Archive for October 2014

Preview - Ottawa vs. Washington

 
 


Prime Ministerial Advantage - Ottawa not phased by US Capital

Despite winning the Atlantic Division with relative ease, the Ottawa Senators appear to be heading into this battle of North American capital cities as slight underdogs, as the vast majority fans and pundits alike are giving the Washington Capitals the slight edge. Unsurprisingly, however, pretty much nobody sees this series ending quickly; the two teams simply couldn't be more closely matched, and this is surely the tastiest of any second round tie in the WCHL. 

Ottawa dispatched of Eastern Conference surprise package Tampa Bay in a potential banana-skin first round tilt, scoring eleven goals and conceding only five in a short-lived five game series. Star man Corey Perry contributed with one goal and four points, and the defense was more than happy joining the attack throughout the series, as Hainsey, Spurgeon and Yandle each tallied three points. The key contributor to Ottawa's success vs the Lightning was rookie goaltender Robin Lehner; he picked up where he left off in the regular season (0.929, 1.93), defying his age with a stellar performance under the postseason lights (0.943, 1.11). Lehner is likely to be busier in the second round, but all signs point toward the Gothenburg native being up to the task.

Washington finished the regular season within touching distance of the formidable New York Rangers in the Metropolitan Division, but were handed a tricky first round matchup with the Montreal Canadiens for their efforts. Nonetheless, the deafening atmosphere at the Bell Centre didn't phase Bob Gainey's team; having split the first two games in DC, the Caps proceeded to outscore the Habs 8-3 in their own backyard, before sealing the deal in front of a raucous home crowd. Second-line centre Tyler Ennis led the team with five goals in the series as everything came together offensively for the Caps. Gainey knows that they'll need to carry that explosiveness into the second round if they plan on sending their northerly neighbours packing.

In the regular season, Paul MacLean's well drilled Senators led the WCHL in "goals for" (2.67), PP % (24.93), PK % (85.04), and ranked fourth in "goals against" (2.06). It comes as little surprise that Canada's capital city is set to stage second round postseason hockey  this season; some fans are even allowing themselves to dream of Stanley Cup glory under popular GM Noel Moxon. Special teams play at an elite level is paramount in this series, if Lehner and co intend on shutting out the likes of Ribiero, Eberle, Tarasenko, Burns and Havlat. 

Having said that, Washington wasn't overly impressive on the offensive front during the regular season, ranking 16th overall in "goals for" (2.38), and a lowly 28th in PP % (18.46). GM Taran Wasson will be hoping that its the offense he saw against Montreal that shows up for this one, and not the disjointed version that relied so heavily on keeping opponents from getting to its own net during the regular season. The Caps were very effective defensively throughout the year, ranking second overall in "shots against" (26.54), and second overall in "goals against" (1.96). Captain Chris Phillips is a key cog in the Capitals formula, and as long as his ever-reliable defensive colleagues show up to play alongside him, Washington has a good shot at nullifying the Sens' attacks.

THE VERDICT: Despite being very impressed by Washington's offensive exploits in the first round, we can't overlook their distinctly average offensive output during the regular season. It is also slightly concerning that Montreal managed to put twelve goals past Mike Smith in last week. To us, Ottawa is a more complete hockey team right now. The top line of Vermette-Michalek-Perry consists of three guys who each racked up over 70 points this season, and as long as they continue to get help from the likes of Saku Koivu, JVR and Mike Zibenajad, the Sens will keep rolling here. Just. OTTAWA IN SEVEN.

PLAYOFF POOL INDICATOR: WASHINGTON 8 - 6 OTTAWA

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Dallas vs. Edmonton in Round 2


 
 


Round 2 in the West

Most of the results from round one could have been predicted in the west, with the conference leading Oilers advancing, and the turn around Stars basting Minny. The Ducks series was a bit harrowing for some, but they pulled through, and as for Chicago, well they are the Cinderella story for the season 19 playoffs in the West. On to our review of the first matchup:

 

Dallas (7) Vs Edmonton (1)

Dallas has had a rough go of it for a few seasons now, add to that being left without a dedicated GM for quite some time, and you have to be impressed at their fortitude this year. Though they tapered off a bit at years end, it was enough to garner them a playoff spot, and a first round matchup against the Wild, who they dispensed with in a mighty quick 5 games. Now Dallas comes up against the Edmonton Oilers, Western conference leaders, and only 3 points out of top spot in the league. Its been an uphill climb for Dallas, and going into Edmonton to take on Pomminville and Richards should scare most teams.

Dallas has weapons, specifically Zack Parise and Brandon Dubinsky. The former being the chief playmaker with 9 assists, and the latter being tied for playoff goals with 6 in 5 games. Scoring hasn't been an issue for the Stars in the post season, with 17 goals in 5 games and 9 different contributers to the cause. The Achilles heel for Dallas may be the propensity for the sin bin, with more than 20 PM's per game, they are only surpassed by Columbus at present. The PK unit is getting the job done for the most part, humming along at 90%, but that was against a demonstrably poor Minny PP unit that stumbled all season. Now they face the best PP unit of the post season in Edmonton. On the blueline is where the stars really slack off. Giving up 34+ shots a game, mediocre checking and general slowness has caused Dallas to give up more shots per game than any other team save the Blues. That of course brings us around to Nabokov, who in the twilight of his career has found a cause he deems worthy to play for, and this his last chance to win a cup. Nabokov has been nothing short of god-like for the first 5 games of this playoff run. He leads in S% with .947, a number most teams will never see on their stats page, and he is hungry.

Forwards: C+ Lack of depth brings them down, though despite this, they do spread the scoring.

Defense: C+ Getting in on the scoring: great!, letting everything get past you: not so much

Goal: A+ A true artist, can he stave off the Oilers and their dream season?

Edmonton is an enigma to me. Much like Calgary or Nashville teams of years past, I cannot figure how what makes this team click so well. As previously stated, Pomminville and Richards are forces to be reckoned with for the Oilers, Pommy with 4-6-10 in 5 games, and Rick with 2-7-9 in the same.  Like the Stars, 17 goals in 5 games would indicate that they too have no issue scoring goals, but they were facing an Arizona team who squeaked into the playoffs on a wing and a prayer. Edm has something more than what you see on paper while perusing their roster, they have a depth of character combined with grit that must be in place to become a champion. On defence they are statistically stronger than Dallas, keeping the shots to the outside but being less productive on the score sheet, playing their positions first , and playing them well. In the net Bryzgalov is playing well, not up to Nabbies standards, but well enough to post a .927 S% in his five games played, against a somewhat easier team to beat. This role through the playoffs may well be easier for the Oilers than they anticipated, at least for the first 2 rounds, the conference finals may well be a very different story. Sadly the Oilers and Stars only played once this season, and that game went to a shootout, one that Dallas walked away with. Something tell me this series will be a bit different.

Forwards: B- Another lack of real depth, but slightly more talented front men.

Defense: B- Better in their own end, but not contributing on the score sheet enough.

Goal: B+ Bryz is chugging along, he isn't on fire like the opposition, but good enough will do.

Summary:

This series could actually swing either way. Both teams are more or less closely matched, though individual strengths and weaknesses vary slightly, and of course the wildy different position finishes on the year would contradict this idea. This is a close, high scoring series that we foresee Edmonton carrying away. Nabby may have played his best hockey already, and could be running out of steam. Bryz is playing solid and regular, as long as Pommy continues his assault I give the edge to EDM in this one. EDM in 6

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Whose left?

Moving on, even if barely

 
 


This year is beginning to look more and more like the year of the upset.

After watching as pre-season cup favorites Calgary Flames and Colorado Avalanche failed to even make the post-season, round one claimed another title challenger and nearly ate up two more.

The Anaheim Ducks, New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins all faced a seventh game in round one and Pittsburgh wasn't able to survive, a defeat which spewed forth a profanity laden tirade from General manager Patrick Matthews that not only was one for the ages but also virtually guaranteed big changes it Steeltown before next year.

Of the big name squads, perhaps the Rangers are in the best shape. A solid team all season, the Rangers fell behind the Carolina Hurricanes 3-0 in round one before rallying to take the series, leaving them riding a four game winning streak and a huge pile of momentum into round two.

Of the eight teams into round two, three -the Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets and Dallas Stars- likely weren't expected by many to have even made the playoffs. Will round two continue the trend of the underdog winning big, or is it time for the remaining elite to finally put those dogs out to the pound?

WCHL 

Western Conference

(1) Edmonton Oilers vs. (7) Dallas Stars - The Oilers were nearly clinical in the regular season enroute to their first conference title and they didn't let up in round one, easily dispatching the Arizona Coyotes in five games. Jason Pominville absolutely destroyed the Coyotes, scoring four goals and 10 points, one more than centre Brad Richards as the Oilers had a heyday with the Coyotes.

 
 


Dallas meanwhile snuck in as the seventh seed and most expected the GMless squad would be in tough against the Minnesota Wild. The result? A 3-0 series lead before moving onto round two in five games. Zach Parise scored 10 points himself and Evgeni Nabokov posted a .947 save percentage. This cast of misfits fits together quite well.

Prediction: The Stars will really need to align for Dallas to move on. Edmonton's just been to consistent for to long this season. Edmonton in six games.

(4) Anaheim Ducks vs. (6) Chicago Blackhawks - A season of just getting by continued for the Ducks, who edged out the cross-state rival San Jose Sharks in a tight seven games. Their reward appears to be an easier opponent in the Blackhawks, one seed lower than the Sharks but a club that knocked off the St. Louis Blues in round one.

 
 


It was a round that Chicago wasn't expected to get to, but the plucky Hawks benefited from some solid play in their end and a sputtering Blues offense that just couldn't get it going. Chicago is led by a mish-mash roster full of castoffs, a group that has banded together all season long to prove the pundits wrong.

Prediction: Expect Chicago to put up a good fight and Anaheim to not put up enough of one. Still, it will be Blackhawk down for Chicago. Anaheim in six games.

Eastern Conference

(1) New York Rangers vs. (6) Columbus Blue Jackets - The Rangers are either riding a huge high or they are wiping their collective brows after rallying from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Carolina Hurricanes in seven games. Henrik Lundqvist came through when he needed to and 'The Mule' Johan Franzen scored six times to help the Rangers save a lot of face and move on to round two.

 
 


Columbus on the other hand is ready for the challenge to do what the Hurricanes couldn't; slay a giant. The Blue Jackets already dispatched the Pittsburgh Penguins, led by Sidney Crosby no less, and they are now aiming to make it two-for-two against the Rangers. If they can slow down the Rangers offense the same way they slowed down Pittsburgh's it could happen. Not only did they hold the highpowered Penguins to 12 goals, they also held them to just over 21 shots per game.

Prediction: Columbus will make this a series, but Rangers are on a roll and they will be just one step ahead. New York Rangers in five games.

(2) Ottawa Senators vs. (4) Washington Capitals - The lone series in the playoffs that features two teams that had home ice advantage in the first round, this tilt sees the Senators as the odds on favorite for the first time in a while. Maybe ever. Ottawa has rebounded from years of terrible play to not only be a playoff squad under GM Noel Moxon, but also a darkhorse cup contender. Robin Lehner's outer world play is a big piece of that, showing itself in a five game win over the Tampa Bay Lightning with a .943 save percentage.

 
 


Washington however has been to this rodeo before, and nearly went the distance last year after claiming the conference title. An first half swoon prevented a repeat of that but Washington has been on a tear down the final quarter of the season and continued that roll in the playoffs, blasting through the Montreal Canadiens in five games. If they can keep Ottawa's offense off the table as well, they should be able to prevail.

Prediction: This series will likely be the best of the second round and while Ottawa is getting really close to being a cup threat, it's Washington that's ready for that challenge. Washington in seven games.

ACHL

Western Conference

(1) Oklahoma City Barons vs. (5) Hamilton Bulldogs - Hamilton is six games
(2) Toronto Marlies vs. (3) Chicago Wolves - Toronto in five games

Eastern Conference

(1) Norfolk Admirals vs. (7) Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins- Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in five games
(4) Hershey Bears vs. (6) Binghampton Senators - Hershey in seven games 

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Playoff prowess

Hollywood Hockey

 
 


San Jose Sharks (1) vs Anaheim Ducks (3).........
With the series tied at two apiece, the series headed back to Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim. The two teams fighting for bragging rights in the State of California.
The first was scoreless thanks to Sharks tender Tim Thomas as he was out-shot 7-2 over the first twenty.
The Ducks opened the scoring  just 1:23 into the second as Matt Moulson tipped home a Shea Weber point shot on the powerplay. San Jose got that one back just over six minutes later as they would get a powerplay marker of their own from Tyler Seguin on a beauty passing play between himself, Jonathan Toews and Jeff Skinner that saw Seguin left wide open at the side of the Ducks net for an easy tip in. The Ducks regained the lead before the end of the second as Cam Atkins scored at 17:45 as he converted a two on one with Logan Couture. Shots after 40 were, 18-14 Ducks.
Joe Colborne would get his first of the play-offs from Jake Gardiner and Cam Atkinson at 10:48 of the third as he got the rebound off of a blocked shot and fired the biscuit through a screen of players past Tim Thomas snuffing out any hope of a come back for the Sharks. Game six will be in San Jose on Sunday.
MOLSON'S 3 STARS:
1 - Cam Atkinson (Ana)..... 1 goal, 1 assist, +2
2 - Logan Couture (Ana).... 2 assists, +2, 3 shots
3 - Tuukka Rask (Ana)........ 23 saves on 24 shots

Reporting For The WCHL Network...

Peter Puck

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Playoff Preview

California Dreamin'

 
 

Anaheim GM Terry Danton is a real man with the ladies

(4) Anaheim vs. (5) San Jose

A matchup with the reigning WCHL Champions ought to strike fear into any potential first round opponent, but it seems as though San Jose is heading into this mouthwatering west coast clash oozing confidence. A plethora of pundits and fans alike are finding seemingly finding joy in pushing the narrative that Anaheim, a franchise that looked well placed to become a dynasty, is already trending in the wrong direction. And its the Sharks, led by Slovakian unit Zdeno Chara, that aim to capitalise here.

Only twelve months ago, the Ducks were an unstoppable offensive juggernaut that struck fear into every opponent by its impregnable pedigree. This season, however, Alain Vigneault's outfit took an undeniable step backwards on the offensive side, ranking a lowly 18th overall in "goals for" (2.38). Fortunately, the Ducks D has remained outstanding, as the ever-impressive Shea Weber has led a top-notch defensive unit that ranked sixth overall in "goals against" (2.18). The special teams have been relatively poor (21st overall, PP+PK), but the team has maintained its discipline, ranking sixth overall in PIM/GP (8.70). But despite a lacklustre regular season by GM Danton's lofty standards, the fact remains that Anaheim has earned a playoff berth, and henceforth the chance to defend its title once again. We don't buy the negativity folks ... if Bergeron, Stepan, Backes and Moulson find their groove early, this team will be crowned Western Conference champions once more. 

San Jose isn't going to lay down for Anaheim, that's for sure. The super-talented quartet of Jonathan Toews, Paul Stastny, Jeff Skinner and Tyler Seguin would given any head coach nightmares, particularly in the playoffs, where it only takes four good games and you're moving on. Unsurprisingly, San Jose ranked fifth in "goals for" (2.51) this season, and third in PP % (23.92%) - it will certainly be intriguing to see whether Anaheim's loaded defense, and Rask, can stop Randy Carlyle's skilled group from hurting them. Despite the positives, San Jose is lacking on offense past a core group of superstars, and porous on defense past Chara and Martin. Its hard to envisage this bottom ten defense, and bottom ten PK unit, can stop the Ducks here- even more so if San Jose's lack of discipline, evidenced by their 25th overall rank in PIM/GP (12.84), rears its ugly head. 

THE VERDICT: Anaheim might be a little nervous coming into this series given the negative press, so we expect San Jose to score on the Ducks in spurts, handing the Sharks enough victories to keep this one close. Ultimately, however, we can't look past Anaheim's superior roster. The Sharks will undoubtedly spend too much time in the penalty box, and that will be enough for Bergeron and co to feast on OAP Tim Thomas. DUCKS IN 7.

PLAYOFF POOL INDICATOR: Anaheim 12 - 2 San Jose

DUCKS GM TERRY DANTON: "We consider the Sharks to be a serious threat considering our play this year. They have played us 4 times this year, and they took 3 of those 4. We are very concerned. Round 1 is going to be a true test of our grit, and frankly our ability to step it up come the post-season."

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Playoff Preview

Windy City Blues

 
 


(3) St. Louis vs. (6) Chicago

On paper, this is arguably the pick of the first round matchups. Midwestern powerhouses St.Louis and Chicago are set to lock horns in a series which ought to offer passion,  tenacity and goals. Both teams ranked inside the top ten in "goals for", whilst both ranked in the bottom half of the league in "goals against". To add to an already tasty recipe for a classic series, neither team knows how to stay out of the penalty box, as both ranked in the bottom five in PIM/GP. Hold on tight folks, this one could be fun, if nothing else.

St.Louis finished third in the Western Conference thanks to a well-rounded roster that gets contribution from almost everybody. The Blues' leading goalscorer in the regular season was second-line centre Damien Brunner, an oddity that nonetheless proves that Craig Berube's team is just that ... a TEAM. If you had to point to a particular strong point, it would undoubtedly be the top pairing of Kevin Bieksa and Marc Staal on defense - they chipped in with 15 goals and 36 assists on the season, as well as showing impressive leadership. St.Louis is going to score plenty, but they're also going to leak goals thanks to sloppy discipline. We also have our concerns about the bottom six, particularly once we get down to the likes of Leo Komarov, Leo Komarov, Dominic Moore and T.J. Galiardi. Still, they're the third seed for a reason.

GM Brian Flick's Chicago Blackhawks have come from the WCHL basement only a season ago to take the sixth seed in the Western Conference, an achievement which many thought impossible given the state of flux the organisation found itself in. Despite appearing to lack in offensive talent, this gritty Hawks unit has scored plenty throughout the regular season, and will need to find a way to continue the trend if they're going to get past Backstrom in this series. Past the evergreen Brad Boyes and goal-scoring hero Troy Brouwer, its difficult to see how Chicago is going to trouble St.Louis here. An impressive group of defenseman helps this team tenfold though - Dan Boyle, Dennis Wideman, Trevor Daley and Derek Morris combine skill with tons of experience, and that will be enough to ensure that Darren Rumble & co emerge victorious by the slimmest of margins in this Midwestern battle. 

THE VERDICT: Its difficult to predict this one to be honest. We don't like either team's chances of making a deep run, but then again, one of these two will book a place in round two here, and that certainly isn't to be scoffed at. Its going to be a sloppy affair that provides fantastic entertainment to the neutral. We see Chicago edging it, but its going the distance. CHICAGO IN 7.

PLAYOFF POOL INDICATOR: St.Louis 11 - 4 Chicago

BLACKHAWKS GM BRIAN FLICK: "We maybe just a bit away from hoisting the Cup, but this team has heart. We may not be the most talented team on the ice, but we have a grit about us and most of all we have the mindset that we deserve to be here and if a few things go our way, we might just hoist that Cup in the Madhouse on Madison."

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Playoff Preview

Minnesota vs. Dallas

 
 


(2) Minnesota vs. (7) Dallas

Central Division Champions and number two seed Minnesota have secured a seemingly favourable match-up in the Western Conference, as Ron Wilson's Wild are set to lock horns with WCHL surprise package Dallas in round one.

Led by a dangerous tandem of thirty-goal scorers in the guise of Tyler Bozak and Jiri Hudler, Minnesota led the West in goals scored (213) though the regular season. Surprisingly for a team with such a clinical offense, Minny's PP was below average on the season (22nd overall, 20.11%). Having said that, despite a mid-ranking defense in terms of goals allowed (14th overall, 193), the Wild PK Unit ranked third overall (81.84%), ensuring an effective special teams in St.Paul. Bozak and Grabovski, the top-six centres, are at the heart of everything, including a league-leading team faceoff percentage (53.13%) which could prove to be crucial for a team with high ambitions. And, of course, who wouldn't have a chance with Niemi in goal; he registered a .925 save % on the season, good for ninth in the league. The weakness might be when this team doesn't possess the puck. Though the the softly spoken GM attempted to plug the gaps with UFA signing Hal Gill, a hole still exists on this team, and Dallas surely knows it.

Dallas is, at least according to the bookmakers, the biggest Western Conference underdog of the first round. When looking at the stats, it is actually quite difficult to fathom just how this team is where it is. The lone-star state team ranked a lowly 22nd overall in "goals for" (2.28), and a similarly uninspiring 21st overall in "goals against" (2.46). Brian Skrudland's army of triers showcase a lethargic PP ranked 20th overall (20.58%), and a slovenly PK unit ranked an embarrassing 27th overall (76.47%). Perhaps lacking in skill, one thing this outfit does not lack is fight. With Brandon Dubinsky leading the way, and the likes of Stephane Robidas and Zach Parise not far behind, the GM-less Stars are a gritty bunch that just won't lie down. But will that be enough to keep Dallas alive come the crunch?

THE VERDICT: We respect what Dallas has done this season, and we love that sheer determination can still win through in professional hockey. Nonetheless, we can't look past the statistics, and therefore simply don't see how Dallas can compete with the far superior Wild. Expect Bozak and Grabovski to control the series from the face-off circle, and Hudler to give Niemi all the support he needs to secure four straight victories. MINNESOTA IN 4.

PLAYOFF POOL INDICATOR: Minnesota 9 - 4 Dallas

WILD GM ALEX TANEV: "I think we can make it to the conference finals. We've got zero cup chance though. I know we can't beat Edmonton and even if we do, I know Pittsburgh and New York have way better teams than us."

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Playoff Preview

Edmonton vs. Arizona

 
 


(1) Edmonton Oilers vs. (8) Arizona Coyotes

Two teams heading into the postseason on the back of somewhat contrasting runs, the red-hot Western Conference Champions Edmonton face off against a last-ditch Arizona outfit in a first-round match-up that looks rather lop-sided at first glance. 

Edmonton, led by captain Brad Richards and forty-goal regular season hero Jason Pominville, are firm favourites to emerge victorious in this series. Having accrued 110 points to impressively outpace the reigning Stanley Cup holders Anaheim in the Pacific Division, Kevin Dineen's men have shown that high-powered offense coupled with discipline is a recipe for success in the WCHL. Edmonton led the league in "shots for" (30.87), and finished third, behind only playoff-bound Pittsburgh and Washington, in PIM/GP (7.67). Whilst far from the finished article on special teams, Edmonton heads into the postseason with high morale (82), and with the best goal differential (+24) in the conference. With the every-present Ilya Bryzgalov between the sticks, he who bets against the Oilers here is a brave man. 

Heading into the final day of the regular season, Arizona was placed a lowly sixth in the Pacific Division, and in need of a minor miracle to secure the Western Conference's final playoff spot. Luckily for Yotes fans, the Canucks imploded at Madison Square Garden, and LA choked in Toronto, handing Alain Vigneault's team the golden ticket. Boasting a prolific and experienced top forward line of Jokinen-Gaborik-Vrbata, Arizona is a team that Edmonton underestimates at its peril. Whilst the Coyotes are certainly not dominant in any given aspect of the game, they did finish the regular season ranked sixth overall in "shots for" (29.29), and first overall in "shots against" (26.27). Facing off against a high-powered Oilers offense, it will be interesting to see if the Yotes can continue to stop shots getting to Reimer. The glaring weakness of this team, however, is a complete lack of discipline - the Coyotes ranked 27th overall in PIM/GP (13.55). Though they might get away with it against a poor Oiler's PP at times, over the course of a full series, we expect this to be Arizona's achilles heel.

THE VERDICT: This series is going to be closer than many seem to think. Arizona's top-six weapons on offense, including Radim Vrbata, Marian Gaborik and Chris Higgins, will give an ageing Edmonton defense plenty of food for thought. Ultimately, however, a well-coached blend of experience, form and discipline will win the day here. Expect Pominville to showcase his electrifying goal-scoring prowess, and Bryzgalov to outplay Reimer. EDMONTON IN SIX.

PLAYOFF POOL INDICATOR: Edmonton 12 - 1 Arizona

OILERS GM KEITH FOSTER: "Edmonton figures to win the first round in 5 games. Arizona usually takes a lot more penalties, less hits and much worse faceoff percentage. This should be a an advantage in puck possession for Edmonton."

COYOTES GM JEFF SMITH: "Didn't expect to make the playoffs so have no expectations for success, especially against the top seed, but stranger things have happened and maybe luck is on our side."

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Let the fun begin

The real season gets underway



 
 
 

The Rangers are gunning for another WCHL Cup run.


The 19th edition of the WCHL playoffs are getting underway and for a few teams, they are surprisingly on the outside looking in.

 

But for others, it marks a return to the playoffs. Just one season after mopping up the basement of the league, teams like the Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning are back in the limelight, perhaps the frontrunners of the future wave of elite teams in the league. Only time will tell, but in both cities, long suffering fans now have a reason to celebrate, pull their jerseys on and chase dreams of a WCHL Cup.

 

Will those chases be short or will the magical run of the regular season continue on into the playoffs? Only time will tell, but given the tight races in the regular season and some surprising omissions from the playoffs, odds are if you are just playing the odds on who will win, you won't make much money.

 

So who will win? Hard to say, but here's my predictions for round one of the WCHL and ACHL playoffs:

 

WCHL

 

Western Conference

 

(1) Edmonton Oilers vs. (8) Arizona Coyotes - The Oilers have been on a great run all season long, wrestling away the Anaheim Ducks hold on the top seed in the Western Conference. They have rattled off wins, at times with ease, over some of the better teams in the league, finally pulling themselves from the grip of being a perennial bubble playoff team. Not only have they claimed top spot in the West, they have established themselves as a legitimate cup contender.

 


 
 


The Coyotes meanwhile needed a bit of magic just to get into the post-season. The 10th seeded squad in the West with one day left in the schedule, and none left for them to play, the Coyotes needed regulation losses by both Los Angeles and Vancouver and somehow they got just that, clinching the final playoff seed in a tiebreaker. Will it be a postponement of the inevitable, or will they take advantage of the second chance?

 

While Edmonton hasn't really had much to play for in weeks, Arizona knows all about playing on the brink, something that will help them out. That said, Edmonton's been too solid all season to simply bow out now. Prediction: Edmonton in six.

 

(2) Minnesota Wild vs. Dallas Stars (7) - The Wild has nearly matched the Oilers step for step this season, and they can thank Tyler Bozak. The normally average forward was anything but this season, racking up 34 goals and 88 points to pace the Wild offense. Antti Niemi meanwhile was a rock again for the Wild, rattling off a .925 save percentage while chipping in 44 wins. Bozak may get the glory but Niemi is the real backbone of this club.

 


 
 


Dallas meanwhile has limped along all season despite being without a dedicated GM, the only club in the league to do so. A team more focused on the future than the present, Dallas has managed to cobble together great performances from the likes of Brandon Dubinsky -79 points in 82 games- and Evgeni Nabokov -a 0.923 save percentage. Its great efforts from less than great players that make up this team.

 

Minnesota should be here, Dallas shouldn't be. However if any team has the spirit to make themselves move on when they shouldn't, it's Dallas. Prediction: Dallas in seven.

 

(3) St. Louis Blues vs. (6) Chicago Blackhawks - The Blues watched last season as they literally handed San Jose the final playoff berth in the West last season, going on a tumble in the final 10 games to fall out of the playoffs and on to the golf course. This year they made sure to not do that, and posted a 101-point season, getting a head early and staying there.

 


 
 


As good as that was, Chicago came from nowhere to get into the post-season. easy pickings last year, the Blackhawks have held on in the playoff hunt all year long this season and they have come away with not only a playoff berth, they just kept getting better down the stretch, going 6-1-3 to hit the playoffs running. 

 

This series will be an interesting one but it figures to have a pair of teams that very well could be non-factors in the post-season based on their history. Or one of these teams could be the darling of the ball. If it's either of them, odds are it is Chicago. Prediction: Chicago in six.

 

(4) Anaheim Ducks vs. San Jose Sharks - At the start of the season, the Ducks were fresh off of a banner hanging and ready to take a run at becoming the first team ever in WCHL history to win three in a row. By the trade deadline, GM Terry Danton was publicly questioning if they'd even make the playoffs. Anaheim turned it around somewhat after that point and climbed into a home playoff berth for the first round, but it was hardly a great finish for a team full of great players.

 


 
 


San Jose meanwhile overachieved. After mulling the possibility of missing the playoffs so much that San Jose underwent a slight rebuild, dealing the likes of Zach Parise, the Sharks turned around and ended up easily making the playoffs. Oddly, this was in part spearheaded by a 39-year-old Tim Thomas, the starting netminder for San Jose. When you have a leader like Jonathan Toews however, it's hard to be surprised by San Jose's success.

 

This will be a tight series to call, but for Anaheim it could easily be a whole new season for them. On the other hand, can they really turn it on at the flick of a switch after going through highs and lows all season? Prediction: San Jose in six.

 

Eastern Conference

 

(1) New York Rangers vs. (8) Carolina Hurricanes - For those of you getting sick of seeing the Rangers dominate the Eastern Conference, to bad. It's here to stay. The Rangers once again clinched top seed in the conference after falling just short last year. It was again a tight battle, but arguably the greatest WCHL club of the past six seasons could be poised to go on yet another run. 

 


 
 


Carolina is aiming to try and stop the Rangers, but it won't be easy. Claiming the eighth seed on their final game of the season, the Canes will need a huge effort from Jimmy Howard, who has played in 73 games for the club, posting a .929 save percentage as he goes.

 

Carolina will put up a solid fight but this team has largely under-performed all season and it's not likely to change against a high-powered Ranger squad. Prediction: New York in five.

 

(2) Ottawa Senators vs. (7) Tampa Bay Lightning - The Senators should be here. Patiently built over the years by GM Noel Moxon, the Senators have been developed to be deep and skilled. Robin Lehner has been nearly lights out and the offense is led by Corey Perry. Plenty of reasons to believe in this team.

 


 
 


Tampa Bay shouldn't be here. The first full year of a retooling effort by incoming GM Jamie Matheson, the Lightning shot out of the gate and held strong to tie down a playoff berth. Steve Mason looked like Dominik Hasek and the offense may not have a big name, but it is well balanced. 

 

So which is better? They say slow and steady wins the race but for Ottawa, the playoffs haven't always been the most fortunate place to be. For Tampa Bay, can this rocket ride continue? There's a very good chance it can. Prediction: Ottawa in seven.

 

(3) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (6) Columbus Blue Jackets- Is this the year? That's a question Penguins fans have asked themselves repeatedly over the years in Pittsburgh. While the squad has one WCHL Cup to its credit back in Season 12, they have had far more heartbreak. Last season was no exception, reaching the cup final before being dispatched by the Anaheim Ducks. So is this the year?

 


 
 


Columbus meanwhile is already exceeding expectations. Reaching the post-season was a solid goal for the club and the benefits of having Seymon Varlamov in net were well seen for all. Chris Kunitz and Mike Richards paced the offense and the defense is solid but a bit top heavy. There's plenty to like about Columbus overall.

 

If Columbus can get ahead in the series early, Pittsburgh hasn't shown the ability to dig themselves out of a hole very often. The trick is can they get ahead? Not likely, but they will keep it close. Prediction: Pittsburgh in seven.

 

(4) Washington Capitals vs. (5) Montreal Canadians - Last seasons top team in the Eastern Conference, the Capitals had a huge swoon to start the season, but got things together and really cruised down the stretch, nearly coming all the way back to take top spot in the conference. Mike Smith was phenomenal, posting a 1.69 goals against average and a .935 save percentage. He's the rock for this team.

 


 
 


In Montreal, the hangman's noose has been put away as the Habs are back in the playoffs after three years on the outside looking in. Montreal separated themselves from the pack mid-way through the season and rattled off a great record for nearly 35 games to easily clinch a playoff berth. Losing seven of their last eight however is causing a bit of caution, but with Henrik Zetterberg, Eric Staal and Viktor Fasth, who has nearly matched Smith's numbers, Les Habitants look to be in good hands.

 

With two netminders putting up ungodly numbers, it's going to come down to which club can muster up some decent level of offence, and Montreal's top line could be the difference. If so, Montreal wins. If not, it's Capital punishment. Prediction: Montreal in seven.

 

ACHL

 

Western Conference

 

(1) Oklahoma City vs. (8) Rockford - Oklahoma in six
(2) Toronto vs. (7) San Antonio - San Antonio in five
(3) Chicago vs. (6) Lake Erie - Lake Erie in five
(4) Adirondack vs. (5) Hamilton - Hamilton in six

 

Eastern Conference

 

(1) Norfolk vs. (8) Lehigh Valley - Norfolk in seven
(2) Hartford vs (7) Wilkes-Barre/Scranton - Hartford in seven
(3) Portland vs (6) Binghampton - Portland in seven
(4) Hershey vs. (5) Worchester - Hershey in seven

 

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Stars aligned

Dallas slips past desert dogs

 
 


Arizona Coyotes (2) vs Dallas Stars (3) ......
On the last Saturday of the regular season the Yotes visit Dallas with hopes for two points and a shot at the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. Dallas is fighting for the same spot and are tied with Arizona.
Arizona capitalized on a very early penalty to the Stars at 0:58 of the first as Marian Gaborik notched his 30th of the season at 1:01. Dallas tied it up on a powerplay goal of their own as Brandon Dubinsky scored his 25th of the season with the Coyote's Ollie Jokinen serving a hooking penalty. The Yotes led the shots on net at 7-5.
No scoring in the second as the teams each fired five shots at the opposing goalie, the toals after 40 minutes were 12-10 Arizona.
The Stars opened the third period scoring with their second extra man goal at 2:20 as Zach Parise scored his 41st of the season as he unleashed a wicked that nearly took James Reimer's ear off as it glanced off the side of the tenders mask. Now it was Arizona's turn to even things up as Chris Higgins scored his 19th at 4:55 with Dubinsky was serving a deuce for slashing, Higgins grabbed the puck off a scrambled draw and using the defenseman as a screen fired a wrister through the legs of Evgeni Nabokov. Parise scored his second of the night at 12:01 with the teams playing five aside, as he snapped a shot past the out stretched arm of James Reimer. The two teams doubled their shots on net in the third as each team fired 15, the totals after 60 minutes were, 27-25 Arizona.
MOLSON'S 3 STARS:
1 - Zach Parise (Dal)......... 2 goals, 3 shots, +1
2 - Brandon Dubinsky (Dal)....  1 goal, 2 assists, +1
3 - Michael Ryder (Dal)........... 2 assists, +1, 3 shots

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Where the Buffalo roam

Jets cut down by Sabres

 
 


Buffalo Sabres (4) vs Winnipeg Jets (2).......
The Sabres visited Winterpeg in hopes of extending their two game win streak and catching Carolina for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. The Jets not mathematically eliminate yet but their tee-off time all but set, hope to climb out of their four game losing skid.
Tomas Plekanec (29th) struck first for Buffalo at 7:42 of the opening period on the powerplay as "Little Joe" Pavelski set him up beautifully in the right face off circle and he lifted a snap shot over Pekke Rinne in net for Winnipeg. Rick Nash doubled the Sabres lead with his 28th less than ninety seconds later while the teams were back at full strength as Nash wristed a shot through a screen and past Rinne. The period ended with the Sabres holding a 12-9 shot advantage.
In the second Buffalo struck again with the extra man as d-man Victor Bartley notched his 4th of the year at 12:52, Nash and Plekanec both getting their second point of the night with assists. Winnipeg finally got on the board at 14:55 as Patrik Elias deflected a Andrej Meszaros' slapper over the shoulder of Roberto Luongo. After forty minutes the Sabres led 26-22 in shots.
"Jumbo" Joe Thornton (25th) got the Jets within one at 13:49 of the third as he beat David Desharnais clean off a face-off at the left of Luongo and caught the goalie off guard with a quick snap shot that found it's way through the legs of the tender. David Desharnais (24th) would make up for his earlier gaffe in the face-off circle as he took a Pavelski feed and beat Rinne low stick for the eventual winner at 15:14 of the third. The shots after sixty minutes were 30 apiece. 

MOLSON'S 3 STARS:
1 - Patrik Elias (Wpg).......... 1 goal, 1 assist, with a team high 8 SOG.
2 - Tomas Plekanec (Buf).... 1 goal, 1 assist, -1 and 3 SOG
3 - Victor Bartley (Buf)......... 1 goal, 1 assist

Reporting For The WCHL Network......
Peter Puck

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What's the goal?

Scoring down in the WCHL

 
 


Fans of the WCHL unite!

The WCHL has a reasonably long history, with many ups and downs, but its been an interesting story, and quite allot fans have come to love the league for this very reason. As mentioned earlier in this season, the "fun" has been scaled back in the league, at least as far as the Games played goes. lets take a look.

Like every league, rules are changed and tweaked to provide for the best possible experience for the fan when he shells out the big bucks for Tickets to a game. That customer now expects to be entertained. Goalie pads may be reduced in size to provide more scoring, or the centreline taken out of the picture to provide for longer and more exciting stretch passes out of the defensive zone, are some such changes. The WCHL now faces a dilemma (in our opinion). The game has become too stale. Much like the days of the NHL Devils, or later on the Wild, the trap brought down the excitement of the game, and the lack of goal scoring in the WCHL make leagues like the NHL look far more preferable.

This year saw a sharp dive in our scoring, and in high flying games pretty much all together. A record number of games have gone to OT and much more often than not, to the shootout. On average, each team has had 15 shootout game so far this year, plus another 6 OT games per team means more than 25% of WCHL games go to OT or beyond. This is actually consistent with the NHL as well (as of 2013) though slightly higher. This is a bright spot for the excitement factor, but back to the lack of goal scoring.

The NHL provided us with about 3370 goals to watch in 2013-2014, from the mundane empty netter, to the through the legs short side Hertl style (since he was the last one to show it off so incredibly, We personally like Pavel Bure's version of it better). 1230 games played, and 2.74 goals per game. The best of the offensive teams, the Hawks, notched no less than 267 goals, followed closely by the Ducks with 266. The WCHL however, is lucky to have their top team breach the 200 goal mark. In fact, there is likely to be only 7 or so teams that will have a chance at 200+ goals, whereas the NHL sports 26 of 30 teams breaching the 200 goal barrier, and of the teams that didn't hit it, 3 were within 3-4 goals. This is a goal differential of about 25-30% between the two.

Perhaps the shrinking of goalie pads is warranted, or perhaps we need to clamp down on interference to allow fleet of foot skaters to break out more often, or at least draw a penalty if held up. There are many a suggestion that could be made, and we encourage discussion on the topic if its an issue. The Fans of the WCHL deserve more, they pay cash money to see an electric product, and we are not currently delivering the most exhilarating version of the WCHL that we can.

We chalk it up to a learning experience, one that we know how to correct, the question is, will we?

Of course we will.

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