Thursday, April 22, 2010
You Take the Face Off!
As is the case with so many aspects of a National Hockey League game, winning face offs has become a crucial part of the game. You can also add the following to that list: killing penalties, possessing a potent power play, taking the man and finishing checks, cycling the puck well behind the opponent’s net, blocking shots, great goaltending…
The list does not end there. The game has become complex. There are many individual skills that add up to success in a team game, if performed well.
Ah, but when all is said and done, in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the team that gets the best out of its goaltenders usually hoists the silver.
The Vancouver Canucks went into the post season dance assured that their keeper, Roberto Luongo, would take them far into the play offs. At this time, there are some doubts. Recently, Coach Alain Vigneault pulled Luongo and replaced him with Andrew Raycroft, the former Wellington Duke. Raycroft stemmed the flow, but the Canucks were unable to mount an attack and lost that game to the pesky Los Angeles Kings.
The Kings are searching for respect as a team from the West Coast, but have taken a back seat to the Ducks, the Sharks, and the Canucks for many years. They are a hungry team, and they are giving the Canucks a game. Defenceman Drew Doughty, who played well for the Canadian Olympic team, reflected on the confidence of the Kings’ players after the recent victory in LA. “We match up really well with them.” Belleville’s Brad Richardson chipped in with a nifty unassisted goal in the recent Kings’ 5-3 win.
Mark Recchi has seen his share of action in Stanley Cup play. An old warrior at 41, he finessed a fine pass from behind the net to lead the Bruins to a recent win over the Buffalo Sabres. Led by Tuukka Rask between the pipes, the Bostonians cannot be counted out at this time.
Defending the Cup has become a difficult task. The Penguins currently have the rights to the mug, and are battling with the Senators from Ottawa to move on to the next round. The Sens have Brian Elliott in goal, and do not seem to play as well as they might in front of him. The games in this series are hotly contested with plenty of stick work and nasty hits. Survival is critical to get to the next level, and the incredible Sidney Crosby has lit the red lamp for the Pens when necessary.
The Chicago Black Hawks need to step it up a notch at this time. The pundits have picked the Hawks to go deep into the playoffs.; however, they dropped the first game of their series AT HOME to the Nashville Predators. The next couple of games are critical to the young Hawks.
Despite all of the misfortunes faced by the Phoenix Coyotes this past season, they are now challenging the Detroit Red Wings. Tuesday morning’s paper has the Desert Dogs up two games to one against the boys from “Hockey Town”.
The Sharks and the Avalanche are knotted up at a game apiece. Anybody’s guess, although the Sharks finished light years ahead of the Avs.
And finally, the Flyers from the “City of Brotherly Love” snuck by the New Jersey Devils last Sunday to lead that series. It remains to be seen whether or not Martin Brodeur still can work his magic in the New Jersey net. He is on everyone’s list as one of the top five goaltenders of all time, but needs to improve to move on to another partner in this dance.
So much hockey, so little time. Keep your eyes on Hal Gill. He has taken the ice in more than 80 playoff games without recording a single goal, and the Habs could use a few! Former Oiler Craig Muni currently holds the mark of 113 games, with Gill in hot pursuit as a Montreal Canadien. With a dozen bodies in front of the Capitals net, with Theodore or Varlamov sprawled in the crease, there is a chance that Gill might float a drifter in from the point to break the record. Sure.
The word parity has been used frequently to describe this year’s version of the National Hockey League. From the results so far, such is the case. And the game is better off because of it. I like the relatively level playing surface. Play on.
Monday, April 19, 2010