There has been a flurry of activity today around the league ahead of the pending free agency madness.
Chicago trades F Brandon Saad and prospects to Columbus for Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano, Jeremy Morin, Corey Tropp and a fourth-round pick. 22-year-old Saad is a RFA and, according to reports, is looking for a long-term contract in the ballpark of 6M per year. Chicago, who are in a bit of a cap bind, got a good return for the power forward. Dano tallied 21 points in his rookie season after being a 2013 first round pick and Morin makes his return to Chicago after a trade to Columbus last season. Saad is a big, powerful forward with good scoring ability (23-29-52 during the regular season, 8-3-11 during the Cup run, winning his second Stanley Cup) who may grow to be a nuisance in the Metropolitan Division for years to come.
Vancouver trades D Kevin Bieksa to Anaheim for a 2016 second-round pick. Bieksa has spent his 10-year career as a Canuck, and is set to make $2.5M next year in the last year of his contract. This may be the writing on the wall for Ducks defenseman Francois Beauchemin, one of the few unrestricted free agents who was expected to make moves beginning tomorrow.
Anaheim names Paul MacLean an assistant coach. MacLean was relieved of his duties of head coach in Ottawa in December. MacLean was with the Senators for three and a half seasons before being fired. He had a 114-90-35 record with the Senators and was 8-9 in the playoffs.
Last Saturday was a very, very strange day in Rangersland. So many of us were either angry, or in denial, or still numb to the incredulous feeling of losing a Game 7 at the Garden. I thought for sure one thing would be true, with 2012 as a good indicator: the 2014-15 NHL season was over.
Laying out beside a pool with two of my diehard Ranger fan friends, we went through most of the motions of grieving. There was anger, questioning, bargaining, heck I think I got choked up once or twice… but then something strange happened. We remembered that there was a Game 7 that night, and we made plans to head out that night to watch it.
How could that be? We’re Rangers fans, man, this was our year. We can’t watch anymore. The only benefit of losing in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final is that after that, it was over, there was no worrying about who you wanted to win the Cup. Sadly, last year also taught us that the offseason is very, very long. When you get excited to watch a replayed TOR-ANA game live in a bar in Toronto, you know the withdrawal is real.
Although the grieving period for many Rangers fans is still in some of the early stages, hockey continues on tonight with Game One of the Stanley Cup Final. At least one former Ranger will hold Lord Stanley’s Cup in victory within the next two weeks, and here at BSB, we guess which one(s) that is.
Suit and Justin were still too upset to predict.
Dave’s Pick: Blackhawks in 7. Both teams are skilled, fast, and deep. Both teams have issues on the blue line. Both teams have question marks in net. The Bolts are weak on the blue line after their top pair, and the Hawks have four defensemen that don’t get Stu Bickel’d. In the end, I think experience wins over the new kids.
Chris’ Pick: Blackhawks in 6. Both teams are skilled fast and deep… hold on, Dave already said that? Well it’s true. Arguably the two best offensive teams in the league are the last teams standing but you can never have too much experience and the Hawks will not be fazed for one second, given they’re on the cusp of a modern day dynasty. Tampa can take over games and Johnson and Stamkos are every bit the match for the Hawks top end talent but in Toews, the Hawks have the best leader in hockey, in Keith they have a stud on the blueline at the very top of his game. This figures to be a high scoring affair, and I give the edge to Chicago. If they start fast, it could be done in 5.
Kevin’s Pick: Blackhawks in 7. Tampa has been very impressive all year, but you have to go with experience, right? I keep going back and forth on this because I envision the Triplets stealing a game or two by themselves, which would make things really interesting. But in the end, I’m not picking against Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith.
Becky’s Pick: Blackhawks in 6. I’m a completely biased fan, but after watching a lot of Central Division hockey (c/o being a casual Blues fan), I have seen what the Blackhawks are capable of. Coach Quenneville is not afraid to put in his backup goalie if he feels unsure about Corey Crawford, and as special as the Triplets and Anton Stralman-Victor Hedman are, Ben Bishop looked shaky at best despite shutting out the Rangers in Game 7. Jonathan Toews is the definition of clutch, and he’s been here several times. The Hawks are speedy and can throw some hits. I think they’ll take it in five, but let’s be safe and say six.
The Suit’s Pick: Tampa in 7. Stanley Cups often come down to goaltending and I’m betting on Bishop to rebound this series and steal it from Chicago. Chicago’s deeper, more offensively gifted, yada, yada, yada, but I think Tampa will pull off the upset. Beating the best team in the NHL (cough, cough) may have put enough wind back in their sails to weather the storm. I’ll be rooting for them.
Sports have been a part of society for as long as we’ve been keeping track. Ancient texts have the Olympic games starting as early as the year 175, with Greek mythology dating them far before then. Look at the Coliseum in Rome: a huge venue for fans to watch games being played — however questionable the morals of those games are.
Another fun thought: the word ‘fan’ is actually short for ‘fanatic,’ defined as a person with an obsessive interest in and enthusiasm for something, especially an activity. Obsessive enthusiasm makes for some pretty fun clients. So since sports are a (high revenue) business, and some very intelligent people exist to make money off of obsessive enthusiastic people, fantasy sports (among other things) came to life.
With fantasy sports comes armchair GMs. It seems anywhere you go, someone knows how to manage a team better than Glen Sather, or coach the Rangers better than Alain Vigneault. My personal favorite activity at the Garden is to appreciate all the coaches around me and feel extra blessed that I paid to hear all of their opinions.
Everyone has heard of fancy stats, which we’ve gone over ad nauseam here. Heck, there’s even a metrics tab to explain the basics. Most of the time, they’re a good indicator of play that the naked eye can’t see because, as humans, it’s difficult to stay objective all the time. Naturally our emotions will get involved in some of what we see, and aside from this, it’s easy to forget ten great plays if a player makes one bad play, or even a flukey play that leads to a goal.
Last summer, I wrote an article about the Oilers hiring a fancy stats-loving coach in Dallas Eakins, and I compared front offices looking at these stats in the same light that MLB GMs viewed moneyball. The similarities have a lot to do with formulas and equations and math, statistics that can be measured in a spreadsheet and should follow a trend. This has worked for the Oakland A’s for a long time, and possession-driven statistics have worked for certain teams (though not the Oilers, and Eakins was let go) in the NHL as well.
As we look at the Rangers, now facing potential elimination tomorrow night in Tampa, there have been tons of articles posted about their possession numbers, along with posts about how fearsome their defense is, even people stating that Henrik Lundqvist has unrealistic stats that lend the Rangers’ advanced stats to be altered favorably and inaccurately. There is a simple explanation to all of this: the media need to post continually in order to drive readership, and they seek topics about anything. Great writers can argue a position from beginning to end no matter how bananas it may be.
On the day before another Rangers elimination game, in a postseason where they have come back from a 3-1 deficit, the only stat we have to remember is this: the team that scores more goals in 60 minutes wins. It isn’t a measure of whose possession is better after offensive zone starts, or whose defensemen have a higher scored-adjusted corsi for. It’s also not about your personal vendetta against Marc Staal and as such, noticing only that he took a penalty and not that he blocked a shot that Henrik wasn’t set up to save. It’s about the team that scores more.
The Rangers better be that team tomorrow night, or there will be tons of questions for management and players alike to answer, and a long offseason looming.
Halfway there! For those of you who survived without anxiety/panic/heart attacks — or those of you who didn’t, but are home from the hospital — it’s time for some more high pressure fun! The Blueshirts host the Bolts today at 1. Here at BSB, our flawless predictions are ready for your reading pleasure. Spoiler alert: we’re all too scared to pick against the home team, and most of us don’t get how the Ducks are still in it. Look out for constant coverage, as games are every other day throughout Memorial Day Weekend.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs New York Rangers
Dave’s pick: Rangers in 7. The games these teams played in November are meaningless. They were 7 months ago, and both sides had injuries. TBL has a talented and deep group of forwards that can practically score at will and a goalie that has been lights out against New York. Their D is their perceived weakness, but it’s not much of one. The Rangers are still, probably, without Mats Zuccarello, which is a huge hit to their offense. I really don’t like this matchup. I’m a homer though.
Justin’s pick: Rangers in 7. After another 3-1 comeback, I’m in full on homer mode. No objectivity whatsoever here. That said, Tampa is going to be an incredibly difficult out. I think in the end, Henrik Lundqvist is the difference.
Becky’s pick: Rangers in 6. My original bracket, of which the West is a hot mess of red but the East is pretty in tact, says that this matchup ends with Tampa taking the cake. That was obviously before the playoffs started. The Bolts have had extensive offensive input from their fetuses (feti?) and could be dangerous should Steven Stamkos come alive, but inexperience paired with the long haul of the playoffs and beating a barely there Red Wings team followed by the Price-only Habs don’t impress me much. The Rangers – King Hank, specifically – are locked in. They know how to adapt, something we’re not sure of the inexperienced Bolts. Call me crazy, but I think/hope the boys in blue spare us the heartache.
Suit’s pick: Rangers in 7. Four teams left, former Torts disciples scattered throughout these organizations. It’s cool, no correlation there. This is the matchup I was hoping for. Not because they made us look silly during the regular season, but because of obvious narratives, the make up of these rosters, and the systems employed on both benches. These teams are evenly matched in so many respects it’s hard to pick who will come out on top. In the end, Hank will stand tall.
Kevin’s pick: ??? This is the one matchup I was afraid of. The Rangers had no answer for Tampa Bay’s speed and skill during the regular season – and though they are a better team now, I’m not sure that’s going to change. It’s not even Steven Stamkos that has me worried, it’s the Ondrej Palat/Tyler Johnson/Nikita Kucherov line that’s going to be a real handful. Henrik Lundqvist is in hero mode, so it’s certainly possible he could steal a couple games and swing the series. But I’m not sure the Blueshirts can score enough to keep up with TB without having Mats Zuccarello in the lineup. And for the record – I am refusing to make an actual prediction.
Chris’ Pick: Rangers in 7. Fans shouldn’t expect anything less stressful than the series before. Tampa are faster, deeper and more skilled than the Caps. They share the same (if not more) high end talent and both Ben Bishop and Tampa have owned the Rangers recently. Fortunately experience still counts for something. The Rangers won’t be fazed by the occasion and if they can tidy up their breakouts, if they can stay disciplined and if they can get some secondary scoring I can see the Rangers sneaking the series but it will be close either way. If the Rangers can limit the Johnson line and don’t let Callahan come back to haunt them, Rangers in seven. Only just.
Chicago Blackhawks vs Anaheim Ducks
Dave’s pick: Blackhawks in 6. I don’t understand the Ducks at all. Their blue line and goaltending are both huge question marks.They don’t have the bottom-six depth to match up. But they keep winning. Meanwhile, the Hawks are a team built for deep runs. Crawford is a question mark, but as is Andersen. I give the edge to the Hawks though.
Justin’s pick: Blackhawks in 6. I agree with Dave, in that the Ducks’ continue to flummox me. They have a ton of talent up front, but the back end and goaltending is suspect. They also haven’t really dealt with a high-end opponent yet. I think Chicago catches the Ducks off guard and punches another ticket to the Final.
Becky’s pick: Blackhawks in 6. I don’t really believe that the Ducks have faced too much of a hard time in these playoffs, and I think that Andersen’s ability hasn’t quite been tested yet. Patrick Kane is a beast and the Hawks have proved that both of their goaltenders are capable of backing up their offensive talent. Half of me thinks that the Hawks clean up in five, but it’s the conference finals, so let’s stick with six.
Suit’s pick: Ducks in 6. I’ve been picking the Ducks since the beginning, so I’m going to stick with them, even though on paper it probably doesn’t make sense. With that said, they have skill and they have grit that can skate. Defense and goaltending aren’t all-time, but they seem to bare down when it matters. Their power play has been unstoppable. The Hawks are the Hawks, but ‘keep the puck away’ from our goalie can only work so many times. Ducks in 6.
Kevin’s pick: Blackhawks in 6. Boy did I underestimate both of these teams, and I feel like an idiot for it. Chicago just didn’t feel the same during the regular season, but I should have realized this team is more than capable of flipping the switch come playoff time. I’m still not totally sold on Anaheim and think the Ducks have really benefited from two easy matchups. Chicago just has too much everything, so unless the Blackhawks’ goaltending implodes again, they’ll take this one in six.
Chris’ pick: Blackhawks in 7. Are the Hawks the closest thing to a dynasty we’ve had in recent times? Another conference final and/or a trip to the SCF would get them close to such a lofty status. The hawks are deeper but the Ducks look unstoppable as Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf seem to be doing what they want when they want. This series will be a test of Anaheim’s depth – can they go toe to toe with Chicago? – the Hawks may be the deepest team in the league. If Anaheim can overpower the Hawks physically they could force their way past the Hawks but the Hawks have too much pure talent for me and will survive another long series.
Two Game 7’s later and it feels as though Anaheim’s and the Rangers’ first rounds ended an eternity ago. Here at BSB, we’ve collected our round two predictions to check out how we see the next four-to-seven games will play out for the eight remaining teams.
Calgary Flames vs. Anaheim Ducks
Becky’s Pick: Ducks in 5. The Flames did a great job taking down the talented
Sedins Canucks, but the Ducks are just too big and too strong for the small, resilient Flames. I think this run was fun for Calgary, but I don’t see the C of Red, no matter how much young talent they’ve got in Johnny Gaudreau or Sean Monahan, taking out the veteran Ducks.
Dave’s Pick: Ducks in 4. I don’t know how the Flames keep winning, and I am rooting very hard for them, I love watching them. But they don’t match up to Anaheim, as the Ducks are better in every facet of the game.
Kevin’s Pick: Ducks in 5. Calgary is really fun to watch and there are big things in store for these Flames, but right now they just don’t have the personnel to match up with Anaheim. Too many wily veterans, too much size.
Suit’s Pick: Ducks in 6. The Ducks manhandled the Jets in a very crazed atmosphere in Winterpeg. There’s something to be said for that. It’s going to take more than a sea of red though to knock Anaheim off their game. The Honda Center on the other hand isn’t a tough place to play. I could see the Flames stealing one in Cali to make this series interesting enough to get you to watch it. However, depth and goaltending win playoff series and I’m not sure the Flames are there yet.
Justin’s Pick: Ducks in 5. Oh man, I want more than anything to pick the Flames in this series. I didn’t think they would make it past Vancouver, and they keep defying the odds. I do think they will be fairly manhandled by the Ducks, though.
Minnesota Wild vs. Chicago Blackhawks
Becky’s Pick: Hawks in 6. The Blackhawks organization is familiar with winning, whereas the Wild still have a thing or two to iron out and learn before they can go too far. Devan Dubnyk has been a genius, but I’m not sold yet; I think that had the Blues advanced, they would lose to the Hawks, who seem to have the Central Division’s collective number throughout. My gut says this only takes five games, but I’ll give the Wild the benefit of the doubt with an extra game.
Dave’s Pick: Wild in 6. Minnesota is scary hot right now. Chicago has goaltending issues, which gives the advantage to Vezina finalist Devan Dubnyk. Up front, both teams are skilled, deep, and play solid possession games. I think this is a toss up too, but I’m going with the hot hand.
Kevin’s Pick: Wild in 7. It just feels like destiny at this point – Minnesota is white hot. The Blackhawks had an easier time with Nashville than I expected, but I think Minnesota’s speed, and Devan Dubnyk, will spell the end for Chicago.
Suit’s Pick: Blackhawks in 6. I have a ton of respect for Mike Yeo, the coach of the Wild. He was on the verge of getting fired a few seasons ago so he decided to completely restructure his system from a grind it out style to a more skilled game. It paid off. This team can fly. Still, Dubnyk is a bubble waiting to burst and Chicago has a tendency to make good goalies look bad.
Justin’s Pick: Blackhawks in 7. I haven’t been sold on Devan Dubnyk’s elite status yet, and I’m going to continue to believe that bubble will burst. I do like Minnesota’s team, though, and they will give the Hawks a big test. I still like Chicago’s chances in this series, which will come down to experience, depth and secondary scoring.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Montreal Canadiens
Becky’s Pick: Lightning in 7. In the series I least want to watch but definitely will, I think that my original pick to come out of the East will take it. Ben Bishop proved that he could shake the playoff jitters and throw a stellar performance last night. The Bolts have more depth than the Habs, who went 6 games against a streaking team with AHL goaltending, replaced by a freezing cold Craig Anderson who threw out some amazing performances. Bolts may take it in 6, but I’ll go conservative.
Dave’s Pick: Lightning in 6. I picked Ottawa over Montreal last round, and my lack of faith in the Habs continues. This is a team that is deeply flawed and riding an absurd season from Carey Price. Tampa Bay is skilled, deep, fast, and solid defensively. Price won’t be enough to win them this series.
Kevin’s Pick: Lightning in 6. That seven-game war with Detroit was a really good lesson for Tampa Bay’s young players, and now the Lightning get a rematch against the team that smacked them in the first round last season. I made the mistake of picking against Carey Price once, and I’m doing it again. Tampa is so much deeper than Montreal, and come on, you know the hockey gods are going to make Rangers/Lightning happen.
Suit’s Pick: Lightning in 7. Despite Tampa being better on paper than the Habs, Montreal is still a tough place to win a playoff game. I think this series goes the distance. I’ll give TBL the edge in 7 only because I’m partial to Cally, Boyle, and Stralmania who have been around the block before.
Justin’s Pick: Canadiens in 7. Every ounce of my being tells me to pick Tampa Bay in five or six. They are just the all-around better team. However, at this point I simply cannot bet against Carey Price. Ever since the 2014 Olympics, the guy has been superhuman.
Becky’s Pick: Rangers in 6. The Capitals do have an upgrade in coaching under Barry Trotz, but this Rangers team is on a mission this year. They’ve rested and didn’t just see seven games against a team with two of the hardest hitters in the NHL The loss of Mats Zuccarello hurts, but the beauty of the 2014-15 Rangers it that they have depth. The Rangers beat the Capitals to close out the regular season while resting three of their guys; I’m confident they take it in 6.
Dave’s Pick: Rangers in 7. The Caps scare the jeebus out of me because Braden Holtby is good, the Caps are actually playing defense, they push puck possession, and their powerplay is downright lethal. The Rangers are without Mats Zuccarello, which is a huge loss, but are better on defense and in net, and have the better depth. This won’t be an easy series, and I think it’s really a toss up. But I’m a homer.
Kevin’s Pick: Rangers in 7. I’d feel much, much better about this pick if Mats Zuccarello was healthy. As I wrote yesterday, this isn’t the same Capitals team. They’re a real handful on both ends, and if the Blueshirts again don’t get anything out of their power play, then they could be in real trouble. This pick comes down to one man: Henrik Lundqvist.
Suit’s Pick: Rangers in 7. Dave mentioned it yesterday, but this isn’t the 2012, 2013, or 2014 Caps. The team is finally committed to playing both sides of the puck and their heavy forecheck is scary. Any team that can play dump and chase and still end up positive in puck possession will be a tough out. Holtby doesn’t scare me though and he’s susceptible to some bad rebounds. Whoever wins the crease will take this series. My money’s on our boys, obviously.
Justin’s Pick: Rangers in 6. I know the media are really trying to play this series up as marquee, but I don’t like this matchup at all for the Caps. The Rangers took the season series 3-1, and haven’t seen meaningful statistical production from Rick Nash, Chris Kreider or Marty St. Louis yet. The Rangers speed is going to be very difficult on the slower Washington blue line, so as long as they stay out of the box, I like their chances. I know the loss of Zuccarello is going to hurt, but the Blueshirts have the depth to cover.
There are many advantages to winning a series in five games, something that Rangers fans aren’t familiar with. It feels strange to have (somewhat) stress-free hockey to watch at your own leisure and not worry about being eliminated. It allows your team to heal up (see Chris’ post yesterday) and look ahead at future endeavors. It also helps us be better hockey fans and watch other teams, if for no other reason than to weep over our brackets, most of which are FUBAR.
The West was settled up yesterday evening, something that will take the East at least through tonight, if not through Wednesday to complete. There were upsets, expected wins, and upsets over expected wins, so overall a pretty great first round out of the West. Of all the series, there is something different that is interesting of each of them. Consider this a premature round one playoff post-mortem.
Let’s start in Winnipeg, the series that took the least amount of time to settle up. The Anaheim Ducks made quick work of the Jets, sweeping them under the rug. What was so great about this series wasn’t particularly the hockey, it was the fans. Winnipeg hasn’t seen playoff hockey since 1996 (though the franchise was in the playoffs in 2007, it was down in Atlanta). I don’t think it’s a surprise to anybody that Canadians love their hockey, so for the passionate fans, homecoming during Game 3 was insane.
So insane that, even after they were eliminated, and despite the fact that the Whiteout is a direct response to the Calgary Flames’ “C of Red,” the Flames took out this classy ad congratulating the Jets on a successful season:
As if you needed a reminder, THIS is why we love hockey.
The Flames took out the Vancouver Canucks, consistently proving themselves in the third periods of games, just as they had done during the regular season. The Flames, though I don’t see a Cup run this season, will be very good next year, with tons of young talent despite their smaller size.
The St. Louis Blues were a heavy favorite to win it all this year, stacked with offense and finally fully healthy on the defense front. The team had veteran leadership, tons of fairly new talent and the emergence of possibly one of the purest goal scorers in Vladimir Tarasenko. The downfall could’ve been goaltending, with Brian Elliott losing his starting role to 24-year-old Jake Allen, the future goalie of the Blues. They also had a giant monkey on their back — having been eliminated in the first round for the past two years, plus the added pressure of being favorites, they had to at the very least make it out of the first round.
And they didn’t. So what gives? Sure, Devan Dubnyk has had himself one heck of a season after being traded to the Wild, and yeah, he’s a Vezina Trophy finalist. The issue here is this: before coming to the Wild, he was having an average-to-good season, and only played 58 games this season en route to a nomination in a year that the winner has been locked up since February. Spoiler alert: it won’t be Dubnyk bringing home that hardware in June. So do the Blues firesale? Do they get rid of Ken Hitchcock, a Stanley Cup and 700+ game winner? There’s no doubt that Hitch is a good coach, but has he run his course with these Blues? It’ll certainly be interesting to see what moves they make this summer.
The series outside of New York that I was most invested in was the Ottawa-Montreal series, because how could you not be interested? Ottawa came from firing their coach midseason and being 14 games out of the playoffs to making it in to the playoffs as the first Wild Card team. They rode career AHL goalie Andrew Hammond, who went 20-1-2 since he had taken over the net in February. Twenty wins, and only one loss in regulation. The team rallied around new coach Dave Cameron and, after hearing his pressers, it’s not surprising why they did.
The Senators were eliminated last night in a 2-0 game (with the second goal being an empty netter with 2.1 seconds left), a game that was all puck luck and amazing goaltending. After being down 3-0 in the series, the Sens forced it to six games and came close to going back to Montreal for a winner-take-all later this week. Cameron wasn’t afraid of the media, of any scrutiny whatsoever. He went to veteran Craig Anderson, who stood on his head after being sidelined with a hand injury for most of the past three months. I don’t think it’s foolish to recommend that Cameron win the Jack Adams this year; if Dubnyk is getting consideration for a good half of a season, why can’t Cameron?
On top of what we’ve covered here of the Rangers-Penguins series, the only thing I have to add is that it was foolish of people (myself included) to discount Marc-Andre Fleury. Seeing the absurd penalties that the Penguins took regularly is a testament to the type of nights that Fleury had to frequently deal with, being a man down and having an obliterated blueline. Fleury impressed me this series, as did Taylor Chorney, a defenseman who seemed to have himself pulled together (though I kept thinking his name was “Shortie” and wound up singing Usher a LOT this series).
As for the Rangers Playoff Beard Watch©, Keith Yandle is in the clear lead, though he did admit to starting his playoff beard the day after the regular season ended. His genes plus the time advantage have him in the lead.
The Rangers debut their 2015 playoff selves in Pittsburgh tonight, in front of what should be an energized crowd. It’s well noted that the Rangers are horrendous in Game 2’s, and for some reason, it’s accepted as fact. I don’t know when any type of failure became acceptable, but I digress…
The Rangers need to come out tonight ready to play, similar to how the Ottawa Senators played throughout the first two and a half periods of their game last night: kicking the crap out of everyone and throwing everything at the net. The Rangers love a pretty play, from a wraparound try to a pass through the crease that would be gorgeous in the case that there’s a player there to finish, but the score stays the same whether the goal is pretty or chippy.
This group of Rangers, though not identical to the playoff group from last year, is familiar with one another and familiar with what the team faced last May. When the Rangers were down 3-1 in the EC Semis against (a healthy) Pittsburgh, they played their tails off with their back against the wall. The 2015 Penguins are that desperate team, playing with a sense of urgency that seemed to be lacking in Saturday night’s contest.
It isn’t really conducive to change to single out specific players to blame, but it would be lovely to see some players step up. For one, Dan Boyle is playing quite terribly. Using the #eyetest alone, he can’t match up with neither the speed nor physicality that Pittsburgh is throwing the Rangers’ way. He’s filled in for Kevin Klein on the penalty kill, which, against the Pens power play units, gives me massive amounts of anxiety. He has been knocked around — is this because he’s taking time on the PK and just tired, or is the pairing off, or is he just declining?
The funny part is, when Klein comes back, Matt Hunwick will undoubtedly be scratched in his favor. The Hunwick conversation has been had ad nauseum. Hunwick has been a fantastic temporary fill in, taking Klein’s spot pretty well in his absence, but he hasn’t been phenomenal. Should the Rangers remember how to take advantage of a power play, they’ll need Boyle on the ice. Additionally, I doubt Boyle is the type of player who appreciates a healthy scratch and uses it as motivation (of course, this is pure speculation).
Alain Vigneault confirmed that Klein won’t play in Game 3, but traveled with the team and has been skating, which is a minor — but still some — comfort to the team. Vigneault also hinted that his lineup may change, and confirmed that he will be meeting with the coaching staff before giving any definitive answers (s/t Andrew Gross). So what does that mean? Does James Sheppard, who was sought after by Glen Sather for his performance last year as a member of the Sharks against the Kings see some ice time? Will Vigneault give Chris Summers a look to see how he can contribute in the playoffs? I think the possibility of seeing Sheppard far outweighs seeing Summers, however I think Vigneault is just using this to motivate his players.
A short list of players I think could do better:
– Keith Yandle. Not that he isn’t producing, but that bad penalty Saturday night should be shown to him on loop until he swears on the bouncy house in Arizona that he never does it again.
– Chris Kreider. We know how well he can produce, especially when on a line with Derek Stepan (that goal on Saturday still flashes before my eyes) and JT Miller, who have been more prevalent throughout. I think it’s just a matter of Kreider finding his mojo, and it’ll be beautiful when he does.
– Martin St. Louis. I’m pretty sure MSL forgot how to take a pass or slap a quick one timer into the net. We all know of his offensive capability, and he’s been vocal about wanting to stay a Ranger past this season, now would be the time for him to prove exactly why he should get another contract.
– Dan Boyle. See above.
To close out, in the event that Tanner Glass is benched tomorrow in favor of James Sheppard (this isn’t a matter of disrespecting Glass, I just don’t see who else would be benched), I would love to see Sheppard – Dominic Moore – Jesper Fast lined up against Sidney Crosby’s line. We all saw how Moore got under Sid’s skin last year (topped off with a pretty brutal spear in a very unsportsmanlike area of Dom’s body), and it’s pretty clear that the line could handle themselves against top talent
Game 3 is tonight at 7pm on MSG. Let’s get two in Pittsburgh.
Note: I apologize for the late post here, somebody (raises hand) fell asleep right after the game and had to write this in the morning.
The Rangers opened the 2015 playoffs in probably the most assuring way possible. 28 seconds into the game, Derick Brassard let one rip through the legs of Marc-Andre Fleury, easing any fear that fans could have regarding the intensity with which the Rangers would play. I never do a goal breakdown, so enjoy my favorite form of recap, the bullet list.
- The biggest focal point to me was how absurdly undisciplined the Penguins are. Good lord. For a team that has talent – as much as we may discount it – they get really messed up between the ears really easily.
- To build on that point, one has to wonder if that was something that Dan Bylsma allowed to happen. I wonder if he let them feel entitled, the way that Sid has felt for what seems like his entire life. Once your entire team takes on that mindset, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
- All that being said, it must’ve been very difficult for Mike Johnston to take over this year. You think, hey broham is taking over some of the best talent in the league (say what you will, I would take Evgeni Malkin on my team every day and twice on Tuesdays), but you don’t really think about the attitude issues.
- Now imagine if the Rangers had a really fearsome power play – the score would’ve been LOL-1.
- The Rangers fell into trapping towards the end of the game, which is scary when you’re facing a team as talented as the Penguins. I don’t think (slash pray) this happens again.
- Maxim Lapierre tried to get under the skin of just about everyone, and thankfully the Rangers didn’t fall into that. It’s so lovely to see how headstrong these guys are. They are FOCUSED, and it’s so exciting.
- This is the first time I’ve felt unbelievably confident in the boys. Unfinished business. Remember the 2009 Penguins? [Insert smiley face here]
- I could watch Keith Yandle rip a beautiful pass to Ryan McDonagh for roughly the rest of ever, so please please PLEASE Glen Sather, EXTEND THE MAN IN THE OFFSEASON.
- Speaking of extensions, remember in July some fans that feared Brassard’s contract? How’s that going for you guys now? Brassard is having a career year. He’s shown that he thrives in the spotlight of Broadway since his very first game here. He needed a competitive market to do well, and lookie here, he is.
- I’ll leave you all with this, courtesy of the Rangers. Brassard’s excitement after his goal is palpable. It’s just the best thing I’ve ever seen.
Game Two is Saturday night at 8pm on NBCSN. LGR!
I know that 3.5 hour wait was rough, so without further ado, the Eastern Conference….
Ottawa Senators vs. Montreal Canadiens
Dave’s Pick: OTT in 7. Here’s the dirty secret: Montreal isn’t that good. Brandon Prust is a top-nine forward there, and Max Pacioretty is hurt. Carey Price was super human this season, but in the playoffs you need depth. The Sens have it, the Habs don’t.
Becky’s Pick: OTT in 6. The Montreal Carey Prices are fragile without Max Pacioretty, whose diagnosis is “not cleared for contact” as of today. With Ottawa working their tails off to make it to the playoffs, and losing assistant coach Mark Reeds yesterday, the Sens are playing with all their hearts to bring it all home for Reeds and GM Bryan Murray. I don’t think they go all the way, but I think they cruise past the Habs in Round 1.
Chris’ Pick: MTL in 6. The Sens are scorching hot for sure, but the playoffs are a different beast. While I don’t think Montreal have as much talent as their media think they do, Carey Price is far and away the best player in this series and that counts for something. This could go either way and the first game will be huge. Assume a Montreal shutdown victory in game one and a six game series win.
Justin’s Pick: OTT in 6. Montreal isn’t a bad team, but Carey Price’s ridiculous season has masked what probably should be a wild card squad. Ottawa is actually fairly well balanced and has been getting very good goaltending, as well. Whether Andrew Hammond is for real is a discussion for another time. Carey Price could very well steal this series, but I don’t think a Pacioretty-less Montreal team gets by.
Kevin’s Pick: OTT in 7. – If Carey Price is the runaway MVP, then he should be able to win this series pretty easily, right? But I don’t know, there’s just something about this Senators team right now. I don’t think Ottawa’s run is ready to come to an end just yet.
Detroit Red Wings vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
Dave’s Pick: TBL in 5. I didn’t pick Detroit to even make the playoffs, while Tampa Bay was my pick to come out of the East. I’m sticking with this, as Tampa Bay is so talented and so deep, it scares me. I want Detroit to win, but I think this is a quick series.
Becky’s Pick: TBL in 5. Detroit is going with Petr Mrazek, showing no faith in Jimmy Howard (got to wonder if his previous injury is nagging), and Tampa is kicking the crap out of everyone they’ve been playing. Maybe I put this in 5 because I’m scared of the Bolts, but that’s my gut feeling.
Chris’ Pick: TBL in 6. Tampa have the best pure offense in the East. Detroit are officially going with Petr Mrazek in goal. Ugh. The Wings are successfully going through a transition period and have a lot of young talent emerging but they simply aren’t at Tampa’s level right now. The Wings will make this interesting but the scary Lightning will overpower them
Justin’s Pick: TBL in 5. Honestly, how does Mike Babcock go with Mrazek over Howard? I like Mrazek, but if you don’t have the confidence in Howard now, when will you? Goaltending drama aside, Tampa Bay is just way too good for this year’s incarnation of the Red Wings. I like Detroit’s team, but they just can’t match the depth.
Kevin’s Pick: TBL in 6. I can’t wait for this one. Tampa Bay is by far the Eastern Conference team that scares me the most, but the Red Wings have plenty of experience on their side. In the end the Lightning’s speed and depth will be too much.
Dave’s Pick: NYR in 5. The Pens are going to be without Kris Letang for the season, adding on to injuries to Chrisitian Ehrhoff and Olli Maata, both of whom won’t be in this series. They lack the defensive depth to contain the Rangers, and Marc-Andre Fleury is no match for Henrik Lundqvist.
Becky’s Pick: NYR in 6. I would say Rangers in 5 but I’m far too scared to make a bold prediction when it comes to my team. Aside from the injury issue, the Penguins are a whiny, undisciplined team who get irritated immediately and are not getting the calls they’re used to crying for. If Dom Moore could pull off what he did last year to piss off Sid (and hopefully not get speared this time), the Rangers won’t need more than six to win it.
Chris’ Pick: NYR in 6. The Pens are decimated by injury on their blueline and ‘boast’ a current top three defense trio of Martin, Cole and Lovejoy – that. is. horrible. The Rangers can roll three scoring lines and have a fourth line playing their best hockey of the season right now (including from a production perspective) – they simply have too much for the Pens. Crosby and Malkin alone will mean this isn’t a sweep, but they can’t keep up with the Rangers.
Justin’s Pick: NYR in 6. No matter what happens in these playoffs, I think this Rangers team will end up an autopsy for the next step in #fancystats. The concept of counter attacking and shot suppression to offset traditional possession analysis could be really valuable. I think the Rangers have too much depth for the injury riddled Pens. Crosby and Malkin (and maybe Fleury!) will keep it respectable, but I don’t see the Rangers getting upset here.
Kevin’s Pick: NYR in 5. If Kris Letang was healthy, I’d be a whole lot more nervous. He’s the straw that stirs the Penguins’ drink, so to speak, and he’s given New York fits over the years. But without him – and potentially Christian Ehrhoff and Derrick Pouliot – I just don’t see how Pittsburgh can handle the Rangers’ speed. Going against two of the top 10 players in the world is never easy, but unless Marc-Andre Fleury stands on his head (hahahaha), then the Blueshirts cruise.
Dave’s Pick: WSH in 7. The league’s best powerplay against one of the league’s worst penalty kill. The Isles have the better numbers and depth, but the Caps are red-hot. This series goes the distance.
Becky’s Pick: WSH in 6. The Caps are a different team than they were last year, thanks to a coaching change, and the Islanders barely backed into the playoffs this year. They’ve been trending down and won’t be able to deal with the physical Capitals, especially if noted goon Matt Martin is still injured. I don’t think this is the Isles’ year.
Chris’ Pick: WSH in 7. There’s a ton of star power in this series. It will be fun to watch Tavares and Ovechkin try and battle for the spotlight over a seven game series which is exactly what this will be. Special teams really favour the Caps but the Isles’ overall talent level up front will keep this close. This series could go either way.
Justin’s Pick: WSH in 7. These are two very closely matched teams, but they are trending in opposite directions in both goaltending and overall play. Hopefully this turns into a massive battle of attrition and both teams are left exhausted. I like the talent the Islanders bring to the table, but I think the Caps PP and goaltending prove too much.
Kevin’s Pick: WSH in 7. I’m definitely of the mindset that it’s a year too early for the Islanders. Barry Trotz has transformed the Capitals into a consistent two-way club, and Washington has become as scary as it’s ever been as a result.