Haggerty: Previewing the Cup Finals

753750.jpg

Haggerty: Previewing the Cup Finals

NEWARK, NJ -- The waiting is over, and the rest-vs.-rust arguments will cease.

The NHL will drop the puck on a true East Coast-vs.-West Coast Stanley Cup Finals with the sixth-seeded New Jersey Devils hosting the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings, and it all starts Wednesday night.

You dont know if youll ever get the opportunity to play in the Finals, said Devils captain Zach Parise. If you get an opportunity you never know whether youll get the chance again, so you have to make the most of it. Given the circumstances, I dont think there will much of a feeling-out period like there is during the regular season. You have to hate your opponent. I dont think thats going to be a problem for us.

With the Kings making the same kind of noise, and with plenty of storylines on both sides, heres a quick series preview and a fearless prediction:

Goaltenders
Its the kind of master-vs.-the young apprentice tale that any Star Wars fan would love. Martin Brodeur, the veteran of five Stanley Cup Finals and a three-time champion, has done it all in a Hall of Fame career, and knows the end is near at 40 years old. There's little doubt he could reach back for something extra with another Cup on the line so close to retirement, and he has a respectable .923 save percentage, along with a 2.04 goals-against average, so far in the playoffs. He also has four assists while hes sliced and diced opposing forechecks. It will be difficult to conquer the goaltending lion in winter, but Jonathan Quick has been Mr. Everything for the Kings at the other end. He leads all playoff goaltenders with a .946 save percentage and a microscopic 1.54 goals-against average, and has looked unbeatable. But hes never played in the Stanley Cup Finals spotlight before, and hell have to prove he can handle it after looking like Eminem with his hood shrouded over his face at Stanley Cup Media Day on Tuesday. Edge: Devils

Defensemen
Bryce Salvador. Marek Zidlicky. Peter Harrold. Mark Fayne. Who are these guys? The New Jersey Devils' blueline crew has been outstanding while going about their business anonymously, but theres been a sense the balloon could burst if they faced withering forecheck. Enter the Los Angeles Kings, who are led by the closest thing Ive seen to Ray Bourque in todays NHL in Drew Doughty. Doughty has 10 points in 14 games with a plus-10 and is playing 25-plus minutes every night. The rest (Matt Greene, Slava Voynov, Alec Martinez, Willie Mitchell and Rob Scuderi) are decidedly Jersey-like in their No-Name Quality, but an elite defenseman like Doughty could dominate in a best-of-seven series for the Cup like Niklas Lidstrom before him. Edge: Kings

Forwards
Plenty of talent and firepower on both sides. Ilya Kovalchuk has been a consistent force during New Jerseys playoff run and Zach Parise seemed to finally discover his footing in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Rangers. For L.A., Dustin Brown has been a one-man wrecking crew with his relentless forecheck and gritty nature, and has 16 points and a plus-13 in only 14 games. Anze Kopitar has been equally dominant at the offensive end. But the Kings' biggest strength is that effective postseason players like Dustin Penner, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter stand behind them, and nearly every single one of them has something to prove over the next two weeks. Dont underestimate the fact that many of the Devils forwards have played in the minus through the postseason. They can be exposed offensively and the Kings have the dogs to get the job done. Edge: Kings

Special Teams
This could be where the Devils could do some damage in the series. Kovalchuk has five power-play goals, more than all players on either team, and he is a force of skill on the man advantage. Meanwhile the Kings have gone 6-for-71 while tallying a Bruins-esque 8.1 percent success rate during the playoffs. Their man advantage has been a liability throughout the postseason, though it hasnt been an issue quite yet. Meanwhile, Jersey is humming along at 18.2 percent and has scored twice as many PP goals in the postseason as the Kings. It should be noted that the Kings are also killing 91.2 percent of their penalties while the Devils are under 75 percent effectiveness. Methinks if the Devils win, it will be on the strength of special teams: Edge: Devils

CoachingIntangibles
Peter DeBoer managed to survive three years in Florida. For that he gets bonus points. He also has stared down John Tortorella on multiple occasions and bit back at the rabid dog of a hockey coach. For that, an entire New York Rangers media corps wants to give him a hug. Hes squeezed everything he could out of the Devils while surprising many along the way, and surviving injuries early in the season that looked like they would sink his hockey club into the Jersey shore. Beyond the coaches, the leadership of Zach Parise is impressive and the Devils have Stanley Cup Final warriors in guys like Martin Brodeur and Patrik Elias. You have to like that. For Los Angeles, Darryl Sutter likes to say things like Strap on the feedbag and any other manner of farm euphemisms, but under that country-boy exterior the man is crazy like a fox. Edge: Devils by a slight margin

Prediction
It will take the Kings a couple of games to get going after taking seven days off between the Western Conference Finals and the start of the Cup Finals, but they are fast, strong, relentless and explosive. The depth of Los Angeles -- with Carter and Richards coming after Brown and Anze Kopitar -- is exactly the kind of firepower that will give some defensively suspect Devils players fits. In the end Los Angeles will find ways to expose Kovalchuk when hes out on the ice, and the Kings will finally break through against Brodeur. The pick: Kings in six

Heinen looking to be dark-horse candidate for Bruins' roster

boston-bruins-danton-heinen.jpg

Heinen looking to be dark-horse candidate for Bruins' roster

While much of the focus is going to be on the young D-men headed into Bruins training camp, it would be foolhardy to overlook a forward prospect Danton Heinen, who is in position for a real dark horse run at an NHL roster spot. 

The strong odds are that the former University of Denver star is going to be begin the season in the AHL for the Providence Bruins after putting up a couple of points in four games there at the end of last season.

Still, that certainly hasn’t stopped Heinen from setting his sights on an NHL spot out of this fall’s camp, most likely in a third- or fourth-line capacity to start things off, or perhaps at the top-six right wing spots that have given the Bruins some problems filling permanently over the past couple of seasons.

Either way, the 2014 fourth-round pick knows that his clock to fulfilling his dreams as an NHL player has started and that it’s up to him when he can start making that a reality.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to work toward my whole life, so I’m just going to try to keep getting better, have a good rest of the summer and then put my best foot forward to see what happens,” said Heinen, who had an assist and a sweet goal in the Friday scrimmage at development camp when he twisted D-man Cam Clarke around like a pretzel on a nifty rush to the net. “I just need to continue to get stronger this summer, and working on my skating to get a bit quicker.

“[The AHL] was a lot of fun to get in there and see what it was all about. It was a lot different than college hockey, and it was definitely good to get a taste of it. [Bruins officials] told me to have a really big summer getting faster and getting stronger, so that’s what I’ve been doing.”

The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Heinen, 21, continued to show in development camp last week, however, that he has the playmaking skills and hockey IQ to flourish while surrounded by more accomplished players and in tighter situations. It’s exactly what he showed while posting 36 goals and 93 points in his freshman and sophomore seasons for the Pioneers and it was what he showed while finishing last week as one of the best forwards in camp.

“He’s looked really good at [development] camp. He’s a smart player, he’s committed and I think you’ll notice him in training camp. It will be up to him, but I think he’ll definitely be pushing some guys [for an NHL job],” said Bruins assistant coach Jay Pandolfo, who was running the Bruins development camp. “He looked good [in Providence]. He fit in well. He’s the type of player that can play with good players because he’s got high hockey IQ, and he’s got really good skill.

“Anywhere you put him he’s smart enough to figure it out. You could tell in his first game there was a little bit of an adjustment for him, but the second time game it really looked like he’d been playing [at that level] for a long time. He’s a quick study, and he looked really good last year.”

The Black and Gold management hope he continues to look good at main NHL training camp in a couple of months, where he’ll undoubtedly be featured, and could be a lot closer than many people think as a polished skill forward coming out of a big-time college hockey program. 

Saturday, July 23: Hammer Time for VP pick Kaine with Caps

cp_morning_skate-.jpg

Saturday, July 23: Hammer Time for VP pick Kaine with Caps

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while everybody is working for the weekend...or during the weekend.

*The vice-presidential candidate for Hillary Clinton, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, made quite an impression while hanging out a Capitals game with MC Hammer. They call this guy boring, but that doesn’t sound very boring to me.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Bob Stauffer has the news that the Edmonton Oilers are parting ways with fancy stats lad Tyler Dellow. Boy, it seems like some teams are reversing course pretty quickly on some of these smarter-than-thou advanced statistics types, aren’t they? I certainly wish Dellow well and hope he finds another gig. But Instead of baselessly wondering whether the Oilers are going to continue down the fancy stats road (which they most certainly will), perhaps this is more a referendum on nonsensical stats-driven decisions like handing out that long term contract to a perpetually underachieving Benoit Pouliot.

*The New York Rangers have locked up Chris Kreider to a four-year contract at a reasonable number, and now he has the time with the Blueshirts to see how good he can be.

*Brian Leetch opens up to the Players Tribune about his NHL experiences playing with the New York Rangers, and all of his favorite experiences from a Hall of Fame career.

*PHT writer Cam Tucker says that Carey Price’s injury from last season is no longer a concern, according to Habs coach Michel Therrien.

*The Chicago Blackhawks will appear a whopping 21 times on national television across the NBC Networks next season.

*Incoming BU goaltender Jake Oettinger is among the names to look out for at the 2017 draft, according to the NHL Central Scouting bureau.

*Travis Yost says that the Carolina Hurricanes are on the rise thanks to winning the shot differential battle. I think it’s because they have an outstanding cast of young defensemen, who are helping them control the puck and win that shot differential battle. But they still need to score more if they’re going to really be a team on the rise, so we’ll see what happens there.

*For something completely different: for those that think I’m a Democrat because I am anti-Trump, here’s a story on the DNC machinery attempting to torpedo Bernie Sanders during the presidential campaigning over the last year.
 

 

Friday, July 22: Versteeg headed for Europe

cp_morning_skate-.jpg

Friday, July 22: Versteeg headed for Europe

Here are all the hockey links from around the world, and what I’m reading, while vowing to never try to marry the NHL and Pokemon into the same lame story.

*PHT writer James O’Brien has Kris Versteeg one of a number of NHL veteran free agents going to Europe for next season.

*The New York Islanders have reportedly been discussing moving to Queens and building a rink right next to the Mets’ Citi Field. Interesting. I know the Isles fan base was not happy with the setup in Brooklyn last season.

*The Black Knights get the top odds as a moniker for the Las Vegas franchise with a number of funny long shot names.

*Ian Mendes said that it’s pretty clear by the moves of the Ottawa Senators that they believe their time is now.

*Jason Botchford wonders if the Vancouver Canucks have a shot at being a playoff team next season. I hope so for Jim Benning’s sake.

*Ken Campbell wants to know if Brad Richards and Vincent Lecavalier, now that they’re both retired, are Hall of Fame-worthy players. I say no to both of them, but I can be stingy with my Hall of Fame qualifications as the Jarome Iginla fanboys know so well.

*For something completely different: Jon Stewart brought the funk and the noise while breaking his TV silence on Thursday night and tearing into a GOP that’s coming apart at the seams right now.