Eastern Conference Playoff Preview: Philadelphia Flyers

Written by AJ Manderichio on .

In the continuing “Eastern Conference Playoff Preview” series, I take a look at the Philadelphia Flyers. The Devils rival currently holds the sixth position in the Eastern Conference. But the team has gone through some adversity as of late, losing three goaltenders and their leading scorer, Jeff Carter. Can this team succeed in the playoffs without those integral pieces?

Forwards:

The Flyers have some solid, but not great, forwards on the team. With the injury to Jeff Carter, the team lost their leading scorer and one of their best goal scorers. One of the best forwards on the team is Mike Richards. The young captain has 28 goals and 30 assists through 76 games, and his play on the penalty kill and powerplay are stellar. He’s one of the better two-way forwards in the game today. After Richards, the Flyers have several role players. Simon Gagne, who could be a great goal scorer, has only played 52 games this season. The same can be said for Danny Briere. What I don’t like about the Flyers is the injury risk throughout all of their lines. Gagne usually has one major injury per year, and Briere hasn’t been fully healthy since signing with Philadelphia (8 years, $52 million with a no trade clause). Both of these guys can make plays and put the puck in the net. With one major weapon already down, another injury to a scoring forward would sink this team.

Defense:

The Flyers first defensive pairing of Chris Pronger and Matt Carle are extremely good. Both defenseman combine for a plus/minus rating of 41. Pronger leads the team in assists, and has chipped in 10 goals during the season. But that has been one of the only bright spots for the Flyers defense this year. They rank near the middle of the pack in goals against, allowing 202 so far this season. They also rank 25th in shots against, with 2,184 shots taken against their goalies. Coming into the season, the team had high hopes for their defense. But so far those expectations haven’t been met, and they have underperformed this season.

Goalie:

Philadephia has dressed four goaltenders this season, and only one of them remains healthy today: Brian Boucher. The first starter, Ray Emery, was enjoying a great comeback season But an abdominal strain – and the resulting surgery from the injury – knocked him out for the season. Next came Michael Leighton, who looked terrible in Carolina. The Flyers got lucky again, as Leighton played exceptionally well with the team. But an ankle injury sidelined him for the remainder of the season. They even gave rookie John Backlund an opportunity, but he was injured during his first ever start. Now, their playoff chances rest on Brian Boucher, a goalie who has never started more than 45 games in a season. His career save percentage is under .900. Clearly, goalie is the weakest link of this team. The Flyers cannot depend on Boucher to bring win them a series. He’s the weakest goalie coming into the playoffs. This will, without a doubt, hold back Philadelphia in the playoffs this year.

So, where do the Flyers sit coming into the playoffs? They seem to be one of the weakest teams qualifying for the playoffs. They’re missing their leading scorer, and the defense has been underwhelming all season. Now, they need to depend on a career backup who has never played well in the N.H.L. The Flyers look like the surest bet to be a one and done in the playoffs this year.

Photo Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images

no comments

Eastern Conference Playoff Preview: Ottawa Senators

Written by Darren S. on .

For me, the Ottawa Senators are one of the surprise teams of the year. The 2008/2009 found themselves 10 points out of the playoffs and struggled most of the season. When the season ended Dany Heatley became a thorn in the side demanding he be traded away. In return for Heatley, Ottawa got Jonathan Cheechoo who was been outright awful recording 5 goals and 9 assists in 61 games and Milan Michalek who has proved to be a decent pickup.

Forwards:

The Senators have four (4) 20 goal scorers this season in Fisher, Michalek, Alfredsson and Spezza and Alexei Kovalev is knocking on the door of a 20 goal season so the goals for the Senators are coming and spread out over a couple decent lines. The Senators own the 18th best offense when it comes to goals for but own the 26th best Power Play unit in the NHL. When the Senators have needed extra time to decide games this season, they walked away with a 8-5 record in overtime which includes 4 shootout wins and 4 shootout losses. As usual, this team for me rests around the play of Daniel Alfredsson as he is their backbone and any success that the Senators may have in the postseason will come off the stick of Alfredsson in either goal form or assist form.

Defense:

Chris Philips leads all defensemen with 8 goals and Filip Kuba leads all defensemen in points with 28. The Senators defense currently ranks 18th overall when it comes to goals against. If you filter out the stats to just 5 on 5 goals, the Senators drop down to 28th but it's their penalty kill that has been outstanding. Through 76 games, they own the 7th best penalty killing squad, which can be a very telling stat once you get to the playoffs.  The Senators don't really scare me on defense though for 2 reasons. 1) They lack a guy that can absolutely shut down the opposition when needed to do so and 2) if the Senators play disciplined hockey and stay out of the box, the 28th ranked overall 5 on 5 defense isn't going to get you too far. Fans might like how well their penalty killers have done this season but do you really want to try and win a cup that way?

Goalies:

The is the Senators weakness. The Senators have relied on 3 goalies this season to get them through the season but that's not a fair stat because of a freak injury to Pascal Leclaire that sidelined him for a couple of weeks. Brian Elliott has seen most of the work this season and currently ranks 20th overall in Save Percentage. The truth is, we don't really know what to expect of Elliott once the postseason rolls around because Elliott is young and inexperienced. Pascal Leclaire spent most of his time with the Columbus Blue Jackets so he doesn't have any playoff experience either so should Elliott have a hard time, fans have to hope and pray that Leclaire can deliver.


As I said in the beginning, the Senators have really surprised me this season. If it wasn't for the Coyotes in the west, they would take the award for most surprising team and I like what the Senators are building but as for chances of seeing Lord Stanley above their heads, I can't imagine that is very likely this season. In fact, I am not sure they may even get through round one but this season has given them momentum towards getting back to that team from 2007 or even the one from 2003 that was so close to the finals.

no comments

Eastern Conference Playoff Preview: Buffalo Sabres

Written by AJ Manderichio on .

In the continuing “Eastern Conference Playoff Preview” series, I’ll take a look at the Buffalo Sabres, who lead the Northeast Division and sit third in the conference with 90 points. Buffalo, a team that has flown under the radar for most of the season, sport one of the game’s best goaltenders. But can they compete with the top teams in the conference? That question remains to be answered.

Forwards:

The top two lines for the Sabres are very, very good. The top line of Jason Pominville – Derek Roy – Jochen Hecht combine for 59 goals, 90 assists and a plus/minus rating of 34. The second line is even more formidable. Tim Connolly and Thomas Vanek  control that line, with each player over 15 goals on the season. But, after those top two lines, the performance falls off a bit. Their third line only has one player with a positive plus/minus rating (Patrick Kaleta, 4), and the fourth line sports a combined -25 plus/minus rating. While the Sabres have plenty of goal scorers, they don’t have great two-way forwards. That weakness will hurt them, because good teams will take advantage of a weak backcheck or a defensive breakdown. The top two lines are scary good, but the Sabres lack of forward depth will be an issue come playoff time.

Defense:

Tyler Myers highlights a relatively unknown defensive unit. Myers, a rookie, impressed several analysts with his solid play this season. The rookie has 42 points (10 G, 32 A) and a plus/minus rating of 12 for the season. While they don’t have many big-name defenseman, the Sabres have an experienced blue line. Four of their six blue-liners have playoff experience, which gives them an advantage. Myers, Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman can all contribute offensively, which is an added benefit. But there are cracks in the blue-line. The collective group has a great plus/minus rating (+21), with the third defensive pairing of Steve Montador and Craig Rivet checking in at a  -10. The squad has also allowed goalie Ryan Miller to face 1,878 shots, which ranks 13th in the league. Overall, the blue line is a strength for the Sabres. Sure, they have their faults, but they play a solid, responsible game night in and night out.

Goalie:

Miller is one of the top five goalies in the N.H.L. today. His 2.20 goals against average ranks far below the league average. He’s also collected five shutouts on his way to a 37-15-8 record. Without Miller, the Sabres wouldn’t be in the third place. Miller can steal a game or even a series for this team. During the Olympics, the world found out what we already knew: Miller is a world-class goaltender. He’s also got the right attitude as a goalie. You never see Miller get too angry or too worked up during a game. That levelheaded attitude seems to calm the entire team, and he’s the true leader of the Sabres. He’s already set a career-high in wins, and his G.A.A. is the lowest in his career. Clearly, Buffalo’s goalie advantage ranks head and shoulders above some of the teams in the conference.

Overall, the Sabres are a good young team. They have world-class goaltending and a solid blue-line corps. But the weakness comes from the lack of forward depth. After the first two lines, the production and play drops sharply. There shouldn’t be great goal scorers on the third and fourth lines, but these forwards should at least sport solid plus/minus numbers. While it doesn’t show the entire story, the plus/minus rating of the third and fourth lines can spell trouble. If the Sabres have a problem backchecking or defensively, they will be ripe for the picking. But I’d expect this team to make it to the second round, but nothing more.

Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

no comments

Eastern Conference Playoff Preview: Pittsburgh Penguins

Written by Darren S. on .

The Pittsburgh Penguins are the Defending Stanley Cup Champions which means they are the team to beat, no matter what position they may finish in or what their record may be. In the standings, they've been the only consistant opponent in the Atlantic Division for the Devils but on the ice this season, it's been a different story. Don't get me wrong, they are a very talented team that just may go the distance again but I do wonder when consecutive years of deep playoff runs will start to show in their game.

Forwards:

When people talk about the Pittsburgh Penguins, it is usually Sidney Crosby that leads those discussions and why not, the guy is currently tied for the most goals in the league (45) and has 89 points on the season so far. But don't think that's all the Penguins have. If Crosby has a slow night, guys like Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal will easily pick up the slack and carry the team. Last year the Penguins picked up Bill Guerin at the trading deadline and he proved to be a valuable assett in the run to the cup and so far this season, the veteran winger is continuing to produce for the Penguins. The Penguins are so talented up front, the oppositions defense cannot afford to have a bad night or they will pay.


Defense:

I don't think the Pittsburgh defense is as strong this season. The Penguins finished 6th overall last season in "Goals Against" where as this season they currently sit 20th overall. Sergei Gonchar has remained pretty healthy over the season, has 10 goals and 34 assists which is a very impressive number and far better than any defenseman had for the Penguins in 08/09 but seems to be the only good thing on the blue line. Gonchar also has a -7 in the plus/minus column but he does log a lot of minutes per game. Kris Letang was certainly a bigger factor for this team last season but that may have had to do with Gonchar missing so much time to injury. The Penguins defense doesn't really have a physical presence on the ice and I question their ability to shut down the oppositions better players. To me, if this team is going to repeat as champions, it's going to rest on the forwards to out duel the opposition.

Goalie:

To me, Marc-Andre Fluery's game hasn't changed much at all. He's one of the league's better goalies but he's not the best. In the 08/09 season he racked up 35 wins in 62 games played and is on track to do a little better than that this season. He's on track to see around the same amount of shots for the year and probably have close to the same Save Percentage as last year. By no means are the Penguins weak in the area of goaltending and Marc-Andre Fluery is that type of goalie that can show up and steal some games, maybe even a series in the postseason.


So do the Penguins have a good shot at defending their title? Until someone knocks off the champion, you have to believe in this team. They are currently battling for 2nd place overall and constantly switch between 2nd and 4th place. The Penguins aren't better or worse home or away so finishing 4th Overall isn't going to effect them too much if they end up going deep and playing a higher seed team. If you are a Penguins fan, you have to feel pretty good about the possibilty of repeating as champions, something the city of Pittsburgh has done once before!

no comments

Eastern Conference Playoff Preview: Washington Capitals

Written by AJ Manderichio on .

As the season winds down and playoff positions come into a clearer view, we here at Running With The Devils will preview the other seven teams vying to represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup finals. We start the conference preview with the Washington Capitals, who sit atop the N.H.L. with the best record.

FORWARDS:

Washington feature's one of the game's best scoring threats in Alexander Ovechkin, who already has 45 goals and 97 points on the season. But the Caps aren't a one-dimensional team. Their depth on the offensive end should be envied by most teams in the league. They have a good mix of scorers, playmakers, and grind-it-out guys. Nicklas Backstrom has recorded 88 points on the season, and role players like Mike Knuble have double-digit goal totals. The strength of their forwards is one of the best in the league and definitely gives the Caps an advantage over most teams in the conference.

Defense:

The defense for the Caps is good, but not great. Mike Green is the household name, and the best Caps blueliner. He's already recorded 70 points, and he's a great quarterback on the Caps powerplay. But, after that, the ability falls off a bit. Deadline acquisition Joe Corv0 hasn't been great, only netting two goals and playing to a -1 with the Caps. But the defense isn't a glaring weakness. The Caps get solid backchecking from their forwards, and their defenseman are usually solid.

Goalie:

It seems like this can be the one weak area the Caps haven't addressed. Jose Theodore, who has been hot recently, isn't the greatest goalie in the league. He has 26 wins on the season, but he's also allowing almost three goals a game (2.76 GAA). But Theodore's playoff play is what dents the armor. He didn't get the nod at all last year, with Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau electing to play Semyon Varlamov. Two years ago, Theodore allowed 20 goals in eight playoff games for the Colorado Avalanche in 2008, and suffered through a terrible series against the Detroit Red Wings. Varlamov, who seemed to be the goalie of the future, couldn't take the number one role this season. The young goalie missed significant time due to injury, and he's only appeared in 21 games this season. He's 13-3-4 with two shutouts on the season.

If there's one weakness on this team, it's between the pipes. The Caps goaltending seems to continuously be up and down throughout the season. Right now, Theodore is hot, putting together an incredible 16-0-2 record in the past 18 games. But Theodore could easily go cold and become a subpar goalie. The Caps offense will always be able to cover a goalie's struggle, but we've seen the importance of goaltending in past playoff series. Without good goaltending, a team usually doesn't bring home Lord Stanley. The Capitals are clearly ahead of many teams, but their goaltending weakness can leave them susceptible in the postseason.

no comments

G.M's Want To Penalize Blind Side Hits To The Head

Written by AJ Manderichio on .

The N.H.L. general managers meetings ended yesterday with one major rule change – a rule to penalize blind-side hits to the head.

A unanimously approved resolution from the G.M.s will be presented to the Competition Committee later this spring for approval. If it’s approved there, then the Board of Governors would have to give it the final approval. If it gets approved (and it should), the rule will be enforced beginning next season.

Here’s what the resolution says:

“A lateral, back pressure or blind-side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or is the principal point of contact is not permitted. A violation of the above will result in a minor or major penalty and shall be reviewed for possible supplemental discipline.”

A few days ago, I argued that the G.M.’s needed to ban these type of hits from the game. While I didn’t think a penalty would go far enough, this seems to be a step in the right direction. While the final language of the rule isn’t set, the rule above seems comprehensive. But there are some words in the rule I can’t agree with.

The first part of the rule I don’t like the fact a “minor” penalty can come from one of these hits. Only giving players a two-minute minor for a dangerous hit would be ridiculous. The possibility of a minor penalty shouldn’t exist. Don’t let the officials be subjective in these rulings. If a player hits another player with one of these blind-side hits, they should be put in the box for five minutes. No argument, no subjective calls. Blind-side hits to the head should only be five-minute majors.

The second part of the rule that I don’t agree with is the “possible” supplemental discipline. If a player decided to complete one of these hits, they’re clearly not worried about playing time or the consequences of their actions. The league should institute a mandatory, two-day suspension for blind-side hits to the head. Put this in context of the recent Matt Cooke – Marc Savard situation. Cooke delivered one of these hits to Savard, giving him a Grade II concussion. Savard was put on a stretcher and taken off the ice. The Bruins center, who was important to the Bruins playoff push, will probably miss the rest of the season. But Colin Campbell let him off without a suspension, which is ridiculous. By instituting a mandatory suspension, these hits will virtually disappear from the game. There still might be a blind-side hit to the head here and there, but it wouldn’t be so prevalent as it has become.

Overall, the G.M.s took a step in the right direction. However, they shouldn’t stop here. By making these two subtle changes, they can strengthen the rule and eliminate these dangerous hits from the game. I think Brian Burke says it best in the following quote:

“You can still hit this guy, you just can’t target his head,” Burke said. “Hitting in our game — it’s part of the fabric of our game. It’s what’s distinctive about hockey in North America. Anywhere else on the planet you go, there’s not as much hitting as there is in our game. We want to keep that, we want to preserve that. But we want to take out a dangerous hit where a guy targets a guy’s head. He can still reef the guy; he just can’t target his head.”

Hitting is a great part of the game. The G.M.s need to tweak the rule and strengthen it to preserve player safety. By doing that, hitting can still continue, but dangerous hits will be gone from the game. And that’s what all players, G.M.s and fans want.

no comments

N.H.L. G.M.’s Proposed Rule Change Doesn’t Go Far Enough

Written by AJ Manderichio on .

With the N.H.L. general managers meeting underway in Boca Raton, Florida, only one proposed change to the on-ice product surfaced. General managers are leaning toward recommending a rule change that would penalize some, but not all, hits to the head under current NHL rules.

I italicized the words leaning toward to highlight the current language of the rule change. The general manager’s haven’t gone far enough. To make the game safer, N.H.L. general manager’s need to ban hits to the head.

The numbers on head hits in N.H.L. games are revealing. According to Colin Campbell, the N.H.L. director of operations, and Gary Meagher, a league spokesman, noted about seven hits a game are shoulder-to-head hits. Both studied 21 league games, which showed an average of 22 hits to the head per game, from a light brush with a glove to a heavy blow. In all of those games, or 462 instances, there was one penalty called.

Clearly, there is an issue here with needs to be fixed. While the general managers don’t want to see any of the physical aspect taken out of the game, they need to institute a safer rule on head hits. Just look at the recent hits from Matt Cooke, Chris Neil, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards. This is an issue which needs to be addressed. The N.H.L. Players Association proposed a rule change last season to ban shoulder checks to the head, such as in the Ontario Hockey League and the International Ice Hockey Federation. Hits like these aren’t a new problem. With the players calling for a change last year, these problems existed before. With the speed of the game increasing, especially after the lockout, hits became more violent, and the chances of injury increased significantly. But the league has been slow to respond, and they need to step up and address this issue. The league needs to follow the call of the N.H.L. Players Association and ban shoulder-to-head hits.

By banning shoulder-to-head hits, the N.H.L. can control the physical aspect of the game. We all enjoy the big hit. And it has its place in the game. A big hit can change momentum or send a message to the other team. But these hits should be delivered in a way that can still protect the players. Without that insurance, we can continue to see players laying face down or back up, lost as to where they are.

As Doug Wilson, general manager of the San Jose Sharks said, “We all like hitting; it’s a big part of thisgame. But there’s a line that gets crossed, and people are getting injured.”

If general managers ban these hits now, they can be almost eliminated by the end of the season. Yes, it’s going to be difficult to adjust for players. There may be an increase in penalties called, which can be frustrating. But in the long run, it’s better to be frustrated to make the game safer than blatantly allow a dangerous hit to continually take place. The N.H.L. can also ease players into the transition. Begin giving players a two-minute minor for hits to the head. Creating a penalty would begin to eliminate the use of the hit throughout the lead. I could even see giving a five-minute major for the hit as well. Both would begin to transition the players into the new rules. Starting next season, each hit to the head should carry a mandatory game suspension, with length depending on the severity and intention of the hit. While this may not eliminate every hit, it will vastly reduce the number of instances these dangerous hits could possibly occur.

Limiting these hits wouldn’t take away from the physical nature of hockey. Trust me, the N.H.L. won’t becoming a no-check roller hockey league. Players can still take the body and make huge, earth-rattling hits. Banning shoulder-to-head hits makes those hits, and the game overall, safer. In the end, that’s what players, coaches and fans want to see.

Photo Credit: The Hockey News

no comments

Trade Deadline 2010

Written by Darren S. on .

Join us tomorrow at The 6th Sens for a Live Trading Deadline Event.

no comments

NHL Can Learn From Olympic Success

Written by AJ Manderichio on .

When Sidney Crosby scored the overtime goal to clinch gold for Canada, the most successful sport in the Olympics came to an end. Olympic hockey drove the ratings throughout the Olympics, with CNBC and MSNBC offering limited commercial breaks and solid commentary. The ability to broadcast live games – such as the Canada-US gold medal match – greatly helped the ratings. And for that gold medal match, NBC drew 27.6 million viewers, the highest hockey rating since the tape-delayed U.S. vs. Finland gold medal game in 1980.

The Olympic hockey action drew a wide range of new and old viewers to the sport. But Olympic hockey differs in a few key ways from the NHL game. It moved quicker, didn’t allow fighting, and showed several all-star teams taking each other on. The Olympic product was high quality, but there are plenty of things the NHL can consider to improve their on-ice product and keep new fans watching the game.

Number 1: Keep The Game Going

As we all know, sometimes a hockey game can drag. There are those games when there seems to be seven whistles every minute. But, in the Olympics, many of the games seemed to flow. I would watch the game, look at the clock and realize five or ten minutes had already ticked off the clock. The Olympics kept the flow of the game while limiting the amount of commercials shown. With the games on CNBC and MSNBC the majority of the time, NBC probably could afford the advertising loss. But the NHL should take note.

Many viewers enjoyed the fast pace and almost non-stop action of the Olympic games. While watching the Detroit Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche game last night, I realized the Olympic system could work for the NHL. If networks can keep commercial breaks to a minute or two, then the break in the action won’t be so noticeable. Then it won’t seem as if there is a clear break in the action. It’ll keep the breaks short and the action flowing.

Number 2: Institute No-Touch Icing

The Olympic rules differ from the NHL, including the no-touch icing rule. While I don’t know if I’m 100% in agreement with no-touch icing, the rule should be instituted in the NHL. There are too many injuries (or possibility of injuries) that result when two players chase down the puck. With the NHL attempting to become safer, no-touch icing becomes a no-brainer. You eliminate the possibility of a boarding or cross-checking penalty during the chase, and the game moves quicker.

 

no comments

GameCenter Live

Written by Darren S. on .

NHL GameCenter Live is something I've been meaning to checkout for a long time and last week, I finally got to pull the trigger on it. If there could be something classified as a "Hockey Addiction" I truly believe that I should be standing in front of a group of strangers, stating my name and telling them I love hockey a little too much. So this GameCenter Live is the greatest tool made to feed my addiction.

I will get the one downside of the service out of the way and then talk about all the things I love about it. I'm a Devils fan (duh!!) and I live in NJ which means when the Devils are on, I don't get them on GameCenter Live because of the whole "Blackout" rule. I have to wait 48 hours after the game to get the archive footage so thinking I could use GCL to follow the Devils while my wife uses the TV to watch her shows isn't something realistically possible but I've come to terms with it. Thankfully hockey for me doesn't live and die with the Devils.

So now on to the good stuff. The real-time stats that are in GCL are phenominal and its just on click away. If you are a fantasy freak, you can choose to follow the hits, shots, and goals of one player with the Play by Play Game Tracker. If you have 4 guys playing in one night you can watch those 4 games at the same time. I also found the Live Chat a fun way to watch a game, chatting about hits and goals and how great it was to watch Hartnell sucker punch Sean Avery. I've also utilize the archives into my pregame write-ups. It's a great way to go and watch the previous game of the next Devils opponent and figure out what type of team they are facing, which players are hot and what their tendancies are.

GameCenter Live is certainly worth the money and at $119 for the rest of the season, it's really not a heavy hit on the wallet. According to the Director of Social Media Marketing & Strategy for the NHL, there will be a free preview of GameCenter Live tomorrow (January 26th) and I highly suggest you check it out if you've ever thought that GCL might be a nice thing to have.

no comments
Do Fans Care About Brewing OSU Scandal?
Crystal Ball Run
Behind The Scenes Of ESPN And Their Soccer Coverage
Awful Announcing
Would MNF Doubleheader Every Week Make Sense?
Awful Announcing

You Might Like...