Chat with EJ Hradek
Welcome to SportsNation! On Tuesday, ESPN The Magazine's EJ Hradek will stop by to chat about the NHL season.
Hradek is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, joining the staff prior to its launch in 1998. He began covering hockey as a writer/editor for Hockey Illustrated in 1989.
Keep up with what Hradek has been up to through his blog on ESPN.com.
Send your questions now and join EJ to chat Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET!
Buzzmaster (3:01 PM)
We've got EJ Hradek!
EJ Hradek (3:03 PM)
If you're out there, if you ever hit it big, pick up a hobby. Now let's get to our hockey questions!
Any word on Zetterburg? Gut feelings?
EJ Hradek (3:05 PM)
I've heard that he'll be out at the start of the series. It will be a day-to-day, game-to-game thing. My sense is that we won't see him until later in the series, maybe Games 5, 6, 7. I could be wrong. They like to hide these things. It could be worse than that, better than that. But if they can get up in the series, they buy themselves some time in the series. That's my guess. I'm sure it will be something that we're monitoring daily.
Matthew (Columbia, NJ)
EJ, are the Flyers in big trouble if Pronger doesn't play?
EJ Hradek (3:08 PM)
Any time you lose a player the magnitude of Chris Pronger, you are going to feel the impact. It changes the dynamic of your roster. There are guys that are properly slotted when Pronger is in the lineup. You miss the things that he brings. He makes a great first pass. He's a calming influence. Clearly, if he's not available in any of these games, they will be impacted. That doesn't mean they can't win, but it may give Buffalo a chance to create mismatches in other areas. Philadelphia said right now there is no timetable. That could mean that he plays in Game 1 or we don't see him until the finals. When he's not in the lineup, clearly, they're not as good.
Rob (New Castle)
Pens have been playing playoff style hockey for 3 months now out of necessity. Can they do it all the way to the finals without Crosby and if not ,why?
EJ Hradek (3:10 PM)
I think that would be really to get to the finals without Crosby. So many things are going to happen between now and then. Teams that are prohibitive favorites will lose. Last year, it didn't look like the Flyers could get to the finals without playing the Caps or Penguins, it just didn't look that way. But the Pens going in are well coached by someone who's been in these big games, they have role players and at center, they can still put a guy out there in Staal who would be a No. 1 center for a lot of teams. If Crosby doesn't come back and contribute, it will be exponentially harder. There is no beast that will roll over everybody like the Islanders in the early 80s.
What is the one thing you feel Nashville has to do well to beat Anaheim?
EJ Hradek (3:12 PM)
Boy...I think they have to play their game, that's the best way to say it. They can't get running around in a track meet with the Ducks. Anaheim has too many weapons. The Predators have to play their game, which means checking, counter attacking, being strong in front of your own net and finish on the other end. Anaheim will get their offensive chances. It's just stay the course and play their game from the open to the end. I think it's always important to score the first goal, historically, I think it's 65-70 percent of the teams that score first win. Nashville can't afford to play catchup against Anaheim.
Rob (Frankfort, IL)
Will the Hawks beat the Canucks for the 3rd year in a row???
EJ Hradek (3:14 PM)
I think they can. I don't know if they will. They're a different group this year. They don't have some of the real skilled role players they had last year, like Buff. They still have their skill players in tact. It will come down to if Corey Crawford plays well in his first playoff series. If he plays well, makes timely saves, they can win. If he doesn't and they have to think about Marty Turco, which isn't really even an option right now, they'll struggle.
What surprised you the most about this past year in the NHL?
EJ Hradek (3:16 PM)
Tough question. Maybe it's the fact that Tampa Bay has responded so quickly to new management, new ownership, new coach. The fact that they finished right around 100 points. They're a team that can win this series against Pittsburgh and can make a long playoff run. That organization has been through a lot the last few years with ownership issues. That new group just really meshed. They turned around a really chaotic franchise.
EJ Hradek (3:17 PM)
Another thing is the dramatic change in the Capitals. This team averaged over 4 goals per game last year and this year, it's more around 2. And yet they're still near the top of the conference. Their ability to change their game in progress, you don't see that very often.
I've only got the time to follow one series in the east and have no loyalties to any of the teams. Which one should I choose?
EJ Hradek (3:19 PM)
I would think the potential drama of the Capitals-Rangers is really interesting. The Capitals have undergone a makeover this season. They end up in a first round matchup with a team that had their number in the regular season. The Rangers get into the playoffs through the backdoor. There are a lot of good personalities there with the coaches. Ovechkin v. Staal. That's one that I'm going to be keeping an eye on.
EJ Hradek (3:20 PM)
Another reason that I think it's interesting because if the Caps can win the series, and it won't be easy because these teams are a tight matchup, that this could be a launching pad for the Capitals in the playoffs.
Shakiest goaltending heading into the playoffs? Ducks, Chicago, Detroit, or another?
EJ Hradek (3:22 PM)
I think I'm bound by law to say that the Flyers are the team that has the biggest goaltending issues going into the playoffs. I think that's now an NHL bylaw. We'll be watching their goaltending to see if they have to make a change to Boucher or Leighton. Their goaltending is the first thing that anyone looks at. Anaheim has had a lot of injuries. Ray Emery has a lower body issue and that's a concern. I would say Philly for sure in the East. In the West, I would say Anaheim.
Marc (Malden, MA)
Are you ready for the Bruins vs the Montreal Professional Diving Team?
EJ Hradek (3:24 PM)
Fans always have their feelings about teams and the rivalry with Boston-Montreal is intense and passionate. The key for Boston in the series is to try to be disciplined. Montreal's power play is one that can beat you. I think a real big key for Boston is to keep their heads and playing hard, creating traffic around Corey Price. As for Montreal diving, we all have our opinions on it, but teams will do anything they can to win. You have to be aware of those things.
King Henrik (NY)
Am I gonna to pull a Jaroslav Halak from last year and stop 50 shots a game vs. the caps in order to advance?
EJ Hradek (3:26 PM)
I think that's possible, but I don't think that's where you want to be. If you're going into the playoffs and you're thinking that's how you're going to have to win, with your goalie going crazy, that's not how you want to win. When you look at the regular season numbers, they're pretty even in some areas. The Capitals power play this year has not been very good. They do have some signs of life in their last 5 games. The Caps suffered last year in their first round series, because they could produce on the PP.
Do you think the Blues are going to be contenders next year? I believe if they didn't have those injuries to key players this year, they would have been in the mix.
EJ Hradek (3:27 PM)
I will wait to see what happens in the offseason with a potential sale and whatever other moves they make. I do like how they played this year. They have some good young players on the roster and on the way, but until I see what they're going to do with the roster, it's hard to say how they're going to be moving forward.
Hey EJ, do you think Sidney Crosby will return in the playoffs? Andhow do you see the Pens doing?
EJ Hradek (3:29 PM)
I don't know. He's working out. He's practicing. As far as I understand it's non-contact drills. There is no timetable for his return. At this point, I would say they play in the first round without him. This is a total guess, I don't get the feeling that they would introduce him into a lineup toward the end of a series. The whole time they've been very cautious and that's wise.
EJ Hradek (3:30 PM)
Best time of the year is NHL playoffs, first round. Getcher popcorn ready. Follow me on Twitter: @EJHradek_ESPN. I will be watching and Tweeting. I love to hear from fans and get your thoughts on things. Enjoy the first week and we'll talk next time.