Laidlaw here checking in for some more ramblings.
I try not to overreact to anything in the small sample size that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs but with the stakes so high I do like to see which players the coach trusts. With that in mind it’s time to get Josh Bailey and Kyle Okposo back on your radar. Those two were 1-2 in ice time among Islander forwards on Sunday. Granted a good deal of that ice time was on the penalty kill but for Bailey the increase has come with a graduation to the top line alongside John Tavares and is also up on the top power play. If that sticks we could see Bailey’s breakout season next year. Even if it doesn’t Bailey is trending upward after scoring 19 points in 38 games this season (a 41-point pace, which would be a career high for Bailey).
I’m less bullish on Okposo. I love how he’s playing. It’s great to see that fire. He seems like a big game type of player. But that suggests that there is a switch for him. I’m not convinced that he can play like this for 82 games. I’m waiting to see if Okposo can get onto the top power play unit as well before I go all in on Okposo.
This strong playoff showing bodes well for the Islanders keeping some of their UFAs around like Evgeni Nabokov and Mark Streit. Remember when Nabokov and Lubomir Visnovsky refused to even report to Long Island? This turnaround has been awesome. Now Visnovsky has signed an extension and you can imagine if the money is right both Nabokov and Streit will be keen to as well. The franchise is still something of a joke considering all the money they are paying people to NOT play hockey for them but that just makes their strong playoff showing all the more impressive.
Also, how great is it to see John Tavares in the playoffs? I seriously hate that so many of the league’s young stars are wasting away on crappy teams. Sure it means that there’s good talent at the World Championships but that tournament pales in comparison to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and frankly it can only tell you so much about a player’s fantasy prospects. I personally use it as a nice reminder of some of the league’s up-and-comers.
I caught some of the Canada-Denmark game on Saturday. Matt Duchene was electric in that game, but really he damn well better be. With his skating and all that open ice, it’s inevitable that he’s going to run wild. Uncontainable. I wonder if he gets consideration for the Olympic team considering the Games will be played on international ice.
Some sure fire Olympians on Team Canada at the World Championships: Steven Stamkos, Claude Giroux, Eric Staal
On the borderline: Duchene, Jeff Skinner, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Andrew Ladd, Ryan O’Reilly, Jordan Staal, Brian Campbell, Mike Smith
How (HOW!) are all these guys not on playoff teams? I hate the salary cap era. But you know those guys are good so let’s not waste any further time on them. How about some lesser-knowns like TJ Brodie?
I didn’t really notice Brodie’s play for Canada but he’s there so that's a reminder that he’s a good young defenseman to keep an eye on. He saw a ton of minutes for the Flames down the stretch this season and might be the best lefty-shooting defenseman on the Flames roster, which could help him gain an edge, as both Dennis Wideman and Mark Giordano are righty shooters.
I thought Mikkel Boedker looked pretty good for Denmark but I’m not overly excited about his fantasy prospects, at least not until he gets a legitimate top line center to play with. He probably settles in as a nice two-way second line forward, which is still good but it’s not what you build your fantasy team around. Should be a nice complementary piece though.
Canada was also in action today losing to Switzerland in a shootout. I didn’t catch the game so I couldn’t tell you who stood out but I am extremely disturbed by Nino Niederreiter’s presence on the Swiss roster. It’s not that he’s not good enough to be there, in fact he scored a goal, but rather shouldn’t he be with the Islanders as they go on this playoff run? They’ve got basically their whole AHL roster with them but not Niederreiter. Maybe this is much ado about nothing but I’m not enthusiastic about this development.
The other Swiss player to keep an eye on is netminder Reto Berra the prize acquisition in the Jay Bouwmeester deal. I say that at least somewhat sarcastically. I don’t know if Berra is good or not but I thought it was hilarious when word was leaked that Calgary thinks he is one of the best goaltenders outside of the NHL. They may be right but his stats tell a story of mediocrity. Martin Gerber started for Switzerland against Canada but if you get a chance to see a game where Berra starts it could be worth the investment for your keeper league.
Back to NHL hockey – I am a bit concerned about my Penguins Stanley Cup pick. Yeah, I know they are everyone’s front runner but I’ve been picking them to win it all every year for forever so I’m not changing my tune but they look bad defensively. It doesn’t help that Brooks Orpik was out on Sunday but man the Penguins are lacking blue line depth. I can’t imagine how thin they’d be had they not picked up Douglas Murray at the deadline and he’s not the player he used to be.
Without solid defense the Penguins are going to need excellent play from Marc-Andre Fleury and I can’t remember the last time they’ve gotten that. So the Penguins are going to have to win a bunch of shootouts, which, as we saw last year, is a dangerous strategy.
The Penguins are of course capable of doing so but I just wonder if they almost have too much firepower up front. It seems like even when they are up two goals they are frantically pressing for another one as though they know how quickly things could change. I’m not complaining, it’s entertaining as hell, especially for us fantasy nerds but it definitely makes you wonder if the Penguins can win the 16 games they need to playing this way.
Two more points on this:
1. You have to respect that the Penguins go for the throat, even if it’s really their only recourse since they aren’t great defensively.
2. The Islanders deserve a ton of credit. They have carried the play for extended stretches in these games and are actually outshooting the Penguins 104-84 and have arguably been the better team the past two games. They’ve done a great job of generating scoring chances on the counterattack and then sustaining pressure once they gain the zone.
Some ice time figures to note for the Penguins:
Jussi Jokinen – 12:13 – I don’t know where Jokinen fits into things for the Penguins as they have several UFAs this summer but you can imagine they’d rather keep the likes of Brenden Morrow, Pascal Dupuis and Jarome Iginla around over Jokinen who is now a fourth liner. He’s good playoff depth but you don’t pay $3 million a year for fourth liners, I could see him being an amnesty casualty.
Beau Bennett – 10:54 and Simon Despres – 6:12 – the kids aren’t quite yet ready. Still good upside though.
Huge overtime win for the Minnesota Wild to get back into the series against the Blackhawks. Jason Zucker scored the OT winner, his first Stanley Cup Playoff goal. It certainly won’t be his last. Zucker reeks of being a playoff warrior – the type of guy with the nose for the net to score tough playoff goals. He only played 11 minutes but he’ll be earning more ice time in the future.
Jonas Brodin continues to skate huge minutes for the Wild. Over 28 minutes in this one, second only to Ryan Suter.
Charlie Coyle saw a fair amount of minutes for a rookie - 16:59. I am a huge fan of Coyle’s game. Another guy built for playoff hockey. He had an assist.
You can’t say enough about how awesome it is that Harding is battling it out and continuing to play even with his MS diagnosis. First career NHL playoff win for him.
It was nice for Pierre-Marc Bouchard to show up in this series. He scored a goal and added an assist on the game winner. The Wild need depth scoring to have a chance. They also can’t sit on their hands when they get a lead.
Zach Parise put them up 2-1 early in the third and the Wild immediately went into bunker mode. Chicago dominated the rest of the period before ultimately tying the game up. For a solid two minute stretch leading to the tying goal by Duncan Keith the Blackhawks had the Wild hemmed in like they were on a power play but it was actually 5-on-5. The Blackhawks are amazing at coming back like that. You let them get pressure on and they won’t take their foot off the gas. I don’t know how many times during their points streak to start the season they were on the ropes and looked like they’d finally lose one in regulation only to flip the switch and go into power play mode.
I guess what I’m saying is the Blackhawks are the class of the league but duh, you already knew that.
It’s worth noting that Dave Bolland still isn’t back yet, which is unfortunate for those of you who picked him for your playoff pools. He’s a playoff warrior if ever there was one – the Blackhawks get scarier when he returns.
Brandon Saad played 21 minutes, which is huge responsibility for a rookie. He was scoreless and minus-2 but he’s a huge part of the Blackhawks attack. He looked dangerous on several occasions.
Nick Leddy skated only 16:42, which is pretty low for a defenseman. I guess he’s not quite ready. Leddy is an RFA this summer and should garner some interest from other teams should the Blackhawks be unable to afford re-signing him. They have less than $2 million in cap space for next season according to their CapGeek page.
I wonder what changes are coming for Chicago this summer. It’s not a leap to suggest the Blackhawks will use their amnesty provision on Steve Montador so that clears $2.75 million but the Blackhawks will need more to fill out their roster. I imagine they’ll fill some spots from within as well though. They have UFAs in Viktor Stalberg, Bryan Bickell and Ray Emery who they probably won’t be able to afford re-signing and the Blackhawks will likely graduate some players from the minors to fill those holes. All three have upside playing elsewhere if given the right role.
How about the refs in the Habs-Senators game? They called about a thousand minor penalties, which of course brought out all the Alexandre Despatie wannabes. Sorry, that was my lame attempt at a diving joke. We all hate diving but I’m much more forgiving of it than most. I’m of the mind that if you aren’t cheating you aren’t trying. I just hate when the rules and officiating devolve to the point where diving is always rewarded and embellishment is the only way to get a call. So there has to be a give and take. The players need to dive a bit to make sure the refs are still calling the penalties and the refs need to hold their ground when the diving gets out of hand.
We don’t want to wind up with a system like pro soccer where guys practice diving but you have to have some embellishment when the refs are choking on their whistles because no one wants to go back to the Dead Puck era.
What I have an issue with is the diving penalty. I hate the diving penalty. The refs almost never just call the dive. I’d rather just let the refs have the discretion to call the obstruction penalty or not. I just think that it’s even more punishing to a diver to just call nothing at all and watch him embarrass himself and possibly take himself out of position than to stop play and call both penalties. The refs are intelligent people and even though they can definitely be better they are for the most part the best in the world. I’m all for reffing as an art form, where they really understand the game and know how to maintain a good pace and just let the players play. You put too many rules in place and that takes away from the art form and ultimately a good competition.
It was not a good game for the Montreal rookies Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk. Both were minus-3 and on the ice for every even strength goal but really it wasn't a good game for anyone on the Habs so you don't necessarily want to single these two out.
On the flip side it was a fantastic showing for Senators rookie Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who scored a hattrick (his first three NHL playoff goals). He’s got some upside especially if he can stick on a line with Daniel Alfredsson for the next few years.
The Senators basically iced the game after Kyle Turris made the game 4-1 so the coaches threw all their goons on the ice and we had ourselves a good old fashioned line brawl at center ice. Highly entertaining. As unfortunate as the result of the Gryba hit on Eller was the result has been a ramped up and highly intense series so there’s a silver lining there.
Not long after the line brawl PK Subban fought Turris. Not exactly a fair match up there. Subban absolutely walloped Turris but that might have been the only thing any Canadien won all day.
Best fight of the game was Gallagher vs. Cory Conacher. It wasn’t actually a good fight but I just like watching midgets go at it.
It will be too hard to discuss the ice time in this one. Because of all the fights both teams basically had half benches for the entire third so a ton of players were down on ice time because of their ejection and a ton of players were up on ice time because there was no one left to play. Hell, Tomas Plekanec had to play defense in the third.
I will mention that Patrick Wiercioch only played 1:47. I don’t know that there was injury or if he was just glued to the bench. What I do know is that when the Sens are at full strength there really isn’t room for him so as nice as his rookie season was I’m not sure how excited I am for him next season. He’s still a really good prospect but I think there will be some more hiccups before he really becomes fantasy worthy. Of course, if Sergei Gonchar moves on this summer perhaps a spot will open up, particularly because Wiercioch’s offensive skills make him a reasonable replacement.
I think Ottawa's the better team in this series but I'm excited to see how Montreal pushes back. I want desperately for this series to go seven.
As promised, my thoughts on the late game...
I know that it's not over 'til it's over but damn, it's pretty much over for Vancouver. I didn't see this game but from the other games they don't really look all that good.
What a disastrous return to action for Corey Schneider. Luongo has played well but the team has lost and Schneider is supposed to be the #1 guy now so you kind of have to give him a shake but then this happens and you wonder if they’d have had a shot if Luongo had played the whole game. It probably wouldn’t have made any difference as San Jose appears to have simply been better – I know they have so far in this series – but damn.
Now we get another summer of this goalie controversy nonsense. I’m so annoyed with it that I should probably stop here without getting into. It just drives me so crazy I want to beat my head against a wall. You’re team isn’t even very good, who cares who is in net?!?!?!
Good on the Sharks for retooling this year. Somehow they managed to pull off selling and improving their team. That’s addition by subtraction right there. What’s weird is that the guys they sold are doing pretty well elsewhere so it’s kind of strange that they could have been a part of the problem. Maybe those guys were just redundant and they need a new mix. The team is faster and hungrier, which is a solid combination for playoff hockey. I sometimes wonder if it isn’t a good thing to have some youthful exuberance and fresh legs on a roster – guys who are much hungrier to prove themselves and win that big contract.
What really helps is that they’ve got the young guns scoring again. Joe Pavelski had a pretty dreadful season. After a hot start Pavelski went on a horrid stretch where he scored just five points in 23 games in what amounted to nearly two months of dreadful play. He’s back on track now and has two goals and six points in this series. Playoff warrior that Little Joe is.
Couture is hot as well. Four points on Sunday gives him six for the playoffs as well.
What a ballsy move by the Sharks moving Brent Burns up to play forward too. They are paying the guy a ton of money to be a rock on the blue line and then somehow they figure out he’s better for them playing way less minutes and up front. I don’t know how you have the guile to risk something like that but I guess the team had hit rock bottom so it was time to roll the dice. Had this Sharks team failed I think you could easily have season both the GM and head coach fired. Instead, they may have won themselves contract extensions. Good on them.
Let’s shower some more props on Antti Niemi too while we're here. He stopped 28 of 30 on Sunday to continue his quietly brilliant season. It’s between him and Sergei Bobrovsky for both the Vezina and Hart trophies this year and I’d just as soon see Niemi win it since he’s on a playoff team and is really the only thing that kept them above water when they had that scoring slump. And I find this insane because I never felt like Niemi was that good of a goalie. He might be the best right now, which I will repeat is freaking insane!
Back to the Canucks – I think the days of the Sedin twins being fantasy hockey gold are over. They are still brilliant but this whole business of them wanting to play more difficult minutes so starting less in the offensive zone and playing against the opponents’ best, well that kills their scoring upside. They can still grab you a point per game or close to it but they won’t be sniffing 100 points ever again and that kills everyone down the line. So Alex Edler drops from potentially getting 60 in a season to 50. Kesler probably remains a potential 75-point player but he can’t stay healthy so toss that one out as well. Burrows’ upside drops from 70 to 60 and on down the list.
It would help if the Canucks still had a good power play but, my goodness, do they ever not. Somehow they finished 22nd in efficiency this year at 15.4% and that futility has carried over to the playoffs. For whatever reason they just aren’t getting the easy goals they used. Hardly a positive change. I’m sure the Canucks fans can fill us in on why that is. All I know is that it’s not good.
Here is the line brawl: