My Two Cents for May 14, 2012
Kings Of The Road- Dwight King scored two goals, including a game clinching empty netter with 47 seconds remaining in the third period as the Los Angeles Kings defeated the Phoenix Coyotes 4-2 in Game One of the Western Conference Finals. The win for the Kings not only gave them a 1-0 lead in the best of seven series for the right to be the Western Conferences representative in this years Stanley Cup Final, but also gave the men from LA their sixth consecutive road win in these playoffs. Dustin Brown scored the tie-breaking goal at 2:11 of the third period to give LA the lead for good. Anze Kopitar scored at 3:53 of the opening period to give the Kings the early lead in the game. Jonathan Quick made 25 saves. LA dominated the Shots on Goal category too, outshooting the Coyotes 48-27 which included a 17-4 margin after the first period alone.
Mike Smith did not have his best game in the net however was the only reason the Kings did not open up more of a lead in the first period. Smith made 16 saves in the first period and 44 for the game. Derek Morris and Mikkel Boedker scored for Phoenix. Morris’ goal came with 6:34 remaining in the first period as he drilled a slap shot from center ice that beat Quick who seemed to be caught a little off guard by it. Boedker scored late in the second period to tie the game at 2-2.
This is only one game of a possible seven, and sometimes first perceptions are deceiving (see Sharks, Flyers). That said, the Coyotes have had as good a run as the Kings have had. However, if Phoenix is going to keep up with the Kings they will certainly have their work cut out for them. The Kings are riding a hot wave, however they are also a better team than most of us thought. They have exceeded every expectation that they had and are in the process of possibly making franchise history as well as NHL history. The Kings match the Coyotes on the ice as far as physicality goes, and are just a faster team up and down the ice. Mike Smith is as solid of a goalie as there is playing right now, and he will be the one who may have to steal some games if the Coyotes are going to be able to draw this series out and have a chance at winning it. As we saw in Game One, the Kings can swarm the net and have no problem keeping the puck under their control. As far as the power play goes, that is LA’s only real weakness in these playoffs. However the Kings also can make the opponents power play their weakness too as LA has four short handed goals in these playoffs.
None of the above is to suggest that the Coyotes don’t have a chance versus the Kings as they did hang with LA despite the huge shot on goal deficit. The Coyotes though now realize that the Kings are not Nashville. If the Coyotes don’t raise their game and bring their “A Plus” game each night, this will be at maximum a six game series with the Kings winning it. To make matters worse for the Coyotes, the Kings with the 8th seed are totally playing with house money. They have nothing to lose and so much more to gain. For the Coyotes to win here, it will require an effort that demands a “Kings Ransom.”
Hockey On The Hudson- The New Jersey Devils and The New York Rangers will resume their already classic rivalry as the two teams meet Monday Night for Game One of their best of Seven series to decide who will represent the Eastern Conference in this years’ Stanley Cup Final. The two teams have combined for some of the more entertaining hockey games you can ask to watch whether it was a regular season or post season game. There of course is the classic 1994 series in which the Rangers won in seven games. Before the seventh and deciding game of this series it was the Rangers’ Mark Messier who guaranteed a victory and for his club to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. Messier and the Rangers delivered, taking Game 7 and advancing to the finals where the men in blue would go on to capture their first Stanley Cup in 54 years defeating the Vancouver Canucks, also in seven games.
The Rangers come into this series having played a total of 14 playoff games thus far while New Jersey has played 12. The Rangers in keeping with the seven game series theme defeated the Ottawa Senators in the first round. New York then went the distance with the Washington Capitals as well, so to say the Rangers are battle tested is not an understatement. The Rangers have relied on goalie Henrik Lundqvist to be solid in the net and he has been when the men in blue have needed it the most. The Rangers have also been led by Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik who have scored key goals for New York in these playoffs. Ryan Callahan, Marc Staal, Derek Stepan and Carl Hagelin along with others have all rolled up their sleeves and have had no problem doing whatever it takes to give the Rangers their best chance to succeed. Chris Kreider has found early success in has handled the jump from the NCAA to the NHL as well as anyone could have and seemingly is not phased by the big stage.
The New Jersey Devils meanwhile are not exactly lacking in the department of leadership themselves. Goalie Martin Brodeur just one season removed from a year in which many speculated could be his last has rebounded nicely again and is arguably playing his best hockey in some time. Brodeur has been clutch in the net for the Devils in making several key stops and is enjoying a revival year despite just turning 40 on May 6th (in some games, he’s looked as if he was in his 20’s again.) Meanwhile, Captain Zach Parise along with Travis Zajac, Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias and others have had a huge hand in the Devils success as New Jersey handled a very stiff challenge from the Florida Panthers. Afterward, the Devils were opportunistic as they hammered the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round playoff series. Here the Devils put heavy defensive pressure on the Flyers and handled the rival from Philadelphia in five games, and maybe could have even swept them if not for a few bad bounces in Game One. What the Devils are going to need to rely on here is too keep up the physical grinding style play that got them here. New Jersey has three Stanley Cup Championships in their history and would love to have a fourth ring. The Rangers are looking for their first title in 17 years, so this will certainly be an interesting match up which really could go either way.
Predators Chemistry Damaging Mistake- The Nashville Predators this year had a very solid regular season and finished the year with 104 points and the 4th seed in the Western Conference Playoff picture. In the opening round of these playoffs, the Preds dismissed the stalwart Detroit Red Wings in five tough games to advance to the second round. The Preds seemed to have all the ingredients in place to make a deep playoff run. However, the Phoenix Coyotes as it turned out were unimpressed and dispatched the Preds in five games as Nashville suddenly looked like a team that had taken two steps back and finished the season with more questions than answers.
This is not to say that it is this just one player’s fault because the entire team really should own this one. However, if I were Nashville there is no way on earth I would have allowed for Alexander Radulov to return to the team under any circumstance whatsoever. This is the same Radulov who walked out on the Preds four years ago while fully under a contract he chose not to honor, and returned to the KHL. I suppose the Preds were either looking for an extra spark or something, and to them maybe it made sense to give Radulov one more try even if it was to just allow him to chase a Cup. Radulov was not the reason the Preds lost to the Coyotes, but he certainly was no help to them either. I cannot help but wonder given the 20-20 benefit of hindsight that his addition in someways may have negatively impacted team chemistry. They played almost an entire regular season without him and were just fine. Radulov was not even the reason the Preds knocked out the Red Wings in the first round either, or finished with a team record 104 points.
The Predators had to know they were taking quite the gamble in bringing Radulov back into the fold just before the post season. We can all agree I feel that this experiment not only failed, but failed miserably. I cannot see how the Preds did not see this coming, especially with the stunt he pulled in the early morning hours on the day of Game Two versus the Coyotes. Not only did Radulov get himself suspended, he dragged teammate Andrei Kostitsyn into this mess with him. Again, I’m not saying that this alone cost the Preds their Cup run in these playoffs, I am saying that maybe they really should have thought twice about bringing him on in the first place especially given his history with the franchise. The Preds will probably get hit hard in the off season free agent market on July 1st, however no matter what happens if they are smart they will let both Radulov and Kostitsyn walk. If another team wants to deal with their shenanigans and can afford it, that’s up to that team.
And No, I don’t want to see either player sign with the Sharks. The Sharks have enough chemistry issues and problems as it is now.
McLellan Watch- As up to now, the Sharks brass have not given word on whether or not they will bring back Head Coach Todd McLellan and his staff for a fifth season behind the Sharks bench. Two weeks ago Sharks ownership gave a full vote of confidence to General Manager Doug Wilson, but were not as anxious to do the same for McLellan. Most of what happened this season is honestly not McLellans fault, the players have to own the failure for the past couple of seasons especially this past year. As I said four years ago when Former Head Coach Ron Wilson was let go by the Sharks, if the Sharks are back in the same or worse position four years from now (circa 2008), then it would be the fault of the players, not coaches. I stand by that statement.
The Sharks likely here are either going to make some sort of an announcement late this month or even after the Stanley Cup Finals are over. Whether McLellan is retained or not depends largely on what direction the Sharks are going to take. If the Sharks are able to find a way to make some changes within their structural philosophy and keep this team as a viable contender for a Stanley Cup title, McLellan likely will stay. If the Sharks decided to just “blow things up” and go in another direction, then McLellan would likely go (my guess, to Calgary…they are waiting to see what the Sharks do. Also, the Washington Capitals Head Coach position just became available…see below).
Team USA rolls in Helsinki- Chris Butler and Max Pacioretty each had a goal and an assist as Team USA routed hosts country Finland 5-0 in the World Hockey Championships Sunday. Bobby Ryan and Justin Faulk also scored for Team USA. Jimmy Howard made 18 saves in goal for Team USA as Finland offensively could never really get on track. With the win team USA advances to the medal round of the tournament. Team USA has one more game in the preliminary round on Tuesday against Switzerland.
If Jamison Wants to Buy the Coyotes, Let Him!- I have absolutely no problem with former Sharks CEO Greg Jamison and his bid to buy the Phoenix Coyotes. I am even hoping that if Jamison’s bid excepted, that he can find a way to create interest in hockey in “The Valley of the Sun” beyond these playoffs and what ever successes the Coyotes have in the Western Conference Finals or Stanley Cup Finals should they get there. There really is no reason that hockey cannot work in the desert, especially when you consider that many of the winter residences there (aka “Snow Birds”) come from other parts of the country where hockey has been well established. However Jamison’s challenge is going to be to find ways to make the Coyotes a marketable major league sport that’s worth the entertainment dollar.
Phoenix is one of the top 10 most populous regions in the United States. Since hockey is a winter sport, the heat in the summer really should not impact the franchise or it’s fans. However, if Phoenix is serious about become a viable hockey market the clock is ticking. Another season or two of low turnouts and operating the franchise at a loss, the Coyotes may be forced to seek greener pastures in Seattle, Portland, Houston or maybe Quebec City…
This Just In- Dale Hunter, who took over as Head Coach of the Washington Capitals after the firing of Bruce Boudreau in November, has stepped down Monday Afternoon as the Capitals Head Coach. Hunter is leaving for what is being described as family reasons. The Caps along with the Calgary Flames are now looking to fill head coaching vacancies. The Capitals had a moderately successful post season run, eliminating the defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins in a classic seven game series. The Capitals took the New York Rangers to the seven game limit before falling 2-1 Saturday Night in New York, ending a 14 game playoff run with a 7-7 mark.
Just My Two Cents…
The King Shark
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