Category Archives: National Hockey League

Blackhawks Down

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Since 2010, the Chicago Blackhawks have been the gold standard in the National Hockey League as their three Stanley Cup Championships over that period are more than any other team in the league. And even in those years where the Blackhawks have been unable to win, they’ve still been one of the top teams in the NHL. This season was no different for Chicago as they would finish with the best record in the Western Conference which ensured them of having home-ice advantage throughout the first three rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But that home-ice advantage wouldn’t do the Blackhawks any good as they were swept in the first round by the Nashville Predators which is hands down the biggest shocker so far of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

In the Blackhawks playoff series versus the Predators, they were outscored 13-3 which included being shutout in both games at the United Center in Chicago. The combination of center Jonathan Toews and right winger Patrick Kane who’ve been at the forefront of Chicago’s success since 2010 were limited to a pair of goals during the series against Nashville. And aside from a brief lead during Game 3, Chicago was always trailing for the rest of the series.

Joel Quenneville

After the Blackhawks secured the top spot in the Western Conference, head coach Joel Quenneville decided to rest his key players which backfired as this team lost its continuity, and more importantly its edge. The Blackhawks would lose their last four regular season games and once you factor in how things went down in the playoffs, they finished the season an eight-game losing streak. Blackhawks vice president/general manager Stan Bowman has vowed to make changes, but that doesn’t mean that this team needs to be totally dissected. The Blackhawks have already parted ways with assistant coach Mike Kitchen and you have to wonder what else that Bowman has in store?

Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews

The Blackhawks core players such as Toews, Kane, defenseman Duncan Keith and goalie Corey Crawford are all locked up for the next few years and Chicago might have a little bit of wiggle room under the National Hockey League’s salary cap in order to keep this team together. But the biggest thing for the Blackhawks is that they played their worst hockey of the season at the wrong time. During the regular season Chicago was ninth in the NHL in goals scored per game at 2.93, while they were 11th in goals allowed at 2.59. Kane has contributed to a very potent offense as he has combined to score 80 goals over the last two seasons which included him winning the Hart Memorial Trophy last year as the league’s MVP. However Chicago’s power play was 19th in the NHL this season, while their penalty kill was 24th. The Blackhawks penalty kill was solid during the postseason as it was 87.5%, but they only managed to score a pair of power play goals which helped to lead to their demise.

It has already been made public knowledge that Quenneville will be returning for his 10th season as the Blackhawks head coach. However after the Blackhawks second consecutive first-round exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, this will be a very interesting summer in Chicago, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the Cubs.

Source: Hockey-reference.com

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Sid The Kid Versus Alexander The Great

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Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin won’t be smiling when their Eastern Conference Semifinal Playoff Series begins this week.

 

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The Price Is Once Again Right

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The 2015-2016 National Hockey League season saw the Montreal Canadiens start off like gang busters. The Canadiens won their first nine games of the season which paved the way for their 19-4-3 start. And this hot start by the Habs had the folks in Montreal thinking about the Stanley Cup Title. But all of the talk about the Canadiens and the Stanley Cup was short lived as goalie Carey Price would suffer a knee injury that put him on the shelf for the remainder of the season. What the Canadiens would lose in Price was the Hart Memorial Trophy winner in 2015 as the NHL’s MVP, and the Vezina Trophy winner as the league’s top goalie. And Price’s impact would show as without him, the Canadiens went into a tailspin which led to them missing the playoffs. But Montreal is no different than any other team in the NHL as hope would spring eternal for them when the new season began.

Price has entered the current season healthy and rejuvenated and the results can be seen in the Habs record. The Canadiens record of 30-15-7 has them in first place in the Atlantic Division with a comfortable lead over the second place Ottawa Senators as they once again appear to be the team to beat within that division.

Price’s return has stabilized things for Montreal as they are seventh in goals against average this season at 2.48. And as for Price, his .922 save percentage is ninth in the National Hockey League, while his 2.33 goals against average is 10th. Price’s return has taken some of the stress off of Montreal’s offense whose 2.98 goals for average is seventh is the NHL as the Canadiens are a very balanced team.

Barring Price missing an extended period of time once more, the Canadiens are not only on pace to make the playoffs, but to also be a force while there. Having a goalie that can dominate between the pipes is a prerequisite for any team that expects to advance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs which is something that the Canadiens have. Although that Price only has a pair if shutouts to his name this season, his return has given Montreal opponents something to be weary about as he is still one of the best in the business which was illustrated by his appearance in the All-Star Game this past Sunday. And any chance that the Habs will have in the spring will rely on Price being dialed in as the team’s top net minder.

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A Fight To The Finish

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For Alex Ovechkin to get the Washington Captials to the Stanley Cup Final, he will have to run the gauntlet in the postseason.

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The Real Deal

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Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid isn’t your average 19-year old. McDavid was the first overall pick of the 2015 National Hockey League Draft and he was deemed as a savior for an Oilers franchise that has failed to make the playoffs since 2006. As a rookie, McDavid was living up to the hype in his first 13 games which saw him score 5 goals, along with dishing out 7 assists. But on November 3, 2015, things changed for McDavid when he crashed into a wall which was the result of a collision with Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning. McDavid suffered a broken collarbone which forced him to miss the next 37 games as the wind was taken out of the sails of the Oilers. In 45 games as a rookie, McDavid scored 16 goals and tallied 32 assists as he showed the folks in Edmonton how bright that the future could be if he would be able to stay healthy.

Heading into McDavid’s sophomore campaign, the maturation process is in full effect as the 19-year old was named captain of the Oilers. In 30 games this season McDavid has shined as he has 12 goals, and his 26 assists are tops in the National Hockey League. And as McDavid goes, so to do the Oilers who are currently just two points behind the Anaheim Ducks for first place in the Pacific Division.

McDavid has given the Oilers fan base hope. McDavid’s selection marked the fourth time since 2010 that the Oilers had the first overall pick in the National Hockey League Draft. But unlike left winger Taylor Hall, center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and right winger Nail Yakupov who is now a member of the St. Louis Blues who’ve been unable to provide a spark in Edmonton, McDavid has.

McDavid’s emergence in Edmonton has reignited the fan base in a way that we haven’t seen since the 1980’s when Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Craig MacTavish, and Paul Coffey were leading the Oilers to five Stanley Cup Championships from 1984-1990 as he makes the players around him better.

McDavid’s emergence coincides with the Oilers moving into a new home. The Rogers Place opened this past September as the new home of the Oilers after they spent the last 43 years at Rexall Place. And as the Oilers bid farewell to their old home in favor of the new one, they’ve enjoyed having some of the key cogs in their dynasty from the 1980’s return to the fold which along with the play of McDavid has created a buzz in Edmonton.

If McDavid is able to remain healthy this season, there’s a very good possibility that the Oilers should be able to end their long postseason drought, while he should be bound for the National Hockey League’s All-Star Game this February in Los Angeles as well as being in the running to win the Hart Memorial Trophy as the league’s MVP. McDavid has yet to even scratch the surface as far as his potential as we cannot forget that he’s only 19-years of age. But then again McDavid is not your average 19-year old.

 

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Let The Head Scratching Begin

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The 2015-2016 National Hockey League season appeared to be the one in which the stars would fully align for the Washington Capitals. The Capitals won a franchise best 56 games en route to securing the Presidents’ Trophy as the top team in the NHL for the second time in franchise history as head coach Barry Trotz pushed all of the right buttons. The Capitals had one of the best net minders in the league in goalie Braden Holtby who’s 2.20 goals against average was fifth in the NHL this past season, while left winger Alex Ovechkin led the league in goals with 50. The Capitals only had one, three-game losing streak in the regular season as they appeared ready to win their first first Stanley Cup Championship in franchise history.

But as good as the Capitals were in the regular season, I knew that there was possible trouble lurking for them around the bend in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Caps found themselves some worthy adversaries in the Eastern Conference Semifinals as they could never figure out the red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Eastern Conference Semifinals were another chapter in the rivalry between Ovechkin and Penguins center Sidney Crosby. The Caps made Ovechkin the first overall pick of the 2004 National Hockey League Draft, while Crosby was the first player taken in 2005. Both players are superstars with immense scoring ability as Ovechkin has 525 career goals, and Crosby comes in with 338. Ovechkin and Crosby met once before in the postseason with Pittsburgh getting past Washington in seven games in the 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals en route to their third Stanley Cup Championship in franchise history.

There was plenty of star power on display when the Caps and Pens got it on, but Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan devised a solid game plan which took away Ovechkin, while making somebody else on Washington’s team defeat Pittsburgh as for the six-game series, Ovie was held to just a pair of goals along with 5 assists. But even with that the Capitals were not dominated in the series by the Penguins as three of the six games went to overtime with two going in the favor of Pittsburgh. Overall five games in the series were decided by one goal, but unfortunately for the Capitals, four of those went the way of the Penguins.

And when the handshake line that signaled the end of the series in Pittsburgh last Tuesday had finished, Ovechkin and his teammates had to once again skate off of the ice without hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup, as they’ve built a reputation of being unable to get it done when it matters the most.¬†Ovechkin is 30-years of age, and although that he has plenty of hockey left in him, what is it going to take for him to get the Caps over the hump?

The Capitals will head into the off-season knowing that the majority of their core players that includes Ovechkin, Holtby, center Nicklas Backstrom, and right winger T.J. Oshie are all under contract at least through next season. Center Marcus Johansson is set to become a restricted free agent this summer, but I highly doubt that the Capitals will allow him to get away.

It will be very difficult for the Capitals replicate what they did this year when the 2016-2017 National Hockey League season begins, but they must find a way to use the disappointment of their playoff loss to the Penguins as fuel for next season.

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Ran Into A Buzzsaw

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When the New York Rangers were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs this past Saturday at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins, it marked the earliest that their season has ended since 2011. The Rangers enjoyed their second consecutive 100-point season, but the action in the National Hockey League this season was tightly contested with several teams having a legitimate chance to win it all. The Rangers faced a very formidable opponent in the first round and after being unable to keep up with the Penguins, there will be a ton of questions that New York must answer heading into the off-season.

For the past decade, goalie Henrik Lundqvist has been the face of the Rangers. Lundqvist has been one of the most dominant goalies in the National Hockey League during his career which included him winning the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goalie in 2012. This season Lundqvist led the NHL in saves with 1,788. But against the Pens, Lundqvist wasn’t sharp as the Penguins blitzed him for 15 goals in the five-gave series which included him being benched in three games by Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault in favor of backup goalie Antti Raanta on three occasions.

Henrik Lundqvist

Lundqvist and the Rangers were fighting an uphill battle throughout the entire series as it was a clever game plan that was composed by Penguins head coach  Mike Johnston as they pressured Lundqvist. For the series only three periods of hockey saw the Pens not score a goal. And aside from winning Game 2, the Rangers only led for roughly 26 minutes in the series as they were always in catch-up mode.

Pittsburgh came into the Stanley Cup Playoffs as the hottest team in hockey as they went 27-9-1 over the last portion of the season while the combination on center Sidney Crosby, right winger Phil Kessel, and rookie Matt Murray were too much for the Blueshirts to tangle with. And the domination by the Penguins in this series shows that the Rangers must find a way to get more athletic heading into next season while also finding a consistent go-to-guy as an offensive threat.

This past season the Rangers were seventh in the National Hockey League in goals per game average at 2.84, but they didn’t have any player finish in the top 20 in the league in goals, assists, or points. And that lack of a superstar player showed up against a Penguins team that is loaded with stars as the blue-collar approach that the Rangers have used over the past few years is not longer going to cut it if they want to win the Stanley Cup. But by hook or by crook, this will be a different Rangers team next season.

Center Dominic Moore, along with defensemen Dan Boyle, Keith Yandle, and Eric Stall are all set to become unrestricted free agents and I don’t see the Rangers signing all four players as it comes down to either age and attrition. The Rangers already have roughly $53 million committed to salaries for next season which would also more than likely put them out of the running to sign Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. But make no mistake about that the Rangers must find themselves a star player that can shoulder the scoring mode in the same fashion that Lundqvist dominates between the pipes. The Rangers were hoping that left winger Rick Nash would be that type of player for them after they acquired him from the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2012: However after a 42-goal season last year, injuries limited Nash to just 15 goals in this campaign.

Ryan McDonagh

The Rangers still have a solid core which is led by Lundqvist and defenseman Ryan McDonagh who is their captain while Vigneault is the best coaching for the this team going forward. But after being so close in the past several years, the last thing that the Rangers want to do is to revert backwards which makes this summer very important for them.

Source: Hockey-reference.com

 

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Peaking At The Right Time

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Sidney Crosby

Ever since the Pittsburgh Penguins used the first overall pick of the National Hockey League Draft in 2005 on center Sidney Crosby, the bar of expectations has changed in Western Pennsylvania. By 2008, the Pens were back in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1992, and by 2009, they were hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup. Since 2007, the Penguins have made the playoffs in each year, but they’ve been unable to replicate the success of 2009. Since 2006, Pittsburgh has used four different head coaches and they made another coaching change this season when Mike Johnston was replaced by Mike Sullivan on December 12. Sullivan’s arrival to Pittsburgh has lit a fire under the Penguins as they are 33-16-5 on his watch, and with the Stanley Cup Playoffs set to begin tonight, this could be a very dangerous team.

The presence of Crosby, center Evgeni Malkin, and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury have made the Penguins a consistent contender, but when the team acquired right winger Phil Kessel from the Toronto Maple Leafs last summer, that is when the expectations went through the roof. But as it took that talent some time to mesh together, Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford couldn’t wait which is why he made the move to bring in Sullivan in spite of the fact that the club had a winning record under Johnston. However it wasn’t until an under the radar trade happened that the Penguins began to live up to their potential.

In late January, the Penguins acquired left winger Carl Hagelin from the Anaheim Ducks. Hagelin had spent the first four years of his National Hockey League career with the New York Rangers and he was a member of their Eastern Conference Championship team in 2014. But last summer, Hagelin became a cap casualty which resulted in the Rangers trading him to the Ducks. But in Anaheim, Hagelin struggled mightily as he only managed to produce 12 points in 43 games which resulted in the trade to Pittsburgh which has given him new life. In just 37 games with the Pens, Hagelin has accounted for 27 points and with him on the roster, the team’s record is 27-9-1.

But make no mistake about it that the engine that makes the Pittsburgh locomotive go is Crosby. This season Crosby led the Penguins in points (85), and goals scored (36), while he finished just one assist away from his third consecutive year in which he would have tallied 50 assists. And although that Crosby will more than likely not be selected to be the MVP of the National Hockey League this season, his ability as a play maker could be the difference in how far that the Penguins will advance in the postseason. Crosby has the ability to put the Penguins on his back for long stretches of play as his ability gives Pittsburgh the edge that they need to compete with some of the better teams in the NHL this season such as the Washington Capitals. Crosby’s play making ability will definitely be put to the test as Pittsburgh is still without Malkin as he is recovering from an arm injury.

Marc-Andre Fleury

Pittsburgh will get the Stanley Cup Playoffs kicked off tonight against a team that they are very familiar with in the Rangers. The Rangers have knocked the Pens out of the postseason in each of the last two years. But it is the Penguins who had the 3-1 series edge over the Rangers during the regular season this time around. The Penguins must find a way to do something which is very difficult to do in the postseason, which is to get to Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist who can be more difficult to navigate than rush hour traffic in New York City. However the Pens have Fluery who himself is no slouch between the pipes as he only allowed 2.27 goals against him per game this season and he could be the difference maker in this series as the Rangers offense has been known to go through spells where they struggle to score.

Although that the Capitals finished this season with the best record in the National Hockey League, you cannot overlook the Penguins who not only have star appeal, but they are also riding a huge wave of momentum into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, as it isn’t how you start, but more of how you finish. The Penguins have a core group of players that have drank out of Lord Stanley’s Cup before, and it would not surprise me to see them do it once more this June.

Source: Hockey-reference.com

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