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Joe Thornton of the San Jose Sharks skates against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on October 19, 2009 in New York, New York. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Joe Thornton of the San Jose Sharks skates against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on October 19, 2009 in New York, New York. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

David Shoalts

How to be a pool shark Add to ...

One of the rituals of the Stanley Cup playoffs is trying to project the next Chris Kontos or John Druce, the comets who arrive when the first puck is dropped, burst into a shower of postseason points and then fade back to obscurity.

The other side of that coin is to figure out which NHL star will fail to match his regular-season statistics, thereby dragging his team into ignominy. All of this is part of that other great ritual of spring, the hockey playoff pool.

To that end, we say, avoid the likes of Joe Thornton, Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Jose Theodore and Evgeni Nabokov. Instead, cast your gaze on Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin (hardly ground-breaking advice), Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, Patrick Kane and Tyler Myers. In goal, there is the old standby, Martin Brodeur, but Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings is worth a try.

Thornton is everybody's whipping boy at playoff time. Long one of the top regular-season scorers, with 89 points in 79 games this season, the San Jose Sharks centre has a mediocre playoff record of 53 points in 76 career games.

The numbers cast the Sedin twins in a similar light, although it can be argued the Vancouver Canucks stars finally enjoyed a breakout season in 2009-10. Henrik won the scoring title with 112 points and he was the third hottest scorer in the last month of the season, along with Jason Spezza of the Ottawa Senators, with 19 points in 13 games. Daniel Sedin was not far behind with 17 points in 12 games in the final month.

However, neither player has a distinguished playoff history. Henrik has 30 points in 53 career playoff games while Daniel has 28 in the same number of games.

Naturally, they have this in common with their team, so don't jump to take Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo and his 11-11 record in 22 playoff games. It is also worth noting Luongo was one of the coldest goalies in the league during the last month of the season - 4-4, 3.46 goals-against average and a save percentage of .891.

A long playoff run figures into any pick, which is why the above list of forwards is heavily weighted toward the Washington Capitals. But a couple of players aside from Ovechkin are worth serious consideration. Given the youth of the team, none of them have a long list of playoff stats, although the trend is promising.

Backstrom finished the season on a roll, with 18 points in his last 13 games. Also encouraging are his 21 points in 21 playoff games. It's the same story with his teammate Semin, who had 10 points in 13 games down the stretch, backed up by 22 points in 21 playoff games.

The Chicago Blackhawks are another young team poised for a long playoff run although, like the Capitals, their goaltending is a question mark at best. Kane is the one to look at among the Blackhawks, since he pushed his way into the top 10 scorers with 88 points in 82 games. His playoff numbers (14 points in 16 games) are not a dramatic dip in his regular-season pace.

As for the dark horses to look for in the mid to late rounds of a pool, centre Derek Roy of the Buffalo Sabres has some interesting numbers. He was the NHL's second-hottest scorer in the final month to Crosby, running up 20 points in 15 games. His playoff numbers (22 points in 34 games) are less impressive, although he can argue he was not the Sabres' top centre in his first three years.

On defence, a name to watch is Roy's rookie teammate, Tyler Myers. He is a lock for rookie of the year and would be a good pick in a pool if you think goaltender Ryan Miller can propel the Sabres into at least the Eastern Conference final. Myers was 11th in defence scoring with 48 points and he was the third-best scorer in the last month of the season with 12 points in 15 games.

The ranks of the best defencemen are full of youngsters now, with Mike Green of the Capitals and Duncan Keith of the Blackhawks the top picks. Diehard Sharks fans, who think this may finally be their year, could take reliable Dan Boyle, who finished the season with 11 points in 14 games. His playoff numbers are not bad - 26 points in 51 games.

Goaltending is a problem this year because the best teams - Washington, San Jose, Chicago - are iffy between the pipes. The Red Wings look like they will be in the playoffs for a while, so Howard is someone to watch. He has no NHL playoff experience but, at 26, he has been around the block for a rookie. He also boasts a perfect 11-0 record, 1.95 GAA and .925 save percentage from the Wings' closing drive.

 

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