Category Archives: National Hockey League

A New Dynasty On The Rise?

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As the Pittsburgh Penguins are in the midst of their second consecutive Stanley Cup Championship, their players are in the process of enjoying their time with Lord Stanley’s Trophy. And with the likes of center Sidney Crosby leading the way on the Penguins roster, they’ll be heading into the 2017-2018 National Hockey League season as title contenders once again. But whereas the Pens and Chicago Blackhawks have been the class of the NHL this decade, who will be ready to be the league’s next dominant team? That answer could possibly be in Western Canada.

This past season saw the Edmonton Oilers reach the playoffs for the first time since 2006 and in the process they were able to create a huge buzz for their fan base. It’s not that the Oilers were just not making the playoffs as they were one of the worst teams in the National Hockey League. Between 2010 and 2015, Edmonton gained the first overall pick in the NHL Draft four times, but they were unable to reverse the tide of futility until they finally lucked out in 2015 when they selected center Connor McDavid.

Connor McDavid

As a rookie, McDavid appeared in 45 games for the Oilers as he produced 48 points to finish third in the Calder Trophy voting as the National Hockey League’s top rookie. This past season McDavid would appear in all 82 games for Edmonton as his 70 assists and 100 points led the NHL. In the playoffs the Oilers would knock off the San Jose Sharks in the first round, while giving the Anaheim Ducks all that they could handle in the second round before exiting stage right in seven games. And even in defeat, the Oilers gave their followers a reason to believe for the first time in a long time.

That new found belief took the next step earlier this week when McDavid won the Hart Memorial Trophy as the MVP of the National Hockey League. McDavid became the first Oilers player to win the award since Mark Messier in 1990 as he was a part of one of the greatest dynasties in NHL history which included Wayne Gretzky, Grant Fuhr, and Jari Kurri which led to five Stanley Cup Championships. And now as McDavid has helped the Oilers turn the corner, could Lord Stanley’s Cup be ready to return to Edmonton soon with him leading the way?

McDavid is in that rare air as he makes the folks around him better. This past season the Oilers were +27 when McDavid was on the ice, while the team’s win total jumped by 16 which lets you know of his importance to the team.

Aside from McDavid the Oilers have other key contributors such as center Leon Draisaitl, right winger Jordan Eberle,, and goalie Cam Talbot as the fortunes of the Oilers franchise have definitely reversed. Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli will soon have to lock up McDavid and Draisaitl to long-term contracts which should be a no-brainer; especially since Edmonton has roughly $25 million in cap space heading into next season. And as the National Hockey League’s Draft is taking place this weekend in Chicago, the Oilers have the opportunity to add some depth which is the first time that this could be said in a very long time.

Source: Hockey-reference.com

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Nashville Stand Up

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The early 1990’s saw the National Hockey League expand to the Southeast Region of the United States. In 1992, the Tampa Bay Lightning joined the NHL, while the Florida Panthers would follow suit in 1993. And in 1997, the Hartford Whalers would relocate to Raleigh, North Carolina to become the Carolina Hurricanes. The Panthers would enjoy some early success as they appeared in the Stanley Cup Final in 1996 as Floridians came out to support them. The NHL would continue to expand in the Southeast which saw the Nashville Predators join the league in 1998 which was followed by the Atlanta Thrashers beginning play in 1999.

It took the Predators some time as they were attempting to build a fan base in Music City. And by 2004, the Preds reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Six of the next seven years would see the Predators reach the playoffs, and they were able to win their first playoff series in 2011. But after Nashville missed the postseason in 2013 and 2014, Barry Trotz who up to that point had been the only head coach of the Predators was let go.

Peter Laviolette

Trotz would be replaced by Peter Laviolette who already had a stellar track record which included leading the Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup Championship in 2006, and leading the Philadelphia Flyers to the Stanley Cup Final in 2010. Laviolette would build off of what Trotz had started, and in the process he has taken the Predators to new heights.

After a 41-29-12 regular season, the Preds entered the Stanley Playoffs as the eighth seed in the Western Conference where they would earn a date with the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round. The Blackhawks have been the gold standard in the National Hockey League this decade as they’ve won three Stanley Cup Championships. However when the Predators faced the Blackhawks, it was Nashville who appeared to be the perennial Stanley Cup Champ.

The Preds would sweep the Blackahawks and in the process they would outscore them 13-3 in the series. Nashville wasn’t done there as they would take down the St. Louis Blues in six games in the Western Conference Semifinals which set the stage for a meeting with the Anaheim Ducks. And although that the Ducks became the favorite to win the Western Conference Title when the Blackhawks were eliminated, don’t count the Predators among those who were impressed.

After Nashville went on the road to win Game 1 against the Ducks, they dictated the pace throughout the remainder of the series. The Preds never trailed in the series as far as victories went, in spite of the fact that they lost center Ryan Johansen to a leg injury after he led them in points (61) and assists (47) during the regular season.

But after blowing a lead in Game 4 which allowed the Ducks to tie the series at 2-2, Nashville responded by going to Anaheim and securing a 3-1 victory which put the Predators on the cusp of heading to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history. And with the electricity being so thick at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville for Game 6 that you could cut it with a knife, the Preds were up for the challenge.

Left winger Austin Watson and center Colton Sissons got the scoring going for the Predators in the first period as they each scored a goal to give Nashville the 2-0 advantage.

After Ducks right winger Ondrej Kase scored a goal in the second period to cut the Preds lead in half, they would respond when Sissons scored his second goal of the game early in the third period to make it 3-1 in favor of the home team as the miracle appeared ready to happen.

However the Ducks are a resilient team as they would scored a pair of goals in less than four minutes to tie the score at 3-3 while quieting the crowd at the Bridgestone Arena.

But this Predators team simply would not be denied as Sissons sealed the deal by scoring his third goal of the game. And once the Ducks pulled goalie Jonathan Bernier late in the game in order to have an extra skater on the ice, Nashville was able to take advantage by scoring a pair of empty net goals which secured the Western Conference Title as they brought it home in front of their home fans.

The Predators will undoubtedly enter the Stanley Cup Final as the underdog in the Stanley Cup Final as they’ll take on the Pittsburgh Penguins who are the defending champs, but don’t expect Nashville to be fazed.

The Preds weren’t given much of a chance against the Blackhawks whom they swept. They were written off again versus Blues and the same could be said about their encounter with the Ducks. But that is why you have to step on the ice and play as there is no such thing as paper champions.

The Predators are led by a head coach in Laviolette who now joins Dick Irvin, Scotty Bowman, and Mike Keenan as the only head coaches in the illustrious history of the National Hockey League to lead three different franchises to the Stanley Cup Final. Laviolette knows how to do it in a non-traditional hockey market which can be traced back to his time with the Hurricanes. And if anyone thinks that Laviolette is going to let his team slow down in the Stanley Cup Final because Johansen is not there, think again.

Pekka Rinne

The Predators have a solid team which includes a goalie in Pekka Rinne who is hot right now. Rinne is averaging 1.70 goals against during the postseason as it always important to have a net minder between the pipes. For years P.K. Subban has been one of the top defensemen in the National Hockey League. But surprisingly after seven years with the Montreal Canadiens, Subban was traded to the Predators last summer in exchange for defenseman Shea Weber who had become an icon during his 11 years in Nashville. And as good as Weber was for the Preds, Subban has helped give Nashville a new lease on defensive intensity. Players such as Sissons and center Filip Forsberg have been providing the scoring for the Predators in the playoffs as it has been a total team effort.

So now as we’re set to embark on Memorial Day Weekend, the folks in Nashville who are best known for their barbecue and country music will have a front row seat for the National Hockey League’s biggest spectacle. The Predators were born into existence in 1998 after the Tennessee Titans of the National Football League paved the way in Music City in 1997 after nearly four decades as the Houston Oilers. And now the Preds are just four victories away from having the hockey world eating out of the palm of their hands. And even though that a Predators Stanley Cup Championship wouldn’t be a first in the Southeast Region as both the Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning have hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup, it would still be special as this band of brothers has come out of nowhere to shock the hockey world.

Source: Hockey-reference.com

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Still Out Of His Reach

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Alex Ovechkin

It’s hard to overlook the talent of Washington Capitals left winger Alex Ovechkin. Since Ovechkin was the first overall pick of the 2004 National Hockey League Draft, he has been the face of the Capitals franchise and one of the top players in the league. Ovechkin is one of the top goal scorers in NHL history as he has scored at least 50 goals in a season seven times which has led to him being an eight-time All-Star and a three-time league MVP. Ovechkin’s 558 career goals are 16th all-time in NHL history and when his playing career comes to an end he will undoubtedly be inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame. But as good as Ovechkin’s resume has been, there is still one thing that eludes him.

For the second consecutive year the Capitals won the Presidents’ Trophy as the top team in the National Hockey League. And for the second consecutive year the Caps were eliminated in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Overall the Capitals are 1-9 in the postseason versus the Penguins, while Ovechkin is 0-3. And what makes matter worse is that Ovechkin’s losses have come at the hands of Penguins center Sidney Crosby who has been his chief rival as far as being the best player in the NHL.

So now as Ovechkin who will be 32-years of age by the time that beginning of the 2017-2018 National Hockey League season rolls around, fairly or unfairly he is now being labeled as a tremendous scorer who is unable to lead his team to a championship. The Caps have never gotten past the second round with Ovechkin and you have to wonder if they ever will.

We’re in the midst of watching the Penguins dynasty in the Eastern Conference as their depth has been to much for Washington to overcome. And if trying to get past the Pens isn’t enough, the Caps also have to contend with the likes of the New York Rangers, Columbus Blue Jackets, Montreal Canadiens, and the upstart Toronto Maple Leafs just to reach the Stanley Cup Final.

Brian MacLellan

Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan has done a solid job of putting talent around Ovechkin which includes the likes of goalie Braden Holtby, center Nicklas Backstrom, and right winger T.J. Oshie, along with bringing in a veteran head coach in Barry Trotz. But Ovechkin still has to find a way to elevate his game when it matters the most. In the series loss to Pittsburgh, Ovechkin was limited to just a pair of goals, while he and his Capitals teammates were shutout completely in Game 7.

And as Ovechkin and his teammates continue to dominate in the regular season, but fall short in the playoffs, he’ll be labeled as the superstar who cannot get it done when it matters the most, while the Capitals will simply be “next year’s champs”.

Source: Hockey-reference.com

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A Giant Step In The Right Direction

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Following Sunday night’s loss to the Washington Capitals, the 2016-2017 National Hockey League season has come to an end for the Toronto Maple Leafs; however for the first time in a long time, their appears to be some hope for this storied franchise. This year’s trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs marked the first journey to the postseason for the Maple Leafs since 2013. And although that Toronto has still been unable to win it all since 1967, things are looking up for them.

Brendan Shanahan

The seeds of the Maple Leafs turnaround were initially planted in 2014 when Brendan Shanahan was named as the team’s president and alternate governor. In Shanahan’s first year the Leafs would fail to qualify for the postseason as he acknowledged that they were rebuilding. That rebuild would take the next step at the conclusion of the 2014-2015 National Hockey League season when the Maple Leafs were able to lure Mike Babcock away from the Detroit Red Wings in order to become their next head coach, while they also traded their best player in right winger Phil Kessel to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Toronto would only win 29 games during the 2015-2016 NHL season, but they would earn the first overall selection in the upcoming draft.

Auston Matthews

The Maple Leafs would use that selection on center Auston Matthews who has quickly become a household name within the Province of Ontario. In Matthews’ first game, he scored 4 goals in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators. Matthews would go on to score 40 goals which was second in the National Hockey League, while his 69 points would lead Toronto. And after Babcock had missed making the playoffs as a head coach for the just the second in his career last year, things would be much different this season.

The Leafs would hold off the surge of both the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders coming down the stretch in the regular season to earn the final wild card berth in the Eastern Conference which set up a date with the Capitals in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. For the second consecutive year the Caps finished with the best record in the National Hockey League which earned them the Presidents’ Trophy, but don’t count the Maple Leafs as far as those being in awe.

After Toronto dropped the first game of the series 3-2 in overtime, they would climb back to win the next two games. The Leafs pushed the Capitals throughout the series as five of the six contest were decided in overtime. And when the Maple Leafs ended their season with the customary handshake line with the Caps at the end of Game 6, their fans gave them a boisterous ovation as they left the ice at the Air Canada Centre.

This Maple Leafs playoff loss wasn’t like their defeat in 2013 when they blew a three-goal lead in Game 7 to the Boston Bruins in the first round as some people deemed it as the same old Toronto; however there is now some renewed optimism for this club.

Matthews is the real deal as he could become the first Maple Leafs player since left winger Brit Selby in 1966 to earn the Calder Memorial Trophy as the National Hockey League’s Rookie of the Year. Matthews will be the Leafs franchise player for the next decade as he could have the kind of impact that center Sidney Crosby is having with the Pittsburgh Penguins and left winger Alex Ovechkin has for the Capitals as now it is time to build around him.

Mike Babcock

Getting Babcock to leave the Red Wings after a contract dispute with the team was a coup as he has a wealth of experience which included winning the Stanley Cup with Detroit in 2008. And it is hard to overlook the 23 years worth of playing experience in the NHL that Shanahan possesses, while he is also showing the ability to get it done in the front office as well which provides plenty of optimism in Toronto that good things are finally on the horizon for the Leafs.

Source: Hockey-reference.com

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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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