Friday, April 24, 2009

Stupid one goal games...

(Crossposted from The Life and Times of a Caniac because it's Friday and being productive is overrated.)

Canes lost 1-0 in Game 3.

This game frustrates me as a fan because there was nothing that the Canes did wrong, necessarily. Okay, the Jersey goal was scored on a power play, so they shouldn't have taken the penalty, but other than that there was nothing wrong with their play. They played well offensively and defensively, had a total of 44 shots on goal, but still lost the game. Martin Brodeur is looking pretty much unstoppable now, although Cam Ward looked exactly the same way. It's not a coincidence that the game was so low scoring with those shot totals. Both goalies are on fire, and it will take a tip or a stupid bounce to beat either one. Which is how Cam was beat last night, on a David Clarkson tip in front of the net.

If Brodeur wasn't playing so well, I think Chad LaRose would've had at least three goals. LaRose is making our first line look like our fourth line with the plays he's had. I can't believe how he's blossomed in this series.

Speaking of blossoming, or rather anti-blossoming, Erik Cole, I am officially calling you out. What have you done this entire playoff series? Diddly squat, that's what. And I find that unacceptable for the player I call my favorite. So wake up and score one on Sunday!

Canes have to win on Sunday to force a Game 7 and then, of course, win that one to advance in the postseason. The good news? Game 6 is back at the RBC Center!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Game 3 Preview

The series is tied 1-1 after two games in Jersey. Which way will Game 3 swing?

Reasons why the Canes could win:
- Momentum - The Canes played great on Friday, showing they could rebound from a poor Game 1. Carrying the momentum of an excellently played Game 2 overtime victory will certainly help the chances of winning.
- Jamie Langenbrunner is out - I won't pretend to know a lot about how the Devils offense works, but there's not many teams in the NHL where losing their captain wouldn't affect their play at all.
- Home game - The fans at the RBC Center are certain to be rabid today. Need I say more?

Reasons why the Canes could lose:
- Playing like crap - If the Canes come out flatter than the two-month old Mountain Dew that's been stuck in my fridge (I'm certainly not drinking it!), then we're going to have a problem. Seriously, if the Canes' play slumps back to the way they played in Game 1, they're going to have a hard time of it, because I don't think that Jersey is going to come out slow in this game.
- Penalties - The Canes do NOT need to go on another penalty binge tonight. They certainly got off lucky only having one power play goal against them with the number of stupid penalties they took. Cutting down on penalties taken is a must.

Either way, I think this is going to be a close-played, fun game to watch. Tune in, if you can!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Five Questions: The Life and Times of a Caniac (Hurricanes)

(Ashley's been hard at work with her blog The Life and Times of a Caniac for quite a few years now. Make sure to check out her work as the Canes try to continue their surprising surge into the playoffs.)

1. What will your team need to do to beat the New Jersey Devils?
Cam Ward needs to outplay Martin Brodeur. As long as Ward plays well, or as long as Brodeur is beatable the series shouldn't be too hard to win.

I mean, the Canes outplayed the Devils in all of the regular season matchups this year. As long as they translate that winning formula to the postseason, the Devils will have to work a lot harder than the Canes to win games in this series.

2. What would need to happen for New Jersey to win?
New Jersey would need to score more goals than the Canes in four out of seven games.

Seriously. If the Devils score multiple goals early and then pull back into their "let's guard Brodeur" mode, then it will be difficult for the Canes to come back from that deficit (see: last regular season game). But, if the Canes can get into an offensive groove, I don't envision the Devils being able to match it. (i.e. If the game is going to be a shootout, New Jersey will lose.)

3. Fan Favorite
Chad LaRose is without a doubt the fan favorite of Caniacs. He works hard all the time and gives everything that he has on any particular game night. You watch this guy play, and you just want him to score - not because of any flashy offensive talent, but because you just want to see him rewarded for all the heart he contributes to the team.

Some other names that bring joy to the Caniac's heart: Tuomo Ruutu (if it's a home game, we're probably not "boo-ing" it's "Ruuuuuuuuu-ing"), Eric Staal (our superstar), Erik Cole (best power forward evah!), and Anton Babchuk (do NOT get in the way of his slap shot).

4. Your team's Goat-to-Be
Hm... this one's not that easy. Earlier in the season, I would have said our Captain Rod Brind'Amour due to his abysmal plus/minus (-30 at one time - Ouch!), but as of late Rod has picked it up a bit.

I'll go with a two-way tie. On offense, I'm going to pick Scott Walker, because he's been playing with his head up his rear-end for the last few games. On defense, I'm going to pick Frank Kaberle . He's been riding the bench for most of the year, and with our defense, that should tell you something right there. I don't believe that he'll get much ice time in the series, but if something happens that forces him to play... I can easily see him doing a stupid defensive play to lose the series.

5. Top storyline
There's a storyline here? I mean, for me, this playoff series is old hat. Every time the Canes get to the playoffs, they play the Devils. And there's not a lot of bad blood in between these teams, either, so there's not a lot of "sizzle" coming in from that angle.

Probably the top storyline is the master-padawan struggle between Cam Ward and Martin Brodeur. In the last playoff series, there was a lot of hype about the rookie Ward facing his childhood idol. Does this chapter end the same way? Or does Brodeur show that he's still got the skills to pay the bills?

Five Questions: In Lou We Trust (Devils)

(Thanks to the gang at In Lou We Trust for another great offering. They're yet another member of Sports Blog Nation that has helped out immensely here at Cycle like the Sedins. Make sure to follow John Fischer for all your Devils needs at In Lou We Trust. )

1) What will your team need to do to beat the Carolina Hurricanes? Above all, they will need to be lethal on finishing the chances they do create. One of the big reasons why the Devils have had their best scoring season since 2000-01 has been that when they get a chance at scoring – a rebound, a deflection, a shot down low, etc. – they’ve been more successful at finding the net than missing it. It’s been a bit of an issue with the Devils recently and they could have defeated Carolina by much more than one goal with superior finishing.

Special teams play will be important in deciding the series, but if the Devils can roof it when Cam Ward is invariably down or find the hole through a screen more often – it will give the Devils the advantage they will need in the series. It’ll make the game that much harder for Carolina to respond from and put the Devils in a more comfortable position.

Even if Carolina does respond, the Devils will have still the confidence to regain or re-take the lead. With two lines (Parise-Zajac-Langenbrunner, Elias-Zubrus-Gionta) capable of giving the opposition defense a lot to handle, along with some chipped-in efforts from a third line (usually whoever David Clarkson is with), New Jersey usually makes a lot possible. They just need to close the deal more often – be it in even strength, shorthanded, or on the power play.

2) What would need to happen for the Carolina Hurricanes to win? Basically, they would need to remain patient and hope one of the three performances come from the Devils. The first would be that the Devils come out flat and unfocused, and the Hurricanes are able to outwork them and drive the Devils to desperation – which will end up being too little, too late. This happened in the first game between these teams and it’s not improbable as the series goes on, especially if the Devils start slowly.

The second would be that the Devils would be emotionally and physically drained, resulting in the Devils playing some unsmart, uninspired hockey – enough for the ‘Canes to take advantage on the power play or during the run of play. This happened in the second game between the two teams and while I doubt it’ll happen right away, it could should the Devils keep marching to the penalty box whilst the penalty killers allow the pointmen (e.g. Anton Babchuk) to do what they will. But this is counting on the Devils not learning from past mistakes and so it is unlikely to start.

The third would result from the Devils being able to generate a lot of chances, not be able to finish those chances for one reason or another (e.g. Ward, defensemen blocking shots, Devils missing the net, bad luck, etc.), and the Hurricanes are able to put away a glorious chance or two late for the equalizer or the win. This happened in the third game, where the Devils gave up a 1-0 lead in the third and couldn’t find a response from Carolina’s equalizer or their go-ahead goal. This is more likely, given that this loss was relatively recent and it almost burned the Devils again in a 3-2 over Carolina on the last game of the season. Hence, I stress the importance of finishing in the first question.

3) Who is a fan favorite on your team that other fans may not know about? The Devils have a number of fan favorites, and it takes a lot of mistakes for one to become really disliked by the fans (e.g. Bobby Holik and his penalties). While you may already know about Martin Brodeur, Patrik Elias, and Zach Parise; I want to highlight David Clarkson. He’s essentially the new Randy McKay, a gritty forward of Devils past with a knack for scoring some goals. Only Clarkson has more panache. He loves to hit, he’ll get into the dirty stuff, and yet he performs wraparounds (enough to the point that they are now Clark-arounds to some), toe drags, step-overs, and finesse moves that you would expect from a young scoring winger instead of a gritty third liner. He skates hard on the forecheck, he dishes out some pain, he’s willing to shoot (he’s had nights of fewer than 10 minutes of icetime and still ends up with 5 shots on net), and he put up 17 goals and 12 assists in the process. Exactly the sort of player lots of teams – and their fans – would love to have on their team. And the fans here do love them, with some having tape over their “GOMEZ” jerseys and replaced with a hand-written “CLARKSON.” Given that he’s only 25, the best is yet to come and more will have jerseys originally stamped with Clarkson’s name on the back.

4) Who would be the team’s “Goat-to-be?” The media is already preparing to make Martin Brodeur the goat regardless of what actually happens in the series. They made him the goat for the last season’s first round loss to the Rangers. While he didn’t play well, it seemed everyone ignored that the entire team skated in a fog and a half-step behind the Rangers seemingly all series long. It wasn’t Brodeur’s fault they lost it. And it’ll happen again even if Brodeur maintains a 1.00 GAA or something ridiculous. But who listens to Devils fans like me when there’s a narrative to continue?

Anyway, as far as a player being a potential goat, a lot of eyes are looking at Bobby Holik and hoping and praying that he will not take costly, stupid penalties. Holik is a veteran center who’s been here before, he’s strong on faceoffs, and he’s not bad defensively – so he can spell John Madden for a few shifts. That said, he has developed a tendency for rushing the goaltender, hooking hands, and generally committing an infraction at the worst times. He’s seen the bench in the last two games in favor of goon Pierre-Luc Latourneau-Leblond, presumably to learn a lesson. Leblond won’t see any playoff time (I hope!), so it’ll be up to Holik to smarten up. If he hands out power plays to Carolina, he’s effectively hurting the Devils because the ‘Canes have lit up the Devils this season on power plays.

Similar to this, I’d like to name a group of players as potential goats – namely the Devils’ special teams units. The Devils have been great on even strength (1.25 5 on 5 F/A ratio – 2nd best in NHL), but the fans collectively hold their breath sometimes when they are killing a penalty or when they have a man advantage. The Devils have not been strong at killing penalties all season (79.9% success rate – 20th in the NHL); tending to do a good job for most of it, but the defense breaks down just enough for the other team to get a great shot off that Brodeur has a low chance (0% is low) of stopping. Likewise, the Devils traditionally haven’t been good on the power play and it’s surprising to even me that they have a power play success rate of 18.9% (and it’s slightly higher than Carolina’s 18.7%!) It’s still wasted opportunities more often than not, namely due to a lack of finishing the set-up plays.

5) What would be the top storyline? For the media, the top story line will be whether Martin Brodeur can get his playoff groove back. For this series, it will be whether the Devils can beat the Hurricanes in the playoffs. The Devils are 1-3 against Carolina this season and they are 1-2 in playoff series against them as well – their only win coming in 2001. Adding to this further, the Devils haven’t won a playoff game in Carolina since 2001. The Devils have a lot to prove here and if they are able Carolina has went all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals in the two years they beat New Jersey, so the Hurricanes faithful will be looking forward to see their favorite team take it to the Devils. It could be that the road to the Cup runs through New Jersey. However, they stumbled (literally) in their last two games of the season after an impressive 9 game winning streak. The issue for the ‘Canes will be whether it was just a bump in the road or the start of a perhaps long-overdue slump. In my opinion, how both teams enter this series and the past playoff history between the two teams are the most compelling issues with respect to the series, more than any matchup or bitterness between the two teams.