With Ottawa winning last night’s game and advancing to the Stanley Cup finals, it will be guaranteed that tonight will be the last night of games in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. There will be two game sevens from, easily, the two most intriguing series in this round. So with that in mind, this may be the last post you’ll see until we have to take a peak at the conference finals.
But first, I guess I am going to have to eat crow and except that Eugene Melnyk is an owner of a hockey team that is in the Eastern Conference finals. At the same time, Ottawa won the deciding game 4-2, despite getting out-shot 39-26. However, you eliminate all the score-effects and the 4-2 power play opportunity advantage the Rangers had and you actually see more of an even battle at five-on-five. In fact, Ottawa won their last two games off of taking over the shot attempt battle 93.2-86.8 when adjusted for score at even strength. It catapulted the Senators’ with nine goals in those two games versus just one each from the two previous games played at Madison Square Garden.
If anything though, you could argue the Rangers were their own worst enemy. In the post-Stanley Cup final era, every analytics expert has implored profusely for them to get a new top four defense core. That means, maybe keep Ryan McDonagh, but Marc Staal and Dan Girardi should be expendable in the exact same way Karl Alzner and Brooks Orpik should be for Washington. Let Erik Karlsson remind everyone, forever and always, that when you have talented puck movers, you should have the edge and dictating play and winning hockey games, warts to their game and all.
Beyond McDonagh, who is counted upon so much to take care of every facet on the Rangers blue line, general managers Glenn Sather and Jeff Gorton have never retooled that group around him. While I did appreciate Gorton for pulling a yang to everyone’s suggested yin by stacking the talent at forward with the trades for Mika Zibanejad and the signing of Jimmy Vesey, his team’s weaknesses can only be hidden for so long. In the final expected goal tally of the series, the Rangers gave up 15 of them versus the 20 they ended up creating. It’s not like the Rangers lost because of bad defense, but when the chips were down, the Rangers couldn’t recover on that end.
When you considered the Senators actually scored 19 goals in this six game matchup, we need to start talking about the other hidden problem. Henrik Lundqvist turned 35 in March and has 742 regular season games and 128 playoff games on his odometer. Injuries are now creeping up to him physically and if you were to take the 2013 lockout season out the the equation, the Swede has now played less than 60 games for the second time in three seasons. Before that, Lundqvist has never done that except his rookie season in 2005-06. His regular season output is 21st all-time among NHL netminders and of the other current netminders that have even played 500 career regular season games, Carey Price is the only one where you can positively envision what his career outlook looks like. Is the King done? No. But don’t be surprised if finding a valuable backup becomes more important than ever in Manhattan.
Until then, the accolades will go to Canada’s capital. They have knocked off the third and sixth best teams in the NHL according to my power rankings. Will they be able to beat a third top six team to make it to their first Stanley Cup final since 2007? Let’s see.
Pen-ing hopes for a Capitals Comeback
After taking a three games to one lead, it’s finally looking like the Pittsburgh Penguins have lost all the lucky charms that they were collecting. If they win tonight, it will probably mean that they have found something inside that allowed them to break through in the end. There is no denying that Sidney Crosby and Conor Sheary, proper protocols being used by Penguins doctors or not, look like shells of themselves since being concussed in game three. Now, they’re missing Trevor Daley as the Penguins had to count on Chad Ruhwedel to give Pittsburgh the clinching victory in Game 6. Not only did it not happen, but it failed in embarrassing fashion.
It should be noted for all eternity that Chad Ruhwedel is better off as a veggie-loving Pokemon than he is as a hockey player. He was never even on Buffalo’s depth chart in 2015-16 and has never been able to generate good relative puck possession while playing for the Sabres. Yes, my friends, Mike Weber received more playing time than this guy the last four years and Mike Weber is out of the league. Shockingly, Ruhwedel played 34 games for the Penguins and, in spite of him, and even with Mark Streit as a healthy scratch all postseason, Mike Sullivan’s team recorded 111 standings points in the regular season and are one win away from a conference finals appearance. If that’s not a definition of a good coach, I don’t know what to tell you.
What’s been hidden throughout this series is that Washington should have won this series all along. According to corsica.hockey, both teams may have 18 goals each this series, but Washington should be having a 17.9 to 13.5 advantage based on total adjusted expected goals. When you compare this series to what it was like three games ago, Braden Holtby still is not making enough saves to regress the Penguins to the mean. Meanwhile Washington’s offense has returned to normalcy after creating 3.6 more goals than they actually generated in the past three games. Not only will goaltending be a massive factor tonight, but so will the officiating.
Kevin Pollack and Dan O’Halloran are expected to be on the call at the Verizon Center and this is the exact same tandem that only called two power plays to the Penguins throughout all of Game one. Meanwhile, everyone should forever know that there was so much evidence that Washington should have gotten a sniff on the man-advantage that night, especially when Bryan Rust put his hand on the puck during the closing minutes of regulation.
As Tom Boswell said, the D.C. sports troll has to be killed. Knowing how Pittsburgh works, they are literally like a vampire. Except this time, probably the first time in this species’ livelihood, someone has finally pierced it with a stake by surprise. The only problem is that the stake is JUUUUUUUST touching the surface of the heart. The real question is can Washington battle through everything and shove that stake further or will Pittsburgh the Vampire turn around, realize they have been stabbed and find a ridiculous way to kill Washington in the most unbelievable way imaginable. There just seems to be no in between for this scenario and someone will be considered a choke artist no matter what. I really hate sports.
Alien [Territory] vs. Predators
Congratulations also have to go out to Nashville, who finally slayed a St. Louis team that is genuinely struggling with it’s identity. That team from Missouri seriously needs to look at itself in the mirror and see what they have to do if they ever want to go beyond the conference finals appearance they had last year because this year wasn’t good enough. In order for there to be positive momentum, Mike Yeo cannot come back next season.
Whether it was the negative tactics that Ken Hitchcock also brought during his tenure or not, the Blues are down to Vladimir Tarasenko, Jayden Schwartz and Robby Fabbri as forwards they are guaranteeing to count on for the long term. Everyone else must be expendable except for that trio and maybe Ivan Barbashev. Either that or someone in the Bruce Boudreau cohort has to find a way and bring the best out of a group of veterans that are getting more stale by the season.
On the back end, Jake Allen seems more like a rich man’s Steven Mason more than a bonafide starter. He’s still a young goaltender but he is getting closer towards his prime years as well. Along with that, any less playing time for Jay Bouwmeester and significantly more playing time for Colton Parayko and Joel Edmondsun, the better. It was just getting more obvious as the postseason went along how much the Blues missed Kevin Shattenkirk on the power play and they cannot leave this summer without a guaranteed replacement for him.
In the meantime, there clearly is not a better top line in these Stanley Cup playoffs right now than Nashville’s. This time, it was Ryan Johansen’s turn to get the job done thanks to his one goal and one assist in the closing game six. Now the trio of Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg have combined for seven goals and 22 points in Nashville’s 10 games. Along with that, no other line in the NHL has generated over 100 even strength minutes together and have over 62.9% of their on-ice expected goals go in their favor like this trio has.
St. Louis did stymie the Predators enough that the 26 combined goals was the fewest total out of any series this second round, but eventually Nashville’s secondary scoring lines will have to get going as well. The Mike Fisher-Colin Wilson-James Neal line, for example, have only six points combined with the captain not recording a single tally. That said, Nashville have still only beaten two teams outside the top ten, according to my power rankings. Anaheim and Edmonton will not be THAT much of a step up for them, though they present interesting matchups to make it tough for the Predators to further advance. Until then, Gary Bettman’s plans of making hockey great in the south are working again. All for Canada to be upset about it as usual.
Oiled Ducks or Duckin’ through Oil?
So for that country to know that hockey is in a healthy place, Edmonton has to make the conference finals. I mean, who doesn’t want to see 24-hour Connor McDavid commercials? The Oilers did a fantastic job of overcoming adversity by destroying Anaheim in Game six after giving up a three goal lead in the final three minutes or regulation in Game five.
If anything, those past two games are a microcosm of just how topsy-turvy this series is. After it seemed like both teams didn’t have a clue how to win at home, they decided to give a show to the home crowd in the most unfathomable way imaginable. Now, the 42 combined goals are the most out of any six-game series so far and their combined 44.9 expected goals means that there should be even more in store.
Anaheim is the better team at even strength, as evidenced by Ryan Kesler’s 141-99 on-ice shot attempt advantage this series and only having two Oilers above 50% in puck possession. However, Edmonton’s seven power play goals have really helped bring the margin towards their 23-19 total goals advantage into their favor. With both teams giving up 25 power play attempts, there is plenty of open ice to be had too. Both teams must do a better job at defending and at staying disciplined if they even want to think about making it towards the Stanley Cup finals. Until then, there will be some form of unpredictable fireworks happening at the Honda Center tonight.