So I just finished watching Ray Ferraro of TSN via the NHL network declare that Caps goalie Jose Theodore can’t win 16 playoff games to lead Washington to the Stanley Cup this year. Ferraro, who pretty much single handily ended the Caps playoff season back in 1993 with his overtime winning goals with the Islanders (not to mention the Caps goaltending was awful that year) is in DC for game one. Ferraro, who used to do studio analysis for ESPN, now spends most of his time doing the analysis for Edmonton Oilers games.
For those of you who have read my blog all season long, I disagree with the criticism of Theodore and will remain in his corner. The weakness for the Caps this year has been their defensive zone play which makes it very difficult for a goalie to know where the shots are coming from. Since December 23rd Jose has been good primarily because he’s learned the tendencies of his defensemen (when they show up to play, and that has been the case when the team has felt challenged), so if Washington can play solid positionally and with the puck in their own zone I don’t see why #60 can’t take this team to a championship. However, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves as the first round is going to be tough against a very good Rangers team but chalk me up in the crowd (and it sounds like it is a small one in media circles) that says Theodore is the right guy to lead the Caps in net this playoff season.
For those teams that are not in the NHL playoffs, especially ones in the bottom three of the league, (Islanders, Tampa, and Avalanche) tonight was a big night to see who would win the draft lottery and get the first pick in the 2009 entry draft (which appears to be a no-brainer in John Tavares). The Islanders won the lottery but Leafs GM Brian Burke said before it took place that he will make a serious attempt to pry the number one pick away from the winner (he obviously wants the local Ontario boy Tavares to lead Toronto in the future). Now that New York has won it could the Islanders, who had a horrible track record in keeping high draft picks under former GM Mike Milbury’s regime (Garth Snow is the current GM), make another colossal mistake and trade away this top notch player? Don’t be surprised if the Islanders get sucked into an offer from Burke and move the pick. I talked to one scout tonight who thinks they will trade the choice to the Leafs. I think the Islanders have to keep the pick and take Tavares.
Remaining Eastern Conference Playoff Predictions
Series A: Boston vs. Montreal
History says that Montreal has the edge here as they hold a 24-7 overall playoff series advantage, including a 4-3 win last year in the first round. But Boston was the best team in the Eastern Conference and Montreal has folded under the pressure of playing in their 100th season. Before the season I had the Habs picked first in the East and the Bruins to finish right behind them in second in their division and a team on the rise. Montreal had no team chemistry this year while the physical Bruins gelled as a team.
What I like about Boston: There is a lot to like about this club from Zdeno Chara, who is one of the best defenseman in the league, to goalie Tim Thomas who led the NHL in goals against average and save percentage this season, to a solid group of forwards that include Marc Savard, Phil Kessel, Milan Lucic, Chuck Kobasew, Michael “I only play for Claude Julien” Ryder, David Krejci, and Blake Wheeler. Boston has home ice advantage and can be physical. They were the only team in the league to give up fewer than 200 goals (196)! Their power play clicked at 23.6% which was second to the Caps in the East.
The concern about the Bruins: As Peter Laviolette pointed out on TSN tonight they could be considered weak at No.1 center with Savard and he does not have a lot of playoff experience. Boston has had some trouble with fast teams (like the Caps), but it is hard to find weaknesses with this club.
What I like about Montreal: Not much as they collapsed down the stretch and the loss of Robert Lang to an achilles tendon injury seemed to really hurt them. Carey Price has potential but he has had a horrible year in net. The Alexei Kovalev, Saku Koivu, and Alex Tanguay line seemed to click late in the year
The concern about the Habs: There are lots of them. Inconsistent goaltending, a key injury to defenseman Andrei Markov, small forwards who can be pushed around. Too many unrestricted free agents. The pressure on them to produce in their 100th season. I could go on and on.
Analysis: Despite the playoff dominance Montreal has had over Boston throughout the years I just can’t see the Canadiens winning this series, especially if Markov can’t go.
Prediction: Boston in 5
Series C: New Jersey vs. Carolina
These two teams met back in 2006 when Carolina knocked off the Devils en route to their first Stanley Cup. I was totally surprised when the Canes beat New Jersey but I won’t be surprised at all if this red hot team knocks off Martin Brodeur and company this year. The Canes went 13-3-2 down the stretch (losing their last two) to make the playoffs after being a bubble team. Will that effort wear them out and can the Devils, who struggled down the stretch, ramp up their game in the second season?
What I like about New Jersey: Martin Brodeur, the best goalie on the planet and in the history of the NHL. He should be able to overcome his 4-6-1 finish after setting the NHL record for wins. Zach Parise (94 points in 82 games), Patrick Elias (78 points in 77 games but banged up down the stretch), Jamie Langenbrunner (69 points), Travis Zajac, and Brian Gionta carry the scoring load. Brian Rolston has a huge shot that he unleashes on the rush and on the power play. A good defensive team that only gave up 209 goals and sticks to Coach Brent Sutter’s system.
The concern about the Devils: They really lack scoring from the blueline which allows team to focus on their forwards. New Jersey’s forwards are not big so a physical approach could work against them.
What I like about Carolina: Their speed, this team can fly with Eric Staal, Ray Whitney, and Sergei Samsonov. Staal seemed reinvigorated when GM Jim Rutherford went out and re-acquired Erik Cole from Edmonton at the trade deadline. Cam Ward has been playing at the same level that won the Stanley Cup for his team and the Conn Smythe trophy for himself.
The concern about the Hurricanes: Did they burn themselves out during the month of March playing so many intense hockey games? Can their fairly weak defensive corps hold up?
Analysis: This will be another very good series and it will be interesting to see how Paul Maurice does as a coach back in the playoffs for the first time since losing the Stanley Cup finals to Detroit in 2002. Also, there are reports that Sutter wants to move back closer to his family and could hang it up after this season as the Devils coach. Could Sutter be Calgary bound to work with his brother Darryl should Mike Keenan get the boot after the Flames get knocked out by the Blackhawks?
Prediction: Carolina in 7 games.
Series D: Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia
For Caps fans this series will be fun to watch as one of the two teams Washington fans despise the most will be golfing in two weeks. The bad news, one of these squads moves on and would face Washington if the Caps win and the Canes upset the Devils. Washington fans, can you say let’s see a long series with lots of physical play between these two teams? The battle of Pennsylvania will be a good one and I think the winner might be too worn out to go far in the East.
What I like about Pittsburgh: 18-3-4 in the 25 games since Coach Dan Bylsma took over for Michel Therien. This change seemingly brought Jordan Staal and Sydney Crosby back to life this year as it was reported that neither of them cared for the Frenchman’s coaching style. Evgeni Malkin, who led the NHL in points with 113. Sergei Gonchar is back on defense after missing four plus months of action. Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin are forwards who know how to win and can get to the front of the net.
The concern about Pittsburgh: Team defense and consistency from Marc Andre-Fleury. Fleury appears to have found his game but is he at the level he had his game last spring? The defense really improved once Ryan Whitney (-15) was shipped to Anaheim for Kunitz and a prospect (Eric Tangradi).
What I like about Philadelphia: They have a great group of forwards that go hard to the net. I am a huge Scott Hartnell (30 goals) fan and Mike Richards (80 points) and Jeff Carter (46 goals) are outstanding two way players and leaders. Simon Gagne, Daniel Briere, Mike Knuble, and Joffrey Lupul are also major threats to put the puck in the net. On defense they rely heavily on the pair of Braydon Coburn and Kimmo Timonen.
The concern about the Flyers: Goaltending is the top issue with Martin Biron and Anterro Niittymaki still trying to establish themselves as the go to guy. Biron seems to have that job, for the moment. Lack of defensive depth – Coburn and Timonen play so much and the rest of the defense is not that good. Will head Coach John Stevens wear his top two defensemen out?
Analysis: As much as I like Philadelphia’s ability to go to the net I just think the Penguins are too strong for them. For the Flyers to win Fleury needs to be average and Biron must catch fire.
Prediction: Penguins in 7