Steve Laidlaw checking in once again to free up Dobber to continue working on the Prospects Report. So hopefully his work on the always fantastic Prospects Report makes up for you guys being stuck with me.
A couple of 2-1 hockey games tonight in the NHL. Doesn't get much tighter than that.
Let's start with Boston-New York. I didn't watch the game so you'll have to bear with me on some of these observations as they are mostly based on highlights.
All three goals came off of long shots with a ton of traffic in front of the net. With Tuukka Rask and Henrik Lundqvist in net you pretty much have to blind them to get one past them, the best of the best right there.
The game winner was a truly weird one. Follow the bouncing puck:
It's important to note however, the importance of the faceoff win by the Bruins to get that in zone possession and then once again the traffic in front of the net. Pretty simple stuff when you boil it right down. Little battles win games come playoff time and the Bruins are great at winning those little battles.
It was winger Shawn Thornton who won that faceoff. That's right, Thornton, he of the career 45.2% faceoff success rate on just 168 career draws. Shame on Derick Brassard for losing that one. It happens, of course, but that's still one you've got to win.
That's really a faceoff your big money centerman should be taking but the descent into irrelevance for Brad Richards continues. He skated just 8:10 on Tuesday, a new low for these playoffs. He's obviously banged up and it wouldn't shock me if it was something pretty bad. Good on him for continuing to battle. I actually think this makes him a solid buy low for next year because a lot of people are going to have a real hard-on for Derek Stepan and even Brassard after these playoffs.
But really, Richards had a decent season. I know he struggled a lot in the middle of the season but between the compacted schedule (limited practice time/no training camp), his new teammates (Rick Nash) and just general ups and downs you can start to explain away some of his scoring issues. Ultimately, he still got 34 points in 46 games. He seems a pretty good bet for 60 points again, at the very least.
Of course, the Rangers could buy him out with their second amnesty buyout and use that cap space to re-sign Stepan and fellow RFA Ryan McDonagh. Both of those guys need big pay raises but no matter what happens, Richards is still a top six center and at just 33 years old I refuse to believe that he is completely done. He's got too much hockey sense to not Selanne his way to a second life as a sneaky veteran producer.
As for Stepan, yeah, he's the bomb, those hard-ons are so worth it. He's meshed brilliantly with Rick Nash and Ryan Callahan as that line is playing heavy minutes for the Rangers. Stepan managed five shots on goal and dominated the faceoff circle. I'd imagine that Nash-Stepan pairing remains a thing well into the future because it's worked too well for it to not be.
The one thing that concerns me is that Stepan isn't necessarily a star. His 44 points in 48 games this season certainly give one the sense that he has that potential and I'm not saying that he doesn't have that potential but sample size alarm bells are going off in my head. I also look at his high shooting percentage this season (16.7%) and envision regression.
Furthermore, for all his skill, he's still a dependable defensive player and relies a lot on high effort/lunch pail play to generate his opportunities. I just wonder if that play doesn't take a physical toll on him so he never reaches his maximum potential. And the Rangers' human shield defense certainly doesn't help matters. You could be looking at the next Shawn Horcoff or Ryan Kesler – just something to consider.
And as for Brassard, I still want to see what kind of minutes he gets next season before really falling hard for him.
Oh and one more shout out to Ryan Callahan, because one isn't enough – he was scoreless on Tuesday but fired four SOG and landed seven hits – what a dreamboat. His goal on Sunday made me absolutely