Four years ago, the upstart Anaheim Ducks upset the Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the playoffs and ended up advancing all the way to the Stanley Cup final before falling to New Jersey.
This time around, Detroit is the slight underdog in the Western final. And, despite the Dominik Hasek factor, it’s difficult to imagine small-ish first-liners Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk putting much of a scare into Ducks defenders Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer.
Meanwhile, the Wings are without two of their top three blueliners in Mathieu Schneider (out for rest of the playoffs) and Niklas Kronwall (back by June at the earliest). Nicklas Lidstrom will surely see at least 30 minutes a night and 45-year-old Chris Chelios will be much closer to 25 minutes than the 18 he should be playingÂ…
Two seasons after the NHL lockout, its aftermath still is strangling the NHLPA.
Whatever the result is from the Ted Saskin debacle, it’s good to at least see the union turn the page, fire its executive director and prepare to move forward.
Saskin’s short, post-lockout tenure has been marked by controversy, from his quick hiring to his five-year, $10-million contract (plus plenty of perks) to the allegations of e-mail tampering. The final chapter hasn’t been written; hold on for lawsuits, counter-suits and plenty more he-said, we-said allegations.
The NHL players, certainly, deserve some of the blame for the lack of leadership Â– if they showed more interest in their own union, they’d be oh, so much better off. Still, the NHLPA’s hard-luck history can’t be denied. Alan Eagleson went to prison; Bob Goodenow went from all-powerful to persona non grata; and, SaskinÂ…well, we’re still finding out. Strange, though, his fall from grace. Why fast-forward the hiring process after the lockout? (You know Saskin had to be the NHLPA’s first choice.) Why so much money? (You know it’s just going to upset the recently-locked-out NHLers.) And why, why, why read players’ e-mails?Â…
The East-meets-West Stanley Cup final is shaping up to be a battle of defense versus offense. Eastern Conference finalists Ottawa (3.46 goals per game) and Buffalo (3.00) were 1-2 in playoff scoring, while Western Conference finalists Detroit (1.58 goals-against average) and Anaheim (1.70) were 1-2 in goals against. (Conversely, the Senators were fourth with a 2.09 GAA and the Sabres eighth at 2.42; and, Anaheim was sixth among the 16 NHL playoff teams at 2.60 goals per game and Detroit was seventh at 2.58.)Â…
Beyond the numbers, though, the Senators have been the most impressive team thus far in the 2007 post-season. The No. 1 line of Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley has been unstoppable; Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov have stepped up as the shutdown defense pairing; and, goalie Ray Emery has made the big saves when he’s had to.
And then there’s all that depth. At different times, forwards such as Mike Fisher, Antoine Vermette, Dean McAmmond, Mike Comrie and Chris Neil have elevated their play. Defenseman Wade Redden remains a force at both ends of the ice while Tom Preissing has provided timely offense.
Ottawa is playing with great confidence and hasn’t exhibited any of the flaws Â– soft play, poor goaltending Â– that have foiled the team in past playoffsÂ…
So, if the Senators are as good as they appear, the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Sabres need to turn their fortunes around in a hurry. If Buffalo is going to overcome Ottawa, the Sabres have to vastly improve their power play and penalty killing Â– and do it fast-quick.
The Sabres’ PP was ninth among NHL playoff teams at 14.1 per-cent efficiency; not real bad, but certainly not very good, either. (The NHL average in the regular season was about 17.5 per cent.)
And the news is worse on the penalty kill. At 78.2 per cent, the Sabres ranked 12th among the 16 clubs that advanced to the post-season.
Simply put, NHL teams rarely have great success when their special teams are sputtering. Fortunately for the Sabres, they’ve been flying 5-on-5 Â– no NHL team can match Buffalo’s four-line depth at forward Â– but the Senators are skilled, too, and weren’t outplayed 5-on-5 in Game 1Â…nor on special teams, either.
After opening the scoring on Fisher’s shorthanded goal in Game 1 of the East final, the Sens added two power play goals; Buffalo, meanwhile, went 0-for-6 on the man advantage.