90 on 95

Sports, rumors, and humor from the Ben Franklin to the George Washington

Flyers Acquire Second Greatest Mullet in Sports History


Jaromir Jagr has a Hall of Fame resume – ninth all-time in NHL points and second all-time in sports history mullets behind Al Iafrate and just ahead of Barry Melrose. Although his hair is cut and he may no longer be the player that won five scoring titles, his return to the NHL in a Flyers uniform after playing three seasons in Russia will be one of the most intriguing storylines of the 2011-2012 season.

#1 Al Iafrate's "Skullet"

#2 Jagr's Mullet (Benasty)

Flyers fans who are out for blood because they think the Flyers brass chose Jagr instead of re-signing fan-favorite Ville Leino need to chill out and understand what happened. Leino rejected the Flyers $3.5M offer for 4 years because he knew he could get more in an offseason marketplace that overpaid for everyone. Instead, Leino jumped ship for Buffalo in the tune of $4.5M per year for 6 years. The Sabres can have him for that price.  I applaud the Flyers execs for not getting suckered into this offseason’s inflated market and overpay for an emerging player who has had one amazing playoff run and one solid but not amazing regular season. The risk of handcuffing the team’s finances for the next 6 years just wasn’t worth it for Holmgren, and I couldn’t agree more.
Instead, Holmgren said goodbye to Leino and rolled the dice by locking up a short-term wild card with steep upside in Jaromir Jagr.  $3.3M is a lot of money for a 39 year-old that has been out of the NHL for 3 years, but if it doesn’t work out, your risk is covered by giving him only a one year deal.

Jagr posted 51 points (19G, 32A) in 49 games last season for Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League (Russia) bringing his three-year total with Omsk to 146 points (66G, 88A) in 155 games. No one expects him to operate near the point-per-game clip like he did out there, but put him alongside either Claude Giroux or Danny Briere, and I think 15G and 35A is a pretty conservative expectation over a full season. Here are his stats since 2005.

2005-2006 NY Rangers (NHL): 82 games, 54G, 69A, 123 PTS: 1.50 pts/game
2006-2007 NY Rangers (NHL): 82 games, 30G, 66A, 96 PTS: 1.17 pts/game
2007-2008 NY Rangers (NHL): 82 games, 25G, 46A, 71 PTS: 0.86 pts/game
2008-2009 Omsk (KHL): 55 games, 22G, 28A, 53 PTS: 0.96 pts/game
2009-2010 Omsk (KHL): 51 games, 22G, 20A, 42 PTS: 0.82 pts/game
2010-2011 Omsk (KHL): 49 games, 19G, 32A, 52 PTS: 1.06 pts/game

The scouting report on Jagr is that he still possesses the same physically dominating skill set that he had when was raking in scoring titles. In all of my years of watching the sport, only Sidney Crosby has been able to resemble even a hint of Jagr’s unbelievable lower body strength and power along the boards. The big difference in Jaromir’s game today is that his conditioning isn’t where it should be, limiting that dominating ability to 15-20 second spurts before sucking wind. I will say, he looked pretty damn good in the past Olympics and World Hockey Championships. I think the refreshed energy Jagr will gain from his big return will get him motivated to improve his fitness and hit the gym hard.

 

Jagr replaces the mullet with a soul patch? Weak sauce.

Jagr is 39 years old, but keep in mind he played the last three seasons in the KHL which is only a 56-game regular season. Furthermore, the Russian elite leagues, like most European leagues, are like figure skating compared to the physicality and violence of the NHL. The wear and tear on the players isn’t even comparable to the North American game. So when Jagr told the media that he feels like a “young 39”, he means it.

Despite hating Jagr so much for so many years, I like pickup for the Flyers. I’m not ready to buy a #68 jersey quite yet, but I think he can do some serious damage when paired with some of the weapons the Flyers have in their top two lines. Grade: B

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Eastern Conference SemiFinals: Capitals-Lightning Preview


#1 Washington Capitals vs. #5 Tampa Bay Lightning

Washington

I’m not going to harp too much on the Capitals “journey” to the second round because, quite frankly, there hasn’t been much of one. They’re suppose to be here. The Caps are the #1 seed in the Conference and beat a far inferior New York Rangers team in 5 games in the first round. So far so good for the team that needs to exorcise the demons of early playoff exits. However, they face a tough match in the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Washington has adopted a new team philosophy that focuses more on team defense and responsibility in their own end at the expense of the flash-bang run-and-gun high-powered offense we had become accustomed to since the beginning of the Ovechkin Era. Although Oveckin, Semin, and Backstrom’s point production are down relative to year’s past, this new team-first approach has served this team well. A big question mark for the Caps is the health statuses of power forward Mike Knuble (hand) and defenseman Dennis Wideman (leg). Knuble is an essential piece to this offense, establishing a presence and physicality in front of the net that compliments their speedy snipers extremely well. The Caps need Wideman to deepen their defensive corps, especially with top D-man Mike Green playing at less than 100%.

Key Player: G Michael Neuvirth – The rookie Czech goaltender has been rock solid so far in his first playoffs, posting a stingy 1.38 GAA and .950 SV% in the first round (albeit against the Rangers comical offense). He is going to need to be huge in this series versus the Lightning’s high-powered offense, especially with the Capitals injuries on defense. As the saying goes, “Your best penalty-killer is always your goaltender.” Neuvirth better be for the Caps. The Lightning’s powerplay is running at a 29.6% clip in the playoffs (3rd best).

Ouch.

Tampa Bay

Plain and simple, the Lightning are the breakout team of the season. GM Steve Yzerman and Head Coach Guy Boucher have done an incredible job of assembling the right group of guys. More importantly, these guys want to play and work hard for them and eachother. It is no secret that Tampa Bay’s bread and butter is their offense, led by Martin St. Louis (officially a Hart Trophy candidate for the league’s most valuable player) who posted 4G, 4A, 8pts in round 1. The tandem of him and Steven Stamkos has proven to be one of the, if not THE deadliest duo in the entire league. 41 year-old goaltending Dwayne Roloson looks ageless, posting a 1.77 GAA and .949 SV% in round 1. More impressive, Roloson improved his record when facing elimination in the playoffs to 6-0 all-time. Talk about elevating your game when the pressure is on!

Key Player: C, Steven Stamkos – Other than Tampa Bay’s 8-2 blowout of the Pens in Game 5 where he potted 2 genos, Stamkos seemed lost in the quarterfinals (2G, 2A), although, he showed signs of heating up in Games 6 and 7. He is a master of getting in scoring position and knows better than anyone what to do with the puck in these areas. His shot is deadly accurate (16.5% shooting, top ten in the NHL regular season) and seems to be able to score from anywhere when he’s locked in. Stamkos needs to reemerge as the Lightning’s top finisher (45G in the regular season) for the Bolts to make a run in these playoffs. Look for him to have a BIG series in the ballpark of 6 goals.

He’s probably sniping the shit out of some goalie in this picture.

Prediction

Don’t get me wrong, I think the Capitals are a great team. But I think this Lightning team currently has “the look”.  The Bolts are working extremely hard and seem like a very cohesive team that really believes in each other. Call it a hunch, but Lightning in 7.

Briere, Flyers Arrested for Publicly Sodomizing Sabres in Game 7


From start to finish, last night’s Game 7 between the Flyers and Sabres was arguably the Flyers’ most complete game they have played all season. Down the stretch run of the regular season, the Flyers built leads only to let up on the gas, allowing inferior opponents that should be put away to crawl back games. Not last night. The Flyers rode the energy of a rowdy Philadelphia crowd and came out forechecking and hitting like a pack of ravenous wolves. They wanted that game so badly, and showed it by winning every one-on-one battle and smothering whatever little offensive attempt the Sabres had. Last night was the Flyers most dominating playoff performance since they shat on the Maple Leafs 6-1 in Game 7 of the 2003 Eastern Conference Quartefinals.

Good night Buffalo

Series MVP: C, Danny Briere

This one’s a no brainer. Briere had 7 points (6G, 1A) in the series and 4 points (3G, 1A) when the Flyers faced elimination in Games 6 and 7. In my Game 7 Notes, I talked about Danny Briere and how he elevates his game when the pressure is on. He loves the big stage and once again proved why he has earned the nickname Mr. Playoffs. Just as impressive, Briere was able to achieve success in this series while overcoming the emotions of playing against good friends (Ryan Miller, Jason Pomminville) and being booed in his former hometown. 

Said Briere following Game 7: “Honestly, it was one of the toughest series I’ve had to go through. When you’re facing a lot of friends — it’s no secret that in the playoffs there are no friends. You’re out there, it doesn’t matter who has the puck, you’re going through them.”

Briere now has 94 points in 93 career playoff games. Among active players, only Sidney Crosby is operating at a point-per-game clip in the playoffs for their career (minimum 15 games).

Briere: “I’m way better than you.” Miller: “Go fuck yourself.” Briere: “Love you, bro.”

 Some quick numbers:

 – The Flyers powerplay began the series 2 for 26 (7.7%) in the first 5 games. With Chris Pronger’s return, it finished 4 for 9 (44.4%) in Games 6 and 7. 

– With the Flyers victory last night, the home team has only won 3 of the past 11 playoff Game 7’s since 2009 in the NHL.

 – The Flyers have won their last three Game 7’s, two of which were on the road (2008 Conference Semifinals @ Washington, 2010 Conference Semifinals @ Boston, 2011 Conference Quarterfinals vs. Buffalo)

The next opponent:

The Flyers second round opponent won’t be determined until the end of tonight, as both remaining matchups are headed to Game 7. If Boston wins their deciding game tonight at home against the Canadiens (Versus, 7pm), they will face the Flyers in a rematch of the epic 3-0 comeback from last year’s Conference Semis. If Montreal takes that series, the Flyers will face the winner of the Lighning @ Pens Game 7 (8pm).  I look forward to sitting back stress-free tonight and enjoying a couple of great hockey games knowing that my boys are moving on.

Predictions: Bruins 2 Canadiens 1 (OT), Lightning 5 Penguins 3

Oh and by the way, suck it Rangers you pack of losers!

Flyers-Sabres Game 7 Notes


Let me begin by addressing the elephant in the room and getting it out of the way. I could write an entire novel venting about Philadelphia’s goaltending in this series. Keep in mind, Flyers fans have endured years and years of questionable goaltending, helping us develop an extraordinarily high tolerance for shakiness between the pipes. But this series has taken the phrase “goaltending controversy” to a whole new level. Following Game 6, ESPN’s Barry Melrose called it “the worst goaltending he has ever seen from a team”, let alone in the playoffs when it matters most. I will agree.

Let’s face it – goaltending (for both teams) is the reason this series is going to Game 7. Hell, it’s the only reason that the Flyers didn’t sweep the series. But let’s not forget that this series would have been over already if not for the Flyers’ resilience. Their goalies have deflated momentum and put the team in huge holes multiple times, but the Flyers always kept coming back. They know they can win games even when the scoreboard shows they shouldn’t.  We could beat the dead dog as much as we like, and make whatever excuses you want, but the bottom line – there is a Game 7 Tuesday night in Philadelphia. What has happened to this point does not matter.

Game 7 Notes

Danny Briere. There are few players in the NHL that elevate their game in pressure moments as much as Briere does. He has the most playoff points (89 pts) of any player since the lockout. Let that sink in for a minute. As if Briere needed any further motivation, Buffalo Sabres uber-goon Patrick Kaleta made a comment to Briere (and Hartnell) about their recent divorces during the second period of Game 6. Down one goal at the end of the second, Briere uncharacteristically stood up in the locker room and rallied the troops (an equiment manager took a video of his speech).

“It was four or five minutes before we headed back out and he was standing up and he let it rip a little bit,” Laviolette said. “He wasn’t ready [for it to end]. It wasn’t time. We need to dig in. . . . I was inspired. I’m too old and heavy, but I wouldn’t have minded grabbing my skates and going out and trying to help. It wasn’t a rah-rah thing. It was just him venting and him going off and, oh, my God.”

Briere netted two beauties in Game 6 and you can bank on him showing that same killer drive in Game 7. Patrick Kaleta should be wishing he kept his mouth shut.

Mr. Playoffs

 – Chris Pronger. Pronger’s return to the lineup in Game 6 was more of a morale lifter and mind game than anything. He played only 5 minutes, almost exclusively on the powerplay which seemed to get a huge boost with Pronger in the mix. The Flyers went 2 for 5, showed a few different looks (one of which had Pronger supplanted in front of the net), and moved the puck more effectively than they have shown all series. I still think the Flyers will use him sparingly tonight, but if this one is close in the third period, expect them to unleash the beast.

– Brian Boucher. If you take away a 3-minute stretch in Game 5 where Boucher’s head wasn’t even on this planet let alone in the game, Boucher has been stellar this series.  We’re not asking Boucher to singlehandedly win hockey games like the Sabres ask of Ryan Miller on a nightly basis. Just play consistent. Make the saves you should make as an NHL goalie. Control your rebounds. Be smart when handling the puck. That’s all. You want more redemption for Game 5? Here’s your chance. Your teammates have stepped up around you and given you this opportunity.

– Home ice advantage. For the Flyers, there have been more ups and downs in this series than I’ve ever experienced in the playoffs – and it’s only the first round! The Flyers are riding a huge high following a comeback OT win on the road to send Game 7 back to Philly. The Wells Fargo Center is going to be absurd, absolutely rocking. The Flyers need to harness the home crowd’s energy and come out hitting and forechecking the shit out of the Sabres. But don’t give in to the crowd’s thirst for blood and do so wrecklessly. Discipline, discipline, discipline. Nothing can take a crowd out of the game faster than taking an early dumbass penalty and giving up a powerplay goal. Use the inherent momentum you get from the home crowd, but use it in the right way.

Simplicity. I always seem to bring up this point in the playoffs but it rings even louder for Game 7’s. There’s no extra formula for winning a do-or-die Game 7. The teams that prevail are those that bring clarity and simplicity to the ice – teams that stay within their system and do the little things right each shift. Get pucks deep, win one-on-one battles, make smart plays in your own zone. A lot of teams lose sight of the importance of these smaller aspects amidst the emotion and craziness involved in Game 7’s. Don’t get caught up in the circus. Work hard and make the right decisions one play at a time.

Mark my words, this Flyers team is one win away from making a serious run in these playoffs. The have already faced a ton of adversity and have found ways to overcome it. This is an essential characteristic of a contender and is something they are showing for the first time in a few months. It all starts tonight. Game 7 in Philadelphia.

LET’S GOOOOOOO FLYERS!

Flyers-Sabres Game 6 Notes


Game 5 was one of the most emotionally draining sporting events I have ever seen in person. I watched Brian Boucher let up two of the worst goals I have ever seen (that includes Chicago’s Cup clincher on Michael Leighton). I then watched the Flyers say enough is enough and absolutely dominate the hockey game, coming back from down 3 goals to send it to overtime…and then lose.

The notes for Game 6 are simple. No over analysis needed.  No comments on goaltending or Chris Pronger. The Flyers are a better hockey team and have shown it most of this series but have somehow found enough ways to put themselves in a 3-2 series hole. No need for pictures, videos, or funny jokes. It’s all business on Easter Sunday for Philadelphia.

Game 6 Notes

Play desperate the entire game. It’s pretty obvious. Lose and go home. Win and send Game 7 back to Philadelphia. The Flyers didn’t start showing their desperation in Game 5 until they were truly desperate – down 3-0. This attitude needs to be evident from the first puck drop and remain obvious no matter what the score.

Capitalize on your opportunities. The Flyers’ failed powerplay with 2 minutes left in the third period of Game 5 was a perfect microcosm of this series. Say what you want about the Flyers goaltending, but failing to take advantage of opportunities to put the Sabres away is just as major an issue as letting in soft goals.  The team’s failures at the most crucial moments in these games is one of the biggest reasons the Flyers face elimination on Easter Sunday. True champions seize these huge moments. The Flyers must cash in on these opportunities starting with Game 6, or else golf season will start on Monday.

My prediction: Michael Leighton starts (this is not yet confirmed), plays well, and the Flyers blow out the Sabres 6-2 to send Game 7 back to Philly. LET’S GO FLYERS!

Flyers-Sabres Game 5 Notes


Tonight’s Game 5 in South Philadelphia is going to be a blood bath. Each game has gotten more and more physical, chippy, and down right dirty. Words have been exchanged on and off (see: Cindy Ruff) the ice. What was a seven game series is now a best of three. Love playoff hockey? You bet your ass.

Game 5 Notes

Cindy Ruff. The media has had a field day today responding to Lindy Ruff’s comments on the Flyers whining about the officiating.

“I just feel that they’re doing a lot of whining. They’re really doing a lot of whining. I didn’t hear any whining when they had 10 power plays in Philly, and I didn’t hear any whining when the power plays in the first game were lopsided,” Ruff told reporters in Buffalo before the team jetted to Philadelphia.

“But all of a sudden there’s all this whining about, ‘We’re getting away with murder.’ That’s a bunch of crap. That’s for the media. That’s for the officials to read. That’s, ‘Here, let’s get the next call.’ That’s a bunch of crap. Let’s just play,” Ruff said.

I generally respect Lindy Ruff as a coach but come on, even if I was a Sabres fan I would have no hesitation calling these past 4 games the worst officiated playoffs series I have ever seen on both sides (the Sabres also had 10 powerplays in Game 2). The major elbow penalty to Mike Richards at the end of the second period of Game 4 as cheap shot specialist Kaleta came barreling down at him was a laughable and embarrassing call. Lavy responded to Ruff’s comments calling them “funny”, and that one of his assistants re-wrote the quote replacing “whining” with the word “winning”. Well played, coach.

Ref: "Don't worry coach, we know Lindy is just jealous of your sweet flow." Lavy: "Thanks, bro."

Pronger Update: Chris Pronger’s healing wrist showed even more improvement during practice this morning, where he was taking harder wrist shots and, for the first time since his injury, a few slap shots. Despite the conflicting rumors, Pronger is officially out for Game 5. Although I’d love to have his ferocity and physicality in the lineup for what is sure to be a chippy Pronger-esque game, he has not been the Flyers’ missing piece in this series. Ryan Miller has been the only piece for the Sabres.

This one is going to be nasty. The Flyers vow to be more physical in Game 5.

“I’m expecting us to come out hard, really hard. I don’t know how many hits we had, but I’d say we have to double it for [Game 5]. It’s going to be our fans and our rink, and we’re going to come out hard. Trust me.” – Kimmo Timonen
I love hearing Timonen say this. Coming from a guy who isn’t known to have much of a temper, he’s played with a chip on his shoulder all series. These two teams hate each other. It’s been pretty obvious the last 4 games and will be even more obvious tonight. Buckle up and enjoy.

Carcillo presents his goods for a very willing Ryan Miller.

 – Stick to the game plan. There is no need to reinvent the wheel in order to beat the Sabres tonight. The Flyers lost two games in this series because Ryan Miller singlehandedly stole two games. Keep ripping shots. Keep getting bodies in front of Miller. Move the puck faster. BANG BODIES! Just keep it simple, execute, and the results will follow.

Time to head down to the rink! GO FLYERS!

Flyers-Sabres Game 4 Notes


The Flyers took a 2-1 series lead with a 4-2 win on Monday night in chilly Buffalo. Here are a few notes on tonight’s crucial Game 4.

Brian Boucher. Laviolette’s call to start Brian Boucher between the pipes for Game 3 proved to be the right move. The veteran played outstanding, stopping 35 shots fired his way in front of a hostile and rowdy Buffalo crowd, handling the emotions and buzz in Buffalo like a seasoned playoff goaltender should. One surprising fact I learned during the game, going into Game 3 Brian Boucher held a career 2.18 GAA in the postseason, 5th best among all active goalies. It would be a tick higher had he not made what is known in Philadelphia as “The Save” (see below) back in the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals. Game 4 provides Boucher with the opportunity to build on his performance from Game 3 and solidify (for now) his hold on the starting duties.

 – James. Van. Riemsdyk. I tend to reserve my expectations and judgement as much as I can with young, heralded players, but it has become glaringly clear between the last handful of regular season games plus the first three games of this playoff series, that JVR has arrived. Following in the footsteps of Claude Giroux and Ville Leino of last year’s post season, the 21 year-old has saved his coming out party for the playoffs. He has one goal and 15 shots through the first three games, but most noticeably, has been physically dominant on both ends of the ice, using his 6’4″ frame to outgrind and outskate everyone on the Sabres. We all knew this day was coming for the South Jersey native when we drafted him with the 2nd overall pick in 2007 (behind Patrick Kane). I’m just glad it has come at the most crucial point in the season. Look for JVR to continue to be one of the best players on the ice tonight in Game 4.

 – Nodl or Zherdev? Enigmatic Ukrainian forward Nikolai Zherdev made the most out of his opportunity to play in Game 3 in favor of injured Andreas Nodl by skating hard, creating chances on the power play, and oh yeah, potting the game winner. He was clicking with linemates Mike Richards and Kris Versteeg as well. I haven’t heard much on the status of Nodl’s “upper body injury”, but even if he’s healthy, I would have a hard time seeing Laviolette scratch Zherdev after his performance on Monday night. Nodl didn’t do much of anything in Games 1 and 2. Play with the hot hand and get Nik back in there regardless of Nodl’s injury status.

Zherdev dunks the game-winning geno in Game 3.

Pronger Update: Chris Pronger took wrist shots for the second day in a row on Tuesday, a good sign that his broken wrist is improving. He won’t play in Game 4 and, in my opinion, won’t play in this series unless the Flyers face elimination.A win tonight and that can pretty much guarantee that he can rest until, at a minimum, a very very “if necessary” Game 7. A loss tonight opens the possibility of “rushing” him back for a crucial Game 5 in Philadelphia.

 – Keep it up Jeff!  I received a text from captaindan during Game 3 saying ,”You were pretty pretty pretty spot on with the keys to the game tonight.” I’m still confused how it’s possible to stutter so badly via text message, but nevertheless, it looks like Carter and Briere read my post before Monday’s game.

Jeff Carter needs to snap the fuck out of whatever Sea Isle jager-bomb daydream he’s been in the last two games. The Flyers leading goal-scorer has been invisible in this series, wiffing on wide open opportunities, shying away from any form of contact (as usual), and coasting around the ice like a lost puppy dog. Carter needs to buck up and show us why the Flyers resigned him to a long-term deal this year. This also goes for Danny Briere, who has been smoking whatever Carter has. WAKE UP! IT’S THE PLAYOFFS!

Jeff Carter silenced the crowd in the first period of Game 3 with a powerplay wrist shot that beat Miller up high, and Danny Briere added a slam dunk shelf job of his own. Most importantly, Carter had his legs – he played great in his own end, particularly in the scrambling final period, winning battles along the wall, digging out loose pucks, and playing physical.  Carter needs to keep boosting his confidence with continued performances like these.

 – Forget Game 3. It was a great win in front of a hostile Buffalo crowd. Boucher played great. The powerplay looked better. Slumping players (Carter, Briere, and Richards) got off the shnide. Build on those positives, but don’t let it go to your head.

Ticketless Sabres fans gather in sub-30 degree weather outside HSBC Arena to watch their team lose Game 3 on a screen smaller than the TV in my living room.

Go for the jugular. Everyone talks about the importance of Game 3’s. Let’s talk Game 4. A win tonight and the Flyers head back to Philadelphia for Game 5 with a chance to eliminate the Sabres in front of a home crowd (I will be in attendance). A loss tonight and it’s a whole new series. You know Buffalo will come out with some serious desperation. The Flyers must rise to the occasion and step on the neck of the down Sabres.

 

LET’S GO FLYERS!

Flyers-Sabres Game 3 Notes


The Flyers evened the series in a wild one on Saturday night against the Buffalo Sabres, a game in which both teams combined for 24 minor penalties. Twentyfour! No matter how chippy a game is, there is no excuse for that many penalties. The refs need to put their whistles down tonight and remind themselves that this is playoff hockey. Let the boys play!

And in case you haven’t noticed, Claude Giroux is really really good at ice hockey.

Game 3 Notes

 –UPDATE: The big headline heading into Game 3 tonight is the goalie switch for the Flyers. After much speculation, it appears that Brian Boucher will get the nod tonight instead of rookie netminder Sergei Bobrovsky, who got yanked in Game 2 after allowing three goals on seven shots in the first period.  In Game 2, Boucher looked rock solid, allowing only one goal on 21 shots the rest of the game. It looks like Lavy is going with the stable and poised veteren in a sure to be emotional and hostile environment in Buffalo. My gut however, tells me that unless Boucher absolutely stands on his head or gets a shutout tonight, Bob gets the nod for Game 4.

It’s Brian Boucher tonight. Flyers 4 Sabres 2

– Chris Pronger is out again in Game 3 as he continues to recover from a broken wrist. However, he did travel with the team up to Buffalo.  You have to believe that if the Flyers win tonight, they will keep sitting Pronger until they absolutely need him. A loss tonight, and we could see him back in the lineup Wednesday night for Game 4. Side note: GM Paul Holmgren and head coach Peter Laviolette have put a muzzle on Pronger, forbidding him to speak to the media until he returns to the lineup. UPDATE: Pronger took shots at practice this morning for the first time since breaking his wrist. Although it was wrist shots only for Pronger, this is definitely a good sign.

– Nikolai Zherdev will dress tonight for the Flyers in place of Andreas Nodl, who will be out of the lineup with an undisclosed upper-body injury.  Zherdev played well in the games he got in to at the end of the regular season. He possesses a skill set that few on this team have plus,  he is a great weapon on the powerplay – which needs any boost it can get after going 1 for 15 in the first two games of the series.

 – Jeff Carter needs to snap the fuck out of whatever Sea Isle jager-bomb daydream he’s been in the last two games. The Flyers leading goal-scorer has been invisible in this series, wiffing on wide open opportunities, shying away from any form of contact (as usual), and coasting around the ice like a lost puppy dog. Carter needs to buck up and show us why the Flyers resigned him to a long-term deal this year. This also goes for Danny Briere, who has been smoking whatever Carter has. WAKE UP! IT’S THE PLAYOFFS!

Get it together Carter for Gods sake!

GO FLYERS!

Stanley Cup Playoffs – Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Preview (Part 2)


Here are my previews for the last two Eastern Conference matchups that begin tonight (the first two are here), starting with the one that will consume my life for the next two weeks.

#2 Philadelphia Flyers vs. #7 Buffalo Sabres

As a Flyers fan, I wish this wasn’t one of the most intriguing matchups out of the East in the first round. Philadelphia coasted through the last two months of the regular season, looking like a team just waiting for the playoffs to start after absolutely steam-rolling the entire NHL from October through January. Whether they got complacent, cocky, or just too comfortable sitting in first place doesn’t matter at this point. They blew a huge Eastern Conference lead (and almost the Atlantic Division title) and now have to face one of the hottest teams coming into the playoffs in the Buffalo Sabres. But as we all know, the Stanley Cup Playoffs is a new season. Time to forget everything that happened in the months prior and win one game at a time.

Philadelphia

It is no secret that offensively, this team is as deep as it gets. They have seven 20-goal scorers in their lineup (plus Ville Leino with 19G). They have by far the best center depth in the NHL with Claude Giroux, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, and Danny Briere rotating the job for the top three lines, and Blair Betts handling the checking duties on the fourth. These three lines are deadly when on and pose huge matchup problems for teams with lesser depth, such as the Buffalo Sabres.  One key Flyers forward in this series is Danny Briere, who absolutely murders his former team; he has 19 pts in 14 career games against the Sabres, and 8 pts in 4 games against them this year. 

On defense, the big story line is Chris Pronger’s wrist injury that has held him out of the lineup for the last month. He is officially out of the lineup for Game 1 and questionable for Game 2 (my guess is he returns for Game 3). But then again, this is the playoffs – misdirection and misleading the opponent in the media is seen everyday, especially with Pronger – so who really knows. There is no doubt that Pronger will be missed for his intangibles – his leadership, tenacity, and intimidation, especially in the playoffs, is unrivaled. But luckily for the Flyers, the have incredible defensive depth thanks to some key off season acquisitions by GM Paul Holmgren. Adrej Mezaros (8G, 24A, +30) has shown why he was such a valuable player in Otttawa and veteran Cup winner Sean O’Donnell brings some grit missed with absence of Pronger. A lot of the weight (and minutes) will be on the shoulders of Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn, who have shown in the past that they play better with heavy work loads.

It wouldn’t be spring time in Philadelphia without the Flyers’ biggest question mark heading into the playoffs being their goaltending situation. Twentytwo year-old rookie Sergei Bobrovsky gets the nod as the starting goalie in Game 1. He posted 28 wins, a 2.59 GAA and a .915 SV% in his first campaign in the NHL – impressive by any standards. He is a butterfly goalie’s butterfly goalie, capabale of making jaw-dropping saves that make you almost shit your pants in amazement. In the second half of the season, however, he has shown spurts of inconsistency that have led to bad goals that also make you almost shit your pants, but in utter disgust. The question is which Bob will show up in the playoffs? Whichever one, he will be on a short leash with Brian Boucher and 2010 Stanley Cup Finals goalie Michael Leighton waiting in the wings.

In Bob We Trust

Along with their team depth, I am confident that the experience these players gained in last year’s Cup Final run will serve the Flyers well heading into this series. Yes, last year was last year, but when questions are brought up surrounding this team’s need for urgency and a “playoff attitude”, these guys will tap into that experience from last season to get them mentally ready for the brawl that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Key Player: D, Braydon Coburn – With Pronger’s status up in the air, Braydon Coburn is going to need to be the Flyers’ answer to eliminating big Sabres’ forward Thomas Vanek (see below). Kimmo Timonen can shut down nearly any forward in the league with speed and great pursuit angles, but Vanek’s size in front of the net can pose a big problem for Timonen’s smaller build. Enter 6’5″, 227 lbs Braydon Coburn. One of the bright spots on this Flyers team in the last two months, Coburn elevated his game down the stretch, playing big, mean, strong, and most importantly, doing this consistently. Bottom line: If Coburn and the Flyers defense stop Vanek, they win this series.

Yup.

Buffalo

The numbers don’t lie. The Sabres went 8-1-1 in their last 10 games (including an overtime win against the Flyers) and are smoking hot at the right time of year. Their roster will not wow you with depth on either end, but they play a great team game and are all-in on Head Coach Lindy Ruff’s system. The Sabres combine speed (Drew Stafford, Jason Pomminville, Tim Connolly) and physicality (Thomas Vanek, Brad Boyes, Paul Gaustad) to hit opponents with whichever style fits the flow of the game. The top line of Connolly-Vanek-Pominville along with a formidable second line have been clicking in the past month and will need to continue to do so to get past the Flyers in the opening round.

Defensive depth is Buffalo’s biggest weakness. 21 year-old man-child Tyler Myers (6’8″, 227lbs) is the star on the blueline, showing great poise, speed, and toughness at a young age. Watch out for this kid to be one of the elite defensemen in the league for a long time. Veteran Steve Montador has Cup Finals experience (Calgary, 2006) and Jordan Leopold has proven to be a nice addition for Buffalo. Outside of these three, the Sabres plug-and-play three defensemen have even less experience than the 21 year-old Myers and are mediocre at the NHL level. This poses a huge matchup problem for the Sabres who need to find a way to stop the three legitimate scoring lines that Philadelphia rolls.

Luckily, Ryan Miller is their goalie. This beloved American has been one of the elite goaltenders in the league for half a decade and is one of the first goalies I think of when I hear the phrase “stealing games”. He is a major wild card in this series though, having missed the last six games (minus two periods) with a collarbone injury. He is admittedly not at 100%. It is important for the Flyers to get all over him early and force him to prove that he is healthy enough to be the guy in net for the Sabres. If not, rookie Jhonas Enroth is a big drop-off.

Its Miller Time in Buffalo.

Key PlayerC, Thomas Vanek – Vanek is the engine that makes this offense run. He’s not going to burn defensemen wide with speed, but he is very strong and plays way bigger than a guy who is 6’2″, 209 lbs.  He is the integral component to a Sabres powerplay that ranked 9th in the league and operated at nearly 20% efficiency. The Austrian is a deadly force around the net and is a master of positioning himself in front of the netminder and in scoring areas. When it comes to loose pucks in the money area, few players in the league are better at finishing in tight spaces (32G, 41A, 73pts). He has a tough matchup against the bigger Flyers defensemen in Braydon Coburn and Andrej Mezaros, and an even tougher one when Chris Pronger returns to the lineup.Vanek needs to be all systems go for the Sabres in this series.

Prediction: I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Flyers drop one of the first two at home,  but their depth will be too overwhelming for the Sabres’ 2 offensive lines and 1.5 defensive pairs to handle in a seven game series. Adding Chris Pronger back into the mix hopefully by Game 3, and it will be Flyers in 6. But for the record, I do have a man crush on Ryan Miller…

#3 Boston Bruins vs. #6 Montreal Canadiens

To me, this is the first round series in the East that is going to be the most fun matchup from both a style-of-play standpoint and a rivalry perspective. The two teams are polar opposites: the Bruins are physical grinders that win games by wearing opponents down; the Canadiens are fast and fluid skaters that win games by making you chase their speedsters up and down the ice all night. Besides world-class goaltending, the only thing these squads have in common is blood-boiling hatred for their opponent. These two Original Six teams have brewed contempt for one another for decades now, having rekindled this fire over the last five years or so. Their games are always heated, always physical, and down right nasty. Expect no different from this series. Throw in the Zdeno Chara hit that broke Max Pacioretty’s neck near to the point of severation a month ago (leading to a criminal investigation by the Montreal Police) and we have the fixings for quite the doozy of a series on our hands here.

Boston: This is a Boston team that relies on their physicality to command flow of the game. Led by one of the truest power forwards in the game, Milan Lucic (30G, 32A, 62pts, +28), the Bruins are deep down the middle with Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, and rely on goal scoring produced by grinding it out along the wall and imposing their size on their opponent. Dump, chase, cycle, repeat is the name of the game for Boston’s offense and should prove to be an effective formula against a grossly undersized Montreal team. Particularly in a long playoff series, I see Boston’s physicality taking a serious toll on the Canadiens if they are unable to match the Bruins’ physical play.

On defense, everyone knows about Zdeno Chara, his monster shot from the point, insane strength, and freakishly long neck. Tomas Kaberle, acquired at the trade deadline from the Toronto Maple Leafs, is often overshadowed (literally) by Chara and could prove to be a series changer if he starts playing the game that has brought him into the “top defensemen conversations” he has been in for most of his career (see Key Player).

Chara has a neck that can make a giraffe jealous!

In goal, the Bruins have my pick for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender. Tim Thomas (another American might I add) posted a skinny 2.00 GAA and a ridiculous .938 SV% en route to 35 wins for the B’s in the regular season. This man is a gamer. He rises to the occassion when the pressure is on and simply never  quits on a play, leading to many of those “Holy Shit!” saves you see in highlight reels.

Key Player: D, Tomas Kaberle – Now is the time for Kaberle to prove to the Bruins managament that he was worth the early round draft picks and a solid prospect. He is a deadly asset on the powerplay with a great nack for the offensive zone, knowing when to step up into the play and rip shots on goal. However, he hasn’t quite found all of his game since coming over to Boston. Perhaps being in the Stanley Cup Playoffs will rejuvenate Kaberle after becoming accustomed to playing golf in April year in and year out with the lousy and embarrassing Maple Leafs.

Montreal: The speedy Canadiens play a fluid finesse game that has defined this franchise since the days of the Original Six. Afterall, with a team as small as they are, they must rely on speed just to be able to escape the opponents looking to squash their pip-squeak forwards. Led by Mike Cammalleri (5’9″, 183lbs), Brian Gionta (5’7″, 174 lbs), Scott Gomez (5’11”, 195 lbs), and Tomas Plekanec (5’11”, 198 lbs), the Montreal attack is swift and works best in transition when they can catch the opposing defense flat-footed.

Losing Josh Gorges and Andre Markov early in the season was a big hit for the Canadiens. However, rookie P.K. Subban has filled the role nicely, teaming up with 6’7″ Hal Gill as Montreal’s shutdown duo. For the record, I can’t stand Subban as much as any defenseman in the East because he yaps way too much for a rookie. He needs to pay his dues and respect the game before he can run around acting afool.

Subban running his mouth as usual.

Anyway, Carey Price is the Canadiens goalie. I have learned to love Price after last season’s Eastern Conference Finals where the Flyers lit him up in a 5-game series win when he let in soft goal after soft goal. However, this is not the Carey Price of last year.  He led the league in wins this season with 28 (and 8 shutouts), and posted a 2.35GAA with a .923 SV%. He was by far and away the Canadiens MVP this season and will need to continue to do so if Montreal has a shot at going anywhere in these playoffs.

Key Player: C, Tomas Plekanec – Plekanec finished the season with a decent line (22G, 35A, 57pts), but is seen as somewhat of a dissappointed considering he scored only 3 goals in his final 22 games. If not for a sluggish finish, he could have easily eclipsed the 30 goal mark for the first time in his career. Plekanec has a great wrist shot and gets into open space very well, but needs to rediscover his scoring touch for the Canadiens to get through Tim Thomas and a stingy and physical Boston defense.

Prediction: This is going to be a great series with lots of fire and violence. But in the end I think Boston’s physicality will win over Montreal’s quickness. Plus, I gotta go with the American goalie over the dirty canuck. Boston in 7.

My picks out West:

Canucks in 7  (Canucks lead 1-0) – Other than playoff experience and a lot of pressure, Vancouver has no glaring weaknesses.
Coyotes in 6 (Red Wings lead 1-0) – No Zetterberg. No series victory for the Wings.
Sharks in 6 – They are hot right now.
Ducks in 5 (Predators lead 1-0) – I love Corey Perry.

Stanley Cup Playoffs – Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Preview (Part 1)


The time of year that all of America has been so anxiously waiting for is finally here! After effortlessly overshadowing both MLB’s Opening Week  and NCAA’s March Madness in the past few weeks, the NHL begins its long and grueling pursuit of the Stanley Cup.

Sarcasm aside, even if you don’t know the first thing about hockey, no one can deny that the Stanley Cup is the greatest single prize in all of sports. The Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy? Dumb name and it just looks retarded. The Lombardi trophy? Cool looking, but the size of my forearm. The World Series Trophy?  Arguably the worst in all of sports. The Stanley Cup? FUCKING AWESOME – 3 feet high and 35 pounds of pure championship glory. Plus, name another championship trophy that you can  chug beer and eat cereal out of? There are none.

There is nothing better than the Stanley Cup and no victory more indescribable to the sports’ athletes than those that chase it for their entire careers and finally win it.

Just writing this gives me chills…and gets me about 75%.

Here are my previews for the Eastern Conference quarterfinals the begin tonight. I will have the previews for Flyers-Sabres and Bruins-Canadiens tomorrow.

#1 Washington Capitals vs. #8 New York Rangers

Washington: One of the leading storylines going into the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs is whether this is the year for Alexander Ovechkin and the Capitals. They have had all of the pieces in place for a few years now and, similar to this season, have shown that they can be dominant in the regular season. However despite its talent, this organization has failed to get past the second round for three straight years now, leaving many questioning whether their core players have the intestinal fortitude needed to make a legitimate run at the Cup. This season, the combination of a late surge by the Caps and a meandering Flyers team helped Washington grab the #1 seed and, quite frankly, their best-case scenario for a first round matchup against the New York Rangers. It’s no secret that Washington has a dynamic offense – three deep scoring lines – that combine strength and size in the front of the crease (Mike Knuble, Jason Arnott), and superstar playmakers in Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Niklas Backstrom. This squad can score at will when firing on all cylinders as it did in the last month of the season.  However, they have shown spurts of inconsistent team defense that can quickly send head coach Bruce Boudreau into an F-bomb laden tirade. Add injuries to blueliners Dennis Wideman and Tom Poti, and this Washington team will need to rely on their gifted goal-scorers to help out in their own end and be positionally responsible in order to make a deep run in these playoffs. The good news for the Caps is that, even with a banged up blue line, they should be able to handle an anemic Rangers offense.

Key Player: D, Jon Carlson – Mike Green has missed the last 20 games due to a concussion and may return for Game 1, albeit at less than 100%. Throw in Wideman and Poti being out for the foreseen future, and Jon Carlson is going to need to quickly forget that he’s a rookie and help lead the Washington defense. He’s a gifted offensive defenseman with great skating ability and solid awareness in his own end. Carlson is also a threat from the point on the powerplay as well. He is going to need to step up at both ends of the ice to relieve the already huge pressure on this Washington forwards.

New York: I have to admit – I was mildly heartbroken that the Canes squandered the chance for me to watch the Rangers miss the playoffs on the last day of the season two years in a row. No matter, as the Rangers have a big task ahead of them to get past a red-hot Washington team. Correction – the Rangers and their spotty offense have a huge task ahead of them to get past a red-hot Washington team. Double correction – the Rangers and their spotty offense that is now without Ryan Callahan have an enormous task ahead of them to get past a red-hot Washington team. The Rangers’ world-class goal scorer Marian Gaborik needs to be the world-class goal scorer that he has shown flashes of the last couple of seasons. When he is on, there are few like him. The only problem is that he goes in and out of these periods of floating around and seeming lost out there. Gabby needs to bring his A game. But more importantly…(see below)

Key Player: G, Henrik Lundqvist – Plain and simple, if the blue shirts offense is struggling, Lundqvist will need to keep them in games. King Henrik needs to stand on his head to have a shot. But if any goalie in the league can do it, it’s Lundqvist.

Prediction:  Despite being well over-matched, I do think Lundqvist is going to steal a couple games for the Rangers. However, Capitals in 6.

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