Thursday, April 24, 2008

Second Round 2008

Detroit over Colorado (6 games)
The Avs play the kind of game Detroit can completely dominate. Their defense has played well and Theodore gives them a clear edge in goaltending, but their disorganized offense leaves them vulnerable to the Red Wings' transition game. Detroit picks apart and quickly turns back weak attacks, which have become the Avs trademark. It's not impossible for them to win the series, but they would have to play with more strength, creativity, intelligence, consistency, effort, and edge than they have all season. All the Red Wings have to do is score on Theodore, though Nashville proved last round that goaltending can go a long way. It's because of Theodore that the Avs have any shot at all, as even with massive improvements they will still likely be the lesser team. Detroit always seems to play to their potential; the series depends entirely on if the Avs do.

San Jose over Dallas (7 games)
It's all up to San Jose's forwards. Despite overall talent, the strength of both teams lies in their defense. If either team really breaks out offensively, it'll be devastating. Neither goaltender had a very good first round, but Turco was a bit worse. Because Nabokov is (more) likely to raise his game and the Sharks give up far fewer powerplays than the Ducks, Dallas' offense will struggle more in this round than the first. Therefore, if San Jose breaks out (which they can against Turco and with Boucher injured), they also win. It's not at all out of the question that Dallas will win (they're just full of surprises), but it's more likely that they'll crack first.

Montreal over Philadelphia (7 games)
While goaltending is the biggest key with two open teams like this, and Price will likely outduel Biron in most games, the series also depends on whether the Flyers can use their physicality to overwhelm the Habs. This will not only take away space from Montreal's forwards, but also put pressure on their sketchy de (and take pressure off of the Flyers'). If their effort is inconsistent or they end up in the box too much- two very possible outcomes- they won't win.
One note on the Habs- they beat Boston so badly in Game 7 for the exact reasons they should have beaten them that badly in the series. In addition to being genuinely outplayed in the first half of the game, their defense was incredibly shaky in their own zone and their forwards fairly inconsistent. But, like they have been all year, the Habs' weaknesses were cancelled out by their strengths. Their lethally opportunistic forwards seemed to capitalize on every mistake we made (mostly by Chara), while Price made sure that we couldn't do the same. By the third period the Bruins looked completely broken and hopeless. The Habs don't play flawless hockey- they can just play flawed hockey better than other teams. If they're really on their game, the Flyers' effort level is inconsequential. They'll win.

Pittsburgh over NY Rangers (6 games)
The Rangers' lineup looked like a recipe for a turnaround- if they got Lundqvist and the forwards playing as well as their incredibly solid defense, they'd be a force. But as soundly as they beat the Devils, they still haven't made the leap. Lundvist was good, and could give them the advantage in goaltending, but it seems that their offensive "breakout" was helped a lot by Brodeur. Additionally, their defense was less than solid against a very bad New Jersey offense. It's like they tried to morph into the Penguins, but they're not good enough to play like Pittsburgh does. They need to be firing on all three cylinders to compete with the Penguins' two. Even if they do, it still might not be enough. It would take elevated play from all skaters, robbery from Lundqvist, and at least a minor breakdown from the Penguins for New York to win this.

It's becoming customary for me to put these up after the first day, but I did have both of tonight's series done before the teams played (as is evident by the comments about Theodore). His strange game aside, the Avs-Red Wings game went as well as I could have hoped, especially given how Colorado played in the first period. They looked terrified. The effort was mostly there, but without confidence it was unfocused and they were just lost. Pierre McGuire insightfully pointed out (many, many times) that Detroit's speed was too much for the Avs, but that was really only the case with Datsyuk. It wasn't that the Red Wings were getting places faster- it was that they were already halfway there by the time the Avs realized where they were going. As they spent the first period simply reacting to the Red Wings, it's no wonder the Avs had trouble stopping them. Detroit's intelligence was too much for them. It was only after Liles' goal (wonderful play all-around) that they gained the confidence to control the puck in the offensive zone and aggressively step up on the Wings' attack. For the second half of the game, they stayed with Detroit, and if not for a partial relapse into weak puck support and a late recovery from Osgood, they could have come back to win. They need to play like that for the rest of the series (especially Tyler Arnason, who inexplicably decided not to suck) and they've got a shot.

Shout out to Medford: I don't hate the Bruins anymore. It's a miracle...but there's always next year.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

April 19

1775: American Revolutionary War begins (Battle of Lexington and Concord).
1861: American Civil War begins (Baltimore Riots).
1943: First LSD trip (Bicycle Day).
1996: A record 36 tornados documented in one day.
2004: After being down 3-1 in the series, the Montreal Canadiens cap their first-round comeback against the Boston Bruins with a game seven victory.
2008: Katie O'D is able to legally drink in all of Canada.

It may seem unlikely that the Bruins take this series to seven games, but April 19 is a strange day.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Quick Notes and Thoughts

Phil Kessel is sitting again. I have no complaints about the Bruins' play last game- they did everything they could, and it just wasn't enough against Price. But doesn't that mean we need something else? We need offense, and Phil can bring that. If it's an issue of effort, I can't imagine that watching a series like this from the sidelines is going to make him complacent and lackadaisical. I respect Claude Julien for sticking to his decision, and maybe he sees that Phil isn't ready attitude-wise to come back, but if the Bruins lose tonight because they can't score that decision of his could look pretty bad.
[Edit: Phil is a "possibility", according to an update from my "source". Additionally, he's skating warmups, which might be a pretty good indicator itself.]

That being said, these are the five biggest keys of the game:
  • Tim Thomas vs. Carey Price. The obvious one- it's whoever cracks first (or worst).
  • Officiating. Special teams have had less of an impact than most people thought, but the calls still make a difference. Since the first brutal couple of games in Montreal, it's improved, but poor calls have the ability to sap a team of its momentum.
  • The reliability of the Bruins' defense. Another improved facet of the team since the start, the defensemen have to play smart. The Habs will be pumped up enough by their crowd to convert any mistake into an opportunity, and goals are precious.
  • The first period. The first period has been low-scoring for the Bruins all series, despite strong play in later games, but if they can do some actual damage early it'll go a long way to improving their confidence and taking the Montreal crowd out of it a (little) bit.
  • The "Milan Lucic Effect". After Kovalev took exception to his hit, Milan responded by mockingly wiping his cheek with one glove and taunting, "Boo hoo." Best moment of the series. The kid has been so relentless, Josh Gorges admitted in between periods that their defensive strategy was to let him go into the corner and get the puck first, as the hits were taking them out of the play and wearing them down. It isn't empty, mindless goonery, either- not only does he create chances and play sound defense, but it's clear his heart is 100% invested in the game. His insane efforts have been contagious, spawning even players such as Savvy to start finishing their checks. The Bruins last game refused to let down, and they have to carry the Milan Lucic Effect into this one.
It's going to take a miracle to win this series; that miracle will have to happen tonight. Go B's!

The Avs keys are covered a bit in the last post, but just for good measure, go Avs!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Five Reasons the Avs Scored Five Goals

1) The Defense
I never would have thought sitting Jeff Finger would help a team whose biggest problem was heart and team play, but the Colorado defensemen had an outstanding game. From the inconspicuous dependability of Scott Hannan and Kurt Sauer to the fierceness of Adam Foote and (oddly) J-M Liles, the defensemen both fueled and supported the offense.
Jordan Leopold, for instance, showed a poise, creativity, and intelligence that I hadn't seen from him before. He made effortless-looking plays all night that kept the ice tilted in the direction of the Wild net. It's even harder to find a fault in Ruslan Salei's play. A defensive wall and offensive force, he led the team with 25 minutes of ice time- and I wish it could have been more. He was the best player on the ice.

2) The Lines
At first both exciting and inexplicable, the new line combinations last night seemed to address a stagnant Avalanche offense that lacked any chemistry or coordination. While some players just didn't suck as noticeably, others immediately found themselves more effective- and everyone looked a bit more comfortable.
How putting Wojtek Wolski on the checking line causes him to score is beyond me, but he had a game for himself. It wasn't flawless, but he played with an almost strange sort of confidence and seemed even more devoted to his defensive responsibilities than usual.
Ryan Smyth, the Avs best forward this series, found his superhuman grinding powers actually lead to a goal by a very gracious (and deserving) Milan Hejduk. And, in a bizarre and blissful twist on Smytty's previous line, the peskiness of Cody McLeod and energy of David Jones reacted in such a way that almost completely neutralized the suckiness of Tyler Arnason.

3) The Wild
Minnesota is as upset with their play as Colorado is pleased. The defense were caught back on their heels, their normally suffocating system collapsing under pressure. The defense wasn't helped much by their forwards, who couldn't manage to keep the puck in the offensive zone for very long. Over the course of the night, there were more than twice as many faceoffs in Minnesota's end than the Avs', due in large part to the skewed shot count. Clearly the frustration got to the Wild, as they took so many penalties that a fairly terrible Colorado powerplay still converted twice. By the midway point of the game, it seemed like the Wild players had forgotten that the point of hockey was even to score goals.
While all of those problems were due in large part to strong play by the Avs, Backstrom's weak game was all on him. Letting in so many early goals, some of which he could have stopped when he's on, took the life out of his team.

4) The Attack
All the Wild had to do the game before this to kill the Avs' offensive attempts was clog up the middle of the ice. The forwards were too slow and weak on the puck to drive to the net, and their sloppily forced passes to the middle of the ice were read and stopped easily. Minnesota expected it all the way, and rightly so- even with the slot packed with Wild players and the points open, the Avs kept at it.
Last night was a shocking turnaround. Aiming to capitalize while they had all their energy, the Avs lacked any of the tentativeness they had shown before and came out flying. Our forwards kept their feet moving and drove through tough areas, led by again Smytty, the only player to consistently do this all series, and Jones, who has also played hard so far. Not only did all four lines play strong hockey, but the defensemen also contributed to the rush. Andrew Brunette's goal (a perfect example of the reformed attack) was entirely the making of Ruslan Salei, and J-M was all over the offensive zone (unfortunately, so was his shot). Even Scott Hannan was leading the charge early on. They were relentless, and it forced the Wild to play terribly.

5) The Fire
In the first few minutes of the game Jose Theodore received a face full of snow, and J-M Liles immediately stepped in to tell the Wild player off. As the CBC announcers discussed what sort of message Minnesota was sending Theodore, a close-up of the play showed that J-M's message wasn't too hard to make out: "Fuck you, man."
When your 5-10 defenseman is looking to get into it right from the start of the game, you know you're set. For the first three games, plays like Sean Hill's psychotic tackle of Peter Forsberg went unchallenged, something that seemed to demoralize Foppa a bit as time went on. The players looked detached and disinterested.
Evidence that things changed (or that every person on the team simultaneously took up meth) was everywhere last night. In addition to the Jones-exacerbated spectacle that was Cody McLeod, Adam Foote infuriated Brent Burns by telling him off for his work on Forsberg. Foote also responded with ferocious enthusiasm to a challenge from Derek Boogaard before Ian Laperriere stepped in to (try to) pull Boogaard off. Lappy later followed up on Stephane Veilleux for his dangerous hit on Stastny and general douchiness.
All over the ice players were pushing back for themselves and their teammates, from the Liles and Wolski types (attempted to start something late with Hill) right up to the McLeods and Lappys. It explains why McLeod was put on the third line- to light that fire. It may seem irrelevant to scoring, but hockey can't be played like a business. You need to be a real team to win in the playoffs, and nothing makes someone a teammate faster than when they stick up for you.

I don't expect them to score five goals every game. Clearly everything just fell into place last night. However, I don't remember the last time I saw the Avs play so cohesively as a team, and I believe it's due to a change in attitude more than any change in tactics or lines. The Avs can win Game 5 with Sakic centering McLeod and Laperriere (joking, Q), but if they don't respond to the inevitable Minnesota brutality, they're through. The key to the rest of this series- and any success the Avs hope to have this postseason- is whether Colorado can keep it on now that they've turned it on. Was that a random burst, or will the Avs finally be the dangerous team we all know they should be? Strangely enough, we'll probably have to ask Cody McLeod.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Dennis Wideman plays 10 minutes more than J-M Liles

Memo to Claude Julien
Defensive suggestions:
  • Show your players a map of the defensive zone, with "Little Billy"-type directions if need be. The reason the PK is so good is that the guys seem most comfortable when they can sit back and blindly whip the puck out of the zone, but 5-on-5 they have to be cleaner and more aggressive. They can't be if they don't know who or where to attack.
  • Only Andrew Ference and Zdeno Chara make sound decisions in all three zones, and only sometimes. Keep it as simple as possible for your defensemen and take measures to insulate their inevitable mistakes.
  • Dennis Wideman is talented. He is also dumb. Do not put him out on the penalty kill. Do not put him out with Aaron Ward or Mark Stuart.
  • Stuart and Shane Hnidy are terrifying, and not in a good way. Split them up and please, please play Andrew Alberts. A lot, if possible.
  • Never forget Tim Thomas. Buy his children extravagant gifts.
Offensive suggestions:
  • Please develop a forechecking system that doesn't consist of one forward running the defensemen and hoping they make an egregious error while his linemates watch interestedly from a distance. This may occasionally force a mistake, but a forecheck that relies on the opposing defense sucking might backfire against some teams. Try running Chris Pronger and waiting for Scott Niedermayer to panic.
  • I know you don't like Phil Kessel, but every time Jeremy Reich is on the ice I die a little inside. Phil is pissed off enough now to "grind it out" like you want, and as a plus he actually has talent.
  • For the love of all that is holy, keep Milan Lucic and Marc Savard together. It's a favor to Savard, trust me. And skate Marco Sturm with that line instead of Glen Murray- he's played well since game one. If you like Muzz too much to bench him, put him on a young, energetic line (ie with Kessel), but something must be done with that man.
  • After a Montreal goal, immediately put out either the Savvy-Lucic line or the Metropolit-Schaefer line. Skate Sobotka with Metropolit-Schaefer.
  • When you yell at the refs, look angry, not like a constipated duck. (Too offensive of a suggestion?)

The Avs coaching situation is above my head. I can't even pinpoint what's wrong- just that no one seems to really know what they're doing. Any success players have seems to come from natural talent alone, and even that has been stifled in a few cases. I can criticize Julien because I can tell what he's trying to do; I can't criticize Quenneville because it doesn't appear that he's trying to do anything. I give him credit with the defensemen, as he has both paired them up well and played them in appropriate situations, but like many people I believe he has mismanaged the forwards. Consistency has been the main problem, with some forwards being immediately chastised for somewhat weak games and some immune to punishment after a season of suckiness. My memo to Joel Quenneville is simply this:
Stick with it for the whole game and see if the offensive zone gets detangled a little.

Go Avs, Go B's, and for god's sake someone beat the Red Wings
-Katie O'D

Saturday, April 12, 2008

2008 Playoffs

Random, I know, but I couldn't resist. Though it's a bit better here in Canada, when I talk to normal people about hockey they still go pretty quickly from thinking it's cute, to being impressed, to being genuinely concerned. This is mostly for my benefit.

Team Rankings

1) Detroit
Scarily complete team with effective, suffocating puck-possession system. Potential weaknesses in goaltending (shielded for most of the season) and the fact that they're the Red Wings.
2) Anaheim
Confident, dominant team with excellent playoff goaltender and best defensive unit in the NHL. Very physical but not as much natural offensive talent as some teams.
3) Montreal
Oozes offensive talent, up front and on the blue line. Well-coached for the regular season but the over-reliance on offense and a young goaltender could be deadly in the playoffs. Price is key and his confidence will likely be reinforced by playing the Bruins. Risky team.
4) Pittsburgh
Mix of terrifying talent and veteran toughness up front, but the defense is suspect and goaltending situation curious. Dangerous but vulnerable.
5) San Jose
Excellent two-way defense and solid goaltending, but top-heavy, underperforming forward squad needs to be addressed by otherwise good coach.
6) NY Rangers
Underperforming (and unlucky) talent at forward and goaltending supported by unspectacular but extremely solid defense. Numbers weaker than the team is, which has the potential to be very good.
7) Minnesota
Team carried by excellent goaltending and one-sided but effective system, as talent is thin at forward. Injuries to defense severely cripple them.
8) Dallas
Have been lucky (league-leading Sh%) to score as much as they have with forwards not playing well all season. Team can be effective within system if good defense and Turco perform.
9) Washington
Not very deep on forward or defense, but has some amazing players. Regular season numbers may not say much as they were in a terrible division, and also acquired Huet late. A flawed team that is carried by youth and enthusiasm.
10) Colorado
Based on players, should be higher; based on numbers, should be lower. Success depends on Theodore and if their painfully talented but painfully mismanaged players can find some sort of organization amongst themselves.
11) Philadelphia
Dirty team with decent depth and talent that put up good numbers in a good division. May have benefitted from regular season luck, and both injuries and a lack of sufficient defense could hurt them in the playoffs.
12) Calgary
A fairly balanced team that suffered from subpar regular season goaltending. Can come together to win games, but have been inconsistent and no one aspect of the team is very intimidating (though their defense should be).
13) New Jersey
Completely one-sided and successful mostly due to system, which relies on defense (have outperformed their talent level, to their credit) and Brodeur (still good but not quite as scary). Not enough offense to win.
14) Nashville
Despite good goaltending, have struggled against better teams. Injuries to their somewhat thin collection of talent can't likely be overcome by the hard work and solid team play that got them to the playoffs.
15) Ottawa
So much talent and so many problems, from dehabilitating injuries to poor performance from a talented defensive squad to a high-scoring system that's too reckless. The biggest flaw of all in the playoffs is their lack of goaltending.
16) Boston
They can't score (24th in GF), can't defend (over 30 shots against/game), are either dumb as dirt, poorly coached, or allergic to making clean plays, and unfortunately, every goaltender plays as hard as Tim Thomas in the playoffs. I hate the Bruins.

First-Round Predictions

Detroit over Nashville (5 games)
Nashville might be able to pull off a win if they work hard and Detroit loses focus.
San Jose over Calgary (6 games)
San Jose is a much better team that won't win any games easily. Could go to seven.
Colorado over Minnesota (7 games)
Minnesota doesn't have the ablity to win; Colorado has to start using it. If the Avs hit their stride it could end sooner, and if they don't Minnesota could will themselves a series win.
Anaheim over Dallas (6 games)
Dallas is pesky and frustrating enough to steal a couple of wins.
Montreal over Boston (5 games)
Best case scenario: the Bruins rally together to win one game after finally taking Tim Thomas' suicide threats seriously, then are shut out for the rest of the series. I hate the Bruins.
Pittsburgh over Ottawa (5 games)
Ottawa wins by out-scoring, and they can't outscore the Pens. They might not win a game.
Philadelphia over Washington (7 games)
Though Philadelphia injuries give the Caps an advantage, the Flyers may cancel that out by the end of the series. A Washington win would be nice but if the Flyers break their spirit at all (which they can) they won't pull it off.
NY Rangers over New Jersey (6 games)
The Devils will drag the series out longer than it should go just because they're the Devils, but they're done.

Back to life now,
Katie O'D
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