Don't want to steal the Ducks' thunder on their Stanley Cup run but I'm working out an interview with Sharks GM Doug Wilson and want to use questions from fans. If you've got a question for Doug, check out this post and leave a comment there.
Thursday, May 31, 2007
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Stealing from the vault, here's the man-love poem I concocted back in November. See if you can spot the Mr. T reference hidden in line two:
ODE TO PAHLSSONApparently I was somewhat of a poet back then, but words fail me now. Great work, Sammy.
S ome fans like scorers, some fans like squee,
A s for Earl? He’s a sucka for ol’ Sammy P.
M aster of Defense, Penalty Killer, and Pest,
U nrelenting, Hard-working, Sammy’s the best!
E very night he faces another top line,
L eading Duck forwards in average ice time.
P uck-pressuring forecheck gives Ducks a lift,
A gain and again, I say, “Jeez, whatta shift!”
H e’s killing this year, with Moen and R. Nieds,
L ike he did playing with the gold-winning Swedes.
S elke may have been a good checking forward,
S crew him, though! It should be the Pahlsson Award!
O h Sammy, if you’re reading, one thing I must say,
N ever ever leave Anaheim. This God I pray.
LATE NIGHT ADDENDUM: Here's how dominant the Pahlsson-Moen-Niedermayer unit has been this postseason. In the search for some 5-on-5 offense:
- Gaborik has been separated from Demitra
- Sedin has been separated from Sedin
- Datsyuk has been separated from Zetterberg
- Heatley has been separated from Alfredsson
Round Four, Game Two: (4) Ottawa Senators at (2) Anaheim Ducks
(ANA leads series 1-0, JavaGeek ‘odds’: ANA 66%)
Oof. It's really late and I haven't really written anything for this game. As it is the Cup Finals, though, I'm pretty sure there's enough being written about tonight's game, even about the Pahlsson line, if you can believe it.
At any rate, I'll be in attendance for G2 as well, my last game of the year. And wouldn't you know it, I even got the good Row B seats by the Ducks' penalty box (quite the prime spot to see Duck players lately). Stop by and say hi, or maybe just look for me on TV; I'll be wearing the lucky green shirt, as always.
As for the game itself, well, Ottawa's certainly likely to come out a better squad than they did in G1--the Senators hadn't lost a regulation game on the road in nearly three months. But I think the Ducks can be better also, particularly on special teams.
Ultimately, though, the key's the same as G1: find a way to win. The Ducks have an opportunity to get a real stranglehold on this series, and they'll have a Honda Center full of supporters rooting them on (provided everyone leaves work by 3 pm, of course).
Prediction: Ducks 4, Senators 1. Giguere plays a beauty. Goals by Marchant, Selanne, Pahlsson, and Beauchemin.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Well, here’s a wrinkle I didn’t expect in G1. I was wondering whether Carlyle would play the Niedermayer-Beauchemin pairing or the Pronger-O'Donnell pairing against the Spezza line, but I really hadn’t considered the option of Niedermayer-Pronger. Not that it’s an irrational play, mind you, but rather it’s just something Carlyle never really toyed with. Each Norris nominee had their own partner and played their own separate even-strength minutes.
Well, cut to G1 vs. Ottawa, where the Senators presented the best one-line attack of these playoffs. Carlyle of course matched the Pahlsson line out against them, but decided to throw a Norris-Norris wrinkle at them as well, something he hadn’t done all season, really.
I'm a big fan of Vic Ferrari’s 5-on-5 head-to-head minutes site (you can read about it here or access it directly here). It looks at NHL shift charts and shows who a player shares his even-strength shifts with—both teammates and opponents. According to the G1 stats, Pronger and Niedermayer played 7.4 even-strength minutes together—which is more shared 5-on-5 time than they had in any of the first three playoff rounds!
Here's how their 5-on-5 total ice time was split in each round of the playoffs (SN = Scott Niedermayer, CP = Chris Pronger):
|SN Ice Time||CP Ice Time||Shared Ice Time||Pct. SN||Pct. CP|
This is really a huge change in strategy to introduce in the Stanley Cup Finals, but sure enough, late in a tied game with the Spezza line out, who’s on the ice for the winning goal? The checking line, backed by Niedermayer and Pronger, a.k.a. Project Norris.
Coach Carlyle took a risk shuffling up his defensemen up for the Stanley Cup Finals, and it's something certainly to follow as this series progresses. Initial returns, though, look good.
Monday, May 28, 2007
Round Four, Game One: (4) Ottawa Senators at (2) Anaheim Ducks
(JavaGeek 'odds': ANA 52%)
So, I've been running this feature for all opponents these playoffs, and it seems to be working well enough to continue once more. Just like the Minnesota Wild, the Vancouver Canucks, and the Detroit Red Wings before them, I've found three candidates to be 'separated at birth' with the Senator logo. Vote for the best match in the comments, or offer your own suggestions, if you wish.
As for the game, well, I don't know what to say any more. There's enough professional sportswriters covering this series now that I don't have very much original to add at this point.
Really, the only key is winning early. Ottawa's never trailed yet in a series, and in these playoffs the first team to face elimination in each series has lost each series. Taking advantage of early home ice will be key--whether the wins come pretty or ugly, the main thing is they really gotta come early.
At any rate, I'll be at this game, not visible to the TV cameras, but in Section 201, Row N, green t-shirt. Feel free to stop by, buy me a beer, or just congratulate me for not selling my tickets for something in the four-digit range.
Prediction: Ducks 4, Senators 2. Goals by Penner, Pronger, Pahlsson, and (pending a better nickname) Miller Lite.
p.s. I know a lot has been made about this being another case of a U.S.-team vs. Canadian-team SCF, but in the last 13 months or so Anaheim has now played playoff series against four different Canadian franchises--is that some sort of record?
Saturday, May 26, 2007
Regulation Standings since Christmas:
|Team||GP||W-L-T||Win Pct.||GF – GA = GD|
165 – 101 = +64
151 – 114 = +37
131 – 100 = +31
131 – 90 = +41
These standings represent a team's record (regular season only) at the end of regulation--any results in overtime or a shootout are treated as ties, both in the win column as well as the goal tallies. Admittedly, this table is sort of designed retrospectively, but it is revealing nevertheless. Anaheim has had a difficult set of opponents thus far, and according to these standings will have faced the top four teams in the league before these playoffs are over.
I've argued before that the Ducks should be high on this chart as well (a 2-9-2 injury stretch really throws a wrench in their numbers), so I won't belabor that again, but let's take a look back how the Ducks have been able to overcome some of the better teams going into these playoffs.
Round One: Minnesota Wild
The Wild on paper were a scary team; they led the league in goals-against and had a whopping 33-8-6 record with Marion Gaborik in the lineup. Goaltender Niklas Backstrom helped anchor the 2nd best penalty kill and had not surrendered more than 2 goals in a game in over a month.
Indeed, the postseason Wild were stingy, only allowing the Ducks 8 hard-fought goals through the first 4 games. I still maintain that Backstrom was the toughest goaltender for the Ducks to beat in these playoffs, but they managed enough goals to win the first three games, and from there it became largely academic.
The real stories for the Ducks were on the defensive end of the ice. Despite power play time being 51 minutes for Minnesota to 33 minutes for Anaheim (a theme we’ll see later), the Ducks outscored Minnesota’s power play 5 - 2, with a shorthanded goal each. Probably the most impressive part of this was the fact that crazy Russian Ilya Bryzgalov was the surprise starter for G1, and was able to hold the fort through the next three starts as well.
In the end, the Wild proved too reliant on their top line for scoring, and couldn't take advantage of their special teams. The Ducks, meanwhile, were able to put enough pucks and bodies towards Backstrom to force enough goals to win. Perhaps understated were injuries to key defensemen: the Ducks lost G4 without the services of Francois Beauchemin and the Wild lost G5 without the services of Kim Johnsson (I hate you, Brad May).
The cartoon above is easily the most mean-spirited (and thus most popular) thing I think I’ve published on this blog; click here to see why it’s somewhat justified.
Round Two: Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks were a team built around their goaltender, Roberto Luongo, as well as the offense produced by the Henrik and Daniel Sedin. They generally kept everything low-scoring enough to allow their goaltender to be the difference in games, led the league in penalty-killing, and rarely lost games in regulation.
Vancouver came into round two a beat-up squad, as they had just come off a G7 win over Dallas and were playing without defensemen Sami Salo and Kevin Bieksa, to start. And of course that showed in G1, as the Ducks cruised to a 5-1 win, and I lost my lucky hat.
After that, though, Vancouver got its wits about it and played the type of game that earned them success in the regular season—Luongo became a Hart-worthy goalie again, and the team protected neutral ice a lot better. The final four games all were one-goal decisions (3 decided in overtime), and the Ducks only managed to outscore the Canucks 9 - 7 after G1.
Again, the Ducks’ defense came up huge, as the Canucks managed only one power play goal in more than 50 minutes of power play time. J.S. Giguere lost an overtime game for the first time in his playoff career, but he has bounced back and won his last four OT games since.
Round Three: Detroit Red Wings
I really haven’t had much time to properly recap this series, as immediately the cry after G6 was “On to Ottawa!”, but Detroit provided the Ducks with their most formidable foe to date. Detroit’s regular-season specialty was limiting shots-against on Dominik Hasek and winning games on home ice, and they ended the season 2nd in goals-against.
For sure, a huge factor in this series were blueline injuries to Niklas Kronvall late in the season and Mathieu Schneider late in round two, but even so the Ducks managed without Chris Pronger suspended for G4 and Chris Kunitz hurt in G1 as well. The teams played largely even, despite the fact that Detroit’s power play scored 9 goals in 68 minutes, and Anaheim’s only got 4 goals in 48 minutes.
I don’t want to trivialize Detroit’s effort, because it was huge, but as the series went on things started to go Anaheim’s way, in particular to Teemu Selanne and the power play, both of which went scoreless in the first three games. The wins weren’t overwhelming, but the fact that the Ducks were able to pull two overtime wins and not get blown out in Detroit was huge. And while Pronger certainly blew his top in the G3 stinker, you gotta give the big guy credit—Detroit could not score against him.
This series more than the others hinged on a single moment, though: the fluky G5 game tying-goal with 48 seconds left in regulation. It really was a series that could have gone either way, but the Ducks found the will and the bounces to win.
Certainly, you cannot talk about any of these series wins without using the term “fortunate”—they all proved to be tough-to-score-on, tough-to-beat teams. And now perhaps we are looking at the best one of them all. But if we're talking adversity, that's not new. If we're talking streaks and stats favoring the other squad, that's not new. If we're talking Maggie the Monkey picking against the Ducks, that's not new either (she has yet to pick a CA team in any series this playoffs).
Time to throw the stats out the window, roll up those sleeves, and beat another contender. Welcome to Anaheim, Ottawa. Leave your streak at the door.
Friday, May 25, 2007
Well, as part of the Sens Army-inspired cross-interview from the last post, Ottawa-blogger Ben sent me a set of questions to answer about the Ducks and their postseason thus far. I didn't get home until really late last night, so at times my answers might suffer from late-night fatigue, but I think generally this captures my impressions about the postseason Ducks.
Feel free, as always, to tell me what I got wrong, or ask anything else you might be curious about. Without further ado, here's Sleek helping Sens fans Better Understand the Ducks:
(Ben) 1. Although the Ducks are well known for their defence, who is their most consistent scorer? Are you worried that your top scorer is a defenseman?
(Sleek) Hmm, putting answers in my mouth already, eh? Among the forwards these playoffs, probably our most consistent scorers have been the PPG line, or the "kids" (Penner, Perry, Getzlaf). Not so much in that they actually score every game, but they can be absolute monsters along the offensive boards each and every game. Partially what explains this is that the Selanne line naturally draws the best defenders, and the kids get to go nuts against lighter competition.
Among defensemen of course it's Pronger--he runs the power play with Scott, and he gets enough touches at even-strength to get on the scoreboard regularly. Am I bothered by Pronger scoring as a defenseman? Hell no! Remember, the Ducks played against this guy in the WCF last year, and the difference when he's on your side is enormous.
2. How would you compare Giguere's performance this year as opposed to his Conn Smythe-winning year?
No comparison. 2003 was a story that even on his best night can't be replicated. They should take that footage of Giguere in the first three rounds of 2003 and show it in history classes--sure he was a big goalie but he was in the exact right spot for every shot. And there were a TON of shots. Critics I think focus too much on his pads and ignore his positioning, and that year he had both going to their fullest.
I don't want to knock this year at all, though. He's been great, but he also has a better team in front of him than ever before. Long gone are the 40-save days of yore. The real benefit I think Giguere gets these days is his defense controlling his rebounds--the Ducks are much better at it this year than in any Mighty year. Still, he's absolutely money in critical situations and is a real stabilizing force on the ice; he still is in my opinion one of the top five goalies in the league. I'll say this: if I had to choose between re-signing Selanne or re-signing Giguere (and this is probably a real upcoming scenario), I'd have to take Giguere. He guarantees that you won't fall apart at your most critical position.
3. Other than Giguere, who's having an outstanding playoff this year? Who's underachieving?
The checking line (Pahlsson centering Rob Niedermayer and Moen) has been outstanding--they are having a better playoffs than regular season, and I was damn proud of them then. They are essentially shadows that will take all the hardest minutes at even-strength and short-handed. The Spezza trio will definitely be seeing a ton of these guys. Quite simply, they have the ability to make guys disappear from the scoresheet--not always, but they can do it for stretches. Their real knack is making opposing scorers play defense, and they have been producing. Pahlsson is a +6 and is fourth in team scoring.
Underachieving would probably be the top line, mainly Andy McDonald. Ever since I threw my hat on the ice in G1 against Vancouver, Andy Mac has been extremely quiet on the scoresheet--1 goal and 1 assist in his last 10 games. Sure the top line is always getting the attention of the opposition's best stoppers (and don't get me wrong--that in itself is pretty huge), but in the regular season they were able to overcome it and score like crazy. Last year in the playoffs, McDonald went through a slump like this one and later it was revealed he was injured, but I'm not sure that's the case this time--the line looks good despite not producing as much as it could, but I'll credit some great defenses and some great goalies for holding Teemu and Andy Mac in check. The top line lost Chris Kunitz for the playoffs in G1 at Detroit to a broken hand, but Todd Marchant has filled in smoothly.
4. How do the Ducks intend to shut down the top-scoring line in the NHL playoffs?
Tons and tons of Pahlsson. The checking line has been doing this exact sort of assignment since game one of the season. Carlyle mixes his lines every once in a while, but one thing that he refuses to touch is Pahlsson-Moen-Niedermayer. They have played all 82 regular-season and all 16 playoff games together without any line-juggling and without any injury, and they know their roles to a T.
On the back-end, I'm unsure which pairing Carlyle will prefer. If it were me, I'd put Pronger and O'Donnell out--they are goal deterrents also. Detroit didn't score a single power play goal or even-strength goal with Pronger out on the ice. Even so, Carlyle often declines my advice and uses Scotty Niedermayer and Frenchie Beauchemin instead. Not a bad option, really, as Scotty brings a lot of recovery speed and puck smarts, and Beauchemin isn't any slouch either. I'm guessing you'll see these two against Spezza & friends, and Pronger can go frustrate somebody else.
5. Who is the Ducks' hidden weapon? The one that the Sens may not have heard of, but should watch out for.
You've probably heard of him, but watch out for Corey Perry. Sure, Getzlaf is all the rage and he's been playing tremendous hockey these playoffs. But Perry is the sneak, the whiner, the diver, and the sniper. He can dazzle with the puck, then get pulled awkwardly down into the goalie, then tie up a defenseman trying to get up, then snatch the puck and roof it. Opponents hate Perry, and probably rightfully so, but he can be damn effective. He can act with confidence, also, with the knowledge that he won't have to fight his own fights; these are the punch-loving Ducks, after all.
6. Who is on the Ducks' top scoring line? Are they significantly better than the other lines?
In the regular season and start of the playoffs, it was Selanne-McDonald-Kunitz. Replacing Kunitz now is Marchant. Teemu and Andy Mac are fantastic together; they really have that connection that Kariya and Selanne used to have--speed and space. They are fantastic at stop-and-start plays, and both can really turn on the jets.
This playoffs, though, they haven't been better than the PPG line, or probably even better than the checking line. Again, though, they do occupy the opponent's best checkers, so there's still a contribution being made. And they are creating chances still--I wouldn't stop defending them by any means.
The last time I really saw the top line struggle like this was at the start of the season. Teemu only got 1 goal in October, yet each line chipped in goals from different players and the team didn't suffer a regulation loss until its 17th game. And that's the same kind of team I'm seeing now, almost frighteningly balanced--the top two lines have 27 points apiece while the checking line has 26.
7. How would the City of Anaheim reacted if the Ducks had lost their series against the Red Wings?
Two ways to answer this question. First off, the city of Anaheim as a whole would be mostly oblivious--hockey here is still an underground sport shared among individuals. By no means would you go up to someone in Anaheim and assume they knew the Ducks were in the Cup Finals, but you could probably assume they root for Vlad Guerrero or Kobe Bryant. The market is coming along, though, and it certainly helps that the team is winning.
For Duck fans, though, there's probably two teams we detest losing to more than any other--the Detroit Red Wings and the Los Angeles Kings. It would certainly have been a painful loss, tempered by the positives of reaching the conference finals again and losing to a 1-seed.
8. How much do you love Brian Burke? A whole bunch?
Hell yes, especially when I look around the league and see how other GMs mismanage their cap and rosters. Plus he's a really good personality to have in Southern California--a tough guy blowhard lawyer, a great fit!
I will say this, though. In my mind, I've still maintained that Bryan Murray still retains the best GM in team history for what he did in 2003--everything he touched turned to gold that year. He acquired Adam Oates, Petr Sykora, Sandis Ozolinsh, Rob Niedermayer, and Steve Thomas over the course of the season and all proved critical in the team's cup run. When Oates retired and Kariya ditched the team after G7, Murray nabbed Fedorov and Prospal, probably the two best free agents available at the time, which I'll also give him credit for even though it didn't work out. Plus he drafted Getzlaf and Perry and signed the undrafted Penner.
Sure, Burke has had his moments, but Pronger pretty much fell into his lap last summer, and he held Rob Niedermayer at the exact right moment to sign Scott. And he probably was more lucky than prophetic on the Selanne deal. But I got no qualms with Burke--he's molded his team and I like the results.
9. If the Ducks don't win the Cup, is Pronger's wife gonna be pissed and make him request a trade?
Hell, she might request it even if they win. Honestly, I have no insight into this, other than it's probably unlikely that they'd pull the same maneuver twice. Then again, nobody in Edmonton saw it coming, either...
So, that's my late-night take. Anybody got anything to add?
Thursday, May 24, 2007
In the comments to the last post, Scott said:
“Anyway, this series is really interesting to me as a Sens fan. If you read the hockey blogs and chat boards, there's absolutely no middle ground here. The Ducks fans are convinced the Senators are a significantly inferior team, while the Eastern Conference and Sens devotees are seriously asking whether Anaheim can even win one game in this series. I've never seen such a difference of opinion on a playoff series.”And at least from my perspective, he’s right. I’ve spent this entire season pretty oblivious of what is going on in the eastern conference, as it really has been irrelevant thus far to the Ducks’ playoff chances, and I imagine a lot of the same is happening on the eastern front.
To help combat this mutual ignorance, Ben from Sens Army contacted me to do a little cross-interviewing, so fans from either side can learn a bit more about what the opposition’s team is all about. Basically, I created 10 questions I had about the Senators for Ben to answer for me, and he is creating a set of questions about the Ducks (haven’t gotten it yet, though).
Anyway, for Duck fans, here’s Ben to help us Better Understand the Senators.
(Sleek) 1. The "Spalfredheat" line, as you have called them (Spezza - Alfredsson - Heatley) has of course been tearing up the playoff scoring charts. Which member of that line, in your estimation, has been most valuable? Or maybe alternatively, which would you least like to see injured by an outraged Pronger?
(Ben) There is very little doubt that Daniel Alfredsson has been the team’s MVP during these playoffs. He leads the team in scoring and netted the series-winning goal against the Sabres. Each guy has a role: Spezza (the Spez dispenser) is all about assists, Heatley loves the one-timers sits by the goal line waiting for a tap-in, Alfredsson has been hitting people alot lately (on the ice!) and does both of the above quite well. I’m not going to answer that last part for fear it might come true.
2. Talk to me a bit about Ray Emery, as I'm pretty sketchy on the guy. Compare him to a more famous goaltender, and tell me what his real strength in the net is.
If I had to compare him to a goalie, I would say Patrick Roy - I know that’s high praise and it might sound like boasting, but they’re both big (kinda slow) goalies who seem to be in the right place at the right time. Rayzor has been solid for the sens, maybe that’s all they’ve needed so far. If he’s tested by the Ducks, he definitely has the skill to shine.
3. I am really impressed by the caliber of teams that Ottawa has been knocking out--Pittsburgh, New Jersey, and Buffalo were among the best teams in the league since Christmas. (Incidentally, so were Minnesota, Vancouver, and Detroit). Which series would you say was the toughest of the three, or maybe which series would you least like to see the Sens play again? Which team was closest to beating the Sens?
The team that was closest to beating the sens were the Sabres. After one loss the city had some anxiety, we were aware of how deadly the Sabres are, and so was the team apparently. The sens beat them by pulling through some tough times with mental toughness. If they had to play a team again, I would say Pittsburgh because of Crosby – that guy’s good.
4. I can name all six (or seven) Ottawa defensemen, but I don't really know how they are played very well. Give me the defensive pairings and a little bit about their particular role. Also, which defensemen play the power play and which kill penalties?
#1 - Phillips-Volchenkov – You might say ‘who?’, but these guys have been our shut-down pair for the playoffs. They played against Crosby, Gomez and Briere, ultimately beating them all.
#2 – Corvo-Preissing – These guys were picked up in the off season to give the sens some puck-movement and offense from the point. They’ve done just that. Watch for Corvo darting up the ice on powerplays. He’s fast.
#3 – Redden-Meszaros – These guys have struggled to find their roles on the team this year. Some people put them at #2, but I personally think they’re our shakiest pairing. Despite what I think of them there was a streak of 7 or 8 games where they weren’t on the ice for an opposition goal.
5. Based on what you know or have heard about the Ducks, what weakness are you excited about the Sens exploiting? Where do you think the Senators have the biggest edge in this series?
I’ve only heard good things about the Ducks, though today I read that they take some dumb penalties. The Senators’ power play has been smoking lately and the PK has been everything a coach could ask for. If the sens want to win, they must dominate on special teams.
6. Based on what you know or have heard about the Ducks, what strength scares you the most? Where do you think the Ducks have the biggest edge in this series?
Pronger and Giguere are the only players that I can’t write-off. Giggy can be terrific, though I did see the third period of game 6 against Detroit, and that gave me some hope. Pronger is a monster on the ice, perhaps second only to Chara in pure physical force and I would keep my head up if I were the Sens forwards. One aspect that doesn’t scare me? Ducks’ offense. We’ve got the top 3 scorers in the playoffs and you’ve only got one player in the top ten... and he’s plays defense, and he’s Pronger, who I already watch out for.
7. Talk to me about Bryan Murray the coach. Specifically, how rigorous is he at line-matching? Does Ottawa often change forwards immediately after faceoffs?
Murray’s done a good job of keeping Phillips-Volchekov against the other teams’ top lines, I expect that to continue. As far as forwards, it’s get Spezza-Heatley-Alfie out there whenever we get the opportunity to score, and roll the other 3 get some chances and body check as much as possible.
8. I don't think this is probably going to happen, but what if Sammy Pahlsson and his checkers are able to shut down the "Spalfredheat" line? Who on the Senators is next-likely to score for the team?
The Sens have got a ton of what you might call ‘role players’ who can be either goal-scorers or body checkers. Look for Mike Fisher, Chris Neil, and Dean McAmmond to step up if the top line doesn’t produce.
9. Random question--but if you could have one former Senator back for this series (one who left within the last year or so), who would it be and why? I think I'm asking a "Chara or Havlat" question, but if you have another guy in mind that works too.
Chara and Havlat each have their niches, and my initial response was Chara – he’s such a presence on the ice. But we had them both last year and were beaten out in the second round, so I’m going to skip them and say Brian Pothier, he was a free agent who left last summer – he got 12 minutes a game with the sens, and now playing in Washington he gets 20+ minutes per game. He was a gem with the right attitude that the sens could put to good use today.
10. Who's the best "unsung hero" story on the Sens this season or postseason? Who's doing a lot of things right and not getting enough ink for it?
Chris Kelly (#22). I’m a huge supporter of what he does. I call him the heart and soul of the team because he’s the complete team player. All he does is kill penalties – seriously. With the sens only allowing 2 PP goals against the Sabres (both were 5 on 3), he’s gotta be doing something right. In fact, he’s doing everything right.
So there you have it, 10 questions and 10 answers, content untouched. Feel free, Senators fans, to clarify anything you see here, or Duck fans, to ask anything I might have forgotten. I'll make sure and post my answers to Ben's questions once they become available.
Man, the Ducks have had it too easy when it comes to goaltenders faced these playoffs:
First there was Niklas Backstrom on the Wild, who led the league in goals-against-average and earned the William Jennings Trophy for fewest team goals-allowed in the season. Backstrom hadn’t allowed two goals in a game in over a month leading into the playoffs. What a piece of cake!
Then there was Roberto Luongo on the Canucks, 3rd in the league in shots faced and 4th in save percentage, not to mention his role in Vancouver's top-rated penalty kill. Luongo’s play made him a nominee for the Vezina Trophy, the Pearson Trophy, and the Hart Trophy, the ultimate trifecta for a goaltender. Talk about easy!
In the conference finals the Ducks faced Dominik Hasek on the Red Wings, the only goaltender who’s ever actually won the ultimate trophy trifecta. Behind the Wings blueline, Hasek had the 2nd best goals-against-average in the league, trailing only Backstrom. Plus he had never lost a series for Detroit in his career. Not a problem!
Sure, these goalies had a lot of pedigree and were certainly difficult to score on, but they were not nearly as intriguing as Ottawa netminder Ray Emery. Ray may not be up for any major awards or have a storied playoff history behind him, but he does have something that puts him head-and-shoulders above the rest—the Gerber Factor. JP at the FanHouse may have stolen some of my thunder, but let’s take a look at the stunning playoff history of former Duck Martin Gerber, all three times his team has qualified for the postseason.
2003: Gerber backs up J.S. Giguere as the Ducks win the Western Conference Final and advance to the Cup Finals before losing. J.S. Giguere, playing in his first playoffs, wins the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
2006: Gerber backs up Cam Ward as the Hurricanes win the Eastern Conference Final and the Stanley Cup championship. Cam Ward, playing in his first playoffs, wins the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
2007: Gerber backs up Ray Emery as the Senators win the Eastern Conference Final and advance to the Cup Finals.
Simply put, Martin Gerber has been a rabbit’s foot with pads. He’s averaging only about four periods of playing time per playoff year, and even when he's played he has put together less-than-stellar numbers (3.48 GAA, .854 sv%).
Despite his spotty performance, though, he has been to three of the last four cup finals, and he has as many cup rings as playoff wins.
Whether or not you buy the concept of the Gerber Factor, Ray Emery will probably need to play like a Conn Smythe candidate in the Cup Finals against Anaheim. He's going to need to play at an MVP level in order to keep making saves and stay composed while the Ducks repeatedly crash his crease, something that previous opponents all struggled to do (see pictures above). Collectively, Backstrom, Luongo, and Hasek were able to get a total of four wins over Anaheim, and if Emery can equal that achievement, he'll probably deserve some consideration for the Conn Smythe Trophy.
And if that happens, look for Ottawa to extend Martin Gerber's contract for another dozen years or so.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Unfortunately, the tape ran out after two periods. Next stop: Anaheim.
(Oh, and congratulations, Oilers fans. I think Edmonton now get's Anaheim's 2008 first round pick, part of the Pronger trade.)
Round Three, Game Six: (1) Detroit Red Wings at (2) Anaheim Ducks
(ANA leads series 3-2, JavaGeek ‘odds’: ANA 75%)
I don't want to seem overconfident about the Ducks' chances tonight, because quite frankly, I'm not sure what to expect out of either team in G6—the Wings are facing their first legitimate 'must-win' game of the season, while the Ducks certainly do not want to return to Detroit. Each game in this series has, in its own way, been somewhat of a surprise, but the fact remains: if the Ducks win at Honda Center tonight then they win the west.
A lesson from the past—May 16, 2003, courtesy of USA Today:
When the Ducks finished a four-game sweep of the Minnesota Wild on Friday to reach the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in their 10-year history, Kariya, the captain, was called to center ice to pose for a picture with the Clarence Campbell Bowl, given to the Western Conference champion.In 2003, the 7th-seeded Mighty Ducks had swept the defending cup champion Red Wings, defeated the top seed Dallas in six games, and allowed only one goal to the Wild in another sweep. Their first nine victories were all by one goal, including five in overtime, and all this despite starting each series on the road.
He stood stone-faced for the picture. Then, he refused to touch the trophy. Kariya's message: We haven't won anything yet.
The only reason he posed with the trophy at all, he said, "was because I figured I'd get fined if I didn't."
But when presented a trophy celebrating those achievements in front of his home fans, Kariya refused to acknowledge it. Yes, I know he was sticking with tradition and superstition, but it turns out that would be the last hardware that Duck fans could cheer for at the Pond that spring—ignoring the Campbell Bowl didn’t win them the ultimate prize, instead they treated a western conference title as a paltry occurrence rather than the playoff miracle that it was.
Kariya and the '03 Mighty Ducks are hardly unique in their trophy avoidance; teams have been shunning the Campbell Bowl with regularity (and lately, with no success). Kind of a shame, really, as only one team wins the prize each year for winning a really tough western conference—it would be nice if it could be a cause for celebration instead of the usual cold shoulder approach.
So here's my theory: if the Ducks win G6 at Honda Center (by no means a given), Scott Niedermayer should go up and lift the Bowl over his head. Carry it around a lap. Pass it on to Teemu. Basically, Scott should act as if winning the west matters—that it's an achievement worth celebrating.
The crowd would go nuts. The TV cameras would love it. Maybe there will be an ultimate celebration later for the home crowd; maybe there won't be. But at least there won't be regret in thinking back at the time when the team could have celebrated with its fans but didn't.
So if the Ducks win tonight and are presented with the Clarence Campbell Bowl: lift it, touch it, or ignore it? You can shoot down my theory in the comments.
Prediction: Ducks 3, Red Wings 1. Goals by Perry, Pahlsson, and Getzlaf.
p.s. J.S. Giguere's OT record now is 12-1. He has allowed one goal (Jeff Cowan) on 115 overtime shots in more than 250 minutes of playing time (more than four regulations). That translates to an 0.24 GAA and a .991 sv%. Way to go Jiggy!
Sunday, May 20, 2007
Chris Drury's inspirational speech not enough for Buffalo, Ottawa Senators advance to the Stanley Cup Final
As the Buffalo Sabres co-captain, Chris Drury tried to boost the morale of his team after dropping the first three games of the Eastern Conference Finals to the Ottawa Senators. Drury invoked the Delta House motto in his locker room speech "Don't get mad, get even", and the Sabres came out blazing for a 3-2 win to prevent the bagel in Game 4. Alas, it was not enough. Maxim Afinogenov tied the fifth game at 2-2 with a late power play goal, but Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson scored the game winner in OT to advance to the finals with Anaheim, errrr, the Western Conference Finals winner.
Link via Sabre Rattling.
Round Three, Game Five: (2) Anaheim Ducks at (1) Detroit Red Wings
(Series tied 2-2, JavaGeek ‘odds’: DET 56%)
The Ducks find themselves in the same position as Calgary and San Jose did in rounds one and two: a series tied 2-2 going back to Detroit for a best-of-three. How did those previous two teams fare?
- The Flames proceeded to lose both G5 and G6, outscored by a combined 7-2.
- The Sharks proceeded to lose both G5 and G6, outscored by a combined 6-1.
Well, I think the Ducks can take some pointers from a squad that’s quite used to winning when the chips are down and the stakes are high—the A-Team. The Ducks, like the A-Team, will need solid contributions from four of its key members if they want to win one more in Detroit. If I'm Stephen J. Cannell, here's how I'd cast this episode:
Scott Niedermayer—John “Hannibal” Smith:
Hannibal is the determined leader of the A-Team, the mastermind of all their high-risk maneuvers. He carries supreme cockiness and poise no matter the situation, and is an escape artist to boot. Scott’s play has been up-and-down all this series, but he’s kept his composure and has brought confidence to an aggressive blueline. He’s played more postseason minutes than any other Duck, and brings an offensive element to all situations. Scott's definitely a proven winner; I could have sworn after his OT goal in G2 I heard a faint, “I love it when a plan comes together!”
Teemu Selanne—Templeton “Faceman” Peck:
Faceman is an expert at scamming whatever the A-Team needs, especially in tight and desperate situations. He’s a sneak, a thief, and an opportunist. Teemu’s got that deceptive ability to get opportunities behind defenders and cash in on his chances; his ability to produce while being covered will be key. Teemu picked up two power-play helpers in G4 (he only had one in the 13 previous playoff games), so perhaps his offense is waking up; the Ducks might consider leaving an "A" on his jersey for G5. Plus it is really funny when he takes a shot to his pretty-boy face.
Sammy Pahlsson—H.M. “Howling Mad” Murdock
Murdock is the institutionalized pilot for the A-Team, providing both relief and support to the squad. Though he is quite insane, in key situations he still manages to be right where the team needs him. Pahlsson is the odd-yet-reliable forward for the Ducks, skating against the top opposition offense in order to buy easier-minute time for his teammates. He’s crazy enough not to be intimidated, and is persistent enough to drive his opponents mad, as well.
Chris Pronger—B.A. Baracus
The violent-tempered muscle for the group, B.A. provides the extra edge in any scrap the A-Team gets themselves into. He’s tough and stubborn, and also provides the metal-armor-welding that keeps the team safe. Pronger’s already shown he's capable of angry violence, but aside from the loose temper, he has also provided the team’s strength; Detroit has yet to score an even-strength goal or a power-play goal with Pronger on the ice in this series. Pronger's going to have to find a way to bring the muscle in G5 without the rage.
"I love it when a plan comes together!"
Prediction: Ducks 4, Red Wings 2. Goals by the A-Team.
Saturday, May 19, 2007
Jackman - playing his first ever playoff game - scored his first goal on his first shot on goal while replacing Chris Pronger for his one-game suspension.That of course was also Anaheim’s first power play goal of the series as well as Teemu Selanne's first point of the series, and was instrumental in creating a 1st period lead that would help the Ducks win a Prongerless G4.
Here’s a vote to keeping Jackman in the lineup for G5, mostly for spot-duy power play time. This year on the Ducks, he has scored 2 goals and 5 assists in some 55 minutes of power play time (7.7 PP points/hour). That power play scoring rate leads the team.
As I was perusing the blogs, I saw a Pronger-reaction piece by Two for Elbowing (written after G4), and noticed this tidbit:
Anyone else looking forward to seeing this series go 7 games? And do you doubt that it will? the only problem is one we worried about from early in the season: that whoever comes out of the west will be exhausted and beat up, and easy fodder for whatever eastern team makes the cup final.Well, chiqui, it just so happens I was looking into this very concept the other day. Here’s how the last 10 cup finalists have done in their conference final series:
|Cup winner||Cup loser|
CAR over BUF, 7 games
EDM over ANA, 5 games
TBL over PHI, 7 games
CGY over SJS, 6 games
NJD over OTT, 7 games
ANA over MIN, 4 games
DET over COL, 7 games
CAR over TOR, 6 games
COL over STL, 5 games
NJD over PIT, 5 games
NJD over PHI, 7 games
DAL over COL, 7 games
DAL over COL, 7 games
BUF over TOR, 5 games
DET over DAL, 6 games
WAS over BUF, 6 games
DET over COL, 6 games
PHI over NYR, 5 games
COL over DET, 6 games
FLA over PIT, 7 games
Now take this with a HUGE grain of salt, as many of these cup finals featured a Cinderella team, but it has been eleven years since a team with more rest has won a Stanley Cup. The last four cup winners, in fact, have all played 7-game conference finals, while the cup loser has finished their conference finals series in fewer games.
I’m not saying it’s not going to happen, or that it shouldn’t happen, but if this series goes seven games, I don’t think we should take it as a given that a long WCF series cost the winner the Cup.
Anyway, food for thought.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
Not to steal Anaheim's thunder from the game today, but I saw this on Paul Kukla's site. From the Buffalo News:
Drury issued a challenge to his teammates going into Game Four. He said they had two choices: The Buffalo Sabres could curl and cry their way home or they could come back fighting like dogs. He was speaking in his usual hushed tones, but you better believe it came across loud and clear to his teammates. Stop moaning and quit feeling sorry for yourselves. Show a little resiliency and maybe, just maybe, they could get things turned around before it was too late. Maybe they could strike fear into the Ottawa Senators. Maybe they could do what seemed impossible and win four straight. Maybe there was a little hope after all. “It was the whole locker room, not just me,” Drury said. “Everybody understood what we were up against. It relaxed us. At some point, I don’t know when it was, but some weight was lifted off our shoulders. It was as loose as we had been in a while.”
Would any of the Sharks be able to stand up and say that? This isn't another "Take the C from Patrick Marleau" argument because I'm talking about group leadership here. Chris Drury's not exactly an intimidating Mark Messier-type, but apparently he knows when and what to say. Marleau may have that in him or he may be as quiet as his public persona is. We really don't know because we're not in that locker room. Joe Thornton may have that in him or he may just be a laid-back dude, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but there's a difference between roll-with-the-punches and get-really-flaming-mad. Whatever the case may be, good leadership should be a combination of elements. It's obvious that the Sharks are missing this crucial element, and whether that comes from the TEAM mentality of talking but not executing or whether that comes from a lack of an individual like Drury to take charge, well, that's up to the Wilsons to figure it out.
Round Three, Game Four: (1) Detroit Red Wings at (2) Anaheim Ducks
(DET leads series 2-1, JavaGeek ‘odds’: DET 71%)
No Chris on the top line. No Chris on the blueline.
Does hope exist for these Ducks? Sure, so long as they're willing to forget any "poor us" thinking, play a simplified game, and come out in G4 the way they should have come out in G3. They need to make personnel a non-issue; the players that are dressed are the ones that are going to need to get it done.
If there's a blessing to the one-game suspension, it's that it falls on a home game. Coach Carlyle is going to have a whale of a time trying to fill in Pronger's 31 minutes, but at least he'll have some ability to control defensive match-ups.
It certainly won't be an easy transition, though, as Pronger has his hands all over the special teams (which certainly have not been very special this series). These playoffs, he averages 7 1/2 minutes per game on the power play and 4 1/2 minutes per game killing penalties. The PP time is not that worrisome, maybe even Getzlaf can resume his role as pointman, but the Ducks better be especially mindful of their penalties this game.
During the season, the Ducks were 6-7-3 without Pronger, but that includes a 2-5-2 stretch while missing Giguere and Beauchemin as well. When it was a relatively healthy squad less Pronger, the Ducks managed a 4-2-1 record. Of course, it will be imperative that Scotty Niedermayer and Frenchie Beauchemin have better outings than they did in G3 (-3 and -4, respectively).
It's certainly not an ideal situation, but the team's gotta remember: it's the final four, and they're one win away from being right back in this series. The Ducks have exactly the same number of playoff wins as they got last year; do they have the ability to improve on that tonight?
I wonder if this guy's available to play some minutes.
Prediction: Ducks 3, Red Wings 2. Goals by Selanne, Pahlsson, and McDonald.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Quite a conversation we've got going in the previous drinky post (apologies for the language and hyperbole) on comparative fanbases, so I thought I'd create a quick post for people to talk about the other big news: Chris Pronger being suspended one game for his head-first board of Detroit's Tomas Holmstrom (assist: Rob Niedermayer).
Here's the hit, by the way.
Many issues here:
a) What do you think about the length of the suspension? Too much, not enough, or just right? (BTW: Read Matt's post at BoA for a really good perspective on suspensions in general.)
b) What do you think this means for the rest of the series? Can the Ducks negotiate a home game without the big blueliner, or does this pretty much cost Anaheim the series?
c) Given the outcome of last night's game, does it even matter?
So, Pronger suspension comments here, fanbase comments on the other post. Go nuts.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
stolen from Bizarro
Easily the worst game I have attended at the Pond / Honda Center in my lifetime, though I will note that I was pretty assured of the outcome by the end of the 1st period (Det 2, Ana 0). I was pretty sure it would unravel after that. Case in point—me and a guy from the 3rd deck were the two guys outside having a cigarette when that 5-minute major got called in the 2nd.
I’m not so much upset at the final score; as I said, it was decided early. But I am really upset at the Ducks for not putting their bodies in Hasek’s crease for the last 30 minutes, when the game was out of reach. I’ll tell you what fans in my section were hearing: “If you’re not running Hasek, you’re not trying!”
I’m pretty glad, actually, that it was a 5-0 final. Had we lost 2-1, maybe there would have been no urgency for a G4 adjustment.
There’s probably a benefit to me being at the game as opposed to watching it on TV. Because of latecomers and my own spotty attendance, I only got to see the 2nd and 4th goals.
I’ll tell you what was the biggest realization of the night: I might not really hate the Red Wings as much as I hate the fucking Red Wing fans. You want to know why “Hockeytown” is being harassed for its attendance (pricing) issues? Look no further than your asshole fans, who’ve been citing attendance numbers to discredit our franchise for years!
In all seriousness, you might be the best, most polite, quaintest Red Wing fan in the universe, but know this. You come from easily the worst fanbase in the western conference, from a tolerability standpoint. I won’t go into specifics about tonight, but know that at the end of the game I shook a guy’s hand for being a Wings fan and not an asshole.
And I had to go two sections over to find him.
Well, in the end it is only one game. Sure it’s a message-sender, but there’s still room to respond. Ducks have got to get their shit together, that’s for sure.
Round Three, Game Three: (1) Detroit Red Wings at (2) Anaheim Ducks
(Series tied 1-1, JavaGeek ‘odds’: even-steven)
Anaheim top-line winger Chris Kunitz broke a bone in his hand late in G1 after scoring the Ducks’ only goal. He had surgery on it yesterday and will be out for the duration of the playoffs. It turns out he was hurt deflecting a Pronger shot, but here's how I had pictured the injury:
So what does this injury mean to the Ducks? Well, on the surface it sucks—the Ducks are not very deep at forward, and fourth-line
In a perverse sort of way, though, injuries to left-wingers are OK for the Ducks, as it is certainly their most versatile position. Randy Carlyle is fond of his pairs—McDonald and Selanne, Getzlaf and Perry—and has moved left wingers to move up and down throughout the year. Coach Carlyle certainly has his options for a top-line fill-in, whether there be a need for speed (Marchant, Shannon) or grit (Penner, May), and I think Teemu and McDonald can operate with most anybody crashing the net. Honestly, I don’t know if the top line will be ‘set’ anytime soon—there are some benefits to the rotation method as well.
Besides, we keep calling it the ‘top line’ to fool Detroit’s best checkers. Playoff scoring to date:
D. Penner - R. Getzlaf - C. Perry: 7 g, 14 a, 21 points
T. Moen - S. Pahlsson - R. Niedermayer: 7 g, 13 a, 20 points
Anaheim's real top line?
But let’s not understate Kunitz’s role—2nd on the team in hits, a good skater, and a guy willing-and-able to occupy the front of the net. The players picking up the extra minutes are definitely going to need to step up and make up for that missing element, enough to at least distract Detroit’s checking line from the real scorers.
The Ducks come back to Anaheim from a pretty successful trip, not only because they got a road win, but because they effectively were able to neutralize a lot of Detroit’s home-ice-advantage. Before the series, the Red Wings had played 47 home games (regular season and playoffs) and been outshot only 5 times. On average, Detroit outshot visitors by more than 12 shots per game.
The Ducks not only outshot the Wings in both G1 and G2, but manufactured two tie games with 5 minutes left in regulation—essentially they were able to turn both games into coin flips. Considering Detroit’s home record (now 35-5-9), that’s quite an accomplishment.
Analysts are quick to point out that the Ducks have scored 5 even-strength goals and zero special-teams goals, while the Wings have scored zero even-strength goals and 5 special-teams goals. Personally, I think that’s a bit of a fluke, but if it remains the case the Wings could be in trouble going into Anaheim. To date the Ducks have scored 56 pp goals in Anaheim and 42 on the road, while the Red Wings have scored 47 pp goals in Detroit and 35 on the road.
For a good read, check out one of my new favorites: Interchangeable Parts. Though Schnookie and Pookie are (GRRRRR!) Devils fans, these two teddy-bear sisters have been keeping diligent journals of both the conference finals. They don’t profess to be well-versed in the western conference teams, but their commentary is irresistible. Here’s their WCF G1 and G2 journals for your enjoyment.
Prediction: Ducks 4, Red Wings 2. Goals by Perry, Getzlaf, Pahlsson, and Beauchemin.
p.s. I'll be at this game. I didn’t get the Row B seats, unfortunately, but I’ll still be in the lower bowl, behind Giguere for the 1st and 3rd periods—Sec. 201, Row N. I’ll be the guy in the green t-shirt acting entirely too drunk for 6 in the afternoon. You can come by say hi, but I reserve the right to reflexively defend myself. Oh, and just to keep the tab running, the Ducks are 8-0-1 when I've been in attendance this year, outscoring opponents 38-15.
Sunday, May 13, 2007
Round Three, Game Two: (2) Anaheim Ducks at (1) Detroit Red Wings
(DET leads series 1-0, JavaGeek ‘odds’: DET 68%)
Anyone else inspired by Teemu Selanne’s playoff face lately? This notorious pretty-boy has not only been hit in the head by a puck from a Wild player (during pre-game warm-ups, no less!), but he’s picked up facial cuts from Wild sticks, Canuck sticks, and even Chris Pronger’s stick over the last few weeks. Certainly we’re seeing a more driven Selanne than in years past; no way you’d ever use “Teemu” and “battle-tested” in the same sentence a few years ago. And maybe the best part? He still seems to be loving it.
Teemu’s cut-up face is 80% inspiring and 20% hilarious, which I figure is about the right balance to encourage a series comeback tonight.
Other than the final score, I like the game the Ducks threw at the Wings in G1—they skated and anticipated well, pulled the crowd out of the game for stretches, and got pressure in front of Hasek. The Ducks really need to keep up that effort and discipline tonight, because Detroit will certainly be coming out better—the Wings are great at smelling blood and goin’ for the kill.
Special teams execution, of course, will be critical, as Detroit in G1 scored a pair of power play goals to the Ducks’ none, despite Anaheim owning the majority of power play time. It had been 15 games since Anaheim had its power play outscored by its opponent’s; over that stretch the Ducks had scored 17 power play goals and allowed only 3, amassing an 11-1-3 record. Anaheim needs to keep its power play ledger even-or-better if it hopes to pull a win out; that’s really its bread-and-butter.
(Sadly, Sammy Pahlsson’s penalty-killing streak came to a halt last game also. Fellow Swede Zetterberg became the first player to score a power-play goal with Pahlsson defending on the ice in nearly 8 weeks, spanning 20 games and 86:29 of penalty-killing time, including 3-on-5s.)
For a bit of added pressure, I’ll add this historical warning. In Anaheim’s playoff history, they are 8-0 in series where they win at least one of the first two games and 0-4 in series where they do not.
Prediction: Ducks 3, Red Wings 1. Perry, Pahlsson, and Pronger score the goals, while Teemu adds an assist and another playoff scar.
Happy Mother’s Day! Go Ducks.
Friday, May 11, 2007
Stolen from Mike Babcock's playbook, page 34:
Losing G1 2-1 is not the worst possible outcome for the Ducks, but it certainly is not the best. There are some things to take solace in: the Ducks outshot the Wings 32-19 and carried a lot of the play--Detroit at home this postseason was averaging a +17 shot differential and hadn't been outshot yet. Plus I can't really fault Giguere for either goal that went in.
The Ducks not only played a really good road game (they had a tie game with 5 minutes to go), but it was also a really good set-the-tone G1. Positives abound.
But damn, I'd rather have the win.
Round Three, Game One: (2) Anaheim Ducks at (1) Detroit Red Wings
(JavaGeek ‘odds’: DET 55%)
Now that we’re down to four teams, there’s literally dozens of writers covering the Ducks, so I’m not going to add too much today. I’ll get a much better feel for this series after watching G1.
In the meantime, I’ve been running this “Separated at birth” feature every series, so here goes: Which of these three candidates is the long lost twin of the ol' Winged Wheel?
You can vote in the comments, or recommend one of your own. (Previous ‘separated at births’: Minnesota and Vancouver)
Actually, I was so inspired by the Paratroopa that I went ahead and modified it a bit.
Nice smash, Mario!
Good sign for the Ducks: For the third series in a row, both Maggie the Monkey with her spinwheel and Forechecker with his spreadsheets are picking against the Ducks. I've got issues with both their methodologies, specifically as it pertains to biases against Anaheim, but I'm assured in the fact that they've each been wrong twice before. Maggie, in fact, picked against California every single chance she had this year--maybe a bad move, considering she's 6-2 in her other picks. Forechecker is 9-1 when not picking against the Ducks.
Prediction: Ducks 4, Red Wings 2. Goals by Selanne, Getzlaf, Pahlsson, and Marchant (empty-net). Amazingly, Brad May keeps up his astonishing streak of playing really good hockey only in the calendar month of May.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
I stumbled on this (surprisingly) angry interview with Willa Ford. I could just picture Mike Modano whispering all of those things in her ear.
In fact, one part of the interview was especially amusing:
Whether the ex-pop signer was being fed everything in this interview, it still should raise some red flags for Stars fans.
Q: How did you two meet?
Answer from Modano in the background: You picked me up on the Internet.
Willa Ford: Yeah, I stalked him. Shut up! Oh please, you wish! Basically, we met through friends doing a charity event. So, friends set us up.
Q: What was it like watching Mike play in what was the most dramatic first-round series -- that seven-game series loss to the Canucks?But here's the biggest bombshell dropped by that blonde bombshell:
A: It was tough, lots of ups and downs. There are some holes in the system when it comes to the Stars right now. There are some changes that need to be made and I think everyone is pretty aware of it. Within the coaching staff, you know that "too many cooks in the kitchen" thing; there's a bit of a struggle. One head coach is saying one thing and then you have another coach saying another. They either need to come together on that or see eye to eye because it's a little confusing to the guys, I think. This is all stuff I noticed firsthand. You can clearly see it on the ice, but when you live it like I do, it's tough. I know everything that goes on.
" ... And last year, when they didn't make it past the first round of the playoffs, it was like, "Oh, let's throw it on Mike's back because he's the captain and make him an assistant captain now." I mean, that was the cheesiest thing. That was the most classless thing the organization has ever done."
Is it possible that a doorway into the future of Modano's career lies in what looked at first to be nothing but a puff piece?
There's clearly still some hurt feelings since Modano lost the 'C' to Brendan Morrow. We'll see if Modano ends up out of Big D.
This is the first year I wouldn't be surprised if he left.
The lockers are cleaned and the injuries have been revealed and the whole San Jose Sharks meltdown still stinks to high heaven. Some panic-attack fans and media are in "Trade Patrick Marleau/Fire Ron Wilson/The sky is falling" mode, but those extreme tactics probably won't be taken by GM Doug Wilson.
So, what the hell happened and what will happen in the off-season? Let's review.
Patrick Marleau: So the captain had a separated shoulder since mid-February. I'm not in the "it heals after three weeks" boat; while separated shoulders can get back to normal after a few weeks for most mere mortals, we're not taking the rigors of NHL hockey bashing our shoulders. Marleau wasn't 100% at the end of the season, looked pretty good but still not all there against Nashville, then looked awful against Detroit. Maybe something popped his shoulder against Detroit, maybe not. Bottom line is he didn't go into the boards as hard as he did during the first 2/3 of the season, his stickhandling ability was consistently inconsistent, and he didn't shoot nearly as much as he normally did. That's fine and that goes with the injury. However, brain farts about playing out of position don't. Owning up to this in the media is good on Marleau's part, and it's good that he's not blaming the injury for that, but he's got to consider why his defensive game dropped off.
Trade him? If I'm Doug Wilson, I would say 99% no, but I'd be curious to see if you could get a #1 defenseman in his prime. The ONLY way I'd trade Marleau is if that was possible and you knew you had a good chance of wooing Scott Gomez or Chris Drury to replace him. Otherwise, I'd absolutely keep him.
Ron Wilson: When Wilson gets his team to play his system at 100%, the Sharks proved they could roll over anyone. Problem is motivation, and the question boils down to whether or not that responsibility lies more on the bench or behind the bench. I'd keep Ron for now, but if the Sharks show the same inconsistent play that plagued this season by Christmas 2007, I'd be silently sending out feelers to see who's available. Maybe they could get Mark Messier's DNA and splice it into Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton.
The goaltending: While the platoon system worked for most of the season, both goalies demonstrated over the past two seasons that they can take the #1 position and run with it. So, now you have a dilemma. It's obvious there are holes to fill in the team and the goaltending is a significant trade asset. Do you try and move Evgeni Nabokov (consider his no-trade clause) and his locked-in high salary or do you try and move Vesa Toskala knowing that he could ask for Nabokov's or more when he becomes a free agent at the end of the 07-08 season? There's no easy answer to that one because so many factors are involved, including the fact that most teams that need goaltending don't have a lot of tradeable assets that the Sharks need.
Scott Hannan: It's reported that Hannan wants Chris Phillips-type money around $3.5 million. Unfortunately, Hannan's not as good as Phillips. Sure, Hannan's a great shut down guy, but he has a huge tendency to turn over the puck in the neutral zone and isn't as consistent as Phillips. If you take Hannan's salary and combine that with other cap space on a #1 defenseman, that'd be my first choice. Which leads to...
The power play: All of the elements are there. The problem is that the Sharks have a one-trick pony power play. It's really effective when a healthy Patrick Marleau is running the point. However, when Marleau can't shoot, stickhandle, or keep the puck in as well like we saw down the stretch, it turns to inconsistent Christian Ehrhoff, Matt Carle, or (shudder) Kyle McLaren. Now, Ehrhoff may be reaching his peak as a 35-40 point guy, and Matt Carle should only get better, but it'd sure be nice to try and get a true power play specialist out there. The big-money free agent options? Sheldon Souray and Brian Rafalski. Neither are natural leaders in the Scott Niedermayer mold, but that can be addressed elsewhere. The only way I think something like that would be possible is if the Sharks clear cap space by trading Nabokov.
Secondary scoring: Steve Bernier, what happened to you? Joe Pavelski, will you get better or drop off? A big part of the Sharks success next season will be if Steve Bernier, who never recovered from lost conditioning due to a foot problem, and Joe Pavelski can prove to be true second-line scoring forwards or if they are a pair of flash-in-the-pans. In the on-deck circle, highly touted Devin Setoguchi, who may become the next contestant in the "Find a winger for Patrick Marleau" game. Between Bernier, Pavelski, and Setoguchi, if just ONE of them can put up a fairly consistent 20-goal/60-point effort next season riding next to Marleau, the Sharks will be in much better shape.
Mark Bell: Holy jebus, did Mark Bell suck. Well, that's not totally true. He was decent in October and decent for the last four weeks or so of the season. In fact, when the Bill Guerin/Bell/Marleau line came together, we saw glimpses of the Bell the Sharks thought they'd be getting -- hard hitting, strong on the boards, and perched in the slot. Ron Wilson has defended Bell to some extent by saying that he's had hip/back/groin problems all season, and if that's true, that may explain why Bell looked slow and awkward all the time. So, if that was the case, maybe there's hope that an extended recovery period followed by a rigorous conditioning/power skating program could give the Sharks a player similar to the 25 goal/60 point guy they saw in Chicago. Honestly, I watched Bell quite a bit in Chicago and he didn't look anywhere near as inept or confused as he did in a Sharks jersey. Perhaps health, confidence, and conditioning can help him put this season (and his DUI) behind him. Otherwise, he's a black hole of $2.5 million in cap space.
Defense: It's obvious that the Sharks philosophy of hoping that youth would overcome and prevail was flawed. The deer-in-the-headlights look of Matt Carle from the second half of the season onward showed the problems involved with putting a lot of your eggs in one basket. Re-signing Craig Rivet and his right-handed shot would be a good idea, but it depends on how much money he'd want. $3 mil might be too rich for the Sharks' blood.
Leadership: Does Patrick Marleau deserve the captaincy? Maybe, but maybe not. He wouldn't be the first captain to disappear in a playoff series (hello Ottawa fans and Daniel Alfredsson), and there's no reason why he couldn't redeem himself later (hello again, Daniel Alfredsson). Just because you're quiet doesn't mean that you can't lead -- ask Joe Sakic and Steve Yzerman about that. On the other hand, some players aren't meant to be captain, like Mike Modano and Brian Leetch. Still, leadership is a group thing, and even Mark Messier had his lieutenants in Leetch, Adam Graves, and Mike Richter. The problem may lie in the fact that both Joe Thornton or Marleau are fairly laid back, happy-go-lucky guys. A player like Mike Grier certainly is a boost in the leadership department, but signing a veteran player who's won at least one Stanley Cup, even as a third liner, could prove to be a calming influence to a team that seems to panic in the face of adversity.
For fans who think the team should be blown up and put back together, take a deep breath and try to be as objective as possible. So many of the elements are in place, and there are moveable assets and some cap flexibility (minus the Vladimir Malakhov cap hit, the Sharks finished the season with about $3.5 million available). Doug Wilson's priorities should be a power-play specialist defenseman and a veteran who has Cups on his resume.