CAROLINA CRISIS: THIS IS BIGGER THAN YOU By Michael...
Second Period Intermission With The Popsicle Brothers
Halfway Point in the NHL- The Western Conference
By Michael – Louis Ingram and Gary Norris Gray
Popsicle Brothers Report #3-2013
The Popsicle Brothers continue our review of the league at the halfway point of this strike shorted season…
We now focus on who’s hot and who’s not, who will continue the 2013 quest for the cup and who will be going home early? In The West this will be the last time the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets will have long road trips to play on the west coast.
The Chicago Blackhawks are still on fire in spite of finally losing their last two games. They are the talk of the league with their resiliency during the undefeated string. This team wants to forget about last year and start the new Blackhawk history. Well, they are doing a good job – so far. But the real proof of whether they’ve learned from their mistakes will be proven by who starts in net come playoff time.
Chicago employs two strong goalies with Cory Crawford and Goal Brother Sugar Ray Emery. Emery held the fort in net with a 9-0 record while Crawford went down with an injury. Head Coach Joel Quenneville went with Crawford between the pipes last year, and Chicago fell to a hot Mike Smith and Phoenix. Emery, who seems to finally be 100% after a hip injury shortened his stay in Philly (boy could they use him now!) took Ottawa to a Stanley Cup final; and as of right now, looks to be the better option.
The Hawks seemingly can’t do anything wrong. In a game a few weeks ago Chicago was down three goals, not only did the Hawks tie the game with time running out, they won the game in overtime. They did it again in a recent match versus the Detroit Red Wings. That’s the way it’s been going in the Windy City.
The defense led by Goal Brother Johnny Oduya and Brent Seabrooks have protected their goalies all year long and these guys have scoring power too. Jamal Mayers provides good two-way play and a veteran presence as another strong checking forward. The Hawks are deep on defense with their 2nd line of Duncan Keith and sometime starter Niklas Hjalmarsson. Chicago’s offense should never go into a long slump with that powerful left side of wingers, Super Brat Patrick Kane (who seems to have refocused this year), Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa. These three guys could create their own line. Grayman’s Favorite Blackhawk is Center Jonathan Toews – just love the way he burrows himself in the corners for the puck.
This team could lose the rest of their games and still reach the playoffs. They have been lucky so far with only minor injuries. They’re In…
The Anaheim Ducks: These guys just won’t go away; they’re harder to get rid of than in-laws! Every year the Ducks find a way to enter the playoffs. This year it’s straight up strong defense. Jonas Hiller lost his starting job to Vitor Fasth in net and that seemed to have shaken this team to life. The Ducks do it with their no name defense.
The Ducks are a smooth blend of sage old veterans like left winger Teemu Salanne and center Saku Koivu with a sprinkling of young stars like Fasth, center Nick Bonino, and left winger Danial Winnik. Who knows? Maybe last year’s late call up Devante Smith – Pelly can get some too!
They’re in because nobody can put these nasty – ass Ducks out.
The Vancouver Canucks – This is the most underachieving team in the west and the team that nobody can figure out. Mr. Gray is not in love with goaltender Roberto Luongo in net. If you want to be the number one goalie you have to play like it to be the leader of the team.
Luongo can be inconsistent at the wrong time. It’s time for Cory Schneider to be in the pipes for the rest of the season. The Sedin twins are getting a little long in the tooth but they still know how to flow through and around a defense. The Canucks second line has to produce more goals in order for this team to advance to second round. The door is closing on this team to win the Stanley Cup and they know it. Mr. Ingram’s daughter Lia is ready to suit up if left winger Alex Burrows isn’t going to take the lead on this team which seems devoid of a defined leader on the ice.
They are in because there is nobody else in the Northwest Division who can put them out.
The Los Angeles Kings – The Stanley Cup Champion Kings were on the verge of making history by not getting into the playoffs. Los Angeles has the best center core in the league with Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, and Jarrett Stoll. Their offensive speed jets on the right side with Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown, and Colin Frazier make them very difficult to defend. Goal Brother Jordin Nolan is a good grinder with size, toughness and deceptive hands.
The Kings defensive core have let them down at the beginning of the year. The Black and Silver have to get over it and move into the playoffs on a positive note. Drew Doughty is among the very best defensemen in the league, and now it’s time to play like it. The past two weeks they have started to put it together winning the last seven of nine games as of this posting. The Kings are slowly moving up into this year’s playoff picture. They are in the tough Pacific Division with their cross town rival Anaheim Ducks, upstate rival San Jose Sharks and the ever present Dallas Stars.
The two Jonathan’s in net are a split personality. Quick with the butterfly style had a better year last year and his play hurt the Kings early in this season. Bernier’s stand up style seems to be ready to take the number one goalie spot with great net minding early this year. Come playoff time the Kings are going to have to make a decision. They are in if they keep their hot streak alive. Can’t have the defending Stanley Cup Champion going home early…
The Nashville Predators-This is one of the lowest scoring teams in the Western Conference and it serves them well. This team prides itself on defense and it should get them far into the playoffs. We love the goalie pairing of Pekka Rinne and Chris Mason. These two should win the Vezina Trophy; however The Preds have stumbled the past two weeks and have to get it together before the playoffs.
Left winger Colin Wilson is the hot player right now but left winger Martin Erat and left winger Sergei Kostitsyn have to put the biscuit in the basket for Nashville to move on. Mr. Gray’s favorite Predator is right winger Brandon Yip . He is the scrappy player every team wants to have on their side. They’re in but not impressed with Nashville’s offense, they will be goin’ fishing early.
The St. Louis Blues - This is our Darth Vader team. The reason is nobody knows how good they really are. They are the new kid on the block and teams should be very wary of playing this team in the playoffs. The question should be asked, is this the year the Blues step up and make a name for themselves? Saint Louis stockpiled young players and now it’s paying off.
The Blues have a great pair of goalies in net with Brian Elliot and Jaroslav Halak. Either one could be the number one goalie on any other team. Love Goal Brother right winger Chris Stewart the bolder of the Blues forwards but he can score too with 6 goals and 7 assists. Stewart has flair on the ice and the team loves it.
Left winger Alex Steen is their playmaker and scores enough to keep this team in the hunt. They are in by sheer guts and gritty play.
The Dallas Stars don’t seem to know what they are doing with right wingers Michael Ryder and Erik Cole which have been traded for each other this season. The Dallas Stars have elder statesmen right winger Jaromir Jagr, center Derek Roy, and left winger Eric Nystrom called the Geriatrics Line. Not impressed with their two goalies and that could be The Dallas Stars Achilles’ Heel in the playoffs; Goal Brother Defenseman Trevor Daley and Brendan Dillon are two Dallas Stars players who will be putting in a lot of ice time.
The Stars don’t get any respect and this team must prove the writers wrong. Not impressed with their goalie tandem (Richard Bachman and Kari Lehtonen) who are not veteran established goalies. Left Winger Loui Eriksson has scored 6 goals and 7 assist while left winger Derek Roy spreads the puck around with 9 assists. The Stars leading scorer is Michael Ryder with 14 points but is it enough?
Dallas should benefit greatly from leaving the Pacific Division and the two time zone difference next year. It also makes it easier for Dallas fans to watch their games at their local time, but it looks like they’re going fishing.
The San Jose Sharks - The Sharks started out hot at The Tank with a 7-1-1 slate, then went on the road and started stumbling. San Jose has two strong lines but depended too much on their number one line right winger Martin Havlat, Center Joe Thornton, and left winger Patrick Marleau. The first two weeks of the season this line was on a pace to beat the old New York Ranger (G-A-G Line) Goal a Game Line of Rod Gilbert, Vic Hadfield, and Jean Ratelle. This line makes up 70% of the Sharks goals and that is not a good sign.
Teams got smart and shutdown The Thornton Line resulting in the Sharks not scoring and a tail spin.
The second line with center Joe Pavelski and left winger Ryan Clowe finally kick – started itself two weeks ago and the team responded with their first good road trip. They went back to basics, working hard every period and it proved to be positive with the recent surge The addition of veteran left winger Scott Gomez from the Montreal Canadiens has helped the 2nd and 3rd lines with experience on the ice.
“Pickles” – left winger Marc-Edouard Vlasic – has to play better on the 2nd and 3rd lines for the Men of Teal to move on in the Stanley Cup. Do not trust goalies Antti Niemi and Thomas Greiss in net (although Niemi does own a Cup ring) and that could be the downfall of this South Bay team. If the San Jose Sharks are going to the Stanley Cup Finals they have to have solid defense around Niemi and Greiss.
Our favorite Shark is left winger Logan Couture a first round draft choice in 2007 and he has produced positive moments on the ice the past three years. Couture is consistent with 30 goals per year and loves to grind in the back of the net.
The Detroit Red Wings- It’s going to be tough for the Wings to enter the playoffs because the Central Division Chicago, St.Louis, and Nashville, all have improved this year. The Detroit Red Wings have a proven offensive and defensive system and it works every year. The Red Army lost its captain over the summer but replaced him with Center Henrik Zetterberg and this team continues to march on. There are many old souls in the Motor City and they will keep Detroit in the playoff hunt, with right winger Johan Franzen, left wingers Pavel “Duck Soup” Datsyuk (one of Mr. Ingram’s fave players) and Valtteri Filppula.
Right winger veteran Jordin Tootoo has put on the Red and White uniform after many years in Nashville.
The Red Wings might have a new bright star on their team, center Damien Brunner who has scored 12 goals this year, now the coach has to make room on the first line for him. Young Joakim Andersson, a defensive specialist has filled the spot until Darren Helms returns.
Goalie Jimmy Howard is one year older and just a step slower so the Detroit defensive might have to work a-little harder this year. Ian White will have to be up to the task of shoring up the back line for Howard. The Wings might be calling 5-0 and that’s not Steve McGarrett, that’s number 50, Young goalie Jonas Gustavsson to give Howard a break.
Might be fishing early if they don’t win division…
The Calgary Flames - The Flames have the honor of playing with the second Black Captain in NHL History, left winger (and still Goal Brother Number One) Jarome Iginla for 17 years. If the Flames sign an all – star center, the Flames would be in the playoffs every year. Jarome needs a center that can consistently drive to the net in the middle of the ice and swing the puck either left or right for a score. The Flames do not have that player and have suffered. Miikka Kiprusoff’s injury has made a bad situation worse in Calgary. So the Flames have to start all over again with Joey MacDonald and Danny Taylor in net. Alex Tanguay is the only other star on this great Canadian team; but as Mr. Ingram predicted in a previous piece forward Akim Aliu was called up to the big club. Aliu has size and speed, and he’s still young – if Iginla can mentor this kid, he could be a force in Calgary’s drive to survive and steal a playoff spot.
Sadly the Flames do not score enough goals to compete with other teams in the west. They may have rectified that this week signing forward Brian McGrattan from the Nashville Predators and are looking to sign forward Ryan O’Reilly from the Colorado Avalanche. This would greatly improve the Flames offense, but the question of trading (if not renting) Iginla to get another shot at The Cup will be on the minds of fans in Western Canada the closer the trade deadline looms.
Left winger Curtis Glencross has scored 7 goals and 4 assists for 11 points. This is simply not enough. Going fishing early.
The Minnesota Wild – The Wild are a brand new team with new parts. They started the year like a house on fire and in first place. Since then they have cooled down and fallen into the last playoff spot.
The Wild acquired Dany Heatly and Devin Setoguchi from the San Jose Sharks then signed free agent left winger Zach Parise from the New Jersey Devils. They also have established veterans like goalie Niklas Backstrom and left winger Mikko Koivu.
Left winger Ryan Suter is the play maker on this very young squad, it will take time for the Wild to solidify and gel as a team to become a force in the NHL. When they play together another year and learn each other’s moves this team could be very dangerous. They were Mr. Gray’s pick at the beginning of the year because of the potential fire power. It has not shown up.
They are on the right track but still going fishing early.
The Phoenix Coyotes- The Desert Dogs are trying to repeat last year’s performance. The Coyotes had a very strong finish to the 2011-12 season. They will have to repeat that if they are to play in this year’s playoffs.
Goalie Mike Smith has to rise above his .500 record this year for the Desert Dogs to move past the first round. Too many close games not in favor of Phoenix. The Dogs are hurting without left winger Martin Hanzal. Phoenix misses his scoring power from the left side and the team could be sliding right out of the playoffs.
Left winger Mikkel Boedker is trying to pick up the slack that Hanzal left behind. Love Phoenix’s second line of left winger Raffi Torres, center/left winger Martin Hanzal, and right winger Radim Vrbata, but Dogies are going home early this year for fishing season.
Our Western Conference Goal Brothers Line: Iginla, Stewart and Setoguchi up front; Oduya and Daley on defense, Emery in net. Second Line: Nolan, Smith – Pelly and Yip up front, Theo Peckham (Edmonton Oilers) and we’ll throw in Ryan Reaves (Blues) to go two-way for the second pairing…
Goal Gray 9 (Ingram) (sh) 5:51, second period;
Copyright c 2013 Gary Norris Gray / Michael – Louis Ingram PBros c 2013 all rights reserved.