Wednesday, June 12, 2013

2013 Stanley Cup Finals Prediction

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Boston Bruins

This is it. The best team of the regular season versus the best team of the playoffs. shutdown defense versus rapid-fire offense. Brawn versus skill. It is arguable that both teams faced a glimpse of their rival in the conference finals, but I would like to add that that’s all it was. A glimpse.

For Boston, there are a lot of similarities between Pittsburgh and Chicago, but the little differences are what will make this a completely different series. Yes, the Penguins had a more star-studded depth, but Chicago’s depth is filled with role players excelling this postseason. They’ve been tallying points series in, series out. Whereas Pittsburgh seemed to go out of their way to hit Boston more, Chicago is more selective with their hitting. They tend to hit more to keep the puck in the offensive zone, specifically pinching in near the blue line. The Pens were seemingly throwing their bodies around thinking they could throw Boston’s game back at them. Chicago is faster and attempt stretch passes much more than the Pens. Chicago has a stable goalie and team defense that possibly only the Bruins don’t envy. Pittsburgh did have arguably the two best players in the world and several big names in tow, but I just can’t see Chicago’s best players getting shut down the same way. Chicago dominated the Wild, survived the Red Wings and handled the Kings mostly without Kane and Toews. Kane finally woke up in the last couple of games against the Kings. So imagine the high-flying Hawks of the past three rounds with a fully engaged and confident and a productive Toews.

Like the Bruins, the Kings were a big, physical team backstopped by a tremendous goalie, strong defense with scorers and skilled players sprinkled throughout their lineup. Both teams had good production from the blueline and strong performances from young, inexperienced players. But the Bruins are bigger than the Kings. They have better team defense and the ability to completely shut down the best of the opposition. They win a lot more faceoffs because their centers are some of the best in the game. Their depth is more productive and more effective in their roles. Lastly, the Bruins have the hottest goalie this postseason, and we’ve seen before what a hot goalie can do to lead his team to the cup. The biggest difference between the Kings and Bruins is their forwards’ two-way play. They dominate on faceoffs, possess the puck well, attack the net and when the other team gets the puck, will skate back just as hard and play defense. Boston has the ability to agitate the Chicago forwards with defense during play and the ugly stuff between whistles. It may be enough to frustrate Toews and Sharp off their games as evidenced in the Wings and Kings series.

The questions. Which goalie will slump first, Rask or Crawford? Both have been stellar and silenced any doubters through the first three rounds. But whichever team comes out the champion, will need their goalie to stand on his head. Crawford has let in a few soft goals that make me question whether or not he can outplay Rask. Can Chara shut down any or all of Kane, Toews, Sharp and Hossa? Sharp has been productive, Kane has finally awoken, Hossa has been steady and determined, Toews hasn’t produced, but he’s done everything else well. Each of the offensive stars of the Hawks bring something to the table, so even if Chara shuts down one or two of the players mentioned, Chicago is more than capable to bounce back with others. Who will win the special teams battle? Chicago’s PK has been (almost) perfect. Boston’s PP has been terrible. Chicago’s PP has been underwhelming, and Boston’s PK has been strong. Something has to give. It’s much easier to believe that Chicago’s power play will finally come to and be a positive factor. Which’s teams defense will be a bigger factor at both ends of the ice? Boston’s defense maintained offensive production in the conference finals, but they were unbelievable in their own end. Chicago stumbled a few times in their own zone last round, but pinched in well and produced in the offensive zone.

As deep, skilled and dangerous as the Blackhawks are (and as much as I want them to win), there’s something about the Bruins this postseason. Their drive, team hunger and detailed focus at both ends of the ice seemed to be something else this postseason. It’s a coin flip really. Chicago can relentlessly attack the Bruins and work together on defense to squeeze Boston into submission, or the Bruins can hammer the Hawks with big hits, big shots and big stops as they have all postseason. 

Even though my gut tells me the Bruins will win in 6, I have to go with the heart and say

Chicago in 7

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Dallas Stars Unveil New Logo and Jerseys

The Dallas Stars began (or actually continued) their re-branding under owner Tom Gaglardi Tuesday night. Defending Big D did a great job covering the event and have some good reads on the details along with hundreds of reader comments so you can see what fellow fans think of the new look. I'll provide a glimpse and a bunch of photos with my thoughts on the jerseys. Pictures below are via @icethetics on Twitter. 
  • The Dallas Stars will retire Mike Modano's #9 on March 8, 2014, when the Stars host the Minnesota Wild. 
  • A coach has not been hired yet, but Nill was headed north to interview a few candidates. Most likely Dallas Eakins and Alain Vigneault. Hopefully not John Tortorella. 

Personally, I like the new jerseys. Yes, hardcore fans will probably hate the new look, but this is about re-branding and a new beginning under a new owner. I agree that there wasn’t much wrong with the old Stars logo. They could’ve just updated it. And yes, they could have brought back the classic green-and-black jerseys from the Cup-winning game that everyone seems to love. But Gaglardi wanted a new look, logo, color, etc to be the team’s identity going forward. I think they will grow on you with time if you don't start off liking them. At least we can all agree they are better then the current all black or all white DALLAS jerseys. 

The color, named “Victory Green,” is amazing. It’s a unique green with pop. (Unique as in no one else in the league comes close… as long as it’s not St. Patty’s Day.) Green is what the fans asked for, and green is what they got. It seems like there is too much green and too much white on the jerseys, but yet again, they look great when worn. Laces are such a great touch. 

The logo seems a bit too simple at first, but take a look at the Original 6 logos. Simple, classic and amazing. Dallas’ new logo seems a bit off on a screen, but on a body it looks much better. The D really stands out and the logo looks smooth on a worn jersey. On screen, I was way too distracted by the jumpy beveling/layering at the bottom of the D. it seemed cut off. Again, it doesn’t look bad at all when worn.

The shoulder patch is great and can easily translate to the main logo on a 3rd jersey. It would be very much like Minnesota, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, etc, but still very nice.

The logo on the pants is another great piece. This also is a strong alternate jersey logo possibility. 

One big thing that I think needs to be added to strengthen the jerseys is an outline on the numbers and names.

Merchandise on sale, this picture via @FSSW_Girls on Twitter.

So... What do you think of the new look?

Saturday, June 1, 2013

2013 Playoff Predictions: Round 3 (Conference Finals)

Getty Images

(1) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (5) Los Angeles Kings

There is now a blueprint to beating the Chicago Blackhawks: aggressive two-man forecheck, frustrate Toews and lots of physicality. The Kings are more than capable of doing all three. The Kings had a strong forecheck that gave the Sharks fits last round, and they can put pressure on the Hawks’ defenders this round. The Kings are big and tough and should be able to give the small-but-skilled Hawks problems. And who knows how to agitate better than Dustin Brown? Not too many. 

The Hawks head into the conference finals with confidence in Crawford. Yes, he has let in some soft goals and seemed shaky at times, but overall, he has been great for Chicago. Will he be able to match Quick at the other end? Niemi almost did match him, but it wasn’t enough. Crawford has to be good, but his defense has to be even better. As a unit, they took a slight step back against the Wings. Their outlet passes weren’t very smooth, they jumped up on offense a bit too deep a few too many times and were beat behind the net a lot. They did well on rushes (for and against them), but they need to be stronger on the puck and more efficient at getting out of the zone. 

Chicago’s PK is almost perfect, but the Kings have several big players to set in front of Crawford. Pair that with a defense who has been rifling shots well from the point and it looks like Chicago’s PK can be solved. It falls to Chicago’s power play to get better if they want to advance. Yes Chicago netted PPG’s against the Wings, but most of the time they couldn’t even enter the zone and when they shot or dumped it in, were quickly beaten to the puck and left to chase it down the other end. Toews and Kane have to step up their game and the PP has to click to push Chicago through to the finals. 

The Kings are red hot when they need to be, again. Quick is far and away their leading Conn Smythe candidate. Both teams have a strong top-6, but have been gifted with a healthy amount of scoring from their bottom 6. I said before the playoffs that the hawks are great, but I am afraid they can be handled by a physical team. And I think this round will show exactly that.

Prediction: Los Angeles in 7

(1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (4) Boston Bruins

The beast may have awoken. After a few scares against the Islanders and Senators, the Penguins could show that they are the team everyone expected them to be since the trade deadline. but it all comes down to their goaltending and defense. Their leadership, depth and determination has been critical and improved through each round. They can seemingly score goals at will. Their forward depth is the scariest of the remaining teams in the playoffs. 

The Penguins are the highest scoring team in the playoffs, but they now meet a very big, tough defensive team. The Bruins surprised many by replacing three veteran defensemen with rookies and not missing a beat on the ice. Hamilton, Bartkowski and Krug have stepped up big for the Bruins and will need to continue to do so if they have any chance to beat the Penguins. Chara versus Crosby sounds somewhat manageable perhaps, but there’s still Malkin, Neal, Iginla, Dupuis and Kunitz to remember, and there’s still more. Rask has been stellar so far, and as true as it is that he doesn’t have much competition at the other end (unless Fluery wakes), the fact is this is the toughest he can face this postseason. 

Boston might be able to hold Penguins to lower scoring than they’ve been used to the past two rounds, but it won’t matter if they can’t get their offense to wake up. Of course Bergeron and Lucic should lead the way, but Seguin needs to step up. And it’s time for Jagr to show up on the score sheet more. As seen with the Islanders and Senators, the penalty box will have to be avoided as much as possible for the Bruins to have a chance at surviving. The Penguins’ power play is lethal and full of options. It feels like a power play for them is almost a guaranteed goal more often than not. 

What I’ll be looking at closely is the Penguins defense and goaltending. They’ve been ok, just ok, so far. Pittsburgh has been in too many high-scoring games with lower-ranked teams and they now meet a team that can score goals AND shut them down. If the Penguins continue to play sparingly on defense and have less-than-stellar goaltending, this series will end up going to the Bruins, no matter how gifted the Pittsburgh offense is on paper.

Prediction: Pittsburgh in 7