I’ll start by expressing just how lovely it is to be back watching playoff hockey. We all know that virtually every aspect of the game increases in speed and physicality but until it’s back being performed in front of us each spring, it’s easy to forget just how tremendous the level of play is.

 

I like it a lot.

 

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The first game of the night was another lopsided affair. The battle of Pennsylvania features just a bucket load of elite talent and after Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jake Guentzel ran the show in game one, Philly took their turn Friday evening.

 

Sean Couturier led the charge with a goal and two helpers and Brian Elliott made 34 stops as the Flyers tied the series at one with a 5-1 victory.

 

Kudos to head coach, Dave Hakstol for sticking with Elliott after he was torched in game one, because the veteran netminder had to make a half dozen key stops including a 4-on-4 breakaway versus Crosby.

 

Claude Giroux rocked Kris Letang with an…unorthadox hit that will likely get a second look from the Department of Player Safety. Letang left the game for some time but did return. He only saw 14 seconds of power play time afterwards though. 

 

 

The Penguins outshot and out-chanced the Flyers once again, but this time their ice-cold top power play unit came back to haunt them. Despite leading the league during the regular season with a 26.2 percent efficiency rate, they Penguins have just one goal in seven tries so far in the post-season and that came from their second unit.

 

With the sheer volume of talent available it’ll be difficult to expect a true shake-up with their units, but we may see Jake Guentzel get the net front spot up front and if healthy, Kris Letang should resume his position on the point in game three.

 

Matt Murray had a rare postseason night to forget. He gave up four goals on 19 shots and didn’t look overly sharp at any point. It’s fine, he came in to the night sporting a .930 save percentage in 32 playoff games so we’ll give him a mulligan.

 

 

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After being manhandled in game one by the Bruins on Thursday night, the Maple Leafs were dealt a substantial blow on Friday evening as it was announced that Nazem Kadri would be suspended for three games for his reckless and dangerous hit on Tommy Wingels.

 

 

I’ve got to say, this is a surprisingly appropriate amount of time to give for the deed. It’s rare, but props to the DoPS.

 

We got a glimpse at what the lines could look like for Toronto for games two-four on Friday Morning:

 

 

The Leafs were always going to be in tough against Boston, but missing their number two centre and key match up guy against the Bergeron line will be incredible difficult to overcome.

 

 

 

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Even if Ryan Suter was healthy, the Wild would have been underdogs to the Jets and without him, they were expected to be vastly outmatched. Well, two games in and that separation between the two squads is becoming more palpable.

 

Winnipeg took game two of the series 4-1 and head to Minnesota up 2-0. They’ve outshot the Wild 84-37 over that span and look to be getting stronger with each period. It’s never safe to assume a series is done – especially before a team loses on home ice, but it’s hard to imagine the Wild fans getting any more than two home playoff contests this year.

 

Dustin Byfuglien was all over the ice and scoresheet on Friday night. He set up Paul Statsny from behind the opposition net for a tally, played a team high 23:51, recorded 12 penalty minutes, three shots on goal and eight hits, none bigger than this one on Mikko Koivu

 

He even starts that sequence with a solid check. What a monster. 

 

Big Buff has a history of ramping up his game in the playoffs from his time in Chicago and it sure looks like we’ll be seeing that dominant player much more frequently this spring.  His regular season was somewhat disappointing by his lofty standards – thanks in part to some injury issues, but he still played at  53-point pace and plugged the peripheral categories with aplomb. 

 

Byfuglien will be 34 this month and that may scare some people away from him in drafts next season, but there still appears to be some gas in the tank. 

 

Patrik Laine chipped in with a goal and an assist to go along with six shots on goal. The 19-year-old is just getting warmed up.

 

 

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Over in the battle of the Pacific, LA and Vegas continued their low-scoring and physical series. The Golden Knights jumped out to a first period lead when Alex Tuch hammered home on a rebound on the man-advantage. 

 

The Kings tied it up late in the second period with a power play marker of their own, this one coming off the stick of Paul LaDue (of course). 

 

Vegas dominated play through regulation and the overtime frames, badly outshooting the Kings but Jonathan Quick kept them hanging around. He wasn't just making single saves either, the Golden Knights were coming in waves and he was making second and third stops in sequence. Someone forgot to tell him that it isn't 2012. 

 

Quick ended up making 54 stops to Fleury's 29 but it wasn't enough as Erik Haula played the hero with under four minutes remaining in double OT. 

 

Say what you will about fans having to ‘earn the right to success’, these Golden Knights’ faithful are a raucous group and have upped the electric energy they brought to each regular season home game.

 

The organization isn’t holding anything back either. On top of free logo tattoos or stenciled haircuts outside the arena, take a look at this monstrous jersey they had tossed on the mini statue of liberty!

 

 

 

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Let’s talk about Vladimir Tarasenko for a moment.

 

 

Coming off three consecutive seasons that saw his point totals increase (73, 74, 75), goal totals remaining constant in the 37-40 range and anywhere from 280-300 shots on goal, Tarasenko’s value was one of the few seemingly secure bets in and around the tail-end of first round of most fantasy drafts – doubly so as he sat in the middle of his statistical prime at 25 years old heading into 2017-18.

 

 

Tarasenko’s average draft position in Yahoo leagues this past season was eighth overall and he was consistently the third RW off the board behind Patrick Kane and Nikita Kucherov. Unfortunately, he didn’t bring the value you’d expect from that spot in 2017-18.

 

The Russian sniper started his year off with a bang as the addition of Brayden Schenn and the re-emergence of Jaden Schwartz came together to create one of the most dangerous trios in the league

 

 

Unfortunately, the play dipped from there on out. From the end of November through until he left the final game of the regular season with a shoulder injury (more on that in a moment), the power scorer produced at a 34-goal and 61-point-pace. Nothing to sneeze at, but not what you need out a first round selection.

 

So what went wrong?

 

First off, despite putting a career-high 306 shots on net, his personal shooting percentage dipped to 10.8 – the lowest mark since his rookie season and three points lower than the last two campaigns.

 

 

Another factor that played a major role was the Blues’ power play plummeting all the way to 30th in the league down from eighth in 2016-17, sixth in 2015-16 and fourth in 2014-15. This resulted in Tarasenko producing just 16 points with the man-advantage which represented his lowest output since 2012-13 even though he witnessed his highest PPTOI deployment.

 

 

The man-advantage was the greatest discrepancy in Tarasenko’s metrics. According to Natural Stat Trickthe normally proficient finisher witnessed his PPSH% dip from a 19.3 percent career-average to a mere 7.9 percent mark in 2017-18.

 

It’s probably safe to assume that this mark will be an outlier and he can return to somewhere in the mid-high teens moving forward. It’s also likely that St Louis as a whole will rebound from their disastrous results on the man-advantage to climb back to a respectable mark.

 

And now for the biggest question mark: the shoulder injury.

 

 

So where does this leave us heading into 2018-19?

 

The uncertainty surrounding the shoulder injury, coupled with a missed off-season of training and a down season will all but assure Tarasenko’s draft stock to fall precipitously next fall. However, taking a calculated risk on him improving his personal conversion rate and for St Louis to remember how to perform on the man-advantage seems like a prudent option if he’s available in the second or third round.

 

When looking at right-wingers, its expected you can lock Kucherov, Patrik Laine, Phil Kessel, Kane and Blake Wheeler ahead of him and then you’re left with options such as David Pastrnak, Jakub Voracek and William Nylander in that next tier.

 

If you can nab Tarasenko as the eighth or even ninth RW off the board, you take that swing all day.

 

Expect a slow start due to such a lengthy period of inactivity this summer, but watch him come on strong to finish next year. He’s a player to target at the right spot or wait to pounce on in a trade mid-season from a frustrated owner.

 

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That’s all for this week. Thanks for reading and feel free to follow me on Twitter @CrazyJoeDavola3