I feel really bad for Ray Emery. He was virtually perfect tonight, but the guys in front of him just can't keep up.
Most hockey pundits opined that it would be almost impossible for the Sens to play as bad as they did on Monday, but they worked hard to prove everybody wrong.
They weren't quite as bad, but it was abundantly clear that Anaheim was playing at a much higher level than Ottawa. The points in the game where the Sens actually looked threatening were very few and far between. They seem to be completely mystified. By what, I am not entirely sure.
As Ballzov said in his comment after game 1, the Sens can take solace in the fact that, even if they've been bad, they still had a chance to win both games. Had Mike Comrie been able to pull the trigger on the 5-on-3, we might have an even series at this point.
I guess that reasoning still applies, but time is running out.
I feel really bad for Ray Emery. He was virtually perfect tonight, but the guys in front of him just can't keep up.
Well, it's in the books and it's not good news for both my ability to predict outcomes and for Ottawa fans. Anaheim has taken the first game and some would say they did it in a very convincing manner.
The Sens had brushed off any potential impact the long layoff would have on them, but they were clearly not in "game shape" tonight. By the third period, the Sens lacked energy and they had the classic "rubber legs" that typify teams that are not prepared.
That being said, I don't think the Sens could have done anything different. They disposed of the Sabres as fast as possible, which is what all teams try to do.
The Ducks, for their part, came out flying and they were clearly energized by the home crowd. They played well enough to win, but they weren't at their best either. There were lots of turnovers on both sides, but the Ducks were the ones keeping the constant pressure in the Sens' zone. In the end, that made the difference.
What does this mean? Well, it means that, if Ottawa is actually the "different" team that everybody has been raving about, they have to show their mettle in game two. In order to do that, they have to do 2 things. First, they need to keep a steady and strong forecheck and, second, they have to trust each other.
After the Ducks' winning goal, Redden (who had a bad game), glared at the young Mezaros and raised his hands in frustration as if to say "where were you on that play". If that was actually the case, the issue needs to be addressed immediately. Redden was far from having an error-free game and he needs to realize that pointing fingers is NOT the solution.
OK. So far, there have been 14 series played in the 2007 NHL playoffs. I have successfully predicted the victor in every single one of those series.
It's official. I am a freak.
That being said, I have not yet been approached by any major broadcasters. I'm sure, however, that they are simply taking their time to draft the right offer. I'm thinking DiPietro-land here folks.
What happens now?
Well, since the new American Idol was crowned last night (you were robbed, Blake! You beat-boxed your way into America's hearts, though), it's time to move on to the Stanley Cup Final.
I've maintained from the very beginning that Ottawa was a different team this year. They have already done better than ever before and some might think that they've peaked. Some might also think that reaching the final is enough of a success and that the long layoff will hurt them. I heard someone say today that they won't be able to handle Anaheim's toughness.
If Ottawa loses, it won't be for any of those reasons. It will be because Anaheim played better. More specifically, it will be because Jean- Sébastien Giguère is a human wall. On the other hand, if Ottawa wins, it will be because the referees and the entire Canadian population hates Chris Pronger.
This is how, in my humble opinion, these two teams match up.
Ottawa has the edge up front. They have more skill and grit through all four lines than Anaheim has. Ottawa also has better overall team defense. Anaheim, though, has the edge on defense and in nets. As good as Neiderpronger may be, Giguère will make the biggest difference in this series.
The other determining factor, however, will be team discipline. Regardless of the pure horseshit that is coming from the likes of Pronger and Selanne, the Ducks have issues with discipline. The whining will only hinder their cause.
In the end, I think Ottawa's big guns will put a few past Giguère (on the PP, mostly) and that Anaheim will struggle with the Sens' close checking style. That will lead to many Anaheim penalties.
So, as I climb onto the bandwagon and nestle up to Rob, I will say this:
Senators in 7.
You can thank The Great One[tm] for this: When Anaheim squeaked a 4-3 victory over Detroit at the Honda Center last night, it marked the first time two post-Bruce McNall expansion franchises would meet each other to battle in the Stanley Cup finals.
Bruce McNall, of course, is the man who brought Wayne Gretzky to Los Angeles and as a consequence ushered in a new age in which the NHL seized the attention of a captive American audience. It was a match made in hockey heaven: Gretzky had just wed a (B-)movie star, he hosted Saturday Night Live, he had endorsements, and celebrities flocked to his games like the trendy fad-junkies they are. Indeed, he was a legitimate star on par, in some minds, with the likes of Joe Montana, Michael Jordan and Bo Jackson.
The NHL, having a stable roster of franchises since the immolation of the WHA in 1979, recognized the burgeoning interest in their product and created a cross-state rival to the Kings by awarding the brothers Gund, former owners of the Minnesota North Stars, a franchise in San Jose. Two more franchises were awarded to Ottawa and Tampa Bay in 1992. Corporate America got involved the following year as Blockbuster owner Wayne Huizenga was awarded a franchise in Miami, while Disney successfully bidded for a team in Anaheim which was stupidly named after one of their hit movies.
It should be noted that four out of these five new franchises were set in Florida and California. Ottawa was the odd-man out, and was created primarily to satiate the Canadian fan base in a time of the Americanization of the national sport.
Five years later, four additional franchises--Nashville, Atlanta, St Paul and Columbus--were created under Commissioner Gary Bettman, and three out of the four WHA franchises had changed addresses to points south. In these expansion decisions, Wayne Gretzky was a much smaller factor--due to his diminishing skills, not to mention McNall's incarceration--and the potential of television markets was the primary concern.
Even so, fans of the Sharks, Sens, Ducks, Bolts and Panthers all have Wayne Gretzky to thank for their success to date. While not all are ideal franchise locations, and while all have had varying degrees of on- and off-ice success, their very presence in the league today is a direct result to the lasting impact the man continues to have on the game.
In another curious twist of fate, these playoffs are relevant in a different sort of way: While last season saw the first title fought between former WHA franchises, not one of the four WHA carry-overs were able to muster their way into this post-season, marking the first time any WHA franchise has not been able to compete for their league championship since 1972.
Of course, Wayne Gretzky is related to this: the man not only began his illustrious career in the WHA, as an NHL head coach he bears some responsibility for the dismal regular season results of the Phoenix Coytoes--formerly the WHA's Winnipeg Jets.
OK, I know it’s all been said. Who could have predicted that Ottawa would win the first three games from Buffalo? Where has Buffalo’s offense gone? Wasn’t this billed as the best, and tightest, series of the 2007 playoffs?
Listen, it’s clear that nobody had predicted this. I guess, then, the only real question is why and how this has happened? Is it Ottawa’s stellar team defense or the fact that Buffalo hasn’t really shown up?
It’s hard to tell, especially after the Sabres’ horrible 14 shot performance in game 3, but this humble blogger thinks that the current state of the series is due to Ottawa’s strong play in all facets of the game.
As I was watching the game last night, I couldn’t get over how much this Senators team is different than previous editions. It’s clear that the early season difficulties were just part of the learning process and that all of the players have bought into the system. The commitment to team defense is nothing short of spectacular. When the likes of Alfredsson, Heatly and Spezza are regularly blocking shots and breaking up odd-man rushes by back checking, it’s a clear sign that the buy-in is for real.
I’ve been watching the Detroit – Anaheim series and I’ve followed these two teams since round 1. So far, I don’t think any of those teams can beat Ottawa. Not if the Senators play like they’ve played so far. Add to the fact that I think the Western series will go to the wire and that the teams are going to beat the crap out of each other and the Senators’ chances are looking even better.
Moi and Balzov have been steady Sens fans since I’ve known them. Am I now jumping on the ‘ol bandwagon?
We’ll see when we get to the final.
Sure, Rob, I believe you. Soon, we’ll change the name of the site to Huck This!
Well, Shaky and I are perfect through the first two rounds, so the standoff has to end now. Whoever is reading this (Hi Dad!) will have to read further to find out what my predictions are, but I can tell you that they’re not the same as Shaky’s.
Here we go.
Anaheim v. Detroit
Instead of this being the Western Conference final, it could simply be the Norris Trophy final. It’s going to be a treat to watch forwards on both teams trying to get to the nets. So far, Lidstrom has been the best of the big three, with Niedermayer not far behind. Pronger has been very good at times, but has shown signs of fatigue or injury. Nevertheless, the Ducks have 2 Norris nominees and the Wings just one. Not to mention that the Wings have lots Mathieu Schneider for the rest of the playoffs.
So far, the Wings have not shown any signs of their age, but I think that will change in round 3. Lidstrom will not miss a beat, but the rest of the Detroit “D” is not strong enough to make it through a long series against a very well balanced Anaheim offence.
Ducks in 7
Buffalo v. Ottawa
In this series, it’s really tough to make a distinction between who I want to win and who, in theory, should win. On paper, everything points to a Buffalo win. Trouble is, it seems too easy to pick them and, inexplicably, I can’t picture them winning.
I know the playoff history between these two teams and that doesn’t make Ottawa look any stronger, but I see a totally different Senators team in 2007.
The personnel is not incredibly different, but some players are unrecognizable. The two that seem to have changed the most are Spezza and Alfredsson. Spezza’s transformation may be more obvious (blocking shots, defensive responsibility), but Alfie has been the clear leader of the new look Sens. He’s been leading them in the physical department and has put up some consistently decent offensive numbers.
Finally, there’s Ray Emery. In the series against Jersey, Brodeur was so good that Emery was made to look “OK”. In any other series, however, his performance would have been considered outstanding.
I’m going out on a limb here.
Senators in 6
Sorry about the lack of posts in the second round. Not that it's worth anything right now, but I was going to pick Ottawa, Buffalo, Detroit and Anaheim. Just like everyone else.
I heard plenty of talk that San Jose was going to walk all over Detroit, but not this cat. I saw the Wings utterly annihilate Calgary in the first round. I'd never seen such great hockey played in a long, long time. True, the Sharks blew the lead in three out of their four losses, but that has as much to do with every Wing being confident in their system as well as with the guy sitting across in the dressing room as it does with Ron Wilson and Thornton living up to their 'choke' reputation.
Regardless of the reasons involved, both conferences are now left with their respective two best teams from the regular season. Which, I suppose, is how it should be. Both series are too tough to call, but I'll do my best nonetheless.
Got to go with Ottawa here. They look hungry and ready. Ray Emery is having a heck of a post-season run and he has that fine mixture of confidence and cockiness that every winning goalie needs. It's not that Ryan Miller is a slouch in comparison, but Emery's been training at Apollo Creed's hometown gym and appears to be sporting the Eye of the Tiger.
Sens in 7
Detroit v. Anaheim
As with my East prediction, I'm picking the lower-ranked team to come through. While I like Detroit's chances, the Wings are getting a bit banged up for their liking. I'm waiting for Hasek to pull something -- either a groin or a mindless stunt -- and the rest of the team might follow suit. The Ducks got some meaty forwards ready to bang Lidstrom, Chelios et al and J-S Giguere is back in Conn Smythe form. Nine Norris trophies will be represented in this series in, including the last six title holders, so it may come down to who has the best leadership on the blueline. While I wouldn't be surprised if Detroit manages to squeak by, I'm putting my money on Niederpronger.
Ducks in 6.