Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Where to be for the playoffs...

Not so much as "where to watch the Playoffs" but more on teams getting to the playoffs, and being in the right mindset.

The Montreal Canadiens seem to be a bit resurgent lately; playing good hockey and getting better with each game. This is a good thing; they have had their let-down, and have found a way to recover. In the playoffs, this is an essential experience to have. If after a bad couple games against a team, you can look around the room and know that your team-mates are gonna pull together and rally, you have a strong team.

Which brings us to today's topic; what is the best place to be entering the playoffs?

I say 4th or 5th. Middle of the pack.

3rd is always reserved for the loser division: the one where they get home ice advantage, despite the fact they are 10 points back from the team in 8th place. And they get home ice for the entire playoff run. Its the biggest piece of bullsh!t the NHL has today -- never mind all that instigator or toe in the crease crap.

Teams that walk in 1st place have usually had an outstanding season, without much adversity. They have been able to beat teams on single nights, have generally avoided injury, and also avoided structured counter-plans from other teams. They usually have a late season let down, and assume they can bring the same winning game plan to the table in the playoffs. I dare say that only very experienced teams, like New Jersey and Detroit, can pull of a Stanley Cup victory and a President's Trophy win.

Teams that fight and claw and struggle their way in to the post-season dance are usually prepared for the grind of the opening rounds -- but having already gone through weeks of "must win games" its very difficult to maintain that energy level for the 16-wins needed for a victory. Edmonton and Calgary managed to pull it off, but their system was to sit back in a defensive shell and frustrate the other team, then punish when the chance arose. Since there is little expectation on 7/8th place teams, they usually have a brutal and bloody first round which leaves both teams battered and spent.

Middle of the pack teams are usually the ones who have played well enough to win, have good skill and goaltending, but have gone through some pain in their season. They have had to gut-check, to adjust their playing style, and adapt to different circumstances. They have lost a bunch of games, and (hopefully) understand why they lost -- what they did wrong. On the other hand, they didn't burn out scratching and clawing their way in; instead they usually are prepared to shift their play style in order to win. Which, in a 7-game series vs. the same team, is essential.

Home ice advantage is usually pretty nice; but if there are any upsets in the first round, even a 5th place team can find themselves with home ice for the rest of the run.

The Montreal Canadiens had 4th place, and promptly lost it to more deserving teams. They are now on the outside fighting to stay in. Lately they have shown signs of recovery; and since the playoffs are "a new season" its possible that players hit their stride at precisely the right time -- wouldn't that be cool.

Considering the Habs have beaten anyone in the playoffs except Boston in the last 10 years, you can expect riots, but no parades. They might get out of the first round, but even now there are not many signs they have the endurance or tenacity to get past the second.

No comments:

Post a Comment