By Professor Fred Whitted NORTH CAROLINA (BASN) — The title above...
First Period Intermission With the Popsicle Brothers
Mid-Season in the NHL- The Eastern Conference
By Michael – Louis Ingram and Gary Norris Gray
Popsicle Brothers Report #2-2013
The Popsicle Brothers will review the league at the halfway point of this strike shortened season. This season the winds of change can be felt. The National Hockey League announced that there will be a new four division, two conference format with the Detroit Red Wings and the Columbus Blue Jackets moving from west to east. The Colorado Avalanche will be moving from the far west division to the Midwest division. The Winnipeg Jets return home to the west.
Logistically this new format makes a lot of sense and will cut down on travel time; and The Popsicle Brothers are very happy the NHL administration moved in this direction!
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 fishing early?
In the East, The old guard have returned to power. Three Canadian (possibly four) teams could make the playoffs in 2013. The Original Six could be playing each other at the end of April in the playoffs. Both of these impending events are good for the league and their fans.
The NHL needs to rebuild its fan base and this year could be a gold mine if the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators all join the party in April and May.
The surprising Montreal Canadiens have made a bid for the lead in the Eastern Conference. With veteran Carey Price in net and playing well Les Habs have a chance to bring back the good old days and their 24 Stanley Cup Championships and 22 Division Championships.
Goal Brother Defenseman P.K. Subban settled his contract dispute with the club a week into the season, stepped right in and took control of the defense. At the time of this posting, the Canadiens have won seven of eight and the lost was an overtime affair with the scrappy New York Islanders. The Habs sent star Scott Gomez to the west coast and San Jose. Montreal did not miss a beat replacing him with youngster Thomas Plekanic. Francis Bouillon shored up the right side while P.K. guarded the left helping Carey in net. It’s good to see the Habs playing well because hockey needs this historic team in the playoffs. It’s like the Green Bay Packers in football, or the New York Yankees in baseball, and the Boston Celtics of basketball. Even now no NHL club has more members’ names on Lord Stanley’s cup than the bleu blanc et rouge…
The Pittsburgh Penguins have to play once again without one of their star players. Evgeni Malkin suffered a mild concussion and might be out for some time. The Pens played without star Sid Crosby for months two years ago and the team still made the playoffs. It could happen again. Defenseman Kris Letang and crew have to protect an older, slower Marc-Andre Fleury in net. This could be the Black and Gold Achilles heel in the playoffs this year. Pittsburgh will always score goals because of their deep and powerful offensive scoring potential.
The Carolina Hurricanes are putting smiles on NHL officials faces. The ‘Canes are playing well this year. Although there still are serious budget problems from last year, fans will always attend a winning product and the ‘Canes are doing just that, winning. The Southeast Division might be called the New Norris Division because none of the teams in the division are frightening on the ice to other teams. The ‘Canes will go as far as veteran goalie Cam Ward takes them between the pipes. Eric Staal is their offensive leader with 8 goals and 11 assists.
The New Jersey Devils just do one thing year in and year out, that is winning. Last year everybody counted the Devils out of the playoffs. Not only were they in the playoffs they went to the Stanley Cup Finals against the Los Angeles Kings. This year is no different; some experts might have written the Devils off because of Jersey’s notorious slow starts. It did not happen this year and the Black and Red are right in the thick of it. Martin Brodeur is in his 19th season minding the net and will put many goalie records out of reach for many future NHL goaltenders.
This past weekend Brodeur had minor back spasms and might miss a few games. The best backup in net, Johan Hedberg, will give Brodeur rest when needed. Would not want to run into these two net minders in a short series. The question for the Devils can they score with big Left Winger Ilya Kovalchuk getting his motor started and center Adam Henrique scoring goals the Devils are surprising everybody again.
Goal Brother Defenseman Bryce Salvador will protect number 30 plus Salvador will score goals. The Devils love their young mates on the ice David Clarkson, Stephen Gionta, and Travis Zajac. The Future looks bright at “The Rock” Prudential Center. New Jersey special teams are not performing like old Devil units and could be a problem in the playoff hunt. The penalty kill team is awful and they need to straighten this out before April.
The Jersey Way means “get to the playoffs and let Brodeur take over.” The Devils can’t wait until Dainius Zubrus return to the lineup with an injured wrist the required surgery. If the Devils don’t solve their scoring problems they could be going fishing early.
The Ottawa Senators keep thinking about last year and what should have been. This year they plan to correct that mistake. The Matrix Man, goalie, Craig Anderson has found a home in the Canadian capitol. Anderson is one of the best goalies in the east and should help the Sens reach the playoffs again. Backup goalie Ben Bishop has proven to be a pleasant surprise. At 6’7″, he eats up a whole lotta net; and has shown a nimbleness and agility belying his size, so far posting a 4-3 record while Anderson heals.
Defenseman Eric Karlsson must lead the way in stopping the opposition in their zone. Ottawa enforces their version of the famous Left Wing Lock defense. Like the New Jersey Devils the Sens do not score. The Devils and Sens are so much mirror images of each other, that even their uniforms look alike!
Captain right winger Daniel Alfredsson has to put the team on his back just like New Jersey’s Ilya Kovalchuck. If Ottawa can get any points out of their third line of right winger Chris Neil, Center Colin Greening and left winger Milan Michalek, it’s gravy. Center Mike Hoffman was sent back to Binghamton and we thought he would take over the spot from Alfredsson. It did not happen and the Sens are still looking for the 2nd line scoring forward. Sens also have to improve their power play to move into playoffs.
The Boston Bruins have two solid lines and this could help them in the playoffs. The Baby Bears do not seem to miss Tim Thomas in the net as Tuukka Rask has blossomed as a starter in goal. The Bruins have a solid defensive one two punch with big defensemen Zdena Chara and Johnny Boychuk. They will pound players into the ice if they get too close to Rask and the net. Boston has a big slow front line and we can’t figure out how they score goals. Teams do not want to get into a muck and grind game because the Bruins will win that every time. Boston also sports a great special teams unit that keep them in games late.
We see them as a lock – and they are in and could be among of the top seeds. The Tampa Bay Lightning! Just love this team reminding older hockey fans of the Buffalo Sabre -French Connection because they have their own speedy French Line with right winger Martin Saint Louis, center Vincent Lecavalier, and left winger Benoit Pouliot. Last year they surprised the league with a surge at the end of the season to propel them into the playoffs this year might be the same.
The Question in Tampa Bay is who is number one in net? Once that is answered the Lighting maybe on their way to Eastern Conference Championship. Steven Stamkos has to be their number one man in the slot and he is with 26 points, leading the league. The Lightning’s speed is a definite advantage on the ice as they also implore the 1-2-1 defense which the league wants to outlaw. This system slows down the game and is Tampa Bay’s variation on the Left Wing Lock. The organization found a gem in rookie sensation Cory Conacher who should win the Calder Cup.
In the crazy Southeast Division anything could happen with the Toronto Maple Leafs. This Original Six member has been on the outside looking in for for almost a decade, and playoff starved fans are ravenous for post season action. It would be wonderful to see the blue and white clad Leafs in this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs. They know who the players are in Canada, but most Americans don’t have a clue who is wearing these jerseys with the big blue maple leaf on the front.
This is another pleasant surprise in the NHL a new team in the playoffs. As a child we remember watching games on WOR-TV Channel Nine New York when the Rangers traveled to old Maple Leaf Gardens. The Garden North seemed brighter then the Garden on 33rd Street. Maybe it was the bright white uniforms on the ice.
The 2006 1st round pick Phil Kessel lead the Leafs in points with 12 assist and three goals. James van Riemsdyk, a New Jersey native and Devils fan got picked by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1st round 2nd overall pick. He scored 32 goals and 32 assist for the Black and Orange. In 2012 he was traded north of the boarder to the Leafs for defenseman Luke Schenn and connected right away with 12 goals and 16 total points. The Toronto Maple Leafs need to improve their scoring punch to advance deep into the playoffs this year. This might be the breakout year for Toronto because center Nazem Kadri has been blazing for the Leafs, scoring 21 points (8 goals) and has been among the most consistent performers on ice night after night. Goaltender Ben Scrivins is a veritable unknown and will have to prove he belongs in April and May; Goal Brother Mark Fraser has brought stability to the defensive units.
It looks like the New York Rangers are playing out of the playoffs. This is the second most disappointing and underachieving team in the Eastern Conference. Something is not right at Madison Square Garden. The Swedish King, Henrik Lundqvist cannot find last year’s groove in net and the Blueshirts have suffered.
This season started out well but the Rangers have hit a brick wall. They are skating slowly and other teams notice and are taking advantage. The power play does not exist; and although defenseman Michael Del Zotto has had his moments they need more from him. New York lost 4 of the last 5 games and have slipped from 2nd to 9th in The Eastern Conference. The big trade for former Columbus Blue Jacket, left winger/center Rick Nash has not produced the results Ranger management wanted – they’re just not scoring. This team is missing their toughness, their grit, and don’t know where it went. Still trying to figure out why they traded Brandon Prust. Maybe releasing Dubinsky and Anisimov let alone the trouble maker Sean Avery could be the answer.
This is what made teams afraid of coming into the Garden. The Rangers are now a vanilla team with no bite. If they get in, they will always have a punchers’ chance because of Lundqvist, but they likely will be going fishing early because they cannot solve their scoring problem.
The Philadelphia Flyers- The Flyers are currently playing their way into the playoffs. Left Winger and Goal Brother, Wayne Simmonds, has lit a fire under the Flyers behind via two Gordie Howe Hat Tricks (goal, assist and fight) and a game winning goal last week. The Broad Street Bullies are beginning to play like their namesake, bouncing players off the boards again. The Flyers still are having problems in net with the seemingly fragile psyche of Ilya Bryzgalov, who has played well but seems to be feeling the workload; Brain Boucher, back again in Philly, is not the answer in net.
While right winger Mike Knuble, centers Claude Giroux and Danny Briere have to produce more offense for Philly to enter playoffs, Philly did find two answers in winger Jakub Voracek (leads team with 25 points) and reacquiring Simon Gagne back from Los Angeles. Gagne paid immediate dividends with a goal in a recent victory over Ottawa. With the return of Scott Hartnell from an earlier injury (whether Briere becomes trade bait or not) The Fly Guys may be the biggest pains in the ass down the stretch to all who oppose if Bryzgalov can keep it together. Eastern Conference Teams (especially Pittsburgh) do not want to meet the Flyers in the first round. P-O-T-E-N-T-I-A-L in South Philly.
They are in and they will be a tough out because they are putting it together at the right time.
The Washington Capitals- This is the most disappointing team in the Eastern Conference. Last year they changed head coaches and that worked for awhile but they are back to their old ways, losing close games. Two years ago the Capitals were picked to win the Stanley Cup. This year they might now even make the playoffs. Washington made a big mistake last year trading Russian right winger Alexander Semin to the Carolina Hurricanes and it has disabled their offense.
This team still scores in bunches with their firepower, but they cannot defend. They have the worst penalty kill unit and have an average power play unit. This combination will not land the Caps in the playoffs this year. Goal Brother right winger Joel Ward is doing his job scoring 5 goals and 11 total points. You can pinpoint the problems in Washington to number eight Alex Ovechkin. Hockey is a team sport but somebody has not informed number eight yet. Currently Ovechkin has 8 goals and 6 assists in 20 games. Ovechkin gets a hat trick (3 goals in a game) and the Caps still lose this is the saga of the American Capital’s hockey team.
Goalies Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby will have to work overtime to get this team to the playoffs but bit will not happen this year.
Now we did say four Canadian teams may get to the Eastern post – season dance; that fourth team happens to be the revived Winnipeg Jets.
Since their return to the league the former Atlanta Thrashers had a plan for success but it didn’t seem as if it would see fruition because of their selection of Ondrej Pavelec as goalie. Well it looks as if Jets’ management may well be rewarded for their patience. On a recent East Coast swing, Winnipeg went 4-for-5, knocking off many of the East powerhouses, spurred by Pavelec, veteran Olli Jokinen, team captain Andrew Ladd and winger Evander Kane.
Once back home, Winnipeg rewarded Jets’ fans with a 3-1 win over New Jersey, featuring a goal by Ladd eight seconds in, and an amazing end – to – end rush by Dustin Byfuglien which led to the game winning goal. The 6’5″ Byfuglien looking like a Cadillac Escalade as he steamrolled down ice before sliding a graceful wrap around pass to Ladd. Winnipeg has good size and decent speed across their lines and back pairings on defense. If the Jets are buyers come trade time, it will be the best indication that they feel Flight Time in the Plains is now; they are no doubt the X-factor in the current playoff scramble…
Our Goal Brothers East Coast All-Star Lineup: Kane, Kadri, Simmonds up front, Subban and Byfuglien on defense and the Jets’ Al Montoya in goal. (second line Ward, Kyle Okposo of the Islanders and Rene Bourque from Montreal; on defense, Salvador and Bouillon)
Going fishing early????
NEXT The NHL Western Conference
Goal Gray 7 (Ingram, Howell) 12:32, first period.
Copyright c 2013 Michael – Louis and Gary Norris Gray – all rights reserved. PBros 2013