Counterpoint: Round 2, Western Conference
by Colin Van Osch(NHL)
Posted on May 19, 2009, 4:45 PM
Same deal as last time, kids. I make predictions, sometimes I'm right, usually I'm wrong but I make some smart points. Let's look over what I thought hockey was 2 weeks ago:
The Western Conference
Detroit Red Wings (2) vs. Anaheim Ducks (8)
My first thought on this series is that Detroit must be getting exhausted. I was amazed they had their legs in the first series, and I was shocked when they manhandled the young Blue Jackets so easily. I donít know that the sports fan in me wants to see Detroit win. Thereís no sizzle there anymore. The fire is out. Detroit is a good team, they have been since Christ was a child. The defending Stanley Cup champions arenít going to be pushovers. Not in this series. Not in any series. They havenít been swept in a series since 2003. Against Anaheim, when it was the 2nd seed vs. the 7th seed.
Detroit is a good team, and if Osgood is turning it on, they are a great team. I will only say to Anaheim what I said to Columbus. Theyíre not undefeatable, but you can give them nothing. Detroit is not a team you can make a lot of mistakes with. Every player on that team is on their 3rd season in the last 2 years. It was a lengthy run last year, itís been a long year and the best thing that has happened to them is that they got some time off between Columbus and Anaheim. Thatís not something I normally say, but when youíve played 190 games in the last 18 months, getting a week off is a Godsend.
Anaheim is terrifying. In the first round, I thought there was a definite possibility of an upset and it played out. The lead line of Getzlaf, Perry and Ryan are amongst the best front lines in the league right now and Anaheim has a vicious defensive corps. They have a young goaltender, dying to prove his worth who stood on his head when challenged and showed an unmistakable calmness in Round 1. After watching Anaheim destroy San Jose, I was fully prepared to give them the go ahead in this series, but thereís a few points to consider.
Firstly, Anaheim may have beaten the Presidents Trophy winner, but they werenít playing a quality team. You could count on the fingers of one hand the players who showed up to play on any given night. Anaheim beating San Jose will provide an extra dose of momentum, but itís a lot more impressive on paper than it is in reality.
Jonas Hiller has been fantastic. Really, it seems like every year, a marginal-to-above-average goalie emerges as his teams savior. Sometimes itís a journeyman who has seen backup time on every team in the league like Dwayne Roloson. Sometimes itís the latter, an up and coming rookie who has everything to prove and nothing to lose like Jonas Hiller. Sometimes that works out, but every single time itís the story of the series. Itís an overblown situation. The number of times that this young goalie ends up being the pivotal point in the series is miniscule. Every year, another Jonas Hiller or another Simeon Varlamov shows up, and the next year it is briefly mentioned until it fades. Ask Ilya Bryzgalov or Ray Emery. Hiller is a good goalie. He hasnít been challenged enough in the first round to prove that heís going to bring the same cold composure against a strong Red Wings team.
Anaheim has done a lot of good things. I have a lot of time for that top line, and I think Getzlaf is a Top 10 player in the league. That defensive teaming is fantastic, and the acquisitions of Wishniewski and Whitney at the deadline are simply stunning when you consider what that adds to the team. If Hillers composure moves into this round, they are a serious threat.
If Detroit has ever had a problem with something, itís that theyíre in the spotlight and as such, have a narrow pedestal thatís easy to be knocked down from. For all the years they have been favorites to win the Cup, they have done it only a select few times and suffered some embarrassing defeats when they decided to only put half a team on the ice mentally. I think in the forward depth category, Detroit takes it. Detroit has 4 rock steady lines and are going to threaten from every angle. Defensively, I donít think thereís a team in the playoffs left who isnít afraid of facing this grouping, and itís not just because Chris Pronger is a dangerous psychopath. This is going to come down to Osgood vs. Hiller. If Osgood shows up to play, and Hiller doesnít, the Red Wings win. If Hiller shows up and Osgood doesnít, the Ducks win. If neither show up, the Red Wings win. If both show up, the Red Wings win. It hurts me, but on the whole, Detroit is a rock solid team who have the skills to break Hiller. The Ducks have Gigeure, but he has been on the bench for the better part of 2 months now and I donít see him coming in and doing anything that is going to save this series. Hiller needs to show up and the #1 line for Anaheim need to rattle Osgood early. Really early.
I told myself that after I denied my gut and went with San Jose in Round 1, I wouldnít bet against Anaheim again in a toss up. Every game is going to be great, but I canít defend why Anaheim would win this barring a meltdown in Hockeytown.
Detroit in 6
Counterpoint: I do not understand Jonas Hiller. On one hand, it was pointed out very quickly that he had....íoddí pads. Being a Canadian, I didnít get to see a lot of Anaheim games during the regular season, and when I did get to, chances were higher than 50/50 that JS Giguere would be in net, so I never really noticed it, but Hiller has a shelf that extends a solid 16 inches off of his knees on his pads.
Now, I assume that the goal here is that when he nails down his butterfly, it creates a shelf along the ice that essentially does the work his stick should be doing, something like this:
If thatís the intention, great. Look at that butterfly, itís pretty rock solid. Why is this an issue? If youíre asking that, you certainly didnít watch the series.
This problem is two fold. Detroit scored a number of goals through this gaping 5 hole, which beckons the question ĎWhy would you deliberately create a weakness when better equipment options are available?í Of course, this picture doesnít accurately show what his imperfect butterfly stance looks like, but it displays this and my next point at least half-assedly. Second question? ĎWhy would you deliberately expose your knees and leave yourself open to a potential injury when better equipment options are available?í These pads leave his knees completely and utterly vulnerable. With traditional pads, they would curve upwards to guarantee that, even when our of positions, the 5 hole will gain an additional few inches of coverage, but most importantly, they are protective, which is really the entire point of goalie equipment. At least, it was in the years where it barely covered you and you still felt shots. The point I am making here is, they arenít beneficial. They appear to give you problems closing up your 5 hole quickly, which was exposed by the opposing team and cost you the series. Furthermore, when you butterfly incorrectly on a Chara slapshot and shatter your kneecap, well, donít say the warning signs werenít there. Itís frustrating because itís almost deliberately ineffective.
Moving on though, I had originally planned to make that entire point in less than 50 words, but it kind of got away from me. While trying to keep a neutral stance on things, I was really disappointed with the outcome of this series. I think Anaheim is an outstanding team, I felt that they had the energy and experience to match up with Detroit. I didnít expect that they would win, but I openly hoped for it. Probably the reason Iím disappointed, despite not coming in expecting them to win, is because I expect Anaheim to beat the team that actually showed up. Detroit did not have a good series, on the whole. I really feel that Anaheim outplayed them, badly, in almost every game. On Detroitís side, the only name that I really saw as playing Ďat or above his levelí was Darren Helm. His tenacity on the ice and his freakish speed were ever present, and every game he was in, I considered him one of the stars. Outside of that, I donít know that a lot of the Red Wings felt like they needed to bring their big game to win, and it showed in their play.
On the Anaheim side of things, Iíve already gone off on Hiller, and now Iím just going to quote myself from one of the few Play-By-Plays I actually ended up posting
I've got to say, I don't care for Corey Perry. He's a fine scorer, but a bit of a dumb player. When they pulled their goalie, he was wandering until Neidermeyer told him where to go. I think he should be missing this and a few more games after his elbow to the head on Cheechoo and he has already been suspended once this year for the exact same thing. Of the big line on Anaheim, he is the worst in all regards. He's a fine scorer, but I wouldn't take him on my team like I would Getzlaf and Ryan.
Iím keeping on with that line of thinking. Corey Perry is an entirely passable scorer, and even a fine, talented forward. He is an idiot though. Bad, undisciplined penalties, and the man is dirty and cowardly as the day is long. Iím not going to advocate that he should be traded, because I think him and Getzlaf have a great, possibly irreplaceable chemistry. The man is unlovable though.
At the end of the day, you have to admire Anaheim rising to the immense challenge they were presented as well as they did. Dismounting the Presidentís Trophy Winner only to have to take on the defending Cup Champions is a daunting task. Anaheim doesnít need a lot of fixes. They are a very challenging team to play against, and the nice thing for this team is that their continued successes arenít contingent on players theyíre likely to lose (Selanne and Neidermeyer) and they should be able to locate great value for Pronger who is on his way out as well. Donít feel bad for this team, theyíve still got a future ahead of them, and in the grand scheme of things, they really didnít deserve to win this series. This is the 2nd straight team to not show up to play against them, and if you canít slam dunk on an opponent presenting no defense, you donít deserve the Cup. Plain and simple.
Vancouver Canucks (3) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (4)
This is the money series for this entire playoffs. Honestly, short of Vancouver and Pittsburgh making it to the finals and going 7 games, I just canít see how this will be eclipsed.
You have to love Chicago. I mean it, itís actually required. For the most part, these players have only heard about the playoffs or seen it on the TV. The way they came into the first game against Calgary was astounding. They played with the confidence and the patience of grizzled veterans. Itís not just that they played with the confidence to know that they could hold their own. They had the confidence to know that they could get away with making plays and that they could pinch on a play or crash the net and not get caught. The way they played in the first round filled me with confidence that this team could make the Conference Finals.
Vancouver has been my favorite to come out of the West since I saw the brackets. I donít want to repeat myself, but this team lacks a visible flaw. Their first line is dizzying in the way they cycle. Their second line, if Sundin is healthy, can provide secondary scoring in a way that most teams can only dream of. The third line of Wellwood-Bernier-Raymond was one of the best in the first round of any team. When you talk about unsung heroes, if you can find me someone who has been abused and belittled as much as Kyle Wellwood who has gone on to prove again and again that he is a viable asset, I will bow to you. I thought it was a shame when Toronto let him go, I think it was a shame that people gave up on him. He is a smart player and he makes a difference. The defense are deadly. The Canucks have 2 of my favorites in Bieksa and Mitchell. They have 2 good puck movers in Edler and Ohlund and if Sami Salo is healthy, he should be able to pick up the slack that is created with the continued employment of Shane OíBrien.
I would like to digress for just one second. I hope, sincerely, that I am not cursing him, but I have to say this.
Roberto Luongo, this is your last chance with me. Now, when people told me you were an elite goaltender who was stuck on a bad team in Florida, I believed them. I believed you when you said that you could win Stanley Cups if you had better teams in front of you. I have no doubt that you are in the upper echelon of goalies. It is, however, put up time. Youíve proven to me that you are a good Regular Season performer. So is Joe Thorton. Show me that youíre a credible goaltender who can hold it together when the going gets tough, because for all your pretty numbers in the Regular Season, youíve rarely impressed me in the post season and youíre never going to get a better team in front of you than you have now. Your promise of winning a Stanley Cup when you have a good team in front of you is going to be about as worthwhile as Sather saying he could win a Cup every year with New Yorks budget. You donít need to win it, but you need to come out of this conference.
Moving on, I do have a lot of faith in the Canucks, previous diatribe aside. I think that this is the years that they have the tools to support their goaltender. This is going to be a tight series, but Iíve limited it to 2 reasons that Chicago is going to struggle.
Ben Eager is a liability and I don't know that Joel Quenville knows it yet. I donít like singling anyone out. I think he has merit as an antagonizer and as an energy player who occasionally pockets a goal. Everytime I see him he is either taking a stupid penalty or doing something that warrants a stupid penalty. I donít think he needs to be benched. He is an asset to this team for no more than 8 minutes a game. If you put him on the ice, it needs to be to draw someone like Bieksa into a fight with him, someone who will legitimately be missed for 5 minutes. He cannot go out there, take a roughing penalty or a high sticking penalty or a charging penalty or what have you in an attempt to Ďruffle their feathersí. There are some people who do this role well. There are some people who are so intent on playing this side of the game that they are creating a disproportionate amount of chances for their opponents compared to the number of penalties they draw. Eager is drifting to this classification, so until that clears up, Eager needs to be kept either in line or off the ice.
Finally, the reason that Chicago was so immensely successful in Round 1 was the combined work of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, who really could never get enough props. They canít be everywhere though. They have a good supporting cast with Walker, Barker, Campbell and, to a lesser extent, Hjalmarsson. These are not shut down defensemen though. They range from very good in Barker, to competent in Walker and Campbell, to functional in Hjalmarsson. You only have one grouping that could shut down a major line, and that line is going to have to be the Sedins. Keith and Seabrook need to be on the Sedins like they were on Iginla, and you can bet your last dollar that theyíll be matched every second of every game in this series. I do expect that, despite Keith and Seabrooks outstanding shutdown abilities, that the Sedins ability to cycle is going to get them out of position enough to create chances. They wonít be frequent, and they wonít be glaring chances, but all Henrik and Daniel need is 1 second and a small opening to embarrass you.
Additionally, that opens up Sundin, Demitra and Kesler/Burrows though, and that is a major problem. I have full confidence that Barker and Campbell will be able to hold their own against this line, and by no means do I think that theyíll skate circles around them. They simply will not be able to fully contain them and they will put up numbers. That line is going to be a bigger threat than the Sedins. Add in that theyíve got great scoring touches in their energy line, and I see Vancouver being able to put up good numbers on this team. Itís really the reason I have Vancouver going so far. They always have another bullet, and when the barrel runs dry, Luongo is there to hold down the fort.
I might PVR this entire series because itís going to be a thing of magic. This is Pittsburgh vs. Washington with none of the hype. Enjoy it, please.
Vancouver in 6
Counterpoint: I was wrong about a lot of things this series. Not the least of which is, apparently, giving altogether too much credit to my local boy Cam Barker, who had a series so absurdly poor that itís embarrassing, to me, to have used him as an example of competent defense.
Outside of that complaint, it was an amazing series on the Blackhawks part. You canít help but be impressed by this team. Their youthful exuberance is contagious, and their ethic on the ice is second-to-none. The amazing thing about this team is that they can be down 1 goal, 2 goals, 3 goals, and they still play every second without getting discouraged. Itís the kind of passion that makes them hard to discount and, frankly, should terrify other teams.
As far as Vancouver goes, well, Iíd like to say this. I caught Ďsomeí slack for saying that Roberto Luongo was Ďnot a proven playoff performerí during this preview, and that I felt this was the series where he would be able to prove to me that he was the kind of goalie who would be able to keep his team in a game. I guess if Ďby keep your team in the gameí you mean Ďgiving up 3 leads in an elimination game, 2 of them in the 3rd period while giving up 7 goals totalí, then I guess he proved himself. If you mean Ďgoing 2-4 with a 3.50 GAA and a SV% in the .780 rangeí then I guess he proved himself. I wish I had taken down a source for this quote instead of just remembering it, but it was best put on some Canucks blog;
Maybe itís time to stop considering Roberto Luongo to be an elite goaltender. Not only has he not produced in the same vein as other elite goaltenders, but he hasnít even yet matched the feats of lesser goalies.
Anyways, the series was extremely entertaining to watch, save for the 1st and 4th games, and Chicago was a joy to watch on the ice. Chicago simply destroyed Vancouver with their secondary lines, and this was a real showcase for what you would have considered to be Ďbití players like Troy Brouwer, Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, Adam Burish and, yes, even Ben Eager, monster though he may be. Not in the ĎPierre McGuire HEíS A MONSTERí way but in the Chris Pronger Ďhe is histories greatest monsterí kind of way.
Vancouver will be a new beast next year, so for true Canucks fans, Iím very, very sorry. Without being a sensationalist, this was Vancouverís finest chance to ever win the Stanley Cup.
I'm going to finish the East tonight, but for now, rejoice~