Nice job out there.
The 2007 Stanley Cup final is underway, and despite an overwhelming sensation of
"I don't give a crap who wins" emotions on my end, the Ducks and Sens put on a pretty good show.
1)Ray Emery didn't make "That save."
You know, the save that all goaltenders need to make in the playoffs?
The one that makes your jaw drop, lifts you out of your seat and say "Holy shit, did he get that one!?"
And I'm not saying that you need a game full of them, and I'm not saying either that he played poorly. But from an inspirational perspective, when you factor in his shaky puckhandling, the Senators are not exactly progressing into game two with a ton of confidence that their goaltender is going give them a chance to win if they only put two in the net during regulation. Granted, expecting to win if you only put two in the net in regulation is a bad strategy, but having a guy between the pipes who makes you feel like you can provides quite a boost.
2) For all the talk about speed in the new NHL, it seems to be that the way to generate offense is to finish one's checks. Anaheim got at least one goal by hitting hard on the forecheck and generating turnovers, and another one when a defender couldn't knock Neidermeyer off the puck behind the net. Translation: slowing people down by hitting them is as important as speeding up your own play. If they skate fast, you gotta hit faster. And that's fun to watch.
3) Two of the worst "new rules" in the NHL are limiting the play of goalies outside that parallelegram and expanding the offensive zone.
Emery's shaky giveaway last night, along with Hasek's in the Conference Finals (remember that diving save Lidstrom made?) have shown that as many exciting scoring chances can be created by a goaltender mishandling the puck as are denied by playing it well. The rule that goalies can't go in the corner was created, plain and simple, because Brodeur was good at it. That punishes talent, instead of rewarding skill. How many more chances would the Ducks have if Emery was allowed to play the puck in the corner and gave it away? An interesting question.
This is a hunch, but it really seems to me that there have been a lot fewer clearcut breakaways in the league this season (Hey Forechecker, do they keep stats on this?) When you consider that they legalized the two line pass, this can't have been the intended result, and if you think a shootout is exciting, it pales next to a penalty shot. With less breakaways, there are also fewer chances for penalty shots. What has happened is, by extending the offensive zone, they have made the defender's decision to stay home much easier. Where it used to be that a player like a Kris Draper, PJ Axelsson or Brian Rolston might take a chance at a timing play to knock the puck out of the zone and spring a breakaway, the larger zone means that even if they time it right, there is no guarantee that the puck will leave the zone, and if it doesn't, the momentum it took to make that daring play would almost certainly move them so far out of position that the offensive player can create an easy odd man play down low. So what do defenders do now? Box up. clog up the slot with bodies and block shots, so much so that a new set play in the NHL has been to miss the net intentionally with a point shot, hoping for a lucky carom off the boards. And that's not a skill play, that's knob hockey.
4) Also, for you Canadians out there looking for a friendly bar to catch a hockey game in New York, I had a good time at St. Marks Ale House last night. There were about 30 Senators fans, many wearing colors and even three Ducks fans, which is pretty good for anywhere outside of Anaheim. You could tell that two of them were exceptionally passionate, Southern California hockey fans as they looked up from their chess game several times to chant "USA USA!" I talked to a few Sens fans who were there, and apparently that bar has been a bit of a Canadian playoff hockey hangout since the Oilers made their run last year. I went with my pal Eric, and despite the crappy bar food (we were treated to one carrot and one piece of celery with our tiny wings), the attitude of the fans was fun, with some good cheering, lots of people into the game, and for the first time in my tenure in New York I actually saw a Yankees game get turned off so they could put hockey on. It wasn't in High Definition, mainly because one can't get Versus HD ANYWHERE in New York City, at least that I've found, but why quibble? At least they didn't break it off to show horse racing at any point. According to the fans I talked to, the bar has finally started to realize that they have a potential recurring business with hockey fans, but so far, haven't done much to cater to it. It's turned into a decent hockey bar not so much because the locals did anything to make it so, but mostly because a bunch of desperate Canadians found an empty building with some potential and decided to take it over.
You know, sort of like what happened with the Nashville Predators.