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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Playoff predictions for the Metropolitan Division

     At nearly half way through the 2016-17 season it is time to start thinking about which teams we expect to see in the playoffs this spring.  The Metropolitan division has been one of the hardest divisions to make the playoffs in as it has been comprised of many of the league's strongest teams in the last several years.  As it stands in this first half of the season I predict that the Mertopolitan Division will send the Penguins, the Rangers, the Capitals, and shockingly the Blue Jackets to the playoffs.  If they hold onto the Eastern Conference's second wild card spot as well the Flyers may make the cut too.  Right now the division holds the top five slots not just in their conference but in the entire league, so competition is fierce and standings can change rapidly.
     Not surprisingly the Pittsburgh Penguins are holding strong to the top spot in the division.  With tonight's overwhelming 7-2 win over the New York Rangers  the Penguins are 21-7-5 with 33 games played.  They have been having an incredible season despite having several injuries to some of their top performing players.  Sidney Crosby missed the first 6 games due to concussion.  There are currently 4 Penguins who are out on injury, Kris Letang  is day to day with a lower body injury, Tom Kuhnhackl is out week to week with a lower body injury,  Trevor Daley is out week to week with an upper body injury, and  Thomas Di Pauli is out until sometime in February 2017 with a back injury.  Despite these rather notable team mates missing the Penguins have gone 8-0-2 in their last 10 games.  The depth and scoring capabilities of all 4 of the Penguins lines is one of their strengths and has allowed them to succeed even when key players are out.   This season the Penguins are going for back to back Stanley Cup wins, which they have not done since 1992 and 1993.  The last team to achieve back to back cups was the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998.  If they can manage the very difficult task of staying on top of the Metropolitan Division and winning the Eastern Conference Championship again this season I think they have a very good chance of repeating their Championship again in the playoffs this season.
     Second in the division, again not surprisingly, is the New York Rangers.  Currently they have a record of  23-11-1 with 35 games played so far in the season.  The Rangers are easily the Penguins strongest competition not only within the division but in their efforts to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions for second time in recent memory.  They have played the Penguins 3 times so far this season and have won one of those 3 match-ups.  The win they got was a decisive one too, it was one of the Penguins worst losses of the season so far.  The other two matches have resulted in equally decisive Penguins wins, including tonight's game where the Rangers suffered a 7-2 loss.  Despite their difficulties with the Penguins the Rangers have still gone a respectable 7-3-0 in their last ten games.  The Rangers hold on second in the division is most precarious, if for no other reason than that they have played more games already than any other team in the division.  As such the rest of the division has a little bit of room to try to catch up over the second half of the season.  The Rangers have made the Playoffs every season since 2009-10.  Despite their stellar record for making the playoffs, the Rangers have not manages a Stanley Cup win since the 1993-94 season.
     The big surprise of the Metropolitan division is the third place seed as of tonight, the Columbus Blue Jackets.  The Blue Jackets have had an amazing season so far.  Tonight's win against the Kings in a shoot out marked a franchise record ten wins in a row.  That's right the Blue Jackets are 10-0-0 in their last ten games.  In addition to this impressive accomplishment, they also managed the highest scoring of a single team in a game this season when they shut the Canadiens out 10-0 earlier in the season.  The Key players thus far for Colombus have been Cam Atkinson with 14 goals and 19 assists so far, Alexander Wenberg with 6 goals and 20 assists, Nick Foligno with 10 goals 13 assists and 33 penalty minutes, and of course Sergei Bobrovsky who has a record of 19-5-2 over 26 games played with a goals against average of 1.94 and a save percentage of .932.  If they can keep their key players healthy, and continue to play consistently well as a team they have a good chance of making the playoffs.  I don't see them making a deep run if for no other reason than they lack the stamina.  Their team is simply not used to playing that extra month or six weeks and each successive game the toll on the stamina and energy is higher, and the chances of injuries due to fatigue are also greater.  Despite my fears I would love to see the Blue Jackets make the effort and at least make it through the first round.  They have only made the playoffs twice in the last ten years, and have been eliminated in either the first of second round on both of those occasions.  That being said however, they are doing great this season and stranger things have been known to happen, so they can not be counted out.  The one thing I can say with certainty is that the Blue Jackets will not get the first round draft pick for 2017-18.
    Holding the fourth spot in the division and the first wild card slot for the eastern conference as of today are the Philadelphia Flyers.  The Flyers are 19-11-4 with 34 games played so far this season.  In their last ten games they have a record of 8-1-1.  This may be one of their best stretches of the season.  Even with as well as they have been playing in the last two weeks I do not think they can sustain this level of play long enough to hold onto the 4th spot in the division or to finish above where they are now.  Their history is against them and they do not have a large group of high performing players.  Really they only have two key goal scorers this season, Jakub Voracek with 11 goal and 23 assists so far, and Wayne Simmonds with 16 goals and 13 assists so far.  The other great weakness that the Flyers have over their Metropolitan playoff contenders is that they do not have a strong goal tender.  Their lead goalie is Steve Mason who has played 27 game with a record of 13-9-4, he has a 2.68 goals against average and only a .908 save percentage.  His first back up is Michal Neuvirth who has played 9 games and has a record of 4-2-0 with a dismal 3.54 goals against average and a save percentage of .859.  Their third string goalie Anthony Stolarz has only played two games but has a record of 2-0-0 with a 1.47 goals against average and a .950 save percentage.  With only 2 games played though these stats are not an accurate representation of skills, it is unlikely that his stats could be maintained with the work load expected of a first or even second line net minder.   The Flyers have missed the playoffs entirely in 3 of the last 10 years.  In the seven years that they made it in they have lost the final round twice, and lost the semi final round twice, the other 3 years they were eliminated early.  They have not won a Stanley cup since 1975.  So despite their strong history of making it into the post season, even deep into the playoffs they have an equally long history of disappointment at the end of their run.  Given their relatively weak goal tending and the fact that they only have 2 consistently effective scorers I do not think that this is going to be their year either. 
      In fifth right now in the division are the Washington Capitals.  That is a bit of a surprise as I expected them to be in the top three.  As it stands today the Capitals would be in the second wild card spot in the eastern conference, and make the playoffs by the skin of their teeth.   With still half a season to go they could easily move up, especially if one of the top three teams right now has a bad couple of weeks.  They have a record of  19-8-3 in 30 games played.  In their last ten games the Capitals are 6-3-1.  I expect to at least see the Capitols pull ahead of the Flyers in the next few weeks, and possibly the Blue Jackets as well, to put them back in the top three before the end of the regular season.  The Capitols are another one of the teams in the NHL who have never won a Stanley Cup.  They have a very strong history of making it into the playoffs and even making deep runs, but have always fallen short of that most coveted of prizes.  The key players so far this season for the Capitals are Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson, and Braden Holtby.  Back-up goaltender Philipp Grubauer has also been performing exceedingly well, his stats are actually better than Holtby for goals against and win loss record, but he has only played 7 games to Holtby's 23 so far in the season.  If any of these guys was injured and out for any significant length of time it could shatter the Capital's post season hopes for this season, yet again.
     The remaining three teams in the division are the Carolina Hurricanes in 6th right now, the New Jersey Devils in 7th  and at the bottom of the division are the New York Islanders.  I think it very unlikely that any of these teams will make the playoffs this season.  Sadly for them they might have a chance in any other division, but the competition is just too strong in the Metropolitan for a team that is already 6 to 8 wins behind playoff position at the halfway point in the season to recover enough to make the post season.  If there are any major injuries that take one or more of the top teams out of the running there is a possibility that one of these teams could squeak by into a wild card slot but I believe this to be highly improbable.

Jaromir Jagr is Tied for 2nd in All Time Career Points!

By Michael Wifall [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

     Tonight the Florida Panthers played a close game with the Buffalo Sabers.  They managed to win the game 4-3 in regulation bringing them with in one win of taking 4th place in the Atlantic division, but that was not the big news for the Panthers tonight.  Jaromir Jagr made 3 assists bringing him to a career points total of 1887! This ties him with Mark Messier for 2nd place in career points scored.  Messier and Jagr are 2nd behind Wayne Gretzky.  The Great One holds the record still with an astonishing 2857 points over the span of his career.  Jagr has had an amazing career thus far with multiple seasons where he has scored over 100 points, most recently in the 2005-06 season where he played for the New York Rangers and scored a seasons total of 123 points.   Gretzky's career points record however is not likely to fall anytime soon.  Gretzky has held this record since October 15th 1989, and he had 15 seasons where he scored 100 points or more during his career to get there.  At this point it would take a player 20 seasons of averaging 140 points a season to break the career points record.  The last player who was able to score more than 140 points in a single season was Mario Lemieux of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1995-96 season, where he posted an incredible 160 points.  That being said it is entirely possible that Jagr will continue to score points throughout this season and in any future seasons he may play before retirement.  I fully expect that Jagr will within the next month or two hold the 2nd place spot in most career points on his own.
       Jagr already holds the record for most points scored by an NHL player 42 years or older with his points total last season of  27 goals and 66 points.  In fact he is one of only 10 players to continue playing in the NHL after the age of 43.  As of February 15 of this year, along with  Gordie Howe and Mark Chelios he will be one of three players to play after the age of 45.  At this point along with ranking 2nd in all time points he is also 3rd in career goals scored at 755, right now 2nd is Gordie Howe with 801, and again in the top spot is Wayne Gretzky with 894.  Jaromir Jagr took a hiatus from the NHL in 2008 when he left to play for the KHL for three season between 2008 and 2011.  He returned to the NHL for the 2011-2012 season.  One of the biggest questions regarding NHL scoring records is, where would Jaromir Jagr stand if he had not taken that 3 season break?   I don't believe he would have overtaken Gretzky's career points goal, but he very well might have taken second in all time goals from Gordie Howe.  There has been some speculation that he might even have surpassed Gretzky to take the record in most career goals. While anything is possible, I do not believe that he would have overtaken Gretzky even if he had stayed with the NHL for those 3 seasons.   In the three years before he left the NHL in 08 he scored 99 total goals, but in the 3 years after his return in the 11-12 season he only scored 35.  Since the low scoring 2012-13 season with Boston where he only scored 2 goals he has had a drastic improvement in goals scored, but is not likely to ever get back to his seasons of scoring 30 goals or more.  Even if he is not able to take second in career goals scored from Howe, Jagr has had and is continuing to have an amazing career and I look forward to seeing him play throughout this season and hopefully at least one more as well.  Any more records he manages to set are just gravy on what has been an awesome professional Hockey career.  We are sure to see Jaromir Jagr in the hall of fame as soon as he is eligible to be inducted.  Congratulations Jaromir Jagr on moving into 2nd along with Messier in total career points, and may he earn many more points before the end of this season!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Playoff Predictions - Pacific Division

     At this point we are now nearly half way through the 2016-17 regular season, and it is time to start looking at which teams we are expecting to see in the Playoffs next spring.  There have been many surprises in the standings league wide so far this season, but nowhere more so than in the Pacific Division.  My predictions based on how the first half of the season has gone are that the three Pacific division playoff slots will go to the Oilers, Ducks, and Sharks.  I believe that the Pacific Division will also take one of the two wild card slots and would expect to see either the Flames or the Canucks take that spot.  The Kings are an outside chance this season, and if they are able to play a significantly better second half of the season they could grab a wild card playoff slot.
      About a month ago the Edmonton Oilers claimed the the top spot in the division, which has been unheard of in recent years.  They have managed to stay in the top three spots in the Pacific ever since.  Presently they are tied for first place again with the Ducks.  Usually in the first half of the season the Kings and Ducks are the teams in close contention for the top placement in the division, but not this season.  The Edmonton Oilers have had a very strong season so far and show little evidence of an early burnout.  Though they have had two tough losses this week, they are still tied for first in the division.  The last time The Oilers made the playoffs was in the 2005-06 season where they lost in the final round to the Hurricanes.  Edmonton has not won a Stanley Cup since the 1989-90 season where they defeated the Bruins in the final round.  New head coach, acquired last season, Todd McClellan has rebuilt the Oilers self image and created a team that plays with a confidence that they have been desperately lacking in the last decade.  As I have previously sated captain Connor McDavid and the newly acquired Milan Lucic have been instrumental not only in improving the play of the team, but also in keeping the confidence and morale of the entire team strong.  The other key player for the Oilers is Goalie Cam Talbot who has so far had a very strong season and made some amazing saves to keep his team at the top of the Pacific.  An injury to any of these three decisive players could put a quick end to the Oilers playoff hopes.
     The Ducks had a rough start to their season for the second year in a row, but like last season they have bounced back well in the last several weeks.  Kessler, Perry and Getzlaf are the keys to the Ducks offensive strategy both finishing off the regular season and for their playoff hopes as well.  The other instrumental player for the Ducks is of course Goal tender Gibson, and to a lesser extent his back-up Bernier.  If any of these players takes a significant injury it could damage or destroy their playoff, or Cup hopes.  Rikard Rakell has also been a dark horse for the Ducks this season who despite injuries has scored 10 goals and made 4 assists in the first half of the season.  Rakell brings a high energy level to his team when he is on the ice and has generated some faster and better play for all of the players he is on the ice with.  That being said if the Ducks keep playing as they have in the last six weeks they should easily make the playoffs, and could potentially make a deep run.
       The Sharks have made the playoffs 11 of the last 12 seasons and are in a good position to return to the playoffs again this season.  As with the Oilers they have claimed the top place in the division on multiple times during the first half of the season.  Presently the Sharks are fourth in the Pacific Division, after suffering a 3-2 loss to the Ducks tonight.  There is a lot of pressure both within the league and within the Sharks organization itself to prove that their trip to the Stanley Cup finals last season was not a fluke.  I believe that they will make the playoffs in 2017, but to make a deep run like they did last year they need to work on their speed and endurance which was their downfall in the final against the Penguins last season. The other important factor is to make sure they avoid further injuries, and get Tomas Hertl healthy again.  They other key players for the Sharks defensively are Goalie Martin Jones, Blueliners Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Brett Burns.  For the offensive line up Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, and Logan Couture are important to efforts in a deep playoff run.
     Currently the other Pacific Division team in the standings to make the playoffs is the Flames.   They are in third place in the division as of today.  Calgary is a bit of a surprise to see in strong contention because they have not had a good recent history with the post season.  They were barely edged out of the playoffs last season, and made it in by the skin of their teeth in the 2014-15 season.  Before that they had a five year drought where they did not make the playoffs at all between the 2009-10 and 2013-14 seasons.  The Flames have not made it to the finals since their loss to the Lightning in the 2003-04 post season, and have not won the Stanley cup since the 1988-89 Stanley Cup match up against the Canadiens.   The Flames have fought hard to keep in playoff position this season and if they can keep up the pace or even improve on their performance a little bit in the second half of the season they have a good chance of making the post season in 2017.
     The Canucks are presently in sixth position in the Pacific Division with a slightly less than 50% win loss record at 12-13-2.  The Canucks have missed the post season in 3 of the last 10 seasons, most recently last season where they finished the season in 6th place in the division.  The Canucks have played in the final round for the Stanley Cup three times in franchise history 1982, 1984, and most recently in 2011.  Unfortunately they have never managed to win a Cup.   They started out this season very strong  and held the top slot in the division for a few weeks early on.  They have a strong team and have played some remarkable games in this first half of the season, so while they are not currently in playoff position they can not be entirely counted out.  They would need to play more consistently well and make sure everyone was on their game every game going into the second half of the season to push into playoff position.  As with any other team they also need to avoid any further major injuries as well.
     The other big shock in the Pacific Division standings this season is the Kings.  As things stand this week they are not in playoff position.  Historically the Kings have a strong playoff performance, when they make the post season.  However, four of the last ten seasons they have missed the playoffs.  Last season they were unexpectedly eliminated by the Sharks in the first round.  They spent the remainder of the off-season preparing to make a strong comeback in the 2016-17 season.  Unfortunately in the season opener against the Sharks Goalie Jonathan Quick was injured and has remained out for the entire first half of the season with no timeline for his return.   The Kings Goal tender problems did not end there, back-up Jeff Zatkoff was injured as well in his second game of the season causing the Kings to call up Peter Budaj from the Reign.  Budaj has done remarkably well this season, but can not be compared to Quick.  The Kings also lost Anze Kopitar for several games due to injury, as well as defensman Braden McNabb who is still out on injured reserve.  Even with all of these injuries the Kings are only just barely out of playoff position in 5th place in the division.  The Kings currently have a record of  13-11-2.  This is actually a much better position than many experts expected with Quick out indefinitely.  At just about half way through the regular season the Kings are not completely out of playoff contention, they could still make a comeback.  In order to do so however they are going to have to step up and play much more consistently than they have so far.  They need to provide more support in front of the net for Budaj or Zatkoff as neither has the presence in net that they are used to in Quick.  The offensive lines also need to show a better performance, they have often not played well together as a unit this season.  The biggest key for the Kings other than avoiding injuries is to play a strong first period in every game.  They have struggled this year to come back from behind and have been weak in the early minutes of the game frequently, making many more games into a come from behind situation than they should be.
     The Arizona Coyotes are the weakest link in the Pacific division so far this season with a record of 8-13-5.  They Coyotes are another of the pacific division teams who has never won a Stanley Cup, and this does not look to be their year again.  They have only made the playoffs in three of the last ten seasons, and currently have a four year playoff drought.  The strongest players on the Coyotes have been captain Sane Doan, and Max Domi on offence, and defensively Oliver Ekman-Larsson.  Goalies Louis Domingue and Mike Smith both have only 4 wins each and the Coyotes are currently in a 6 game losing streak.  Their streak is not likely to break soon as they are playing the Predators tomorrow and are not at all favored to win, especially since they are 0-4 in their last four appearances against Nashville.  Unless they are able to make a complete turnaround in the second half of the season, or at least two other teams in the division completely flame out I do not think it is likely that they will make the playoffs this season.
     As it stands now the pacific division teams that would make the playoffs if they started next week would be the Oilers, the Ducks, the Flames, and the Sharks.  The Sharks would be in one of the Western Conference's two wild card slots.  Right now the Kings would be in the second wild card slot beating out the Central Division fourth place Jets who have a record of 13-14-3 to the Kings 13-11-2.  I would not count on the Pacific Division holding onto both wild card slots in the Western Conference however, so if the Kings want a slot in the playoffs they need to improve their position in the second half  of the season.  Of the teams in the three pacific division slots, the Flames are in the most precarious position with a record of 15-13-2, with 30 games played.  They have played  more games so far this season than the Sharks or the Ducks who both have equal or better win loss records right now.  The Canucks have played three fewer games this season so far, and are only 3 wins behind them in the standings.  The Kings have played four fewer games and are only two wins behind the Flames.  So if the  two or more of Sharks, Canucks, or Kings have a stronger record in the second half of the season they could easily push the Flames out of the post season once again.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

An interesting emergency goalie scenario for the Blackhawks

With Corey Crawford on IR recovering from an appendectomy, the Blackhawks are looking to backup goalie Scott Darling to help the team hold their lead in the Central Division. The Blackhawks are currently 16-8-3 and are three points ahead of the St. Louis Blues. Darling's record this season is 4-2-1 with a 2.71 GAA and .912 SV% compared to Crawford's 12-6-2 record, 2.27 GAA and .927 SV%.

While Darling gets the starting nod, the backup spot will be filled by 29 year old Lars Johansson, who was signed in May by the Blackhawks after several seasons in the Swedish Hockey League. Last year he led the SHL in GAA and SV%. So far this season with the Blackhawks' AHL affiliate Rockford IceHogs, Johansson made 16 starts and arrives in Chicago with a 6-7-1 record.

This all sounds pretty straightforward but there was an interesting twist to the story... the Blackhawks were in Philadelphia when Crawford became ill. The Blackhawks goalie coach wasn't eligible to step in as a backup for Darling because he is a former professional player and there was no room in the Hawks salary cap to sign him. So with just a few hours to find another goalie, the Flyers (and the NHL's quirky backup goalie rules) were called on for help. 

A staff member identified Eric Semborski, a 23 year old former Temple University club hockey goalie, as a possible emergency goalie replacement. Semborski was working at the Flyers' practice facility with youth hockey leagues when he got the call just 2 hours before game time. He raced to the Wells Fargo Center and was signed to an amateur tryout contract before hitting the ice to warm up with the Blackhawks. (Ironically he is a lifelong Flyers fan and had actually been holding a grudge against the Blackhawks for beating the Flyers in the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals.) He did not ultimately get to play in the game and did not get any money for his appearance, but he left with some great memories and Blackhawks gear. An interesting emergency goalie scenario played itself out once again!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Brett Burns Signs Contract Extension with San Jose Sharks

By mark6mauno [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

     This week the San Jose Sharks signed top defenseman Brent Burns to an 8 year $64 million contract extension.  This extends Burns existing contract, which was due to expire in July through to the 2024 season.  This is the longest contract signed by any Sharks player in their 26 year history.  This is a good indicator that Burns will be one of the players that the Sharks organization chooses to protect during the upcoming Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft.  There is however not a no movement clause attached to Burns' new contract.  According to the details published by the Sharks Burns will have a limited trade clause.  He  will be earning $10 million a year for the first 4 years and then a $5 million annually for the reminder of the contract.
     Brett Burns has played a total of 816 games in the NHL earning 439 points with 148 goals and 291 assists.  So far this season Burns has continued to be one of the most dependable and highest performing members of the team with 18 points consisting of 8 goals and 10 assists in the 20 games played.  He had been in the running for the Norris trophy for the last several years and is undoubtedly among the best defensmen in the NHL today.  Over his career he has 535 penalty minutes, and has scored  total of 50 power play goals.   As a Sharks fan I am pleased that Burns, aka Chewbacca, will continue to wear the Sharks uniform for the foreseeable future.  Also in pending unrestricted free agent status this season are Joe "Jumbo" Thornton and Patrick Marleau.  It will be interesting to see over the coming months what happens with these other two potential major contract extensions, as well as with the expansion draft.  What next season's Sharks team will look like is still uncertain as they are one of the few teams who have no players with no movement clauses that will be required to be protected during the expansion process.


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Edmonton Oilers, Number 1 in the Western Conference - How much of a factor is Milan Lucic?

     As of today the Edmonton Oilers are ranked number 1 in the both the Pacific Division and the Western Conference with a record of  7-2-0!  Their closest competitors in their conference right now are the San Jose Sharks at 6-3-0 and the Minnesota Wild at 6-2-1.  In the league only one team is ahead of them, the Montreal Canadians with a record of 8-0-1.  For the Eastern conference the other teams that are close are the Pittsburgh Penguins with a record of  6-2-1 and the New York Rangers at 6-3-0.  It is less than a month into the season, so of course things can change, but for the last ten years the Oilers have finished in the bottom of the Pacific division, and have never really been in strong contention to even make the playoffs.  The last time the Edmonton Oilers participated in the playoffs was at the end of the 2005-06 season where they made it to the final round.  They fell to the Carolina Hurricanes in that series 3 games to 4.  Could this be the year that the Oilers return to the playoffs, or even make another strong run for the Cup?
     When we hear Oilers and success, or winning games in the same sentence most people think of Connor McDavid, as well they should.  McDavid is without a doubt the number one super star on the team.  In the first 12 games that he played in the 2015-16 season he scored 5 goals and looked to be just what the Oilers needed to revive their playoff hopes.  Unfortunately he suffered a fractured clavicle on November 3rd of 2015 and was out for 4 months. Since his return form injury last March he scored 11 more goals to finish the 2015-16 season with 16 goals and 32 assists.  So far in this season he has already racked up 5 goals and 7 assists in just 9 games.  McDavid was in fact named the NHL's 1st Star of the Month for October.  As much of a star as McDavid is, and as much as he deserves all the accolades and attention he is getting, he is just one player on the ice and as we saw last season he can not turn the team around all by himself.
     Goalie Cam Talbot can also not be left of the discussion when we talk about the Oilers success.  This season Talbot has played in all 9 of the teams games.  He has made some great saves and has lead his team to their current position on top of the Western Conference.  Not only has he had 7 wins and only 2 losses so far this season, his team has the 2nd best win loss record in the NHL this season as well. So far in October he has defended 280 shots and allowed only 18 goals and had 2 shutouts this gives him a save percentage of 0.936 so far on the season.  His career save percentage is at a very respectable 0.925.  Having a super star offence and a physically strong defense are both important, but if you don't have a netminder that can make the saves under pressure and perform well when you need him, you are still not going to be a successful team.
     McDavid was not the only new addition that the Oilers made to their team last season.  They also acquired head coach Todd McLellan from the Sharks in an attempt to turn the team around and get them back in playoff position.  McLellan did well for the Oilers, but key injuries kept the Oilers in the bottom of their division come the end of the 2015-16 season once again.  This season not only is Captain Connor McDavid healthy and back on the ice, but the team also acquired defenseman Milan Lucic from the Los Angeles Kings over the summer.
     Lucic was signed to a 7 year 42 million dollar contract with the Oilers.  Connor McDavid was thrilled to have the burly defensman added to the roster, and was excited to have a teammate who was not afraid to get in the faces of players who crossed him or his teammates.  McDavid stated that gaining the tough defenseman would give them a more physical presence on the ice and a player who can provide a measure of protection among other things.  Lucic started out the opening game of the season doing just that.  He got into his first fight in an Oilers uniform about half way through the first period of the opening game.   Lucic dropped the gloves with defensman Deryk Englleand of the Calgary Flames in defense of his young captain.  While this is the only fight Lucic has gotten into so far this season, it certainly sent the statement that if you mess with his teammates he will throw down with you.  This I believe is something that the Oilers defense has lacked in the last several seasons.
     While Lucic is known as a brawler and a tough guy in the league, fighting is certainly not the only thing that Lucic brings to the team.  He has already had 4 goals and 3 assists in his 9 games in an Oilers uniform.  Lucic is playing in his 10th season with the NHL this year and never in his career  has he scored fewer than 7 goals.  His career high was 30 goals in his 2010-11 season with Boston where he also had 32 assists.  While he has not been able to repeat that 30 goal season again, his performance has not declined dramatically.  Just last season with the Kings he had 20 goals 35 assists for a total of 55 points and finished the season at a +26 rating.  So while having a successful season is indeed a team effort, and having a star like Connor McDavid on your offensive line is a major factor, McDavid is not the only reason that the team succeeds.  I think just as important to their success this season has been the addition to the team of Milan Lucic.
      Beyond the stats on paper however, I think the Lucic has brought a sense of confidence and protection to all of the guys he is on the ice with.  This has allowed the offence to be more successful and caused the rest of the defense to step up their game as well.  In essence just the sense of safety and physicality that Lucic has brought to the team has improved the overall performance of many of his teammates.  If the Oilers can continue playing, as a team, as well as they have been so far in this first month of the 2016-17 season I believe that they will be a strong presence in the playoffs, and perhaps even in contention for the cup.
     

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Father Backs Up Son in First Professional Hockey Start - The Goal-tending Drama Continues for the Kings Organization!

     This 2016-17 season started off badly early on.  As I am sure every one is aware, this season has already been plagued with injury for the Los Angeles Kings goaltenders.  Jonathan Quick, already out for at least 3 months with a groin injury in the opening game of the season, was replaced by Jeff Zatkoff formerly of the 2016 Stanley Cup winning Pittsburgh Penguins.  Tragedy struck the Kings a second time this morning during a pre-game practice skate for the game this evening with the Vancouver Canucks.  Zatkoff had to be helped off the ice in the middle of practice, and it was later confirmed that he also suffered a groin injury.  The severity of this injury has not yet been released, but Coach Sullivan did state that Zatkoff would be out a minimum of 7 days.  This puts the formerly 3rd string net-minder Peter Budaj in the 1st line position at least temporarily.  Budaj does have both of the Kings wins this season.  One in over time in the game against the Dallas Stars on Thursday, and he managed to hang on and help the Kings get their second win of the season in a shoot out tonight against the Canucks.  Budaj, even though he was only supposed to be the 3rd line goalie for the Kings, has stepped up to the plate with confidence despite a shaky start to the season.
       Having both Quick and Zatkoff out with groin injuries has caused problems for their AHL team the Ontario Reign as well.  The Reign lost Peter Budaj to the Kings of course after that first game.  Now with Zatkoff also out on the injured reserve list, the Kings were forced to call up goalie Jack Campbell to be Budaj's back up.  This afternoon the Reign found themselves without a starting goaltender for their game against the Barracuda.  They called up Jonah Imoo, an undrafted goalie on a PTO with the Kings organization this year, to be the Reign's starting net-minder.  Imoo is 22 years old and got his first ever professional hockey start tonight.  However no team can start a game without a back up goalie, and this is where things got somewhat comical for the Reign.  Without any other options for a backup goalie they called upon Jonah Imoo's father Dusty Imoo, who filled in as back up for his son.  Dusty Imoo, is of course also affiliated with the Ontario Reign team being their goalie coach normally.  So at least he has a good amount of knowledge and experience with the position as well.  Dusty is in fact a retired professional goal tender himself, though he played the better part of his goalie career with the Japaneese League team Seibu.  The elder Imoo even played for Japan in the 1998 Olympics.  Though at this time both he and the Reign head coach Mike Strothers of course agree that, Jonah, the younger Imoo is the superior player.  Sadly for the Reign and the Imoo family they fell to the San Jose Barracuda 5-4 in over time.  Nothing quite this crazy has happened with goaltenders at the professional level since December of 2015 when the Toronto Marlies called upon David Ayers, the Mattamy Athletic Centre's operations manager and zamboni driver at the Rioch Coliseum, to back up Jonathan Bernier.  Ayres was later offered an amateur  tryout contract by the Marlies in Febuary of 2016.

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Kings Finally Have a Win!

     The Los Angeles Kings came into tonight's game against the Dallas Stars with a dismal 0-3-0 record.  The Stars had been third in the Central Division with a record of 2-1-0 before tonight's game.  If anyone had asked me before the game who I thought would win, I would not have hesitated to say the Stars would take the game easily.  The Kings have been having a rough start to their season and had not been playing up to their potential even without having Jonathan Quick in goal.  The Kings however had never in their 50 year history started the season with 4 losses and thankfully for the Kings that is still true tonight.
     The Kings came out fighting and controlled the game leading from early in the game.  This was a key for the Kings to have a chance at wining tonight.  The Stars are historically a high scoring team and if they allowed them to take the lead they would have been doomed to suffer yet another loss.  The Stars still played a tough game and worked hard to tie the game first at 2 in the second and finally at 3 late in the third.  Peter Budaj stepped up to the plate and played strong holding on and trusting his team to help him out when the game was tied and went into overtime.  Another thing the Kings did well was control things on the penalty kill allowing only 1 power play goal for the Stars out of 6 power play opportunities throughout the game.  The Kings defense also played much better than they have thus far giving Budaj better protection and helping to keep the score relatively low for the Stars.
     For offense Nic Dowd got his first NHL goal in the 1st to give the Kings the early lead, in the 2nd Jeff Carter and Tanner Pearson scored to keep the momentum going and hold onto their lead, and in over time Alec Martinez was the hero of the game scoring the wining goal with 1:20 left in the OT period, giving the Kings their first win of this 2016-17 season!  The win was not clean or pretty, but it was a win, and in the end that is all that matters.  They have proven that they can win without Quick.  Now they just need to keep that momentum going, and have more games in the win column than the loss until Quick is healthy again.  If they can manage this small miracle, then the Kings might be able to keep their playoff hopes alive.... only time will tell.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Two dramatic comeback wins: Jets @ Leafs, and Sharks @ Pens

Not one, but two dramatic come-from-behind wins this week:

Jets @ Leafs

Wednesday, the Winnipeg Jets managed to turn a four-goal deficit into a win in OT against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs had two goals in the first period (Carrick, Kadri) and two goals in the second (Nylander, Kadri), and it looked grim for the Jets, but then Myers scored at 13:04 in the second. Perhaps that was all the Jets needed to rally, and then tie things up in the third with goals from Laine, Scheifele, and Laine again. Patrik Laine also ended up scoring the winning goal in OT at 2:40.

Remember last week when Leafs rookie Auston Matthews scored an unprecedented four goals in their home opener? Well, here's another remarkable rookie performance for you in Patrik Laine.

Sharks @ Pens

The Pens were down by two goals, and down to only four defensemen (Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maatta left the ice in the second period with injuries) when they came back in the third period against the Sharks with three epic goals on Thursday.

The Sharks scored two goals in the first period. Patric Hornqvist scored in the second period, but the goal was waved off. How did the Pens turn things around in the third? Hornqvist looked really disgruntled at the no-goal call, and must have decided that he wanted it back. His determination must have been contagious because the Pens decisively took back control, and Malkin and Wilson came through with goals in the third period to even the score. Hornqvist scored the winner with 5:28 remaining.

This third period gave me flashbacks from the Stanley Cup final this year.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Jonathan Quick - No Surgery

     As most of you know Goalie Jonathan Quick suffered a groin injury late in the first period of the Kings game against the Sharks last Wednesday.  Initially GM Dean Lombardi was quoted as saying that Quick would be out for a while.  In the ensuring days we heard several ambiguous follow up reports as to the extent of the injury, and Quick was placed on a week to week status.  Then late last week Coach Sutter announced that after Quick's MRI the injury was deemed to be severe and related to the same groin injury he suffered in 2013, and would likely require surgery.  Sutter provided an estimated 3-4 month time frame before we could expect to see Quick return to the ice.
     Today however the Kings organization announced that Jonathan Quick had opted to undergo a non-surgical procedure yesterday.  There has as yet been no clarification or explanation as to how extensive the injury is or what non-surgical treatment Qick received or is receiving during his recovery.  That being said, especially with his history of previous groin injury, I am concerned that Quick and or the Kings organization are trying to rush his return to play.  While undoubtedly the Kings are suffering a tremendous handicap not having Quick's leadership and goaltending skills present in the early games of the season, his overall health and long term fitness to play should be of higher concern.  If he rushes back before he is ready or tries to shortcut the treatment he could end up either right back out on injury again, or worst case scenario it is possible that with further damage it could even end his career.  At this time Lombardi is still holding firm to his assessment that Quick is expected to be out for three months, and the organization has not put him on long term injured reserve.  This not only implies that Quick is expected to return to play within the three months being quoted, but that the Kings are counting on this hypothetical timeline being a virtual guarantee.  By not putting him out on long term injured reserve they will not be able to free up any of Quick's 5.8 million dollar annual salary.  With the team already being so close to salary cap this means that they will not even be able to attempt to replace Quick or Zatkoff and Budaj with a more experienced front line goaltender even if they could find a suitable player.
     This lack of an experienced first line goalie has been one of the key contributors to the Kings 0-3-0 record so far this season.  Though Zatkoff and Budaj are certainly not entirely to blame for the losses thus far, the Kings as a team have grown dependent on the elite skills of Jonathan Quick in goal.  It will definitely take time for the defensive lines to change from the accustomed style of play that having Quick's skill set in goal has allowed them to develop.  They will need to provide more support in front of the net for either Zatkoff of Budaj to be as successful in reducing scoring chances and allowing for the team to start putting some games in the win column.  Unfortunately time is not on the Kings side as many of the teams in the Pacific Division have started the season strong.  It will be a long climb form the basement of the division back into playoff position, and the longer that Quick has to be out without the team taking any measures to reinforce the goalie position with a player more accustomed to their style of play and with more experience as a first line goaltender, the less likely it is that the Kings will find themselves in playoff contention this season.  That is of course barring the possibility of at least two or more other teams in the division having catastrophic injuries or otherwise tanking their season, which no one wants to hope for.  I still believe even having said all of this that overall in the long run the Kings would be better off to make sure that Jonathan Quick takes all the time he needs to get this injury properly treated and fully recover, rather than risk losing him into next season as well or even permanently.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Western Conference - week 1

     It has definitely been an interesting week one of the 2016-17 season.  It is still very early in the season so the standing as of now don't really mean much, however there have been a few surprises.  Many teams are still getting the feel of new line ups, and newly acquired players are trying to get the rhythm of their teams.  Other teams are struggling with unexpected injuries already which have effected the standings. My focus in this post is the Western Conference and their performance in this first week of the season.
     For the Central Division right now the St Louis Blues are in the number one spot having won all three of their games last week.  They had a big win over the Chicago Blackhawks on opening day of the season, the final score there being 5-2, they then played the Minnesota Wild on Thursday with a closer game winning 3-2, and finished out their week yesterday with another 3-2 victory this time over the New York Rangers. Seeing the Blues in the top of the division is not a huge surprise as they had a strong team last year and a good playoff run.  The bigger surprise is that the bottom 2 in the division, at the end of week 1, are the Nashville Predators and the 2015 Stanley Cup winning Chicago Blackhawks.  The Predators played 2 games last week and have 1 win and 1 loss both with the Blackhawks.  Nashville played Friday night as the first game of their season beating the Blackhawks 3-2, only to turn around and play them again Saturday suffering a 5-2 loss.  The Predators have already suffered 2 notable injuries in these fist 2 games of the season.  In the first game Defenseman Anthony Bitetto was injured during a fight with Chicago's Jordin Tootoo and left the game, he is expected to miss 4-6 weeks with an upper body injury.  Then on Saturday Mikka Salomaki was hurt blocking a shot with his hand and is expected to miss 6-8 weeks.  On a positive note P.K. Subban started his career with the Predators with a beautiful goal in his first shot wearing a Nashville uniform.  I believe that Nashville will finish the season much closer to the top of their division, but injuries in the first two games is not the way any team wants to start the season.  It is a bit surprising to me to see the Chicago Blackwawks dead last in their division after 3 games.  They stared off the season with a shocking 5-2 loss to the Blues on opening night.  I am not so much surprised that the Blues were able to take the win, as by the 3 goal margin that they won by.  I expected a much closer game from two talented teams that on paper I would have expected to be fairly evenly matched.  Their second game was with Nashville on Friday night, they also lost, but a much closer 3-2 game.  Then on Saturday against Nashville again they finally took their first win of the season in another high scoring 5-2 game.   The Blackhawks luckily have not had an injury plagued opening week, but it seems that their weak spot at present is with their penalty kill teams.  They gave up 3 goals in their first game on power plays by the Blues and all 3 of Nashville's goals in their Friday night loss to the Predators were made on the power play.
     On a positive note here in the central division not only did the Colorado Avalanche win their first game of the season against the Dallas Stars, but Joe Colborne also scored their first opening night hat trick in 10 years.  Colborne was an off season acquisition for Colorado, they picked him up from the fellow western conference team Calgary Flames last summer.  He seems to be a much better fit with the Avalanche, already having a better season here in Colorado than he did last year in Calgary.  Colorado currently holds the number 2 spot in the central division.  That brings us to the Dallas Stars who are in 3rd place after week one.  Dallas opened their season on Thursday with a 4-2 win over Anaheim.  The Stars had a rocky start to this 2016-17 season being out shot by the Ducks 17-1 in the first period, but still manged to keep the score tied at 1, and they came back strong in the second and third periods to win the game.  They ran into trouble again in Denver, and not for the first time.  The Stars have now lost 8 of their last 9 games in Denver after falling to the Avalanche 6 to 5 on Saturday.  What I noticed most about the Stars watching that game was the breakdowns in defense.  True goaltender Antti Niemi was pulled 12 minutes into the second period after allowing 5 goals, but in fairness to him he can not be entirely blamed for all of those goals.  The defensive lines were not able to get into or stay in positions to support Niemi for at least 3 of those 5 goals.

     In the Pacific division, probably the biggest piece of news in this first week has been the opening day injury of goaltender Jonathan Quick.  His injury is obviously severe as it is reportedly requiring surgery.  This is a big problem not only for Quick himself, but also for the Kings as a team.  While they did acquire Jeff Zatkoff from the Pittsburgh Penguins over the summer, I do not believe it was with the expectation of him doing more than filling in for maybe a dozen or so games throughout the regular season.  Now Zatkoff is in the position of being the Kings first line goalie at least for the expected 3 to 4 months that Quick is currently expected to be out. While certainly no Jonathan Quick, Zatkoff is a decent goaltender, he played 35 games over 4 seasons with the Penguins and has a career 0.914 save percentage. Being called up as back-up goaltender now is Peter Budaj.  Budaj is a virtual unknown in the NHL, though he did get called up last season for a game against the Rangers,when Quick was out with a much more minor injury, and did take a win in that game.  Still one win does not and NHL caliber goalie make.  So in short the Kings will be playing with a strong backup goalie as their fist line and an unknown quantity as their back up.  The Kings are currently in the bottom of the pacific division after suffering losses to both of their interstate rivals, the San Jose Sharks and the Anaheim Ducks last week.   Hopefully Zatkoff will be able to step up and carry the team until Quick can get back on the ice.
     At the top of the pacific division after week one is the San Jose Sharks.  They have started the season off strong with both a home win against the Kings on opening night and and an away win against the Blue Jackets on Saturday.  The Sharks are working hard to prove that last year's trip to the Stanley Cup Finals was not just a fluke.  It can only be hoped that they can keep up the momentum and great playing that they demonstrated in the first 2 games.  The Vancouver Canucks have found themselves tied for first in their division after the first week of regular season play.  Last week they had 2 games  one against the Calgary Flames and one against the Carolina Hurricanes, both of which they took the win on.  The Calgary game was a very close battle which the Canucks finally took in a shoot out win on Saturday night.  The game last night against Carolina was also very close, the Canucks again won this time 32 seconds into over time.  The Edmonton Oilers are in 2nd in the pacific division after 3 games last week.  They had 2 games against Calgary both relatively high scoring games and both of which they won, giving them a great start to the season.  Yesterday however they had a devastating 6-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabers.  Coach Todd McLellan came down hard on his team following the loss all across the board, not blaming any one player, saying that "We had guys falling all over the place.  We didn't execute.  Our passing was poor.  Positionally, from the goaltender to the defense on up to the forwards, no one was ready to play."  While definitely harsh and not what anyone wants to hear about their team in the opening week of play, it was a fairly accurate summation of that game.  The Oilers are at least as good a team as the Sabers and that should have been a much more exciting and fun game to watch.  Still every team has a bad game of two through out any given season, so do not count the Oilers out of playoff contention yet.  If they can come back and start playing again they way they did in their first to match ups of the season against Calgary they will definitely be in competition for a playoff slot come the end of the regular season.
     The Arizona Coyotes only played one game last week and it was a close one.  They played the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday and managed a 4-3 overtime win.  Not only was it an exciting game, but the Coyotes showed the team's offensive diversity having all 4 of their goals scored by different players.  One game is not much to judge by, but if they can keep the momentum going and continue to play together well as a team going forward they can certainly look to move into playoff position.  The Anaheim Ducks played 3 games last week and sadly lost all of them.  They opened their season Thursday with a 4-2 loss to Dallas, then played the Penguins Saturday and fell 3-2, and closed out the week on Sunday with an over time loss to the Islanders, also 3-2.  No one wants to start the season with 3 straight losses, but if anyone can come back from a rough start it is the Ducks.  Last year they started their season 1-7-2 and still managed to battle back to make the playoffs.  The biggest weaknesses that the Ducks have shown in week one are inconsistency on the defensive lines, breakdowns allowing some easy goals to be scored from close in, and the inability to start the game strong.  They have had a weak first period in all three games so far, and have always been trying to catch up from behind.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

NHL Opening Night - Pacific Division

     Opening night of NHL hockey, can I say I am overjoyed to have hockey season underway finally! There was a lot of excitement around the league on this first night of the 2016-17 season.  Here in the Pacific Division we had 4 teams play, the Calgary Flames played the Edmonton Oilers and The San Jose Sharks played the Los Angeles Kings.  Edmonton dominated Calgary taking that game in a high scoring 7 to 4 win.  The Kings Sharks game was much closer with the Sharks taking the game 2 to 1.
    The Oilers had a great opening night at their new arena in Edmonton.  They overtook the Flames by a 3 point margin.  Perhaps the more impressive bit about the 7 goals scored by the Oilers is the diversity of the players who scored.  There were 6 different shooters that found the back of the net tonight.  Captian Connor McDavid scored 2, the other 5 were scored one a piece by Patrick Maroon, Tyler Pitlick, Zack Kassian, Jesse Puljujarvi, and Jordan Eberle.  Calgary did put in a strong effort which included 2 shorthanded goals from Troy Brouwer and Michael Frolik, but after the penalty goal by the Oilers in the middle of the second they were just not able to come back.
     The interstate rivalry between the Sharks and the Kings was a close game.  At the close of the first period the game was tied 1 to 1.  Tyler Toffoli of the Kings scored a beautiful power play goal early in the first to give the Kings a short lived lead.  Logan Couture tied things up in the second half of the first with a disputed goal that sparked Jonathan Quick to drop his gloves and start a brawl that included everyone on the ice except for Martin Jones.  Unfortunately the big news from this game came at the beginning of the second when Jeff Zatkoff took the ice as goaltender for the Kings and Jonathan Quick did not return from the locker room.  Later in the game Kings Manager Lombardi said that Quick was out with a lower body injury and could be out for "a while".  The winning goal was scored by Brett Burns early in the third period, so the Sharks start their season on a high note with a home ice win. This is notable because in the 2015-16 regular season they had a less the 50% win average on home ice,  though they did much better in the playoffs at home.  Hopefully this opening night win will set the tone for a strong performance at home as well as on the road this year.
     Time will tell how the loss of Quick will effect the performance of the team.  He is Scheduled for an MRI on Thursday to determine the extent of the injury, so more should be known about his estimated return in the next few days.  Jonathan Quick is one of the Kings key players both due to his exceptional skill as a goalie and in psychological presence and confidence building for team moral in general.  Zatkoff performed well for the Kings tonight, but no one can replace Jonathan Quick.  We will just have to hope that Quick's injury is not severe, and that he can make a speedy and complete recovery.


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Can the San Jose Sharks Make a Deep Playoff Run Again?

    As you know the Sharks made it to the Stanley Cup final for the first time in the Organization's 25 year history last season.  The question that has been asked many time since they lost to the Penguins in game 6 of the finals last season is can they make another deep play off run again, and can they do it in this 2016-17 season? My answer is a cautious yes.  I believe that the Sharks are capable of returning to the playoffs, possibly making it through to round 3 maybe even to the finals again this coming season.  However that being said a lot of things will have to go their way.
     Most importantly they need to keep their first and second line guys healthy and injury free.  Having Logan Couture out with a fractured fibula for a good part of last season hurt them.  If something like that were to happen again this season to him or Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Brett Burns, Joel Ward, or Martin Jones it could be a catastrophic season or at the very least an end to the dreams of making back to the final.  Historically one of the Sharks biggest  weaknesses has been their lack of depth.  They have generally had a great first line and a strong second line, but after that they fall flat.  In order to have a successful playoff run this season they need to put together a much stronger third and fourth lines.
     The Sharks have worked in this off season to improve their depth by adding a few new players to their lineup by acquiring Timo Meier, Marcus Sorensen, and Mikkel Boedker.  Meier is a physically dominant right winger who has been described as the Patrick Marleau the Sharks always wanted.  In other words he has the potential to be every bit as strong and effective a player as Marleau while having the advantages of being much younger, being faster on the ice, and more physical if the situation calls for it.  This is quite possibly Marleau's last season in the NHL as he is in the last year of his contract. At the age of 37 he is now on the older end of the scale for a professional athlete and his performance has been declining noticeably in the past few seasons. This being the case it is unlikely that he would be able to negotiate another contract for the same $6.67 million a year that his current contract gives him.  So having Meier on hand to step into his place could not have happened at a more fortunate time for the San Jose Sharks organization.  
    Marcus Sorensen was signed be the Sharks in May.  He is a strong left winger who played most recently in the Swedish Hockey League.  Las season he was with Dhugardens IF where he scored 15 goals and made 19 assists in the 47 games he played.  Sorensen at 24 years of age is a bit old for an NHL rookie but his success and experience in the SHL put him in a good position to compete at an NHL level.  He is described as an offensively skilled forward, a fast skater with good puck handling ability who gets involved in the game physically.  
    Mikkel Boedker is a strong and talented young forward who the Sharks signed on July 1st of this year.  He has previous NHL experience with both the Arizona Coyotes and the Colorado Avalanche.  He scored a career high 51 points last season with 17 goals and 34 assists.  Boedker brings his tremendous speed and creative puck handling abilities to the Sharks, which will make him dangerous in front of the net.  Of these 3 new players the Sharks recently signed he is the only one scheduled to play in tonight's season opener.   Boedker will be on the 2nd line left wing as well as part of the 2nd power play unit in tonight's game against the Kings.  
     With the addition of Meier, Sorensen, and Boedker the Sharks have effectively added a whole new offensive line to their roster.  This fills much of their lack of depth issues from previous years.  These players also all add speed to the Sharks team, a component that they were seriously lacking in their Stanley Cup Final round with the Penguins last season.   This addresses one of their biggest road blocks to performing well deep into the playoffs, but by no means makes them a sure thing.  The main weakness I still see for the Sharks team is their defense.  Brett Burns is an excellent player but he is only one man.  Marc-Edouard Vlasic is also a strong player who has performed very well for the Sharks, but beyond that their defensive lines are still weak.  This is especially detrimental for the Sharks because they have a hard time recovering from behind if they are down by more than one goal during a game.  Even with this weakness however the Sharks were able to make it to the final round last season so I am cautiously optimistic that they can do so again provided that they stay healthy and play at least as well as, hopefully better than, they did last season.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Episode 1 is live! "Sydney Crosby, oh no, not again!"

Behold, the debut episode of our podcast. This is just the beginning folks! Stay tuned, and we'll keep it coming.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Nail Yakupov Trade

     The Edmonton Oilers announced yesterday that they have made a trade with the St. Louis Blues for Nail Yakupov.  Yakupov was the Oilers first round draft pick in 2012, but he has never panned out for them as well as the organization had hoped.  He played 252 games for the Oilers scoring 50 goals and making 61 assists in his tenure in Edmonton.  Yakupov has the skills and potential to be a strong player.  He proved his skills at a junior level playing with Sarnia, where he did well enough to become a first round draft pick for the NHL. Hopefully he will able to build on and realize more of that potential in St. Louis with the Blues organization.  He never managed to bond with any of his Oiler's team mates, rarely if ever joining in on activities planned off the ice and always declining  invitations to dinner or just to hang out with other players on the team in their down time.  Also more importantly he was never able to find the right chemistry with any of the coaching staff in Edmonton.  This I believe is the reason why he has not played at the level that was anticipated from a first round draft pick.

     Yakupov is being traded to St. Louis in exchange for the 22 year old center Zach Pochiro and either a third or second round pick in 2018.  Pochiro played for two years with the Prince George Cougars of the WHL where he ranked 3rd in the club playing in 63 games scoring 27 goals and making 39 assists while also leading the team with 123 penalty minutes.  He was then traded to the Quad City Mallards in the ECHL where he played 44 games in which he scored 9 goals and made 17 assists.  He was drafted by the St. Louis Blues in the 4th round #112 over all of the 2013 entry draft.  Pochiro has no NHL experience as yet but performed well in the minor leagues over the past six years.  In addition to getting Zach Pochiro in the trade they also get, as it stands now, a third round pick in 2018 from the St. Louis Blues.  This conditional pick for 2018 however, becomes a second round draft pick if Nail Yakupov scores 15 goals or more for the Blues during the 2016-2017 season.  As such for both his own sake and the sake of both the Oilers and Blues organizations it is hoped that Yakpov will be able to find the right coaching staff for him as well as a better team chemistry, both of which he needs to reach his thus far unrealized NHL potential.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Lightning to retire #26

By Michael Miller (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Lightning will be retiring the #26 on January 13, 2017.  This will the first time the franchise will retire a number.  It belongs to Martin St. Louis.

Here are a few highlights of his career.

  • 6 all star appearances 
  • Received two Art Ross Trophy's  
  • Played on three teams.  The Flames, the Lightning and the Rangers
  • 365 career goals and a total of 953 points
  • Stanley Cup 2004
I could go on and on about all his accomplishments.   But the franchise retiring his number might be the biggest, well that or the Stanley Cup.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Youngest Captain in NHL History

This afternoon The Edmonton Oilers and Connor McDavid made NHL History.  The Oiler's organization announced today that Connor McDavid will be the team's 15th captain.  McDavid has only played 45 games in the NHL and is not yet 20 years old.  Though young and inexperienced in the league McDavid is undeniably one of the most talented young players the NHL has seen, and he has earned his place at the head of his team.  No doubt this is just one of many accomplishments we can look forward to in his future with the NHL.  Hopefully he can help lead his team to a successful season.  The Oilers have a lot of talent in both young and experienced players, and look to have a much better performance than in recent seasons.  Connor McDavid will have the leadership assistance of veteran players Milan Lucic, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as his alternate captains.   This much needed infusion of strong and dedicated leadership should allow the Oilers the opportunity to shine this 2016-2017 season.  At 19 years and 266 days of age Connor McDavid is officially the youngest player in NHL history to wear the C on his sweater!  McDavid replaces Gabriel Landeskog for the title of youngest ever team captain by only 20 days.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Sharks Chum

In one of the best ideas I have heard in years.  The Sharks have there own beer...  Beer, yeah a craft brew beer at that.  The Sharks have their own signature Red ale called "chum".

Beer + Hockey  = awesome!

Its a partnership with Gordon Biersch Brewing.  Its described as "dry-hopped red ale".  Has a reported ABV of 7%.  Here is how to find it.

http://www.gordonbierschbrewing.com/locator/

More teams should do this!

Monday, September 19, 2016