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2012 NHL Playoffs Preview: Penguins vs. Flyers

April 13, 2012 3 comments

Canvassing the Caucuses: An Election-Style NHL Playoff Preview during Election Season

PART 4

by Peter Nygaard (follow him on Twitter)

Eastern Primary

Pittsburgh Penguins (4) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (5)

[also see: Boston Bruins vs. Washington CapitalsFlorida Panthers vs. New Jersey Devils,  & New York Rangers vs. Ottawa Senators]

  • The Issues:
    No Kid Left Behind — After taking an elbow to the head from David Krejci, Sidney Crosby looked like he might never return to the Sid “the in-his-mid-20s Kid” we had seen earn the title of best hockey player in the world. However, since returning on the ides of March, Crosby has returned to form, tallying 25 points in 14 games. With Crosby sidelined, the Penguins were still one of the better teams in the NHL. With a healthy Crosby and the NHL’s leading scorer Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh is downright terrifying.
  • Socialized Healthcare — The Penguins were among the NHL leaders in man games lost to injury. Crosby’s 60-game absence was the most notable, but the Penguins missed Jordan Staal, Kris Letang, Tyler Kennedy and Zbynek Michalek for a combined 93 games as well. All five will be healthy for the series opener.
  • Political Dirt:
    Arguably the NHL’s most reviled player for the past few years, Matt Cooke spent the offseason working with coach Dan Bylsma trying to ‘reform’ his game. Surprisingly, Cooke has drastically cut down on his penalty minutes and was even Pittsburgh’s nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy. Sounds a little too good to be true, right?
  • Campaign Promises:
    If elected, the Penguins promise to drum up more fan interest and vitriol than any other team in the NHL. Pittsburgh isn’t a big market, but ask any casual fan who Sidney Crosby is, and you’re unlikely to get a blank stare. You may hate to see them succeed, but it’s good for the game.
  • The Issues:
    Russian Diplomacy — When the Flyers inked Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year contract, they hoped he would be the $51 million answer to their long-standing goaltending question. Instead, Bryz has only made the situation murkier. The enigmatic Russian’s performance level has dipped up and down, while backup Sergei Bobrovsky has had his moments but struggled with consistency as well. With so much money invested in Bryzgalov, it will be tough to give him the hook, but coach Peter Laviolette won a Stanley Cup in Carolina after dropping the veteran starter for a younger, less-experienced netminder.
  • Space ExplorationTake it away, Ilya.
  • Political Dirt:
    When a team trades away its entire leadership core to bring in a guy who played his way onto the bench during the regular season, it’s usually time to cash out.
  • Campaign Promises:
    If elected, the Flyers plan to do what they do best in the playoffs and serve as foil for somebody else’s run to the Stanley Cup. “Ever the bridesmaids, never the brides” seems to be the mantra for this organization.

Vote For: Pittsburgh Penguins in 7

2012 NHL Playoffs Preview: Panthers vs. Devils

April 13, 2012 3 comments

Canvassing the Caucuses: An Election-Style NHL Playoff Preview during Election Season

PART 3

by Peter Nygaard (follow him on Twitter)

Eastern Primary

Florida Panthers (3) vs. New Jersey Devils (6)

[also see: Boston Bruins vs. Washington CapitalsNew York Rangers vs. Ottawa Senators,  & Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers]

  • The Issues:
    Cronyism — Forgive Panthers’ GM Dale Tallon if his team looks a little familiar. Tallon was known as the architect of the Chicago Blackhawks’ remarkable turnaround, so when he joined the Florida Panthers organization, he made a point to bring in several guys from the Blackhawks’ Cup winning team. The Panthers have also established themselves as consistent trade partners with the Vancouver Canucks. There are worse teams to be doing your dealings with if you’re trying to build up a contender.
  • Read my lips: No new rebuilds — After spending the entirety of the Bush administration and the majority of Obama’s first term in a perpetual state of rebuilding, the Panthers finally appeared primed to enjoy some long-term success. Leading the defense has been the re-emerging Brian Campbell, who is playing his finest hockey yet. On offense, the team has been supported by a platoon of new acquisitions — Tomas Fleischmann, Kris Versteeg and Tomas Kopecky — and a familiar face in Stephen Weiss. All that’s left is finding the goaltender of the future. Jacob Markstrom may be that guy, but for now, the Panthers will be rolling out veterans Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmenson.
  • Political Dirt:
    The Panthers looked to be a sure thing to make the playoffs after a five-game winning streak in mid-March. But the market turned, and Florida lost eight of its last 10 games and did not clinch the Southeast Division until the last day of the season. Granted, four of those 10 games ended in shootouts, so the mark very well may have turned out to be 5-5 under playoff conditions, but you really don’t want to be in a position to make excuses heading into the playoffs. The Panthers need to refocus.
  • Campaign Promises:
    If elected, the Panthers will seriously try to get people in Miami to like hockey. Remember how cool that ‘rats’ thing was in ’96? If our team does really well, I’m sure Miami fans will show up to—why are you laughing?
  • The Issues:
    Veterans Jobs — Commend the Devils for spending their free time doing community service by working with the elderly. The Devils have created jobs for 35-and-older players Patrik Elias, Eric Boulton, Petr Sykora, Bryce Salvador and Marek Zidlicky. Goaltenders Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg are both older than the New Jersey Devils franchise, and that’s including the team’s years as the Kansas City Scouts and Colorado Rockies.
  • Equal Pay — New Jersey has a steep disparity in pay between the top three forwards — Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and Elias — and everyone else. The top-paid trio earns significantly more than the rest of the forwards combined. Most notable is the Devil-for-life contract that Kovalchuk notoriously signed in 2010. Kovalchuk’s annual salary? $6,666,667.
  • Political Dirt:
    New Jersey head man Peter DeBoer took over the Devils’ coaching job after three years at the helm of the Florida Panthers. Conspiracy theorists wonder whether the Panthers were playing some sort of a long game when they fired him, knowing that he’d turn up with the Devils just in time for a first-round matchup with the Panthers.
  • Campaign Promises:
    If elected, the Devils promise to tell you where Jimmy Hoffa is really buried.

Vote For: Florida Panthers in 6

2012 NHL Playoffs Preview: Bruins vs. Capitals

April 13, 2012 3 comments

Canvassing the Caucuses: An Election-Style NHL Playoff Preview during Election Season

PART 2

by Peter Nygaard (follow him on Twitter)

Eastern Primary

Boston Bruins (2) vs. Washington Capitals (7)

[also see: New York Rangers vs. Ottawa SenatorsFlorida Panthers vs. New Jersey Devils,  & Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers]

  • The Issues:
    The Incumbent — Last year, the Boston Bruins surprised many by advancing out of the Eastern Conference as the 3-seed and surprised even more by beating the President’s Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks on their home ice. Perhaps you heard about it. The old adage is that the Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy in sports to defend, and rightfully so. The last team to repeat as Cup champions was the ‘97-98 Detroit Red Wings. Since then, only three teams have even made it back to the Finals to defend their championship. It will not be easy to repeat, but the Bruins know what it takes to win the Cup.
  • Bailout Plan — Watching Boston goalie Tim Thomas harks back to the days of Dominik Hasek, as Thomas employs the same unconventional what-ever-it-takes style as The Dominator did. It’s hard enough to get past a stellar Bruins blue-line led by the towering Zdeno Chara, but those who are lucky enough to get a one-on-one chance on Thomas will be hit with everything including the kitchen sink by the fearless goalie. As far as bailout options go, there aren’t many better than Timmy Thomas.
  • Political Dirt:
    Regardless of how November’s election plays out, Obama will still likely be in office for any post-Stanley Cup White House visits. Don’t think they’ve forgotten how Thomas publicly snubbed the event last year.
  • Campaign Promises:
    OW-AHH BAWSTON B’S WON’T LET THAT COMMIE PINKO WIN! OVIE WILL BE SHAKIN IN HIS BOOTS WHEN HE HEAHHS THA AWWSOME POWAH OF OW-AHH LEGENDARY BAWSTON FAITHFUL. THA ONLY THING WE AHH GONNA PROMISE IS THAT THA SO-CALLED LAHNG-SUFFAHING WAHHSHINGTON CAPITALS WILL BE GONE-AHS QUICKAH THAN THA GREAT WES WELKAH GETS AHF THA LINE AHH SCRIMMAGE. AND NOBODY GETS AHF THA LINE FASTAH THAN WELKAH!! NO ONE DENIES THIS!
  • The Issues:
    ‘Washington Capitals’ in name only — Forget everything you knew about the Washington Capitals. After the midseason firing of Bruce Boudreau and takeover of new coach Dale Hunter, the Capitals have undergone a transformation from a team that reigned supreme on highlight reels to what looks more like the core of a legitimate playoff contender. The Caps still have the same highlight-reel talent, but they’re no longer looking to blow the roof of with their goal-scoring. By instilling unconditional trust in his players, Hunter has overhauled the team into one that is no longer afraid to play ugly hockey. That may be the difference that puts the immensely talented Caps over the edge.
  • Energy Crisis — It’s hard to believe, but Washington actually finished the season with a negative goal-differential. Losing center Nicklas Backstrom for half the season did not help matters, but star winger Alex Ovechkin finished under 40 goals for the second straight season and posted a career-low 65 points. Left-winger Alexander Semin also experienced a drop-off in production, leaving many wondering if the Capitals are already on the decline.
  • Political Dirt:
    Who exactly is going to be on the ticket? The Caps have seen injuries to presumed missing-piece Tomas Vokoun and last year’s starter Michal Neuvirth, leaving rookie Braden Holtby as the Game 1 starter. Does Washington trust Holtby enough to give him veto power over Boston’s playoff hopes, or will he be relegated to a cabinet post when the others return?
  • Campaign Promises:
    If elected, the Capitals promise to stop jabbering on about regular season success until we actually win something of note in the playoffs. If our fans shut up, will you be willing to just sit back and enjoy some seriously fun-to-watch hockey? Please?
  • Vote For: Boston Bruins in 7

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