NHL Playoffs 1st Round 2013
It’s that time of year again, only a little later than most. Due to the lockout and a shortened season, the NHL playoffs are starting a few weeks later than usual. But they are here! Before anyone thinks it or says it, just because it’s a short season does not discredit any success that a player or team has in the postseason. The postseason is not shortened; in fact, it may be harder to make the postseason when there are less regular season games, just ask Flyers fans. But anyway, this is my preview of the Eastern Conference first round. Since it was a short season, I watched ONE Western Conf. game and have no where near the amount of knowledge or know-how to write about those teams. However, I watched hockey nearly every night this winter and think I can shed some light on the East. Let’s Go.
(1) Pittsburgh vs. (8) New York (I)
These two teams played five times in the regular season- New York controlled every aspect of the first meeting and won 4-1 but had no luck in the final four meetings getting outscored 16-5. This match-up is intriguing because of the players that will take the ice. For the Islanders, you have one of the best goal scorers in the game today in John Tavares, who netted 28 goals and 17 assists in 48 games. Michael Grabner is their next leading goal scorer with 16, but that’s about all Grabner can do. The Islanders are a great young team, but they don’t have that playmaker who has the great plus minus numbers and can be expected to score. They also don’t have much of a back-up goalie which in the playoffs, can be very important. Evgeni Nabokov played 41 of 48 games this season, winning 23, allowing 2.5 goals/game and stopping 91% of shots against. Those are pretty good numbers. But the back-up, Kevin Poulin, saw only 135 shots all season and stopped just 88% of them. If called upon, that could cause trouble for the Isles.
For Pittsburgh, anything could happen. They led the league in goals scored and won the Atlantic by a land-slide. But they haven’t had a consistent starting line-up since mid February when Evgeni Malkin was injured. The Pens brought in Brenden Morrow, Jussi Jokinen, Jarome Iginla, and Douglas Murray before the trade deadline. Those players alone have contributed 39 points and carried the load as Captain Sidney Crosby regains strength. It’s important to point out the fact that Sidney Crosby was leading the league in points when he went out with a broken jaw, missed 14 games and finished just four points out of first for points and two assists short of leading the NHL. Both goalies for the Pens have been impressive combining for four shutouts and over 250 minutes of scoreless hockey earlier in April. Marc-Andre Fleury won 23 games, Tomas Vokoun won 13. They had similar numbers stopping 92% of shots and allowing 2.4 goals/game. They both are playoff ready. What’s scary is whether or not adding Crosby back into the mix will disrupt any chemistry. He has yet to play with any of the new additions. James Neal seemed to fit in nicely scoring a hat-trick in his first game back with the new players. But Paul Martin had trouble and took a bad delay of game penalty and had trouble communicating in the defensive zone.
Pittsburgh and New York are not strangers; they see each other often and know what each other bring to the table. This has a chance to be a good series if the Isles can score goals. But, Pittsburgh has proved lately that they are physical and aren’t going to skate past anyone. The Penguins have four D-Men who were on the 2009 Stanley Cup Team, along with physical forwards such as Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy. Pittsburgh has much more experience than the Isles, by a long shot and given the circumstances, I don’t see the Isles getting into the second round. I’m taking Pittsburgh in 5 games.
(2)Montreal vs. (7) Ottawa
The Canadians come into this match-up with one of the highest powered offenses in the NHL scoring 3 goals/game. They won a very good division and have seen the Senators more than anyone else in the NHL in this shortened season. The Habs scored almost as many points this season as they did last season, and they only played 48 games so they have shown vast improvement and with Coach Therrien (who led the 2008 Penguins to a Stanley Cup Finals appearance) at the helm, they can be very good. Casey Price will be the starting goalie at the start of the playoffs after winning 21 games and stopping 91% of shots faced. He’s very good when he’s on, but he showed some inconsistencies including giving up 7 goals to Pittsburgh, 6 to Toronto and 5 in contest’s vs. the Caps and Isles. His defense didn’t help him out much late in the season as the team took a dive and went into a slump but look for him to be strong.
The Senators are one of the premier young clubs in the NHL and this playoff appearance is the first of many. When you consider the division they play in and the amount of injuries they had this season (Karlsson missed 31 games and Spezza missed 43), their 7th seed is rather impressive. Their offense was inconsistent and averaged just over 2 goals per game which was 27th in the NHL. But they won games without their usual scorers. They are very well balanced and their goaltending is top-notch. As a team, they stopped 93% of shots faced and playoff starter, Craig Anderson, won 12 games, allowed only 1.69 goals per game and stopped 94% of shots faced. Because of their great goaltending, they have the best penalty killing unit and the second best defense (goals against) in the NHL.
This match-up is interesting. Montreal picked a bad time to slump and enter into the playoffs playing bad hockey, losing 6 of their last 10 games. The Senators turned things around and won 6 of their last 10 including a regular season finale that gave them the 7 spot. These two teams are complete opposite: Montreal has a high powered offense and power-play, Ottawa has a great defense and the best penalty kill in the NHL. And that’s what this series will come down too; Special Teams. Which team can impose their will on the other? That’s why they play the game. I do think this series will go 7 games, so don’t pay much attention to the 2 v. 7 seed match-up. I think Anderson in the crease for Ottawa will be to good and the Senators will pull the upset, in Montreal. Ottawa in 7.
(3) Washington vs. (6) NY Rangers
Another series that the seeds mean nothing. It’s good for the Caps that they even made the playoffs after a 2-8-1 start, but under new coach Adam Oates, that should’ve been expected. They only scored 57 points but thanks to their weak division, it was enough to take the division. The Rangers are banged up. Marc Staal may return, but he’s missed nearly half the season so he won’t be in playoff shape. The Rangers also traded away one of their best offense weapons in Marian Gaborik. On paper, the Rangers are a pretty average team. This series will be tough though.
The Caps are 15-5 in their last 20 games. They’ve put together a great month of hockey and they can give most of the credit to two men: Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby. Number 8 figured out that his personal success gave the Caps success and 32 goals, 24 assists later, he finds his team at the 3 seed. You have to adore the way he’s been controlling games lately; the Caps rarely lose if he scores and Caps fans love him again. And Holtby has been a fan favorite ever since his playoff success a year ago. He makes all the tough saves and is getting more consistent. The Caps have a high powered offense sporting a 3 goals/game average. But, many of their goals come on the power-play. If the Rangers can play discipline hockey, Ovechkin and company may have a little trouble getting shots on net and scoring goals.
The Rangers do one things better than anyone else; block shots. Dan Girardi blocked 125 himself, more than anyone else in the NHL. It’s very hard to get shots from the point on goal and create rebounds for forwards crashing the net. This eliminates “trash” goals for Ranger opponents. The Rangers allow just 2.3 goals per game but have had trouble on the penalty kill, killing only 4 of every 5 off. But they have one of the best goalies in the NHL in Henrik Lundqvist, who started all but 5 games in 2013. If his D-Men can be strong in front of him, look for him and Holtby to be the story line of all 7 games.
I like the Caps a lot. They are playing great hockey and they are hot right now. I love their powerplay and I don’t think the Rangers D will be able to stop it. Ovechkin has to be great, no shifts off. Holtby lives for the playoffs and he’ll be great. The Rangers are to beat up and won’t be able to win in DC, not many do. The Verizon Center will be “Rocking the Red” and I look for the Caps to finish this series off in 6. Caps in 6.
(4) Boston vs. (5) Toronto
What a great series this can be. These two teams are very balanced on both sides of the ice and this will be a great, Northeast battle. The Bruins have a great defense and what I love most about them is how they move on the penalty kill, which kills 87.2% of its chances. They challenge the point and make it very hard to move the puck; it’s sometimes hard to even notice they are on the PK because of how they move. But that being said, numbers wise, Toronto’s PK is better, killing 88% of chances, which was 2nd best in the NHL. This is a great match-up.
Boston has a great defense and don’t allow may goals and the kill penalties off exceptionally but they have a lot of trouble scoring on their power play chances. They either score on trash goals off rebounds after working to manufacture a score or hope to get one of Chara’s slap shots through the defense and to the back of the net. They will have to play nearly perfect against Toronto’s potent offense and play well when they have a man advantage. If Jagr can get healthy, he offers a great leadership role and playoff experience for the Bruins that they haven’t had in the recent past, since winning the Cup in 2011.
The Maple Leafs are making their first playoff appearance since 2003-04 when they lost in the 2nd round. The Leafs fate rests with Phil Kessel (20 goals, 32 assists). Kessel is hot but he needs to be great in May for the Leafs to have success. Toronto scores a lot of 5 on 5 goals which will help them vs. Boston since they won’t have to rely on their power-play. The most interesting thing about Toronto is that they have a GREAT penalty kill, but give up nearly 2.5 5 on 5 goals. Out of all the teams in the playoffs, the Leafs are the hardest to predict because of their inconsistencies. James Reimer will start in-between the pipes for the Leafs. He played 33 games and won 19 of them while stopping 92% of shots faced. Both goalies for Toronto (Scrivens being the other) are both 6 foot 2 and have shown, at times, the tendency to give up easy goals in the five hole.
This series has a lot of storylines going in but I don’t think it’ll live up to the usual drama of a 4 v. 5 series, especially after the PHI v. PIT last year. Boston is to good, to experienced, and Tuukka Rask will out-perform Reimer. There won’t be many goals scored in this series but Milan Lucic and Tyler Seguin will do enough to manufacture enough goals to win games. Boston in 5.
I did well last season with my projections so we’ll see. Based on my projections, the 2nd round would look like Pittsburgh vs. Ottawa and Boston vs. Washington. Look forward to my next blog after the first round. Follow me on twitter @B_Isaiah and share my post! And thanks for reading!