Question 1: The Anaheim Ducks and the L.A. Kings.
As of right now, the Calgary Flames and the St. Louis Blues hold the wild card spots. But I believe the Flames are going to bypass the third-place Anaheim Ducks in the end.
The Flames are on fire, and the Ducks just don’t seem to have it lately. The two teams currently both have 76 points, but the Flames have played in one more game.
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I also think the Kings (68 points) are going to move ahead of the Blues (69 points). The Blues have been lucky to keep their heads above water recently. They aren’t going to be able to sustain it.
Besides, the Kings always make the playoffs. And when they do, watch out. They’re a team that’s built for the postseason. As a matter of fact, I think I’d rather see the ’Hawks play the Preds in the first round than potentially match up against the Kings.
Question 2: I would go with Brian Campbell and Trevor van Riemsdyk. Of all the defensemen left after the top four, Campbell and Michal Kempny are your only two options for the left side. Although Kempny has played admirably, Campbell is definitely the better bet of the two. Now, if Kempny could play on the right side, I would argue for him, but he doesn’t.
So that leaves you with TVR and Michal Rozsival as your options on the right side. We all have our frustrations with TVR, but that’s when he’s been tasked with first and second pairing assignments. He’s shown he can be quite reliable on the third pairing. I think he has more to offer than Rozy.
Question 1: I’ll take the Anaheim Ducks and St. Louis Blues as the two wild card teams. The Flames seem to have found their offensive stride, and while I’m not sure they’re meant to be taken seriously as a postseason threat, they’re at least playing better than the Ducks.
Anaheim just suffered a 2-1 loss at home against lowly Vancouver. Consistent offense has been tough to find for the Ducks, who have a pretty rough schedule down the stretch — two games apiece against St. Louis, Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg, and one each against Chicago, Nashville, San Jose, Washington and the New York Rangers.
I think Anaheim has enough proven, successful pieces at all three positions to hold off the Kings even if the Flames overtake third in the Pacific.
St. Louis seems like an odd pick here, considering their struggles of late. The Blues just managed to snap a five-game losing streak. But, boy oh boy, do they have plenty of chances to rack up wins down the stretch.
Here’s some of what St. Louis has left: three games against Colorado, three games against Arizona, and a game apiece against Vancouver, Los Angeles, Carolina and Florida. What a backloaded schedule of softness.
There are tough spots, but there are also more than enough soft spots for the Blues to squeak into the second wild card. They probably won’t look pretty doing it, but they’ll get it done.
I’m not sure why Blackhawks fans have taken to fearing the Kings. They’re old and slow, and they’ll be relying entirely too much on a goaltender in Jonathan Quick who’s been hurt most of the season, backed up by a goaltender the Blackhawks beat in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final (Ben Bishop). Opposing fans should want the Kings in the playoffs.
Question 2: Michal Kempny needs to be in. I know, he plays on the wrong side. But if Niklas Hjalmarsson is capable of constantly playing on his off side, can’t Brian Campbell do the same to improve this team?
Having Trevor van Riemsdyk in the lineup is just bad for business. I know the idea is that coach Joel Quenneville will stick with his top four for 25 minutes apiece in the postseason. But we know he can’t resist 18 minutes of TVR a night. And that’s going to burn the Blackhawks at the worst possible time. Not might. It will.
So pull the option from him by getting Kempny out there. Kempny is far better at decision making, winning board battles, knowing where he should be on the ice and not getting caught deep in the wrong end trying to be an offensive hero.
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Campbell shouldn’t be removed from the lineup just to get Kempny in, so someone needs to bring up the idea of Soupy playing on his off side. He’s 37 years old, and I have little doubt he’d be willing to do it to push his odds of another Stanley Cup.