Take Flight

About to Take Flight

Training camps take flight this week for NHL clubs. But, this weekend we received a prelude to the near and far future with the 2017 NHL Prospect Tournaments.

Storylines are coming together for another event filled 82-game grind. Four tournaments began Friday that included 19 teams. Showcases were held in Toronto, Buffalo, British Columbia and Traverse City Michigan.

The 2017 Rookie Tournament

Young stars aligned in Toronto this weekend at the 2017 Rookie Tournament. Top draft picks of Toronto, Ottawa and New York joined forces in a terrific showcase of young talent. And it is important for these prospects to have as much in-game experience as possible.

Timothy Liljegren of the Maple Leafs was drafted 17th overall in this year’s draft. And the first evaluation for the rookie defenseman did not go well. The 18 year old was beat on the outside in the first ten minutes of the game. Later in the third he clears the puck through the middle of the ice in his own zone right to a Montreal player that led to another goal. Liljegren finished the night -4.

Take Flight

Liljegren (Left) losing battle after battle in this weekend’s tournament.              Photo Courtesy of SBNation

Eyes were on Thomas Chabot and Colin White of the Ottawa Senators organization in this tournament. Both of these prospects had great starts to the showcase. White made numerous plays in an 8-2 victory over Montreal. But, the standout was Chabot as he quarterbacked the Ottawa power play finishing with 3 assists.

Noah Juulsen of the Canadiens (2015 1st Round Pick) also aimed to make an impression this weekend. The 20-year old looks to be a part of the Habs’ 3rd defensive pairing this year. This was not his 1st rookie tournament. And he looked to make it his last as he exhibited “great strength and vision” on the ice.

The Prospects Challenge

Nico Hischier (1st Overall pick in 2017 Draft) suited up in an NHL uniform for the first time this weekend at The Prospects Challenge. The Swiss born rookie did his best to get acclimated to NHL pace of play and to not get injured. And his goals were achieved.

Take Flight

Nico Hischier suiting up for the New Jersey Devils for the first time getting his first NHL experience. Photo Courtesy of NJ.com

Hischier was “pretty quiet” when the 1st game began, but settled in as the game progressed. The 18 year old showed off his speed and ability to work well in tight spaces. According to Todd Cordell, Hischier created a scoring chance “every time he touched the puck” down the stretch. But, the rookie was not able to register a point in his debut. However, the Devils opened the tournament with an overtime winner.

The Devils need a spark this year. They have not made the playoffs since making it to the Final in 2012. Veterans have been added, stars have been kept and the rookies are ready to go.

 

Young Stars Classic & Traverse City Tournament

Three Canadian teams (Oilers, Flames and Jets) played in the Young Stars Classic in British Columbia this weekend. And eight teams competed in Traverse City, MI. This concluded the weekend’s rookie showcases.

The Young Stars Classic continues through the 11th and has already seen great play. And everyone was waiting see Kailer Yamamoto (Oilers 2017 1st Round Pick). But, it was Chad Butcher who stole the show in their game against Winnipeg. The Oiler hopeful netted his 2nd goal in three games as Edmonton took down the Jets 3-0. The present and future seem to be very bright in Edmonton.

Take Flight

Minnesota rookies roar back for a 6-5 victory over the Blues in the Traverse City Tournament. Photo Courtesy of SBNation

The tournament in Traverse City saw a series of events occur in the battle between St. Louis and Minnesota. Blues first round picks (Robert Thomas and Klim Kostin) were showing everyone why they were taken early in this year’s draft. Kostin scored midway through the 3rd, which gave St. Louis a 5-1 lead. Then, the team Bus driver left the Arena due to his presumption that the game was won. But, the Minnesota rookies then scored 5 unanswered goals and took the lead with 1:02 remaining.

These tournaments provide great experience for young upcoming professionals. But, they do not exactly do a good job giving us an idea of where these prospects are in this small sample size.

What have we learned?

In this short period of time, we have learned not much at all. Each of the teams that took part in these weekend tournaments know now what they have always known that there is promise in the future. And the future is much closer to the present. The youth movements that are going on in almost every franchise are taking flight. That is what we have learned.

We know that the waiting game is not as long as it used to be in this league. There is more of a business mindset with these showcases maybe than in recent years. This makes the buildup to opening night of the regular season go by a bit faster.

Take Flight

The NHL’s Elite Prospects were on display this weekend. Photo Courtesy of NHL.com

 

More storylines, more excitement and more hockey related news is what we need. We need the lag time between the Cup presentation and the start to the season to seem shorter than in reality.

Hockey moves at a furious pace. And if you let it, so does the offseason.

Training camps open this week.

 

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Five NHL Expansion Draft names to watch

The dust in the Nevada desert has settled, but not for long. A suspenseful weekend consisted of a few trades before the NHL’s roster freeze before the NHL unveiled the lists of 30 teams’ protected players for Wednesday’s expansion draft.

There are plenty of unsurprising names for the Vegas Golden Knights to collect, and a few that no one expected to show up. As the clock begins to tick for George McPhee and Vegas, the suspense around the NHL hasn’t wavered. The Golden Knights’ general manager can still negotiate deals on unprotected players in exchange for draft picks.

While we won’t know until draft day what those deals will be, there are plenty of names to keep an eye on as it gets closer. All players listed are available as of June 18. Here are five important names to watch in the expansion draft.

Red Wings G Petr Mrazek

The Red Wings netminder is without a doubt the most surprising name left off of a protect list. Many hypothesized a Marc-Andre Fleury-Jimmy Howard tandem in Sin City. However, Detroit opted for the veteran Howard over the younger Mrazek.

The 25-year-old carries a meager $4 million cap hit for next season. He performed admirably as the Red Wings’ starter in 2015-2016, compiling a 27-16-6 record.

General Manager Ken Holland may have a short-term memory, though. Mrazek struggled last season, allowing three goals a game and stopping just 90 percent of his shots. Howard, on the other hand, posted a respectable 2.10 GAA and a .927 save percentage.

Vegas already had a delectable pallet of goalies to choose from in Fleury, Antti Raanta, Philipp Grubauer and Calvin Pickard. Add Mrazek to that list as a younger option for Vegas.

Islanders GM Garth Snow

NHL expansion draft

Islanders GM Garth Snow. Photo courtesy of CBS New York/Photo by Andy Marlin, Getty Images

Snow isn’t a player, and he isn’t on the move, even if some Islanders fans want to see that. Despite that, he’s likely the general manager to observe the most in this process.

The Islanders were the only team to shield three forwards and five defensemen using the eight-skater option. In doing so, they left interesting forwards and an intriguing defenseman up for grabs.

Brock Nelson has had three consecutive 20-goal seasons while Josh Bailey had 56 points on the top line. On the blue line, Calvin de Haan chipped in 25 points, blocked 190 shots, fourth-most in the NHL, and has averaged 20 minutes of ice time in his career.

Snow couldn’t protect all of those players, but he unexpectedly chose to protect Adam Pelech over de Haan and Nelson. Pelech logged valuable minutes under now permanent head coach Doug Weight. It’s also possible that the Isles could send picks to Vegas to have a player protected.

Nonetheless, the Islanders have playoff expectations next season. Snow will have eyes on him to see who could, or could not, end up going to Vegas.

Panthers C Jonathan Marchessault

There were reports earlier last weekend that Marchessault was on the block. Still, it was shocking to see his name available for discussion.

The 26-year-old Quebec native has improved upon each year. He exploded for a team-high 30 goals last season. Eighteen of his 51 points came on the power play. For a team that was 23rd last year in scoring, exposing your best goal scorer is risky. Pair that with his stick handling and his knack for creating his own shot, and it’s incredible he was left off.

There’s always the possibility that Florida works out a trade with Vegas. The Golden Knights could use the leverage to acquire the 10th overall pick. If McPhee doesn’t, they can just scoop Marchessault in the expansion draft. Vegas has the upper hand in this scenario, and they benefit from wherever Marchessault winds up.

Senators RW Bobby Ryan

In the big picture, Bobby Ryan’s availability is not that shocking. Ottawa went 7-3-1 in their order, which was necessary when Dion Phaneuf didn’t waive his no-movement clause. The Senators had to expose a forward and a defenseman, and Ryan was an easy target.

The question is if his stellar postseason entices Vegas. The 30-year-old right winger had a career-low 25 points in the regular season. He responded with several clutch playoff goals, finishing with six tallies and 15 points. His shot looked much better and he meshed well with his teammates. Ottawa doesn’t escape the first round without him.

With that in mind, will Ryan have that much value to Vegas? Overall, he seems on the decline. But, he is a former second overall pick and showed there’s still something left in the tank. Ultimately it comes down to whom on Ottawa’s available list entices McPhee more.

Many linked defenseman Marc Methot to the expansion draft if Ottawa went 7-3-1. With the useful options up front, Methot has more value for Vegas than Ryan. However, what happens here shows where Ryan’s current value is right not.

Rangers G Antti Raanta

NHL expansion draft

Rangers goalie Antti Raanta. Photo courtesy of NHL.com

As mentioned before, this is a deep expansion draft for goaltenders. With Fleury likely headed to the Strip, Vegas can use the other two spots for a younger netminder and a dependable veteran. Of the goalies in the latter category, Raanta has the most value for Vegas.

The Rangers have had a knack for finding backup goaltenders in the past few years. Cam Talbot flourished and now starts between the pipes for Edmonton. Raanta has almost done the same, posting a 16-8-2 record backing up Henrik Lundqvist. His minutes spiked and he stopped over 700 shots in 30 games.

Raanta is a solid backup for the Blueshirts, and the Rangers would have to figure out an alternative plan if he departs. On the other hand, if Fleury is out of service, Raanta can fill in and contribute. A Fleury-Raanta tandem is solid for a team in its inaugural season.

Vegas could even turn around and trade Raanta for other assets. Arizona is still in the market for a goalie, and teams like Winnipeg and Vancouver don’t have reliable options in net. Like Ottawa, the Rangers have other attractive options like Michael Grabner, Oscar Lindberg and Jesper Fast. Raanta can give Vegas the most flexibility and value.

 

Feature image courtesy of NHL.com

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The History and Merits of the Neutral Zone Trap

Guy Boucher loves it. Neutral hockey fans loathe it. But 22 years after the New Jersey Devils perfected it, the neutral zone trap is making a comeback.

The Ottawa Senators punched a ticket to the Eastern Conference finals this season with the help of their 1-3-1 trap. It completely stunted the New York Rangers in Game 6 of the second round, and has bogged down the Pittsburgh Penguins at times in the current series. Nonetheless, hockey fans continue to argue that the trap is terrible for the sport of hockey.

How has the trap evolved over the years? Does it really slow down games and hurt the sport’s appeal? As it turns out, the trap was fairly popular back in the day.

Pre-Lockout History

Many remember the 1990s as the age of the trap defense and subsequently, the “Dead Puck Era”. The trap itself has been around much longer. There are unsubstantiated claims that the Toronto Maple Leafs developed a trap scheme as early as the 1920s. It’s not until the 1970s that it gained traction.

Many European Olympic teams such as Sweden and Czechoslovakia sought to inhibit the mighty Soviet national teams. Stateside, teams in the 1990s began to utilize the trap. Roger Neilson’s Rangers employed it in the 1992-93 campaign. However, the players hated using it, and Neilson lost his job.

neutral zone trap

The 1994-95 Devils are credited with perfecting the neutral zone trap. Photo courtesy of Real Clear Sports.

The dawn of the neutral zone trap appeared in 1995 when the Devils implemented it. Head coach Jacques Lemaire, who played in a trap with Montreal back in the 70s, had defensemen Ken Daneyko and Scott Stevens create a brick wall.

They swept the Detroit Red Wings that year and shocked – perhaps infuriated – fans everywhere who wanted more exciting hockey.

Even though fan and player backlash ensued, coaches began to utilize the neutral zone trap more. The Rangers, years after ditching Neilson for using it, credited Colin Campbell for using a similar system. Despite this, the NHL wanted to find a way to render the formation ineffective.

During the 2004-05 lockout, the league eliminated the two-line pass, which made it illegal to complete a pass from the defensive zone to the offensive side of the center line. Neutral zone traps countered this strategy, so eliminating the pass hoped to curb the trap’s use.

Post-Lockout Use

As it turns out, the trap was just as effective in stopping quick teams as countering the two-line pass. Lemaire utilized it in Minnesota and New Jersey until he stepped away in 2011. Boucher used it when he started as the Tampa Bay Lightning’s head coach in 2010.

It led to the classic game on Nov. 9, 2011 against the Philadelphia Flyers. Philadelphia decided the best counter to the trap was to hold the puck in their defensive end and wait for the Lightning to break from position. Tampa would not budge, resulting in nothing happening for minutes on end.

neutral zone trap

To counter Tampa Bay’s neutral zone trap, Philadelphia did… nothing. Photo courtesy of Yahoo Sports.

The NHL did not address the trap during the 2012-13 lockout. The trap was not a high priority during the strike, but it was an opportunity to at least address that no side took.

There were other strategies such as blocking shots that began to grow in popularity. When the season started, Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle ran a neutral zone trap. Toronto defenseman Mark Fraser even recalled Carlyle’s formations were exact replicas of Lemaire’s systems.

In this postseason, the Senators aren’t the only team deploying traps. The Nashville Predators unleashed an effective albeit unorthodox 1-4 trap against the Chicago Blackhawks. Chicago’s offensive chances were rare, and Nashville dominated on both ends. It’s interesting to see two of the four remaining teams use traps well.

Is the Neutral Zone Trap Effective?

There are multiple counterarguments to using a neutral zone trap: the sacrifice of offensive chances for forwards and the pace of play. Regarding the former, the statistics are inconsistent. This season, Ottawa was 22nd in the league with just 206 goals. However, before their first Stanley Cup, the 1993-94 Devils were second in the NHL with 306 goals, seven more than the eventual-champion Rangers.

neutral zone trap

Photo: Sean Kilpatrick, The Canadian Press

Forwards in a trap do have to prioritize checking and defense over scoring. Yet in 1993-94, New Jersey’s John MacLean, Stephane Richer and Bill Guerin combined for 98 goals and 166 points. Phil Kessel had 52 points in 48 games for the trapping Leafs in 2012-13.

While some of the forwards on the deeper lines may forfeit offensive chances, the skill players can still find ways to get to the net while performing the job.

As for the entertainment of trap-heavy games, it’s tougher to watch than a regular game. Hockey is a game of speed, and fans want to watch offensive rushes towards the net more than neutral zone turnovers. On the other hand, a trap is strategy; it’s not something that needs policing. Unless a tactic gives one team an unfair advantage, the NHL shouldn’t ban formations from the game.

Fans have to enjoy the on-ice product, and neutral zone traps aren’t the most exciting strategy to watch. Ultimately, if the neutral zone trap goes the way of the dinosaur, then it needs a clear counterattack and teams have to overcome it. Otherwise, its popularity could boom with an Ottawa Stanley Cup.

 

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Playoff-tested teams meet underdogs in NHL Conference Finals

Welcome to the NHL’s version of the Frozen Four. We saw two series go to the final game, while two surprise teams seek to continue their underdog run for Lord Stanley’s Cup. After the Predators and Ducks squared off last night, the tension is mounting as the season wraps up. What will unfold in the Conference Finals?

Eastern Conference Finals: Ottawa Senators vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Season Series: Ottawa 2-1-0 (Penguins 1-1-1)

Ottawa

The Ottawa Senators, who once desperately held on to a playoff spot, are one of two teams in the East left standing. Just like everyone predicted. They haven’t reached this point just on luck though. After a distributed offense dispatched the Boston Bruins in Round One, Ottawa eliminated the New York Rangers in six games in the Conference Semifinals.

The Senators are getting a great combination of solid individual performances and overall team production. They did not score the first goal in any of the first five games against the Rangers. Despite that, they dismantled four two-goal deficits and scored seven times in the final five minutes of regulation and overtime. Their determination was impressive all series long. Their adjustments in Game Six were just as great. Scoring first, they put three back on the blue line and bottled up New York’s offense in the neutral zone. This formation wasn’t as apparent early on, but they changed their strategy and it worked.

Erik Karlsson advances to his 1st Conference Final. Photo courtesy of NHL.com

Ottawa has to thank Erik Karlsson a a few others for bringing them to this point. The Norris Trophy candidate is playing on two fractures in his foot. Even so, he averaged 29 minutes per game on the ice and either recorded a point or was on the ice for every Sens’ game-winning goal. He wasn’t the only superstar. Jean-Gabriel Pageau scored four times in Game Two and limited an anemic Rangers special teams to two power play scores in 24 chances. In net, Craig Anderson wasn’t his sharpest, but he stood tall with 37 saves in the clincher. On a team that has a top-three defenseman, overproducing contributions from the role players are gravy.

Pittsburgh

The defending Cup champion Pittsburgh has a number of star players, though their top guy is hobbled. Sidney Crosby sustained a concussion in Game Three against the Washington Capitals. Crosby later returned in Game Five but took a few hits that led to questions about his overall health. Nonetheless, the Penguins took down the Caps in seven games to reach the Conference Finals.

Everyone who is healthy aids the cause. Evgeni Malkin leads all players with 18 postseason points. Jake Guentzel’s nine goals are also tops in the playoffs. Marc-Andre Fleury continues to stand on his head. Pittsburgh has multiple weapons that are moving the puck and scoring. Save for Guentzel, most of the players here have playoff experience as well. The Penguins know how to win in the postseason, even with defensemen Kris Letang and Trevor Daley nursing injuries.

Prediction

The Senators are a great penalty killing team and they’ve shown unparalleled determination and heart. You can’t measure that. Pittsburgh is ailing and their special teams weren’t good against Washington, but they’re stacked on all four lines and ride a hot goalie. You can measure that. Pittsburgh in 6.

Western Conference Finals: Nashville Predators vs. Anaheim Ducks

Season Series: Anaheim 2-1-0 (Nashville 1-1-1)

Nashville

Smashville is rocking after reaching the conference finals for the first time in franchise history. Bridgestone Arena is selling out and ratings are up in the area as fans have Stanley Cup aspirations. The Preds beat two deep teams in the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues. Their penalty kill is 21-for-24 this postseason, and they’ve scored more than one goal in eight of ten games. Everything is clicking for the Predators, and it’s made Pekka Rinne’s job easier.

Pekka Rinne (right) also reaches his first Conference Final. Photo courtesy of SI.com

Rinne played well against the Blues. After allowing six goals in the first two games, he allowed five the rest of the way. What was impressive to watch was his poise. He stayed with the puck off rebounds and screens every time the Blues threatened. His postseason save percentage stands above 95 percent, which is easily a career-high. The 34 year-old has to continue his sharp play.

Anaheim

Nashville has a tough matchup against the Ducks. Overcoming two three-goal deficits and a 7-1 road loss, Anaheim sent the Edmonton Oilers home in seven captivating games. Anaheim is fast and physical, meaning they can get through the intense Nashville back line in the neutral zone. The Preds offense not only has to face Hampus Lindholm and Cam Fowler, but Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler are aggressive two-way players.

Getzlaf is coming off a monstrous series versus the Oilers. He recorded five goals and 10 points with +7 rating on the ice. Jakob Silfverberg broke out with five tallies himself. Kesler and Corey Perry were quiet to start, but ended the series on high notes. Rickard Rakell is dangerous on the top line with Getzlaf and Perry. This is a top-heavy Anaheim lineup. If they continue to succeed at this rate, they could advance to their first Stanley Cup Final since 2007.

Prediction

Both teams run deep on both sides of the puck. P.K. Subban and Roman Josi anchor Nashville’s blue line, while Getzlaf and Kesler lead the offense. Anaheim’s young defense faces an underrated Preds offense. If there’s one overwhelming advantage, it’s goaltending. Rinne has been hot; John Gibson has been inconsistent, at worst. It gives Nashville the edge. Predators in 7.

 

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Division Rivalries, Top Goaltenders Highlight NHL Conference Semifinals

Still recovering from the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs?  That’s understandable, considering 18 of the 42 total games played went to overtime.  But now, the spotlight shines on the eight remaining teams.  The Conference Semifinals feature three series with divisional rivals as well as some of the league’s best goaltending.  Here’s a preview of the four series ahead.

Ottawa Senators vs. New York Rangers

(Courtesy of espn.com)

2017 Season Series: Ottawa 2-1-0/Getty Images

While it may not be a divisional battle nor have the playoff history of its Eastern Conference counterpart, this matchup features two teams with huge star power.  Henrik Lundqvist was stellar in helping the Rangers dispatch the Montreal Canadiens in the first round.  His 195 saves were two shy of Braden Holtby for most in the first round.  His .9466 save percentage in the series was three ten-thousandths shy of his career postseason mark against Washington in 2013.  The victory over Montreal wasn’t perfect, however.  Chris Kreider and JT Miller didn’t score, while Nick Holden and Marc Staal had costly turnovers and mental lapses at times in their own zone.  Lundqvist carried the team this far, but the Blueshirts play better when they get a more consistent effort on offense and defense.

The Senators enjoyed production from all units in their 6-game series win over the Boston Bruins.  Former Ranger Derick Brassard exploded for eight points, while Bobby Ryan added two game-winning goals.  Erik Karlsson, Dion Phaneuf and the blue line held the Bruins to just 13 goals in the six contests, making it easy for goalie Craig Anderson.  Karlsson showed why he’s a Norris Trophy candidate, leading the Sens in ice time while bearing two fractures in his left heel.  Ottawa received needed contributions from their top players, but do they have the depth to make a deeper run in the postseason?

 

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals

(Courtesy of japersrink.com)

2017 Season Series: Washington 2-0-2

This is the series you’ll want to tune in to every game for, and the NHL knows it.  They’ve played up the tensions between Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin in the spots they run during commercial breaks.  The Presidents’ Trophy winner versus the runners-up.  Two division rivals with the two aforementioned superstars and both teams top five in the regular season on the power play.  Need I say more?

The Capitals had to fend off the budding Maple Leafs in six.  Braden Holtby’s 197 saves were tops among goalies in the first round as he neutralized Auston Matthews and company just enough.  Ovechkin was his usual self with two power play goals and three total.  But he has options around him that Washington hasn’t seen in quite some time.  TJ Oshie had seven points, Justin Williams shined in the playoffs again, and 11 other players recorded two or more points.  On paper, Washington is as stacked as they come on all sides.

Fortunately for Pittsburgh, they run just as deep on offense.  Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel are the notable names.  But Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust tormented Sergei Bobrovsky and the Columbus Blue Jackets all series. They benefited from their linemates and pressured up front to outplay their expectations.  Marc-Andre Fleury performed admirably in net filling in for the injured Matt Murray.  With Murray still not skating as of the weekend, Fleury still sits between the pipes.  Can a Pens defense missing Kris Letang cover up the holes they had in Round 1?

 

Nashville Predators vs. St. Louis Blues

Predators Blues Hockey(Courtesy of stltoday.com)

2017 Season Series: Nashville 3-2-0

The Predators being here is one shock.  The way they did it is another.  Pekka Rinne allowed a measly three goals in a four game sweep while making 123 stops in net.  The blue line was a force physically on the boards and in open ice as they neutralized Chicago’s stars.  What didn’t get enough credit, however, was the offense.  Down two goals in Game 3, Filip Forsberg and company outhustled Chicago to win in overtime.  The Blackhawks’ radio team noted in that game Nashville was energetic on both sides of the puck while Chicago was exhausted.  That sustained pressure should help them in this series too.

Netminder Jake Allen and the Blues dispatched a middling Minnesota Wild team in five games.  Allen’s .956 save percentage and eight goals allowed were second-lowest in the league only to Rinne.  He took the pressure off of the offense, which was quiet, if not tempered.  The Blues perform well across the board, but they don’t overpower you in one exact area.  Their penalty kill ranked third in the regular season at 84.8%.  Will it make a difference facing a Nashville team that produces better on even strength?

 

Edmonton Oilers vs. Anaheim Ducks

(Courtesy of nhl.com)

2017 Season Series: Edmonton 3-2-0 (Anaheim lost 2 overtime games)

Penguins/Capitals gets the attention because of the history, but this can be just as entertaining of a matchup.  These are two Pacific rivals that vied for the division title until the final week.  The Ducks and Oilers are also second and sixth in hits, respectively.  There are skill players that draw you to this matchup, but the physicality potential spices it up further.

The Oilers showed they’re the real deal after taking care of defending West champion San Jose.  Connor McDavid scored four goals in his postseason debut.  But here were the goal scorers in the last two games: Patrick Maroon, Mark Letestu, Oscar Klefbom, David Desharnais, Leon Draisaitl, Anton Slepyshev and McDavid.  That’s tremendous diversity on offense.  They won’t always get that production from some of those 3rd and 4th line guys, but this team doesn’t have to rely on McDavid to score.  Their success, however, relies on netminder Cam Talbot.  He had two shutouts in Games 2 and 3, but allowed five goals in Game 4.  They need Talbot to be on top of his game every night.

The Ducks are the NHL’s hottest team right now.  Following their four games sweep over Calgary, they’ve won 13 of their last 15.  The special teams unit is dangerous both on the man up and the man down.  Their penalty kill ranks third in the NHL and they accrued the second-most penalty minutes in the regular season.  They have playmakers at almost every forward position on their top three lines.  Defenseman Cam Fowler may return this series now that he’s resumed practice.  Their challenge is getting good goaltending.  John Gibson took a step forward as Anaheim’s leading tender.  However, this is his first full postseason.  What can we expect from him?

 

Predictions

New York-Ottawa: Derick Brassard and Mika Zibanejad play well against their former respective teams, plus we get another good matchup in net.  But the Blueshirts are just a little deeper on offense. Rangers in 6

Pittsburgh-Washington: We get another postseason classic from these two.  The Caps push Fleury to the brink, but the Pens survive thanks to secondary contributions and speed. Penguins in 7

Nashville-St. Louis: Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko are talented, but they have to show up for the Blues.  The Preds employ the same gameplan they had against Chicago to prevent the Blues to get to the net cleanly.  Peter Laviolette knows how to win here. Predators in 5

Edmonton-Anaheim: Fowler can make all the difference on defense for Anaheim.  However, if Edmonton plays physical, but smart on the boards, they have the talent to overcome a veteran Ducks team.  Oilers in 7

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Atlantic Division Playoff Predictions

The Atlantic Division is a mess right now. Literally anything could happen. When it comes to the standings, nobody is safe. What counts for first place in the Atlantic doesn’t even warrant a wild card in the Metropolitan.

Needless to say, it’s a tight race.

So with that in mind, please enjoy the Game Haus’ Atlantic Division Playoff Predictions.

OTTAWA Wins the division

Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers, Carey Price, Claude Julien, Alex Galchenyuk, Erik Karlsson, Jonathan Huberdeau, Sasha Barkov, Niklas Bjugstad, Craig Anderson, Mike Condon, Guy Boucher, Mike Babcock

Photo credit: Andre Ringuette, NHLI via Getty Images.

Guy Boucher and the Ottawa Senators have surprised a lot of NHL fans this season. They currently sit in second place in the Atlantic Division, trailing Montreal by only two points.

Under Boucher’s leadership the Sens have employed a much more defensively responsible system. Fantasy owners may not be happy about this, Erik Karlsson’s point production this season has suffered as a result. But in combination with the outstanding goaltending of Mike Condon and Craig Anderson Boucher’s system has raised the Senators’ stock significantly.

Look for Ottawa to finish the season strong, they’ve gone 6-4-0 in their last ten and have three games in hand compared to the division leading Habs.

Ottawa will finish first in the Atlantic Division

MONTREAL follows close behind

Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers, Carey Price, Claude Julien, Alex Galchenyuk, Erik Karlsson, Jonathan Huberdeau, Sasha Barkov, Niklas Bjugstad, Craig Anderson, Mike Condon, Guy Boucher, Mike Babcock

Photo Credit: NHL.com.

Though it has not always been smooth sailing for the Montreal Canadiens this season they remain on top of the Atlantic Division. That lead, however, has become increasingly narrow as the season wears on Montreal’s slump continues.

Under the leadership of their new head coach Claude Julien the Habs will become a more dominant team, with better puck possession, and score more goals. But it will take time to adjust.

Though a change behind the bench was just what the doctor ordered for the Canadiens, the institution of a new system will take time. And in that time the Canadiens will fall behind and lose their Atlantic Division lead to the Sens.

Montreal will finish cecond in the Atlantic Division.

FLORIDA FINDS A PLAYOFF SPOT

Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers, Carey Price, Claude Julien, Alex Galchenyuk, Erik Karlsson, Jonathan Huberdeau, Sasha Barkov, Niklas Bjugstad, Craig Anderson, Mike Condon, Guy Boucher, Mike Babcock

Photo credit: La Presse Canadienne.

The Florida Panthers have weathered the storm and are finally firing on all cylinders again.

With the return of Bjugstad, Barkov and Huberdeau the Panthers are again a force to be reckoned with. Earlier this month they pulled off a feat no Eastern Conference team has managed this season, a California sweep.

Don’t let their goal differential (-14) fool you, they’re 8-2-0 in their last ten outscoring their opponents 38 – 30 over that span.

Look for a healthy Panthers squad to make a late surge in the standings.

Florida will finish third in the Atlantic Division,

TORONTO FINDS THE WILDCARD

Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers, Carey Price, Claude Julien, Alex Galchenyuk, Erik Karlsson, Jonathan Huberdeau, Sasha Barkov, Niklas Bjugstad, Craig Anderson, Mike Condon, Guy Boucher, Mike Babcock

Photo credit: John E. Sokolowski, USA Today Sports.

The Toronto Maple Leafs will make the playoffs this year. But it won’t be pretty.

There are a lot of New York Islanders fans that will probably hate this prediction, but the young Leafs have been explosive all season long.

The first wild card spot in the East will undoubtedly go to a Metropolitan Division team. The New York Rangers, who currently hold the position, have 78 points in the standings; more than even the first place Canadiens in the Atlantic. Still, Toronto will manage to secure a wild card spot for themselves.

Leafs’ head coach Mike Babcock knows a thing or two about making the playoffs. But his young squad will fatigue as the season grinds on. Their upcoming schedule includes a tour of the California teams and it remains unlikely that the Leafs will be able to find any easy wins on the West coast. As a result, the Leafs will fall from their third place position in the Atlantic.

Toronto will finish fourth in the Atlantic Division and secure a wild card spot in the process.

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine Square Off Again

Nobody knew quite what to expect when the Winnipeg Jets and the Toronto Maple Leafs met for the first time this season. It was the first time that the number one and two over draft picks Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine faced each other on NHL ice.

If you recall, it was only seven days into the young 2016-17 NHL season. It was only Toronto’s third game, and Winnipeg’s fourth.

It took place only seven days after Auston Matthews’ stunning four-goal debut game and as a result the NHL had fallen head over heals for Matthews. Laine had yet to impress in the rookie scoring race.

But it was Laine who stole the show that night, back on Oct. 19 in Winnipeg. While Matthews was left off the scoreboard, Laine tallied three goals including the overtime winner.

Though the NHL is rife with rookie talent this year, Matthews and Laine stand out as among the league’s most elite goal scorers. They stood out when they were drafted consecutively first and second overall and they continue to stand out today.

THat WAS THEN, THIS IS NOW: THE JETS & LAINE

The Winnipeg Jets weren’t exactly in hot shape when they faced the Leafs back in October. They had gone 1-2-0 in their first three games with a 3.75 goals against average. Nor was much really expected of the team this season.

One could comfortably say that the Jets are in a transitional stage at the moment. Not quite in full rebuild mode but not ready to compete for the cup either. Sitting fifth in the Central Division with 61 points, it’s unlikely they’ll even grab a playoff spot.

Though they are only four points from a wild card position, they lack the games in hand that many of their Central Division competitors hold.

Then

GP G A PTS +/- PIM SOG
3 1 1 2 1 0 5
Auston Matthews Patrik Lane

Photo credit: Jonathan Kozub, NHLI via Getty Images

Still, Patrik Laine shines on.

In four fewer games than Matthews, the Finnish rookie has tallied three more points and a better plus/minus rating than the young American.

Though he shoots far less than Matthews, Laine has managed to find the back of the net just as much and with far fewer shots on goal.

He has played remarkably consistent but let us not forget the explosiveness of Laine’s game. He has amassed an incredible three hat tricks this year, making him the first Jets’ rookie to do so since Teemu Selanne managed five in his rookie season.

Now

GP G A PTS +/- PIM SOG
54 28 24 52 9 18 123

 

THAT WAS THEN, THIS IS NOW: THE LEAFS & MATTHEWS

As with the Jets, very little was expected of the Toronto Maple Leafs entering the 2016-17 season. They were 1-0-1 when they met the Jets back in October and destined for mediocrity. But then some strange happened. The Atlantic Division began to cave in on itself.

Though the Leafs are in the middle of a major rebuild, they find themselves competing for a playoff spot in the mess that is the Atlantic Division. Seven teams are within 10 points of first place and the Leafs are within only five.

While it remains unlikely that they will leave the Boston Bruins, Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens (or even the Florida Panthers for that matter) in their dust, the Toronto Maple Leafs may very well make the playoffs.

It is well within reason to believe that that the Toronto Maple Leafs will make the playoffs for the first time four years.

Then

GP G A PTS +/- PIM SOG
2 4 0 4 3 0 8
Auston Matthews Patrik Lane

Photo credit: Adre Ringuette, NHLI via Getty Images

And that’s in large part due to the outstanding play of Auston Matthews.

Matthews wasted no time showing the league what he was made of with his four goal debut. Only seven players in NHL history had managed a hat trick in their first game while Matthews went ahead and did one better.

With over 200 shots on goal this season it should come as no surprise that he has already eclipsed the 20 goal plateau. Matthews has 28 goals and 49 points on the season which makes him first among Leafs players in both categories.

Matthews is a big part of the reason why Toronto is even competing for a playoff spot this year.

Now

GP G A PTS +/- PIM SOG
58 28 21 49 3 12 205

WHAT TO EXPECT

The game takes place tonight, in Toronto, at 7:30 p.m. EST.

Winnipeg is 14-15-2 on the road so far this season and sport a 7-6-1 record against Atlantic Division foes. Meanwhile, Toronto is 13-9-4 at home this season have gone 3-5-3 against Central Division competitors this campaign.

Winnipeg won 5-4 in overtime back on Oct. 19 and it would be fair to assume another high scoring affair is in order this time around.

Aside from Matthews and Laine, plenty of young-talent will be on display as well. Toronto’s William Nylander, Connor Brown and Nikita Zaisev will suit up along with Winnipeg’s Josh Morrissey. Expect a fast-paced, high-scoring, two-way game with lots of shots on goal.

It remains unclear whether or not Toronto’s Mitch Marner will suit up. He is dealing with an undisclosed injury which has kept him out of two-contests so far.

 

You can ‘like’ The Game Haus on Facebook and ‘follow’ us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles written by other great TGH writers along with Kyle! 

“From Our Haus to Yours”

What Canada Has to Look Forward to Next Season

With only a few days left in the NHL season all seven Canadian teams have been eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoff race. You know it almost doesn’t feel right? This has only happened one other time in the history of the NHL during the 1969-70 season. I’m not here to talk about why the Maple Leafs are bad, or talk about another dreadful season in Edmonton, but to show the upside to these Canadian teams for next season.

Toronto Maple Leafs (28-40-11) 67 Pts.

Nazem Kadri the leading point scorer for the Leafs, is a good starting point when talking about the future for Toronto. As first line center, Kadri looks to improve on a dismal season, currently ranked last in the Eastern Conference. Helping Kadri bring the winning ways back to Toronto is offensive defenseman Morgan Rielly. Rielly, only 22 years old, is one the top defense prospects in the league. Another upside for the 2017 season is the return of one of the better coaches in the NHL Mike Babcock. Lastly, the Maple Leafs affiliate team in the AHL the Toronto Marlies have the best record in the league and are ready to bring some young talent to the NHL. Look for some of these prospects to make an impact in the years to come.
Ottawa Senators (36-34-9) 81 Pts.

On the back of Defenseman Erik Karlsson, the Senators have the best record of the seven Canadian teams. Karlsson is currently ranked first in assists (64) in the NHL. With youth like Mark Stone, 23, Mika Zibanejad, 22, and Cody Ceci, 22, the future looks bright in Ottawa.
Montreal Canadiens (36-37-6) 78 Pts.

Sean Monahan (23) and Johnny Gaudreau (13) celebrate after a goal. (www.cbc.ca)

Ill keep it short because of my recent article on the Canadiens. Nevertheless, with Carey Price in net and good core such as Brendan Gallagher, Alex Galchenyuk, P.K. Subban, and Max Pacioretty, don’t be surprised when Montreal is in the playoffs next year.
Calgary Flames (33-40-6) 72 Pts.

With Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau leading the way the Flames look like a young Blackhawks team with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. This is their team to take control of, they control the future of this franchise. Both under the age of 22, and the number one and two point leaders for the Flames, I cannot wait to watch these two grow through the next couple years.
Winnipeg Jets (32-39-8) 72 Pts.

The future of the Jets is questionable after losing Captain Andrew Ladd. What is certain, is Blake Wheeler being a big contributor. Four of the past five years Wheeler has scored at least 60 points. Mark Sceifele, who has come on strong at the end of this season, looks to produce in a big way next year. Nikolaj Ehlers, out of Denmark, is only 20 years old and is already playing well and should be a good goal scorer for next year. There is some young talent on the Jets but I’m not sure if they are quite there yet.
Vancouver Canucks (30-36-13) 73 Pts.

With the Sedin brothers late in their careers retirement is right around the corner and they are the Canucks’ best players. One bright side to this season is the emergence of Bo Horvat. Only 21, Bo is fourth in points on the team and looks to be a key player in a much needed rebuild in Vancouver.

Edmonton Oilers (30-43-7) 67 Pts.

Rookie Connor McDavid (weliveforhockey.com)

With all the talent on the ice for the Oilers you would think they would be better right? Possibly poor defense, below-average goaltending, it’s tough to say what is to blame. In the past six years the Oilers have had four number one picks. All of the talent is there, but the wins aren’t there. With the first pick last year the Oilers took 19 year-old phenom Connor McDavid. In only 43 games McDavid has 45 points but it hasn’t been enough. As the Oilers sit dead last in the Western Conference they have the chance at another 1st overall pick. I would like to see the Oilers return to their winning ways, so all the young talent can be brought to the national light.

 

What to watch for: 4/5

Islanders vs. Capitals -Eastern Conference playoff teams square off.

Lightning vs. Rangers -Another match-up of Eastern Conference playoff teams.

Avalanche vs. Predators -It’s a stretch for the Avalanche to get into the playoffs but can happen.

Sharks vs. Wild -Wild looking to lock up a playoff spot.