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.
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.
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.
Game one showed how even these teams are. It took almost two full games for one to pull out the win. Game two, where both coaches and players have seen the other side in action promises to be even more exciting.
1: How effective will Nathan Horton be?
Horton’s ability to score big goals, and quietly contribute away from the puck and with little fanfare has been a big part of the teams success. His familiarity with his linemates, and their ability to play smart, physical hockey is of enormous value.
2: Will Marchand stepup and pester?
During game one, Marchand had a very quiet game. Despite 34 minutes of ice time, and being one of the fittest members of the team, he didn’t hit much and never seemed to get under anyone’s skin. Drawing players like Toews off their game might be a bit difficult, but as we’ve seen, Duncan Keith is susceptible to agitation, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see his teammates intervene to prevent another suspension.
3: Does the Bruins bottom six have a pulse?
In any normal game, the Boston Bruins can count on their second six of forwards going out and playing a useful game. Unfortunately in game one they all looked flat. Daugavins who is playing in the Cup Finals for the first time in his life, Peverley who was on the big stage two years ago looked flat with bursts of bad, and Chris Kelly may just have had the worst game of his Bruins tenure. Winning without these guys contributing is a near impossibility.
1: Where will they be early in the game?
In game one, despite eventually out-shooting, out chancing and outscoring Boston, their first period was noticeably lack luster. Their second period was only so-so. If the go at the Bruins like they did the last twenty five minutes of regulation for game one from the drop of the puck they have a solid shot at winning in regulation, and taking a 2-0 lead in the series.
2: Can they lower their giveaways?
In game one they are marked down for almost four times as many giveaways as their competition. You can’t do that and expect to win. Worse, your key players can’t be the major culprits. For the Blackhawks game one saw Keith and Seabrook commit as many giveaways as the entire Boston roster.
3: Can we spread out the shooting please?
The monstrously long game one produced a staggering amount of shots, and shot attempts. But a close look at the numbers shows a modestly disturbing fact: almost 43% of the teams shots came from three players. Of those three, only one had a goal. Worse, despite fifty combined minutes of ice time, neither Kruger nor Rozsival actually recorded a shot on net.
1: Can we please stop the Dave Lewis tribute?
Three bench minors in one game for too many men on the ice? Really? And these actually are two of the best coaches in hockey, who have both been to the big dance recently and won. This shouldn’t happen, even more so since there were probably one or two other ti
The Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins have gotten scoring from the front and back, but not its time for the final run of games. These next few games will decide if some players get there names on the Cup for the first, second, or in some case third time. The majority of the Boston Bruins were on the roster for the last Cup appearance just two years ago.
For the Chicago Blackhawks, the first and most critical player who needs to have more than one goal is Captain Serious Jonathan Toews. He’s got just one goal this off season. That leaves him behind almost all the teams forwards and more than one defenseman. More importantly, it pales in comparison to the seven goals he put up during Chicago’s last Stanley Cup run. He’s the catalyst to this team, and for it to preform to its highest level he needs to perform to his highest level.
Brandon Bolig has been inserted into the lineup, and while and while he’s never been known for his offense, he needs to at least be a threat. He’s not going to intimidate the Boston Bruins, and if all he does is hit people the Bruins will just ignore him.
Jaromir Jagr has come so close so many times it seems downright unnatural he has zero post season goals, and just the two regular season goals since landing in the spoked B. He seems to have missed the net by fractions of an inch a number of times. He’s a living legend, he’s a first ballot hall of famer, and i he wants his name on the Cup 21 years after the last time he was in the big dance, he needs to stretch the twine.
Tyler Seguin is at the end of his entry level deal. Starting July 5th he needs to live up to his new nearly six million dollar cap hit. If he can’t produce in the post season he’s going to get a lot of negative affection from the Boston Bruins fans. He was the consensus number two draft pick just three summers ago. Today he stands third in his draft class behind players who have played significantly less games, and who haven’t gotten any second season experience as he has. They haven’t gotten to play with Recchi or Jagr, or Chara. Seguin’s one goal was against the Rangers and was part of his only two point night of the playoffs. He’s produced just four points in 16 games, giving him less than Torey Krug who has played seven less games.
Chris Kelly has had a poor offensive regular season, and an even poorer playoff run. In the absence of Gregory Campbell’s defensive prowess, Kelly has to not only play his own two way game, he needs to score and set up scoring.
It’s time for the last drinking game of the season (unless I do one for the draft) time to empty out the closet, and make sure you remember the results of the drinking game and possibly the series until fall when hockey starts up again.
Take One Drink:
You wish your local announce team were doing the game.
More than two players go crashing into the net.
Someone finishes a game with more than five shots and no goals.
Gary Bettman is shown and booed.
In game interview questions are answered with a cliche.
The hometown of a player is mentioned.
When asked about scoring a goal or making a save a player references a teammate.
The Junior or College team of a player is mentioned.
An exterior shot of the arena is shown and it includes people who are clearly chemically altered.
At each mention of “Original Six” in game one or two.
Someone mentions the department of player safety.
Whenever Pierre or another talking head says something that makes people just a bit uncomfortable. s/t @ChrisWasselTHW #HockeyPorn
If a fight breaks out with more than 4 million dollars in salary involved.
Take Two Drinks
The Bochenski-Versteeg trade is brought up.
Every time someone is mentioned as a Conn-Smythe candidate. s/t @HockeyMand
A team scores two unanswered goals.
At any mention of someone named Espisito or Orr.
A save is called “brilliant”, “spectacular” or “larceny” when in fact it was pretty routine.
Special teams stats are mentioned.
Highlights from the teams past Cup wins are shown not counting the last one.
A former player for either team is shown.
The other teams goal song sucks.
Someone scoring drought is mentioned.
An exterior shot of an arena is shown and no one (except maybe the commentators) is
You’re so mad at your team you want them to win only so you don’t have to read their Puck Daddy Eulogy.
A ny time a side by side comparison of Tuukka and Corey Crawford is shown. s/t @RJGreenWood
An announce uses the words “good clean hit” to describe something that turned most of one fan base into frothing mouth breathers that sound like Foamy (NSFW) :
The officials call one side of an altercation that should be a both or neither situation.
Someone “speculates” about the NHL awards for this season.
A player is asked about their previous playoff experience.
Two players on the same team skate into each other.
Anytime the word “momentum” is used.
At any puck over the glass delay of game.
The past awards of a player are mentioned.
Someone discusses rule changes.
The captains not having touched the conference title trophies is shown.
Any top six forward finishes a game with zero shots.
At any too many men penalty.
Take Four Drinks
If there is a post whistle scrum that does not involve Marchand or Shaw.
If NHL.com fails to make a punny headline for their update in game.
Gary Bettman is shown and not booed.
Someone says the referees have “swallowed the whistles” or otherwise won’t be calling much.
A coach or player says “we just need to be better in our own end” after a bad period or game.
At each mention of Original Six in game three or later.
A faceoff is missed for yet more advertising.
You can hold your breath between the bad call and the makeup call.
The fourth lines are mentioned.
If the career records of either coach are mentioned.
Whenever a clip of a game winning or cup clinching goal is shown.
The handshake line in mentioned and it is not a close out game.
Either team goes more than four minutes without a shot on goal.
Either team is called for three or unmatched penalties in a row.
Each time an owner is shown or mentioned before the Cup is awarded.
A player gets a short handed shot on goal.
Someone specifically highlights one of the matchups in the Keystone Players article.
Either team scores two powerplay goals in the same game.
A player argues with a call that was clearly a penalty.
For maximum fun, enjoy a different beverage each period. Calling in sick for work for the next day is advisable in some cases. It might not hurt to have a handy bucket and or a pre arranged ride to the hospital. Maybe you can even pin a “please take me to the hospital, and put on the hockey game” note on your shirt ahead of time.
No one is responsible for the stupid act you commit in any chemical state. Nor is anyone but you responsible for the permanent damage you’re likely to do to your body if you follow this game faithfully. This game might just be a spectacular way to end up on Tosh.O, Intervention or at least Texts From Last Night. If you really must blame someone, blame your parents they should have known better anyways. PuckSage, the NHL, NHLPA, The Bruins and Blackhawks take no responsibility for your actions, have a nice day.
The Chicago Blackhawks seemingly have everything going this season. They have two goalies putting up top flight numbers. they have an upgraded defense that has allowed Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook to reclaim the form that helped the team win the Cup a few years back. Better still, they have arguably the best forward group in the NHL; Toews, Kane, Hossa, Saad and Sharp.
The Minnesota Wild are that new kid in playoff town no one knows quite what to make of. On paper the Wild have every tool they need to be dangerous, and even contend. In reality, they lack playoff experience, especially with Pominville and Heatley on the shelf. Add that to five of six blueliners who have never seen the NHL playoffs, and you have a recipe for a dicey playoff series.
Players to watch:
For the Wild, don’t be surprised if rookie Charlie Coyle comes up big in spots, Setogouchi is a threat, and Mikko Koivu is never to be underestimated.
On the other side of the puck for the Blackhawks, Kane, Hossa and Toews can all take over games individually.
Chicago, it isn’t purely the quality that they lead in, it is the playoff experience, particularly on the blueline that will decide this series.
#2 vs. #7
Anaheim Ducks have almost no pressure this year. Sidney Crosby and the Penguins are drawing an inexplicable amount of attention, and Chicago was start to finish the best team in the NHL. The Ducks simply have to get on the ice and execute. They have savvy older veterans in Koivu and Selanne. They have high quality younger veterans still in their prime in Ryan, Getzlaf, and Perry. They also have a surprisingly strong backend in net and on the blueline. They don’t have any dominant or elite players there, but they do have several really good ones.
The Detroit Red Wings have made the playoffs again keeping their two decade long streak intact. They have Jimmy Howard who again very quietly put up impressive numbers, they have Datsyuk, and Zetterberg. These are not your Dad’s Red Wing’s though, they just don’t have even one elite talent on their blueline, much less two or three as they have had in years past.
Players to watch:
If the Wings don’t have Howard playing top notch goaltending, they don’t have anything, For them to win, guys like Tootoo, Smith, and other role players will have to elevate their game.
The Ducks need to have their defense continue to smother their opponents, and have at least one of their goaltenders show up and never take their eyes off of Zetterberg and Datsyuk.
Wings can’t win this if the Ducks show up and execute. It’s just that simple.
#3 vs. #6
Vancouver Canucks, it is put up or shutup time in Vancouver. They drama in their net has covered up the fact that this isn’t as good a team as it was in years past. They only won their division by four points, by comparison the Washington Capitals won by 6, and of the six division winners this is the team that scored the least this season. The Sedin twins combined for less goals than Jiri Tlusty. They put up the mediocre season numbers with three of the bottom four teams in their conference playing in their division.
San Jose Sharks are also at the point where if they don’t win the Cup it is tie to break up the band. Marleau, Boyle, and Thornton don’t have many more years left in them and behind them there isn’t much to write home about. What gives this squad a bit of believability is that Niemi, who was part of the Chicago cup run, has turned in the best regular season of his career and played in 43 of the teams 48 games.
Players to watch:
Ryan Kesler and Kevin Bieksa are two guys you should never ever count out, for the Canucks to do well, these two will likely be the biggest impact players.
Joe Thornton appears to have learned how to play big in the playoffs, and Raffi Torres (when he plays clean) is a surprisingly good playoff player.
This series is almost a push, but I give the edge to San Jose, Thornton, Marleau, Couture are are better right now than any three forwards you can name for the Sharks, and with Schneider’s injury and the general chaos in British Columbia I don’t like the Canucks chances.
#4 vs. #5
The Saint Louis Blues boast some damn fine players no one talks about because the team is too far south. David Backes is a game changer, Pietrangelo is one of the best defensemen in the game, and Chris Stewart turned in more points in 48 games this year than he did in 79 last year. Goaltending is clearly this teams weakness, but with Oshie coming back the team gains immediately in two way play.
The reigning champions the Los Angeles Kings have to get scoring from more people than just Jeff Carter and Dustin Brown, if for no other reason than Jonathan Quick is not as good this year as last. They’ve gotten a slight refresh adding Regehr and injecting Muzzin into the lineup, but the roster is really almost identical. You have to question the teams hunger a little.
Players to watch:
Drew Doughty emerged as an elite two way defenseman during last year playoffs establishing his bona fides in his own end in addition to the offensive ability he’s always displayed, he and Mike Richards who is frequently overlooked on this team will be crucial to this team going anywhere.
For the Blues, Vladimir Sobotka just finds an extra gear in the playoffs and he can tilt the ice, but he won’t be enough, Bouwmeester, Oshie, and Perron will have to show up and put in work.
This is a push, the Blues I think have the edge in hunger, the Kings have the edge in knowing how to win in the post season.
The Edmonton Oilers made a very surprising change in leadership today. Here’s why.
10: Learning new names is hard.
9: Hiring people already familiar with Edmonton traffic will allow them to concentrate more on their jobs and less on the commute.
8: Katz hates to have his expectations brought up and then have reality fall short.
7: Hiring people already familiar with Edmonton traffic will allow them to concentrate more on their jobs and less on the commute.
6: All the people who might be good at the job laughed when they heard Kevin Lowe was staying.
5: The move was part of the organizations green initiative, they even still had the nameplates, business cards, and parking signs from the last tour of duty for Mactavish and Howe’s names on them. Reduce, reuse, recycle.
5: Learning new names is hard.
4: They want a level playing field for the Battle Of Alberta going forward.
3: Making she Rick Nash didn’t end up in their lineup was the number one priority.
2: When they eventually trade Eberle and Hall they want to be sure fans don’t recognize any of the players they get back without extensive research.
2: All the people who might be good at the job laughed when they heard Kevin Lowe was staying.
1: Team leadership wanted to keep their commitment to making a splash at playoff time.
The Phoenix Coyotes, currently owned and administered by the National Hockey League signed young star blueliner Oliver Ekman-Larsson to a sweet, sweet deal worth $33 million over six years. Of note is that the heavily backweighted nature of the contract means whoever buys the team (may it be soon) will pay him two times as much in 2018-19 as the NHL will pay him next season. As long as he continues to improve it should still be a good price.
Don’t look now, but the Minnesota Wild are just two points out of the Northwest division lead. Sure, for the past ten decades that’s been a lot like finishing second in the Special Olympics, but this year staying close means even if the don’t overtake the flat in their last ten Vancouver Canucks, the 6-4-0 in their last ten Wild on the other hand are trending in the right direction and have allowed 8 less goals in the 26 games each has played. The Xcel Energy center will be quite juiced up in May if the return of native son Zach Parise helps spark the team to a playoff berth.
Vladimir Sobotka will play in his 300th career game tonight. #stlblues
Sobotka was traded to the St Louis Blues from the Boston Bruins for David Warsovfky after the 2009-10 season and has appeared in 165 regular season games for the Blues. Warsovsky has yet to even get a cup of coffee in the NHL, Vladimir Sobotka has played an additional 9 playoff games. Currently Sobotka is fourth on the Blues in goal scoring.
The Tampa Bay Lightning waived, and their division rivals the Carolina Hurricanes, who happen to read lead the division, claimed Adam Hall. The Michigan native has played for the Nashville Predators, the New York Rangers, the Pittsburgh Penguins since coming into the NHL in 2001. Canes fans should expect Hall to slide into the penalty kill. It is interesting that the Lightning who are 13th in the NHL on the penalty kill should waive him, unless one looks down form their position rather than up. The Hurricanes on the other hand are 22nd in the league as of today and will likely give the UFA to be a workload similar to the 2:11 of shorthanded time on ice he had with the Lightning.
Monday evening, Kimmo Timonen of the Philadelphia Flyers will play his 1000th NHL game. The bastion of the blueline has been in a Flyers uniform since the 2007-08 season and will be celebrating his birthday as well. The Finnish native was drafted in the 10th round of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft by the Los Angeles Kings whom he never played a game for.
Mike Milbury thinks Mike Ribeiro of the Washington Capitals will be available at the deadline. Long his favorite team, Milbury had little more than “buyer beware” to say of the former Dallas Star and Montreal Canadien.
The NHL trade deadline is less than three weeks away, some players may or may not be healthy by then, but should still be shuffled of onto the roster of someone else either for a strong return, a change of scenery for them or the potential return and or cap space.
It is as plain as the snow on Buffalo streets that the team is in need of rebuild. Vanek has shown this season he can contribute big time but at 29, it is unlikely he’ll be as powerful offensively in 3-5 years when the team might be ready to contend. For Deroit, Nashville, or Los Angeles who have cap space and might want to add scoring, he’s the number one option who might be available.
The Washington Capitals are retooling on the fly, and trying to develop a new system of play. You can’t do that if you aren’t in the lineup. Last season Green played just 32 games, a total he may have trouble matching this year, the year before just 49. Since breaking into the league he’s had just one year where he played all 82 games. With cap contraction a reality, his six million dollars would look mighty fine if it belonged to someone else. If anyone is willing to take him for more than a 2nd round pick and a solid prospect, the return is worth it.
One of the great ambassadors for the sport deserves a chance to win a cup. Of the top contenders, all of them have cap space and can likely be parted from two or three prospects and or picks. Better still, all three of the four are American teams so there’s less likelihood fans see it as a betrayal. Far be it for me to suggest that waiving a no movement clause doesn’t burn bridges or imply collusion between players being traded and management, but one could take a look at Keith Tkachuk’s career and draw their own conclusions.
While as constituted the Montreal Canadiens are a likely contender, swapping the injury prone Markov out for a first or second line center who can actually win faceoffs would shore up their penalty kill, give them more puck possession, and likely improve their goal scored. With a full year left on his contract, a few teams ought to be interested just to see how much he can help groom their young blueliners.
Why in the world he’s in the Leafs dog house is anyones guess. His fall from grace has happened faster and just as inexplicably as Keith Aulies, and the time he’s spending in the AHL is as wasteful as Nazim Kadri’s, maybe worse since the big team has a coach who is getting results. If the Leafs don’t want him, there’s a good 20 teams who will be happy to exchange “AHL prospects” with the Leafs to relieve them of their burden. With his agent getting in on the inquiry via social media, it is only a matter of time before the situation becomes a distraction to the team.
The former AHL defenseman of the year has stagnated badly. It began almost as soon as he got to the NHL, clearly a change of scenery is in order. While his $3.3million cap his isn’t by itself that bad, hes the Bruins second highest paid defenseman, and currently has as many points as Shawn Thornton and has seen his powerplay time on ice go from 1:01 per game in 2010-11 to 0:09 per game this year.
Until the team finds a goaltender who can stop a beach ball, it doesn’t matter who is on the blueline. Bouwmeester is contributing at half a point per game, his highest level since arriving in Calgary. His contract is up after next season, and I can’t see him wanting to resign in Calgary, so the sooner he waives his no trade clause and get’s moving the sooner he can rebuild his market value an maybe not have to take an enormous pay cut in 2012-15, with luck he might win a cup a long the way.
While he’s the surprise leader of the Oilers scoring race, he’s also due a new contract July 1. With the wealth of forward talent the team has and no chance of making the playoffs, Gagner might be the best trade piece the team has to acquire a solid, defensive minded top pairing defenseman or at least a couple very strong prospects.
When it comes to luck, if Marc didn’t have bad luck, he wouldn’t have any at all. Both his brothers have won a Stanley Cup and he hasn’t, one of them concussed him, and now he’s caught a puck with his brow. From the team standpoint, his time downchecked due to injury has left a great deal of space for other players to mature into. The Rangers have just 17 players signed for next season and only nine million to sign the six other roster spots something has to give, of the players who need a contract come July the first are Michael Sauer, Carl Hagelin, Ryan McDonaugh, and Derek Stepan, moving out Staal’s four million for a rasher of picks or prospects before the deadline or at the draft makes a lot of sense.