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NHL Playoffs, Western Conference scoop

Now that we’ve laid out our Eastern Conference predictions complete with a few sexy pics of our Tampa Bay Lightning girl, it’s time for our fearless thoughts on the wild, Wild West.

Vancouver Canucks (1) vs Chicago Blackhawks (8)

This is not the same Blackhawks team having lost Kris Versteeg, Ben Eager, Victor Stalberg and most importantly, Dustin Byfuglein, who really provided a lot of grit to this Blackhawks team in their Stanley Cup run last year scoring 11 goals, five of those game winners.

The Hawks face a Canucks team who they have knocked out in the past two seasons in the playoffs. This time however, Vancouver is just too damn good, finishing first in goals, (264) first in power play percentage, and also finishing the regular season as the hardest team to score against.

To recap Vancouver has the prolific goal scoring ability of Ryan Kesler, the prolific passing of Daniel, and Henrik Sedin, and a number of guys who can lead the rush from the backline, like Canucks defender Christian Ehrhoff.

The Blackhawks on the other hand, are a shell of their former self.

With the Green Men on the ‘Nucks side and a good rivalry between these two squads, this one is closer than it really should be, but in the end…

Canucks in 6

San Jose Sharks (2) vs Los Angeles Kings (7)

I was going to call this one for Los Angeles and say that San Jose will continue their acrimonious distinction of being first round choking dog in the playoffs. Initially, I believed that Dustin Brown, who can change your game with his physical, aggressive play, and crease crashing ability, could be a major x-factor in this series.

Not only that, but Wayne Simmonds has a great developing game, twenty-one year-old Drew Doughty’s game is already there, as he is one of the finest young defenseman in the league, and Jonathan Quick might be the NHL’s most underrated goalie.

And yet the loss of Anze Kopitar is huge. Had he not been injured I believe the Kings would have won this series, but such is the nature of the NHL. With Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley, and possible rookie-of-the-year Logan Couture, the Sharks just have too many weapons.

Sharks in 6

Detroit Red Wings (3) vs Phoenix Coyotes (6)

In what is usually a half-empty stadium, Coyotes coach Dave Tippett does a great job keeping his lines firing on all-cylinders despite having a breakout goal scorer.

On the other side, between Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Johan Franzen, the Red Wings have many of them, plus a guy who continues to somehow defy age and be one of the most fundamentally sound defenseman in the league in Nicklas Lindstrom.

Phoenix on paper should not win this one. Not only can the Coyotes not match the Red Wings goal scoring ability, but they also have a penalty kill that is ranked 26th in the league.

Not much sense picking the Coyotes here, but this is the NHL playoffs, a place-in-time that sometimes defies logic. I picked the Coyotes against the Red Wings last season, and I’ll probably get burned for it again here, but with a good checking line of Taylor Pyatt, Vernon Fiddler and Lee Stempniak, a very deep and veteran defense, and the return of Martin Hanzel at center, I think Phoenix pulls the shocker.

Coyotes in 7

Anaheim Ducks (4) vs Nashville Predators (5)

Let’s keep this simple. Both of these teams have great defense, and on a team with not much ‘wow’ factor, Shea Weber is a lot of fun to watch out of Nashville. Still, one team has Corey Perry, a guy who scored 50 goals in the regular season, and one team does not.

Ducks in 5

Western Conference Final- Canucks over Ducks in 6

The best top-to-bottom team in the NHL in Vancouver will finally take it home to play Boston in the Stanley Cup Final.

The San Jose Sharks have a proud history of playoff choking, one that almost, almost rivals my Washington Capitals. In the Kings, we have the perfect team to set the Sharks up for the acrimonious distinction of losing once again in the first round.

Used with permission of the author.

Based in Washington, D.C. Michael Hoffman has covered D.C. sports for numerous publications and is the Washington Redskins columnist and Washington Capitals columnist for Examiner.com. Hoffman is also an NFL and NHL contributor to Sports Climax.

Copyright ©2011 Sports Climax, LLC

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NHL playoffs, Eastern Conference scoop

Whatever your playoff tradition is, be it drinking Molson’s, growing your beard to unforeseen human levels or playing Brass Bonanza, the Hartford Whalers theme song during break’s in the action one thing is for sure, for NHL fans this is the best time of the year!

Vancouver comes in to the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the best offense in the league, the highest scorer in the league (Henrik Sedin) and a level of depth and experience that most teams simply can’t match. They play an intriguing first round series against the Chicago Blachawks who after winning the Stanley Cup and being forced to make salary cap cuts in the off-season, backed into the playoffs on the last day of the regular season.

This is just one of eight series that we’ll be breaking down and predicting. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, here are my fearless NHL playoff predictions

We’ll start in the East.

Washington Capitals (1) vs. New York Rangers (8)

If you are somehow in the Greater Washington Metropolitan area and what to see the Capitals play, I’ll give you a tip; look for those game seven tickets now.

In the last three season’s, the Capitals have been involved in four playoff series, with all four of them going seven games. At first appearance, this one appears to be a prime candidate to make this the fifth straight playoff series to go seven games for the Capitals, as the Rangers are #4 in blocked shots and #1 in the NHL in hits, two factors that the Montreal Canadians used to befuddle Washington in its seven game upset of the Capitals last year.

And like Montreal, the Rangers come in with a much better goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist. Still, Lundqvist has started 27 straight games, and that streak will start to add a strain to his game by the end of this series.

The Capitals also come in with a much better defensive mindset then they had last season. No longer are the Capitals a free-wheeling team, but a team that likes to trap and has used this to great advantage, giving up only 104 goals in the last 50 games of the season.

Oh, and the Caps have that Alexander Ovechkin dude. Apparently he likes playing in the spotlight of New York.

Caps in 6.

Philadelphia Flyers (2) vs Buffalo Sabres (7)

Philadelphia has a famous broken bell, but is this the season that they add another cup to that landscape?  Right now, the survey points to no as the Flyers have been abysmal lately, going 1-2-2 over their last five games and giving up 20 goals over that five game stretched.

Frankly, this is a much different defense with Chris Pronger, who still is feared around the NHL. His return will help, but he is not expected to be back till late in the first round.

But I don’t think the Flyers will need him.

The Sabres may be the hot team right now, going 8-1-1 over the last ten, and no one could argue that Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller is level’s beyond Flyers net-minder Sergei Brobroski. Still, I think the Flyers have a better mix of power forwards and ‘burners’ on offense. In the course of this series, the Flyers should physically be able to wear down a Buffalo squad who between Thomas Vanek, Tyler Ennis, Jason Pominville and Tim Connoly, is anything but physical.

Flyers in 5

Boston Bruins (3) vs Montreal Canadians (6)

While Montreal police officers want Zdeno Chara to be sent to the UN’s war commission for his hit on Max Pacorietty that left Pacorietty with a concussion and fractured vertebra in his neck, this one will be settled on the ice. The great philosopher Voltaire once said, “history is nothing more than a tableau of crimes and misfortunes,”and in the end, the Chara case will only be the latest in a long list of ‘crimes and misfortunes’ committed by both teams against each other. The Habs versus the Bruins. The know each other, and familiarity hasn’t exactly breed any type of longstanding friendship as these  two ‘original six’ teams will meet again in the playoffs for a record, 33 time.

But there’s more than even that major sub-plot that makes this one an interesting series. Montreal won the series, but Boston has the more dominant victory, judo chopping the Habs by a 7-0 count on March 24.

At the end of the day, I think this is a much more obvious series to pick then people think. Boston has a deeper and more proficient defense, a better offense, (outscoring Montreal by 30 in the course of the regular season) and a battle tested goalie in Tim Thomas who had the lowest goals against average of any goalie in the league at 2.00, and a league high 11 shutouts.

Is Carey Price still the answer in Montreal? I am still not convinced.

Bruins in 5

Pittsburgh Penguins (4) vs Tampa Bay Lightning (5)

If the Habs vs Bruins is hockey equivalent of the Crips versus the Bloods, the Allies versus the Axis, Power Rock versus Easy-Listening then this match-up is the exact opposite of that as these two teams have never met in the playoffs.

Still, this is a very interesting match-up as the upstart Lightning have a powerful, pressing attack, with  some certifiable studs on offense like Steven Stamkos, (45 goals, 46 assists) the shifty Martin St. Louis (31 goals, 68 assists) and Vinny Lecavalier who added another +50 point season. Still, the fact that Tampa, toward the end of the season, almost seemed to concede the Southeast Conference to the Washington Capitals, rather than raise their level of play, makes us wonder about the Lightning fight.

Tampa, also can easily be exposed on the back blue-line, as most of Tampa’s d-men are merely average. There is no one on that squad you would consider to be a ‘shutdown defenseman.’

Oh, and Tampa’s starting goaltender is forty-one year old Dwayne Roloson. Most 41-year-old goaltenders at this point are already considering an early subscription to the AARP, not working on their glove-hand reflexes, and in the playoffs Roloson will be exposed.

Kris Letang is struggling, the Penguins are missing Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and without those two key players, the Lightning do seem to hold the cards in terms of talent. Pittsburgh though has stepped into the ring for this type of prizefight before, and in this series, character and the expert coaching of Dan Byslma will allow them to last at least one more round.

Penquins in 6

Eastern Conference Final

Boston over Washington in 7

Despite having the advantage in ‘high-end’ talent with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, the Capitals won’t be able to find enough holes in Boston’s central defense to knock the Bruins out.

This one will be a marathon, and that marathon may last well in a deciding game seven that  may turn into a double or triple overtime battle of the wills, but in the end, Boston’s goal tendingg tandem Tim Thomas, and the highly capable Tuukka Rask, (who sounds like some type of skin-tissue disease you’d consult a doctor for) will in the end carry the day.

West playoff preview upcoming, keep an eye out for it.

Used with permission of the author.

Based in Washington, D.C. Michael Hoffman has covered D.C. sports for numerous publications and is the Washington Redskins columnist and Washington Capitals columnist for Examiner.com. Hoffman is also an NFL and NHL contributor to Sports Climax.

Copyright ©2011 Sports Climax, LLC

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Crosby extends streak in 3-2 OT win

In a preview of the 2011 NHL Winter Classic game, the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Washington Capitals 3-2 in a shootout and if you’re a hockey fan, you have to love what you saw last night. The game was a battle until it ended on a Pascal Dupuis wrist shot in the 7th round of the shootout.

This was just one of those games when two teams of high caliber talent, played beyond their abilities. “We competed to the max,” said Mike Greenafterwards. In overtime, it was Green who darted toward the middle of the Penguins zone, stickhandling around Kris Letang who fell to the ice, expecting a shot.

With Letang down, Green had a clear lane to the net and took a shot on Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fluery that would go upstairs for review. The no goal call was upheld and after the game Green said he was “one hundred percent” sure the puck went in. Click here to see the play. Goal or not?

Regardless the Penguins picked up two more points and Sidney Crosby extended his scoring streak to twenty-three games with a multi-point game.

The 2011 Winter Classic is scheduled for New Year’s Day and you couldn’t have asked better set-up then this:

  • Sidney Crosby vs. Alexander Ovechkin. Ovechkin, who won three MVP’s in a row, is the better sniper, but Crosby, the NHL leading goal scorer last season, is a better all-around player.
  • Bruce Boudreau called this 3-2 SO loss Mike Green’s best game. Green was the Capitals best defender and played physical, laying out eight hits.
  • Verizon Center was louder than I’ve heard it all season as indicated by a post game comment. “It felt like a playoff game, I think that’s why our spirit was up and our energy was up. When fans bring a lot of energy it creates us to play better. I wish it was like that every night.”

Well, expect it to be the same on Pittsburgh’s outdoor ice on January 1st when they drop the puck in the 2011 Winter Classic. . . . it can’t come soon enough.

Used with permission of the author.

Based in Washington, Michael Hoffman has covered D.C. sports for numerous publications. In addition to contributing to Sports Climax, he is currently the Washington Capitals and Washington Redskins columnist for Examiner.com.

Copyright ©2010 Sports Climax, LLC

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NHL Bolts off to sizzling start

It’s early in the season but one has to think that Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman has to be a strong candidate for Executive of the Year. Yzerman, ‘went all in’ as those guys who drink energy shots might say, acquiring eight new players including Pavel Kubina, Brett Clark, Dan Ellis, Niklas Persson, Dominic Moore, and in the biggest move, Simon Gagne.

Now Gagne may currently be injured, which was a concern leading into this season, but he’ll be back. For even with the durability risk, Gagne is exactly type of player the Lightning have not had on offense, a big power forward who can hit, and score both pretty and ugly goals in front of the net. Trading Matt Walker and a fourth round pick? That’s a trade you do every time if you are the Lightning.

The NHL is a funny place. You have a Stanley Cup winner in the Chicago Blackhawks who were forced to dump a third of their roster in order to fall under the salary cap, and you have a team like the Lightning who despite missing the playoffs and not being in a traditional hockey market, behaved as if this was a Stanley Cup or bust year.

But brining those players in would have meant little to nothing had the Lightning not already had a solid nucleus to build upon. They do, with crafty veteran Vincent LeCavalier, the undersized and undervalued Martin St. Louis, who Tampa was able to re-sign this offseason, and early contender for league MVP, Steve Stamkos, who has attacked the NHL with the tenacity of Chris Berman at open buffet, posting ten assists and eight goals in his first nine games.

With Gagne and Steve Downie, St. Louis and Stamkos, the Lightning have the perfect mixture of grit and speed, size and craftiness. With strong contributors like Ryan Malone, Sean Bergenheim and Moore, the Lightning also have more than enough role players to help carry the load.

And yet the Lightning are not perfect. Only New Jersey, (yes I am the idiot who predicted they’d win the Stanley Cup) has a worse goal against average in the East than the Lightning. The Lightning, despite their depth, are also a very top heavy team right now as the first line of St. Louis, Stamkos and Downie have combined for 15 of the Lightning’s 32 goals.

This however, is only a small blemish on a team that despite having some many new pieces, is tied for first in points in the East, and is playing the type of fast, crisp hockey that the NHL should want to promote.

Judging his recent poll numbers, and looking back at their atrocious opening night, the Tampa Bay Lightning may soon also be invited by Barack Obama and the Miami Heat to speak about ‘change.’

Used with permission of the author.

Based in Washington, D.C. Michael Hoffman has covered D.C. sports for numerous publications and is the Washington Redskins columnist and Washington Capitals columnist for Examiner.com. Hoffman is also an NFL and NHL contributor to Sports Climax.

Copyright ©2010 Sports Climax, LLC

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Redskins finding ways to win ugly

Call it ugly all you want but the Washington Redskins are finding ways to win. In fact if you had to pick any soundtrack to accompany last Sunday’s ‘Skins 17-14 win over the Chicago Bears, the Benny Hill theme may have been the right choice. And although NFL football doesn’t come with a laugh track, this game probably should have.

To recap, that game featured a combined nine turnovers and that number could have been even more embarrassing had the Redskins not recovered five of the six balls they put on the turf up for grabs. The game resembled a Pop-Warner football match, no offense to some of those youngsters who know how to handle the ball better than the Bears who owned six of those nine turnovers.

This was an ugly football game, plain and simple but in the end, if you’re a Redskins’ fan, you have to love it because a win is a win any way you cut it. In the first quarter, with a defender directly in front of his face, Donovan McNabb threw a seemingly blind pass that was deflected and then taken all the way back to the house to give the Bears a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter.

But outside of McNabb’s terrible first quarter decision, the difference was that the Bears, not the Redskins, ended the game looking like the Keystone Cops.

Five of the six second half Bears drives ended in turnovers.  This wasn’t all the result of a sputtering, pathetic offense either. For as much as Chicago was playing bad football, the Redskins rose to the occasion by playing the type of aggressive defense that could fully capitalize on Chicago’s blunders.

Football isn’t always be picture perfect taking place on a sunny, blue-skied afternoon with  McNabb producing a prosaic spiral into the sky that lands directly in the hands of Santana Moss in the end zone. Football is a game played in the muck and trenches. And the results are sometimes downright barbaric and ugly. Sunday’s game at Soldier Field was one of those.

The ‘Skins did it by playing aggressive football. Albert Haynesworth finally grew a pair, and spent the afternoon sending wayward objects backwards with the reckless abandon of Magneto. Not only did Haynesworth stop Bears quarterback Jay Cutler cold on the Redskins goal line giving linebacker London Fletcher time to force a fumble and secure the win, but he also created one of the first self-sacks in NFL history.

Redskins’ cornerback DeAngelo Hall has a career day against the Mike Martz offense that is getting the reputation of hitting the wrong colored jerseys between the numbers. Hall burned Cutler all day, constantly jumping routes. The end result was a record setting day for Hall as he recorded four interceptions to tie an NFL record.  

The Redskins though, were hardly magic makers themselves in the second half when they did not capitalize on getting the ball at the Chicago 13 yard line after another Hall interception and also fumbled three times on their end of the field.

And yet as both the Bears and Redskins created a bad highlight reel by the time the afternoon was done but again the Redskins found a way to win, just like they did the game earlier against a Packers team that dominated them for three quarters.

MORE NFL:

Romo out, stick a fork in them Cowboys – Sports Climax 

Jerramy Stevens Busted. . . Again! – Sports Climax

Used with permission of the author.

Based in Washington, Michael Hoffman has covered D.C. sports for numerous publications. In addition to contributing to Sports Climax, he is currently the Washington Capitals and Washington Redskins columnist for Examiner.com

Copyright ©2010 Sports Climax, LLC

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NHL player’s obscene gesture during game

Isles defenseman James Wisniewski gestured that Sean Avery, well, likes to do a certain act while in the company of other men. Suspensions and fines sure to follow. Here’s the video.

It’s almost certain that the NHL will fine the Islanders’ player and possibly suspended him after that cheesy reaction to Avery giving his goalie a ‘snow shower’.

I don’t condone the gesture, unless you are one of those easily offended, Ivy League, gender politics majors, I know that most of us, even if we don’t say it, are laughing a bit on the inside, or at the very least, finding some kind of cosmic justice in Wishewski’s gesture.

Avery is still the guy, who made the most ballyhooed call-out of another players sexual relation in NHL history. Avery’s ‘sloppy seconds’ comment about how Elisha Cuthbert was dating defenseman Dion Phaneuf after he had already had sex with her put the NHL on the map for that week and was the league’s rimshot heard round the world.

I thought the NHL overreacted to Avery’s ‘sloppy seconds’ comment and they will probably do the same in this case as well.

Wisniewski’s gesture might have brought some to laugh but others will write emotionally laden letters to Gary Bettman imploring him to, ‘think about the children.’

In the end no one was injured by this act so should we really be suspending players for being disrespectful?

Hockey is a sport that columnist Doug Larson called, “a form of disorderly conduct in which the score is kept.” Hockey players are at risk of being smashed through the glass, cut by a high speed knife (blade) if they are down and hooked in the eye. I know my workplace can be crazy, but do you think it a workplace like the NHL, where there are so

wisniewski

many occupation hazards, things could ever be sterile, even if we wanted it to be?

Absolutely not. So to me, we should not be surprised if some of the emotions from that environment produce, menacing and in this case, perhaps, offensive gestures directed at others.

And despite what those who don’t know hockey say about needing to clean up the sport, between the mockery and the fight, fans actually love this stuff. It gives the NHL an aura of ‘edge’ that some of the more popular sports like baseball just don’t have.

You can literally see just about any situation go down at an NHL game.  Even an Alexander Semin slapfight.

There has to be limits. Intentionally try to hurt someone you should get suspended and to say something offensive off the ice, and the NHL is well within their rights to suspend you because you clearly had time to think it through. However, in the heat of the battle, I think we should offer players a little more leeway in terms of what they can get away with.

Who among us hasn’t said someone who later wanted to take back in a high pressure moments. Who among us could even try to censor ourselves in one of those moments? Furthermore, if someone is paying good money to watch someone’s life, as we do for hockey players in the two-to-three hour time frame in which a game was played, would I even want to self-censorship? The answer is no.

From Jon Wensick winning a fight and then taunting the entire Minnesota bench to Ryan Clowe shedding fake tears for Jerome Iginla, hockey is built in part through these moments of naked emotion where nothing is held back.

Wisniewski had one of these moments. Was it rude? Yes.

Could it be offensive to some? Definitely.

Should he be fined or suspended for it? In my opinion he should not but with other leagues like the NFL coming down hard levying fines of up to $250,000 for much lesser gestures like ‘bird flipping’ we should expect the NHL to discipline Wisniewski as well.

Used with permission of the author.

Based in Washington, Michael Hoffman has covered D.C. sports for numerous publications. In addition to contributing to Sports Climax, he is currently the Washington Capitals and Washington Redskins columnist for Examiner.com.

Copyright ©2010 Sports Climax, LLC

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NHL Eastern Conference Preview

NHL Eastern Conference preview this season is provided by Washington Capitals’ columnist, Michael Hoffman so grab a Molson and take a look at the East. BTW, he didn’t go “homer” on us. . . he actually picked the Devils to edge out his hometown Caps and represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Here is his in-depth and fearless prediction on how the Eastern Conference will look.

1. New Jersey Devils- The Devils are just a very complete team. Not only do they have one of the best forwards in the NHL, in Ilya Kovalchuk, they also have a defender who has the potential to be the most disruptive in the NHL in Anton Volchenkov.

 

While the star power is certainly there, the Devils are strong because of the full sum of their parts, as the Devils carry a number of centers in Travis Zajac, Jason Arnott and Danius Zubrus who are battled tested and have good skill in all aspects of the game. Oh, and they still have some guy named Martin Brodeur and 38 years old or not, he still may have more than a few good years left.

2. Washington Capitals- As elite a player as Alexander Ovechkin is, from watching this team almost every game last season, the guy you really need to start talking about is Nicklas Backstrom who makes the kind of passes that most others can only dream about. With seven guys who scored over twenty goals last year, the Capitals can run with anyone in the league. However their goaltenders, Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth are still relatively inexperienced.

3. Buffalo Sabres- The Northeast again is not a stacked division at all this year, but this year we expect Tomas Vanek, Drew Stafford and Jason Pominville to come back from a slightly disappointing 2009-10 and lead the Sabres charge. If that’s not enough, the Sabres are the only team that starts Ryan Miller in goal. If you haven’t heard, Ryan Miller’s really good.

4. Pittsburg Penguins- Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek were excellent offseason pickups for the Penguins on defense as both of them are excellent puck moving defenseman, and in Martin’s case, just as good in his own end.

On offense the Penguins are stacked at center with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The pickup of Aaron Asham should also help, as he is a tough-noised agitator who will be a good role player.

5. Philadelphia Flyers- The same tough team they were last year but is Brian Boucher really be the answer in net? The Flyers might be the most annoying team to play in the league. They hit and at time, leave very little room to operate. Not a team you ever look forward to playing.

6. Carolina Hurricanes- The Carolina Hurricanes are quietly on the move, a funny thing for a team that comes at you fast. Patrick Dwyer was only twenty last year, when he reached the drinking age in goals, and this year he and the other young Canes like Anton Babchuk will only get better. Eric Stall will also want to prove he is worthy of the job in his first season as captain. We think we can do it.

7. Montreal Canadiens- As the Washington Capitals saw, the Canadiens have some of the best role-players in the league like Travis Moen, Scott Gomez and Maxim Lapierre who fight on the boards, and get the job done in the clutch. However this year, Montreal no longer has Jaroslav Halak who was traded to the Blues.  Expect to see a lot of angry Frenchmen come playoff time, but Montreal still has more than enough depth to make the playoffs.

8. Boston Bruins- Great defense but scoring is still a problem. Somehow I think last season’s shocking playoff collapse will still affect this team. They may only barely hang on to a playoff spot, if at all. Just a hunch.

9. New York Rangers- The Rangers were surprisingly quiet this offseason, as Alexander Frolov was their only major pickup. Still, the Rangers with Alexander Frolov and Marian Gaborik now should be okay in the goal scoring category. They also have a number of ‘gamers’ here like Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinksy, but overall the Rangers defense still leaves much to be desired.  They’ll just barely fall short of the playoffs.

10. Tampa Bay Lightning- A lot of great new pieces. The acquisition of Simone Gagne may be a game-changer but at least for this season, Tampa Bay will have a tough time getting all the new parts in line together.  Dan Ellis is hardly elite at this point either in net.

11. Atlanta Thrashers- Definitely on the right track but not there yet.

12. Ottawa Senators- The Senators are hoping for a comeback season from Jason Spezza and it certainly is possible, but while Spezza and guys like Mike Fisher certainly push the pace, it never last season looked like Ottawa was a team you would mind playing.

Outside of Chris Neil and the irascible Jarko Ruutu, this just isn’t a very physical team. Not only that, but starting goaltender Pascal Leclaire isn’t scaring anybody. Last year he had an adherent 3.20 GAA.

13. New York Islanders- When John Taveras puts it all together, the NHL better watch out. For now though the NHL has little to fear from an Islanders squad that lacks depth on offense. An injury to Kyle Okposo that should keep him out 2-3 months, won’t help matters either.

14. Toronto Maple Leafs- Toronto’s hit a tough spot lately. No playoffs  since 2004, the second least goals in the NHL last season and some guy named Tyler Bozak may be centering the first line. Suffice to say this season’s team is unlikely to bring back any memories of the 1967 squad that won the Stanley Cup. Dion Phaneuf will however continue to make this team better on defense but it simply won’t be enough.

 

15.   Florida Panthers– If you can name more than two members of this team, I give you all the credit in the world.

Eastern Conference Finals- Devils over Capitals in 6 games. It will be a match-up of the two deepest teams in the conference, but in the end the Devils have Martin Brodeur while the Capitals have two goaltenders who are barely over drinking age.

Ovechkin and company are great, but in the end experience counts. At the most important position, the Devils have it, and a superior defense to boot.

Used with permission of the author.

Based in Washington, D.C. Michael Hoffman has covered D.C. sports for numerous publications and is the Washington Redskins columnist and Washington Capitals columnist for Examiner.com. Hoffman is also an NFL and NHL contributor to Sports Climax.

Copyright ©2010 Sports Climax, LLC

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Clinton Portis may miss time with injury

Clinton Portis was unable to finish what he started in Sunday’s 17-12 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, leaving the game with a groin injury. Portis, 29 years old, who was having his best game of the season, told Mike Wise on WJFK that he doesn’t plan on being able to play this upcoming Sunday.

Without Portis, the ‘Skins running game falls squarely on the shoulders of running back,  Ryan Torain. Torain rushed for a physical 70 yards on 18 carries against the Eagles’ defense so Portis’ injury may be a blessing in disguise.

Portis has shown he can still play but does he have that same explosiveness that Torain showed on the touchdown run when he ran over an Eagles’ defender like a bowling pin? With Portis out or even hampered by injury, Ryan will be getting the increased workload and by the looks of it, he can handle it.

I certainly like a Portis-Torain committee more than the Portis-Larry Johnson committee that was an ancient tandem in today’s NFL. Torain, 24 years old, is just beginning to show his potential.

‘Skins notes: DC’ers love their ‘Skins. Stats were released and according to the NFL the McNabb vs. Vick game last Sunday was the second most watched Redskins game since 2008 second only to this year’s opening night game against the Dallas Cowboys. The rating revealed that 57 percent of people in the area tuned in to the game.

The game broke national records as well. According to the league, the game had the highest rating for a Sunday NFL Week 4 game ever.

Used with permission of the author.

Based in Washington, D.C. Michael Hoffman has covered D.C. sports for numerous publications and is the Washington Redskins columnist and Washington Capitals columnist for Examiner.com. Hoffman is also an NFL and NHL contributor to Sports Climax.

Copyright ©2010 Sports Climax, LLC

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Rams Bradford beats Redskins without Jackson

After yesterday’s 30-16 loss to the St. Louis Rams, The Washington Redskins aren’t anywhere close to being a team that can play half-assed and assume to win, even if their opponent is the Rams.

There’s a new coach, Mike Shanahan, new QB Donavon McNabb, new defensive scheme, yet it’s the same old sad story. The Redskins once again played down to their competition, and once again forgot how true the the old NFL axiom of ‘any given Sunday’ is.

Not only did the Rams have a rookie quarterback playing in just his third NFL game, Sam Bradford, but they also played a good portion of the game without their star running back, Steven Jackson who left with an injury. Bradford ended up 23-of 37 for 235 yards and one touchdown pass.

Bad thing is, the team’s problems may have begun before kickoff.

“We kind of expected, this is the Rams, we’ll come in and beat them. But this is an NFL team, too. They get draft picks just like we do. They prepare, just like we did. We just let them off the hook,” said Albert Haynesworth.

After a horrible performance, DeAngelo Hall may want to officially close his mouth. When you complain about not being given a chance to cover an opponent’s No. 1 receiver on every single play then give up 85 receiving yards to Mark Clayton, it’s time that you get called out.

Then there is the issue of Clinton Portis.

Last season Portis still had enough power where we knew he still had the potential to have a breakout game. The drop off from 2008 to 2009 was noticeable, and this year the regression of his play seems even worse.

The pieces on this Redskins offense look out of place. Many believe Joey Galloway should not be a No. 2 wide receiver and Portis is no longer durable enough to be a starting NFL running back.

The Rams ended a 14-game losing streak on their home field with the win.

Used with permission of the author.

Based in Washington, Michael Hoffman has covered D.C. sports for numerous publications. In addition to contributing to Sports Climax, he is currently the Washington Capitals and Washington Redskins columnist for Examiner.com

Copyright ©2010 Sports Climax, LLC

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Cowboys, Redskins to butt heads on SNF

The Dallas Cowboys have huge expectations going into this season and start 2010 off against their bitter rival Washington Redskins on Sunday Night Football.

Most media members aren’t giving the Redskins much of a chance in a game they need no motivation for. Are people underestimating Mike Shanahan and his made-over Redskins? Maybe.

If we analyzed the individual matchups in this game piece-by-piece, the talent level of the Cowboys does look to a bit higher but looks can be deceiving. The fact is, the Redskins have a great chance to win if they play aggressive defense and win the following match-ups.

The Redskins must be aggressive on D and blitz Romo, and blitz him hard if they want to win. Coming in to this season, the Cowboys aging offensive line was considered one of the few weaknesses of the team. This week matters got worse when they lost veteran tackles Marc Columbo and Kyle Kosier for Sunday’s game.

The ‘Boys are expected to start Kyle Barron, a former first round draft pick from the St. Louis Rams, in Columbo’s place and Montrae Holland, a player who was inactive in all 16 regular season games last year for the Cowboys, in Kosier’s spot. You have to think Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is salivating going into this game.

The Redskins are expected to attack this weakness and shrug off the drama between Albert Haynesworth and Coach Mike Shanahan. Although Haynesworth is not expected to start, he is the perfect man to clog up the middle and force players like Holland and Barron to make adjustments.

If Haynesworth draws enough attention, that allows Redskins linebacker London Fletcher to use his speed in an open lane to Romo.

Expect the Cowboys to respond to the blitz with their wide collection of weapons including speedy wide receiver Miles Austin and Roy Williams, tight end Jason Witten and underrated Martellus Bennett.

Another huge factor is the match-up between OL Trent Williams and DeMarcus Ware. This is the most important individual matchup in this game with Ware being a certified quarterback killer who racked up 11 sacks last season and 20 sacks in 2008.

The Redskins may also use the Cowboys aggression against them. Cowboys’ defensive lineman Marcus Spears and linebackers DeMarcus Ware, Bradie James and Anthony Spencer can swarm through even the smallest gaps in an offensive line. Once the ball is snapped; these four go zero-to-sixty as fast as any tandem in the NFL. But maybe the Redskins can use that to their advantage.

As a writer at Cowboys Nation pointed out, the aggressive Cowboys defense has also so far been very susceptible to misdirection plays, as they over pursue where they expect the ball to go, many times leaving the backside wide open. 

Cowboys/Redskins series record: 59-39-2 Cowboys
Streak: Cowboys have won the last 3.

Redskins 2009 Leaders

  • Receiving-Santana Moss. 70 receptions for 902 yds, 3td
  • Rushing Clinton Portis.124 rushes for 494 yards, 1 td
  • Tackles-London Fletcher 142 tackles. 95 solo. 2 sacks.
  • Sacks- Andre Carter and Brian Orakpo tied with 11.
  • Interceptions-DeAngelo Hall 4
     

2009 Cowboys Leaders

  • Passing-Tony Romo. 347/550 4483 YDS. 26TD. 9 INT.
  • Receiving-Miles Austin. 81 receptions for 1320 yds, 11TD.
  • Rushing- Marion Barber. 214 rushes for 932 yards, 7TD.
  • Tackles- Bradie James. 113 tackles. 80 solo. 2 sacks.
  • Sacks- DeMarcus Ware. 11.
  • Interceptions- Mike Jenkins. 5.

Another version of this article can be found on Mike’s Redskins’ Examiner column here.

Used with permission of the author.

Based in Washington, Michael Hoffman has covered D.C. sports for numerous publications. In addition to contributing to Sports Climax, he is currently the Washington Capitals and Washington Redskins columnist for Examiner.com

Copyright ©2010 Sports Climax, LLC

Posted in Uncategorized0 Comments

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