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Showing posts with label San Jose Sharks. Show all posts
Showing posts with label San Jose Sharks. Show all posts

Saturday, November 3, 2007

NHL 2007-08: Game Day Previews November 3rd

Leafs logoHabs logoThe Leafs skate into Montreal on Saturday, continuing one of the greatest rivalries in NHL history in terms of length, passion and polarizing effect. At least in Canada. More than just two hockey clubs playing each other, in many ways the rivalry is symbolic of the dual nature of Canada's founding and the ongoing struggles that involve Quebec and the rest of the country.

Earlier in the week there was another reminder of just how important the language issue is in Quebec when Habs' captain Saku Koivu was criticized for not learning how to speak French. The comments against Koivu came from a Quebec lawyer during public hearings about religious minorities in the province.

It's always ironic that any group feeling threatened (Quebec within Canada in this case) will usually end up taking out their frustrations on other minorities that have even less power in society. There have long been questions about how new immigrants to the province are treated and these hearings are looking at how new-comers are being discriminated against based on religion.

In an obvious attempt to shift the focus, the grand-standing lawyer launched a public attack on the Canadiens' Finnish captain.

Koivu took note and delivered the pre-game announcement of players mainly in French (albeit taped...he had done opening night's all in English which provided the kind of opening the language fascist lawyer was looking for) in the game against the Flyers on Friday.

He then promptly served up another response in the "actions speak louder than words" manner as he had a solid game and received well-deserved cheers from the Montreal crowd for both efforts.

Back to the Leafs/Canadiens game tonight. The Canadiens have been playing extremely well over the last seven games or so, earning at least a point in each of those contests. The story with these two teams is the contrast in special teams.

The Habs' power play is on fire at the moment, with a league wide best when it comes to converting extra man chances. When opposing teams are taking loads of penalties it usually is indicative of team speed and effort for the club being given the man advantage. A huge 21 goals on 68 chances for Montreal when on the power play.

The Leafs on the other hand are still having some problems when their opponents have a player in the box. They are at the bottom of the league when trying to make use of their chances. They have converted a measly eight out of 64 opportunities.

Add to that woeful stat the fact that the Leafs are worst in the NHL for coughing up short-handed goals with four. They gave up one against New Jersey on Friday night. The goal broke a tie, shifted the momentum towards the Devils and helped them to win 3-2 against the Leafs. Second loss in a row for Toronto after previously winning two consecutive games on the road. The Buds are taking plenty of bad penalties as well.

If those trends hold up tonight, it won't be good for the Leafs.

Bruins logoSens logoThe game in Ottawa could be an interesting match-up. While the Senators have been rolling along, they did let up the other night against the worst team in the league (Atlanta Thrashers) and the game ended much closer than it should have.

With the exception of the shellacking the Bruins absorbed from the Canadiens 12 days ago, they have been playing well and winning some close games, with an overtime win against Buffalo on Thursday.

However, Boston hasn't fared too well against teams higher than them in the standings and obviously this will be the best team they have faced this season.

An all important divisional game will make this a close one I believe.

Zdeno Chara versus Brian McGrattan in the fisticuffs department perhaps?

Devils logoRangers logoTwo disappointing under-achievers in the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils meet in the Big Apple. Both clubs have equally mediocre 5 and 6 records with the Rangers holding the dubious honour of being the lowest scoring team in the entire league.

The Devils have been putting the puck in the net at a better pace than the Rangers but have still been blanked three times this season. One of those shut-outs was delivered by the Rangers in a 2-0 win in the teams' first meeting of the season.

Maybe they should skip the preliminaries. Just head right to overtime instead of playing what's likely to be a bland, scoreless regulation.

***

Some other interesting match-ups amongst the eight other games being played on Saturday night. Phoenix coming off a big win against Dallas could highlight just how far the Ducks have fallen if they can handle Anaheim at home.

The Canucks must be thankful to get back on the road after they continued their dismal play at home in a loss to the Nashville Predators. Regardless, they'll still have to ratchet up their shots on goal (though they did manage 29 against the Preds) or they won't fare too well against a strong Colorado Avalanche team who are unbeaten at home so far this season.

The Sharks and Kings finish off a home and home series in Los Angeles tonight with the Kings winning the first leg 5-2 on Friday. Battle of California has some insight on that match-up and a preview of the Ducks and Coyotes game as well.

Pittsburgh travels to Long Island hoping that the re-energized Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin can keep scoring the way they have in the past few games. Though they'll want a better result than they had in their loss to the Avalanche on Thursday.

Florida in Carolina, Atlanta at Tampa Bay, Calgary in Minnesota and Chicago visiting St. Louis are the other games being played.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

NHL 2007-08 Predictions: Western Conference

Sharks logoWings logoWild logoNucks logoDucks logoStars logoFlames logoBJacks logoAvs logoOilers logoPreds logoBlues logoKings logoHawks logoYotes logoFar less rambling to accompany my Western Conference predictions. Just a few notes on why I see various teams improving or regressing compared to last season.

1. San Jose Sharks
2. Detroit Red Wings
3. Minnesota Wild
4. Vancouver Canucks
5. Anaheim Ducks
6. Dallas Stars
7. Calgary Flames
8. Columbus Blue Jackets
9. Colorado Avalanche
10. Edmonton Oilers
11. Nashville Predators
12. St. Louis Blues
13. Los Angeles Kings
14. Chicago Blackhawks
15. Phoenix Coyotes

First, with the relative stagnation of Detroit I don't see them repeating as conference champions, though they will still quite easily capture the Central Division title. When I say "stagnation" I am only considering the moves made by division and conference rivals as compared to the lack of action by the Wings in the off-season. What the Wings have is still solid and in some cases spectacular, including players such as Nicklas Lidstrom on defense and Pavel Datsyuk as the top line centre. Time will catch up with netminder Dominik Hasek and defenseman Chris Chelios at some point, though we'll have to wait and see whether that's evident this season.

You might think that with softer competition from their division rivals, Detroit would have an even easier time of walking away with the most points in the conference. I'm going to hammer a knuckle ball into that theory and say that the lack of strong clubs in the immediate vicinity will be a disadvantage for the Wings as they drop more games with stronger teams from other divisions and may even let up with their Central division competitors. It's the old, "play golf with skilled players and your own game improves" theory.

At least one intangible as well regarding the Wings. Though Scotty Bowman has professed otherwise, I still believe that he has been playing footsie with Toronto and any further developments on that front during the season could be a distraction.

I see the San Jose Sharks stepping up a notch this season. They still have one of the best top 2 line centers in Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau respectively. Thornton especially should continue to be a huge points producer as he goes for his third straight 90 point plus campaign. On defense, the Sharks lost Scott Hannan to the Avalanche but they also gained Craig Rivet late last season and with the added off-season and training camp to become even more familiar with San Jose's system, their defense corp. should be as strong as ever. Evgeni Nabokov is now the undisputed no.1 goalie as Vesa Toskala was shipped off to Toronto along with potential headache Mark Bell. As long as Nabokov stays healthy, this team is as solid as they come.

A kind of palpable rage develops within teams that are stocked with talent but have faltered come playoff time. This added motivation of showing everyone what they are really capable of should turn the Sharks into a wrecking crew to be reckoned with this season.

The Anaheim Ducks will still be a strong team this year, but not to the same degree as in their Cup winning campaign. Teemu Selanne and Scott Nidermayer are nowhere to be seen and without those two, the team chemistry will be markedly different. Add the enigmatic Todd Bertuzzi to the mix and the potential is there for a nasty brand of thuggery delivered by him and Chris Pronger. Without the regulating force of the departing vets discipline could be a problem.

I'm taking the Minnesota Wild to win the Northwest division and thus place third in the conference. The Wild haven't done much in the off-season but they were already exceptionally strong in 06-07 and they have a lot of young players that will continue to improve. Rock solid defense and the goaltending duo of Manny Fernandez and Niklas Lidstrom will help them to beat out Vancouver in the improved Northwest division this year.

Vancouver Canucks' goalie Robert Luongo is roundly hailed as the best player between the pipes and there's no argument here. The problem is that the lack of offense wasn't really addressed by the Canucks in the off-season, though they did pick up Ryan Shannon and Brad Isbister. No doubt GM David Nonis will try to address that lack of scoring at some point during the season. That the Canucks are still a solid team is a testament to the skill of Luongo and Vancouver's good defense.

Logic and a modicum of common hockey sense would dictate that the Columbus Blue Jackets won't make the playoffs, especially ahead of the Nashville Predators and even the improved Edmonton Oilers. But if I were to take the popular route, my picks would only be derivative of every other half-baked, two-bit prognosticating son-of-a-bitch out there. Columbus has to make the playoffs eventually, so this season's as good as any. Well, no...actually it's not. But, I'm sticking with my "to hell with it" pick.

In fact, Columbus did make some improvements to their team, the most notable being the signing of Mike Peca. Now, a 33 year-old centreman coming off a nasty season-ending injury might not be the player you would think could help push the B Jacks into the playoffs for the first time. But he is the type of individual who can have an immediate effect on a team, not just in terms of the skill he brings to face-offs and the penalty killing unit but also the motivating force he can have on younger players.

Ken Hitchcock in his second season as the Blue Jacket's coach together with the addition of new GM Scott Howson are both pluses in my opinion. Like most new GMs, Howson will likely look to make his mark with at least a few moves throughout the season.

Nashville has been gutted to some degree and together with the collective venom from Canadian fans clogging up their karma and hindering their mental game, they will fall completely out of the playoff picture. Kimmo Timonen, Paul Kariya, Tomas Vokoun and Scott Hartnell are all gone this season and that will hurt them. Rate both the Predators and Blue Jackets as my wild cards thrown in the mix for the sake of making things more interesting, though I think both picks could come to fruition.

I fought against my visceral dislike of Mike Keenan and slotted the Flames in at 7th place. The Flames were considered some of the biggest underachievers in 06-07 and Keenan's brand of nastiness could be just what they need. A shared loathing of their new coach could be a unifying force for the Flames and may spark them to more wins and some success in the playoffs.

I like the changes the Oilers have made but it's just a matter of the moves of other teams and mitigating factors conspiring to squeeze them out of the playoffs once again this season. I always like an underdog and the disrespect the Oilers have been absorbing from around the league makes me want to see them over-achieve. I just don't quite see the additions they have made being enough to result in a huge improvement over last year.

Again, my lack of familiarity with some teams means they are getting short shrift and for that I offer no apologies. That's just the way it is.

Now that we have the predictions out of the way, on to the REGULAR SEASON!!!!