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How did we do? Looking back at our Western Conference predictions


How did we do? Looking back at our Western Conference predictions

The only media tradition people love more than predictions is seeing how wrong those predictions turn out to be. In the fall, Chuck Gormley and I predicted who would reach the playoffs and who would win the Cup. It's time to go back and see how we did and give some new predictions for the playoffs. Let's start with the Western Conference.

Predicted playoff teams:

Central Division

  1. Chicago Blackhawks
  2. Nashville Predators
  3. Dallas Stars

Pacific Division

  1. Anaheim Ducks
  2. Calgary Flames
  3. Vancouver Canucks

Wild card

  1. Minnesota Wild
  2. St. Louis Blues

What we said:

"Dallas has a lot of questions on defense, but if Antti Niemi can live up to expectations, the offense certainly has enough weapons to take the Stars back into the postseason."

"Anaheim is far and away the best team in the conference and has the best regular season coach in the NHL in Bruce Boudreau. Calgary was a year ahead of schedule last season and in the face of several disintegrating teams, the Flames will be the second best team in the division. Third place is a tossup between Vancouver, San Jose and Los Angeles, three teams who are clearly on the decline. I'll give it to Vancouver who always plays well in the regular season even if they disappear in the playoffs."

"Minnesota is going to take a step back because it would be unreasonable to expect Devan Dubnyk to replicate what he did last season."

(You can read the full preseason predictions of the Western Conference here)

How they actually finished:

Central Division

  1. Dallas Stars
  2. St. Louis Blues
  3. Chicago Blackhawks

Pacific Division

  1. Anaheim Ducks
  2. Los Angeles Kings
  3. San Jose Sharks

Wild Card

  1. Nashville Predators
  2. Minnesota Wild

The order may be wrong, but I did in fact, successfully predict all five Central Division playoff teams. Dallas' season played out pretty much as predicted, though their offense carried them much higher in the standings than I thought they could given the team's weaknesses on defense.

Can we just forget I made any predictions at all about the Pacific Division? It's amazing to think back to beginning of the season and remember just how good we thought Anaheim was going to be. They have been one of the most compelling stories of the season considering how badly they started the season and how they were still able to rebound. Picking Calgary and Vancouver to make the playoffs though...ouch.

Preseason pick for Western Conference winner: Nashville

What we said:

"Whoever comes out of the Central is going to be my pick to win the conference. That division is a grind and will be better prepared for postseason play."

For several months this looked like an accurate assessment. Lets not forget just how dreadful the Pacific Division looked for at the beginning of the season. Remember how Arizona was in a playoff position for a really long time? It was truly awful. Now Anaheim and Los Angeles have emerged as true contenders and whoever survives the first two rounds from the Central is going to be pretty banged up. I'm still not sold on San Jose (how can you trust a playoff team that had a losing record at home?), but the point remains: You cannot discount the Pacific.

MORE HOCKEY: Ovechkin not in NHL's top 5 for jersey sales this season

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Tom Wilson deals with the physical and mental challenges of a lengthy suspension

Tom Wilson deals with the physical and mental challenges of a lengthy suspension

As the players began to trickle onto the ice at MedStar Iceplex Sunday for practice, Tom Wilson was already hard at work. He was working 1-on-1 with skills coach Dwayne Blais. It’s just part of the process for Wilson as he tries to stay sharp both physically and mentally through his 20-game suspension.

“[Wilson] and I have talked about different ways to get himself game ready and I talked to a skills coach about coming in a couple days early to work with him individually 1-on-1,” Reirden said.

“I think we’re just focusing on using this time to improve my game,” Wilson said Sunday, speaking to reporters for the first time since his suspension was announced. “You know, as bad as it sounds, it’s almost a little bit of an extension off of the summer. It was a really quick summer. It’s a time period for me to be able to work on my game and work on some things. I feel like the last couple days I’ve learned a lot from [Blais]. I feel good, and we’re going to continue to work on that so we’re even better when I come back.”

Just when Wilson will be able to come back is still up in the air.

Wilson was suspended 20 games for a preseason hit to St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist. If it stands, that suspension will keep him out of the lineup until Nov. 21 when the team hosts the Chicago Blackhawks. Wilson, however, has appealed his suspension and will have a hearing with Commissioner Gary Bettman on Thursday.

“It’s definitely an experience that you hope you never have to go through,” Wilson said. “There’s a lot of learning. All of a sudden you’re surrounded by lawyers and stuff like that.”

A 20-game suspension is certainly severe, but the league decided to throw the book at him because this was his fourth suspension in 105 games.

In addition to the clear indictment from the league, Wilson has faced a lot of criticism from around the hockey community. But among all the challenges he faces as he deals with the suspension, dealing with the criticism he is getting about the type of player he is certainly is not one of them.

Wilson cares about his team, his teammates and his coaches, but he certainly does not care what others think about him or the type of player he is.

“People can really say whatever they want,” he said. “If I don’t know them or I don’t really care about them their opinion doesn’t have too much weight on how I feel on any given day. There is a lot that goes into this stuff. There is a lot that goes into every hit, every situation and a lot of people just jump right to that conclusion and attack you. That’s part of the business that we’re in. You just have to keep moving forward and be yourself and stay positive and kind of drown out that bad noise.”

In addition to Thursday’s appeal, Wilson will also have the option of appealing to a neutral arbitrator.

Even if the suspension is reduced, Wilson will still likely be out of the lineup for some time. For a player who was on the verge of starting his season on the top line with a big new contract after a career-year, the mental challenge of being stuck on the shelf has been tough to deal with.

“It’s been tough,” he said. “There hasn’t been a minute or a day that goes by when you’re not kind of thinking about the situation and all that, but I’m fortunate enough where I get to come to the rink with a bunch of great guys, a great coaching staff, a great organization that’s been supporting me and been there for me. Friends and family and a lot of the people who reach out that have your back and support you and say really nice things, those are the people that balance all of the other stuff. I’m appreciative for that.”

Wilson does not travel, but he is allowed to practice with the team. Though he still remains suspended he is also focused on staying in shape so when he is allowed back on the ice, he will be ready to go.

“You have to be ready,” he said. “I’m training like I am today expecting that maybe I’ll be in there tomorrow. I just have to have that mindset. Obviously, that’s not realistic but that’s something that I’m trying to focus on and improve when I can with skill coaches and stuff like that but keep my conditioning and work ethic up and keep my focus up in making the right plays in practice and battling hard out there. Being a part of the group and staying in the same sort of routine. You have to make sure you do whatever you can so when that adjustment period when I come back is short-lived and I’m right back into it.”

 “His work ethic, every time he’s able to practice with us, it helps improve the whole level of our practice so I’m always excited when he’s out there,” Reirden said.

As hard as Wilson is working to be ready for his return, that won’t mean much if he can’t stay on the ice. Regardless of what happens with his pending appeal, the fact is, the next suspension Wilson faces will be even more severe than the 20-games he now faces. That makes it imperative that when he is able to return, he does everything he can to stay in the lineup and avoid that next suspension.

Though he could not speak directly on his hit due to his pending appeal, he did acknowledge he needs to change his game to avoid any further discipline from the league.

“The hitting aspect of the game is definitely changing a little bit, and I’ve got to be smart out there, and I’ve got to play within the rules,” Wilson said. “And at the end of the day, no one wants to be in the situation that I’m in right now. I’ve got to change something because obviously it’s not good to be out and not helping your team.”


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How one bad period cost the Caps the game against Toronto

How one bad period cost the Caps the game against Toronto

For 40 minutes on Saturday, the Capitals looked like the better team. Sure, they were tied at 2 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but Washington had gotten the better of the play, they were outshooting Toronto and looked to be in firm control heading into the third period. A bad start to the final frame, however, devolved into a disastrous 20 minutes that saw a 2-2 game turn into a 4-2 loss for Washington.

“I really liked our first two periods keeping a very dangerous hockey team to some limited chances,” Todd Reirden said.

But a poor shift from the top line at the start of the third period set the tone as Toronto suddenly took control.

“We didn’t put puck deep and make couple turnovers,” Evgeny Kuznetsov said. “I think that’s what give them little bit energy.”

The main issue was puck management. Washington suddenly could not get through the neutral zone with the puck. They could not get the puck deep in Toronto’s zone. Turnovers began to creep into their game and the Caps were on their heels defending against a star-studded Toronto offense they had managed to keep in check all game long.

“We didn't manage the puck properly to start the third and in turn we lost some of the momentum of the game and they started to tilt the ice a little bit in their favor,” Reirden said.

“I think we started playing with a little more risk, got a little bit sloppy around the blue lines,” Lars Eller said, “And then we started making some turnovers and I don't know, forcing it a bit and not being as crisp.

“Say it how you want, we got away from our game a little bit in the third.”

With the Caps playing on their heels, Michal Kempny took a high-sticking penalty, the Caps’ third penalty of the game. Taking a penalty in a tie game against a Maple Leafs team that was producing at 50-percent heading into this game was playing with fire. Sure enough, Josh Leivo would tally what would become the game-winner just 41 seconds later.

For 40 minutes, the Caps were the better team. They killed off two power plays, allowed only two goals off deflections and had kept Auston Matthews out of the net. That all changed in the third and it cost Washington the game.

Said Kuznetsov, “That start of third period gave them energy and they got back deep in our zone and that's the probably game-changer.”