Wednesday, April 14, 2010

First Round Breakdown

Thinking of vintage Tragically Hip with Smalltown Bringdown when I wrote that post title...

Anyway, it isn't news to any of you that my predictions have the tendency to be completely wrong. I don't think I'm a hockey imbecile and actually feel comfortable with my knowledge of the game and our team. That being said, I've misunderstood the moves of our GM as he has put together a decent team right before our eyes. So it is with confusion, fear, uncertainty, and many other emotions that I give my breakdown of the Sens series versus the Penguins in some of the key areas.

1. Star Power
There is no questioning the talent of Crosby and Malkin - they are two of the most elite players in the world. On any given night, either of them can ruin your game. Case in point is the December 23rd loss to the Pens this year when Malkin potted three on Pascal. But if you put these guys toe-to-toe against our two stars, can they match up? Over the past two seasons, Alfie and Spezza combined to put up 5 goals and 9 assists for 14 points in the 8 games (Spezza missed one against Pitt this year). Crosby and Malkin put up 8 goals and 8 assists for 16 points. I hate to say something outrageous, but if we're able to get Phillips and Volchenkov on the ice against the Kid, can you make the argument that our two stars CAN hang with their top two stars? I'm not talking talent here, I'm just talking about their success against a specific opponent, in this case being each other.

2. Forward Depth

I'll spare the sugar coating - we have more depth. Staal and Guerin each had 20+ goals? So did Fisher and Michalek. Foligno has had great success against the Penguins in the past, Regin is playing well on the top line, and Matt Cullen has come on as of late plus had a great Cup run in 2006. Chris Kelly, as bad as I find his hands, has also done well against the Penguins. Listen, I'm well aware of the resumes on the other side of the ice from those guys. But pardon me if I think our secondary scoring has a better chance of burying some big goals.

3. Defensive Depth
We all know what Gonchar brings to this series - a strong powerplay quarterback, a rich man's Kuba with the ability to score some key points. Letang and Orpik are also solid blueliners. I'm not terribly worried about Leopold or Eaton, and Goligoski is a better version of Campoli. My big question mark on our side is how Carkner and Campoli will do on the road, knowing that Bylsma is going to feed them a steady dose of Crosby or Malkin. Like I said in the last post, Murray had a way of hiding Corvo and Preissing three years ago and while Carkner is a better defensive player than either of those guys, we still need to be careful here. All this being said, I don't think either team has a distinct advantage on the blue line, unless we're really able to put Phillips/Volchenkov on the ice every time Crosby gets out there. Home games will obviously be great to watch for that reason.

4. Special Teams
Ready to have your mind blown? Our powerplay finished at a nice 22nd ranking in the league, clicking at 16.9%. This is the third worst of all playoff teams (thank you, Boston and Phoenix). But the shocker here is that the Penguins are only 19th in the league and only convert at a 17.2%. That caught me off guard. We're 8th in PK at 84.3% while they are right behind us in 9th at 84.1%. You heard it here - we're basically even on special teams.

5. Goaltending
If you can accept that star power isn't a massive edge for the Penguins and you went on to read about the forward depth, defensive depth, and special teams, then you might think we have a great chance in this series. If you still don't think we should hold our breath, then you'll probably point to goaltending. Fleury has 48 playoff games and a Cup ring, Elliott has an NCAA Championship and some great memories of playing street hockey. Seriously, though, our guy had better numbers in the regular season but he hopefully understands that he's entering an all new world here. He seems cool, calm, and collected and these traits will be tested if we walk out of the Burgh down 0-2. Goaltending, to me, is the wild card here because we just don't know what we'll get with Elliott. Will he make the required saves and be slightly above average like Emery was in 2007? Will he stand on his head and win us a series? Will he collapse before our eyes? Everything we know about him is that he's not flashy, not into grabbing attention, and makes some good, timely saves. If Elliott can avoid the 'big period' just like a pitcher avoids the big inning, we can make it through this. Fleury will stand on his head just because he's done it before.

Okay, looking in the face of jinxing our boys, I will say that I really can see us moving on to the second round. Since I'm insanely superstitious and I've already pointed out how bad my predictions are, I'll stop short of saying something crazy like Sens in 6. All I will do is say I think they have a good chance and imply how things might work out for the good guys.

In the meantime, GO SENS GO! Get off to a nice start in Steeltown and remind everyone that Alex Ponikarovsky is useless .

Monday, April 12, 2010

5 Reasons Why the Ottawa Senators Made The Playoffs

This is pretty tongue-in-cheek and very much foot-in-mouth. I stand here proudly declaring that I was way off, Samsonite off, when I said the Sens would miss the postseason. On January 11th, mired in a long slump and showing no signs of life, I declared the postseason games to be out of the question on this blog. The good news is I'm wrong and I can admit it.

So let's attack my own work, shall we?

Reason #1: The remaining schedule is tougher than the first half.
We truly did play tougher opponents, but we managed to rise to the occasion. The 11-game winning streak included wins against New Jersey, Pittsburgh, Washington, Chicago, and Vancouver. If those teams sound familiar, it is because each of them are favoured in the Cup race. If anything, we've managed to play our best hockey against the best teams. We stink against the Leafs, Lightning, etc., but manage to shut down some of those top players in the league. Can this trend continue in our first round series? It isn't a secret that the biggest threat is going to be Crosby. It is hard to tell where Malkin is right now since he just returned from injury, but he's going to be secondary compared to the Kid. Especially interesting to watch will be how Clouston handles defensive matchups on the road. Will Bylsma throw Sid out there against Karlsson and risk getting dummied by Sutton? Or will he go after Campoli and Carkner?

Reason #2: We have NOT solved our goaltending issues.
It's like Ray Emery but he's on time, doesn't rap, and doesn't run people off the road and call them an old bag of bones. Brian Elliott flat out earned the job over the higher paid Snoop-a-loop. Like Emery in 2007, we aren't asking Elliott to be sensational, but rather just make the necessary stops to give us a chance. A buddy and I discussed today whether or not Elliott will have a long leash if he struggles and I honestly think we're going to live and die by the kid. He got us here, not Pascal, and we'll give him the chance to get us to the next round. Pascal is shut down until the Fall, barring injury.

Reason #3: Our top players are missing.
Jason Spezza is on a streak that has silenced his critics. Even more enjoyable is that he plays his best hockey against the toughest opponents when the spotlight is on. He'll need to continue that trend now because he is going to have to go toe-to-toe with the best player in the world. Daniel Alfredsson is ageless and coming off an emotional tribute that reminded him (like he needs it) of just how much this city embraces him. Our best players returned and went on a tear.

Reason #4: Our defencemen suck.
Mr. Karlsson, I owe you an apology. With the injury to Kuba, Karlsson has managed to not only fill the void, but to spark fan insistence that Kuba be cast aside for the younger and more agile defenceman. I'm a tad worried that he still makes some bad mistakes as far as positioning goes, so I hope he simplifies just a bit against a team that will burn us on each turnover. That being said, the kid's gotta eat! Add to the mix Mount Sutton and we're not as bad as the papers would have you believe. We're going to need Carkner and Campoli to hit their stride, as well. Three years ago, Preissing and Corvo were a third pair that was pampered by never facing top forwards and I'm guessing these guys will be in a similar boat this time around. The difference is that Carkner isn't some powerplay specialist like Corvo and Preissing were for us. More committee and fundamental now.

Reason #5: What have we done since the Cup Finals to make you think otherwise?
Our inconsistency is a cause for concern for everyone, but we have become a different team since the mighty Clouston showed up in the nation's capital with his healthy salad and his arena sleepovers. This team competes VERY hard and has a forecheck like we've never seen. Rest assured that the Pens are watching video and planning a breakout, but we have a coach that has probably spent more time watching game film than ole Roger did! The guy is a machine and preparation will not be an issue. This is such a different team than any we've had - a real lunch pail gang. Put on your hard hats and get behind this group - I'm in! This foot tastes delicious!

Quick side note - Pynch informed me that he logged onto the Sens site today and had absolutely no trouble buying tickets for Game 6 back in Ottawa. Why the feck are there still tickets available? We certainly help validate the calls that we're one of the crappiest fanbases in the league. Please let these games sell out.