Ramblings: Crawford Returns, Samsonov Out, Keys To Play-In Series (July 26)
Good news for Blackhawks fans, as Corey Crawford returned to practice on Saturday. Crawford revealed that he had tested positive for COVID-19 and had been in quarantine. The Blackhawks will need a healthy Crawford in order to have a chance against McDavid, Draisaitl, and the high-flying Oilers. More on Crawford and the Hawks in a bit.
According to the Washington Post (via Sportsnet), Ilya Samsonov will not be available for the playoffs. At least the decision is made easier if you need to choose a Capitals' goalie, as Braden Holtby will be starting in the play-in tournament and the playoffs. Either Pheonix Copley or Vitek Vanecek would backup Holtby.
Holtby did not have his best season (.897 SV% and 3.11 GAA), but he has the added motivation of being a UFA after the playoffs. I don't think Holtby sticks around in Washington after the season because of the presence of Samsonov, so this could be considered an audition for teams in the market for a starting goalie.
Although Canucks fans probably had him written off for the season, it looks like Micheal Ferland could return to the Canucks' lineup for their play-in series against Minnesota. The Canucks signed Ferland last summer to be the kind of physical presence that they needed, but he's been held to only 14 games due to concussion issues. I sincerely hope Ferland isn't being rushed back into the lineup here, although I'd like to see him do his thing in a Canucks uniform. One forward who is rumored to be a healthy scratch because of Ferland's return is Jake Virtanen, who has not impressed during camp.
Dougie Hamilton missed a second consecutive practice on Saturday. Due to new injury reporting procedures, the Hurricanes have not stated a reason other than Hamilton leaving Wednesday's practice with "some visible discomfort." Remember that Hamilton broke his leg in January, but had been making a full recovery. It is not known whether this new injury is related.
Saarela has been with several organizations since being drafted by the Rangers in 2015. He is being given a look with the Panthers in this spot after recording four points (2g-2a) in nine games, with the two assists coming in the Panthers' last game of the season. He scored 31 points (12g-19a) in 43 games on the top line of the Panthers' AHL affiliate, the Springfield Thunderbirds. For more on Saarela, see his Dobber Prospects profile.
This has been simmering for a while, but the comment below could mean that John Chayka's days as the Coyotes GM are numbered. It's funny because you usually hear the "vote of confidence" or denial of these reports. Instead, you get this.
According to Elliotte Friedman, Chayka was considering another opportunity, although it wasn't as the GM of another team. Reading Friedman's article, you'd think the Coyotes would announce something by now. This doesn't look good on Coyotes top management.
If you haven’t already, purchase your DobberHockey 2020 Interactive Playoff Draft List today! As has been the case in previous seasons, you can customize the teams that advance, or if you’re not sure you can go with Dobber’s picks. There will also be updates, based on injuries and updated player news.
It's hard to believe, but playoff (play-in?) hockey is only a week away, with exhibition games only a few days away! Teams will be travelling to their hub cities today. I won't make my series predictions yet, as they will appear along with those of the other writers during the week. For now, I'll focus on keys to each series while identifying a player or two that will matter. In other words, a quick overview of what a team will need to do in order to win a series.
Chicago vs. Edmonton
Chicago can win if…
Corey Crawford is back to full health after his battle with COVID-19. Prior to the pause, Crawford was 5-2-0 with a 2.15 GAA and .934 SV% in his last seven games (see Frozen Tools for the list of which goalies were hot when the season ended). I really don't like the Hawks' chances with either Malcolm Subban or Collin Delia exposed to the Oilers' big guns. Expecting one of them to win a series is a big ask.
Edmonton can win if…
Those big guns can continue to score at their regular-season pace. The Oilers don't have a massive playoff track record, but Leon Draisaitl has an impressive 16 points in 13 career playoff games. However, Connor McDavid has "just" nine points in 13 playoff games. Don't bet on McDavid struggling again in the playoffs, though. Big players rise to the occasion of big games.
Nashville vs. Arizona
Nashville can win if…
They can grind out 2-1 wins. This season's Predators had some very un-Nashville-like goaltending in spite of one of the league's top defense groups. Pekka Rinne has come up huge for the Preds in past postseasons, but he has a 3.00+ GAA over the last two season's playoffs. Is it time to turn to Juuse Saros when the games matter most?
Arizona can win if…
They can grind out 2-1 wins. Seriously, this series just doesn't jump out as "must-watch" to me. Darcy Kuemper was having a Vezina Trophy-level season before he was injured just before Christmas. If he can return to that level, the Coyotes might hang around long enough to prevail. Oh, and not letting the turmoil off the ice affect the team on the ice.
Winnipeg vs. Calgary
Winnipeg can win if…
They can limit high-danger scoring chances on Connor Hellebuyck. The Jets' goalie is a deserving Vezina Trophy finalist, yet he's had to bail out a defense that suffered some massive losses during the offseason. I don't think the Jets will have any problem scoring, but they won't win if Hellebuyck struggles.
Calgary can win if…
Johnny Hockey is more of a factor in this postseason than he was last postseason. A major reason that the Western Conference #1-seeded Flames lost to Colorado in the first round was that Johnny Gaudreau was held to just a single point (an assist) in five games. Now that he's being mentioned more frequently in trade rumors, all eyes will be on him.
Vancouver vs. Minnesota
Vancouver can win if…
Their top scoring options can adapt to tighter-checking, more intense playoff hockey. We know that Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes are the true foundational pieces for the Canucks, but can these smaller-bodied dynamos handle the rigors of playoff hockey? Pettersson, Hughes, Brock Boeser, and even 30-year-old goalie Jacob Markstrom have never played a single playoff game.
Minnesota can win if…
They can find a goalie to lean on. Before the pause, that goalie was Alex Stalock, who posted quality starts in four of his last six games. But they may also turn to veteran Devan Dubnyk, who struggled mightily while dealing with family issues. Kaapo Kahkonen has also been mentioned. If the goaltending isn't there, the Canucks have the scorers to blow the doors wide open.
NY Rangers vs. Carolina
NY Rangers can win if…
Igor Shesterkin is their starting goalie. Hockey teams aren't always full meritocracies, instead often rewarding players for past performance as opposed to talent today. If Henrik Lundqvist starts, I don't like their chances as much. If goalie of the future Shesterkin starts and plays lights-out, I think the Rangers could pull off the win and possibly advance even further.
Carolina can win if…
It finds a hot goalie. Carolina has a balanced scoring attack and well-constructed defense. Yet would you trust either Petr Mrazek or James Reimer for a long playoff run? This is a situation in which Rod Brind'Amour could simply roll with the hot hand. He won't have time to be patient with Rangers scoring threats such as Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad.
Toronto vs. Columbus
Toronto can win if…
They make this into a high-scoring series. The Leafs had four players with at least 50 points, while the Blue Jackets had none. If hockey teams didn't have to worry about defense, this series would be a complete mismatch. Regular season point totals aside, it will be on Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander to put aside recent postseason failures.
Columbus can win if…
They make this a low-scoring series. If defense wins championships, then the Blue Jackets at least have a puncher's chance. If they can play a similar style to their first-round upset against Tampa last season, that could work in their favor against a Leafs team not known for playoff success. Expect the Seth Jones–Zach Werenski tandem to log 25+ minutes per game.
Montreal vs. Pittsburgh
Montreal can win if…
Carey Price can stand on his head. I know this was mentioned frequently when these playoff matchups were first announced, but the concern for the Pens was that if Price could return to his old form, he could steal this series for the Canadiens. To put it another way, Price will have to be the MVP of this series in order for Montreal to pull off the upset. Otherwise the Habs don't match up well here.
Pittsburgh can win if…
They don't get ravaged by injuries. Players will be playing critical games without having had much time to return to full speed, and there's also the looming threat of COVID-19. The Penguins always seem to have one of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, or Kris Letang on the shelf, and they're all over 30 now. The Pens have found ways to win in spite of those injuries, though.
Florida vs. NY Islanders
Florida can win if…
They make this a high-scoring series. The Panthers seem to be a better team on paper than in reality. Like the Leafs against the Blue Jackets, the Panthers have the far superior scoring to the Islanders. Yet their current core with Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau has very little playoff experience. Sergei Bobrovsky rebounding wouldn't hurt, either.
NY Islanders can win if…
They make this a low-scoring series. The Isles prevail if there are a bunch of grind-it-out 2-1 games that make Barry Trotz smile. Now that Ilya Sorokin is ready to join the Islanders, Semyon Varlamov (assuming he starts) will have one last chance on his own to delay fellow Russian Sorokin's arrival as a future #1 goalie.
Overall, I tried not to revert to the goalie being the main factor. Yet in all my years of watching hockey, the most common denominator of teams making a long playoff run has been the hot (or at least reliable) goalie. Obviously there's a lot more to playoff success, but teams that don't have the goaltending could be on the golf course in very short order.
For more fantasy hockey information, or to reach out to me, you can follow me on Twitter @Ian_Gooding.
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