Sunday 19 April 2015

Guaranteed Right Or Your Money Back!

I love guest posts. As you know, my voice gets heard on here a lot and I'll admit I'm far from being 100% right. I'm not an insider nor am I connected to the hockey world's gossip and rumor mill in any way. This is why I like getting posts from readers and colleagues because the perspective from which those articles are written might be entirely different from how I would see things. And different perspectives are good! I am happy to welcome back my esteemed colleague Neal L. who will gaze into his mystical crystal ball as he predicts the opening round series in the Eastern Conference for this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs! Take it away, Neal!

So I know I have been on quite the sabbatical recently, and I must say that adjusting to working overnights has been tough. I feel like it has gone a little bit better than I had hoped, but it still quite is a change. Anyway, I would like to get back into writing for HBIC, so I’m trying to find some time here and there in between sleep to write some articles. Here is my short preview of the first round including who I picked in the HBIC pool.

As an aside, I will not be picking the individual games and game-winning goal scorers this article. History has shown that I actually do fairly well at picking the series winner in the pool, but you the readers, have absolutely crushed me on getting the bonus points. Hopefully, I can hang with you guys this go round. Anyway, let’s start with the Eastern Conference!

NY Rangers vs. Pittsburgh

The best way I can sum up what I expect this to go is a realization I had about a week or so ago. You see, with the Pens seemingly going down in flames, decimated by injuries and cap problems, I thought it would be funny if they missed completely. For a couple of seconds I thought it would help the Rangers out if Crosby and Malkin weren’t in the postseason at all. Then I realized something: why wouldn’t you want to play a team that is a huge dumpster fire right now?

Simply put, aside from the megastars, the Penguins can’t score. Without Kris Letang and the seemingly Ben Lovejoy disaster, the Pens aren’t that great at defending either. I will give credit to Teebz for predicting before the season the Pens would have to get a serious work ethic or they would be in trouble. No doubt injuries have had a huge impact on the Penguins, but it seems like other than a few players, they are unable to answer the bell so to speak.

As for the Rangers, this team looks like a solid machine on all fronts, but there are a couple holes. Lost in the frenzy of how Cam Talbot played during the King’s absence was that the team put together some duds that were bailed out by the understudy’s stupendous play. The advanced metrics of the Rangers are mediocre at best and faceoffs are a huge concern. Still, this team is just too deep for the Penguins. Kevin Hayes has evolved into a legitimate player and along with weapons such as Nash, Kreider, Stepan, and others can provide three solid lines of scoring. Couple that with arguably the best blue line in the league when Kevin Klein returns, and this should be a rout. I see Crosby and Malkin maybe stealing a game or two, but it won’t be enough.

Neal's pick: RANGERS in five.

Montreal vs. Ottawa

Ottawa is the team that pundits have called the team no one wants to play in the East. There has been plenty of hamburgers thrown on the ice as the meteoric rise of Andrew Hammond has propelled the Senators into the playoffs. On the other side, Carey Price has what should be an open shut case not only for the Vezina, but the Hart trophy to boot.

In the beginning of the season, I picked Montreal as my dark horse cup contender. I am not regretting that pick by any stretch of the imagination. Any defense that is anchored by P.K. Subban is good enough to win, let alone that Carey Price will give them a chance to win any game that they play. Their huge question mark is offense. Max Pacioretty did give them 37 goals and has been quietly one of the best players in the league. After that the drop off is pretty stark. For the season, Montreal was a paltry 20th in scoring. With up tempo teams waiting later in the playoffs, this might simply not cut it. If Montreal advances, both Tampa - first - and Detroit - tenth - both were in the top-10 in this category.

Ottawa’s roster seems well enough balanced on offense and defense, but I do wonder about their depth. Bobby Ryan has to step up more than he did in the regular season (18 goals) if they wish to have any chance. I honestly think the experts are overanalyzing this. Montreal is the better team. Give me a choice of perhaps the best goalie in the world and what could be a flash in the pan in Hammond and I will take Price every time. Ottawa is a nice story, but I just think the clock strikes midnight on them.

Neal's pick: CANADIENS in six.

Washington vs. NY Islanders

Ok, Caps fans, go ahead rub it in my face.

I picked the Capitals to be a train wreck this year and they really have been anything other than that. Alex Ovechkin seemingly has had a renaissance year and could very well win the Hart trophy himself. The team finished in the top-half of every imaginable team category: offense, defense, and special teams. Why can’t these guys go far? Well, this is the same core of guys who have continued to be pushed around come the postseason and they are coached by old favorite Barry “first round” Trotz, that’s why.

In all honesty, I think Holtby can carry this team past the first round if he is on. He did tail off slightly the last month or so of the season, but he had a great year overall. This series is more about Ovechkin to see if he can put the team on his back, so to speak, and carry them to the next level. If Ovechkin never makes a deep run, it will forever stain his career.

For the Islanders, even though they made the playoffs unlike my prediction, do I get partial credit for suggesting they’d be a contender early and fade down the stretch? Kyle Opkoso has not been very good since returning for injury and must step up in this series. Nick Leddy also remains a question mark in the injury department and any missed time from him will be a huge blow. The key for the Isles will be if their depth lines can bring the physical play and change momentum much like they did in the first half of the season. As someone who lives on the East coast, I watched these guys play numerous times and every time their fourth-line came out you could feel the energy go to the fishsticks side.

This is a very close series that could either way. Both teams have their strengths that make me think they will win, and flaws that prevent me from trusting either team. In the end I’m more comfortable picking against the team that has the roster of playoff failures and the coach of playoff failures (albeit on a different team). In the Islanders I also get a slightly deeper team.

Neal's pick: ISLANDERS in seven.

Tampa Bay vs. Detroit

People don’t realize this, but this may be the ultimate smoke-in-mirrors series. I’m not sure people realize how close the Wings were to missing the playoffs after a March swoon that left the margin of error closer than they wanted it to be. On the flip side, The Bolts blueline has been decimated and although solid, Victor Hedman still hasn’t taken the leap forward into the elite like I wanted him to in my preseason predictions.

Tampa’s offense was number-one in the league by a comfortable margin, though it seemed to wane in the second-half of the season somewhat. It boasts Stamkos and Tyler Johnson, which may be the best one-two combo in the league that no one is talking about. Sure people know abot Stamkos, but Johnson until the last few weeks of the season was in the top-ten in scoring as well. They really can score on all four lines. Up front, there simply aren’t any weaknesses. For the Wings, they also have a very deep offensive team. With youngsters like Nyquist, Tatar, and Sheahan supplementing the old guard of Datsyuk and Zetterberg, they can keep pace with anyone.

To me, this series comes to defense and goaltending. To say the Wings goaltending has been bad is being kind. No Wings goaltender ranks in the top-20 in save percentage. Across the ice, Ben Bishop finished midpack in that category though has never really been in a playoff atmosphere.

So why am I picking the Wings? Defense. Although Tampa should have all its defenders back except for Jason Garrison, almost their whole blue line is banged up. In the Wings, you have the second-overall power-play unit rolling into town. I’m simply not sure they will be able to shut that down. Tampa did rank ninth in PK, but that was over the whole season which mostly was before the injury woes. I might be victim of just picking Detroit solely on reputation, but I think they pull the upset here.

Neal's pick: RED WINGS in six.

That’s the East, stay tuned for the West.

What say you, readers? Agree or disagree? Is Neal off his rocker in a few series? Sound off below!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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