2014-15 Day One Preview

It’s finally the day we’ve been counting down to for the past 5 months. No, not Christmas. It’s October 8th, 2014. The first day of the 2014-15 NHL Regular Season. There are four games featured tonight, and there are some to be some intense and wild ones. The Toronto Maple Leafs host the Montreal Canadiens at 7:00PM EST, a long time rivalry in which the teams seem to begin each and every season against each other. The Philadelphia Flyers will fly to Boston for a 7:30PM EST matinee. The Boston Bruins are the defending President’s Trophy winners and will look to keep their form. The Calgary Flames will play host to the new-look Vancouver Canucks at 10:00PM EST. Remember last year’s game which had 158PIM within the first two seconds of the game? Yea. Also at 10:00PM EST, The defending Stanley Cup champions will raise the banner in front of who else but the San Jose Sharks, the team they erased a 3-0 deficit against last Spring.

Montreal Canadiens at Toronto Maple Leafs

(Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Long-time rivals since the league was created, it is well-known that the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens hate each other. In fact, this past summer, Josh Gorges declined a trade to Toronto for the fact that he hates them too much. In last year’s season series, Montreal took three games out of five. No matter how good or bad each team is, it’s always a physical, intense and close game. This season, it looks like Montreal may have the upper hand in the standings. As for tonight, I expect the same result. Toronto lost much of its depth this offseason and now feature a much younger and quicker team, with Orr and McLaren gone, and Komarov back in. Montreal has possibly the best goaltender in the world in Carey Price, and also 2012-13 Norris Trophy winner, PK Subban. I see Van Riemsdyk and Josh Leivo scoring for Toronto. While Pacioretty, Gallagher, and Eller will tally for the Habs.

Prediction: Montreal Wins 3-2.

Philadelphia Flyers at Boston Bruins

Kevin Marshall

These are two teams who often pride themselves on their physical style. Don’t expect anything different tonight. Boston is no doubt the favourite for this game, backstopped by last year’s Vezina Trophy winner, Tuukka Rask. The Bruins won all three contests between the teams in 2013-14. Philadelphia is led by Claude Giroux, who will need to take the team on his back if they expect another playoff position this year. I expect this game to go as expected, mainly because Boston has one of the deepest teams in the league, while Philadelphia features a team with a very young bottom two lines. On defence, there are paying way too much for a rather average lineup. Steve Mason is their backstop, and he had an up year last year. Unfortuanetly for them, Boston is far better and will prevail in their first game of 2014-15. Voracek will score for the Flyers, while Lucic, Krug, and Reilly (twice) will put up goals for Boston.
Prediction: Boston wins 4-1

Vancouver Canucks at Calgary Flames

It’s no secret these west coast teams hate each other after just two seconds of a game last year. While Hartley lined up his three enforcers at the opening face-off, Torterella responded by putting Bieksa as his centre. There were 158 PIM in those two seconds and Torts was suspended 15 days for trying to go into the Flames dressing room. Both teams have new looks this season however, with Ryan Miller and Jonas Hiller backstopping the Canucks and Flames, respectively. While Vancouver’s changes turned them into a possible playoff team, Calgary is still expected to be a bottom feeder in the tough Western Conference. Vancouver got rid of Kesler and added Bonino and Vrbata. Calgary got Diaz, Raymond, and Setoguchi, while they also drafted Sam Bennett 4th overall, and made the team. Calgary is too young and straight up bad to score of Miller, who will prove himself again. For Vancouver, Bonino, Edler, and Hansen will score.

Prediction: Vancouver wins 3-0

San Jose Sharks at Los Angeles Kings

(Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports)

Probably the best game of the first day of the 2014-15 season sees defending Stanley Cup champs host the confused Sharks. No doubt, every players has round one fresh in their mind for tonight. In case you forgot somehow, San Jose took a commanding 3-0 series lead and were looking like Cup favourites until they imploded and lost the series 4-3, while LA went on to hoist the Cup. The Sharks come into this season with a very young bottom two lines, possibly featuring an all rookie line. While there have been rumours Joe Thornton may centre the fourth line. Even their starter is up in the air. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, its the exact same team, minus Willie Mitchell. There’s no doubt most will favourite L.A. to win this game, but I could see the determined San Jose Sharks pull off an upset. The Sharks seem to start every year well, it’ll be no different in 2014-15. Nieto, Pavelski, and Wingels will score for the Sharks, while for the Kings, it’ll be Lewis and Toffoli on pace for 82 goals after one game.

Prediction: San Jose wins 3-2.

It’s guaranteed to be a great night when hockey is on, but tonight is extra special. Gather around, grab some good friends and good food and enjoy the great game on ice. And remember, it’s only the first night of the next 172, of nights of hockey. Good luck to all!

 

2014-15 NHL Predictions

For the third year in a row and the fourth time in five years, the Western Conference won the Stanley Cup as the Los Angeles Kings took out the New York Rangers in five back in June. With the 2014-15 NHL season kicking off this week, can the Kings repeat? Will their nemesis in Chicago find their revenge and get back to the Cup Finals? Or will the somebody from the Eastern Conference win Lord Stanley’s Cup? Here are my predictions.

San Francisco Giants Close Down Washington Nationals in Game 4

It’d be ridiculous at this point to suggest the San Francisco Giants are lucky. Luck doesn’t win you two trophies in three years, and it doesn’t land you a spot in the National League Championship Series, which the Giants clinched with a 3-2 victory over the Washington Nationals Tuesday night at AT&T Park.

Not everyone pegged this team for another deep run. In fact, after the Giants squandered a hot start and squeaked into the second wild-card position, many dismissed them.

Funny thing though…there’s just something about this squad led by veteran skipper Bruce Bochy. The Giants seem to enjoy the feeling of their backs against a wall, to thrive when the pressure is greatest and to find the strangest, most unexpected ways to come up big.

Take Tuesday’s clincher: The Giants scored on a bases-loaded walk, a weak ground ball and a wild pitch. They would have plated a second run on a wild pitch, when an intentional ball four to Pablo Sandoval in the bottom of the seventh sailed over Washington catcher Wilson Ramos’ head.

The ball, though, caromed hard off the backstop, and Buster Posey was tagged out trying to score from third.

It didn’t matter. The Giants clung to their one-run lead with more stellar innings from their stingy bullpen and eked out another memorable, nail-gnawing win.

It began with starter Ryan Vogelsong, who in many ways embodies the unflinching resiliency of the Orange and Black. A Giants prospect once upon a time, Vogelsong was dealt to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2001.

A Tommy John surgery and a stint in Japan later, he returned to San Francisco as a minor league free agent in 2011 and fought his way into the rotation.

The following season, Vogelsong was an October hero, posting a 1.09 ERA in four playoff starts and getting himself a ring.

Since then, the 37-year-old right-hander has been unreliable at best. His 4.00 ERA in the 2014 regular season certainly didn’t inspire overwhelming confidence as he took the mound Tuesday, with the Giants up 2-1 in the best-of-five series.

It was a must-win game for the Nationals, but it felt like one for the Giants. San Francisco did not want to go back to D.C. with the series tied and face either Stephen Strasburg or Jordan Zimmermann in an elimination contest.

Vogelsong helped ensure that wouldn’t happen, tossing 5.2 gutsy innings while giving up one run on two hits. He didn’t earn the win, though, thanks to Bryce Harper.

In the top of the seventh, with the Giants leading 2-1, Harper launched a towering home run into the water beyond the right field wall off hard-throwing Giants rookie Hunter Strickland. The bomb fired up the Washington dugout; for a moment, it looked like the loaded, 96-win Nats had some fight left in them.

Then the Giants worked their magic, loading the bases in the bottom of the frame on a pair of singles and a walk and scoring on the aforementioned wild pitch.

And that was it. Setup man Sergio Romo and closer Santiago Casilla, who have combined for six scoreless frames this postseason, tossed mostly uneventful eighth and ninth innings, and the Giants stormed the field to celebrate another trip to the NLCS.

The team they’ll face, the St. Louis Cardinals, knows a thing or two about playoff mojo. The Cards made the Fall Classic in 2011 and 2013. Add the Giants’ appearances in 2010 and 2012, and we’re looking at a fifth straight season when either San Francisco or St. Louis will represent the National League on baseball’s biggest stage.

The Cardinals are tough. They showed that by dispatching the Los Angeles Dodgers in four games in the NLDS, including two wins against sure-fire Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw.

The Giants, though, have now won seven straight playoff series, eight if you count the wild-card playoff win against Pittsburgh that started this latest run.

They’ve already added to the legend in 2014, winning the longest game in MLB postseason history, an 18-inning marathon Oct. 4 at Nationals Park, on a towering home run by first baseman Brandon Belt.

Really, the Giants don’t need to say anything. They let their play do the talking.

They’re confident. They’re collected. They’re cohesive. And they get it done, one way or another.

Call them what you like. Just don’t call them lucky.

St Louis Cardinals Top Los Angeles Dodgers in NLDS Game 4, Advance to NLCS

On Tuesday night, the St. Louis Cardinals hosted the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 4 of the 2014 NLDS. The Cardinals led the best-of-five series two games to one at the start of the contest, putting themselves in position to advance to their fourth consecutive NLCS with a victory.

Standing on the brink of elimination, the Dodgers sent Clayton Kershaw to the mound, hoping their all-world ace could keep their team’s season alive.

Kershaw, who is expected to win his third Cy Young and perhaps the NL MVP award this year, was coming off an uncharacteristically bad start, giving up eight earned runs in 6.2 innings of work in Game 1 on Friday. For as historically great as the 26-year-old southpaw has been over his young career — becoming the first pitcher to lead the major leagues in ERA in four straight seasons — he has not been immune from running into trouble in the playoffs. Entering play today, Kershaw had a record of just 1-4 with a 5.20 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP in the postseason.

Pitching on three days rest, he appeared to be cruising along today, though, tossing six shutout innings and racking up nine strikeouts, seemingly making a statement. Then came the seventh, however, when Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams belted a three-run homer, which would ultimately prove to be the death blow for the Dodgers as they would ultimately lose the contest by a score of 3-2. Kershaw now falls to 1-5 with a 5.12 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP in the playoffs.

Some may be tempted to compare Kershaw’s October struggles to those of David Price, another terrific left-handed starting pitcher who has strangely enough encountered a similar string of tough luck in the postseason.

That said, Kershaw has at times shown that he can indeed be his dominating, brilliant self in the postseason. With the exception of the Adams’ home run, he threw a great game today, and he posted an 0.69 ERA with 18 strikeouts in two starts against the Atlanta Braves in the 2013 ALDS just a year ago.

Considering the extraordinary talent that Kershaw possesses, it should be safe to say that at some point, he will indeed find success in the postseason once again.

State Of The Boston Bruins Following Johnny Boychuk Trade

The writing has been on the wall for months now. The Bruins had too many defensemen on their roster. The only question was which of Boston’s defensemen would be traded. The answer to that question would undoubtedly be followed by another question, “Did they make the right decision?”

The first shoe to drop was the re-signings of Torey Krug and Reilly Smith. This elevated the Bruins’ team salary further over the salary cap, creating financial motivation for a deal. Add that motivation to the surplus of defensemen and the result is the trade of Johnny Boychuk.

The Bruins traded Boychuk to the New York Islanders in exchange for a 2015 2nd round pick, a 2016 2nd round pick (via NYI), and a conditional 3rd round pick in 2015 (if the Islanders trade Boychuk to another Eastern Conference team).

Boychuk was a fan favorite, known for his booming slapshot and lethal body checks, leading to a lot of public outrage over the deal.

As painful as it may be to hear this, Peter Chiarelli made the right decision.

Prior to the trade, the Bruins were approximately $3.6 million over the Salary Cap Ceiling, with Krug and Smith back in the fold. To accommodate that roster, the Bruins would have had to put Marc Savard on Long Term Injured Reserve (LTIR).

While this was possible, it would remove all of the team’s financial flexibility going forward. For a team with questions about their goal scoring, the ability to make a mid-season trade (or trades) could be vital to their Stanley Cup aspirations. The only trade option the team would have would be to send roster players out to create the cap space necessary to accommodate newly acquired players.

Instant Impact

Boston Bruins Johnny Boychuk Trade Matt Bartkowski

The biggest concern will be replacing Johnny Boychuk. As it stands now, either Torey Krug or Matt Bartkowski will be called upon to join Boston’s top four. Based on their defensive struggles, this is potentially a cause for concern.

Whether Claude Julien tabs Bartkowski or Krug as Boychuk’s replacement, they will be paired with Dennis Seidenberg on the second unit. Seidenberg, who missed the second half of last season and all of the postseason, is well-known for his work in the defensive zone. Seidenberg’s defensive ability will cover up for some of his partner’s inexperience, just as his partner’s offensive ability will allow Seidenberg to play his game and not try to force offense.

This trade also allows the Bruins to retain Kevan Miller as the 7th defenseman, a luxury that could prove crucial as the season goes along. Last season, when Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid were injured, the Bruins were forced to trade for Andrej Meszaros because they did not have enough depth on the backend. Maintaining this depth (David Warsofsky cleared waivers and will remain in Providence) will allow the Bruins to focus on other needs at the trade deadline.

Alternate Options

The Bruins had a number of players that they could have moved instead of Johnny Boychuk.

On the defensive end, they could have realistically moved a number of players. The primary candidates in this group were Matt Bartkowski, Adam McQuaid, and David Warsofsky. Each of these players had a smaller role on the Bruins than Boychuk, making their loss easier to absorb. That said, these three players make less (combined) than Johnny Boychuk. That doesn’t even factor in that the Bruins would have to look further down the line for a 7th defenseman, if and when the need arose.

The Bruins had the opportunity to use an Compliance Buyout (or Amnesty Buyout) this summer, allowing them to terminate the contract of a player without salary cap ramifications. The primary candidate for this would have been Chris Kelly, who is making $3 million per year for the next two seasons. While this would have cleared a similar amount of cap space, the Bruins do not have the depth upfront that they do on defense. The buyout would have got the Bruins back under the salary cap ceiling, but it also would have created a need for another forward.

The team could have explored trading other forwards, such as Gregory Campbell or Loui Eriksson, but this too would have created additional holes to fill. By dealing from depth, the Bruins created financial flexibility, without creating additional areas of need.

There is no question that Johnny Boychuk will be missed, but the Bruins are better off in the long run having made this trade. They received future assets, financial flexibility, and resolved the overabundance of defensemen.