SPNHL, Season 36: Playoff Preview – Round One – “Crazy Eights”
As summer is just around the corner, people are becoming more optimistic and positive: the sun is out, the temperature is up, the pools are opening, the barbecues are being turned on, the mood is changing. With this change in season and subsequent change in demeanor, you need music that suits the mood. So, why not put on a fantastic hardcore pop-punk concept album revolving around a cult leader during an apocalypse? (seems fitting right now)
Enter Direct Hit!’s 2013 album “Brainless God”. This is an incredibly fun album given the lyrical context of it, one that combines elements of hardcore punk, sing-a-long choruses, unnatural love songs, and much more. The concept of the end of the world and one’s actions during the course of it are expertly explored here, and with a splash of energetic music and dark humour, make this album a fantastic soundtrack to begin your summer in a pandemic.
On the topic of the end of the world, this past week marked the conclusion of the regular season, and with that, the conclusion of the overall season for 6 of the 14 teams that were vying for the Stanley Cup. While some teams who were expected to miss the playoffs lived up to expectations (sorry Tampa Bay and Ottawa, you were doomed from the start), were some surprises regarding teams that missed the playoffs, like the great collapse of the Western powerhouses like Anaheim and Vegas. To the Penguins (so close!), the Avs, the Sens, the Knights, the Ducks, and the Bolts, better luck next time, my friends.
With those 6 teams eliminated, we have eight teams left to compete for the right to be called the champions of the SPNHL. In the Western conference, the Predators finished with 35 wins and captured first seed in the conference, while the Flames proved me dead wrong and finished second in the conference, a far cry from my initial 6th seed projection. The Blackhawks made some changes to their roster and secured that third seed, the one that Minnesota held all season, as the Wild struggled, but held on to a playoff spot and finished as the fourth seed in the West.
The race in the East was a little bit tighter, but as the Penguins fell out of the race, everything started to solidify. The Bruins put up 70 points with 33 wins, earning the President’s Trophy and capturing the first seed in the conference. The Maple Leafs also had 33 wins but finished with 69 (NICE) points, enough for second seed in the conference, 4 points ahead of the third seed New Jersey Devils. After their great start to the regular season, the Red Wings faced some adversity throughout the past few weeks but managed to hold on and secure the last playoff spot in the East.
With our participants set, let’s take an in-depth look at the four first round matchups as we begin the journey to crowning the champions of season 36 of the SPNHL!
Boston Bruins (1) vs. Detroit Red Wings (4)
Season Series: Boston won 3-0.
Regular Season Record: 33-8-4.
Notable Stats: 127 goals against (3rd), 79% penalty kill (1st).
Leading Scorer: iyzcniZi (111 points).
X – Factor: DeathClxwn.
Strength: offense. iyzcniZi, DeathClxwn, Pfarrcyde23, and (if you combine his defensive and offensive totals) DudNastyy all scored more than 70 points during the regular season, showcasing the offensive potential of this team. Meanwhile, Capitalsfan_08, Servnspike, and jamie14benn14 all averaged over 3 points a game, so even their depth options are top-line caliber, solidifying the offensive depth of this team.
Weakness: availability. We expected Capitalsfan_08 and DeathClxwn to be a consistent staple of this team’s top line, but the lack of availability prevented them from playing together often, let alone at all for this team. While there are great players who will be there for every game like chadkillz134 and Uberpwned_6969, these elite players will give the Bruins the advantage if they aren’t too busy with other leagues this week.
Detroit Red Wings
Regular Season Record: 28-12-5.
Notable Stats: 222 goals for (2nd), 66 penalties (2nd).
Leading Scorer: LeCupidon (164 points).
X – Factor: Detajax17.
Strength: offense. This series will be a battle of strong offenses, as the Red Wings employ two of the top three scorers in the league in LeCupidon and Reapz2313. With options down the middle like JHardiie and IvanThyGreat, and offensive defenders like Dynasty1989 and Detajax17 (who lead all defenders in points), the Red Wings have a five-pronged offensive attack that if not contained properly, could spell disaster for the Bruins.
Weakness: goaltending. At least in comparison to their counterparts this series, the Red Wings have a great disadvantage in net. IceyAsylum23 and X-_-Pulver-_-X have proven to be reliable goaltenders in the past, but not at the elite level that would be expected in a playoff run. The Red Wings have struggled to find their starting goaltender all season long, and need to determine which goaltender’s employment would be the lesser of two evils.
The Verdict: while the Red Wings may have the offensive firepower to match the Bruins, they don’t have the goaltending to shut down the counter-attack. The Bruins have had the advantage so far this season, and I don’t expect much to change in this playoff series. Bruins win 4-2.
Toronto Maple Leafs (2) vs. New Jersey Devils (3)
Season Series: New Jersey won 2-1.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Regular Season Record: 33-9-3.
Notable Stats: 123 goals against (2nd), 124 penalties (14th).
Leading Scorer: toslick (137 points).
X – Factor: Gucci__gui.
Strength: overall team defense. This team employs the highest scoring top line in the league in Jcfalcon21, Gucci__gui, and toslick, but also one of the more defensively responsible cores anchored by SNAKE_-_PLISSKIN and ExE-_-53. This team traps players so effectively, and while they haven’t had the strongest goaltenders (MPurch has played well, but only played 18 games, while Defaults-Potato is only a recent arrival), they have still limited teams to under 3 goals a game.
Weakness: this is a hard one, honestly. I’d have to go with composure. This is a team filled with loud personalities with high expectations, and if they don’t win one of the first two games, I see this team eating themselves slide from the inside out. Toslick and Gucci__gui are incredibly passionate players, and if the mistakes are abundant in their first few games, those two will get hotheaded and combative.
New Jersey Devils
Regular Season Record: 32-12-1.
Notable Stats: 61 penalties (1st), 36.3% powerplay conversion (2nd).
Leading Scorer: TrueLegend07 (144 points).
X – Factor: bstieboydp.
Strength: top line. This team has arguably the best starting 6 in the league (I may be a bit biased), with two incredibly talented wingers in TrueLegend07 and bstieboydp carrying the offensive line with a solid defensive center in Dirty-Dietrich. With The-Statistician at defense, the Devils completed their top line after trading for sedinpower, a trade that was reviled by the rest of the league but one that solidified this team as a legitimate contender.
Weakness: penalty kill. Outside of penalties, the Devils can actually play defense quite well. When they take a penalty (it’s fortunate that they aren’t too frequent), they don’t have the best luck, only killing off 63.9% of penalties. With the offensive prowess of the Maple Leafs, the Devils need to stay as disciplined as they have been, or else they put themselves in a dire situation against a very lethal Toronto team.
The Verdict: I’m gonna be biased with this one, only because I think my team would have my head if I didn’t pick them. This one is gonna go the distance, as Toronto has an incredibly potent and responsible offense, but I think that our overpowered top 6 will carry New Jersey to victory. Devils win 4-3.
Nashville Predators (1) vs. Minnesota Wild (4)
Season Series: Wild won 2-1.
Regular Season Record: 35-10-0.
Notable Stats: 110 goals against (1st), +91 goal differential (t-1st).
Leading Scorer: Kylo_Reli (120 points).
X – Factor: PistolPete7788.
Strength: back end. This team’s defense and goaltending has been their backbone all season, with a strong two-line defense of ProdigyToLegend and shepard-88- as pair number one, while M1keal and L8L-foerster-L8L as the second pairing. L8L-foerster-L8L has also been exceptional in net, acting as one of the best backups in the league to Spencer_Knight30, a perennial Vezina candidate. Xx_Kapanen_Xx was undefeated in net when called upon, and serves as a great depth option if needed in net.
Weakness: attitude. After a big loss in week four, the Predators looked like they were going to implode. However, they were able to recover and get their star centre Kylo_Reli back for a night this past week. While PistolPete7788 put in overtime this week as he looked to keep his team together, Xx_Kapanen_Xx is busy getting into fights with his defenders in the Discord. Will this team be able to stick together as the playoffs arrive, or are they upholding at just the wrong time?
Regular Season Record: 21-19-5.
Notable Stats: 134 goals against (5th), 143 goals for (10th).
Leading Scorer: Mclub326 (83 points).
X – Factor: malliaman__.
Strength: depth/diversity. Sportsgeek5 has assembled a team that has a roster full of talented players who can forward and defense like Naslund, SMOKESHOWJOE, and Faaa_Kueue. While Mclub326 has lead an effective top line with a multitude of options like Papadamou_l88l, AKmatic_47, and Beantwn_beatdwn, while TheDrixMeister and blouf43 have been reliable partners for Naslund at defence. With malliaman__ in net, this team can assemble any line and have a chance to win games.
The Verdict: Minnesota have been a feel-good story in the league this season, and it’s nice to see them make it to the playoffs. However, facing off against the President’s Trophy winners in Nashville, their story likely stops here. Predators win 4-2.
Calgary Flames (2) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (3)
Season Series: Series split 2-2.
Regular Season Record: 26-15-4.
Notable Stats: 231 goals for (1st), 37.5% powerplay conversion (1st).
Leading Scorer: Whitetees41 (179 points).
X – Factor: Fluri37.
Strength: offense. This team has arguably the best forward line that remains in these playoffs: PBM_TroyJ is one of the most offensively talented players in the league, while Fluri37 consistently improves over his career in SP and amassed 150 points this season. Meanwhile, their line is completed by this season’s Art Ross and Rocket Richard trophy winner in Whitetees41. While their depth offensive options in NowYoDead and N-3-3-P-0-S-H aren’t at their proverbial level, their top line will likely be out there for 6/7 games.
Weakness: goaltending. Calgary has struggled to find that consistent starting goaltender all season, and it has plagued their progression through the rankings and is arguably the reason why they don’t have the top seed in the conference. Acquiring Eddie2708_ in a trade seemed to be the turning point this team was looking for, however Eddie has not lived up to expectations in net for the Flames. Meanwhile, the only other goalie with experience between the pipes this season has been Visibility12, who has a 1-2 record and a 63.64% save percentage. Calgary will need a big series in front of their goaltenders for a chance to win.
Regular Season Record: 23-18-4.
Notable Stats: 168 goals against (7th), 34% powerplay conversion (3rd).
Leading Scorer: ttommyboiii (100 points).
X – Factor: bluedevil631.
Strengths: depth. This team has two solid offensive lines, one headed by ttommyboiii that employs bluedevil631 and Duchesne_x_10 (the scoring line), and one anchored by ThatGuyShadow91 with FatSxyCanadian and tylor_2009 on his wings (the grind line). On defense, marktsib could easily pair with either steelersfan26 or EL_R_O_O_K_I_E and give the Blackhawks a fighting chance at defense. In between the pipes, Bad-buzzz_ has marginally outplayed his starter in devindags. A competition between your goaltenders for the starting position with the stats to prove it is always a competition you like to see.
Weakness: defense. While we noted the depth of their defense, they don’t have that established #1 defender that every other team seems to have. While marktsib has very good stats at defense, his 23 games played implies a lack of availability. steelersfan26 doesn’t have the offensive chops that a top defender may have, and EL_R_O_O_K_I_E has far too many giveaways and penalty minutes at the position. There will need to be a good team defence to make up for the lack of studs at the point.
The Verdict: Calgary’s offense has been dynamic all season long, and after picking up PBM_TroyJ heading into the playoffs, they have the potential to be a game-breaking line. Chicago will give them some trouble, but I don’t see the Blackhawks making it out of round 1 (sorry Tbizzle). Flames win 4-2.
You know how everybody says the regular season doesn’t matter? Well now is the time to put your money where your mouth is. Having been to three Stanley Cup Finals in my career, I understand the sacrifices that must be made in these playoffs; you need to focus on winning. Play great team defense, don’t try to do everything yourself, stay level headed, and go out there prepared to get the W each game. It doesn’t matter if your proverbial backups are out there, you gotta give it all for 60 minutes.
Join us for the next episode of SPNHL: Off the Ice as we run down the first round of the playoffs and make our predictions, whether it be before or after the first round (real life matters happen, sorry folks). Join Pliskin, special guests, and I as we straddle the line of professionalism live on air and discuss all things in the SPNHL. You can tune in at https://twitch.tv/thespnhl_media as well as watch all previous episodes of Off the Ice on that channel. Make sure to follow to get notifications when we (or Pliskin) go live!
Good luck to all the teams in the playoffs this week, we’ll see you on the ice!