Archive for April, 2013

NHL 2013 Playoff Picks: Round One

Posted in Canucks-related on April 30, 2013 by wechslerh66

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When I make my annual playoff picks for each round, I normally weigh the goalie matchup more than any other matchup, unless it involves the Red Wings (see “the Osgood exception”). The best goalies who weren’t Sergei Bobrovsky this season were arguably Tuukka Rask, Henrik Lundqvist, and Antti Niemi. (I would rank Craig Anderson (league-leading 1.69 GAA and .941 SV%) among them but to quote Joe Sheehan, health is a skill too. Rank by total minutes: Niemi 1st , Lundqvist 2nd, Bobrovsky 11th, Rask 13th, Anderson 26th.) Also, whatever it’s worth, Brian Elliott just went 11-2, .948, 1.28 with 3 shutouts in April. The shakiest goalies in this postseason may be Jonathan Quick, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Carey Price, two of whom have won Stanley Cups in the past five years, the other of whom has played in three of the past four All-Star Games. So you never know—the odds and history mean Niemi probably won’t end up meeting either Rask or Lundqvist in the finals.

West

Chicago/Minnesota: Corey Crawford—the 2013 version anyway—is a better goalie than Niklas Backstrom, whom I still think of as a creation of Jacques Lemaire’s defense even though Lemaire left Minnesota for New Jersey in 2009. I’m not expecting a total blowout, but the Blackhawks are the deepest team in this year’s playoffs and the Wild won’t be much of a threat. We’ll hear “Chelsea Dagger” just enough. Chicago in four.

Anaheim/Detroit: The Ducks and Red Wings are evenly matched in goal as far as starters (assuming Hiller and not Fasth for Anaheim); the Ducks win the battle of the backups because of Gustavsson’s track record regardless of Fasth’s lack of one. Beyond the crease, though, the Ducks were extraordinarily lucky; only Toronto and Pittsburgh had a higher team PDO (SH% plus SV%) despite the Ducks being out-possessioned (though not as badly as the Leafs). Detroit is a much better possession team and is a bit deeper after each teams’ top two. Plus it’s the Red Wings. Detroit in five.

Vancouver/San Jose: Once again the Canucks draw a sleeper team, this time with two healthy Sedins but a less healthy goaltender. Vancouver has home ice for this series but was outshot overall this season and swept in the season series with San Jose (one a shootout loss); the Sharks outshot their opponents and also allowed fewer goals overall than the Canucks. As far as the goaltending, Luongo has the best career, Niemi has had the best season, and who knows when (or, worst case scenario, whether) Schneider will play. Probably not as ugly for Canuck fans as the Kings series a year ago, but I’ll take San Jose in six.

St. Louis/Los Angeles: This is the worst possible matchup for the Blues, who were my preseason Cup pick. Elliott-Quick is a wash, I think; Quick slumped much of this season but went 6-3-1, .917. 2.25 in April, peaking at the same time as Elliott. The Kings were the best possession team in the league; the Blues were fifth. The Blues do everything well; the Kings do everything better. Los Angeles in six.

East

Pittsburgh/New York Islanders: I’m rooting for the Islanders—honestly, my favorite player on either team is Iginla and I wouldn’t hate him personally winning a Cup, but it’s Shitsburgh and I would even rather the Rangers or Caps win it—but nothing here looks like an upset, including the goaltending matchup. Fleury is still overrated (career playoff record: .904, 2.68) but Nabokov isn’t much better (.913, 2.29, mostly from the Sharks’ 2004 and 2007 playoff runs, with more Fleuryesque recent playoffs). Pittsburgh in four.

Montreal/Ottawa: Two good possession teams, one of which had a terrible SH%; the only team worse than the Senators’ 6.7% was the Panthers (the Sharks were also at 6.7%). Anderson is the better goalie; he’s now .933, 2.29 in 13 career playoff games. (Price has played twice as many games and is .907, 2.84.) Erik Karlsson will help too. Ottawa in six.

Washington/New York Rangers: Lundqvist vs. Holtby ended up being a tossup last playoffs; I don’t expect a .935 SV from Holtby this time and I don’t expect the Caps top-ranked power play (26.8%, more than two full points ahead of runnerup Pittsburgh) to be as good, which means Ovechkin won’t be either. A slight edge to the Caps for home ice advantage but I’m going with the Rangers in six.

Boston/Toronto: Toronto was the luckiest team in the NHL with a league-leading SH% of 11.0 despite the second worst possession numbers; only the Sabres were worse. Boston’s possession numbers, on the other hand, were 4th overall behind the Kings, Devils, and Blackhawks. The Leafs have been outshot by a whopping six shots per game; the Bruins outshoot their opponents by almost four. Since the Bruins also have the better goaltender, I don’t think this will be especially close. Boston in five.

Photo courtesy of http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tuukka_Rask.jpg.

Phillies 8, Mets 3

Posted in 2013 Phillies with tags , , , , , , on April 10, 2013 by wechslerh66

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Phillies 4, Royals 3

Posted in 2013 Phillies with tags , , , , , , on April 7, 2013 by wechslerh66

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Could Sergei Bobrovsky win the Vezina?

Posted in Flyers-related with tags , , , , , , , on April 2, 2013 by wechslerh66

Bobrovsky

Flyers fans generally aren’t as big on schadenfreude as you might think—they may have cheered a Mario Lemieux injury but they never booed Rod Brind’amour in a Hurricanes jersey—so it’s more the result of frustration with how Ilya Bryzgalov looks without the Phoenix defense in front of him combined with a masochism more common to Leafs fans (only separated from Flyer fans by 8 years of futility) that makes the Sergei Bobrovsky Vezina Watch so perversely enjoyable. Traded for three draft picks last summer, BOB is now 12-8-6, .927, 2.13 with three shutouts for the Blue Jackets, the reigning NHL Third Star of the Month, and a strong Vezina contender. He can’t really win this thing, right? Probably not—he’s 24, he plays for Columbus, the typical awards voter probably can’t pronounce his name (it’s not just Flyer fans)—but you never know, thanks to a few noteworthy variables:

1. No one else has run away with it at this point.
The top three teams in the league—Pittsburgh, Chicago, Anaheim—all have co-#1’s. (Well, not really. Crawford’s the man in Chicago, though Emery just suffered his first loss last week and is now 12-1-0, .919, 2.09. The Pens are also unlikely to demote Fleury to even co-, let alone backup, status, though Vokoun has the higher SV% both this season and career, and the latter isn’t close. Similarly, Hiller’s now starting the majority of Ducks games, though Fasth still has better numbers.) Ottawa’s Craig Anderson still leads the league in both GAA and SV% but hasn’t played since February 21 (ankle injury); Bishop and Lehner have been excellent replacements but three good goalies don’t equal one Vezina. The wins leaders are Minnesota’s Backstrom (only 17th in GAA plus it’s Minnesota), Fleury (almost a career year in SV% and still outplayed by his backup), Carey Price (15th in GAA, 23rd in SV%), Niemi (actually decent numbers– top ten in everything– but it’s Niemi and it’s San Jose), and Nabokov (who’s played a ton of minutes for an Islanders team that’s 28th overall in GAA, ahead of only the Flames and Panthers). Tuukka Rask is 4th in GAA but was just roughed up by Montreal (6-5 shootout loss). Bryzgalov is still waiting for Amnesty Claus. Devan Dubnyk’s had a fine season but is even more obscure than Bobrovsky with worse overall numbers. The strongest non-BOB contender other than Niemi might be the defending Vezina winner; King Henrik is also top ten in everything, though his Rangers have dropped three out of four and .922, 2.19 may seem less impressive after .930, 1.97. Niemi (5th) and Lundqvist (7th) both also have the edge in total goaltender minutes; Bobrovsky is only 14th (though surprisingly, he’s ahead of Rask).

2. If the Blue Jackets actually go from worst to playoffs, the narrative may be overwhelming.
It’s a small sample size, of course, but at the 36-game mark last season, the Blue Jackets were 9-22-5, 87 GF, 123 GA. This season they’re 15-14-7, 87 GF, 97 GA. They’ve scored the exact same number of goals but allowed 26 fewer. Other changes to the team between last season and this season: losing Rick Nash; adding Artem Anisimov (missed 8 games), Brandon Dubinsky (missed 17 games), rookie Tim Erixon, and ex-Canuck (and about 10 other teams) Adrian Aucoin. And a full season of Nikita Nikitin and Dalton Prout. I’m not a huge Nash fan, but I’d call that about even. If Columbus finishes 8th or higher, we’re not just talking Vezina, we’re talking Hart.

3. He improves a historic team weakness more than any other starting goaltender (at least since Luongo became a Canuck).
Tuukka Rask is having a terrific season—15-5-4, .922, 2.02—but the man he effectively replaced, current Islander (wink, nod) Tim Thomas, went 35-19-5, .920, 2.36 last season, 35-11-9, .938 (an NHL record), 2.00 the season before, and won two Vezinas and a Conn Smythe for the Bruins. Rask’s backup, Anton Khudobin, is currently 7-3-0, .925, 2.07. On the other hand, Columbus goalies last season were a collective 29-46-7, .903, 2.98, 28th overall in GA (actually 3.13 if you count empty net goals). And the season before that 34-35-13, .900, 2.92. And the season before that 32-35-15, .902, 2.97. The Blue Jackets’ best single-season goaltending performance in their brief history was Steve Mason’s Calder-worthy rookie season, 2008-9, in which he went 33-20-7, .916, 2.29 with 10 shutouts– thanks mostly to a .919, 2.09 November and a ridiculous .950, 1.41 December during which he recorded half of his shutouts before eventually coming down with mono and falling apart to end the season (.883, 3.08 in April). Mason’s 2013 numbers are somewhat better than the past few seasons but actually below his career numbers as a result of that rookie season: he’s .899, 2.95 this season vs. .903, 2.90 career. And he’s been their number one, when healthy, for four years. And you thought two years in a row of Bryzgalov was bad.

True, this year’s Corey Crawford may be better than last year’s version, and (obligatory Canuck content) what Cory Schneider has done to reclaim the #1 job in Vancouver (7-2-2, .937, 1.76 in March) has been amazing, but no goaltender has done more compared with what came before him in the crease—especially against tough competition (West vs. West this season, remember, and what that involves in terms of both talent and travel; keep in mind that Bryzgalov’s awful numbers have been accumulated exclusively against the East, including bad Southeast Division teams, and with no travel further than Winnipeg, once)—than Bobrovsky.

Photo courtesy of http://bluejacketsxtra.dispatch.com/content/stories/2013/01/18/bobrovsky-works-for-his-minutes.html.