4.06.2010

The (Current) Playoff Picture

Happy Easter everyone!  Hope you all enjoyed your long-weekend and didn't get too sick on chocolates!  I have been on chocolate probation so no choco for moi!

But even if there was Easter, there was still the ever looming picture/pressure of the NHL playoffs.  Yeah, there are also the NBA playoffs, but I'm not all into that.

What would happen if the playoffs started in the next two days without any more games to play?  Who would be playing who?  And who do I think would be the more likely candidate to continue on?


Currently, the standings look like this in the Eastern Conference:
1. Washington Capitals
2. New Jersey Devils
3. Buffalo Sabres
4. Pittsburgh Penguins
5. Ottawa Senators
6. Montreal Canadiens
7. Boston Bruins
8. Philadelphia Flyers

Eastern matchup #1Washington Capitals vs. Philadelphia Flyers (home ice advantage: Washington)
Who will win?  Washington Capitals

Why? 
The Capitals aren't number 1 in the NHL for no apparent reason.  Even without Alex Ovechkin, they've found ways to win.  There's scoring depth (at least amongst their top three lines).  We can't forget that the Capitals first line consists of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Knuble, and their second line has Brooks Laich, Alex Semin, Tomas Fleishmann.  Scoring depth?  I think so!

The Capitals also have an offensive presence in their defencemen.  What is the first thought that comes to mind when one says 'Mike Green'?  No, not mohawk!  Big scoring!  Not only can the Caps cover their end of the ice, but even their defence can score!

But ultimately, it comes down to the net.  Last post-season, their downfall was goaltending.  Now in this match-up, it isn't so much of a problem.  Philly has been having issues in net all season!  Their closest thing to stability in net is Brian Boucher!  And even then it ain't looking all too good for them (unless some miracle happens between the end of the regular season and the start of the post-season).

Jose Theodore - I don't know.  I've always been iffy about this man that pronounces the 'J' in his name.  He's let in some questionable goals and sometimes he fails to come big for USA's capital city.
Semyon Varlamov - I like, but not that much more than Jose.  He has proved to us last post-season that he can play playoff hockey.  But that glove-side = his weak side!  Something that he defintely needs to work on if he wants to carry the Caps past the first round (or two) when it comes down to him.

Eastern matchup #2: New Jersey Devils vs. Boston Bruins (home ice advantage: New Jersey)

Who will win?  Boston Bruins

Why?
Even though the Devils are the higher ranked team, it doesn't matter to me.  Boston appears to be the team more battle-ready.  And I can say that the Bs look as if they have the better goalie in net.  Now I don't care if you have Pascal Leclair or Martin Brodeur in net; the goalie in net for the NJDs isn't looking so good.  If Brodeur continues playing the way he is, he isn't going to win another cup no matter how much talent he's got in front of him.

For Boston, if their star players continue playing like they are stars, then scoring shouldn't be a major problem.  It's the defence that might be slightly questionable.  Sure, they got Zdeno Chara, but that's just one in 6 defencemen.  There are gaps in their D, but those cracks and gaps can be fixed with the right handyman.

Eastern matchup #3: Buffalo Sabres vs. Montreal Canadiens (home ice advantage: Buffalo)

*DISCLAIMER* Biasness is sinking its claws into me on this one.  Just to warn y'all.

Who?  Montreal Canadiens (but it'll probably be a 7-game series)

Why?
Because they are a new Habs team from last playoffs. Jacques Martin looks like he's picking Jaroslav Halak to be in net, and Halak has no problem about that.  Halak is hot - and I ain't talking about appearances.  In net, Halak has this confidence that seems to just squeeze through his pores.

Offence: check.  Though they are small, they are speedy.  With scoring in the top two lines, the Habs can find fire power in their top two lines and some unsuspecting snipers in their third.

But if Ryan Miller plays like he did at the Olympics, and Tyler Myers plays like the amazing rookie that the NHL is seeing him as, the Habs aren't looking at an easy task.  It's going to need 100% effort and some extra elbow-grease to get those goals, and Halak will have to step up an extra 3 steps on his ladder to keep those pucks out of the Montreal net.

All I'm near-about certain about is it'll probably take all 7 games to complete the series.

Eastern matchup #4: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Ottawa Senators (home ice advantage: Pittsburgh)

Who?  Pittsburgh Penguins

Why?
As we saw last playoffs and the year before that, this Penguins team can do a lot.  Even if Crosby isn't as "high and mighty" as the media makes him out be, all of the forwards can score and gets shots on net; this season has shown that.  And defence takes care of itself.

Goaltending, again, kinda iffy.  This is defintely not the same Marc-André Fleury from last year, but a different one.  I don't know if he can step up this season's game into an extra level of playoff hockey, but he'll have the first round to prove that.

Senators have a chance at upsetting the Pens, but if scoring sputters out again and Brian Elliott is rocky, then I don't think they can look forward to playing past the first round.

Western Conference standings:
1) San Jose Sharks
2) Chicago Blackhawks
3) Vancouver Canucks
4) Phoenix Coyotes
5) Nashville Predators
6) Detroit Red Wings
7) LA Kings
8) Colorado Avalanche

Western matchup #1: San Jose Sharks vs. Colorado Avalanche (home ice: San Jose)

Who?  Colorado Avalanche

Why?
Let me bring your attention to last year's playoffs: San Jose Sharks vs. Anaheim Ducks.  Who won that?  Anaheim.  And the Sharks had the most points in the NHL that season!  The Sharks, or Evgeni Nabokov, have a history of hitting a big slump in April/May.  And the Avs have the 2nd underdog story of the season in Craig Anderson and their young team.

But the Sharks have a monster top line in Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, and Dany Heatley.  We saw what they did in the Olympics.  Then again, that was a star-studded cast.

The Avs have the richest team of youth.  Matt Duchene is currently the rookie with the most points and their latest trade acquisition Peter Mueller (I love saying his last name!) has been everything they traded for (Wojtek Wolski).  They can work the puck, they don't get tired as easily, and they can travel north and south of the rink.  Can't forget the on-ice intelligence the young boys have.

Western matchup #2: Chicago Blackhawks vs. LA Kings (home ice: Chicago)

Who?  Chicago Blackhawks

Why?
They've learned from last year's meeting with the Red Wings.  They may still be young, but they have the attitude of potential winners.  But (and it's a big 'but'), there is a big problem of the net.  Cristobal Huet: not so great.  He may be the top goalie for them, but he ain't looking so tight!  Antti Niemi: better, but not by much.

That aside, they have great defensive and offensive capabitliy.  With their huge D with great puck-handling and play-making skills, mix that with the offensive capability the Blackhawks have wrangled, those are some dangerous skaters.  LA Kings do have an advantage with the net, but can Jonathan Quick be as quick as his name and stops those lightning shots?

Western matchup #3: Vancouver Canucks vs. Detroit Red Wings (home ice: Vancouver)

*Disclaimer* I am deeply puzzled by this.  And am going to flip a coin for the winner.  Explanation will show my shifty-ness.

Who?  Detroit Red Wings

Why?
I don't know.  But I can tell you what each team has and doesn't have!

Detroit: Playoff experience (look at those last two runs!) and the best post-Olympics record out of all NHL teams.  But Jimmy Howard has never played an NHL playoff game - EVER!  Up front, though, there's so many threats.  Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Franzen, Holmstrom, Betuzzi - those are just some of the new household names.  They have grit, defensive capabilities, offensive power, and damn can they back check!  And if their defence stays as solid as it has been, keeping pucks out of their end isn't a big issure for them.

Vancouver: Two names - Henrik Sedin and Roberto Luongo.  Both a winning and losing formula.  If Luongo isn't in his A-game mind-state, who they hell knows what'll happen!  I mean that!  If you haven't noticed, post-Olympics, Louie hasn't been so amazing.  Collapsing late in the game and letting weak ones in, and once that week one gets in, he lets that build up and let's another in.

If our lines play as they have a majority of their season, we're looking good for the future.  Top line is arguably one of the best lines in the NHL.  Daniel Sedin-Henrik Sedin-Alex Burrows sounds like a dandy bunch to find the back of the net.  If they don't, they'll get just as much ice time.  They'll tire out the top Detroit defenders and leave the not-so-top-gun ones for the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th lines (who can create some pretty magical chances).

Second line: Pavol Demitra-Ryan Kesler-Michael Grabner will probably be it or Mikael Samuelsson instead of Demo.  Either way, the line's got SPEED!  And all three/four can find the back of the net easily!

Third line: Mason Raymond-Kyle Wellwood-Jannik Hansen (or Tanner Glass), a good solid line.  They've got speed, skill, and aggressiveness.  Especially with the newly confident Welly, this line is destined for some good goals!

Fourth line: Darcy Hordichuk-Rick Rypien-Ryan Johnson (if his foot heals up).  I like!  We've seen the chances this match-up can create!  No one suspects them, but they can pack the heat!

Defence: once we get all healthy all worries I have can be tossed out the window.  But if Ehrhoff stays out... I'm kinda scared.  Yes, I make it seem like it's made of one person, but it kinda is!

Western matchup #4: Phoenix Coyotes vs. Nashville Predators (home ice: Phoenix)

BETCHA WEREN'T EXPECTING THAT!

Who?  Phoenix Coyotes

Why?
Simply, I like their story.  Being the underdog story of the SEASON, it's great to see them where they are right now.  But I do have viable reasons as to why.

Phoenix is red hot.  The Yotes have good net presence, good offence and great skill up front!  They look good with the puck and they can get shots on net.  When the pressure burners pressed up against their backs, they can cool off with some good scoring.

But there is an issue they have: the Nashville defence.  I like the Preds' blueline.  They're large, in charge, and know how to strip you of the puck and score.  I like that from them.  And I like how they've got size, speed, intelligence, and grit.  Though staying out of the sin bin might be a bit of a task.

There you go!   Makes it all a bit interesting, eh?

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