Apr 192006
 

Today and tomorrow I am going to post my first round playoff previews/predictions. Here are the western conference preview and tomorrow I’ll post my eastern conference preview.

Detroit vs Edmonton

Season Series
November 3: Edmonton 4 at Detroit 3 (OT)
November 17: Detroit 5 at Edmonton 6 (OT)
March 18: Detroit 4 at Edmonton 3 (SO)
April 11: Edmonton 0 at Detroit 2

These two teams matched up fairly well during the regular season with both teams wining 2 games and 3 of the games going to overtime. If that sort of thing happens in the playoffs we are in for a dandy of a series despite being 1st seed vs 8th seed. The key to the series for Edmonton is getting quality goaltending from deadline pickup Dwayne Roloson. Edmonton has very solid defence and enough offence to compete with most teams so it will be up to Roloson not to give any games away. Detroit is such a well balanced team it is hard to pinpoint any one aspect that we should focus on as a key to success but having Zetterberg continue his scoring ways in his first playoff as a first liner will be important for them. Prediction: Detroit in 6

Dallas at Colorado

Season Series
October 8: Colorado 3 at Dallas 2
November 5: Dallas 3 at Colorado 2 (SO)
January 26: Dallas 3 at Colorado 2 (SO)
March 4: Colorado 3 at Dallas 5

Although the regular season series was fairly close, Dallas has to be considered the favourite in this match up. Colorado is in a similar position to Edmonton. Pretty good defence and enough scoring to match up with almost anyone but a question mark in goal. Colorado management decided that Aebischer was not the guy to take them to the promise land and took a gamble on the injured Jose Theodore. Now is the time when we find out if that gamble pays off. In his 5 games (4 starts) for Colorado late in the season Theodore was 1-2-1 with a 3.04 goals against average and a .887 save percentage. That probably won’t be good enough so he will have to pick up his game some if the Avalanche are to move on to the second round. The key to the will also be goaltending which might surprise some consider Marty Turco is in goal. Somehow Marty Turco managed to win 41 games despite having a mediocre .898 save %. In the back of my mind I am thinking he might suffer the Patrick Lalime syndrome in that he somehow manages to win a bunch of games in the regular season despite having average or below average save percentage but in the playoffs when the games get close and more hard fought isn’t quite up to task. I think how Turco plays is something we should watch for as the series goes on. Prediction: Dallas in 7

Calgary vs Anaheim

Season Series:
October 26: Calgary 1 at Anaheim 4
February 8: Anaheim 1 at Calgary 3
April 11: Anaheim 0 at Calgary 3
April 17: Calgary 3 at Anaheim 4

The season series is was a dead heat with both teams winning their home games and it wouldn’t surprise me if this was one of those series where home ice advantage is of great importance. The key for Calgary is getting some goal scoring from someone. Kipprusoff might be the best goalie in the world and Calgary’s defence is second to none but can they get any consistant goal scoring. Jarome Iginla let the team in goals and points but with just 67 points was among the lowest team leading point total in the NHL. The Iginla-Langkow line has to provide consistent offence in the playoffs or Calgary will struggle to win. The keys for Anaheim will be how the youngsters play. Andy MacDonald, Joffrey Lupul, Chris Kunitz, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry will all be depended on to various levels and how they play could go a long way to how well the Ducks do in the playoffs. Prediction: Flames in 6

Nashville at San Jose

Season Series
October 5: San Jose 2 at Nashville 3
October 22: San Jose 1 at Nashville 2
November 2: Nashville 2 at San Jose 3 (OT)
March 11: Nashville 2 at San Jose 3 (OT)

The season series was another home team wins all the games series and all the games were close. But with 3 of the games occurring very early in the season and before Thornton joined the Sharks we can’t really conclude much from the season series. With Vokoun out until next season the key to the playoffs for the Predators will be goalie Chris Mason who has played surprisingly well since taking over the #1 role. But he never really had to play a pressure packed game as the Predators were pretty much a lock for the 4th seed in the playoffs neither being able to catch the Red Wings nor likely to be caught by the rest of the playoff teams. Whether Mason can play under the pressure of the playoffs is what will have to wait and see about. The key for San Jose is simply just being able to continue what they have been doing the last month or so. You want to go into the playoffs playing good hockey, and the Sharks are definitely doing that, but you don’t want to be mentally worn out after having to play 6 weeks of important hockey. Prediction: Sharks in 5.

Sep 172005
 

Anaheim: J-S Giguere should start again for Anaheim, although he may not be recognizable without his over-sized equipment. Russian prospect Ilya Bryzgalov is a strong possibility for the backup role, however, former Ducks netminder Steve Shields has also been invited to camp and could claim the role. The expectation is that Shields and Adam Wall will play net for Anaheim’s farm team.

Calgary: Mikka Kiprusoff headlines Calgary’s attempt to return to as Western Conference Champions, and there is some question as to whether he can maintain the form he showed after being acquired from San Jose. The backup position remains less clear, as Philippe Sauve has struggled at the pro level (he played in the ECHL during the lockout) and Brent Krahn’s numerous injuries have limited his mobility and potential. Sauve, however, is expected to win the job.

Chicago: Given that six goaltenders saw NHL ice time for the Blackhawks last season, the signing of Stanley Cup champion Nikolai Khabibulin should ease the minds of fans. Although Thibault has played well since being acquired from Montreal for Jeff Hackett, Khabibulin is an instant upgrade. Michael Leighton is his likely backup, although he’ll be challenged by Illinois-native Craig Anderson in camp. Corey Crawford is a distant, if talented, prospect.

Colorado: David Aebischer, who unsurprisingly played in Switzerland during the lockout, returns as the undisputed number one man. Peter Budaj, a 22-year old prospect, seems likely to graduate to the NHL as his backup, although he may face a battle from free-agent signee Vitaly Kolesnik, who is currently the top goaltender for the Kazhakstan National Team. 26-year old Tom Lawson and CHL-starter Tyler Wieman are likely ticketed for the minors.

Columbus: Although GM Doug MacLean has stated that Martin Prusek will contend for the starting job, expect to see Marc Denis once again starting in net for the Blue Jackets. Prusek’s inconsistency and injury problems make it unlikely that he will be a viable starter. Pascal Leclaire, long tagged as the “goalie of the future” sits third on the depth chart. Tomas Popperle and Andrew Penner will likely only see minor league duty.

Dallas: Marty Turco, one of the best regular-season goalies in the past three years will start in net again. He hopes to rebound from a poor 2003-04 playoffs, where he went 1-4, with a 3.32 GAA and .849 SV%. Johan Hedberg, who struggled in Vancouver last season, was signed to back him up. Possible (but unlikely) challengers include minor-leaguers Mike Smith and Dan Ellis. Ellis played one game for Dallas in 03-04, making 25 saves for the win, but started the season in the ECHL.

Detroit: Although the combination of Chris Osgood and Manny Legace seems like a duo best suited to a 1a/1b goaltender scenario, coach Mike Babcock is on record as stating that he prefers one starting goaltender. If he in fact implements this system, give Osgood a slight edge to claim the top job, as Legace struggled last season when asked to play more than 30 games. 25-year old Joey MacDonald provides depth, while 2003 second-round pick Jimmy Howard represents a possible future starter.

Edmonton: Ty Conklin and Jussi Markannen will likely rotate games this season, and either could emerge as the starter. Markannen played well during the lockout, while Conklin emerged as Edmonton’s starter in 2003-04. There are questions about depth, as prospect Jeff Drouin Deslauriers needs seasoning and Mike Morrison needs more oppurtunities at the AHL level. Devan Dubnyk, projected as a future starter, will return to junior.

Los Angeles: Given the turmoil in net in previous seasons, it should come as little surprise that the Kings are once again sporting a new tandem. Replacing Cechmanek is 27-year old Mathieu Garon, a veteran of only 43 NHL games. Garon has long been tagged as a future starter, and played exceedingly well in the AHL during the lockout. Whether he can duplicate that success as an NHL starter is still unknown. His likely backup, 2003-04 AHL MVP Jason LaBarbera, has proven all he can in the minors, but with only 5 NHL starts is unlikely to take over if Garon struggles. Adam Hauser provides depth.

Minnesota: As in previous seasons, the tandem of Dwayne Roloson and Manny Fernandez will handle goaltending duties for the Wild, with Roloson likely getting the bulk of the work. Fernandez, who has previously requested more playing time, may be dealt. 21-year old Josh Harding provides depth and could eventually succeed Roloson as starter.

Nashville: Tomas Vokoun, who won the gold medal with the Czechs at the 2005 World Championships should again be one of the better starting netminders in the league. Current backup Chris Mason may be pushed by 1999 first-rounder Brian Finley, whose development has been stalled by a serious groin injury, although Finley seems likely to return to the AHL.

Phoenix: For a team that made a mountain of changes in the off-season, the biggest acquisition may be Curtis Joseph, who is likely to relegate inconsistent Brian Boucher to a backup role. This gives David LeNeveu, often described as a can’t-miss prospect, a little more time to play in the AHL, rather than being rushed into the big leagues. Veteran Steve Passmore will provide depth and injury insurance.

San Jose: Evgeni Nabokov will be back again as the Sharks starter, and should again perform well. The 1994 9th round pick played sparingly in Russia during the lockout, playing just under twenty games. Barring injury, Toskala should play a little less than his career high of 28 games from 2003/04. Dmitri Patzold and Nolan Schaefer, who split time in the AHL during the lockout will provide depth.

St. Louis: Patrick Lalime, following struggles in Ottawa, will receive a chance to rebound with a changing Blues team. He should be an upgrade over previous starters Chris Osgood and Brent Johnson. Reinhard Divis, Curtis Sanford, and Jason Bacashihua, all of who played during the lockout will battle for a roster spot, with Divis the likely winner. Marek Schwarz could provide goaltending farther down the line.

Vancouver: Dan Cloutier, having just signed a two-year contract, returns for his fourth season as the starter in Vancouver. He played in Austria during the lockout, going 7-0-5 in 13 games in an inferior league. The real battle will be between backup possibilities Alex Auld and Brent Johnson. Auld has the edge, and seemed to be guaranteed the job before the lockout; however, his play in the minors was eclipsed by depth goalie Wade Flaherty, who took the starting job in the playoffs. Johnson, four years removed from a 34-win regular season and a playoff round with three shutouts, could surprise.

 Posted by at 10:23 am