Thursday, April 28, 2011

Mentally Tough Performer of the Week (Week 2) Dwayne Roloson

It was a very tough decision to select the most mentally tough player from Round 1. With four Game 7s and some big time efforts from goaltenders, forwards and defenseman a number of players are deserving. Alex Burrows, Corey Crawford, and Brian Boucher all came up big for their teams but I am going to go with Dwayne Roloson goaltender for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Roloson was the difference for the Lightning in defeating the Penguins in Game 7 at the Consol Energy Center. His 36 save shutout improved his record in elimination games to 6-0. A big time effort! Furthermore, Roloson's confidence and composure in the net provided the Lightning the solid consistency to finish off the Penguins on the road in Game 7. Without Roloson most likely the Pens are still at the office and not at the links today.

Luongo: Fragile but gifted?

Luongo the fragile and gifted goaltender from Vancouver. This was the opening for the Versus coverage of the Canucks and Predators. I like John Forslund, always liked his play-by-play in Carolina, but aren't we being too speculative? Who knows just how mentally tough an athlete Luongo is?

Think about the pressure Luongo has been under. He is Canada's pick for the goalie to win gold in the Olympics and yet the nation holds it breath with every shot on goal. He is the #1 man for Vancouver and considered one of the best goalies in the NHL. Yet, the media continually talk about how Luongo struggles with pressure and the prevailing thought was we had no idea what to expect in Game 7. The Hawks were in his head. Would he fail again? Would he crumble under the weight of a nation hoping for a Stanley Cup winner?

Well guess what Roberto Luongo got it done, in OT, only giving up 1 goal. He was solid, and while he did seem to be fighting off high shots more than saving them with confidence, he looked to me like he was playing a controlled, composed game. He came out of the net and played the puck well. He left few rebounds. And no long shots caused him great concerns. Was he scared? Yeah maybe a little. But, wouldn't most goalies be freaked out in that situation? Let's give Luongo kudos for coming up big in Game 7 with immense pressure on his shoulders. Being pulled in Games 4 and 5 and not started in Game 6; then coming back to shut down the Hawks in the biggest game of the year? That showed some mental toughness. Realize that mental toughness is not about being perfect or impervious to anxiety. Mental toughness is about bouncing back, playing big in big games, believing in one's self. Just maybe Luongo is tougher than we think. I guess time will tell if I am right or just about everyone in the media is right.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Game 7s Galore! Managing emotions the key to winning a Game 7

How fortunate as hockey fans are we with last night's two Game 7 battles, and two more tonight? This frequency of Game 7s is rare. The intensity of the Game 7s last night were a treat. The ability to be aggressive, intense, and control emotions so you don't run around and get out of position or take penalties is a skill that is essential to win a Stanley Cup.

You will want to watch for the all important battle of emotions as the teams attempt to stay calm while being intense and aggressive. You may have heard Danny Briere and other players talk about the need to manage emotions in a Game 7. I wrote about this a few years ago for You can still find that article at

There are several very good articles on Game 7 on that if Game 7 interests you like it does me you will want to read.

Last night I thought Philly, Vancouver, and Chicago all brought the intensity and played to win. Buffalo seemed a little tight, awestruck, who knows. Although they were hard to figure throughout the series. Sometimes aggressive and other times playing back. When Philly brought it in the first period they didn't seem to have an answer. The turning point however was the goal by Braydon Coburn in the last minute of the first period that went off Mike Grier's glove. Without that goal the game may have settled and be more even.

The Flyers' mental approach to Game 7 was outstanding. Give credit to Peter Laviolette who has a knack for winning Game 7s (he won two with the Hurricanes to win the Cup) because he emphasizes having fun, playing loose and yet intense hockey. Also, give credit to Mike Richards, Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, Danny Briere... - the leadership of the team. They have great belief in their team and trust that they can get it done in Game 7.

Probably because of their experience from last season (this is what the players were crediting after the game in the press conference), the Flyers have "resilient confidence" which allows them to play with composure and confidence in the biggest moments. What is resilient confidence? The confidence that is unshakeable despite being down 3-0 in Game 6 and despite having goaltending concerns. It is the ability to bounce back when things are not going your way. To dig deep and execute even when your season is on the line. The Flyers, just like in 2010, are showing their resilience in 2011. Flyers fans can thank Daniel Briere for his Game 6 talk with his team between periods. Briere has definitely been a leader for his team.

What a Difference a Year Makes for the Hawks and Canucks

What a difference a year makes. The Canucks imploded against the Hawks last year in the playoffs. And, it seemed it could happen again - as late as Burrows' missed penalty shot in the 3rd period of Game 7 or his penalty in OT. But, the Canucks were able to overcome their archenemy; the team which many Canadians believe has kept Vancouver from winning the Cup.

The biggest differences in this matchup from last year were:
a) The Canucks were able to find the balance between aggressive and under control.
b) The Hawks made too many mistakes including Campoli's giveaway to Burrows for the game winning goal
c) Luongo survived Game 7 (I'll write about this in separate post)

If you remember in the 2010 playoffs a big part of the Canucks implosion was their inability to stay out of the penalty box. They played with great intensity but could not manage it. This year Vancouver did a much better job of being intense and under control. They put themselves in fewer bad spots (well, except for the penalty in OT), and when they did they played with composure. I give a lot of credit to the coaching staff and the team. Their Game 7 approach was excellent. Play with intensity and be the aggressor. Don't sit back and hope the Hawks give it to you. This took the pressure off of Luongo and let him settle in to the game.

Defenseman Alex Edler was outstanding as usual. He exemplified the game the Canucks wanted to play in Game 7 after losing 3 straight. Hard, physical, fast, composed, confident. Edler drilled a number of Hawks forwards without taking a penalty. In fact, the Edler, Kesler, and the Canucks set the tempo early with their intensity and fast play. The Hawks responded, but for the most part the Canucks were the better team.

Chicago played desperate the last week and you have to give them credit for bringing from 0-3 to Game 7. However, they made far too many mistakes and it was not just their young players that were responsible. Veterans like Seabrook and Campoli were turning the puck over. Keith even had some bumps early in the series. Corey Crawford was outstanding in Game 7 and really kept the Hawks in it. Without Crawford playing lights out the Canucks skate away with Game 7 and Toews unbelievable effort to tie the game shorthanded is not a GTG and an afterthought.

How about Toews? Shut down by Kesler for almost 7 games and he scores shorthanded with less than 2 minutes left in the game to tie it. The MVP from the Vancouver Games almost singlehandedly gave his home country Canada a collective coronary.

I also got to write that Ryan Kesler was better in Game 7, but I think the media were off when criticizing him for not scoring. When your task is to eliminate Toews you have your hands full. Offense becomes a secondary thought. Kesler was outstanding in Game 7. He was physical and set up the first goal.  Look for Kelser to score more in the second round.

So, the final thoughts on this epic first round series between Vancouver and Chicago is that the Canucks were able to overcome the defending champs best effort. This should provide the boost the Canucks need to play with confidence, composure and intensity in the conference semis. On the other hand, Chicago has to look at why they were unable to play with consistency throughout 2010-11 and fix it for next season.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Mentally Tough Performer of the Week (Week 1 of the Playoffs)

Each week Hockey Edge Blog is choosing one player to be Mentally Tough Player of the Week. This is a player that exhibits toughness and performs well under pressure, bounces back after a big mistake, stays positive in the face of adversity, deals with pain and continues to perform, and/or leads with their performance.

Michal Neuvirth 23 year old goaltender for the Washington Capitals is the Mentally Tough Performer of the Week for Week 1 for his outstanding efforts as a playoff rookie. Winning 2 out of 3 games, one in OT, with a GAA of 1.45 and Save Percentage of .942, Neuvirth is providing the rock steady goaltending the Caps need to make a move in the East. This performance is in light of the pressure Washington is under to get over last year's upset at the hands of the Canadiens and with high expectations of going to the Finals. If Neuvirth remains steady in the net for the Capitals the rest of the East could be in trouble.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Game 1 Represents Greater Pressure for Higher Seeds

Teams play for over 6 months to gain home ice in the playoffs. And in Game 1 of the playoffs they can lose that advantage. The pressure of feeling they should win, in some places like Vancouver they have to win, and feeling the need to be perfect can be overwhelming.

It is crucial that higher seeds get off to a good start, because the road team is thinking let's take one game on the road. That can be easier mindset to take into the playoffs. The expectations are not perceived as a burden and you play free. In contrast, the home team feels the burden of expectation to win on home ice. The longer a home team is behind in Game 1 the more the fans become anxious. You can feel the tension through the television. And, if we can feel it the team can feel it!

Over the years I have talked with many elite athletes and they will often say that the first game of a playoff or tournament scenario creates a lot of nerves. How do you manage those nerves on such a big stage? Prepare your self for it. Do the hard work during the week on the ice to feel strong, and off the ice watching video and visualizing your performance in different situations so you are confident and ready. Then, when game day arrives trust in that preparation, trust in your game plan, and trust in your teammates.

During the game focus on the process - how you want to play. Physical, fast, explosive, energetic... Or, on the strategies of your role - forecheck, backcheck, drive the middle, get the puck deep... These kinds of thoughts represent positive action which a player can control and thus get in to the flow of the game. Focusing on winning and losing, the scoreboard, is not under a player's control and thus can create more feelings of doubt, a lack of focus in the moment, and erratic play (hesitating or trying to do too much).

For those home teams that lost Game 1, Philly, Anaheim, and Boston, it is important to stay focused and stick to a game plan that works. Getting down 1-0 is no reason to panic. Game 2 is obviously huge for these teams, getting down 2-0 and going on the road is not a good proposition for any team.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Is Finishing the Regular Season on a Winning Streak a Sign of Cup Contenders?

Do teams need to finish on a winning streak to have a chance to win the Cup?

With the season coming to an end my helpful assistant Aaron Brinklow and I were calculating just how important it is to finish the season on a winning streak. Is it a new season or do teams carry the momentum (or lack of it) into the post season?

We looked at the last 10 regular season games for those teams that won the Cup last 5 years. Their winning percentage was .600. However, the previous 5 years of hockey from 1999-2004 it was only .440! So, the trend doesn't hold up over the past decade, but recently Stanley Cup Champions finished the regular season playing well.

The worst record of a Cup champion the last decade? The Detroit Red Wings in 02-03. They finished 1-3-4-2.

Winning the Cup has a lot to do with health, some good luck, and hot goaltending and special teams. So, to look further in to the question of do you need to finish on a winning streak let's look at the Conference Finalists - the final 4 teams.

Over the past 5 years the conference finalists have been winning in the last 10 games of the regular season at a clip of .575 (which turns in to about 11-12 points out of the last 20 available). So, they have been on the winning side but not red hot.

Checking the previous 5 years of hockey the results were consistent. Conference finalists had a winning percentage of .550. Again, winning but not untouchable.

For the teams entering the 2011 NHL Playoffs the best advice is to start over in the mind. If last year's first round is any evidence being a higher seed, having home ice, or winning more games in the last 10 games of the regular season does not predict winning in the playoffs. Wings and Flyers relax, now. It is a new season. Recent struggles can be overcome. Well, relax until the drama begins Wednesday night.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Hockey Edge NHL puck drop/Predictions for final few playoff spots

As I wrote earlier April 6 is the day I truly start blogging about the NHL. With the playoffs looming it's time to discuss who will make the final playoff spots.

As I write Anaheim is jumping on San Jose 3-1 and has a 5 on 3. Uh, make that 4-1 on Perry's 50th goal of the season (and a hat trick). The Ducks have some serious firepower and will be a dangerous team in the playoffs. Oh, yeah I definitely think the Ducks will get in.  Selanne is still playing great hockey and the Ducks are getting career seasons from Visnovsky and Perry.

The winner of the Phoenix-LA game will be in, and soon enough the loser of the game. Chicago's OT winner from Toews tonight puts both Calgary and Dallas in the position of having to gain every point in the last games. I like Chicago to get in and Dallas and Calgary to miss narrowly.

In the East fewer teams are involved fighting for 2 playoff spots. Buffalo only needs a win and the Rangers 3 points to get to the magical playoff threshold of 94 points. As much as I like Carolina's young team I don't think they will be able to catch the Sabres or Rangers. The Sabres have Philly and Columbus, and the Rangers the Thrashers and Devils. I think they will get to at least 94 points leaving the Hurricanes again on the outside looking in.

Like all predictions these could be way off, but that's what makes it fun. Oh and now it's 6-1 Ducks. Who wants them in the playoffs?