Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Playoff Picks: The First Round

That most wonderful time of the year, playoff hockey is here. The excitement among all hockey and especially fans of those teams in the playoffs is palpable.

So who is going to come out of the first round? The View is here with his fearless prognostications. Let's start with the West...

Anaheim vs. Dallas

The Ducks roll into the playoffs having captured the number one seed in the Pacific Division and playing some very good hockey. Led by Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry up front, the Ducks can score goals in bunches. A solid blue line helps limit scoring opportunities from opponents. This solid squad also is using the emotional fuel of Teemu Selaane's retirement at the end of the season to drive them toward the Cup.

If the Ducks have one chink in their armor, it has been the spotty play of Jonas Hiller. In fact, the Ducks may open with Frederik Andersen in net. While Hiller seems to have lost his mojo, he is still capable and whether it is Hiller or Anderson in net, the Ducks will be hard to beat.

That is not to say the Stars will not give them a tussle. Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn lead the way up front; Kari Lehtonen is going to have to be spectacular in net; and the Stars blue liners are going to have to lock down the Ducks forwards.

Think this is just a bit too much to ask of this vastly improved Stars Squad.

Ducks in 6

San Jose vs L.A.

War. This matchup will be an absolute war between two teams that don't like each other. The level of physicality out of this series is going to be amazing.

The Kings have resorted to playing lock down defense andgrinding out goals. They have offensive talent up front with Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams, and Jeff Carter, but have struggled to score. The Sharks have had balanced scoring, and along with the big names of Marlea and Thornton have seen players like Tommy Wingels, Logan Coture, and Tomas Hertl step up the offensive effort.

The difference makers in this series will be in net. We have all seen how Jonathan Quick can turn a series and a Cup run for the Kings. Antii Niemi has shown flashes of brilliance in San Jose but has not had the ultimate success that he had in Chicago. For the Sharks to win this series and make the run to the finals, he is going to have to elevate his game.

Niemi plays solid and the Sharks have too much firepower for the Kings.

Sharks in 7

Colorado vs Minnesota

The Avs are entering this series with some significant injuries, as Matt Duchene is going to miss some time with an injured knee. The Wild have a relatively healthy squad, although the turnover in net for them this season has been significant. Ilya Bryzgalov mans the pipes and the team hopes to get Darcy Keumper back to backstop Bryzgalov.

Even with Duchene out of the lineup, the offensive firepower that the Avs will bring will be too much for the Wild. Lacking the offensive punch of the Avs, the Wild will attempt to rely on a stingy defense and solid goaltending.

It won't be enough.

Avs in 5

St. Louis vs. Chicago

These teams played some ferocious playoff series in their history, and I expect this one to be just as nasty. Both teams have shown that they can score, but the Blues have a bit more nasty in their game than the Hawks. Controlling that edge and emotion will be critical for the Blues, because if they are spending too much time in the box, the Hawks will make them pay.

The Hawks bring Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane back into the lineup after sitting out the end of the season with injuries. Expect the Blues to go right after them.

The Blues enter this round on a skid after losing their last 6 games of the season. Ryan Miller, acquired from the Sabres, suddenly looks very average. Miller is going to have to regain his form from his early appearances with the Blues, because the hawks are going to fire a ton of rubber at him.

This is a close call, but I believe the more physical play of the Blues will be disruptive to the Hawks game, and the Blues have enough offensive talent to go along with their bruising style of play.

Blues in 7

And now on to the east...

Boston vs Detroit

The Bruins are probably the best built team in the East, balancing scoring, solid defense, and good goaltending into a President's Trophy season. That said, the Detroit Red Wings are making their 24th consecutive appearance in the playoffs, so they know what it takes to win both in the regular season and after.

The Wings gave the Bruins fits this year, capturing wins in all their matchups. This Wings team is not as explosive offensively as teams past, and this will be even more so with Henrik Zetterberg out of the lineup. This means that the Wings are going to rely on their puck possession game and attempt to limit the Bruins potent and balanced offense.

For the Wings to win this series, he is going to have to outplay Tuuka Rask and steal some games. I think the Bruins attack steps up several levels from their regular season contests and it will overwhelm Howard and the Wings blue line.

Boston in 6

Tampa Bay vs. Montreal

This contest between two surprisingly evenly matched teams will most likely go the full 7 games. For the Lightning, their concern has to be in net as season long starter Ben Bishop is out with an elbow injury and back up Anders Lindback gets the call. Lindy has shown he can play very solidly in net, but this is the playoffs, and the pressure is going to ramp up markedly. How he handles that will go a long way to determining if the Bolts advance.

Carey Price gives the Canadiens a decided edge in the pipes. He better hope that he gets some help in front as he will face not only the prowess of Steven Stamkos, but also the emerging talent of Alex Killorn, Ondrej Palat, and Tyler Johnson.

This series is going to hinge on the play in net, and I am leaning toward the experience of Price.

Montreal in 6

Pittsburgh vs Columbus

The Pens swept the season series with the Jackets, taking all 5 games. Keep in mind that that Sergei Bobrovsky only played in one of those games for the Jackets. Also keep in mind that there are numerous questions swirling around the play of the Pens Marc-Andre Fleury in goal.

So if you have two teams that have some questions about their netminders, one has to look at the skaters to see who will determine this series. And one has to start with the Penguins and their forwards, led by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. These two, along with Chris Kunitz and the other Pens forwards are going to put significant pressure on the Jackets throughout the series. Not that the Jackets are going to roll over for the Pens, but I believe there is too much horsepower for the Penguins and it will eventually wear down the Jackets.

Pittsburgh in 6

New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia

Steve Mason, who has seen a resurgence of his career in Philadelphia, will not start the first game due to an injury. Ray Emery gets the start, and although he has labored in the role of the backup this season, there isn't much drop off in numbers and performance.

He will be tested as the Rangers have a balanced attack that can score from all lines. Henrik Lundqvist will face challenges in the Ranger net as the Flyers use their size and physical presence to create space for talented scorers like Claude Giroux.

I expect this series to get ugly and nasty fast, and the team that wins will be the one that doesn't make the stupid mistake.

That team will be...

Philadelphia in 7

There you have it friends. Time to let the fun and games begin.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Scenes From the Road: Minnesota

I had a chance to travel to Minnesota to see the Predators take on the Wild in the final game of the 2014 season.

Here are some scenes and thoughts from the road:

This is the Herb Brooks statue outside one of the entrances to the Xcel Energy Center, the home ice of the Wild.

The Xcel is a beautiful arena, attached to another civic venue that contains several auditoriums and meeting rooms. The building uses a mountain cabin motif on the inside, with the concession stands having exposed wooden beams on their facades. There are numerous concession stands and food options around the concourse.

Being in the Great White North, some of the offerings included a walleye fish basket and fried cheese curds along with several kinds of poutine.

Fans lined up at the main entrance just prior to opening the gates.

The Hobey Baker Award was on display on the main concourse. You can't see it in this picture, but pictures of the past winners were on display as well, including former Predator Blake Geoffrion.

Inside the Xcel Center before the fans started to arrive. The lower bowl area is huge, larger than in Bridgestone Arena. The capacity of the arena is 18,628 for hockey.

The arena quickly filled up, and this is just before puck drop. Met some really nice fans, but this was the quietest full arena that I have ever seen. Very little energy in the building. Listening to their public address announcer made me really appreciate Paul MCann, the PA for the Predators. Paul brings energy and enthusiasm, something the Wild's PA lacked. Game ops at the Xcel do nothing on the video boards of the jumbotron to engage the crowd, something the Predators crew does very well.

Ran into the best broadcasting tandem in the NHL prior to the game. We are fortunate to have these two guys in the booth.

This was the team hotel, the St. Paul, a few blocks from the arena. The St. Paul is a historic hotel in downtown and an exceptional facility.

Charles Schulz was born in Minneapolis, and this sculpture was across the street from the hotel. You may recognize Peanuts characters Marcie on the bench, Peppermint Patty in the background, and Woodstock perched on the bench by Marcie's shoulder. The Xcel Center had several peanuts characters around the concourse clad in Wild Sweaters. In the background is the Xcel Center.

I had a chance to visit with Wild owner Craig Leipold the day after the game. He had a lot of good things to say about Nashville and the growth of the game and the fan base in the city and was glad to see the success of the franchise. While his departure was not the best at that time for the franchise nor conducted in the best of circumstances, he is responsible for bringing and NHL franchise to Smashville.

The Wild do a good job of building on the success of high school and college hockey in the state, and they have tapped in to that energy from those fans.

This is a great venue to watch hockey with good fans, and it is a road trip that I would encourage Predator fans to make.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Barry Trotz I Knew

The Nashville Predators have fired their first and only Head Coach, Barry Trotz.

That action has been and will be dissected for some time, and the pros and cons of that decision will be passionately debated among the fans of the team.

Trotz has been described as a good coach that couldn't get the team over the hump, a coach that had a difficult time developing offense, and yet a coach that got the most out of what he was given.

As a person, he was described as classy, thoughtful, considerate and caring.

He was all of those things and more.

I want to share a story that epitomizes the person, not the Coach, that was Barry Trotz.

A friend of mine and myself have made it a goal to see the Predators play in every NHL arena. So far, we have made 24 barns to see the Predators play. On every trip, we stay in the same hotel as the team and we have an opportunity to visit with the players and the coaching staff on occasion. Trotz in particular always made it a point to visit with us when he saw us on the road.

A few years ago, we made a trip to Raleigh to watch the team on Saturday night and then were going to Columbus on Sunday for a Monday game. Trotz saw us and visited with us in Raleigh and asked if we were going to go to Columbus as well. Since we fly commercial and follow after the team, we told him that we would catch up to them on Sunday and that we would fly home on Tuesday.

We got to the team hotel and were preparing to go to dinner when we got a phone call in our room. It was from Brandon Walker, the coordinator of hockey operations on the road for the team.

He said that Trotz appreciated our support (we had made trips following the team for several years) and the he (Trotz) wanted to know if we wanted to fly back with the team right after the game.

You know our answer was absolutely yes!

Now, I am not relating this story to brag. We were honored to be asked to come back with the team.

I am telling you this to tell you what happened next.

The game was a frustrating 2-0 loss to the Jackets, who were in our division at the time. Trotz and the coaching staff were not happy with the play of the team, and it was evident on the ride back home.

We got back from the game about 1:00 in the morning and landed at the charter terminal that the team uses.

Since we had not expected or prepared for this, our car was parked on the other side of the airport, which meant that we were going to have to call a cab to get over to our car and get home.

While we were waiting to get our bags off the plane and call a cab, someone tapped me on the shoulder.

It was Barry, and he asked where we were parked.

We told him that we were on the other side of the airport in an off site lot and were going to call a cab.

Trotz said, "No you aren't. Throw your bags in my car and I will run you over there."

After a disappointing loss and very early in the morning, an NHL Head Coach was concerned about two guys getting to their car and getting home.

He drove us to our car, all the while talking about what we wanted to talk about and concerned about us.

He took time to take care of just a couple of fans that were supporting the Predators.

This story is indicative of the type of person that Barry Trotz is. He always thought of others first and lived outside of himself.

The legacy of Barry Trotz as a coach of the Predators is written. A player's coach, a coach that was successful and got the most out of his teams.

His legacy as a person is far greater.

He will be remembered as a selfless individual that gave immense time and effort supporting charities around Middle Tennessee. He is a loving and devoted father.

And he is a person that cared immensely about other people.

And that is how I will remember him.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Predators Win a Wild One Against the Blackhawks

Two games to go in the season, games that are meaningless for the Nashville Predators. The first of those games would be at Bridgestone Arena against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Would the Predators mail it in against the powerful Hawks?

Absolutely not!

The Predators won a wild affair 7-5 in front of a capacity crowd that was almost evenly split between fans of both teams.

Until a Shea Weber empty net goal sent the hawks fans scrambling for the exits.

Both teams combined to score 7 goals in a wild third period. The Predators scored twice in the final minute to seal the win.

Chicago scored the first two goals of the game as Ben Smith and Marian Hossa tallied for the Blackhawks.

The ice was decidedly tilted in favor of the hawks until Craig Smith scored a beautiful goal off his faceoff win. he went top corner on Antti Raanta to make it 2-1 at the end of the first period.

Ryan Ellis tied the game at the 6:32 mark of the second period.

Matt Carey scored his first NHL goal to give the Hawks a 3-2 lead at 13:16 of the second period.

That set up a wild third period.

Matt Cullen tied the game, chipping in a rebound of a Mike Fisher shot. Colin Wilson put the Predators in the lead for the first time as he slapped home a rebound of a Shea Weber shot.

The game was tied at 4 by Jeremy Morin at the 8:00 minute mark of the third period.

Paul Gaustad gave the Predators a 5-4 lead, taking a pass from Craig Smith and blowing a shot from the slot past Raanta.

The Predators could not hold the lead as Andrew Shaw beat Pekka Rinne with a slap shot at 18:25 of the third period.

Looking like the game would go to overtime, the Predators refused to relent and pressured Raanta and the Hawks defense. That effort paid off as Patric Hornqvist drove the net a potted a rebound of a Matt Cullen shot at 19:01 of the third period.

Shea Weber sealed the win with an empty net goal at 19:46.

Some observations:

  • The Hawks had a tremendous advantage in zone time in the first period. The Predators rarely visited the offensive zone and Rinne was forced to deal with a lot of traffic in front of his net. The Hawks generally created havoc in front of the Predators netminder throughout the game and did a good job of taking away Rinne's vision on some of their goals. Rinne was not especially sharp tonight, but dis make some big saves during the course of the game.

  • Raanta had a relatively easy first period, but when the Predators started getting shots on goal and driving the net, he was unable to handle the pressure. The Predators did a good job in the final 40 minutes of getting shots on goal and driving the net for rebounds.

  • Patric Hornqvist has a goal and an assist tonight to give him 52 points for the season, a career high. Hornqvist has 17 points (9G-8A) in his last 10 games.

  • Shea Weber also set a career high of 55 points (22G-33A) with a goal and an assist tonight.

  • Weber joins Hornqvist and Craig Smith as team leaders in goals, each with 22.

  • Pekka Rinne picked up his 10th win of the year.

  • Marian Hossa did not play for the Blackhawks after the first period.

  • The Predators are 8-1-2 in their last 11 games. The captured the season series with the Hawks, winning 4 of 5 contests.
This was a resilient, character win for the Predators. They could have easily rolled over, going down 2 goals in the first period.

Instead, the battled and never quit.

This is something to build upon in the coming season.

My three stars:

1. Patric Hornqvist

2. Craig Smith

3. Paul Gaustad

Friday, April 11, 2014

My View

Random ruminations from your resident curmudgeon...

If you have listened to new Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen speak, she has consistently voiced a concern over a lack of inflation. She has said that increasing inflation to around 2% is the goal of the Federal Reserve.

That same sentiment is echoed by Christina LaGarde, the Director of the International Monetary Fund. LaGarde, in a news conference this week, said that one of the primary financial problems across the globe was "low-flation" (her term), meaning that inflation was not increasing fast enough.

Now friends, I have to ask you, why would such important monetary bodies want to increase inflation? Why is inflation so important to the Fed and the IMF?

First off, let's define inflation.

In simplest terms, it is the rate at which prices for goods or services are rising AND the purchasing power of the currency is diminishing.

For inflation to take effect, both conditions must exist. Understanding this is critical for you, me, and especially policy makers. Sometimes prices rise because there is so much demand for a product or a service. This is the fundamental economic principal of scarcity, and when there is less of a good, prices will rise until either more of the good is produced or buyers find a substitute.

Rising prices in that instance aren't necessarily bad. That shows a growth in demand and the capacity to pay what the market will bear for the price, generally signs of a healthy economy.

Inflation, however, occurs when prices begin to rise and the value of the currency- it's buying power- is being diminished.

If a soft drink costs $1 and inflation is running at 2% per annum, then next year, it will cost $1.02 (this is a sterile example just to prove the point).

So...back to the question:

Why does the Fed and the IMF want inflation?

There are a number of reasons, but I will offer my take on this.

Inflation raises the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) because it raises prices on everything. When prices rise, so does the GDP of a country, and this eventually leads to more tax revenue for the government. A company could sell $1 million worth of product in a zero inflation environment and their taxes would be assessed on that $1 million.

Let inflation rise 5% the next year, and although the company sold the same amount of product, their revenue in now $1,000,050. That extra $50,000 in revenue (artificially created by inflation) is now subject to tax.

Another aspect of this is that the value of the dollar based on purchasing power is declining.

Think about this: if you borrow $1,000 from your bank, you want that money to buy $1,000 worth of stuff. Now say inflation is rapidly increasing, rising by 10% before you make your first payment. You bought stuff with you money where each dollar you borrowed bought $1, but since inflation is rapidly rising to 10%, you are paying back your debt with dollars that are only worth .90.

As a borrower, you won.

Now look at the U.S.

We have printed $4 TRILLION new dollars over the past 5 years. We have sold those to investors (in essence, we borrowed their dollars from them), and we will begin to pay back those debts in the near future.

Think the U.S. wants to pay off their massive amount of indebtedness with dollars that are worth less than what was borrowed?

So do I.

And it is not just the U.S. that has engaged in this practice, but just about every other nation in the world.

Now this all sounds abstract and quite possibly dull, but here is how this impacts you and me.

As prices rise and the purchasing power of our currency falls, it takes more of those cheaper dollars (because of inflation) to maintain our standard of living.

Not increase.

Just maintain.

Now couple decreased buying power with an economy that is not producing quality jobs and one wherein real incomes have fallen nearly 10% since 2008, and you have a formula for an economy that is stagnating and families are struggling to make ends meet financially.

You have the United States.

So now when you hear the Fed's spokesmen speak about raising the level of inflation, know this simple fact: they are taking away your purchasing power and negatively impacting your standard of living.

Now, I fail to see how this policy objective benefits the majority of Americans. In fact, if the officials at the Fed were honest, they would tell you that it doesn't.

Instead, it is the only way out of a financial mess of their own creation, and even that may not work.

Keep this in mind as you struggle to make ends meet and the next time that you are told increasing inflation is a good thing.

Because it is certainly not.

And that, my friends, is my view.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Predators Have Some Fight Left, Defeat the Coyotes 2-0

The playoffs will not happen for the Nashville Predators this season.

That doesn't mean that their remaining games are meaningless.

The Predators defeated the Phoenix Coyotes 2-0 at Bridgestone Arena, and showed they still have a lot of fight and pride in their game. They managed to send the crowd home happy on fan appreciation night and in the process dealt a damaging blow to the Coyotes playoff chances.

A scoreless first period saw the Predators turn the puck over several times in the defensive zone and give the Coyotes several good scoring opportunities. Pekka Rinne was strong in net and kept the Coyotes off the board with his play in net.

It took the Predators 7 minutes to record their first shot on net.

Once the Predators got their skates going, they managed to limit chances by the Coyotes and get some chances of their own.

After a scoreless first period, the Predators got on the board first off a shot from Craig Smith on the power play. With the man advantage about to expire, Smith skated in from the face off circle and used the Coyote defenders to screen Thomas Greiss. Smith let a wrist shot go that Greiss never saw and beat him top shelf for the game's first goal at 10:26 of the second period.

Patric Hornqvist made it 2-0 at 9:26 of the third period as Greiss stopped Hornqvist's first shot, but he got his rebound and shoveled it past the pad of Greiss.

The Predators locked down the Coyotes in the remainder of the game with Rinne making some solid saves to preserve the shutout.

Some observations:

  • Rinne recorded his second shutout of the season and his 32nd career shutout. he stopped all 29 shots he faced, and with the win moved in first place for all time wins by a Predator goalie with 162. His win tonight moved him past Tomas Vokoun, who had the record with 161 wins.

  • Patric Hornqvist and Craig Smith both tallied their 21st goal of the season.

  • Smith played a strong game. He skated well and fired 9 shots at the net, with 5 of them getting on goal. Smith has rebounded nicely from a dismal season last year and has shown that he can be a consistent producer and an offensive threat.

  • Former Predator Marty Erat played his 800th game tonight skating for the Coyotes. he played 723 of those with the Predators.

  • Patric Hornqvist now has 50 points, one shy of his career high set in the 2009-10 season. Hornqvist has 15 points in his last 9 games (8G-7A).

  • Ryan Ellis led the Predators with 4 blocked shots.

  • Matt Cullen picked up an assist on Hornqvist's goal and now has 13 points (3G-10A) over the last 9 games.

  • Mike fisher also had an assist tonight and has 10 points 3G-7A) over the last nine games.

  • Shea Weber led the Predators with 26:27 TOI.
This was a solid win for the Predators against a team that was desperate. It was heartening to see the boys compete as hard as they did when it would have been just as easy to roll over.

The playoffs aren't happening, but that doesn't mean there aren't things to be accomplished before the end of the season.

This is the kind of effort the Predators need to close out the season.

My three stars:

1. Pekka Rinne

2. Craig Smith

3. Patric Hornqvist

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Predators Stopped By the Stars in a Shootout

The Nashville Predators are in desperation mode. Not yet mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, the Predators have to win out and get some help from teams in front of them.

Their first step in the process was to capture a win at the American Airlines Center against the Dallas Stars.

The Predators did not start well, looking sluggish to open the game and giving up a goal to Alex Goligoski at 2:23 of the first period. A defensive breakdown allowed Goligoski an open shot, and he took advantage of the miscue to blow a shot past Pekka Rinne.

Gabriel Bourque tied the game with a blast from the slot at 1:22 of the second period as he blasted a shot from the slot past Kari Lehtonen.

The Stars took a 2-1 lead at 8:18 of the second period as another defensive breakdown led to a Stars 2 on 1 break, and Jamie Benn capitalized.

Bourque tallied his second of the game at 10:24 of the third period as Paul Gaustad won a puck battle in the corner and snapped a pass to Bourque in the slot. Once again, Bourque stepped in a shot a beat Lehtonen to tie the game.

The Predators had to kill 1:38 of a two man advantage with Shea Weber and Victor Bartley in the box and did a great job on the penalty kill.

The remainder of regulation and overtime were scoreless, and so the Predators faced another shootout. In 10 shootouts this season, the Predators were 2-8.

And once again, the shootout was the nemesis for the Predators, as they lost in four rounds by a 2-1 margin. Roman Josi scored for the Predators, while Vernon fiddler and Tyler Seguin scored for the Stars.

Some observations:

  • After a blowout in their last meeting, the Predators played a much better game against the talented Stars. However, they took nearly 9 minutes to register their first shot on goal in the contest. The Predators have to have better starts in they are going to win against talented teams.

  • Gabriel Bourque has skated with good jump lately. he has always played hard, but has seemed to have an extra gear in recent games. While this hasn't been the season Bourque or Predator fans have wanted, his late resurgence hopefully bodes well for the upcoming season. This was Bourque's first two goal game in is career.

  • The Predators penalty kill while the Stars had a two man advantage was all heart. Rinne and the defense in front of him refused to fold in the face of the Stars attack.

  • The Predators out shot the Stars in regulation 26-23. Lehtonen and Rinne both made some good saves during the course of the game. I liked the way the Predators attacked the net after their slow start. Lehtonen kept the Stars in the game with his strong play.

  • The line of Calle Jarnkrok, Craig Smith, and Gabriel Bourque was broken up in the third period with Paul Gaustad moving into Jarnkrok's center position. Jarnkrok had 11:39 of ice time tonight and with the exception of Rich Clune (8:26) had the lowest amount of ice time among the Predators forwards.
Tough loss for the Predators, one that will eliminate them from the playoff race.

The compete level was there, but they couldn't capture the win. Now we will see how this team competes in the last three games of the season.

My three stars:

1. Gabriel Bourque

2.Jamie Benn

3. Alex Goligoski