Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Is the Eastern Conference full of mediocre teams right now?
I can't help myself to not ask that question after watching both games closely last night. Yes, the games have been entertaining. The effort from these teams has been tremendous almost on a nightly basis. But in my opinion none of these teams comes close to matching up with the talent of San Jose, Vancouver, Chicago, or even Detroit for that matter.
Having the top three seeds eliminated in the first round(Wash,NJ,Buff) certainly changed the whole Eastern Conference landscape this post season. Lets take a glance at each team as they stand right now.
Pittsburgh Penguins: We all know that they posses two of the best players in the game and are the defending Stanley Cup Champions, but even Penguin fans will tell you that this years version is not as strong as last season. We love Marc Andre Fleury in goal, but he as struggled at times. The defense is not as strong after losing Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi. Sergie Gonchar is clearly their best offensive defensemen and Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski have played well at times. Brooks Orpik is very solid defensively, but after that journeymen such as Eaton and Leopold round out the blueline. Offensively, Bill Guerin is starting to show his age, and there is a big drop off in scoring after Crosby and Malkin. Jordan Stall has been injures and is probably not 100% which hurts, but do their second and third lines match up at all with San Jose's or Chicago's? We think not.
Montreal Canadiens: Let's not forget that they clinched a playoff spot the final weekend of the NHL season by one point. Their first round upset of Washington was one of the biggest upsets in years. Not taking anything away from them as Jaroslav Halak and Mike Cammalleri have absolutely taken over series and have been brilliant. But did they really win last night with a defense of Hamrlik, Bergeron, Spacek(first game back in 10 games), Gorges, O'Byrne, and a guy named PK Subban? Subban is 20 years old, played in two games this season and logged 29 minutes of ice time last night and played like Drew Doughty. I still can't figure out how they keep winning with a patchwork defense and average forwards besides Cammalleri. However, give them the credit they deserve. Montreal has played an amazing team game and the Bell Center is the loudest building in hockey and has been quite the scene this postseason. Are they really a team anyone can see hoisting the cup though?
Boston Bruins: Tuukka Rask was brilliant in the series against Buffalo, and the start of the Philadelphia series but has struggled as have the rest of the Bruins the last two games. Watching that game last night I felt like the Bruins were a step slow and appeared to be a tired team. Getting back Marc Savard has certainly helped the offense, but losing top six forwards Marco Sturm and David Krejci has been devastating. Thankfully, for Boston they are getting production from Miro Satan, who was a waiver pickup, and the 42 year old Mark Recchi. The Bruins were also in danger of missing the playoffs this season also, and clearly have some holes, but have been bailed out by Rask at times this postseason. Boston is a solid team, but once again the roster is not nearly as talented as the teams out west.
Philadelphia Flyers: Philadelphia made the playoffs by beating the NY Rangers in a shoot out in the final game of the season. Goaltender injuries forced them to use Brian Boucher in the playoffs and he played brilliantly against the New Jersey Devils as the Flyers won the series in five. The Flyers-Bruins series has been evenly played for the most past, but Philly appears to be getting better and healthy as this series has gone on. Simon Gagne returned from injury to win game 4 in OT. The never say die Flyers, were probably a much better team than their record indicated and appear to have a roster built for the playoffs. They played a perfect road game last night, and the thought of coming back from 0-3, suddenly is not out of the question. Losing Claude Giroux hurts, but if they keep getting production from Ville Leino and Scott Hartnell, in addition to Richards and Briere they will not go down easily. Michael Leighton, is the big question in goal after Boucher suffered a season ending knee injury. Leighton has not played in two months, but looked solid coming in relief last night. He still has to be a question mark the rest of the series due to being off that long. Can you envision the Flyers winning the Stanley Cup with the current goaltending they have?
Let's be honest, both Philly and Boston are not great teams. Both teams have gone through streaks where they were good and bad. It really shouldn't be a surprise that this series is heading to a game six. The same should apply for Pittsburgh and Montreal as well. All four of these teams are flawed, but it's still been an amazing postseason and entertaining on a nightly basis. I doubt the Stanley Cup Finals will be as riveting as it may end very quickly for the Eastern Conference winner.