NHL Contenders and Pretenders at the Midway Point of the Season

This NHL season, now almost at the midway point, has shown us some surprise contenders, such as the Devils, the Jets, and of course, the Vegas Golden Knights. Also, there have been teams that we are so used to seeing in the playoffs the past few years that have fallen short of expectations, including: the Blackhawks, the Penguins, and the Canadiens.

Contenders

The Vegas Golden Knights: The Golden Knights are currently the second best team in the league, and are first overall in the western conference. They are playing at an amazing level, never seen before by a first year expansion franchise. Not only that, for a good part of the first eight weeks of the season, without their top goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury. The Golden Knights have embraced the city, playing with passion and flair.

The New Jersey Devils: Nico Hischier is the third best rookie in the NHL, behind Arizona’s Clayton Keller, and the Islanders’ Mathew Barzal. Behind Hischier’s rookie campaign and strong showings from veterans like Brian Boyle, Taylor Hall, and Goalie Cory Schneider, the Devils have a real chance of going far into the playoffs.

The Winnipeg Jets: Last year the Jets were fifth in the Central Division with a measly 87 points. This year, they are leading the Central Division with 52 points, not yet even at the midway point. Goalie Connor Hellebuyck has been very good this year, earning the NHL’s most recent first star of the week. Behind strong campaigns from Blake Wheeler, Patrick Laine and Dustin Byfugelin, the Jets can shake up the power rankings in the West.

Pretenders

The Pittsburgh Penguins: The back-to-back Stanley Cup defending Penguins are having a bad year. They are sitting in seventh place in the Metropolitan Division, with 41 points, and are 4 points from a wildcard spot. While the Penguins will still likely be in the running for one of the two remaining wild card spots, they will not win the Stanley Cup. Sidney Crosby is on pace for about 73 points, one of his worst career seasons. Now the Penguins must ask themselves if their dynasty is over, or if this year is just a hangover from back-to-back short summers.

The Chicago Blackhawks: The Blackhawks dynasty is over. They had their run, but it ended when they were swept in the first round of the playoffs last year by Nashville. Patrick Kane and Johnathan Toews aren’t going to get younger, and they no longer have the same spark as they used to. In a few years they will contend again, as soon as young players like Alex DeBrincat mature and get used to the league, but for this season, they will not win the Stanley Cup or even make the playoffs.

The Montreal Canadiens: Last year the Canadiens were one of the top teams in the east, totaling 103 points and the number one seed in the Atlantic Division. This year, they’ve dealt with tons of injuries, and the Habs, who are reliant on their goalie, Carey Price, have not seen great production from him this year. The Canadiens won’t make the playoffs this year, but they may have a chance in future seasons.

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Rank ‘Em: the 4 Major Sports Drafts

Draft season is coming to a close with the MLB, NBA, and NHL drafts finishing up as soon as yesterday. NFL was a few months before them. That being said, we probably all have the same outlook on each draft. NFL and NBA have almost the same amount of hype leading up to it, but the NBA only has 2 rounds, you start saying “who?” after the first 3 picks in the NHL draft, and in the MLB draft, you hear the name now but forget it until 2 years later. They all have their flaws and riches, but whose at the top? (P.S These are all opinionated so you may not agree.)

4. MLB

This is an easy one. Even if you love college baseball, then there is still no way you keep a high alert of the players your team drafted. Even the #1 overall pick won’t be seen in the big leagues until 2-3 years later. Maybe even more. The worst thing about the MLB draft is that if the player drafted isn’t finished with college, he has an option to stay for another year and get redrafted later. AFTER HE WAS ALREADY DRAFTED. I like the NBA and NFL rule in which if the player does not have an agent then he is able to withdraw BEFORE being drafted. Baseball is my favorite sport, but I don’t think you could force me to watch this draft.

3. NHL

The NHL draft is a huge jump from the MLB draft. At worst, the guys drafted past the 1st round are likely to remain in the minors for only a year. The first rounder is almost guaranteed to play his first year. One thing that separates the NHL draft from the NBA and NFL, is that besides the first few picks, no one has ever heard of the players. The broadcasting of college basketball and football make these players known. The lack of knowledge in the leagues below or above college really makes us wonder. But watching the NHL draft you are bound to say, “who?” a few times. Except for that Auston Matthews guy.

2. NBA

Number 1 and 2 could go either way. I only have one reason why I have to give the NBA 2nd. Busts. Too many of them. In the NBA, you almost know who will be a bust right out of college. It’s usually the players who leave after their freshman year. I think we’ll see more surprises than busts this year. Being a Bulls fan is exactly why I prefer the NFL draft over the NBA draft. It could go either way for me though and I could argue for each way.

1. NFL

It was a toss up, but I had to go with the NFL draft as the best draft in all of pro sports. Guys get to build year on year without worrying about being sent down. Plus, it’s right away, no D-League, no minors, nothing. Except if you’re put into a camp, which is not for development. Every pick matters as well because you almost get more value at a certain position you need. All the surprising move ups, and picks is what sets the NFL different from the others. Of course, again, you could argue it either way. The NFL is just more hyped up because we all need football in our lives.

These rankings aren’t based on this year. Just overall. If it was based off this year I would have to put the NBA draft at 1st.

 

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writer: @rycago

Pens Light Up Preds; Win Away From Lifting Cup – Pro Sports Fandom

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The home ice team winning trend of the Stanley Cup continued Thursday night as Pittsburgh won their 3rd home game of the series.  Except this game was no win, it was a massive blowout.

Many doubts and bad expectations were shared among NHL fans rooting for the Pens heading into this game.  People thought Nashville might win on the road and have a 3-2 advantage after game 5.  Penguins players thought otherwise.  Pittsburgh came out into game 5 on a clear mission, scoring 3 goals in period 1, and another 3 in period 2.  No scoring from either team in the third led to a 6-0 blowout by the penguins.

Right into the start of the game, Sidney Crosby made a world-class move through both preds defenders, got tripped drawing a penalty, and hit the post on his shot while falling.  The Penguins would score on that Powerplay, a blast from breakout player Justin Schultz at the point was able to sneak through Rinne’s fivehole.  Crosby setup the goal.  Quickly after Bryan Rust scored a big goal for the pens on a backhand top shelf giving the penguins an early 2-0 lead.  The next goal would not occur despite A grade chances for both teams until 20 seconds were left in the period.  Matching penalties were assessed to stars Sidney Crosby and P.K. Subban as they got tangled up, Subban held Crosby’s skate and would not let him go, so Crosby started to unstrap Subban’s helmet.  During that 4 on 4, Phil Kessel delayed the puck enough time to get it to Evgeny Malkin for a one time goal in the same spot Rust scored, top glove.  This goal was a backbreaker for Nashville, occuring with only 20 seconds left before period two.

Connor Sheary opened period 2’s scoring off a sweet assist from Crosby on Nashville’s backup goalie.  Crosby also manufactured another assist on the penguins 5th goal, an absolute laser from Phil Kessel in the slot.  The last goal of the game was Ron Hainsey’s, after he made a nice move to dodge a hit, crashed the net and got a tap in goal from Evgeny Malkin’s assist.

The third period got ugly, with a combined 90 penalty minutes in the period. Multiple fights occurred, match penalty’s were handed out, possible suspension facing a predator player for cross checking to the face on a pens player.  It was not pretty.

The penguins sent a massive statement out to Nashville in game 5.  Nashville is certain to respond, but odds are not in their favor.  Game 6 is Sunday night in Nashville, and the Stanley Cup will be present.  Will Nashville force a game 7? Or will the Pens repeat winning the Cup in 6 games? Legacies are on the line, whether that is cementing a legacy for the penguins or the start of a future legacy to come in Nashville.

 

NHL Offseason Trades Could Include Carey Price, Matt Duchene

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Trade talk is getting very interesting right now as NHL GMs have some hard decisions to make, whether that be contracts, what players they protect so they are not vulnerable to expansion draft selections, or big trades as they try to rebuild or get something out of a potential expansion draft selection.

A look at the top 10 players who might get traded

  1. Carey Price – (G) Montreal – Price has one year left on his contract, and as he is the best goalie in hockey, he will need to be paid like the best goalie in hockey. Although he wants to stay in Montreal, they might never win a championship because they can not correctly build the team in front of him.

2. Matt Duchene – (C) Colorado – Matt Duchene needs a change of scenario.  GM Joe Sakic realizes this and has made it known he is on the trading block for the right deal.  Duchene is still a top level center. Sakic is looking for a young defender, two prospects, and maybe a first round pick.

3.  Jonas Brodin – (D) Minnesota – Could get traded so he is not taken away for nothing in expansion draft.  Matt Dumba could also get moved instead of Brodin.

4. Sami Vatanen – (D) Anaheim – One of the most prominent puck moving defenders at a young age.  Anaheim has a very young, and skilled group of defenders.  They are bound to lose one in the expansion draft, so Vatanen could be the one who is dealt.   Might be harder because he is injured for the start of the season.

5. Ilya Kovalchuk – New Jersey – Pending his return to the NHL, which is likely to happen, he could be doing a sign and trade. Kovalchuk is one of the best snipers in the game, but left New Jersey for the KHL in 2013.

6. Marc-Andre Fleury- (G) Pittsburgh – With Matt Murray the young and extremely talented goaltender of the Penguins future, it is possible the Pittsburgh could lose Fleury in the expansion draft.  There are some teams that are interested in trading for him, like Calgary or Winnipeg.  Both teams do not have a number one goalie, and Fleury would fit right in.

7.  Jordan Eberle – (RW) Eberle just could not produce in the playoffs, and many people believe that is why they lost in the second round. Eberle was an early pick in his draft year, but has not been playing like it.  Fans want him to be moved, but what is his value worth?

8.  Antti Raanta – (G) New York Rangers – Another solid backup goalie that could get taken in the expansion draft.  It is possible he gets traded to a team looking for a goalie.

9.  Phillip Grubauer  – (G) Washington – One of the best backup goalies in the league, who could be a Number one goalie on a team.   He will be exposed in the expansion draft, so Washington could trade him to get something in return.

10. Evander Kane – (LW) Buffalo – Troubled forward with a big cap hit, but decent offensively.  Able to put up 20-30 goals a year.

Preds Blowout Pens; Claw Back Into Series

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Nashville brought their A game in game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final.  Everyone in the lineup, starting in the back from goaltender Pekka Rinne, all the way up to the defenders in front and the forwards  all played stellar.

The game started off with the Conn-Smythe leading favorite rookie forward Jake Guentzel scoring a few minutes into the game in period 1.  It was all Pittsburgh in period 1, and the hockey world was thinking, “Is Pittsburgh going to win and be up 3-0?” “Will Pittsburgh sweep the Preds in the Stanley Cup?”

Nashville thought otherwise, and in the 2nd period, they opened up the scoring.  A one-time shot from Roman Josi found its way past Matt Murray and into the back of the net after hitting off a Penguin’s glove from trying to block the shot.  Josi tied the game at 1-1.  Then 40 seconds later, a beautiful shot from Frederick Gaudreau was sniped past Murray’s glove side as Gaudreau used a Pens defender as a screen.  2-1 was the score for most of the period, until former Penguin James Neal scored a weird goal from the side of Murray with only 22 seconds remaining in the period.  This goal was a backbreaker for the Pens.  The 3rd period saw only the predators score two more times, goals by Veteran Craig Smith and Mattias Ekholm.  Five unanswered goals powered the Predators past the Pens in game 3 for their 5-1 dominating win.

Pekka Rinne played stellar as his true self, and Roman Josi had 3 points (1G, 2A) to carry the Preds from the back end.   Nashville is the leading team in the regular season and postseason for points by defenders.   If Nashville is going to keep looking to win, it is going to require their Goalie Pekka Rinne to keep playing great, and their defense to not only play great but to put up play that leads into goals, which they have done all year.

On the other hand, if Pittsburgh is looking to win, they will need better play from Matt Murray, better forechecking from the forwards, better defense by the defenders, and a better special teams performance. Both teams have good Penalty Killing units, and good Powerplays, but the Preds have done a better job so far.  In Game 2 and 3 combined, the Penguins are 0/10 on the powerplay, and have only managed to get 3 shots. Nashville is a good penalty killing team (#1, 90%), but Pittsburgh has the #1 powerplay and those numbers are pathetic and will not win games.

A pivotal Game 4 in on the way coming up Monday 6/5/17.  The Penguins could take a commanding 3-1 series lead or Nashville could tie up the series at 2-2, making it a best of three series.

 

6/3/17- The Biggest Day in Nashville Sports

The new car outside the Bridgestone Arena, home of the Nashville Predators, is decorated as their opponent in the Stanley Cup Final.  If you are new to this, you might be wondering why they would have that outside their arena.  The answer, it is their next Smashcar.  It is becoming tradition for Nashville Fans to decorate a car of their opponent to smash it, hoping it replicates what the team does to their opponent.

The music city will be having their largest party outside the game they have had.  The fans want this to become a series.  The fans at the Bridgestone Arena have been electrifying, and the Predators have fed off this energy from them, and look to continue that in these next two home games. There is a reason why this team is 7-1 at home in the postseason this year.

Will Nashville get swept 4-0? Will they split their home games and go 1-1? Or will they tie the series back at 2-2.  We will have to wait and see.  Star defense man P.K. Subban turned into Mark Messier, as he stated “We will win game 3”.  When the Rangers had played the Devils in 1994, Messier guaranteed a win heading into game 6, and he ended up scoring two goals and the game winner.  P.K. is a confident guy, and his team has no problem with his confidence level and will attempt to feed off of that heading into the next game.

Coach Peter Laviolette has not stated which goaltender would be playing in game 3.   He was asked two days in a row, and continues to keep it a mystery.  Let’s not fool ourselves though, we all know Pekka Rinne will be playing.  He is going to need to play the best hockey of his life, the hockey he was playing the whole post season, before the Stanley Cup Final, if he wants to get his team back in the series.