A Tale of Two Defencemen I Don't Like...

A quick post today to mention things about two defencemen for whom I have strong dislike.

First, my Habs fan friends must be absolutely joyous at the news that for tonight's Oilers-Stars game, Sheldon Souray will once again not be in the line-up. It is December 10 today and Souray has managed to play in 6 games for the Oil since they signed as a free agent in July. Nearly every Habs fan knew that Souray was a complete and utter waste of a roster spot 5-on-5 and now they also know that their powerplay can live without his howtizer from the point. Let's take this holiday season to think kind thoughts about Kevin Lowe's family who will likely be without an income from the old veteran GM sometime next summer. (My own personal bit of happiness stems from the fact that Martin Havlat is a point-per-game player, but he will probably never play more than 65 games in a season in his career.)

Second, Scott Niedermayer is back. Or will be soon. He says he's coming back to the Ducks for the remainder of the season as soon as he can get himself in game shape. He also says that this will be the end of his run...which I believe has been Roger Clemens' line the last couple of years too. Now, I admit that I may still be bitter about Anaheim beating out Ottawa for the Stanley Cup last year, but I'm also pretty sick and tired of athletes taking what amounts to extended summer vacation and then expecting a hero's welcome on their return. Anaheim can certainly use a defenceman of Niedermayer's skill level and no doubt his teammates will be happy to see him in uniform, but frankly, I don't know how they can't feel a little bit betrayed that while they were in the trenches struggling to defend their crown Niedermayer was...well, what was he doing? Contemplating whether or not to cash in the rest of his contract with the Ducks, I guess.

Then there's the issue of how paying Niedermayer for the rest of the season will play out on the rest of the Duck's roster moves, including signing Corey Perry to an extension. And, as has long been speculated, what if Teemu Selanne decides he wants back in now that his good buddy Scotty is back? All that having been said, I kind of like the idea that Brian Burke is in a bit of jam.

Anyway, a little bit of "schadenfraude" (sp?) never hurts, especially around the holidays. Right?


The Great Michael Ryder Debate of '07

The following exchange occurred earlier today between Phoff, myself and possible future PT! blogger Timaeus (currently of Philadelphia). The exchange is in response to one of the most thought-provoking posts of the year, courtesy of Jeff at Sisu Hockey, so read that and then come on back for the

Fascinating. I haven't seen Ryder play, obviously, but it does sound like he's putting in the effort, then got freaked by the pressure and started chocking on his chances. What have you seen? It does seem like he's this year's subject for the Samsonov treatment, which is not only a shame but detrimental. Is Ryder a first-line player? Probably not on a good team, but like Koivu, his role says more about the team than it does about him.

Speaking of Koivu, I can't help but think that, injuries aside, he was a much more effective player when the Habs had Damphousse as their other center. Who'd we ever get with that draft pick, anyways?

And I agree with Sisu (nice to see he's back) that Carbo's the one losing his grip here. Too bad Claude Julien and Alain Vigneault both have jobs. Wonder how Pat Burns's health is. When a team screws up in a team effort the way they've being doing recently, it's not something a trade or two will fix, it's in the way the whole team is run. You can't tell me that player-wise, Montreal is much different from Buffalo, even last year's Buffalo. The difference is in he team strategy and approach, which the coach's responsibility, This team really doesn't have an identity-are they offensive, defensive, hard-working, opportunistic, fast, physical, what? They need an identity, a system, a style of play that will allow the players to be more than the sum of their parts. Carbo won't give them that.

I read that and, although I tend to agree, all the math in the world can't hide the fact that the guy is lost on the ice and can't seem to keep up with the play. It goes way beyond stats at this point.

Anyone who has watched the Habs play knows that Ryder is not, like his linemate Higgins, "snakebit". The poor Newfie is not even getting quality chances, can't hold on to a pass and can't find the handle on most nights.

Stats, shmats.

I think you're both right, actually.

Here's the thing. When Ryder stopped scoring, it wasn't for a lack of effort. In fact, in the first couple of weeks of his slump, he was one of the hardest working players on the ice - shooting like mad (not great quality shots, but not terrible ones either), skating hard, trying to embellish his one move (where he fakes a deke on the defenceman at the opposing blue line and then bull-heads up the boards, exposing his ribs to the occasional vicious bodycheck), etc. Sensible Carbonneau (as opposed to Hothead Carbonneau, to whom we will return in a moment) encouraged his team's "natural" goal-scorer and kept him on the "top" line (that discussion is for another day).

Then the Habs started to lose, and suddenly Hothead Carbonneau took over. Truthfully, the Habs' play didn't change all that much - they were still consistently outshot and careless with the puck in both ends, with their poor play peaking at the start and end of each game. So Hothead Carbo picks up the Manual for Inexperienced Coaches and decides to try something new each game. Juggle the lines in practice. Juggle them again before game time. Juggle them some more in the third. Ryder lost the reassuring support of his coach and wound up pseudo-benched, hovering on the "third" and "fourth" lines. Of course, a sharp observer would note that he'd never produce playing with Dandenault/Chipchura/Kostopolous/Smolinski/Begin/Streit, and his mediocre skating and iffy transition play would just poison the team's "checking" line. All of which has happened.

So the situation has gone from "slumping player ups the effort" to "dumbass coach ensures top scorer will never break out of his slump (and ruin the cockamamie 'defensive' system)." You might think I'm agreeing only with Timaeus here, but Phoff is right too. Because of the miserable way in which Carbonneau has dealt with Ryder, he's lost whatever was left of his fragile sense of self-worth, and is now floating out there. As you wrote, he's "lost on the ice and can't seem to keep up with the play." His slump has turned into a condition and will now only be corrected by some over-priced sports psychologist who deals only in cliché.

When he grew frustrated with Ryder, Carbo should have benched him and then brought him back. Instead he's jerked him around and perhaps even ruined his career. Ballzov is convinced he'll be out of the league in two years. He may be right. The alternative is a trade to Philly where he'll become a 50-goal scorer.

My money's on Gainey returning behind the bench by year's end. Carbo has lost his team.
For what it's worth, Ballzov told me at the Bell Centre on Saturday that Ryder'd be out of the league within two years.


Come on!

The CBC has announced today that they have signed the veteran team of play-by-play "commentator" Bob Cole and "analyst" Harry Neale to two-year contracts. I think this news may have ruined my vacation.

These two are no closer to being commentators or analysts than I am at being an astrophysicist. Bob Cole can't remember any of the player names (except for the Leafs' top two lines) and Harry Neale's idea of analysis is limited to old, overused and idiotic catch phrases such as "I bet he wished he could have that one back" or "the Ottawa player beat the goalie, but he couldn't beat the post".

Anyone who knows hockey knows that these two cannot follow the flow of the game anymore and they cannot properly convey to the viewer how the game is unfolding. This should be obvious by simply reading that "Cole, 74, has been a fixture on HNIC since 1973...". Neale is young buck of the duo at age 70.

Now, before I am accused of agism, I want to go on record as saying that there are many people who are able to work well into their 8th and 9th decades. Bob Cole and Harry Neale, however, are not part of this group.

I guess this means that I'll be watching more games on RDS and NBC this winter.


10 Reasons why I’m glad the word ‘Ducks’ is on the Stanley Cup

10. All-Canadian boys

Anaheim GM Brian Burke assembled a tough, no-nonsense crew of Canadian-style players overflowing with character and toughness. It gives hope to Flames fans that Darryl Sutter has the right idea in developing a team in the same fashion — solid drafts, impeccible development, similar backgrounds, etc — that could pay dividends in the future.

9. Greasy Perry

The kid is earning a reputation of getting under an opponent’s skin, but Corey Perry has also earned the reputation of a winner. Perry captained his London Knights to a Memorial Cup title in 2005, he was a key element in winning the World Juniors that same season, and now has a Stanley Cup ring. A pain-in-the-ass he might be, but he’s one of the few players who could tattoo the word “champ” to his forehead and get away with it.

8. Go Jets Go!

Randy Carlyle is a bastard, and now can be considered one of the best coaches in the National Hockey league.

7. Giving slackers hope

When Ryan Getzlaf played for the Calgary Hitmen, a bodyslam by Bret Hart himself wouldn’t wake the kid up. Now, one WJC and Stanley Cup later, the Regina native is beginning to be known as a Big Game Player. The scary part is, the best is yet to come.

6. Will Doug Maclean get a ring too?

How about Francois Beauchemin? Here’s a young defenseman — almost an afterthought when the Ducks got rid of Sergei Fedorov to Maclean’s Columus Blue Jackets — who plays beside two perennial Norris Trophy candidates, and looking like he’s been doing it for years. If it was anyone other than Brian Burke, this would have been the steal of the year. Alas, it’s just one of many great moves the Ducks have made since Burke moved to OC.

5. I don’t have a #5.

4. Go Jets Go! the sequel

Fourteen seasons into his career, Teemu Selanne has finally earned a one-way ticket to the Hall of Fame. There is no reason he couldn’t play several seasons more, but to have started and finished a career in his fashion, there might not be a better way to go.

And it couldn’t happen to a better guy.

3. Brothers Niedermayer

Who couldn’t find satisfaction in seeing Scott Niedermayer hand the Stanley Cup to his brother. Rob was the primary reason the two played together these past two years, and stories of their strong relationship during that time offer a touching piece of humanity to an increasingly distant sports league.

2. Conn Smythe Job

Arguments for the Smythe could be made for Ryan Getzlaf, Andy McDonald and even Chris Pronger, but the most support for the MVP was probably in favour of goaltender J-S Giguere. However, the biggest issue I have against Giggy is that he has already been a recipient and to get another one puts him in the same category as Bobby Orr, Bernie Parent, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Patrick Roy. Clearly, while Giguere is a terrific number one ‘tender in the league, he is no superstar HoFer, and to place him in that strata would be an insult to the name.

Meanwhile, while he was not the most dominant player on the ice, Niedermayer is a solid representative of his team, a steady leader and classy performer who has earned his place among the hockey pantheon. His selection echoes back to that of his former teammate, Scott Stevens, who was chosen because he was the leader of a great, balaced hockey team.

1. The Pronger Family

Given the acrimony in Edmonton after the 2006 final over why Chris Pronger left, it was sweet justice to see him enjoy a beautiful family vignette on national television. I don’t like Pronger, I hate the Oilers.


In the end, the Ducks were too much. Too much size, too much speed, too much forecheck, too much goalie equipment (and talent, I'll give Giguere that much), too much on defense. Just too much for the Sens to handle.

I think that despite some of the close scores that Game 5 was more reflective of the series. (I'm glad I wasn't in a position to watch the game. I think I would have vomitted upon seeing the Phillips goal.) Anaheim dominated Ottawa pretty thoroughly in three of the five games, yet despite that, Ottawa could have stolen Game 2 and should have taken Game 4. Congratulations to the Ducks. You broke my Sens loving heart you bastards, but I admit, you deserve it.

Where to go from here is an interesting question for Ottawa. It's a decent core, but the Finals exposed flaws that were there for a while.
- After the big line things get dicey and while it's clear that Alfredsson can do some damage when he's away from Heatley and Spezza, Murray never found a complimentary piece for those two among the other forwards.
- Redden and Meszaros were terrible, both in general and together, and while Meszaros cann chalk it up to being 21 and in his second season, Redden has no such luxury. He's soft and not so swift afoot these days.
- There were too many passengers on board, including Little Mikey Comrie and Peter Schaefer. Comrie is an unrestricted free agent and I'm hoping Muckler thanks him for this contribution and let's him ride off into the sunset, maybe back to Phoenix. We're stuck with Schaefer.
- Martin Gerber is the third highest paid Senator (or something similarly silly).
- Also, UFA's this summer, Dean McAmmond and Tom Preissing. Before getting too close to the too tall Chris Pronger I would have started a "Bring back Deaner" website, but now you have to wait and see how his head is doing. I like Preissing a lot. Don't know if they can afford him considering what's committed to Gerber, Alfie, Spezza, Redden, Corvo, etc and the need to have money in the near future for Heatley and Emery.

So an off-season of questions for the Sens as they try to prepare to get back to the precipice of greatness. I guess everybody gets to rest up and concentrate on baseball now. Congratulations again to Anaheim, even though I hate almost all of your players now...at the end of the day it was still worth buying the Alfredsson jersey.


Snapping suspenders

I now understand the difference between Chris Pronger, who pushed off and elbowed Dean McAmmond in the head while defending a rush, and Daniel
Alfredsson, who had the entire ice to shoot the puck and but somehow caught Anaheim captain Scott Niedermayer: Pronger has a "past history", and the Ottawa captain doesn't.

Not that I'm complaining--I've never liked Pronger and have a grudging respect for Alfredsson, but I can't, for the life of me, understand why the one lightning-quick play became a suspensionable offense while the other action, in which Alfredsson had more than a few seconds to contemplate its course, is being brushed off by the Canadian media.

An interesting comment during the Calgary Flames Alumni golf tournament yesterday came from former Flames enforcer Ronnie Stern, who was asked whether there is a growing depletion of respect in the league. Stern's answer? There's more and more players in the league from abroad, there's more teams with the same amount of games, therefore players are less familiar with each other.

What's significant about this was that players knew where they could tread. He said that Mark Messier always threw elbows so he avoided them whenever possible. In other words, players would more often than not, use their brains out there.

Not that this excuses every cheap shot ever made in the history of the league, but it does explain the respect given to the likes of Messier, Gordie Howe and Billy Smith by their opponents. It also lays responsibility on the play maker as well as the defender. For instance, when Scott Stevens effectively finished Eric Lindros as a superstar in the NHL, today's "head shot Stasi" would rightly be on his case, but if they were honest with themselves, every objective hockey commentator could also say that Lindy should not have crossed the blueline with his head down while Stevens was on the ice.

In this light, Pronger deserved an elbowing call and 2 minutes which four on-ice officials inexplicably missed; however, perennial concussion candidate McAmmond ought to have recognized the dangers of pushing his head within the vicinity of an elbow attached to a 6'5" behemoth with a reputation of playing rough.

Compare that to the play of Chris Neil in the same game, who intended to add the outline of Andy MacDonald's face to the Scotiabank Place sideboards by leading a blatant charge with his elbows, but was thwarted by the diminutive centre who turtled from the assault.

The Ducks were correct in asserting that had their player been hurt and McAmmond walked away, there would be no controversy, but that's the way things work in the new NHL.

And if Alfredsson does not receive retribution from the league for his "incidental" slap shot at Scotty Niedermayer, while Pronger is continued to be vilified, then we'll all know to which side the league's thumb rests on the scale of justice.


Game Four

Call it.

11:02 pm (ET).


Senators' season = over.

This was really a tough game to watch. I really thought Ottawa was going to come out on fire tonight. They did, of course, but it only lasted 20 minutes. How can you not give it a full 60 minute effort in the Stanley Cup finals when your season is on the line? I don't get it.

I can't say that all of the Senators were out to lunch, but I think that some of them deserve to be benched (I know, it will never happen). Comrie was his usual useless self and Redden was, as he's been all through this final series, looking like someone who is completely lost. You'd think he somehow caught Dean McCammond's concussion. Seriously, what in the hell was he doing skating against the current on the winning goal? Where was he going? What game was he watching?

I know that players on an NHL are a tight bunch, but I can't imagine that someone like Mike Fisher doesn't want to beat the snot out of someone like Mike Comrie. As I've said before, Fisher has been the best Senator skater by far and he's shown an impressive combination of toughness and skill. Comrie, on the other hand, has been invisible and got physically involved in the series for the firs time in the last quarter of the 3rd period. And I think that was accidental. I'm not quite sure that he intended to deliver a body check.

At the other end of the ice, I have a feeling that Ray Emery might want to go at it with Wade Redden. The cameras showed Emery yelling at someone after the winning goal and I wonder if it was Redden.

In any case, I'm pretty sure that the Sens will soon have a lot of time to air their grievances and kiss and make up.

I hope I'm wrong on this one.


Game Three

So, a reversal of roles turns out to cause a reversal of fortune for the Ottawa Senators.

In the first two games, the skaters (except for Mike Fisher) didn't show up and Ray Emery was the only player that competed with the Ducks. Last night, Emery was not at his best, but the skaters (except for Mike Comrie) all showed up to play.

IMHO, Fisher is making a case for himself as a Conne Smythe candidate. It's a stretch (especially given the fact that the Sens would actually have to win the Cup), but it's not out of the realm of possibility.

Fisher has been all over the Ducks since Game 1 and he has been contributing in all facets of the game. His defensive game is what gets noticed and his goal last night will get him some press, but he's also been great in the faceoff circle and his takedown of Getzlaf just brought a smile to my face.

As for the Ducks, they weren't much worse than in the first two games, but they did have more trouble staying out of the box. They are definitely a team that thrives on straddling the line of what is legal and what is not. Given the sub par refereeing in the NHL (as compared to other North American professional sports), this means that there are nights when the calls are going to go in their favour, but there are other nights where the calls will do them in. Last night, they were almost always on the losing end.

Obviously, everyone will be be talking about the non-call on the Pronger elbow, which was just ridiculous, but I thought that the Ducks got the shaft on a few borderline calls. The Getzlaf "holding" call (WTF???) and the May "tripping" penalty were very debatable. Of course, these calls came AFTER the Pronger elbow, so the refs may have been trying to make up for their temporary insanity.

The other important factor in the Sens win was the play of Giguère. As in the case of Emery, he was far from being at his best. Whatever the Sens are doing to get him moving (clearly his weakness), they have to keep doing.


Now, the big question is: "If the Sens keep playing this well, can they truly challenge the Ducks?"

Unfortunately, I don't think so. I actually think that they have to be better. I also happen to think they can be better, most notably in goal.

If Emery can return to form AND the Sens can play this aggressively, then they'll be able to challenge the Ducks. Also, it would certainly help if Giguère were to continue his struggles.



Kanata Home Cookin

What is the over / under on how long it will take CBC to show a "Cup Belongs in Canada" sign during tomorrow's game?

I say 9 minutes.

Bonus question - Will either Baldwin or Moi be holding said sign??


Game Two

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.



Game One

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.

That's crap.

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.


The Gretzky Cup

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.

Go Sens.



When that fluky Alfie wrist shot beat Ryan Miller the Bank Street bar I was in erupted. High fives were given and received. Chants of "Alfie, Alfie, Alfie" went up at high decibles. Toasts were made. Somewhere, no doubt, babies were named. Finally, the Sens are going to the Stanley Cup final. (Later that night on Elgin Street, the newly minted "Sens mile" because every Canadian city where a franchise reaches the final now needs a street where people can act like idiots with impunity, I heard some people singing O Canada, which seemed weird and out of place, but somehow endearing in the capital. Also, the guy leading the sing-a-long was pretty hammered.)

It took fifteen years and many tough periods - from the early years of near-record futility, to bankruptcy (anyone remember that?), to creating one of the enviable franchises in the NHL only to watch playoff failure after playoff failure - to finally reach the cusp of winning it all. There will be no easy road to the Cup despite the way Sens are playing right now. The Western opponent will be formidable. But today, after slaying the demons of Roberts, Brodeur, and Buffalo (ironically the three biggest tormentors after Toronto) it feels like the big one is within reach. I'll savour this for a day or two and wait for Game #1 of the final. I'll also enjoy my brand new Alfredsson #11 jersey, which I promised myself I'd buy if the Sens ever reached the final. Look for pictures of it from Prague after I find a bar carrying the game starting at 1 a.m. Shouldn't be too hard.

Go Sens Go!


Party on Sparks Street...

...ladies keep your shirts on and everyone home by 5 PM.

Who needs Chara?

Go Sens Go.

Blame Canada

The Canadian media are apparently the rule makers at NHL headoffice. If that is the case why am I forced to watch the Senators stop the Sabres at 2 PM on fantastic May Saturday afternoon.

Pronger is an absolute loser.



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.


My picks actually were perfect

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

I swear, my picks were perfect

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.

Buffalo v. Ottawa

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.


Buffalo Soldiers

So far I have called all the victors. Next up the real challenge, standing by my picks of Buffalo and Anaheim in the Cup. My heart says Ottawa, but I am staying with my first reaction.


F'n yeah!

It's about damned time the Senators won more than one stinking series.

Bring on the next round! Hopefully it won't be the Sabres.


Genius Is As Genius Does

Congrats due to Phoff for picking all the first round winners. I am sure we'll still be hearing about this in September when he makes his picks for the 2007-08 regular season. Hell, presuming we still work in the same office (big if), I'm sure we'll be hearing about it before the 2010-11 regular season.

I'm going to file this under "better late than never," but here are my picks for Round 2 (PS- I'm satisfied with going 6 of 8 in Round 1).

First, the series where I'm truly late in pronouncing my picks:

Anaheim v. Vancouver = Anaheim

The difference between a good team and a team with a good goalie and system was on display in this one, wasn't it? The Vancouver Luongos couldn't stop the Mighty McDonalds and couldn't score with them either. I only saw the highlights of the 5-1 beating, but the grand total of Vancouver's "good" chances didn't amount to the grand total of Anaheim's goals. Also, the Sedins first date with Chris Pronger did not go well, which doesn't bode well for the 'Nucks.

Buffalo v. NY Rangers = Buffalo

I would have picked them before last night's game, but Buffalo showed last night why they'll give any team remaining in the playoffs fits. They're fast, skilled, disciplined, have a very good goalie, and are well coached. The Rangers D looked like they should be playing in a 35+ rec league at a local rink against Briere, Vanek, et al. The only chance NY has is for Jagr to strap this team to his back, and he looked good last night even without putting up any points, but his history of responding well to adversity is sketchy at best.

Now the series that haven't started (and where I, thus, don't have a one game advantage with my picks).

Detroit v. San Jose = Detroit

I think that this series will be very entertaining because both of these teams are well put together from top to bottom (a little too inside, I know). Either team is capable of taking the series and while I don't predict games, I think this one will go the distance. That said, I think Detroit is deeper than San Jose, I think they have the better goalie (if his groin withstands the pressure - that's the weirdest thing I've ever typed), they have more players who know how to do the little things to win a Cup, and Datsuyk seems to have learned what Zetterberg already knew, namely how to bring it in the playoffs. On the otherhand, if Thornton, Cheechoo, Marleau, and Michalek light it up I won't choke on my beer.

Ottawa v. New Jersey = Ottawa

I've been feeling queasy all morning knowing that this one gets going tonight. The Sens looked very good in Round 1 in getting the Gary Roberts monkey off their back (second weirdest thing I've ever typed). They can go toe-to-toe offensively with anyone, but as they showed against a much better offensive team in Pittsburgh, they can shut their opponent down pretty well too. Here's the issue for the Sens, Ray Emery can't outplay Martin Brodeur, it's an impossibility, so Ottawa is going to have to figure out a way to score on New Jersey, which is no easy task. On the other hand, as noted with Datsyuk above, when your best players from the regular season are your best players in the playoffs, it bodes well. Ottawa's top three scorers in Round 1: Alfredsson, Spezza, Heatley...perfect. Two notes to look out for: will Zach Parise keep giving NJ some scoring punch from a line other than the stupidly named EGG line, and will Redden and Meszaros stop giving the puck away low in the defensive end now that they're not being tormented by Roberts in the corners every night. Jay Pandolfo is much less scary.



Foresight & Hindsight

I cannot make Phoff's claims to genius, after going a barely respectable 5 for 8 in my first-round predictions, but will nevertheless forge boldly ahead with my thoughts on the second round. In the first round, I was guilty of seriously underestimating the Senators, Red Wings, and Rangers. I was also surprised that the series in the West were not tighter - three of the four ended up being fairly one-sided, with the top four teams all going through; it was far from the crapshoot that many predicted.

In the case of Ottawa and Detroit, I wrote them off based on their habit of having great regular seasons only to make early exits to inferior teams come play-off time. Both have put a stop to that trend, at least for now. The Senators were particularly impressive in disposing of the potent Penguins with relative ease; perhaps all those years of choking will actually prove to be a blessing this time around - despite how good they look on paper, it's hard to take them seriously given their history, which could help relieve the burden of expectations and allow them to play with less pressure. Detroit were impressive, too, but Calgary's awful performances away from the Saddledome didn't exactly make it difficult for them.

One of the intriguing storylines of the play-offs is usually which goalies will go on a hot streak and carry their team, but this year there was no Cam Ward or Dwayne Roloson to propel a weaker team into the later rounds. This time around we are getting to see how some highly touted younger goalies - Luongo, Lundqvist, Miller - will fare against proven play-off veterans like Hasek, Brodeur, and Giguere. It will be interesting to see if one of these younger players will seize the occasion this year to establish their dominance, or if the old guard still has enough left for now. (On the subject of goalies, I'd like to take this moment to honour Mikka Kiprusoff and Marty Turco with the Ron Tugnutt Award for Valiant Effort on Behalf of Losers.* Both of them deserved a much better fate; if goaltending really was everything, their teams would still be alive.)

Another interesting subplot is the performance of players whose ability to lead a team in the play-offs has been questioned in the past. As the spotlight grows more intense, how will Joe Thornton, post-Pittsburgh Jagr, the Senators' big guns, and Pavel Datsyuk perform? So far they've looked good, but it takes more than one round to prove yourself. With most of the NHL's top regular-season scorers already on the golf course, the play of the few remaining offensive superstars could go a long way to deciding who wins the Cup.

On to my predictions:

Sharks vs. Red Wings
Both these teams turned in outstanding first-round performances and look like they have reached peak performance level at the right time. Nevertheless, one of them has to lose, and I continue to believe that the aging Red Wings backline will be their Achilles' heel. The Sharks' speedy, physical forwards won't find it as easy as it was against the Predators, but over the course of the series they'll have edge. My pick: Sharks in 7.

Ducks vs. Canucks
Vancouver is basically Minnsota with a better goalie - they play good team defense and are pretty disciplined, but are short on attacking threat. The Ducks are superior in every aspect of their game, and while it would be nice for my newly acquired hometown team to go deep in the post-season, I can't see it happening; the Ducks will dispose of the Canucks with almost as much ease as they dispatched the Wild. Markus Naslund and the Vancouver power-play were inept in round one, and that won't change against the Ducks' grade-A D. My pick: Ducks in 6 (only because Luongo might steal a couple of games for Vancouver).

Sens vs. Devils
This one seems like the toughest to call in the second round. The Senators looked awfully good against Pittsburgh, but the Penguin's massive inexperience and lack of a money goaltender have to be taken into account. The Devils, on the other hand, have oodles of experience and possibly the best money goalie in the history of the game. Tampa Bay got to him in the early games, but Brodeur found his focus when it was needed and figures to be ready for this series. The Senators' have explosive players on offense, but the Devils are the type of team that can neutralize them, and defensively New Jersey probably has an edge. Which is why I pick: Devils in 6.

Sabres vs. Rangers
The Rangers surprised me with their first-round dominance, but again the weakness of the opposition has to be taken into account. The Sabres are one of the strongest teams in the NHL and have the depth, speed, intensity, and discipline that it takes to win it all. The Rangers don't strike me as a genuine contender, although a massive performance by Jagr could tip the balance in their favour. The match-up of two of the game's best young goalies will be interesting. My pick: Sabres in 6.

*In honour of his 70-save performance in a regular season game for the abject Nordiques at Boston Garden way back when.


I’m a genius. Let’s move on to round 2

Who knew? It seems that I’m an NHL playoff prediction machine. 8 for 8. 100%. El Perfecto. I didn’t get the number of games right, but that’s just a detail.

Now, some of you will say that Shaky was also perfect in his predictions, but, since he posted after me, it’s clear that he simply copied me. Or, maybe he and I were separated at birth.

Now, bragging time is over. It’s time to move on to round 2. Regardless of my superb predicting talent, I have to admit that the 2nd round will be difficult to predict. I will, however, give it a shot.


Detroit v. San Jose

The Wings may have had a relatively easy time in the first round, they have a much bigger challenge ahead of them. San Jose is one of the only teams that has really benefited from their trade deadline acquisitions (Guerin and Rivet). They really impressed me in the first round and play a tough, physical, game.

Detroit, on the other, may be the best “system” team in the 2007 playoffs, By that, I mean that all four lines play their respective roles to perfection and they can easily shut down the opposing offense.

The wild card element in this series is Hasek. If he stays healthy and on his game, Detroit has a great chance to win. If his groin lets him down, the Wings will go down. I think he’ll be fine.

Wings in 7

Anaheim v. Vancouver

Last night, I was really happy that the Sedin sisters woke up in time for game 7 and it was great to see good ‘ol Linden come through in the clutch. Also, the win made me 8 for 8 for my first round predictions (did I say that already?).

Although the Canucks played a great game and closed out the series on a high note, I think things will go downhill from here. Unfortunately, they are not producing enough offense to move on past the second round. The fact that Markus Naslund has disappeared doesn’t help. At this stage, they could replace him with Mats and things would improve.

As for Anaheim, I do think that they peaked earlier in the season, but they are still a better balanced team that Vancouver right now. They are strong up front and have the best defense in the world (on paper, at least).

Luongo can only save the Canucks for so long.

Ducks in 6


Buffalo v. New York Rangers

This, for me, will be a great series to watch. As I said in my first round post, I really think that the Rangers are a better team than their regular season record indicates. Oddly enough, they seem to have been re-energized by the presence of Sean Avery, aka The Mouth.

For Buffalo, this will be a “make it or break it” series. The Rangers are going to come out hitting, hard. Last year, Buffalo lost most of their better players to injury and they have to prove that they can take the heat in the playoffs. If they can’t deal with the physical aspect of the game, they will not make it through this series.

I think that they learned from last year.

Sabres in 6

New Jersey v. Ottawa

In my first round post, I said this: “I think the Sens will actually break the curse this year.” After what I saw in the first round, I am more confident than ever in that prediction.

IMHO, the Sens were probably the most impressive team in the first round. They came out really hard and never let up for even one period. Unlike last year, they show absolutely no signs of a meltdown.

Now, I don’t want to discount the Devils. Any team with Martin Brodeur is almost automatically a contender. He may have seemed semi-human in the first two games of the first series, but he later showed that he is still a freak that is only built to stop pucks.

In the end, this will be an incredibly tight series. The outcome will depend on Ottawa’s ability to get to Brodeur and for Ray Emery to stay solid. They will and he will.

Senators in 7


You want depth, see Debido. You want the short story about how the Canucks made it through, here it is: Mike Ribeiro is a big fucking loser.

Go Canucks Go!

The Senators won't be the only Canadian flag-bearer in the second round of the play-offs, after Vancouver advanced thanks to a deserved 4-1 victory at GM Place. It wasn't one for the ages, but it was a tense, hard-fought, absorbing game down to the wire.

The Stars played a perfect Game-7-on-the-road first period, keeping the Canucks on the back foot with aggressive forechecking and smothering, physical defense in their own end, and were good for their one-goal lead. But credit goes to Vancouver for elevating their game and dominating the second and third periods. The Sedins in particular were very impressive - they worked hard along the boards and generated most of the Canucks' chances. After being taken out of the series in games 2 through 6, they responded in the best way possible, with heart and clutch goals. Trevor Linden also delivered a big effort; as Markus Naslund continued his invisible-man impression, Linden was promoted to the first unit on the powerplay and came through when it mattered with the sixth Game 7 goal of his career, which says a lot about his leadership and character.

The Canucks also got a big assist from Rob Schick and co., who gave them the benefit of a lot of marginal calls. I'm not a big fan of refs putting the whistle in their pockets just because it's Game 7, but if they are going to call everything, they should at least show a little consistency and fairness. They seemed to be swayed by the frenzied, towel-waving GM Place crowd into giving all the borderline calls in the Canucks' favour, which changed the course of the game - once Vancouver got a string of powerplays in the second and gained some momentum, they never looked back.

Roberto Luongo came out victorious in the much-ballyhooed battle of the goalies, but Marty Turco deserves nothing but praise for the way he answered his critics. He gave his team three shut-outs and kept them in every game, and turned in another solid effort. Luongo made a big stop on Stu Barnes in the third and got lucky when Mike Modano hit the crossbar, but didn't have too much to do in the second and third period; Turco, on the other hand, was under constant pressure and raised his game to match it. The Stars lost, but their goalie is the last person on the team to whom the finger should be pointed; against a lesser goalie, this would never have gone to Game 7. Luongo, meanwhile, has earned his stripes as a first-rank goalie in this series - he has the calm, unflappable, domineering demeanor of a Martin Brodeur, and looks capable of winning a game or a series almost single-handedly.

Watching this game, it wasn't hard to see why the Stars have bowed out in the first round three years running - they have an excellent group of veteran defensemen, but they're severely lacking in offensive depth. Their forwards are able to stifle other teams with their forechecking, they win a lot of face-offs, they're positionally sound, and they block shots ... all fine when you want to stop the other team from scoring, but once they fell behind in this one there didn't seem to be anyone who looked like stepping up to make the big play to get them a goal. Mike Modano is a great player, but not the force he once was, and the likes of post-concussion Lindros and Mike Ribeiro are not game winners. It takes something special to beat Luongo, and no one on the Stars has that something; they are a team which will continue to win plenty of games in the regular season, but unless they add some firepower, they won't be winning a Stanley Cup any time soon.

As for the Canucks, for all the positives that came out of this game, there is plenty to be concerned about. Markus Naslund was a non-factor, as he was through much of the regular season, and he's not the kind of player who contributes even when he's not getting points. The Sedins had a couple of big games, but they were silenced for much of the series by the Stars' D, and it's only going to get tougher against Mssrs. Pronger and Niedermayer. And the rest of the Canucks' forwards really didn't make much of an impression - there is a serious lack of offensive depth and talent. They only looked likely to score on the PP or when the Sedin line was on the ice; that isn't likely to be good enough against the Ducks, although with Luongo in goal they will always have a chance.


Farkin' Double A

Anyone want to revise their predictions made after Game 2? The Flames made the series interesting last night at the Dome with a convincing, yet contentious, 3-2 victory over the Wings. More importantly, I was able to partake in the festivities and am only now enough over my hangover to relate a few points on the match-up.

As is becoming increasingly aware, Calgary coach Jim Playfair has been reading my keen insights on the series as he has followed my recommendations to a T. For one, it is clear that Playfair has gotten on the officiating enough so as to now have the refs calling chintzy penalties against Detroit rather than the good guys, resulting in numerous successful powerplay opportunities. For another, the Flames have finally realized that they might as well use their speed against the experienced yet considerably less fleet-of-foot (fleet-of-feet?) Red Wing defense corps. The team has also gotten its collective head out of its collective ass and stopped playing in the on-ice manner of the Keystone Kops. Rather, they are playing with an increased awareness that making tape-to-tape passes and performing the break-outs that they learned in midget hockey can be effective from time to time.

Dominik Hasek is starting to lose his marbles, to the Wings' detriment, and his confidence is beginning to shake. Detroit GM Ken Holland must be thinking that getting a perennial head-case to backstop their Stanley Cup run might have been a mistake.

I agree with Matt that the Flames are more of a top-heavy bunch than most commentators realize, and that while their defense is still prone to bungling, their forecheck more than makes up for the liabilities of their blueline.

Credit ought to go to Andrei Zyuzin for earning a regular roster rotation during the past two games, and the acquisition of Brad Stuart is looking to be the steal of the trade deadline. Meanwhile, Miikka Kiprusoff continues his MVP-like performance, and the rest of the team is finally following his lead.

The big question is, of course, can the Flames continue their run on the road? It's difficult to say; the hometown crowd is certainly the seventh man for the club, and the line match-ups are going in Playfair's favour. However, one must take into account that only one team has played progressively better in each successive game, and momentum and confidence are worth their weight in gold.

Moreover, while both the Flames and Red Wings have impeccable home records this season, neither one was absolutely perfect. Odds are that at least one or the other will pick up a road win before the series is out, and which ever team is able to do that will move on to the second round.

Therefore, I'm guessing that the series will be over in six and, so, I'm sticking with my original prediction: The Flames will steal one at the Joe and take the series at the Saddle on Sunday.

Anyone think otherwise?


Farkin' A

The Calgary Flames climbed back into the thick of things last night at the 'Dome in resounding fashion. They won their battles, they stayed quasi-disciplined, they got their shots, and they walked away with a convincing 3-2 victory over Detroit. They now trail the Wings 2 games to 1 in the best-of-seven conference quarter-finals.


  • The home town crowd did seem to help jump-start the club. Why they need fans cheering for them to do well is beyond me but I'll take it for the moment;
  • The Flames forwards utilized their speed at several key moments, including Lombardi's goal and Iginla's burning past a pinching Lidstrom resulting in the game-winner;
  • Persistence for the puck was evident, as was clogging up the middle when they didn't control the play;
  • After a couple of bone-headed penalties (though Lord knows why Hamrlik of all people was called in the scrum early in the first), the Flames relaxed and maintained their discipline. Plus, Detroit was getting called for the cheap hooks and holds which were so prevalent to the Flames in games 1 & 2.
  • Iginla decided to show up.
The last point is especially relevant when you consider colour man Drew Remenda's comments regarding the key match-up last night. Instead of worrying about Nicklas Lidstrom covering Iginla, it was the opposite -- Iginla bashed and worked over the star Detroit defender and had him so rattled that he was a contributing factor in two of the three Flames markers. Lidstrom didn't do anything stupid, but he was off his game and any time you can get an opponent down from the pedestal of perfection to being a mere mortal, it is a huge victory for your side. Lidstrom will bounce back, but his confidence was shaken somewhat.

Good stuff. Next game is tomorrow night at the Saddle. Look for me there; I'll be the one wearing the red jersey.


Double Zut!

It was better, like raising your math grade from 37% to a resounding 42%. The Flames played a reasonable second, controlling the play for a considerable amount of time, even though they only had a paltry three shots and one goal to show for it. In the end, however, it was not enough as the Detroit Red Wings extended their lead in the opening round series, 2 games to nil, with a 3-1 win at the Joe.

Several factors abound in this lop-sided series which have worked against the Flames. Number one is the lack of discipline which results in not only short-handed situations but, more importantly, a loss of momentum. They got to stay out of the box.

With that, Jim Playfair has got to get the refs' attention about the continual mauling of Jarome Iginla by Draper & co. Detroit's good but they're not so good as to keep the guy from getting a single decent chance at a goal in two straight games. Little tugs and grabs have been missed or glanced over by the officiating staff. That has got to change, and Playfair must call them out on it.

An overall lack of consistent effort is also hurting the club. When one line is going, the others sit back, and they take their turns at leading the club. There is no single person or line doing it for any continuous length of time.

Speed kills, but most especially when you're not using it. The Wings are completely blocking the middling with their trap. This means that there is room along the boards to move the puck up. Playfair ought to keep Lombardi on the wing and pair him up with Tanguay and Iginla. Take it up the outside and blow past Schneider and Chelios, and work it to the net. They got to have more confidence in their wheels.

Miikka Kiprusoff continues to make the case for the first Conn Smyth winner whose team is swept out of the first round, but he has got to use his head a bit. While it is difficult to lay any blame on a goaltender who has made 90 saves in 2 games, that third goal was a result of his being too far out of the crease and letting a bad rebound go to the streaking Detroit winger. It is but one flaw in an otherwise outstanding performance.

The final factor which cannot be overlooked is the near-perfection of the Red Wings so far. They have played as close to flawless hockey which I have ever seen and even if the Flames were playing well, they would be hard-pressed to win. There are too many positives going on in Motown to single any person or aspect out, but the guys are on top of their game and have the confidence to show for it.

Game 3 goes tomorrow night in the Saddle.


51 -15

To those who didn’t watch the Detroit – Calgary game this afternoon, it may seem as if the title is a simple inversion of digits. Alas, no. Those are the actual shots on goal in favour of the Red Wings.

The score ended up being 4 – 1, bit it doesn’t really reflect the outcome of the game. If Calgary’s goalie was an actual human being, the score would have been 9 – 1. To say that Kipper was amazing is an understatement. He was unbelievably amazing.

On the NBC broadcast, Brett Hull said that Kiprusoff should sue his teammates for lack of support and, as cheesy as that comment is, I have to agree. His ‘mates simply left him hanging for 60 minutes and, quite frankly, I hope some of them apologized to him after the game.

Now, does this mean that the Flames are dead? Most might say so, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. As bad as the Flames have been on the road this season, they have been great at home. It is perfectly conceivable that they win the next two games in Calgary, What that means, then, is that they only have one more chance to try to take home ice from the wings.

If they want a chance to do that, they really have to start showing some energy and some grit. The Red Wings are steamrolling over them and, given that they are supposed to be a finesse team, that seems kinda wrong.



Buoyed by positivity, lubricated by spirit (of the Alberta rye variety) and ready to go, it didn't go quite as well for me as I had hoped as the Calgary Flames were trounced by the Detroit Red Wings, 4-1 in round 1, game 1 action.

As any observer could tell you, it could have been plenty worse had it not been for the heroics of Miikka Kiprusoff, who stopped 42 off 46 shots, sometimes in spectacular fashion. 180 feet down ice, Dominik Hasek was good as he had to be -- but not much better -- as he faced only 20 shots his own way.

But let's not kid ourselves; the goaltenders were not the story -- the complete domination of the once-proud franchise known as the Flames is. Detroit outskated, outshot, outhit and outperformed the Cowtown Flarin' Horse Head Nostrils so completely, one might have been excused for thinking Darryl Sutter sent the Calgary Flames Midget 'AA' squad in their stead. Pavel Datsyuk (who will be henceforth known at "Gadzooks") was incredible in all areas of the ice, while the rest of the team followed his leadership and performed above and beyond expectations. They were awesome.

As for their opposition, aside from the occasional shots on goal -- which were most likely unintentional -- there was no reason to suspect that the men with the Flaming C in their chests could be considered anything near professional athletes.

A side-bar to the match was the gad-awful officiating. Once again, your friend and mine, Mick Magoo (he prefers "Michael") was a dreadful-looking sight throughout the game, making call after terrible call while trying to keep his helmet fastened securely to that gargantuan, thick-framed melon which someone, somewhere must call a head.

I just don't mean he was just bad for the Flames (though they got more than their fair share of ridiculous penalties), but he and his partner, who must have been infected by the contagious stupidity abounding in the officials' locker room, did everything in their power to confuse the players and disrupt the flow of their game with their inconsistent, asinine calls. It was nothing to start a fund-raiser over or anything, but the man ought to be taken out to the back and whipped until he comes up with some sort of reasonable explanation as to why he continues to be such a goddamn idiot. He could be set up at the whipping post next to the one holding the dipshit who hired him.

Game 2 will be played at 1 pm, local time, this Sunday at Joe Louis Arena. I only mention that because I hope someone from the Flames organization reads this and actually remembers to get the team to the rink this time.

Maybe it was the bus driver's fault ...


All along the watchtower

My fearless NHL playoff predictions which are often not worth the keys they are typed on.

Eastern Conference

Buffalo v New York Islanders

Buffalo in 5

New Jersey v Tampa Bay

New Jersey in 6

Atlanta v NY Rangers

NY Rangers in 6

Ottawa v Pittsburgh

Ottawa in 5


Buffalo v NY Rangers

Buffalo in 6

New Jersey v Ottawa

Ottawa in 6


Buffalo v Ottawa

Buffalo in 6

Western Conference

Detroit v Calgary

Detroit in 6

Anaheim v Minnesota

Anaheim in 5

Vancouver v Dallas

Vancouver in 6

Nashville v San Jose

San Jose in 6


Detroit v San Jose

Detroit in 5

Anaheim v Vancouver

Anaheim in 6


Detroit v Anaheim

Anaheim in 7

Cup Final

Buffalo v Anaheim

Buffalo in 6


Out of my ass

Step aside, pretenders. The only predictions which will have any weight come June are found below in this post. Sit back and gaze into the crystal ball that is Bumf.


Buffalo v. Long Island

Kudos to the Isles for making a valiant run at the post-season. Battling through injuries, ridicule, and the looming spectre of trading away their number 1 goalie whose contract will be up in a mere 14 years, the team defied the odds and became the biggest beneficiary yet of the Shoot-Out Era. However, unless the Dubinator goes down and their GM puts on the gear to win the day, this will get bloody.


New Jersey v. Tampa Bay

Two of the most recent possessors of Lord Stanley set to battle in two of the biggest hockey markets in North America (the series will be featured in TO and Montreal on HNIC). Jersey's got the 'tender and the Bolts got the firepower, creating the makings of an epic clash the likes the world has not seen since ABC took "Full House" off regular rotation. The series will be tightly fought and the betting houses can be assured of only one constant -- both rinks will sit half-empty throughout.


Atlanta v. New York

The forgotten series. Atlanta surprised many with their stunning start and shocked even more by hanging on to capture the Southeast, the division which spawned the past two Stanley Cup champs. Meanwhile, the Blueshirts played under the radar during the entire regular season and did nothing but perform with consistency and character throughout. I like Shanahan and Jagr, and Henrik "the Squeegee Slasher" Lundqvist is one of the best young 'tenders in the league. But the Thrashers have Bob Hartley as a coach, and Bob Hartley cheats.


Ottawa v. Pittsburgh

Not only does "Sens-Pens" have a nice ring to it, these are the two most exciting young teams in the league. Both feature high-flying, offensive-minded forwards, not to mention overacheiving defense, goalies with something to prove, and experienced coaching. Eventual Hart Trophy winner Sydney Crosby and most of his young bretheren will be experiencing the playoffs for the very first time while many on the Ottawa roster wish they had never had the pleasure to begin with. The pressures on the Sens.



Detroit v. Calgary

Tighter than one might think. The Flames possess one of the most talented lineups in the league and revel in the role as underdogs. With Matthew Lombardi purportedly moving to the wing on the Langkow-Huselius unit, they now have a potent 2nd line to open behind Iggy & co. The Wings offense, meanwhile, is vulnerable to a hard-hitting forecheck and a disrespectful defense, and Hasek is going to suffer a nasty injury of some undisclosed variety. Coaching may be a factor, though Mike Babcock's claim to post-season fame so far is a combination of riding oversized goaltender pads to the final coupled with an awful first-round choke. Besides, as the Flames are facing far too many UFAs at the end of 2008, this might be the last time in a few years it could be conceivable to pick them for any success.


Anaheim v. Minnesota

It's Chris Pronger and a bevy of talent versus a hot backup 'tender and a record skewed by OTs and SOs. The playoffs are not the best format for a team to play for a tie; there are no more shoot-outs for 2 points, and the overtime is played 5-on-5. No contest here.


Vancouver v. Dallas

The Canucks are this year's version of last year's Flames; sensational goaltending, a couple of stars and a complete lack of offense. A goaltender can stop another team from winning, but he cannot win games on his own. Marty Turco has something to prove, and he has a very complete -- albeit underrated -- roster in front of him.


Nashville v. San Jose

When was the last time Joe Thornton led a team to win anything of importance?



Ottawa over Buffalo in 6

New Jersey over Atlanta in 5

Calgary over Anaheim in 7

Nashville over Dallas in 7


Ottawa over New Jersey in 7

Calgary over Nashville in 7


Calgary over Ottawa in 5

Beat the Monkey!!

Peace from Russia.

I was going to call this post, "Spank the Monkey," but I know that Beeg wouldn't have been able to handle it without giggling like a schoolgirl.

Normally, calling me out on a blog doesn't work, but when it's coupled with Phoff's outrageous predictions, or when coupled with his attempt claim that picking Vinny Lecavalier for the Richard trophy is a "new" pick, well I feel compelled to defend reason, honour, and english (that's in advance of Shaky's post).

Since the stupid ass monkey on TSN is allowed to make picks, but not call the number of games I've decided that I deserve the same rights as a monkey (up yours, Dr. Zaius!) and will do the same. Calling games is for fools and Oilers, Flames, and Avs fans. Not me though and not the legion of Sens fans who don't want to guess how many games it will be until Jason Spezza wilts, Ray Emery fights someone and the team falls apart. I will however reserve the right to editorialize.

Without further ado, starting in the West...

1-Detroit vs 8-Calgary = Detroit

- I'd love to pick the Flames, I really would, but I just don't think they are playing consistently enough to beat a Detroit team that doesn't get enough credit for being very good. However, if Hasek hurts himself (likely) or Iginla comes out and starts drilling Red Wings all over the ice, I could see the series swinging. And PS- for all the talk of Calgary's great defensive game Detroit had a better team goals against for the year.

2-Anahiem vs 7-Minnesota = Minnesota

- It seems to me that every year in the West there is a big upset and I'm going to take a flyer and say this is it for 2007. I took a look at this Backstrom kid they've got in the pipes and FYI - he's good. Backstrom led the league in GAA and SV%. Also, one other thing that I've noticed the last few years is that the team that's hot coming in can make a run. The Wild made a run at Vancouver right until the end and is coming in on a 7-2-1 run, while the Ducks are riding a 5-3-2 record in their last ten. I think the Ducks peaked in December and that Lemaire and the boys are going hunting to bag themselves an upset in round 1.

3-Vancouver vs 6-Dallas = Vancouver

- I had a tough time calling this one because frankly I didn't know that the Sedins had led the Canucks in scoring by such a wide margin or that Henrik put up 70+ points with only 10 goals. The margins between these teams are very small. I agree that it's a problem when Rebeiro is your leading scorer, but I think it's a bigger problem when your next two highest scorers are defensemen (Zubov and Boucher) and the guy keeping pucks out at the other end has a legit argument to be league MVP.

4-Nashville vs 5-San Jose = Sharks

- So the Predators acquire one of the better players of the last decade (when healthy) and play worse. So the Sharks push Anaheim for the first part of the season, but Thornton and Cheechoo aren't clicking and they fall off, but Thornton in particular gets it together to push for the scoring title. So the Sharks come into the playoffs on a 7-1-2 run and have the same goal differential as the Preds. Hmmm, it sounds tough to call, but I'm taking the Sharks because I think the Preds rolled the dice on Forsberg and messed up their chemistry.

Onto the East...

1-Buffalo vs 8-NY Islanders = Buffalo

- Debido says the Isles "have no business" being in the playoffs. Well, okay, but Scoreboard being all that matters in sports and since as Bill Parcells once said, you are what the standings say you are, over 82 games Carolina, Montreal, Toronto, and Boston had no more business being in the playoffs that the Isles. That having been said, Buffalo is going to smoke the Isles, especially since it looks like they'll have the Dubester in between the pipes. PS- Is everyone aware that Tom Vanek scored 43 goals and led the league in +/-...Tom "Freaking" Vanek!!

2-New Jersey vs 7-Tampa Bay = New Jersey

- You know, mid-February, when T-Bay was pushing and passing Atlanta in the Southeast division I would've probably picked this differently, but I think we have to acknowledge what John Tortorella won't - despite three excellent forwards and a couple of decent defensement, this team's goaltending is just too poor. They let in more goals than they scored, which is a recipe for disaster. The Devils step it up in the playoffs, especially when their coach gets fired right before they start.

3-Atlanta vs 6-NY Rangers = Atlanta

- I have a vision...Jaromir Jagr is skating toward an opponent who's carrying the puck...he reaches out to hit him, arm first, and suddenly is grimacing in pain after contact...oh, whoa, that wasn't a dream it was Jagr's stupid assed approach to hitting in the playoffs. After a lackluster season in which he only seemed to care in the last month or so I can't see him putting this team on his back and carrying them to a round 1 win. Lundquist and Shanny are important too, but the Thrashers have played well since their deperate trade deadline moves (payoff and job kept for Don Waddell!!) and they have a legit backstop in Kari Lehtonen. They'll get a reprieve until they prove why they may be the 13th best team in the playoffs.

4-Ottawa vs 5-Pittsburgh = Ottawa

- Sigh...this one is torture. As a Sens fan, I like this year's team. I think that there are lots of good, rational reasons that they should beat Pittsburgh and are better than any team in the East other than Buffalo (and they're not far behind them at this point, considering their second half play). Ottawa was 3rd in goals for (between Buffalo and Pittsburgh), 10th in goals against, and 1st in goal differential. They were decent on the PP (14th overall at 17.9%) and tied for the league lead in SHG with 17. They can get scoring from four lines, but have the three superstars who could step up and lead. Their D is deep and healthy, including the underrated Tom Preissing, and they just locked up Chris Phillips for another four years, which should make him a happy kid. But this is Ottawa, and let's be honest, that counts for something too. There are three reasons that Pittsburgh could win this series and no one would be surprised:

1) Sid the Kid and his two "wingers" - Crosby is legitimately the best player in the NHL and at any moment can transcend a situation to make an impact and win a game. When coupled with Staal and Malkin these kids don't "know" that they're not yet ready for primetime and could get in such a zone, so unconscious, that they just light the Sens on fire.

2) Gary Roberts - I wouldn't have taken Roberts in a hockey pool for the last five years; he's been that far below average in the regular season. However, he seems to take extreme pleasure in torturing Ottawa in the playoffs. If he does it again this year I think that John Muckler may get lynched for not acquiring him at the deadline, if only to keep him away from the opposition.

3) Karma - I think that Ottawa is still living down the Daigle pick, not to mention Bonk and Phillips (good guy, solid D-man, not a #1). Some day when pig men roam free we will be able to win a Cup. Until then, let's all raise a glass to Frank Finnigan and hope to hell that Ray Emery has enough aggression built up to beat up Crosby and push the Sens through.

Get your puck on!

So, Puck This! Was born a year ago and has enjoyed its most productive period during the second season. On the start of the first round of the 2007 playoffs, I hope that there is a flurry of activity on PT this spring.

As you have surely noticed, we have a new member of the team. I’m happy to welcome Debido, an Avs fan recently returned to Western Canada from the Land of the rising sun. From his first two posts, I think it’s fair to say that he’ll be pushing the rest of the team to write more.

That being said, I’m confident Huck and Shaky will contribute, but I’m calling out Ballzov and Beeg. Much like Alex Kovalev in Montreal, they need to step up.

To follow in Debido’s footsteps, here are my predictions for the 2007 edition of the NHL playoffs:


Detroit v. Calgary

The West is a crapshoot. I can’t say that enough. That being said, picks need to be made.

In this series, goaltending and injuries will play an important role. Kipper has been hot and cold and so have the Flames. He needs to be hot for the Flames to have a shot. Hasek, needs to stay healthy for the Wings to have a shot. Also, Zetterberg may not be fully recovered and Bertuzzi is out. On the Flames side, it looks like they Regehr won’t suit up start the series.

All this will make for an interesting series, but in the end, given that the Flames can’t win on the road, the Wings will take it.

Wings in 6

Anaheim v. Minnesota

Even if these teams are technically closer in the standings, I think the series will be more one-sided than the Detroit-Calgary series.

Although I love what Jacques Lemaire has done with team, I don’t think that they have the grit or the intensity to compete here. Also, as impressive as the young Niklas Backstrom has been, he lacks experience and that will show in the 2nd season. Anaheim has better defense and a more experienced roster.

The only aspect that may make me regret my pick is that the Wild are strong up front and can be quite explosive offensively.

Ducks in 5

Vancouver v. Dallas

This will be a great series to watch. I predict a fast pace and great goaltending at both ends.

Although I didn’t call the Canucks’ resurgence, I am happy that they had such a great season. I do think they’re for real and, clearly Luongo is the main reason. Now that the Sedin sisters have matured, they are a force to be reckoned with. I also foresee that Naslund will have his own resurgence in the playoffs.

I can’t bring myself to think that any team that depends on Lindros and Ribeiro for offence is doomed in my view.

Canucks in 6

Nashville v. San Jose

This will, no doubt, be one of the series that will go down to the wire.

The Predators did all they could to get ready for the post-season and, with the addition of Forsberg, they seem to have it all. I don’t, however, think they do. Their defence is still quite young and they are a little less explosive up front. San Jose, on the other hand, is just revving up and they’ve been hot of late.

In the end, Forsberg’s experience is not a replacement for his diminished skills.

Sharks in 7


Buffalo v. New York Islanders

If the 1 v. 8 series is a crapshoot in the West, it will be the exact opposite in the East. This will be a cakewalk for the Sabres.

I was a happy man when the Islanders made sure the Leafs would miss the playoffs, but in the end, they only won the right to be swept by Buffalo. Last year was a great learning experience for the Sabres and they may just use that experience to propel them tot the championship. I’m not making that call just yet, but let’s just say that I wouldn’t be surprised to see them win it all.

Sabres in 4

New Jersey v. Tampa Bay

For some reason, I have a feeling that this series will be boring as hell. I have great respect for the Devils organization, but man, their style of play puts me to sleep.

In this series, the Lightning have the edge on offence. Vinny and the gang can light it up with the best of ‘em, but I don’t think that’ll cut it here. New Jersey’s strong team defense and superior goaltending is no match for Tampa Bay’s one-two punch of Lecavalier and St. Louis. In addition, Tampa Bay’s goaltending is less than stellar.

Devils in 6

Atlanta v. New York Rangers

As I said in my post yesterday, I really thought the Rangers would be a powerhouse this year. Deep down, I still think they can play better than their rank indicates.

Admittedly, I don’t know much about the Thrashers and I don’t have much interest. Obviously, with Hossa, Kozlov and Kovalchuk up front, they can make you pay for any defensive lapses. On the back end, Lehtonen has been strong all year and there is no reason to think he can’t be good enough to win them a series or two.

The Rangers, on the other hand, may have the hottest goalie in the league right now and bring a combination of grit and firepower that, on paper, should give them a good shot. If Renney can pull it all together and if Jagr can stay healthy, I think they have a shot at upsetting the Thrashers.

Rangers in 7

Ottawa v. Pittsburgh

This is the series everybody wants to watch. These are two truly gifted offensive teams that showed give us a great show.

The Pens have been one of the most exciting teams to watch this season and they have played much better than everyone expected them to. Some might say that they’re punching above their weight, but I think that we’re witnessing the start of something special.

For their part, Ottawa is not the heavy favourite this year and there is less talk of them being Cup contenders. Let’s not be fooled by Brian Murray’s asinine comments, there is a tonne of pressure on the Senators organization to move past the second round. IMHO, his head will roll if they have an early exit in ’07. All that being said, I think the Sens will actually break the curse this year.

Senators in 6

Prognosticating the East

Unlike the West, where I wouldn't be surprised if any of the teams made it to the finals, there are several teams in the East that are just along for the ride. Being in the play-offs will be reward enough for the Islanders, who only made it in due to the self-destructiveness of the Leafs and the Habs, the Lightning, Rangers, and Thrashers. Whichever team makes it out of the West is going to have been through three very tough series, whereas a team like New Jersey or Buffalo could, with a bit of luck, have two relatively easy series along the road to the final. Which is why I like Buffalo's chances of winning it all. But let's not get too far ahead ...

Sabres vs. Islanders

No contest. Everything you need to now about this match up you can figure out by comparing the captains: Chris Drury (a tough, clutch performer who consistently punches above his weight) vs. Alexei Yashin (overpaid and over-rated player who coasts on his talent and had never proven that he can deliver when it counts). The Sabres are a strong team - emphasis on team - who play consistently good hockey and have shown they know how to win play-off series. The Islanders have no business being in the post-season. The only way they have a chance is if their goalie, DiPietro or otherwise, pulls a Cam Ward and someone rips the 'C' off Yashin's jersey and sticks it on that of Ryan Smyth. My pick: Sabres in 4.

Devils vs. Lightning

Goaltending is all you need to know here. Martin Brodeur vs. whoever John Tortorella is least afraid of sticking in net on any give night. Apart from the Brodeur factor, the Devils' depth and experience and play-off savvy should make this one pretty short, despite Tampa Bay's offensive guns. I have a suspicion that Lamoriello's decision to fire his coach a week before the post-season is going to backfire, but not in the first round. My pick: Devils in 5.

Thrashers vs. Rangers

I don't rate either of these teams all that highly in terms of Cup aspirations, but one of them will still end up in the conference semi-finals, and I suspect it will be the Thrashers. Shanahan is a good leader, but perhaps too old to make a major on-ice impact, and Jagr is too temperamental - has he ever been dominant in the post-season when he wasn't playing with Lemieux? The Thrashers, on the other hand, have a good mix of stars, exciting youngsters, and canny veterans like Holik, Tkachuk, and Mellanby. I also think Bob Hartley is an excellent play-off coach who gets the most out of his players. As long as Lehtonin holds his own against Lundqvist, the Thrashers should be in fine shape. My pick: Thrashers in 6.

Senators vs. Penguins

With two offensive powerhouses with suspect goaltending going head to head, I reckon this one will be a shoot-out and the most entertaining series of the first round. The key here may be that the Senators have all the pressure - the Penguins have already surpassed all expectations this year, and any progress they make in the play-offs will be a bonus. The Senators, on the other hand, are expected to do well, and we all know what happens when the Senators are supposed to win - they lose. The Penguins are young and hungry and loose, and they have the best player in the game, which should trump the Sens superior defense and play-off experience. My pick: Penguins in 7.