Apr 202006
 

Here are my eastern conference predictions. I really hate taking all the favourites but aside from an outside chance of Montreal upsetting Carolina I just can’t see any of the other underdogs winning barring unexpected key injuries.

Just a note: The predictions are my predictions, not my algorithms. I am retiring the algorithm for the season as I don’t think it makes sense to use in the playoffs. I also likely won’t be making predictions on every game since it is really the series that matters. I may post some comments each day on the previous nights results and that nights games but it will depend on how busy I am with other stuff.

Ottawa vs Tampa

Season Series:
October 21: Ottawa 4 at Tampa 1
November 3: Tampa 2 at Ottawa 4
March 6: Ottawa 4 at Tampa 0
March 14: Tampa 3 at Ottawa 4

Ottawa swept the season series and that might be a good indication of what might happen in this playoff series. This is the dream match up for Ottawa as I think Montreal would have given them a much bigger challenge. For both teams the key to the series is goaltending. If Tampa wants any change of winning they need to have Grahame or Burke come up with a several excellent games. Unfortunately for Tampa that hasn’t happened with a whole lot of consistency this year. Grahame has 5 shut outs this year which shows he can be a good goalie but while he can shut out a team one night he can give up 6 goals the next. The key for Ottawa is getting good goaltending from Ray Emery. In March they got excellent goaltending from Emery but in April he was mostly horrible. He apparently has a bit of a hip injury that might be taking away some of this quickness so if I am Tampa I pepper him with as many shots as I can. That will be their only hope to win this series. Prediction: Ottawa in 5.

Carolina vs Montreal

Season Series:
December 31: Montreal 3 at Carolina 5
January 23: Montreal 3 at Carolina 7
January 31: Carolina 8 at Montreal 2
March 15: Carolina 5 at Montreal 1

This is one of those series which I think could definitely end up in an upset despite the fact that Carolina went completely nuts vs Montreal in the regular season out scoring the Canadiens by a 25-9 score in their 4 games. The first 3 of those games has the departed and struggling Jose Theodore in net and the last had David Aebischer. Huet has been the much better goalie and should be the Habs main goalie in the playoffs so that should help. Huet’s outstanding goaltending got the Canadiens into the playoffs and they will only go as far as Huet takes them in the playoffs. For the Hurricanes they key their success will be how Doug Weight and Mark Recchi play. These two guys were traded for to add some depth to the Hurricanes offense, particularly after Erik Cole went down, but they haven’t produced a whole lot up until now. These two veterans need to take some pressure off of Eric Staal to produce all the offense. If they can do that the Hurricanes could go deep into the playoffs. Prediction: Hurricanes in 7

New Jersey vs New York Rangers

Season Series:
October 8: NY Rangers 2 at New Jersey 3 (OT)
October 13: New Jersey 1 at NY Rangers 4
November 3: NY Rangers 4 at New Jersey 2
November 5: New Jersey 2 at NY Rangers 3 (OT)
December 20: New Jersey 3 at NY Rangers 1
January 22: New Jersey 1 at NY Rangers 3
March 4: NY Rangers 1 at New Jersey 2
April 9: NY Rangers 2 at New Jersey 3

This is the only battle amongst division rivals in the first round of the playoffs and it should be fun series to watch. Both teams have good goalies. Both teams have pretty good defences despite not having a bunch of big name players. And both teams have a top line that can score in bunches. In my mind the key to this series will be who can shut down the opposing teams top line the best. Can the Devils keep Jagr to no more than a point a game? Can the Rangers shut down the trio of Gionta, Gomez and Elias all of whom have been awesome in the push for the playoffs? Those are the keys to this series. Prediction: Devils in 6

Buffalo Sabres vs Philadelphia Flyers

Season Series:
December 19: Buffalo 2 at Philadelphia 1 (SO)
February 2: Philadelphia 2 at Buffalo 4
March 11: Buffalo 6 at Philadelphia 5
April 7: Philadelphia 4 at Buffalo 2

I really like Buffalo to win this series. I just think they are a better all round team and I think Buffalo’s speed will give the Flyers defence fits. The only concern one might have for the Sabres is goaltending. Generally Ryan Miller has had a very good rookie season but he struggled a bit in late March and early April. He picked his game up in his last 3 starts of the season so he should have his confidence back. If Miller can give they Sabres good goaltending Buffalo will be a very tough team to beat in the playoffs. There are two keys to the Flyers success. The first is Forsberg’s health. If Forsberg isn’t healthy and playing at his top level the Flyers will struggle to get the offence needed to win. The other key to the Flyers is goaltending. Of course this is nothing new as the Flyers haven’t had top quality goaltending for years and it has never been adequately addressed by GM Bobby Clarke. Goaltending is key in the NHL and if you don’t have it you won’t win and I just don’t think Esche and Niittymaki are good enough to take a team deep into the playoffs though anyone can get hot for a short period of time and win a series.. Prediciton: Buffalo in 6.

Mar 092006
 

Two minor trades have been announced so far. Montreal adds some toughness and defense depth by acquiring Todd Simpson from Chicago for a 6th round pick. The New Jersey Devils have acquried their second defensemen in 2 days by picking up Brad Lukowich from the Islanders for a 3rd round pick. I really like what the Devils are doing by adding Klee and Lukowich. I thought last year the Devils tried too hard trying to replace Niedermayers offense by adding Malakhov and McGillis but now they are getting back to more typical New Jersey players by adding more defensively responsible players. And Lukowich is a defensive defenseman and a good one. I am sure Tampa is missing his stability on the blue line this year. Because of these trades I am slowly moving the Devils up the Cup contender list.

Mar 082006
 

As a clear follow up to the Luke Richardson trade, the Leafs have traded Ken Klee to the New Jersey Devils for prospect Alexander Suglobov. This is one of those deals that should help both teams. The Devils this year and the Leafs in the future. Klee is a pretty good defenseman who can play 18-20 minutes and will do a good job stabalizing the Devils defense which is still trying to adjust after losing Stevens and Niedermayer. He is more of a Devils-style player than Malakhov and McGillis who haven’t lived up to expectations in New Jersey this year.

I don’t know much about Suglobov but he seems to be a decent prospect having produced 25 goals and 48 points in 51 games with the Albany River Rats, the Devils AHL farm club. Depending on what other moves the Leafs make with their forwards between now and 3:00 tomorrow we may even see Suglobov given a chance with the Leafs this season. This is also a good move because while the Leafs have some decent youngsters on defence (Wozniewski, Kronvall, Colaiacovo, Bell, White, Harrison) they don’t have much up front.

Oct 072005
 

The season started with a bang in New Jersey last night. Sidney Crosby got his first taste of NHL action, the new look Pittsburgh offense made it’s debut, and New Jersey’s new defense was showcased as well. Here’s what I thought of the game:

Pittsburgh:
This team can put some pressure on the net! The first half of the first period was spent on the Pittsburgh powerplay, and the puck rarely came out of the zone. Mario was his usual patient, all-seeing, brilliant self. Sidney, in his first NHL game, was surprisingly composed and alert. If any other goaltender in the world was in net, he would have had at least two goals. He did manage to finish the night with an assist on the Pens lone goal, but on this night his former high school teammate, Zach Parise of the Devils, would be the more impressive rookie.

Goaltending looked like an issue for Pittsburgh. Thibault was just average in net… he never seemed to settle down. Maybe it was opening night jitters, or maybe he was nervous because he was playing for a new team, but he didn’t look very good. His performance makes me wonder what Eddie Olzcyk plans on doing with Marc-Andre Fleury.

New Jersey:
This team definitely is not the Devils of old. The absense of Stevens and Niedermayer was glaringly obvious. Matvichuk struggled to finish hits… Crosby slithered away from him a few times. McGillis was absolutely atrocious on the point during powerplays. But the bright spots for this crew are their puck-movers. Rafalski looks like captain material out there… his presence is dominant, especially considering his diminutive stature (5’9″, 191 lbs.). Malakhov, although slow on his feet, looked better than ever with the puck. Paul Martin continues to grow in his game and will one day be a top defenseman.

To anyone who watched the game, the star was obvious. Marty Brodeur stood on his head and made the Penguins shake theirs on too many occasions to count. Also, with the two-line pass rule gone, he set up his teammates several times with tape-to-tape passes that some NHL defensemen aren’t even capable of making. If he continues to play like this, the Devils are a very legitimate threat for the Stanley Cup.

Finally, there was one more big difference between the new Devils and the old Devils… they didn’t sit on their lead. In seasons past, the Devs used to trap their way to victory whenever they’d get an early lead. This team, however, under Larry Robinson’s guidance was aggressive to the end. Their five-goal output was evidence of this.

I did get to see bits and pieces of other games, thanks to the Center Ice digital cable package. I remember turning on the Leafs-Senators game and being amazed by the flow. The teams seemed to go back and forth nonstop creating big plays and opportunities at every turn… very exciting game. The Rangers victory over the Flyers took a lot of people by surprise. It seemed to me that the Rangers were outworking the Flyers down low… something New York hasn’t been known for since the mid-90s. Forsberg was great, though, and as soon as Hatcher comes back Philly should be OK.

The general impression I got was that teams are still struggling with the new penalties. I hope referees start calling diving more often because I saw a lot of innocent players sent to the box as the result of Oscar-worthy acting performances. I also saw a lot of two-line passing. That one new rule is having a major impact on the game and I, for one, am happy to see it. The new goalie restrictions on where the puck can be played just seemed silly. Skilled goalies just retrieve the puck before it crosses the goal line, and stay-at-home netminders just continue to play the puck the way they always have. Hopefully this rule will have a shorter life span than the ill-fated crease rule.

 Posted by at 9:18 am
Oct 052005
 

(Also posted on The Devil’s Advocate)

Offense
Subtractions: So far, the only forwards to leave the swamp are Jan Hrdina and Jeff Friesen. Hrdina never seemed to fit in too well in New Jersey, and Friesen suffered from chronic underachieving. Friesen was a terrific playoff performer, however, and in that regard he will be sorely missed. Expect more forwards to leave in the next month to clear space in the cap-cramped Meadowlands. Patrik Elias signed a 1-year deal with the team, but will miss at least one month due to hepatitis recovery.

Additions: Alexander Mogilny is back in a Devils sweater. Last time he put one on, Larry Robinson was coach and he paired up with Scott Gomez… the end result was a 43 goal season for Almo. Well guess what… Robinson is behind the bench again and he’s back on a line with Gomez. His hip is an issue of concern, but everyone around him is confident that he will hold up. The only other forwards the Devils inked are tough-guys Darren Langdon and Krzysztof Oliwa.

Overall: This squad is very similar to the one that played last season. Madden, Brylin, Pandolfo, Gionta, and Gomez are still there. Langenbrunner continues to play like a grinder stuck in a scorer’s body, which fits perfectly in Jersey. Kozlov adds size up front to an otherwise small offense. Rasmussen and Marshall the other big forwards who are guaranteed regular ice time. One player to watch out for is Zach Parise, who may finally be ready to make his NHL debut. Veteran Pascal Rheaume and rookies Aleksander Suglobov and Adrian Foster will be ready to go from Albany if the Devs ever call upon them. This is among the deepest offensive units the Devils have had in recent years.

Defense
Subtractions: Almost too monsterous to mention. Scott Niedermayer packed his bags and took a pay cut to play with his brother in Anaheim. Scott Stevens, the team’s leader in every sense of the word, has hung up his skates after a masterful career. Both of these guys played on all three Stanley Cup teams in New Jersey, and with them a ton of skill, heart, and experience has left.

Additions: Lou wasted no time filling in the holes, er, craters on D. Before the lockout started, Richard Matvichuk was signed. Within hours of Niedermayer’s departure, Brian Rafalski was re-signed and Vladimir Malakhov and Dan McGillis were brought in.
Overall: This ain’t your daddy’s Devils defense. But that’s not to say they aren’t good. This crew is still among the most solid in the East. The top six guys have a nice balance of size and puck-moving ability. Colin White, Dan McGillis, and Richard Matvichuk will provide the muscle, while Rafalski, Malakhov, and Martin will bring the skill. Martin’s game advanced very quickly in his rookie year, and he is expected to be even better this season. David Hale and Sean Brown are two solid D-men waiting in the wings if their services are needed.

Goaltending:
Martin Brodeur is still a Devil. ‘Nuff said.

The Big Picture:
The Devils not only lost their captain when Stevens retired, but a large piece of their identity. If this team can resolve its identity crisis quickly, they’ll be very good. The ’95 Cup team rallied around the team’s lifers… guys like John MacLean, Bruce Driver, and Ken Daneyko. The ’05 version has it’s own ensemble of lifers… guys like Colin White, Brian Rafalski, Scott Gomez, Patrik Elias, Sergei Brylin, John Madden, Jay Pandolfo, Brian Gionta, and of course Marty Brodeur. Lamoriello has done a fine job of assembling a solid core of guys who know no way other than the Devil way, and this group is as solid as any. Even the guys he brought in – Vladimir Malakhov and Alex Mogilny – have won a Stanley Cup in New Jersey before. Unfamiliarity shouldn’t be an issue here.

Back behind the bench is Hall of Fame defenseman Larry Robinson. Last time he was here, he had a two year stint that featured two trips to the Cup Finals, and in his second season his team led the league in scoring. Vladimir Malakhov has said that he wouldn’t have returned to the NHL unless he could play for Robinson. The players love this guy, and a better man couldn’t have been picked to step up in the wake of Pat Burns’ battle with cancer.

On paper, the Devils have the makings of a top team. Their first line alone (as soon as Elias gets healthy) has the potential to put up monster numbers. Zach Parise has been dominant in the World Juniors, AHL, and pre-season… look for this kid to make a bid for the Calder in this, the year of Sid. Jamie Langenbrunner would be a second line scoring threat for a lot of teams, and even a first liner for some, but he will likely be a third liner for New Jersey… a testament to their depth at forward. Brian Gionta had a strong finish last season on the Deviled EGG line, look for him to pick up where he left off. Madden, Brylin, and Pandolfo are all best-known for their defensive abilities, but all of them have a scoring touch as well. Madden’s breakaway speed could help him have an offensive breakout year.

Finally, let’s not forget who’s in net here. Brodeur is arguably the best goaltender in the world right now. Any team with him in net has a chance to go the distance. There are only four goaltenders in the NHL right now whose names appear on the Cup. Unless you have a world-class netminder, consider your season done. The Devils will never have that problem with #30 between the pipes.

That said, the Devils will finish second in the Atlantic. Their blend of size, speed, youth, and veteran presence on D will be a nice fit in the new NHL. Their offense will surprise a lot of people this year, as it is loaded with speed and talent. When playoff time comes around, we’ll see if they can overcome their two big losses, but as far as the regular season goes, they should be fine.

 Posted by at 4:30 am