Wild West: Play-In Early Impressions
We had our first weekend of real NHL hockey in over four months and here are some impressions from each team after one game. There were some surprises, some stellar performances and some lineup decisions that either paid off or didn't.
Taylor Hall, Phil Kessel, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Christian Dvorak and Clayton Keller all saw more than six minutes of power play time in the Coyotes 4-3 win against Nashville. Dvorak, Hall and Kessel all had two points while Ekman-Larsson and Keller each had one point. It will be difficult to get this much power-play time again against Nashville in this series, so temper your expectations. Nick Schmaltz was injured in this game and his status is unknown.
The obvious news from this game is Matthew Tkachuk and his check on Mark Scheifele. It was accidental but will have a huge effect on this series. Good news for Flames fans is the fact that Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm, Johnny Gaudreau and Mikael Backlund all had points. Erik Gustafsson had over five minutes of power-play time and looked fine. If the Flames can go a few rounds, that could bode well for his playoff success and perhaps a good contract in UFA at the end of the season.
Dominik Kubalik with two goals and three assists had a great performance for his debut playoff game in the NHL. The veterans Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Brandon Saad and Duncan Keith all looked well rested as Toews had three points, Saad and Keith had two and Kane had one. Kirby Dach was impressive with over 19 minutes of playing time, with over five of that being on the power play and he posted one point as well. Drake Caggiula will miss the next game because of suspension so David Kampf should draw in.
I don't think I've ever witnessed a goal being scored so close to the clock expiring to win a game. Nazem Kadri potted the buzzer-beater and led the team with six shots on goal. Philipp Grubauer won the goalie battle with Jordan Binnington in making 31 saves on 32 shots. Colorado looks good and should be one of the favorites to come out of the Western Conference.
The Stars will play Vegas in game one of the round-robin for seeding August 3rd.
Although I could only blame one goal on Mike Smith of the five he let in, the Oilers needed him to stop at least one or two of the other chances. It appears that this will be Mikko Koskinen's job to win or lose this series for the Oilers in goal. Even though the Oilers power play still clicked three times in the loss against Chicago and Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins all had three points, this team can't continue to take penalties and give up as many chances as they did and still win this series. I still think they will beat Chicago but this might take five games.
The Wild looked like a well-drilled team in their own zone against the Canucks on Sunday night as they didn't allow many internal slot chances and kept most possession by the Canucks to the outside. They also had great discipline and only took two penalties against the fourth-best power play in the NHL. Key players for me were Jared Spurgeon, Kevin Fiala, Joel Eriksson-Ek, Ryan Suter, Matt Dumba, Jonas Brodin and Alex Stalock.
It must be encouraging to have Filip Forsberg score two goals on seven shots, but the rest of the Predators aside from Roman Josi looked a little stunned that the Coyotes could compete with them and beat them. Will Pekka Rinne start game two? I don't think you can pin this loss on Juuse Saros, as the Predators need to be much better and take fewer penalties. I think they will start Saros again.
St. Louis Blues
It looks like the Blues were using this game as an additional tune-up for the round of 16. They were tinkering with their power play and had Vladimir Tarasenko on what I would call the 1B unit with Sammy Blais, Tyler Bozak and Robert Thomas as the forwards. It will be interesting to see if they move Tarasenko up to the top unit. To do so they would have to move down one of Brayden Schenn, Ryan O'Reilly, David Perron or Jaden Schwartz. More than likely it would be Schwartz.
The Canucks had all sorts of problems creating chances in close and as a result had neither good chances or drew penalties. They will have to do both if they figure to win this series against the Wild. I can't question the effort from any of the Canucks, but they will need to translate that effort into results and that will rest on the shoulders of Elias Pettersson, J.T. Miller, Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, Tyler Toffoli and Quinn Hughes. Jacob Markstrom gave up a bad first goal but also kept the Canucks in the game in the first period.
Vegas Golden Knights
Vegas will play their first game of the round-robin for seeding August 3rd.
What a blow to lose Mark Scheifele and perhaps Patrik Laine as well? The team was already going to be hard-pressed in this series with Calgary but to lose two members of the first unit of the power play is disastrous. Unless Connor Hellebuyck stands on his head and wins some games, I don't see the Jets winning one game.
As always, thanks very much for reading and if you have any comments or suggestions please let me know below or follow me on Twitter @gampbler15.
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