Saturday, December 29, 2007

Dirt Off the Shoulder

Time to dust off the ol' blog for the 07-08 season, now that i am finally approaching regular online access again. Since I have all weekend with naught else to do, it's time once again to jump back into the fabulous world of recapping the hockey action. Friday was also a short night for hockey, with only four games on the slate, which makes it a good night to get warmed back up with.
We'll start on the East coast, where Jersey welcomed the Buffalo Banana Slugs Sabres to town. Nobody scored in the first period and change, but certainly not for lack of effort, as New Jersey outshot the Sabres 13-2 and got good and physical:

"Judo CHOP!"

But Buffalo scored first, and went into the third period with a 1-0 lead. Unfortunately, they could do nothing the rest of the way, eventually surrendering the game tying goal to some schlub named Mike Mottau (career game #35, career goal #2) and then losing in the shootout. Buffalo gave it the old college try, but it's hard to win when nobody outside your top line manages more than two shots all game.
It was movie homage night in Raleigh, apparently, as the Bruins came to town to take on the Hurricanes. Carolina got the scoring going early with a goal six minutes in, only to give it right back with a shorthanded goal by Chuck Kobasew mess than three minutes later, leading to an eerily Twins-like moment:

"You fuh-got the tird rule in a crisis situation..."

Carolina was ready, however, and finished off the scoring with Mike Commodore's first goal of the season with their own cutesy, "Fonz" moment:


Both teams settled in for the grind, with little action the remainder of the first and into the second, with the only goal coming on a penalty shot for Carolina. That didn't mean there wasn't any action going on, with class taking place along the near boards at one point:

Marc Savard watches a block of instruction from teammate Marc Stuart on the no-look punch - while the blonde lady gets way too into it.

Boston cut the deficit to 3-2 with a goal in the first minute of the period, and things were looking up. Then center Vlad Svobotka takes a stupid penalty for shooting the puck over the glass (his lone accomplishment in his four minutes of ice time) and the Hurricanes turned it into a power play goal. Boston answered back and trimmed the score back to 4-3 a mere 11 seconds later, but they couldn't finish it off and lost another close divisional game.

The Florida Panthers, meanwhile, got absolutely embarrased on their home ice. The Panthers outshot the Canadiens 41-21, but Montreal had a 3-0 lead before the game was even six minutes old, and they never looked back. Heck, they even found time for some acrobatics once they got bored:

Rookie Andrei Kostitsyn demonstrates the lost art of the Flying Headbutt to the Ass

The Panthers managed a shorthanded goal from Olli 'Still Stuck In Florida' Jokinen, but it wasn't nearly enough to stop a 5-1 beating from Montreal.

Last but not least, San Jose and St. Louis...played a frustratingly dull game. The Sharks were on the power play for three and a half minutes straight in the first period, and St. Louis had a full minute and a half of 5-on-3, yet the only goal the entire game came with three minutes left, giving San Jose a 1-0 victory, their 8th in a row on the road.

Still a logjam in both conferences. In the Eastern Conference, you have the New Jersey Devils, who are nine points behind Ottawa for the #1 seed, but also only eight points ahead of the #13 seed. In the Western conference, about the same is true of the Dallas Stars, who are a whopping 11 points behind Detroit for the #1 seed, but also only 10 points ahead of the #10 seed. Lots of jostling left, which should make for some entertaining hockey in the new year.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Nitty Gritty

O.K., enough lollygagging about, just make the damn picks already...

Western Conference:

Detroit VS Calgary

The Red Wings are incredibly lucky that Colorado missed the playoffs, because the Avalanche were the hottest team in the league down the stretch, going 15-2-2 in their last 17 games, but missing the playoffs by a mere point.Colorado would already be the hotter team, clicking on all cylinders, and would take it up another notch for the heated rivalry.

Instead, Detroit gets the Calgary Flames. The team showed signs of figuring things out by going on a late season six game winning streak, then almost crapped it all away by losing their last four and finishing the season on a 7-8-1 slide. That type of inconsistent play does not bode well for playoff contention. Detroit should dominate this series - unless of course Hasek's groin falls apart. again. Red Wings in six.

Nashville VS San Jose

I mentioned that Nashville had struggled against Detroit, and that if they faced them in the playoffs, they would get murdered. Fortunately for the Predators, they won't play the Wings just yet. Instead, they'll spend their first round against the one team out West that they outplayed all season, the Sharks.

Sure, San Jose finished the season going 13-2-2 in their last 17 games, but 8 of those 13 wins came against the bottom five (CLB, CHI, LA, PHX, EDM), and even including that streak, San Jose was still only 19-11-4 after the All-Star break. Say what you want about Nashville padding their record against mediocre teams, all the top five teams out west did it - that's why most of the five teams I just mentioned were packing their golf clubs as much as a month ago. The Sharks were only 17-15-4 against the Western Conference teams appearing in the playoffs. Predators in six.

Vancouver VS Dallas

This could very well be the most boring series in the coming two weeks. The two lowest scoring playoff teams face off, as will two goalies - Roberto Luongo and Marty Turco - looking to finally make their playoff mark. Yes, Marty had his run before, but he has done nothing since. Vancouver may have scored fewer goals on the season, but the Sedin twins alone give them more playmakers than Dallas, where only one forward finished the season with more than 50 points. Canucks in five.

Anaheim VS Minnesota

I am sticking to my guns. I said that Anaheim would survive the first round unless they played Minnesota. Well, here they are - and there they go. Anaheim went 2-1-1 against the Wild this season, but they played all those games before Minnesota got Marian Gaborik back from injury. The team from the blue state has been on a tear, going 27-8-5 after Gaborik returned, including a 13-2-1 stretch to finish off the season where they outscored their opponents 45-19.

Minnesota isn't getting enough credit for what they do, and Gaborik's return has rejuvenated Pavol Demitra's game to give the Wild two dangerous lines. Anaheim is older and Niedermayer may not be able to hang with Gaborik all night all series. Wild in seven.

That means Detroit, if they stay healthy, putting a whomping on Nashville, and Vancouver eking out Minnesota in a defensive second round battle. Vancouver takes down a finally worn down Detroit team in six to go to the cup finals.

Eastern Conference:

Buffalo VS Islanders
Hmmm....Ryan Miller (40-16-6, 2.73 GAA, .911SV%) against Wade Dubielewicz (4-1, 2.06 GAA, .934 SV%). As nice as Doobie's numbers are, and against the Rangers, Devils and Leafs no less, it's still only four games, and this is still an elite goalie against a career backup. Sabres in four.

Ottawa VS Pittsburgh
A local sports broadcaster, whom I will not name, but who I have lost all respect for, actually went on national TV and said "I wish the Pens could have drawn any team but this one, because I have no idea how they will handle such a talented and experienced playoff team." This statement was absolutely retarded, since the Penguins just beat Ottawa five days ago, and have beaten them three times in the last month.

A big to-do was made about the Penguins and Ottawa dueling for home-ice advantage, based in the teams home records being better than their road records, but I really don't think it matters in this case. Most of those record disparities are due to early season struggles overall - these two teams are a combined 65-16-13 since Christmas.

The Senators are a very sound defensive team (as opposed to a Pittsburgh team full of more offensive defensemen), but Pittsburgh has a clear edge in goal. Marc-Andre Fleury has played very well for a while now, and Ray Emery can't be particularly confident against the Penguins. His last three games against them (again, within the span of a month): 1) blew a 4-1, third period lead in a span of three minutes as the Pens went on to win in a shootout, 2) gave up three goals on only 19 shots, but kept his team in it all the way to a shootout, only to give up the decisive goal to Jarkko Ruutu of all people, and 3) allowing the game winning goal with 9.8 seconds left in regulation of a 3-2 loss. Some, if not all, of that will be in his head throughout this playoff series. Penguins in six.

Atlanta VS New York

Atlanta finished off the season playing solid, if unspectacular, hockey. There are large amounts of pressure on this team to finally do something with the talent they have. They have a chance against the Rangers, as their 3-1 record against them this year might indicate, although the two teams only played once after the All-Star break. We'll get to find out if a) those free -agent acquisitions were a good idea for Atlanta, b) if Jaromir Jagr has a bit more left in his tank, and if c) Sean Avery is able to ratchet up the intensity to playoff levels without taking anyone's head off. I say he does, and Atlanta goes home. Rangers in six

New Jersey VS Tampa Bay
Brodeur is the man, Johan Holmqvist and Marc Denis most definitely are not. The Devils are not a team that is intimidated by Tampa's incredible top line of Lecavalier and St. Louis, because they know if they stay within the system they will have no trouble shutting that line down, and there's no one else who can beat them on that Lightning squad. There will very likely be a lot of 1-0 and 2-1 games, but the Devils will move on. New Jersey in five.

So moving forward, I love my Penguins, but I don't think they're quite ready to hang with Buffalo in a seven game series. Buffalo advances in six games to the conference final and face a Devils team that mows through the Rangers in five games. However, the Devils meet their match, setting up a Buffalo-Vancouver cup, with a great goalie duel on tap every night and just enough scoring, speed, and physicality for non-stop excitement. Sabres in seven!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Peeping Tom

I thought with one week left in the season, I would take the time to look at both conferences and give you an idea of who has the chance to make it happen this postseason and who doesn't.

First I will start off by mentioning that most of the teams who have still have a chance to appear in the postseason suffer from one of a short list of fatal flaws: a lack of scoring depth, a lack of defensive depth, a lack of consistent goaltending, or an inability to perform on special teams (either scoring on or stopping the power play).

With that base to work from, let's start with the shorter list, the Western Conference. At this point, with everyone having six or seven games remaining, the only thing left to do is figure out the seeding and matchups - and, of course, whether Calgary or Colorado will sneak in as the eighth seed.

Who plays whom and where it happens may not seem like a big deal, but there's more to it than you think. Vancouver, Minnesota, Calgary and Anaheim all have notably better records at home than they do on the road - the more home ice time they get, the better.

Detroit Red Wings

Why they will win: They have an incredibly potent top line featuring the likes of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Niklas Lidstrom. Their #1 goalie, some guy by the name of Hasek, is arguably the best goalie in the league. They have proven they can get hot, with a 20-5-4 stretch from January 9th through March 14th that included 9 of a possible 10 points in five games against Nashville.

Why they won't win: It isn't that they don't have any ability, it's just that none of it is consistent. Detroit has gotten 108 goals, or 46.7% of their offensive production, from their top line, an obvious sign of that imbalance. The same is true in net, where Chris Osgood has had his days, but has been unable to play at a consistently high level filling in for Hasek, which is especially critical given Hasek's age (42!) and injury history.

Verdict: Detroit's best bet to run the table is if they stay where they are as a #4 seed. Doing so would give them a 67% chance of playing Minnesota or Dallas (whom they are 7-0-1 against this season) and a second round matchup against Nashville (whom they are 5-1-1 against). Granted, that means some vague form of tanking is necessary, which they are unlikely to do. So, Detroit will probably either finish second in the division and cruise to the conference finals, or win the division, go in against a heavy underdog in Calgary or Colorado, and barely make it out alive, if at all.

Anaheim Ducks

Why they will win: Teemu Selanne has rediscovered his scoring touch and leads a potent top line along with youngsters Travis Kunitz and Andy MacDonald, plus fellow veterans Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger. They even have a solid second line with two more 25-goal scorers. They have experience (afore-mentioned vets), above average defensive talent and depth, and a goalie who, like Selanne, has rediscovered the abilities that made him a name in the first place.

Why they won't win: Having two scoring lines is better than one, but they still get almost half their production from the top line, and only one player below those two lines has more than eight goals. They also have an o.k. but inconsistent backup goalie. Plus, that veteran presence also means older bodies that may tire a bit easier and get injured a bit easier.

Verdict: Some were worried about a mid-season swoon or complete collapse when the Ducks carried a 3-8-2 string into the All-Star break, but things are looking up, and the team has gone 17-8-4 since then, including four wins in their last five. On the other hand, they are only 4-3 in their last seven, including losses to LA and Phoenix. This team has become less consistent and more dependent on their top lines as the season has progressed, and their games against dead duck teams are keeping them alive right now. They're likely one and done no matter who they play.

Vancouver Canucks

Why they will win: This is one team that started clicking at the right time. The Canucks are a ridiculous 30-6-6 since Christmas, and may finally be pulling away from Minnesota to lock up the division. The team has a respectable scoring balance, with at least 10 players tallying 10+ goals. Roberto Luongo has rewarded the Canucks for bringing him in via trade by playing out of his mind, holding opponents to two goals or less 25 times in 39 games during that 42 game stretch.

Why they won't win: As good as Luongo has been, he still can be inconsistent in spurts. In the last five games, he has two shutouts, but has also given up 3+ goals twice, including the Canucks most recent game where he gave up three goals on only 18 shots. Aside from their two best wingers, the Sedin twins (+18) and their two best D-men (+19 and +13), no one else on the team rates better than a plus-6, which indicates a team that may be struggling below their top line a bit more than the standard statistics indicate.

Verdict: A team that is 28-18 in one-goal games likes to live on the edge a bit too much for my liking. They weren't particularly great against any of their potential first round opponents (7-5-4 against MIN, SJ, and DAL), so this could either way. Their success will (surprise!) likely hinge on the man between the pipes. Second round exit.

Nashville Predators

Why they will win: They have balance on offense, as shown by the nine (nearly ten) different players with 15+ goals, they are defensively sound (12 players with at least a +10 rating), and have a goaltending duo in Tomas Vokoun and Chris Mason that can be counted on regardless of who plays between the pipes (Vokoun: 39 starts, 24 wins, 2.40 GAA, .920 SPCT, 5SO - Mason: 37 starts, 24 wins, 2,40 GAA, .925 SPCT, 5SO). They have several dynamic offensive players that must be accounted for in Kariya, Forsberg, and Radulov.

Why they won't win: Their overall record is deceptive. They are only 12-8-4 since February 1st, including a measly 6-4 against non-playoff teams Chicago, Columbus, LA, Phoenix, and Edmonton. Take that a step further, and over the whole season, Nashville is 26-5-2 against those five teams, and a more modest 22-16-5 against the rest of the league. They also struggle on the man advantage, with a power play that ranks 13th in the league.

Verdict: Sure Nashville padded their record against several really crappy teams - so did every other top-five team in the conference; there's a reason why four of those five teams were scheduling tee times with more than a month left in the season. Most of Nashville's struggles have come against Detroit, a team that they are unlikely to face unless the make it to the conference final. I'll say that if Nashville holds on to the #1 spot, they'll mow through the first couple rounds and then get manhandled by Detroit in that conference final. If they don't? They face either Minnesota or Dallas in all likelihood, two teams they haven't been fabulous against, and then all bets are off.

San Jose Sharks

Why they will win: A truly balanced team, with 5 20-goal scorers and a total of 12 players with at least 10, They have veteran leadership (Marleau, Rivet, Guerin) and a genuine playmaker in Thornton. Vesa Toskala and Evgeni Nabokov have been their usual two-headed-monster selves in allowing the Sharks to not care who is in net from night to night. They are one of several "been here before" teams.

Why they won't win: In spite of adding Rivet and Guerin, Thornton is the player they really need to step up and lead, and he still shows no signs of doing it. Toskala has been good (two goals allowed or less in 15 of 19 games since Christmas) but not always (5+ goals three times - to Anaheim, St. Louis, and Phoenix), much like Nabokov.

Verdict: The Sharks had a huge mid-season swoon, going 19-17-2 in December, January, and February, but have recovered nicely with a 12-2-2 mark since March 1st. Things don't look good, since in spite of their surge, San Jose is only a combined 4-8-2 against their three most likely opponents (Anaheim, Vancouver, and Nashville). Welcome to first round shark steak.

Dallas Stars

Why they will win: Good offensive depth (10 players with 10+ G) and great goaltending from Marty Turco give the Stars a good shot at the Cup, and they even get an occasional great performance when their young backup goalie needs to step between the pipes.

Why they won't win: In spite of all that scoring depth, they don't really have a go-to guy; Jokinen is their only player who has passed the 20 goal plateau, and their leading point guy, Mike Ribiero, hasn't even hit 60 yet. That could mean a team truly good at sharing, or a team truly bad at creating scoring opportunities.

Verdict: A 22-6-5 stretch since mid January has returned the team from overall conference mediocrity to just mediocre compared to the other playoff teams. I think this is a team that struggles to create offensively, and Marty Turco has shown in the past, especially in the playoffs, that he can't handle being leaned on every single game without some offense to count on. One and done, Dallas fans.

Minnesota Wild

Why they will win: The hottest team in the conference not named the Canucks, the team from the Great White North hit a speed to finish off March, going 0-2-1 in games against Colorado and Calgary (slightly forgivable, since up to that point the team was 26-7-5 in '07 and had won nine straight, plus Calgary and Colorado are far more desperate right now). Marian Gaborik's return was the catalyst for the surge, posting 52 points in only 45 games. He also has elevated the games of those around him, most notably Pavol Demitra, Brian Rolston, and Pierre Marc-Bouchard, giving Minnesota several threats to be reckoned with.

Why they won't win: Another team without a ton of scoring depth, and their goaltending is good, but even on their best nights, neither Backstrom nor Fernandez can keep up with Giguere, Toskala, or Luongo without a little help from their friends. Gaborik is the only player on the team who really scares anybody.

Verdict: Perhaps the Wild's sudden stumble and offensive slump (three goals in those three games) signal Minnesota running out of gas from trying to keep pace with Vancouver? Sure, Gaborik is fresh, but the rest of the team may not be. For their sake, let's hope that they can find one last charge. Their matchups are insteresting, since the team has played Dallas, Anaheim, and San Jose a total of twice (both against DAL) since Gaborik returned. I'll be frisky and pick em to move on IF they play Anaheim.

Calgary Flames

Why they will win: Sheer dumb luck? Calgary had an awful second week of March, going 1-4-1 with their lone win against St. Louis, but have since won six in a row (five by one goal) and can finally clinch the eighth and final playoff spot with a win tonight. Jarome Iginla, Kristian Huselius (an apparently brilliant FA addition) and Daymon Langkow give the Flames three 30-goal scorers and legitimate at-all-times offensive threats. Miika Kiprusoff has had some bad nights, but still notched 40 wins and is one of the best in the conference.

Why they won't win: Considering their recent erratic play (and two games left against Colorado), don't assume they even get in. It's great they have three 30-goal guys, but that's cancelled out by the fact that they all play on the first line. Calgary has two more 20-goal guys on the second line and nobody else with more than 9 goals. That lack of offensive versatility, plus a defense that is a paper wall other than Dion Phaneuf and Robyn Regher, leads to a number of all-or-nothing nights.

Verdict: All that said, this is a dangerous team. If they can sneak in, and somehow pull a first round matchup with Nashville, they'll win a series. Otherwise? Douse these Flames 'til next season, chief.

Colorado Avalanche

Why they will win: A true offensive balance - 90 goals from their top line, 75 from the second line, and 45 from the third line. They truly can get one behind your goalie with anyone. Veteran leadership from Joe Sakic, an incredible rookie season from Paul Stastny, and a respectable sophomore effort from Wojtek Wolski have this team on a roll at the right time.

Why they won't win: They can win out and still not make the playoffs. I am absolutely not ruling out the possibility, since this team is 12-1-2 in their last 15 games, and they have two games left against the team they need to catch (Calgary). Unfortunately, this streak has had them winning a number of low-scoring and/or one goal games, and the fact that Petr Budaj has only started 50 times is a testament to his inability to be an everyday goalie (yet?).

Verdict: In spite of possible exhaustion, this team is the hottest in the league right now, and I assure you no one, especially Nashville or Detroit, wants to face them. IF they can keep their streak alive, and IF Budaj doesn't wear down, forcing them to rely on Joke-se Theodore, they make make it out of the first round, but that's about it. This team has expended too much energy playing catch-up to go far in the post season.

Later...the Eastern Conference...

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Fine Wine

That's what this is, people. I can't do every day recaps or I might dilute the quality of what goes on here...o.k., not really, just in the middle of another 70 hour week, but last night was a short and painful hockey night, so i figured I'd humor you all with a recap...
It was indeed a slow night, with only two games played, and a whopping six goals scored in those games. Our mighty Pens played again tonight, and were understandably sluggish, playing their fifth game in seven days. I cringed every time they made the reference, but this game for the Pens really was a lot like watching a Rocky movie, just hoping they could hold out against the Rangers' barrage of shots, knowing that if they could, they would be able to pull one more rabbit out of their hat.
Things started out rather slowly, with neither team registering a goal, or even taking a penalty throughout 18 shots worth of first period action. The second period was much busier, and the Rangers had their chances, including three power plays for their 5th ranked unit, but were still unable to capitalize against an obviously overmatched Penguins team. The Rangers outshot Pittsburgh 19-5 in the period, but also had two separate instances where they drew a penalty, then took a penalty before the ref blew the whistle to stop play and cancelled out a prospective power play.
It seemed as though the Pens had weathered the worst the Rangers could muster, but just 47 seconds into the third period, the Rangers nabbed a garbage goal and got the first lead of the game, 1-0. Their necessary desperate attitude had finally paid off, and the Pens were done. Or were they? The Rangers got a little lazy on the backcheck, and before you knew it, pucks wound up in unusual places:

Lundquist briefly forgets where he left the puck, leading to a tie game

After that, you could tell New York was in a huff. They had worked their butts off, outshooting the Pens 40-19 at that point, had skated circles around them for large chunks of the game, and had nothing to show for it but a 1-1 tie. It was certainly looking like the Pens would manage to sneak out of New York with a point that they may or may not have earned, when suddenly Jagr used the only move he has left, and by dumb luck discovered Rob Scuderi's skate in front of the net, for Scuderi's 6th Own Goal of the season. Final tally: Rangers 2, Pens 1.

"Wow, man, we didn't blow a game against the Pens! Someday we'll be a real team..."

I had several thoughts after this game. On the downside, it would have been nice to keep the newest streak going, and it was rough to see that streak ended by Jagr doing the same damn move he had been doing all night, with the only difference being that Scuderi, for whatever reason, wasn't in a position to receive the puck on his stick and clear the zone. Plus, having it happen when we were 34 seconds away from getting at least one point (and perhaps two, considering the timeout we would have gotten before OT) was extra frustrating. On the plus side, though, I can't be too mad, because the Pens are still 8-2-1 in March, only two points behind New Jersey with nine games left for both teams, and check out how they stack up against the rest of the league since January 12th - a rather arbitrary, yet useful date:

Pittsburgh 23 - 5 - 3
Ottawa 17 - 4 - 6
Jersey 18 - 7 - 4
Tampa Bay 17 - 9 - 2
Buffalo 15 - 9 - 4
Rangers 14 - 9 - 5
Islanders 13 - 8 - 7
Florida 14 - 8 - 4
Toronto 14 - 9 - 4
Atlanta 15 - 12 - 2
Boston 14 - 15 - 1
Carolina 12 - 11 - 4
Philadelphia 9 - 12 - 7
Montreal 11 - 17 - 1
Washington 7 - 16 - 6

Vancouver 20-4-5
Minnesota 20-5-4
Detroit 18-6-4
Nashville 18-9-3
Colorado 18-10-3
Dallas 17-6-4
San Jose 15-10-4
Calgary 14-10-6
Anaheim 13-9-5
St. Louis 15-8-5
Los Angeles 9-11-8
Columbus 12-15-2
Chicago 10-14-4
Edmonton 9-18-3
Phoenix 8-19-2

The Pens are the best team in the league over the last nine weeks, and one of only four teams in the Eastern Conference to win more than half their games over that span (the others being the other top four seeds). Suffice it to say, this team is way ahead of schedule on the growth and rebuilding plan. Can't wait for that 2011 All-Star game!

One other game, where the best team in the West right now, Vancouver, got yet another stellar performance from Roberto Luongo (and people actually doubted that trade) for a 2-1 win over Edmonton, extending Edmonton's streak to 0-10-1 and officially, officially eliminating them from playoff contention.

Another important and busy night tonight: Boston and FLorida head to Montreal and Philly, trying to keep climbing back into the hunt for the 8th seed; the Islanders and Devils head to Tampa and Toronto trying to keep their playoff trains from derailing; andOttawa takes a field trip to St. Louis, trying to find a team that won't make Emery look like a fool.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Game Important. Me Watch.

Here we go, one of those "how far have we really come" games. The Penguins stay at home tonight to take on the Buffalo Sabres, the best team in the Eastern Conference. You may think this will be a very difficult game, with only a glimmer of hope (from having beaten Buffalo last time we played them).

However, at a closer look, there are many things going for the Penguins headed into this match up. Much like the game against Ottawa, both Pittsburgh and Buffalo are completely different teams from the last time they played. Consider the following:

  1. When the calendar turned over to 2007, the Sabres were 28-7-3, and had scored at least four goals in 23 of 38 games. Since then, they are 16-12-2, and have only scored 4+ goals 10 times in 30 games.
  2. Buffalo's four leading scorers are Daniel Briere, Thomas Vanek, Maxim Afinogenov, and Chris Drury. Briere has three points in his last six games; Vanek has one point in his last four games; Drury has four points in his last nine games (including none, and a -3, in three games since The Hit); and in the most telling statistic of all, Afinogenov has missed Buffalo's last 10 games, but is still third on the team with 57 points.
  3. The previously high-powered Buffalo offense managed 36 shots, but only one goal, against Minnesota's backup goalie (some kid named Harding) two games ago.
  4. Buffalo has been slowing down month by month:
  • in October, they were 10-0-1, outscoring their opponents 53-29
  • in November, the Sabres posted a 9-3-1 record while outscoring the other team 52-42
  • in December, a 9-4-1 record by a margin of 47-37 (mostly on the strength of winning their last three December games by a combined 14-5 score)
  • in January, a 6-7-1 record while outscoring their opponents 45-44 (thanks to a 7-1 end of month win)
  • in February, an improvement back to an 8-2-1 record and a 43-31 goal scoring edge (again helped by a 6-1 win in the last game of the month)

So there's another interesting trend. In each of the last three months, Buffalo has won the last game of the month, by a combined score of 17-3. Remove those three games, and Buffalo's goal differential goes from 135-112 to 118-109 (which points to a team that has been far more lucky than good, especially lately).

All this points to a team that was hot early, but has not been significantly better than the Pens over the last few months. Add to that the possible energy surge that the home fans (and, subsequently, the Pens) might get from a pregame announcement of a new arena deal, and the boys in black and gold could run rampant over the Sabres, picking up a little ground in the standings while they're at it.

Other games to worry about: Florida heads to Carolina to keep the 'Canes off our backs and themselves in the hunt...Ottawa takes on a Rangers team that hasn't lost to anyone but the Pens in two weeks...the Islanders head north to Montreal, where Montreal hopes to stop the bleeding...also heading north are the Lightning, looking to reclaim the division lead from Atlanta with a win in Toronto...Detroit and Nashville duke it out once again for breathing room atop the Western Conference...Vancouver attempts to keep their division lead at home against Minnesota...and San Jose an Dallas get a chance to beat up on Philly and Chicago to gain points in the standings.

Don't Call It a Comeback

No, seriously, don't. I was gone briefly, the employment world required a 70 hour work week from me. However, the Jack is back, and we must review everything that took place last night in the hockey world.
OK, not everything, I'm not going to discuss the playoff-irrelevant Phoenix/Philly game, except to mention that Philly's offense was SO incredibly lame-duck that they were shut out by a goalie who gave up five goals in five minutes in his previous outing. Ahh, Flyer fans, the road ahead is long and winding.
On to some games that people give a crap about...
~I think it is safe to rule Washington completely out of the playoff picture now. Atlanta got off to a bit of a sluggish start, doing just a bit of standing around and watching:

Everyone anxiously waits for Mike Green to do something, anything

In spite of their rather lackluster start, they managed to tally twice and take a 2-1 lead into the second. Not much took place in the second, as Atlanta tallied the lone goal in the second, embarrassing Brent Johnson so badly he decided to pull his groin, and himself, from the game. Welcome...Frederick Cassivi?
Perhaps this was the motivation Washington needed, as Ovechkin tallied his second goal of the game (and 41st of the season) 96 seconds into the third to cut the score to 3-2...or perhaps there was other mojo at work:

Green has emergency LASIK surgery in an attempt to up his offensive game

All was for naught, however, as Atlanta scored one more to put the game away, 4-2. Washington has now lost eight in a row and stands 16 points out of a playoff spot with 12 games left. that a fork sticking out of Ovechkin?

~Out West, Edmonton did an even worse job. They, too, are in a position where they need every point possible to keep themselves sniffing any playoff-scented air, and went into last night playing the West's worst, the LA Kings. The night began briskly, as Noah Clarke led off withhis first career goal and some witty banter:

"Dude, you really need to get rid of that stubble, people might think you're Jagr"

Later in the first, things started looking more like a typical Kings game, as LA gave up a breakaway on their own power play to perennial All-Star Toby Petersen:

Garon humming to "Dancing Queen" on his i-Pod instead of doing his job

Unfortunately, that was to be Edmonton's lone highlight of the night. Some tool named Brad Winchester picked a couple of fights, Los Angeles got a couple of power play goals (with almost all the points coming from Cammalleri, Blake and Visnovsky) and before you knew it, the game was over and LA had a 5-1 victory in the bag.

Edmonton has now lost eight in a row, including five in a row to start a month for the first time in franchise history. They are now 18 points out with 12 to play, and I think I see another dead duck in the road.

~Last, but certainly not least, an exciting (if not entirely relevant) game in Central USA between Calgary and St. Louis. Calgary came out hopping, and it showed, as they out shot St. Louis 29-19, went 2-for-5 on the power play, and received some incredible goal tending from Mikka Kiprusoff to build up a 4-2 lead with just under 14 minutes remaining in the game:

Kiprusoff just barely denies a suddenly en fuego Brad Boyes

It wouldn't last long, though, as St. Louis put together a sudden barrage. a mere 32 seconds later, Petr Cajanek cut the score to 4-3, and St. Louis then tied it up at 4-4, pulling out every trick in their bag:

Barret Jackman attempts to hit Kiprusoff right in his bag of tricks

St. Louis ran out of mojo after that, failing to capitalize on an OT power play, and then eventually surrendering the second point to Calgary in the shootout. Calgary maintains their 10 point lead over Colorado for the final spot out West, and is only one point out of fifth.

St. Louis may finish the season with a rather unimpressive record, but you heard it here first, folks. Watch out for St. Louis next year. They are now 22-12-7 since Andy Murray took over as head coach (a very impressive record regardless of who they have or haven't played), they acquired what appears to be a very underrated forward in Brad Boyes (eight points in six games since the trade), they have a ton of picks in this year's draft and next, and they have some defenseman named Johnson who is about ready to arrive. Those who said they would be good soon were right on the money.

Next up for the Pens? Boofallo at home, and a preview from me (since it's quite the important game).

Monday, March 5, 2007

I Like New York in June...

How about you? A fourth night in a row for the venerable Jack to bring you a recap game. Oh, and what a game it was. You get your choice tonight:

A) The game was beyond photographic description, and there is no video available for the parts that need describing

B) there were seven damn photos of the game, and they all sucked.

Yeah, actually, those are both true. Rick DiPietro stood on his freaking head making fifty-six saves tonight for the Islanders (for those of you keeping track at home, that's $1,147.96 per save in the bank for lil' Ricky).

Unfortunately, all that flying rubber appeared to intimidate the Islanders, who only managed a measly 30 shots in a 2-1 shootou loss.

Thanks to the Rangers for keeping them Islanders at bay, giving Rick DiPietro a workout, and playing a game so boring, AP didn't even feel like taking good pictures. WOW.

What's on tap then?

Pens fans, you will obviously be rooting for your own team, off to the Great Northern Beyond to take on the Senators and attempt to pull even for that #4 seed.

You will also *ugh* be rooting for the Flyers to pull off a friggin miracle and manage to at least keep the Devils from getting both points.

You can begin your regular rooting for the Panthers and Capitals, as they look to deny Atlanta and Toronto, respectively, from earning two more points.

And if you stay up late, feel free to root loudly for the Canucks, who will hopefully show the Lightning how it's really done.