Friday, May 05, 2006

2006 Stanley Cup playoffs
Second-round preview

Looking back: Well, my first-round picks put me at 5 out of 8, which is half-decent considering the number of upsets in the Western Conference. The worst pick I made was thinking the Philadelphia Flyers would overcome their injury troubles and go on a run; the best pick was being one of the few to say the Anaheim Ducks would defeat the Calgary Flames.

Still, I've been kicking myself since Game 1 of the Detroit-Edmonton series for not taking the Oilers. I won't make that mistake again.


ROUND 2

Eastern Conference


(1) Ottawa v. (4) Buffalo
Series key: The Sabres defence
These teams were far closer to each other in the standings this year than you'd think. Buffalo missed winning the Eastern Conference title by just three points, which is pretty elite territory given the inexperienced crew they have. Both of these teams have extremely well-balanced scoring — the Sabres had nine players with 18 goals or more, the Senators had seven — and the matchup in goaltending only slightly favours Buffalo (keeping in mind that Ryan Miller at his absolute best is an elite netminder). What I think this series comes down to is the blueline, where Ottawa can throw two Norris Trophy calibre defenders (Zdeno Chara and Wade Redden) against Buffalo's top forwards. In terms of icetime, the Sabres top blueliners are Toni Lydman, Brian Campbell and Henrik Tallinder, who are going to be tasked with shutting down the likes of Dany Heatley. Buffalo also lacks any offensive threat from their defence.
Ottawa in 6


(2) Carolina v. (3) New Jersey
Series key: Shutting down Staal and Brind'Amour
The Hurricanes are going to be a heck of a lot better prepared for this series than the Rangers were in the first round, but what Carolina coach Peter Laviolette really is going to have to guard against is the shutdown specialists Devils coach Lou Lamoriello is going to employ (John Madden, Jay Pandolfo et al) against the top 'Canes. Erik Staal and Rod Brind'Amour provided the bulk of Carolina's offence in the first round, but are far tougher to contain than the relatively soft Rangers forwards the Devils faced in Round 1. I wouldn't bet against Lamoriello. (Series key No. 2 is, without a doubt, Cam Ward v. Martin Brodeur
New Jersey in 5


Western Conference

(5) San Jose v. (8) Edmonton
Series key: Pronger v. Thornton
Much like in the Ottawa-Buffalo series, the Sharks simply don't have anyone on the blueline who is even close to the calibre of blueliner as Chris Pronger. What I expect coach Craig MacTavish will do is task Pronger with neutralizing Joe Thornton, which would go a long, long way to crimping the Sharks goal scoring. At the other end, Sharks coach Ron Wilson will lean heavily on Scott Hannan and Kyle McLaren, as his remaining four defenders are all very inexperienced. What the Oilers need to do is work the forecheck on this team, press hard and generate the kind of shovel-garbage goals they got in the Detroit series. Vesa Toskala has been phenomenal in the Sharks net since February, and Dwayne Roloson needs to match his first-round performance.
Edmonton in 6


(6) Anaheim v. (7) Colorado
Series key: Shutting down Sakic
One of the great secrets of this Ducks team is how strong defensively its forward core is. Sam Pahlsson, Rob Niedermayer and Todd Marchant all played more than 17 minutes a game in their first-round series, and it'll be that trio that tries to key on Joe Sakic, Milan Hejduk and Alex Tanguay. Colorado hardly generated any offence from anyone outside of their top four forwards in the first round, which should make it easy for the Ducks to key on those players. Much like the Calgary series, this will be a low-scoring affair, and Jose Theodore is going to really have to hold the fort and now allow any bad goals.
Anaheim in 6

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7 Comments:

At 3:40 PM, May 05, 2006, Blogger Black Dog Hates Skunks said...

I picked the Oil over the Wings and I'm picking them over the Sharks too but Doug Wilson has put together a pretty nice team - considering all of the vets he shed after 2004. Would it be accurate to say they are one of the youngest teams in the league? Have you seen them play much? If so what's the scouting report on Toskela and how about Preissing? To me they're just two more guys who haven't been in my kitchen.

 
At 4:57 PM, May 05, 2006, Anonymous Mike Chen said...

I think people who don't get to see Sharks games because of time zones wind up overlooking the Sharks' second unit of Patrick Marleau (86 points in the regular season, 6 goals in the postseason so far) and his two outstanding rookie linemates Steve Bernier and Milan Michalek. Nashville was able to limit Joe Thornton to "just" four assists, but couldn't handle the Marleau line (3 big fast guys who forecheck and cycle really well). I'm assuming Pronger will get the Thornton assignment, but the real key to the series will be Jason Smith vs the Marleau line.

The Sharks' defense is young and rather anonymous, but they certainly are better than most people think. Tom Preissing isn't Chris Pronger by any stretch of the imagination, but he and Christian Ehrhoff are better than most people think. The Sharks simply would not have had the second half they did without those two stepping up.

 
At 5:42 PM, May 05, 2006, Blogger James Mirtle said...

I don't think the Sharks defence is bad; it's actually rather good. What I do think is that a) they don't have anyone close to a Pronger and b) other than the two fellows I mention, they're inexperienced. Match that up against the likes of Staios and Jason Smith, and I think the Oilers win out. I think Preissing and Ehrhoff are going to, eventually, be very good NHL defencemen.

The bottom line is, while the Sharks second line is good, San Jose's not going to win another series without production from Thornton and Cheechoo. Nashville is one thing, but Edmonton is a much deeper team than the Predators were in the first round.

I know the placeline under my name says I'm in Toronto, but working late nights on the sports desk (11 p.m.), the only games still playing on Centre Ice when I get home are out West. Factor in that I'm originally from B.C. and grew up watching the WHL — I saw all of Marleau's junior career with Seattle, for example — and it's players, I think I'm far more comfortable evaluating the Western Conference than the East.

I mean, did pick Philly and Anaheim to win in the first round.

 
At 6:32 PM, May 05, 2006, Blogger Tom L said...

James,

I'm sure you'll be surprised to find that I disagree with you on almost all of these picks... :)

The biggest nit I have is your pick of Edmonton over San Jose. The Oil are not going to be able to continue loading up the ice-time on their top-d and expect to win a long series, which I think this will be. Michalek/Bernier/Marleau will wear out whomever MacT puts up against them and that will, I think, decide this series. If it's Staios and Bergeron, well, sorry... that's not going to cut it.

As for picking against Lou? Please, this guy is not a playoff coach. He's not been here before and the moment this thing goes tought for the Devils he may lose some of his vaunted control. The Lavalamp has home ice and last change... he'll use it better than Lou.

Buffalo? I'm hoping. If they take one in 'Twa early this thing gets ugly fast for the Sens.

Anaheim will outlast the the Divealanche... again younger legs will prevail in a long series, just like in San Jose.

Ta,

 
At 7:24 PM, May 05, 2006, Blogger James Mirtle said...

I'm sure you'll be surprised to find that I disagree with you on almost all of these picks... :)

Well, we were reasonably close in the first round, with you taking the Sabres and Rangers, and I not.

From what I've seen so far, the consensus picks from 'experts' appear to be Ottawa-New Jersey, San Jose-Anaheim.

 
At 11:53 AM, May 06, 2006, Anonymous steelyjack said...

EAST

Sabres over Senators
Devils over Canes


WEST

Sharks over Oilers
Ducks over Avs

 
At 11:11 PM, May 06, 2006, Blogger Joe Pelletier said...

There's something magical about the Edmonton Oilers. They've been the posterboys for the new NHL, and it seems like their destiny to make a lot of noise this playoffs.

That being said SJ is red hot and are still the favorites.

Joe Pelletier
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http://www.legendsofhockey.blogspot.com

 

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