Saturday, April 28, 2012

2012 NHL Playoffs - Washington Capitals vs. New York Rangers Preview

Last year, the Capitals bounced the Rangers in five games, though the series was a bit closer than it might seem after the fact. Three years ago, the Caps ousted the Rangers in seven games, and that series was exactly as close as it seems after the fact. So our boys are facing off against New York for the third time in four years; what is there to expect this time around?

The Rich Get Richards

Brad Richards was the jewel of last offseason's free agency, and the Rangers were the favorite to sign him. So while it was no surprise when New York picked him up, the consensus in hockey was that this team just catapulted up the power rankings. Many people (including myself) had them finishing first or second in the vaunted Atlantic Division, and they ended up finishing with the best record in the Eastern Conference, due in no small part to Richards.

These playoffs, Richards has continued to be productive, posting 5 points in their seven game series with the Ottawa Senators. Perhaps most notable is that 4 of those points came on Rangers power plays. If the Capitals are going to win the series, they'll need to make sure not to take bad penalties (against a team with considerable skill in drawing them), and when they do find themselves short-handed, they've got to clamp down, block shots, and hold out for reinforcements.

New Era Caps

When the Capitals fired Bruce Boudreau back in late November, Dale Hunter was expected to bring a very different style of play to Washington. Early on, that "style of play" seemed to be just scoring less goals, and the Caps had to scramble to even make the playoffs after back-to-back #1 seeds in the East.

I can tell you, at least from a fan's perspective, being the #7 seed is very different from being the #1 seed. The games are just as exciting, and your reaction to individual goals is still the same. But the overall mentality between games is completely different. The past three years, I'd been stressed, worried, and afraid of what every game was going to bring  This year, while of course there's still stress, there's also some excitement. And now that the Caps are into the second round after a big upset, the excitement is continuing to overshadow the worry. Not that I don't like locking up a playoff spot early, but rooting from down here is probably a lot better for you.

The Goalie vs. Holtby

Henrik Lundqvist had a fantastic season, and he's a nominee for both the Vezina and Hart trophies, and I think he'll win the Vezina (predictions on trophies will come later). He's got six straight seasons of at least 35 wins, and has been considered among the league's best for years. By contrast, Braden Holtby has 21 career NHL games (in which he's 14-4-3). Each of them is coming off of a grueling seven-game series in which they had to single-handedly save games at certain points. Lundqvist's save percentage was .945; Holtby's was .940. Holtby faced the most shots in the first round of any goaltender at 248, though Lundqvist was peppered as well, facing 217 shots.

I don't know how to look beyond the stats with goalies, because so much of goalie play relies on defense, and because a lot of goalie stats rely on the play of the opposing offense; if they take a lot of bad shots, a goalie can rack up a ton of easy saves. All I can say is that Holtby is playing like an elite goalie with some not-so-good defensemen in front of him (Mike Green is a shadow of his old self...as is Dennis Wideman...as is Roman Hamrlik).

The Last Word


Listen, I don't know a ton about hockey. I'm still unsure of the rules on faceoffs (I'd be delighted if someone would teach me about them), and I know I miss stuff developing or not developing because of a play made or missed by this guy or that guy. But I also know that experts don't know all that much about hockey either, or about any sport. Because most people (including me) picked the Penguins to win it all this year. Because most people (including me) expected the Canucks to oust the Kings. Because most of us figured the Patriots would obliterate the Giants in the 2007 Super Bowl. Because, because, because.

I see a Capitals team here that can match defenses with any team in the East (Nashville and St. Louis are frighteningly good). And I know the Caps have as much offensive talent as anybody in hockey. To top it all off, Braden Holtby is playing like a goalie of legend. The Rangers are a damn good team, but the Caps just beat a damn good team.

I've got the Capitals over the Rangers in six games.

LET'S GO CAPS!

Friday, April 27, 2012

2012 NHL Second Round Playoff Preview

Since I'm a fan of accountability, let's look back at how I did with my first round predictions. My "off by _ games" math accounts for both missed wins and missed losses. For example, I predicted the Penguins to win 4-3, but they lost 4-2. So I got one Penguins win wrong (3 vs 4) and two Flyers wins wrong (4 vs 2), making me off by 3 games total.

My predictions
Rangers over Senators (correct, off by 2 games)
Capitals over Bruins (correct)
Devils over Panthers (correct, off by 1 game)
Penguins over Flyers (incorrect, off by 3 games)

Canucks over Kings (incorrect, off by 3 games)
Blues over Sharks (correct, off by 2 games)
Blackhawks over Coyotes (incorrect, off by 4 games)
Predators over Red Wings (correct, off by 1 game)

Generally not too bad, I vastly under-estimated the Coyotes, and the Flyers/Penguins series was a bloodbath on all counts.  The nice thing is, I really don't like the Canucks or Blackhawks, so even where I was wrong, I was able to take some pleasure out of the result.

Now, on to round two.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

#7 Washington Capitals over #1 New York Rangers, 6 games

(separate preview forthcoming)

#5 Philadelphia Flyers over #6 New Jersey Devils, 6 games

Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise are two of the more underrated scorers in hockey, and certainly Martin Brodeur has the potential to shut down anybody on any given night. But the Flyers have better scoring depth than the Devils, and while the Devils seemed to act like a physical team against Florida, they're going to run into a real deal physical squad in Philadelphia.

If this series were starting immediately after the Pens/Flyers series concluded, I'd have it as a toss-up.  But I think the time off has given Philadelphia a chance to gather themselves, both physically and mentally, and I have a hard time not seeing them overwhelm New Jersey with three strong scoring lines.  We'll be seeing Scott Hartnell's golden locks in the conference finals.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

#8 Los Angeles Kings over #2 St. Louis Blues, 7 games

This is a matchup between two of my favorite Western Conference teams, and yet two very different teams.  The Blues are a gritty, defense-first team that had low expectations coming into this year and could, in fact, already view the season as a success.  The Kings, meanwhile, made a huge splash in the offseason by trading for Mike Richards, then followed that with a similarly impressive splash mid-season, trading for Richards' former Flyer teammate Jeff Carter.  They've got a dynamic set of scorers who'll give St. Louis' stout defense all it can handle.

It's going to be an epic struggle of offense versus defense, but I think the X-factor is Vezina finalist Jonathan Quick.  The Blues have a nice tandem of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott, but neither of them is on the same level as Quick.  He'll end up stealing a game that the Blues should win, and that'll be the difference in the series.

And I have no idea who I'm rooting for.

#4 Nashville Predators over #3 Phoenix Coyotes, 6 games

What kind of sucks is that I decided sometime last week that I like the Coyotes enough to root for them against most teams.  I've been a big Shane Doan fan ever since my Xbox 360 NHL '09 Dallas Stars team traded for him in our playoff surge.  And the fact that the Lightning cast aside Mike Smith only to see him flourish elsewhere makes me smile (after last year's sweep at the hands of Tampa Bay, I severely dislike the Lightning).

But the reality is that Nashville is an extremely strong team.  They had the fifth-most points in all of hockey in 2011-2012, and they boast absolutely, unequivocally the best defensive pairing in the sport with Shea Weber and Ryan Suter.  Both teams are responsible defensively, and have strong goaltenders.  This is going to be an Big Ten kind of matchup, with plenty of low-scoring, tight games, and multiple overtime games.  It's really either team's series to lose, and it's going to come down to a couple of small mistakes deciding this series.  Which is what playoff hockey should be all about, right?  There's nothing like the utter disappointment of losing to a team you know you're just as good as, simply because of a bad bounce or some chipped ice or a flash bulb.

God, the playoffs are nerve-wracking.

Guild Wars 2...out of digital copies?

Apparently Guild Wars 2 is sold out of digital copies.  This sounds ridiculous, but the reasoning is actually sound, and in fact speaks to ArenaNet being good citizens in the gaming community.

When you release an MMO, players have to go somewhere to play, that somewhere being your servers.  If the servers are overloaded, nobody has a good time.  So, in order to make sure that the game's early adopters get the chance to play it as intended right from the start, a cap was put on the number of digital copies to be made available.  I say good for you guys...

...besides, I won't be trying the game for years anyways.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sporcle Quiz - WWF Royal Rumble (SNES) Wrestlers

Trying out a new quiz style, it's a "minefield" style quiz. Basically, if you click a wrong answer, the quiz ends. For those of you who played WWF Royal Rumble for the Super Nintendo, you should be able to name at least a few. Good luck!

http://www.sporcle.com/games/jargonfacer/wwf-royal-rumble-snes-wrestlers-minefield

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

2012 NHL Playoff Preview

Not much time before the games start, so here's a quick-hitter version of my playoff predictions.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

#1 New York Rangers over #8 Ottawa Senators, 5 games

Ottawa's got a potent offense, but the Rangers are built to stuff. When they added Brad Richards in the offseason, they became a much more dynamic team, and Henrik Lundqvist is a superstar. It was a nice run for the Sens, but this is where it ends.

#7 Washington Capitals over #2 Boston Bruins, 7 games

Call it a homer pick if you want, but it feels like the Caps are headed in the right direction, finally. The Bruins were up and down enough, and Tim Thomas isn't what he was last year. Braden Holtby being thrust into the starting goaltender role for Washington could be one of the best stories of the playoffs...assuming he doesn't fall flat.

#6 New Jersey Devils over #3 Florida Panthers, 6 games

Is it possible that the Panthers at #3 actually have a harder opening round matchup than the #7 Capitals? The Devils' offense is explosive, and they have, you know, a pretty solid goalie. One thing Florida has working in their favor is their depth of scoring. They had eleven different players with 20 or more points this season, so you can't gameplan against a particular line. Don't really need to, though.

#4 Pittsburgh Penguins over #5 Philadelphia Flyers, 7 games

Based purely on talent and coaching, I'd expect Pittsburgh to win in five or six, but the simple distaste these teams have for each other makes it hard for me to imagine them not playing as many games as possible. Sidney Crosby is back, and he joins Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal to make the strongest top three centers in the world. Side note: it should be fun as hell to see Jagr come back to Pittsburgh in a playoff setting.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

#1 Vancouver Canucks over #8 Los Angeles Kings, 7 games

The Kings picked up Mike Richards last offseason, and Jeff Carter during the season. Add them to Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown and you've got a pretty solid set of lines. The real matchup here is from crease to crease, Jonathan Quick versus Roberto Luongo, two of the best goalies in hockey. I think in the end, Luongo's got a little more playoff experience and he'll help his team pull out the series, but this will be a nail-biter.

#2 St. Louis Blues over #7 San Jose Sharks, 7 games

The Blues have been playing playoff-style hockey all season, bruising opponents and getting incredible goalie play from Brian Elliott. But the Sharks have a ton of playoff experience (albeit mostly disappointing experience), and they'll give St. Louis all they can handle. I don't know how much the two will match up, but every moment when David Backes is skating against Joe Thornton is precisely what playoff hockey is all about.

#6 Chicago Blackhawks over #3 Phoenix Coyotes, 6 games

I wish I could predict the Coyotes to win their first playoff series since they became the Coyotes, but I just can't. Mike Smith has been incredible for Phoenix, and I'm expecting him to steal two games. In the end, though, unless Jonathan Toews doesn't play at all, the Blackhawks are just too strong top to bottom.

#4 Nashville Predators over #5 Detroit Red Wings, 6 games

The Red Wings were great at home, but decidedly unimpressive on the road, and as most of you know, teams play both at home and on the road during the playoffs. Pavel Datsyuk is one of my favorite players, but with Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, the Preds can counter pretty much any team's best line. The Wings' forward depth doesn't wow me like it used to, so I'm taking Nashville.

Monday, April 9, 2012

This Letter in Gaming - A

So I've finally put together a Sporcle quiz that I think is decent. It's got a good variety to it, and hopefully a wide range of questions, from simple to challenging. The quiz link is below. Basically, all answers to the questions will begin with the letter A, but the questions refer to games from the past 15+ years of gaming, from the NES to the Xbox 360. Feedback welcome.

http://www.sporcle.com/games/jargonfacer/this-letter-in-gaming---a

Top 500 Songs - Dave Matthews Band

This was always going to be the hardest of my band lists, because I like so many of DMB's songs, and have liked them so differently over...