Archive for November 2015

The final countdown

Rangers and Blackhawks in original six showdown for the WCHL Cup

One was expected to be here; one wasn't, but the WCHL Cup is being contested for by two original six combatants. Could this be the third title run for the Rangers or are the Hawks primed to put their name on the cup?

The Rangers have been one of the best teams in the league over the past 10 seasons and the hope is to see at least one more title run with a core that is starting to show its age. Chicago meanwhile is looking to duplicate the feat of another original six club -Detroit- by going on a seemingly improbable run into not just the playoffs but also a cup title. Detroit's run was last year and Chicago hoping the magic of that push is still lingering in the air.

So who win the big prize. Read on to find out

WCHL Cup Finals

New York Rangers vs. Chicago Blackhawks - The Rangers on paper seem to have this one in the bag. They have Henrik Lundqvist, Chicago has Jaroslav Halak. New York has Anze Kopitar, Chicago has Joel Ward. The Rangers have Alex Pieterangelo, Chicago has Dennis Wideman. There is a clear gap in talent.

But this game isn't played on paper and Chicago is able to translate that talent into results. They are 12-5 with one of those loses being in overtime. Ward? He's managed 22 points in 17 games. Wideman? 21 in 17. Halak? Only a .930 save percentage. Every season there is one team that seems to capture lightning in a bottle and this years seems to be the Hawks.

They are one of only two clubs to average three goals per game these playoffs and their powerplay is one of only two to exceed a 30 per cent success rate. They've overcame flaws and found ways to win and now they are just four more wins away from a title.

The Rangers have been here multiple times and are making their fifth WCHL Cup finals berth in team history. They club is once again on top of the pile and have been dominate these playoffs. They have a playoffs best 1.76 goals against average and they have an impossible 160 per cent goals for/against ratio, an arms length ahead of the rest of the pack. The club also has the third best special teams these playoffs. All of this has translated into a 12-5 record but it could have been noticeably better if not for a 1-3 overtime record.

Prediction: Chicago's dream ride may be over but they will give the Rangers a few more bumps in the road to a Cup title. New York in six games.

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And then there were four

Three hopefuls; one veteran make up field fighting for glory

From 30 hopefuls to four with a shot, the 21st edition of the WCHL sees four teams trying to claim a WCHL crown.

Of those four only one, the New York Rangers, have ever done so, and they are now trying to be the third team in league history with three titles, joining the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks. San Jose leads all teams with four league titles.

For the remaining three teams -Chicago, Nashville and Buffalo- it's a chance to win the first title ever in team history and a chance to follow in the footsteps of last years improbable run by the Detroit Red Wings.

So who will advance to the finals? Read below to see my thoughts:


Western Conference

(3) Nashville Predators vs. (7) Chicago Blackhawks - The Predators have been able to make the most of some moxy, knocking off the regular season Western Conference champion St. Louis blues in the second round. Now Nashville finds themselves as the favorites, taking on the seventh seeded Blackhawks. The Predators are one of only three teams these playoffs to average three goals per game offensively and that should bode well for them, but they are also only one of three teams allow three goals per game against as well. The other two teams are already eliminated from the post-season and if Nashville doesn't tight up their defense they could join them.

Chicago on the other hand is the lone team still in the playoffs that failed to pick up 100 points in the regular season and the only team to never have home ice advantage in the playoffs. That hasn't stopped them before however and they are 5-2 on the road this post-season. The league's second best powerplay helps but the club stay in games.

Prediction: Nashville will prevail but it won't be easy. Predators in seven.

Eastern Conference

(2) New York Rangers vs. (6) Buffalo Sabres - The Rangers are the lone veteran presence in the final four, and their two WCHL Cup rings still adorn the hands of many players in the locker room. The core of this squad has been together for several years and look to be staying together for at least as long as Henrik Lundqvist is together. The core is still going strong, leading the playoffs with a 3.27 goals per game average and sit second best with a 1.73 goals against average.

Of note, Buffalo is the lone team with a goals against average lower than the Rangers, clocking in at 1.67. They aren't exactly a slouch offensively either, operating a powerplay that sits best in the post-season by a fair amount, scoring at an astounding 40 per cent clip. Buffalo's combined special teams is the league's best through two rounds of playoff games and Buffalo also poses the best shot for and against ratio in the game.

Prediction: Buffalo is clicking right now and could be the biggest threat to the Rangers. Buffalo in seven games.


Eastern Conference

(2) Hartford Wolfpack vs. (3) Hershey Bears - Hershey in seven games.

Western Conference

(1) Grand Rapids Griffins vs. (2) Texas Stars - Grand Rapids in six games.

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Not shocking

Several close calls but few upsets in round one

After being pushed to the brink in round one, both the St. Louis Blues and the tampa Bay have survived to live another day. The pair of conference leaders were left shaken but not eliminated after a hard fight to advance. Will it prove to be the issue that strengths them enough to make a cup run or are they cracking under the pressure?

In total, half of the eight opening rounds went the distance, indicative of a league that has made big strides in terms of parity. Expect more of the same in round two.

Below are my predictions for round two


Western Conference

(1) St. Louis Blues vs. (3) Nashville Predators - The Blues battled back against the Colorado Avalanche to make it into the second round but it wasn't that they played poorly. They were one of six teams to allow two goals or fewer so far these playoffs and if they can continue that while getting better offensive production the Blues will be on to round three.

Playing defense against the Predators though could be tough. The Preds rattled off 3.14 goals per game in round one and had the leagues best powerplay so far in the post-season at 33.33 per cent. If the Preds offense continues to fire like they have been it'll be a quick series.

Prediction: Colorado proved to be enough of a kick in the pants for the Blues. Expect them to rebound. St. Louis in six games.

(4) Edmonton Oilers vs. (7) Chicago Blackhawks – No scored more than Edmonton in round one. With 3.17 goals per games, the Oilers were impossible to contain for the Los Angeles Kings and now the task falls to the Blackhawks. Expect the offense to continue to round two.

Chicago did however have a 1.80 goals against average in round one, good for third in the league. That was against the Arizona Coyotes and now they face a different task in shutting down the Oilers. The key to this series could very well be netminder Jaroslav Halak and his .935 save percentage.

Prediction: If Halak can shutdown Edmonton, the Hawks will win. But he won't. Edmonton is five.

Eastern Conference

(1) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. (6) Buffalo Sabres – What a ride. After roasting the rest of the league in the regular season the Lightning were almost toast in the opening round against the Penguins. But the Lightning rallied from a 3-1 deficit, outscoring the Pens 10-2 in the process and now look like they have hit their stride. They will be a tough team to beat if they roll that momentum over into round two.

Buffalo meanwhile turned a battle of the brothers in round one into a bit of a laugher, outscoring Boston 14-10 and outside of a shutout in game three their offense was clicking. It'll be a challenge doing so against Tampa Bay, who held the offensively gifted Penguins to 10 goals in seven games. If Buffalo can't fair better they won't last long.

Prediction: Buffalo won't make it easy but the Lightning is flashing bright lately. Tampa Bay in five games.

(2) New York Rangers vs. (4) New Jersey Devils – One team doesn't have a GM and the other has one of the most storied-GMs in the league. Yet these two teams are meeting in a cross-state battle. The Rangers will aim to ride the second best playoffs goals against average and the best goals for/against ratio to yet another appearance in the playoffs.

The Devils on the other hand are no easy pushover. Despite having no one at the helm, the Devils look to take the best penalty killing left in the post-season and fend off a Rangers offense which is below average for the teams remaining in the playoffs.

Prediction: hard to vote against the Rangers who have been one of the best playoff teams in league history. Rangers in five games.


Eastern Conference

(2) Hartford Wolfpack vs. (8) Worchester Sharks – Hartford in six.
(3) Hershey Bears vs. (5) Portland Pirates - Hershey in six.

Western Conference

(1) Grand Rapids Griffins vs. (6) Adirondack Flames – Adirondack in six.
(2) Texas Stars vs.(5) San Antonio Rampage - San Antonio in six.

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The sweet 16

Here we go

In a season which seen some powerful teams on paper struggle on the ice the playoff matchups in the WCHL may appear somewhat unbalanced but it also represents a chance for redemption. For some teams who underachieved but made it, the playoffs represents a chance to truly strut their stuff and show the regular season was a misnomer.

For others however the playoffs poses a chance to get someplace they never have before. While the WCHL is 21 seasons old there has only been 12 different teams to actually claim a WCHL Cup, meaning the majority of the league -and the majority of the teams to make the playoffs- have yet to add a piece of hardware to their trophy cabinets.

Here's a look at how the 1st round might play out:

Western Conference

(1) St. Louis Blues vs. (8) Colorado Avalanche - The Blues have shocked most everyone to sit atop the Western Conference and second in the league with 112 points. St. Louis finished second in the league in goals for and fifth in goals against, and had a goals for/against differential of +51. The Blues can bring it at both ends of the ice.

Colorado is in the midst of what has been a two year slump, struggling to even make the playoffs. But if any line up can knock off a top seed in round one it's Colorado. While the Avs are very talented up front, they also gave up the fewest shots per game this season, showing an ability to shutdown the other team. If they can get the goaltending to go with that defensive effort it could spell success in the first round

Prediction: St. Louis has just been to consistent for to long. Blues in seven games.

(2) Arizona Coyotes vs. (7) Chicago Blackhawks - How does a team finish in the bottom 10 in the league in both shots against and shots for yet still manage a 100 point season? Finishing in the top 10 on both the powerplay and penalty kill is one way and that's what the Coyotes did. They might be beatable five-on-five but they are deadly otherwise.

For Chicago, they may be five seeds lower than Arizona but they only finished the season with three fewer points and one fewer wins, so they definitely can hang with the Coyotes. In a rarely seen stat however the Hawks were the team that had the most shots for and the most shots against. That will likely see the Hawks sink instead of swim at some point.

Prediction: Chicago could win this but they are just to inconsistent to do so. Arizona in six games.

(3) Nashville Predators vs. (6) Dallas Stars- The Predators may have home ice in this series but both the Preds and the Stars finished the season with 103 points, effectively making this series a coin flip. Nashville had a slightly better goals for/against differential but they also were third in goals for and second on the powerplay. They can bring it offensively.

Dallas may not be able to outscore the Preds but Dallas could have the ability to shut them down. Dallas typically controls the flow of play and are among the league leaders in shots for and against. If Zach Parise can keep up his scoring ways and get some help from the secondary options, Dallas can prevail.

Prediction: Despite the closeness in the standings this series likely won't be close at all. Predators in five games.

(4) Edmonton Oilers vs. (5) Los Angeles Kings - The Oilers are coming off strong seasons the past couple of seasons and have forged a solid path as a darkhorse contender. They are again in that seat and will try to make another run at a cup but finishing in the bottom half of the league in goals for and against and possessing the 28th ranked penalty kill isn't the ideal route.

The Kings were the only team in the West to finish with a losing record in regulation time and yet still make the playoffs. Finishing in the bottom third of the league in goals for, goals against and penalty killing is why. The Kings figure to be lucky to even be in the playoffs.

Prediction: The Oilers may just be the least worst of these two. The Oilers in six games.

Eastern Conference

(1) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. (8) Pittsburgh Penguins - The roles in this series should be flipped based on how each team looks on paper. The Penguins are equipped with a lot of firepower yet have yet it put it all together, something the Lightning have done in spades this season. Tampa Bay not only had a league best 56 wins and 120 points, they topped the charts in goals scored and in powerplay proficiency, while also allowing the second fewest goals per game and taking the least number of penalties. This team has been firing on all cylinders this season.

Pittsburgh finished right behind the Lightning in goals against giving up just five more goals than the Lightning but offensively the Penguins slumped. Despite being led by Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh tumbled to 19th in goals per game while Jonathan Tavares posted just 50 points and Jeff Carter had just 29 despite playing over 20 minutes per game. If those offensive guns can start firing the Penguins could pull off an upset.

Prediction: Don't expect Pittsburgh to suddenly get it. Tampa Bay in six games.

(2) New York Rangers vs (7) Detroit Red Wings - The Rangers are trying to get back to the top of the mountain and they will have to go through the defending cup champion to do so. For New York it's simple; keep doing what you have been doing all season long. The Rangers finished the season as the only team in the league to give up less than two goals per game and have a penalty kill kill rate of over 85 per cent.

Detroit is simply the team that does what it shouldn't. Last season they went from being dead last to winning it all and while this year can't be more dramatic the Red Wings also want to prove it wasn't a fluke either. The Wings rank fourth in goals against average and on the penalty kill so they have the defensive talents to keep up with the Rangers.

Prediction: It's hard to bet against the Red Wings but the run has to end eventually. New York Rangers in seven games.

(3) Boston Bruins vs. (6) Buffalo Sabres - Not only is this a classic Adams Division show down that played out every year in the old NHL, this is also a battle of brothers as the Khera clan bragging rights are on the line. Boston held the upper hand in the regular season, albeit barely, and hope to capitalize on their balanced attack to do so.

Buffalo meanwhile is actually only finished one point behind the Bruins in the regular season and have some strengths to lean on in their effort to claim those bragging rights. Those include the conferences best faceoff percentage and top five rankings in both special teams situations.

Prediction: This will be close but Buffalo is doing the little things right. Buffalo in six games.

(4) New Jersey Devils vs. (5) Philadelphia Flyers- The Flyers didn't have a GM for most of the season and New Jersey is currently without one at all so it may be surprising these two teams are even in the post-season. But here they are and one will see the second round. Only one point separate these two teams and the edge went to New Jersey who rode a fourth ranked powerplay to a 101 point season.

The Flyers hope to see their first successful post-season run in their first playoff since the departure of original GM Doug Van Strepen. They'll be in tough against the Devils and have to look to find a way to take a squad which was middle of the pack in the regular season and put them on top of the heap in the post-season.

Prediction: New Jersey moves on in this one. Devils in six games.


Eastern Conference

(1) Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins vs. (8) Worchester Sharks - Wilkes/Barre-Scranton in five games.
(2) Hartford Wolfpack vs. (7) Manchester Monarchs - Hartford in six games.
(3) Hershey Bears vs. (6) Norfolk Admirals - Hershey in five games.
(4) Syracuse Crunch vs. (5) Portland Pirates - Portland in five games.

Western Conference

(1) Grand Rapids Griffins vs. (8) Lake Erie Monsters - Lake Erie in seven games.
(2) Texas Stars vs. (7) Chicago Wolves - Texas in six games.
(3) Olkahoma City Barons vs. Adirondack Flames - Adirondack in six games.
(4) Toronto Marlies vs. (5) San Antonio Rampage - Toronto in seven games.

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