NHL Eastern Conference playoff predictions

Who would have thought that the Eastern Conference playoff teams would not consist of the Philadelphia Flyers? I didn’t predict that, that’s for sure. Nonetheless, it is nice to see some new faces in the playoffs this year, like the Islanders and Maple Leafs. And how about the Senators? After all the adversity that this team has faced this season, it is pretty remarkable that they’re in the postseason again. So having said that, let’s get to the predictions.

1-8 Matchup:

2518158277_cf0b185de3 vs. 138

Season series: Penguins 4-1-0 against Islanders.

Well it’s no surprise to see Pittsburgh as the number 1 seed in the East, but it is a surprise to see the Islanders as the number 8 seed. I am confident in saying that I don’t believe many people projected the Islanders to be a playoff team this year. John Tavares, on the other hand, had different thoughts about his team and willed them to the postseason. Him and Matt Moulson recorded 47 and 44 points respectively this year, and they are going to need to continue to produce against the Penguins. Evgeni Nabakov had a major bounce back season this year by going 23-11-7, and his playoff experience is huge for the Islanders. Not many guys on that team have ever played in the postseason before, so it’s nice for them to have a goalie with experience. He’s going to need to be great for the Islanders to advance.

The Penguins have shown all year long that they are a force in the Eastern Conference, and they are going to be the toughest out in the East. They went out and really upgraded their team at the trade deadline by acquiring Jarome Iginla and Brendan Morrow, and both of those guys have fit pretty well into the lineup since. The biggest concern for Pittsburgh right now is the health of Sidney Crosby. He recently started practicing again after sitting out for a month with a broken jaw, but it is unclear as to when he may return to game action. Although I feel that the Penguins should still take down the Islanders without much of a problem even without Crosby, I wouldn’t ink them in as the Eastern Conference champs like many people are. Marc Andre Fleury worries me about the Penguins chances with his sub-par play in recent postseasons.

-Pittsburgh wins series, 4-1.

2-7 Matchup:

124 vs. 2bkf2l3xyxi5p0cavbj8

Season series: Senators 2-1-1 against Canadiens.

After a couple years of missing the playoffs, Montreal is back as the number 2 seed in the East after barely edging out the Bruins for the division championship. Ottawa, meanwhile, is back in the playoffs yet again even after all the injuries they suffered this season. Daniel Alfredsson (their captain) missed the entire season, and Jason Spezza (their best goal scorer) played in just 5 games. Neither will play in the postseason. Erik Karlsson only played in 17 games because of a severed achilles, but made a remarkable return to the lineup for the last game of the regular season. His presence in the lineup will be HUGE for the Senators in the playoffs. Craig Anderson had his best season as a goalie, posting 1.69 goals-against average and a .941 save percentage. He should be a Vezina finalist, and rightfully so. Ottawa will need Anderson to continue his strong play into the postseason. If he does, this is a team that could do some damage.

Montreal had a great start to the season, but saw their play slip a little in April (a 7-7-0 record). They had 5 players record at least 30 points this year, including 2 defensemen. One of which, P.K. Subban, should be a Norris Trophy finalist. But to me, the biggest story-line surrounding this team will be the play of Carey Price. He went 21-13-4 this season with a 2.59 GAA and a .905 save percentage. Over the last month or so, however, Price has really started to fade. Fans in Montreal have become extremely critical of Price, and I am sure that if he slips up early in this series that Peter Budaj will take over in net. To me, the Canadiens go as Carey Price goes.

-Ottawa wins series, 4-2.

3-6 Matchup:

llrs2zxi127vkqgcsvfb vs. 144

Season series: Rangers 2-0-1 against Capitals.

Thanks to the unbelievable play of Alex Ovechkin down the home stretch of the season, the Capitals find themselves as division champions and the 3 seed in the East. The Rangers, however, cannot be happy with their 6th place finish in the conference. This was a team that almost everyone had winning the conference and advancing to the Finals prior to the season after their acquisition of Rick Nash. Unexpectedly, the Rangers just couldn’t get things rolling until April where they went 10-3-1. At the trade deadline, they parted ways with Marian Gaborik and received Derek Dorsett, Derick Brassard, and John Moore in return. This was apparently the spark that the Rangers needed to get going, because they have been a much better team since. Henrik Lundqvist is still one of the top goalies in hockey, and he has the ability to single-handedly win a series for New York. If he plays well and Derek Stepan keeps up his torrid pace, this team will get by the first round.

-New York wins series, 4-3.

4-5 Matchup:

Boston-Bruins-Logo vs. Toronto-Maple-Leafs-Logo


Season series: Boston 3-1-0 against Maple Leafs.

Talk about a classic rivalry series… I think I speak on behalf of most NHL fans when I say that I am excited to watch these two teams go at it. Finally, the Maple Leafs are back in the playoffs, and their fans are going to be going nuts at the Air Canada Centre for Game 3. After all that talk of Toronto possibly trading for either Roberto Luongo or Mikka Kiprusoff, their goaltending really hasn’t been bad. James Reimer went 19-8-5 this year with a 2.46 GAA and a .924 save percentage. He doesn’t have playoff experience, which could hurt, but the Leafs have to have some confidence in this guy after the season he had. Phil Kessel, who led the Leafs with 52 points, will get a chance to eliminate his former team, and the Maple Leafs are going to need him to give everything he’s got.

After a great start to the season, Boston was eventually caught and overrun by the Canadiens in the division. But don’t let that fool you. The Bruins are still one of the best teams in hockey, and one of the toughest teams to play against. Tuukka Rask was one of the better goalies in hockey this season with a 2.00 GAA and a .929 save percentage. His play, plus the team defense of the Bruins resulted in Boston finishing third in the league in GA/G. Teams with a good GA/G always tend to fare well in the postseason. The addition of Jaromir Jagr at the trade deadline could pay off now more than it has up to this point in the season, as Jagr is a very experienced postseason player and knows how to win big games. Also, the Bruins are just 2 years removed from winning the Cup and know what it takes to get back there. Don’t let their finish in the conference fool you. This is a dangerous team.

-Boston wins series, 4-1.

Look for my second round predictions for both conferences once the first round ends.

Thanks for reading.


NHL Western Conference playoff predictions

I was a little off in one of my recent posts about who the Blackhawks would end up meeting in the first round of the playoffs. I said then that the Red Wings would end up with the 8th seed, and Minnesota would get the 7th seed. As it turns out, those two teams are flip-flopped, and the Blackhawks will play the Wild in round one, with the Wings getting Anaheim.

As I did last year, I will offer up my predictions as to how the first round will play out. First, we’ll start with the Western Conference.

1-8 Matchup:

56 vs. Minnesota-Wild-Logo

Season series: Blackhawks 2-0-1 against Wild.

Not a lot of people expected to see the Wild finish the season as the 8th seed in the West (many thought they’d be a top 3), but here they are. The Wild actually played the Blackhawks pretty well this year, and were the first team to hand the Hawks a loss this season when they beat Chicago in a shootout on Jan. 30 by a score of 3-2. That game was in Minnesota. In the other two meetings, the Blackhawks won 5-3 in Chicago, and then they won again 1-0 back in Minnesota. There is not a question that the Wild have potential to be dangerous with guys like Parise, Koivu, Suter, and Setoguchi (Dan Heatley is out after having surgery). However, they just haven’t been able to put it all together for long stretches this year, which is why they are the 8 seed. Right now, the Wild are playing arguably their worst hockey of the year and are limping into the playoffs.

Meanwhile, Chicago started the season with 24 straight games with at least a point, and they really haven’t taken their foot off the gas peddle since. From start to finish this season, the Hawks have been the best team in hockey. They will most likely finish with the fewest goals-against per game (GA/G) in the NHL (depending on what Ottawa does today), and they finished second in the league in goals per game (G/G). Their powerplay has looked bad at times, but their PK has made up for it, ranking 4th in the league. Goaltending, which was a major question mark for this team coming into the season, has been one of their biggest strengths this year. Everyone knows that good goaltending can win you the Cup. I think this should be a good, but most likely quick series.

-Chicago wins series, 4-1.

2-7 Matchup:

ducks-logo-TRANS vs. Detroit-Red-Wings-Logo


Season series: Red Wings 2-1-0 against Ducks.

I think it’s safe to say that no one predicted the Ducks to finish this high in the standings before the season started. A lot of people probably didn’t even have them making the playoffs. I would also say that many people had the Wings missing the playoffs as well after losing so many assets following last season. However, the Ducks proved us all wrong, and the Red Wings have now made the postseason 22 seasons in a row. While Detroit still has guys like Datsyuk and Zetterberg leading their offense, they are much thinner on their blue line than they used to be. This has hurt them all year long and almost cost them a playoff berth. In goal, Jimmy Howard has really been hot as of late and is a big reason why this team is in the playoffs. I think that Detroit’s lack of experience with so many young guys being in their lineup could hurt them.

The Ducks are one of the biggest teams in the West in terms of size, and they will use that to their advantage in the playoffs. They have two goalies who have played well all season, but Jonas Hiller will get the nod for the postseason. He, much like Jimmy Howard, has the ability to steal a series. The Ducks powerplay ranked 4th in the league this year, and their penalty kill ranked 13th. I’m sure that they would like to see their PK be better in the playoffs, but if they can continue dominating on the PP, they’ll be tough to beat.

-Anaheim wins series, 4-2.

3-6 Matchup:

canucks-logo vs. sharks_new

Season series: Sharks 3-0-0 against Canucks (one win in a SO).

Let me start by saying that these two teams don’t like each other. When they met 2 years ago in the playoffs, they played an extremely physical and intense series. Vancouver ultimately won, but the Sharks gave them all they could handle. This year, the Sharks started off as one of the hottest teams in hockey before fizzling off and slipping to the middle of the pack. They have played better down the stretch, which led them to the 6th seed, but they weren’t able to beat L.A. in the final game to jump to the 5th seed. In order to beat Vancouver, the Sharks need production from all lines and not just the top 2. That has been a huge problem all year for them. Antti Niemi has been one of the top goalies all season long, and he’s going to need to continue that trend in this series.

For Vancouver, Corey Schneider will be their number 1 goalie in the playoffs, and this time there’s no doubt about it. Over the past couple of years, the Canucks weren’t really sure who their number 1 goalie was, which I’m sure led to some discomfort among the team. One of Vancouver’s biggest assets is their ability to combine physicality with skill. They are one of the roughest teams in hockey, but they can also score. Having said that, their powerplay ranked 22nd in the league this year, which will need to improve starting now. The Canucks ranked 8th on the PK. I would expect this to be an extremely physical and exhausting series for both sides. This is one of the tougher matchups to try and predict, but in the end, I think which ever team has more success on the powerplay will advance to the next round.

-Vancouver wins series, 4-3.

4-5 Matchup:

NoteCMYK_blueTM vs. third_jersey_logo

Season series: Kings 3-0-0 against Blues.

In what will be a rematch of last year’s Western Conference Semifinals, both teams are going to have their hands full. St. Louis and L.A. are both very physical (slight edge to the Blues in that category), and they both have good goaltenders. Last season, the 8th seeded Kings swept the 2nd seeded Blues because of their team defense and goaltending. Jonathan Quick was the MVP of the playoffs last year, and I am expecting him to step up his game again this year as well. Unlike much of last season, this year the Kings offense has been rather consistent. They ranked 10th in the NHL this year in G/G, and 10th on the powerplay. They also ranked 10th on the PK, and 7th in GA/G. For them to eliminate St. Louis for the second year in a row, they’ll need their offense to show up, and they’ll need Jonathan Quick to be good.

St. Louis has to be worried about this matchup. Going back to last year’s playoffs, they are 0-7 against the Kings in their last 7 games against them. They simply have not been able to figure out Jonathan Quick, and at times their own goaltending has let them down. Speaking of that, this year St. Louis (who was a popular pick to go to the Finals before the season started) has had some trouble with their goaltending. Sure, they ranked 8th in GA/G, but that’s only because they turned things around down the stretch. While their recent play has to be a good sign, I am still not sold that this team is as good as they are said to be. They’ll absolutely need their offense to finally wake up against L.A. and Jonathan Quick, and they’ll need Brian Elliot to be very good if they want to win this series.

-L.A. wins series, 4-2.

Check back sometime in the next day or so for my Eastern Conference predictions.

Message received: Blackhawks need to be physical

167241861_slideI’ve been saying it all season, and I’ll say it again. The Blackhawks are not a tough team, and they are not a physical team. Last night’s game in Vancouver proved just that. The Canucks were on a mission to hit anyone wearing a white sweater, regardless of the name on the back. The result? A 3-1 pounding of the Blackhawks. If anyone out there was looking for a prelude to what the playoffs may be like, or how to beat the Blackhawks, just go back and watch a recording of last night’s game and focus on the blue team.

About a week and a half ago, the Blackhawks won a big game on a Sunday afternoon in St. Louis. At the time, it looked as though the Hawks were capable of playing through intense physicality from the other team. The Blues were taking runs at the Hawks the entire first period of that game, but the Blackhawks were able to work through it and come away with a good win. Last night, however, proved that the Blackhawks can’t always rely on their skill and speed to get them through tough, physical games.

The Canucks outhit the Hawks 37-23, and in the process sent a clear message: “If you guys (the Hawks) want to make it through the playoffs, you need to be physical.” Well Vancouver, the message was received. The NHL playoffs take physicality to an entirely new level compared to the regular season. Teams who can play physically and with skill tend to do very well. Just look at the 2010 Blackhawks for proof.

This year’s Hawks team was not built to be physical. They were not constructed to outhit their opponents on a nightly basis. However, that doesn’t mean that they should just sit back and let their opponents obliterate them all night long with hard, bone-crushing hits. 167232269_slideLast night, the Canucks destroyed the Hawks with their physicality, and there was virtually no response from the visitors. Sure, about half way through the third period and down 3-0 some Blackhawks players started hitting, but that was way too little, way too late. So my question is this. Why did it take the Hawks two and a half periods to start hitting? Also, why didn’t anyone step up and respond to guys like Ryan Kesler who were taking runs at the Hawks’ star players all game long? When you see someone taking borderline cheap shots at your captain, it’s time to go out there and respond by either doing the same thing to their stars, or go after the guy(s) delivering those shots. Pat Foley and Eddie Olczyk mentioned this a few times as the game went on.

With the playoffs starting in about a week, the Blackhawks need to figure out how to handle teams like Vancouver who can combine skill and toughness to win games. The first round will be physical for the Hawks, but none of their potential first round opponents are nearly as physical as Vancouver. At some point, however (if the Hawks advance in the playoffs), they are going to meet a team like Vancouver, L.A., or St. Louis who will use their toughness as a primary weapon, and the Hawks are going to need to respond.

The Blackhawks and us fans cannot rely on Brandon Bollig, Daniel Carcillo, and Jamal Mayers to be our “big hitters” for the playoffs. Those guys see little ice time each game, and at least one is a healthy scratch each game. This means that guys like Bickell, Stalberg, Shaw, Handzus, Seabrook, Rozsival, Keith, and maybe even Saad or Toews need to become more physical to counter their opponents. It needs to be a team effort, not just one or two guys.

Maybe last night was a good thing for the Hawks in that they are now fully aware that they need to alter their game in order to beat a very physical team in the postseason. At least one thing is for sure, however, and that is the Blackhawks received a very stern message from one of the league’s better teams. If this team is going to go on any type of run in the playoffs, they need to step up and respond to other teams’ physicality. That’s a fact.

Blackhawks’ potential first round opponents

166440366_slideWith the NHL regular season coming to an end, it is time to start thinking about the playoffs. The Blackhawks have already clinched the Central Division and first place in the Western Conference. They are not far off from clinching the best record in the league and winning the President’s Trophy for doing so. It would seem that the Hawks are in position to make a good run in the playoffs, but in order to do so, they must get by the first round, which they haven’t done in three years. So now the question becomes, who could they play in the first round, and who do they want to play in the first round?

The 7th and 10th spots in the West are only separated by 4 points. That means that virtually anyone currently sitting in one of those spots or between there could end up with the 7th or 8th seed in the West. Right now, Minnesota holds the 7th seed with 51 points (44 games played), and Columbus has the 8th seed with 49 points (45 games played). Detroit and Dallas currently sit 9th and 10th in the conference respectively, both teams with 47 points (Detroit with 43 games played, Dallas with 44 games played).

A lot can happen over the next couple weeks here, but I’ll say that Minnesota and Detroit end up making the playoffs as the bottom 2 seeds in the West. I will also predict that Minnesota hangs onto the 7th seed (they won’t pass the Blues, who are currently 6th), with Detroit finishing 8th. Detroit has played 2 fewer games than Columbus and are only 2 points behind them in the standings.This would mean that Detroit would play the Blackhawks in the first round.

Of the possible first round opponents for the Hawks at this point, Detroit, Dallas or Columbus (assuming the Wild hang on to the 7 spot), I think that Dallas would be the one 166692550_slideteam the Hawks would rather play. Dallas is not a very deep team, and they recently traded away Brendan Morrow (their captain), Derek Roy, and Jaromir Jagr. Those were 3 of their 4 best players. They still have Jammie Benn, and they still have Kari Lehtonen in net, but that won’t be enough to scare the Hawks. In the three games that these two teams played against each other this regular season, the Blackhawks won all three and outscored the Stars 16-5. Two of those games were before Dallas traded away Morrow, Roy, and Jagr…

Pavel-DatsyukThe Detroit matchup isn’t one that worries me too much either, to be honest. Yes, they are still the Red Wings, which is always scary, but they aren’t the same team that they have been over the last decade. With the loss of Lidstrom and Holmstrom after last season (among others), the Wings really lost a lot of talent and leadership. This year, they have barely stayed in the playoff hunt and have had to rely on a lot of young players to get them through the season. They still have Datsyuk and Zetterberg, and they still have Jimmy Howard in net, but the Hawks have proven this year by going 4-0 against Detroit that they are way too much for the Wings to handle, especially in a 7-game series.

A Hawks-Jackets series is one that concerns me. If there is any team that has given the Hawks big problems this year, Columbus is it. The Hawks might have a 4-0 record against 160127648_slidethem this season, but all four of those wins were by just 1 goal. With the way Sergei Bobrovsky is playing in net for the Blue Jackets (he’ll be a Vezina Trophy finalist), I wouldn’t want to face these guys in the first round. Not to mention the work ethic of the Blue Jackets, who are one of the hardest working teams in the league. Yes they traded away a handful of players at the deadline, but  they got Marian Gaborik in return. He hasn’t had his best season this year, but he is still one of the most dangerous and prolific scorers in the game. If you take all of that into consideration, plus the fact that they are playing good hockey right now (7-3-0 over their last 10 games), this would be the toughest matchup for the Blackhawks in the first round.

I am anticipating that the Hawks will play Detroit in round one, but that is just a guess. The players will never admit which team they would prefer to play, but I can guarantee you it is not Columbus. The playoffs are almost here, and I can’t wait for them to begin.

Blackhawks pass big test in St. Louis

166605874_slideMost people knew that today’s game between the Blues and Blackhawks was going to be a good one, and was it ever. For the Blackhawks, this was a big test for them to see if they could handle playoff-like toughness from a tough team. As for the Blues, they came into today’s game needing every point they could get as they continue their push for the playoffs.

The first period was very much like a playoff game. Right off the bat, the Blues were running around trying to hit any player in a red jersey into the third row through the glass. The Blackhawks on the other hand, didn’t hand out many hits. It’s just not in their DNA. They demonstrated most of their physicality after the whistle. Games between these two teams are always physical, but the first period today took physicality to a new level. In the end, no goals were scored through the first 20 minutes.

Early in the second period, Bryan Bickell put the Hawks in front 1-0 with a goal off of his own rebound. This was a huge goal because it put St. Louis on their heels and gave the Blackhawks the momentum. From that point on, the Blues became much less physical and allowed the Hawks to start controlling more of the play.

The rest of the second period remained scoreless, and the Blackhawks took their 1-0 lead into the third.

About six and a half minutes into the third and on the penalty kill, Marian Hossa took a one-time slap shot off the faceoff to beat Brian Elliot and make it a 2-0 game. This appeared to be a set play as Hossa was lined up right behind Toews for the faceoff.

The Blackhawks and Corey Crawford were able to hold off the Blues the rest of the way and won the game 2-0. This was the Blackhawks’ NHL-leading 7th shutout of the season (they were the only team to not record a shutout last year).

Today’s game proved to me that the Blackhawks are ready for the playoffs. I was very anxious to see how they would respond the St. Louis’ physical play, and they responded just the way I wanted them to. All year long, I have been saying that this team is not big enough, not tough enough, and too small. Today, the Blackhawks made me eat my words, and I couldn’t be happier.

Rather than laying down and caving in during the Blues’ physical onslaught in the first period, the Blackhawks stuck to their game plan, weathered the storm, and didn’t back down.

Their team defense lately, and especially today, has been fantastic. They are getting back to playing the way that they did during their big streak to begin the season. It is performances like today that prove why the Hawks have allowed the fewest goals in the NHL, and it is performances like today that really help their goaltenders get into a zone, which is what they’ll need in the playoffs.

The powerplay for the Hawks has turned into a disaster, ranking 21st in the NHL. A team with that much talent should not be that bad with the man advantage. The penalty kill, however, has really helped make up for the lack of success on the powerplay.

The Blackhawks are ranked 5th in the league on the PK, which will become an even bigger stat come playoff time. If you are not scoring powerplay goals in the playoffs, then you better not let up many either. If you look at the fact that the Hawks have allowed the fewest goals in the league and have the 5th best PK in the league, you can’t help but feel confident about their chances in the playoffs, regardless of their powerplay numbers. Remember, “defense wins championships.”

As for the goalie situation with the Blackhawks, Joel Quenneville has a good problem on 166605886_slidehis hands. Both Emery and Crawford are playing great right now, much like they have all year. I was a little critical of Crawford in an earlier post (and I still stand by what I said there), but he is really playing well right now and making a strong case as to why he should be the starting goalie in the playoffs. Deep down, I think it will end up being Crawford that gets the nod for the playoffs. Having said that, he might have a short leash.

We’re down to just 7 games remaining on  the Blackhawks’ schedule, and it would appear that they’ll take first place in the West, and possibly the NHL. The playoffs can’t come soon enough.

Quit the booing at Wrigley

wrigley-fieldYesterday was the Cubs’ home opener at Wrigley Field, and already the Cubs fans in attendance were voicing their displeasure with certain players on the roster. Clearly, this is not the same group of Cubs fans that used to be in the stands at Wrigley every afternoon.

I understand that booing is part of sports. It is natural for fans to boo the opposing team. That happens at every stadium in every sport. What is not natural is for fans to boo their own team. Sure, there are a number of fan bases that do this on a daily basis (which doesn’t make it right), but Cubs fans have never been a part of that group, until now that is.

Yesterday during the player introductions prior to the first pitch, Carlos Marmol was booed like crazy by the Cubs fans in attendance. He was then booed as he ran in from the bullpen heading into the eighth inning. This wasn’t the only booing that took place yesterday, but I won’t get into all the rest.

Being a Cubs fan like I am, I know that Carlos Marmol has had his struggles in the past, to say the least. This past weekend he blew a save in Atlanta and then surrendered a walk-off home run to Justin Upton in the bottom of the ninth. Prior to that outing, he had a couple of very shaky appearances in Pittsburgh during last week’s opening series with the Pirates.

Having said that, you don’t boo a player during the home opener team introductions or when they take the mound in the eighth inning as a relief pitcher. Does anyone have any idea how much more difficult that makes it for a player to succeed when he’s booed before throwing a pitch in front of his own fans? Cubs fans went to a new low yesterday with their booing, and it needs to stop.

Wrigley has gotten a reputation in past years as being a big “drunk fest,” and that may be accurate. Obviously not everyone in attendance is drunk or consuming alcohol, but a large portion of the fans are, especially in the outfield. These “drunk” fans are mostly young people in their 20’s and 30’s who show up just to party. They are not true fans. It is these people that are ruining Wrigley’s reputation, and it is these people that are leading the booing and making their own team turn against them.

I guess the opposing argument to mine regarding the booing would be this:

The players on the field are getting paid millions of dollars to perform, and so when they don’t perform, they deserve to get booed.

I can’t say that I completely disagree with that. At the same time, however, when a pitcher or any other player is out there giving it 110% and not succeeding, they shouldn’t get booed. If a guy is being lazy or their head isn’t in the game, causing them to make mistakes, then they should get booed. You don’t, however, boo a guy who is giving it everything he’s got, and you don’t boo your own player(s) as they get introduced or take the field.

It is sad that Dale Sveum had to comment on this matter in his postgame interview yesterday after just one home game. To sum it up, he said that it’s tough to perform when you get booed in introductions or when you take the field. I couldn’t agree more.

Any true Cubs fan knows that this team is in a rebuilding process. The Cubs are not going to be good this year, or next year. If people are showing up at Wrigley Field expecting this team to win on a daily basis and boo when they lose, then those fans are simply not intelligent. Don’t go to Cubs games if you’re expecting them to perform like a first place team.

Hopefully this will be the last time I write about this, because it makes me sick to know that so many dumb fans are taking over that park and ruining its reputation.

Crawford or Emery for the playoffs?

2012-2-29-Crawford-and-EmeryIt is getting to that point in the season now where people are starting to wonder who will be starting in goal for the Blackhawks come playoff time. Unlike most teams, the Blackhawks have two goalies who could start in net during the playoffs: Corey Crawford and Ray Emery. Both have comparable statistics this season, but only one can be named the starter.

Corey Crawford is 15-4-4 on the season, while Emery is 13-1-0. Emery ranks fourth in the NHL in lowest goals against average, and Crawford is fifth. In terms of save percentage, Ray Emery is tenth in the league while Crawford is eleventh. Other than their records, these two goalies are very similar in terms of their statistics.

Lately, Crawford has been in a bit of a rut. He has allowed 14 goals in his last 5 games 215px-Coreycrawfordplayed and has gone 2-2-1 over that stretch. While he started off the season playing with a ton of confidence (which showed in his play), he seems to have lost some of that confidence over the last few weeks or so. A good example of that came against the Predators last Monday night when Crawford let in two goals in a row that should have never ended up in the back of the net. It reminded me a lot of the bad goals he allowed in overtime of last year’s playoffs against the Coyotes.

I think that my main point here is that Crawford, while he can have some very good stretches of play, is too weak mentally. If he is named the starting goaltender for the playoffs, all it might take is one bad goal against or one loss to really mess with his confidence. Ray Emery on the other hand, is a little different.

When you look at Emery’s stats this year, there is no reason why he shouldn’t be the number one goalie for the playoffs. I mean heck, he’s only lost one game this year! His Ray+Emery+Closeupgoals against average is a mere 1.95, and his save percentage is .923. Those are very respectable numbers. Even though Corey Crawford does have playoff experience, and even though he did have a good series against Vancouver two years ago, Ray Emery not only has more experience, but he led the Senators to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2007. Come playoff time, experience is huge.

Even though Emery did not win the Stanley Cup in 2007, he still got there as the starting goalie in Ottawa. That experience cannot be overrated. Having played on the highest stage in the NHL, Emery knows what it takes and what it is like to get to the Cup Finals.

After saying all of that about each goalie, if I were Joel Quenneville and the playoffs started tomorrow, Ray Emery would be my starting goaltender. There is still time remaining in the regular season for Crawford to prove that he deserves another chance at leading the Hawks through the postseason, but he is really going to have to step up his game physically and mentally to do so in my eyes.

I am very interested to see how this all plays out over the last few weeks of the season. Emery shut out the Predators yesterday and those two teams square off again in 2 hours. No announcement yet as to who will start in goal tonight for the Hawks, but if it is Emery, that might be a sign on things to come.

Stay tuned.

Blackhawks stand pat at the deadline

ct-spt-0113-haugh-blackhawks-chicago--20130113-001Well, the NHL trade deadline has come and gone, and the Blackhawks’ only move of significance (if you want to call it that..) was acquiring Michal Handzus from the San Jose Sharks on Monday. Other than that, they made a couple of small deals involving some minor league prospects. The rest of the contenders in the NHL, however, were rather active.

Let’s start by listing some of the players acquired by contending teams at, or before this year’s trade deadline:

  • Pittsburgh Penguins: Jarome Iginla, Brendan Morrow, Jussi Jokinen, and Douglas Murray.
  • Boston Bruins: Jaromir Jagr and Wade Redden.
  • Vancouver Canucks: Derek Roy
  • Columbus Blue Jackets: Marian Gaborik
  • Minnesota Wild: Jason Pominville
  • New York Rangers: Ryan Clowe, Derick Brassard, and Derek Dorsett.
  • Anaheim Ducks: Matthew Lombardi

Those are not all the deals that were made, but the significant ones. As you can see, most contenders made some bold moves to strengthen their teams in the last few days, especially Pittsburgh and Boston.

Meanwhile, Stan Bowman went out and got Michal Handzus, who was a healthy scratch for San Jose the last 6 games before being traded. I hate to rip on Handzus, but the guy is really not going to make a big difference for the Hawks. Other than his ability to win faceoffs, he provides little else to the team. If you compare that acquisition to any of the ones I listed above, it seems very insignificant.

Teams like Anaheim, who have proven that they will give the Hawks all kinds of problems if they meet in the playoffs, legitimately got better. The Ducks traded for center Matthew Lombardi today who was with the Coyotes. Lombardi is not a big name or an elite player in the league, but he is a guy who when placed on a team with a lot of talent (like the Ducks) can be an effective depth player.

It would appear that the biggest reasons the Hawks did not make any significant trades were because Bowman did not want to break up the team chemistry, and he didn’t want to trade away any “decent” prospects.

How long is it going to take Bowman to realize that you need to be willing to trade away some prospects to get a good player in return? He has overvalued his “prospects” since the day he took over as GM of the Blackhawks, and it is going to come back to haunt him come playoff time, again. You, Bowman, cannot sit there and tell me that you could not have gotten Derek Roy or Jaromir Jagr.

The Canucks got Roy in exchange for a prospect and second round pick. The Bruins got Jagr for 2 prospects and a conditional second round pick. If Bowman is not willing to give up a prospect and draft pick in an attempt to really make his team better, than what good is he doing? If his plan is to wait 3-5 years for all of his “prospects” and draft picks to blossom into their full potential, then that plan better work, or else he just possibly blew away another chance at making a Cup run. Instead of going for it this year and adding a quality player/center to a team that could really use one, he is banking on the potential of his prospects 3 years down the road. At some point, Stan, you have to look at here and now and make a move accordingly.

The Blackhawks have some noticeable holes in their lineup, and only one was slightly covered up (faceoffs). I still think that they should make it to at least the second round this year in the playoffs, but the postseason is a whole different animal compared to the regular season. Teams are going to take advantage of the Hawks’ lack of size and potential weaknesses on the back end.

I guess the bottom line here is that Bowman could have improved his team, but instead chose to overvalue and hang on to any decent prospect in the organization, which is what it takes in this league to complete a trade…

The next Hawks’ game is tomorrow night at home against the Blues. Hossa is expected back in the lineup, but Sharp is still doubtful.

Hours from the NHL trade deadline

We are 5 hours from the NHL trade deadline, but most of the big trades have already happened (Morrow, Iginla, Roy, Jagr). All eyes will be on Mikka Kiprusoff and Roberto Luongo today, as it is believed the Maple Leafs are pushing hard to acquire one of them.

The Blackhawks may not make anymore moves after trading for Handzus. They did make a minor deal involving Philippe Paradis going to the Lightining’s minor league team, which opens up a roster spot in the organization. This could mean that the Hawks might make a move today, but no one really seems to know for sure.

I will try to write an updated post after the deadline. Check back.

Blackhawks acquire Michal Handzus from Sharks

handzus-10-8-225x300TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported this afternoon that the Blackhawks had traded a fourth round draft pick to San Jose in exchange for center Michal Handzus. As I said here before and as was made obvious by the Blackhawks themselves, they really wanted to address their faceoff issues by acquiring a center who can win at the dot on a consistent basis.

Handzus, who is listed as 6’5″, 215 lbs., has won 55.6% of his faceoffs this year, which immediately makes him the second best guy at doing so on the Hawks’ roster. As for Handzus’ stats, they are not great to say the least. He has 1 goal and 1 assist this year, both of which came in the same game earlier this season (it was actually a game against the Hawks).

I’m not sure that Handzus is the number 2 center that the Blackhawks and us fans were looking for, but he adds depth and another option at the center position. It is unclear as to what line he will play on, but I can almost assure you that he will center their second powerplay group. With his ability to win faceoffs and his large body, he is a perfect guy to insert into that number 2 powerplay unit. I’d have to imagine that he will be used in front of the net to screen the goalie and clean up the rebounds.

Aside from his faceoff percentage and inevitable role on the second powerplay grouping, Handzus provides some much needed size to the Hawks’ lineup. His 6’5″ frame makes him the tallest guy on the Hawks and a tough guy to play against. I think that his physical stature will really become noticeable come playoff time.


I read earlier today that the Blackhawks were talking to Dallas about possibly making an offer for Jaromir Jagr. Like with Derek Roy, it sounds like the Stars want a prospect, draft pick, and roster player in return for Jagr. That’s a lot to give up, but if the Blackhawks think that it will be worth it for Jagr, he would be a huge addition to the lineup. This is only a rumor, so who knows what will happen in the next 48 hours.

Keep checking back here for any updates.