The Eastern Conference playoff quarterfinal matchups present some interesting games to watch. Each series promises to be a hard fought battle and the team with the most skill and resiliency will come out ahead.
Here’s a sneak peak at each matchup:
1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 8) New York Islanders: The Pittsburgh Penguins have been on autopilot for most of the season despite being without Sidney Crosby for the past 12 games. The veteran Penguins will take on an inexperienced Islanders team that is relying heavily on goaltender Evgeni Nabokov and young forward John Tavares. The Penguins who’ll be going for their 4th Cup, are loaded with experience and grit, and added more with the deadline acquisitions of Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow. Sidney Crosby is slated to miss game one, and it’s not sure exactly when he’ll return. Needless to say, there’s enough offence to go around. As for the Islanders, it’s all about their offence, hard work and good goaltending. John Tavares is growing into quite the offensive force, and is well supported by Matt Moulson and a fiesty, gritty group as well. This could be a fun series. Players to watch are James Neal and Chris Kunitz for Pittsburgh and Tavares, Moulson and Evgeni Nabokov. As good as Pittsburgh is, this Islanders team could give them fits. Prediction: Penguins in six.
2) Montreal Canadiens vs. 7) Ottawa Senators: This will be the only first round-all Canadian series amongst the 16 teams. Montreal who slipped down the stretch is still the favourite of this series, but by a slim margin. Goaltender Carey Price of the Canadiens hold the future of this Montreal club in his hands. In a turnaround season for Montreal they will need a collective effort from everyone to get past Ottawa. As for the Sens, they’ve battled adversity all season long with injuries to Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson and Craig Anderson. A number of younger players chipped in and helped overcome the challenges that Ottawa faced. Players to watch are rookies Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk of Montreal and Daniel Alfredsson, Cory Conacher and defencemen Erik Karlsson and Sergei Gonchar for Ottawa. Prediction: Montreal in seven.
Although Pittsburgh Penguins’ forward Sidney Crosby has had a firm grasp on the Hart Trophy for the majority of the 2012-2013 season, his recent injury has opened up the door for several other skaters around the league to potentially take home this year’s MVP award. The most surprising name now beginning to be muttered around NHL circles as a potential Hart candidate has to be the once dormant Washington Capitals’ forward, Alex Ovechkin. In his last 12 games, Ovechkin has led the Capitals to the top of the Southeast Division by scoring an astounding 21 total points in that time. While these exploits may sound heroic and worthy of Hart Trophy consideration, a closer look at Ovechkin’s statistics this season show that his success this year may not be as impressive as some people initially thought.
Note: Statistics are accurate as of the morning of April 9th, 2013.
A Closer Look At Alex Ovechkin’s Statistics
- Of Ovechkin’s 25 goals this season, 15 have been scored against goaltenders who started the 2013 season in the AHL or as a backup – Bishop, Markstrom, Clemmensen, Ellis, Peters, Montoya, Enroth, Hedberg.
- Of Ovechkin’s 25 goals, 14 have been scored against the Jets, Panthers, Hurricanes, and Lightning – all four of which are in the bottom 8 of goals allowed per game in the entire NHL.
- Ovechkin has 89 more shots than the next highest player on the Capitals’ roster. This is the largest player shot disparity in the NHL – the 2nd largest is Evander Kane with 50 more shots than the next highest player on the Winnipeg Jets.
Ovechkin’s Most Frequent Victims
- Florida Panthers: 6 Goals Scored – Team GAA: 3.36 – 29th in the NHL
- Carolina Hurricanes: 3 Goals Scored – Team GAA: 3.16 – 28th in the NHL
- Winnipeg Jets: 3 Goals Scored – Team GAA: 2.95 – 23rd in the NHL
- Buffalo Sabres: 3 Goals Scored – Team GAA: 2.92 – 22nd in the NHL
What Does It All Mean?
Upon closer review of Ovechkin’s impressive goal total this season it seems as if I have found a common trend. While there is no doubt that scoring 25 goals in just 39 games is very impressive regardless of the circumstances, the fact that Ovechkin has seen the majority of his success against inferior opponents should factor into his Hart Trophy consideration.
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If Florida Panthers fans can find one bright spot in next year’s division realignment plan, it’s that they no longer have to face the Washington Capitals six times a season. Over the past few years, no team has frustrated the Cats more than their division rival from the US capital. This season alone has been a microcosm of that frustration as the Panthers entered Saturday’s game 0-2-1, including a pair of blowout losses on the road. This game took on much of that same look as the Caps built a 4-0 lead through two periods. Despite a furious third period rally, the Panthers fell 4-3 in their final game against Washington as a division opponent.
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If there’s a bright side to the 7-1 pistol whipping the Florida Panthers took from the Washington Capitals Thursday night was the news that the now NHLPA-approved realignment plan would mean less trips to the Verizon Center. Outside of that, the game was a complete disaster that saw the Capitals take a 4-0 advantage less than nine minutes into the first period. Goals from John Erskine and former Panther Wojtek Wolski chased starting netminder Jacob Markstrom (the only two shots he faced) 3:10 into the game.
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FLORIDA PANTHERS: 7-11-5 (19 PTS.) vs. WASHINGTON CAPITALS: 9-11-1 (19 PTS.)
GAMEDAY SONG: GROWIN’ UP
Tonight’s matchup between the Florida Panthers and the Washington Capitals could be labled as the battle of the basement, however it’s clearly more about two teams that have been enormously disappointing. The two clubs who fought tooth and nail for much of last season for the Southeast division crown, now find themselves scratching and clawing for a playoff spot in what could be the weakest or least challenging division of the six. The Capitals who on paper should be in a better position than they are, have underachieved. This is a roster that has Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green and Wojtek Wolski. Alright, kidding about the last one, but with all the talent that the Caps have, their record should be better.
The leading point producer for Washington is Mike Ribeiro, a player who is talented, sneaky and pesky at the same time. Ribeiro has eight goals and 17 assists for 25 points, and has five power play goals which tie him with Alex Ovechkin for the team lead. Speaking of Ovechkin, when has he ever been such a non factor? In 21 games Alex has eight goals, nine assists, is a minus 4 and has been a real enigma this season. He’s shown periods of disinterest, flashes of his old self, and of course embarassing academy award performances like this. He’s basically hit the trifecta of confusion. If not for his four point night against the New Jersey Devils on February 23rd, his seasonal numbers would look even more bleak.
There aren’t many times in the National Hockey League that you score five goals, even strength goals at that, and lose the game. And, there also aren’t many times that you have a two goal lead with just over five minutes to play and lose. Yet, that’s just what the Florida Panthers did in Tuesday’s loss 6-5 overtime loss to the last place Washington Capitals. The heartbreaking loss comes three days after this same Capitals teams ran the Cats out of DC with a 5-0 thrashing.
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By the time tonight’s game has been completed the Florida Panthers will have finished the first quarter of the season, and will have played one of four important home games on the schedule this week. With eight points on the line, it’s vital for the Panthers to grab as many of them as possible. Being greedy and getting at least six of eight would be the ideal situation. However just because these four games are at home doesn’t mean that they’ll be eight easy points to grab. Two of the four games are within the division (Washington and Tampa), while the other two are against Canadian foes (Montreal and Toronto). All four teams have their sites on the post season.
That said tonight’s game against the WashingtonCapitals is crucial. The Panthers are 0-6-0 against Washington in their last six meetings, and must reverse that trend. The 5-0 shellacking on Saturday was an awful finish to what otherwise could be deemed as a successful road trip. Hard to be upset with 5 of 8 points on the road, but the poor effort Saturday night clearly overshadowed the 2-1-1 record. With the home ice advantage the Panthers will need to start each game quickly, and with energy. I’d like to see them start out by laying the first hit or two to set somewhat of a physical tone, and play with energy. At times it appears that these elements of their game are lacking. Couple that with the first goal, and you have the crowd behind you, and your confidence grows stronger.
Throughout this homestand and especially tonight, the goaltending and defence will need to be better. Washington and Tampa Bay have explosive scoring capabilities, while Montreal and Toronto use their team speed to create scoring chances. There may be a game during this homestand that our goaltenders will have to “steal”. With Ed Jovanovski still about a week away from game action, Tyson Strachan remains in the lineup, and Erik Gudbranson will finally play in front of the home crowd for the first time this season. The goal differential however has a spread of 15. Meaning that the Panthers have given up 15 more goals than they’ve scored. At times they’ve looked good, but at others, not so much. Too much traffic in front of the net that’s not being cleared out, and too many odd man rushes with players getting good looks at the goaltender, and being able to finish their play. The Panthers can ill afford this trend to continue, and need to have things cleaned up starting tonight.
If the Florida Panthers needed a reminder that they’re still capable of playing really terrible hockey, that reminder slapped them in the face in Saturday’s 5-0 drubbing against the Washington Capitals. Coming into the game, the teams were headed in the opposite direction. The Panthers had won three out of their last four, collecting seven points in the process. The Capitals, on the other hand, had lost five out of their last six and found themselves 30th place in the league. None of that mattered as the Caps simply whipped the Cats from the opening face off.
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FLORIDA PANTHERS: 4-5-1 (9 PTS.) vs. Washington Capitals: 2-8-1 (5 pts.)
Game Day Song: Working On The Highway. Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band
The final game of a long road trip can be a dangerous one from a few angles. Players are weary, tired of living our of suitcases, traveling, and potentially have their minds on getting home rather than finishing the task at hand. The Florida Panthers will play their fourth game of this week against the Washington Capitals tonight in D.C. and then return home to the sunshine and warmth of South Florida. The good news is that the Panthers have grabbed five of six points on the trip so far, and the prospect of facing the struggling Capitals tonight could leave them with seven of eight if they come out with a victory. All in all since their victory over Winnipeg at home, the Panthers have taken seven out of eight points in their last four games, and have scored an average of 3.5 goals per game in that span. Prior to that during an 0-5-0 streak Florida scored five goals total. While not a model of consistency, things are looking up since the five gam,e losing streak. Remember when I told you not to panic?
A big boost to Florida’s confidence has to be the come from behind victory on Thursday against the Philadelphia Flyers, which they won in the shootout no less. After trailing 2-1 heading into the third period, the Panthers managed to tie the game at two when Stephen Weiss picked up his first goal of the season (on the power play) with just over 11 minutes remaining. Then goaltender Jose Theodore held off the Flyers the rest of the way, as the Panthers needed to kill two third period penalties as well to get to extra hockey. The overtime period was all Philly as they otushot Florida 5-0, but Theodore stood tall, and looked confiedent going into the skills competition. Jonathan Huberdeau and Peter Mueller scored for Florida beating Ilya Bryzgalov, while Matt Read and Claude Giroux were stuffed by Theo. It was yet another gutsy victory by the Panthers who once agaion displayed their hard working style which made them so effective last season. The victory for Theodore was his third in a row as he heads into Washington:
“Coming in here and getting two points is huge for our confidence,” said Theodore, who’s 1-5-0 with a 3.88 goals-against average in his last seven games as an opponent at Washington.
Tomas Fleischmann is the type of hockey player that every general manager wishes they had on their team. Not only is he respectful off the ice, he also shows great sportsmanship on it. Although he isn’t the prolific scorer that he once was in his WHL days (Western Hockey League), Fleischmann’s knowledge of the game and ability to perform at a high level is what sets him apart from many other forwards. With that being said, the number two player on the list of Top Ten Florida Panther Players from Last Season is; Tomas Fleischmann.
Games Played: 82
Game Winning Goals: 4
Tomas Fleischmann, in my opinion, is a great example of what a player in the NHL should be. Not only is he tough, he is also a player who respects the game and players throughout the league. After being drafted 63rd overall by the Detroit Red Wings in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, Fleischmann immediately made the move from the Czech Republic to the United States to play in the Western Hockey League. After what was a very successful WHL career, Fleischmann’s rights were traded to the Washington Capitals along with draft picks for center Robert Lang. On June 1st, 2006, a year and a half after being traded to Washington, Fleischmann signed his first NHL entry level contract. However, Fleischmann would go onto spend a majority of those first three years with the AHL playing for the Capitals affiliate teams.