The Boston Bruins ended their season against the Ottawa Senators. Some, myself included believe they never should have made the playoffs. Given their lack of quality even taking a team that left them sitting on their Bettman with a fat lip at the end of every meeting in the regular season is an accomplishment. There are a couple reasons they lost, and no, the officiating in the playoffs isn’t it.

5:  Balance

The bottom three were an issue because it should really be a bottom six on a team like this. The MAN line of Moore, Nash, and Acciari was very good. Tim  Schaller was variable, Krejci was useless before he went down to injury, and Spooner was well, Ryan Spooner. The only real strength shown in the depth on the blueline, McAvoy looked as good as anyone could reasonably expect, probably better, Morrow looked like the guy who they hoped he’d be when they traded for him. Cross looked good, and I have to wonder where he’ll be playing next year.

4: Inconsistency

This team was held to less than five shots on goal more than once, including a period without a single shot on goal. They took stupid penalties, like the three delay of games over the board in less than half a period to start game six. Their goaltender had three games with a save percentage under .900.

3: Speed

The speediest players didn’t do much with their speed. The rest of the players weren’t fast enough to break through the slopfest of a neutral zone created by Guy Boucher and the Senators trap. Pastrnak was ineffective, Marchand was largely invisible, Vatrano didn’t make a splash. Colin Miller who was the fastest skater in the AHL a couple years ago was invisible even before someone tried to end is career.

2: Shooting

They barely did. They had the second fewest shots on goal per game of any team in the playoffs. They allowed the Senators the same number of shots per game as in the regular season where Ottawa beat them  each time, and finished ahead of them. You don’t consistently beat a good goalie with low shot totals, you don’t support your own goaltender with very few goals.

1: Communication

I have never seen a team with such bad communication and awareness on the ice. There were collisions between players who have been on the roster for years. There were more passes to no where than to other players. How in the world were there yet more two many men on the ice penalties? Even Bergeron and Marchand who have played together for hundreds and hundreds of games could be seen crashing into each other once below the circles, and Marchand being on the receiving end of a Bergeron blueline check. We know some of the injuries guys were playing through, maybe they were addled by pain killers, but this was not a team in sync.

 

 

Before you start reading, take a moment and start listening to this week’s Two Man ForeCheck.

The three things that define the best of the best are:

  • Quality
  • Consistency
  • Complimentary elements

The winner of the Vezina trophy is a player who can arguably carry a team into the playoffs just about single handedly. The Norris, the Hart, the Rocket Richard, and even the Selke are all very important players for a team to have. A Norris caliber goaltender is even more important. A top forward who plays 18 minutes a night might not play as much time as a goaltender who plays just 35 games in a season. A Even a top defensemen playing 23-25 minutes a night won’t be on the ice anywhere near as much as a top or even average goalie.

Two of this years nominees are The Guy on their team. There is no bigger name.  Each of the three faces slightly different pressures in their market.

Carey Price is probably the best known. Both by virtue of his tenure as the number one in the market that pours more scrutiny on netminders than any other. Having to follow in the footsteps of hall of famers like Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy is bad enough. Given that he’s been the man in the crease for a good portion of a very, very long Stanley Cup drought in Montreal. There’s not a lot of peaks and valleys to this man’s game. He is probably the most consistent of the Vezina nominees. He does however play behind Tom Plekanec who should have at minimum two or three finalist appearances as a Selke nominee, but Shea Weber who has been likewise denied his due for the Norris. The biggest counter-weight for Price is that he was the most consistent, and had to play and win with the least scoring support of the three finalists.

Brayden Holtby had the best season of any member of the Washington Capitals. Yes Oshie set a new career high in goals, yes Ovechkin and other were good too, none were a top two or three in their position type player this year. What Brayden Holtby has is perhaps the most capable bottom to top defense of any team in the east. They don’t have a Norris quality defenseman (and neither do the Sharks), but they have six defensemen who could find roster spots on just about any other team in the NHL.

Segei Bobrovsky was the man, the myth, and has to build the legend in Columbus. They are a team who has never seen the playoff success, never had a dominant player good enough to take the team to the promised land when playing well, and never won a Cup. “Bob” is the type of player who if he can find a little more consistently will take a team to the promised land. He has several really good players in front of him, but the Blue Jackets don’t have the depth at either forward or defense of some of the top handful of teams in the NHL.

The eyeball test, and

The Anaheim Ducks have swept the Calgary Flames. The Ducks were the better team, and that’s the big story. They look to have all the tools to go into June playing hockey. John Gibson played well enough to win four games in a row against a tenacious opponent. Getzlaf and Bieksa had big offensive contributions. There’s nothing to complain about for the Ducks.

But Sean Monahan is the story. This guy is the real deal.

All due respect to Giordano, Getzlaf, Bieksa, and Gibson who made big time contributions to their teams, Monahan was better. Sean was anything but boring. Four goals, five points, faceoff percentage over 55%, scoring in all four games? Those are the types of numbers you usually don’t even see in Conn-Smyth winners. Those numbers are better than Justin Williams. They are better than Ovechkin or Matthews, and with far less support. Sam Bennett is the only other player on the team to score more than one goal, and only three defensemen even managed a point. p

It’s a shame no one will see him play in the NHL again until this fall. Six three, one-ninety-five, and twenty-two years old? Pass the man some shades. With luck Brad Treliving and Brian Burke have something up their sleeves for the off season to bring some depth to this team.

The NHL is going the way of the NFL, and burdening the game, the fans, the broadcasters, and the players with absurdly long reviews on that just rob the fastest game on earth of all its trademark speed. You just can’t do that.

Several times a week, sometimes more than once in the same game, we’re all bored to tears watching multiple views of a something in slow motion that happened at full speed, an ever increasing number of minutes ago. The question is why?

We all know the offsides rules are there to prevent unfair advantages and force teams to play in all three zones so the game doesn’t turn into tennis on ice. And that makes sense. A guy who gets into the zone two or three seconds, or strides ahead of the opponent has a clear advantage. But how long does that advantage last? We see the fastest players in the NHL make full laps of the rink in as little as 13 seconds up to 15 seconds. Goalies go from the crease to the bench in about seven seconds.

When it stops being an advantage, shouldn’t it stop negating a goal? If a goalie  gets bumped, has a chance to reset, and three seconds later the opposing team scores that goal isn’t waived off. Why should a goal where a player entered fifteen, thirty or even more seconds before the puck enters the net be negated? Sometimes that player isn’t on the ice any more.

Here’s the rule change the NHL needs:

If a puck enters the net more than ten seconds after a play is deemed offsides, and no other infraction occurs the goal shall count. 

Last nights Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators was an exciting affair. Seven goals, some tussles, and even bonus hockey. Some people have thrown the young defensemen under the bus already. I’m not sure that’s useful or even viable. The Senators beat the Bruins soundly and consistently all season, and they did that with the Bruins top six defensemen intact. In Game 3, they went to overtime with four regular defensemen out of the lineup. Krug was the highest scoring defenseman on the team by more than a little, and one of the top scorers in the league. Adam McQuaid who owned an on ice save percentage higher than any other defenseman on the team. Brandon Carlo who has turned in a very, very solid year playing against the best of the NHL. And Colin Miller who has spelled Krug on the powerplay, and performed solidly.

What they got Charlie McAvoy who has now played nearly 100 NHL minutes total, Tommy Cross who has played all of four total NHL games, and Joe Morrow who now has two who playoff games to his name after playing just 20 total games all year. The Bruins defense, highlighted by Morrow in this regard blocked eight shots. They only allowed one more shot than the Senators season average, and that is even taking into consideration the overtime.

Some people have blamed the last goal of the night on Tommy Cross. It is almost a logical conclusion. But if you watch closely, Cross is doing everything he can not to take a penalty, and maintained contact with Bobby Ryan all the way in. If there are two guys in the AHL who can make the shot Ryan did I don’t know who they are, and I doubt most team scouts do either. In the NHL, there maybe 15 guys who are as good at shooting the puck as Ryan. That’s it. Without taking a penalty, there isn’t anything else he could have done.

Why did the Bruins really lose the game? If you don’t believe the Senators are a better team despite the regular season record and the series lead, then there are only two options to consider. The first is that Tuukka Rask turned in his second straight game with a SV% of .875 or lower.

The other option, may just be more palatable to many of the Rask’s defenders. A casual look at one of the stats mentioned above shows an even greater issue than any of the issues with the defensemen. The truth is the forwards were not good in this game. Only two forwards had more than one shot on net.  Riley Nash and Patrice Bergeron. That is it. Stafford and Moore didn’t even have shot attempts. Over 27 minutes of ice time and not even an attempt.  The team put just twenty shots on net in a game that went into overtime. Over the regular season they had more than 32 shots on net per game. You can’t get winning results on low effort.

This years playoffs have so many interesting matchups it is going to be hard to call a best series even if you see every minute of ever game.

The Chicago Blackhawks vs the Nashville Predators

This is the western conference’s David versus Goliath matchup. While the Blackhawks aren’t quite as formidable as they were when Kane, Toews, Seabrook, and Keith first hoisted the Cup, they are still one of the strongest, best balanced teams in the NHL. If the Predators do win this matchup it will be because the team refused to be intimidated, and everyone grabbed the rope and leaned. The Preds do have the players to be dangerous, Subban, Ellis, Arvidsson, and Forsberg are more than a handful themselves.

Biggest Strength

  • Blackhawks: Explosiveness
  • Predators: Special teams

Biggest Weakness

  • Blackhawks: Special teams
  • Predators: Discipline

Ottawa Senators vs Boston Bruins

This is a first. The Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins have never met in the playoffs. The Sens have been in the NHL 26 years, and they and the Bruins have never gone eye to eye. The Senators ran the tables on the Bruins in the regular season. Both teams will enter the second season with banged up bluelines. Both coaches are relatively new to their posts. Each team has some very gifted players. Marchand, Bergeron, and Chara will need to shoulder the load for the Bruins to have a hope. Karlsson, O’Reilly, and Anderson can just be themselves so long as the rest of the squad shows up. This could be the best series to watch from an “x’s” and “o’s” point of view. This matchup probably has the highest regular season PIM total.

Biggest Strengths:

  • Senators: The ability to triple the gravity in the neutral zone
  • Bruin: Team defense and penalty kill

Biggest Weakness

  • Senators: Special teams
  • Bruins: Wildly inconsistent goaltending

 

Washington Capitals vs Toronto Maple Leafs

Everything versus nothing. That is this series in three words. The Toronto Maple Leafs are at least two years ahead of projections. The Washington Capitals should have had at least one Cup in the last five years. Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Mitch Marner, and Kasperi Kapanen are all years from being able to drink (legally) in the US. Alex Ovechkin, John Carlson, and Nicklas Backstrom are all well into their second half of a decade or more chasing the last win of the season and not even coming close.

Biggest Strengths

  • Caps:  Total package
  • Leafs: Special teams

Biggest Weakness

  • Caps: Mental composure
  • Leafs: Defense

 

Predictions:

Boom or bust players are the players who’s performance have the ability to tilt the series.

Hawks vs Preds

For the Predators to win they need to stay out of the box they were penalized almost 50% more than the Blackhawks, for Chicago its pretty much a case of stay calm and be the Blackhawks. – Chicago in 6

Boom or Bust player of the series: Ryan Johansen

Caps vs Leafs

The Caps have more playoff experience, at least as good a coach, better performance at almost every measure. – Caps in 5

Boom or Bust player of the series: Alex Ovechkin

Ducks vs Flames

Goaltending wins championships, and the difference between Gibson’s season and either Johnson or Elliot is noticeable, but the Flames are not going to go down easy. – Ducks in 7

Boom or Bust player of the series. – Johnny Gaudreau

Penguins vs Jackets

Repeating is tough, if I were ever going to pick a team to do it, this might just be it. Jackets in 6

Boom or Bus player of the series. – Cam Atkinson

Oilers vs Sharks

This Oilers team is pretty compelling. How the defense of the Sharks is matched with McDavid and company will decide the series. – Oilers in 7

Boom or Bust player of the series. Milan Lucic

Wild vs Blues

This series is not as even as some people would have you believe. Wild in 5

Boom or Bust player of the series. Alex Peitrangelo

Habs vs Rangers

These teams have recent history, but one team is on the rise, and one of them has crested. Canadiens in 6

Boom or Bust player of the series. Derek Stepan

Sens vs Bs

This series will come down to how consistently the coaches can impose their will on their team and get them to execute the system. Sens in 6

 

Wednesday night the NHL playoffs will open. This year there will be five Canadian teams ready to dance when the puck drops, two California teams, and only one Original Six matchup.

The Montreal Canadiens vs The New York Rangers

Unlike last year the Canadiens have a playoff berth. Also unlike last year they now have Shea Weber, Carey PriceAlex Radulov, Andrew Shaw and a cup winning coach behind the bench in the person of Claude Julien, The edge in this series is going to belong to which ever team can force the other to play their game. The Canadiens allowed fewer goals, the Rangers scored more. The Rangers aren’t far removed from a Stanley Cup Finals appearance, but no one is talking about them. The Rangers head into the playoffs remarkably healthy with no major players on the injury report. The Canadiens have the best pairing of top end number one defenseman and top flight goalie, and no one is talking about them either.

For the Canadiens it is really simple: Can Gallagher, Galchenyuk, and Radulov play in the Rangers end and score?

For the Rangers it is equally simple: Can they shore up the aging and infirm Lundqvist?

Biggest Strength

  • Canadiens: Goaltending
  • Rangers: depth of scoring

Biggest Weakness

  • Canadiens: goal scoring
  • Rangers: coaching

 

Minnesota Wild vs Saint Louis Blues

This series will get written off by many as “low key” and “boring”, don’t believe it for a minute. Both teams are happy to have avoided the Blackhawks in the first round, and the two central division rivals have been going at it since the Twin Cities reentered the NHL.. Special teams could be where this series is decided. The Blues and Wild each finished the season at over 21% on the powerplay. Expect a good amount of physicality. Vlad Sobotka has returned to the NHL in time to play for the Blues, Charlie Coyle and Nino Neiderietter will be there to deliver hit for hit.

In pure stats, the Wild have a marked advantage on both sides of the puck. That may well be offset by the invigoration former Wild coach Yeo has brought to the Blues who had a strong run to the end of the season.

Biggest Strength

  • Wild: balance
  • Blues: momentum

Biggest Weakness

  • Wild: Iffy and arguably overplayed Dubnyk in the last six weeks of the season.
  • Blues: Scoring depth

 

Edmonton Oilers vs San Jose Sharks

This series can be subtitled A Tale of Two Cities, it is the best of times, it is the worst of times. The Oilers charged hard and climbed into a home ice advantage in the first round. The Sharks were grabbed by the undertow and yanked from a nine point lead in the division to making people doubt they’d see the second season with their skates on. The Sharks are built around an aging core, the Oilers are a team for whom the oldest members of the core are in their early twenties at the latest. The Oilers haven’t been in the playoffs in a very long time, and the Sharks were within reach of getting their names on the Cup last year.

For the Sharks to move on they have to find scoring. Their bottom six, their defense not named Burns will all need to pitch in.

For the Oilers, they will need to expand their core and learn how to play in the playoffs from the guys who have gone deep.

Biggest Strength

  • Oilers: Offense
  • Sharks: Experience

Biggest Weakness

  • Oilers: Penalty Kill
  • Sharks: Depth

Pittsburgh Penguins vs Columbus BlueJackets

This might just be the best, hardest fought series in the first round series this year. The Pittsburgh Penguins have to be considered the Columbus BlueJackets biggest rivals at this point, and I don’t think the Penguins like the Jackets very much either. It goes beyond Dubinsky versus Crosby. It’s going to be Bobrovski versus Murray, Seth Jones against Phil Kessel, Jack Johnson against Bryan Rust. This series will get personal, and will feature some of the best play in the NHL playoffs.

This is likely the the most evenly matched series in the east. The Penguins are better offensively, the Jackets defensively.

Biggest Strengths

  • Jackets: Defense and goaltending
  • Penguins: Offense

Biggest Weakness

  • Jackets: Inconsistency.
  • Penguins: Dinged up defense

 

Anaheim Ducks vs Calgary Flames

The Ducks and Flames both played strong at the end of the year. The Flames are highlighted by the dynamic Sean Monahan, Mark Giordano on the backend, and Johnny Gaudreau the Boston College alumni. The Flames are a pretty balanced team, they aren’t very good or very bad at anything. The Ducks team needs to find some offense from their best players. The Flames need to be consistent sixty minutes a game. This is likely to be the lowest scoring series in the first round.

Biggest Strength

  • Ducks: John Gibson
  • Flames: Balance

Biggest Weakness

  • Ducks: Scoring
  • Flames: Netminding

Don’t forget to listen to this weeks Two Man ForeCheck and look for part two around noon eastern on Wednesday for the rest of the previews and some predictions for the first round.

Every year we look back at a team, bread down what their strengths and weaknesses were and how they can improve. The smallest component of any team is the player. Today each get’s graded.

Brad Marchand, A: Best goal scoring to date, led the team in scoring, still plays an unreal 200 foot game.

Patrice Bergeron B+: Leadership and defense were still there. Offensive production, and possibly engagement took a dip as well. Still the teams most important player, and likely to pick up his fourth Selke this summer.

David Krejci B: The good news is he managed to play in all 82 games, the bad news is he’s got a double digit drop in points with four years left on a contract that seems him taking up ten percent of the team’s salary cap space, and he will turn 31 in just a few more days. He seems to be healthy after early season woes, and that can’t do anything but help the team however long they last in the post-season.

David Pastrnak A: The jump in year over year production alone was exciting. The fact that he scored so much in a number of different ways is even more so. He did hit a flat spot around the beginning of March, but overall it’s hard to argue with what he did.

Ryan Spooner C-: Another double digit drop in production among the Bruins forward group. It’s arguable that he was held down by awful forwards in the second six, and I’ll listen to that, but he also didn’t step up when he got to play with better players.

David Backes C: While no one expected him to put up a 40 goal season in Boston, his offensive production was not good. He did lap the field in hits. His 226 made him 7th among NHL forwards who played 50 or more games.  He did end up playing for three coaches in less than 12 months which I think contributed to the dip, I suspect he’ll be better next year.

Dominic Moore A-: About perfect for a fourth liner. When playing with guys who understand the role, he’s impressive, especially at 36.

Frank Vatrano C: Not the year we hoped for from Vatrano, starting with an injury, and continuing with a season full of all the mistakes young players make but should make less frequently as time goes on.

Riley Nash B: Riley Nash is just about the prototypical depth forward in the NHL. He’s a very solid penalty killer putting in the third most minutes among forwards on the team, and on a top penalty killing unit.

Tim Schaller C: Very uneven season with interruptions due to health. While he tossed up his best offensive numbers, he’s not yet a known commodity, still a pretty solid season for someone who is essentially an undrafted rookie.

Drew Stafford Incomplete: 18 games, starting during the honeymoon phase of a new coach is hard to judge. Yes he had better production than his time in Winnipeg, but not spectacular. For a full season of this production he’d get a C to C+.

Matt Beleskey C-: I really like his effort, his offense was non-existent this season, he didn’t look good at all paired with Hayes and unfortunately played with him a lot this year. Despite playing only 49 games and limited minutes he was still second on the team in hits.

Jimmy Hayes F: His contributions this year were largest from the pressbox and possibly at Cuts for A Cause.

Noel Acciari Incomplete: Fun to watch play hockey, may well have a roster spot to lose when camp opens this fall. He produced as much offense in 29 games as Hayes did in 58.

Sean Kuraly Incomplete: Just a few games, nothing really wrong with them, but nothing really right about them.

Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson Incomplete: One game, a largely meaningless game in which most of the team was not doing well or feeling well. He played 8:25, had no shots, and was even.

Torey Krug A: Very near the top of the league in scoring, recovered well from his off season injury, eventually. He played more shifts than any other Bruins defesneman.

Adam McQuaid A: His best offensive season since 2011-12, and a career high in games played. Aside from his normal pairing with Krug at even strength and 2:23 of SHTOI a night, he’s also played a good number of minutes opposite Chara when Carlo was struggling.

Zdeno Chara A: There was a big dip in his powerplay time 1:33 last year to 0:33 this year that lead to a general reduction in his offensive numbers, despite having one more goal in five less games. His shorthanded time was tops among all NHL skaters, and at 3:46 was 1:10 more than the rest of the Bruins defensemen.

Kevan Miller C: He’s been unfortunate enough to play with genuinely awful players, but hasn’t shown the growth as a player one would hope for in the transition past the 200 game mark. He may or may not have peaked, but today he looks a lot like a career third pairing defensemen with decent speed and physicality.

Colin Miller F: He has a great demeanor, superior skating ability, top shelf shot and no signs of any understanding of how hockey at the NHL is played well.

John-Michael Liles F: I am entirely baffled how he still has an NHL contract. I saw nothing from him that couldn’t have been done at least as well by any defenseman in Providence. He is legitimately awful in his own zone, produced nothing offensively, and clearly made anyone he played with worse.

Brandon Carlo C: As a rookie he played with Chara against the best in the league on a regular basis. Overall he did pretty well, including playing a big part in the penalty kill. He had one major flatspot in his season, and he wasn’t alone in wretched play in that spot. Overall, I look forward to seeing how well he corrects the serial mistakes he made this year in future seasons.

Joe Morrow Incomplete: I would desperately love to know what he did or didn’t do that left him out of the lineup and has seen Liles and Miller play ahead of him.

Tuukka Rask D-: Rask is one of the most wildly inconsistent netminder to be considered a league star. He ended the year with 8 shutouts, he also ended the year with the year with a quality start number well under .500, and leading the NHL in starts with a sv% under .875 with 14. He undeniably has really good games, but this was his second year in a row leading the league in starts below .875 known as Really Bad Starts.

Anton Khudobin D: Not great numbers, but he played well down the stretch while Rask was ill, injured, and overworked. Unlike some goalies, he was willing to start games towards the end of the season where he was not feeling well and try to get the team a win.

Just days ago I wrote a piece on Torey Krug and how he should absolutely not be exposed at the expansion draft. Today we learn he is day to day heading into the playoffs. He is not expected to play in the season finale. Of the teams defensemen, no one does anywhere near as much to generate offense for the team. His penalty kill time this year is even contributing to better play in his own zone.

While the compact Michigan State alumni is hardly likely to turn to the dark side, his absence does indeed cast Vader’s shadow on a team where scoring among defensemen is pretty rare. At this point in the season Krug is tied for 5th in scoring among defensemen with 51 points, next is Zdeno Chara who with 29 points owns the 53rd rank. None of the other blueliners even make the top 100.

A next man up approach might slide Colin Miller into slot and bump him up a pairing. He’s a great skater, he’s a solid passer, a willing shooter, and already used to the NHL. Unfortunately those attributes haven’t combined to make him a good NHL player. He has less points than the other Miller who no one confuses with an offensive dynamo and who has played less games. For all his defensive prowess, Adam McQuaid has never gotten his point production into get close enough to his jersey number to be intimidating, so he’s probably not the answer. John Michael Liles has burned 52 games in a Bruins uniform, and racked up exactly the number of goals that the front office should spend in seconds deciding if they should offer him a net contract and giving him a line of 0-11-11 6PIM -6.

Joe Morrow has apparently been written off entirely by the organization. Which is sad, but not anything fans or writers will be able to do anything about. That brings us to guys currently in the AHL, and maybe players leaving college or aging out of juniors. Given the depth of defensemen in the system, I really can’t see an outsider being brought in. Sherman is unlikely to leave Harvard early, and isn’t an offensive guy. O’Gara did start the year with some time in the spoked B, but was eventually sent down for more minutes. Alex Grant is leading all Providence Bruins in scoring, but at 28 years old, the odds he’s even strongly considered are pretty slim.

Next up is Tommy Cross. At 27, he’s probably been consigned to the ranks of permanent AHL players. He did get a recall last year. He’s 2nd on the team in scoring for defensemen, with much of it at even strength. With 12 goals on the season and his well known mental acuity, even with less speed the Colin Miller, I can see him being at least as good offensively, and easily better defensively. Having played in the NHL already, I can see him handling playoff hockey better than most.

The player most similar to Krug in offensive abilities and projection is almost certainly Matt Grzelcyk who has 11 powerplay assists, perhals the area most likely to suffer without Krug. He’s speedy, he can handle the puck well in motion or holding a position, and can pass better than most. He’s nearing the end of this first professional season and aside from his offensive prowess can inject both speed and reasonable hockey sense into the backend.

While McAvoy is undeniably talented,  even if you’ve been there before. Making the jump when you won’t have the practice time to get comfortable with how other players communicate and play, or adjust to the pace of the game, sounds like a recipe for disaster at the toughest position to play.