Lining Up: Playoff Edition

by Brennan Des on April 9, 2019

 

With the Stanley Cup Playoffs just hours away, you’re probably getting ready to assemble the ultimate roster for your playoff pool. Luckily for you, I’ve done a ‘quick’ lineup review for every one of this year’s playoff teams. You can find last week’s review of the top-eight qualifying teams over here. This week we take a look at the remaining eight teams. Follow me on Twitter @BrennanDeSouza for line combinations and injury updates as they playoffs begin!

 

Western Conference

 

Nashville Predators (Source)

 

 Line Combination

Goals

For

Goals

Against

CF%

TOI

Filip ForsbergRyan JohansenViktor Arvidsson

 38

28

58.72

540:07

Mikael GranlundKyle TurrisCraig Smith

 2

3

53.45

 79:42

Colton Sissons – Nick BoninoAustin Watson

11

5

50.97

173:07

Stats retrieved from NaturalStatTrick

 

While the Predators are favoured to win their first-round matchup against the Dallas Stars, they’ll be up against one of the scariest playoff phenomena – a goalie capable of stealing a series. Ben Bishop has been outstanding this season, sporting a 1.98 GAA and .934 SV% alongside a 27-15-2 record. Dallas as a team has also been excellent defensively this year, conceding an average of just 2.44 goals per game – only the Islanders were better defensively (2.33 GAA).

I’ve always considered Nashville’s top line to be one of the best in the league. Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson have become frequent 30-goal scorers and display the potential to tally 40 goals over the course of a full season. I mean, Arvidsson put up 34 goals in just 58 games this year! Ryan Johansen’s playmaking ability perfectly complements his wingers’ knack for putting the puck in the net. More importantly, Johansen has an impressive 41 points in 47 career playoff games. The trio has had a few seasons to build chemistry and it’s evident in how effortlessly they move the puck. I’d definitely load up on the Predators’ top line if you think Nashville is ready for a deep run this Spring.

If you think Nashville is going far in the playoffs, you might also want to load up on their depth. Kyle Turris certainly has playoff experience with 30 points in 59 games, but Nick Bonino provides a lesser-known and maybe even more valuable option as he has 45 points in 88 career playoff games. While Mikael Granlund hasn’t quite found his place with the Preds just yet, the team will need him to contribute if they’re to make a run this year.

 

Dallas Stars (Source)

 

 Line Combination

Goals

For

Goals

Against

CF%

TOI

Jason Dickinson – Tyler SeguinAlex Radulov

2

2

48.15

22:16

 Jamie Benn – Roope Hintz – Mats Zuccarello

0

0

62.50

8:01

 Andrew CoglianoRadek FaksaBlake Comeau

3

4

42.86

97:55

Stats retrieved from NaturalStatTrick

 

The Stars struggled offensively this season, scoring an average of just 2.55 goals per game – third-fewest in the league. That stat is all the more alarming when you consider that Dallas has three offensively-gifted forwards in Tyler Seguin, Alex Radulov and Jamie Benn. Both Seguin and Radulov met expectations this year, tallying 80 points in 82 games and 72 points in 70 games, respectively. On the other hand, Benn struggled with just 53 points in 78 games. His 56-point pace was the lowest since his debut in the 2009-2010 campaign. He does have 20 points in 19 career playoff games, so I wouldn’t fault you for targeting him in your playoff pool. Radulov has also performed well during previous playoff action, tallying 21 points in 24 games. In contrast, Seguin has just 21 points in 49 playoff games, but the majority of those games were played when he was a young star in Boston, with a much smaller role.

Injuries have prevented Mats Zuccarello from building chemistry with his teammates in Dallas, but he does have three points in the two games he’s played as a Star. Speaking of chemistry, I think it’s important to note that the lines Dallas will start in the playoffs haven’t had a lot of time to play together during the regular season – as you can tell from their ice-time in the table above. Will this lack of familiarity lead to the team’s downfall in the first round of the playoffs? Only time will tell.

 

Vegas Golden Knights (Source)

 

 Line Combination

Goals

For

Goals

Against

CF%

TOI

Jonathan MarchessaultWilliam KarlssonReilly Smith

43

40

54.49

840:43

Max PaciorettyPaul StastnyMark Stone

9

7

58.82

156:49

Brandon PirriCody EakinAlex Tuch

3

0

50:33

 71:06

Stats retrieved from NaturalStatTrick

 

The majority of this season’s playoff matchups feature a relatively clear favourite going head-to-head with an ‘underdog’. One of the few exceptions (Winnipeg-St. Louis being the other) can be found in the Vegas-San Jose series, where each team seems equally capable of defeating the other. Last week, we highlighted San Jose’s incredible depth scoring, but this week it’s important to acknowledge that the Golden Knights also have offensive threats throughout their lineup. With that being said, my biggest concern is the team’s top line, which has taken a step backward since an incredible performance last year. The trio of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Reilly Smith was absolutely dominant last season, outscoring opponents by a tally of 50-24 in just over 700 minutes of ice-time together. As you can tell from the table above, they haven’t been nearly as impressive this year. William Karlsson went from 78 points last year to 56 this season, and Marchessault went from 75 to 59. Smith went from 60 points to 53 points, despite playing seven more games this season than he played last season.

Vegas relied on an outstanding performance from Marc-Andre Fleury to get them into the Stanley Cup Final last season and I’m not confident that he’ll be able to replicate that same level of excellence. However, if your gut is telling you that the Golden Knights are primed for a deep run this year, they have plenty of ‘depth’ options that you can target in the later rounds of your draft. Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, Paul Stastny, Cody Eakin and Alex Tuch all come to mind. Of those players, Paul Stastny has the most impressive playoff resume, with 50 points in 72 career playoff games.

 

Colorado Avalanche (Source)

 

 Line Combination

Goals

For

Goals

Against

CF%

TOI

Alex KerfootNathan MacKinnonGabriel Landeskog

 7

7

 62.41

 60:10

Matt NietoCarl SoderbergMikko Rantanen

 2

0

 46.48

30:01

Sven AndrighettoDerick BrassardJ.T. Compher

0

0

50.00

1:34

Stats retrieved from NaturalStatTrick

 

It looks like Colorado has decided against a first-line stack when they kick off their matchup against the Flames on Thursday. The decision to play Mikko Rantanen on a separate line from Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog has been made to spread out the team’s scoring, but I fully expect to see the trio reunited at some point during the series. Aside from the team’s three offensive studs, I’m not sure if there’s a player who’s really good enough to play in the top-six. No disrespect to J.T. Compher or Alex Kerfoot, but I think there’s still progress to be made before they can be considered second-liners. Carl Soderberg and Derick Brassard make for great third line options, while Matt Nieto and Sven Andrighetto are capable of rounding out the bottom-six. The problem is, the Avalanche have to use depth players on the second line because they lack ‘secondary scoring’. In contrast, the Flames have a second line that features Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund and Mikael Frolik. While Frolik and Backlund may not be traditional second-line players, their chemistry with Tkachuk – who has first-line talent – allows the line as a whole to function as a great second unit.

While Calgary is favoured to beat Colorado in the first round, the Avs have a better chance of winning than most people realize. The Flames and Avalanche both had 11 wins and nine losses in the final quarter of the season, but Colorado also has the benefit of a hot goaltender. From March 1st onwards, Phillip Grubauer went on a 8-2-2 run while putting up a 1.55 GAA and .952 SV%. During the same timeframe, David Rittich had a 5-4 record as he put up a 2.82 GAA and .905 SV%. Mike Smith went 4-5 with a 2.15 GAA and .904 SV%.

 

Eastern Conference

 

Pittsburgh Penguins (Source)

 

 Line Combination

Goals

For

Goals

Against

CF%

TOI

Jake GuentzelSidney CrosbyBryan Rust

27

16

51.42

471:39

Jared McCannEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist

0

0

0

0:49

 Dominik SimonNick BjugstadPhil Kessel

 0

0

38:10

14:54

Stats retrieved from NaturalStatTrick

 

The Penguins-Islanders series will give us an opportunity to see what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. The unstoppable force being Pittsburgh’s high-powered offense and the immovable object being New York’s stingy defense. The Pens scored an average of 3.30 goals per game this year, while the Isles conceded a league-low 2.33 goals per game. Somethin’s gotta give.

Pittsburgh has three well-known offensive superstars and each of them have a history of excellence in the playoffs. Sidney Crosby has 185 points in 160 career playoff games, Phil Kessel has 75 points in 83 games and Evgeni Malkin has 165 in 158. This quote from Malkin on how he hopes to erase his regular season ‘struggles’ this year with a better playoff performance would have me terrified if I were an Islanders fan.

Everyone knows how good Kessel, Crosby and Malkin are in the playoffs because of their lengthy track record. On the other hand, 24-year-old Jake Guentzel isn’t as widely recognized as an offensive star – but he very much is. Guentzel managed 76 points in 82 games this season and has 42 points in 37 career playoff games. Chances are, the average hockey fan doesn’t think Guentzel is as valuable as Pittsburgh’s other offensive superstars because he hasn’t been around for as long. In reality, he’s capable of providing elite offensive production and you can probably get him after Crosby, Malkin and Kessel are taken off the board in your draft.

Matt Murray was excellent down the stretch for Pittsburgh, sporting a 2.26 GAA and .931 SV% during a 10-4-4 run since March 1st.

 

Toronto Maple Leafs (Source)

 

 Line Combination

Goals

For

Goals

Against

CF%

TOI

Zach HymanJohn TavaresMitch Marner

60

39

53.38

844:45

Andreas JohnssonAuston MatthewsKasperi Kapanen

14

8

55.36

211:25

 Patrick MarleauNazem KadriWilliam Nylander

3

4

62.77

110:27

Stats retrieved from NaturalStatTrick

 

In the past 10 years, the Toronto Maple Leafs have qualified for postseason action four times. Three of those four qualifications led them to a first-round date with the Boston Bruins. While two of those matchups are already in the books, the Leafs have yet another opportunity to exercise their demons and defeat a team that seems to have their number. With the additions of John Tavares and Jake Muzzin, as well as the emergence of both Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen, Toronto’s roster has never looked better. Yet, the team still heads into a first-round matchup as the underdog. The overwhelming majority of the hockey world believes that the Leafs are too young and lack the mental fortitude to overcome their playoff struggles against the Bruins. However, when you consider how close Toronto has been to beating Boston in the past, as well as the fact that the Leafs’ roster has improved on paper, I think this might finally be their year.

Throughout this season, Toronto’s first line of Zach Hyman, John Tavares and Mitch Marner has been one of the best in the league. While Hyman has the least name-value of the three, he has been playing well enough to provide some great late-round value in your playoff pool. In all honesty, any member of the Leafs’ top-9 is capable of producing offensively come playoff time. The only reason I’d hesitate to go with a Leafs-heavy fantasy roster is the fact that their road to the Cup will probably take them through Tampa Bay – and I’m not sure if they could keep up with the Lightning.

 

Carolina Hurricanes (Source)

 

 Line Combination

Goals

For

Goals

Against

CF%

TOI

 Nino NiederreiterSebastian AhoJustin Williams

28

18

60.33

459:58

Micheal FerlandJordan StaalTeuvo Teravainen

 8

2

53.33

90:06

Andrei SvechnikovLucas WallmarkJordan Martinook

11

12

58.78

292:22

Stats retrieved from NaturalStatTrick

 

The Hurricanes are a very good team and they’re capable of beating the Washington Capitals in the first round. They’ve displayed an ability to outshoot and out-chance their opponents throughout the regular season, while receiving solid goaltending from Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney. Carolina was actually one of the best teams in the second half of the season – going on a 30-12-2 run since the beginning of the calendar year. To provide you with some reference, the Tampa Bay Lightning had a 31-9-2 record the same span, while the Capitals went 24-15-5.

This edition of the Hurricanes features a mix of young talent with no playoff experience, older talent with some playoff experience and veteran talent with a lot of playoff experience. Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov fall in the first category, but what they lack in experience they more than make up for in offensive ability. Teuvo Teravainen, Micheal Ferland and Nino Niederreiter all have some playoff experience with other teams, which will be useful as they embark on this postseason journey. Finally, we come to the veterans. Justin Williams has 94 points in 140 career playoff games while Jordan Staal has 73 games of playoff experience, but all of them were played between 2007-2012 with the Penguins.

 

Columbus Blue Jackets (Source)

 

 Line Combination

Goals

For

Goals

Against

CF%

TOI

Artemi PanarinPierre-Luc DuboisCam Atkinson

 55

48

54.80

774:15

Josh AndersonMatt DucheneRyan Dzingel

 5

3

45.58

112:40

Brandon DubinskyBoone JennerRiley Nash

0

1

34.29

22:15

Stats retrieved from NaturalStatTrick

 

The Columbus Blue Jackets will be under a lot of pressure to perform this postseason, as it’ll probably be their last stretch with such a star-studded lineup. Big names like Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, and Sergei Bobrovsky aren’t expected to be around next year, so it’s important for the team to make the most of this opportunity. Their road to the Cup begins with the seemingly impossible task of upsetting the Tampa Bay Lightning – a team that won 62 regular season games. For reference, the Calgary Flames had the second-most wins with 50. Tampa Bay has one of the best rosters we’ve ever seen and it’s hard to imagine they’ll be beaten by any team four times during a seven-game series. But that’s the beauty of the NHL playoffs. It doesn’t matter how heavily favoured a team is to win, upsets are always possible. A hot goalie can steal a series. Luckily for the Blue Jackets, they have one of the league’s hottest goalies in Sergei Bobrovsky – who tallied four shutouts since March 1st, going on a 10-5 run while sporting a .933 SV%, 1.95 GAA.

If you really believe in Columbus beating Tampa and going on a deep run this year, you have the luxury of drafting their superstars in later rounds, because very few people expect the Lightning to lose in round one and will be avoiding the Blue Jackets as a result.