Thursday, October 6, 2011

Prediction Time

Plan The Parade Now...Kings Are Winning The Cup

With the season only a few hours away, here are my predictions for the 2011-12 season...

1. Pittsburgh Penguins (Atlantic, 1st): Malkin wins the Art Ross.
2. Washington Capitals (Southeast, 1st): Ovechkin scores 53 goals.
3. Boston Bruins (Northeast, 1st): Tuuka Rask is starting by January.
4. Tampa Bay Lightning (Southeast, 2nd): Roloson's wheels fall off.
5. Philadelph Flyers (Atlantic, 2nd): Giroux makes fans forget about Richards/Carter.
6. N.Y. Rangers (Atlantic, 3rd): Richards flops on Broadway.
7. Buffalo Sabres (Northeast, 2nd): Miller wins the Vezina.
8. New Jersey Devils (Atlantic, 4th): Kovalchuk scores 50 and Parise stays.

9. Montreal Canadiens (Northeast, 3rd)
10. Toronto Maple Leafs (Northeast, 4th)
11. Carolina Hurricanes (Southeast, 3rd)
12. Winnipeg Jets (Southeast, 4th)
13. New York Islanders (Atlantic, 5th)
14. Ottawa Senators (Northeast, 5th)
15. Florida Panthers (Southeast, 5th)

1. Vancouver Canucks (Northwest, 1st): Luongo dominates the regular season only to fail in the postseason.
2. Detroit Red Wings (Central, 1st): Wings transition from Rafalski to White goes without a hitch.
3. Los Angeles Kings (Pacific, 1st): Doughty wins the Norris.
4. San Jose Sharks (Pacific, 2nd): Havlat misses 40+ games.
5. Chicago Blackhawks (Central, 2nd): Crawford stumbles Emery takes over the net.
6. Anaheim Ducks (Pacific, 3rd): Selanne is finally slowed by injuries and misses 40+ games.
7. St. Louis Blues (Central, 3rd): Halak finds his game and the Blues young forwards all mature.
8. Colorado Avalanche (Northwest, 2nd): Avs get average defense and outstanding goaltending from Varlamov to sneak into the postseason.

9. Columbus Blue Jackets (Central, 4th)
10. Nashville Predators (Central, 5th)
11. Calgary Flames (Northwest, 3rd)
12. Edmonton Oilers (Northwest, 4th)
13. Minnesota Wild (Northwest, 5th)
14. Dallas Stars (Pacific, 4th)
15. Phoenix Coyotes (Pacific, 5th)

Eastern Conference Finals
Washington Capitals over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Seven Games
The Caps have added some much needed grit by acquiring forwards Joel Ward and Troy Brouwer.  Tomas Vokoun will thrive being back in the spotlight of the postseason.  And stars Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green will take the necessary steps in the postseason to push the Caps over the top and into the Cup Finals.  
Western Conference Finals
Los Angeles Kings over the Vancouver Canucks in Six Games
Over the past few seasons the Kings have built their identity on goaltending and strong defensive play while ignoring their offensive deficiencies.  DL finally acknowledged the team's anemic offense by acquiring two top-six forwards in Mike Richards and Simon Gagne.  If the Kings forwards can stay healthy, they'll give Vancouver all they can handle and may just run Roberto Luongo out of town.
Stanley Cup Finals
Los Angeles Kings over the Washington Capitals in Seven Games
I like the Caps to win the Cup in this matchup but if I've got the Kings advancing all the way to the Cup; they've got to win it all, right?  If the Kings can acquire Zach Parise like many 'experts' are already speculating then the Kings would have to be heavy favorites.  I think the Kings and Caps matchup well.  The Kings defense first system will stifle the Caps dynamic forwards.  The Kopitar-Richards combination will outplay Backstrom-Laich.  And Drew Doughty will show everyone that he was worth every penny by winning the Conn Smythe Award for shutting down Ovechkin all series long.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Season Preview Time!

Drew Doughty
My #1 Whipping Boy For the 2011-12 Season

If you haven't read it yet, check out The Royal Half's season preview.  A blogger roundtable of sorts on the upcoming season.  I submitted my answers to Chris Kontos about a month ago so I'm going to update a few of my answers regarding the team...

Who will be the leading scorer for the Kings this season and why?

Mike Richards.  I’m not convinced that Kopi is 100% recovered from his broken right ankle.  Richards is more than capable of putting together another 75-80 point campaign. Pairing Richards with Simon Gagne should be a no-brainer for TM and hopefully both players can regain their 2008-09 form, which saw them combine for 64 goals, 90 assists, a +42 rating and 58 points on the man-advantage. 

UPDATE: After actually catching a couple exhibition games, I think Kopitar is fine and he will indeed lead the Kings in scoring.  Putting up career-high's across the board.  I'm thinking 90+ points this season.

Who will be the whipping boy for the Kings this season and why?
Drew Doughty.  Regardless of whether he signs tomorrow, sits out the first week of camp, or the first month of the season.  I don’t care if he’s pissed that DL traded his bosom buddy away or whether he thinks he’s the next Bobby Orr.  Bottom line: He followed up his Norris-candidate/Olympic Gold Medal performance season with a very mediocre 2010-11 season that shouldn’t merit half of what Kopitar’s making.  He’ll get his money eventually.  I just hope he’s training hard and not sitting on his couch playing NHL 12 on his XBOX.

UPDATE: Well, as you know Doughty is signed but I'm not changing my answer.  Missing all of training camp is a big deal regardless of what the players say.  At $7 million a season, Doughty is the third-highest paid defenseman in the league at 21 years old; 5 years younger than the highest-paid blueliner Shea Weber.  Let's keep our fingers crossed, he's more Weber than Brian Campbell.  

Who will you miss most... Michal Handzus, Wayne Simmonds or Brayden Schenn? And why?
As a fan, I’m going to miss Simmer.  I drove the Simmer bandwagon ever since his first development camp back in 2007.  I’ve got his Owen Sound Attack game-worn jersey collecting dust in my closet to prove it.  It’s tough to see one of Dean Lombardi first homegrown picks get dealt away but I’m sure I’ll get over it when I’m rioting on Chick Hearn Court after the Kings hoist the Cup this year.

If I’m Terry Murray or Jamie Kompon or the pet monkey that draws up the Kings power play, I think the Kings will miss Handzus and Smyth the most.  Zeus & Smitty were two of the only Kings willing to stand in front of the net and I’m not sure who will fill that role now.  Penner would be the obvious choice but he plays more like a 5’9 sniper than the 6’4 behemoth that he is.

Will Terry Murray be the coach of this team come December?

Yes. TM’s system works.  But I wouldn’t be opposed to John Stevens and Terry Murray switching roles at some point during the season. 

Who do you think will be the biggest surprise on the Kings team this season?

Simon Gagne.  It feels like he’s been playing forever but he’s still only 31 years old. After a slow start, there weren’t many players that had a better second-half than Gagne last season.  He posted 27 points (8 goals, 19 assists), a +7 rating, and 10 points on the man-advantage in 27 games after the All-Star break.  If he can stay healthy and play alongside Richards all season, he could easily reach 30+ goals and 70+ points.

UPDATE: My numbers may have been a bit generous considering that Gagne will have to play under Terry Murray's system which seems to put a wet blanket on top of any offensive creativity.  I'm sticking with Gagne but I'll temper expectations and say 25+ goals and 65+ points assuming he stay's healthy.

Quick or Bernier... who you got? And why?

Quick.  Read mygoaltender review blog post.  Call me crazy but I think Martin Jones might be the best of the bunch. 

Which player on the Kings would you most like to have a beer with and why?

I don’t drink but based on some photos floating around the interweb, it looks like Mike Richards knows how to have a good time.

What is the biggest misconception of the Los Angeles-Based Hockey Fan?

That we’re ‘fair weather fans’ like all other L.A.-based sports fans.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Just a few short years ago, Kings fans were spending their hard earned cash to watch a team contending for the first-pick overall, a Kings team that played 11 different goalies over two seasons: Garon, Burke, Cloutier, Brust, Fukufuji, LaBarbera, Ersberg, Aubin, Quick, Bernier, and Taylor.  We’re as passionate a fan base as they come. We’ve waited long enough.  Now’s our time.  It’s got to be!

Where are the Kings going to finish in the Pacific? In the Western Conference?

First in the Pacific.  Third in West.  With the acquisition of Mike Richards, the Kings are my favorites to win the division.  A team’s success can always be traced back to their top two centers and/or their goaltending. 

Here’s how I project the West based solely on top-two centers and goaltending:

1. Canucks: H. Sedin/Kesler – Luongo/Schneider
2. Red Wings: Datsyuk/Zetterberg – Howard/Conklin
3. Kings: Kopitar/Richards - Quick/Bernier
4. Sharks: Thornton/Pavelski – Niemi/Nittymaki
5. Blackhawks: Toews/Sharp – Crawford/Emery
6. Ducks: Getzlaf/Koivu - Hiller/Ellis
7. Blues: Backes/Berglund - Halak/Bishop
8. Avalanche: Duchene/Stastny – Varlamov/Giguere

9. Blue Jackets- Carter/Umberger - Mason/Sanford
10. Predators: Fisher/Legwand – Rinne/Lindback
11. Flames: Jokinen/Stajan - Kiprusoff/Karlsson
12. Oilers: Gagner/Eberle – Khabibulin/Dubnyk
13. Wild- Koivu/Cullen – Backstrom/Harding
14. Stars: Ribeiro/Ott - Lehtonen/Raycroft
15. Coyotes: Hanzal/Turris – LaBarbera/Smith