Monday, January 18, 2010

Olympic Preview: Group C

With the Olympics approaching, Nonsense Hockey will be breaking down each team group-by-group to give you a little glimpse of how things may shake out in Vancouver. The teams will be ranked by points. After pool play, the top four teams will get a bye and teams seeded 5-12 will play quarterfinal matches. The winners will play the top four seeded teams in a battle for Olympic gold.

Team: Belarus
Current IIHF Rank: 8
Outlook: This may be the best team Belarus has ever fielded. Offensively they may be able to score some goals, with the Kostitsyn brothers (Montreal Canadiens) and Mikhail Grabosvki (Toronto Maple Leafs) possessing NHL abilities that can be showcased on an international stage. Konstantin Kolstov (Salavat Yulayev Ufa) is a speedy playmaker and former first round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins whose quickness is an asset in a more open game on an Olympic-size rink. Defensively Ruslan Salei (Colorado Avalanche) will be leaned on as their top defenseman and Viktor Kostyuchenok’s experience will be invaluable, having played at the World Championships from 2005-2009, being a plus-player on an otherwise minus team three of the five years. Andrei Mezin (Metallurg Magnitogorsk) will likely get the start in goal despite being 35 years of age. He played net at the 2009 World Championships for Belarus, standing on his head with a 1.72 GAA and a .948 save percentage. Belarus has some nice pieces and will compete, but like some of the other bottom-tier countries lack the depth to make a huge splash in Olympic competition.

Team: Finland
Current IIHF Rank: 4
Outlook: The Finns will be a fun team to watch in Vancouver, coming off a silver medal performance in 2006. Miikka Kiprussoff (Calgary Flames) is a rock in goal and can win games almost by himself if he is playing his best (which he usually is). Defensively the Finns are slick-skating with Joni Pitkanen (Carolina Hurricanes) and Kimmo Timonen (Philadelphia Flyers) leading the charge. The Finns play a solid, error-free game and move the puck very well. Offensively they are lead by captain Saku Koivu (Anaheim Ducks) who brings experience and goal-scoring touch. Olli Jokinen (Calgary Flames) is a world-class offensive weapon, and the “Finnish Flash” himself, Teemu Selanne (Anaheim Ducks) is no stranger to playing on the world stage. Finland is solid and play a very tight game, something that is very important in a short tournament.

PREDICTION: Bronze medal

Team: Germany
Current IIHF Rank: 12
Outlook: The team will be well-coached, lead by former NHLer Uwe Krupp and will be looking to medal for the first time since its bronze medal 78 years ago. Unfortunately for the Germans, it’s not likely to come this Olympics. Goaltending is shaky, with San Jose Shark Thomas Greiss likely getting the starting nod. Defensively, Christian Ehrhoff (Vancouver Canucks) is reliable and Jakub Ficenic (ERC Ingolstadt) can shoot the puck hard and is a good offensive weapon from the point. Dennis Seidenberg (Florida Panthers) is a slick but quiet defenseman who goes unnoticed but plays fundamentally sound. Offensively Marcel Goc (Nashville Predators) will be leaned on heavily, as will Marco Sturm (Boston Bruins), but after those two the scoring falls off drastically. Philip Gogulla (Portland Pirates), who is Buffalo Sabres property, may chip in offensively but is not the game-changer that Germany desperately needs in its line-up. After finishing 10th in Italy, things don’t appear to have changed a whole lot for Germany.


Team: Sweden
Current IIHF Rank: 3
Outlook: The Swedes will be defending their gold medal in Vancouver, but unfortunately their efforts may be in vain. Despite being rock solid in net with Henrik Lundqvist (New York Rangers) who is perhaps one of the top two or three goalies in the world, the team is lacking offensively. The back end is set, with Nicklas Lidstrom (Detroit Red Wings) who has a Norris trophy for every day of the week, and Nicklas Kronwall (Detroit Red Wings) who is a smooth-skating defenseman who tallied 45 assists last year for the Wings. Tobias Enstrom (Atlanta Thrashers) is another diminutive Swede who skates well, play his position very well, and has a nice play-making touch. Offensively the Sedin twins (Vancouver Canucks) will be the focal point of the offense with Peter Forsberg (Modo) and Daniel Alfredsson (Ottawa Senators) aging. Nicklas Backstrom (Washington Capitals) is a world-class play maker who could very well find himself centering Alfredsson come February. Henrik Zetterburg (Detroit Red Wings) is another sniper who can change a game by himself, perhaps being the best pure scorer on the roster. The Swedes have an uphill climb to defend their gold, however, with other nations simply boasting more depth and talent.


Gold medal: Canada
Silver medal: Russia
Bronze medal: Finlan
4th place: United States
5th place: Sweden
6th place: Czech Republc
7th place: Switzerland
8th place: Slovakia
9th place: Belarus
10th place: Latvia
11th place: Germany
12th place: Norway

Group A Preview
Group B Preview

That's all for our Olympic preview. The Olympics will be a fantastic tournament with a lot of open ice for the top players in the world to showcase their creativity.

I may chime in with quick hits later today. The AHL All-Star game is in Portland, Maine, tonight, so we'll undoubtedly be dicussing that and some of the best up-and-coming talent in the world.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Quick Hits For 1/17/10

With the whole ref debacle, hits to the head, and other nonsense going on, it has been a busy 24 hours.


-TSN and the Boston Globe are both reporting that the Bruins are scheduled to open up play in Prague for the 2010-2011 season. Their opponent will be the Phoenix Coyotes. I can't really say that is an interesting opening night game, but it's not for us, it's for them.

-For any of those of missed the Ryan Wilson on Patrik Elias hit from last evening, the clip is below. Wilson claims it was a clean check, and that Elias simply had his head down. Maybe so, however, it doesn't mean that it won't add fuel to the fire on trying to ban hits to the head. Wilson followed "the code" later in the game by accepting a fight challenge from Mark Fraser. Speaking of "The Code", everyone should check out that book. Very rich and compelling stuff.

Wilson hit on Elias:

-With the Olympics this year, that means no All-Star game. TSN came up with their starting line-ups for each squad should thereof been a game. Cannot really disagree with those names. At first, Chris Pronger was a question mark to me. I had no idea that he is having a ridiculous season in Philly. Posting 6 goals and 26 assists, which would make him a shoe-in. Not to mention he is +18. As the article mentions, Mike Green was left out, but Tyler Myers has been outstanding as a rookie. He is a serious contender for the Calder trophy, pending Tavares or Duchene do not go on scoring tears. Nevertheless, one must realize that Myers is a defenseman; he is not going to post 60 points.

-Rick DiPietro received a loud ovation for his return to Long Island last night. He was able to pick-up the victory in a thrilling 3-2 shootout win over Buffalo.

-Earlier this week we touched on the upcoming movie, The Tooth Fairy. Well at the Staples Center yesterday, the film's star, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson made an appearance by dropping the puck at a ceremonial faceoff. You can also go hear what The Rock has to say about the movie as well.

-The NHL donated $100,000 to UNICEF for Haiti relief. A classy move made by the NHL. For those of you who wish to donate, or would like to help those in need in Haiti, click here. The NHL headquarters were not the only ones helping either. Teams from all around the league were helping out in one way or another. Through 50/50's, collections, and raffle money; teams found a way to help.

-Interested in seeing whom the fan's thought the decade’s best in the NHL are? Well has that list and more.

I was going to post some predictions for the remaining games tonight to try to help Buottes career prediction record! However, I did not want to do that without his approval. So, maybe another night I shall do just that. Look out for Buotte's Olympic Preview: Group C and more Nonsense tomorrow!

Good night.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Refs Botch Another One

In the wake of the entire Stephane Auger fiasco, this was the last thing the NHL needed; another botched replay that calls the integrity of the game and the sanity of NHL officials into question. The play in question came in the 6th round of the shootout during the 1/16/09 game between the Dallas Stars and Detroit Red Wings. Steve Ott appeared to have slipped the puck under Wings' goalie Jimmy Howard, but referee Rob Martell, in perfect position, very adamantly waived the goal off.

NHL rules state that if a call on the ice is to be overturned there must be substantial video evidence to back up overturning a call. In this case there was none whatsover--just the word of Mike Leggo, the trailing official who claims he saw what no video camera could--the puck crossing the goal line. Here is the play in question:

What is the point of having video replay if it's not going to be used for it's intended purpose? With two teams battling for a very important extra point, assuming the puck crossed the line and going against standard practice, which is substantial video evidence, is absurd. Yet, for the second time in a few days, we have an officiating controversy. Maybe the call was correct, but the point is that we cannot assume a puck crossed the line. It's an injustice to the Red Wings, who for the second time this season have been on the wrong end of, plainly stated, an incorrect call. Coincidentally or not, both games were against Dallas.

I do support the instant replay and getting the call right; but if the replay can't show it, one official who is eighty feet away should not be able to determine a point in the standings, especially when the official who is two feet away in correct position very emphatically said the goal was no good. I'm sure Wings GM Ken Holland will have something to say about this at the next GMs meeting. I think the officials need a meeting, especially after the last few days, to set the record straight and get back to making the correct calls.


-There was plenty of afternoon action on this Saturday, including the Colorado Avalanche bouncing the New Jersey Devils at home, 3-1. The Los Angeles Kings snagged an extra point from Boston in a shootout, 4-3, and the Chicago Blackhawks rallied behind three points a piece from Jonathan Toews (2 G, A) and Patrick Kane (3 A) to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets in a 6-5 slugfest.

-Tobias Enstrom of the Atlanta Thrashers passed legend Yannick Tremblay for the franchise record in scoring by a defenseman. Enstroms 108 career points eclipsed Tremblay's 107 in a 5-3 win over Carolina Saturday night.

-A couple key injuries: Patrick Elias suffered an injury in the Devils loss Saturday. Updates on the severity are expected on Sunday. Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is listed day-to-day with a fractured finger in his catching hand. He did not start the team's final game of a brief west coast road trip in Vancouver Saturday night.

That's all for today; more Nonsense tomorrow.


Olympic Preview: Group B

With the Olympics approaching, Nonsense Hockey will be breaking down each team group-by-group to give you a little glimpse of how things may shake out in Vancouver. The teams will be ranked by points. After pool play, the top four teams will get a bye and teams seeded 5-12 will play quarterfinal matches. The winners will play the top four seeded teams in a battle for Olympic gold.

Team: Czech Republic
Current IIHF Rank: 6
Outlook: I really like the looks of this team on paper. The 2006 bronze medalists are back with a solid roster and have solid firepower throughout their line-up. In goal, Tomas Vokoun (Nashville Predators) is solid with Olympic experience and has the potential to steal a game here and there. What stands out is their holes defensively; Pavel Kubina (Atlanta Thrashers) and Marek Zidlicky (Minnesota Wild) will anchor the defense, but after that your best option is either Filip Kuba (Ottawa Senators) or Jan Hejda (Columbus Blue Jackets). Offensively the team should be able to bury the puck, with Martin Havlat (Minnesota Wild) and former NHL stud Jaromir Jagr (Avangard Omsk) leading the charge. Patrick Elias (New Jersey Devils) is a quiet leader who will captain the team and David Krejci (Boston Bruins) is a slick playmaker who would look good on a line with Jagr. This team will hold its own and score some goals, but at the end of the day may not have the depth necessary for a short tournament like the Olympics.


Team: Latvia
Current IIHF Rank: 10
Outlook: Latvia is playing in it’s fourth Olympics and third consecutive after going 66 years between appearances. After finishing 12th in 2006, there is certainly room for improvement and this team may be able to build on its disappointing finish in Italy. A team short on NHL talent (four North American players) and long on Dinamo Riga players (fourteen) the team may be troubled defensively. Latvia did tie the United States in 2006, something they look to build on here. They also had Arturs Irbe between the pipes then. Edgar Masalskis (Dinamo Riga) will likely be the starting goaltender after starting all seven Olympic qualifying games and putting up stellar numbers which included a 2.53 GAA and a .928 save percentage. Martins Karsums (Norfolk Admirals) and Herberts Vasiljevs (Krefeld Pinguine) are two of the teams top offensive threats, and captain Karlis Skrastins (Dallas Stars) will anchor the back end, but they simply don’t have the depth to run with the big guns, especially having to face Russia, Czech Republic, and Slovakia in pool play. Tough draw there.


Team: Russia
Current IIHF Rank: 1
Outlook: This team is certainly going to be fun to watch, if nothing else. The goaltending is set with Evgeni Nabokov (San Jose Sharks) and the offense is going to be lights out. Hockey purists are already dreaming of seeing Alexander Ovechkin (Washington Capitals), Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh Penguins), and Ilya Kovalchuk (Atlanta Thrashers) working together to create what could be the most explosive Olympic hockey team in recent memory. Round that out with other dynamic players such as Pavel Datsyuk (Detroit Red Wings), Alexander Semin (Washington Capitals), and Maxim Afinogenov (Atlanta Thrashers) and you have a team that will score goals by the bunches. Defensively the team needs a shutdown defenseman or two, but Sergei Gonchar (Pittsburgh Penguins) will be steady along with Andrei Markov (Montreal Canadiens). The team is not built on playing defense, it’s built on scoring goals—and a lot of them. In a short tournament like that, that’s okay. They may rely on Nabokov to bail them out, but all they have to do is get the puck over the oppositions blue line and they become an automatic threat to start lighting up the scoreboard. A deep run is almost guaranteed and I look to see Russia competing for gold against Canada in 2010.

PREDICTION: Silver medal

Team: Slovakia
Current IIHF Rank: 8
Outlook: Slovakia is coming off its best Olympic finish ever, a 5th place showing in 2006, but I look at 2010 as a step backwards for Slovakia. Goaltending is suspect; it’s a toss-up between the young Jarsolav Halak (Montreal Canadiens) and Peter Budaj (Colorado Avalanche). Budaj did play well in 2006, going 2-1-0 with a 2.01 GAA, but Halak may get the nod over Budaj despite Halak’s inexperience. Defensively the team can push the play on the back end with Zdeno Chara (Boston Bruins), Lubomir Visnovsky (Edmonton Oilers), and Andrej Meszaros (Tampa Bay Lightning) all being experienced puck movers who can shoot the puck and start the breakout. Offensively the team runs thin, with a significant falloff after Marian Hossa (Chicago Blackhawks) and Marian Gaborik (New York Rangers). Case and point? Jozef Stumpel (Barys Astana) and Zigmund Palffy (HK 36 Skalica) will both be counted on to score goals. That could be a problem. It will be fun to see Marcel Hossa (Dinamo Riga) and Marian Hossa playing together, should they be on the same line. Overall, despite having some elite level scorers, there is a significant drop-off on the bottom three lines and the Slovaks simply cannot compete with the big guns in this tournament.


Stay tuned as I may get some quick hits and predictions in before tonight's action. The Group C preview is upcoming for tomorrow at Nonsense.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Olympic Preview: Group A

With the Olympics approaching, Nonsense Hockey will be breaking down each team group-by-group to give you a little glimpse of how things may shake out in Vancouver. The teams will be ranked by points. After pool play, the top four teams will get a bye and teams seeded 5-12 will play quarterfinal matches. The winners will play the top four seeded teams in a battle for Olympic gold.

Team: Canada
Current IIHF Rank: 1
Outlook: How can you pick against Canada? The 2002 gold medalists are looking to reclaim what’s theirs, and they may just have the team to do it. There are no questions in goal with Marty Brodeur (New Jersey Devils) likely being the number one guy and with Roberto Luongo (Vancouver Canucks) and Marc-Andre Fleury (Pittsburgh Penguins) waiting in the wings just in case. They do have a young team, with forwards Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins) and Jonathan Toews (Chicago Blackhawks) both making their first Olympics and being 22 or under. Drew Doughty (Los Angeles Kings) on the back end is a ripe twenty years of age and will be getting his feet wet in Olympic competition.

There will be no questions about youth when it comes to the rest of the line-up. The team has a nice mix offensively, with finesse and power. Corey Perry (Anaheim Ducks) will dazzle; Rick Nash (Columbus Blue Jackets) will bang in his rebounds. There is a nice veteran presence as well, with Brodeur, captain Scott Neidermayer (Anaheim Ducks), and sniper Jarome Iginla (Calgary Flames) rounding out the roster. All in all the team has perhaps the most firepower in the line-up, and when you can afford to leave a guy like Mike Green off of your roster, you know you’re in good shape.


TEAM: Norway
Current IIHF Rank: 11
Outlook: Norway will likely struggle in this pool, lacking the firepower and experience to compete at the international level. Not only that, they’ve got to face the U.S. and Canada in preliminary play and haven’t been to the Olympics since 1994. Defensively the team is respectable, with Philadelphia Flyer Ole-Kristian Tollefsen anchoring a relatively solid back end. Lars Erik Lund (Valerenga) is a veteran presence and has played for Norway since 2004, but after sustaining an eye injury in 2008 it’s questionable how effective he’ll be. Offensively they will likely key off of Per-Age Skorder (Modo), who led the Swedish league in points in 2009. Tore Vikingstad (pictured above, Hannover Scorpions), a former 6th round pick of the Blues, will be counted on to contribute as will 21-year-old Martin Laumann Ylven (Linkoping), who represented Norway in the 2005 and 2006 U-18 Championships, the 2007 and 2008 U-20 Championships, and the 2009 World Championships. Pal Grotnes (Stjernen) will likely be counted on to be the starting goalie. In Olympic qualifying in 2009 he played in three games with a 2.00 GAA and a .910 save percentage and posted a solid .901 SVP at the 2009 World Championships despite a porous defense in front of him. Wins may be hard to come by for an upstart country like Norway, but competing is all the Norwegians are really looking for.


Team: Switzerland
Current IIHF Rank: 7
Outlook: This team may actually surprise people in Vancouver. Goaltending is solid; Martin Gerber (Atlant Mytischi) will likely get the starting nod, although Jonas Hiller (Anaheim Ducks) is proving his worth at the NHL level. Defensively the team is solid, with Luca Sbisa (Portland Winterhawks) on the back end. Mark Streit (New York Islanders) provides a great power play option and is a good puck-mover. Hnat Domenichelli (HC Lugano) and Yannick Weber (Hamilton Bulldogs) will be threats offensively, though Martin Pluss (SC Bern) is a veteran with a good scoring touch, posting 4 points in 9 previous Olympic games and registering four points in six games at the World Championships last year. The team has not medaled since 1948 and there isn’t enough here to say that they’ll do that this year, but they could definitely open a few eyes by being solid enough to squeak out some points. They don’t have the firepower to compete with the Russias and Canadas of the world, but they must just have that Olympic magic.


Team: United States
Current IIHF Rank: 5
Outlook: The United States is anything but a favorite, but according to GM Brian Burke, that’s the way they like it. The team will be solid in net, with Ryan Miller (Buffalo Sabres) likely getting the starting job with good competition from Tim Thomas (Boston Bruins). Defensively the team is young and relatively inexperienced. Jack Johnson (Los Angeles Kings) and Erik Johnson (St. Louis Blues) will be making their first Olympic appearances. Overall, the team is solid on the back-end, though it could use another puck-moving defenseman. Brooks Orpik (Pittsburgh Penguins) will be a nice fit and Brian Rafalski (Detroit Red Wings) will be the rock on the back end and is competing in his third Olympics.
Offensively the team will key off of young stars Bobby Ryan (Anaheim Ducks), Phil Kessel (Toronto Maple Leafs), and Patrick Kane (Chicago Blackhawks), all of whom are playing in their first Olympics. Chris Drury (New York Rangers) and Jamie Langenbrunner (New Jersey Devils) are the gray beards on this team, the only other Team U.S.A. players with Olympic experience. This team may be offensively challenged when stacked up against Canada, Russia, and even Sweden and Finland. They should take care of Switzerland and Norway in pool play and will likely be seeded 5th or 6th going into the quarterfinals. I expect a deep run from this club, but they may be lacking the firepower to medal in Vancouver.


Make sure to check back for our Pool B & Pool C previews that will be coming in the next few days.