Monday, April 13, 2015

Playoffs Start Wednesday, Get Your Pool Entries In!

The better part of my duties for the regular season are pretty much done... all that's left is paying out some prizes and handing out some trophies, making things official.  Stay tuned for some details about that, if you're interested on coming out.

That means that the playoffs are in full swing now and I am gearing up for all the match-ups here and tonight, I will start putting in teams for playoff pool action!  I have already started to receive entries into the pool, so we'll see how it goes this year.

If you're looking for a selection sheet, you can find it here, it still has Boston on it right now, but just work around them.  I'm sure you're smart enough to do that, right?  I am going to do a quick preview of each series here, going over the news and notes of what has been released over the last couple of days as well, just so it's easier to do your homework.  I will have a news page up tonight, for all your studying needs.

Well, let's start combing through the series and we'll start out East.

The President's Trophy winners will get a team that limps into the playoffs with a black and blueline, as the Rangers and Penguins will go head-to-head in a test of confidence versus resolve.  We know the Rangers are running hot these days, while the Penguins barely scraped their way in, thanks to a Bruins team that fell off the map, just a little bit more than they did.

I would have to imagine that most people are thinking that the Rangers are the overwhelming favourite here and I don't think I can really argue.  The Rangers steamrolled at the end of the season, while the Penguins stumbled, but yet, they still made it.  How do you discount the presence of both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in these playoffs?  It's hard, but the Rangers will try.

Here's what we know on the injury front... for the Rangers, defensemen Marc Staal and Kevin Klein are on the mend, but are both aiming to be ready for Thursday night's opener in New York.  Staal missed the last couple of games with an undisclosed injury, while Klein has been dealing with a broken arm for the last month.  On the Pittsburgh side, it also surrounds their blueline, as Kristopher Letang is done with a concussion, so don't bother with him, while Christian Ehrhoff may also be a bit of a landmine, as the Pens coaching staff say he has an outside chance at playing in these playoffs.

The key match-up on the sheet... that has to be in goal, doesn't it?  Marc-Andre Fleury has been playing and getting some reasonable reviews, despite the team's lack of quality defense, but if the Penguins are going to make it deep, he'll have to be on top of everyone's game, not just his own.  They key to success in the playoffs does happen to be goaltending and is Henrik Lundqvist ready to roll in the playoffs, only a couple weeks from returning from his vascular problem?  I would think the amount of defense in front of him will make it a bit easier.

The first of two all-Canadian city match-ups in the opening round of the playoffs sees the high-flying Canadiens against the new dynamic Senators, which has some potential for some fireworks, but in something that could end up in a small poof of smoke in the end.  The Canadiens are almost healthy going into the Spring Dance, while the Senators are young and exciting to watch.

Something to watch out for in this series is in net.  Now, while everyone is going to flock towards Carey Price in the Habs net, which makes complete sense, just in case you are a contrarian and feel that Ottawa has a shot, you may want to shy away from the goaltending box, unless you think Craig Anderson will unseat Andrew Hammond in net, due to a little bit more experience.  The Hamburglar did not make an appearance in the Ottawa box this time around, so do watch out for that.

As of Monday evening, the status of Habs' Box 13 forward Max Pacioretty is still up in the air.  It's looking more and more that the upper-body injury that he suffered before the end of the year was indeed a concussion, as there was a lot of talk about the colour of his visor in practice on Monday and how it affected his play at practice.  He has yet to be cleared for contact and with a Wednesday start, it would have to come quick for him to be ready to go.

The key match-up on the sheet... depending on where you see this series going, I think Box 15 has the most interesting match-up, Brendan Gallagher versus Bobby Ryan.  They are two different styles of player, no doubt, but how is one more significant than the other, come playoff time.  The Habs are going to be a high tempo team, which is what Gallagher is made for, while the Sens are going to pepper Price with shots, which will play up Ryan's alley.

Do you think anyone is going to play up the Steve Yzerman angle of this series?  Yeah, I know, it's a given.

The Red Wings are not the team they used to be, but the Lightning are not that team either.  This series has a pretty good dynamic to it, as the electric style from Tampa Bay will have their hands full with the tested and true veteran presence from Detroit.  Do the young whipper-snappers have what it takes to unseat the grumpy old men early on in the playoffs?

Goaltending will be an interesting question for the Red Wings, as they have now named Petr Mrazek as the Game 1 starter on Thursday, getting the nod ahead of Jimmy Howard, the Box 24 goalie, which proves to be interesting.  If Mrazek can get the win, he'll be the man, while Howard will patiently wait for a result that plays into his hands.

Two injuries are still on the Lightning side of the ledger, but they don't look too bad, heading into opening night, which goes Thursday night in this series.  Forward Alex Killorn finished the season on the shelf with an undisclosed injury and likely could have played in the last game or two, but didn't want to push him too hard on a lack of conditioning.  Defenseman Jason Garrison is coming up on the end of his window for an upper-body injury, but is unsure of when exactly he'll be ready.  At this point, he may still miss upwards of three more games, before getting the go-ahead to play.  For the Red Wings, it sounds like Justin Abdelkader is close to a return from his hand injury and shouldn't be much of a trap in Box 18, but Erik Cole is a complete landmine, as he won't be playing at all in these playoffs.

The key match-up on the sheet will be in Box 16, as the division of people who think Tampa will move forward will be attracted to Ondrej Palat, while those who think Detroit has a shot at defeating the tykes is looking at Gustav Nyquist and licking their lips.  This series could have some goals in it and these guys like to be involved in the offense and I think if you were basing your opinion of this series on this box, it may not be completely out of line.  Who do you like?

In the last of the Eastern Conference match-ups, there is something very exciting about the prospect of Washington and Long Island going head-to-head.  The two teams are running some fairly similar games going into the playoffs, each led by an NHL superstar, both having good support in the offensive category, some revamped defenses and they'll both play a game where they each lean heavily on their goaltenders for results.  It may sound simple like that, but I think it really is that simple.

All eyes, and rightly so, are going to be on Alex Ovechkin and John Tavares, two stars, separated by what seems to be an entire generation, but are not really that far apart in draft years, but miles away in playoff experience.  The two captains are going to lead some powerful offenses and going to bear the brunt of the praise or criticism of their team, but there is no better face-to-face match-up than this at the moment.

There is one key injury to the Capitals side, as forward Eric Fehr missed some time before the end of the season with an upper-body injury, but there has been no indication as to whether or not he'll be ready to go for Game 1.  Select him with caution.  For the Islanders, forward Frans Nielsen was held out of the last few games with a nagging injury, something the team was resting after they had clinched their spot.  Nielsen is expected to go on Wednesday night.  Defenseman Travis Hamonic, however, may not be ready, as his injury saw him limping pretty bad on the weekend, a supposed lower-body injury, but he does seem to be the type of player that could play through it.  The depth on defense is a strength for the Islanders, so they may not rush him back right away.

You may have thought Ovechkin and Tavares would be the key match-up on the sheet, but they are not.  Box 20, the top defenseman box in the East, holds the key for me, as John Carlson is matching up against Johnny Boychuk and this is where it gets interesting for me.  Both players come with some high expectations at both sides of the rink and I think with some teams being more favoured for the end of the year than these two, this box may play heavily into a pool team's success.

Out West, the top team will face a dangerous wild card team, as the Anaheim Ducks, a juggernaut of a team, will get their fill and probably more of a Winnipeg Jets team that has their sights on being a David-like character in these playoffs.

When playoff hockey returns to Winnipeg in a week's time, it will likely be like a bomb going off in the MTS Centre, which is undoubtedly going to be exciting.  The Ducks coasted somewhat near the end of the season, not really concerning themselves with the President's Trophy, which may or may not have hurt their drive, but they are definitely going to want to find that drive at home, starting on Thursday night, as they don't want to be splitting the home games (or worse), heading to Winnipeg.

Both teams rested a number of players leading up to the end of the season, so the healthy scratches were a pretty long list, but everyone who is on the sheet appears to be ready to go and we should be set for one hell of a series.  Good thing I can shrink the injury icon, eh?

The Ducks are going to be a favoured team again in this time of year, so we'll look to a high or important box for the key match-up in the series and the box that jumps out the most is Box 2, Corey Perry versus Blake Wheeler.  Wheeler may not have the career numbers that Perry has, nor does he have the playoff experience, but there is just something about his game that makes him an interesting possible pick, especially if you think the Ducks are ripe for the upset in this playoff season.  The Jets will know enough to try and cover Perry, but will the Ducks know the same to cover Wheeler?

Lots of intrigue in the series between the Central's best St. Louis Blues and the wild card from Minnesota, the Wild.  There have already been a number of series surveyed in this post already that could scoot either way, but this one could be the hardest one to judge, possibly due to the issue of goaltending alone.

I don't think this is the key match-up for the pool selection sheet, as such, mostly because I don't think there is going to be a lot of pro-Blues or pro-Wild people out there for the Cup Finals, but only knowing that Devan Dubnyk is the only expected starter from this series tonight, it really makes you wonder where the Blues are going to get their backbone from.  Will Brian Elliott get the start in Game 1 or will they look to Jake Allen, who isn't on the sheet?

Both teams in this series are also expected to be healthy to start Game 1, which goes on Thursday night in Missouri, so there is no excess in this part of the blog post.  Both teams were pretty guilty of their healthy scratches in their last regular season games, but all are expected to be there for the opener at Scottrade Center.

The top defenseman box is where we'll go here, as the key match-up between Alex Pietrangelo and Ryan Suter headlines this series to me.  With these guys, whichever of these teams make it through to play the winner of the Preds and Hawks, they'll play big roles for their team to do so.  Both are exceptional on the power play and they both have a measure of key franchise player pedigree to them as well.  These two will make things very exciting for the pool and the playoffs.

Both the Nashville Predators and Chicago Blackhawks slowly dipped their way into the Playoff Pool, thanks in part to some injury issues, but also, they had such an amazing start to the season, that they could afford to take their sweet time in finishing the season.  The less stress going in, as the theory may go, the better rested these players would be.  For Chicago, that would be a huge plus, as their team has seen a lot of hockey in the last five or six years.

This series is going to be a pretty good grind, but with some help from the defense and some quality goalkeeping, we should see a low-scoring series here.  Of course, Chicago, the team that they are and some of the good news they received today, they will get a whole bunch more offensive punch, which could drive them a long way into the playoffs again.  Can the Predators stymie the Blackhawks in a 7-game series?

The big news today was that Chicago forward Patrick Kane has been cleared to return to the lineup after missing most of the last third of the season with his broken collarbone.  It was originally thought that the dynamic forward wouldn't be back until the second round of the playoffs, but this is a big boost and Box 7 got a whole lot clearer to choose from.  Also with the Blackhawks, Box 6 forward Brad Richards has been dealing with an upper-body issue of his own and is questionable for the opener on Wednesday night.  For Nashville, Box 5 forward Mike Fisher is on the mend with a lower-body injury and Box 10 defender Cody Franson has an upper-body injury, which has him listed as day-to-day at this point.  Both should play in this series, it's just a matter of which game they start in.

How about the rookie against Captain Serious for the key match-up on the sheet?  There is no question that Jonathan Toews will lead his Blackhawks, both spiritually and on the scoresheet, but with the defense and goaltending that Nashville has, they are going to rely heavily on Filip Forsberg, who will need to step up and lead this team with goals and points, if they want to slide past the Hawks.  I can offer a reasonable guess that Forsberg won't have the selections that Toews will, but could that cost some pool teams?

Saving the best for last?  Perhaps.

The Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames are set to do battle once again in the playoffs and with the resurging Flames franchise, full of life and zest, they should be giving the Canucks a heck of a run around and it should work out to be quite the series.

The Canucks will be looking to lean on their previous playoff experiences, which their leaders can help disperse amongst the youngsters and the new guys to the team, while with very little playoff experience, the Flames will rely on their moxie and work ethic, which they have used to earn their spot in these 2015 playoffs.  There in lies the real game within the game and it offers a lot of optimism on both sides of the fence.

Vancouver is free and clear of any injury problems at the moment, as they had most of their key players return, just before the playoffs and they rested some of their other key players against the Oilers on Saturday, so they should be ready to go.  For the Flames, there is one player on the list with an injury, Lance Bouma, who suffered a hand injury blocking a shot in the last week of the season and with some added rest before the end of the year, his day-to-day status is a good sign heading in and it would suggest that he is awfully close to being ready.

The game within the game makes for the key box on the sheet, as it's Box 3, the cagey veteran Radim Vrbata for the Canucks and the slick sophomore Sean Monahan for the Flames.  Both guys led their team in goals, yet they are down in the third box, which makes things awfully interesting.  This series will likely see its fair share of goals and you're likely going to want the goal scorers, especially for those game-winning bonus points.

Now, remember... you're only allowed to use three players from any one NHL team on your selection sheet, so you better bone up on each series.

No comments: