Ramblings: Hall of Fame announcement today; reviewing the Hurricanes vs. the Rangers – June 24
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The NHL will announce its 2020 Hall of Fame class at some point on Wednesday. This will be discussed in tomorrow's Ramblings.
I'll say two things about this year's potential HOF class:
- Rod Brind'Amour – whom I doubt will get in this year – has a better HOF case than Guy Carbonneau, who got in last year.
- Jarome Iginla was one of the best wingers I've ever watched in my life, full stop.
Thank you for your time.
My recent Ramblings have been reviewing the teams in the eight play-in series. The basic idea is to refresh everyone on what exactly happened this year, given we haven't had hockey for over three months and we're still likely a couple months away from the season starting. We're looking at how the teams fared through the year, the major performers, and any injuries that may be lingering. Yesterday, we finished the Western Conference:
Given the way the Rangers were playing heading into the suspension, we'd be forgiven for forgetting that they were very much nowhere near a playoff team early in the year. Through the team's first 20 games, they were 9-9-2 with an expected goal share that was last in the league. But they got average goaltending and top-end scoring, so they weren't in the dregs like Detroit and New Jersey. That would prove important later in the year, because if they start the season poorly, maybe don't get to these play-ins, regardless of how well they were playing at the break.
The second-line duo of Ryan Strome and Artemi Panarin were doing the damage early in the campaign. Through the team's first 20 games, Strome had 19 points at all strengths, while Panarin had 25. But we forget that Mika Zibanejad was injured to at the start of the campaign, having missed most of the month of November. He only played 11 of those first 20 games, while Chris Kreider had a tough start to the year, with just 13 points through the first two months. The bottom-6 was a disaster, as Kaapo Kakko had a really tough rookie campaign, Lias Andersson was all over the place (geographically speaking), Micheal Haley was still on the roster, and Brett Howden was passable at best. Almost regardless of the configuration, it didn't go well – Kakko was on the ice for three goals for and 11 against; Howden at seven and 11; Andersson at two and 11; Haley at one and four. The top-6 was pretty good, the bottom-6 was pretty bad, and that brought their goal share to about even. There's a reason they were a .500 team through 20 games.
They started playing their bottom-6 less, particularly their fourth line, as the season wore on, allocating more minutes to the top-6. We saw that bear fruit, as they went 24-19-2 over their next 45 games, and they were firmly in the playoff race. They are now entrenched in the play-ins with a very dangerous lineup.
It's the blue line that was the difference for the team this year. There's a reason they went out and acquired Jacob Trouba; they knew they had to rebuild the back-end. Oddly enough, it wasn't Trouba that had the great year. Rather, it was Adam Fox and Tony DeAngelo
I won't spend a lot of time here. I discussed Fox at length doing a Calder Trophy Ramblings a few weeks back and DeAngelo's offensive prowess has been well documented here and elsewhere. Rather, let's talk about Trouba for a minute.
Trouba had a very bad season on the surface but it does seem percentages were not in his favour. He spent 651 minutes skating with Brady Skjei as his partner at 5-on-5 this year. In those 651 minutes, the team had a .902 save percentage behind him, which is pathetic goaltending. In the 576 minutes he skated without Skjei, that goaltending went up to .934, which is great, but the on-ice shooting went down to 5.7 percent, which is again pathetic. Whether it was goaltending or finishing, Trouba found himself unlucky often this season.
That turning itself around could be huge for the Rangers. The triumvirate of Fox/Trouba/DeAngelo help the team feature a stout top-4. If one of them doesn't perform, it leaves them with one reliable defence pair, and that's not enough.
The goaltending should be fine, or as fine as goaltending can get in a best-of-5. Igor Shesterkin showed why he's the goaltender of the future, and if something should happen with him, they have a future Hall of Famer on the bench.
If the Rangers play to their strengths (more ice time for the top-6) and their entire defence corps plays to their ability, this is a very dangerous team. Maybe not deep enough for a Cup run now, but they aren't far away.
Chris Kreider should be all healed from his fractured ankle. Not much else for injuries to be concerned with.
Out of the gate, I want to say that I understand Carolina not wanting to play the Rangers, but at the same time, they'll be getting back Dougie Hamilton and maybe Brett Pesce. I don't think the Hurricanes go very far in the playoffs without these two in the lineup, at the very least Hamilton. Having to play an extra round against this team isn't ideal, but getting those two back makes them a much better team than they were 15 weeks ago.
It's worth noting the difference with and without Hamilton. He was injured on January 16th. They were ninth in the league by points percentage, tied with Colorado, and had as many ROWs as the Avalanche and Penguins. They led the league in shot share and were fourth in expected goal share. They looked every bit the team that made it to the Conference Final a year ago.
Once Hamilton was injured, they dropped to 11th by points percentage (from ninth), fifth in shot share (from first), and 15th in expected goal share (from fourth). The wins didn't fall off considerably, but the team was very much measurably worse.
Hamilton will be ready to rock for play-ins and adding a Norris-calibre defenceman is a massive boost. Pesce back would be a huge boost as well. They already have Jaccob Slavin and maybe the time off will do Jake Gardiner some good. Last thing: I would love to see Jake Bean on the playoff roster. (And don't forget that they traded for Skjei, making this an even more interesting matchup).
Justin Williams returned to the lineup in mid-January and found his chemistry with Jordan Staal again. With that duo on the ice, the team controlled 55 percent of the expected goal share and 63 percent of the actual goal share. Having those two on the second line gives them a true shutdown line to use at home, allowing them to use Sebastian Aho's line as they see fit.
The top-line duo of Aho and Andrei Svechnikov was great and they should continue to be great. The team controlled 57 percent of the shots and 58 percent of the goals with the two of them on the ice at 5-on-5. That's extremely good.
So they have a great top scoring line and a good shutdown line. They also have Teuvo Teravainen – he led the team in assists – who is able to seamlessly skate on either line. Their top-6 is fairly set.
Carolina traded for Vincent Trocheck and he, along with guys like Martin Necas, Ryan Dzingel, and Nino Niederreiter, give this team a very, very good third line. It's the type of line that can win a series in their matchups, and that should worry the opposition. They remind me of an HBK-type line for the Penguins a few years ago; they're good forwards pushed down the lineup due to depth, and that can give them an advantage. It certainly will in this series.
Goaltending is the issue here. It certainly favours the Rangers, but James Reimer had a good season. If he can re-find his 2019-20 form, it brings the goaltending matchup closer. If he can't, well, they may be in trouble.
Pesce remains the only injury concern. All of Reimer, Dzingel, Hamilton, and Vatanen are cleared to return from the injuries that kept them out of the lineup at the break.
This series should favour Carolina because of lineup depth but the Rangers have an elite top line, good secondary scoring, and better goaltending. Either side is very much capable of winning this series, and I can't wait to watch it.
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