Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Contenders? Pretenders? Claude Lemieux?

As the All-Star break approaches, it's natural to take a look at the standings and begin to make Stanley Cup predictions. We break down the top 3 Cup contenders in each Conference, as well as the biggest pretender in the playoff picture.

Eastern Conference

1. Boston Bruins
How can you pick against the mighty Bruins? The B's are 33-8-5 and haven't even allowed their 100th goal of the season yet through 46 games. With the solid goaltending tandem of Manny Fernandez and All-Star Tim Thomas, the Bruins look to finally be in a position to not be a first round bust. Defense wins championships, and the Bruins simply do not give up goals. The addition of a puck-moving defenseman at the deadline would solidify their case, and with names like Mathieu Schneider on the market, the Bruins have the assests to swing a deal to make this team a true Cup favorite.

2. Montreal Canadiens
After a solid post-season run last season, Carey Price and his like, 27 All-Star teammates appear to be ready for a solid charge into the playoffs. Despite the special teams numbers being down, this is still a legitimate club with a ton of talent. They are another team looking for a power play quarterback, and Schneider's name has come up in rumors to Montreal, too.

3. Washington Capitals
With Alexander Ovechkin tearing up the league as always, this may be the year for the up-start Capitals to make a deep charge. The young talent on this team is incredible, and who wouldn't want to see them playing late into May? The only legitimate concern is whether or not Jose Theodore can hold up in the playoffs and whether a light Southeast Division schedule will bode well for the Caps come test time.

DARK HORSE: New Jersey Devils
Somehow staying afloat without Marty Brodeur, imagine the jump the Devs will get when their savior returns to the pipes? This time is quietly tearing up the East, sitting a point behind the Rangers for the Atlantic Division lead, and could open some eyes come April and into May.

PRETENDER: New York Rangers
The Blueshirts sit in first place in the Atlantic Division by a mere point over the New Jersey Devils. The Rangers boast a 28-16-4 record, but the record is deceieving. They are 11-4 in overtime this season. If they had lost even half of the overtime games, that would bump them all the way down to 6th in the Conference and would put them at 3rd in their own division. It could be a tough April at Madison Square Garden.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1. Detroit Red Wings
It's hard to pick against the defending Stanley Cup Champions, especially when they only got better over the off-season. Despite a few eye-opening losses lately, most recently a 6-3 trouncing at the hands of the Phoenix Coyotes, the Wings are still the favorites to repeat. The only question mark is whether or not they'll run out of steam come May, but the team is so good and appears hungry enough again to win it all.

2. San Jose Sharks
The Sharks are setting the pace in the West, but that doesn't mean they're a lock to win the Cup. Every year seems to be the Sharks year, yet they always fall short. This may be their best year to do it, but they're going to have to get through the daunted Red Wings in order to do so. The good news? They've taken two out of three regular season match-ups from Detroit, save the 6-0 defeat in December.


3. Chicago Blackhawks
The only thing holding this team back is their inability to beat Detroit; but who isn't struggling with that? They've lost all their meetings with the Wings this season, but otherwise have a good young core of players with a nice mix of veteran leadership and solid goaltending that could take this club deep into the post-season.

DARK HORSE: Anaheim Ducks
You can never count the 2007 Champions out, especially with offensive firepower and defensive soundness. Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and now the emergence of Bobby Ryan are keying an offense on an Anaheim team that knows how to win and win consistently.

PRETENDER: Phoenix Coyotes
Sorry, Gretz, but this isn't going to be the year. While the 'Yotes may still make the playoffs for the first time since 2002, but if the season ended today they'd be matched up with the Blachawks, a team they haven't even proven they belong on the ice with this season. They need a few key cogs at the deadline if they want to survive the first round, namely a puck-moving defenseman. The problem is, the team is going bankrupt, so who knows if that's even an option.

QUICK NOTES

-The Atlanta Thrashers spoiled Carey Price's return last night in a 4-2 victory. Zach Bogosian added another goal and assist, notching 4 points in his last 2 games. Rich Peverley now has 8 points in 4 games as a Thrasher after notching his second goal in his last 3 games. Canadien's coach Guy Carbonneau has announced that Price will start in New Jersey on Wednesday night and will indeed start the All-Star game in Montreal this coming weekend.

-Claude Lemeiux was relatively quiet in his return to the Sharks last night, a 2-1 overtime victory over Vancouver. The grizzled veteran notched 3 shots on goal and posted an even performance in a modest 7:08 of ice time.

-The only thing more concerning for the Wings about their 6-3 loss to Phoenix Tuesday is that they gave up two goals to Enver Lisin. Who?

Not much else to add on this wonderful Wednesday. A few solid games on tap tonight, including Montreal @ New Jersey at 7:00.

-Buotte

1 comment:

  1. If they had lost even half of the overtime games,his may be the year for the up-start Capitals to make a deep charge
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