Recaps of last night’s games, some fantasy performances, and coaching thoughts.
Washington took the first game of the series with a 2-0 shutout of the Flyers. The first goal was an own-deflection off a power play point shot, and the second goal was off a neutral zone turnover by Jakub Voracek. Braden Holtby made 19 saves for the clean sheet. One note was that Sean Couturier was hit pretty hard, and cleanly, by Alex Ovechkin, and skated off seemingly favouring his shoulder. He did not return, and it appears he’ll be out for the series.
Couturier has an A/C sprain to left shoulder. Done for series
— Tim Panaccio (@tpanotchCSN) April 15, 2016
That is a huge loss for the Flyers.
The one thing that stood out to me about the Flyers/Capitals game from last night was that, in all seriousness, it wasn’t that exciting. Sometimes there are really good low-scoring games, and sometimes games are low-scoring for a reason. That game fell in the latter category. The last ten minutes was kind of mindless fun, with guys running around and slashing and fighting and all that, but for actual hockey, it wasn’t that good.
On the flipside, the New York Islanders and Florida Panthers game was most certainly not boring. The scoring helped, obviously, but it was a skilled hockey game played with a lot of intensity (and a dash of sloppiness). The Islanders were able to erase a few deficits and hang on for a 5-4 win, becoming the first road team to win so far in these young playoffs.
John Tavares, as he was needed to be, was the difference-maker for the Islanders in this one. Even though he ended up in the trainer’s room after taking a shot off his ankle at one point, he created the second and fourth Islanders goals, and scored the third. Stars need to be at their best for teams to win in the playoffs, and Tavares was certainly a star in this game.
This one went pretty much according to plan. Minnesota was fighting an uphill battle to begin with, and without Zach Parise and Thomas Vanek (and Erik Haula, too), they are pretty much pushing a boulder uphill. Scoring is necessary to beat the Stars, and they are pretty critical to the Wild’s attack.
Dallas dominated the first half of the game and then seemed to take their foot off the throttle for a little while (score effects). All the same, the Stars squashed the Wild 4-0. Minnesota looked flat for most of the game, which can be expected when missing so much talent.
With Tyler Seguin seemingly on the verge of returning, Devan Dubnyk may need to Jaroslav Halak this series to get the Wild to the second round. Outside of that, it is a tall, tall task to come back and win four of the next six games.
Oh, baby. This one lived up to its billing, and was easily the game of the night.
San Jose would be the second road team to win in these playoffs, taking a 4-3 thriller in Los Angeles. To be fair, the Sharks were probably the better team in this one, and Los Angeles needed two bank-shot goals to pump up their goal total. All the same, there was a ton of skill, a lot of chances, a good amount of physicality, and definitely lived up to the hype of the matchup of the first round.
The Sharks were a bit unlucky in the second period. First, with the Sharks on a delayed power play, a goal was called back on a high-stick, and it did not appear to be close to a high-stick at all. On the ensuing man advantage, the Sharks had a goal stolen away from Drew Doughty, as he dove into a two-shin-pad stack to save a sure tally for the Sharks.
Jones made a big save for the Sharks near the mid-point of the third period, and San Jose never looked back after that. This has all the makings of another seven game gem from these two powerhouses.
One thing to note is the status of Alec Martinez. Any time he misses probably means more ice time for Schenn and Scuderi. That would not be a good thing.
No Alec Martinez in third
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) April 15, 2016
After much clamouring – mostly from fans and media – the Boston management apparatus made the decision to keep coach Claude Julien around. This after missing the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, though to be fair, it was by a combined two points, ROWs notwithstanding. A market like Boston isn’t one to sit idly by after two playoff-less seasons, but Julien returns for the start of next season.
In general, I think Julien is a pretty good NHL coach. My main criticism would be that he doesn’t give his young players, particularly the forwards, a fair shake to contribute in a meaningful way. That could be said about nearly every coach in the NHL though, as that is typically the way hockey goes, so that criticism isn’t too harsh.
I will say the management team kind of left him out to dry here. The Bruins were once known for stellar defence and goaltending: from 2010-2013, Boston was top-10 in fewest shot attempts allowed, but over the last couple years, they have been mid-pack. In recent seasons, both Johnny Boychuk and Dougie Hamilton have been traded. Those two players would have been in the top-4 for Boston this past year, and instead, a steeply-declining Zdeno Chara was the only defenceman to average over 22 minutes of ice time for this team. The d-man that played the fourth-most minutes per game? John-Michael Liles, a trade deadline acquisition.
I reiterate, Julien is a good NHL coach, but there isn’t much on that blue line to work with. Torey Krug is pretty good, but doesn’t seem to be a number-1 heir-apparent to Chara. Chara himself has not been very effective for a couple years now, and beyond that, there are question marks. Sure, having Bergeron, Krejci, Marchand, Pastrnak, Spooner, and others up front can help a lot. Without rebuilding that blue line, though, I don’t see how things change much for Boston next year, and that’s on management, not Julien.
After missing the playoffs this year, Ottawa cleaned house, which included Bryan Murray stepping down as the general manager, and Dave Cameron being fired as the coach. The writing was on the wall for Cameron, it seemed, and he admitted as much yesterday when talking with reporters.
This doesn’t bode well for the Senators. If an owner is going to openly rip a coach in the media, as Sens owner Eugene Melnyk did, why would a high-end coach want to go there? The money is the easy answer, but the Sens would probably be a final choice rather than a desired destination. Cameron was given a pretty awful defence corps outside of Erik Karlsson, while Kyle Turris was healthy for maybe half the season, and there isn’t much centre depth beyond him. In short, this wasn’t a playoff team from the outset, and proved themselves as such.
Cameron may not be a perfect NHL coach – Mike Hoffman was sixth among Sens forwards in power play ice time per game – but he didn’t deserve Melnyk’s comments. Few coaches do. And the coaching candidate pool may have gotten a bit smaller as a result.
It was unfortunate for Lee to suffer his injury at the end of the season. Typically, he had been a nice depth scoring option for the Islanders, and that is something every team can use come playoff time.
As for the regular season, it was certainly not as productive as fantasy owners, and I’d assume Lee himself, would have hoped for. After a 25-goal season a year ago, Lee produced just 15 this past season. His point total dropped by five points despite playing four more games.
One big concern for me is his decline in shot volume. His shots per 60 minutes at five-on-five was 10.89 in his brief 22-game stint in 2013, dropped to 10.39 last year, and fell off to 8.80 this year. That led to just 183 shots this year, 14 fewer than last year despite, again, playing more games than last season. Shot volume is paramount to stable goal totals, and declining shot volume is not a good sign.
When looking at his possession numbers from this year, it’s pretty clear he helps drive the play for his team and teammates. Driving play is good, but in fantasy, we want goals. Daniel Winnik drives the play well, as does Mathieu Perreault. Neither are coveted in fantasy hockey.
Lee did play most of the season away from Tavares, and that probably hurt his production. All the same, the declining rate stats are a bit concerning. It’s not like he was going to play with Luke Richardson or Dave Bolland. Lee played over 560 minutes with Brock Nelson or Frans Nielsen. They aren’t exactly slouches.
What Lee will be next year is anyone’s guess. If his shot rates rebound, his goal scoring probably does as well. If it doesn’t, he may be in tough for 20 goals. There is a lot of uncertainty here.
It was a tale of two seasons for Ehlers. Starting off in Winnipeg’s top-six, he managed 10 points in his first 19 games, a stellar start for most any rookie. He was then dropped into the bottom-six in favour of Drew Stafford, and over his next 18 games, managed just two points. From January 1st on, though, Ehlers had 26 points in 35 games. By the time April rolled around, Ehlers was playing over 21 minutes a game.
In all, Ehlers had 38 points in 72 games, and definitely showed a lot of promise for the future. Think about this: there were five teenage rookies over the last three years to put up 15 goals, 20 assists, and average two shots on goal per game, and they were named MacKinnon, Eichel, Larkin, McDavid, and Ehlers. Does anyone realize Ehlers had just seven fewer points than Larkin despite playing over 160 fewer minutes than the Detroit rookie? Considering Ehlers averaged over 1.9 points per 60 minutes of total ice time, the difference could have been just a couple points.
Like many young players, the role Ehlers has next year will determine his value. He cannot play outside the top-6 and maintain value, and he, Mark Scheifele, and Blake Wheeler were exceptional together at the end of the year. If that line can stay together next year, Ehlers pushes 50 points and cracks 20 goals. If not, his value may not be much higher than it was this past season.
Just wanted to say a quick word about Team USA’s selection for the upcoming World Championships: I love what they’re doing. For a couple years now, they’ve been going with a very young group. Last year’s team had guys like Dylan Larkin, Jack Eichel, and Connor Hellebuyck before they had ever laced up for an NHL game. This year, there are names like Auston Matthews, Thatcher Demko, and Kyle Connor. Of the players named to the roster so far, only Matt Hendricks is on the other side of 30 years old.
I love watching the best players available going to play for any tournament like this. With that said, this seems like a very good idea for long-term development. It bonds players that won’t play professional together, but may play for Team USA for several years in the near-future. Maybe they don’t win the tournament, but the experience is extremely valuable, and that could be more important.
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