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Playoff Previews - "B" Division

"B" Div. Finals: (2) Jaguars @ (1) Crooks

Crooks Stats

Record Overall:
17-0-1, 100 GF, 31 GA, +69

Record vs Jaguars:
3-0-0, 13 GF, 5 GA, +8

Special Teams:
PP: 11 for 30 (36.7 %)
PK: 34 for 42 (81.0 %)

Top 5 Scorers:
Manvir Pooni 18-20-18-38
Mishaal Gill 14-13-12-25
Nathan Pangalia 16-5-17-22
Manroz Pooni 16-13-8-21
Raman Sandhu 13-7-11-18


Jaguars Stats

Record Overall:
13-5-0, 87 GF, 53 GA, +34

Record vs Crooks:
0-3-0, 5 GF, 13 GA, -8

Special Teams:
PP: 14 for 57 (24.6 %)
PK: 34 for 45 (75.6 %)

Top 5 Scorers:
Waseem Khalil 18-18-18-36
Jim White 18-9-20-29
Casey White 18-9-15-24
Jonathan Yueh 15-7-15-22
Jay Maracle 9-7-8-15
Series Overview
     The Jaguars were clearly the number two team in the division this season behind the Crooks, finishing a hefty nine points ahead of the third place team. Having said that, the Crooks also held the same nine point gap over the Jaguars, as they rolled their way to the regular season title this year. The Crooks also took a season sweep of the three games against the Jaguars in 12/13, with one of those going into a overtime (2-1 on November 17th), and a pair of fairly routine wins (6-3, 5-1). Those were also games that had been circled on the calendar with the rest of the division lagging behind by so much, and one can't say that either team was unprepared. Read into this what you will, but the Jaguars did outshoot the Crooks in the latter two games of that series, despite the losses.
Team Offense
     This should be a good match-up of explosive teams as the Crooks and Jags finished first and second in scoring in "B" this year. The Crooks hit the 100 goal mark this year, which equates to more than 5.5 per game. They fired six in their first playoff game against the Rage but were held in check in the second game of that series, as the Rage successfully deployed a trap system with the third forward hanging back. The Crooks potted an empty-net goal to manage a 2-0 win in that game. The Pooni brothers picked up where they left off during the regular season, as Manvir notched two goals and two assists during the semifinal, while Manroz chipped in with a goal and three assists. Finishing just behind them were Amit Punni and Raymond Kaila who each managed three points in the two games. Mishaal Gill scored a goal in the one game he did play in the series, but is likely eager to play a Jags team he feasted on during the season. He scored five points in the first meeting in October and four in the final match-up in February. The middle game saw him leave early with an ejection, preventing him from doing any further offensive damage. The team didn't get the production from their defensemen that they were expecting in the first round, but that always remains a threat that the team possesses, and the Jaguars will have to be wary of the late man joining the attack to give the Crooks an odd-man rush.

    The Jaguars had no problem scoring goals this year, as they averaged just under five per game this season. However, it is worth noting that they had difficulty scoring against the stingy Crooks defense, managing three goals in their first game and just a single goal in each of the two subsequent contests. The team will certainly make an argument that they were unable to assemble their top offensive unit for those games, but will undoubtedly need all hands on deck if they want to win this series. Former Playoff MVP Kevin Uppal was the team's top scorer for their first round series versus the Wolverines with two goals and two assists, including the all-important overtime goal in the series opener . Jay Maracle finished right behind him with numbers of 2-1-2-3. Amrit Virk and Gurinder Dhillon each added a pair of points as well. The team's top gunner, Waseem Khalil, was held in check as the Wolverines gave him some extra attention with a shadow much of the time. Though the Jags didn't score much against the Crooks this year, Waseem was still a key figure, scoring three and assisting on another of the team's five goals in the head-to-head series. Secondary scoring will be important as the team will need to get its usual offensive output from the defensemen such as Jim and Casey White and Nameet Kumar. Jonathan Yueh and Terrence Bains are also two terrifically talented forwards that were a bit on the quiet side in the opening round. Scoring support from each of them is a must in this series. 
Team Defense
    Aman Sandhu was out of the Crooks lineup for the last game with an eye infection, but the team still managed to put a solid foursome together on the blueline with Nathan Pangalia, Hermeet Sidhu, Mandeep Jawanda and Jiven Gill. Every one of those players has the ability to both carry the ball and take a wicked shot from the point. As previously mentioned, the team didn't get as much scoring support from the defenders as they would have liked, but the group still did it's job in limiting the Rage's shots and scoring opportunities. Look for the Crooks to continue their high pressure checking all over the floor and make the Jaguars forwards uncomfortable carrying the ball. Ultimately, when it comes to the category of team defense, one has to re-state the fact that this team smashed multiple Goals-Against records this season, and is just basically difficult to score on. 

    The Jaguars have as many as eight defensemen that played in the first round and will likely have to move some of them up to forward to fit everybody in the lineup. The team did a masterful job of limiting the Wolverines' chances in the deciding game of round one, holding them to just ten shots on goal with very few scoring chances outside of a few that came early in the game. The Crooks' proficiency at shutting down their opponents means that the Jaguars will have a slim margin to work with and likely need to hold the Crooks to a goal or two during each game. The Jaguars will also have to endeavor to stay out of the penalty box in this series. They were shorthanded more than any other team in the division this year (followed closely by the Crooks, ironically) and their penalty killing, while not terrible at 75.6%, will likely have it's hands full with the lethal powerplay of the Crooks, who were very effective with a 36.7% success rate. Jim and Casey White will once again be looked upon to carry the load on the blueline for the Jaguars. If they step up and are dominant at both ends of the floor like the are capable of being, then this team has a good chance.
Goaltending
    Jason Sidhu remained his dominant self during the semifinal win over the Rage, surrendering just a couple of goals in the two games. Counting playoffs, he has now played nineteen games in the NWBHL and has yet to give up four goals in a single game and has only given up as many as three goals in a game on six occasions. It's also worth noting that three of those came in the team's first four games. Since that time it has been two or less in twelve of fifteen contests that he has played. His personal record against the Jaguars is extremely impressive, and highlights the fact that he has been the backbone of the Crooks' success. He is 3-0 with a Goals-Against-Average of  1.63 and a Save Percentage of .936. The Crooks were outshot in their final two games of the regular season series, including 28-17 in the overtime game, with Sidhu being named a game star on both occasions. As good as the goaltending has been with the Jaguars so far, this guy, in my books, is the best goaltender in "B" at the moment.

    The Jaguars have successfully used their strong goaltending tandem throughout the season and on into the playoffs. Both Mike Ireland and Jay Albanese played well in their respective playoff starts. Jay wasn't tested nearly as much, but made the saves he had to as the Jags defeated the Wolverines 3-2 in the series clincher. Ireland, on the other hand, was tested often as the Wolverines carried the play for lengthy stretches. He can also be credited with a series turning point as he came up huge with a sequence of unreal saves in the first game's overtime session, which would eventually end in a 2-1 Jaguars win. These goaltenders are slightly different in style, as Albanese is probably the more positionally sound of the two, while Ireland is the more athletic of the two and perhaps better able to make recovery saves such as the one in the video link above. The team can't go wrong with either netminder and having two guys might just be an advantage with the back-to-back games this weekend, allowing the team to spread the workload. 
Category Breakdown
Offense
Defense
Goaltending
Special Teams
Experience
Overall Outlook
     This series may not be as lopsided as you would think just by taking a quick look at the Crooks perfect record against the Jaguars, or sheer dominance over the rest of the league for that matter. The Jaguars know they have a good shot at winning this championship, and can't wait to prove the naysayers wrong. Still, they are going to need a lot of things to go right if they are to down a team that has yet to be beaten all year. The Crooks are still the better team in many categories, some of them convincingly so, and for that reason they are my pick to win this series, but I do expect it to go the distance and have some close games. Series Prediction: Crooks in three







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