Month: April 2014

NHL Playoffs: Montreal and Boston Get Ready to Renew Old Rivalry

habruinsA pair of Original Six teams are ready to go toe-to-toe again.

by Drew Sarver

For years, the Montreal Canadiens were the kings of the National Hockey League. Between 1953 and 1979 they captured the Stanley Cup 16 times, including five straight years from 1956-1960 and four times in a row from 1976-1979.  During that stretch, Montreal also made it to the finals three other three times, with losses to Detroit (twice) and Toronto. In all, the Canadiens have hoisted the Cup 24 times.

Their fellow “Original Six” rivals, the Boston Bruins, won the Stanley Cup in 2011 and lost in the finals to Chicago, another of the Original Six, last year. The Cup win was the first for the Bruins since the 1971-1972 season and the sixth for the franchise.

The two team have played in the same division for many years, but when the teams meet in the playoffs, emotions are amped up a notch or 200.

It was no wonder that the Canadiens captured so many titles during the Original Six period that ran from 1942 until the NHL expansion in 1967, which doubled the size of the league. There weren’t too many American-born players in the NHL during that 25-year stretch, and Montreal grabbed one future Hall-of-Fame player after another with their territorial picks. Many of the Canadiens’ championships have included a playoff series win against Boston.

As a matter of fact, after the Bruins won a five-game series in 1943, they lost to the Canadiens the next 18 times they met in the playoffs. The streak, which began in 1946, ended in 1988. Since then, things have actually shifted in the Bruins’ favor with seven wins in 11 series.

Both teams have won just one Stanley Cup since the Bruins ended their skid in 1988, with Montreal entering this season with a 20-year drought since their last championship. This will be the 34th post-season meeting between the two teams and their first in three years.

Both teams got to this point by being road warriors in round one. Though he may never have been known as “Mad Max”, Canadiens’ forward Max Pacioretty eliminated the Tampa Bay Lightning with a goal with 17 seconds left in regulation time in Game 4. The four-game sweep would not have been possible had it not been for the Canadiens’ two wins in Tampa Bay to open the series. It’s just too bad the Lightning no longer play in the “Thunderdome”.

The Bolts had to play without their number-one goalie and Vezina Trophy finalist, Ben Bishop, for the entire series. Bishop underwent wrist surgery at the conclusion of the first-round series, in which Montreal dominated at both ends of the ice. Lightning goalie Anders Lindback was the only thing that kept Game 1 in Tampa from being a blowout, as the Canadiens out-shot the Lightning by a wide margin (44-25), in a 5-4 Montreal victory. Unlikely hero Dale Weise scored the game winner for Montreal in overtime.

Canadiens’ goalie, and Olympic Gold Medalist, Carey Price outplayed Lindback and third-string goalie Kristers Gudlevskis in the entire series. The Canadiens never let up, and the Lightning were burnt to a crisp when Pacioretty got his game winner. Twenty-one year-old Brendan Gallagher led the Habs in both goals (3) and points (5).

Boston took the President’s Trophy for most points (117) recorded in the NHL this season, but lost Game 1 on home ice. The Detroit Red Wings’ Pavel Datsyuk scored the game’s only goal with 3:01 left in regulation. Jimmy Howard stole the game from another Vezina Trophy finalist, Tuukka Rask, with 25 saves.

But Boston didn’t get to be the number-one seed in the entire NHL for no reason. They dominated the next four games, winning at home in Game 2, before going to the Motor City to finish off the Red Wings. Rask and company held Detroit to six goals for the entire series and got a shutout of their own, 3-0, in Game 2. Milan Lucic led a balanced Boston attack with three goals, while center Patrice Bergeron and defenseman Torey Krug led the squad with five points apiece. Finland’s Rask stopped 96.1% of the shots he faced to go along with a 1.16 goals-against-average (GAG).

Montreal has won 24 of the previous 33 playoff series with Boston,  and most recently has won six of the last seven meetings between the two in the regular season. But when the puck drops in round two, it will be difficult to imagine the Bruins not skating away with the series. Probably in six games.

Listed below is the record for the first 33 times the Canadiens and Bruins clashed in the playoffs.

Pre-Orginal Six Period

1929 – Bruins 3-0 Semi-Finals
1930 – Canadiens 2-0 Finals
1931 – Canadiens 3-2 Semi-Finals

Original Six Period

1943 – Bruins 4-1 Semi-Finals
1946 – Canadiens 4-1 Finals
1947 – Canadiens 4-1 Semi-Finals
1952 – Canadiens 4-3 Semi-Finals
1953 – Canadiens 4-1 Finals
1954 – Canadiens 4-0 Semi-Finals
1955 – Canadiens 4-1 Semi-Finals
1957 – Canadiens 4-1 Finals
1958 – Canadiens 4-2 Finals

Post Original Six Period

1968 – Canadiens 4-0 Quarter-Finals
1969 – Canadiens 4-2 Semi-Finals
1971 – Canadiens 4-3 Quarter-Finals
1977 – Canadiens 4-0 Finals
1978 – Canadiens 4-2 Finals
1979 – Canadiens 4-3 Semi-Finals
1984 – Canadiens 3-0 Division Semi-Finals
1985 – Canadiens 3-2 Division Semi-Finals
1986 – Canadiens 3-0 Division Semi-Finals
1987 – Canadiens 4-0 Division Semi-Finals
1988 – Bruins 4-1 Canadiens Division Finals
1989 – Canadiens 4-1 Division Finals
1990 – Bruins 4-1 Division Finals
1991 – Bruins 4-3 Division Finals
1992 – Bruins 4-2 Division Finals
1994 – Bruins 4-3 Conference Quarter-Finals
2002 – Canadiens 4-2 Conference Quarter-Finals
2004 – Canadiens 4-3 Conference Quarter-Finals
2008 – Canadiens 4-3 Conference Quarter-Finals
2009 – Bruins 4-0 Conference Quarter-Finals
2011 – Bruins 4-3 Conference Quarter-Finals


Drew Sarver is the founder, publisher, managing editor, and a contributor for Designated For Assignment. He can be followed on twitter at @mypinstripes and @d4assignment or contacted by email at dsarver@d4assignment.com.

Ken Griffey on Rose, Junior, Big Papi & the Hall of Fame

By Jim Monaghan

griffeyKen Griffey Sr. was a three-time All Star and two-time World Champion. A member of the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame, he also played five seasons for the New York Yankees.

A 19-year Major League veteran, Griffey has a career .296 batting average with 152 home runs, one of which came in one of baseball’s most sentimental moments.

He’s recently written a new book called Big Red: Baseball, Fatherhood, and My Life In the Big red Machine.

I had the opportunity to speak with Griffey about a variety of topics including playing in the “Bronx Zoo” era of the Yankees, why he thinks Pete Rose should be voted into the Hall of Fame sooner rather later, and whether he thinks his son Ken Griffey Jr. will be a unanimous first-ballot pick for Hall.


Jim Monaghan can be heard Monday through Friday mornings on the WDHA Morning Jolt from 6-10AM & Sundays from 7-10AM with “All Mixed Up.” He’s also an instructor at Professional Baseball Instruction in Upper Saddle River. Follow him on twitter – @Monaghan21.

Paul Konerko’s Final Year With the White Sox and in Baseball

pauly[1]Paul Konerko hopes to make the postseason one more time before he hangs up his cleats.

Paul Konerko has spent eighteen impressive seasons playing Major League baseball. This year, the longtime White Sox captain and first baseman will play his final season.

Konerko, who has been with the Sox since 1999, has played for only two other teams, the Dodgers and the Reds, at the beginning of his career. For the past seventeen years, fourteen of those spent with the Sox, Konerko has developed into a potential Hall-of-Famer. As of now, Konerko has a .280 career batting average, 434 home runs, and 1392 RBIs. Those are impressive numbers, potentially impressive enough to earn Konerko a spot among other legends in Cooperstown. 1

The White Sox have been Konerko’s team for many years and it seems only fitting that he end his career with the team he has spent so much time with.

So far this year, the face of the White Sox has had to adjust to a limited role, playing only twelve games thus far, most of them as a DH or pinch hitter. 2. Konerko initially struggled with this reduced playing time, going 0-for-17 before breaking that stretch with a RBI single against Detroit on April 22. However, after playing eighteen seasons in the big leagues, he knows that every new role takes time to get used to.

“Just because I’ve had so many thousands of at-bats in my career doesn’t necessarily mean anything for this role,” Konerko said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune. 2 However, the veteran first baseman will likely find a way to adjust to his new role.

While Konerko has taken a step back during his last season, the rest of the White Sox club has managed to find a way to win even without a large contribution from him. As of this writing, the Sox currently sit at 13-13, good enough for third place in the AL Central, 1.5 games behind first-place Detroit.

Thus far, the team has been powered by Jose Abreu and Dayan Viciedo. Abreu leads the team in home runs (10) and RBI (31- a rookie record for April), while Viciedo has his team-leading .367 batting average and .413 OBP. 3 The Sox have some tough competition in the AL Central, but it’s far too early in the season to predict what this team is capable of.

If Konerko steps up and puts together a memorable season like he did in 2005, and if the rest of the club continues to play consistently, the White Sox have a legitimate chance to win the division.

Whether the Sox make it deep into the playoffs or not, Paul Konerko’s last season is sure to be a memorable one for the White Sox, as well as for Chicago’s fans.

1- espn.com
2 – chicagotribune.com
3 – espn.com stats

Alli Baker is a hockey fanatic and contributor for Designated for Assignment.  She can be reached at allibaker23@aol.com or followed on Twitter at @allibaker23

 

Cubs rebuild as Wrigley Field celebrates 100 years

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By Susie Dippel

Wrigley Field celebrates its centennial year in 2014. As Chicago Cubs ownership looks to make renovations to the historic field, they are also looking to rebuild the team.

I recently saw the Cubs play the New York Yankees. It was late in the game and the Cubs were starting to get on base. As the pro-Yankees crowd began to get relentlessly vocal, I looked at the Cubs lineup and thought, “Who is coming up to bat who could really do some damage?” Unfortunately, my subsequent thought was “Um, nobody!”. In April, you tend to think the team just needs a bit more time to jell.  But I don’t get that vibe with this Cub team. In fact, it seems that most players are wondering how long they will be with the team.

The Cubs have many holes to fill before Wrigley Field sees the post-season again. In the last two years, the team lost close to 200 games. Most baseball analysts expect the team to surpass the 66 wins they had in 2013, but not by much.

New manager, Rick Renteria, has plenty of opportunities to develop the youngsters in the lineup. Everyday play will improve catcher Welington Castillo’s skills. Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo need to improve their offensive numbers. Rizzo, in particular, needs some protection in the lineup. The Cubs are also looking for Mike Olt to display the power he showed as a Texas Rangers prospect.

Public speculation has starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija tagged as trade bait for minor prospects. His improved fastball and breaking ball will bring out suitors. Edwin Jackson’s performance has not justified his contract and it looks like the Cubs will look to move him as well. Theo Epstein recently signed Joel Piniero to a minor league contract. Piniero has a chance of making the team if a starting pitcher is traded.

After the season’s first 10 games, veteran Jose Veras has temporarily been removed as the team’s closer. A potential candidate, Pedro Strop, made 37 appearances with a 2.83 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 35 innings of work in the second half of 2013.1 But for now, the job of closer is up for grabs.

As the year progresses, the Cubs front office is expected to make mid-season moves to get more prospects and continue the rebuilding effort. The team’s minor league farm system is considered one of the best, and it’s stocked with young talent.   SS Javier Baez, 3B Kris Bryant and CF Albert Almora are all expected to break into the major leagues in 2014.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that in 2014 Wrigley Field will provide the star power. Its rich baseball history and the devotion of Cubs fans is certainly a good reason to go to a ball game. Be prepared to sing along to Harry Caray’s well-loved 7th inning rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”. And remember to “Root, root, root for the home team”.

1 –baseball-reference.com

Susie Dippel is a contributor for Designated For Assignment. Follow her on Twitter (@soozenyc).

Rookie Mistake Powers Rangers To Victory

Richards

A fired up Brad Richards collected three points in the New York Rangers’ Game 1 victory vs Philly.

by Drew Sarver

Winger Jason Akeson was recalled by the Philadelphia Flyers for the final game of the 2012-2013 season. The Flyers repeated the move this season as well and kept him on the roster for their opening round playoff series with the New York Rangers.

The 23-year old Ontario native learned a hard lesson in the Rangers 4-1, Game 1 victory. With the scored tied one apiece in the third period, Akeson was careless with his stick and picked up a four-minute minor penalty after he clipped the Rangers’ Carl Hagelin in the mouth. The Rangers took advantage of their good fortunte and took complete control of the game.

Flyers’ defenseman Andrew McDonald and Rangers’ forward Matt Zuccarello scored in the first period, but nothing got past Ray Emery or Henrik Lundqvist until the third period. Emery was under tremendous pressure with starter Steve Mason out and his teammates less than stellar performance through the first two periods. Emery’s play kept Philly in the game despite a Rangers 23-14 shots on goal advantage through the first forty minutes of action.

Things only got worse when Akeson made his rookie mistake. Rick Nashs’s backhand pass from behind Philly’s end line ricocheted off Martin St. Louis to Brad Richards. The winger blasted a one-timer past Emery from the right circle.  Crisp passing led to the Rangers’ second power play goal just 47  seconds later.

Defenseman Ryan McDonagh sent the puck to St. Louis near the right post. St. Louis, in turn, moved the puck quickly to Richards at the right point.  With everyone expecting a shot, Richards made a hard pass to Derek Stepan, who was all alone at the left post. The University of Wisconsin banged the biscuit home for a 3-1 Rangers’ lead.

The Rangers ended up with a 13-1 shots on goal advantage in the final period, with Hagelin the last to light the lamp for New York late in third period.

Earlier Friday evening, the Flyers announced that Mason may be ready to go for Game 2 on Sunday after he practiced earlier in the day.

Drew Sarver is the founder, publisher, managing editor, and a contributor for Designated For Assignment. He can be followed on twitter at @mypinstripes and @d4assignment or contacted by email at dsarver@d4assignment.com.

2014 NHL PLAYOFFS: SHARKS VS. KINGS

Antti Niemi Sharks 2014 playoff preview

Goalie Antti Niemi may be on a short leash, with Alex Stalock waiting to take over.

by Christopher Wenrich

“Always a bridesmaid, never the bride” is a phrase that sums up the San Jose Sharks very well.  Many times over the past 10 years or so, the Sharks were among the favorites in the National Hockey League to win the Stanley Cup, only to suffer embarrassing first-round exits in the playoffs.  Once again, they have a very talented team that may be among the favorites to win, but there is the cloud of a goalie controversy hanging over the club as they prepare to face the Los Angeles Kings in the first round.

Despite the collective talent and potential of the Sharks, the team enters the post-season with some doubts about their number one goaltender.  Antti Niemi was 39-17-7 this season with a 2.39 goals-against-average (GAA), a .913 save-percentage (SV%) and four shutouts.  Although Niemi’s overall numbers are good, he struggled at times and has been outplayed recently by backup Alex Stalock. In 24 games, 18 of them starts, this season, Stalock was 12-5-2 with a minuscule 1.87 GAA, a .932 SV% and two shutouts.  Niemi is the starter for Game 1, but could be pulled in favor of Stalock, if he doesn’t perform up to, or above par.

San Jose Sharks
239 goals for (6th)
193 goals against (5th)
17.2 PP% (20th)
84.9 PK% (6th)

Joe Pavelski led the way for the Sharks this season, scoring a career-high 41 goals and 89 points in 82 games.  In addition to his offensive breakout, Pavelski was once again strong with his two-way play and won 56.0% of his faceoffs this season.  He’s expected to play on the third line to give the Sharks three solid offensive lines. Joe Thornton was once again the masterful playmaker on the team, dishing out 65 assists (2nd in NHL) and scoring 76 points in 82 games.  Like Pavelski, Thornton was also dominant on face-offs, having won 56.1% this season.

The speedy Patrick Marleau scored 30-plus goals (33) for the seventh time in his NHL career, and had 70 points in 82 games.  Marleau was yet another Shark that dominated face-offs as well (52.9%).  Youngster Logan Couture is a rising star in the NHL and one of the best two-way players in the game today.  Injuries limited him to 65 games this season, but he posted a productive 54 points and won better than half of his face-offs.

Rookie Tomas Hertl impressed in the early going this season with a four-goal game.  Hertl is an electrifying puck-handler whose one-on-one ability resembles the highlight reel plays of a young Jaromir Jagr.  A knee injury limited Hertl to only 37 games this season, but he amassed 25 points. Former defenseman Brent Burns has been a solid winger this season with 22 goals and 48 points in 69 games.  Burns possesses a heavy shot, but has not shown much consistency as a forward.  He’ll need to find the net with more consistency if the Sharks are to finally realize their potential.

On the blue line, Dan Boyle (36 points) and Jason Demers (34 points) led the way offensively.  Although the Sharks’ defensemen move the puck well in transition, their collection of defensemen are mostly defensive-minded.  Marc-Edouard Vlasic will never be mistaken for Bobby Orr, but he one of the best at breakout passes and provides a steady performance.

Los Angeles Kings
198 goals for (26th)
168 goals against (1st)
15.1 PP% (27th)
83.1 PK% (11th)

Unlike the Sharks, the Kings were a poor offensive team in the NHL this year, but were perhaps the best defensive team in the league.  Anze Kopitar was productive with a team-leading 70 points in 82 games.  Jeff Carter was second on the team in points with 50 in 72 games (27 goals).  Gritty winger Dustin Brown had a very disappointing season, posting only 27 points in 79 games.  Youngster Tyler Toffoli is a player to keep an eye on in this series.  Toffoli posted 23 points in 36 wins, but only six points in 26 losses.  In need of more offensive punch, the Kings acquired Marian Gaborik at the trade deadline.  .

On the blue line, the Kings have more offensive talent than the Sharks do.  Drew Doughty is one of the best defensemen in the NHL at leading a rush.  Doughty tallied 37 points in 78 games this season.  If not for the play of Doughty and Slava Voynov, the Kings would have scored even fewer goals this year.

Goaltender Jonathan Quick struggled mightily at the start of the season, but improved as the season progressed.  Quick finished the campaign 27-17-4 with a 2.07 GAA, a .915 SV% and six shutouts.  Quick returned to form after the Olympics, posting a record of 11-4-2 with a 1.86 GAA, .924 SV% and three shutouts the rest of the way.  When he is on his game, Quick is one of the top goaltenders in the league.  He has superb reflexes and is a very athletic goaltender, however, he has a tendency to play the angles poorly at times and be forced to sprawl while being out of position.

nhl bracket

Ultimately, this series may come down to an oft-overlooked stat:  faceoffs.  Both the Kings and Sharks were tied for second in the NHL in face-off win percentage this season.  The Sharks have the edge offensively, so the key to victory for the Kings are a strong defense and a steady Quick.  LA will need to play keep-away – the Sharks cannot score if they do not have the puck.  This should be an excellent series, but the Sharks’ firepower should help them come out on top.   Toffoli, Carter and Gaborik will have to find the net early and often if the Kings are to have a chance.

Christopher Wenrich is a contributor for Designated For Assignment.  Follow him on Twitter (@DuggerSports).

NHL Playoffs: Bruins vs. Red Wings

Tuukka Rask Bruins 2014 favorites

Tuukka Rask has proven he can handle a heavy workload this season and seeks to avenge last year’s Stanley Cup finals loss.

by Christopher Wenrich

After savoring their Stanley Cup victory in 2011, the Boston Bruins experienced the bitterness of defeat at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013.  Once again, the Bruins are among the heavy favorites to win the Cup.

Boston Bruins
258 goals for (3rd)
171 goals against (2nd)
21.7 PP% (3rd)
83.6 PK% (8th)

The Bruins are strong in every aspect of the game and should be heavy favorites over the Red Wings.  Goaltender Tuukka Rask was spectacular this season, sporting a 36-15-6 record and a 2.04 GAA (4th), .930 SV% and a league-leading seven shutouts.  Rask is arguably the best goaltender in the National Hockey League and demonstrated this season that he can handle a heavy workload.

Having Zdeno Chara in front his a huge asset to Rask.  Chara’s reach is known to cause havoc in the passing lanes and disrupt scoring chances, but his offensive game should not be overlooked, as he tallied 40 points in 77 games.  The Bruins acquired Andrej Meszaros from the Philadelphia Flyers at the trade deadline.  At the time, Meszaros was returning to his old form and he posted five points in 14 games with the Bruins.  Youngster Torey Krug also had a productive season, posting 40 points in 77 games.

Up front, Milan Lucic rebounded from a disappointing 2012-2013 season in which he registered 27 points in 46 games and a +8 rating.  In 2013-2014, Lucic notched 59 points and a +30 rating while scoring on 15.7% of his shots (he scored on only 8.9% last season).  Jarome Iginla was also productive with 61 points in 78 games in the 12th 30-goal season of his career.  Iginla’s 61 points was third among the Bruins and trailed only David Krejci (69) and Patrice Bergeron (62).

Aside from Rask in goal, Bergeron may be the key to the Bruins’ success.  In addition to Bergeron’s 62 points and +38 rating, he led the NHL in faceoff wins (1,015) and was third in faceoff percentage (58.6%).  Bergeron’s superb two-way play is a vital component to the Bruins’ success.

Detroit Red Wings
217 goals for (16th)
221 goals against (16th)
17.7 PP% (18th)
83.0 PK% (12th)

The NHL’s realignment plan brought the Red Wings to the Eastern Conference and they are heavy underdogs in their series with the Bruins.  Daniel Alfredsson led the team in scoring with 49 points in 68 games.  Defenseman Niklas Kronwall also had 49 points (78 games).  A defenseman leading or tied for the team lead in points is not a regular occurrence.  Prior to Erik Karlsson and Shea Weber this season, and Weber last season, the last defenseman to lead their team in scoring was the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Dick Tarnstrom in 2003-2004.

Pavel Datsyuk had 37 points in 45 games this season.  The 35-year-old Russian may not have the ability to post Crosby-like numbers, but very few play the game better than Datsyuk.  He still has the ability to control the tempo of a game with the puck and the to take the puck away from others.  Despite appearing in only 45 games, Datsyuk ranked 15th among forwards with 59 takeaways; Ryan O’Reilly (Colorado Avalanche) led the NHL with 83 takeaways in 80 games.

Although the Red Wings’ NHL rankings may look unimpressive, they are not a team to be underestimated.  In addition to Datsyuk’s injury, Henrik Zetterberg was limited to 45 games and Johan Franzen appeared in 54 contests.  Zetterberg is still recovering from a bad back and skated for the first time in over month on Thursday.  His status for the series is unknown.  For the Red Wings to have any realistic chance of defeating the Bruins, Datsyuk will need to be on top of his game.  Dastsyuk had 21 points in 19 wins this season, but only 16 points in 26 losses.  If Datsyuk and Franzen can generate some offense and not fall too far behind in the series before Zetterberg returns, the Red Wings may have a shot at pulling off the upset.

Christopher Wenrich is a contributor for Designated For Assignment.  Follow him on Twitter (@DuggerSports).