Saturday, February 27, 2010

Gold and Bronze medal games preview

I really messed up, didn't I?

Russia was blown out. Sweden lost. USA won by a small margin, then blew out the Finns, who had previously owned the Czechs. Now to turn a new page...

Finland vs Slovakia: Bronze-medal game
Finland is coming off a 6-1 thrashing at the hands of the Americans. Miikka Kiprusoff was flat-out awful, the Finn offense anemic. If there are positives though, they are that the Finns played better and better as the game went along and didn't even allow a goal after Patrick Kane made it 6-0 just under thirteen minutes into the first.
Slovakia meanwhile has a ton of positives to look to. Jaroslav Halak has continued to play great, and the Slovakian offense now in their last two games has really come alive in the late stages of the game, first against Sweden then against Canada. Their NHLers are really coming through for them.
Don't expect a repeat here. This may be the last Winter Olympics for many Finns, including Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu, Miikka Kiprusoff, and Jere Lehtinen among others. If it's close until late in the 3rd period, expect these veterans to ramp up their game and nullify the Slovakian push.

Prediction: Finland 4, Slovakia 3 (OT)

USA vs Canada: Gold-medal game
As Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun agreed, the USA is playing the best hockey coming into this game. Patrick Kane and Paul Stastny have come alive, creating space for one another, Brian Rafalski and the rest of the American defense corps continue to impress, and it's been "Miller Time" this entire Olympic tournament. The American team has stayed calm, even with big leads, under the leadership of Ron Wilson, for all but a few times in their group game against Canada, and that really speaks to their maturity. They are fast, determined, hungry, and have the best goalie in the tournament.
At the other end, the Canadian win over Slovakia was pretty unimpressive. Yes, Canada did shut down Slovakia's offense for 50+ minutes. Yes, they were leading 3-0. Yes, they outshot the Slovaks by quite a bit. But they never put the game away. Roberto Luongo looked "uncomfortable" in net. And then after that first Slovak goal by Lubomir Visknovsky, then, Canada fell apart and were lucky Pavol Demitra couldn't get the puck over Luongo's glove in the final seconds. Sidney Crosby's line once again failed to find chemistry. In short, Canada is a mess right now.
When Canada beat Russia, the Eric Staal-Sidney Crosby-Jarome Iginla line was clicking. Now, Crosby's line isn't, and Babcock demoted Iginla to the fourth line as a result. If the Americans can disrupt Crosby's line, Babcock will be forced to shuffle all his lines, with the sideaffect of disrupting any chemistry his wingers and centers may have. And now Canada can't be comfortable in goal, ironically, with Martin Brodeur unimpressive, Luongo shaken, and Marc-Andre Fleury not having played in this tourney yet. All this bodes well for the Yanks south of the border. Who'da thunk?

Prediction: USA 5, Canada 3
And for the second straight international ice hockey tourney in 2010...


video

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Olympic Quarterfinal Preview

I'll need to sleep early to get up to watch Russia-Canada on TV, so here's a quick rundown:

Canada will win if...

1. Luongo holds his own in goal. Russia has the most talented shooters in the tournament, and it's not even close. If he can limit them to 3 goals or less, expect Canada to come out on top

2. Crosby's line shines. Sidney Crosby's line always seems to find some brief chemistry but not for an extended period of time. The Crosby-Eric Staal-Jarome Iginla line played well against Germany, and if they can play well against Russia, expect Canada to match Russia goal for goal at a minimum.

3. Their defense contains Russia's explosive offense. We haven't seen it yet, but it's not exactly an international secret that Ovechkin-Malkin-Semin and Kovalchuk-Datsyuk-Afinigenov is probably the most talented, best offensive top-6--dare I say in Olympic history? The Russians though haven't got much beyond them. Now we'll see whether including guys like Scott Niedermayer and Dan Boyle was right over a guy like Mike Green.

Russia will win if...

1. Their defense holds Canada's deep attack back. They need to limit opportunities against.

2. Ovechkin is magical. He already had his first career hit that probably deserved an assist, against the Czech Republic. He, Evgeni Malkin, and Alexander Semin make a great line, and it will be tough for Canada to shut them down or even limit them. The trick is not to get too fancy and to put the pucks in the net.

3. Nabokov pitches a shutout. Rewind a few years and Ovechkin scores the GWG in a 2-0 Russia blanking of Canada, Nabokov in net. Nabokov, in a contract year, has been great for San Jose and for Team Russia. He'll need to be even better to beat Canada.

Elsewhere...

USA-Switzerland
Switzerland, despite only two NHL players (Jonas Hiller, G, and Mark Streit, D), played it tight with the US and with Canada in the group stage. Nevertheless, the USA continues to improve and Switzerland's offense isn't exactly great. The USA's speed and skill puts them over the top.

Czech Republic-Finland
If Jaromir Jagr doesn't play, Finland wins easily. They've got great goaltending and an inspired veteran offensive corps. Jagr will only make it close. Tomas Vokoun probably can't steal this one.

Slovakia-Sweden
Sweden is deep. Sweden is talented. Sweden at this rate looks like the gold medal favorite, with all due respect USA. Can't root against my man Nicklas Backstrom either.

Predictions:
Russia 4, Canada 3. You know I can't root for Sidney Crosby or for Mike Richards, right?

USA 4, Switzerland 1. Ryan Miller continues to impress.

Finland 4, Czech Republic 2. Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu continue to play great, as Finland doesn't miss suspended puck-moving defenseman Joni Pitkanen.

Sweden 4, Slovakia 1. Henrik Lundqvist knows Marian Gaborik's every move. I hope.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Super Sunday

What a day!
Pre-script: no offense to any losers

Russia defeated the Czech Republic and clinched a bye to the quarterfinals with a thrilling 4-2 win. At 2-1, my man Alex Ovechkin decked Jaromir Jagr--check out Jagr's stats sometime--and the puck ended up behind Czech goalie Tomas Vokoun about 10 seconds later. Russia with the win improved to 2-0-1-0 with 7 points and clinched Group B, seeding 3rd overall, while the Czechs fell to 5th.

If I'm Jaromir Jagr, this is a completely legit reason to not come back to the NHL. Not only will he be heckled in two cities, but also has to take extra care of himself. A cracked visor will do that for you. (Photo © Gene J. Puskar, AP)

Sweden put the shutout on Finland, winning 3-0 in a rematch of the 2006 Turin Olympic gold-medal game. My bro "Mean Lars" Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and two helpers and "The King" Henrik Lundqvist has yet to give up a goal. Sweden is 3-0-0 with 9 points, 2nd seed behind a certain team (cough cough) and Finland is 4th, at 2-0-0-1 for 7 points. Sweden won Group C. They look really good. Medalists for sure, except for a certain little problem...(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
They're in the same half-bracket as Russia, along with these losers:

(Photo by REUTERS/Bruce Bennett/Pool)
No moment in the near future with regards to US ice hockey will ever come close to Lake Placid. But 1960 may see some competition soon enough. The vets stepped it up, as Brian Rafalski (twice!), Jamie Langenbrunner, and Chris Drury scored for the United States (Ryan Kesler added a pretty empty net goal) and Ryan Miller stood on his head, outplaying the second-greatest goalie ever by quite a bit. The USA won Group A and took the top seed in the tournament. Perhaps more importantly, they are assured of not facing
Memo to Canada: When you outshoot an opponent by more than a 2:1 margin, you're supposed to win.
The USA won this game on speed. Canada's speed wasn't up to par (I recall of a certain defenseman who would've helped tremendously), especially Chris Pronger's. And this after the Americans used exactly the same style to win the World Junior Championships in one of the coolest moments ever: Caps 2008 draftee John Carlson scoring in overtime, like a true American hero (check out the comments in the Japers' Rink link). Last night, it was Brian Rafalski who was the right-handed defenseman with two pivotal goals.

Final score: USA 5, Canada 3.

In the words of many Americans this year:
Suck it, Canada.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Trade Ideas

(Note: I also posted this at Japers' Rink)

1) Washington sends Tomas Fleischmann, Mike Green, and Shaone Morrisonn to the New York Rangers for Ryan Callahan, Wade Redden, Marc Staal, and Brandon Dubinsky.
I figure that Redden may flourish like he did in Ottawa with a high-powered, as opposed to anemic, offense. If he doesn't work out Staal is a great young defensive defenseman. Plus, I wanted to make a trade for Callahan and Dubinsky.
2) Washington sends Alex Ovechkin, Jose Theodore, Mathieu Perrault, and Shaone Morrisonn to Detroit for Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom, and Chris Osgood.
What? Trade Ovechkin? Well, Zetterberg is an elite pivot, and Lidstrom and Osgood would be great for competing for the Cup this season. Detroit gets back a replacement skill center, a young defenseman, and that guy who's been playing well for the Caps since he got "called up" from Russia. Balancing money in this one was tough.
3) Washington sends Alex Ovechkin, Semyon Varlamov, and Chris Bourque to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Mike Rupp.
Pens nation can quit clamoring for a winger for Crosby, Bourque continues his fun round trip, and Mike Rupp was a Cup-winning Devil, and still has a cool name. We gladly take on "the worst puck handler in the history of hockey" (as I sometimes see him called) in exchange for "the Iron Curtain."
4) Washington sends Michael Nylander to Omsk for Jaromir Jagr
I don't know if this is legal, but I thought it would be pretty cool, just as long as Jagr's salary is renegotiated down. A lot.
5) Washington sends Alexander Semin, Brian Pothier, Karl Alzner, and Jose Theodore to Toronto for J.S. Giguere, Dion Phaneuf, and Luke Schenn.
I figure Semin and Pothier are Burke-type players, Theodore is the "bad contract" Burke said he'd be willing to take on with the prospect as Alzner. In return, the Caps' blueline gets better and the goaltending situation becomes dependable and clutch all the time. Mostly.
6) Washington sends Alex Ovechkin to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Sidney Crosby and Mike Rupp.
Oh, the irony. And Ovechkin and Mike Rupp are getting their names tossed around quite a bit. I think Eklund will have a rumor up within 24 hours...
7) Washington sends everyone on its roster save Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Knuble to the Los Angeles Kings for everyone on its roster save Ryan Smyth.
I figure having a Slovenian in Anze Kopitar on the Caps would get a friend of mine into hockey, and I've never come across a rule forbidding such a trade.
8) Washington sends Craig Laughlin to the Chicago Blackhawks for Eddie Olczyk, then sends Joe Beninati to the New Jersey Devils for Mike Emrick.
For the good of hockey fans all around. NBC, Chicago, and New Jersey tack on great announcers, and for what it's worth, "Doc and Edzo" aren't half bad, especially when they call their local network games. I'm not quite sure what the salary cap implications are, though.
9) Washington sends Matt Bradley and Karl Alzner to San Jose, San Jose sends Dany Heatley and a 2nd-round pick to Minnesota, Minnesota sends Cal Clutterbuck and Mikko Koivu to Washington. Minnesota also sends Martin Havlat to San Jose, and Washington sends Alexander Semin to Minnesota.

Brads' blood all over the ice should keep the Sharks in the Shark Tank, while the Caps get the guy with the coolest name ever and a great two-way forward. Minnesota also gets some help on offense and San Jose gets a guy who was clutch for the Hawks in the 2009 postseason.
10) Washington sends On Frozen Blog to Toronto for Down Goes Brown and Pension Plan Puppets.
OFB does a great job getting to where others can't. The Caps blogs I think could use some more humor like at DGB and PPP. No offense, Japers' Rink.
11) Washington sends Mike Green, Karl Alzner, Brian Pothier, and Semyon Varlamov to Nashville for Dan Hamhuis, Shea Weber, and Ryan Suter.
Nashville gets their next goalie and finally a couple of guys to step in where Timonen and Zidlicky left as puck-moving passing defensemen (better than Weber is right now, I think) while Washington gets a solid group of defensemen with which to build a dynasty. Something also tells me Mike Green would love that city of music. Win-win-win-win-win-win-win-win-win here.
That's all for now. If you come up with a really nice one in the near future I'll put it up and credit you.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Inaugural post

Firstly, I'd like to thank On Frozen Blog, The Peerless Prognosticator, and Japers' Rink for providing me with the inspiration to get started. If you're a Rink Rat or Rabbit, you know me as "red army line." As for some biographical info, I won't get too much into it, but I'm a high school student who recently moved abroad. I discovered ice hockey when my dad took me to see a Caps-Pens playoff game in 2003, and since then I've been following the team, especially after they won the draft lottery in 2004 and picked Alex Ovechkin.

Now, with the NHL going into its Olympic break after tonight's games, I want to address the state of the Washington Capitals, fresh off of a 14-game winning streak followed by a short 0-1-2 skid.

Record: 41-13-8, 1st in SE by 27 points (not a typo!), 1st in East by 13 points (not a typo!), 1st in NHL by 1 point
Analysis: The Caps will compete for the President's Trophy, we hope, but may fall a little out down the stretch as the effects of winning 14 games in a row gets diluted over 82 games. Then again, all those home games should keep them in the race until the last week or two, if not longer. Of more importance is conference seeding, and with that more or less locked up barring a massive collapse or huge hot streak, it gives a chance for guys like Karl Alzner to get more time. Let's face it, Green-Morrisonn-Schultz-Poti-Pothier-Erskine doesn't look all that great at the end, and Tyler Sloan is no defensive pairing replacement on a contender. If GM George McPhee trades for a good defenseman, however, my opinion is liable to change.

Goals For: 243, 1st in NHL (2nd place San Jose has 198--not a typo!)
Analysis: No help needed on offense. Just keep lines together to establish chemistry, Bruce.

Goals Against: 174, 21st in NHL (though they were close to or in the top ten during the "better" days of that 14-game winning streak)
Analysis: Not so great here, but over stretches the Caps have shown they can buckle down and play responsible defense--wins over San Jose, Boston, and 5-10 of the victims of that 14 game streak will attest to that. Then again, as the last half dozen games or so have shown, if the goalies don't play all that well, then the lost points pile up (usually--when a team is scoring 5 goals a game it may be slightly different) Great goaltending helps too, and with Varlamov hopefully back into form when the regular season resumes in March, he should be able to help Washington keep a top-10 defense.

Goal Differential: +70, first in NHL by 18 over Chicago
Analysis: Did you read the part about goals for?

Special teams: Power play is first at 25.6%, 1% over Montreal. Penalty kill is 25th at 79.1%, though in 29 home games they've only allowed 14 power-play goals against and in 33 road games, 38 PPGA. Umm, okay.
Analysis: Power play is really good, but a little streaky. Maybe down the stretch it'd be nice to see a lot of time for the 2nd PP unit, as in case Alexander Semin or someone gets hurt in the playoffs an experienced power-play guy can step right in, or if the 1st unit suddenly goes cold the 2nd can temper that effect by clicking at the same rate. Penalty kill should be more aggressive, as the Caps can flat-out skate and have tons of skill. Let's see plenty of Alexander Semin on the PK and more Mike Green too.

Overall state of the Caps: They'll be the champs if they establish a high level of consistency and cut down on the streakiness. Better to go 4-3 in every 7-game split than win 12 in a row then lose 4 straight.

Looking at the Olympics, men's ice hockey...

I can't help but feel that Canada will disappoint. Call it a gut feeling, call it the curse of Mike Green-snubbery (or Steven Stamkos, if you prefer), but either way, both teams seem set for a letdown. In the same way, I feel like the USA is a team of destiny, the underdog that will succeed.
Gold: Russia--too much offense, and as a Caps fan I can say that defensive personnel is not as important as teamwork on defense.

Silver: Sweden--well balanced with some elite players at every position. They'll be extra inspired as they'll probably be without Daniel Alfredsson and Nicklas Lidstrom in Sochi, among others.

Bronze: USA--Miller can steal a game or two, the defense corps is underrated, and the forwards are speedy and skilled. They'll beat out Canada for the bronze with a late goal.