Friday, May 28, 2010
Monday, May 24, 2010
Lamoriello has run the Devils like a dictatorship since '87 with a firm grasp on all aspects of the franchise. His history with the club is impeccable, visiting the postseason 18 of the 20 seasons he's been in command since the team relocated to New Jersey, with three Stanley Cups to show for it. With a continuously competitive team, he's managed to draft, groom, and retain many high profile players through the system. But is it his style coupled with his selection of hard-nosed coaches that's resulted in player's (and maybe coaches too) being dissatisified with their work environment? I think the signs are starting to show now more than ever.
The first sign, if it wasn't the coaching carousel of years past, was captain Jamie Langenbrunner's silence and obvious displeasure. The media speculated that it was sparked by his assignment to the pressbox late in the season, and Jamie's quest for playing all 82 games of the season. It turned out that it wasn't just that, but it was Lemaire's attempt to try to hand Colin White the "C" that rubbed him the wrong way. White declined, but the damage had been done, as a difference of opinion between coach and captain had been brewing since Christmas. Langenbrunner was quoted after the season as saying,
“There were a few things that happened, a few issues that were tough for me to let go. I probably didn’t handle them correctly. Not all personalities completely mesh, but they are able to work together. I had no problems with the way he treated me. It was more about team issues that we would never agree on.”
Team members revealed some of those issues to be about the handling of lineup changes and more prominently the freedom given to Ilya Kovalchuk when he was brought over at the deadline from Atlanta.
Players would be told after the morning skate that they would be in the lineup that night, only to receive text messages informing them that there was a change of plans. This occurred not only in the regular season but in the postseason as well. Elliotte Friedman even mentioned it in his 30 thoughts this week,
"22) I was absolutely blown away by some of this story on the Devils by Rich Chere of the Newark Star-Ledger. Text messaging players after a game-day skate to tell them they weren't in that night? Just awful.
23) How much of a breach in protocol is that? I heard one player in this year's playoffs go crazy because he was told (last-second) he wasn't playing by the goaltending coach. I asked Garry Galley and Healy (combined 31 seasons) if this was acceptable and both said no way. An assistant coach should do it if the head man doesn't."
Text message or goaltending coach, if you don't have the balls to tell the man face-to-face than you shouldn't be taking him out of the lineup. Especially in the playoffs.
But the bigger issue seemed to be about Kovalchuk's role on the team. On a club that is all about "team" and "defense," this "individual" seemed to have precedence over the rest of the team that's had to buy-in to this system. In Rich Chere's follow up article to Lemaire's retiring, Jacques had the following to say, comparing Kovalchuk's talent with his experience with Marian Gaborik in Minnesota,
“I had the opportunity to coach Gaborik,” he explained. “I tried at the start to get Gabby to play a two-way game as good as he could play. You know what? It wasn’t working because Gaborik is an offensive player and he has to think offense pretty much 90 percent of the time he is on the ice. The 10 percent when he thinks defensively is when he is in his own zone.
“I heard people say when Kovalchuk came, ‘He’s going to make him a defensive player.’ No. These guys have to go offensive. They certainly have to be responsible at certain times, which I thought Kovy was and I thought Gaborik was. But you cannot try to change these guys’ games. That’s one thing I’ve learned in my career.
“He played different than the other guys because of his talent. I have no problem with that. He had 6-7 chances a game. You think I’m going to tell him to play defense? Come on. We’re looking to score goals here. Give me a break.
“I let him play as much as I could as long as it didn’t disturb the whole team: ‘Play the way you want, but be responsible when it’s time to come back and when it’s time to do the job in your zone.’ Which he was.”
Problem was, it did disturb the whole team. A different set of rules or standards were set aside for this dynamicaly offensive, yet defensively anemic acquisition, and the rest of the team wasn't having it, nor should they.
When word came over the wire that New Jersey was interested in Kovalchuk, I immediately shot it down thinking that 'he'll never work in that system.' I felt like an idiot after Lou landed him, but my thoughts were apparently right on. The front office wanted Kovy's goal-scoring and were willing to give him a pass for his defensive liability, which was clearly identified in Atlanta. Half of the Devils locker room was probably willing to allow it if he brought something to the offense, while the other half wasn't having any of it. Is that what Jacques meant by the 'whole' team wasn't disrupted?
In any case the Devils, or maybe just Lamoriello have a bunch of questions to answer. 'Who do we get in here to coach this team?' 'Do we continue with the present mold of coaches we have in the past and hire Ken Hitchcock?' 'Can we win it all with this type of situation in place in the post-lockout NHL, or are we asking for another implosion in the locker room?' 'Do we attempt to bring Ilya Kovalchuk back in the Fall?'
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Briere/Gagne/Leino - Briere took all the shit he's been suffering through in Philadelphia since he's signed that whale back in '07, with all of his injuries and lack of production, and produced when it counted the most. Nine goals, nine assists in 14 games. Gagne's been a "McGuire" since returning from injury notching game winning goals in pivotal moments in the seriesesssss. Six goals, three assists in 10 games. Leino, after quietly coming over from Detroit in a trade just before the deadline, has earned his spot on Laviolette's roster. Three goals, eight assists in 10 games.
Leighton - Wrap your head around this. Leighton has not allowed a goal since 14 minutes into the first period of Game 7 against the Bruins. That's 166 minutes of shutout hockey. Of course, tonight the Habs will score. He's only allowed four goals since taking over for Boucher in Game 5, preserving that shutout. And the Flyers only paid $11,250.- for him.
Flyers in general - On top of the three forwards and the waiver wire steal already mentioned, you've got Richards playing like a captain with 18 points (5G, 13A), Pronger just shutting down the blueline not to mention his 4 goals and 8 assists, and veteran play out of the younger guys in Giroux and vanRiemsdyk.
Toews/Kane/Byfuglien - Toews leads all playoff performers with 23 points (7G, 16A) in 14 games, leading by example, and showing great poise as a young captain. I don't know how Kane doesn't get plastered every night with his dipsy doodling. I guess they can't catch him. He really knows his way around the offensive zone, and really knows how to pick his spots with 7 goals, 11 assists. Byfuglien has 6 soul crushing goals and if that didn't get you I'm sure his shoulder or his agitating personality will.
Chicago in general - I don't know if its the depth, but everyone on this team is contributing in their own personal way. I think the Q is coaching the shit out of these guys too, getting good matchups, and response from his players when called upon.
Cammalleri - Twelve goals leads all postseason scorers, coupled with 6 assists for 18 points in 16 games. He's had some secondary support in the first two rounds, but the whole team needs to step it up to get back into these Conference Finals.
Subban - Why was this kid not brought up sooner? No one has been able to answer that for me. His skating is incredible, and he's got the desire of a kid who just broke into the League.
Halak - I still consider him hot because he's not the reason the Habs aren't scoring. Not to mention the facts that, he's the main reason they're still playing this late in May, and he has a penchant for bouncing back, as does the rest of this team.
Joe Pavelski - Again, has cooled off, but has 9 goals, 6 assists in 13 games. Is not getting the secondary help, and this whole team will need to respond quickly, to avoid the stamp of "CHOKE."
Nabokov - Has sucked this entire postseason. I cannot remember a single game where he was the difference for a win. However I can remember plenty of goals where blame could be placed squarely on him. If the Sharks lose this series, I expect Wilson to look for new goaltending.
Sharks in general - Fragile. Fire hasn't worked in the past with Ron Wilson, and it certainly doesn't work in the tanning both with Doug Wilson. There's a ridiculous number of incredible hockey players on this team and they're just folding. Where is that fucking Olympic line now? The young gang of Pavelski, Clowe, and Setoguchi bailed their asses out in the first round, and they finally put something together against the Wings, and now they've vanished again. All of them. This team should have the same blood thirst they had in the second round, carried over against the Hawks.
Gomez - He's got 10 assists and 1 goal, does that make his contract worth it?
I'm sure there's a lot more, but they're already on the sixth hole by now.
Monday, May 17, 2010
#7 Philadelphia Flyers vs. #8 Montreal Canadiens
I don't think anyone could've predicted that matchup for the conference finals. Once again, the East proves that the seedings are meaningless. Montreal took out the top team in the League (points-wise), then went on to defeat the defending Champs to head on to the Conference Finals. Not too shabby for a team that had the worst record heading into the post. The Habs success is hinging on three things, maybe four, depending on how much you "believe." 1) They've bought into the system, and its working against the best teams in the East, 2) Their triggermen are clicking at just the right time, and its more than one guy doing it. Even though Cammalleri is stealing the show. And 3) Halak. Up until last night, a minus one game per series, this guy is a fucking machine. He's playing like he's got something to prove, and he does. Looks like Allen Walsh wasn't really just blowin' smoke up everyone's ass, he had a legitimate point as to who the starter should be. At $775k per this guy is not only a savior, he's a bargain, and he is the Contract Anomaly, (I wrote nothing about Halak). The fourth, bullshit intangible is that the Habs believe they can do it. Hell, its almost like they've already done the heavy lifting, except for that pesky Stanley Cup championship thingy.
The Flyers are another low seed, but are just proving that they have in them what everybody originally thought they had. The goaltending situation is just getting to be ri-goddamn-diculous. Gagne returning to lineup has been huge, Richards is playing like a captain, Giroux and vanReimsdyk are playing like crafty veterans, and Laviolette has been the rudder to the previously rudder-less ship. Its hard to go against the Flyers, especially after that 6-0 stomping, but I'm doing it. Like a fucking idiot. Grip Pick: Habs in 6.
#1 San Jose Sharks vs. #2 Chicago Blackhawks
I think this is going to be incredible series, just because of the depth of these teams on both offense and defense. I give the slight edge to the Sharks in goal, and I have very little to say after that. The Sharks will of course need all their depth to show up, the Hawks rarely have that problem, and maybe that's the deal breaker. But I'm sticking with it, like a fucking idiot. Grip Pick: Sharks in 6.
One vs. two, seven vs. eight. I get this funny feeling like it'll either be one and eight to get through, or two and seven, I don't know why. Its no longer predictable. You've got three backup netminders in the final four, killing it right now. That's pretty fucking wild, especially considering the argument about top flite goaltenders, while the likes of Brodeur, Luongo, Miller, and Fleury are sitting at home right now, and last year's Vezina winner was riding the pine this postseason.
Sunday, May 16, 2010
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Just like life, the postseason always brings unpredictability. I mean, we all try to pick the winners from the losers, but rare is the occasion where all the pieces fall into place. And if it was all that predictable it wouldn't be all that much fun, would it? This entire season has presented some off the wall ideas that no one thought possible or conceivable. Take for example Philadelphia's goaltending situation, the long running joke since the days of Ronny Hextall...
Boucher, Cechmanek, Esche, Burke, Hackett, Niittymaki, Biron, with a trifecta of Emery, to Leighton, back to Boucher, only now to come back to Leighton. Not to mention a couple of dashes of the Beezer, Dom Roussell, and Garth Snow thrown in the pot as well. Philly was predicted to do it all this year before the season started by the experts, and that was with Emery between the pipes on a one-year "tryout" back from the KHL. Emery went down with a muscle injury in the abdomen that had to be surgically repaired, only to learn about an avascular necrosis condition in his hips that's literally put his career in jeopardy. Leighton was picked up on a waivers to backup Boucher, who was Emery's backup at the time. About two weeks later, Boucher was shelfed with a hand injury that put Leighton in the #1 spot. Leighton played admirably in that stretch, starting in the Winter Classic, and more importantly keeping the Flyers in the hunt. Towards the end of the season, Leighton went down with a high ankle sprain, and Boucher returned to the nets in a critcal time to assure a postseason berth, earning a shootout win in the last game of the season. Boucher was a crucial factor in smacking the #2 seed Devils out of the first round in five games, and was playing well in the second round series against Boston until he suffered this shitty injury to his knees. Leighton took over early in the second of that game, preserving the shutout win and keeping the Flyers in it. It'll be quite the story for the Flyers if they were to win four straight and move on to the Conference Finals despite all the goaltending injuries, coaching changes and dysfunctional locker room.
The race for those final playoff spots in the East came down to the wire with Boston, Philly, and Montreal taking the last three seats, and all three pulling off first round upsets to advance. The Boston/Buffalo matchup was evenly matched and could have gone either way, but it was the Montreal Canadiens over the powerhouse Washington Capitals that really shocked the hockey-watching world. The Habs took it to the Caps and defeated them in seven games with a dogged effort, and speedy couterpunching that is also working in the second round matchup against the defending Cup champs. Grinding it out with a never-say-die attitude, not to mention an incredible effort from Jaroslav Halak in net has been the reason for the Montreal success as they force the Pens into a Game 7 on Wednesday night. For a team that wasn't a sure bet to make it to the dance at season's end, becoming the team that knocks off the #1 seed Capitals, and defending Champs to advance to the Conference Finals would be more than quite an achievement.
The San Jose Sharks are advancing to the Western Conference Finals for the second time in franchise history. Did anyone believe that statement to be true at any point during the regular season and even the first round? It took six, very close games to defeat the young Avalanche who returned to the playoffs after an abyssmal season last year, and only five to defeat the defending Conference Champs and perennial contending Red Wings. Exercising the demons that have previously plagued this lineup of playoff failure, they'll still need to win eight more to really prove the doubters wrong, but the fact that they've gotten over the big red hump that is Detroit has to say something.
Vancouver has put their best team together since the early '90s and it still may not be enough considering the Canadian pressure to win and the inconsistencies from game to game. In Game 1 they jumped out and shocked the Hawks at the United Center, taking the wind out of their sails. In Game 2, they employed the same tactic, getting two quick ones before giving another back by taking their foot off the gas, and allowing the Hawks to get three unanswered goals in the third. In Games 3 and 4, they allowed the Blackhawks to get to them, and completely lost their composure and any type of hold in the series going down 3 games to 1. But a collected team showed up on Mother's Day, with Luongo finally looking comfortable making saves, and yeoman effort from the rest of the Canucks. And now the series shifts back to Vancouver, where the away team has been more successful than the home team. The question is, which team will show up? The Blackhawks have been the same team every night, Toews and Kane provide the offense, Byfuglien plants his ass in the crease, Keith and Seabrook fire at will, and the rest of the agitators do what they do. The Canucks have ranged from skilled contender to whining bitches, and they've put themselves in a win-or-die position. Maybe that's the situation they do best in, coming from behind.
Monday, May 10, 2010
The officiating in the postseason this year has hit levels of stupidity that science thought man was incapable of. Normally the refs have the 'let them play' mentality happening with very little in the way of calls to keep the governing body out of the games as much as possible, and that's the way we've all grown to like it. Even most knuckle-draggers seem to pick up on the concept of cleaning up their act in their very limited ice-time so that their team doesn't suffer the wrath of the postseason powerplay. And the play flows, with few whistles, continuous action, with anger and hostility flowing towards your opponent and the more retarded members of your team when they pull some bonehead manuever. But now the zebras have stepped in to take some of that heat, like rodeo clowns grazing the view of a bull's mad dash towards his last rider.
I have never seen so many penalties called in the postseason, and we're not even through the second round yet. A record number of 'Too Many Men' bench minors handed out, and so many ticky-tack bullshit calls that waivers from rigid regular season whistles to blatant daydreaming from the guys with orange waterwings. And what makes it worse is that they're missing infractions that should be called, and go "unnoticed" or not warranted of a call.
First off, lets take this 'Too Many Men' call down a peg or two. 'Too Many' should be saved for when there are six attackers on the ice in the play, plus a goaltender. It should not be called when a team is in the middle of a line change and the opposing team fires it along the boards in front of their bench. That is bullshit. It should not be called when a player comes off the bench, realizes that there's too many on, and jumps off. This is of course within reason. If the sixth doesn't get in the play, and hasn't even gotten past the redline before he jumps off, no call. If he's halfway across the sheet, looking for a pass up ice, and being screamed at to get off, then by all means, call it. Yes, these guys are professionals but lets keep this within reason.
What's another one? The composite stick debate. To everyone who's whining about getting rid of composite sticks get over it, they're not going to go away. Considering the assets it brings to the crappiest of shots, there's no way they'll be overwhelmed by the weak durability argument, especially in the professional realm where competition is at the highest level, and every little edge counts. The only people with warrant to complain about it are the beer leaguers who are shelling out hard-earned money to buy a new stick only to have it busted by some retarded asshole who's only defensive play is to chop your hands.
But back to the playoff penalty aspect, if you slash a guy's stick and it breaks, that's a slash. It should be treated the same way a trip on a breakaway is called. If you get the puck first, its legal. Guys cross-checking the opposition only to have it fold on them holding the evidence in their hands feels as stupid as they look. Two minutes, go sit down.
It doesn't really matter, there's no winning this argument, just like you've never seen a penalty call turned over due to a player complaining about a call. Everyone hates referees because they have an impossible job, and they're never going to make everyone happy, because everyone has their own differing opinions. I have no problem with a game called with penalties if the penalties are warranted and deserved. But you have to admit the officiating this postseason has been poor at best, and definetely a little suspect. Not of conspiracy of course, but of parity.