite being on a last place team.
What do you think of my Eastern Conference predictions? What teams would you change and who are you looking to come up big this season?
Thursday, 17 January 2013
10 Players to Watch in Shortened NHL Season-
10- Brendan Smith- Detroit Red Wings
This is a young defenceman that was brought to my attention by one of my twitter followers- and it turns out he's going to have a key role on the Red Wings blueline. Smith is coming off 32 games with Grand Rapids where he's racked up 5 goals and 15 assists and will have a head start on many of his Red Wings teammates- who haven't had a chance to play. Smith saw 14 games with the Wings last season and will need to step up to the plate after the Wings lost defencemen Nicklas Lidstrom and Brad Stuart in the offseason. After taking the time to hone his skills in the AHL, Smith knows he's ready to make the jump and help fill the holes on the Wings blueline. If your fantasy hockey league counts +/- then consider picking up Smith- who prides himself on his +/-.
9. Gabriel Landeskog- Colorado Avalanche
Landeskog was so impressive in his rookie year that he won rookie of the year honours and earned the trust of Avalanche brass to be named the youngest captain in team history. In 82 games last season the young Swede was able to put up 52 points and with a shortened season could surprise many and be amongst the top goal scorers in the league- it also doesn't hurt he played in Sweden during the lockout racking up 14 points in 17 games. Look for Landeskog to jump out to a quick start to prove he was the right choice for captain and his rookie year wasn't a fluke.
8. Jordan and Eric Staal- Carolina Hurricanes
I'm putting the Staal brothers together on this list because if either of them is to have a big year it will because of the addition of their brother. The Hurricanes were on a mission to add young talent to help prove they are serious Cup contenders- one of their big additions was Jordan Staal from the Pittsburgh Penguins. Jordan will be re-united with his older brother Eric and the siblings will be looking to help each other improve with a little old sibling rivalry. Jordan is finally getting the top 6 minutes he deserves and will be looking to prove he is a top 6 forward- Eric had a slow start last year and will be looking to rebound this season. Look for the Staal brothers to have career years and get the Hurricanes back into the playoffs.
7. Ryan Miller- Buffalo Sabres
After having the best year of his career in 2010 in which he captured the Vezina trophy and back-stopped the Sabres into the playoffs, Miller had a dissapointing season last year. An early concussion threw him off his game early on and put the Sabres in a rough spot. After a strong finish at the end of last season which brought the Sabres back from 14th to 9th look for Miller to carry that momentum over into the shortened season. Miller will be looking to re-solidify his spot amongst the elite goalies in the NHL and a 48 game season (30 games) will be just the thing to get Miller back on track. With the additions of Hodgson, Foligno and possibly Grigorenko the Sabres should be able to put up more goals to help their tender out. Look for Miller to return to his Vezina form and be amongst the top goalies propeling the Sabres back into the postseason.
6. Matt Duchene- Colorado Avalanche
Duchene has shown flashes of brilliance since being taken 3rd overall in 2009, but has yet to solidify himself as the elite player he was projected to be. The Avalanche are filled with youth and young stars- having Landeskog being named captain shows they are putting faith in the youth of the team. Duchene is now 22 and healthy after a injury plagued 2011-2012- and after being some-what overshadowed by Landeskog, Duchene will be looking to remind everyone he was the original Avalanche superstar. Coming off strong play overseas during the lockout Duchene has brought that play back home and is looking very strong in training camp- look for him to prove he's ready and capable of playing on the first line.
5. Sidney Crosby- Pittsburgh Penguins
As one of the best, most elite players in the league Crosby is always an exciting player to watch and never disappoints. When his team needs someone to step up he's the first one to score a big goal. After playing just 63 games over the last 2 seasons Crosby is finally healthy and is looking forward to playing a "full-season" with no injury issues. Evgeni Malkin has risen to the top with the absence of Crosby and has won over the fans- many believing Malkin to be the best player on the Penguins- Crosby is in the best shape he's been in years, look for him to hit the ice running and light up the league proving he is still one of the best players in the game and gain back his honour of being the best Penguin. After last seasons disappointing first round exit at the hands of the Flyers, look for Crosby to lead the Pens back to the Stanley Cup Finals!
4. Claude Giroux- Philadelphia Flyers
Coming off a career year with the Flyers that saw Giroux put up 93 points and have his name thrown into the mix as a elite young player- Giroux has been named the 19th captain in Flyers history. At age 25 with 4 NHL seasons under his belt, Giroux is ready to step up and become a leader- he already leads the team without the "C" by inspiring teammates with hard hits and timely goals. He's the perfect player to take over the captaincy role from Chris Pronger and could be poised for a long run as Flyers captain. Look for Giroux to put up terrific numbers and lead the Flyers to a deep playoff run.
3. Cory Schneider- Vancouver Canucks
After stealing the number goaltending job away from Roberto Luongo, there's no questions everyone in the hockey world will be looking at Schneider. Schneider will be called upon to not only keep the Canucks at the top of the Western Conference, but to break the reputation of a team that can't perform in the playoffs. There's going to be a lot of pressure on the young goaltender to deliver- will he rise to the occasion or crack under the pressure?
2. Jordan Eberle- Edmonton Oilers
I absolutely love the way Jordan Eberle plays and it's a shame he gets overshadowed by Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent- Hopkins and now Nail Yakupov. I truly believe Eberle is the Oilers MVP and the most complete young star- look for him to prove that this year. Last year was a career year for the 22 year-old who racked up 76 points and ranked 16th amongst NHL scoreers. After being given a "A" this season, look for Eberle to become one of the leaders of the young Oilers squad both on the ice and off ice- leading by example. I wouldn't be surprised to see him lead the team in points and be amongst the top scoring leaders in the shortened season.
1. Justin Shultz- Edmonton Oilers
With all the young offencive talent the Oilers have I wouldn't be surprised if they managed to squeak into the playoffs. Shultz absolutely tore up the AHL during the lockout putting up 48 points in just 34 games- and he's a defenceman. The 48 game season will work out perfectly for Shultz in his first year after playing a 43 game season with Wisconsin. Look for Shultz to provide some stability to the Oilers defence and challenge for the Calder trophy.
There you have it folks, 10 players who are poised to have a big season once the puck drops on Saturday. One things for sure- a 48 game season will result in some exciting hockey with lots of surprises.
Monday, 14 January 2013
Now there have been tons of protests encouraging fans to stay away from or boycott the NHL in order to send a message to the league, but the only problem with those idea's is the fans- who did nothing wrong, are forced to further miss out on the game they love and after 3 long months most are desperate to see NHL hockey again.
We here at the The Puck Stops Here have come up with a new idea to "stick it to Gary Bettman" a simple idea called Stand Up Turn Around. Best of all it doesn't involve you missing any of your beloved hockey. The idea was originally brought to my attention through Donmanski, a former editor here. Project Stand Up and Turn Around is mainly for fans that are lucky enough to be going to NHL opening night or home openers on January 19th and 20th- but even if you're not going to a game next weekend, you can still help spread the word.
Here is the just of project Stand Up Turn Around:
The lockout is over – now what? Stand Up and Turn Around
Fans of the NHL are understandably upset with the 113 day lockout they had to endure. But now what? Boycott the game they love and miss? Stop buying merchandise? Watch basketball? None of those or any others I’ve heard make any sense. There are too many people who already have a great deal of money invested to just give it up. There are too many vendors who’ve already suffered enough for the fans to continue hurting them.
What needs to be done is something simple, yet noticeable. One that allows fans to come together and show that they’re sick and tired of putting up with the nonsense that arises every few years. There is a simple answer – Stand Up and Turn Around.
Fans going to team home openers are being encouraged to Stand Up and Turn Around during the opening face-off of each game. Not for long, just the first 10-30 seconds the puck is in play. Afterwards, settle in, put the past behind you and enjoy the sprint to the Cup! (not to be confused with the Sprint Cup)
Imagine the message sent if players and owners see this happening in their arenas – they’d have to get the message. They’d have a visible message to their selfishness with the game we love.
So, everyone – repeat after me – Stand Up and Turn Around! #Standupandturnaround.
Want to send a visible message that will actually mean something? Sure you can stop buying merchandise or boycott going to games, but eventually someone else will take your spot and open their wallets to the NHL. But if fans actually stood up and turned their backs to game action, imagine the message that would be sent? Just imagine the in-game commentators: "Are fans turning their back to the game? Why yes they are! Todd it appears that fans have turned their back for the opening face-off- maybe in an attempt to send a message?"
Imagine the message 30 seconds of your time could send- Besides what's going to happen in 30 seconds?
Take the pledge Stand Up and Turn Around!
Sunday, 13 January 2013
The legacy Brian Burke has left on the Leafs may be a legacy that lasts forever- He took over the laughingstock of the NHL, was able to get rid of the"Muskoka 5" who held the team hostage, brought in some solid prospects, landed both Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf and turned the Leafs from a joke into a respectable team. But despite all Burke's wheeling and dealing the Leafs still fell short of the playoffs during his 4 year tenure and that is why he is no longer the GM of the Maple Leafs. There may be things now that Burke is kicking himself for doing while GM, but Brian Burke's biggest mistake was jumping the gun and trading the future for the present.
Part of Burke's philosophy was patience, he told Leafs management he would need time to "gut" the 2008
Leafs and would need to rebuild their prospect pool before they become an elite team. He told fans that he would need to re-build the team and it would take time, but once he had top notch prospects the Leafs would be a force to be reckoned with. While fans and Leaf brass bought into his system and patiently waited Burke decided things weren't moving fast enough.
Burke sent 2 first round draft picks and a 2nd rounder to the Boston Bruins in exchange for the streaky Phil Kessel. Those draft picks turned out to be Tyler Seguin, Dougie Hamilton and Jared Knight. Burke believed that the addition of Kessel would help propel the Leafs into the playoffs, he was wrong. Instead of patiently waiting and perhaps ending up with Seguin and Hamilton Burke jumped the gun attempting to put a bandaid on a leak. All that talk about saving prospects and building for the future, got wiped away when the future was traded to Boston- problem was the Leafs weren't ready to make a run when the deal was made.
By trading away draft picks for a proven player, there is an expectation that the playoffs are within reach, but the Leafs were still far away from a playoff birth. Fans began to get impatient seeing who the Bruins drafted with the Leafs picks and seeing the Bruins succeed while the Leafs still failed to make the playoffs. The re-build that Burke had preached time after time was in a sense over- Next came Phaneuf, Komisarek, Lupul, and Giguere and instead of patience and re-build fans were fed with truculence and hard work. I remember a press conference before the season where Burke stood up and declared "This will be the hardest working team in the league". Yet they still couldn't work their way into the playoffs.
If Burke had followed his own advice and remained patient there's no telling where the Leafs could be right now. They'd likely have Seguin and or Hamilton in the organization if not on the roster and maybe they would be able to make the playoffs. Bottom line Brian Burke jumped the gun by trading the future for the present when the Leafs weren't ready for present success- and that was ultimately his biggest mistake as Toronto Maple Leafs GM.
Friday, 11 January 2013
After the long process where neither the NHL or the NHLPA wanted to give into the other side there will be a lot of speculation over who "won" the lockout. The players were never going to win on things like salary cap, length of CBA and contract terms, but the fact they- led by Fehr lasted this long and literally drove Bettman to the brink is a huge testament to the NHLPA's win in the lockout. But the reason Fehr was able to have success compared to other heads of the NHLPA is his ability to rally the players together as one for a greater cause.
For the most part the NHLPA was completely united in their fight against Bettman and the league. Time after time you saw players send out tweets about how they supported Donald Fehr and were united in the lockout battle. While none of them really enjoyed not playing hockey they were determined to work together and not let the NHL run all over them like in 2004. Fehr managed to bring the players together for the greater good and keep them together through the lockout, especially when things got tough and seemed like there was no hope. Every player that was involved in this process bought into the Fehr system, thats the reason they were able the last so long and not be beat up by the league. Heck the league even offered the players a fairly decent deal in an attempt to get a deal done while Fehr was out of the room. The way Fehr was able to keep the players motivated was simple- "There's a better deal coming", is what he told the players time after time and he was right.
In addition to buying into the "Fehr system" the players were also united in their hatred of Bettman, they were determined not to get weaseled by the weasel. The owners and Bettman did everything they possibly could to get to the players union and make them turn on their leader. From threatening the season, to taking him out of the room- to the PR battles in the media to even writing letters to the players. But every time the NHL tried something the players just stood firm behind their leader. Not an easy decision for players who weren't getting their paycheques and even tougher for free agents who didn't have a team to return to. Not once did the players blink at one of the league's take it- or - leave it offers. You have to tip your hat to Fehr for rallying the players and making sure they stuck together like glue.
Fehr played this one very strong- he knew the NHL and the owners couldn't afford to play anything less than a 48 game season as a fully scraped season would set the game so far back it may not have bounced back. The owners were putting pressure on Bettman to get a deal done and save the season at any costs, so Fehr was able to push through the phony threats from his opposition until their backs were up against the wall and they had no option other than to make a deal. It was a catch 22 for the league, they wanted to give the players as little as possible to retain their dominance but they couldn't push the players to far or they would refuse to cooperate and potentially disband. Fehr knew that when push came to shove and the owners backs were against the wall they would have no choice but to offer the players a respectable deal. Despite playing a very dangerous game of chicken that nearly resulted in the season being lost, Fehr was able to force the owners hand in a deal.
But most importantly- and entertainingly for fans, is the fact Fehr was able to drive Bettman absolutely crazy! In 2004-2005 the lockout was pretty much a walk in the park for the owners. The players didn't have a strong negotiator to stand up for them and ended up losing in the long run, but bringing notorious negotiator Fehr ahead of this years CBA expiration indicated the players were looking for a much tougher battle this time around. Bettman tried every trick in the book to get Fehr to fold and take the offer he was shoving down the players throats, but still Fehr refused to budge. Every threat the league said ended up making them look stupid as none of it came true because of Fehr's perseverance. It got to the point where it seemed Bettman had no answer for Fehr- he didn't know what to do next, he became so uncomfortable knowing that Fehr had stymied his plan of driving the players into the ground.
The point it became evident to me that Bettman was losing it was the press conference after Fehr had gone back into the room after the owners had presented the players a new contract. Fehr went back into the room despite being warned not to by Bettman and told the owners what they could do with that offer, then stormed of with his players. That night Bettman left him an angry voicemail saying they were done negotiating- something uncharacteristic from the league commissioner, then the players association went to the media to show that Bettman was upset. Bettman then held his own press conference to tell everyone he wasn't pleased and negotiations had taken a step back and had in fact been stalled. During that press conference from Bettman, I've never seen him so annoyed, agitated and down right angry at anything that much before. Seeing true emotion from Bettman is rare and seeing so much from him- anger, frustration, confusion and flat-out annoyance, proved that Fehr was able to get under his skin during this lockout.
Donald Fehr came into this lockout with a game plan; He knew he couldn't let the league walk over the players again and was willing to play hardball until the owners gave him a pitch he could hit. He was able to see through Bettman's smoke screens to know he was bluffing on almost all his threats- that no deal was ever "off the table" and he was able to drive Bettman nuts. There was no question the players were going to bleed during this process, Fehr's job was to limit the bleeding and protect the players. Fehr was able to stop the bleeding at minimal damage and work out a deal that should truly help the players for years to come plus he had a little fun with Bettman along the way- it's a win-win for Donald Fehr and the NHLPA.
Wednesday, 9 January 2013
I had the opportunity to talk with the USA national team goalie coach:
1. How did you get started in hockey?
My family (my parents, an older sister and 3 older brothers - I'm the baby!) moved from Ohio to Maine when I was 3 or 4 years old. When we got there the youngest brother, who is 4 years older than me, started playing hockey, and me being the tomboy I was, I followed in his footsteps! I fell in love with hockey and played forward/defence from age 5-12. At 12, I tried out for a previously all-boys Select team in NH, the Seacoast Spartans, and got cut as a F/D, but was offered the opportunity to tryout as a goalie. I had never tried goalie before, and quite frankly was a bit scared of the puck, but I really wanted to be the first girl on the team, so I tried out and beat out 4 other boys for the spot! The rest is history!
2. What made you move from Maine to Toronto?
While I was playing at the University of Maine from 1998-2002, I had heard a bit about a women's pro league in Canada. So in my Jr year at Maine I started doing a bit of research into the league - where the teams were, coaches names, etc. I called a few coaches and talked to them about trying out after my Sr. year. I just knew that I was not yet playing my best hockey and I wanted a chance to play at that level and see what the league was all about. So after I graduated, I spent the summer at home and then in mid-August, after talking to some coaches in Vancouver and Edmonton, I was about to take a road trip on my own out west to see if I could earn a spot on one of the squads out there. Then I got a call from Pete Perram of the Durham Telus Lightning in Toronto. He wanted to sign me! Although I was really looking forward to the road trip and the sights on the west coast, it was a no-brainer to stay closer to my family, and to have a spot right away instead of having to tryout. So I drove to Buffalo with my parents to meet Pete and sign! I moved up to Toronto in late August of 2002 and have been up here ever since.
3.What was it like to play in the CWHL, the first professional women's league?
It was a great honour to have been able to play at such a high level for so long (2002-2003 was my 1st season in the NWHL and 2011-2012 was my final season in the CWHL - 10 full seasons). It has been so great to see the level of talent improving more and more in the younger generations of CWHLers coming into the league each year. We have had some great history-making moments like the first-ever Women's Hockey Draft held at the Hockey Hall of Fame; games at NHL arenas with upwards of 5,000 fans, etc. Overall, it was an experience that shaped the last decade of my life.
4. What was it like winning back to back National Championships with the Brampton Thunder? Was it tough to repeat?
[caption id="" align="alignright" width="300"] Mandy with her goaltending partner after winning the National Championship[/caption]
It was a great experience! And yes, it was definitely an uphill battle to be able to win it the 2nd time. As I mentioned previously, the NWHL/CWHL improved
every season I played, as the younger generations of female hockey players came in very strong, so our opponents were increasingly tough competitors.
5. What has been the highlight of your playing career?
9. Whats one thing you tell all goalies?
Sunday, 6 January 2013
Going into the 2013 World Junior's not many people gave the Americans a fair shake at winning the tournament after their 7th place finish in 2012 and having
only 3 returning players on the roster. But defenceman Seth Jones believed in his team when no one else did stating "We're the best team!". People scoffed at his comments, but it turns out the draft-eligible defenceman was right- the Americans really were the best team in the 2013 World Junior Championships and to prove it they skated away with the gold medal.Team USA came into the tournament with little pressure, other than themselves no one expected them to make it to the medal round. But they worked hard and battled to the end in every game to advance to the semi-finals.
[caption id="attachment_1868" align="alignright" width="300"]
Team USA celebrates after wining the 2013 World Junior Championships[/caption]
In the semis they beat a Canadian team that they had earlier lost to and surprised the Canadians who thought it would be a easy victory. The Americans earned their spot in the gold medal game. They then relied on strong goaltending and heroics from lesser known prospects to get them the win over the Swedes.
Besides goaltender John Gibson- who was hands down the best player in the tournament, the best player in the finals was American forward Rocco Grimaldi. At the beginning of the tournament the NCAA freshman had been placed on the Americans first line, then a few games later he found his butt glued to the bench after head coach Phil Housley benched him. After getting let out of the "dog house" Grimaldi did not disappoint scoring 2 big goals for the Americans in finals- including their first goal which gave them life and the go-ahead goal. After Grimaldi gave them the lead Gibson was able to shut the door the rest of the way, leaving Sweden stymied.
Now lots of things had to come together for the Americans to claim the gold medal- team chemistry, good coaching, staying out of the box, timely goals and timely saves. But the two of the biggest reasons they were able to capture their 2nd gold in 4 years is because they didn't have politics when picking their roster and the emergence of Gibson as a elite goaltender.
I touched about the lack of politics when picking the team in my last post, but it goes deeper than just cutting big name players. Housley showed faith in NCAA players and they didn't disappoint. Jake McCabe was an excellent captain leading the Americans to a win over rivals Canada in the Semi's and ranked
[caption id="attachment_1863" align="alignright" width="300"]
John Gaudreau celebrates after scoring.[/caption]
3rd among defenceman with 6 points. For his efforts he was also named to the all-star tournament team. Next to McCabe, the biggest forward for the Americans turned out to be one of their smallest- John Gaudreau. Gaudreau had a fantastic tournament and really showed how valuable he can be to a team. Johnny hockey had 3 multi-point games in a row leading up to the semi's including 7 goals in 3 "must-win" games and led the tournament in scoring, proving it doesn't matter how "big" a player is as long as they can score! Of course we already talked about benefit that Rocco Grimaldi had in the finals, heck if it wasn't for his 2 goals the Americans may be wearing silver around their necks. Jones also stepped up playing a major leading role on the blue-line despite his inexperience, he showed maturity with the puck and may have solidified top spot in the 2o13 draft.
But the biggest story for the Americans was the play of John Gibson. When watching the Anaheim Ducks prospect throughout the tournament you just sit back and marvel at some of the big time stops he was able to make. Finishing the tournament with the best Save Percentage (.955) and Goals Against
[caption id="attachment_1865" align="alignright" width="300"]
John Gibson makes a save in the finals against Sweden[/caption]
Average (1.36) which also gives him the highest Save Percentage of any American goaltender at the World Juniors. To say Gibson stood on his head would be
an understatement, he led the Americans to victory and stood tall against the opposition time after time. His play earned him tournament MVP, top goaltender and a gold medal. His play was somewhat reminiscent of Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller during the 2010 Olympics. The Americans were the underdogs in the Olympics much like this tournament but the strong play of Miller between the pipes led the team right to the gold medal match against Canada- closer to a gold medal than anyone thought the Americans would come. The only difference between the two is Gibson was able to lead his American squad to a gold medal where Miller fell just short in OT.
Congrats to team USA on winning gold in the 2013 World Junior Championships, it was a well deserved championship that reminded everyone never to count the Americans out.
Thursday, 3 January 2013
The Canadians got off to a slow start and were quickly left in the dust of the Americans who came out ready to play and with something to prove. With 2 first period goals by American captain Jake McCabe they found themselves in a deep hole, needing to score 3 goals on the red hot John Gibson. Going into the 2nd period the Americans scored the next 2 goals and the game was quickly put to bed before Canada was even able to show up. Whether it was the 2 days off after earning the quarter final bye or they were to over confident, they just didn't show up ready to play when the puck dropped and that's what killed the Canadians.
The Canadian players played with no heart or passion during the tournament and the reason is they have a sense of entitlement. They believe because they're star Canadian players and wear the maple leaf on their chest they should immediately be in the gold medal game. The star players on the Canadian team were just given a spot on the team and weren't forced to work hard and actually make the team. Just look at the games during selection camp, every player who had already made the team (after only 1 practice) got to sit in the press box and eat wings while the fringe players (many of whom got cut) had to fight like crazy for a chance to represent their country.
[caption id="attachment_1834" align="alignright" width="300"]
Canadian players upset after loss to Team USA[/caption]
When watching Canada in the tournament you could tell that players like Jonathan Drouin who had to battle to earn the honour to put the Canadian jersey on, were the better players and they actually seemed to care. For the first round draft-picks who were given a spot on the roster before touching down out West, the tournament becomes almost a "right of passage" that they must compete in before making the jump to the NHL. It seems like they don't put their full heart into the tournament because they know they're already headed to the NHL.
When push comes to shove Canada just expects to win gold, so much has been made about hockey being their game and how dominate they used to be that they just expect to wind up in the gold medal game. You could see today that was the mindset they brought into the semi-finals, they just expected to be in the finals but team USA had other plans.
Thanks to the lockout Canada had the added benefit of some very talented players including first overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. With so many stars suiting up for Canada there are 2 things to take away. The first is the fact that all the star players are used to being the star players, it's hard for 5 guys who are used to be being "the guy" to come together and mesh as a unit and thats what happened. When watching them play it truly looked like 5 individuals out on the ice instead of a team as each guy wanted to be the hero and tried to do to much. The second thing to take away is the coaching from head coach Steve Spott, I have no clue where they drew his name from, but he had absolutely no clue how to coach the players. One thing that really stood out for me was the fact he didn't even go into the room before the semi-final game, what kind of coach doesn't at least talk to his team before a big game like this? He was unable to get the right lines together and flat out did a horrible job managing the players.
Now moving onto the underdogs of the tournament Team USA.
After a disappointing 7th place finish last year at the World Juniors, Team USA has rebounded nicely and will now be going home with at least a silver medal. Not a bad turnaround by the Americans who chose a fine mix of CHL players and NCAA players. The best part of the Americans roster going into the tournament was the lack of politics. They were comfortable cutting first round draft picks Stefan Matteau and Brady Skjei because they didn't perform as well as other players during the selection camp. That's a team that is willing to take the best players instead of the biggest names.
Their decision to take college players John Gaudreau and Rocco Grimaldi payed off in the end as Gaudreau scored 2 big goals in the win over Canada and is 2nd in scoring with 9 points (7 goals and 2 assists). When you have 3rd and 4th liners who are able to produce at the rate Gaudreau has been able to it makes scoring a lot easier. All 5 goals scored by the Americans against Canada came from players playing in the NCAA (Gaudreau 2, Jake McCabe 2, Jim Vesey) proving that you can win with players from anywhere.
But perhaps the biggest story and the number 1 reason they're in the finals is due to the play of goaltender John Gibson. He has been absolutely phenomenal throughout the tournament and if it wasn't for a questionable whistle would have recorded his 2nd straight shutout. The Canadians had many golden chances where players were left alone in front of the goaltender but Gibson stood strong and shut the door time after time. With his strong play he ended up getting into the Canadians heads forcing them to miss the net trying to pick corners or shooting right at him. When a team is able to get the strong type of goaltending team USA has gotten, it does wonders for the confidence of the team. Going into the tournament their main goal was defence but against Canada they managed to generate offence and let Gibson take care of the rest.
The Americans knew they had something to prove after last years tournament and their satisfactory play during the round robin, beating Canada who they had lost to earlier would be a huge step for them. They came out for the semi-final game on fire, ready to play and with a chip on their shoulder. They were a determined team and right from the start they showed they weren't going to roll over.
During the semi-final match team USA was the better team, period. They out-played Canada in every aspect from skating, to scoring to goaltending. After their effort they were the team that deserved to advance to the gold medal match not Canada. At the end of the day you have to earn your way into the gold medal match not just show up. While I stand by the Canadian hockey team, their effort today in the semi-final was pathetic and an embarrassment to themselves and Canada. They didn't bother to show up until the 3rd period and by then the game was over, they allowed themselves to become impressed by who they were and believed they couldn't be beat.