Monday, January 28, 2008

Universal Trouble

Hockey in Canada has more Maple Leaf content then some would like, but I have to admit as a hockey fan there is always something to talk about when the topic is the Buds. As much as I just want to talk about the Leafs season on the ice, I'd be remised to not mention what's gone on this week off the ice with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. I'll keep it short and sweet. We all know that John Ferguson Jr. was fired. We know that Cliff Fletcher has been brought back and was named the interim GM. We are also not surprised. In fact I think most Leafs fans all said a collective thank God on January 22. My question is simple. Why interim? We are talking about the most profitable franchise in NHL hockey here. The most recognizable brand hockey has to offer and yet they can't find anyone of importance to be the GM full time? You would think the well known hockey types would be lined up for this job. Something smells here, and I can't help but think that the Puppet Master that is the Maple Leaf Board of Governors has it's fingers in the hockey side of things way to deep and it's scaring people off.

I wish I could change gears and have happy time now, but that's just not the case. When a GM gets fired it's normally not because everything is fine and dandy with the on-ice product. It's All-Star Weekend and the Leafs sit 6 points out of a playoff spot and some of the teams the Leafs will have to track down have two games in hand. When this season started the Leafs big moves in the off season where Jason Blake and Vesa Toskala. I remember getting into a conversation with a group of Leaf faithful, their names shall remain unknown, about just how much better Toskala would really be over Raycroft. I was of the opinion that the goalie wasn't the problem as much as the Leafs defense was and that Toskala wouldn't fair much better in net then Raycroft did. Through the first 10-15 games I looked like some sort of god, but alas I have to admit that either Toskala is a better goalie then Raycroft or the Leafs defense is better then I thought. To save some face, I'm going with Toskala being the better goalie. He has worked out for the team and will provide confidence from the Leafs own end out as this franchise tries to move forward from here. Jason Blake on the other hand ....... not so good. This guy scored 40 goals last season with the Islanders, he was the proverbial "Big Fish" that the Leafs managed to sign and he is on pace for a grand total of 14 goals this season. The only positive I can think of for now in regards to Blake? The next 4 years of his contract can't be this bad, look for him to rebound in 08-09.

So the only think left to touch on is the future. But what is the Leafs future? Sure Antropov had a great start this season, but has returned to earth and frankly isn't that young anymore. Do we call Ponikarovsky, Stajan, or Wellwood the next franchise player? I don't think so. Can you look at the Leafs farm team and see some great potential coming down the pipe? Not so much. The Leafs made the change at GM, now it's time for them to change their approach to their team make up. Take everything that's older and of value and unload it for prospects and picks. That starts with Mats Sundin. That guy would collect you a boatload of future if they played their cards right. No one wants to rebuild, but it's pretty clear to me anyway, that this is the only path left for the Leafs to go down.

Then again, this is just a damned opinion.

~ damned

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Black And White

Is there anything more black and white then the Pittsburg Penguins this hockey season? Other then a penguin of course. I for one had very high hopes for the Pens coming into the 07-08 season. As we all know they have an incredible amount of young talent, I thought they did a good job adding some veteran wisdom, and their goalie(Fleury) was coming of a career season in 06-07 in which he won 40 games. How could they lose?

From September through November lose they did. Not only on the ice but off the ice as well. Fleury, just as he seemed to be putting a tuff start behind him, went down to injury. Part of the wisdom I mentioned in Mark Recchi didn't live up to expectations and was put on the wavier wire and picked up by the Thrashers. Jordan Staal hit the sophomore slump head first. The proverbial cloud was hanging over the Penguins as they headed into December.

They started that month with a 4-2 lose to the Leafs of all teams. But managed to win 4 in a row on a rare Western road trip. They hit the skids through the middle of December once again and then it happened. The force that has completely cleared the skies above the Penguins team.

Ty Freaking Conklin.

That's not a type o, trust me I'm an Oiler fan. I'm as shocked as you are. None the less, Ty Conklin as it stands right now is 10-0-1. He has 2 shootouts. His GAA is 1.72 and he has a SV% of .949. Now, hockey is a team game, and I give full credit to the other 22 players in being a part of the turn around that this team has gone trough, but Ty Conklin has provided the confidence for the them to go out and win.

So for now the Pens are back above the playoff line and are playing like they could turn heads come playoff time. The questions is can a Conklin continue to play at this level and even if he does what do they do when Fleury gets healthy?

Then again, this is just a damned opinion.

~ damned

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Oh Starry Night

The New York Rangers are once again the hardest team to figure out in this world of NHL hockey. You look up and down this roster and it's like looking through a telescope on a clear summer night. All you can see are stars and more stars. And yet they struggle to stay in the playoff picture.

Currently on the outside looking in for a post season spot, the Rangers record shows they are only slightly better playing at home, where they have enjoyed 98 consecutive regular season sold out games, as they are on the road. This team hasn't had a lot to smile about after the games at center ice, having to face their paying fans with the old Czech Salute. With the loaded talents such as Scott Gomez, Jaromir Jagr, Brendan Shanahan, Chris Drury, Martin Straka, and Henrik Lundqvist, on the team, they should be fighting for the Presidents Cup.

The numbers are almost as confusing as to where they are in the standings. The Rangers shoot 31.2 shots per game (4th), but only score 2.36 goals per game (29th). They allow only 26 (3rd) shots a game but also let 2.54 (8th) goals in the net per game. Their special teams play isn't special, but it's pretty good. With a 17.4% (15th) power play and a 83.3% penalty kill (12th), they hang in the middle of the pack. Where they are having the most trouble is playing five-on-five, where they rank 26th with a goals for/goals against ratio of 0.87.

This leads to a look at the goaltending, where there really is only one man between the pipes. Lundqvist has played 38 games and Stephen Valiquette has played in only eight. Henrik the Great's numbers are not so great, but mediocre. He has a goals against average of 2.41 and a save percentage of .906, putting him in middle-of-the-road territory. Lundqvist is not carrying the team like he can.

And certainly, it is not all his fault. When you have gifted scorers who shoot as much as they do, and still can't find the back of the net, something is wrong. A short stretch late in the first period against the Flyers recently, is a brief synopsis of their season:

Brandon Dubinsky was penalized for holding at 18:20; Blair Betts was whistled for delay of the game when he shot the puck over the glass during the penalty kill at 19:36; and then Drury was called for a holding-the-stick penalty during the 3-on-5 disadvantage at 19:45.

"We just sort of came unraveled there, and it probably didn't help with my play in the first to put us down even more," said Drury. "It was really not a good night."

Unraveled indeed. And the New Year isn't proving to be any better as the Blue Shirts are off to a 0-4-1 start. But, looking at that roster, you know this state of mediocrity cannot last forever. Veterans such as Jagr, Shanahan and Straka will find a way to right this ship. New stars to the team like Gomez and Drury, may need the time to get used to their new mates, and build some chemistry. And Lundqvist is not an average goalie.

No, the clouds will part and the stars will soon shine again in the New York City area, and they may be bright enough to lead the Rangers into the playoffs and beyond.

Break out the telescopes, look to the stars, as they lead the New York Rangers in the War Room Roll Call!!

~ ogre1kanobe


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Sunday, January 13, 2008

This Dog Has Bite

If you had told me in September that the Phoenix Coyotes after 41 games played would be 4 games over .500, 2 points out of a playoff spot and on a 5 game winning streak, I would have laughed in your face and asked for the same drink you had. But that in fact is exactly the story as I plink away on my keyboard this evening. The question is what is driving this. Is it the goalie, Bryzgalov, who is 15-11-2 since being claimed of the wavier wire from the Ducks? Is it that the celebrity coach in Wayne Gretzky can really coach after all? Or maybe the fact that as it turns out the Coyotes kids will contribute now?

The answer is D, all of the above.

At the beginning of this year I was of the opinion that the Coyotes future was very bright. It still is and by the looks of things the Coyote faithful may not have to wait as long to see this team come to fruition. The team has two great veteran leaders in Shane Doan, who is already the team Captain, and Ed Jovanovski who isn't a bad guy to be showing the way for any young blue liner. A 26 year old, Radim Vrbata, is leading the team in goals and Peter Mueller at age 19 is putting together a season to be proud of. Don't forget Kyle Turris, the Coyotes first round pick of 07, still hasn't made his NHL debut. There is also the issue of cap room, which the Coyotes have a ton of. With a few smart UFA signings the youth movement could be veteran supported in a hurry.

That brings us to the coach. I was one of the guys that thought the man(Gretzky) should move on after the train wreck of last season, but part of me has always wanted to see him do well. Lets face it, the Jury is still out, but I think as the next 2-3 seasons roll on you will see Gretzky's team win more then they lose.

Then again, this is just a damned opinion.

~ damned

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Sunday, January 6, 2008

Panthers Insider

The Florida Panthers have been an average team this year at best. Take one look at their record, and vanilla screams at you. They are 19-19-3 overall, 9-9-2 at home, have a 10-10-1 away record, and are 5-4-1 in their last ten games. They are a very streaky team, with having won or lost three games in a row seven times this season. So what makes this team a..500 team?

The Panthers have a good power play, ranking 8th in the league at 19.4%, and a penalty kill rating of 81.6%, good for 17th. They also give up only 2.71 goals per game, which is 14th in the league. But, the power play sometimes seems to be the only time they score. Florida ranks 21st in scoring five-on-five goals, are 25th in goals scored at 2.46 goals per game, and don’t win many face-offs, wining 48%, 27th in the league.

“That’s been our issue all year,” said Olli Jokinen after the Panthers were shutout 1-0 Sunday by the Flyers. “We just have to find a way to put it in and score.”

When you consider how cold Nathan Horton, Richard Zednik and Jozef Stumpel have been, it’s incredible the Panthers have managed to hover around .500. Stumpel, who scored 23 goals last season, has two goals the past 21 games. Horton, who had 31 goals last season, has three goals the past 18 games and Zednik, who the Panthers were counting on to score around 25, has two in his last 19 games.

That’s the good news/bad news scenario for the Panthers. At the midway point they are in second place behind Carolina in the Southeast Division, only five points out. Four out of five of the bottom rungs on the Easter Conference ladder are the teams not leading this division. In a division where it seems only the winner is going to make the playoffs should this team begin to score more goals, they can put together a run for the lead and get themselves into the hunt, and anything can happen after that.

Another area of concern is the goalie Tomas Vokoun is facing on average more than 32 shots a game, second to last in the league. His .919 save percentage and 2.62 goals against average are pretty good, but seeing hard rubber disks flying at him at that rate, will give anyone nightmares. Imagine lowering the shots per game to about a 25 or less per game, and score a few more goals, and you’re looking at a team worthy of a chance to win Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Half way home and all is not lost for the Florida Panthers. In a weak division like the Southeast, if they can limit the losing streaks, score some goals, and play a tougher defense, you may very well be playing hockey in May in the Sunshine State.

So get the sun tan lotion, umbrella, sunglasses, and a bowl of vanilla ice cream; and root for your team in the Florida Panthers Roll Call!!!

~ ogre1kanobe

Thursday, January 3, 2008

A Throne On The Horizon

After last season, with the debut of rookie star Anze Kopitar, and continued success of players like Michael Cammalleri and Rob Blake, the Los Angeles Kings thought the 2007-2008 season would bring a better fate to this team. But forty-one games in and the Kings find themselves in the familiar and unwanted position of being in last place in the Pacific division and last overall in the NHL.

The facts are they play in a very tough division and with the inter-division heavy schedule they play for the last time this year; it is not very easy to make headway. With the Stanley Cup champion Ducks, Stars, Sharks, and the recent resurgence of the Coyotes, making their way into the playoffs will be hard work indeed for these young Kings.

And therein lies the other obstacle: youth. The Kings have had two rookie goalies, Jason LaBarbera and Jonathan Quick, spend time between the pipes. Quick, who was an emergency recall on Dec. 2, after LaBarbera’s rib injury vs. Colorado, appeared in three games, posting a 1-2-0 mark. LaBarbera has a 2.59 GAA, ranking him 21st and a save % of 0.917, good for 14th overall in the league. This could account for why the Kings are 28th in the NHL in goals allowed with 111 and are 27th with a penalty kill of 78.10%.

That reason may be cause for some concern this year, it is the same reason for optimism for the future. Starting with Kopitar, this team has youth and talent. After being in third among rookies last year in assists (41), points (61), power play points (29), average time-on-ice (20:32) and average power play time-on-ice (4:37), Kopitar leads the team this year with 38 points, followed closely by Dustin Brown with 34. Brown had a career-high nine-game point streak, and has many multiple point games. Cammalleri continues to show he’s an all-star left-winger and has moved into 6th place all-time scoring for Kings wingers passing Mike Donnelly.

These players have helped the Kings in a couple of offensive statistics also. They rank 9th on the power play with a conversion rate of 19.88% and the have scored 91 goals this year, ranking them 14th. The defensemen have scored more goals in the last few games as compared to scoring only six in the first 27 games this year. Tom Preissing has led the defensive, offensive resurgence, scoring three goals in the six games, with Blake, Jaroslav Modry and Brad Stuart each pitching in a goal as well over that span. "The statistical anomaly was that there was just six in the first 27, not the six in six," the first-year Kings rearguard Preissing said. "A big part of it is we have a defensive corps. that has that ability."

And of course injuries have played a factor in the Kings problems. Alexander Frolov recently returned to the lineup after missing 11 games with a groin injury and Ladislav Nagy has just started to skate with team as he rehabs from his hip flexor injury. "It's feeling better but it's tough to say when I will come back because, when I push a little hard, it still bothers me," Nagy told reporter. "I have to be patient and not push it hard. I’m going to skate and push it more and more every day.''

And that’s what is going to keep thin franchise moving in the right direction. Pushing it more and more every day, the skilled youth, getting experience, and the hardened veterans leading the way. It won’t be long before the Los Angeles Kings are near the top of the hockey world, sitting on their throne and playing in the playoffs again.

Wear your purple robes with honor and demand respect with a strong three cheers for your Kings in the War Room Roll Call!!

~ ogre1kanobe