Thursday, October 15, 2009

First Annual OBG "Pre-Season" Playoff Predictions

Back on October 2nd, we kicked off the season with the first-ever round of OBG's pre-season predictions, giving a look at what the final standings might look like. However, the second part of these "pre-season" predictions- the playoff predictions- didn't come soon enough after the first part to make it in before the Flyers and Penguins began the season; in fact, they're just coming now, a good two weeks into the season. That being the case, we're going to keep them short and sweet, as we've already briefly run down each team's outlook. More detailed discussion of these picks may come later, but for now, here are your First Annual OBG "Pre-Season" Playoff Predictions...

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
#8 Devils vs. #1 Canadiens: Canadiens in 6
#7 Hurricanes vs. #2 Capitals: Capitals in 7
#6 Rangers vs. #3 Flyers: Flyers in 5
#5 Penguins vs. #4 Bruins: Penguins in 6

Western Conference Quarterfinals
#8 Predators vs. #1 Sharks: Sharks in 4
#7 Kings vs. #2 Blackhawks: Blackhawks in 4
#6 Wild vs. #3 Flames: Flames in 6
#5 Red Wings vs. #4 Canucks: Red Wings in 7

Eastern Conference Semi-Finals
#5 Penguins vs. #1 Canadiens: Penguins in 6
#3 Flyers vs. #2 Capitals: Flyers in 6

Western Conference Semi-Finals
#5 Red Wings vs. #1 Sharks: Sharks in 6
#3 Flames vs. #2 Blackhawks: Flames in 7

Eastern Conference Finals
#5 Penguins vs. #3 Flyers: Flyers in 7

Western Conference Finals:
#3 Flames vs. #1 Sharks: Sharks in 5

Stanley Cup Finals
#E3 Flyers vs. #W1 Sharks: Sharks in 5

Friday, October 9, 2009

Flyers vs. Penguins Round 1: What Really Happened in the Brawl

Last night, the Flyers and Penguins met for the first time this season. The Penguins were able to grab a 5-4 victory, but it wasn't the final score that headlined this game. None nine of the goals scored came anywhere close to being the top highlight of the night. In fact, the first 59 minutes and 55 seconds of gameplay paled in comparison to the final five.

Only the video can do justice to what happened in those final five seconds. Click here to view it.

Now, nobody expected this game to be a peaceful affair, and fights were to be expected. However, this game didn't really yield as much traditional fighting as one would expect, and instead saw the Flyers go with a whole new stratagem of hockey violence.

In this video see three notable events take place during this scrum:
1) Flyers' captain and center Mike Richards plows into Penguins' netminder Marc-Andre Fleury, knocking Fleury into the net.
2) Flyers' winger Scott Hartnell grabs Pens' defenseman Kristopher Letang from behind, right as Letang was running into the goal, causing it to dislodge. Hartnell and Letang lock up, and quickly fall to the ice, still tied up. After Letang gets up, he runs towards the Penguins locker room looking as if he has injured his finger
3) Chris Pronger comes into the picture after a few seconds, and grabs Pens' winger Chris Kunitz from behind, apparently trying to strangle Kunitz with his own jersey. After a good fifteen seconds or so of Pronger holding Kunitz, with the referees trying to free Kunitz, Pronger lets him go.

Also, in case you were wondering, the penalties levied afterwards were the following:
Mike Richards (PHI)- 2 minute minor for Goaltender Interference
Scott Hartnell (PHI)- 2 minute minor for Roughing
Kristopher Letang (PIT)- 2 minute minor for Roughing
Chris Kunitz (PIT)- 10 minute misconduct
Chris Pronger (PHI)- 10 minute misconduct

So, as one can imagine, the aftermath of this scrum has been quite hard to sort out. The biggest development that has arisen from this fight is that the Penguins have alleged that Scott Hartnell actually bit Letang on the finger.

Here's what Hartnell and Letang had to say (the quotes are from the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette, from an article that is linked to in the previous paragraph):

Hartnell: "A lot of stuff happens on the bottom of the pile. He had his hands in my face doing the face wash and we're rolling around. I can't say what happened."
Letang: "I think he knows what he did."

Obviously, we're never going to know exactly what happened between Letang and Hartnell, but I'm going to have to side with Letang here. There aren't a lot of things that could have happened to Letang's finger that he could have confused with a bite, because the feeling of two teeth clamping down on your finger is pretty distinctive. He could also just be making it up, but it doesn't seem like it would be worth the trouble for the Letang and the Penguins to make a false accusation. There wouldn't be sufficient evidence for the league to suspend Hartnell, which means that the allegation wouldn't really benefit the Penguins in any way.

The two most likely explanations for the biting allegation are that it was a legitimate allegation, or that Letang and his teammates just wanted to get back at Hartnell for grabbing Letang from behind. Letang never made an outright accusation that Hartnell bit him, instead letting his teammates do so. He only said that Hartnell "knows what he did."

It is clear, however, that Hartnell initiated the fight, almost certainly because Letang looked ready to attack Mike Richards for plowing into Fleury. As for what Richards did, it's pretty clear that he deserved the penalty he received. Despite not being one of the Flyers tough guys, Richards is known for getting his hands dirty, and he may have taken his time slowing down as he barrelled towards Fleury. That being said, it's safe to pinpoint Richards as the one who lit the spark that started the scrum.

Now, as for the choking incident, one should hardly consider it a surprise. People have been saying that Chris Pronger is perfect for the Flyers for years, because his style of play makes him a perfect fit for the "Broad Street Bullies." One can always count on Pronger to make dirty plays, whether it's stomping on an opponent's arm with his skate, or teaming up with a teammate to deliver a vicious hit. In this case, he made no secret of trying to strangle Chris Kunitz with Kunitz' own jersey collar. Pronger, like Hartnell, was apparently trying to prevent a teammate from being attacked, as Kunitz looked ready to grab Hartnell after Letang ran off towards the Pens' locker room. Knowing Pronger, this was probably more of an excuse to attack Kunitz than it was a reason to go after him in the first place. Having joined a team that embraces rough play this season, Pronger was probably looking forward to get some "Broad Street Bullying" under his belt.

So, what do we make of this whole mess? If you're a Penguins fan, it goes without saying that this makes you angry and disgusted. However, if you're a Flyers fan, you're probably finding yourself surprisingly happy with a loss to your team's biggest rival. Nothing helps allieve the woes of defeat than seeing your team beat up the opponents- at least if you're a Philadelphia sports fan. The one thing that made this scrum more acceptable for the Flyers than the Carcillo/Talbot disaster during last year's game six disaster (ethics and sportsmanship aside) was that they didn't put the game on the line just for the sake of doing mischief. They waited until the end to cause major damage, which may be unethical and illegal by hockey standards, but it's a good strategy nonetheless.  The Flyers' players were undoubtedly the aggressors, but they managed to take a couple Penguins to the penalty box with them, frustrating the Penguins while not hurting their chances of winning (as the game was essentially over by that point). Pronger (and perhaps Richards) deserve to be suspended, but even if they do, they still made the right decision. The Flyers sent a message at the right time and in the right way, showing that they are learning how to live up to the name "Broad Street Bullies" without forgetting that winning the game is more important than winning a fight.

The Penguins and their fans can complain all they want, but unless the league goes out of their way to make an example of Pronger, Richards, and/or Hartnell, their concerns will be a non-issue. The Penguins won this game on paper, but the Flyers were able to turn the loss into somewhat of a mental victory that will go a long way as this rivalry continues over the course of this season.

Friday, October 2, 2009

2009-10 NHL Regular Season Predictions

Well, ladies and gentleman, it's finally begun. The 2009-10 NHL season began last night, and in a matter of hours the Flyers and Penguins will both be playing their first games of the year. With the season getting underway, it's time to give out OBG's official 2009-10 NHL season predictions. We're going to predict everything about the upcoming season, from who will finish where, to who will win what award, to who will be hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup in June.

So, without further ado, I give you OBG's 2009-10 NHL season predictions!

Eastern Conference

1) Canadiens- The departure of a number of old, overpaid players allowed the Canadiens to go on a wild shopping spree over the off-season, one that has left them stacked up front. The departures of Saku Koivu and Alexei Kovalev should be more than made-up for by the additions of Mike Cammalleri, Scott Gomez, and Brian Gionta. There have been a number of other changes for the Habs, and overall I think things are looking good for the Canadiens this season. The only thing holding them back is the same thing that has been their undoing over the past couple years- goaltending. Carey Price has been playing in the NHL for long enough that he should be confident and focused enough to play consistently. If not, if may be time for the Canadiens to find a new goalie to lead the team in the years to come.
2) Capitals- I think that the Capitals shouldn't have too hard of a time winning the Southeast Division this year. They're a little weaker up front, with Mike Knuble coming in and Viktor Kozlov and Sergei Fedorov playing in Russia, but otherwise things are pretty much the same in the skater department. The biggest question for the Capitals is in goal. Simeon Varlamov played well for much of the playoffs last year, but it's unclear whether or not that was a fluke. If he doesn't emerge as a starting netminder, the Capitals will have to rely on Jose Theodore to return to his former superstar form. Either way, if the Capitals go into the postseason without a strong, experienced netminder, a Stanley Cup run doesn't seem like too good of a possibility.
3) Flyers- After a disapointing end to their 2008-09 campaign, the Flyers have a newfound determination to bring home a title. They have an incredible amount of depth in their organization on defense as well as up front, which can go a long way over the course of a season. There are, however, a lot of things that could bring this team down. If new goaltender Ray Emery keeps a level head, the Flyers will be very tough to beat; however, if he has a meltdown, they're going to be in a lot of trouble. Secondly, all of the Flyers stars up front-including Daniel Briere, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, and Simon Gagne- suffered injuries at some point last season. The fact that the Flyers don't have a true take-charge superstar on offense has hurt them in the playoffs over the past couple years, and a long-term injury to a couple of these guys could only make things worse. Finally, a big concern I personally have is that, should Chris Pronger go down, this team will be in a huge pickle, one that could haunt them for years. I think the Flyers should finish very well in the regular season, but it's the playoffs that have been the Flyers Achilles heel of late.
4) Bruins- Whether or not Tim Thomas is able to win another Vezina Trophy, this team is going to be a playoff contender. Even without Phil Kessel, this is an impressive squad that has the pieces in place to finish near the top of the conference again. In the likely event that they make the postseason, their prospects will certainly be good. As long as Thomas plays well, they'll have two of the most important things a team needs to make a title run- goaltending and playoff experience.
5) Penguins- A few of the Penguins' veteran players departed after last year, but they're still a fantastic squad with strong goaltending, good coaching, and a couple of guys named Crosby and Malkin. The health of Marc-Andre Fleury, Sergei Gonchar, and Crosby is a concern, but the Penguins back-to-back conference titles came in seasons that saw injuries to multiple key players. They won't finish as well as last year, but another playoff run seems like a safe bet.
6) Rangers- The Rangers traded away Scott Gomez and got a better, yet more injury-prone top center in Marian Gaboirk. Even if Gaborik faces injury problems, I still think the Rangers will have a strong season. I'm a big Sean Avery fan (despite being a Flyers fan), and last year he proved how valuable he is to the Rangers. This team almost knocked off the Capitals last year, and I don't believe that was a fluke. The Rangers should reach the playoffs again, barring any major issues (like a major injury to Henrik Lundqvist).
7) Hurricanes- Last year Cam Ward proved that he's a top-tier netminder, and he got a long-term contract because of it. Expect him to have a strong season, and expect the Hurricanes team as a whole to continue to show the heart and teamwork that pushed them far into the playoffs last year. They may even give the Capitals a run for their money in the Southeast Division.
8) Devils- Yes, believe it or not, I predict that the east will have the same eight playoff teams as last year. I think Martin Brodeur's time is starting to run out. With his all-time wins record in the books, I think a decline is on the horizon for Marty. The Devils didn't suffer too many losses this off-season, but the heart and soul of their organization probably doesn't have a whole lot left in the tank- at least not enough to carry the Devils over the course of an entire season. Their other strengths will probably push them into the playoffs, but it doesn't look like another division title is in store for them this year.
9) Lightning- Tampa Bay has done a tremendous job of climbing out of the cellar over the past couple years, and they could very well squeeze their way into the playoffs. However, there are a lot of other strong teams they're going to have to beat out in order to return to the postseason, making the prospect of doing so a difficult one.
10) Maple Leafs- I like the new additions, but this team is still in a rebuilding stage. Unless Jonas Gustavsson and Vesa Toskala win a Jennings trophy, the weaknesses Toronto has up front will pretty much preclude them from making the playoff.
11) Islanders- The Islanders have ridiculous goaltending depth this year, which should help pull them out of the cellar. However, having no Bill Guerin pretty much cancels out the benefit of John Tavares, so I wouldn't go so far as to say the Isles are playoff-bound.
12) Sabres- The Sabres managed to finish pretty high in the standings given the number of injuries they endured last year, but their outlook for this season isn't all that great, even if they do manage to stay healthy. Some of their most important players- like Ryan Miller and Tim Connolly- are injury risks, but with or without those key players the Sabres' lineup isn't too impressive. At best, perhaps the Sabres could be a bubble team.
13) Thrashers- The only way this team will have any shot at the postseason is if Kari Lehtonen gets his act together, or they find a new starting netminder. Ilya Kovalchuk, Nikolai Antropov, and Maxim Afinogenov could combine for 120 goals, and it still wouldn't be enough unless Lehtonen begins playing like a number one goalie.
14) Senators- The departure of Dany Heatley and the arrivals of Milan Michalek, Jonathan Cheechoo, and Alexei Kovalev means that the Sens will be a wee bit deeper up front, but unless they find a top-notch goalie, a return to the playoffs seems doubtful.
15) Panthers- The Panthers knew they'd be in trouble if they didn't deal Jay Bouwmeester at last season's trade deadline and then didn't make the playoffs. They probably won't even get close to doing so this year.

Western Conference

1) Sharks- What happens when you win a President's Trophy, and then you add Dany Heatley to an otherwise mostly unchanged team? You win another President's Trophy- or at least you should. If Evgeni Nabokov has any major problems, then Thomas Greiss will probably be the Sharks starting netminder. Now that could pull an otherwise powerful squad down a bit in the standings.
2) Blackhawks- With or without Marian Hossa, Chicago has a fantastic looking squad that should have a very successful season after gaining experience in last year's playoffs. Their chances of overthrowing the Red Wings as the champs of the Central Division are looking good.
3) Flames- Another example of a strong team out west that added a superstar in the off-season. Jay Bouwmeester should help the Flames avoid another letdown in the Northwest Division, even after they lost forward Mike Cammalleri and a couple other players to free agency.
4) Canucks- Not too many changes here, but Vancouver did win the Northwest Division last year with Roberto Luongo out for an extended period of time. Another playoff run seems inevitable for them.
5) Red Wings- We saw signs of aging from the Red Wings in the finals last year, as they appeared to run out of gas towards the end of the series. They're still a fantastic squad, but I think they're going to fall a bit more in the standings than some might expect.
6) Wild- The loss of Marian Gaborik for much of last season hurt their chances, but he's no longer playing in Minnesota. Martin Havlat is less of an injury risk, and with him in place a return to the playoffs looks like a good possibility for the Wild.
7) Kings- Everyone seems to think they're going to surge back into the playoffs this year, although I don't think they will with Jonathan Quick in net. However, given the attitude the Kings' management seems to have, I get the feeling that they'll go after a real number one goalie if they can't find one within the organization.
8) Predators- They just missed the playoffs last year, and they, like the Kings, don't seem to have a true number one netminder. Like the Kings, I think that they're going to find a true number one goalie if the need arises, and because of that I see them just squeezing into the playoffs.
9) Blues- I doubt that Chris Mason is going to play as well as he did at the end of last year, but the addition of Ty Conklin means that the Blues have a backup plan if Mason fails to keep up his good work from last year. Still, I see the Blues falling just short of a playoff berth.
10) Ducks- They finished eighth last year with Chris Pronger on the team. Without him, an old Scott Niedermayer will have that much more work, and that will probably make the Ducks miss the playoffs.
11) Oilers- Adding Nikolai Khabibulin to replace Dwayne Roloson is an improvement, but not by enough for the Oilers to return to the playoffs.
12) Blue Jackets- I am a firm believer in the "Sophomore Curse," which causes rookie sensations to mysteriously struggle the following year. This would be a disaster for the Blue Jackets, as without Steve Mason's supreme rookie season in goal, they simply wouldn't have made the playoffs last year. He won't be as good, and neither will the team be. Expect them to miss the postseason.
13) Stars- A massive losing streak crushed their playoff hopes last year, but what's to prevent another slide? They're just another mostly unchanged team that should stay in the Western Conference cellar.
14) Coyotes- Even Wayne Gretzky himself couldn't save this team. They have severe financial problems and things won't be much better on the ice.
15) Avalanche- No surprise here, as the Avalanche haven't made any moves that would suggest they can climb out of last place in a highly competitive Western Conference.

With our regular-season predictions in place here at OBG, our pre-season playoff predictions will be coming soon. We'll be predicting the results of the entire playoffs before the season is even a week old.

Meanwhile, enjoy the Flyers and Penguins season openers tonight, and we'll see you again soon here at OBG!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Penguins' October Predictions & Prophecies

With the Flyers' half of our first monthly Predictions & Prophecies segment complete here at OBG, it's time to jump right into the Penguins half.

Here are your October Predictions & Prophecies for the Penguins:


10/2 vs. Rangers: I trust that the Penguins and their fans will be feeling more than energetic when they celebrate their championship and raise their banner. The question is whether or not they'll be focused enough to channel that energy into the game. I've come to expect this sort of focus from the Penguins, but a summer of celebrating a Stanley Cup can change that. Penguins strike first, but Rangers make a hard-earned comeback, and win it 4-2.
10/3 at Islanders: I know I'm going out on a limb here, but with Crosby nursing an injury, two games in two nights will be a lot. The Penguins will get upended yet again, and I get the feeling this night will belong to the Islanders' number one overall pick, John Tavares. He gets his first NHL goal, and the Penguins lose 4-2 yet again.
10/7 vs. Coyotes: Nothing like a team in a massive financial pickle to get you back on your feet. A convincing 5-0 win for the Penguins.
10/8 at Flyers: The rivalry renewed! The Flyers are going to be driven to do anything they can towards amending their Game 6 embarrassment from the year before. This time, the Flyers take the lead and don't look back, taking this one 4-2.
10/10 at Maple Leafs: This one ends up being a close game that goes into shootout, with a 2-2 score. In the shootout, the Penguins take the extra point thanks to a clutch shot by Sidney Crosby. He's baaaaack......
10/12 at Senators: This isn't a good year to be a Senators fan, plain and simple. Marc-Andre Fleury earns his second shutout in four games. 3-0 is your final score.
10/14 at Hurricanes: The 'Canes are undoubtedly embarrassed after getting swept by the Penguins last year, and they have a lot of motivation to get some revenge. They turn the tides on the Penguins thanks to a gem of an effort in net by Cam Ward. Carolina wins it 4-1.
10/17 vs. Lightning: Wouldn't it be interesting if Anterro Niittymaki played in this one? Okay, maybe not, but in a blog about the Flyers and Penguins rivalry, it would pass as eyebrow-raising. That being said, let's assume Niitty plays. I still don't think the Lightning will win this one, even though it would make for a good story. Penguins take this one 6-1.
10/20 vs. Blues: The second game of this five-game home stand goes just about as well as the first. Penguins win again, 4-3.
10/23 vs. Panthers: A bit of an off night for the Penguins, as they get a bit too complacent after a couple strong outings. Panthers win it in overtime 4-3.
10/24 vs. Devils: Marc-Andre Fleury and Martin Brodeur have a brilliant goalie duel, but Fleury is able to edge his elder, and the Penguins win in overtime, 2-1.
10/28 vs. Canadiens: The brand spankin' new Canadiens look great, making for a blockbuster matchup that will be made even more interesting by Hal Gill's return to Pittsburgh. Canadiens take this one 5-3.
10/30 at Blue Jackets: It isn't a long trip to Columbus, so the flight home won't be a long one figuratively or literally after the Penguins take down the Jackets 5-1.
10/31 vs. Wild: Another homecoming, this time for Petr Sykora. He'll score a goal or two but the Penguins will still win by a final score of 3-2. They go into an early November road trip feeling upbeat...

Penguins' October Record: 8-5-1



Player of the Month: Evgeni Malkin
Player Most Likely to be Injured: Sergei Gonchar
Surprise Contributor of the Month: Ruslan Fedotenko
Disappointment of the Month: Sidney Crosby
Most Goals: Evgeni Malkin
Most Points: Evgeni Malkin
Goon of the Month: Matt Cooke
Penguins' Overall Monthly Grade: B-

Flyers' October Predictions & Prophecies

Well hockey fans, whether you believe it or not, the season starts tonight. It’s an earlier start than normal this season because of the Winter Olympics, and with September just finishing yesterday, it doesn’t feel like hockey season yet. However, I for one am certainly not complaining, and I’m eagerly excited for the start of Flyers hockey and Pitt hockey tomorrow, as well as indifferent about the start of Penguins hockey tomorrow.

Now, with the season kicking off tomorrow, it’s time to give out OBG’s first monthly Predictions & Prophecies entries. Predictions & Prophecies will include two parts- the first of which includes game-by-game predictions for the upcoming month (originally, the entire season was to be covered in a game-by-game format, but the idea of doing it one month at a time seems a bit more reasonable and less maddening for yours truly). These predictions will be oddly specific, to the point where having every one of them ending up correct would be even more impressive than me conjuring up the meaning of life, solving world hunger, and creating world peace by tomorrow night. That being said, I may be setting the bar a bit too high, but for the sake of entertainment, I’m going to sacrifice my dreams of becoming a prophet in the name of hockey blogging.

These previews will contain two separate posts- one for the Flyers, and one for the Penguins. The Flyers’ post will always come first (feel free to resurrect Sigmund Freud and have him analyze why I’m doing things that way), and every round of game predictions will be followed by a second part to the post, which will feature other predictions and assorted prophecies pertaining to the upcoming month (hence the name Predictions & Prophecies). They will also come without explanations, although I will happily respond to comments that ask for them, or comments that debate anything I predict or prophesize.

So, with no further ado, let’s kick off with the Flyers’ October Predictions & Prophecies!

10/2 @ Hurricanes: Both working off new contracts, Ray Emery and Cam Ward look great, but the ‘Canes get the edge in overtime, by a final score of 3-2.
10/3 @ Devils: Emery continues to impress. The Flyers score early, and never look back. Flyers win it 4-2.
10/6 vs. Capitals: That whole goalie situation the Capitals have doesn’t look too promising, but Alexander the Great is always a threat. He and the Capitals win in a shootout, 4-3.
10/8 vs. Penguins: This will be a slobber knocker no doubt, and tensions will be at a boil. However, the Flyers are thirsty for revenge, and are wiser from their past experience. Flyers win 5-2.
10/10 vs. Ducks: Welcome back to Philly Joffery Lupul! It’s a good reunion, and Lupul will be at his best without a doubt. Chris Pronger will have trouble playing tough against his old teammates. Flyers strike first, but Ducks unleash a flurry of offense with four straight tallies, and they win it 4-2.
10/16 @ Panthers: Panthers look pretty bad without Jay Bouwmeester. Flyers win 3-1.
10/22 vs. Bruins: Only three games over a twelve day span? How the heck does that happen? Having only played one game since the 10th, the Flyers are cold against one of the league’s best teams, who also happen to be their eventual Winter Classic opponents. Bruins win it 6-1.
10/24 vs. Panthers: Flyers make up for the previous game, and the Panthers continue a dreadful start to the season. The Flyers’ offense continues a strong start, leading to a 5-2 victory.
10/25 vs. Sharks: A blockbuster matchup that lives up to the hype. In the end, the Sharks best the Flyers (as has often been the case over the last few years) in a shootout, 2-1.
10/27 @ Capitals: Capitals continue their quest for revenge against the Flyers. They meet success in this quest, beating the Flyers on national television for the second time in the month of October, by a score of 5-2.
10/31 vs. Hurricanes: Chris Pronger wears a scary costume for Halloween- his jersey. What could be more appropriate for Halloween than a giant dressed in orange and black? Flyers win this one, 3-1.
Flyers’ October Record: 6-2-3

Player of the Month: Jeff Carter
Player Most Likely to be Injured: Daniel Briere
Surprise Contributor of the Month: Mika Pyorala
Disappointment of the Month: Mike Richards
Most Goals: Jeff Carter
Most Points: Jeff Carter
Goon of the Month: Chris Pronger

Overall Monthly Grade: C+