Back half an eon ago, at least in terms of news cycles I previewed the series. Depth and health were the two keywords, and whiled they did play a pivotal part, the component I don’t think anyone looked at was something that seems obvious.
The New York Rangers did not have any killer instinct. They were good at evening games up, or popping in goals here and there. They had solid defense for the most part. But getting ahead and standing on their opponents throat? Nope, didn’t happen.
By The Numbers:
4 : The number of games in the series Lundqvist had a sub .900Sv%.
10 : The number of years Brodeur is older than Lundqvist.
3 : The number of Rangers who finished the post season with more points than Artem Anisimov.
0 : The number of shutouts in this series by Brodeur
19:29 : How many minutes Adam Larsson played in this series.
1 : The number of points Gaborik had in the series.
3: Chris Kreider’s points total for the series.
After killer instinct, the Rangers biggest failure was simply not playing sixty minutes of hockey. Bad first periods, mixed second and third periods are no way to win against talented teams. The Devils biggest corporate asset was the ability to withstand the frankly scary Ranger surges and still maintain composure. First to last this was a series that the New Jersey Devils were more willing to sweat blood for. The Devils got contributions from more players, and were consistent game in and game out.
This is going to be a series that comes down to two major elements. The first is going to be the harder to gauge, and that’s coaching. On one side you have the seeming Jack Adams Award winner behind the Blues bench, on the other you have the guy who took an undermanned often dinged up squad and let them to within a win of the division title despite a woeful lack of scoring ability. How these coaches peel through each others systems will be monumental. Ice time, matchups and well timed tantrums will be needed to win this series.
The second element will be on display from puck drop of game one right through to the end of the series. Heart, or will to win. The LA Kings came off a win against arch rivals the Vancouver Canucks where they stuffed a highly potent offense into a locker filled with old jock straps and three year old lunches. They know what good offense looks like, they know how to break it’s spirit. They haven’t been to the second round in a long time and you have to wonder if there will be any let down for them.
The St Louis Blues got to the second dance of the playoffs simply by being a better team. They have also spent the bulk of the year, and certainly the first round with the best goaltending at hand. That may not be true in this round. Quick has to be the considered the front runner for the starting job in the Russian Olympics and has put together a simply phenomenal campaign this season. The regular season tale of the tape also gives the nod in special teams to the LA Kings in both categories. What they do have is more offensive depth, if with less bonafied offensive studs.
Leaving off the goaltenders who shouldn’t have to be mentioned or even introduced, the key players for each side will need to stand up and be counted. For the Blues, Andy McDonald will need to continue his first round wizardry, Norris nomination snub Alex Pietrangelo will need to be the best defensemen on either team. The LA Kings will need bigger contributions from Jeff Carter up front and Rob Scuderi will need to recapture the magic he had in the Pittsburgh Penguins run to the Cup a few years back and hope he can share some with Drew Doughty. If ever there was a series with the potential to go seven games with seven goals, this could be it. Don’t for a second believe that if that happens it won’t still be one hard hitting, close checking, series with spectacular saves happening every other shift.
It feels like it’s been an eternity since the last NHL head coach was fired. Never mind we had a glut of them them back a few weeks ago that should have left the blood thirstiest fans sated for the entire season, apparently the appetite is back and out do destroy cities like the blob. Joel Quenville who not long ago served as the flag officer on the good ship Stanley Cup Champion is under fire. Six game losing streaks will do that. I’m of two minds before I dig into the numbers and research this as I write this post.
The team isn’t actually that deep to begin with. Yes you’ve got Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp up front, and Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook as rearguards. But after that? Essentially the team has two first lines, two fourth lines, and not a great deal after the top two defensemen.
Even good coaches do get stale. This would be a fairly short amount of time for that to happen, but even Bowman and Cherry were booted
While a lot of people are (justifiably) critical of the +/- stat, it does have it’s uses. In particular the road/home split and my favorite parsing; how it compares to the teams goal differential. Coming into today’s action the Chicago BlackHawks have a goal differential of +8. Since the ice time of defensemen is most important among skaters in keeping pucks out of the net here are the total +/- numbers and what they really mean for the Chicago defense.
Brent Seabrook +10. By my shaky math that’s 125% of the teams overall goal differential. With 21 points in 50 games he’s third among the teams defenders in points. At .42 points per game he’s producing steadily, he’s not likely to match his best season, but should handily clear his worst.
Duncan Keith +8. The math on that’s easy even for me. With 38% of his points coming on the powerplay, and hence not affecting the +/- a very good number in comparison to the team. He’s running at .56points per game which is better than a lot of forwards, like Seabrook this is about an average year offensively.
Niklas Hjalmarsson +5 Not bad, by comparison Jake Gardiner of the Toronto Maple Leafs who plays about the same number of minutes on a team with a similar goal differential is a +9 on a +11 team. Gardiner gets powerplay time but their even strength points are nearly identical.
Steve Montador +4. He’s where it starts to get interesting. Unlike any of the defenders above him, he plays no short handed time. This means he’s unlikely to be scored upon in that vulnerable shift after a penalty kill expires and tired defenders get off the ice, and lines shakeout to hopefully surge offensively. 43% of his points come on powerplay. What stands out among the admittedly ambiguous real time stats is not his turnovers, but his takeaways. Just 6 of them. Only O’Donnell of the top six who has played 14 games less has less of them and is in single digits in this category.
Sean O’Donnell -5. This is a number that doesn’t bear thinking about. Admittedly O’Donnell has never been an offensive force, and isn’t shirking in that duty by past comparison. After Montador he plays the least PK time of any of the BlackHawks top six defensemen.
Nick Leddy -10. Eep. Given that he’s third in ice time, where as O’Donnell and Montador are fifth and sixth, this is a bit bad. Worse, he’s 2nd in scoring for defensemen in Chicago.
All of that is interesting, but he big ah ha moment of perusing the numbers of the defensemen is the split between home and road. Only Seabrook is a even on the road, everyone else is a negative. Keith goes from +13 at home to -5 on the road, Leddy is even at home and goes to -10 on the road, the rest of the defense tells a similar tale. This probably means that when Quenville can get the matchup that allows him to cover up or the faults of various defenders he’s doing a pretty solid job.
The biggest question on the backend of any team isn’t the defense. That’s the second biggest, but the single largest contributing factor is the goaltending. The single biggest indicator of how well the goalie plays is the save percentage. Some goal keepers for comparison, 24th in Sv% Curtis Sanford 28gp .915 sv% team 30th place, 10th in Sv% Jimmy Howard 44gp .924 sv% team in 1st. Both of these goalies play in the same division as the BlackHawks. Ray Emery 38th in Sv% .901 Sv%, Corey Crawford 41st in Sv% .900 sv%.
The team may be running through a bad spell, and the split between road and home defense isn’t pretty. The six game losing streak is alarming, but it probably won’t surprise you to know five of those games were on the road. The home game was against the Nashville Predators who are a tough enough team that a loss to them while not good is acceptable. If appears the two biggest problems with the Blackhawks are bad goaltending, and a defense that has issues getting the puck out of the defensive zone. Getting the puck out does require assistance from the forwards, and there have been seven different rookie forwards on the roster at some point in the season. Issue number one though is that the team has two passable backup goaltenders and no clear number one. A goalie who can make one or two more saves gives the skaters time to pitch in and shovel the puck out of the zone.
The Boston Bruins are broken. They may not be as badly off as the Columbus Blue Jackets or The Montreal Canadiens but like those teams they need someone to reach under the hood and switch out a few parts. The Bruins problems come under three main categories. None of the categories is all that deep, but they are all enough to damage the Bruins system and momentum.
Below peak performance:
The two players this is most true of are notable here simply for what they are capable of put haven’t done this season. The first is Nathan Horton. Unfortunately as we’ve seen with other concussed players there is no magic pep talk you can give to make the recovery go faster. How long it takes to recover both physically and mentally varies widely based in part on how severe the injury was, how it was suffered and the mental and physical health of the player. Before Tom Sestito hit that put Horton out we had started to see him climbing back into the top of the form that made him and Lucic such a scary combination to deal with. As of now it is unknown when Horton will play again which unfortunately waters down the Kelly line as well.
Johnny Boychuk is the other player failing to thrive. In his rookie season he played fifty-one games. As a rookie he averaged a shade over seventeen and a half minutes a night and pulled down 15 points or .29 points per game. This season, while playing as much even strength as he did total that year, he’s totaled nine points in 49 games .18 PPG which puts him on pace for a total of 13 should he play every game the rest of the season. That represents a 30% swing in productivity. Worse, he’s making the same poor choices he did as a rookie. One of those is dumping the puck into the offensive zone on an offside instead of retreating to the neutral zone and retaining control of the puck, he can be counted on to give up control of the puck.
Reversion to normal:
Benoit Pouliot had a couple magical weeks that made you see why he was drafted so high. It was fun to watch. You could see why teams keep hoping they have the magical coaching to turn him into a legitimate top six forward and consistent threat. Unfortunately it doesn’t appear that’s happened. Despite half of his eight goals being game winners, and a couple of them just plain pretty, and a better shooting percentage than last year, Pouliot is on pace for less points this year than last. Despite half a minutes more ice time, a better offensive team than last years and a strong two months span, he’s playing here about like he did everywhere else.
Joe Corvo is the other player who is depending on your point of view either returning to form now or still playing the way he always has. Defensively he absolutely is worse than Kaberle. He turns the puck over at least twice a game regular as a metronome regardless of what the real time stats say. He’s aggressive enough in the defensive zone in any category that doesn’t count attempting to force bad outlet passes. His body and stick don’t do much to move the puck out of danger areas, nor does he attack the opposition attempting to pry the puck loose or force them to go around him. His shot is impressive when he uncorks it, I just don’t see the total package justifying playing time.
With the Pouliot experiment, and the issues with Horton, Corvo and Boychuk other players have been forced into roles that are clear as mud. For Jordan Caron and Zach Hamill, the constant in and out of the lineup, or trips up and down the roster can’t have helped them adjust. During one two week span Hamill for example played fourth line center, first line left wing, second line right wing and bounced through all three positions on the third line. Caron who broke camp with the team was flipped in and out of the lineup for Pouliot a number of times when arguably he was the better player but the distinction was clearly a very fine one. To date, Caron has played as many games in the AHL as the NHL, and spent just nearly as many in the pressbox. One can’t help but wonder how much further along these two would be if they played consistently.
Less noticeably, but just as perplexing is Steve Kampfer’s for the most part non-play. He did injure himself early in the season but was skating with no limitations long ago. With the inconsistent play of Corvo and Boychuk (among others) it seems odd it would take a suspension to Ference for him to get into action again. While neither has been exactly impressive offensively, in half the ice time and spotty play Kampfers points per game is slightly higher than Boychuks. In a lineup with Shawn Thornton, Adam Mcquaid, Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic and several others it’d be hard to put either Kampfer or Corvo into list of most intimidating players, Kampfer is more likely to throw a good hit, and turns the puck over less. He may or may not be as offensively gifted but he’s clearly more active and more aggressive defensively, more importantly he shows his hunger to be on the ice every night when he laces the skates up.
None of the Bruins problems are insurmountable. Equally true none of them will fix themselves. You can’t expect to win consistently with two thirds of your defense playing erratically, and while trying to use a marginal third line player as a key component on the powerplay. That is not how this team is built, it is not how they win. No further proof is needed than a look at their record of the last ten games: 4-5-1. Three of those regulation losses have come to the basement dwelling Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes and the Ovechkin-less bubble team Capitals.
Today the second member of the Montreal Canadiens coaching staff was removed. Last time Perry Pearn was the scapegoat, today Jacques Martin had “Jihadist” painted on his forehead and was tossed to the street. What makes this firing so sad is not that it comes before the holidays, but that it is clearly a case of Gauthier scrambling to shift the blame anywhere but his lap.
This season, even before the injuries the Canadiens were a mediocre team at best. They stood still over the summer, and haven’t drafted well since the lockout. Only one player in the last three drafts has hit the NHL even for a cup of coffee. A long contract was handed out to a guy with trick knee before he’d played on the supposedly patched wheel. Last year Price played out of his mind, but no responsible general manager should count on their goalie topping a career year.
This year with Price back down to earth, things are different. The injuries haven’t helped. Yes the powerplay is worse than it was last year. That said they are exactly where they were in goals per game. Their goals against is actually better than last year despite all the injuries on the blueline and a lower save percentage than last season from Price. Entering play today, the Canadiens were 2 points out of 8th in the east.
Today, head coach Martin was fired. This less than two months after Perry Pearn was fired. This about a week into the Kaberle Experiment. Why is a guy who was strapped to a hobbled shetland pony and told to win a steeplechase the scapegoat and not the guy who supposedly organized the team? I’m not sure what is going on with Canadiens ownership, but the mess the team in isn’t going to get any better for leaving Gauthier in place to flail about blindly. It’s past time to act, give the incoming general manager time to access the team, farm system and prioritize draft prospects.