Yes, it’s a second straight year of playoffs without the Sabres, but the NHL playoffs are always big in my house.
Three Western Conference series begin tonight so let’s start with the President’s Trophy winning Chicago Blackhawks. They play the 15th ranked team in the NHL Minnesota.
The Wild started the season by signing the two biggest free agents in Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.
The winger put up 18 goals in 48 games which would work out to 35 over a full season. Suter had 32 points which ranked him third in the NHL behind P.K. Subban and Kris Letang. With all that being said, it took the Wild until its final game to secure a spot.
One thing that Suter has done very well this season is bring along rookie Jonas Brodin. The kid is 19 and was taken 10th overall in the 2011 draft. Many in Minnesota are raving the way Brodin’s played.
I knew Jason Pominville would be a great addition to any team he wouldn’t have to be captain on. In 10 games with Minnesota he scored four goals and five assists for nine points. He missed the end of the year due to a concussion that got Dustin Brown suspended. Pominville still doesn't feel well and won't play Tuesday.
Dany Heatley is out for the season after scoring 11 goals and 10 assists for 21 points in 36 games.
Niklas Backstrom played 42 games for Minnesota with very average results. His goals against was 2.48 and his save percentage was a poor .909.
That doesn’t even compare to the season that Corey Crawford had in Chicago. The Hawks netminder was 19-5-5 with a 1.94 goals against. That was second in the league behind Craig Anderson. His .926 save percentage ranked him 5th. The problem with Crawford is can he overcome the soft goals that helped Chicago get beaten in last year’s playoffs?
When you look at the rest of this Chicago team I can’t even envision Minnesota winning one game.
Pat Kane’s 55 points is 5th in league scoring. Jonathan Toews at 48 points is 13th. Both players had 23 goals which is 3rd in the league. Toews is 3rd in the NHL at plus 28.
Of course it’s more than those two players. Marian Hossa is there and has had a few good playoff moments. Chicago can also throw three, good scoring lines at you which is more depth than the Wild could dream of.
The defense is something to be jealous about thanks to Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson. After recovering from a concussion, former Sabre Steve Montador was waived and sent to the minors as he couldn’t break into this group.
Both teams have average power plays while Chicago is third in the league on the penalty kill.
Detroit visits Anaheim, but this isn’t the Red Wings of old. Nicklas Lidstrom retired and it’s not easy to be as good when you lose one of the best defensemen to ever play the game.
The Red Wins are ranked 13th in the NHL, while the Ducks were a surprising 3rd.
Danny DeKeyser was added to the blue line being signed out of Western Michigan. He got 11 games in with the Wings. The kid is from Michigan so he has to be excited about his first Stanley Cup action.
Up front the stars are still around. Pavel Datsyuk was 10th in league scoring with 49 points. Henrik Zetterberg had one less point scoring 11 goals with 37 assists. Zetterberg’s helpers ranked him 4th in the NHL while Datsyuk was 8th.
Johan Franzen ended the season with 31 points in 41 games, but he’s been a monster in the playoffs scoring 38 goals with 35 assists in 88 games. Of his 38 goals, 12 are game winners.
Jimmy Howard was great in goal and to beat this Anaheim team, he’ll have to be. Howard went 21-13-7 with a 2.13 goals against and a .923 save percentage.
Bursting on the scene for the Ducks was goalie Viktor Fasth. He went 15-6-2 with a 2.18 goals against and a.921 save percentage. Fasth is 30 years old and had been playing in Sweden.
Both Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry got rewarded with eight year contracts that will pay them over $8-million per year. After an off year, the captain rewarded the team’s faith scoring 49 points in 44 games. Perry wasn’t as good with 36 points in 44 games. His 15 goals works out to 28 over a full season.
In its last nine games, Anaheim was 4-4-1, but have been pretty consistent throughout.
In addition to Getzlaf and Perry, Temmu Selanne is still around at age 42. He scored 12 goals in 46 games which works out to 21 in a full season. Selanne has a Stanley Cup championship and has 111 games of Stanley Cup experience.
On defense Francois Beauchemin has had a great season anchoring the D. He was plus 19 and played over 23 minutes per game. Sheldon Souray came over from Dallas and was also a plus 19 showing the 36 year old still has a little hockey left.
Anaheim comes to the series with the fourth best power play in the NHL. The teams penalty killing is pretty even.
Detroit will always have some fight in them, but without Lidstrom, I think the Ducks take this in six.
The Kings begin defense of their first Stanley Cup championship taking to the road to face St. Louis. Los Angeles is the 7th ranked team in the NHL while the Blues are 6th.
For a lot of this season Jonathan Quick wasn’t anything like the goalie that vaulted the Kings to the Cup last spring. His goals against was 2.45 and his save percentage was an awful .902. The good news is he’s given up two or less goals in six of his last seven starts. He also helped L.A. end the season on a 5-3-2 note.
Former Sabre Robyn Regehr has played quite a bit with Kings stud defenseman Drew Doughty. That means he’s been averaging over 21 minutes of work in his 11 games with the Kings. Other than that many of the same cast of characters are still around. That includes Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Justin Williams and Dustin Brown who was a huge factor in last season’s success.
Kopitar only had 10 goals, but he put up 42 points in 47 games. Carter only had seven assists, but his 26 goals were 4th in the league.
This is the fourth time in playoff history the two teams have met. Los Angeles swept St. Louis last season, while the Blues have two sweeps to their credit.
St. Louis got some great goaltending down the stretch from Brian Elliott. In April he had a 1.28 goals against and .948 save percentage going 11-2. He was so bad earlier in the season the called up Jake Allen to take his place. Throw in Jaroslav Halak and all three goaltenders have a horrendous save percentage. Elliott was .907, Allen was .905 and Halak was .899. The reason for that is the Blues are the second stingiest team in the league giving up shots. Teams only get 24.2 shots per game. The Kings are 3rd at 25.
The Blues don’t score a lot as only three are in double figures for goals. Chris Stewart had 18, Patrik Berglund had 17 while David Perron scored 10. In 48 games captain David Backes had six goals and 22 assists for 28 points.
Former Sabre Jordan Leopold joined and excelled defense. He had two assists in 14 games and was minus two. I saw a couple of his games with St. Louis and played very well. The way he played in Buffalo is making me believe more and more that he played the way he did so he’d get traded. There’s no way a veteran defenseman like him makes many of the plays he made here. There were just too many of them where he looked lost and like he gave up.
Alex Pietrangelo is from the same draft as Tyler Myers and has been amazing for the Blues. He went ahead of Myers with the 4th overall pick. Others on defense are Jay Bouwmeester, Barret Jackman and Kevin Shattenkirk who was the 14th overall pick in the 2007 draft.
I think this series will be much better than it was last year, but I think the champs will prevail in six. I think they’re just too deep and the don’t trust the Blues goaltending.