February 7, 2015

NHL Hockey Preview for February 7, 2015

NHL Hockey Preview for February 7, 2015&h=253&w=372&zc=1

Good sized schedule in the NHL for Saturday–we’ll preview the early games on the betting board starting in Nashville. Be aware that both games are daytime starts:


The New York Rangers face a huge challenge today. Actually, they’re going to face a huge challenge for the next 3 weeks at least since that’s how long they’ll be without All Star goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist has a vascular injury (‘vascular’ means related to blood vessels for all of the dimmer bulbs in the audience) after taking a puck in the throat. Not surprisingly, this has become *the* topic of conversation in New York City with the snowstorm hoax over, the Knicks fighting to be the worst team in the NBA with a 10-40 record and spring training a few weeks away. The opinions run the gamut from ‘stay calm all is well’ to ‘who knows what will happen’ to ‘worst case scenario‘. There’s also supposedly a ‘rumor’ that the Rangers are thinking about coaxing Martin Brodeur out of his one week retirement to shore up the netminding situation. The hysterics over the three week absence of an admittedly top level goalie sure helps you understand why NYC went nuts over the prospect of a big snowstorm. This could all be for naught since Lundqvist tweeted that he was ‘feeling better’. By the end of the weekend his tweet will have been subjected to Zapruder film-like level of analysis.

For now, it’ll be Cam Talbot in net for the Rangers. And will you be surprised to learn that this has also generated raving lunacy in the Rangers fans and media? Is this an audition for Talbot to get a starting goalie gig? Another scribe questions Talbot’s potential as a goalie for the long term, presumably should Lundqvist fall down a flight of stairs and suffer a career ending injury. The Rangers are OK for now with Talbot the starter and 20 year old Mackenzie Skapski as the backup. Skapski is a highly touted prospect that has performed well for the Hartford Wolf Pack of the AHL this season. His style is very similar to Lundqvist and while he’s ‘a few years away’ he could be the next franchise goalie in New York. I’ll spare you links to the Rangers faithful’s analysis of that scenario.

Forgotten in all of this is the Nashville Predators who are no doubt in a foul mood coming off their loss to the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks won with ease and the sports media proclaimed it a rout but it was really a case of divergent goalie performances. The Ducks’ Frederik Andersen played one of his best games this season making 46 saves while Pekka Rinne was rusty in his return (4 goals on 26 shots). Note that the Predators put nearly 20 shots on net more than the Ducks usually average. They also held the statistical edge in every aspect of the game with the exception of the scoreboard. Anaheim is 6-1 after a loss by 2 or more goals.



On paper this *should* be a good game. Or maybe I should say on a neutral rink this would be a good game. The defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings are at extreme risk of not making the playoffs. They’re currently in 5th place in the Pacific Division and are are 2-5-3 in their last 10 games. On the other hand, they have a very realistic chance to make the playoffs standing just five points behind of Vancouver for the final Wild Card spot. The problem is that they need to play with some intensity to qualify for the postseason in arguably the toughest division in the best conference in the NHL. Kings’ captain Dustin Brown has challenged his troops to play with more emotion but so far that hasn’t happened. L.A. fans and the hockey media have a feeling that a reversal of fortunes is inevitable for the Kings. Unfortunately, they’ve been waiting for Los Angeles to ‘turn things around’ since Christmas.

And then there’s the matter of the Kings’ road performance or, more appropriately, lack thereof. After finding perfect balance (and identical records) between their home and road play they’re back in the toilet when traveling. Los Angeles is 5-12-6 on the road which ties them for fewest road wins in the NHL with a couple of teams no one wants to be in company with, the Edmonton Oilers and Buffalo Sabres. What’s strange is that there’s very little attempt by the Los Angeles and national hockey media to figure out why–it’s almost as if they just accept it as inevitable.

Tampa Bay has the most potent offense in the National Hockey League and has improved dramatically on defense. They’re actually #10 in ‘goals against per game’ which gives them actual balance for the first time in ages. The Kings don’t catch a break–the Bolts’ are excellent playing in the ‘Cigar City’ with a 21-4-1 record. Los Angeles is a talented team that has the potential to turn things around–even on the road–but they just don’t seem to have the intensity, focus or some other aspect of the ‘mental game’. Without that, you’ve got to go against them away from home.