Thoughts heading into the NHL playoffs....
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-- Hockey fans should be thankful for the Washington Capitals. Since long-time minor league coach Bruce Boudreau took over on Thanksgiving, the Caps have arguably been the league's most exciting team.
Of course, having Alex Ovechkin helps, but Boudreau allows the Caps to play to their strengths. In a league full of stifling, often dull defensive systems, Washington plays old time hockey. The Capitals are up-tempo, high-scoring, and play a hard-nosed -- yet clean -- physical game.
Owner Ted Leonsis is not just an owner, he is a fan. Leonsis has been attending games in a red Capitals sweater, while his family has been decked out similarly. Too many owners seem distant, always in suits, and unapproachable. Leonsis is none of that. He is one of us -- a fan who happened to come into money.
A deep Capitals run would be good for the game. Everyone in this league seemingly emulates a winner, and if the Caps are the ones being emulated, the game will be in much better shape.
-- Along with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Caps have become the media darlings over the end of the regular season.
As a result, NBC has picked up two of their first round games against the Philadelphia Flyers. Games two and five will be telecast on the network -- but both games start prior to noon on the West Coast.
If the league wants to grow fans in the non-traditional markets of the Pacific time zone, 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. games are not the proper approach. Few, if any, watch hockey at that time of day.
In an era when the vast majority of people have cable or satellite, what is the big deal about network television? The league would be better off to give those games to Versus and play them in a prime time slot. NFL fans might be used to afternoon games, but this is not the NFL. Hockey is a night game, and to be successful, needs to be marketed as such.
-- Only two teams scored less goals than the Anaheim Ducks, and both of them are out of the playoffs.
Columbus and the New York Islanders each scored less than 200 goals, but the defending Stanley Cup champs were tied for 27th in offense with 205 goals.
Sure, the Ducks have a formidable blueline, with or without oft-suspended Chris Pronger. But can anyone remember the last team to win the Stanley Cup without at least a decent offense?
Last year's Ducks were not an offensive juggernaut, but were well ahead of this year's pace. The previous two champions -- Carolina and Tampa Bay -- were high octane teams.
The New Jersey Devils? Guess again. The Devils led the league in regular season goals for when they won the Cup in 2000.
If the Ducks find a way to win the Stanley Cup with a sub-par offense, look for the game to get stiflingly defensive next season. Yes, even more so than right now.
Oh, for more teams like the Capitals.
-- Several NHL teams continue to advertise single-game playoff tickets on sale, just days before the playoffs begin.
Perhaps most notable is the location of some of those teams -- Detroit, Colorado, and Anaheim. The first two were guaranteed sellouts for much of a generation, while the third city is the defending champion.
Perhaps it is no coincidence they play in the defensive-oriented Western Conference. Since the midpoint of the 2006-07 season, the new NHL is nothing but a memory in the West, and the entertainment value is not what it could be.
Offense sells tickets and defense wins championships -- we've all heard that phrase. But for a league that is constantly concerned with its standing in the United States marketplace, perhaps more emphasis needs to be put on the offensive side of the game.
-- Set those DVRs for extra time -- the low scoring nature of this season could make for some long playoff games.
A 5-5 game is statistically likely to have a goal scored early in overtime, but the same is not the case for a 0-0 or 1-1 game. To make matters more severe, many teams have taken a defensive approach to regular season overtimes, thanks to the shootout. If that trend does not reverse, look for plenty of double and triple overtime games.
All we ask of our friends at the NHL offices is to let us know where the overtime will be played. If NBC has to cut to a two-hour pre-game show of a horse race again, let us know ahead of time. Otherwise, those of us who don't watch hockey at 10 in the morning will not have a chance to change our DVR settings, and we will miss the presentation of the Prince of Wales Trophy once again?
Am I a little bitter yet? Without a doubt.
Onto the predictions.....
1) Detroit over 8) Nashville in five games
2) San Jose over 7) Calgary in six games
6) Colorado over 3) Minnesota in seven games
4) Anaheim over 5) Dallas in six games
1) Montreal over 8) Boston in five games
2) Pittsburgh over 7) Ottawa in four games
3) Washington over 6) Philadelphia in seven games
5) New York Rangers over 4) New Jersey Devils in six games
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