A compilation of improbably stats and situations from the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.

 

Teams

  • Five games into the divisional finals, the Minnesota Wild have still not lost at home, the path here included a seven game series against a team coached by a Jack Adams finalist, and being the lower ranked team in both series.
  • The Ducks have played thee different goaltenders, including a 20 year old American, a 24 year old Dane, and 32 year old from Switzerland.
  • The Minnesota Wild are the only team not to have been shutout this post season.
  • The Chicago Blackhawks are the only team to have two players suspended this post season.
  • The Anaheim Ducks after being average in penalty minutes during the regular season at 10.9 minutes per game, are the most penalized team left in the playoffs at 20.4.
  • Of the three teams with more than one shutout during these playoffs, the Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Minnesota Wild, the Wild have had two goalies produce one; Darcy Kuemper and Ilya Bryzgaloz
  • The Pittsburgh Penguins lead all remaining teams with three wins when trailing after the first period.

Players

  • Erik Haula leads all rookies in post season goals with 3.
  • Two rookies have shorthanded goals in this years playoffs, Ondrej Palat and Brian Gibbons.
  • Brad Richards leads all players in powerplay time on ice with 61:57, but has just 1 powerplay point.
  • Three defensemen are over a point per game in the playoffs; P.K. Subban 1.33, Brent Seabrook at 1.25, and Jack Johnson at 1.17.
  • With 11 even strength points in eleven games, Anze Kopitar leads all forwards in ESPPG.
  • Brothers Mikko Koivu 57.5% and Saku Koivu 56.9% rank 2nd and 3rd in faceoff winning percentage among players still active.
  • Marc-Andre Fleury has allowed more goals than any other goalie, as he did the year he and the Penguins won the Stanley Cup.
  • Jonathan Quick leads all goaltenders in penalty minutes with 4.
  • Sidney Crosby is 102nd in goal in the playoffs, well behind household names like Brendan Gallagher (4), Charlie Coyle (3), Nick Holden 3, Mathieu Perrault (2), and Raffi Torres (2).

We’re four games into the latest battle in a playoff war that stretches back to before the grandparents of several players on either side were born. We’ve seen one goaltender continue a career year, one defensemen further etch his name into league history, a call up redefine the series with a single shot, and a man who waited half a decade to make his NHL debut outshine his entire team. And someone still needs to win two games.

For the Montreal Canadiens, they came into the series and odd form of underdog. Yes the finished a distant third in the division, a long way down from the President’s Trophy Winning Boston Bruins. But they also won the season series between the teams and most of the last double handful of regular season games.

What’s gotten them this far:

  • Carey Price has been spectacular. He’s got three games in this series with a sv% of .929 or better, and seems to be stopping everything.
  • Offensively, P.K. Subban has been top notch. He’s gotten timely goals on the powerplay and at even strength and has piled up six points in four games which is more than a little good.

What they need to do to win the series:

  • Find a way to smother the third line. Carl Soderberg has been the most consistent Bruins forward this series, he’s been 1/4th of an inch from scoring or assisting on a goal a dozen times and they can’t get allowing that.
  • Keep Price’s lines of sight clear, when there have been any amount of bodies in front, goals are going in.
  • Spend more time in the offensive zone, the amount of shot, and shot attempts they’ve given up makes it shocking they are even in the series.

The Boston Bruins entered the post season prohibitive favorites. They were expected to run the board and have time to take a 3 day cruise to the Bahamas between rounds. After a gaffe against the Red Wings (who also won the season series against the Bruins) the Kings of Causeway laid rubber from Boston to Motown and back.

What’s gotten them this far:

  • Patrice Bergeron (four points), Zdeno Chara (+5), Brad Marchand (5pts +6) have been the stars they’re billed as.
  • Depth and balance, despite Krejci’s wasted minutes, others have been around to fill the void; Smith, Fraser, Paille have taken his ignored burden and spread it on their own shoulders.
  • Better coaching, Claude Julien, Doug Houda and company have outmaneuvered their opposite number.

What they need to do to win the series:

  • Get Lucic and Iginla some help, it doesn’t matter if they locate Krejci’s drive and hockey sense or put someone else between them, the number of times these two, one 240 or so and the the other a soon to be 37 year old have made it to the net or corners while Krejci is almost in the zone or just entering is staggering.
  • Prop up Rask’s confidence any way they can. He’s got exactly one game this series with a sv% over .894. No one expects him to be stellar all the time, but average isn’t something he should be looking up at.
  • Communicate better from the bench to the penalty box, they’ve had brain farts in front of the net, at the offensive blueline, and everywhere else.

There is no extreme advantage in this series. Head to head the Canadiens have produced better results, but against the league at large the Bruins are handily better. The Bruins have won a Stanley Cup more recently, but there is a lot of playoff experience on the Montreal roster as well.

With each first round series begun, it is time to take our first serious look at who might be carrying around the extra hardware this summer.

Before we get to the men still playing there are some honorable mentions that had individually stellar first rounds. Out west that list is headed by pending UFA Paul Stastny who contributed not just a lot of points, but timely ones. In the east no one deserves more respect than Steve Mason who came into the second season behind a pretty porous defense and put up a more than respectable .939 Sv%.

West:

  • Ryan Suter, 29:14 a night is more minutes a night than any one else still playing. His 14 hits and 15 blocked shots blocked piled up in 8 games.
  • Anze Kopitar, the Selke finalist leads all players in post season points with 13 through 8 games, 51.6% on the faceoff dot, and is a +5 to go with it.
  • Ryan Getzlaf, seven games, 9 points, 3 power play points, a shorthanded point, and a +3 say he’s doing the job in all three zones and all situations over almost 22 minutes a night is quite the workout for a forward.
  • Jonathan Toews, three game winning goals in seven games, 23:16 a night in TOI, and 62.5% in the faceoff circle are a step or three above good.

East:

  • P.K. Subban, 6 games, 2 goals, 7 assists, 9 points, leads the Canadiens in scoring.
  • Torey Krug over the regular season his ice time has increased 2:30, his on ice save percentage has climbed, he’s a point per game in the most defensive minded system left in the playoffs.
  • Henrik Lundqvist, through eight games he’s allowed 2 or less goals in six games. His sv% is up over the regular season, and of all the goalies left, he’s the only one not playing behind someone in the top 15 in post season scoring.
  • Paul Martin 7 games, 8 points, three powerplay points, 2 shorthanded points, +7, 27:29 of TOI, 20 blocked shots, arguably.

Honorable mentions still playing, Evgani Malkin, Tuukka Rask, Corey Perry, Patrick Kane, Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Lars Eller, Corey Crawford, Drew Doughty, Zach Parise, Marian Gaborik, Matt Niskanen, Marc Staal.

 

In most sports relative skill levels are the magic smoke in the ox that determines the outcome of games, specifically playoff games. In the NHL more than other major league sports there are other factors that obliterate the relevance of the skill level of the two or three best players. Health is often a big factor, and coaching is perhaps more important than in any sport but football.

But for the most part, what determines early playoff series is the matchup. The interplay between the tendencies and abilities of the 36 skaters and two (or more) goales on the ice each game are what decides a game. Factors like home ice and the officiating are influential, but not (usually) paramount. If we look at each of four series briefly who does what better becomes apparent.

Montreal Canadiens vs Tampa Bay Lightning:

This is the one series that is already over. That Tampa Bay didn’t get good goaltending from Lindback is evident, but a more interesting stat tells the story. In three of the four game, including both of the games in Tampa Bay where Lightning coach Jon Cooper had last change, the Montreal Canadiens were able to get more players free of coverage for two or more shots on goal in the game. Essentially, the goaltending wasn’t the only issue for Tampa Bay, their defense wasn’t as good as Montreal’s at addressing the other teams depth.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs Columbus Blue Jackets

This series is so even on the ice it would be impossible for any casual sports fan to look at the four games and tell which of the two finished the season on top of a division and which was a wild card. If you were going to pin this series being even on one thing, it would have to be complacency. Both teams have given up two goal leads twice. In three of the four games the team that won had more shots and more than forty shots on goal.

San Jose Sharks vs Los Angeles Kings

Multiple shot diversity is again playing a a factor. San Jose has been even in one game (game 1) and ahead of Los Angeles in what I’ve decided to call the “Shooting Depth Quotient” in the other three games. Simply put they’ve again had more players get loose to get multiple shots. In other terms the almost no name defense of the Sharks has been superior to the Doughty led defense of the Kings. The Sharks lead their series 3-1.

Boston Bruins vs Detroit Red Wings

Yup, the SDQ is in play again. The Bruins had a greater SDQ in all four games, and while it was fairly close in three, the game with arguably the most lopsided outcome, game three, the Detroit Red Wings got half as many players loose for multiple shots as did the game winner. In game three where the Bruins out scored the Wings 3-0 the visitors had 12 players get loose for multiple shots. The Bruins lead this series 3-1.

The Nashville Predators cut ties with the NHL’s longest tenured head coach. They did it in the nicest possible, way of course but not renewing a contract is only different from firing in semantics. Barry Trotz who was the only head coach the Preds, their fans, and the world had known is soon to be merely the first head coach in team history. The issues with finding a replacement however are complex enough that his replacement is not only sure to be there less time, but significantly less time.

The main issues are:

  1. Nashville is not a major market.
  2. General Manager David Polie has to be on ice as thin as any general manager.
  3. The Predators have no history of success.
  4. The direction ownership and management wants to go in will severely limit the potential pool.

On the first point there is no arguing. On the third point there is even less. The team has won less than one playoff game a year sine its inception. The franchise has won exactly two playoff rounds in its history, not in the same year. The hero of one of those series was Joel Ward. A solid player, but not the guy who should be carrying a team.

David Polie had the opportunity to thicken the solid water on which he stands this year in selecting the American Olympic roster and coaching staff. He had every American player in the NHL, SHL, AHL, KHL, USHL, College, and CHL to choose from. No coach would say no. No healthy player would decline. The American program four years ago rocked the hockey world by beating Canada in a pre-medal game, and taking the eventual gold medal winners to overtime.

This years squad did nothing. Literally nothing. They flopped. The flailled about in the medal round and lost to Finland int he Bronze medal round, a game where they failed to bounce back from a loss to Canada. When the games mattered, the coach, hand picked by Polie couldn’t keep them focused. The squad he picked with no need to budget minded, no limitations on when they can talk to free agents, and no worries about how they’d adjust long term to a pretty small city and its dearth of entertainments.

Of these points, as other places have proved, the second and fourth points are most important. Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles all had major market attractions, solid enough fanbases to support a team, and resources. What they lacked were a general manager who had an unassailable position, and ownership committed to making the team a winner. The Nashville Predators are not as far gone as the Oakland Raiders or the Atlanta Thrashers were in terms of disaffected and negative affect ownership, but are not at the upper tier or even the middle.

To find a coach that gives them the chance of moving among the elite of NHL franchises, the ownership needs to decide which group they want to be in, make the right choices and the right man will become available.

 

It is a truism in sports; football, and hockey most of all that defense wins championships. We’ve seen it year after year. This year it seems to be adding a wrinkle to itself. Powerplays are costing teams games. Not by failing to produce, but by favoring offense so heavily, they aren’t prepared to play responsibly.

The Dallas Stars in game two of their series with the Anaheim Ducks were down two to one in the third. They were on the powerplay. On the ice are Valeri Nichushkin, Sergei Gonchar, Colton Scevoir, Cody Eakin, and Trevor Daley. Gonchar at age 40 is not in any way the skater he was ten or fifteen years ago. Nichushkin is rookie who is not only in his first NHL season, but his first season playing hockey in North America. Facing them were Andrew Cogliano, Ryan Getzlaf, Cam Fowler, and Ben Lovejoy. Either Getzlaf or Fowler deserve watching, and if you fall asleep at the switch with both of them on the ice, you deserve what happens next. The Stars did.

The Pittsburgh Penguins had a lead last night, they went on a powerplay, and lost it. All the momentum they had, and it was notable, the disorder of the Blue Jackets was equally notable. But the Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma, the same man who was in charge of a very mushy team USA roster not long ago, puts out a PP of Malkin, Crosby, Niskanen, Kunitz an Neal against a team that had nine short handed goals in the regular season. The most defensively capable of that group is probably the 34 year old Chris Kunitz. As you know, the BlueJackets scored, the Penguins did not and the scramble began. Momentum was reversed, an the game ended ugly for Penguins fans.

In the first game of their series, the Tampa Bay Lightning faced the Montreal Canadiens.  The Bolts are up 2-1 on home ice, a raucous crowd is making the building shake. P.K. Subban is in the box for slashing.  Onto the ice storm Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, they are joined by Ondrej Palat, Ryan Callahan and completing the unit is Valeri Filppula. We can argue about who the best defender in that group is, its probably Callahan, but it doesn’t matter. They got cute, and got beat by Brian Gionta setting up Lars Eller. To highlight how little offense the pair produced only seven more points than rookie Ondrej Palat, and neither actually surpassed Stamkos who was limited to 37 games and 40 points, while Gionta and Eller played 81 an 77 respectively. While the teams went back and forth scoring on a game that went to overtime, the Lightning never led again, and lost the game.

The Dallas Stars ended the second game of their first playoff series since the 2007-08 conference finals exactly where they didn’t want to be. They are down two games to zero, and the games were not as close as the score in the first game would indicate.  Through 120 minutes they have given up eight goals. Only two of those goals came while on the penalty kill. One more was an empty net goal.

Worse, a look at the number of shots in each game says that it isn’t just pure shot totals getting them in trouble. The first game was a high but not outrageous 35 shots against Kari Lehtonen, but the second was not high at all. Just 19 shots found their way through sprawling forwards and stalwart defenders. His save percentage in the two games this series is .886 and .842. Neither of those numbers can be called anything as glorious as average.

But there are alternatives to Lehtonen. Jack Campbell who played for the US National Development team allowed 1 goal in April playing int he AHL. The former 1st round pick also was named Man of the Year for the Texas Stars. Given how poorly the current netminded has done in his playoff exploits, it might be time to give Campbell a call before the opportunity passes the club by.  Closer to home is two time Vezina winner, and playoff warrior Tim Thomas. Yes, Thomas isn’t having his best year, and yes he did not play in the playoffs or at any other time last year, but his career numbers indicate that when the light shines brightest and people say he can’t, that’s the time Thomas glows.

No matter what option Lindy Ruff goes with, assuming he gets the choice, the Stars do need to figure out what to do with their goaltending. The current situation will make a waste of the hard work, dedication, and determination of players like Jamie Benn, Alex Goligoski, and others all season long.

The only original six matchup of the first round could send the victor to a second round matchup with another original six team. For now the Boston Bruins, the team that has dominated the east for the last few years faces off with the Detroit Red Wings the model franchise of the west for many years. The contrast in syles, club directions, and cities couldn’t be greater. One similarity is that both teams have enormous, passionate fans all over the globe. You can’t follow either the team on the road and not spot jerseys for the visitors and hear the chants urging them on.

Boston Bruins

The Bruins did something they haven’t done in a while, finished the regular season with home ice advantage throughout the playoffs. They have had a lot of turnover since they last raised Lord Stanley’s Cup; gone are Michael Ryder, Andrew Ference, Rich Peverley, Tim Thomas, Mark Recchi, Tomas Kaberle, and Tyler Seguin. In their place are Reilly Smith, Jarome Iginla, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, Dougie Hamilton, Loui Erikson. The structure is the same, the mind behind the bench unchanged but the attributes of the men in the spoked-B is rather different.

Best Players

Patrice Bergeron who scored the cup clinching goal not long ago has had his second highest goal scoring season, Zdeno Chara is still the best shutdown defenseman in the league. Jarome Iginla enjoyed yet another 30 goal season, Tuukka Rask had stellar numbers, and David Krejci and Milan Lucic are proving it almost doesn’t matter who is on their line that they will succeed with whoever.

X-Factor

The young Bruins have to stay focused on the very quick, highly talented stars of the Wings and not be dazzled or rattled by Datsyuk, Zetterberg (if he plays) or otherwise fall into Babcock’s inevitable plan to pull the Bruins out of their physical, space denial game.

 

Detroit Red Wings

It was an open question if the Red Wings would make it into the playoffs at all. The fact that they did means Mike Babcock is likely to come up short on votes but still have a great claim to the Jack Adams award for best coach. This roster was riven with injuries, is aging, and no one would have been surprised if their playoff streak finally expired. The good news for the Red Wings is that the Bruins are a good matchup for them.

Best Players

Pavel Datsyuk is not the man he was five years ago, but he is still capable of breath taking plays. Gustav Nyquist was an unknown a fistful of months ago, today he’s the guy who led the Red Wings in goal scoring despite playing just 57 games. Kronwall is one of the best hitters in the NHL and woe to anyone who doesn’t keep their head up. Daniel Alfredsson at 41 is still showing there’s gas in the tank and led the team in scoring, his 121 NHL playoff games, with 100 points in them, is more than many of the Boston Bruins defense total NHL games.

X-Factor

With the injuries they’ve suffered, and the ones they will no doubt collect in the opening games, can this team hang with a deeper squad that is just as well coached? This team had one player crack 20 goals in a Wings uniform, while the opponent had two cross 30 and two more over 20. If as the road team Babcock can consistently create the right matchups to win the series, it will be his finest coaching job to date.

This may be the best first round matchup for hockey. The Kings have won a cup recently, as have have the Ducks. The Sharks spent half a decade as the favorites to win it and still haven’t. A first round meeting of two California teams where the winner will quite likely play the third California team is likely to catapult the youth hockey enrollment numbers. And yes, seeing guys like Carter and Richards go toe to toe with Thornton and Pavelski will be more than a bit fun to watch too.

San Jose Sharks

The Sharks a very interesting mix of household names and guys no ones ever heard of. They have arguably the deepest six defensemen in the NHL, without having a guy currently at an elite level back there. Thornton and Marleau will get most of the media attention, but Vlasic, Pavelski, and Couture have worn out some boots this season getting them here.

Best Players

While Joe Thornton is still the best pure passer in the NHL, he’s not getting any younger, Joe Pavelski is a different case. They younger Joe is clearly at, or possibly just reaching the height of his powers, and Marleau just keeps trucking along.

X-Factor

Do they want it? This team has not ever reached its potential. Some years they went into the playoffs very damaged, others they got hurt early, and some years they just showed up and expected to win. This year they need to go attack the ice like it is their last chance at glory and their only hope at salvation, because it just well may be.

Los Angeles Kings

Same story, different year. The Kings enter the playoffs this year with bottom tier scoring and top end defense. The backup goalie could be a starter on many teams, and the late season trade piece (in this case Gaborik) are expected to scare up offense for the whole team. If you’re looking at recent history, that was what happened their Cup year. Can it happen now? Who knows?

Best players:

Jonathan Quick is having a solid, if not spectacular year, Drew Doughty is still improving in his own zone, and Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar are the only two players who managed to break 20 goals this season. For the team to make a deep run, they are going to need help from all over the roster.

X-Factor

Goaltending. If Quick can regain his cup winning form, or Martin Jones goes in and makes people look as foolish as he did in the regular season, the Kings will likely be playing in May. They will still need to score goals however and that has been a problem in LA for at least half a decade.