Welcome Back

So, admittedly, it’s been a while since I did this, so forgive me while I brush off the rust here.

After taking quite a long hiatus, Wild Nation is back and hopefully, soon to be, better than ever.

While I enjoyed (and still do enjoy) what I am doing at all of the other outlets I write for (Stadium Journey, Hockey’s Future and Hockey Primetime), I’ve come to the realization that it’s ignoring my first hockey passion — the Minnesota Wild. So, I’ve decided to re-open the doors to Wild Nation and to get back on the horse, so to speak.

My goal is to provide you all with the best Minnesota Wild blog coverage I can and, every once in a while, mix in some humor. So, please, bear with me as I get back to it and I look forward to seeing all your smiling faces around here again!

Sincerely,

Blake

A change is coming

This post isn’t going to be easy to write. I figured that out as I struggled to start it, erasing at least four different opening sentences before just deciding on one – honesty.

For the last few years, I’ve poured my heart, soul and effort into Wild Nation and it has brought me many great opportunities. It was borne out of my work at Hockey Primetime (where I am now the Chief Online Editor), it led to my time at Bleacher Report as the Featured Correspondent for the Minnesota Wild which, in turn, led to my current role at Stadium Journey as the Minnesota Regional Correspondent.

As my role with Hockey Primetime has grown, I’m sure that many of my readers have noticed that I have had less and less time to devote to Wild Nation. I’ve pushed through it, trying to provide as consistent content as I could but, after this year’s NHL Entry Draft, I began writing for Hockey’s Future. Through that, a new opportunity has opened up for me to write more consistently about the NHL – what has turned into, essentially, my dream opportunity. The downside of this opportunity is that it leaves me with little-to-no time to provide you with the kind of content that I want to in regards to the Minnesota Wild.

Keeping that in mind, Wild Nation is not going away – it is simply changing.

Starting next week, Wild Nation will instead become a weekly blog on Hockey Primetime. I will still provide my insight and views on the Wild – it will just be on a weekly basis.

This is a bittersweet moment for me, as I move on, and I hope to one day bring Wild Nation back to you, better than before. But, until then, you all have my heartfelt thanks for reading my work and supporting Wild Nation, and I hope that you continue to do so as it transitions to Hockey Primetime.

Thank you,

Blake Benzel

Here’s our schedule

Before we get to the schedule, I just want to say quick that the Wild has signed defenseman Kris Fredheim, who was playing inHouston, to an NHL contract and he’ll be making his NHL debut with the Wild against the Avs tonight.

But, that’s not the point of the post right now. I’ll get to that later.

What I want to do now is lay out a bit of a schedule for you guys. Obviously on game days, we’ll have our gameday threads and our game recaps, but we want to have more content than just that. So, here’s what we’ve got.

Monday: Weekend in Review
Tuesday: Around the League
Wednesday: Prospect Report
Thursday: Around the League
Friday: Around the State of Hockey

This schedule’s going to kick in next week, and we’ll have more posts here and there, but this is just a basic groundwork.

So, check back later today for our gameday thread. We’ll have some more information on Kris Fedheim also, so check back this afternoon for that.

Wild trim roster to 28.

It's time for the Wild to get down to business

After Pittsburgh’s game, it was apparent why this was coming. The Wild needed to get down to their roster to gain some chemistry as soon as possible.

With the cuts made on Sunday, the Wild are now down to a roster of 28. That’s 24 healthy players and 4 injured players. (For those keeping score, the opening day roster has to be 23).

If you couldn't tell, this is Brett Bulmer doing what he's best at.

Among those kept were Marco Scandella (no real surprise after Yeo essentially said he thought he could play top-four minutes in the NHL), Justin Falk (who really has nothing left to gain from remaining in Houston), Nate Prosser (he’s had a great preseason, but I expect him to be one of the last players sent down), Casey Wellman (he hasn’t really played at all, but showed some good signs in Pittsburgh) and Brett Bulmer (wait, what?).

Basically, with Bulmer, the Wild want to see more of him. He’s a Cal Clutterbuck-esque forward. He gets under players’ skins, he hits, he’s fearless and he can skate like the wind. With the injuries (the forwards injured are Kassian and Almond, both of whom probably had the best shots at making the opening day roster), it’s not outside of the realm of possibility that Bulmer makes the cut to play with the big squad on Oct. 8.

That’s going to have to be a judgment call by the management though.

For now, the Wild just want to see more of him.

So, basically, here’s our depth chart:

Forward (16):
Devin Setoguchi/Mikko Koivu/Dany Heatley
Guillaume Latendresse/Matt Cullen/Pierre-Marc Bouchard
Darroll Power/Kyle Brodziak/Cal Clutterbuck
Colton Gillies/Eric Nystrom/Brad Staubitz

Extras: Casey Wellman, Brett Bulmer
Injured:
Matt Kassian, Cody Almond

Defense (10):
Greg Zanon/Marek Zidlicky
Nick Schultz/Marco Scandella
Clayton Stoner/Jared Spurgeon

Extras: Justin Falk, Nate Prosser
Injured:
Mike Lundin, Drew Bagnall

Goalies (2):
Niklas Backstrom
Josh Harding

Looking at it, it’s certainly not the best team out there, but it doesn’t look half-bad either. Spurgeon and Stoner have most certainly earned their roster spots this preseason, while Scandella has at least earned the opportunity to be an injury fill-in for Lundin.

Here’s the thing, though. Lundin is one of our top-four defensemen. So who becomes the odd man out when he returns?

To me, it’s Scandella, and for the same reason that Colton Gillies became the odd man out last season.

Scandella is still young, and the front office obviously wants him to get ice time. If he’s not able to get top-four minutes in Minnesota, I think it’s the best move for him to get top-two minutes down in Houston.

It’s a tough message to deliver to a kid who has impressed this preseason, but it is what it is. The Wild will likely keep eight defensemen, and he won’t benefit from sitting in the press box on a nightly basis when Lundin returns from injury.

Prosser has had a great camp

If the Wild keeps eight, I think the two extras that they keep are Falk (nothing left for him to learn in Houston) and Prosser (great camp). Both players really have done their thing down in Houston, and I think both have at least earned the chance to try to work their way into a regular role with the team during the season. Given how steady our regular defensemen have been this preseason, however, I think the Wild only keep seven, which I think makes Prosser the odd man out for right now.

As for the forward, I think you’ll see Wellman sent down and, unless Bulmer blows someone away and one of the bottom two lines has a catastrophic injury, Bulmer sent back to juniors.

Neither is going to benefit from being a healthy scratch on a nightly basis and, when Almond and Kassian get healthy, I think those are the two that you’re going to see round out the squad. The Wild love the toughness that Kassian brings and, really, it’s hard not to. The dude is a grade-A, bona fide fighter and he’s tough as nails. He’s great in the room and he’s a pretty decent skater as well, which means that he’s a player that both Yeo and Fletcher are going to like.

As for Almond, I think he’s gone as far as he can in Houston. Would I rather see the Wild bring in a fringe veteran so that he’s not just sitting in the press box? Sure. But he at least gives the Wild a viable option if injuries present themselves or if they don’t want to throw an enforcer in on the fourth line.

As far as who’s gone, let’s take a look quick.

Jordan Hendry was released from his tryout and told to search for a one-way contract elsewhere, but also told that if nothing better presents itself he has a two-way deal waiting for him in Minnesota, but he would be starting in Houston.

Kris Foucault, David McIntyre, Carson McMillan, Warren Peters, Chad Rau, Jeff Taffe, Jon DiSalvatore, Jed Ortmeyer, Jarod Palmer, Tyler Cuma, Chay Genoway, Jeff Penner, Dennis Endras, Matt Hackett and Darcy Keumper were all sent to Houston.

So that’s your Wild roster. That’s who has the bet shot of making the team on Opening Day this season. There’s three games remaining, so let’s see who can impress over the next three games and get their shot on opening night.

Photos courtesy of Getty Images

Wild drop a rough one to Pittsburgh

So, this one’s a little late, but I didn’t have a choice but to be late with it, so let’s take a look at the debacle that was the Wild’s 4-1 loss against the Pens on Saturday.

This one was rough. The Wild just couldn’t get going. They had flown in that morning and, let me tell you, it showed. Their legs weren’t moving – they were stationary almost the entire game – and they just looked tired out there.

In fact, both teams looked tired, which led to a ton of power plays and, ultimately, was the decider. The Wild went 0-for-9 with the man advantage, while Pittsburgh went 4-for-6.

I don’t care who you are, you’re not going to win if the power play stats look like that.

The Wild’s power play was abysmal all night long. They looked sluggish and they just didn’t shoot the puck, which is a problem for a coach like Yeo who is preaching a shoot-first philosophy.

Here are some of my thoughts on the game:

  • Backstrom didn’t look terrible in net. It’s hard to judge the goalie in a game like this, because he wasn’t getting a whole lot of help either. He had traffic in front of him for most of the night and, until the third period, Minnesota wasn’t really doing much to move the play down to the other end. That makes for a long night for a goalie.
  • Scandella impressed by jumping to the defense of Matt Cullen in the second period, and that 19 penalty minutes might have saved him from being part of the roster cuts on Sunday. Yeah, the ensuing power plays led to three of Pittsburgh’s goals, but he got them doing what he should have done – standing up for a teammate.
  • Wellman looked rusty, and that’s very understandable. This was essentially his first action of the pre-season. He did lead the team in shots, though, so he was at least doing what the rest of the team wasn’t.
  • I continue to be impressed by Clayton Stoner this preseason. Not only was he good defensively, he was jumping into the rush, which is something that we’re not too used to from Stoner.
  • The impressive stat of the night: Jordan Hendry played 6:12 on the penalty kill. That’s three and a half minutes more than the next closest player. That should tell you something about the trust that he has earned so far. The kid was cut from camp on Sunday, but was essentially told by Fletcher that, if he couldn’t find a one-way contract somewhere, he had a two-way deal waiting for him in Minnesota but that he would be starting down in Houston.

So, that’s that for the gamer. We’ll have a look at the roster cuts coming up here in a bit.

Player Profile: Darroll Powe

Darroll Powe

Darroll Powe

Born – 6/22/1985
Position –
C
Ht –
5’11”
Wt –
212
Shoots –
Left

Powe brings another heavy hitter to the Wild

The Skinny
The Wild traded for Powe this off season and, instantly, Twitter became inundated with comments about how great of an addition he was – not because of his goal scoring acumen or his unbelievable offensive talent, but because of his character, his work ethic and what he brings to the rink every night.

In other words, Powe is a great addition for all of the right reasons. By all accounts, he’s a great guy and a player that will make Minnesota more difficult to play against. He’s not going to be a 20-plus goal scorer – in fact, he’s never broken 30 points in his career, pro or otherwise.

Last season, Powe was 21st in the NHL with 196 hits. Add that to Cal Clutterbuck’s 336 and the 169 that both Eric Nystrom and Greg Zanon had and, well, you get the picture of the team that Chuck Fletcher is trying to assemble. One that’s exceedingly difficult and annoying to play against, and not because they shut down the neutral zone.

You can tell from his size that Powe is going to be another little bowling ball, just like Clutterbuck. Pair the two on the same line and you’re going to have one potent forecheck that’s going to cause a lot of mistakes just simply because of the physical play that they bring.

What we don’t know, yet, is how he’s going to fit in. His offensive game has improved every season that he’s been in the league but, then again, so did the Flyers offense. He’s going to be leaving an offensive juggernaut where he played about 12 minutes per night to a team that is just growing into its newfound offense, where he might play a bit more or a bit less than that, depending on the situation.

Is it an ideal situation for him?

Probably not, but he’s going to do what he does best. He’s going to show up to the rink every day and he’s going to play hard. What that brings him, we’ll just have to wait and see, but I think it’s going to be fun to watch.

Offense isn't Powe's priority, and it doesn't need to be

This Season
If the line combination for the Wild’s first pre-season game is any indication, it looks like Powe is going to be on the team’s third line with Kyle Brodziak and Cal Clutterbuck. That means he’s going to be playing with two players that have some offensive up side. Does that mean we’ll see an up tick in his production? Probably, but not by a marked amount. He’s improved every season he’s been in the league, and playing with two players that are going to look to find the back of the net as well as shutting down the opposing lines might help his production.

He’ll be used on the penalty kill and he’ll be used at even strength, but I would wager that he’ll get little to no power play time unless the game is out of hand one way or the other.

So, what’s that mean? Well, don’t expect the world offensively from him, but expect him to play his role well.

Prediction
As I mentioned, he’s improved every season he’s been in the league and he’s going to be playing with a couple players with some offensive upside, so seeing him improve on last season’s stats wouldn’t be out of the question. Again, though, he’s never been what anyone would call an offensive power house, so keep your expectations tempered.

My prediction for Darroll Powe this season is:

GP 71, 10 G, 10 A, 20 PTS

Prospect Profile: Zack Phillips

Prospect Report is a weekly series that will look at a Wild prospect every Wednesday. If there is any prospect you would like featured, e-mail me at blake.benzel@hockeyprimetime.com.

Zack Phillips

Zack Phillips

Born – 10/28/1992
Position –
C
Ht –
6’1”
Wt –
181
Shoots –
Right

Phillips has all the tools to put up points in the NHL

The Skinny
Phillips is the player that the Wild used the draft pick acquired in the Brent Burns trade on, so the spotlight is already on him to some extent because of the circumstance surrounding him coming to the Wild, but the buzz surrounding him is already good.

Phillips’ pedigree is 100 percent offense, as he’s put up points at every level he’s played, but that isn’t to say that’s his mentality. Despite his offensive pedigree, he isn’t a liability in his own zone either, using his great vision and hockey sense to keep the plays coming and to help break up plays.

While not overly physical, Phillips isn’t one to shy away from contact and can use his frame to his advantage, both physically and by blocking shots. Despite this fact, he isn’t going to be the largest guy on the ice and sometimes tends to play like that as well, and will need to become more consistent in the physical aspects of the game in order to reach his full potential in the NHL.

The biggest concerns surrounding Phillips are his skating and his faceoff ability. He’s not the fleetest of foot and, at times, this is very apparent. His hockey sense can typically allow him to stay out of bad situations, but his feet can get him in trouble from time-to-time. As a center, he’ll be leaned upon to win face offs at times, and this is an area of his game that could stand to improve if he is to be a successful player in the NHL.

Phillips could be a dark horse to make the Wild this season

This Season
Right now, Phillips is playing in the Traverse City tournament with the Wild’s prospects and it looks like he would be set to either play in the AHL with Houston or head back to St. John’s for one more season.

From the looks of the Wild’s roster, however, I would say that Phillips could have an outside shot at impressing enough that he earns a job with the big squad.

The Wild are sorely lacking a second line center, and Phillips could fill that role if he’s ready. It’s a long shot and could be a bit of a gamble, but if Yeo and Fletcher agree that he’s ready, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see him wearing Iron Range Red on opening night.

Potential
Hockey’s Future has Phillips listed as a potential second-line forward, and I could see him improving upon that. He has all the tools to be a solid NHL player if he can improve his skating and, in my opinion, we could even have the chance to see him with the Wild this season if all goes right.

He’s young and he’s skilled, which means that he’ll be given every opportunity to succeed with the Wild, whether it’s this year or in a year or two.

Player Profile: Devin Setoguchi

Devin Setoguchi

Devin Setoguchi

Born – 1/1/1987
Position –
RW
Ht –
6’0”
Wt –
200
Shoots –
Right

The Skinny
The magnifying glass is going to be on Setoguchi this season, as the three-time 20 goal scorer is finally going to move from a secondary scoring role into the spotlight and will get every opportunity to show the form that saw him blossom into a 30-goal scorer and a 60-point player in just his second season in the NHL.

This should be a familiar sight for Wild fans this season

In his second season in the NHL, Setoguchi saw the ice a little over 16 minutes per night and fired 246 shots on net. In this, his fifth season in the NHL, Setoguchi is going to see a lot more than 16 minutes per night.

He’s going to have every opportunity to play on the team’s first line and that means he’ll have every opportunity to play – a lot.

I would expect Setoguchi to get at least 18-19 minutes per game and would be shocked if his shot total isn’t back up to the mid-200 range again. That means he’s going to get more scoring opportunities, and more prime scoring opportunities for one of the Wild’s newest scorers.

If Setoguchi can stay healthy, his presence on the right wing not only will open things up for the wing opposite him (which should be Dany Heatley), but also for Mikko Koivu, who will be centering the Wild’s first line again this season.

The big question, though, is will Setoguchi quail at the pressure of being one of the go-to guys? He’s going to be in a situation that he’s never experienced in his career. He’s going to be one of the go-to guys to put offense on the board. Will he stand up to the pressure?

My personal opinion is, yes, he can.

If you want proof, look at his playoff performance this last season. His ice time was up and he became one of the key goal scorers for the Sharks in their run to the Western Conference Finals. Indeed, he was tied for the team lead in goals in the post season.

If there’s anything that is pressure filled, it’s the playoffs in San Jose and Setoguchi handled that pressure marvelously.

This Season
As I mentioned, Setoguchi will be on the team’s first line to start training camp and, likely, to start the season.

Setoguchi will get every chance to prove himself

That’s great news for Setoguchi, who was always stuck behind players like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau in San Jose.

He’s going to get an opportunity to spread his wings this season and that could be a scary prospect for the opposition. If he finds any sort of chemistry with his linemates, watch out because this could easily be Setoguchi’s breakout season.

But, let’s bring this back to earth for a minute.

Setoguchi is good. He’s very good, in fact, but he’s also in his first season on a new team with new linemates in a new role. To expect huge numbers out of him is setting him up for failure.

Is he capable of reaching some pretty gaudy numbers this season if the stars align? Sure. Will he? While I’d like to think so, I’d err on the side of caution when handicapping his season.

Look, he’s going to be good and I hope as much as anyone that his season is a big one, but I think that expectations need to be tempered a little bit in this case.

Prediction
The Hockey News has Setoguchi predicted to be around the 50 point mark, and I think that’s fair for a couple reasons. First is the one I outlined above. New team, new situation and, to be honest, not a whole lot of scoring depth means he’s going to see teams’ top defensemen every night. The second is that he’s not going to be the top option on his line. At times, he might not even be the second option on his line. When the Wild have the ability to run a 1A and 1B line situation (which is what, I believe, the hope is for when Mikael Granlund comes over next season), I think then you’ll see Setoguchi’s numbers inflate a little more, but for now I think the Hockey News has it right.

My prediction for Devin Setoguchi this season is:

77 GP, 25 G, 25 A, 50 PTS

Around the NHL: 8/9/11

We’re taking our Tuesday look around the NHL and there are a few notable stories out there, so let’s get it going!

* * * * *

Sean Avery Arrested

I like to think this is how the incident with the police went down...

Sean Avery was arrested last week for battery against a peace officer and the collective opinion towards the incident seemed to be shocked, but not surprised.

Basically, what happened is that the police showed up on a noise complaint, which seemed to be resolved. They showed up again three hours later, at which point Avery shoved an officer and was subsequently arrested.

Now, this is the latest in many Sean Avery incidents, but by far one of the most bizarre.

This is really Avery’s first notable incident off ice (or, at least, away from the rink), so it’s interesting in that it’s the first time that he’s been in any notable trouble with the law. But what’s even more interesting is that is had been a while since Avery had even been in the news for his on-ice antics.

I don’t want to say that he’d been reformed, but he was keeping it under control at least.

The biggest question on people’s minds after this incident also is how does this affect his standing with the New York Rangers.

Now, I really don’t think that this is as big of a deal as people are making it out to be. Yeah, he shoved a police officer and he was arrested (as he should have been), but it’s not like he’s the first NHL player to get into legal trouble during the off season. The big hubbub over this is that, wait for it, he’s Sean Avery.

He’s got just one year left on his contract with a team that seemingly loves him in a city that he loves. I don’t think that this affects his standing with the Rangers in the least. It’s his first off-ice run in with the law and, unless the league imposes some sort of suspension

Carlyle will be behind the bench for a few more years

(which I doubt it will), I don’t see him missing any time this season because of the incident.

Ducks Extend Carlyle
It seems that Randy Carlyle will be behind the Ducks’ bench for another couple of seasons, signing an extension that will keep himwith the organization through the 2013-14 season, in a move that I really like for the organization.

He’s the coach you think of when you think of the Anaheim Ducks and that’s just how it should remain. He’s helped them go from a team that was a bit of a joke to a team that almost always enters the discussion when you start talking about Stanley Cup contention.

Now, Carlyle’s new contract doesn’t guarantee Anaheim a spot in the playoffs for the next few seasons, but it does guarantee that they’re going to be an unbelievably hard team to play against once again.

Second Round Predictions

So, I’ve been neglecting my blogging duties lately for a few reasons.

One, a humungous lack of time. Two kids + a wife + a band = veeeeeeeeeery little free time and, I’ll be honest here, that free time has been spent playing either NHL ’11 or the Gears of War 3 Beta.

There. I said it. I’m a slacker.

But, I figured I’d weigh in here with my picks for the second round of the playoffs, trying to get my blogging wheels back on. The mailbag is forthcoming (probably tomorrow or Saturday at the latest) and a draft preview is as well.

Anywho, let’s get started here.

[1] Vancouver Canucks v. [5] Nashville Predators
Vancouver
in 6

Look. I really wanted to pick the Preds here.

One, I don’t think that there’s a person in the world that is immune to wanting to see how absolutely epic Shea Weber’s playoff beard gets and two, it’s just a great feel-good story.

But, from top to bottom, these teams just don’t match up.

Up front, Vancouver is a juggernaut. From the Sedins to Alexandre Burrows to Ryan Kesler, their top forwards are just flat out better than Nashville’s. Their bottom six are closer to the Preds’, but the fact remains that Vancouver’s offensive unit is a force to be reckoned with and, up front, the Preds aren’t really built to do that.

On the blueline, Vancouver’s may be the best top-to-bottom defensive corps in the post season. That’s not to say, though, that the Preds are slouches defensively, though. If they’re going to win this series, the defensive end of the ice is where they’re going to win it.

Goaltending could be where these two teams are most evenly matched. Rinne may not be as experienced or lauded as Luongo, but there’s no doubt that he’s certainly up to the task of keeping the Preds’ in games and, even, stealing games here and there.

Overall, if Nashville hopes to win this series, they’re going to have to do things differently than they did against Anaheim. They let the Ducks’ top players run roughshod over them, with the RPG line, plus Selanne combining for 25 points in six games. With Vancouver, the task is made all the more daunting because of the fact that the Canucks boast players the likes of the Sedins, but also players like Mikael Samuelsson.

The Canucks, meanwhile, won’t have a cakewalk in this one, nor should they. It’s the playoffs. Things shouldn’t be easy. That being said, this one should be tilted towards Vancouver.

[2] San Jose Sharks v. [3] Detroit Red Wings
San Jose
in 7

I had a lively discussion about this potential series with a friend of mine earlier in the week, with my standpoint being that the Sharks, this season, are built for the playoffs.

They’re not just Heatley, Marleau and Thornton. They’re deeper offensively than they’ve ever been but, I would contend that their goaltending is what is going to win them this series.

Both of these teams are a known commodity on offense. So much so that I’d say it’s a draw up front. On one hand you have the “Big Three” for San Jose, plus Clowe, Pavelski, Setoguchi and Couture. On the other side of the coin, you have Detroit’s “Big Three” of Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Franzen, plus Bertuzzi, Cleary, Filppula and Hudler. The offensive battle in this one isn’t going to be won by the “Big Three’s.” They’re going to get theirs. Where this is going to be won, up front, are the plus players and, to be honest, I like San Jose’s better than Detroit’s this season (note the this season.)

On the blue line, I think the clear edge is to Detroit. Lidstrom, Kronwall, Stuart, Rafalski…Those four in and of themselves are enough to tilt the ice that way and they’re going to need to be good to protect…

…The goaltender. Jimmy Howard vs. Antti Niemi. Neither have been spectacular this post season, both have been just good enough, but I have to give the edge to Niemi, at this point. The experience factor tilts the decision in this one. Niemi has been there before, Howard hasn’t.

All of that said, this series is the biggest toss up in the second round, in my opinion. I’m picking San Jose by a hair, but let me be clear – if this gets to Game 7, it’s anyone’s ballgame.

[1] Washington Capitals v. [5] Tampa Bay Lightning
Washington
in 6

Let’s get this out of the way early. If Tampa’s big players don’t show up in this one, it’s over very, very quickly.

Tampa’s role players were able to out perform the Pens’ role players in the first round and (no surprise from here) Marc-Andre Fleury was out performed by Dwayne Roloson for most of the series. Had Crosby and Malkin been healthy, Tampa likely would have been blown out of the water with the lack of performance from their top players for a good chunk of the series.

Tampa isn’t going to have that luxury with Washington. If Lecavalier, St. Louis and, most importantly, Stamkos don’t show up, Washington is going to blow them out of the water.

It will be interesting to see how Tampa responds to Washington’s star power, but to me, Washington has the clear edge up front based on their role players. I like Laich and Arnott and Knuble much more than Gagne, Malone and Bergenheim. I think the latter have the potential to be more dynamic, but the former are just simply solid.

Throw in the fact that Washington just plain wants it this season? It’s going to be hard to beat them.

In fact, the only area that I’d give the edge to Tampa in would be goaltending – though, that has the potential to be the most important edge.

If Roloson is on his game, and the stars show up, Tampa has the potential to steal this series. If either one of those fails to happen, Washington will be on their way to the second round.

[2] Philadelphia Flyers v. [3] Boston Bruins
Boston
in 7

This one is the classic match up of offense vs. defense.

Philadelphia is flat out exciting to watch. From the top on down, there aren’t many offenses that are better than Philly’s and that’s going to be a lot for the defense of Boston to deal with.

It’s not just the defensemen, though. Boston’s team defense is one of the best out there and they’re going to have to be at their best to stop Philly.

The cliché for Philly, though, is that they never have the goaltending to do it and I think that could be what this series boils down to. If Boucher, or Leighton, or Bobrovsky (that alone should tell you enough) can get hot, Philly can easily win this series. The problem is, though, that the goaltenders are going to have to win four games. Tim Thomas isn’t going to allow the Philly goalies to just not lose. They’re going to actually have to win games for the team and that is a frightening thought for Philly fans.

Boston’s offense, meanwhile, will just have to continue to be good enough. They don’t have to dominate – they just have to score once more than the Flyers.

The old adage goes that defense wins championships, and I’m going to hang my hat on that one. Philly will win their share of games in this series, but it’s ultimately going to be Boston that wins this one.

Next Page »