Sunday, June 04, 2006

A Whale For The Killing

It's admittedly weird that I live in a country which has seen two of it's NHL teams re-locate with one of them eventually winning a Cup and yet I can seperate them from their infancy while still associating the Carolina Hurricanes with the Hartford Whalers.

The only explanations I can offer is that the old charges of the Brass Bonanza played in the Adams Division and if you grew up hating the Habs as much as I did then you liked every other team in Jack's bracket. Of course that doesn't explain why I let the Avalanche nee Nords stand alone now does it?

Sometimes I go old school when it comes to memory and I can recount almost verbatim things I read in some editions of The Hockey News from the early to late 80's. I don't know why your memory works like that but I suspect LT has the same thing going on. I was reminded of this a couple of nights ago when a few buddies of mine dropped by and we enjoyed some libations and somehow began talking of Richard Dotson and the '83 White Sox rotation. With G6 of the Pistons/Heat as our nostalgia soundtrack I wondered aloud why it is that I know so much less about players in the NBA in '06 then I did back in '86 given the advent of the internet and all the information it holds.

Back to the '06 SC Finals and if you mention the Canes to me then I'm thinking of the days of the Whale with Francis, Sly Turgeon, Luit and oddly enough one of the NHL's gunslingers of the '80's in Torrie Robertson.

So here we go, Edmonton against Hartford so let's break it down shall we?

Note: I really can't do anything with numbers that MC hasn't already done, taken pictures of and then plastered all over the net. I will throw out old timey metrics like icetime and plus/minus and try to draw conclusions from those antiquated stats:D

Goaltending: If there's one thing Oilers fans have learned from this Cup run it's this: you'd better be damn strong from the defense and beyond if you plan on winning a series while being bested in the netminding department. Oilers were outchanced in the Det series and yet they finished it in 6 games. Edmonton had that trouble through most of the Salo era but now they're in a time when Roloson makes you earn nearly every red light. Roloson is nearly 37 years old and has craved this chance for a long time and you might not say it from the tone of his voice but the guy is clearly a fierce competitor that's acquired a certain amount of bitterness and a healthy chip on his shoulder from his days in Minnesota. I'm not complaining because it's serving him well and if you don't believe in yourself I don't think you can expect your teammates to believe in you. On the other end Carolina has a 22 year old goalie who's set to play at least two and most likely three games in what is a certifiable madhouse. He's also a guy who's been winning at least some games while giving up a few bad goals. The only times Rolo has looked less than great for the Oilers was G4 against SJ and G4 against Ana and the latter was a game where he was throwing up more than Woody Harrelson after the cunnilingus scene in Kingpin. This might be sacrilege in Edm but based on regular season numbers I think the Whale would be best served if Gerber was the one authoring this long run.
Advantage: Edmonton

Defense: The Whalers don't have a Chris Pronger. They once had THE Pronger but that was quite awhile ago and now their top two dmen, at least in terms of icetime, are Hedican and Ward. The former was a combined -34 in the '03 and '04 seasons and now he's drawing the most ice on a team with a chance to win the Cup? I think they should invent a word that means super flummoxed because that's how I feel right now. Ward's a steady enough guy but once again I don't think you're winning a whole lot with him carrying the second biggest sack of mail. Note: as I continue to slam the Canes you'll think I'm really undervaluing them and especially in light of their 12 second season wins. But just be patient and I'll get to that. So we've established that one team has a Pronger and the other doesn't and would it be too much to suggest that Hartford doesn't even have a Jason Smith? Carolina does have two impact, at least by first glance, centres in Staal and Rod "The Bod" Brind'Amour at the helm so on the road MacT's looking at which tandem to match up against Staal and which goes against Jesse Ventura. I feel comfortable with the Spacek/Staios tandem no matter who they draw and when things turn at Rexall the Canes defense is so underwhelming that Jarrett Stoll's line might even score a point or two.
Advantage: Edmonton

Forwards: This one gets a little dicey because at least IMO home ice won't be a factor in this series unless they play a seventh game. Wow I guess I just broke new ground with that observation but just hear me out first OK? What I mean is that for the first six games you'll see three where Laviolette decides who plays against whom and for the other three MacT makes the call. Now if I thought Carolina was good enough to win three of the first six games then I'd give the forwards edge to them but I don't believe that's the case so I'll call the forward situation to be pretty much a wash. If you're MacT and you're going on playoff numbers alone then I'd suggest he aim his primary five man unit not towards the Cullen-Staal-Recchi line but rather towards the Williams-Brind'Amour-Stillman troika and here's why. Staal does have seven goals this playoff season but just two of them have come at ES and let's run with that theme shall we?

Here's a look at these two lines in terms of ES goals and collective +/-:

Staal's line: 8 goals ES and -1.
Billy Graham's line: 12 goals ES and a collective +26.

A couple of notes on this. These were the lines that Car went with for the last three games so I have no idea how long they've been units. Also you could argue that on the road at least there's a explanation for this swing because Staal's been seeing all the tough min and the other line's been swooping in and then away with some nice spoils. That's still a pretty big gap though and if they're gonna keep those lines intact I'd be tempted to let Spacek/Staios take on Staal and then let Pronger/Smith face off with The Body.

On the other side of things I read a couple of interesting notes today. The first had to go with Hemsky going back on the 94-10 line. The other had to do with MacT perhaps following up on the talk of how the plan of attack against Carolina will mirror the plan against Detriot and that begat the Oilers practicing the trap yesterday in upsate NY. Winchester made his inital foray into the playoffs because MacTavish felt that 27 couldn't skate well enough to fit into that particular plan. So in thinking of lineup construction and the ensuing matchups it's hard to believe that Hemsky will remain with the 94-10 for more than half of their ES shifts. I'd imagine Dvorak or perhaps even Harvey will see as much time on the first line as will Hemsky. Unless we're talking the plan at Rexall and then maybe they try and hide Hemsky a little. We know that four of the top six forwards in terms of ES TOI will be 94-10-34-37 and it's hard to imagine that 20 won't chime in there somewhere else as well. Back to the 3rd line of the Canes for a second and it features Whitney-Weight-Ladd so even though the Canes will try and get some of their top six against the Stoll line in Carolina I think the Weight line's soft enough that maybe MacT wouldn't mind letting Stoll take them on at home. One last thing. Moreau and Murray played together for a lot of games and showed some real chemistry in the latter part of the Anaheim series. On the other side of things the Canes 4th line has played together for 54 games collectively and haven't recorded a point between them. That's not a misprint.

Special Teams: As you can see from MC's site the Canes PP success has been built upon the backs of some less than stellar PK competition. So I'll take the Oilers PK to fair at least decently against the Canes PP and the Oilers PP can light anybody up or they can go into a funk against anyone. I truly believe it's more about their execution or the lack of it when it comes to their ultimate numbers.

Prediction: Truth be told I would've been a lot more worried about an Oilers/Sabres final than an Edmonton/Carolina affair. Most fans with a clue or at least some semblence of objectivity would agree that had Buffalo would be in the Finals had at least two of Numminen, Khalinin and Tallinder been available for the Conference final. I won't bring Connolly into this because the Canes were missing Cole. Yet it still took the Canes seven games to beat a team who's defense corps would eventually be as recognizable as Darkman's face.

I'll take the Oilers in six but I'll say the same thing I did heading into the Anaheim series where I reserved the right to ammend my prediction to Oilers in five if they take G1 on Monday night. For as much depth as the Canes proclaim to have on offense they're still relying on a rookie goalie who's shown at least a couple of cracks and there's no one with even half a grain of sense who wouldn't give the Oilers a serious edge on defense.


Blogger RiversQ said...

I don't care what anyone says, it is huge to have Dvorak back especially against this team. He will shore up any line he plays on.

I'm interested to see how the Oilers match up Horcoff and Peca. Some of the shine is coming off Staal at least at ES with Vic's suggestion that his line has been cheating for offense, his ES numbers in the playoffs thus far and the numbers that Dennis has shown here. I have huge respect for Stillman (he always puts up numbers wherever he is) and Williams is a good player to my eye as well, so that Brind'Amour line sounds pretty solid to me. It also sounds like MacT will play Hemsky with Smyth and Horcoff so I guess they figure they'll get a matchup against Staal or Weight. Anyway, that will be an interesting game within the game.

6/04/2006 8:34 pm  
Blogger DrFrankLives said...

you're funny.

you act like this is the 2002 Canes. Guess what. It's not.

You're playing a team that dominated the Eastern Conference with Erik Cole, then had a few bad weeks while adjusting to his loss and is now back on track. This is no Cinderella.

Keep underestimating us. We're used to it.

6/05/2006 7:29 am  
Blogger DrFrankLives said...

Funniest line has to be when you call the Weight, Whitney, Ladd line is soft.


Have you seen Ladd hit?

6/05/2006 7:30 am  
Blogger Black Dog Hates Skunks said...

great post Dennis - I had noticed also that Staal's numbers were tilted to his PP time (actually I think Brindamour also has scored two thirds of his goals on the PP as well) but I did not realize the ES gap between the two lines

should be interesting to see - I think a healthy Horcoff is a big key to this series - he was really dynamite against the Sharks in what was a similar matchup situation (ie/ playing against a dominant centre)

6/05/2006 7:31 am  
Anonymous pdo said...

Funniest part is when you don't mean what he's saying when he calls the line soft. He's referring to their defensive abilitiy.

And it definitely is :)

6/05/2006 8:06 am  
Blogger RiversQ said...

Yeah, I think you missed Dennis' point there drfranklives. He may have been implying they were physically soft (Edmonton fans know for a fact that Whitney is soft and while Weight doesn't shy away, he's not exactly intimidating) but I doubt it.

I'm pretty sure he meant it in terms of that line being the easier mark at ES compared to Carolina's other lines. That's pretty hard to argue given the abilities of the Canes' other lines. Given Whitney and Weight's prior history (especially the last 2 years for Weight) that line will probably be the weakest Carolina line at ES. They're both PP magicians though. Whitney's a personal fave of mine from that angle - he's better than Weight on the PP (and he's no slouch whatsoever) and has been for a long time.

6/05/2006 10:13 am  
Blogger Dennis said...

Yes I meant soft in terms of that's the line you want to try and exploit in terms of scoring chances created as opposed to scoring chances given up.

I know Ladd hits a tonne and Weight isn't afraid to throw it around either. But if you're talking which one of those three lines is the "soft" underbelly of the Canes top nine...then these are the guys.

6/05/2006 12:33 pm  
Anonymous pdo said...

RiversQ, (and I could be wrong here) was it you who posted at HF that Carolina came out like bandits from the summer and may have done better than anyone else in picking up both Whitney and Stillman for cheap? I'm aware that someone did, and I'm thinking it was one of you, Igor or MC... but maybe I'm just out to lunch.

6/05/2006 1:29 pm  
Blogger RiversQ said...

Hmm... I don't remember that pdo. I may have said they picked up an instant powerplay when they signed those guys because I definitely thought that at the time.

I also do remember mc79 and I bouncing a few comments back and forth somewhere lauding the virtues of Cory Stillman earlier this year. He slips under the radar a lot (maybe because I've never heard a Flame fan say a nice thing about him and that was before the mess in the Finals) but he always puts up excellent scoring rates at ES and on the PP.

6/05/2006 2:58 pm  
Anonymous pdo said...

Alright.. so I was way off.

I did eventually find it though ;).

What's the consensus for the matchups that Lavioette will be looking for tonight? I was thinking he'll try to get Staal against Stoll, and make sure that Weight is never on against Horcoff (... anyone think you'd ever say THAT in 2000? Eh? Eh?!).

6/05/2006 3:56 pm  
Blogger Dennis said...

I'd say if he's smart he's hoping the Oilers put Pronger vs Staal and then he can try and get BA's line, because this is the last time I'm spelling Brind'Amour;) out against Stoll's crew. That's not gonna happen much though I'd imagine. Stoll hasn't been very effective lately and I think his and Rem's ES TOI will be a lot closer than most people would imagine.

6/05/2006 4:30 pm  
Blogger mudcrutch79 said...

I said that Carolina was my playoff darkhorse in August or so. That said, I'm shocked that they are where they are. I figured them for a 7 or 8 who'd get bombed in round 1.

6/05/2006 4:30 pm  
Blogger mudcrutch79 said...

Stoll hasn't been very effective lately and I think his and Rem's ES TOI will be a lot closer than most people would imagine.

I suspect that if you want to know who was injured/sick in the Anaheim series, a quick comparison of the G5 game sheet to tonight's will answer all of your questions. I'm thinking that Stoll was sick.

6/05/2006 4:31 pm  
Blogger Vic Ferrari said...

That's just a terrific post Dennis. I've been on hiatus for a bit, glad to see you figured out how to post without me doing the menial labour. :-)

Only a crazy person would think that the Carolina D is better than the Oil. But if you're a guy that believes forwards drives results then there is plenty of room for worry.

Carolina with Cole would have to be considered the solid favourites, he's a Horcoff type guy on a lot of levels. Terrific player IMO. But without him I like the Oil's chances. (If Horcoff had a broken neck and Cole were playing ... time for another call to the hockey gods :) ).

The keys for me:

* Stay out of the box
The Oilers have taken too many penalties ... and Carolina has Weight and Recchi on the second unit for Chrissakes, and play 4 forwards a tonne. Good PP. Just don't give them too many chances.

* Goaltending
The team with the best save% probably wins the cup. The Oilers probably have more wiggle room than CAR here, but not much more. As good as Roloson has been in these playoffs, he has to keep it going. I think he can, just no soft goals. Of course the equivalance of that is "the team with the best shooting percentage will probably win" ... the shooters need to finish.


Other random thoughts ..

The Smyth/Horcoff tandem is one of the best at 5on5 in the league I think, with any sort of reliability on the starboard side, but beyond that you have to like the Canes through the first three lines (anyone who likes Samsonov/Stoll/Hemsky over the Weight line has surely been huffing ether from a copper and blue bottle). As you point out in a compelling way, CAR has no interest in playing their 4th line, the Oilers are best to drive the pace so as to bring them into play ... if the Oilers can even leave the ice with possession there it's a big thing methinks, but they should do better than that. Short shifts, a focus on leaving ice with possession, or so I hope.

I hope that MacTavish and Co. haven't outsmarted themselves here. Just honest, hard forechecking hockey, win battles in all zones ... let chance decide the rest, and they'll probably be fine. These guys + too much time = mad shit. Or at least it has in the past. Let's hope it hasn't here.

6/05/2006 6:01 pm  
Blogger Dennis said...

Yeah but it was just for a second Vic:) Send me another email and I'll try and get this fixed for good:)

6/05/2006 10:11 pm  

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