The headlines came fast and furious in the Anaheim-Dallas series Wednesday and that was even before the opening faceoff.
First, Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau decided earlier in the day he was going to make future Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne a healthy scratch. Can you imagine? Actually, it made a lot of sense. Selanne’s production has waned this season with just nine goals and none through three playoff games. Boudreau explained, very diplomatically, that it was a very difficult decision, but in a physical series and without last line change in Dallas, his lineup was better without Selanne in it.
That’s when Teemu’s teenaged son Eemil stepped into the fray on Twitter. Using humor to express disappointment over his father’s healthy scratch, Eemil tweeted Boudreau was getting assigned to the American League.
The Atlanta Thrashers had high expectations for Kari Lehtonen when they drafted him second overall in 2002. But by the time the dysfunctional franchise gave up on him seven years later, all they had to show for it were Ivan Vishnevskiy, a brief playoff nightmare and a whole lot of man-games lost to injury.
That injury-prone, unreliable starter label has been a tough reputation to escape post-Atlanta, especially playing in another dormant southern market like Dallas has been. With little exposure and no playoff appearances with the Stars Lehtonen is an afterthought. All the while he’s been posting better numbers and playing in more games than he ever did with the Thrashers and became a rock for Dallas, earning a five-year extension on a $5.9 million cap hit.
Lehtonen hasn’t been special, but if all you can ask of your goalie is for him to be consistent from year to year and to not surprise you with meltdowns or significant periods of missed time, then Lehtonen has given the Stars all they can ask for. He won’t ever be a 70-start netminder or a Vezina winner, but he has been a good support player for GM Jim Nill’s build up. Read more
The NHL playoffs are famous for their increased physicality, but we’re only three days into the 2014 post-season and the nastiness is already starting to boil over. On Friday night alone, NHLers Jamie Benn and Danny Dekeyser found that out the hard way when both were speared in the groin area by Corey Perry and Milan Lucic respectively.
Lucic attacked the Red Wings defenseman from behind in Detroit’s 1-0 Game One first round win over Boston, jamming his stick into Dekeyser’s lower mid-section. No penalty was called on the play.
The deep dislike the Ducks, Kings and Sharks have for one another is mirrored by the fans in Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose. We asked bloggers from all three cities to state the hate each fan base has for its California rivals. Much to our delight, none of them played nice.
By Chris Kontos of The Royal Half
DUCKS: According to the Anaheim Ducks Twitter account, a theme for their post-season run this year is #UnfinishedBusiness. I’m not sure what #UnfinishedBusiness they could be referring to…unless they mean being unable to “finish” off the seventh seed last season despite leading the series 3-2. I bet #UnfinishedBusiness refers to the ticket sales department of the Anaheim Ducks. Since they are 21st in attendance, it must be a constant battle to try and get people in Orange County to stop waiting in line for Space Mountain or watching themselves on Bravo and go to a hockey game.
SHARKS: San Jose Sharks fans just love to tell you about how loud their arena is. That it’s the most deafening building in the NHL and provides a distinct home-ice advantage for their team. I guess if I was a hockey fan that was completely insecure about how poor my team did in the playoffs, I’d be boasting about how great the acoustics are in my building as well. And it’s true…the acoustics at the SAP Center are amazing. Each time the Sharks are eliminated in the post-season you can easily hear the tears of the fans drop to the ground!
Once again, I’m privileged enough to receive a ballot for the NHL’s annual individual player awards. It’s a huge honor for any hockey journalist and one I think deserves the respect of full transparency to the public. If we’re supposed to represent the fans, we owe it to them to reveal and stand behind our choices – choices I make after numerous discussions with NHL executives and players.
So here are my picks, along with some brief thoughts on why I chose the players I did for the five awards. You probably won’t agree with all of them, but the last thing these honors are about is pure consensus.
HART TROPHY (“to the player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team”) — Five selections.
1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
2. Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks
3. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
4. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
5. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
The Rationale: As I’ve noted in the past, I’ve come to see the Hart as a most valuable player award, if only because the concept of “value” is so nebulous. But certainly, Crosby’s value to the Penguins – especially during Pittsburgh’s injury-plagued season – cannot be questioned. Nor can his status as the game’s best all-around individual force. Getzlaf was a very close second, while Giroux got the nod over Bergeron because he was the catalyst in Philadelphia’s remarkable season-saving turnaround. Read more
A few thoughts after Night 1 of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs…
• Columbus defenseman Jack Johnson is a polarizing player.
On the one hand, he’s an offensive defenseman who is capable of hitting or approaching 40-point seasons. He led the Blue Jackets with 24:40 of average ice time this season, which is actually more than a minute less than he was pulling in a season ago. He’s a guy the emerging Blue Jackets lean on, even though he’s their third-highest paid defenseman at $4.357 million against the cap through 2017-18.
On the other, he can be a liability at times. His negative Corsi for relative percentage this season was worse than every Blue Jackets defenseman and second-worst to only R.J. Umberger on the team. The volatility in his game, especially this season, was a reason why he wasn’t included on Team USA’s Olympic roster this time around.
But Johnson is a competitor. And when it comes to the playoffs, he’s a scorer. Read more
Ryan Getzlaf’s puck-in-the-puss last night wasn’t your classic shot block, but it has started to stir the age-old debate: is it a good idea for players to throw themselves in front of cannonading vulcanized rubber?
The issue is multi-pronged.
For starters, does it help the cause? The recent data says not necessarily and certainly not always. Take last night’s games. The Ducks topped the six teams who played, with an eye-popping 28 blocks, and held off a Dallas rally. The next three in terms of number of blocks – Columbus, Tampa and the Stars – each lost.
That small sample size mirrors the final tallies from the 2013 playoffs. None of the top five teams in shot blocks per game made it out of the second round. The champion Chicago Blackhawks ranked 12th in blocks per playoff game among the 16 participants.
The Anaheim Ducks had the best record in the Western Conference and the best offense in the NHL this season, so how can an underdog beat such a machine in a seven-game series?
Well, you can start by knocking down one of their pillars.
With 16 seconds left in Anaheim’s Game 1 win, Dallas’ Tyler Seguin one-timed a bouncing puck from the blueline that he lost control of (or did he? muahaha). Standing in front of him was 6-foot-4, 221-pound Ryan Getzlaf, who took said puck square to the mouth. Read more