Posts Tagged ‘Stanley Cup’

Viktor Fasth represents the most serious challenge to Jonas Hiller since he showed management they could shed the salary of former Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe award winner J.S. Giguere.

Now it isn’t just Viktor Fasth that Hiller has to beat out. He also has to create a margin of such significance as to justify the $1.6m  difference in their salaries. The main reason Hiller has to excel is Ducks appear to have another quality backup in Frederick Anderson and a future star in John Gibson.

It’s a fascinating confluence of pressure points heightened by the fact Hillsy is entering his contract year.

Thus far in his NHL career Jonas has met every challenge from the mysterious and little understood vertigo to his 73 game iron man performance in 2011-12.

This year he’s challenged by his health, quality competition on our Ducks depth chart to a very thin market for goaltenders, despite the obvious need of many teams.

It is just as easy to imagine Hiller traded on or before the deadline or leaving as a UFA, as it is to imagining him taking on all comers and having a career year.

It isn’t wise to bet against a guy with such a track record of rising to and thriving on challenges. While this one is daunting, I still would bet against Jonas Hiller.

Just like Hiller proved and a wonky hip proved we could move on from Giggy; it’s up to Fasth, Anderson and Gibson to prove we can move on from Hiller.

This is the brutal part of the business of hockey. You come to appreciate and respect a guy, like most of us did Bobby Ryan, and there comes a time when the best interest of the team is arguably, to move on.

Note: This post was drafted and published after reading this at Pro Hockey Talk. Factual reporting errors aside, I just didn’t think the story gave Hillsy his due. Wasn’t going to link it but google alerts is hyping it.

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Dustin Penner, posting in a Tweet that a TMZ story “isn’t entirely accurate but you guys have your fun.” We decided, okay let’s have some fun.

According to the TMZ report, culled from this story in the International Business Times, actress Jessica Welch is one player away from scoring a hockey marriage hat- trick.

The former Mrs. Richard Zednik and newly x-Mrs. Dustin Penner is now UFA after an L.A. County court Judge granted Pancake’s motion for dissolution.

If you check out her photo-gallery, scoring again shouldn’t be an issue for her. The only question is who will be making her next future alimony payment. In most divorces, spousal support ends on remarriage. Who will give Pancake the same assist he gave Richard Zednik?

This is hockey. Someone has to step up and take one for the team.

Jessica petitioned for the dissolution back in February of 2012 and the couple had a Marriage Settlement Agreement in place. The system, meaning lawyers and the court, were obviously slow to process a done deal. Penner found the way to get them all to pick up their respective games a notch.

The motion was granted September 9.

The Boston Bruins took a 2-1 lead in the 7 game series after shutting out the NHL’s second best offense 2-0. In fact the Bruins have shut out the ‘hawks for 6 consecutive periods of hockey.

We’ve seen this movie before. The Bruins squeezed the life out of NHL’s best offense, holding Pittsburgh to just two goals in four games.

“We always talk about getting to the inside a little bit more, getting two guys screening him (Rask) and guys going to the net,” said captain Jonathan Toews, who has just one goal in the postseason and has yet to register a point in this series. “We just didn’t find those loose pucks. We’ve got to find a way to do it.”

Chicago needs to win ugly now. As Coach Quenneville described it, “It’s hard to get A-plus chances. You’ve got to manufacture the ugly kind of goals; tips, screens, deflections and the second chances.” Last night they didn’t get close enough to Rask to get anything in the way of ugly goals.

Marian Hossa was a game time scratch due to an upper body injury. He’s listed as day-to-day.

The momentum has clearly swung Boston’s way. As I shared with Coach Nye on his site today, there is no better team than Boston at knocking the opposition off their game plan. What I don’t quite get is how the Bruins are doing it.

Like you, I witnessed it. Tonight the Bruins looked like they were the aggressor taking it to Chicago with their forecheck. Snuffing out the feared Chicago transition game before the D could make that first pass. When the Blackhawks did get it moving up ice, the Bruins pushed them outside to the wall.

Over Boston’s six consecutive winning periods Chicago has been outscored 4-0. Coach Julien hasn’t changed a thing since putting the third line of Tyler Seguin, Daniel Paille and Chris Kelly together to start the second period of game 2. The Bruins are back to rolling out their lines and controlling the game on the ice.

Bruins of course don’t need to change a thing. It’s now Chicago that must adapt. Some ways Chic ago might get the momentum back are:

1. Get more guys to the puck. Make short first passes before spreading the Bruins defensive scheme.

2. Skate away from the Bruins instead of into them. The ‘hawks aren’t going through these Bruins. You have to attack by going around them.

3. Play a constant wheel. Keep all five guys in motion. Attack the puck and the net from the short or nearest side. As this happens, rotate up and cover from the back side. It’s actually how Boston is creating its layered defense. It’s nothing new though.

Jonathon Toews statement of needing to score on second chances is the perfect metaphor for where the ‘hawks are right now. Game 4 on Wednesday  is Chicago’s second to last chance in this series.

In a rare occurrence, game one of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final surpassed the hyperbole leading up to the event. The game itself wasn’t decided until the 12:08 mark of the third over time period. Just over five and a half periods of hockey to decide the outcome.

At what point I was inspired to tweet, This game won’t end. We’ve all died and gone to hockey heaven. Maybe it isn’t form to quote oneself, but that was re-tweeted, so the sentiment was obviously shared by others.

The one thing that impressed about the game is how right everyone leading up to it. Media and blogosphere burned bandwidth describing how the game and the series was too close to call. Everybody from the advanced stat geeks to the hockey nerds nailed some facet of the game.

Fact is we know and understand these teams. Chicago took the game to the Boston attacking in waves. The Bruins stymied the Blackhawks with layers of defenders who met every parry and thrust.

At the end of the day, the game was decided on a pinball type play. Five and one-half hours after it began, Mike Rozsival blasted a slapshot from the point that ricochet off Dave Bolland and bounced in off the knee of Andrew Shaw. Advanced stat aficionados call that puck luck. Hockey people know it to be opportunistic.

In any event we knew by then this wasn’t hockey heaven. It was down to earth real. Chicago had taken a 1-0 lead in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final.

Note: Nathan Horton left the game in the third period after a seemingly harmless bump from a Chicago player left him wincing in pain. The speculation is that Horton re-injured his shoulder. Horton’s status for Game 2 is unknown. He joins energy line center Gregory Campbell on the injury list.

Should the injuries pile up on Boston it does lend credence to cz’s theory that  teams that play a physical style are more worn down at this time of year than less physical teams.

The teams now get two days to rest and re-hydrate before the series resumes on Saturday.

Among the surprising tidbits about this blog is the make-up of the followers. The one tidbit that always surprises me most is the educational background of our readers. Many, if not most, are professionals with advanced degrees.
In deference to them, this post on the Stanley Cup match-up is in SWOT Analyses format.
Also, I wanted to get this out ahead of the crowd in mainstream media and the blogosphere. Among the things I’m most proud about this blog is how well it holds up in terms of the info and insight presented. I’m not just talking about my own posts but also co-blogger yougetwhatyouputin and those who post comments.
I rely on other websites for stats, facts and occasionally opinion. When material from other sites is used it is always credited and/or linked. By going first, it gives you the opportunity to see that we talk our talk and walk our walk around here.

Strengths:

Boston Bruins: Generally defense is the Bruins strong suit. When you peel back the onion though, you find the B’s D is based on the system they play, both with and without the puck and some extraordinary talent.  Between the pipes Tuukka Rask replaced a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, Conn Smythe, Roger Crozier Saving Grace and William M. Jennings without a measurable difference in result. The blue line is anchored by Zdeno Chara, perhaps the NHL’s most impactful D-man in the post Nik Lidstrom era. At center, 2011-12 Frank Selke Trophy winner and perennial finalist Patrice Bergeron completes the Bruins three-pronged Ministry of Defense.
The field-general is head coach Claude Julien who describes the defending scheme as ‘layered.’  From the puck or point of attack the B’s put one man forward supported by 3 across and 1 or 2 in support and 2 in backup. Regardless of where the puck is, think of it as a 1-3-1 or 1-2-2 from the puck out. If the initial checker is beat on the play, or a successful pass is executed, the point man changes but the formations remain constant. Thus the layered D. If the opposition beats the point man, two or more step up in smothering layers.
This is exactly what frustrated the Penguins stars and forced them off their game. When you do get puck control against the very aggressive layered D Bruins, you don’t have time to do anything with it.
This is the key to understanding the Bruins. They defend as aggressively as they attack.
A secondary strength is team balance. GM Pete Chiarelli and Cam Neely have been meticulous in  assembling complimentary, off-setting balance throughout the roster. On the back-end, Johnny Boynton and Adam McQuaid bring the snarl. Dennis Seidenberg and Andrew Ference are the puck movers. The sixth D is one of rookies Dougie Hamilton, Tony Krug, Matt Bartkowski or veteran Wade Redden.
The balance continues upfront where Boston can ice 3 scoring lines consisting of guys with skill and/or power.

Chicago:

The nearest facsimile to the Chicago Blackhawks faced by the Boston Bruins in this playoff was the Toronto Maple Leafs. In other words the B’s haven’t faced anything close to what the Blackhawks bring. Chicago’s team speed and ability to execute at high tempo is unmatched in the NHL.
These Blackhawks defend aggressively to force turnovers. Once acquiring teh puck they really turn it up a notch.
The emergence of Bryan Bickell as a genuine power forward has added another layer of depth to the very deep Blackhawks. Chicago’s depth has been tested by injury to top six center Dave Bolland and suspension to Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith. Neither Danny Carcillo or Jamal Mayers can crack Chicago’s top twelve forwards. Two time 21 goal scorer Michael Frolik is a 4th line player in Chicago.

Analysis: The strength match-up pits Chicago’s speed and depth against Boston’s positioning and balance.

Weaknesses:

Boston: Since Gregory Campbell broke his right fibula, Claude Julien has had to play each game with a short bench. Not only does this task his top nine forwards, it also keeps punishing forward Shawn Thornton off the ice. Prior to Campbell’s injury, Boston was a team that rolled four lines. On the back end Boston will play hockey’s argument for the compliance buyout Wade Redden or one of 3 rookies.
Pittsburgh wasn’t able to exploit these weaknesses but match-up coach Randy Carlyle marshaled his assets such that the Bruins were pushed to the wall.

Chicago: Liking these Blackhawks is an acquired taste. They are their own worst enemy. This is a team that can outwork anybody on any given night, but the question is, will they be wiling to pay the price? For these ‘hawks the willingness involves keeping their heads and avoiding retaliation penalties and suspensions. It means these Blackhawks have to work hard and play smart hockey.

AnalysisThus far in the playoffs each team has overcome its weaknesses. In the Stanley Cup Final each will face its toughest opponent. Boston showed against Pittsburgh that it force a great team off its game. Chicago proved to everybody that speed kills.

Opportunities:

Somebody has to figure out how to score. Tuukka Rask is sporting a GAA of 1.75, .943 SP along with 2 shutouts in 16 playoff games. Corey Crawford has earned a GAA of 1.74, SP of .935 to go along with his 1 shutout.
Opportunities are be born of patience and discipline.

AnalysisEach team has shown it can make its own luck. Boston by getting the under the skin of its opponents. Chicago by forcing mistakes and challenging opponents to match its tempo. Does Brad Marchand goad the ‘hawks into temper tantrums and stupid penalties? Will Bryan Bickell pot some ugly goals from the low slot?

Threats:

The short list consists of injuries and the quality of the officiating. In other words, the unexpected as to the former and the inconsistent as to the latter.

Analysis: Chicago is better positioned to overcome injuries. Michal Handzus has filled in admirably for Dave Bolland so far. At age 36 can Zeus summon another series from his own wonky body?
Boston impresses me as better suited to overcome bad officiating. Good defensive teams usually do rise to adversity.
Boston was down by 3 goals but came back to beat Toronto in OT of game 7. Chicago was down 3 games to 1 and came back to beat Detroit.

Summary

There is always a temptation to rate teams according to the quality of their opposition. It’s bunk though. You measure teams by how they match-up. In this Stanley Cup Final blog we’ve attempted to do that.
In a nutshell, and all of the aforementioned cancelling out this series comes down to a couple of If’s:

1. Boston. If Bergeron and Chara shutdown Toews, Kane and Hossa and Krecji and Horton continue to lead the scoring, Bruins win.

2. Chicago. Coach Quenneville can and will use the last change in four home games to get his big guns out against Boston’s 3rd D pairing.

The cat and mouse game between master commanders could well decide this series.

Pick: Chicago in seven games.

Note: Information available at tsn.ca, thn.com and NHL Live was used in crafting this post.

Former Duck Andy McDonald told Truehockey.com “I’m fortunate to get out now. I know I could play two or three more years and I love the game of hockey, but healthwise I know I shouldn’t be playing.”

As a Duck, AndyMac  and Teemu Selanne formed one of the NHL’s deadliest twosomes. In 2007 he took Fastest Skater in the NHL Skills Competition. A.K.A. Lil’ Mac, Andy was traded to St. Louis where he played well when he was in the lineup.

Staying in the lineup was always a challenge to hard working McDonald. He picked up five concussions, a broken ankle and knee surgery along the way. AndyMac explained,  “The last few years too much of the focus became worrying about the next hit. I was always thinking about it.”

One by one our Ducks Stanley Cup team is leaving the show. Neidermayer went first. Pronger went to Philly where he’ll likely finish his career on the Long Term Injury List, LTIR. No. 25 still has nausea filled days as a result of his last concussion.

If that’s the hit in the back of Andy’s mind, yeah he’s fortunate to get out now.

 

Old v. New

Detroit has been aging for 20 years and though the transition from Yzerman-Fedorov to Datsyuk (34)-Zetterburg (32) appeared seamless there isn’t a pair of emerging young stars coming up behind the Eurotwins.

Ducks are powered up front by the tandem of Ryan Getzlaf (27) and Corey Perry (27). These Twins were united a decade ago back in Cincinnati of the AHL.

It’s a battle of old Wings looking for more day in the sun against the Ducks emerging stars.

Flash and Dash v. Bash and Smash

These Red Wings are Chicago-lite. They can skate, wheel and execute the pretty plays. While the Ducks have players have skill they wear you down physically before taking you out.  It’s boxer v. puncher.

In this plot the Wings equalizer is long time Ryan Getzlaf nemesis Jordan Tootoo.  The Ducks captain will be challenged to keep his emotions in check.

The Goalies

Jimmy Howard has had a stretch run reminiscent of the 2003 J.S. Giguere. In his last ten games Howard has posted 3 shutouts and GAA of 1.44.

While no announcement has been made I expect Jonas Hiller to get the start. As impressive as Howard’s stats are, Hiller is 2-0 with .963 SP and a GAA of 1 in his last two games. Hiller is a money goalie as his playoff record 7-6 GAA 2.23 SP .942 attests.

Coaching: Tactician v. Motivator

Playoff success eluded Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau in Washington. In Anaheim, he has a more balanced team though.

For many Ducks fans Mike Babcock will always represent the one that got away.  His teams have won the Stanley Cup and Olympic Gold. You can’t argue with success.

Prediction

With two relatively evenly matched teams, they get it done differently but each does get ‘er done, the difference is how well each is organized and the intangibles. Both of these factors weigh in favor of our Ducks.

Teemu Selanne has called this the tightest group he’s seen since the Cup winning team. It is also a healthy hockey team now that Luca Sbisa went full-bore at practice. The vets, including Getzlaf and Perry, know from experience that these opportunities don’t come along every year.

These Ducks are special. Four of them of them, Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu and Sheldon Souray and Toni Lydman recognize that this may be their last best chance to win a Cup. Each is preparing to leave it all on the ice.

Another flock of Ducks, Ben Lovejoy, Matt Beleskey, Nick Bonino, Dave Steckel, Emerson Etem  are successful in large part because their coach has believed in them.

Still another flock, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Francois Beauchemin, Andrew Cogliano are at or near the peak of their careers.

Two factors that can tilt a series are one-sided officiating and hot goal tending. Wings best chance of winning this series is the Ducks lose their cool and Jimmy Howard plays lights out hockey.

If our Ducks have accomplished one thing this season it is that they have risen to every challenge. They pushed the Blackhawks to the longest winning streak to start a season ever. When they had nothing left to play for they pulled themselves and finished strong.

The Wings represent a serious challenge not to be taken lightly. This is the best thing that could have happened to a team that consistently welcomes and responds to challenges.

Ducks in six.