The Best Defenceman in the NHL

The Best Defenceman in the NHL

Since the retirement of the incredible Niklas Lidstrom, there has been a vacancy in the National Hockey League in the position of the best defenceman. There are a ton of worthy candidates, and many of them have staked their claim with awards, acclaim, and defining moments.

Keith, Chara, Weber, Pietrangelo, Subban, Karlsson. All are excellent. But the NHL has a new best D-man, and he is showing it in these 2014 playoffs.

Drew Doughty, of the Los Angeles Kings.

doughty2Four years ago, I was taken by the incredible presence that Doughty came up with during the Vancouver Olympic Games. Just a kid (20 years old), he looked like he belonged among the very best that the world had to offer. Despite his young age, he already has a Norris Trophy nomination under his belt, a Stanley Cup, and two Olympic Gold medals. One can only assume that there will be more of these in his future.

During the current playoff run that the Kings are enjoying (but are in danger of ending, after their game 6 loss to Chicago), Doughty has shown time and again why he is nudging himself ahead of the rest when it comes to being the best. He plays incredible minutes on a strong team (around 27 minutes per game), against the toughest opposition that teams have been able to throw against him (the Sharks, Ducks, and Blackhawks). He has been an stalwart in his own end, but is also contributing offensively, to the tune of 16 points in 20 games. Pretty impressive for a forward in the tight Western conference, let alone a guy who plays the point. Nine of his points have come on the powerplay that he quarterbacks, and he has amassed 50 shots over those 20 games. He is all over the place, and his offense has never taken away from his important play in his own end.

Doughty has the ability to do everything, in all three zones. He also has size, at 6’1″ and 213 pounds, so he isn’t simply a finesse player, either. He can be tough on you.

In a league where goalies are always considered to be the playoff heroes, if the Kings win the Cup again, it would be tough to overlook his contributions when it comes to the Conn Smythe voting.

Drew Doughty is emerging from the pack of young D that are taking the league by storm, and he has shown himself to be the best that the league has to offer. Look for him to pile up more awards as his career moves forward. Scary to think that he is only 24, and he has not yet reached his prime. This is a kid that will be among the best for the next 10 years.

Round 2 Observations

Round 2 Observations

We are part way through the second round of the NHL playoffs, and it looks like we have some tight series on our hands, which is always great to see.

Boston and Montreal tied 2-2

  • I feel that with the Bruins winning Game 4 in overtime, it will be the turning point they need to take this series. Not that you can nitpick a 1-0 overtime loss, but the Habs really needed that one.
  • Carey Price is establishing himself as one of the best high-level goalies in the game. We should have known that before, and especially after he dominated in the Olympics, but he is awesome. If the NHL is back in the Olympics in 2018, I want him as my started for Team Canada.
  • It is weird that a goalie as good as Rask has such trouble with one team. But he stepped up in Game 4. No curses here.

Pittsburgh leads New York 3-2

  • Inspiring story of Martin St. Louis playing the day after his mother passed away. I can’t even imagine.
  • The Rangers offense woke up in Game 5 to stay alive. Can they show up for another game to push it to 7? Or will they go back into a slumber and make Fleury look like a good goalie again?
  • It would be nice if Rick Nash decided to show up on the scoresheet. His production will be key for what remains of the series.
  • Is Fleury rattled after giving up 5 goals last game? Will this crack him, or can he bounce back to his ways of back-to-back shutouts earlier in the series?
  • It’s odd how harsh we will be on Crosby’s games. He finally scored a goal in the series, but we want more. Regardless of the points he is putting up, he is still dominant, and by far the best player in the game.

Chicago and Minnesota tied 2-2

  • Will Minnesota ever lose on home ice?
  • If Bryzgalov can put together a decent game on the road, the defending champs could be in some serious trouble.
  • I like the look of this Wild team, and Parise has been great so far. Shown tremendous leadership and has raised his game to a new level.
  • I kind of want the Wild to win this one. I thought the Hawks would roll through this series.
  • Very strong performance by the Wild D so far.

anzeLos Angeles leads Anaheim 2-1

  • It’s too bad nobody sees this series, it may be the best one.
  • These teams do not like each other. Which is what the playoffs are all about.
  • Good black and blue hockey.
  • The Kings really need to put a stranglehold on the Ducks tonight. They don’t want to be going back to Anaheim with the series tied up. They need to finish, like the Sharks couldn’t do with them.
  • How amazing has Anze Kopitar been in this series? He has been on the cusp of stardom for years, and is one of the best two-way players in the game.
  • Who cares about Jonathan Quick’s regular season numbers? The kid plays big when it is important.

Shannon Szabados: Blazing a Trail

Shannon Szabados: Blazing a Trail

shannonRecently, Canadian women’s hockey goalie Shannon Szabados signed a contract to play with the Columbus Cottonmouths in the Southern Professional Hockey League. She is now one of the few female goalies who will have suited up with a pro men’s hockey team.

Szabados is already a hero to many hockey fans, especially female hockey fans, for helping lead Team Canada to another Olympic gold medal at the Sochi Olympics. Now, she is breaking down the barriers, proving that a female can play with the boys when it comes to hockey.

She suited up for the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers a while back in practice, to fill in when there were a few trades going down and the Oilers were short a goalie. Now, she is a pro goalie in a men’s league, after making her debut the other night. Sure, she may have lost 4-3, but she made 27 saves, and from the accounts I have read, it was a successful start to her men’s pro career.

Szabados is not a gimmick. She can play. This is great for her, and great for young female hockey players, to realize that there are opportunities out there. Sure, these chances are still extremely rare, but it only takes a few to prove so many wrong.

Shannon Szabados, Nail YakupovThere is a great article on Puck Daddy today about Szabados and the influence she is having on young girls who love hockey. It is quick, and definitely well worth a read.

Shannon Szabados plays for men’s team, inspires future female goalies

 

Canada vs. Sweden: For the Gold

Canada vs. Sweden: For the Gold

Prior to the Olympic tournament, if I had to pick a winner with a gun to my head, it would have been Sweden. A deep team with great goaltending and experience on the large ice surface, it seemed like a lock that the Tre Kronor would make it to this game. Of course, Canada is always a favorite, even if they have morphed into a different team than probably any of us expected when the selections were made. Canada seemed to be a team based on steady D and amazing offense. One half of that is correct.

canadaWhile they have struggled to score goals, Canada’s defense has been second to none in the Olympics. In fact, it has been better than anyone else by a longshot. Anchored by Drew Doughty and Shea Weber, they have produced goals, dominated possession and kept opposing team chances to a minimum.

If they win the gold medal, it will be because of their defense. They have not been a team to dominate the scoreboard, yet they remain undefeated, overcoming their chief rivals in the US to get to the gold medal game.

The main difference from the Canada we expected and the Canada we have seen is that they have played a more European game, with the tight checking defense and a focus on controlling the puck in the offensive zone. This bodes well against Sweden, in my opinion.

Sweden is a formidable opponent, and Canada has to be sure to be up for this game. Beating the Americans is a huge boon, but they need to show up if they have any hope of defeating a team led by young Erik Karlsson, the standout defenseman from the Ottawa Senators. He is such an offensive force that he is leading the Games in scoring. Not just defensive scoring, but all scoring.

swedenAdd in Henrik Lundqvist and a deep roster up front, and Team Sweden very much deserves to be in this final, and has a very realistic shot at taking home the gold. This will be a tight battle, and it will basically come down to which team can figure out how to either beat the stellar D, or the stellar netminding.

I don’t think anybody is expecting a barn burner of an offensive performance, even though each team has that ability. This will be close checking, and it will be tense.

While it seems like destiny that Canada wins this game, to go along with the gold the women’s team miraculously won, it will be tough.

It will be an interesting Sunday morning. The game starts at 5AM mountain time. And bars in Alberta have been given permission to be open, and serving, during the game. Could be a messy night for a lot of people!

Give me Canada. 3-1.

Olympics: The Canada vs. USA classics

Olympics: The Canada vs. USA classics

Great week to be a Canadian hockey fan!

First off, there isn’t much to be said about that women’s gold medal hockey game that hasn’t been said already. An absolute classic. The women played their hearts out, and this needs to be considered one of the great rivalries in all of sports. They fought each other tooth and nail, and it was great to see Canada emerge as the gold medal winner for the fourth straight Olympics.

Yes, there were questionable things happen in that game. The penalties at the end and in overtime that went against the Americans were not of the entirely obvious variety (fancy way of saying one was a terribly weak makeup call and the other was going to get called no matter what, the fact they called it cross-checking on the breakaway was laughable).

women2That ending will go down in Canadian sports history. The goals, the post, the comeback. Amazing hockey.

It was great to hear the entire school erupt when the Canadians got their goals, and make their comeback. I know how excited our staffroom was to watch the overtime at lunch. Amazing.

For the men, there is little bigger than a Canada-US game. Sure, the traditional rival of ours is Russia, but the US is the new one, since Russian hockey seems to have fallen off a cliff in recent years. The US are the enemy, our biggest challenger. Canada’s 1-0 semi-final victory was no way the classic that the women’s duel was, but with that score, it was filled with tense moments, which is strange considering that Canada seemed to absolutely dominate this game.

bennDespite our lack of goal scoring and finish, how incredible has Team Canada been at possession during these Games? Watching, it seemed like the whole game was played in the American end. Which is perfect. Now, it would be nice if we finished a couple of those possessions with some goals!

An absolute classic week, and we get to look forward to the 5AM (mountain time) wakeup call to see if our men can secure the double hockey gold once again.

Go Canada Go!

Olympics: Women’s Hockey (USA vs. Can)

Olympics: Women’s Hockey (USA vs. Can)

The way we all expected it to be, and the way that it should be. The gold medal game in the women’s hockey tournament will come down to the two world superpowers in the sport, the United States and Canada.

womenThere was no doubt this was going to be the final game that we were going to see, even with the IOC adjusting the format of the women’s tournament in order to ensure more competitive games, and avoiding the embarrassing 16-0 blowouts we have become all too familiar with over the past Olympic Games. Well, they succeeded on this point. There were no double-digit destructions, which is nothing but good for the sport that is trying to hold onto its spot in the Games.

Canada vs. the US is the fiercest rivalry and battle in the woman’s game. And we should welcome one more battle between the two teams. They did play in the round robin portion of the tourney, with the Canadians winning a close one (of course), 3-2.

These two teams do not like each other. They are both filled with stars and legends of the women’s game. They even brawled in a couple of their warmup matches before the Olympics. This game is the ultimate selling point for people out there who are not familiar with women’s hockey, and to young girls that need to see the best of the best, and that need to see that women’s hockey is a great sport, that can be as hard fought as any of the men’s games.

Best of luck to both teams, they of course both deserve to be competing for the highest honour in their sport. Let’s hope for another Canadian victory, as we have seen in the past Olympics.

Olympics: Scared of Switzerland

Olympics: Scared of Switzerland

I was listening to the post-game summary following the Canada-Finland game at the Olympics, and the hosts were discussing how neither Switzerland or Latvia (the two teams who play to decide who faces Canada in the quarter finals) pose a serious threat to the Canadians in the elimination round.

Well, I strongly disagree.

Ice Hockey - Winter Olympics Day 5 - Latvia v SwitzerlandI am scared of the Swiss.

A team that plays that solid of team defense needs to be one that is able to strike fear into the Canadian team. All three games that Switzerland has played, have all ended up with scores of 1-0 (the won two of them). That means that they already have garnered two shutouts against Olympic competition. Granted, beating the Czechs this year isn’t the most difficult of tasks, but it still says something about how well this team can play together.

And they have the most important thing: a hot goalie, in Jonas Hiller of the Anaheim Ducks. He has been playing extremely well, and this should be considered a problem for Canada.

Plus, they are a massive underdog, with nothing to lose, going against a hockey juggernaught, a team with some of the highest expectations entering the tournament.

Strangely, the Swiss have been a team that have caused Canada fits over the years, which may be surprising to many. Whether it be in the World Championships or the Olympics, the Swiss always play the Canadians tough, and we struggle to get through their stalwart defensive system. The Canadians need shots, lots of them, and traffic in front of Hiller. They need to collapse on their net, and hope for some lucky bounces. It needs to be anarchy out there, and the Canadians need to use their big bodies in order to create havok.

I am confident that this team can win. They have the best players in the world, and their confidence should be boosted after a hard fought win against Finland. By no means are they scoring like they should be, but at least they know that they can play in a tight game, which is probably what they will end up with against the Swiss. As long as they remain confident in their team, and not get rattled by the tight D and make foolish mistakes, they should be fine.

But it doesn’t change the fact that Team Switzerland scares me in this tournament.

Olympics: Hockey so far…

With the men’s Olympic hockey tournament underway, here are a few thoughts I’ve had from the opening games. At this point, all teams have played at least two games and we really are already separating the good from the bad and the ugly, as happens every year. The prelims really are just a warmup for the teams we know are going to make it to the medal round anyway, as they try and fuse a team together and get some momentum before the elimination games really begin.

Olympic-rings

  • Great job by Slovenia, the tiny former Yugoslav nation with fewer than 200 registered male hockey players, on getting their first ever Olympic win, over the reeling Slovakian team.
  • Even though Finland hasn’t dominated, as a Canadian fan, I am scared of what Tuuka Raask could do in the medal round.
  • The US team has looked dominant, maybe the best team in the tourney so far.
  • 4 goals by TJ Oshie in the shootout against Russia? Incredible. That will be seen as a classic game in no time.
  • Tough blow for Sweden, who were the favorites in my mind. Losing Henrik Zetterberg really hurts. He is a beast, and probably their best player. They have good team depth, however, and should be able to make a run at a medal without him. That D combination of Erik Karlsson and Oliver Ekman-Larsson is terrifying.
  • The uniforms: as awful as they were when they were released, they actually look pretty decent on the ice. That goes for most of the teams. I really like the Finnish flag jerseys, the Czech whites, and the Canada reds. Still a huge thumbs down for the black Canadian alternates, and those Russian ones look like a big mess with the white eagle heads. And is Austria just wearing the Canadian jerseys from 2010 with a different logo? No points for creativity there.

Now, specifically on the Canadian team:

  • I want Carey Price as my goalie moving forward. Luongo played well and got a shutout, but that was against Austria. I just don’t trust him to rise up like I would Price.
  • Crosby has been quiet, which shouldn’t really be a concern. He didn’t do tons in Vancouver, either, before scoring that one little goal of his…
  • I am endlessly impressed with our defense. Weber and Doughty have been great in both ends of the rink. Everyone else has been solid as well. No glaring giveaways, and it looks like they are all playing well together. This bodes well as we move forward, since in these short tournaments, D and goaltending are paramount.
  • Why is Rick Nash on this team again? I love to hate him.
  • Hopefully Canada got a scare from its close opening game against Norway. European teams can really shut it down out there, and Canada has to be willing to get dirty in the corners and messy in front of the net to get some mucker goals in order to bear those teams. For example, Switzerland gives you no chances, so you need to capitalize on every sniff you may get.
  • I don’t know if I like playing two easy teams off the hop. I would rather have had the Finns as a second game, a truer test for the team. Then an easy one to close the round robin. This would have given them a bit of a break going into the medal round. Now, they will be playing tough and meaningful games for the rest of the tournament. No more simple ones.
  • Again, those black jerseys were terrible.

It is very exciting going forward, to see which nation will rise above the others. There are still so many contenders out there, and it really is too tough to call at this point. The US looks like the team to beat, but that could change in a moment, which really is the best part about the Olympic tourney.

Go Canada Go!

Captain Crosby

Of course Sidney Crosby needed to be the captain of Team Canada’s Olympic Hockey Team.

He is the best hockey player in the world. He is the face of the NHL. He is a Stanley Cup champion. He has won Olympic Gold before, from that little overtime goal that may be the most memorable moment for an entire generation of hockey fans in Canada.

Photography by Kristian Bogner Copyright 2011. All Rights Reserved.It is definitely possible to debate Crosby as our captain. He has had a history of whining to refs, but that was before he matured in to the player he is now. There is also Jonathan Toews, who has won two Cups with Chicago, and presents himself in the stoic manner of other Canadian legends, such as Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic. But is seems natural that Crosby is the choice, simply because he is the best. Over the years of being scouted and being a phenom from an early age, he has been saddled with pressure to perform since he was a kid. And nothing will change as the team heads over to Sochi, Russia, to attempt to defend our gold medal on foreign soil, on the much bigger ice that gives our guys fits.

There is no debate from me on this choice. Crosby is the perfect captain for us, the natural leader of this team. Along with him, I really like the selections of Toews and Shea Weber as his assistants. A great group, all with tons of experience.

Hopefully enough to help lead us to gold once again.

Quick Thoughts: Team Canada Olympic Hockey Roster

So it has finally been announced after months of debate, that will surely carry on now that we can debate who made it and who didn’t. In Canada, it is no secret that the majority of us base our Olympic viewing around the hockey team, and so many of our hopes rest on the team assembled for each Games. 

2014_olympics_three_jerseys_640original_127301Here is the list of players that made it:

Forwards: Jamie Benn, Patrice Bergeron, Jeff Carter, Sidney Crosby, Matt Duchene, Ryan Getlzaf, Chris Kunitz, Patrick Marleau, Rick Nash, Corey Perry, Patrick Sharp, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Jonathan Toews.

Defense: Jay Bouwmeester, Drew Doughty, Dan Hamhuis, Duncan Keith, Alex Pietrangelo, PK Subban, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Shea Weber.

Goalies: Roberto Luongo, Carey Price, Mike Smith

Some of my thoughts on the picks:

  • I feel like Rick Nash is done. He is now dealing with concussion issues, and only has 8 goals this year. He has always been tons of promise, with little follow through. Sure, he has nice hands, skates well, and is a big body, but I would have chosen James Neal over him in a heartbeat.
  • I want Price to be our starting goalie.
  • How amazing is that D? Far and away the deepest group in the tournament.
  • Perplexed by Hamhuis getting named to the team. I may have gone with Seabrook as by defensive D-man instead.
  • Don’t like Marleau on this team. He was solid in Vancouver, but has a history of not showing up in the biggest games, and I feel like his time is done.
  • One of the more controversial picks, Kunitz, is fine by me. Anyone who keeps Sid going is fine. 
  • Glad that Jamie Benn, one of the biggest camp snubs, made the team. Big, can skate, can finish.
  • Same for Sharp. He has been way too hot lately to ignore. Throw him with anyone and he’ll score.
  • Jeff Carter? I never actually thought of him in the discussion for the team. Would rather have Martin St. Louis on there. Or Claude Giroux. Not nearly the same size as Carter, but it wouldn’t matter on the large ice.
  • There are two Canadian players who are 5’11”. And they are the smallest, with everybody else over 6′. That is a big team.
  • Smart moves: leaving Taylor Hall, Joe Thornton, and Dan Boyle at home. Hall can’t play in his own end and is very poor without the puck, Thornton is too slow for the big ice, despite being a generationaly good setup man, and Boyle is over-the-hill, having a poor year, and I was surprised he was being considered. 
  • Shocked Logan Couture didn’t make it, even with his recently injured hand. He will be on the next team, for sure. 
  • I think there is a good combination of finesse, scoring, and grit on this team to rightfully be a favorite for the Gold. Canada, Sweden, Russia and a darkhorse Finland (I just love those goalies) are my Top 4 teams. The US isn’t far behind.
  • Weakest area is in net. I’ve never been sold on Luongo, as we won last time in spite of him, not because of him. Price has been big before, but has also gone through major slumps. I think Smith is a systems goalie, and kind of surprised he is on there ahead of Corey Crawford.
  • Too bad those uniforms are just so ugly. I thought for a moment that they were growing on me. But then they weren’t. Will probably still buy one, thought. Sadly.