Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Some first-round musings

An entirely unintended consequence of taking on a job in the sports media is that, when the games get good, you get rather busy.

The first-round of the NHL playoffs are the busiest time of the year, bar none, on the sports desk — so busy, in fact, that here I am crawling into my apartment after 2 a.m. on a Tuesday night in which there were five games. Combine that with the fact that somehow there are now three of these blog things I'm supposed to contribute to and a newspaper redesign on the way and, well, time has been in short supply.

I feel as though I've barely scratched the surface in talking about what's happened through Week 1 of the postseason, so here's the sum of a few random thoughts:
  • After Games 1 and 2 of the Sharks-Predators series, it looked as though Peter Forsberg still had 'it' and was just about ready to reclaim his spot as one of the game's dominant player. Then came Monday's Game 3, where the husky-eyed gorilla man was positively awful, and now I'm not so sure where he stands. One things certain: Nashville needs him to be Peter the Great instead of Peter the Horribly Broken.

  • Anyone else surprised to see Ilya Bryzgalov start four games in a row for Anaheim? Game 1 made a little sense given what J-S Giguere has been through, but Bryzgalov started just 26 games this season and was handily outperformed by Jiggy all year. Giguere drew into the final minutes of Game 4 after it was out of hand (and getting Boogaard-ishly silly), but who does coach Carlyle turn to now? And what happens if Giguere plays and lays an egg in Game 5?

  • Since I picked the Minny Mild to win the Cup, I might as well acknowledge their existence: As far as I've seen, their biggest single problem just might have been staying out of the penalty box. Through the first three games, no team had spent more minutes killing penalties (Minnesota was down 5-on-4 for 28 minutes in those games) than the Wild. It's hard to score when down a man, the sportswriter's handbook tells me. The other problem has been that, for all of the shots they've thrown Bryzgalov's way on the power play, the goals have been few and far between.

  • Daniel Alfredsson has been terrific this season, one of the most dominant offensive players in the league (and second to only Thomas Vanek in on-ice goals for per 60 even-strength minutes), and is finally getting some pub because, so far, he's done it in the playoffs. Thumbs up to that.

  • The pre-playoff moaning about how big a difference Gary Roberts would make hit a fever pitch last week, and unbelievably, the 40-year-old who had 42 points this season has lived up to that ridiculous, Toronto-bred hype. I'm not sure why, but I can't help but crack up every time Roberts bear hugs baby-faced Jordan Staal after a goal. (Staal was, after all, about eight months old when Roberts won the Cup with Calgary.)

  • Mark Eaton's actually pretty good.

  • Does Don Waddell lose his job given the utter meltdown that's happening in Atlanta? Or was getting this sad-sack team into the playoffs in that awful division enough to keep the good times going? (At least fans got new scarves out of the deal.)

  • Sean Avery has played far better than I'd ever thought he was capable, and Paul Mara is playing the best hockey of his career. Most of the time I don't know what to think of Tom Renney's laissez-faire coaching style, but he's looked like an absolute genius next to Bob Hartley in this series.

  • Speaking of which, why on earth didn't Johan Hedberg get the Game 3 start after playing so well in a Game 2 loss? It looked as though Kari Lehtonen's knees were knocking from the word go(al) on Tuesday at MSG. It's great to see the Big Apple crowd so ready to go.

  • Boldly assuming Anaheim and Detroit are advancing in the West, a series win for Vancouver would mean a draw against the Ducks. Dallas would face the Red Wings if they can pull it out, which leads me to believe whoever wins out in that Canucks/Stars match-up is toast come Round 2. Just a feeling.

  • Being a native British Columbian, it's bizarre watching Trevor Linden still scoring big goals for the Canucks, 13 years after the team's last big playoff run fell just short.

  • Is Mike Modano done?

  • The Lightning have really impressed me so far. Martin Brodeur has been around so long that it seems impossible there's a 'book' on him that all 29 other teams wouldn't already know (or have at least checked out of the library), but Tampa's players have seemingly been firing the puck at his feet all series long, something that has paid off in a few bizarre goals. Both St. Louis and Lecavalier have also scored by teeing up shots from near the goal line, another unlikely, low-percentage place to shoot from, which makes me think the team's video coach is doing a nice job down south. The East is wide open enough that I think Tampa could potentially have a chance to advance further if they can continue to befuddle Loophole Lou and friends. I get the feeling all coach John Tortorella has to do is play Lecavalier another 15 minutes a game to really put them over the hump.

  • Losing Robyn Regehr dramatically changes what the Flames have to do to beat the Red Wings — if only because it means Brad Stuart's going to be on the ice a heckuva lot more. Roman Hamrlik, Stuart and Dion Phaneuf all played 25+ minutes in Game 3.

  • And finally, the Sabres started to wake up in Game 3, but they certainly haven't looked like world beaters. It's still fun cheering for Ryan Smyth in an underdog role, regardless of the jersey he's gone on this go-round.
I think that catches us up, at least momentarily. I'll do my best not to fall behind again.

13 Comments:

At 3:50 AM, April 18, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmm...either Vancouver or Dallas is toast come round two? I have the opposite feeling. A lack of goals by each of these teams looks bad on the surface, but they are two of the best defensive teams in the NHL, with elite goaltenders. Assuming Vancouver advances, I'll boldly predict the following results: Vancouver over Anaheim in 5; over San Jose in 6; over Nashville in 5; over Minnesota in 6; over Calgary in 7. Vancouver is the best team in the West. Period. - yabanjin

 
At 9:23 AM, April 18, 2007, Blogger jfl1066 said...

MSG was rocking last night. Atlanta looked like they had some serious Broadway stage fright. I'm not crazy enough to say the Rangers have the team to win it all, but last night in the stands made me want to believe....

 
At 9:59 AM, April 18, 2007, Anonymous Eric said...

"Vancouver is the best team in the West. Period."

Comedy. Vancouver may have won 3 games thus far, but they've spent entire periods of those wins looking seriously overmatched by the Stars. If the Stars had some of the offensive talent of years past (Hull, Guerin, Modano in his prime) Vancouver would have exited the playoffs already. You know the Stars are hurting for offense when Mike Ribeiro is their top scorer despite averaging less than 15 minutes a game in the regular season.

James, as for "Is Modano Done?" I think the answer is, sadly, yes, at least as a dominant player. He's nowhere near the offensive weapon that he used to be, and losing the C just indicates to me that even his leadership and two-way play aren't up to spec anymore. I could see him having a spot on a rebuilding club, where his experience could be handy for seasoning rookies, but given that I don't think he'll ever play for another team, I think it's about time for him to pack it in.

 
At 10:55 AM, April 18, 2007, Blogger Nick said...

Vancouver is the best team in the West. Period.

Are you watching the same playoffs as I am?

 
At 11:24 AM, April 18, 2007, Blogger Jason said...

Luongo is the best player in the West. The team in front of him is ok.

 
At 11:54 AM, April 18, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Luongo is the best player in the West. The team in front of him is ok.

My problem with statements like this - is Luongo not part of the Canucks? I mean you could do this for most teams in the playoffs: Crosby, Thornton, Gaborik, Jarome, etc. For some reason, everyone likes to make a distinction with goaltenders though. Yes Luongo is probably the best player in the West. But does this not mean he then improves the Canucks from a good team to a very good team? Especially when the team's best player is the league's best player in the game's most critical position?

I just think its ridiculous when comments like that are made. Luongo is part of the Canucks.

 
At 12:12 PM, April 18, 2007, Blogger Jeremy said...

"...whoever wins out in that Canucks/Stars match-up is toast come Round 2"

I still feel this way too, but honestly I've felt that way about the Canucks all year and they keep making me feel like a pessimistic traitor by winning again and again. They won so many games when it looked like they had been outplayed -- even at the end of the second period in many of those games I assumed they were going to lose, but they just kept winning.

When they're playing poorly, they still seem to have a chance to win, as we've seen in this series. Then, occasionally they really turn it on for a period, you see that there's actually more to these guys than you thought. Bit of an enigma.

I'm less pessimistic now (helps that they're up 3-1, I guess), but the prognosticators and stats-junkies apparently still haven't learned their lesson with this version of the 'nucks. There's this sense that their low goal differential and their high proportion of wins in OT (and the oft-repeated one-goal-game tally) somehow indicates that they'll lose in the playoffs, but they're playing exactly the same in this series as they've played since Christmas -- great goaltending, tight defensive system, and taking advantage of the other team's turnovers to score just enough to win, often in OT. And it's the wins that count, not the stats.

 
At 12:58 PM, April 18, 2007, Blogger Earl Sleek said...

Through the first three games, no team had spent more minutes killing penalties (Minnesota was down 5-on-4 for 28 minutes in those games) than the Wild.

Uh, James, I think you got your facts backwards here. By my count, it is the Ducks who have spent 28 minutes killing penalties through three games, the Wild have only spent 19 minutes.

The Wild's problem wassn't so much in the balance of power plays, but rather in terms of special teams performance.

We'll see if last night helped get them out of that rut.

 
At 1:39 PM, April 18, 2007, Blogger Kel said...

If the Stars had some of the offensive talent of years past (Hull, Guerin, Modano in his prime) Vancouver would have exited the playoffs already

Actually, the Stars would be over the cap with that kind of offensive talent. We have to accept that even the best team today is not as good as one of the cup contenders in the past, when only 4 teams or less could be considered legitmate contenders.

James had a feeling that the Wild would win the Cup, so I don't think his prediction is going to be better anyone else's. I don't like Vancouver's chances against Anaheim, but as jeremy pointed out, nobody liked their chances coming into this season and they've been proving people wrong since Christmas. I was overseas around Christmas and unable to watch their winning streak, and then I came back and was surprised to see them continue winning. It's ironic that what they are showing these days: the Brian Burke/Marc Crawford era Canucks team really wasn't winning material. It would be an interesting second round if they advance and play Burke's Anaheim Ducks.

 
At 1:43 PM, April 18, 2007, Blogger James Mirtle said...

James had a feeling that the Wild would win the Cup, so I don't think his prediction is going to be better anyone else's.

Heh, I should have just said 'Buffalo' like everyone else.

 
At 8:11 PM, April 18, 2007, Blogger JP said...

Martin Brodeur has been around so long that it seems impossible there's a 'book' on him that all 29 other teams wouldn't already know (or have at least checked out of the library), but Tampa's players have seemingly been firing the puck at his feet all series long, something that has paid off in a few bizarre goals.

Kelly Hrudey just did a quick spot on this very topic and showed how Marty's old school pads don't cover as much down low as the new "cheater" pads (his word, not mine) that most goalies are wearing nowadays. Very interesting piece.

 
At 11:39 PM, April 18, 2007, Blogger Art Vandelay said...

Vancouver fan is a piece of work. The Canucks are a 1/4-puck away from being in a series tie with a team whose leading scorer had, what, 15 points this year? and all of a sudden Raincouver is planning the Stanley Cup parade route. Dallas has noticeably outplayed the Canucks for the majority of every game in this series. Let's not let the memory of those loser teams in '94 and '82 get us too hopped up.

 
At 11:51 PM, April 18, 2007, Blogger Kel said...

art, I think most Vancouver fans are quite realistic. It's just the fact that there are so many of them out there active on the web, you are going to read comments by some overly-optimistic fans like the anonymous one who made the first comment in this post. I don't think anyone is planning any parade. In fact, if you talk to long time Canucks fans, every one of them knows what disappointment feels and have learned not to have their hopes high.

 

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