Tuesday, April 12, 2016

2016 NHL Playoff Preview - Western Conference

Yesterday I went through the Eastern Conference matchups, declaring my apparent love for Florida-based teams. Today's topic: California love.

CENTRAL DIVISION

(1) Dallas Stars vs. (WC) Minnesota Wild

Who would've guessed that this year would give us the battle for the legacy of the Minnesota North Stars? Well, it's not really that big a deal, nor is it that odd an occurrence, so I probably won't mention it again, but I'm sure other people will.

The Stars are an offensive juggernaut that's been playing a more effective defensive game recently. The Wild are also a playoff team. While Minnesota has had a nice run to get into the playoffs, they're still a whole tier below Dallas and the other Central Division teams. I'll still give the Wild a shot because of the way they've played in high-leverage games this year, but I would say this is the series I'm least hopeful of going 6 or 7 games.

Pick: Dallas

(2) St. Louis Blues vs. (3) Chicago Blackhawks

If you've been paying attention to the Blues recently, you know that this group has come up short in a big way in recent years. And if you've been paying attention to the Blackhawks recently, you know that they've been accumulating championship hardware on the regular. So who in their right mind would pick the Blues to come out on top this series?

Well, I don't know if I'm necessarily "in my right mind," but I'm picking the Blues. The way Tarasenko has exploded this season has been incredible, and the Blues (when healthy) might have the best top 10 (top two forward lines, top two defensive pairings) in hockey. When their best players are on the ice, not many teams can match up.

Chicago is obviously strong as well, and they paid a tall price in future draft picks to shore up their forward depth. But future draft picks don't play in the playoffs, so the 'Hawks are in decent shape. This series should probably go seven games, and I'd venture to say this will be one of the best series in recent memory.

Pick: St. Louis

PACIFIC DIVISION

(1) Anaheim Ducks vs. (WC) Nashville Predators

I think this is a tough matchup for the Ducks. They're a big, bruising team that makes you work for every inch, but Nashville is one of the few teams that can match that physicality and intensity. I think it's going to be a closely competed series, but I think it might be a little frustrating to watch. The rink is going to seem awfully small.

This entire series is going to come down to Pekka Rinne's performance. Yes, I just provided the most obvious analysis possible: goaltending will be important. But Rinne has had such an up-and-down season, the Predators' fate will be closely tied to his ability to steady the ship.

In the end, I'll take the hotter team, and the team with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, guys who have been dominating the ice for the better part of a decade.

Pick: Anaheim

(2) Los Angeles Kings vs. (3) San Jose Sharks

While some other series have history, there's something about Kings/Sharks that has another level of mystique. And by "mystique," I mean straight up loathing.

Kings fans hate the Sharks, but that's nothing when compared to the vitriol that Sharks fans feel for the Kings. If there's a team out there that has the same consistent feelings of disappointment as my Capitals (at least in recent years), it's the Sharks. And the Kings have been the focus of their frustration.

But all that buildup only matters to commentators. Once these two teams get onto the ice, it's going to be a hockey series just like any other. When looking at the rosters, the Kings have a slight edge at the top with all-world players like Doughty and Kopitar. I'd give the Sharks an edge in depth, particularly among the forward group. Overall, they're evenly matched.

Ninety-nine percent of the time, when things are even, you go with the team that has the better intangibles. Coaching, playoff experience, home ice, etc. All of that stuff favors the Kings...

...so, naturally, I'm going with the Sharks. While there's no historical proof in favor of this thought (and in fact, there may be proof against it), I think the Sharks are due for a turnaround. It's purely an emotional choice, but I'm pulling for Jumbo Joe Thornton.

Pick: San Jose

Monday, April 11, 2016

2016 NHL Playoff Preview - Eastern Conference

I'm hopeful that I'll be able to coordinate a playoff preview podcast before the games start, but in case I'm not, I wanted to make sure that my loudmouthed opinions get out into the world before I have a chance to pretend I didn't think them.

So, here are my takes on each of the Eastern Conference matchups. My Western Conference matchup evaluations will be coming tomorrow. I used to include the number of games as part of my predictions, but nobody cares about that. Right or wrong, that's all that matters.

METROPOLITAN DIVISION

(1) Washington Capitals vs. (WC) Philadelphia Flyers

At the beginning of 2016, I would not have guessed that the Flyers would be the Caps' first round opponent. They've heated up over the last couple months, and managed to oust the Boston Bruins from the playoffs. I had said nice things about Boston, so of course they collapsed and will watch the playoffs from home.

Luckily, I haven't said anything nice about the Capitals, so we should be in good shape.

But seriously folks, this should be an entertaining series. The Caps have been on coast mode for about six weeks, and only on Saturday did they seem to turn the energy back up at all. I think the schedulers helped them out a little bit though, as they finished with games against Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Anaheim. All three of those teams have legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations, so it was a good opportunity for Washington to test themselves against the very best.

This series is going to come down to how well the Caps are able to negate Philadelphia's incredible top line of Giroux, Simmonds, and Voracek (assuming Philly keeps them together). That line gave everyone in the NHL problems this year, but with how lean the rest of their forwards are, it'll be interesting to see if Dave Hakstol elects to split up his best guys to try to match the Capitals' depth. If he did, I think the Caps would win in five, but I think he'll make the right call. Philly will likely give Washington all they can handle, but a Presidents' Cup winning Caps team won't get upended in the first round twice in the same decade...right?

Pick: Washington

(2) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (3) New York Rangers

This is absolutely going to be the series to watch. The Penguins are the hottest team in the NHL, cruising into the playoffs on a forty-six-game winning streak. Okay not exactly, but they're rolling. The offense is running on all cylinders, and it looks like they'll get Malkin back before too long. The one thing that could be a problem for Pittsburgh is that both of their goalies have endured injuries over the past couple weeks. One or both might be available for game one, but one or both might also not be available for game one. Having to turn to a third-string goaltender in the playoffs isn't an ideal scenario.

That said, this might be a circumstance where that doesn't even matter. Sidney Crosby is once again playing like he's the best player in the world, the paper-thin defensive corps is somehow keeping up with the best forwards in the league, and the new coach seems to have everyone on the same page.

The Rangers, meanwhile, have Henrik Lundqvist.

Seriously, that's it. Could be enough. But I'll take the team over the goalie, this time.

Pick: Pittsburgh

ATLANTIC DIVISION

(1) Florida Panthers vs. (WC) New York Islanders

In a surprise to literally no one, the Islanders managed to lose their game on the last day of the season and will avoid Pittsburgh in the first round, instead facing the upstart Panthers. I can't say that I blame them; the Panthers look more beatable than the Penguins, though they do present their own set of challenges.

Florida's strength is in their energy, their youth, and a style of play that minimizes quality opportunities against Roberto Luongo. The Islanders' strength is...I actually have no idea what the Islanders' strength is. John Tavares would be one, I suppose; he's probably the best player that nobody talks about. But as far as what makes this team dangerous, I'm not really sure.

Florida, despite a minimal amount of playoff experience on the roster, should be able to squeak by the Islanders. I give New York a shot, because I give every hockey team a shot. But if Florida is able to stay healthy, I think they move on to the second round.

Pick: Florida

(2) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. (3) Detroit Red Wings

So Detroit managed to hang on to a playoff spot by the skin of their teeth, extending their string of playoff appearances to 25 consecutive seasons. The Lightning, while not boasting quite so long a streak, made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals last season, and were a preseason favorite in the east.

This is actually a rematch of last year's first round series, but without any of the bluster of the Rangers/Penguins series. I don't think many people are giving Detroit much of a chance this time around, and that's probably appropriate. The Red Wings have some good players, but in the end, the Lightning are too strong all the way around, in spite of all these "injuries" people keep talking about.

Pick: Tampa Bay

Sunday, April 10, 2016

What Should I Write About?

It's been almost two weeks since my last blog post, and while that's not exactly a new phenomenon, it does signify a lull after I had been pretty prolific for several weeks. I've started a couple of posts, but they just didn't come together.

So, I thought maybe I'd open things up to you guys. What do you want me to write about? What subject do you feel has been getting the short end of the stick recently? What topic do you see pop up and find yourself immediately excited about what's in the article? Or, what have I never written about that you think I should?

Also, this is a tricky way for me to sneakily "make a blog post" without actually making a blog post. Muwahaha.

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...