Archive for 2014

Saturday Night Special

Penguins dodge the Rangers

 Sidney Crosby battled through rough checking all night, earning three assists for his efforts

New York Rangers (1) vs Pittsburgh Penguins (3).........
The Penguins top line of Sidney Crosby(3 assists), Jerome Iginla(1 goal, 2 assists) and Patrick Marleau(2 goals) registered eight points as Pittsburgh dispatched the New York Rangers on Saturday night.
Patrick Marleau scored back-to-back powerplay goals in the first period a little over seven minutes apart, his third and fourth goals of the year. Shots were 9-8 New York after twenty minutes. 
Rookie Curtis McKenzie scored his first WCHL goal at 5:44 of the second period to cut the Pens lead in half. Just over five minutes later Jerome Iginla(2nd) got that one back as he redirected a slap pass from "Sid the Kid" over the shoulder of Hendrik Lundqvist. The Rangers fired eleven shots at Marc-Andre Fleury in the second but only the rookie's shot found mesh.
The third period was played as if the teams already knew the game was over as the shot total for both teams was four shots apiece.
The night got worse for the Rangers as they were told after the game that Andres Lee, who left part way through the second period will miss atleast three weeks with what the team is calling an upper body injury (believed to be a concussion as told by a source close to the Rangers).
Fleury made 23 saves for his eighth win of the season for Pittsburgh.

1 - Patrick Marleau (Pit)........ 2 goals, 4 shots
2 - Sidney Crosby (Pit)......... 3 assists, +1, 2 shots
3 - Jarome Iginla (Pit).......... 1 goal, 2 assists, 2 shots

Both teams are back at it on Monday as the Pens host Steven Stamkos and the Calgary Flames who split a recent home-and-home series with Anaheim, winning the last one 3-2 at home in Cowtown, while the Rangers visit the American Capital to take on captain Chris Phillips and the rest of the Capitals. The Rangers will have to do without Andres Lee for a while as he nurses his concussion, the Rangers have a slew of rookies looking for their chance to show GM Don they can stick with the big club. We'll have to wait and see who they bring up.

Reporting For The WCHL Network......

Peter Puck

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Sens can't rattle Sabres

Luongo pushes Buffalo to win with 31 saves


Buffalo Sabres (3) vs Ottawa Senators (1).........
The first Saturday night of Season 20 pits the Champion Senators against the Buffalo Sabres who missed out on the big dance in season 19. Both teams were playing their sixth game in seven nights, with the Sens riding a three game win streak.
The Sabres opened the scoring in this game at the 2:00 mark of the middle period as Tom Wandell(1st) scored on a deflection off a shot by Daniel Paille. The shots through two were 20-20.
In the third Paille(1st) scored to double Buffalo's lead on  assists from Wandell and Stephen Gionta at 6:38. The Sens got one back as Keith Yandle(2nd) hammered home a pass from Martin St.Louis, with the second assist going to Corey Perry at 15:08. With less than ninety seconds remaining in regulation Ryan Clowe(3rd) delivered the final blow as he would score on the powerplay at 18:32 to diminish any hope the Sens would have of a come back, and end Otawa's win streak. 
Marty Brodeur made 36 saves in the losss, while his counter-part at the other end stopped 31 shots to improve his record to 3-2. 
The Sabres are off until Monday when they host the Minnesota Wild (4-1-0-0-1). The Sens hope to get back on track on Monday as well as the travel to Columbus to face Jason Spezza and the (3-1-1-0-0-1) BlueJackets. 
1 - Daniel Paille (Buf)........... 1 goal, 1 assist, +2, 5 shots.
2 - Roberto Luongo (Buf)...... 31 saves 
3 - Tom Wandell (Buf)........... 1 goal, 1 assist, +2, 2 shots

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

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It all comes down to this

Oilers, Sens face off in first All-Canadian finals


In the first 18 seasons of the Western Canadian Hockey League there has only been one Canadian team to win a WCHL Cup. That was the Calgary Flames, who captured a league title in Season 11.
For the most part though its been more famine than feast for Canadian clubs in the WCHL, who are handicapped already by only having seven of the 30 clubs. When you factor in that four of the seven didn't even making the playoffs this year, it looked like pretty strong odds that it'd be another Cupless season in Canada.
In what has been a very odd season however the hockey gods had a different story in mind however. The Edmonton Oilers cruised through the playoffs, posting a 12-4 record along the way while the Ottawa Senators had to battle a bit harder but still advanced to the finals on the strength of a 12-6 record.
What all of that means is Canada is guaranteed to see it's second WCHL Cup parade in the first ever all all-Canada match-up. All that's left to answer is if the cup will return to Alberta or for the first time ever be awarded outside of the second-most Westerly province.


(2) Ottawa Senators vs. (1) Edmonton Oilers- While the Oilers did win the West the Senators actually had the better seeding and it gives them home ice advantage in the finals. The question is will it matter?
Maybe. The Sens are 6-4 on home ice but are better on the road, going 6-2. For Edmonton meanwhile they are 6-1 on the road and have been pretty dominate in the process, outscoring the home team 20-9 in those games, including two shutouts. Ottawa may be better off to just hope for a home split and take their chances on the road. The Oilers are only 6-3 at home, meaning this could be a series about who doesn't screw up on home ice, the opposite of what usually matters at this time of the year.
Ottawa will be led by Robin Lehner. The young netminder has posted a .932 save percentage and a meager 1.69 goals against average as he has looked like a young Patrick Roy more than an average 23-year-old. Offensively the charge will be handled by Corey Perry, who leads the club with eight goals and 14 points.
The Oilers will be countering with Ilya Bryzgalov. The ignematic netminder has reserructed his career and looks like his old-self from his Colorado Avalanche days where he picked up two WCHL Cups. Sitting with a .941 save percentage and a 1.61 goals against average, Bryzgalov has been a Conn Smythe candidate all post-season and one more good series could cement that status. The clubs offense is being backed by the usual duo for the Oilers; Brad Richards and Jason Pominville. The long-time pairing for the Oilers has potted 13 goals and 39 points so far these playoffs.
Prediction: Edmonton has been on cruise control all season and have barely faced a test they haven't been able to handle. The Senators have been pretty smooth so far but each series has been a battle in one form or another. This one could be the series that makes it to tough a task to win. Edmonton in six games.



(2) Toronto Marlies vs. (4) Hershey Bears - Hershey in six games.

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A first time champion is guaranteed in wacky playoffs


Whoever predicted Ottawa, Columbus, Edmonton and Chicago would be in the final four of the WCHL playoffs had better have played the lottery. In a weird season where pre-season cup favorites like Colorado and Calgary didn't even make the playoffs, every round has claimed a likely candidate for the WCHL Cup.

Now as we enter round three, not only will there be an end to the two-time cup reign of the Anaheim Ducks, there will be a first time ever champion. All four clubs that are left standing have never won a cup title. Some have never even been this far into the playoffs.

What's in story for the four Cinderella's? Well there can only be one queen of this ball.


Western Conference

(1) Edmonton Oilers vs. (6) Chicago Blackhawks- In this extremely inconsistent season, the one consistency has been the Oilers. All season long they have been one of the best squads in the league and they have only improved as the playoffs have gone along. Round one they lined up against the eighth seeded Arizona Coyotes and they stormed out to a 3-0 lead before winning in five games. Round two against the seventh seeded Dallas Stars, Edmonton won the first three games before winning in five games. Round three is against the sixth seeded Blackhawks. Is it going to deja vu all over again?


Chicago has been battling hard to even get a whiff of the playoffs for several years and now that they are here they have shown they didn't just fluke their way to the big tournament. The Hawks didn't have an easy mission either, doing what no team has done in over two seasons and 10 post-season series; defeating the two-time defending WCHL Cup champions in seven games after being down 3-2. 

Prediction: The Hawks have been as pesky as anyone but the Oilers have been on a big roll all season long. Don't expect Chicago to go away as easily as Dallas and Arizona, but don't expect them to win the series either. Edmonton in six games.

Eastern Conference

(2) Ottawa Senators vs. (6) Columbus Blue Jackets- The Senators may have finally shaken the burden of being a playoff worthy team that sits in the shadows of the elite of the Eastern Conference. Constantly in the post-season, Ottawa has rarely been in the talks of being a potential cup contender but this season that has changed in a hurry. Arguably the best team still alive, Ottawa not only is in the cup mix, they have the Las Vegas odds to win it all right now.


Columbus meanwhile slayed the giant New York Rangers, besting the Big Apple's finest in six games, allowing just six goals in the process. Having surrendered just 17 goals in 13 games, Columbus is going to be a tough nut to crack for Ottawa. Led by a top-heavy but talented defense that's backed by early Conn Smythe contender Semyon Varlamov, Columbus thrives on low-scoring games. In 13 games that Columbus has played this post-season, there have only been a combined total of 41 goals, just over three goals per game. Columbus is only averaging 1.80 goals per game themselves, so don't expect anyone to shoot out the lights.

Prediction: Ottawa will hold their own with the Blue Jackets but unless it strikes midnight soon the Blue Jackets ill continue to gut out the wins. Columbus in six games.


Western Conference

(2) Toronto Marlies vs. (5) Hamilton Bulldogs- Hamilton in seven games.

Eastern Conference

(4) Hershey Bears vs. (7) Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins- Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in six games.

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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.


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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.


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?


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.


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.
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:




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.




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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