I never thought I'd be analyzing a Flames second round playoff series in October. I knew we were trending up, but wow, what a development year. And, Like I've said all season, thats what its about, we are developing and win or lose, in the long term we are winning because we have drafted well and are only just seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of the success our prospects can expect down the line. Much like Winnipeg will soon be reaping the benefits of good drafting, finding gems in the rough through trades and free agents.
Anyhow, onto the series. Overview, I totally expected Winnipeg to beat Anaheim, simply riding on their momentum, size, and young naivety. But, Anaheim swept em, now, that doesnt tell the whole story, anyone who watched the series knows that it was extremely close each game. Two years down the line when the Jets are a little more developed and finely rounded, they will be much more dominant. Anyhow, Anaheims time is now, there star/core players are all at or nearing 30, their window will be open for maybe another 2 seasons tops after this one. So they are hungry, and will be playing as such.
Calgary, how did they get here, well they played as a team through the season, batled through gobs of injuries and call ups, and managed to get into the playoffs. Against Vancouver they rode a wave of momentum built from the excitement of making the playoffs along with a little sprinkle of just about everything you need to win a series. They were able to win a road game, they got solid goaltending, they didnt get hurt, they banged away and created chances on the forcheck, and now, here they are competing with Anaheim.
Goaltending: Barring the bad game 6 start, which could have happened to anyone, Hiller played stunning lights out hockey for Calgary in the first round. One thing I noticed as the series progressed, was that, Hiller, catching with the wrong hand, forced alot of players to take their shots a little differently to try to go blocker high on him, which, I think threw a couple of players off. Hiller also carries with him that grudge factor, playing against his former team, which, even though he doesnt need it, could give him the inspiration to grab the next gear up. Im fairly sure Hartley will go with Hiller, but, should he choose Ramo, that would be fine too, Ramo played amazing hockey down the stretch, and I wouldnt mind seeing either goalie in, although it will likely be Hiller.
As far as the Ducks go, Andersen is young, he played good eneough against the Jets, but he is not a legit #1 goalie in the NHL in my eyes, not yet anyways. Advantage: Calgary
Defense: Anaheims defense, as I mentioned in my entry on them in the first round, is, at best, average. That said Cam Fowler played a strong series against Winnipeg, and of course Boucheman is a solid shut down guy. The Flames will be without Giordano, despite the fact that he's skating again he's still a ways away from a return, so Brodie, Russel and Wideman will have to be munching up minutes like mad. Engelland really stepped up in the Vancouver series, normally I don't want to see him more then 10 minutes a game, but, without Gio, and with our D prospects not ready to step in full time, I don't mind him playing 20 minutes a game. He's big, and can get some good hits in on Anaheims big forwards. Brodie and Russel are young, Brodie especially, so they will no doubt be able to keep their energy up, as for Wideman, well time will tell. Overall I give Calgary a very very slight advantage, only because I really don't think Anaheim have much of a D core.
Offense(Forwards): Well Ill come right out and say it, Anaheim has a clear advantage here, Getzlaf and Perry are two of the best in the game, Kesler is a great playoff performer. Anaheim is deep at the forward position, they have clutch guys, they defanetly have the advantage, especially when you take into account that Monahan is playing hurt. Monahan, Johnny and Bennett will no doubt have their day as a feared trio, but being as they are 20,21 and 18 respectivly, they simply can't match the top 3 on Anaheim in terms of experience. Hudler will have to lead them by example. In order for Calgary to stand a snow balls chance in you know where, they are going to have to play physical and try to get into Anaheims head. Ferland will have to continue at his frantic hitting pace, if we get a healthy Bouma back this would be a huge uplift. If Calgary can find a way to limit Getzlaf and Perry, while getting by Kesler, they have a small chance at advancing, but thats a tall order.
Calgary MUST figure out a way to win 1 in the Honda Center, I don't know if this is a mental thing or what, but they have to get over it and take either game 1 or 2. Coming back to the Dome I think the momentum will give them a victory or 2 in the first 4 games.
Series Prediction: Well, I purposely didnt predict a winner when I posted my Calgary/Vancouver write up, superstition I guess, so I won't post a prediction here. Ill say this though, 6 games.
Well the West is all set up for the second round. Im gonna start by discussing Chicago and Minnesota's series. Both beat their first round opponent, as I predicted they would in my previous entries. An overview, I only caught one game in the Minny series, but to me, St. Louis looks alot like this generations San Jose from 02-12ish. All season no playoffs. Anyhow Minny made it by them fairly slick. Chicago and Nashville, went a game longer then I predict, but anyone who was watching this series could see that Chicago was laying back more or less. They knew they would win easy, and they did, well, they'll have to grab that next gear now though to get by Minny.
Goaltending: Head to Head Minny wins, Dubnyk carried his phenomenal regular season play with him into round one meanwhile Chicago had a few goalie changes against the Preds. Dubnyk gives Minnesota the obvious goaltending advantage.
Defense: Ryan Suter and the supporting Minnesota D core are a great group and can strangle any high powered offense, but at the end of the day Kieth and Seabrook have done this before, they know what it takes, they have two rings. Top 6 to Top 6 these D cores are pretty even, Chicago's can chip in alot more offense, while Minnys can choke alot of offense out of the opponent. This category is pretty close, but Im still giving Chicago the edge.
Offense: Toews/Kane/Hossa/Sharp. Doesnt get any better then that for a playoff team. Let the Crosby's and Ovechkins have the regular season trophies, these 4 guys find ways to grab another gear time and time again. They are in their prime now, and while Minnesota's frusterating neutral zone trap will be a headache for them, these guys and the supporting cast will find ways to bang home goals. Advantage, Chicago. Now thats not to discredit Minny, they have some clutch guys, and they can roll 4 lines no problem.
Series prediction. This will be a long series, likely 7 games. Expect alot of back and forth in momentum, Chicago maybe blows em out one game, and Minny storms back and beats them the next two, stuff like that.
In the end the Hawks are just winners straight up, and will take this series in 7.
Minnesota vs St Louis, this first round match up is, in my opinion one of the toughest to predict.
The Wild are more and more reminding me of the LA Kings, no, not the LA Kings that missed the playoffs this season, the one that Dominate from 2012-2014. The way the teams are structured and their style of play are similar, as well they are both built quite similar in terms of players.
Lets start with the key points for Minnesota:
Goaltending: Dubnyk. I've watched alot of Dubnyk since his days in Edmonton and on. If you look through my post history Im sure you'll notice that Ive mentioned more then a few times that his lack of success in Edmonton(and Arizona for that matter) in no way reflect on him. His underlying numbers, great positioning and size have always made him look like a pretty solid goaltender. Behind the porous Edmonton defense, and the lack of team structure there, he did pretty darn well all things considered. Im sure you could plug Pekka Rinne, Bobby Lou, or any other top goalie into that Edmonton line up of a few seasons ago, and they would'nt see much better success themselves. Now Im not saying Dubnyk is on par with those mentioned names, but I am saying he is a better goalie then his previous reputation lead most to believe. The goaltending advantage weighs heavily in Minnesota's advantage in this series.
Defense: Ryan Suter is a true #1 Elite Dman in the NHL. He is just a notch below Doughty, who was a huge factor in both of LA's cups. A Dman that can eat up 30 minutes a game and shut down all of the top offense of the league is indispensable for a cup run. Beyond him, Leopold plays a solid shut down game, and Dumba is on the rise, albeit still a bit of a liability in my opinion. Overall the Defense edge goes to St.Louis, but Ryan Suter can and will be a difference maker in this series. The remaining defenders on the Wild play a very similar style to the remaining defenders on the cup winning Kings after Doughty. They play well enough to shut down speedy players and slow the game right down, clog up the neutral zone, block shots, and transition the puck up ice.
Offense: The Wilds forward core, again comparing the the cup winning Kings, is structured very similar. Vanek and Parise can provide the key goals, while Granlund plays a great two way game coupled with the ability to chip in points, Pomminvile and Neiderreiter are also very capable secondary producers, and the group as a whole plays a frustrating trap system, and are a solid puck possesion team.
St Louis Key Points:
Goaltending: Elliot and Allen are both still pretty fresh in the league, and both are young for their respective positions. Both have looked steady all season, but post season is a whole different ball game. Minnesota does not have any particularly over the top dangerous forwards(ie Kane, Stamkos, Crosby) style players to have to worry about, but they get up close in the opposing goalies face, they screen well and bang in garbage goals. As mentioned the goaltending advantage is clearly in Minny's favour.
Defense: This is where St. Louis really shines, with one of the best, if not the best well rounded top 4 D in the league, St. Louis has the advantage of having a crew of guys who play fantastic two way hockey, can provide plenty of offense, make excellant breakout passes, and play strong along the boards. They have 3 Dmen who are more then capable of running a power play, and their entire top 4 can kill penalties and play strong in all 3 zones.
Offense: The additon of Stastny and even Olli Jokinen will be a big difference this year over last years blues. The Blues can easily roll four lines that can all score. They lack, however, the size in the forward group needed to play Minny's trap game. They will have to find a way to get out of the neutral zone and into the offensive zone. Their defense should be able to help with breakouts and outlet passes.
To summarize, while the St. Louis blues look good on paper, and have an elite D core, I think the overall team game Minny plays will be the deciding factor here. I predict this series to go 6 or 7, with Minny taking the ticket to the second round.
My Third Round 1 Breakdown, Winnipeg Jets vs Anaheim Ducks.
First I'll be blunt and say that I would be surprised if Winnipeg didn't win this series. Needless to say Ill discuss the key factors for both teams entering this series.
Team Scope: Finishing atop the Pacific Division was an impressive feat, but it was also expected by most analysts at the beginning of the season. The major improvement Anaheim has made, which is all to familiar for Canuck fans, was the addition of Ryan Kesler in the offseason. While Keslers season stats and play was average, he is a known playoff performer. He will no doubt bolster the Ducks shutdown, power play, and secondary scoring, I consider him secondary after the big two. Anaheim does, however, have some glaring holes in the team. Defense being a major question mark. With no real standout #1 Dman, or even top pairing, the Ducks will need to rely heavily on the back checking of their forward core. Goaltending is another obvious question mark. Both of Anaheims goalies played well this season, but both are inexperienced and young. With a lack of superior defense, and questionable goaltending, this makes for a bad combo. Anaheim is at risk to get exposed, especially during a 7 game series as the Jets become familiar with the Ducks weakness at these two positions, they will find ways to put the puck in the net.
Offense is not at all a weakness for Anaheim, Getzlaf and Perry have both won a cup with this team. That first line is big, skilled, and nasty to play against. This is where Anaheim will need these guys to play A+ from the first puck drop of game one. Kesler will no doubt provide many chances and probably a clutch goal or two during the series as well. Beyond the big names however, Anaheim will need some of their depth players to step up and contribute if they are to stand a chance against Winnipeg. The Ducks top players will be punished throughout each game by Winnipegs big, heavy and quick defense squad. Both of these teams are grinder type, bang in the garbage goal type teams. Neither play a particularly strong breakout game, and rely heavily on cycling and puck possession. Down low I think that Anaheims forwards will have trouble with the smother defense from Winnipeg.
Coaching: Bruce Boudreau is a fine coach, but I still consider him lower on the experience scale. He has not taken Washington any further then the second round, albeit the Ducks are a better overall team then the Capitals were during his regime in Washington. I think Paul Maurice will outcoach Boudreau during this series.
Team Scope: Winnipeg has manged to take an Atlanta team that had some good prospects in the system, but were largely underdeveloped, and work on their game bringing out their strengths and confidence. Coupled with some good acquisitions and solid drafting of late, the Jets have managed to build a deep team at all positions, with goaltending being the exception, however both Pavelec and Hutchinson have had fantastic breakout seasons. While my overall take on the Jets is that, due to their phenomenal prospect pool, they will be among the most dominant team in the league in a very short time, likely 2-3 seasons tops. I put them in the same boat as the Flames, in that, this year they are overachieving, but are showing that the potential is there, and as this young squad gains experience and enters their prime, they will be dominant. Back to this season. The Jets played hard and outworked most of the teams in the league to gain their playoff berth. This will be a huge contributing factor to what I believe will be a first round success. They will ride the momentum of a great season into the playoffs, and through relentless hard work and heart, they will be able to conquer their first round opponent.
Home Games: Although Anaheim has the home ice advantage, each game in Winnipeg will be electric. Their fan base ranks among the top of the league ever since the team was returned to the fine city of Winnipeg. The fans have endured some heartbreaks such as players making it no secret that they had no desire to live in the Peg(cough Kane), and as such have had trouble attracting big name free agents as well. The fans put this aside and cheered loud and hard for the team, even during those first few losing seasons. Watching the Jets play at home you can absolutely feel the team feeding off the fans. Intensify this by about 100X for playoff hockey. I would be surprised if Anaheim wins a game in Winnipeg.
Defense: As mentioned above, Winnipegs top 4 is impeccable and only just starting to enter their prime. Even the bottom pairing is capable of playing great shutdown hockey. Big Buff will be a huge factor in keeping Anaheims big guns on their toes. His crushing hits will be a huge factor, although his rather underwhelming defensive ability sticks out, whom ever he is paired with will more then balance this. Trouba and the newly aquired Myers are big mean and skilled defenders, and will smother the Ducks and cause tantrums all game every game. The remainder of the D corps will log steady minutes as well with little worry, as they are more then capable of playing their positions very well. Winnipeg also has the advantage of a very mobile defense capable of creating D zone breakouts, Big Buff is near the top of the league as a PP quaterback. You really can't find much fault with Winnipegs defense, and they will be the driving factor towards the Jets success in the first round.
Goaltending: I'm not sure who Maurice will go with in net, but, this could be the weakness, that if Anaheim were to win, would be the source of Winnipegs dissapointment. I believe both goalies, if they maintain their composure they showed during the regular season, will be more then enough to keep the puck out of the Jets net, they will afterall have the benefit of one of the leagues most underrated defense.
Offense: With no particular superstars, the Jets have relied on group contribution all season, and this is not at all a bad thing. They will need Wheeler and Ladd to continue to provide clutch goals, while the remaining forward group chips in just as they've done all season. After the obvious Getzlaf/Perry lineup, which is of course heavilly in Anaheims favour, I think the remaining 3 forward lines for each teams weighs in Winnipegs favour. Line vs Line the Jets forward group should be able to outplay Anaheim, minus the first line. Kesler will likely match up against Wheeler/Ladd for most of the series so they will have to find a way to outplay him, if they can do that, breaching the shaking Ducks defense should be doable.
Prediction: The games will be close, I expect Winnipeg to take game 1, then Anaheim will respond with a strong showing in game 2, leaving the series even after the first 2, then I expect Winnipeg will find ways to win both games 3 and 4, Anaheim will bring it back in game 5, and the Jets will finish them in game 6.
Jets in 6
Another matchup thats set in stone, Chicago vs Nashville.
Chicago owns the season series with 4 wins, 2 losses. Chicago has all the pieces in play to win another cup, building on their dynasty, however, the Nashville Predators have made alot of changes in the past few seasons from coaching, to adding scoring, drafted and dealt for some young studs and are a completely different team from the Nashville of yesteryear.
Lets start by looking at Nashvilles keys points:
Goaltending - Pekka Rinne has been one of the top 5 goalies all season and is a huge part of Nashvilles success. Although his play has waned the in the month or so, expect him to be in full dominant form against their divisional rival Blackhawks. Rinne has the ability to steal games outright, although he shouldnt have to with Nashvilles amazing defense. If Rinne is on his A game, Nashville have a good chance at upsetting the Hawks. Yes, I said upsetting, in my opinion the Hawks ought to be the cup favorites this year, so anyone who does beat them will be an upset. However, that being said, I would not bat an eye if Nashville did complete an upset, they have to tools to do it, starting with Rinne.
Defense - While both of these teams are at the top of the league in defense, Nashville has a deeper defense then Chicago, when you get beyond the Webers, Keiths and Seabrooks, Nashvilles remaining top six out ranks Chicago's, albeit not by much. Shea Weber will log huge minutes, and being in his prime this should be no problem. Using his size, reach, and amazing puck control he may be able to keep the Hawks snipers at bay and cause some tantrums. When he's not on the ice all of Ellis, Jones and Franson are more then capable of shutting down the Hawks top 6. Nashville has the luxury of being able to be comfortable no matter what D pairing is on the ice. Weber also gives Nashville a huge boost on the PP, although Chicago is a relativly diciplined team and will likely limit Nashvilles PP.
Offense: Nashville has never been known as a high scoring team, not in recent years anyways, however the additions of Ribiero, Neal, and the rising of Forsberg have helped the Preds score goals in bunches this season. Neal knows what it takes to win a Stanley Cup, and I fully expect him to be the lean to guy for the Preds to get those clutch goals. If he can get some space, as hard as it will be against Seabrook/Keith, he should be able to set up a few good chances.
Experience: Nashville is yet to go beyond the second round of the playoffs, and its been a little while since they've played in late April, but with a younger squad and a prime #1 Dman and Goalie they should be able to make a series of it.
Kane- When will he return, will he be playing at his capacity when he comes back? Kane is obviously a critical part of the Hawks 2 previous cups, but, the Blackhawks do have more then eneough re-enforcements to score if he doesnt return, or doesnt return in top form. I don't think his injury will factor much, at least not into this series, maybe down the line.
Goaltending - Crawford has won a cup, he is often critisized for riding the coattails of a highly competent defense, and a strong puck possession team that can and will score its way out of trouble. However, a look at Crawfords numbers shows that he is, in fact a good eneough goalie, and thats all a team like Chicago needs, someone who is good eneough, and can make the odd clutch save. I think Crawford has proven he can do this.
The rest of the crew - Toews, Keith, Seabrook, Sharp, and Hossa have all been there done that and beaten the best to win 2 cups. Brad Richards on the third line is an excellant depth player, having won a cup himself he too knows what it takes. I certainly don't think Chicago will walk all over Nashville, first rounds can often be the hardest, until the finals that is.
Prediction, Hawks take it in 5 or 6, while I say 5 games, I think they will all be very close, 4-3, 3-2, things like that. I just can't see the Hawks bowing out to the Predators. You never know though!!!
I hope to find the time to do each series before the playoff's start, however, Im still overjoyed that the Flames, Nucks and Jets are all clinched, sealed and into the big show. Ill break down, in my opinion, the series to the Canucks vs Flames round one.
Home Ice Advantage?
With home ice still up for grabs, a loss by Vancouver against Edmonton and a win in any fashion by Calgary against Winnipeg in the final game of the season would result in Calgary taking home ice due to what would be a tie in ROW and the Flames holding the season series at 2-1-1 vs the Canucks 2-2. Any win or even OT or Shootout loss by the Canucks would give the Canucks home ice.
Lets evaluate that, both the Canucks and Flames have played phenomenaly well on the road this year, the Flames setting a club record for road wins, and the Canucks near the top of the league for road wins. Both teams have won one game in the other teams building. Seems pretty even. Canucks fans have been Blessed with Playoff hockey alot over the past few seasons, minus last season, so while they will certainly be pumped, the Flames fans havent seen a playoff game in 6 seasons are are likely to blow the lid of the Saddledome. Last nights game against LA was a full playoff atmosphere in Calgary, and it was clear to see the young Flames were feeding off that. Canucks fans meanwhile have been rather quiet this year, however, I expect next week they will be roaring as loud as ever too. The home ice advantage thing, in my opinion won't play particularily in favour of any one team. I call this area a draw.
Keys points for the Flames:
Mark Giordano would not return, not even if the Flames were still playing in June. The Flames have learned to deal with this and have adjusted to playing without there all-star Norris favorite defender.
A huge key loss in my opinion that goes rather uncovered, or not noticed as much, is the injury sustained to goalie Karri Ramo early in the Flames last game against Edmonton. I feel that as the season progressed the Flames were moving towards Karri Ramo as their number 1. The team seemed to play a little more confident with him, and Hartley was using him in most of the key games down the stretch run. However, with his absence Jonas Hiller seems to have elevated his game quite a bit, posting a shut out in Edmonton, playing huge against Arizona, and then playing unworldy against LA to clinch a playoff berth. If he can maintain this level of play the Flames need not worry about goaltending. While Im of the opinion that the Flames will shop Hiller around in the off season with Joni Ortio's development coming along excellant in Adirondack, I think for now, pending Ramo's injury severity, Hiller will be the go to guy, and will be playing with a chip on his shoulder after getting replaced in Anaheim in the first round of last years playoffs.
Continued mobile defense will be key for the Flames. The Flames are not a puck moving team, the majority of their scoring comes from odd man rushes, stretch passes, and quick defensive zone exits. They will absolutely need Brodie, Russel and Wideman to continue to move pucks up ice, find open forwards in the attacking zone, and provide fast and hard defensive zone exits.
Experience. A large portion of the current Flames roster was drafted and developed in house and have yet to experience playoff style hockey. This will be a big unknown for them. Particularly the first line, Gaudrue and Monahan will have to get used to playing even bigger minutes then they already do, and with the added pressure of being able to score clutch goals. Monahan has 8 game winning goals to date on the season, tied for second in the league, will he be able to maintain his clutch abilitys in the pressure of the playoffs? I guess we'll have to wait and see.
Contribution from everywhere: The Flames have been blessed with the ability to see goals come from all four lines as well as the defense. This will factor in huge for the Flames, obviously the first line will recieve the most coverage from the top Canuck checking lines and defenders, but Calgary has the ability to put up plenty of key goals from their bottom 6 as well as timely goals from defenders. This should be a big advantage for the Flames.
Coaching: Hartley has won a cup, he's taken a team full of kids and taken them to the playoffs, while WD has done amazing things in Vancover this season he has also shown a few shades of inexperience. Advantage here is in Calgary's favour.
Keys for the Canucks:
Sedins- Aging but far from irrelevant. While their point production is dropping they are still top 20 in the league, and this year individual point production is way down league wide, in my opinion due to the level of Skill in todays game. Goals come from everywhere now, not just a teams first line. The Sedins have always played well against the Flames and are certainly Flame Killers. While they have had lapses in the past during playoff time, I am sure they will bring their A+ game for the Flames. The only factor that will come into play with these two amazing brothers is age/fatigue. If WD starts playing them longer and longer minutes we could see them get tired out, as is the case with all older players. However, no matter what they will be dangerous and more then capable of putting pucks into the Flames net, or setting up someone else too(Vrbata??). Just the site of the Sedins stepping onto the ice makes us Flames fans nervous as they have always controlled play against the Flames. Will they be able to convert that possession game into some big time chances?
Defense- Edler has taken a step back towards being relevant this season after a dismal couple of seasons. He is clearly the #1 defender in the Canucks lineup, his physical presence and huge shot will be key to the Canucks. Hamhuis/Bieksa are very much showing their age this year, Bieksa in particular has played alot of years of rough and tumble hockey and its starting to show. These two will NEED to step up and find a way to keep pace with the young and speedy Flames forwards if the Canucks are to win the series.
Goaltending- Who to go with? With Millers injury Lack has stepped up and proven himself worthy of carrying the team during games when the skaters struggled. Lack is focused and in game mode now, but Miller has got alot of more playing time under his belt. This is a really tough choice WD is going to have to make, start with Lack whose fully conditioned right now and at the top of his game, or go with the veteran who was brought in for the purpose of winning big games. Millers playoff experience is somewhat limited, and did lose last year behind one of the leagues best defense corps, but when he is on his game he can be unbeatable. Advantage....hard to say at this point, I would almost call goaltending even between the two teams.
No Kesler Factor- Kesler was the machine that drove the 2011 cup run, love him or hate him thats a fact. No one on the Canucks roster can fully replace what he brought, yet, give Bo a few seasons. While Kesler won't be there to shut down top lines and score clutch goals, the Canucks have a far better rounded forward group, and are able to get goals from all 4 lines.
Experience - Most of the Canucks 2011 cup run core remains in tact, they know what it takes to win playoff series. The experience advantage is 100% in favour of the Canucks. The only question is does this aging group have it in them to maintain energy levels throughout.
Prediction - a 6 or 7 game series, and all factors considered I'm giving it 50/50 and won't call a clear cut favorite.
From a personal standpoint I am going into this playoff experience the same way I approached the regular season as a Flames fan, I wanna see the team develop. Our team has drafted well and developed well and we are seeing now a glimpse of what we will be rewarded with next season and beyond. Win or lose this playoff series will serve as an excellant development lesson for the future leaders of the Flames. I am just elated that they clawed their way into the playoffs, and am looking forward to a dominating team not far down the line.
As well I am elated at the Canadian content, everyone but Edmonton in the west is in. What a joyous season, AND at least one Canadian team will be playing hockey in the second round, take that Bettman. In my opinion the Jets will be playing second round hockey as well, as I think they will easilly defeat Anaheim or St.Louis.
Ill try to post my personal breakdowns on each series as time permits.