Saturday, August 22, 2020

NHL 2019-20 Playoffs: Round 2 Predictions

As mentioned yesterday, I did even better with my Round 1 Predictions than those for the Play-in, so perhaps my luck is about to run out.

Eastern Conference:

Philadelphia Flyers (1) vs New York Islanders (4)

The top seed in the East versus the best defensive system in the NHL. This will come down to Carter Hart showing he is ready to steal a series, as the Flyers' better offense will be stifled in a way they haven't suffered in the postseason yet. Head coach Alain Vigneault will need to find a way to have his defensemen move the play up-ice to help Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and a rejuvenated Jakub Voracek without becoming liabilities in their own end in the type of game of patience that the Washington Capitals did not feel like partaking in.

The Isles are exactly the type of team that can make a dent in the playoffs, so well coached and methodical that they don't need to have the best line on the ice to win - not that their seven forwards who are able to churn out 60-point seasons under Barry Trotz are devoid of talent, they just don't blindly rely on it.

Offense: Flyers
Defense: Islanders
Goaltending: tie
Coaching: Islanders
My heart: Flyers

My pick: Flyers in 7.

Tampa Bay Lightning (2) vs Boston Bruins (3)

This one pits last year's Presidents Trophy-winning Bolts against this season's recipients, the Teddy Bears, and while both are technically elite teams, the Bruins are aging and more of a one-line team with a good defense, while the Lightning are one of the best teams ever assembled, with All-Stars and Olympians at every position on at least two consistent waves.

Boston's got the better coach, as Tampa's Jon Cooper has seemingly under-performed every year he's been at the helm, with zero Stanley Cups to show for with this crew under GMs Steve Yzerman and now Julien BriseBois, while the Bs made it to the Final last year.

If the Bruins looked disinterested during the Play-In round, they got their act together to eliminate the Carolina Hurricanes in Round 1 and are a legitimate threat to keep rolling; Tampa Bay's downfall might be that they spent the entire season getting ready to face the Columbus Blue Jackets to avenge last season's first-round sweep, and they've already done that, so unless they get the Miracle On Ice team to deliver pre-game pep talks and warning messages, they might forget that they haven't actually won anything yet.

Offense: Lightning
Defense: Lightning
Goaltending: Lightning, because of the two potential back-to-backs
Coaching: Bruins
My heart: Bruins

My pick: Lightning in 6.

Western Conference:

Vegas Golden Knights (1) vs Vancouver Canucks (4)

Marc-André Fleury 's agent Allan Walsh is back to his old tricks, tweeting up a goaltending controversy ten years after igniting the Jaroslav Halak/Carey Price debate. Robin Lehner just wants to show he can play in the postseason and sign a multi-year deal in free agency, but he knew he was going to a team that was already committed to someone else; The Knights will have to decide whether to run with the mistress or work things out with the spouse.

On the ice, the Golden Knights are a lot deeper than the Canucks at every position, not just between the pipes where they have two goalies that are as good as Jacob Markstrom - but they do not have the superstar talent like Elias Pettersen and Quinn Hughes; they do, however, have have experience, brand-name recognition, and the capability to shut down superstars while putting the puck behind the goalie in the other end. Vancouver might not win the series, but they will learn a lot from it, which will help them for years to come.

I will say, however, that I was impressed with Travis Green's coaching in Round 1. I think the Canucks might have a better hockey brain behind the bench, but a team that has Mark Stone and Paul Stastny on the ice has all the hockey IQ it needs to win every game despite that.

Offense: Golden Knights
Defense: Golden Knights
Goaltending: Golden Knights
Coaching: Canucks
My heart: Golden Knights

My pick: Vegas in 6.

Colorado Avalanche (2) vs Dallas Stars (3)

The Avs are just like the Golden Knights: just about perfect and deep everywhere, but with the best offensive line in hockey and a strong second line instead of two #1As, including Nathan MacKinnon, possibly the biggest game-breaker left in the playoffs. Oh, and two #1 goalies in case of injuries.

The Stars just disposed of the Calgary Flames, though, a better team than they were, with a better overall defense than Colorado has - but a lower tier of goaltending. Yet Dallas played most of the series with their own backup - Anton Khudobin - in net, after Ben Bishop got into some injury trouble.

Do not sleep on the Stars, they will win at least two games, three if the top line of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov wakes up. But The Avalanche are just too good to not win the series.

Offense: Avalanche
Defense: Avalanche
Goaltending: Avalanche
Coaching: Stars
My heart: Avalanche

My pick: Avalanche in 6.

Friday, August 21, 2020

NHL 2019-20 Playoffs: Round 1 Post-Mortem

Well, it turns out I was either spot-on or dead wrong with these, with two of the ones I predicted against my wishes being in the ones I erred on, so I'm fairly satisfied with how it turned out.

Let's take a look:

Philadelphia Flyers (1) vs Montréal Canadiens (8)

Prediction: Flyers in 6. Spot on.

The Flyers were the top seed in the East for a reason - they've been the best team in the league since January and continued pressing in the bubble. The Habs stole one and were handed another when Carter Hart failed to shut the door in Game 5, but his teammates didn't let him do that again in Game 6.  This bodes well for Philadelphia going forward.

Tampa Bay Lightning (2) vs Columbus Blue Jackets (7)

Prediction: Blue Jackets in 6. Dead wrong.

Yes, I have been more wrong in my life, but this one stings because I really wanted The Blue Jackets to move on to the second round for the first time in franchise history. I like their mix of players, I like their coach, but ultimately what may have contributed to their downfall was that John Tortorella refused to let himself be John Tortorella; when goalie Joonas Korpisalo started feeling the fatigue of his record-making eight-period, 85-save performance later on in the series, he should have been pulled in favour of Elvis Merzlikins, also a very capable netminder that the team has faith in; the "real" Torts has brass (and golden) balls, no pity, and no patience with his goalies. The big game made him emotional and soft.

It's fair to keep in mind that this is still pretty much the same Lightning team that broke all kinds of records last season, certainly the best-assembled team of the cap era, possibly one of the 10 better lineups of all time. So they had every right to seize their opportunity to move forward.

Washington Capitals (3) vs New York Islanders (5)

Prediction: Islanders in 7. Right team, they needed two fewer games in the end.

I gave the Capitals way too much credit and underestimated this iteration of the Barry Trotz system.

Boston Bruins (4) vs Caroline Hurricanes (5)

Prediction: Hurricanes in 7. Wrong team, gladly.

The Bruins won and they didn't need Tuukka Rask in every game to do so. Their top line is waking up, too. Life is sometimes frustrating, but at least it's starting to make sense again.

Western Conference:

Vegas Golden Knights (1) vs Chicago Blackhawks (8)

Prediction: Vegas in 5. Spot on.

The best-seeded team in the West met the Conference's most flawed roster. Chicago's superstars and playoff experience got the better of the Edmonton Oilers in the qualifying round, but the Golden Knights were ready. They even used both their goalies in back-to-back games, a rare sight in modern playoffs.

Colorado Avalanche (2) vs Arizona Coyotes (7)

Prediction: Avalanche in 4. The Coyotes stole one game.

At this point, only the Golden Knights look like they can win four of seven against this Avs team out West.

Dallas Stars (3) vs Calgary Flames (6)

Prediction: Flames in 5. Stars won in six.

Calgary couldn't recover from losing Matthew Tkachuk early in the series, Dallas won it despite Ben Bishop only suiting up for one game. The Flames' Geoff Ward got a coaching clinic from former 1990s Team Canada bench boss Rick Bowness in this series.

St. Louis Blues (4) vs Vancouver Canucks (5)

Prediction: Blues in 6 or 7. I'm not a fan of the Blues and was rooting for the Canucks, so... yay!

As expected, there were games where St. Louis' Stanley Cup-winning veterans took over the game and bullied Vancouver's skinny kids as a "lesson in winning and effort". What was a nice surprise was that the Canucks applied their opponents' teachings the very next game instead of the following season, and Blues bench boos Craig Berube made the same fatal mistake as Torts did and took out the goalie who got the team back in the series - Jake Allen - to replace him with the guy who had stolen his job the previous year, Jordan Binnington. In the playoffs, you ride the hot hand in nets, loyalty can only be given in first or second games (see: Mike Smith for the Oilers in Game 1 of the Qualifiers). Anything else is asking for trouble.

Each team's MVPs so far:

Flyers: Sean Couturier, but Kevin Hayes is a surprising second
Islanders: Anthony Beauvillier
Bolts: Brayden Point
Bruins: David Krejci
Canucks: Elias Pettersen
Golden Knights: Shea Theodore
Stars: Miro Heiskanen
Avalanche: Nathan MacKinnon, who doubles as the Conn Smythe favourite after one true round plus the qualifiers

Monday, August 10, 2020

NHL 2019-20 Playoffs: Round 1 Predictions

I'm glad to say I didn't fare all that bad in my Play-in Predictions (didn't see both #12 seeds moving on), though you're always aiming at a better than 50% rate, and I think my first-round predictions are worth a read. Sure, I've got a shocker or two in there for good measure, but most of these picks fall within reason.

Eastern Conference:

Philadelphia Flyers (1) vs Montréal Canadiens (8)

The Flyers may have a self-destructive GM in Chuck Fletcher, he was wise enough to hire a top-level coaching staff that will compensate for his own failings such as overpaid free agents and botched trades in the three-headed monster comprised of Alain Vigneault, Michel Therrien and Mike Yeo, each playing to their strengths. Claude Giroux is still a capable leader, Sean Couturier has become an important first-line player, the wingers are tough, the defense is stingy and Carter Hart in net is showing he can be just as good as Jordan Binnington was last year - except in his case, it's exactly the role he was drafted for and destined to take on.

Hart will face his childhood idol Carey Price, who cried on the ice the last time he faced the Flyers as the #1 guy in the 2008 playoffs, unable to solve R.J. Umberger and out-duelled by Martin Biron. The Habs' Big Three did a number on the Pittsburgh Penguins, but they'll be facing guys who will put their own forwards through the same ordeal, so in that case you have to hand it to the best offense to find a way. The Flyers' defense is also much younger and closer to its prime.

Offense: Flyers
Defense: Flyers
Goaltending: Flyers
Coaching: Flyers
My heart: Canadiens

My pick: Flyers in 6.

Tampa Bay Lightning (2) vs Columbus Blue Jackets (7)

It won't exactly be a repeat of last season because it cannot be as quick as last year; the Bolts are prepared for the onslaught the Jackets will bring and spent the first half of the season preparing for just that, losing easy standing points in the process but learning a hard lesson. Tampa still has a recent Norris winner (Victor Hedman), last year's Vezina winner (Andrei Vasilevskyi), and a former Hart and Art Ross winner (Nikita Kucherov) who are sure to play, and a former Rocket Richard winner (Steven Stamkos) who might suit up if the series goes long enough. The high-end talent is definitely there.

But the Jackets have just eliminated the Toronto Maple Leafs, the second-best offense in the Conference... behind Tampa's. They crave this match-up. They're ready and warmed up.

Offense: Lightning
Defense: Jackets
Goaltending: Lightning
Coaching: Jackets
My heart: Jackets

My pick: Blue Jackets in 6.

Washington Capitals (3) vs New York Islanders (5)

No one wants to face a Barry Trotz-coached team in the first round, and no one wants to face the New York Islanders under Trotz - especially not a team that has underwhelmed and under-performed in the round robin, has lost important elements on defense since their last postseason and whose best goalie will not play. Granted, that leaves them with Stanley Cup winner Braden Holtby between the pipes, but judging by the past three regular-seasons, he will be walking away as a free agent this off-season and may not find a job as a #1 in his next stop.

The Isles are very disciplined, extremely balanced, and now deeper than ever thanks to the deadline acquisition of proven playoff performer Jean-Gabriel Pageau.

In this type of match-up, one question is important: can Alex Ovechkin beat the Islanders by himself? The answer is "yes", but it's also "he would pretty much have to", considering the Caps' questionable defense and goaltending. You simply cannot count on and expect a Conn Smythe-worthy performance just to get through Round One, it's just unfair.

Offense: Capitals
Defense: Islanders
Goaltending: Islanders
Coaching: Islanders
My heart: Capitals

My pick: Islanders in 7. In the Bracket Challenge, I chose the Caps, but for my "public face", I feel I'm being more honest by picking Long Island.

Boston Bruins (4) vs Caroline Hurricanes (5)

Neither of these teams should be here; the Canes should be at home heeding tornado warnings and the Bruins should be facing the weakest team in the Conference, but instead, Boston coasted through the round robin trying their best not to get injured - or get anywhere near the puck, for that matter. The "Perfection Line" of Rocket Richard winner David Pastrnak, four-time Selke winner Patrice Bergeron and rat-faced Brad Marchand failed at pretty much everything they attempted in the three games.

And look, both Bruins goalies - Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak - can outplay their counterparts in their sleep (or in a coma), but the fact of the matter is that James Reimer and Petr Mazarek have played extremely well in sweeping the New York Rangers, and they may not be able to withstand that through two months of play, but it's possible they can do it for another ten days. And that's all they need to get through a lifeless Bruins team.

Offense: Bruins
Defense: Hurricanes
Goaltending: Bruins
Coaching: Bruins
My heart: Bruins

My pick: Hurricanes in 7. I don't want Carolina to win. I hate cheering for the Bruins. This is a no-win for me. But I'd rather no-win via Boston moving on, which means they won't.

Western Conference:

Vegas Golden Knights (1) vs Chicago Blackhawks (8)

Although their regular-season standings did not show that, the Golden Knights are not out of place as the first seed in the West; they have a perfect team. I dislike their changing coaches, going from one I like and respect (Gerard Gallant) to one I can't say a good word about (Peter DeBoer) and I feel it was disrespectful to Marc-André Fleury to go with Robin Lehner for two of the three round-robin games, but they're still a heck of a team and while the Hawks do have experience, pedigree, elite-level talent and brand-name recognition, they are nowhere near as deep or balanced as Vegas.

Offense: Golden Knights
Defense: Golden Knights
Goaltending: Golden Knights
Coaching: none
My heart: Golden Knights

My pick: Vegas in 5.

 Colorado Avalanche (2) vs Arizona Coyotes (7)

The Avs are just like the Golden Knights: perfect and deep everywhere. Two #1 goalies? Check. The best line in hockey? Check. The league's most valuable player? Check. The best rookie defenseman? Check. A solid top-4 on D that can play for 50 minutes? Check.

Commend the Yotes for beating the Nashville Predators and outplaying them in every facet to an extent where "hey, it's 2020" isn't a good enough excuse to give that core another shot. But these are the Avs. Sure, Colorado has a learning curve to go through, but they'll face hard lessons in the second round, not here.

Offense: Avalanche
Defense: Avalanche
Goaltending: Avalanche
Coaching: Coyotes
My heart: Avalanche

My pick: Avalanche in 4.

Dallas Stars (3) vs Calgary Flames (6)

I love the Dallas Stars.

Let me rephrase that: I love Ben Bishop, who has not suited up for two straight games. The oft-injured Vezina-worthy netminder may not play in this series, and he's Dallas' only hope. The top line of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Alex Radulov has a combined zero (0) points (not goals, points) in the round robin and defenseman Miro Heiskanen is the only point-per-game player on Dallas this postseason. The only other player with more than a single point on the entire roster is 36-year-old Joe Pavelski, who has two goals.

Against the reigning Stanley Cup champions in the final round robin game, the Stars looked like they were skating in slow motion.

The Flames, on the other hand, went through the Winnipeg Jets like a steamroller, going balls-to-the-wall on every shift and injuring two of the Jets' best offensive threats in the process. To repeat against Dallas, they would have to injure... the Zamboni driver and a pizza delivery person, I guess. Calgary's stars are on a mission to have us forget last year's playofs and their former racist head coach; Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan have a playoff reputation to restore, and their defense is still great.

Calgary's not winning the Cup, but they're moving on to the next round.

Offense: Flames
Defense: Flames
Goaltending: Stars
Coaching: Stars
My heart: Flames

My pick: Flames in 5.

St. Louis Blues (4) vs Vancouver Canucks (5)

The reigning champs - like fellow finalists Boston - had a tough round robin. They failed to win a single game and looked disinterested most of the time. Can they find enough passion to wake up for their slumber before the Canucks take too commanding a lead?

My guess is the Blues' experience will shine through in the end, and they'll get into gear as each game passes, slowing down Vancouver's young and talented - albeit thin - legs. If St. Louis' offensive cannons can make some sort of noise, it'll be an added bonus, but by their depth alone and because they're facing a young and inexperienced group and coach, they'll have the best of the series. They'll need more to advance further, however.

Offense: Canucks
Defense: Blues
Goaltending: Canucks
Coaching: Blues
My heart: Canucks

My pick: Blues in 6 or 7.

Friday, July 31, 2020

NHL Play-In: Western Conference Preview

For the same reasons as yesterday's post about the Eastern Conference, I won't spend too much time on the round-robin portion that is set to position the top four seeds out West. The West has the reigning Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues, as well as the near-perfect and deep Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche, while a case can be made to say the Dallas Stars stole the Edmonton Oilers' spot in a top-four that is less dominant towards the bottom-eight than their Eastern counterparts are, but the presence of Ben Bishop alone is enough to take them seriously.

Wherever these top seeds end up, it's going to be followed by a difficult match-up.

Edmnonton Oilers vs Chicago Blackhawks
The Hawks didn't think they'd be playing meaningful games this Spring/Summer, so they sent their healthiest star goalie to Vegas and kept the one who has had concussion issues for the past two years; this summer, Corey Crawford's also gotten Covid-19. You can never count out Crawford's eliteness or his Cup-winning pedrigree, as well as that of Duncan Keith, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, but the Oilers have two of the three best forwards on the planet in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, and youth should win over experience in this one.

I'm a huge Crawford fan, but I believe Mikko Koskinen is healthier (Mike Smith has a couple of 40-save games left in his fine career, but they are probably not consecutive, which a best-of-five series would require on his part, so logic would dictate he not see more than one or two games in this series). I also believe Edmonton's defense is slightly superior to that of the Hawks.

Where the Hawks have a chance is they have a higher ceiling in their middle-of-the-lineup forward group. I do not believe it beats a team playing at home, with the feverish atmosphere in the city and media, which should be enough to pump this young group up.

Offense: Oilers
Defense: Oilers
Goaltending: Oilers
Coaching: Oilers
My heart: Oilers

My pick: Oilers in 4. It might go to 5 games, because the Hawks have had the Oilers' number all year, but I can't see this 12th seed beating the fifth seed.

Calgary Flames vs Winnipeg Jets
This is the hardest one on me: I find it extremely sad that one of these teams will be eliminated in the next couple of weeks. Both are flawed, both seem on the down swing, but both are very exciting to watch and have elite attacks and top-level goaltending, with Winnipeg getting the edge on the latter with my pick for this year's Vezina Trophy, Connor Hellebuyck.

As a matter of fact, if the Jets weren't in a contract dispute with star defender Dustin Byfuglien, they would have been one of my two favourites to reach the Conference Final (with Colorado), despite their defense losing key pieces like Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot last summer - they're that good - or they would have been.

Without that kind of game-changer, though, I believe a guy like Matthew Tkachuk will have an important role, taking some of the scoring heat off of Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan while attracting the bulk of Winnipeg's cheap shots and anger. And despite Travis Hamonic opting out of this year's postseason, the Flames still boast one of the five best defenses in the league, which will only help David Rittich.

I definitely prefer Calgary's current coach to the one they started the year with, but Paul Maurice's experience might be a factor in at least one game, as is the Jets' superb offensive firepower from captain Blake Wheeler, star centre Mark Scheifele, potential 50-goal scorer Patrick Laine, and all-around talent Kyle Connor.

Offense: Jets
Defense: Flames
Goaltending: Jets
Coaching: Jets
My heart: Jets

My pick: Flames in 5. They have too much to lose, which is where the Jets were last year - except Johnny Hockey and Dirty Matthew can handle five games. Their playoff path will likely end in the first round again this year, however, because I can't see them beating any one of Dallas, Colorado, St. Louis or Vegas when they're through with the Jets.

Vancouver Canucks vs Minnesota Wild
The Canucks finally have a lineup to get excited about, with Elias Petersen, Bo Horvath, Brock Boeser, Quinn Hughes and Jacob Markstrom, and very few people give the Wild a chance, mostly because it seems backup Alex Stalock has supplanted two-time Vezina nominee Devan Dubnyk in nets and an aging group that includes Mikko Koivu, Zack Parise and Ryan Suter - some of the NHL's most expensive veteran players. It's like they never decided to go on a rebuild but never realized they stopped contending, either.

The Canucks, on the other hand, have lost and lost and lost for years - and come up on the other side with prized prospects who are poised to start learning how to win in the postseason. They're another two or three years away from serious contention, but they're on track. This is step one, losing in the first round will be step two.

Offense: Canucks
Defense: Wild
Goaltending: Canucks
Coaching: Wild
My heart: Canucks

My pick: Canucks in 5. I have never believed in the Wild, I will not start today with pretty much the same roster - or same type of roster - they've had since Jacques Lemaire left town.

Nashville Predators vs Arizona Coyotes
I'll admit I'm underwhelmed by this one. The Preds are more boring without P.K. Subban on the back end and Peter Laviolette behind the bench, though I'll admit the latter had passed his due date. And Pekka Rinne is clearly in the twilight of his career at this point, too, as the team's entire offense at this point. Matt Duchene has once again taken the chemistry of a team away, Kyle Turris looks lost, and Ryan Johansen has never lived up to his contract or his own expectations.The defense is still miraculous, and Juuse Saros will probably eventually be really good, but this looks like a team in transition more than the team that almost won the Cup and then followed that with a Presidents' Trophy a couple of years ago.

Arizona... a team that's seemingly always for sale, without a permanent home, without a home city, now without a GM... who two best forwards - Phil Kessel and Taylor Hall - have proven time and time again to be unable to lead teams to victory and whose star defenseman - Oliver Ekman-Larsson - seems like he's evolving out of his prime at just 29 years of age.

I'm not the world's biggest Rick Tocchet fan, but he does have the edge over John Hynes here, because while he didn't win a Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in his previous coaching opportunity, at least he didn't take a dynasty and sink it at the bottom of the league like Hynes did with the New Jersey Devils.

Offense: Predators
Defense: Predators
Goaltending: Coyotes
Coaching: Coyotes
My heart: Predators

My pick: Predators in 5. I do think that failing to qualify for the playoffs would be disastrous for David Poile's Preds, who has made a succession of questionable personnel decisions after being near-perfect for over a decade, but I can't see this Yotes squad accomplishing anything other than pitching two shutouts in five games - their goaltending tandem is that much better than Nashville's offense, but the Predators can still win games with just their blue line.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

NHL Play-In: Eastern Conference Preview

I won't spend too much time on the round-robin portion that is set to position the top four seeds, except to say this: it doesn't really matter. The Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals are by far the best teams in the Eastern Conference and can match up against any of the bottom-eight favourably, while the Philadelphia Flyers know they should be battling it out more seriously against a team that is facing elimination instead of just trying to reach game shape, so they'll still be happy with an 0-3 record but are aiming for a higher seed just so they can perhaps avoid playing a team like the Pittsburgh Penguins too early.

All four of these teams know their Round 1 opponent will be battle-tested and will have faced more recently the pressure of an elimination game.

Caroline Hurricanes vs New York Rangers
The Rangers are one of three teams (with the Montréal Canadiens and Chicago Blackhawks) that have no business playing right now according to their regular-season performances. Don't get me wrong: having a Hart and Linsday candidate in Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad to back him up and feed off of him is great, but the supporting cast of Chris Kreider, Ryan Strome, Pavel Buchnevich and a green Kaapo Kakko is not the kind of depth that scares a top seed. Heck, they'll be facing perhaps the best defense in the league in this series - whether Dougie Hamilton - who should have been on the Norris Trophy finalist list this season - plays or not; Jaccob Slavin is still there, Jake Gardiner can provide some of Hamilton's offense, Brady Skeij was once the Rangers' top guy, Sami Vatanen is a luxury on the second pair, and the likes of Brett Pesce, Trevor Van Riemsdyk, Stanley Cup winner Joel Edmundson and youngster Haydn Fleury can all replace in the middle pairing, be it for a game or a series.

The Rags' defense isn't shabby either, with Tony DeAngelo, Adam Fox, and Jacon Trouba, but they lack the Canes' depth and star power. All three of their goalies - yes, even the aging Henrik Lundqvist - are better than Carolina's.

Offense: Rangers
Defense: Hurricanes
Goaltending: Rangers
Coaching: Hurricanes
My heart: Rangers

My pick: Rangers in 4. The team that scores more goals wins. The Rangers will have a hard time between the red line and the offensive zone's face-off circles, but they'll score on every other shot they take and stop 90% of Carolina's. The math is in their favour.

New York Islanders vs Florida Panthers
This one pits two of the best coaches in the game - the Islanders' Barry Trotz and the Panthers' Joel Quenneville - against each other for a chance to enter the Stanley Cup playoffs. Quenneville's three Cups with the Hawks trumps Trotz' single one from his days with the Caps following a decade building the Nashville Predators into contenders, but Trotz still has the edge because he can remake an entire organization in a single season while keeping more than half the same staff. That's a master tactician at work.

I also want to give the Isles the edge in nets, not because Thomas Greiss or Semyon Varlamov at their best could ever be in the same zone as the Cats' Sergei Bobrovsky, but this is Bob's second-straight sub-par season, and a Varlamov at the top of his game is better than Bob at 80% of his.

If Aaron Ekblad uses this series to pull out of his shell and become the Norris contender he should be, Florida will also have the endge on D, but if he merely remains "pretty good", he and Keith Yandle will get outshined by the Isles' group in a hurry.

Where the matchup is uneven is on offense, as the Panthers boast two of the ten best two-way forwards in the game in Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau, two 90+-point players in their prime who do not fear the opposition's top lines - and they've seen better than Mathew Barzal, Brock Nelson, Anders Lee, and the rest of the 40-point producers from Long Island.

Offense: Panthers
Defense: Islanders
Goaltending: Panthers (I believe!)
Coaching: Islanders
My heart: Panthers

My pick: Islanders in 5. They're too deep and balanced to not advance against the Panthers, but it won't be easy.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs Montréal Canadiens
Forget Carey Price - the NHL doesn't even consider him in the top-10 anymore - and rightfully so. If the Habs are to have a chance, Phillip Danault has to outplay Sidney Crosby and/or Evgeni Malkin (doable in a short series), Shea Weber has to shut down the Pens for 30 minutes per game with Jeff Petry handling the other half (not likely, but stranger things have happened) and the Canadiens' offensive support cast has to outplay Pittsburgh's, with at least one middle-six forward - so, not Danault, Brendan Gallagher or Tomas Tatar - scoring 5 goals in the series (sure, why not?) and the Pens have to forget they can also enter the Montréal zone from the left side (not likely).

These games can all go to overtime - that's how much parity there is in today's NHL - but they will all end in Pittsburgh's favour. They are superior in every way despite being on the back end of their Cup contention window.

This scenario is ideal for Habs GM Marc Bergevin, however: he can claim the team didn't have that bad a season since they made the play-in round and still ice a bad enough team to have a fair shot (25% chance at this point) at the first-overall pick in the next draft, Alexis Lafrenière, a generational talent.

Offense: Penguins
Defense: Penguins
Goaltending: Penguins
Coaching: Penguins
My heart: Canadiens

My pick: Penguins in 2. This is a dress rehearsal for the first round, the intensity will mount with each game, but try as they might, Claude Julien's men will be overmatched.

Toronto Maple Leafs vs Columbus Blue Jackets
No team is facing more pressure than the Leafs. Sure, the Edmonton Oilers are also playing at home for whatever that means in an empty building - the city is still abuzz and the home teams will get preferred treatment in the media in each hub - but the Oilers will benefit from an excitement factor unseen since 2006 while the Leafs have been expected to contend for the Stanley Cup for three years now, and the fans and media are getting impatient.

Add to that the fact that the Blue Jackets swept the Presidents' Trophy-winning Bolts last year and made the play-in despite losing Panarin and Bobrovsky (as well as Ryan Dzingel and Matt Duchene) on the strength of even better team play and even better goaltending from a pair of rookies and you've got a recipe for disaster in the 416.

The Leafs have the second-best offense in the Conference after Tampa, but their defense is questionable and their goalie has had a bad year; the Jackets score by committee,  but both goalies have ranked in the NHL's top-10 for most of the season, helped by the fact that they're playing behind one of the five best defenses in the league (behind Carolina's and Tampa's, on par with Nashville's and ahead of Calgary's).

Offense: Leafs, by far
Defense: Jackets
Goaltending: Jackets
Coaching: Jackets
My heart: Jackets

My pick: Blue Jackets in 5. The smile on John Tortorella's face when he eliminates the Queen City's boys in blue will be worth the NHL Center Ice subscription on its own.

Monday, July 27, 2020

The Best And Cutest Little Dancer

I try to leave minors out of this blog, for all the right reasons.

However, my kid's a cute little fucker:
14 months old, just started walking (now running all over the place at all times), and a star dancer. Also, as you can tell by the bottles on the floor, a juggler-in-training.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Video Of The Week: Pearl Jam

Remember in 1995-1996, when the Smashing Pumpkins could do no wrong and went full-artistic with a double album (Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness) as well as a five-CD set of b-sides to accompany it (The Aeroplane Flies High), producing high-budget stop-motion videos for off-kilter singles like 33 and paying tribute to the films of Georges Méliès (Tonight, Tonight) to go with the heroin chic of Zero?

It looks like that's what Josh Wakely was going for when he pitched Pearl Jam his idea for a video based on their new single Retrograde - not the safest bet as a single:

There are nice images and familiar themes - the "end of the world" / Global Warming / nature fights back theme of Gigaton is omnipresent, there are waves and water galore, the idea of people mixed with tarot cards is neat - but the animation doesn't rock my boat, unfortunately.

This one's a nice effort but a miss. Still, it's the best new video out this week.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Video Of The Week: Pearl Jam

When I first heard Pearl Jam's Superblood Wolfmoon last month, ahead of their new record Gigaton's release, I felt a tad underwhelmed by the song. It had a decent riff, but the lyrics seemed too juvenile at first glance, and I got to hoping they wouldn't play it too often on their upcoming tour, where I'd be seeing them at least twice (Ottawa and Québec).

I didn't listen to it that often, for that reason, but once in a while I would hear it on the radio - and I never listen to the radio, but sometimes when my kid won't sleep, I'll tune in to CHOM (Montréal's last remaining rock station) and dance with him in my arms for a while, and it invariably played.

It's been stuck in my head for a couple of weeks now. The hook is addictive. And Keith Ross and the Tiny Concert animation crew did a fine job of capturing the band's energy in their primitive drawings and giving them life in the official video:

I always feel kind of bad when keyboardist Boom Gaspar is left out of the picture, though. The poor guy's been playing with the band since 2002 and still hasn't gotten promoted to "band member", instead remaining officially a "session and touring musician". Yeah, for one band.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Video Of The Week: Pearl Jam

It's been getting easier in the past 10-15 years to hear direct influences of Pearl Jam's newer songs, from the b-side Down sounding like a less-distorted version of AC/DC's You Shook Me (All Night Long); many people hear a Talking Heads influence in their latest video out today, Dance Of The Clairvoyants, but if you keep in mind The Heads have also influenced modern bands like Arcade Fire, you might also detect an eerie similarity to the Montréal band's own Reflektor:

Don't get me wrong, I'd rather they wear their influences on their sleeve and be true to it in their hearts, it's just that the Rock And Roll Hall Of Famers are clearly on a path where they are a lot less ahead of the curve than when they led the rock world.

Sure, with Gigaton, a record that dives head-first into political messaging and the urgency of global warming, their message is still on point, but the the edge no longer cuts.

Director Ryan Cory does a good job of merging the band's energy (and the track's dance-ability) with images of the earth's beauty and strength. Notice how guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament - essentially the band's founders and co-conspirators since the mid-1980s in Green River, then Malfunkshun and Mother Love Bone - have switched instruments, with Gossard playing (and having come up with) the bass parts and Ament carrying his axe like a rockabilly twanger. 

They're no longer reinventing rock, but at least they're reinventing themselves. And the song's pretty good, too!

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The Best Meteorologist In Canada

Poor judgement? Probably.

Poor taste? Possibly.

Hilarious? Not quite, but almost. (or, as proven in the video, yes, if you know the guy):

Unicorns are people, too.