November 15, 2013

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Admiring the Competitive Balance of the NHL

By: Matt Bowen

Nearly 20 games into the 2013-14 NHL season and the competitive balance is evident. The future of the league is mighty bright. Even after a strike that nearly erased last season, the NHL is thriving at the moment.

The league’s decision to change the divisional structure proved to be a stroke of genius. Now, there are four divisions containing eight teams each in the Eastern Conference and seven in the Western. The league is logistically sound now—this year the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets moved east while the Winnipeg Jets headed west. Suddenly, the NHL makes sense in respect to placement of teams.

Chicago Blackhawks

Can the Blackhawks keep the Central Division lead away from the Colorado Avalanche?

Albeit early, the standings are a bit surprising at the moment. The Tampa Bay Lightning currently leads the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division at the moment with 28 points. Yes, star Steven Stamkos is out with a broken right leg for some time, but his team is flush with young talent and veteran leaders like Martin St. Louis. Seeing Stamkos go down was a punch to the gut to devout hockey fans.  The kid is miraculous on the ice, have faith that when he returns he’ll be better than ever. He’s only 23 years old and a superstar—like the Terminator, he’ll be back. The Lightning surely didn’t let his absence affect their mood as they won the first game without him on November 12, 2-1 over the Montreal Canadiens. That’s good to see that resilience.

The Lightning can’t let up now, nipping at their heels are perennial power houses in the Boston Bruins, Detroit and an up-and-coming Toronto Maple Leafs team that just won’t quit.

Another surprise are the Colorado Avalanche, who led by 22-year-old Matt Duchene are second in the Western Conference’s Central Division with 28 points. This is somewhat hard to believe, but new head coach and Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy clearly knows how to get the best out of his bunch. Top to bottom, this is the best division in hockey right now with the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, Minnesota Wild, Winnipeg Jets, Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators. This race will go down to the wire come playoff time.

The Central Division may have the most balance, but the Western Conference’s Pacific Division is the league’s strongest. This one will be a dogfight every time teams take to the ice. The Anaheim Ducks are currently the best team in the league with 31 points, but there’s little breathing room. The Ducks, Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings all have 10-plus wins at the moment. Yes, they’re all going to beat up on each other throughout the season, but they currently have five playoff teams right now.

So, who’s the best team in the league? Right now it’s anyone’s guess and that’s why it’s great.

Don’t forget about the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference’s Metropolitan division. The Penguins still have a guy named Sidney Crosby while it’s still good to be Ovi in Washington. Crosby is currently tied for the lead with 23 points while Ovechkin is atop the goal list with 14.

The bottom line is that the NHL got it right this time. Everyone should have a smile on their face. The league is as competitive as ever and here to stay. Embrace it, enjoy it, and fall in love with it.

April 30, 2013

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Bold Predictions for the 2013 NHL Playoffs

By: Matt Bowen

The 2013 NHL playoffs promise to be as fast paced as the abbreviated season. The strike-shortened season was roughly only 100 days long and the league carries plenty of momentum into the “second season.”

The league began the season with a black eye but with a jammed packed schedule that went down to the wire, the NHL recovered nicely from a near catastrophe.

With fans back on board the playoffs will be as captivating as ever. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks dominated their respective conferences this season, but that doesn’t mean they’re destined to meet in the Finals.

Remember, it was just last season when the Los Angeles Kings were the first team in history to win it all as a No. 8 seed.

Who will hoist the Stanley Cup in 2013?

If there’s one thing that’s for certain, expect the unexpected during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The New York Rangers vs. Washington Capitals Will be the Best Round 1 Matchup

As a hockey fan, one can’t help but lose sleep over this series. Coming into the season this was an all-or-nothing type of season for both sides. After a poor start, both teams rebounded well to finish the season on a strong note.

Now, two teams under the microscope will duke it out in a series that screams seven games. The CapitalsAlex Ovechkin finished the year with a league-best 32 goals and needs to continue that trend if his team is to advance.

The Rangers spent a ton of money in the offseason only to be seller’s at the trade deadline. What’s done is done and the team found a way to manage the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference. New to New York, star Rick Nash led the team in goals with 21, now it’s his duty to lead his team to a Stanley Cup victory.

So, who will win the series?

Capitals in seven games

The Rangers may be facing an intense amount of pressure, but Ovechkin and the Capitals have their backs against the wall.

The Detroit Red Wings Will Upset the Anaheim Ducks in Round 1

The Detroit Red Wings didn’t play consistently good hockey until a week ago, but now they’re hot at the right time.

Spoiled by decades of success, Wings fans were looking lost until recently. The playoffs seemed like a mirage, but the good organizations always seem to get their way and the Wings are in as the No. 7 seed in the West.

Now, the Anaheim Ducks are the underdog in the series even though they are the No. 2 seed. The Wings took the season series 2-1 and have too much momentum right now for Corey Perry and company to stop. Wings stars Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are carrying their team nicely right now.

The Wings won four straight games to make the playoffs and in that time Zetterberg notched 10 points.

Red Wings in six games

The Wings are too hot to lose in the first round but will run out of gas shortly after.

One Not So Bold Pick–Sidney Crosby Will be Sidney Crosby

The Pittsburgh Penguins have been without their captain Sydney Crosby since March 30 due to a broken jaw, but he’ll be on the ice in the playoffs.

He may have missed the final 12 games of the season, but he scored 56 points in just 36 games. The Penguins should be considered great without him and with his presence on the ice they are the most dangerous team in the league.

It may take a game or two to get back into the groove, but Crosby is the best all-around player in the league. Even with missing the final 12 games, Crosby only lost out on the Art Ross Trophy (most points/season) by four points. Tampa Bay Lightning star Martin St. Louis took the trophy with 60 points. St. Louis was then followed by teammate Steven Stamkos’ 57 and then Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby with 56.

Crosby makes everyone better and knowing that Penguins acquisition Jarome Iginla has only played a total of :50 seconds with Crosby, the best is yet to come.

Crosby tallies 17 playoff points—6 goals, 11 assist

The Toronto Maple Leafs Will Win Their Series against the Boston Bruins

A classic Original Six matchup here, the Toronto Maple Leafs square off against the Boston Bruins in an instant classic.

These rivals won’t back down, but the Maple Leafs will surprise most when they survive and advance. The Maple Leafs haven’t made the playoffs since 2004 and although both teams stumbled to the finish line, the Leafs carry positive momentum because the city is buzzing.

The Bruins have looked incomplete of late and can’t seem to finish the game. They have dominated the series between the two of late, winning 9-of-10, but the tides will turn here.

The Leafs are well balanced across the score sheet. Expect Nazem Kadri, a 22-year-old center to get under the Bruins skin and light the lamp. In the end, the Bruins won’t know what hit them.

Maple Leafs in five games

Montreal Canadiens vs. Vancouver Canucks in the Finals

What?!

That’s correct, an all Canadian final is in store.

How?

The Montreal Canadiens are almost forgotten about but the finished second in the Eastern Conference. The have a goalie in Carey Price who is made for these moments and a perfect blend of toughness and finesse. They are the team that doesn’t have a scoring sensation but rather a group of guys who pitch in at the right moment. A number of players could get hot and spell disaster for their opponents.

The Vancouver Canucks are playoff tested and feel disrespected. They’re almost forgotten about at the moment. Don’t make a mistake by overlooking  them and consider them a “has been.” Remember, they have the Sedin twins. Last time I checked they have some weird twin thing going on that gets the puck to the back of the net with regularity.  The Canucks X-factor is Ryan Kesler. He’s a world-class player coming off of injury. With only 17 games played this year, he’s seen just enough ice time to make a big difference in the playoffs.

This series will be a slugfest. Plenty of grit combined with a series littered with scrappy goals will make for a memorable final.

Canadiens in six games

Carey Price wins the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP

April 2, 2013

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Why NHL Realignment Makes Sense

By: Tyler Vespa

With the NHL realignment approved for next season, the league will now feature four divisions instead of six. These would be the Midwest, the Pacific, the Central and the Atlantic. The Midwest and Pacific divisions would makeup the Western Conference, while the Central and the Atlantic divisions would make up the Eastern Conference. The Central and Atlantic divisions will have 8 teams each, while the Pacific and the Midwest will each have 7 teams.

The Red Wings will say goodbye to the Western Conference and move to the East nest season.

Here is what the NHL will look like next season:

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Midwest

Chicago Blackhawks

Colorado Avalanche

Dallas Stars

Minnesota Wild

Nashville Predators

St. Louis Blues

Winnipeg Jets

Pacific

Anaheim Ducks

Calgary Flames

Edmonton Oilers

Los Angeles Kings

Phoenix Coyotes

San Jose Sharks

Vancouver Canucks

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Central

Boston Bruins

Buffalo Sabres

Detroit Red Wings

Florida Panthers

Montreal Canadiens

Ottawa Senators

Tampa Bay Lightning

Toronto Maple Leafs

Atlantic

Carolina Hurricanes

Columbus Blue Jackets

New Jersey Devils

New York Islanders

New York Rangers

Philadelphia Flyers

Pittsburgh Penguins

Washington Capitals

The playoffs will still feature 16 teams, eight from each conference, but will not be division based with a new wild-card feature. The top 3 teams from each division will make up the first 12 teams in the playoffs The final 4 places will be filled in by the next two highest placed teams in each conference, and will be based on regular season points, regardless of their division. This means one division could send 5 teams while another could only send three.

Regular season points will also determine the seeding of the teams. Meaning, the division winner with the most points will play the wild card team with the least points, and so forth.

This plan is exactly what the league needed after two lockouts in the past 8 seasons. Something needed to change. As you can see the only two teams changing conferences will be the Detroit Red Wings and the Columbus Blue Jackets. Detroit has been crying for this move for years.

With that I give you 4 reasons this plan for realignment is a win-win for the league and everybody associated with it:

Geographic simplicity: We will see fewer issues with time zones and travel. Teams in the same conference will enjoy easier travel simply because they are now crossing over fewer time zones.

More Original 6 matchups: Detroit is now in the same division with 3 other teams from the Original 6: Boston, Montreal and Toronto. Also, the Red Wings and the New York Rangers are in the same conference.

New Playoff Format: With the imbalance of teams in each division, there is talk of a “Wild Card Format” being added to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This could mean a play-in game where two teams play one game to become the 8th seed in the Western Conference. Another win or go home game would be genius.

Dream for Television: The Eastern Conference would have a rivalry game almost every night. Teams in Canada will get awesome exposure, with a myriad of Canadian vs. Canadian rivalries. New rivalries and big matchups will be made out West such as with the 3 California teams; San Jose, Anaheim and Los Angeles. Even more Canadian exposure is bred with Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Winnipeg.

February 9, 2012

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Detroit Red Wings Home Winning Streak

By: Junior

When it comes to the Detroit Red Wings, people have grown to expect the continued success they have had in the NHL. Having won four Stanley Cups in the last 14 years and having not missed the playoffs in the last 20, winning in the regular season normally wouldn’t make headlines. That being said, their newest winning streak is above and beyond even what Detroit fans have come to expect from their team.

The Red Wings have won their last 18 games at home, adding more meaning to the nickname “Hockeytown”. The Wings play their next 5 games at home, so how long can this streak continue? I break down each game and see which one of them could be the end of the streak.

Anaheim Ducks - 2/10

Detroit won both previous contests with the Ducks, 5-0 and 4-2, respectively. Detroit is the first stop of a long, 8-game road trip for the Ducks. Anaheim will look to win early in that trip, before the road takes its toll, so look for Anaheim to be aggressive. However, the Ducks haven’t been able to keep opponents from lighting the lamp, and Detroit has proven they can do that frequently against Anaheim. I don’t think the record ends here.

Philadelphia Flyers - 2/12

The Red Wings haven’t played the Flyers yet this season, and they split a pair of games in the preseason. Philadelphia is 2nd in the NHL in scoring and will test Jimmy Howard often throughout this game. Howard should have some support though, as the Flyers give up close to 3 goals a game. The key to this game is the Power Play, as Philadelphia is very effective with the extra man, while Detroit has struggled short-handed. This game is scary, and I think the streak could end here.

Jimmy Howard will have his work cut out for him when the Flyers visit Joe Louis Arena.

Dallas Stars - 2/14

Since I am known to be wrong, we will continue just in case my Philly prediction is incorrect. Dallas has been a worthy opponent to Detroit this season, losing two contests by a goal each, 5-4 and 3-2 in a shootout. The season is winding down, and at this moment Dallas is 2 points out of the playoffs. This game would break the NHL’s all-time home winning streak record, so the Red Wings will be fighting just as hard. If the Red Wings get this far in the streak, I think they will pull this one out. 

Nashville Predators - 2/17

Nashville is playing solid hockey lately, going 14-4 in their last 18 games. Add to that they should be well rested heading into the game, and this could spell trouble for Detroit. The Predators and Red Wings have split a pair of games so far this year, each winning on their home ice.  This rubber match could have significant playoff implications for both teams, as the Western Conference is a tight race. Again power plays could become a factor in this game as well, as Nashville is deadly on the power play, but doesn’t do a great job of killing them. The third tough opponent in a row, I think this could be a game that ends the streak, if it hasn’t been already.

San Jose Sharks – 2/19

If things weren’t hard enough, San Jose presents yet another problem for the Wings. A team that has already beaten Detroit twice this year, the Sharks would love to end the Red Wings home streak if the opportunity presented itself. San Jose is very similar to Nashville in that they are strong on the power play and would love to gain some points on Detroit in the playoff race. Antti Niemi has done a good job keeping Detroit out of the net, and Joe Thornton has scored 4 goals against Detroit this year. However, I think it is hard to win three in a row against the Red Wings, and I think Detroit will come out ready to rebound from one of the previous losses I predicted.

November 8, 2011

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BCS Championship Picture Still Murky

By: Joe Williams

If the final BCS rankings came out today, we would be looking at an LSU vs. Oklahoma State matchup in the BCS Championship game. Will it stay that way until the final BCS rankings come out at the end of the season? If this season plays out like most then there will be more twists and turns before the BCS matchups are set. Does your team have a shot to reach the BCS Championship game? Here’s a look at what it may take to get the contending teams to New Orleans on Jan. 9.

No.1 LSU

As long as the Tigers keep winning they will stay at No. 1 in the BCS rankings. They still face No. 8 Arkansas and must play the SEC title game. If they win out, they will play in the BCS Championship game.

No. 2 Oklahoma State

If the Cowboys win their final three games, including a showdown with No. 6 Oklahoma, they should stay in the top two in the BCS Rankings and play in the BCS Championship game.

No. 3 Alabama

This is where things get interesting. The Crimson Tide must win out and the only formidable team they have left is No. 20 Auburn. If Oklahoma State loses, Alabama would pass the Cowboys but there is a good chance an undefeated Stanford team would jump into the second spot of the BCS Rankings. Or what if Arkansas beats LSU and there is a three way tie at 6-1 in the SEC West? It could all come down to whether or not the BCS voters want to see a rematch of that ugly 9-6 loss against LSU in the BCS Championship game.

No. 4 Stanford

The Cardinal need to beat No. 7 Oregon on Saturday night and they may need a convincing win to convince the voters to move them up in the BCS rankings. Then they need to beat Cal and Notre Dame and they could have a rematch with USC in the conference title game. If they win out, they should move ahead of Alabama in the BCS rankings, but it would be tough for them to catch an unbeaten Oklahoma State.

No. 5 Boise State

We say this every year, but the Broncos need a lot of help to make it to the BCS Championship game. They must blow out their four remaining opponents, including a good TCU team. Bronco fans should be rooting for Oregon to beat Stanford and the Sooners to take down Oklahoma State. They also need Georgia to win the SEC East and then the SEC title game. If the Broncos are the only unbeaten team (other than Houston) and have a victory over the SEC champion they will have a legitimate argument but probably get left out of the BCS Championship game again.

No. 6 Oklahoma

The Sooners must win their final three games which would mean going to Oklahoma State and winning. They have to get passed Alabama as the highest ranked one-loss team in the BCS rankings and they need Stanford to lose a game as well. Then, they need to hope the voters will move them ahead of Boise State and decide they don’t want to see an Alabama/LSU rematch in the BCS Championship game.  

No. 7 Oregon 

If the Ducks beat Stanford, USC, Oregon St. and win the conference championship game, they would be in the discussion, as long as Oklahoma St. loses. Would that be enough to pass one-loss Oklahoma or Alabama in the BCS rankings? I don’t think so, but if their only loss is to an undefeated No. 1 LSU and things fall the Ducks’ way, we could be in for a rematch from the season opener in the BCS Championship game.

No. 8 Arkansas 

It is certainly a longshot, but let’s say the Razorbacks beat Tennessee and Mississippi St. Then they go on the road and beat No. 1 LSU. They could be in a three-way tie with LSU and Alabama in the SEC West. Depending on how the tiebreaker plays out, they could go to the SEC championship game and beat Georgia. If that all happens, Arkansas would be a one-loss SEC champion and could get in BCS Championship game if Stanford or Oklahoma State drops a game.

No. 9 Clemson 

The Tigers could run the table and get to the ACC title game where they could meet Georgia Tech and avenge their only loss on the season. They would be 12-1 with a win over the only team to beat them. They would also need Stanford, Oklahoma State, and maybe Boise State to lose. Then they would need some other one-loss teams like Oregon and Oklahoma to fall. If they end up as one of a couple one-loss teams, you could make a case for Clemson.

No. 10 Virginia Tech

The Hokies are in the same boat as Clemson. They could run the table and get to the ACC title game and have a rematch with the only team they lost to (Clemson). Then they would be 12-1 with a win over the only team to beat them. They would also need Stanford, Oklahoma State, and maybe Boise State to lose. Then they would need some other one-loss teams like Oregon and Oklahoma to fall. If they end up as one of a couple one-loss teams, you could make a case for Virginia Tech in the BCS Championship game.

No.11 Houston

Boise State has to lose for the Cougars to get a BCS invite. The only way they get to the BCS Championship game is if they go back in time, join the Big East for 2011, play a whole new schedule, and go undefeated. Oh, and get some help. Good luck with that.

No. 12 Penn State 

If Penn State can rack up four more wins (No. 19 Nebraska, Ohio State, No. 16 Wisconsin, and No. 13 Michigan State in the conference title game) they will be 12-1 with the only loss coming at the hands of Alabama. That is a pretty good resume but they need just about everyone in front of them in the BCS rankings to lose. Not likely.