Its game six. For Chicago if they win they go home champions, for Boston if they win they go home hurt, hungry and still needing to win again.

Injury Front And Center

The Boston Bruins winning without Bergeron and Campbell is an unlikely proposition. A Toews-less Blackhawks team is something that should make any hockey fan a bit queasy to contemplate. If both guys sit out, are ineffective, or end up leaving due to whatever mystery ailment they are hiding worsening, its a paper win for the Bruins who are already down a key center. If Bergeron plays well and Toews is out or well below his normal standard this game likely goes back to Chicago. No Bergeron and an impact performance from Toews, the series almost certainly ends tonight. If Bergeron is out, expect Caron in, he’s faster than Pandolfo, might gain RFA trade value and kills penalties which might free Krejci or Marchand from doing so tonight.

First To Ten In The First Ten

This series has shown us the first team to get their game to the top of the meter and keep it there will win the game. The Blackhawks have trampled the Bruins in the opening ten and trotted to three victories. This late in the series, this late in the year I can’t see even these two teams having enough to get up off the mat and shake off the fearsome barrage the other is capable of bringing. The key then is not to get knocked down, not to get out worked. If the shot count is 12-2 or some similar spread with eleven minutes gone, you can safely pick the team with the shot lead to win.

Blueline Balance

We’ve seen bad pinches spoil games for teams for decades. We’ve seen teams strangle their own offense in its cradle by playing their defensemen two or even three steps behind the offensive zone blueline. Tonight Julien and Quennville need to find that balancing point and exploit their teams talent and their opponents weakness.

Love The Glove

Whichever coach goes into the locker room tonight satisfied with the glove work of their goalie is probably going to be the winner. In game five we saw another Rask glove bobble, this time with the puck landing feet in front of him after he failed to squeeze it closed. For Crawford, he can expect a rowdy TD Garden crowd to remind him of his last trip here. Either goalie is exploitable here, the one who compensates best laughs last.

Game five brings us to a best of three scenario to decide this years champion. The two best teams in the world are squaring off and to the surprise of no one who knows hockey, the series is even after four games. Even in home wins. Even in road wins. Even in frustration.

Will The Real Defense Please Stand-up?

The defense in game three was awful. Chara and Seidenberg were bad. The Blackhawks penalty kill allowed not one but two powerplay goals to a Bruins man advantage that aspires to iffy most years. All of the players both teams count on to keep the puck out of the net, including the goaltenders were just bad. Both defensive systems are capable of imposing their will on a game.

Which Boy Bounces Best

We have two goalie who are playing in their first Stanley Cup Finals. Both gave up some soft goals in the last game. Rask gave up six and never held a lead. Crawford surrendered more than one lead. No one expected a 6-5 game at all in this round, and the first three games set the benchmark for the series. Which ever goalie can bring their performance back to the level of games two or three is the one whose team will win tonight and likely the series.

Top Six Top Cats

Game four saw Bergeron break free for two games, Lucic add his own, and Toews, Kane and Sharp all deliver on their top tier status as well. Both coaches were displeased with the way the game was played and have to be looking for a more structured affair. Which ever teams top lines manage to break through and contribute to containing their opposite number will go a long, long way towards winning the game.

Possession and Disruption
The Boston Bruins blocked just 11 shots in game four, the Blackhawks gaveaway only six pucks in game three. Both are a wide margin lower than previous games. If the Bruins can’t keep the Blackhawks from getting high percentage shots on goal, they have a good shot. The Blackhawks need to keep moving the puck to each other instead of shooting themselves in the foot every other rush up ice.

The NHL’s Entry draft is right around the corner. With only 30 general manager positions in the NHL there’s always four guys and gals waiting to take advantage of a failure. For some general managers the way to keep themselves employed is to get it right, Peter Chiarelli and Ken Holland are currently on that path. For others, like Glen Sather and Mike Gillis, simply filling the seats most nights appears to be enough. For others a constant coaching carousel is the ticket to maintaining a Teflon exterior. For still others a perpetual chain of blockbuster trades that serve as a reset button for bad drafting or non-development.

But the gentlemen in this list are all on the hot seat, having dodge enough bullets to level a small arena.

George McPhee – Washington Capitals.

Personally I’m baffled as to how GMGM is still employed. He’s iced a team that’s consistently near or at the cap, that can’t seem to get out of first gear in the post season. With the amount of talent on the rosters there should be at least one or two Stanley Cup Finals appearances. Since 1997 when McPhee took over the Capitals, the team has failed to make the playoffs in one third of the seasons played. They failed to make it out of the first round in three additional years. The sixth coach patrols the bench under McPhee’s tenure, and yet the team still can’t go anywhere. The 2009-10 season saw the Capitals rack up 121 points in the regular season and get stomped out of the playoffs in the first round by the eighth place Montreal Canadians. If draft doesn’t yield one or two players that make an impact next season, one has to wonder how much longer Ted Leonis will tolerated flashy mediocrity. With the leagues realignment slotting them into an eight team division with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the New York Rangers, the resurgent New York Islanders, and the plucky Columbus Blue Jackets for the next three season or more easy victories against the former Southeast division paper tigers will be a much rarer thing.

Doug Wilson – San Jose Sharks

The Sharks seem to have been on the cusp of greatness for a decade. Yet they can’t seem to get it done in the post season. Patrick Marleau holds nearly every regular season record on the teams books, and in the post season becomes the living example of “hockey isn’t played on paper”. Joe Thornton has won major awards, continues to be one of the NHL’s best faceoff men, and has only begun to figure out the post season in the last two or maybe three trips.

In the ten years since Wilson was hired, what has the team done? In the regular season everything, in the post season not a damn thing. They’ve been sliding slowly down the division rankings each season. In the three conference final appearances (the last three years ago) they have a total of three wins. Two of those wins came with a largely inherited roster back in the 2003-2004 season, and one appearance they were swept, and a single win in the most recent. Only one of those three conference finals defeats came at the hands of the eventual Stanley Cup Champions.

With an aging and expensive core of players, and a declining salary cap, it is likely that without scoring big in the draft or at the latest free agency, the chum used to get this school in order will be Doug Wilson.

Paul Holmgren – Philadelphia Flyers

While Holmgren has been one of the most exciting general managers to watch in the way he maneuvers the trade market, his success rate is a bit iffy in all other regards. Several of the big free agents and trade pieces have failed to deliver in any meaningful way. Pronger was signed to a long term deal despite a history of injuries and suspension and is retired in all but name. Ilya Bryzgalov and just about every other goalie to land in the Flyers crease under Holmgren can be grade downwards from really bad to unspeakable. The only real exception to that is the 2012-13 Vezina trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky, who was traded away for the 4th round pic that turned into Anthony Stolarz, the 2nd round pick that was used for Taylor Leier, and one more fourth rounder in the 2013 draft. As a goalie, Stolarz is likely 3-4 years from the NHL, and Leier had a solid but unspectacular season for the Winterhawks playing with likely top pick Seth Jones.

The health disaster that has been the Flyers blueline in recent years has been compounded by the addition of questionably talented blueliners like Schenn, and the doubts reinforced by the acquisition of Streit for both a high dollar amount and long term for a 35+ contract. The 11th pick is unlikely to get an impact defenseman, unless it is used to trade for someone, and while other teams struggle with the salary cap, the Flyers even after buying out Briere seem to have built themselves a whole prison planet for their cap situation.

Darcy Regier – Buffalo Sabres

When Terry Pegula bought the Buffalo Sabres he promised a change in the status quo. In that time, things have changed. The team has spent more money and gotten worse. Last season we saw the end of the NHL’s longest running coaches tenure as Lindy Ruff was banished from The Isle of Misfit Toys. NHL newcomer Ron Rolston was brought up from the AHL to coach the team. Wilson isn’t just short on NHL experience as he never played above the ECHL, he’s short on head coaching experience of any kind. In 2009-10 the US National Under 17 roster was under his stewardship, and they failed to make the playoffs. The next year he took over the Rochester Americans who bowed out in the first round of the AHL playoffs. With less than two hundred games as a head coach of any kind he was dropped into the NHL, and failed to spin straw into gold.

The rosters that Regier has assembled don’t bear up under much scrutiny either, nor does the inability to land free agents. John Scott, Steve Ott and Ville Leino were three of last years additions to the team, and just from looking at them it is hard to imagine what he was trying to accomplish. To the best anyone can remember the biggest accomplishment for each was Ott: limiting himself to two game misconducts, Scott: concussing another player and playing three games were he hit double digits in minutes, Leino; playing more games than Rick Dipietro.

Most damning of all is the fact that in the last six season, four times the team failed to qualify for the post season, and the other two times the team lost in the first round. In that time the teams scoring has eroded and the defense has gone south. With two first rounders and two second rounders and a top ten pick, the teams fortunes can change, if Regier and company can manage to draft well he might retain his job.

He didn’t help his creditability much by failing to move more than two name players at the deadline after just short of calling it a firesale. He had to keep part of Pominville’s salary, and the players he got back in these transactions include a goalie who couldn’t steal a roster spot from the chronically injured netminders in Minnesota, and an unexciting Johan Larsson.

Joe Sakic is on the record as having said the Avalanche will not take defenseman Seth Jones, who grew up an Avalanche fan with the number one pick. Instead a team with multiple top five picks at forward will take another forward at the first pick.

10.3: The Avalanche have decided to use the Edmonton Oilers as their model for rebuilding a franchise.

9.3: As Sakic can tell you from personal experience the game is played today exactly the way it was in 1995 and having top flight mobile, two way defenseman has never won anyone a championship.

8.3: A secret cabal of owners led by the shadowy and diabolical Jeremy Jacobs have intimidated the Kroenke brothers into keeping the Avalanche a bubble team forever.

7.3: Sakic bets they will easily be able to successfully sign all of Calgary’s RFA defenseman to offer sheets.

6.3: Seth Jones didn’t have the good sense to be born a Canadian so they don’t want him.

5.3: Smooth skating, big bodied, right shooting defensemen have almost no value in the NHL.

4.3: Jones won’t be old enough to go to Vegas with the boys for a couple years and there is no sense in disrupting a locker room that produces so well on the ice.

3.3: Matt Hunwick has threatened to sit out if his status as time on ice leader for the team is threatened.

 

time on ice stats for the 2012-13 Avalanche defense

2012-13 TOI stats

3: Patrick Roy only agreed to coach the team if they drafted exclusively from the QMJHL.

2: The UFA market featuring franchise cornerstones like Mathieu Roy, Cam Barker, and Jordie Benn will more than suffice to push them into the Stanley Cup Finals next season.

1: The plan with a little luck and no improvements on defense this year is to be able to draft Connor McDavid first in 2015.

With three games in the history books, the Stanley Cup Finals reaches the halfway point of possible games tonight. Each team has seen the other throw the best they have out there, each team has had players head down the tunnel and not come back.

Puck Possession:

While faceoffs are a key part of this, they aren’t the only component. The Blackhawks are not winning enough battles along the boards. They have plenty of big strong guys who should be able to go get the puck from smaller Bruins players like Ference, Marchand or Seguin, but we haven’t seen that. If you lose both the board battles and the faceoff war, you’re not going to win many games unless the other team has a truly bad goalie.

Passion versus Control:

Halfway through the first Kaspars Daugavins may have taken the stupidest penalty of the Bruins post season with a flagrant elbow he’s lucky didn’t see him sent to the dressing room. At the end of the third period of game three the nasty climbed out of the alleyways and onto the ice. Zdeno Chara and Bryan Bickell locked up and exchanged some leather and lather. Andrew Shaw and Brad Marchand went a little further and dropped the gloves before quickly joining them there.

Will we see a cleanly played series devolve into something where stupid penalties and reprisals break up the flow of the game. So far we’ve seen long periods of whistle free hockey, not just because of the abbreviated playoff rule book, but because both teams have played clean. If the emotional storm we saw in the fading minutes of game three continues, especially with frustration mounting for players like Toews who had a bit of a meltdown during the Red Wings series the penalty box could get quite cramped.

Rebounds and Follow Ups:

We’ve seen both goalies control a lot of the shots they face, when they haven’t that’s when we see goals. In game two, the first period goal on Rask was one that bounced off his glove twice in a sequence where he had to make five or six saves before allowing the goal. Game two didn’t see much in the way of rebounds, and even less of Blackhawks in the right spots to get to them.

Matchups:

As is often the case in the playoffs, it isn’t the star players doing most of the five on five scoring. This series has seen the Bruins new look third line of Paille-Kelly-Seguin has given the Blackhawks fit. It combines two of the Bruins three fastest forwards on the wings, and the solid passing, strong faceoff ability, and focused determination of Chris Kelly. If the Blackhawks have to pull Keith or Seabrook off of other duties to cover this line, it means they are likely opening up another can of worms.

At five on five, the Bergeron line has generated chances, but not much finish, likewise the Krejci line has had chances but little finish since Lucic’s two goals in game one. The Bruins need to take advantage of the Blackhawks relatively weak road game and perhaps send these two lines over the boards against different defensive pairs.

Injuries and Endurance:

We’ve seen Marian Hossa sit out a game, and Nathan Horton depart in overtime in this series. With thirteen periods of hard hitting, tight checking hockey played these two teams have already played more than four games of ice time against each other. We know neither of the two big bodied right wings is at 100%, we’ve also seen enough hits, bodies crashing into the boards or net, and simple fatigue to know there are likely to be two or three other players on each team who wouldn’t be playing if this were a regular season game.

The shell game Quenneville played with the Hossa injury and the Smith substitution can probably fill in one or two names for us there. For the Bruins, if we see Daugavins back in the lineup after some pretty poor play, you can’t help but wonder what type of shape Jordan Caron and the other black aces are in.

Getting out of the first round of the playoffs in any sport require some skill, some grit and not just being better at being average than a few other teams. The difference between the winners and losers in the second round are a lot easier to identify than the what separates ninth and tenth place teams from seventh and eight.

The Los Angeles Kings finished the regular season half a dozen points out of the division title, and without home ice advantage. In doing so the defending Stanley Cup champions had a three position improvement year over year. Most notable among the other improvements was finishing the season as a top ten NHL offense, in their Cup winning season despite a late surge coinciding nicely with the rumors of Dustin Brown’s trade availability and the acquisition of former Philadelphia Flyer and then Columbus Blue Jacket Jeff Carter they had finished 29th.

In the first round of the playoffs the Kings played a bruising round against the Saint Louis Blues and got through a pretty even series in six games. Then they met the Blackhawks. Their home dominance disappeared, and there was just one major factor in all four losses; speed.

The lack of speed overall on the Kings is usually compensated for by great coaching and players who stick to a system every bit as structured as Claude Julien’s recipe for Bruins success. While the Kings were mostly in the right place all series long, they were getting there steps behind the Blackhawks who have speed to burn.

Overall, the Kings may be the slowest skating team to make the playoffs. Of all the top six forwards and top pairing defensemen only Doughty and Carter are above average in speed. The bottom six forwards and lower pairing defensemen don’t offer much more speed. The simple fact is you can’t play the puck if you can’t get to it, and you can’t defend against someone who beats you to the net.

Be it through trades, the draft, promotion from their AHL affiliate the Manchester Monarch’s or signing key free agents, if the Kings want their crown back while there core is still together and highly effective, they need to add speed. As we’re seeing in the Stanley Cup Finals, even the Chicago Blackhawks are vulnerable to fast moving forward lines. Unless they can field at least one line where all three forwards are above average speed, they are going to have trouble getting any further into the playoffs than they did this year, even with the excellent play of the roster.

Click for parts one and two

This years Stanley Cup finals present an almost unique chance to judge the two conferences based purely on the interactions of the top team from each. With the compressed schedule, and no out of conference play, all of the leagues stats are really skewed by being entirely against fourteen teams with no real long road trips or extended homestands. There’s was simply no way to judge which teams were best even with all the advanced stats, until now.

The Chicago Blackhawks handled the Los Angeles Kings with relative ease in five games. The Boston Bruins ran over the Pittsburgh Penguins in four. Neither team possess much of a powerplay, and both are really solid on the penalty kill. They are the last teams standing. With ten periods of Stanley Cup Final hockey played, standing is probably a little more difficult than anyone would have expected after just two games.

What we know:

We know, the BlackHawks are much faster as a team than their opposite number.

We know the key players of the Bruins are fitter, as evidenced by minute counts than their opposite number.

We know the Blackhawks bottom six won game one.

We know the Bruins bottom six won game two.

We know that despite very similar results on things like the penalty kill, the two teams do things a bit differently with Chicago’s squad using speed to haul the puck out of the zone, and the Bruins using the body to impeded pucks and progress.

We know that despite the vigorous physical play of these two squads, they care capable of playing remarkably disciplined hockey.

Despite the expectations of nearly everyone superpests Andrew Shaw and Brad Marchand have largely been quiet and workmanlike on the ice.

We know that with a combined 47 giveaways through two games, there will be plenty of opportunities for offense, and two unhappy coaches.

We know that with 179 shots on net through two games, the goalies haven’t had to work too hard to stay involved.

We know this is going to be a very memorable Stanley Cup final.

Normally in order for me to take notice of a non NHL tweet, they have to be doing something interesting, like training camps or playing in a championship. It is a sad reality, that there are too many tweets even for someone like me to read.

And then there are tweets that come to the universe via the wonderful hands and mind of whomever handles the Twitter account for the Sherwood Park Stealth of the Alberta Mens Roller Hockey League.

@AMRHL_Stealth doesn't miss a stroke getting to the hard facts.

@AMRHL_Stealth doesn’t miss a stroke getting to the hard facts.

This is a feature that will run about every two weeks with improbable stats and situations in the National Hockey League.

 

Teams:

  • … the Anaheim Ducks would go up on the Detroit Red Wings and fail to close the series after dominating the west nearly to the Blackhawks level and bow out ingloriously in seven.
  • … that the Pittsburgh Penguins would score just twice in four games against the Boston Bruins.
  • … the Toronto Maple Leafs would end their playoff run with a better powerplay success rate than the Pittsburgh Penguins.
  • … the Chicago Blackhawks would be 14th overall in faceoff % and yet holding their own against the #2 Boston Bruins
  • … the first two games of the Stanley Cup finals would take ten period to play.
  • …after potting five shorthanded goals each in the regular season, the BlackHawks and Bruins would have just one a piece through their 19th and 18th games respectively.

Players:

  • … that Andrew Shaw and Brad Marchand would combine for zero penalty minutes through the first ten periods of the Finals.
  • … of the first rounders in the Finals (Toews, Kane, Jagr, Seguin, Frolik, Hossa, Horton) Daniel Paille would finish the first two games with the most points.
  • …through 19 games, several of them with overtimes Jonathan Toews would have just 1 goal and 9 points.
  • … the two defensemen with the most goals in the finals would be Johnny “Nicholas” Boychuk who had just 1 goal in 44 regular season games, and Torey Krug who has played just 11 post season games.
  • … Bryan Bickell would lead all BlackHawks in hits with 68 and shooting percentage with 21.6%.
  • … only one top six forward for the Blackhawks, Jonathan Toews would be above half a blocked shot per game.
  • … the oldest player in the Finals, Jaromir Jagr would have been drafted into the NHL before half a dozen of his teammates and opponents were born.