16 to Watch

Every year, and during every series, there appears a player serving as the catalyst for his team’s advancement.

Sometimes it’s the stars that shine brightest. Other times, though, it’s someone unlikely.

Here is a list of 16 players, one from each team, that could have a huge impact on their first-round series and possibly help their team move forward.

1. Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury’s playoff performances over the past four seasons leaves a lot to be desired. His 14-16 record and .880 SAV may indicate the Cup he won back in 2009 is the outlier rather than the expectation. Fleury got yanked last year against the Islanders in favor of Tomas Vokoun and the Pens advanced all the way to the Conference Finals before being swept by the Bruins. If Pittsburgh has visions of advancing this year, MAF will need to regain his elite-level talent and confidence that was apparent earlier in his career.

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2014 Playoff Preview (Pens/Blue Jackets)

For a while there, it didn’t seem the 2014 playoffs would ever get here. But, alas, the calendar flipped and we are just hours away from the first puck drop of the extended season.

If you listen to the local “talent” or read the slew of blogs and articles, everyone wants to give the Pens a pass as they prepare to host newly-minted Metropolitan Division rival Columbus.

I, too, worried about facing Detroit or Philadelphia in the first round. Detroit, entering their 23rd consecutive playoffs, seems to have a penchant for not only getting there, but for doing some damage once they get there (see Anaheim 2013).

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Late Season Primer

It’s mid-March, seventeen games remaining in the season for our flightless birds.  The Pens sterling home record (24-4-2) bodes well as Pittsburgh plays 11 of their final 17 at the Consol  Energy Center.

 

Making the playoffs is a foregone conclusion as is the Metropolitan Division crown.  The New York Rangers stand 18 points back, 6th overall, followed by Columbus (19) and Philadelphia (19).  The conference lead is a bit more contentious as Boston trails by only three points.

 

Here’s the difference in winning the conference this year:  the top seeds, division winners, still get the lowest seeded wild card teams regardless of conference.  At present, those teams would be either Tampa Bay or Philadelphia.  Understand, though, that teams stationed three through twelve right now are only separated by a mere 10 points and there is plenty of hockey yet to be played.  Now, it may well be likely that New Jersey, Washington and Ottawa do not make it as they need to climb over several teams to get there.  But, it is still possible.

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Pens Need to Say NO to Kesler

Let me put this out there first, I LOVE Ryan Kesler. I think he would be great on this team and it would have been the right trade to make before the Olympics, a mere few weeks ago, when a right winger/3rd center was the only thing we thought we needed. Now we have multiple needs that must be addressed.

I know its only been 2 games but our defense has looked awful. With Paul Martin out 4-6 weeks and Kris Letang out indefinitely, this is what we’re left with. Maata and Niskanen have continued to be our best pair just like they have all year but they need some help. Simon Despres is validating why he hasn’t played all year and Robert Bortuzzo’s ceiling is as a 3rd pair dman who can play a game or two on the 2nd pair if someone is hurt. Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi are both mere shells of what they used to be and Orpik, with  his declining game, is making a hard decision easy for Ray Shero, it will be Niskanen who returns to this team next year and not him. While Scuderi’s own ineffective play no matter who he’s teamed with is likely earning him a ticket to buyoutville, or it should in my opinion anyway. We know Martin will be back before the playoffs and Letang could be but do we really want to continue with these guys for at least the next month and limp into the playoffs as that team who doesnt play d but just tries to outscore everyone, again? We need to add a veteran dman to help us bridge the gap, but not too veteran, we have enough of those getting lost in front of Toews like a wandering Alzheimer’s patient

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Olympic Update: Preliminary Round

What I’ve learned through the preliminary rounds . . .

 

  1. The Swiss, yep those of the chocolate and Army knife fame, can really shut it down.  Through their three preliminary games (Latvia, Sweden and Czechoslovakia), they’ve only surrendered 1 goal, and that was to a pre-tournament favorite in Sweden.  All three of their games have been decided by a 1-0 score.  They’ve only scored two goals, but they will likely be a fashionable upset pick if they can get past Latvia.  Shutting down Latvia and the Czechs is one thing, but their quarterfinal matchup would be against the vaunted Canadians and an upset there would rock the international hockey world.

2.  The Finns, despite huge losses to injury, are fantastic on the big surface and may yet find their way to the medal stand.  I really don’t see how they do it other than being the tournament’s best on paper in net.  But, as is the case in most international tournaments, Finland has positioned itself to threaten again.  The big concern, obviously, is that prior to the tournament, Finland tabbed four players as centers (the Koivu brothers, Valtieri Filpulla and Alex Barkov).  Only Barkov made the trip and now he’s out leaving Finland with very little in the way of centers and possibly paving the way for Russia to advance as they likely meet in the quarterfinals.  Finland has the toughest road of the top four with likely opponents including:  Russia, Sweden and US/Canada winner.

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