Tag Archives: nicklas backstrom

The NHL Playoffs Are Out Of Control

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Playoff time in the NHL is the greatest time of year in any sport.

The action gets so jacked up and intense that you would think that games 1-7 are life or death. Year after year players leave everything on the ice whether you are an 8 seed or a 1 seed in the name of Lord Stanley.

Injuries don’t matter, hits are harder, everyone gets in the way of slap shots… it’s a daily spectacle that leaves you on the edge of seat and wincing at every bone-crushing check and unbelievable save.

You know this going into the playoffs and you adjust accordingly as a player and as a fan… However, this year’s playoffs?

Man, no one was ready for this.

Virtually every series except New Jersey vs. Florida has been hate-filled and angry.

St. Louis hates San Jose, Ottawa wants revenge against New York, Phoenix and Chicago have traded blows… Then there’s been the Philly and Pittsburgh series, where do we begin there?

These playoffs are on steroids, everyone’s angry at everyone, violence has been kicked up several notches and Brendad Shanahan hasn’t had much time to make a sandwich because he’s too busy looking over tape of reckless hits.

What the hell is going on?

In the first round of this year’s playoffs there have been more match penalties, more suspensions and more game misconducts than in years past… AND THE PLAYOFFS ARE ONLY A WEEK OLD!!

Look at these occurances and consequences:

Shea Weber fined $2500 for throwing Henrik Zetterberg’s head into the boards

Carl Hagelin suspended three games for elbowing Daniel Alfredsson in the head an giving him a concussion

Aaron Asham suspended four games for trying to decapitate Braydon Schenn

Nicklas Backstrom suspended one game for cross checking Rich Peverly in the head

Michael Shaw suspended three games for knocking goalie Mike Smith in the head

James Neal suspended one game for blindsiding Claude Giroux

Raffi Torres suspended indefinitely for concussing Marian Hossa…

And let me reiterate that the playoffs are only a week old.

I know that hockey is a violent sport and stuff like this happens, but not as frequent as this.

There has been more goonery than actually hockey it would seem to the casual hockey fan. In an interview Dan Boyle said that it seems like guys are just trying to start stuff on the ice. Jonathan Toews doesn’t know what to expect right now… Both guys aren’t alone in their feelings.

At first I was loving the hate being spread around the playoffs. It felt like old time hockey and was great for the game. Now it’s getting out of hand.

The Torres hit should be the last draw for Shanahan and the front offices in the league. They have to start hammering guys with longer suspensions to get their points across.

Shanahan has been criticized for being to lenient on more skilled players like Weber and Backstrom and hammering guys like Asham and Hagelin who are either too young or not as skilled.

He’s got to make things fair across the board. Like Colin Campbell did to Matt Cooke last year Shanahan has to start doing to these players.

Hockey is a self policing game, however when there needs to be stiffer policing from suits in the offices.

Shanahan has to suspend Torres for the rest of the playoffs and encourage referees to get tougher on the ice. Referees have to call these games tighter, which means more penalties and control these games before they continue to get out of hand.

Games like Sundays Flyers-Pens free for all are great once in a while but they’re happening every night in the playoffs. The league has to get this over excessive play under control before someone gets really injured out there.

The over aggressiveness has taken away from some great hockey as well. Jonathan Quick has been putting on a show in the Kings-Canucks series, the Predators-Red Wings matchup has been great with Pekka Rinne dominating the action and game 3 of the Rangers-Senators series was non stop up and down hockey with great goaltending from both teams.

The playoffs have been their normal unbeatable selves, however the action has to be placed back on the skillful play and not on the over excessive violence that has stolen the headlines.

I’m all for a few fights and scrums but this has been ridiculous.

Hopefully we can get back to the great hockey that’s been played so far and not have anymore Marian Hossa incidents.


Make Or Break For The Washington Capitals

These playoffs have to be different for the Washington Capitals.

Alex Ovechkin and company should watch old footage of the 90’s Philadelphia Flyers, the early 2000’s Sacramento Kings, the mid 2000’s Philadelphia Eagles and the early 2000 New York Mets. Why you ask? Because they all have one thing in common, they all couldn’t get over the hump.

The Kings never could beat the Lakers, the Eagles never pushed themselves to a championship level, the Flyers always fell short and the Mets teased, exceeded and then failed. Washington, you’re next.

Honestly I shouldn’t care. As a homer I hope desperately that my Rangers will oust the Washington Capitals and begin a Stanley Cup march. Yet the Capitals are so much more intriguing of a storyline.

The Caps roll into the playoffs as the league’s hottest and most dangerous team. In January they were 6th in the Eastern conference and trying to figure out how the new defensive style that Bruce Boudreau implemented this year.  Now they are the number one seed after snatching it up from slumping Philly in the last two months of the year. After a 6-0 beat down by the Rangers in late February, the Caps went 16-4 the rest of the way and find themselves as the current favorite to win the Cup.

Playoff exits have been too early for the Caps.

Boudreau’s system turned out to be more than successful as the Caps finished in the top 5 in GAA and number 2 overall in penalty killing even though they were a middle of the road offensive team. Alex Ovechkin sacrificed the most of any other player as he finished with career lows in goals and points, as did Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom.

Even though the Caps weren’t lighting the lamp as much, they were winning at a higher rate and stifling opponents at the same time.

Now comes the hard part.

Sure all of this worked in the regular season and they benefitted from Tampa Bay’s drop off thanks to their younger players hitting a wall. However, the postseason is a different animal, and it’s one that the Caps haven’t been able to tame.

Last year the Capitals were number one in the entire league and were barely even challenged during the regular season.  Once the playoffs hit they began pummeling the Montreal Canadiens and led the series 3-1 thanks to a 17-goal outburst in three games. Yet they lost the series because Montreal shut them down on offensive and Mike Cammalleri was able to find the net frequently even though the Habs registered 70 less shots than the Caps in the last 3 games.

Couple that with their lackluster showing in game 7 against Pittsburgh the previous year and getting ousted by the Flyers in the year before that and the Caps are in must win mode.

This team cannot afford a third straight early round exit as the Eastern Conferences number one seed. If not for the Rangers inability to score in 09 then the Caps would have been eliminated in three straight first-round series. The Caps have to win and win impressively if they want to avoid the stigma that currently sits in front of them.

And you know who it starts with.

Alex Ovechkin has to shake off his down year and be the force that he once was in this series. He has to be physical; he has to charge Henrik Lindquist at will, he has to be 60-goal Ovie instead of this version.

For the Caps to win it all Ovechkin has to score more.

Yes the Rangers are more physical, more rugged and like to slow the game down even more than Washington, but Ovechkin has to break that cycle. If this becomes a defensive struggle then the edge will go to the Rangers simply because that’s how the Rangers have always played and it’s a style of play that benefits them. The Rangers have no Ovechkins, no Alex Semin’s, no big-time playmakers that can change a game. Hell they don’t even have Ryan Callahan who will miss the playoffs because of a broken leg suffered from blocking a shot (by the way, the Rangers lead the league in blocked shots as well as hits).

What they do have is one of the best defensive pairings in the league in Marc Stall and Dan GIrardi. They have a ton of young, big, physical forwards that love to grind it out and wear a team down like Brian Boyle and Artem Anisimov. The Rangers almost beat the Caps two years ago in the same  1 vs. 8 scenario, but were undone by their lack of goal scoring. This year the Rangers outscored their opponents by a larger margin than the Caps… and they’re an 8th seed.

Hence the reason Ovechkin, Semin and company have to get going. If they don’t speed the game up and make the Rangers play at a faster pace then the Caps will have another summer of what if’s. questions and doubts.

Do I think the Caps will win the series? Unfortunately yes. Sure the Rangers owned them in the regular season but that doesn’t matter now. The Caps are red-hot and look better than any other team has at anytime during the year. They are on a mission to quiet the naysayers and doubters and finally get over the hump and they finally have the system and players to do it.

However, we said this about Chris Webber and Vlade Divac, about Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid about the Legion Of Doom and Carlos Beltran. Are the Capitals really ready to take that next step? Or are we watching the same old story with different characters? Beginning Wednesday we’ll find out.


Where Is Alex Ovechkin?

Have you seen Alex Ovechkin?

Have you noticed something different about the NHL this year?

 

Tampa Bay Lightning in first place in the Southeast? No. The Chicago Blackhawks struggles after winning the Stanley Cup? No.  The Dallas Stars regaining some of that late 90’s magic and riding it to the top of the Pacific division again? Nope.

 

Check your stat sheets. Look at the league leaders in goals and points… Crosby, check. Stamkos, check. Sedin… both of em… check and check. Alex Ovechkin, looking, looking… wait, where in the hell is Alex Ovechkin? I’ve been wondering the same thing.

 

To say Ovechkin is having an off-season is like saying the Cleveland Cavaliers miss LeBron James.  Before Saturday night’s tilt in Toronto Ovechkin was 11th in the league in points with 48 and had16 goals, which doesn’t even put him in the top 30 in the league. Guys like Mikhail Grabovski, James Neal, Milan Lucic and Logan Couture have more goals than Ovechkin. Hell the Rangers Brian Boyle and Brandon Dubinsky have set career highs in scoring and we’re ahead of the two-time MVP, goal scoring and points champion.

 

So the question I ask is, what the hell Ovie?

 

As it stands right now Ovechkin is on pace for his worst offensive output in his career. He’s on pace for 80 points and 27 goals, that’s 12 less points than his career low of 92 in his second season in the league and 19 less goals than his tally in the same season, he also has only 2 power play goals and has only scored on 7.5% of his shots. For most people that’s a great season and great averages over a long period of time, but this is Alex Ovechkin. We’re used to seeing him score in buckets and without any problem.

 

So what do we suspect? Well Ovie is still among the league leaders in shots and hits so his aggressiveness is still alive and well. The Capitals have won all thirteen of his multi-point games this year and he leads the team in scoring as well.

 

Maybe the main change in Ovechkin’s productivity is the new team philosophy. You see coach Bruce Boudreau has changed the Caps from a offensive juggernaut and a team predicated on crashing the net to a defensive minded team that plays more physical hockey and takes less chances.

 

The Capitals have gone from a top five scoring team to 14th in the league. Last year at this same time the Capitals scored 183 goals, this year 145. Center Nicklas Backstrom has felt the effects of the new system by  laboring through a 12 game pointless streak, the longest of his career. Plus the teams placement in the standings has also suffered as at this time last year the Caps were 17 points clear of their nearest competitor in the Southeast division. This year, they’re trailing the division leading Lightning by three points and four points ahead of third place Atlanta.

 

You’re probably wondering why would Boudreau mess with a good thing? Well getting dumped in the early rounds of the playoffs three years in a row might have something to do with it.

 

The Capitals had plenty of regular season success leading the league in scoring and getting by with lackluster goaltending in the last three years.

Maybe Ovie's hat trick is a sign of things to come.

Unfortunately once they hit the playoffs they were 1-3 in playoff series, which could have easily been 0-3 if not for a Rangers collapse two years ago (yeah I really did bring that up. I’m still ticked off about It.). In each of those series they were out muscled by the opposition and struggled to score goals against better defenses than theirs while the opposition preyed on Mike Green and company.

 

So Boudreau decided to switch things up. While the offense has suffered the results have to be more than pleasing to him on defense. The Caps are 8th in goals allowed this season and have a great goaltending situation as Semyon Varlamov and Michael Neuvirth have looked very impressive in net.

 

With all of that being said you still have to outscore the opposition to win games and you need your best players to provide a boost. That’s where Ovechkin needs to step up his productivity.

 

Ovechkin can play in Boudreau’s defensive system and still be the offensive juggernaut that he’s been in his career thus far. He has to find a way to put some more pucks in the back of the net and stay aggressive. With the second half of the season looming he’ll have his chances.

 

The Caps play a few teams that range from the middle of the pack to poor in the goals allowed department. Ovechkin should raise his goal total against teams like Atlanta, Tampa Bay, San Jose and Buffalo and should approach the mid 30’s  in goals and in the 90’s in points.

 

Maybe the Ovechkin scoring revival has already started. Tonight in Toronto “The Great 8” scored  a hat trick in a 4-1 rout of the Leafs in a game that reminded Caps fans of last year’s team. It was his first hat trick of the season, if this is the beginning of a good run for him offensively then it might not be his last. I’m sure Boudreau wouldn’t mind that.