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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Panesar and Moustakas: Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Winner Picks

Ilya Kovalchuk - New York Rangers v New Jersey Devils - Game Six
Louis Moustakas: Hello my friend!

Quite a Cup Final we have on our hands, isn't it? I mean, how do you even go about predicting this one? It is difficult enough to handicap two teams from opposing conferences at the best of times. 

Here, we have the unusual fact of an eighth seed facing off against a sixth seed. Needless to say, regardless of who wins, it will be the first time such a low seed hoists the cup. Ironically, the previous lowest seed to accomplish the feat was the New Jersey Devils, who finished fifth in the Eastern Conference after the lock-out shortened 1994-95 campaign.

In any case, If you saw this coming at the outset of the post-season, props to you. I thought both of these teams would be out after one round.

So, I suppose the question is, who wins it all?

Kamal Panesar: Very true, Louis. Who indeed?

To me, the Kings look like they are doing their best impersonation of an unstoppable force…and succeeding. They really look like a team that is built to play and win in the playoffs.

Big, strong, aggressive, great goaltending, no problem generating offense.

What’s not to like?

The thing with the Kings is that yes, they are a surprise given that they had a dismal season and barely made it into the playoffs. But while adding pieces like Mike Richards and Jeff Carter over the summer seemed, at least on paper, like it would produce instant success, sometimes (usually?) it takes some time for things to jel. Especially when you are adding such high profile and impactful pieces to your squad. I mean it’s not like they added a couple of fourth liners. These two are instantly part of the Kings core.

Fast forward to the playoffs, and it looks like that elusive chemistry arrived just in time for the Kings.

That being said, and while I feel the Kings will take this series in six games, you can never count out a Martin Brodeur backed Devils squad in the finals. Especially one that no longer plays the trap and seems capable of scoring almost at will!

Louis Moustakas: The Kings are indeed doing an amazing impression of an unstoppable force.

But one has to wonder what kind of resistance this force has faced. Going 12-2 is impressive, but it should equally raise questions about the quality of the opposition. How will the Kings react if they are faced with adversity in the Final round? What if they lose the first game? Have they developed the backbone to contend with that?

Maybe they do possess the required internal fortitude, but it certainly has not been demonstrated so far —mind you, through no fault of their own —and remains a question mark.

Also, a lot has been made of the matchup between LA's big forwards against New Jersey's smaller defense, but I feel this point is a touch overemphasized. Big, strong forwards are most effective when they can establish a forecheck. Somehow, I doubt Martin Brodeur's puckhandling skill will allow that to happen to the same extent it did in the previous Western series.

As for the New Jersey Devils, they may not own the physical, aggressive nature of their Californian counterpart, but their depth is not to be minimized. Top players like Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and Travis Zajac have been effective while even their fourth line has produced nine goals. Petr Sykora, Patrik Elias and Alexei Ponikarovsky have more underwhelming numbers, but they remain offensive threats.

How will LA's top heavy blueline fare against New Jersey's four-line balance? The Kings' bottom defenders, namely youngsters Slava Voynov and Alec Martinez, certainly run the risk of being exposed in this series.

I suppose you see where I am going with this. I'll go New Jersey in 6.

On another topic, regardless of who wins, it will be intriguing to see who is handed the Conn Smythe Trophy. Seldom have I seen a year where, on both teams, the award could legitimately be handed to so many players.

Kamal Panesar: Very true and, to be sure, I’m certainly not writing off the Devils. Hey, they didn’t get to the finals by chance. Also, your point about the Kings so far not having to face any real adversity, is salient. If there’s anything I’ve learned from watching over three decades of playoff hockey is that whoever wins the Cup usually has to go through some struggles in order to win. Not always, but usually.

I think the key to this series is really the first two games in Jersey. If the Kings can continue to be road warriors, winning or one or even both games, this thing won’t be much of a contest. However, if the Devils hold serve it puts all the pressure on a Kings squad that hasn’t yet faced much.

On the Conn Smythe discussion, for the Devils, I’ve got to say that the player who has been the most impressive, in my opinion, is Ilya Kovalchuk.

Once a one trick pony, Kovalchuk has become a well rounded, all-world player in these playoffs. It’s amazing what a couple of years playing in a well defined system under a well constructed organization can do for a player.

Not only is he scoring goals but he’s back checking, blocking shots and really leading by example, up front. I think his Russian countryman, Alex Ovechkin, could use a little of whatever he’s got.

Yet despite Kovalchuk’s strong play, to me, the hands down Conn Smythe front runner has got to be Jonathan Quick. 14 games played, 12 wins, two losses, two shutouts, a ridiculous 1.54 goals against average (GAA), and an equally mind-boggling .946 save percentage.

Out of the 14 games the Kings have played, Quick has let in three or more goals (exactly three) only once. He has let in two goals five times, one goal five times and had two shutouts. He has simply been a brick wall and, despite how well the Kings have played, their power play has been firing blanks while their PK has been lights out. I think Quick played a large role in the PK stats and in the Kings overall success.

To me, there has been no player who has been more valuable so far in these playoffs and that’s why, win or lose, he’s my Conn Smythe pick.

Louis Moustakas: I'm not sure I would give the Conn Smythe to Jonathan Quick win or lose. Certainly, he is the top candidate on the Kings, but he has not had to steal the series against St. Louis or Phoenix either.

Dustin Brown also deserves consideration for his tremendous physical and offensive contributions, but Drew Doughty is a choice that could have some merit should the Kings capture the Cup. He has maintained an impressive +10 rating while playing over 25 minutes per night, contributing ten points in the process as well. 

Much has been made about the shutdown duo of Willie Mitchell and Rob Scuderi, but Doughty's ability to be used proficiently in every situation — and to excel — makes him an excellent choice.

On the New Jersey side, I would agree with you. Ilya Kovalchuk has blown me away and, most importantly, he has improved as the playoffs have worn on. In the deciding game against the New York Rangers, he had two points, including an assist on the eventual winner. He has been physical, has chipped in some garbage goals and has been a game breaker for the Devils. Heck, he is even being used 45 seconds per game on the penalty kill.

Then again, all of this is speculation. We all know the most important round is upon us and a stellar — or abysmal — performance can make or break one's Conn Smythe chances. When it comes to voting for this award, recent performance weighs very heavily.



What are your predictions for the Stanley Cup Final? Who will win it all? Who will be named playoff MVP?



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Kamal is a freelance writer, Senior Writer/Editor-in-Chief of HabsAddict.com, Montreal Canadiens Blogger on Hockeybuzz.com and featured columnist on PowerScoutHockey.com. Kamal is also a regular on-air contributor on TSN 990, CJAD, and LiveSport New Zealand.

Follow Kamal on Facebook and Twitter

Louis is an Associate Editor and Senior Writer at HabsAddict.com. Born in Chicago, Louis grew up in Quebec City where he earned Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration from Université Laval. He is also an occasional guest on CKCU's Red Zone program.

Find him on twitter @LouisMoustakas



(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America)

2 comments:

I know this has nothing to do with the final but with the expected announcement of Nik Lidstrom's retirement can we start the debate about whether he is an equal to the legendary bobby Orr?

@Anon: Equal to Bobby Orr. Wow, good question. The thing is that Orr and Lidstrom are two very different players. Sure Lidstrom could pot a good 60 points in a season, but Orr was usually in top-10 scoring league-wide.

That is a very different thing.

Like Gretzky and Lemieux, Orr is a player whose skills transcended the game.

As such, I think that I would say no, they are not equal.

But Lidstrom is still a sick defenseman! One of the best ever...

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