Saturday, April 30, 2016

Evening Player Notes in the Playoffs (Apr 30)

It was a great start to the series between the St. Louis Blues and the Dallas Stars and it was the Stars that came out ahead, making good use of their home-ice advantage, taking a 2-1 victory in this one.

This one wasn't quite as good of a game for the hockey pool, as one team had the winning goalie in this one, Kari Lehtonen made 31 saves for the victory and the 2 points, as his team won the track meet in front of him.  The Stars outshot the Blues, 42-32, which means there should be some more goals later on in this series.

Did anyone really know what we were to expect out of this series between the Nashville Predators and the San Jose Sharks?  The Sharks were a pretty good question mark, moving into the second round and their opponent is still a little bit of a mystery, as they've moved past the opening round.  The Sharks flexed their scoring muscle on Friday night, taking Game 1, 5-2, and this game was actually good for a number of teams in the hockey pool.

Sure, this series doesn't have a lot of picks in the pool, but those who banked on the Sharks got a nice push.  Logan Couture scored a pair, including the winner, while Joel Ward had a goal and an assist, Brent Burns had a couple of assists and Martin Jones made 29 saves for the win.  Everyone on the list has at least a couple picks each.

In the afternoon game on Saturday, the Tampa Bay Lightning evened up the series with the New York Islanders, thanks to a solid effort from the drop of the puck from their offensive stars.

Tyler Johnson got back on the board with a couple of goals and an assist, registering a 3-point night for the... zero teams that picked him in the pool.  Another disappointing note for the pool, Jonathan Drouin, who wasn't even on the sheet, finished with a goal and an assist.  Maybe next year.

There was only one player taken in the pool to register a multiple point game... defenseman Victor Hedman, taken nine times, had a goal and an assist.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Queueing Up the West

On Friday night, the Western Conference will fly into gear, as both divisional series will get started, as we kick off the weekend.  In Dallas, it will be Game 1 between the Blues and the Stars, which certainly has a lot of potential for a great series as well.

Both teams had excellent regular seasons and they knew that their paths through the playoffs were going to be exceptionally difficult and now these are the top two teams, in terms of playoff selections, left in the Western Conference, which means that one team is going to leave a lot of disappointment behind.

The Stars are the favourites, according to the picks, in this series, leading 111-61.  An old playoff favourite, Patrick Sharp, leads all players in this series with 18 picks, followed by John Klingberg and Alexander Steen, both with 16 picks.  As for the goaltending, one team is still waiting for Jake Allen to take to the net for the Blues, which doesn't look like it will happen right away, with Brian Elliott earning the job as number one, while Kari Lehtonen also has one supporter in the pool and he should be getting the Game 1 start tonight.

Scoring-wise, the Stars and their dynamic offense are bringing their talents to round two, Jamie Benn and Jason Spezza are leading all scorers in this series, with 11 and 10 points, respectively.  Jaden Schwartz isn't far behind, with 8 points.

The Stars don't appear to have Tyler Seguin ready for Game 1, as his Achilles issue is still not 100% and Valeri Nichushkin, who was a healthy scratch to finish the series against the Wild, is questionable to return to the lineup, but that's a coaching decision, more than anything.

In the Pacific Division Final, where there is only one Pacific Division team left to play in it, the San Jose Sharks will do battle against the Nashville Predators, kicking off tonight in the late game in the Shark Tank.

The Predators may have finally added some offense to go with their big defense, while the Sharks are finally seeing their big stars roll at the same time, which makes this into a very interesting series at the start.

Neither team were thought to be making it this far, if you were to take the number of selections as an indicator.  Sure, there were a number of teams that took out a little bit of insurance, just in case, and it appears to have paid off.  The Sharks are the favourites between these two sides, leading 38-17 in picks, the least amount of selections in all four series going on at the moment.  Logan Couture makes up 22% of all of those picks, being taken 12 times for the series lead, while Brent Burns and Joe Thornton each come in with six picks to be tied for second on the team.  The top Predators player in picks... Ryan Ellis in Box 11, taken six times.  In goal, it will be Pekka Rinne against Martin Jones, and it is the Sharks keeper that leads in picks, 2-0.

The goalies both lead their teams in points in the pool with 8 each, then it is Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture leading the Sharks in pool points with 7 each and then Shea Weber leads Nashville's skaters with 6 points after round one.

Both teams appear to be healthy, from a selection sheet standpoint, as there are no players from either team on the news page today, so all that is left is for the puck to be dropped.  8:30pm MT is puck drop in Game 1... this should be a good one!

Morning Player Notes in the Playoffs (Apr 29)

The marquee match-up of the second round was the only game of the night on Thursday, wasn't really necessary to add any sort of preview yesterday... we all knew what it was all about.

And you know what?  Game 1 lived up to the billing.  It's crazy to think that this series will only get better.

Game 1 had a whole lot of everything... skating, hitting and its fair share of scoring, as the Capitals snuck a 4-3 decision out of overtime, thanks to a T.J. Oshie hat-trick game-winner.  The game wasn't without momentum swings, as the Capitals rode the wave of the start the game to a 1-0 lead at the end of one, the Penguins turned the tides a bit with a couple of goals midway through the 2nd, but it didn't last long, with Oshie opening his tally 33 seconds later tying the game at 2-2 and that's how we got to the 3rd.

Oshie was on the board again, early in the 3rd, sneaking a backhand through Pittsburgh's Matt Murray, but Nick Bonino, a non-pool forward, tied it up before the midway mark and helped this game go into extra time.

The 29-year old forward in Box 17, capped off the night with a huge wraparound goal, that needed to be reviewed for a few moments, winning the game and finishing with 4 points on the night, thanks to the bonus point.  Oshie has been taken 11 times in the pool, so there were a few teams cashing in on his success.

Braden Holtby had to make 42 saves to capture his 2 points on the night, bringing his total up to 14 points in these playoffs.  On the Pittsburgh side, Carl Hagelin was notable in this one, picking up a couple of assists in the loss.

For those counting games played, yes... defenseman Justin Schultz was still a healthy scratch, as he has only appeared in one game for the Penguins in these playoffs.  It's a real shame that he's the most popular player left in Box 22, but those are the breaks with this series.

Click here for the updated injury/news page on the website

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Morning Player Notes in the Playoffs (Apr 28)

In a rare occurrence, we knew a result in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs before the first round had even ended, as the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning got underway, thanks to some fortunate scheduling, especially for the Islanders.

The Islanders, continuing to play every other night, shortly after finishing off the Florida Panthers, didn't show any signs of rust, whereas the Lightning, who finished off the Red Wings fairly early, had five days off in between and it showed in spots, especially in the crease.

Despite a 1-0 Lightning lead early on, the Islanders were not swayed, as they continued to play their game and it paid off, as their scoring depth really came into play, scoring three more goals before the end of the opening frame, none of the goal scorers actually factoring in the hockey pool.  How sad is that?

The 2nd period was a lot of the same, as the Islanders were able to chase Ben Bishop with a fourth goal, thanks to John Tavares.  The 4-1 goal would end up being the winner, as the Lightning were able to mount a short comeback, but an empty-netter sealed the deal and the Islanders came away with a 5-3 win in the end, taking Game 1 away from home.

Tavares finished with a 3-point night, Ryan Strome returned to the lineup and had a couple of assists and Brock Nelson also cashed in with a couple of assists, leading the Islanders contingency on the selection sheet in points.  On the Bolts' side, it was all singles, in terms of points.

Making room for Strome in this one was Josh Bailey, who reportedly suffered an upper-body injury in the Islanders' last game against the Panthers and it turned out to be a fortunate turn of events for Strome, who picked up some points.

The strength of the Nashville Predators is that of their back end, both goaltending and their defense and that's what saw them through to the second round on Wednesday night, as they eliminated the Anaheim Ducks with a 2-1 victory.

Of course, you have to have some timely scoring and it couldn't have happened any better for the Predators, who tallied twice in the opening period, thanks to Colin Wilson and Paul Gaustad, and then their survival mode kicked in and they held on for a huge Game 7 win.

Pekka Rinne really had to stand tall in this one, making 36 saves, including 14 in the 3rd period, to preserve the win for his side, while the rest of the team stood up and made 24 shot blocks in the game as well, Roman Josi accounting for seven of those blocks.

Offensively, it really didn't look good for our little hockey pool, as the bonus point sunk into oblivion with a non-pool player and no one else had a multi-point game, so that was kind of rough for us, no matter how good the game actually was.

So, it's out with the Ducks!  Another Western favourite, now booted from our active teams, 113 picks, right down the tubes.  Hampus Lindholm, the Box 10 defenseman, was the most popular of the Ducks, taken 22 times, followed by Box 2 forward, Corey Perry.  The three most impressive Ducks in the opening series were Ryan Getzlaf, Jakob Silfverberg and Sami Vatanen, as they all finished with 5 points in the round, but after that, it was fairly scarce.

Now, the top teams in the pool, in terms of active players, Stuart, Kristy & Eric, now have 18 players each, while Jeremy's second team has 17 players after the first round.  We might be struggling for points, when this round is over and done with.

Now we can move on to the second round, where the San Jose Sharks now await the Nashville Predators and we'll have a Western preview either today or tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Evening Player Notes in the Playoffs (Apr 27)

Oh yeah!  Let's not forget about another Game 7... plus, I didn't want to miss out on a chance at another Game 7 graphic.

The Predators are in Anaheim tonight, where they won the first two games of the series, but the Ducks won the last game on the pond, so it is anyone's guess, who will get the better of this series.

No changes to either lineup are expected tonight, so we will see the same goaltending match-up that we've seen since Game 3, as it will be Pekka Rinne versus Frederik Andersen, much to the dismay of the pool, since no one has either goalie going in this one.

Out of six games, five of the game-winning goals in this series has been registered by a pool player.  Sami Vatanen and Jamie McGinn were the Ducks' representation, while Shea Weber, Filip Forsberg and James Neal were the winners for the Preds.  Who will be the big bonus point player in the decider?  Any guesses?

Stay tuned for tomorrow's blog posts, we'll preview the Western series, when the Pacific Division match-up is known.

Teeing Up the East

Kicking off before the first round officially concludes, the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning will start round two on Wednesday night.

This series will pit the two underdogs on the selection sheet against each other, which means that even if this series goes off the charts for scoring, the pool won't fill up with points... except for those lucky few that opted for these two teams.

Between the two teams, Tampa Bay is the favourite, as they have out-selected Long Island by a 56-29 margin, but if the series between the Panthers and the Islanders is any indication, this should also be an excellent series to watch.

The most popular player in the Playoff Pool in this series... Tampa Bay defenseman Jason Garrison, taken 13 times.  You can tell that this isn't a popular set of teams, when the bottom end defensemen are the players of note, as they are just throw in picks, thanks to the format.  The most popular forward is Ondrej Palat, taken eight times, followed by Nikita Kucherov, taken six times.

In terms of injuries and notes, the Islanders are going to be without Anders Lee and his broken leg, for sure.  Even if Jaroslav Halak was to come back from his lower-body injury, I don't imagine that the team would be too quick to move away from Thomas Greiss, who has performed admirably in his absence, getting past the Panthers.  Ryan Strome, on the other hand, taken three times, finished the series as a healthy scratch and unless the Islanders are struggling early on in this series, I can't seem him figuring back in any time soon.

Kicking off on Thursday night will be the marquee series in the East, the Pittsburgh Penguins against the Washington Capitals... Sidney Crosby versus Alex Ovechkin!

It's no secret that this is a series we've all been hoping to see in the playoffs, year after year, and now they're both healthy, both of their teams are firing on all cylinders and we should be in for one hell of a series.

According to the selection sheet picks, the Capitals are the favourites in this one, leading the pick numbers, 145-108, thanks in large part to their dominating regular season, where they steamrolled the rest of the league to an early President's Trophy, before anyone else in the East had clinched a playoff spot.

There should be no surprise that Braden Holtby was the most popular player on the sheet, as he made it onto 36 of 50 teams in the pool.  Marc-Andre Fleury, the other goalie on the sheet for this series, was taken four times, but his return from a concussion doesn't seem very likely at the moment, so the Penguins will continue to ride Matt Murray.

As the match-ups go, the Capitals were better in the first five boxes of forwards, but the Penguins were better in the last two.  As for defensemen, the four boxes were split for favourites, each taking a couple.

Player notes heading in... Pittsburgh defenseman Justin Schultz had one appearance in the opening round and was a healthy scratch through the remaining games against the Rangers and unless there is an injury, he likely won't figure into this series.  Schultz was taken 10 times in the pool, so that is a pretty big gap in some teams.

According to the sheet, we should expect a Washington/Tampa Bay Conference Finals... that would be pretty good, right?

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Prizes for the Playoff Pool

PhotobucketIt looks like all 50 teams will be paid for and accounted for, I've got three guys holding onto the money that is owing, so I can safely say that the pot for the this year's pool is a flat $500.  With that being said, I will be paying out two prizes, 1st and 2nd place, the top team getting the big prize of $350 and 2nd place will get the rest at $150.  It's a sprint to the finish... and we're already through one round (almost)!

Is anyone going to catch Stuart?  He's set up quite well after round one...

Morning Player Notes in the Playoffs (Apr 26)

Nashville's best players had to be their best players on Monday night, if they wanted to stick around and see one more game in this series and between Pekka Rinne, Shea Weber, James Neal and Ryan Johansen, they were just that.  Their leadership group took the bull by the horns at home and slugged out a 3-1 victory over those Anaheim Ducks and they have sent the series back to California for the do or die game in this series.

Rinne made 26 saves for the win, while Neal had the game-winner and an assist, while everyone else chipped in and kept the Ducks from getting too close at any point in time.

This does become the last series to finish up, as the first round could have concluded on Monday night with an Anaheim win, but we'll get a night off here tonight, before these two go toe-to-toe for the finish on Wednesday night.

The champs have been defeated and we'll have a new champion in 2016!

The St. Louis Blues got the monkey off their backs, by giving the Chicago Blackhawks a taste of their home cooking, with an exciting 3-2 victory on Monday night.

The Blues got off to a rocking start, with a Jori Lehtera goal, a minute into the game, then followed it up with another from defenseman Colton Parayko, just past the halfway mark of the opening frame.  A 2-0 lead was nothing to be too proud of though, since the Blackhawks' resiliency is well-documented and before the end of the 1st period, Marian Hossa pulled a goal back.  Andrew Shaw made the game more interesting, drawing the Blackhawks level on an early 2nd period power play goal.

As many described it, this game was a heavyweight championship bout, as both teams were going punch for punch.  In the 3rd period, Troy Brouwer, a non-pool forward, potted the 3-2 goal and through some very hairy moments in the final frame, the Blues were able to hang on and give the Blackhawks the boot.

St. Louis now goes on to face Dallas in the 2nd round, which should prove to be another interesting series.

With the elimination of the Blackhawks, the pool lost another 122 selections on the pool sheet in the blink of an eye.  There were a lot of people who thought that the former champs would have at least made it through the Blues, but since the Blues still had 61 picks on their side, there was still a good number of those teams that took out some insurance, making sure they had something out of this series moving forward.

Patrick Kane was the most popular player on the Blackhawks, with 24 selections, closely followed by Duncan Keith, who had 22 picks.  Kane was one of two Blackhawks players to finish with 8 points before getting eliminated and the other was Artemi Panarin.

ImplicationsIt's official.  No team will make it out of the opening round with 24 players on their active roster.  Eric's 24th place team, through Monday night, leads all teams with 21 players, only two players better than Stuart's 1st place team and now 21 points back.

Stuart's 1st place standing, 4 points up on 2nd place and four players better, does look a little hard to beat at the moment.  He's got both of his goalies, Martin Jones and Braden Holtby and his team only stands to lose one more player on Wednesday, no matter the result of Game 7 in Anaheim.  Yikes.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Afternoon Player Notes in the Playoffs (Apr 25)

By the order of the schedule, Game 6 between the Ducks and Predators will faceoff at Bridgestone Arena and it is a huge one for the home team, as they look to try and force a Game 7 back in Anaheim later on in the week.

The Predators are undoubtedly dealing with all the pressure, heading into tonight's game, since they have failed to win at home and have lost the last three games in this series, so somehow, they'll have to find a way back into this series, trying to shut down a fairly persuasive Anaheim offense.

Since the Ducks inserted Frederik Andersen into their net, they have magically found the confidence to string together some wins and take command of this series.  Ryan Getzlaf will have to continue his productive ways tonight, if the Ducks want to end it right away, as his 5 points in the first five games, leads the team.

Only a half hour later, the headline game of the night and quite possibly, the opening round of the playoffs, Game 7 between the Chicago Blackhawks and the St. Louis Blues.

Talk about carrying momentum, the Blackhawks are rolling after staying alive through Game 5 and Game 6 and you know, you just know... that they have the ability to take Game 7 and break all the St. Louis hearts.

Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane both lead all players on the sheet with 8 points each, both scoring a game-winner and getting the bonus point for them.  On the flip side, Jaden Schwartz has been the guy for the Blues, picking up 7 points, including a game-winner of his own.

If the Blues are going to push through this series, they somehow have to squash the offense from the Blackhawks, especially if they get their backs up against the wall.  Chicago's survival instinct is what separates St. Louis between now and the second round and they just can't allow for a glimmer of hope or else its curtains.

We're in for a treat tonight, so stay tuned!

Morning Player Notes in the Playoffs (Apr 25)

It wasn't nearly as decisive as a series as one may have been led to believe and Game 6 was all kinds of close, it could have gone either way, depending on a bounce that would or would not have gone the Flyers' way.  Unfortunately for Philadelphia, their Cinderella run from behind the 8-ball ended on Sunday afternoon, in a 1-0 loss.

Nicklas Backstrom was the only player to tickle the twine in the series clinching game for the Capitals, while Braden Holtby stopped all 26 shots in the game to earn his second shutout of the season, picking up another 4 points in this series.

The Flyers were barely taken in the pool, so their demise was expected to say the least.  Only 13 selections have been stricken from the pool, the most popular of which was rookie defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, who had four picks.  In the end, he was one of three Flyers on the sheet, to finish with 2 points each.  It wasn't a stellar year for the Flyers, to say the least.

The Capitals will get the Penguins in the second round, which should prove to be a way more interesting series.

The Dallas Stars managed to sneak past the Minnesota Wild in six game... okay, sneak might not be the best word for it, since there was very little stealth used in this series.  Either the Stars were scoring goals or allowing goals and in Game 6, it was a 5-4 victory, as the Stars held on for dear life in the 3rd period.

The Stars' offense dominated in the first two periods of the game, going up 3-0 after one and 4-0 after two and then they had to leave it to their defense/goaltending in the 3rd period and that's where it got a little hairy.  The Wild scored three goals before the midway point in the final frame, edging closer and closer to the comeback, but an Alex Goligoski goal at 10:28, made it 5-3, a goal they desperately needed, as Jason Pominville made it 5-4 and the white knuckles were out, gripping that 1-goal lead until the final buzzer.

Jason Spezza continued his good run in the playoffs, picking up another 4 points in the clinching game, while Jamie Benn had a 3-point game and then Patrick Sharp, Alex Goligoski and Kari Lehtonen all walked away with 2 points for the pool.

The Wild were also not expected to go very far in the pool, also having only 13 selections among the 50 teams in the pool.  The most popular Wild player of the bunch was Marco Scandella, who had three selections to his name, but only finished with 1 goal.  Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville each finished with 7 points each, Pominville was taken twice.

The Stars are still waiting for their next round opponent, as they'll get either the Anaheim Ducks or Nashville Predators.

How close were the Florida Panthers from forcing a Game 7?  54 seconds and/or about four inches, as a loose puck snuck out from underneath Roberto Luongo in the last minute of play for John Tavares, left all by his lonesome, was allowed to pick up in the crease, uncontested, and tie the game up at 1-1, forcing the Panthers and Islanders into overtime.  That's pretty close to a Game 7.

Instead, the two teams went into overtime, that solved nothing.  Then, they went into double-overtime, in back-to-back games, where the New York Islanders got the best of their opening round opponent, thanks to Tavares beating Luongo again, taking a rebound around the net for a quick wraparound, ending the game and ending the series in six games.

Tavares was the only notable player in this game, scoring both Islander goals, coming away with a 3-point night.

It was an excellent series, that could have been made even better with a seventh game, but the Islanders definitely earned this result.

This counts as another upset in the hockey pool, as the Panthers were 113-29 favourites in the selection count, which means a lot of people dropped picks in this one.  Aleksander Barkov was the favourite among the bunch, having been taken 23 times among 50 teams, but only picked up 3 points in the series, which was a little disappointing.  Reilly Smith was the big Panthers scorer in the series, finishing with 8 points in the pool and was taken 11 times.

The Islanders will get the Tampa Bay Lightning in the next round, which should prove to be an interesting match-up.  More on that later on in the week.

ImplicationsThree more teams eliminated on Sunday meant that there was a lot of paring down in the pool, including a few favourites.  Remarkably, there is one team left that could finish the first round with all 24 players and it belongs to Eric, who sits in 15th place after Sunday night.  Eric's team is 18 points back of 1st place and has five more players, but we have a couple more series left to decide.

On the flip side, Clayton's team has been utterly decimated in this first round.  With those two more series left to play, his team is already down to nine players.  His team needs a Chicago and Anaheim win, just to stay at nine players for the next round.  On the plus side, his team isn't in last... in fact, it's 22 points better than last place.  Could it possibly hang on to not be last place?

Sunday, April 24, 2016

More Morning Player Notes in the Playoffs (Apr 24)

How much more magic do the Philadelphia Flyers possibly have?  They were not supposed to be in this series from the get-go and you could argue that they weren't in the first three games of this series, but all of a sudden... here they are!  It's a 10am MT start, hence the early post here and we're expecting to see Braden Holtby try and close it out again, while Michal Neuvirth acts as the Flyers' life-preserver out in the ocean.

This is the game where the big boys from one side really has to make a difference.  Either Alex Ovechkin puts his foot down and stamps out the Flyers or Claude Giroux finally does something in this series and forces Game 7.  Either way, this game will be a treat for the breakfast crowd.

It's a 1pm MT start for the Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild here on Sunday and the Wild are very much in the same boat as the Flyers.  No Zach Parise, no Thomas Vanek... why are we even still talking about the Wild?  Oh yes, Jason Pominville and Devan Dubnyk have stayed around to make this series interesting.  The Wild bring this series back home to grind out to a Game 7, while the Stars hope they can really shoot the lights out in this one.

As Dubnyk goes, so go the Wild, but at the other end, the last loss for the Stars on Friday night, likely means that Kari Lehtonen draws back in for the Stars, as the rotating tandem thing really gets put to the test with an elimination game at hand.  Can the Stars rally around another goalie switch, mid-series?

It would be somewhat disappointing, if the series between the Florida Panthers and the New York Islanders didn't go seven games, but the huge win for the Isles in Sunrise on Friday does offer them a chance to make it to the next round, playing in Brooklyn tonight and they've earned it.  The Islanders were not a sexy pick in this year's playoff pool, but they've been working too hard not to have the chance at getting there.

The Panthers will be one man short tonight, as Nick Bjugstad didn't make the trip to Long Island yesterday, staying back in Florida to nurse an upper-body injury, which he suffered on Friday, after an awkward fall into the boards.  Bjugstad appeared to be really shaken up and one may confidently speculate that the concussion protocol is being taken into advisement here.  Even if the Panthers force a Game 7, it does seem unlikely that he would be allowed to play, although nothing has been 100% confirmed.

Roberto Luongo versus Thomas Greiss again?  Book it.