Ramblings: Quenneville Hired; Lineup News; Playoff Thoughts – April 9

by Michael Clifford on April 9, 2019
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Quenneville Hired; Lineup News; Playoff Thoughts – April 9

 

Legendary coach Joel Quenneville was hired by the Florida Panthers to be their next bench boss on Monday morning. He replaces the recently fired Bob Boughner and will try to take the Panthers to the playoffs for the first time in four years, and past the first round for the first time in over 20 years.

You can read Dobber’s take on the hiring here.

All I will say is that I do not believe coaching was and is the issue with the Panthers. I’ll leave it at that.

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If there was any concern about Victor Hedman, he was patrolling the top power play unit in practice for the Bolts on Monday. He looks like he’s just fine to go.

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As far as Pittsburgh is concerned, we may see a re-emergence of Third Line Phil Kessel to begin the postseason. That’s speculation on my part based on jerseys in practice but it’s something that has happened with frequency in Kessel’s Pittsburgh tenure, including their first Cup run; remember the HBK line?

For those in deeper playoff leagues, Brian Dumoulin had a full practice but is still considered day-to-day. Do what you will with that information.

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Mats Zuccarello was at Stars practice on the second line with Jamie Benn.

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Timo Meier was practicing for San Jose after missing the last game of the season.

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Mikko Rantanen skated with the Avalanche in practice on Monday but did so in a non-contact jersey. Even if he were to return for Game 1 against Calgary, it’s a question of how healthy he is. Is he really healthy or is he Playoff Healthy?

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For those with playoff drafts the next couple night, don't forget to grab your copy of the 2019 Interactive Dobber Hockey Playoff List! It's available now in the Dobber Shop. 

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No other reason to post this other than someone at some marketing firm deserves a raise for this:

 

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Last week, I accidentally posted a Ramblings on a day I wasn’t scheduled – a good reminder to always double-check scheduling. I had posted some thoughts on the playoffs but pulled the Ramblings down early in the morning. I’m going to re-post these thoughts now but I’ve added a couple more, so even if you were an early riser and caught my mistake, there should be something new in here.

 

St. Louis is The Team

I was pretty skeptical of Craig Berube taking over but I also had high hopes on this team coming into the year to begin with. Berube has taken this team from last in the NHL to nearly a division title. It’s remarkable.

To be sure, Jordan Binnington has been a big part of this. Let’s not overstate Berube’s impact, though: before he was brought on, the team was 24th in the NHL with a 47.1 percent adjusted shot share at five-on-five. Since Berube’s promotion on November 20th, the Blues are 7th in adjusted shot share at 53.6 percent. Again, it’s remarkable.

It will depend on the fantasy pool. Some pools may contain very sharp players who are aware this information, or they may contain more casual fans who still see the Jets and Predators as the cream of the crop in the Central. Since the calendar turned 2019, or over the latter half of the season, the Blues are 2nd in adjusted shot share while the Predators are 10th and the Jets are 24th. We can chalk part of Winnipeg’s drop up to the losses of Dustin Byfuglien and Josh Morrissey but there are legitimate questions to how healthy they are. At worst, the Blues should be seen to be on par with their divisional comrades.

All this makes St. Louis ‘The Team’ to draft from in your pools. Quite frankly, in the West, I would rather have to play Nashville and Winnipeg in the first two rounds than any two of Calgary-San Jose-Vegas.

This all feels too familiar. It feels like this is about the fifth time I’ve thought that this could be the year for St. Louis. However, this team is playing excellent hockey and Binnington has been great. This is a tough out for any opponent as long as Binnington keeps up his play. In that sense, guys like Tarasenko, O’Reilly, Schenn, Pietrangelo, and others are all going to be prioritized for me. Let everyone else load up on Tampa, Calgary, or Washington.

 

Don’t Write Off Toronto

Ok, I get it. The Bruins have been, let’s say, a thorn in the side of Leafs fans for the past decade. Boston is a legitimate Cup threat and that is a tall task for any team in the first round. Would it be easier for Toronto to face the Islanders or Penguins? Sure. Would this be an improbable win? No. They went 1-3 against the Bruins in the regular season with one of those losses coming with Garret Sparks in net and one of those losses was a one-goal loss with Michael Hutchinson in net. Since the All-Star Break, the Bruins are 3rd in adjusted shot share while the Leafs are 8th (from Natural Stat Trick). Since the All-Star Break, the Bruins are 8th in expected goal share while the Leafs are 10th (from Corsica). Toronto also got Travis Dermott back recently and Jake Gardiner returned on Thursday night. They’ve been relatively even teams for the last 25-30 games, and both should be at full strength when the playoffs roll around. I agree the Boston should be the favourite, especially with home ice, but this out-of-hand writing off of Toronto is extreme.

Now, whether they can get past both Boston and Tampa Bay is another question entirely.

 

Yo-Yo Caps

All year, I’ve been railing on the Caps both in these Ramblings and on Twitter for under-performance. They were maintaining a playoff spot, but through the trade deadline, they had a lower adjusted shot share than the Sabres. Since the deadline, however, this team looks like a machine, ranking fourth in adjusted shot share and leading the NHL in points percentage. So, they’re an experienced just turning it on at crunch time, right?

Well, I have some thoughts.

The Caps have played 19 games since the trade deadline and they have included: OTT (1), NYR (1), NJD (2), PHI (3), FLA (1), MIN (1), WPG (1), and NYI (2). Those 12 games are all teams outside the top-15 in adjusted shot share, and 7 of those games (OTT/NYR/NJD/PHI) are against teams in the bottom-6. Just three of the 19 games were against teams in the top-10 in adjusted shot share, two against Carolina and one against Montreal.  

There are two ways to look at this: the Caps are taking advantage of a Charmin schedule and beating the teams they should beat, or the Caps only look as good as they do because of said Charmin schedule. I suppose it depends on your natural disposition.

The Metro doesn’t look particularly difficult, but the Caps get Carolina in the first round and that is not a matchup they want (even if they won the season series against the Hurricanes). They’d have been better off finishing second in the division. Quite honestly, I don’t know what to make of the Caps. They’re winning games, and that’s all that matters, but there’s a nagging voice in my head that says this team isn’t nearly as good as they appear to be. It feels like I said that last year, though…

 

Let’s Talk About Jets, Baby

I will concede that the Jets did not play nearly as well in the second half of the season as they did in the first half. Through New Year’s Eve, the Jets were a top-10 team by adjusted shot share at five-on-five. From New Year’s Eve through to the end of the season, the Jets were 25th, sandwiched between Detroit and Edmonton. Not great.

Of course, there are mitigating circumstances.

Dustin Byfuglien was injured on December 29th. He returned in early February for five games and then was injured again, not returning until the end of March. That’s important because Byfuglien is a top-pair defenceman whose relative expected goals against numbers were among the top-20 defencemen league-wide this year. Over the last three years, Mark Scheifele’s shot share numbers drop from nearly 53 percent to under 49 percent when he’s not on the ice with Byfuglien, while Bryan Little’s drops from 52.2 percent to 49.2 percent. Big Buff is an important player.

Beyond Byfuglien, Josh Morrissey hasn’t played since late February and, at worst, he’s a second-pair defenceman at the moment. Nikolaj Ehlers, a top-line winger at both ends of the ice, missed seven weeks from early January through the end of February.

All this is to say there were significant injuries suffered by the Jets and most of the time, they were missing at least two of the players listed. Scheifele isn’t the type of centre who drives shot share to a significant degree, and Little isn’t the same guy he was five years ago. It’s a small wonder, then, that Winnipeg’s metrics took a big hit in the second half of the season.

As we head into the playoffs, Ehlers is healthy, Byfuglien is supposedly healthy, they traded for Kevin Hayes to run as their second-line centre, and it appears Morrissey could return as well. This is not the same lineup that skated in the middle of February.

Of course, exactly how healthy Morrissey and Byfuglien really are is up for debate. But if they’re the players they’ve shown to be in their careers, this Jets team could be… flying under the radar… heading into playoffs.

 

The Pacific Buzzsaw

There should be concern for both Vegas and San Jose fans. For as much as some people want to complain that the Bruins and/or Leafs have been hosed by the playoff format, I’d be equally perturbed, if not more so, to be a Sharks or Golden Knights fan. These two are probably top-5 teams (using metrics other than ‘wins’) that will face off in the first round. The winner of that series gets the great fortune of likely facing the Flames in the second round, a top-5 team by adjusted shot share since Christmas. So, Vegas and San Jose, probably two top-5 teams in the NHL, have to face each other in the first round, and the winner likely gets another top-5 team. Whew baby.

I get the goaltending concerns, and there are some for each of the three teams (be it underperformance in the case of Jones/Dell and Smith/Rittich, or questions about what Vegas would do if Fleury were to be injured) but that doesn’t make the actual on-ice team any easier to play against. The Pacific is a buzzsaw, and I want no part of Sharks or Golden Knights skaters in my pools.

 

What About the Metro?

Any ideas about the Metro? Anyone?

I outlined above why I’m not sure about Washington’s playoff chances this year. Then we have to think about Pittsburgh, a team with back-to-back Stanley Cups very recently, backed by Matt Murray, who had a .926 save percentage after Christmas. There’s Carolina, one of the hottest teams in the NHL in the second half, backing that up with very solid metrics. And finally, the Islanders, who were never expected to be here in the first place, but go into the playoffs with the best goaltending tandem in the NHL this year combined with a very good defensive team.

What to make of all this?

I genuinely believe that Carolina is one of the best teams in the NHL. They couldn’t score through the first three months of the season but once their luck turned around, they were one of the best teams in the NHL; after New Year’s, the Hurricanes had the third-most points in the NHL, two behind Tampa and three behind St. Louis. They did that while posting the third-best adjusted shot share in the NHL. Once they started scoring – and during their white-hot second half they weren’t even top-5 in shooting percentage at five-on-five – they were a juggernaut.

But Pittsburgh is getting healthy at the right time while coming in with little fanfare, which all feels dangerous, Washington is the defending champ and are following a script similar to last year, and the Islanders are good enough defensively and in net to take down any team. The Metro is the division I feel least comfortable about projecting, and that’s after what I just said about the Pacific.

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What are your thoughts on the impending postseason? Are there teams that you’re targeting? Which matchups bring concern? Are there even backup goaltenders that could fly under the radar like Braden Holtby last year (I know, calling him a backup is a stretch but he was the backup goalie at this time last year)? Sound off below.