Complaints about the way the Pittsburgh Penguins have conducted themselves this past season have become so commonplace that they blend right in with your general barrage of gripes that you can expect to see with each season. But how about one from a Penguins’ fan himself? Sure enough, these last few weeks have gotten so out of hand, culminating with yesterday afternoon’s debacle with the Philadelphia Flyers, that it prompted an Open Letter to be posted on their SB Nation blog PensBurgh. This is a very thoughtful yet straight-to-the-point message from a lifelong Penguins’ fan that really captures everything that the rest of the league has been saying for years:
Today in the National Hockey League, there is much controversy amongst fans over players who pad their stats, whether it is trying to show that a certain number of goals a player scored in a season came against an empty net late in the game, or even more popularly, the role of the secondary assist in the game of hockey. We all know today, that each goal scored has the potential to have two assists attached to it, a primary and a secondary, being the last two players to touch the puck before the shooter puts it in the net. Sometimes, the passers make brilliant plays to get the puck to the scorer, but other times, a lucky bounce just happens to glance off their stick or body before landing right on the sweet spot of the eventual scorer’s stick. Is it really stat padding or just a part of the game? The answer to that question will vary based on who you ask, but there is no doubt that recording points today is much easier than it was, in let’s say, the first year of the NHL’s existence back in 1917; before that, the professional hockey league of the era being the NHA, short for National Hockey Association.
It’s that time of year again, when everyone loves hockey! The playoffs have finally come and although my team is not in it, I am still excited it. Most of us do playoff pools and pick ‘ems, and let me tell you, it is so much easier to do it when your team is no longer playing, because you can finally pick with your brain and not your heart. I have attached my picks for all four rounds, but only in-depth explanations for the first round.
When I look at all the teams who have made it to this year’s post-season, I see no runaway team; no team that really scares me. Two seasons ago it was obvious that Detroit was going to win, and last season it was obvious that Detroit would return to the finals, and Pittsburgh would give them a run for their money, when they eventually ended up winning.
People ask me, how can I say that? The answer is simple: this year, every team in the running has one fatal flaw, the one thing that will ultimately do them in. This year is a crap-shoot, and that is why my predictions for who is in the finals, and who eventually wins may come as a surprise.
Eastern Conference Round One
1) Washington vs 8 ) Montreal: Capitals in 4
Although I do not feel that the Washington Capitals will win the Stanley Cup, the NHL’s best team will have no trouble dismantling the Montreal Canadiens one piece at a time. Montreal had been struggling of late, and the Capitals have never taken their foot off the accelerator. It can be argued that Jaroslav Halak is a better goaltender than Jose Theodore, but with Washington’s offense it will not matter. If the Canadiens even win a game, and furthermore, take the lead in a game, consider it a success for them. But the Capitals will not go all the way because of their goaltending and defense, their fatal flaws. Scoring five goals a game is all fun and good in the regular season, but the playoffs are a different animal. I also do not feel that certain Capitals players are mature enough to handle a trip to the finals.
2) New Jersey Devils vs 7) Philadelphia Flyers: Flyers in 7
It was in November when I predicted the Devils would win the Stanley Cup, but that came with one stipulation; a well-rested Martin Brodeur. Unfortunately his selfishness will do him and his team in again as he will be too tired to defeat the Flyers who will continuously crash the net and wreak havoc. Just think, Martin Brodeur is less than a month away from his 38th birthday, and he appeared in 77 games. Did he really have to play in that final game against Buffalo on Sunday? They could have easily given that game to Yann Danis, and if they lost, so be it. But anyway, the Devils play the tightest defense in the entire league, and when all other teams tighten up for the playoffs, the Devils are already as tight as they can possibly be. The Flyers have question marks all over the place, but I firmly believe if they play at the height of their physicality, they will wear out the Devils and out-score them. It will not be easy, and that is why I think it will go seven games.
3) Buffalo Sabres vs 6) Boston Bruins: Sabres in 5
The Boston Bruins limped into this year’s playoffs with injuries extrapolating their already weak offense. Buffalo continues to remain consistent season after season, and with a healthy Thomas Vanek on fire, along with the best goaltender in the Eastern conference, Ryan Miller, they should have no problems beating the Boston Bruins. Only question is, who gets the starts in Boston? The tenured and experienced Tim Thomas, or the young, bolt of lightning in a bottle Tuuka Rask? Either way, it will not matter, and the Sabres should win easily in five games.
4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs 5) Ottawa Senators: Penguins in 5
Hats off to the Senators for even being able to make the playoffs, a team that was surrounded by a media circus all season long due to Dany Heatley, and a team, who at one point in the season, had their entire top line injured. They had been one of the hottest teams in the league for a while, but Pittsburgh is still the team to beat in the east, and as painful as it is, I do not think the Senators stand a chance.
Eastern Conference Round Two
Washington Capitals vs Philadelphia Flyers: Capitals in 6
Buffalo Sabres vs Pittsburgh Penguins: Penguins in 5
Eastern Conference Round Three
Washington Capitals vs Pittsburgh Penguins: Penguins in 6
This will be the NHL’s dream matchup, and their ticket to financial success and the expansion of hockey popularity across the United States. If the stars align perfectly, this will be the matchup. Although Pittsburgh was not as good during the season, they have a much better goalie in Fleury and a better defense as well. Add to that their Cup-winning experience, and I think they will defeat the mighty Capitals.
Western Conference Round One
1) San Jose Sharks vs 8 ) Colorado Avalanche: Sharks in 5
The Sharks have been a source for endless jokes among us hockey writers over the years because it is absolutely hilarious to see a team consistently win 45-50 games every year, only to lose in the first round. However, their fortunes will change this season, somewhat. As good a season as the Avalanche had, they will not be able to match the Sharks’ firepower, and even if Nabokov is not a big game goalie, I certainly feel he can out-duel Craig Anderson, a goalie who had a career year. Under the leadership of Rob Blake, and the scoring of Marleau and Heatley, the Sharks should easily beat the Avalanche.
2) Chicago Blackhawks vs 7) Nashville Predators: Blackhawks in 6
For many people, Chicago is the team to beat this season. To that, I ask why? Yes they have an amazing tandem of Kane and Toews, but their goaltending will be their fatal flaw. Cristobal Huet has never impressed me, ever, and Antti Niemi has no experience at all. However, they have enough skill level to defeat the surprisingly steady Nashville Predators. Once again I find myself congratulating Barry Trotz for the job he has done with a team that many people don’t even know exists. As much as I would like to see them do well, they will not beat Chicago.
3) Vancouver Canucks vs 6) Los Angeles Kings: Canucks in 6
Few teams were able to match the excitement and exuberance of the Kings this season, but they are in the same learning process the Penguins were in a few years back. There is that old saying that you have to lose before you can win, and for that reason, I feel they will lose out. That, and the fact that I love the system the Canucks are playing. They have a very solid defense, and an excellent offensive pressure. Right now it seems the Sedin twins will be unbeatable, and Kesler and Burrows provide some good toughness with an offensive flair.
4) Phoenix Coyotes vs 5) Detroit Red Wings: Red Wings in 5
First off, let me start out by saying congratulations to Dave Tippett, for the job he did in Phoenix this season. He will win the Jack Adams Award for coach of the year, and deserves it more than anyone else. The job that Don Maloney was also able to do is outstanding. However, now that it is playoff time, I feel this Cinderella season will be coming to an end. The Wings are a group of battle hardened veterans who could win a playoff game in their sleep. With back to back finals appearances under their belt, I feel they will be going far this season. Chris Osgood is a mediocre regular season goalie, but he just turns on another switch in the playoffs. They struggled all season long but got hot at just the right time. Will they have enough gas left in the tank? That seems to be the only problem.
Western Conference Round Two
San Jose Sharks vs Detroit Red Wings: Red Wings in 5
Chicago Blackhawks vs Vancouver Canucks: Canucks in 7
Western Conference Round Three
Vancouver Canucks vs Detroit Red Wings: Red Wings in 6
Stanley Cup Finals
Pittsburgh Penguins vs Detroit Red Wings: Red Wings in 7
As I stated earlier, there is not one team in this league that will run away with anything this year. There are weak spots all over the place in every team. These may seem like “safe” picks, but believe me, a lot of thought went into this because it is almost comical to think that we could see a third straight Red Wings-Penguins finals. But when you don’t see a runaway team, you have to go with the team to beat from last season, and that is exactly what I did. Both teams are experienced and skilled beyond belief. It will be yet another hard fought series, and I see the Wings reclaiming the title.