Archive for April, 2012
Monday, April 30th, 2012
Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith has translated his brilliant regular season into something even more impressive in the 2012 NHL postseason. He’s one of the breakout stars of this playoff campaign, and he bears striking similarities to a goaltender we know very well in this city.
Just over eight years ago, Miikka Kiprusoff burst onto the scene with the Calgary Flames and carried them to the postseason and then to game seven of the Stanley Cup Final. The then 27 year old Kiprusoff was a relative unknown at the time, pried from San Jose by Darryl Sutter in the hopes of finding a true number one goaltender. Fast forward to now, where a 30 year old Smith is tearing things up and has his upstart team within striking distance of the NHL’s final four.
The similarities between the two goaltenders are striking, starting with how both came out of nowhere to backstop underdog teams to playoff berths. Smith played the entire 2011-2012 season with Phoenix, entering the season as the number one goaltender and never relinquishing that title. People laughed at the Coyotes for handing the reigns to a guy who couldn’t hold a number one job in prior stops in Dallas and Tampa Bay. Kiprusoff, on the other hand, came in mid-season and played in 38 games for a team that looked poised to miss the playoffs for an eighth straight year. No one knew at the time the unassuming Finn would turn the Flames into a Stanley Cup contender. The similarities don’t end there, however.
The regular season statistical comparison starts to show some fairly like traits, as well. The winning percentages of Smith and Kiprusoff are tough to compare as one played the entire season and the other played around half of one, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to extrapolate their save percentages. In his 38 games during the 2003-2004 season, Kiprusoff posted a .933 save percentage and a stupidly high .941 mark at even strength. This past regular season, Smith’s numbers were slightly lower with twice the workload. The Kingston, Ontario native finished with a .930 overall mark and a strong .936 number at even strength. Knowing the team in front of him, Kiprusoff’s totals from his first year in Calgary likely would have dropped over a full season, putting him right in line with Smith’s first season in Phoenix.
It’s when you get to the postseason that things get really scary. At the time of this writing, Smith has played eight playoff games, losing only two of them. Kiprusoff played a full compliment of games in Calgary’s Cup run, appearing in 26 games and winning 15 of them. Over that two month run, Kiprusoff put together a stunning resume that included a .943 even strength save percentage, helping boost his overall number to .928. Smith’s overall number is rather high right now, sitting at .943. but that likely will come down over the course of a gruelling postseason. But it’s that .947 even strength number that really sticks out at you, as it’s just four points higher than Kiprusoff’s mark from eight years ago. Taking games played into account, that’s a pretty eery comparable.
To summarize, the most important thing to watch statistically is that save percentage at even strength. That is the most important and most accurate barometer of a goaltender, and the numbers are very similar. Knowing how this particular stat evolves over a longer period of time, there’s a very good chance the regular season number for Kiprusoff would have fallen a few points to be even closer to Smith’s and vice versa with Smith’s mark in the postseason.
To me, the way both goalies burst onto the scene and captured attention was the first reason I decided to write this post. The statistical similarities only came about afterwards and are not a stretch at all; they are very, very similar. But it’s a little too early to compare Smith to Kiprusoff overall. The Flames goaltender has put together seven seasons since as a number one goalie while Smith has yet to follow that path. We’ve seen plenty of goaltenders go the “flash in the pan” postseason route, from extreme examples (Brian Boucher or Ray Emery) to less extreme examples (Jaroslav Halak). For Smith to be considered in the same class as Kiprusoff, he’ll have to put a few strong seasons together in a row. The season after Calgary’s 2004 run, Kiprusoff won the Vezina Trophy, but only after the NHL lost a season thanks to a lockout. Let’s hope that one similarity doesn’t carry over to next year.
Friday, April 27th, 2012
After going a dismal 3-5 in the first round of the playoffs, I shall now embarass myself again by publishing my picks for the second round of the NHL postseason. I believe St. Louis is the class of the remaining teams, but they have a very difficult matchup upcoming.
St. Louis Blues (2) vs. Los Angeles Kings (8)
The problem for the Kings in my eyes is they run into a juggernaut in the Blues. To me, St. Louis is the frontrunner for the Cup and it’s because of their depth, talent, and committment. They’re deeper than the Kings when you look down the lineup, as I’ll take the Blues bottom six over LA’s in a long series.
Talent wise I think these teams are pretty even, even though names like Backes and Pietrangelo aren’t considered upper echelon at this point, they should be. It’s the committment that does it for me for St. Louis, though, as they have players who could boost their stats but don’t because they are dedicated to playing the way Ken Hitchcock wants. Blues in 6.
Phoenix Coyotes (3) vs. Nashville Predators (4)
I just don’t buy Phoenix longterm. Their rope-a-dope way of winning games could very well propel them to a second round win, but in the end, their lack of talent will oust them from the postseason. Regardless, they’re a great story and the likes of Dave Tippet, Mike Smith, and Shane Doan deserve full credit.
Goaltending is on par with Smith and Pekka Rinne duelling, an even matchup that we didn’t see in Phoenix’s win over Chicago. Nashville has the firepower and talent edge and will not be let down by their goalie, and I think they’ll win this series. But Phoenix plays it too tight to the vest to be swept. Predators in 6.
New York Rangers (1) vs. Washington Capitals (7)
The Rangers had a tough time with the Ottawa Senators in round one, and I feel like the Capitals are markedly better than their capitol brethren. Washington showed me a lot in their seven game series win over Boston, as they proved to be resilient and stingy defensively. I think they’ll be able to slow the Rangers attack and score enough of their own to win this series.
Obviously, Henrik Lundqvist is the better goalie, but I don’t feel like we’re talking about a massive chasm between he and Washington’s Braden Holtby. I don’t see the Caps losing a ton of games because of goaltending, and I haven’t been a big believer in the Rangers all year. I think Washington exploits their defensive weaknesses. Capitals in 6.
Philadelphia Flyers (5) vs. New Jersey Devils (6)
Philly can score, we know that. But can they get NHL level goaltending? They didn’t in their first round win over Pittsburgh, but thankfully, Ilya Bryzgalov was better than a horrid Marc-Andre Fleury. I don’t see this being a goalies duel period, however, as Martin Brodeur is prone to more bad games than we’ve ever seen.
Basically, I just like New Jersey. I think they’ve got some extremely high end players up front and some very effective players who have been here before, ala Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora. Not to say the Flyers aren’t good, because they are, but for I like this matchup for New Jersey and the Zajac line against the Giroux line should be one of the best matchups in ages. Devils in 6.
Thursday, April 19th, 2012
The captain of the Calgary Flames can still score as his 32 goals this past season will speak to. With 11 consecutive 30 goal seasons, Iginla is still very dangerous from the offensive blueline in. But with his 35th birthday around the corner, there are things that can be done to make him even more of a threat going forward.
So many in this city adore the captain, and this post is not to suggest the Flames should trade him or not. It’s a post written on the assumption Iginla will be a big part of the team next year, and a post written about how he can be used most effectively.
Iginla turns 35 on Canada Day which puts him a ways away from being in the prime of his career. He’s no longer a player that can go head-to-head with the best players on the other side on a nightly basis and be successful on a regular basis. He’s also not a player that is going to help the team all that much defensively and should be protected in terms of where he plays the majority of his minutes.
The Flames will have a new Head Coach for the 2012/2013 season, and I think that new bench boss will have the most success with Iginla if he plays to his strengths. Here are my ideas as to how you can do that effectively.
Give Him the High Ground
Tracking where Jarome started his shifts during this past season, Iginla was actually deployed more defensively than he was offensively when it was all said and done. Iginla started in the defensive zone 50.3% of the time last season, which doesn’t play into where he can help you most.
At this point in his career, Jarome isn’t a player you can expect to throw out there defensively and expect him to effect the play up ice regularly. Iginla has never been the most adept defensive player, which was fine because he was such a factor with the puck, he’d just will it up the ice. Now, opposition players have a less difficult time taking the puck from him, which makes starting him defensively a less attractive thing to do.
When I use the term “give him the high ground” I take examples from what other teams do with their top offensive players. Knowing Iginla still has an elite level shot and high end finishing ability, a coach can use other players in defensive situations to keep Iginla fresh for offensive starts. Vancouver is the most extreme example of this, as Alain Vigneault started his usual top offensive players in Daniel and Henrik Sedin more than 78% of the time. Vigneault was able to do that by burying players like Manny Malhotra, Ryan Kesler, and Sami Pahlsson with defensive zone faceoffs; it’s a big reason why you saw the Sedin’s transform from 70-80 point players into 90-100 point players.
Doing this with Iginla gives the captain a great chance to extend his 30 goal streak to 12 straight seasons, and gives him the best opportunity to help your team. Jarome best helps you when he’s scoring and he’s most engaged during that time as well, so put him in the best even strength spots to do so.
He didn’t play the toughest minutes on the team last year, but Iginla still saw the top players on the other side on a regular basis. Curtis Glencross and Olli Jokinen saw the toughest minutes overall on the Flames last season, and it helped in keeping Iginla away from some pretty good players on the other side.
There’s no question that when you’re playing against players like Kesler, Backes, Datsyuk, and more on a regular basis, you’re not going to be as successful offensively. These are some of the best even strength players in the league and they spend far more time in the offensive zone than not, regardless of where they start. So where you can, give Iginla cushier minutes.
It’s very dependent on who else you have on your team, but there may be an opportunity to use certain players in tough matchup situations. Blair Jones was utilized in a strict checking role for a good portion of his time with the Flames, which opened other lines up for easier minutes. During that time, you saw guys like Iginla and Tanguay have a lot of success, as Jones was taking some of the tough matchups and the Jokinen-Glencross duo was handling the others. Having a sniper like Jarome out against another team’s third line can’t always happen, but when you can do it, it’s an option you have to explore.
These things may or may not be possible for the coming year, as the roster may not allow it. But Jarome Iginla can still score at a high level, and if he’s the captain of the Calgary Flames next season, I think it’s key you put him in that position to succeed. An NHL coach can do that in a variety of ways, as my above examples are just things that are kicking around my head.
Follow along on Twitter @Fan960Steinberg
Friday, April 13th, 2012
I believe parting ways with Brent Sutter was the right thing for the organization, regardless of who ended up making the ultimate decision. It was time for a change in that particular area, but make no mistake: more change has to be on the horizon for this offseason to be a success.
Sutter was not a fit with this organization. He was given three years to elevate a somewhat mediocre group to a postseason spot and did not, which is unfortunate, but it wasn’t for lack of his best efforts. The guy did everything in his power to try and get the most out of the team, and it just never worked out. I really wanted it to, because I respect the man a great deal, but in the end, I believe it was time to move on.
However, if anyone thinks making a coaching change is going to be the cure all solution for the Calgary Flames, they’re wrong. This team needs numerous significant changes, and a coaching change better be just the first of a number of shoes to drop.
The core of their problems this year was not locker room issues, it was not coaching issues, it was simple: the team was just not good enough. They are a team with middling talent that needs to overachieve to get beyond 82 regular season games. That is not a sustainable model for success and it has yielded diminishing returns since the lockout came to an end.
It’s all fine and good to talk about building a high end team, but there are specific ways the team needs to go about that. And more importantly than that, there has to be a realization that it will take time. The next couple years will be transitional years in my eyes, where the team will look to stay somewhat competitive while also giving time to allow their next impact players to develop to that level.
A big start will be letting most, if not all, of their pending unrestricted free agents to walk away. Full stop, that signifies a new way of doing things for next season. Sven Baertschi seems to be guaranteed a spot for next year, and that’s great…having some open room at training camp makes that a realistic possibility.
By having a few spots open, it allows somebody who could surprise us to jump up and earn a spot. Maybe Roman Horak is a legit day one starter next year, as opposed to being a guy who’s in there thanks to an injury in camp. Maybe Max Reinhart shows us his short time in the AHL was enough for him to take a huge leap. Maybe midway through next season, Michael Ferland shows us he understands the game at a high enough level that he can play the final half of the season on the big team. These things may or may not happen, but the opportunity needs to be there.
Let’s be clear here: Parise and Suter aren’t signing with the Calgary Flames this summer. But that dosen’t mean the team shouldn’t look at exploring free agency. I believe the team needs to address two main areas: a tough minutes center and a top four defenseman. There will be options there, and filling those two voids on two year contracts will be possible. It’ll help the team stay competitive while developing, and it will give the team possible options to bring back if the fits are right.
Finally, we have to address the big topic. Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff cannot be untouchable. I’ve been on record as saying I don’t believe trading the captain is the way to go, but to close the door completely on it and be unwilling to explore the possibility would be doing a disservice to your team. If the trade is right and if the partners are there, the Flames must explore the options, and they must be willing to pull the trigger. They don’t have the option of having any one player untouchable at this point.
The only way a team becomes a truly elite squad is by taking the time and energy to draft and develop properly. The Flames have missed the playoffs for three straight years and are not facing an easy climb, but the patience to let something grow needs to be there, or else the same results will just keep on coming.
Tuesday, April 10th, 2012
The Western Conference boasts three teams I could see competing for the Stanley Cup come late May and June and four really fun matchups to look forward to. I can’t see either of the top seeds going out in the first round, but I have less confidence in the three and four seeds. The best part of my predictions is the potential for another Vancouver-Chicago second round matchup.
Vancouver Canucks (1) vs. Los Angeles Kings (8)
Coming off a second straight President’s Trophy, the Canucks are scary once again and I can’t see the Kings, or any of the other potential eight seeds, upsetting them. I really like the Kings and I really like Jonathan Quick in net. In fact, I think Quick is the best goaltender among the eight in the Western Conference playoffs, and there’s no question he’ll be able to spur his team on to a win or two. That said, the Kings just aren’t deep enough to beat the Canucks, at least as I see it.
Two injured stars are focal points in this series, starting first with LA’s Jeff Carter. He has proclaimed himself good to go for game one on Wednesday night, but Head Coach Darryl Sutter was a little less sure. That said, it’s a good bet Carter will be back in game action before Vancouver’s injured sniper in Daniel Sedin. While gradually recovering from a concussion, it doesn’t sound like Sedin will be ready to return to start the series. Even so, Vancouver has the depth to make up for the loss of their leading scorer, even in a playoff series.
Even though names like Henrik Sedin (1 goal in final 23 games) and Ryan Kesler (no goals, 2 points in final 12 games) struggled down the stretch, I don’t read a whole lot into those struggles. They are two of many players on the Canucks able to flip switches, and I think Kesler’s line will do a solid job matched up against either the Richards or Kopitar unit on the other side. I see Vancouver’s depth lines, specifically Sammy Pahlsson’s, to do a good job on LA’s bottom six which will be the difference in this series for me. A decent Roberto Luongo should be what the doctor ordered for the defending conference champs. Canucks in 6.
St. Louis Blues (2) vs. San Jose Sharks (7)
This series should be a long one and it gives us the opportunity to watch a really good matchup of center icemen. David Backes and Joe Thornton may have underwhelmed some with their point totals, but their importance to their teams this season cannot be understated. Both saw some of the toughest matchups the NHL had to offer and both did an exceptional job with those assignments. On top of that, both top lines have outstanding wingers that maybe don’t get the pub they deserve.
Joe Pavelski’s move from center to wing has put him in a much more prominent scoring role, and he put up very good numbers playing regular high end opposition for the first time. It’s not like Pavelski hadn’t played against the best in prior seasons, but this was the first year the former seventh rounder did it game in and game out, putting up 61 points along the way. On the other side, David Perron’s recovery from a major concussion has been slow, but he found his former late in the season, putting up 11 points in his last 15 games for the stingy Blues. Perron and Backes have T.J. Oshie on their other wing while Thornton and Pavelski are flanked by Patrick Marleau, so we’ve got two great top lines to watch.
In the end, I like the depth of St. Louis in a long series though. They’re healthy and well coached and I like their depth down the middle a whole lot more once you get past the top two. Jason Arnott, Vladimir Sobotka, and Andy McDonald have all taken turns centering the third or fourth lines for the Blues this year, and I’ll take that over Dominic Moore, Andrew Desjardins and Michal Handzus. Jaroslav Halak was great for St. Louis this year while Antti Niemi struggled, which is another reason while I’ll lean the way of the two seed. Blues in 7.
Phoenix Coyotes (3) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (6)
Congratulations to the Coyotes for winning the Pacific Division, and they absolutely deserved it this year. The Yotes won their final two games, split the Kings and Sharks down the middle, and hammered their way to the three seed. Unfortunately, this deep but not overly skilled lineup just isn’t going to be able to get it done over seven games against the Blackhawks, I just don’t see it. With Jonathan Toews seemingly ready to return to the lineup to start this one, it adds another element to Chicago’s game and even with suspect goaltending, I think they’ll be able to advance.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s no way the Coyotes go quietely in this series, and there’s no way they get swept like they did against Detroit one year ago. Phoenix has gotten top end goaltending from Mike Smith all year long (a stupid .936 ES save percentage in 67 games doesn’t lie) and they play a solid, team game in front of him. They’ll win some games and frustrate the Hawks, because Smith has done the job all year long and Martin Hanzal is a quality shutdown center playing with two potent wingers in Ray Whitney and Radim Vrbata.
The head-to-head matchups are interesting, but the Toews line will do just fine in a series against Hanzal’s and I’ll take the Patrick Kane and Dave Bolland trios over those of Antoine Vermette and Daymond Langkow, mostly because of the scoring depth. Patrick Sharp and Andrew Shaw seem more dangerous as threats off the wing than the likes of Shane Doan, Raffi Torres, and Gilbert Brule. Even with suspect goaltending, Chicago’s potent attack (248 goals, second in the West) will be the reason they win. Blackhawks in 6.
Nashville Predators (4) vs. Detroit Red Wings (5)
The Predators made themselves significantly better prior to the trade dealine, picking up forwards Andrei Kostitsyn, Paul Gaustad, and Alexander Radulov along with defenseman Hal Gill without sacrificing anything from their regular roster. In my eyes, even without Joel Ward in the fold anymore, they’re a better and more deep team than they were one year ago when they eliminated the Anaheim Ducks in the first round. Unfortunately, they’ve got a Red Wings team that I just can’t see losing in the first round.
Maybe I’m too much of a believer in this Detroit group, but I truly believe they are a team primed to go deep this year if they remain a somewhat healthy group. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg may have had relative down years in terms of points, but they’re still two of the best even strength players in hockey. I expect the lines they anchor to do a very strong job against the likes of Kostitsyn, Radulov, David Legwand, and Martin Erat, and it’s Detroit’s top end that I see paving the way for a tough series win.
I like Nashville’s depth a little better to be perfectly honest, even if Dan Cleary is back for Detroit to start things off. I think Gaustad, Jordin Tootoo, and Patric Hornqvist are slightly more attractive options than Cory Emmerton and Gustav Nyquist. No Darren Helm for Detroit will hurt them a tad. If this were last year, I’d give a huge goaltending edge to Pekka Rinne and the Preds, but Jimmy Howard has won me over this year, and with him in net for the Red Wings it’s almost a wash for me. It’s the top end that will get this done for Detroit, but it won’t be easy, especially having to win at least once on the road. Red Wings in 6.
Tuesday, April 10th, 2012
The Eastern Conference saw some jockeying for position on the final day of action Saturday, changing what looked to be set matchups prior. Washington’s move to seventh took away two very promising storylines and left us with what could be even more fun: a lot of unknowns. We also have Pittsburgh playing Philly, so that’s enough right there.
New York Rangers (1) vs. Ottawa Senators (8)
It seemed for weeks like it was going to be the Rangers and the Capitals for the third time in four years prior to Saturday’s Caps win which saw them move into the seven seed instead. That also scuttled a good Northeast Division battle between Ottawa and Boston and gave us two new, but equally interesting, clashes in the first round. I really look at this series and believe it’s defined by goaltending, maybe more than any other in the first round.
Henrik Lundqvist is the best goaltender out East without peer this season, and he’ll be the reason why the Rangers win this one. New York is a good team buoyed to a top seed by their all world goaltending, in my eyes. Against a Pittsburgh, or maybe Boston, I think inferior depth will do them in over a span of seven games. However, against Ottawa, I think the Rangers win the depth contest and can match up pretty decently with high end players. On top of that, facing Lundqvist game after game should prove too much for this upstart Sens team. Over 62 games this year, Lundqvist’s even strength save percentage ended up being a stupid .933 to go along with his .930 overall number.
Had I written this midway through the season, I would have been extremely down on Ottawa’s situation between the pipes, but give Craig Anderson credit. He had to put together a stellar second half of the season to get his terrible numbers up, and they’re now respectable. He won’t be the reason why they lose by any stretch. If Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek don’t lead the way offensively, this could be over very quickly, but even a good series from these two won’t be enough against King Henrik. Rangers in 5.
Boston Bruins (2) vs. Washington Capitals (7)
Going into the final week of the season, I believed the Rangers would be facing a long series against the Caps. With Washington now set to face Boston, that assertion doesn’t change. For the first time in a long time, the Capitals are a healthy bunch after a disappointing regular season where they just barely held off a surging Buffalo team to get into the postseason. But with Nicklas Backstrom back in the lineup, everything changes for this team. He played in four games to finish the regular season after missing almost three months with a concussion, recording his first points in the season finale against the Rangers.
Having Backstrom in the lineup along with a healthy Mike Green gives Dale Hunter’s team the depth they’ve so desperately lacked all season. Alexander Ovechkin and Brooks Laich had down seasons overall, but both came to play down the stretch. The former scored 11 of his 38 goals in the final 13 games of the season when his team needed them most while Laich nailed his assignments in huge games against tough opposition down the stretch. But I just don’t see it being enough against the defending Cup champs.
Boston may have had their struggles since looking unbeatable in November and December, but truthfully, they’re still the defending champs. They’re also going up against a team that has forged a reputation of turtling come playoff time. The Bruins are the type of squad who will feast on that, and they’re also a team that is just better overall. Even with his struggles, I’ll take Tim Thomas over rookie Braden Holtby and the forward matchups should work in Boston’s favor over seven games. Matching Patrice Bergeron’s shutdown unit against one of Washington’s top lines isn’t a test they can’t handle leaving a pretty even matchup for the David Krejci/Milan Lucic line against either Ovechkin or Backstrom. It’ll be a good one, and a long grind, but the champs will be moving on. Bruins in 7.
Florida Panthers (3) vs. New Jersey Devils (6)
For the first time ever, the Panthers are Southeast Division champions adding another accomplishment to their first playoff berth since 2000 (!). Unfortunately, I just don’t see the feel good story lasting much longer than one round. Overall this is a fairly average team able to cobble together wins thanks to timely scoring, two very potent defensemen (Jason Garrison and Brian Campbell), and one extremely unheralded center (Marcel Goc). In fact, Goc might be Florida’s biggest key to success in this series.
The veteran pivot saw the toughest minutes in every sense of the word this year for the Panthers, starting almost 62% of the time in the defensive zone while still having a well-above-positve shot rate. His ability, along with strong linemates Sean Bergenheim and Mikael Samuelsson, to take on New Jersey’s toughest matchups head-to-head (ie. the Parise line) while continuing to eat extra defensive duty will go a long way in determining how much success Kris Versteeg, Stephen Weiss, and Tomas Fleischmann have offensively.
Overall, Devils Head Coach Peter DeBoer will be able to get his line of Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac their offensive time, though, and I just like New Jersey’s depth overall. Even if Goc et al do the job against Zajac’s trio, I’ll take Patrik Elias’s line with Petr Sykora and Dainus Zubrus over the Weiss unit over seven games. They all can still play and all did at a very high level this past season and most importantly, there’s a history of very strong postseason play there. Don’t forget Calder Trophy nominee Adam Henrique is centering the third line right now. The Devils are good, and better than the Panthers. Devils in 5.
Pittsburgh Penguins (4) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (5)
No, we likely won’t be seeing stick throwing and yelling matches involving members of the coaching staff in every game. But we’re in for an absolutely incredible series between these two bitter rivals, and I for one am jacked up to see it. This is a battle between the two highest scoring teams in the NHL, with the Penguins leading the way with their torrid final two months of the season. I feel bad for the Flyers, as a very good team has drawn a juggernaut opponent out of place in conference standings.
The Flyers, Senators, Bruins, and Capitals are all Eastern Conference examples (in different ways) of how one elite center is the most important position in hockey. The Penguins have three of them, and until they meet a team with at least two, I just don’t see them losing in a playoff series. Philly has Claude Giroux who fits the bill easily, but they don’t have another guy down the middle in the same league as Staal, Malkin, or Crosby. Making matters worse, the guy who could best matchup in that regard won’t be available to start the series, as Danny Briere remains on the shelf with a back contusion.
Philly is as deep a team you’re going to find in the 2012 postseason, even without Chris Pronger for most of the season. But I just can’t see them being able to contain what Pittsburgh will throw at them over seven games, even though I like their wingers more. Thanks in large part to their center ice prowess, the Penguins saw Pascal Dupuis score a point in each of Pittsburgh’s last 17 games while also seeing James Neal pot 40 after a career high of 27 prior. It’s why they’re the Cup favorites in my eyes and why they’ll win this series. Penguins in 6.
Monday, April 9th, 2012
The 2011/2012 version of the Calgary Flames was together one last time on Monday before going their separate ways. The team has missed the playoffs for three straight years and there’s a feeling that significant change may be in order this off season. Here are some observations from an annual event we all wish would come much later on.
- Audio – Here, in one place, are all the Flames players speaking following their exit interviews and final medicals.
-If you listen to that audio, you’ll hear a very pronounced feeling of how the players let each other down. They felt there was an opportunity, with control of their own fate, to earn themselves a playoff spot. Instead, they lost eight of nine games between March 16th and March 31st to eliminate themselves from playoff contention. There’s also a realization that change will have to be made, because you won’t see very many teams standing pat with a certain group after three years without playoffs.
-The Flames have six pending unrestricted free agents with most speaking on Monday. Some gave you the feeling they wanted to be back, while some were a little more vague about their future with the team. Olli Jokinen didn’t elaborate too much on his status, but said he hasn’t thought about signing anywhere else but with Calgary. Lee Stempniak, Tom Kostopoulos, and David Moss were farily clear in their assertion of wanting to come back next season while Cory Sarich’s comments were a little more difficult to read. If you listen, Sarich uses the term “you need to be somewhere where you’re wanted” a few times, and maybe reading too much into things, but I didn’t get the feeling that he was the most confident in his chances to return. We did not hear from Scott Hannan on Monday.
-The topic of Jarome Iginla’s future with the team was by far the hottest one. I encourage you to listen to the entire piece with Iginla, because it was as candid as I’ve heard the captain in a long long time. It’s pretty clear he’s not in favor of a “full rebuild” as some have coined it, and he made it very clear that winning a Stanley Cup and feeling like you’ve got a shot is all he’s looking for. Iginla even clarified that, saying he believed this past incarnation of the Flames fell into that category where he felt like there was a shot. The most intriguing thing with Iginla came when he was asked about changing his role, ala Steve Yzerman. Jarome basically said he doesn’t feel Calgary’s situation allows that same transformation to happen, which I happen to agree with. Iginla turns 35 in July, he’s scored 30 goals in 11 straight years; let him play his game. Put him out in offensively tailored situations, play him against weaker opposition when you can, and let him be effective in that way.
-At least one Calgary Flames player will be representing his country at the World Hockey Championships in Finland and Sweden, and that’s Jay Bouwmeester. It’ll be Bouwmeester’s third trip to the World’s as he’ll look to add to his two gold medals and single silver. It sounds like Chris Butler will have a chance to represent Team USA as well, saying that Jay Feaster had floated it out there to USA Hockey and that he’ll have to talk with doctors before a true determination can be made. Neither Mike Cammalleri nor Mark Giordano had much to say about playing for their country in May, as neither had heard from Hockey Canada as of Monday afternoon. Cammalleri especially seemed a little miffed that he hadn’t been asked and didn’t have much to say. Jokinen said there’s “zero chance” he’ll play for Finland after ending his time with the national program following the 2010 Olympics.
Who knows what happens this summer with the Calgary Flames, but they face an off season of decisions unlike they have in a long time. With more than a handful of pending UFA’s and three more restricted free agents pending, Calgary has immediate decisions to make in that regard. But what about Iginla’s future? What about the guy teammates referred to Monday as their MVP in Miikka Kiprusoff? Could there be more changes coming that we haven’t discussed at length? The answers will come in the coming months.
Saturday, April 7th, 2012
It was going to be tough to come up with a ton of compelling storylines for Calgary’s final regular season game on Saturday afternoon. But, thanks to Akim Aliu’s two goal game, that job got a little easier. Aliu scored twice and Anton Babchuk’s second of the season served as the game winner in Calgary’s 5-2 home victory.
Aliu can tell his kids that he went top shelf on his first NHL goal, but he didn’t…but it was still a nice moment. Down the left win, Aliu put a centering pass off a Ducks defender and past Jonas Hiller at 4:00 giving us a nice moment early in the game. Mike Cammalleri got the assist and also fished the puck out of the Anaheim net. Aliu’s goal was the only one scored it the opening frame.
The second period saw the Ducks get some extended time on the powerplay thanks to some rather, well, odd calls. One of them saw Mark Giordano called for high sticking after accidentally catching Andrew Cogliano with his skate. Anaheim would score on the man advantage with Bobby Ryan’s point shot eluding Henrik Karlsson for his 30th of the season at 13:33 to the game at one. But Calgary would retake the lead late in the first period, scoring a pair of goals in the final 43 seconds. First, Jay Bouwmeester’s point shot would one-hop it’s way past Hiller for his fifth of the season at 19:17 before Anton Babchuk would open Calgary’s lead to two 25 seconds later. Babchuk would wire a pretty impressive slapshot while skating backwards, scoring his second from the left point and giving Calgary a nice lead heading into the third.
The final frame gave us another Aliu moment at 7:24, this time tipping home a shot for his second NHL marker. A Jarome Iginla shot would bounce off of Aliu’s stick and past Hiller on another weird one, giving the Flames their largest lead of the afternoon. It’d get even larger at 17:18 when Lee Stempniak wired home his 14th of the season before Ryan got the Ducks back within three with his 31st with 27 seconds remaining.
One Good Reason…
…why the Flames won? Some nice puck luck, to steal a term from our good friend Ken Thrower. Calgary wasn’t overly dominant, in fact I’d say the balance of quality opportunity favored the visitors, but shots from the Flames went in and Karlsson made some quality stops. Congrats to him, by the way, as his first win of the season came against Anaheim.
Give it to Akim! He scored twice, had Ducks players chasing him around the ice, and was finishing his checks in a rather noticeable way. Who knows if he’ll be a full time NHLer next season, because that stuff is very much unknown. However, his first two games at the end of this season have been a lot of fun.
Sum It Up
So, the final two wins of the regular season mean absolutely nothing for the Calgary Flames, but I guess it’s nice they went out in a somewhat positive light. That said, it just wasn’t good enough through 82 games and now the questions and finger pointing really begins. Three years out of the playoffs raises certain issues that cannot be ignored, so stay tuned.
Thursday, April 5th, 2012
It may mean absolutey nothing for the Flames, but Calgary put forward a very strong effort and scored three third period goals to top the Vancouver Canucks 3-2 on Thursday night. The win puts a dent in Vancouver’s President’s Trophy quest and gives Calgary the season series against their Northwest Division rivals.
A slow start had Calgary down early on with Alex Burrows finishing off a great shorthanded rush for his 28th of the season just past the four minute mark of the first period. Dan Hamhuis flipped the puck out of his own zone and it fluttered perfectly to a streaking Burrows down the right wing. He’d make a nice move on Miikka Kiprusoff at 4:36 to give the Canucks the lead. Then things would slow right down, with not much else happening the rest of the first period.
The second period was much the same, as neither team scored in the middle frame setting up what was a very wild third period.
As things started to get chippy late in the second, it seemed to spur on the Flames and it helped them out early in the final frame. Mike Cammalleri would finish off a nice slap pass from Jay Bouwmeester in front of Cory Schneider for his 19th of the season. Akim Aliu started the play with a nice pass to Bouwmeester, and in his first NHL game Aliu would tally his first NHL point. At 9:02, a good shift from the Flames forced the Canucks to get sloppy and Henrik Sedin would cough it right up to Curtis Glencross in the slot. Snakebitten of late, Glencross would wire home his 26th of the season for Calgary’s first lead of the game. They’d extend that lead at 16:23 thanks to Cammalleri’s 20th of the season as he’d finish off a goal mouth scramble, poking it past Schneider for a two goal lead. Just 26 seconds later, Jannik Hansen would score from the right circle for his 16th setting up a wild finish. With Blake Comeau in the penalty box for tripping, the Canucks went 6-on-4 for the final 90 seconds or so, but would be unable to convert, giving Calgary a well earned win.
One Good Reason…
…why the Flames won? I’ll give the nod to the penalty kill tonight, as they killed off all six Canucks powerplay opportunities including one late in the game. Granted, Vancouver didn’t look all that engaged with what they were doing with a man up, but the Flames did a good job of shutting them down.
Mike Cammalleri. I thought he had a very nice night, doing a good job at both ends of the ice and scoring a pair of hard earned goals for his fifth career 20 goal season. The way he’s played since returning from injury is exactly the way he’ll need to play to start next season, but if that’s what he does, he’ll be pretty darn good next year.
Sum It Up
Hey, it was a chippy affair at the Saddledome and served as a good way to finish off the season series between these two teams. No, they’re not going to the playoffs, but I guess you can take some positives in that the Flames won the season series over Vancouver, even though the Canucks enter the NHL postseason as legit Stanley Cup contenders. Calgary gave their fans something to cheer about and gave us an entertaining third period, so good on em.
Thursday, April 5th, 2012
The countdown is on to the off season for the Calgary Flames as they play their second last game of the season tonight against the Vancouver Canucks. Calgary may not win this game at home, but they owe a good effort to their fans at the very least and you hope that’s what they put forth tonight.
Calgary Flames 35-29-16, 11th Western Conference
Curtis Glencross-Olli Jokinen-Jarome Iginla
Mike Cammalleri-Matt Stajan-Akim Aliu
Blake Comeau-Blair Jones-Lee Stempniak
Tom Kostopoulos-Lance Bouma-Tim Jackman
Jay Bouwmeester-Chris Butler
Mark Giordano-Cory Sarich
Scott Hannan-Anton Babchuk
It’s been quite the rollercoaster ride for Aliu this season, who didn’t even start the season with the Flames organization and now finds himself playing in his third league this season. Aliu started in the ECHL before moving up to the AHL and now will play his first ever NHL game tonight. It’s a reward for hard work shown under Troy Ward with the Abbotsford Heat this season and it’s a good message to send to other Heat players.
David Moss and Alex Tanguay will both miss this game tonight and there’s a good chance they’ll both miss the remainder of the season. T.J. Brodie got back on the ice for the first time since mid-March when he suffered an upper body injury. Brodie confirmed he suffered a concussion and admitted it’s been a new experience recovering from an injury like that.
All you can hope is the Flames go out and put it on the line. Let’s face it, Calgary isn’t as good as Vancouver, so there’ s a good chance the Canucks will be victorious. That said, it would be nice if the Flames made them work for it and made life as difficult as they possibly can. That would go a long way in making the paying public happy with their purchase.
Vancouver Canucks 50-21-9, 1st Western Conference
Alex Burrows-Henrik Sedin-Maxim Lapierre
Mason Raymond-Ryan Kesler-David Booth
Chris Higgins-Samuel Pahlsson-Jannik Hansen
Andrew Ebbett-Manny Malhotra-Byron Bitz
Alex Edler-Marc-Andre Gragnani
Dan Hamhuis-Chris Tanev
Andrew Alberts-Sami Salo
The amazing about the Canucks right now is that they haven’t lost a game since losing Daniel Sedin to that vicious elbow courtesy of Duncan Keith a few weeks ago. Vancouver has won all seven games since then and they’ve done it by getting contributions from their bottom six forwards. It’s been a long time since one of the top three centers scored a goal, yet they’re still winning games which is why they’re as scary as they are heading into the postseeason.
Speaking of Daniel, don’t expect to see him back before the first round of the playoffs, if he’s even back by then. We’re talking about a concussion and there’s absolutely no reason for the Canucks to rush him back. Kevin Bieksa remains out of the lineup for an undisclosed reason while Aaron Rome and Keith Ballard are both sidelined with injuries.