3/22/12 - Studs & Duds
Thursday's action saw over half the league in action, with 16 teams in play. Of the multiple matchups, three thrived with success while a quarter of a dozen quietly quivered away. Here are the Studs and Duds for March 22, 2012:
3) Oh Brother
With Daniel Sedin sidelined with a concussion, there were many wondering how the Canucks would fare without their star winger. While their powerplay was quite bad and the offence wasn't there, Vancouver was quite competent without Daniel, winning 2-1 in a back-to-back game against the Dallas Stars. Cory Schneider played very well, and Daniel's counterpart Henrik notched 2 assists. While they did win today, having Sedin out for the playoffs would be a rough blow. However, games like this show they could technically survive if without him for a game or two in the postseason.
2) Goaltender's Duel
When people think of a goaltender's duel, they often think of a low shot affair with few scoring chances. On Thursday, the Los Angeles Kings and the St. Louis Blues engaged themselves in one of the most entertaining games of the year, and not a single goal was scored. Brian Elliott and Jonathan Quick were stellar, and without their efforts the score would have been 6-5, if not even greater. Elliott made 37 saves and Quick added 35 to stop countless skaters from lighting the lamp. With this matchup being a potential playoff series, games like these have to make many excited that this will be a possibility.
1) The Real Deal, Not Just James Neal
Since the beginning of October, the search for the Stanley Cup favourite was on. For the past half-year, many teams have seen themselves as the perennial choice to win hockey's top prize. The year started with the Canucks on top, and quickly switched to the Bruins until their subpar play. Following them, the Detroit Red Wings and their unprecedented home winning streak reigned supreme, and injuries saw them lose that title to the conference leaders: the Rangers and the Blues. However, last week saw the return of a dynasty. With Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang returning, there was no denying that the Pittsburgh Penguins (when healthy) had a chance to beat any club in the league. After a stretch that saw them go 3-0-1, the Pens had a matchup with the contending Predators, and made them seem like they were a bottom-feeder AHL team.
Evgeni Malkin scored 2 goals, Fleury ended up saving 29 of 30, and James Neal notched 4 assists to lead the Penguins to a decisive 5-1 victory over the Nashville Predators. In their past 5 games, Pittsburgh has outscored their opponents 25-12, allowing 4 goals when their 3rd string netminder was in goal. The team has won 13 of their last 14 games, picking up 27 of a possible 28 points. There's no denying that this team is currently unstoppable and Thursday further re-itterated this point.
3) His Return made them Radul-off
The chronicles of Alexander Radulov have been the talk of the hockey world for quite some time. The talented sophomore had made serious strides with the Nashville Predators in 2008, hitting 26 goals. However, Radulov bolted to the KHL, and his future plans of returning to North America looked hazy. However, this all turned the corner last week, when his team was eliminated from the KHL playoffs. Now, Radulov had turned into the star of Russian hockey, posting great numbers and making dazzling plays. However, he finally decided it was time to return to Nashville, and help the team win the Stanley Cup. On paper, the Predators had received the only piece missing from their arsenal of weapons, which was a sniper. It looked like the Predators would contend no matter the opponent, and would start the new Radulov-era by defeating the powerful Pittsburgh Penguins. Things did not start according to plan.
The Predators came out flat, losing quite easily to the Pens 5-1. Pekka Rinne allowed 5 goals on 23 shots and the offense could not make up for lack of goaltending. Radulov did record his first goal in his first game back, but was also on the ice for 3 of the Penguins goals. However, he did backcheck and play a solid game, but his team did not as well. This is clearly a slight bump in the road, but it shows that the Predators do need a little bit more practice with their new star before taking on the big dogs of the National Hockey League.
2) Coming Out Flat
On Monday, the Boston Bruins came out strong and manhandled the Toronto Maple Leafs 8-0. After a controversial White House visit and the following sub-500 play, the huge win was considered to be a turning point, considering the team had also beaten the very strong Flyers. However, the Bruins looked fairly lethargic on Thursday, losing to the San Jose Sharks 2-1. Aside from the one flukey goal from Zdeno Chara, the team was not impressive. Firing only 17 shots on goal, the Bruins lacked the tenacity seen by them in their prime. The Bruins will be a contender this year, but games like these need to be abolished from their repertoire.
1) Playoffs? You Kidding Me?
On April 8th, the NHL season will end. At the end, there will be many teams that were on the cusp of the playoffs, and just missed. Two of those teams, Colorado and Winnipeg, might not make it to the big dance, but exceeded expectations and gave an honest effort if they don't squeak in. However, if the Calgary Flames don't make the playoffs, they'll have nobody to blame but themselves. Culminating with a shootout loss against the Wild, Calgary only gained 3 of 8 points against the Coyotes, 30th place Oilers, 29th place Blue Jackets, and 27th place Wild. Had they gotten 3 more points during that time, they'd be in the top 8 in the West. Against the Wild tonight, which was a must win game, the team proved that they don't have anybody to blame but themselves.