Friday, April 30, 2010

Playoff Predictions, Round 2: Eastern Conference

So the first round is over, with some surprises, and the second round promises to entertain! Lets Start with the Eastern Conference, as two match ups promise a lot of catching up to do in terms of, "When we last met!"

Boston vs Philadelphia

I'll start of by saying that the two teams have not met in the postseason since 1978. Don Cherry was the Bruins coach and still very far from the entertainer that he now is.

Boston advanced thanks to some goaltending from Tuukka Rask. He thwarted the Sabers in many crucial situations, while even getting an assist at the other end! This is still his first ever playoff and it will be interesting to see if he can continue. If he does, this series is as good as Boston's!

The veterans Mark Recchi and Miroslav Satan displayed the presence that the Bruins were no doubt hopping for. Each got 5 points in the six games against Buffalo. But they didn't do it all alone. The offence was spread out nicely, and it remains to be seen if this will continue. In any event, in order to win this series, the Bruins will need others to kick in.

The others are the youngsters. Namely, David Krejic and Patrice Berguion. They too had 5 points, proving that the offence is spread out.

The big question is the status of Marc Savard, who has been out since March. He had 33 points in 41 games, but a hit by Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke has sidelined him since. He practiced with the team last Tuesday and is looking to return, but the Bruins might want to be cautious as to when he should return. Remember the same situation with Eric Lindros in 2000?

Dennis Wideman (4 pts), Matt Hunwick (4 pts) and Zdeno Chara (2 goals) were all good two way defenceman in the previous series.

They may not need to do as much this series, as the Flyers are battling injuries, but they will be tested in their own end.
Speaking of Philly, their advance was as shocking as Montreal's. The reason for advancing? A goalie without a last name that starts with "H", Brian Boucher. He wasn't good when he had to be, Brian was good all the time! 1.59 GAA, .940 S%, both lead the playoffs. See now, Flyers? Why'd you get rid of this guy, oh say, a decade ago. He's back like he never left!

He wasn't the only player who stepped up against New Jersey. I would remiss not to mention Daniel Carcillo. Oh...the pest? The child? The rattler? And also, the player, we are forgetting! He scored only two goals, but one of them was an overtime winner, another put game four out of reach. I'm not sure if he can continue the hot hand, but if Carcy does, the Flyers might get off on the right foot.

But the right foot injuries have hit both Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne, who will in all probability miss the entire series with injuries. They will be missed, as Carter lead the team in regular season goals and Gagne had 40 point in only 58 games. Also Ian Lapierre is out for the rest of the playoffs with a brain contusion.

Still, Mike Richards with 8 points, Claude Giroux with 4 goals, and Danny Brier are ready to go. The veteran Chris Pronger will man the defence. I feel, however, that they are the underdogs and two straight surprises are "two" much.

Prediction: Boston in six games.

Montreal vs Pittsburgh

This has been a while, too. Last time these two teams met was back in '98, when I was still in highschool.

Somewhere on the streets of Montreal lie the names of great goalies past. Vezina, Hainsworth, Duran, Plante, Worsley, Dryden, about Halak?

Needless to say, his performance...can words describe it? Without underrating it? I'll say this: If that wasn't like Dryden in '71 or Roy in '86 and '93 than I hope I can see something, someday that tops that!

Montreal comes in having pulled off an upset. Can they do it again? They'll need their goaltending and their defence again.

Halak stopped all but three in as many games as the Canadians rallied from three games to one down. They are going to be tired. How about Halak seeing a lot of rubber again? That's definitely a strong possibility. He faced 134 in his last three games and could expect to see shots at about the same pace in this series. With a seventh game road victory under his belt, he has the poise and the confidence to have a chance.

Helping out in front of Halak were three very good defencman: Andrei Markov (4 pts), Marc-Andre Bergeron (3 pts), and Roman Hamrlik. But also stepping up to block shots were ex-Penguin Hal Gill, Josh Gorges and the other Jaroslav, Spacek (2 points in 3 games). Spacek's status is a bit unsure as he is battling a virus that has felled him since game 3 against Washington. Montreal would like to have him back, soon. Also on board for this series is P.K. Subban with two points in two games.

As for the offence, the Canadians turn to their three twenty goal scorers: Plekanec, Cammalleri, Gionta. They contributed with some very opportunistic scoring against Washington. Facing Pittsburgh, they will have to continue.

As for the Pens, it was quite the offensive display against the Sens, and where better to start then with Sidney Crosby?

He was everywhere in this series, even throwing a body check that knocked down the Sens Daniel Alfredsson. He dove across the goal line to stop a goal, he shook of countless defenders for goals and passes. He worked, worked, worked. 14 points in 6 games.

And he had help! Evgeni Malkin, who can be really great in the playoffs (like last year), added 8 points, four of them goals. Agile, long reach, the Habs will have their hands full with him, too. And another problem could big Jordan Staal, who is the third center on the team. Older veterans like Bill Gurein, Chris Kunitz and Sergi Gonchar added a point a game (6) in that series.

Their defence wasn't that impressive outside of Mr Gonchar. But it didn't really need to be in the Ottawa series, and it may not need to be here. I've always found the Penguins defence to be underrated. They have a defence that blocks shots, takes the body, and goes into the corners. Montreal can expect a tough physical series from Pittsburgh.

Mark-Andre Fleury didn't overly impress me in the Ottawa series, but watching a talk show the other day, one of the callers was Pens announcer Phil Bourque. He brought up and interesting point about Fleury: Yes, his stats aren't great so far in the playoffs, but he is concerned about one stat: The "W" next to result. I look for him to step it up playing against the Habs

Injury wise, the Pens are missing defenceman Jordan Leopold and winger Tyler Kennedy. Both will probably return to the Penguins sometime in this series. The Pens might not miss them, as they looked pretty strong against Ottawa, but the more healthy bodies in the playoffs, the better.

Prediction: Pittsburgh in six games.


"Official Site Of The National Hockey League." The National Hockey League, n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2010. <>.

Sports Reference LLC. - Hockey Statistics and History. Web. 30 April. 2010.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Playoff Predictions Part 2

And now for the other playoff match ups. Lets look at what to watch for and who's going to win.

Philadelphia vs New Jersey

New Jersey added Ilya Kovalchuck, although it remains to be seen what he will do in the playoffs. His previous experience in 2007 was forgettable. He is certainly a player New Jersey needs, although given Devil's style of play you really have to wonder if he can be the same player in the playoffs that he was in the regular season, particulary with Atlanta. In New Jersey he's been forced to play more two-way, which takes away from his offence.

Zach Parise (82 points) Travis Zajac (67 points) , Jamie Langenbrunner and Patrick Ellias provide the rest of the offence for New Jersey, which did, if it matters, lose five of the six regular season games against the Flyers.

The Devils, as always were among the teams permitting the fewest goals (Actually, they gave up just 191 goals this year, the only team to allow less than 200). Colin White, Martin Skoula and Bryce Salvador and big and mobile and should provide the shutdown defence which New Jersey had employed for many years now.

As for goaltending, Martin Brodeur cannot be overlooked in any playoff series. Like all greats, he has the ability to steal not only games but entire series. This year has marked another campaign of a tremendous workload (77 games) and wins (45, to lead the league). One may have to wonder about that, however. At this point in his career (Marty is a month shy of his 38th birthday), with the amount of games played in his career (1076 regular season games plus another 177 postseason games played) if it's starting to catch up with him. Throwing away the 2008/09 season when he was injured, Brodeur has played 78, 77 and 77 games in goal the last three healthy seasons.

His performance in the postseason since the Devils 2003 Stanley Cup, while very good, hasn't really come close to matching that. And the Devils have lost in either the first or second round in all of the five seasons since. Is this a sign of decline and/or wear and tear on both Martin and his mates? It could very well be. Still, I look at Brodeur as someone you can count on the postseason to at least give his team a very good chance to win pretty much every game he plays. Don't expect poor Yann Denis (the backup for all of 12 games) to see much, if any, action.

As for Philadelphia, it was a year of inconsistent play, which if it continues will lead to a quick dismissal here.

The Flyers, though have a spread offence to compliment steady defence. As a team, they allowed just 225 goals (below league average of 233, but actually tied for 14th overall), but "only" scored 236 themselves. So they can expect a lot of low scoring games against Jersey. As for the offence, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Chris Pronger and Danny Briere provided the offence, which was actually 10th in the league.

The defence of Matt Carle, Pronger and Kimmo Timonen will try to stop the Devils. The key here is going to be stopping the Devils big guns, namely Kovalchuck, but also stepping up offensively. All three are capable.

The big problem for Philadelphia is in net. Here is where the Devils have the edge by a wide margin. With Ray Emery and Michael Leighton out with injures, the Flyers are forced to go with Brain Boucher. For those old enough to remember, this was the guy who took Philly to game 7 of the conference finals against Jersey way back in 2000! This year has been tough on him. He actually played more games than both Emery and Leighton. But here are there respected records: (Wins/Losses/OTL/GAA/S%):

Emery 16 11 1 2.64 .905

Leighton 16 5 2 2.48 .918

Boucher 9 18 3 2.76 .899

Gotta call some miracle cure, eh? If it matters, back in 2000, Brian was excellent in the postseason, going 11-7 with a low GAA (2.03). Since then, he has played four postseasons games. He's been a "good-goaltender-on-some-bad-teams" since. Can he dig back for the years? I think not.

I should mention that I added this series prediction after game one was played (2-1 Flyers win), Boucher was great. Can he be great for the next 3 to 6 games? Can he outplay Brodeur consistently? You tell me, based on what you've read.

Prediction: Devils in six games.

Boston vs Buffalo

Fresh off a splendid performance at the Olympics Ryan Miller is ready for another postseason, although it will be his first in three seasons. He's twice taken the Sabers to the conference finals and has played well in the three seasons since despite the Sabers twice missing the postseason.

So, they're back and looking for a third conference finals. Can they do it? There is the matter of the Bruins.

The Sabers face a team that is missing Marc Savard, who averaged nearly a point a game for 41 contests. The Bruins had a very weak offence, so Savard's absence will be a factor. Of all the teams in the postseason, Boston scored the fewest amount of goals (200). Conversely, they also permitted just 206.

A look at the Bruins reveals a good depth of talent, however. Patrice Bergeron led the Cubs with just 52 points, but he was joined by another center, David Krejci with that total. Also providing offence is towering (6-9) D- Man, Z Man, Zdeno Chara (Good defender, too. He should be the power forward on the Celtics), ageless and going strong FOREVER, Mark Recchi and Marco Sturm (22 goals).

Goaltending is the Bruins strong point. While no one is saying that Tuukka Rask is in Miller's class, he did lead the NHL in GAA with a minuscule 1.97. His save percentage of .931, also lead the loop. Miller's save percentage of .929 looks better when you consider that he played in 69 games compared to Rask's 45. I give Miller the edge also because of Rask's lack of postseason play at the NHL level. I say "edge" because Rask has put up good numbers in the AHL playoffs, but this is going to be a HUGE step for him to take.

Backup is Tim Thomas, who had an off year. One, however must look at his previous postseasons for serious consideration this year. He posted a 7-4 record with a 1.85 GAA last postseason and has now twice played in a seventh game in the spring. If Rask falters, look for Tim to make an appearance.

As for the Sabers, they allowed about the same number of goals (207) as the Bruins, but also scored 35 more, (235). Miller, we shall come back to. The offence is lead by Derek Roy (69 points), Tim Connolly, Jason Pomenville and Thomas Vaneck (28 goals). The thing about Roy is that he is small (5-9), so not really build for the postseason. But if size is the problem, then 6-8 defenceman Tyler Myers can help, providing 48 points plus some solid D.

Helping out on defence in front of Miller, in addition to Myers, is Henrick Tallender and Toni Lydman. Miller may not need much help. Watching him in the Olympics, particularly against Canada, you got the impression that he is more than capable of stealing games, if not entire series from the opposition.

Prediction: Buffalo in six games

Vancouver vs Los Angeles

Another surprise in the post season is the Kings. And they didn't "just" get there. They GOT there. For just the third time in their franchise history, the Crowned ones posted 100 points. Plus, they also tied a team record with 46 wins, enough to get them into the postseason for the first time since 2002.

Leading the way for the Kings is center Anze Kopitar, who posted career highs in pretty much everything. With a team leading 81 points, K has improved in every season since being drafted by Los Angeles. Providing support were Drew Doughty, Dustin Brown (24 goals) plus Oiler but eventually turned King (You thinking what I'm thinking?) Ryan Smyth (22 goals). Rounding out the offence is Alexander Frolov, Jarrett Stoll, Michael Hanzeus and Wayne Simmons.

What is interesting about the above is Brown, Smyth and Frolov are ALL left-wingers! In addition to Kopitar, the centers are Stoll and Frolov. It will be interesting to see how the Canucks deal with these portsiders.

Defence-wise you have Jack Johnson and Rob Scuderi (very, very good with the Pens in last two post seasons). You also have Matt Green who is tall and strong.

In goal is one of the King's biggest assets: Jonathan Quick. Figure of speech, but the guy has QUICKly risen up the ranks of goaltenders. Look at his games played the last three seasons: 3, 44, 72. He also set a Kings record with 39 wins. Note to myself...USA is going to be loaded in goal in the 2014 games. Jonathan won just 3 of his last 14 decisions down the stretch, however, and needs to regain his earlier form. Postseason-wise, he has just one AHL game on his record, and you can bet Vancouver will throw everything they have at him.

And what does Vancouver have. Oh, a little of everything. An Olympic goalie hero, an Art Ross winner, a lot of Hart, a pair of amazing twins. Alright, alright. Some of the above are the same.

You look at this 'nucks team and have to wonder if we are looking at the best ever edition. I'll say this: it's the best ever edition of Henrik Sedin. Isn't it just great that a player on a Canadian team, no wait, a Canuck(!) wins the scoring title? No offence to COM (That's Crosby, Ovechkin and Malkin) but if they keep winning it, I'm going to start betting on all three winning it each year. And why not, one of them would have to, so how can I lose?

Getting back to it, Sedin had a career year. Actually, BOTH Sedins had a career year. Henrik had 112 points, but lets not forget about brother Daniel. Yup, 85 points, but in just 63 games. Ryan Kessler, Alexandre Burrows (Is he working his way up on the whiners scale after that spat with referee Stephane Auger?), Mikael Samuelsson and Mason Raymond were a big reason the Canucks tallied 272 goals this season.

The defence was better than average, but it also had some pop to it offensively. Christian Ehrhoff and the other Alexander (Edler) each had more than 40 points. Then there is Sami Salo, who can play at both ends.

Goaltending? This goes a LONG way for the 'nucks. Roberto Luongo. Now he has some Olympic experience under his belt, which will help him down the (playoff) road. This year was another typical season for him: 50 + games played for the eight straight season (68), 30 + wins for the fifth straight season (40), .910 + save percentage for the ninth straight season (.913), and 4 + shutouts for the ninth straight season (4).

His playoff performances have been either very good or great the last two seasons. In 2008, he took Vancouver to the second round with a 5-7 record, 1.77 GAA plus a .941 S%. Last year, despite faltering a bit agains Chicago, Roberto went 6-4, with a 2.52 GAA and a .914 S%. More recently, as in last February during those all important, edge of your seat games, he took over from Marty Brodeur and posted these numbers:

5 wins
0 losses
1.75 GAA
.927 S%

So before Sid and his mates lowered the boom on USA (and everybody else), Luongo manned the fort admirably. I look for this to continue in not only this series, but in this playoff years. Luongo is like Marc Andre Fleury: the more experience his gets, the better he plays. Like Brodeur, he's the unquestioned numero une goalie.

Prediction: Vancouver in six games

Chicago vs Nashville

Still searching for their first ever playoff series win, the Preds come in with 47 wins and 100 points. This years edition had exactly 225 goals for and...225 goals against, both below league average.

Offensively, Nashville was led by Patric Hornqvist. Just in his second NHL season, he netted 30 goals and 51 points for a club lead in red lights. At 5'11, it remains to be seen if the right winger can withstand the playoff grind. Helping out are Steve Sullivan (remember the big trade of '97 where the Leafs parted ways with Gilmour? Sully was one of players the Leafs got), also with 51 points, Martin Erat, vetran center Jason Arnott and J.P. Dumont.

The defence included some offence from Olympian Shea Webber (43 points) and Ryan Suter (37 points). Dan Hamhuis and Cody Franson provided some more strickly defencive orientation.

The series promises to pit two Fins goalies against each other. Pekka Rinne was the number one goalie for Nash, with a 32, 16, 5, 2.53 and .911. None of those numbers look that good, but a closer look reveals that he was 6th in the league in GAA last year. This year Pekka was third in the league in shutouts with 7, following up on another 7 from the preceeding year. Playoff experience? NHL, none, AHL some. In 24 postseason games in the Amercian Hockey League, Rinne was .500 (12-12) GAA of 2.78, not quite what is needed at NHL level. It goes without saying that he will be tested by the tremendous offensive depth of the Hawks. Capable backup Dan Ellis played enough in the last three seasons, and even the 2008 postseason, to be ready if needed.

As for the Chi Hawks (52-22-8), where to begin? Offence or defence? They've got it both ways.

I always begin with the red light contributions. With 271 goals for, the Blackhawks were third overall in goals for, just one behind Vancouver, who they could very well face again this year. Winger Patrick Kane led the team with 30 goals and 88 points, followed by D-man Duncan Keith with 69 points. Then you have Jonathan Towes (68 points and fresh off the euphoria of leading Canada in points last February), the other Patrick, Sharpe (66 points), the vetran Marian Hossa (What? Another team, another Stanley Cup final, perhaps?), underrated Kris Versteeg and Troy Brouwer. Kane, Hossa, Versteeg and Brouwer, ALL right wingers! You know you're facing offensive depth when they have still ANOTHER right winger (Dustin Byfuglien) with 17 goals as well.

So enough with the offense! What about the D. Few problems there. In addition to Keith, you have Brian Campbell and Brent Seabrook (6-3, with 30 points). None of these players stick out defencively, but combined with some good supporting cast, you don't get much better defencively as a team.

Then there is the goaltending, Antti Niemi (the other Finland goaltender) and Cristobal (Crystal Ball) Huet. Each won 26 games, but Niemi they're going with becuase of his GAA, 2.25 (4th in the league) and shutouts, 7 (good enough for third to tie Rinne). He has no postseason experience at the NHL level and only 2 games (and a 3.65 GAA) at the AHL level. This will be a test for him to see if he can get it done. If he can't Huet will step in. With a lifetime goals against average of 2.46, only 21 goalies in league history have lower GAAs. Cristobal has yet to step it up in the postseason, posting a record of 6 wins and 10 losses in three years worth of postseason experience. With this team in front of him, though, again, he might not need to if he's called upon.

Prediction: Chicago in five games.


"Official Site Of The National Hockey League." The National Hockey League, n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2010. <>.

Sports Reference LLC. - Hockey Statistics and History. Web. 15 April. 2010.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Playoff Predictions Part 1

Another exciting NHL regular season is in the books. But so begins the "real" season. The part where we separate the men from boys, champions from chumps, contenders from pretenders, etc.

Lets look at half of what to see in the post season, and what is going to decide the series.

Washington vs Montreal

The league's strongest offense faces off against the team that is making it's 72nd playoff appearance. The Canadians are going to need all of the goaltending, tradition and fan support if they hope to make a series out of this. To give you an idea of what they are up against (Name, Goals/Assists/Points):

Alex Ovechkin 50/59/109
Nicklas Backstrom 33/68/101
Alexander Semin 40/44/84
Mike Green 19/57/76
Brooks Laich 25/34/59
Mike Knuble 29/24/53
Tomas Fleischmann 23/28/51

Yep, that's one high-octane offence. The Caps goaltending and defence, while not great, is certainly good. Good enough that the offence can take care of matters without having to worry about what's happening at the other end. Mike Green is a Norris Trophy candidate. Theodore and Varlamov (who performed VERY good in last year's playoffs) are two very different goalies, but BOTH are capable. Theodore has the experience, and Varlamov has the quick learning. And since Varlamov performed so well as a rookie in last year, I can see no reason to assume he will be below par this year.

Montreal, meanwhile, has Thomas Plekanec, Scott Gomez, Michael Cammalleri, Brian Gionta and a host of others for a good balanced scoring. As a team, however, they scored almost 100 less goals than Washington. What they have going for them (on the ice) is their goaltending. Indeed, this might be their only edge in this series. Carey Price and Jaroslov Halak have the inevitable task.

Halak's numbers (26 Wins, 13 Losses, 5 Ties, 2.40 goals-against average, .924 save percentage, 5 shutouts), on the surface, might not be eye popping. But a closer look reveals that Jaroslov was in the top five in shutouts, goals against average and save percentage. He does not, however have much in the way of playoff experience.

Price's numbers did a nose dive this year, but it is likely that he will see some action if Halak falters. He DOES have playoff experience (some good, some bad). The mental stress of playing against Washington might be too much to ask of one goalie.

Prediction: Washington in 5 games

Ottawa vs Pittsburgh

Round three (in the last four years) between these two teams. It's immaterial, but back in 2007, Ottawa prevailed in five games against the young lions. But reality quickly set in the next year as the Pens blew down the Ottawa house in four games.

Much has changed since the the first time these teams met, and much has even changed since the last post season meeting. Most notably, the Pens have the confidence, the goaltending, and the offence to be consistant contenders.

First, lets start in goal. Mark Andre Fleury. Some of my hockey friends argued that he's had an off-season. The stats don't show it. Okay, he got only one shutout and he finished outside the top ten in goals against average and save percentage. He did however, finish 8th in the league in wins and 10th in games played. And then there is the matter of his last two playoff seasons: nothing short of excellent! It might be too early to tell, but I look at Marc as a "money" goalie (When the game is on the line, so is Marc). Nothing I've seen in him suggests otherwise.

Then there is the matter of the Pens offence. Lets look right down the middle at the first three scoring lines: Crosby, Malkin and Staal!

 Now if that's not the best three centers on one team, then I don't know what is. Crosby, scary to think, has added to his game this year. With a league leading 51 goals, uh oh, he's scoring like he's never scored before. Then there was THE goal back in February. To give you an idea how he's playing going into the post season, lets look at his last nine regular season games:

2010-03-24 vs WSH, 1 assist, plus a shootout goal
2010-03-27 vs PHI, 3 assists
2010-03-28 vs TOR, 2 goals, plus a shootout goal
2010-03-31 vs TBL, held scoreless, proving he is human!
2010-04-03 vs ATL, 3 assists
2010-04-06 vs WSH, 1 goal, 2 assists
2010-04-08 vs NYI, 1 goal, 3 assists
2010-04-10 vs ATL, held scoreless, proving he is human again!
2010-04-11 vs NYI, 2 goals, 3 assists, proving he is inhuman!

That's twenty-one points in nine games! If Crosby continues this pace, he's in for one postseason to remember.

Then there is Malkin. Injured for 15 games, he still managed 28 goals and 77 points. How good is he? That's an OFF-SEASON by his standards. Anyone remember last year? I do. Malkin was everywhere! He didn't just win the Conn Smythe award for his offence. I expect a postseason return to the Malkin of old.

Then there is Jordan Staal, 21 goals and 49 points. The iron man of this Pens team, having missed a grand total of ONE game in last four seasons. He kills penalties, skates well for person his size, and has maybe the longest reach in the NHL.

The Penguins also have solid D with Sergi Gonchar and Kris Letang. The other D-man aren't that impressive, but with that offense and goaltending, Pitt isn't going to need it.

As for the Senators, they've got something they have lacked in previous postseasons: size. Indeed, Andy Sutton, Jared Cowen, Filip Kuba and Chris Phillips. Four solid defencemen. Size of the SMALLEST above mentioned? 6-3 (Kuba).

Alfredson, Speeza, Fisher and Kovalev provide the offence for the Sens, who allowed more goals (238), then they scored (225). Yet they finished with 44 wins and 94 points, with winning streaks of 11 and 6 games at various points in the season. They are going to need for some, if not all, of their guns to step it up to make the Penguins work.

The problem I see here for Ottawa is their goaltending. The two goaltenders, Pascual Leclair (backup) and Brian Elliot (starter) have NO postseason experience, let alone any postseason games against a team like the Pens. This could be one obstacle that is really going to be the deciding factor. The Penguins are notorious for feasting off shaky goaltending. If the Penguins get a few early goals, the Sens will find themselves playing wide open hockey, which is not what you want with some fresh faces in goal.

Prediction: Pittsburgh in six

Detroit vs Phoenix

A year ago, the Coyotes were in disarray. Bankrupted and in second last in the Western Conference, having missed the postseason for the SIXTH straight season. A .500 finish this year? Maybe. A post season berth? Never! A second place finish in their division? Get out of here! 100 plus points and a fourth place finish in the Conference? Bet the house, the farm, and mortgage against THAT!

Yet, here we are...and HERE come the Coyotes this season. Having done ALL of the above, and backed up by some stellar goaltending and strong defence, the Coyotes allowed the third fewest goals in the NHL this season! (I know, there just may be a god in Phoenix).

Ilya Bryzgalov came through with 42 wins, 2.29 goals against average, 8 shutouts and a .920 save percentage. First thing to take care of: does Ilya have any post-season experience?

Yes. With Anaheim in the 2006 and 2007 post seasons, he posted a combined record of 9-5 with 1.68 goals against average. For those who remember, Anaheim won the Cup in 2007! So does that sound like something to go with? Absolutely.

Next on the agenda in a series like this is the defence. Keith Yandle has gotten better with every season and is the 'yotes best defencemen. Ed Jovanovski might not be as good as he once was (and being hurt this year might not help), but look for him to make contributions.

Offensively, the Coyotes used a balanced attack similar to the Habs. Radim Vrbata led the team with 24 goals and the veteran Shane Doan led the team in points (53). The team did feature ten players with 10 or more goals, so the offence can be there.

Detroit was a tale of two cities this year. Both of the cities were named Detroit, however. On Feb 11th, the team was 27-21-12, behind Calgary and in 9th spot in the West. But then came a shifting of the tide. Following a win before the Olympic break, and two weeks off, the Wings went 17-3-2, including a seven game winning streak in March / April. The question is, are they the Wings of old (as in the last two years) or the new Wings (Good, but suddenly not much better than any post season team) ?

Statistically, it looks like the latter. The team went from 295 goals last season to just 229 this season. However, having given up 244 goals last season, the team did improve in that area. This year's Wings gave up just 216, well below the league average of 233 per team. Only seven teams (Phoenix among them) gave up fewer goals this season.

Offensively, Detroit featured the usual standout performances from Pavel Datsyuk (70 points), Henrik Zetterberg (also 70 points), Nicklas Lidstrom (49 points) and Thomas Holmstrom (45 points). The defence is good with Brad Stuart, Brian Rafalski, and Lidstrom.

But Detroit will need to overcome being saddled a rookie goalie in Jimmy Howard. He played well this year, going 35-15-10 with a .924 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average. Both his save % and GAA were good enough for 5th in the league. However, can that overcome zero postseason experience at the NHL level AND a losing record (12-17) with a high GAA 2.74 in 30 career postseason games at the AHL level? Perhaps. In years past, the Wings have always had that "other" goalie to turn to if things didn't pan out in the postseason. But Chris Osgood was very inconsistant this season, posting a losing record (7-9-4) and a high goals against average (3.02).

Granted he had a high GAA last season and low save percentage, but the question is: What happens if Howard falters? To turn to Osgood would be obvious, but in order for that to work Osgood would need to be ready for the post season. And he's not, having played just 23 games this season.

There is still one more problem. Yes, Phoenix hasn't won a playoff series since 1987. Yes, Phoenix has never beaten Detroit in a playoff series. But there is something else this year: Phoenix is starting this series at home! That shifts the advantage to Phoenix.

Look, these teams are 50-50, but I'm going with my gut here.

Prediction: Phoenix in seven

Colorado vs San Jose

Speaking of teams that have turned things around, Colorado is back to what they're used to, 90+ points and a postseason berth. Since moving from...Quebec back in 95/96 (I know, sniff, sniff. But don't hold your breath on a return. Same to you Winnipeg!) , the Avs have posted THIRTEEN seasons of 90 points or more. However, this will be a different Colorado Avalanche from the past. Most notably, they're missing Joe Sakic, having retired after last season.

In the post season, they were few if any, better clutch goal scorers than Joe. Remember, this is a guy who has EIGHT overtime goals in the postseason, the most of any player, ever. Moreover, you just knew, if the game was close, Joe would get the goal.

Also, Forsberg would make the play, or Roy would make the stop. Alas, none of those players are around anymore, either.

Colorado's new Sakic would be Paul Stastny. Leading the team in points with 79, he was the only Av to get as many as 70 points. Winger Chris Stewart lead the team with just 28 goals. Still, again, this is a team with balanced scoring. Nine Avalanche netted ten or more goals. Plus one of them is super rookie Matt Duchene, with 24. Darcy Tucker provides grit, goals and some post season experience.

What this team is going to need is goaltending. Colorado has struggled to find a goalie to stick with since the retirement of Roy. And how do you replace his post-season excellence?

What you do is get is get Craig Anderson. The good news? He's probably, along with the entire Colorado team, Phoenix team and Los Angeles team, the feel good story of the year. Here's someone who was drafted 77th overall (3rd round) way back in the 1999 draft. He went nowhere and eventually re-entered the draft two seasons later where he was again picked in the third round! He's bounced around since then, Chicago, Calgary and this season, Colorado. He was picked up on waivers THREE times within a month in 2006! Has he found a home? Coming into this year his record was 35 wins 43 losses, 13 ties/overtime and shootout losses.

But this year has been Craig's career year so far. The bad news: Craig surrendered more goals (186) than any other goalie in the NHL this year. Lost 25 games for sixth in the league. Postseason? Better not go there! Now for the good news: 71 games played, 38 wins, 2233 shots against, 2047 saves, .924 save percentage, ALL top ten.

But we can't overlook the fact that he has not played in the NHL postseason. Nor can we overlook the fact that his postseason record in the OHL was 0-7 with a 4.01 GAA lifetime. His AHL record is a little better 8-15 with a 2.44 GAA. But still, this is one question mark that might not be answered correctly in this postseason. A switch to Peter Budaj is possible, but he has played just 15 games this season and just three total postseason games at the NHL level.

Now, to San Jose.

Can anyone please explain to me what is it with this team in the postseason? Remember back in '91/92 or 1 BB, (Before Bettman) when this team came to the NHL. Ottawa (finalist in 2007) and Tampa Bay (Stanley Cup Winner in 2004) came in the next season, then Anaheim (finalist in 2003, Stanley Cup winner in 2007) and Florida (finalist in 1996) came next. San Jose? They've reached the Conference Final once, back before the new NHL (2004). Other than that, a lot of frustration! So San Jose has had the least amount of success of any of the new five teams in the early 90s.

They've been steady, 99 or more points in the last six seasons, but their trips to the postseason have ended in early golfing season for many a year. Will this year be different? I tend to think so.

The addition of Danny Heatley gives them an even more potent offense. If you can't stop the opposition, fill their nets with pucks, that will stop them! Yes, they have THREE 80-point men on this team (Thornton, Marleau and Heatley), plus defencemen Dan Boyle (58 points). Overall, the team lit the red light 264 times, while giving up just 215 goals, good enough for seventh overall in goals allowed.

Evgeni Nabokov? The guy has been, and definitely CAN be good in the postseason. Will this year be that good? I'm predicting yes, because I like the team in front of him. Evgeni might not have to play THAT well, so as long as he does not let in any timely goals. 44 wins ranked him just one behind Martin Brodeur, and while why can't compare, he HAS been there the last eight times for this team in the postseason. That's experience.

Speaking of which, you also have Rob Blake on defence, and that's also more than 130 games in the postseason. In case you haven't gotten it now. I believe there is only so long a team can underachieve in the postseason and given the shallow opposition (they scored about 20 more goals and allowed 18 fewer goals than Colorado) plus Anderson's lack of postseason NHL experience makes me lean towards a chompin' for the stick chompin' logos!

Prediction: San Jose in six


"Official Site Of The National Hockey League." The National Hockey League, n.d. Web. 04 Apr. 2010. <>.

Sports Reference LLC. - Hockey Statistics and History. Web. 04 April. 2010.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Short Career Of Bill McCreary Jr.

It’s one of hockey’s greatest myths.

I hear it all the time.

“Have I ever told you about the time Gretzky got hit by that Leaf…”, some old hockey fan would tell me at a bar.

“Toronto’s Billy McCreary catches Wayne with his head down and crunches Wayne with a beauty! Funny thing folks, Billy never played another shift in the National Hockey League!” Don Cherry in Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em III.

McCreary hit the Great One and never played another shift in the national Hockey League. He was blacklisted!

So goes the legend.

The reality is that game in question was not Bill McCreary’s last game. And no he did not become a linesman after he retired. It was his second NHL game, actually. And he had ten more games to play in the NHL after the hit on Gretzky.

William McCreary Jr. was born on April 15, 1960 in Springfield, Massachusetts. Not a big or tall player, 6 feet and 190 pounds, he was selected 114th overall in the 1979 Entry Draft.

He came from a hockey family. Here’s where it gets confusing.

His father, William, played parts of four seasons (27 games) with the Rangers, Wings and Canadians. In the summer of ’67, the elder McCreary was traded to the expansion St. Louis Blues, where he embarked on a useful four seasons, even leading the league in short-handed goals in 67/68.

Also in the ‘67 expansion, Uncle Keith McCreary was plucked from the Montreal Canadians by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Later traded to Atlanta, Keith managed three 20 goal seasons.

Another uncle, Ron Attwell played 22 games with St Louis and New York that same season.

Cousin Bob Attwell made his debut in 1979/80, playing seven games that year and 15 more the next.

His other cousin, Bill McCreary, from Guelph, is the referee!

The next year was also Bill Jr. debut. Drafted in the sixth round, he found himself in one of the most famous drafts ever. It was the same draft where the Edmonton Oilers took Kevin Lowe 21st, Mark Messier 48th and Glen Anderson 69th. The draft also produced such standouts as Rob Ramage(1st), Mike Foligno(3rd) Mike Gardner(4th), Rick Vaive(5th), Ray Bourque(8th), Mike Ramsey(11th), Brian Propp(14th) and Michelle Goulet (20th)

McCreary was discovered by Leaf GM Gerry McNamara at the age of 15. At the time, Bill was attending a hockey camp in Halliburton. Coincidentally, Wayne Gretzky served as an instructor at this same camp in 1982.

At the age of 16 with the Cleveland Junior Barons of the GLJHL in 1976/77, McCreary scored 26 goals and 26 assists in 40 games. The following year was his big breakthrough which saw him net 51 goals and 123 points in 40 games. That’s three points a game for those keeping track!

McCreary attended Akron University and Colgate University, His time in Colgate saw him net 44 points in 24 games his first season. He added 7 goals and 13 assists in 9 games the next.

Then he started his professional career at New Brunswick Hawks (AHL) in 1980/81. He showed a little bit of everything there, scoring 19 goals and adding 24 assists in 61games. His toughness earned him 120 penalty minutes.

Called up in December, he played his first game on December 30 in a 5-3 loss against St Louis. He number, by the way, was 28.

Then came his second game on January 3, 1981. It was a road game against Edmonton. Here’s where McCreary made his mark.

McCreary caught a still teenager with his head down as he crossed the ice near the Leafs blue line. And at this point we know who I’m talking about. The hit seemed to knock the wind out of Gretzky, who staggered a bit before coming to a rest on the ice.

Gretzky finished the game with a goal and two assists, on his way to a record 109 assists and 164 points. The Oilers won the game, 4-1. Both NHL records were ones that Gretzky himself would topple in years to come. McCreary, for his part, said that he figured the Oilers would come back at him for that. Oddly enough, no one fought him right there or for the rest of the game.

The rest of Bill’s career has been forgotten by everyone. But there were some highlights along the way. Not only did he play the next game (very next day, actually) against Calgary, but McCreary scored his first and (as it turns out) only NHL. Coincidentally, the Leafs #99, Wilf Paiement, got the assist (along with Sittler) as Toronto took an 8-5 loss. The goalie was Reggie Lemelin.

On January 7th, during an 8-2 loss to Winnipeg, McCreary took his first ever penalty in the second period.

Now there was a January 14, 1981 game between Toronto and Edmonton. I’m not sure if McCreary played in it, but this seems to be the game that everyone assumes the hit happened. I don’t get it, because this was a home game for the Leafs and the hit happened in a road game. The Oilers won this game as well, 7-4, with Gretzky getting two goals and an assist.

McCreary did, play again. In a 2-2 tie with Vancouver on January 20, he took another minor penalty. Thus even if that hit on Wayne occurred in the January 14th game, here is proof that he continued his NHL life.

His last game for the Leafs was on January 30th 1981, one month and 11 games after his first game. He finished his NHL career with 12 games played, 1 goal, 0 assists, 7 shots on goal, a -6 rating and 4 penalty minutes.

McCreary spend 81/82 in Cincinnati of the CHL. In 69 games, he netted 8 goals and 27 assists in 69 games and dropped his penalty total to 61 minutes. But never again did he return to the NHL. His finished his career playing five seasons with the IHL’s Milwaukee Admirals in 87/88.

"The information used herein was obtained free of charge from and is copyrighted by The Hockey Summary Project. For more information about the Hockey Summary Project please visit:



"Hockey Summary Project." Hockey Summary Project. N.p., 10 Jan. 2001. Web. 05 Apr. 2010,

Matheson, Jim. "Gretzky The Star Of His Own Show." Edmonton Journal. Edmonton. 05. Jan. 1981. C1. Web (Archive). 05 Apr. 2010.,,1606796&dq=bill+mccreary&hl=en

Podnieks, Andrew. The Essential Blue And White Book: A Toronto Maple Leafs Factbook. Vancouver: Greystone, 2001. Print.,861705&dq=bill+mccreary&hl=en