Popsicle Brothers’ Report # 6 – First to Sixteen – Wins!! (Part One)
By Michael – Louis Ingram, Editor – in – Chief and Gary Norris Gray, Staff Reporter
PHILADELPHIA, PA, OAKLAND, CA and VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA (www.basnnewsroom.com)
As the grind of the 82 games continues, even before the post-season, this NHL season has turned out some unbelievable hockey down the stretch.
With only a couple spots up for grabs, The Popsicle Brothers will run down the possibilities coming into the final week of the season, beginning with the Eastern Conference:
BOSTON BRUINS (110 points, 1st place Atlantic Division, clinched) the Bruins, known more for a scrappy, sometimes chippy style of play, are playing some beautiful hockey right now. The top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak are displaying an on-ice chemistry bordering on high art, turning the B’s into a jazz combo.
Good secondary scoring and specials makes Boston a tough nut to crack; but goalie Tuukka Rask has been bested more than a coupla times come Money Time; has a temper and can let it get the best of him…
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (108 points, second place Atlantic division, clinched) the ‘Bolts play like their nickname, up and down the ice, five 20 – plus scorers led by winger Nikita Kucherov (97 points) and center Steven Stamkos, who put up 86 points despite nagging injuries.
Balanced scoring up the middle makes Tampa Bay the one team you don’t wanna get in a shootout; but their penalty kill is a distinct flaw, ranking in the bottom five of the league. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy had better keep his head on a swivel. Louie Domingue, a pickup from Arizona, showed flashes of brilliance while under siege in the desert…
WASHINGTON CAPITALS (101 points, 1st place Metropolitan Division, clinched) the constant in D.C. when it comes to the ice is Alex Ovechkin – 1,000 games in as one of Russia’s greatest exports to the game. While there have been struggles in filling in the third spot to roll with Ovechkin and center Evgeny Kuznetsov, second line center Nicklas Backstrom and defenseman John Carlson make up for any drop off regarding scoring, with Carlson lethal on the power play as the best offensive defenseman in the game right now.
In net, Brayden Holtby won 35 games in net, but has not looked good over the last few weeks. Backup Phillpp Grubauer was sharper late, with a better goals – against and save percentage than Holtby. Gotta remember through all Ovi’s achievements over ten seasons, Capitals have yet to sip from The Cup…
Goal Brothers’ X-Factor: Winger Devante Smith – Pelly caught some grief from some asshole fans in Chicago in an incident where they were tossed out for some un-fanlike bullshit. We forget often many of the Goal Brothers don’t have that support system at the ready sometimes, but winning and advancing is the best revenge! In a short series, intensity and focus is what matters.
Go get ’em, young ‘un…
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS (101 points, third place Atlantic Division) yes, Canada, you will be represented in the post – season; ironically, with one team from the East and the West. The Leafs have seen three of their budding corps develop into true snipers as Nazem Kadri (31) and James van Riemsdyk (a career – high 36) join Auston Matthews in the 30 – goal club. Center Mitchell Marner may be their secret weapon, however, as he leads the team in points and versatility. The early season pickup of former San Jose Shark forward Patrick Marleau proved to be a nice touch of veteran assets to the Leafs’ lineup.
Toronto will live or die with Frederik Andersen in goal. Overall the team’s plus/minus is solid and if Toronto can get past a first round opponent, it will get interesting.
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS (96 points, currently second place, Metropolitan Division, clinched) Penguins got spanked by Washington for the division and can feel Columbus, Philadelphia and New Jersey breathing down their necks as spots six through eight are in play.
Evgeni Malkin led the team in scoring with 96 points and almost as many penalty minutes (83); the omnipresent Sidney Crosby helps define the offensive flow as he and Jake Guentzel center three strong lines out on the ice every night. Phil Kessel remains the ultimate garbage man who can score thirty goals in his sleep.
Kris LeTang leads the defense and Matt Murray must tighten up his game in net. Pittsburgh is battle – tested, but the last thing the defending champs want is a first – round continuation of their ongoing Tong War with the Philadelphia Flyers; and you’re gonna really miss Ryan Reaves (more on bro – man later!)
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS (94 points, currently third place, Metropolitan Division) The vibe in Blue Jack City is one of confidence; because if defense truly wins championships, they feel the league’s best goaltender sits between their pipes in the person of Sergei Bobrovsky.
From the Old School “Bloc Quebecois” (Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur, Marc-Andre Fleury) to the Fantastic Finns (Pekka Rinne, Rask) Russia, through Bobrovsky, is finally creeping back into net royalty. If Columbus intends to send a message to the league that they are here to stay, Blue Jack City must go deep into the post-season…
Columbus doesn’t seem that imposing on paper; their centers have good size and their wingers are smallish, but they do damage. The “Bread Man” Artemi Panarin, is their leading scorer (26G, 51A) and, like Washington, Columbus depends on supplemental scoring from their defense, led by Seth Jones (54 points and tied for fourth in goals with 18). Brandon Dubinsky is one of the rising American players in the game, so along with Jones, captain Nick Foligno and six others, there’s a lot of U.S. flava to savor on the roster…
Goal Brothers’ X – Factor: Seth Jones must dominate. He won’t have to take more chances (because he will jump up in an odd man rush) he just has to cash in on more of the opportunities when they happen…
PHILADELPHIA FLYERS (94 points, currently first Wild Card spot, Metropolitan Division) Now how many Orange and Black faithful believed after the second month that the Fly Guys would be on the verge of snatching a playoff berth?
I surely could be wrong, but to my recollection, I have never seen an NHL team survive a double – digit losing streak – and make the post – season, of which it looks like Philly will. Could it be residual energy from the Eagles’ Super Bowl win? Or could it be the Flyers’ depth coming to the surface at just the right time?
The emergence of Sean Couturier into a career best year of 71 points (with a team – leading 31 goals) in addition to being one of the best checking forwards in the league, rewards the front office’s patience. Couturier, a resurgent Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek has come through and been the ace line they were supposed to be.
Youth has definitely been served in South Philly as center Travis Konecny has caught fire and emerged as the team’s third leading scorer (24 goals) Defenseman Ivan Provorov has stayed among the league leaders in ice time, averaging over 25 minutes; Shayne “Ghost” Gostisbehere has matured as a quarterback on the power play, and a constant issue in Philly’s potential – goal tending – has been a ‘next man up’ imperative.
Who starts in goal and how they play will set the tone for the bullpen – and ‘relief pitcher’ Alex Lyon…stay tuned.
Goal Brothers’ X-Factor: Wayne Simmonds is the Flyers most versatile player, and his presence was felt in rookie Nolan Patrick’s baby steps on special teams having to step in during his late season injury. A healthy Simmonds provides Philly with all the intangibles – plus that little bit of Nasty that has long been the heart of the Flyers’ pedigree. A nice waiver wire move in snatching up veteran Johnny Oduya for the defense may pay dividends as well. Oduya is a two – time Cup winner and a very fluid skater.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS (93 points, currently second Wild Card spot, Metropolitan Division) Talk about pedigree. The Devils have always been two things: disciplined and dangerous.
Aside from what should be a Comeback Player of the Year Award for winger Taylor Hall (89 points), New Jersey always seems to find a way to bedevil the opposition.
The classic Left Wing Lock notwithstanding, this team can neutral zone trap you all night long; which can make for ugly games ending in beautiful outcomes – for Jersey.
With just one other 20 – plus goal scorer (right wing Kyle Palmieri), split net duties between Cory Schneider and Keith Kincaid, and nothing on paper which would indicate they would be a threat, it seems the Devils never get their due – until the clocks say zero…
Point blank: The Joisey Devils…are a pain in the ass to play; anytime, anywhere.
Living on the Fault Line:
FLORIDA PANTHERS (88 points, four games remaining):
Panthers were seriously stalking until a mini – funk over the last week. Florida has size, speed and goalie Roberto Luongo’s groove on in net. If they somehow ‘Hubi-dubi-doo’ their way into a playoff spot, they could make for a dangerous one/eight match up.
Next Time: The Western Conference
always outnumbered…never outgunned.
Copyright (c) Michael – Louis Ingram (c) PopBros 2018