2010 Stanley Cup Finals: Who's the Conn Smythe favorite?

As we gear up for the Stanley Cup finals, we start the incredibly
premature breakdowns looking at which players might be the early
favorites for the Conn Smythe.

The Chicago Blackhawks and the
Philadelphia Flyers have each had players step it up and take their game
to the next level, providing the edge each team needed to advance to
the Stanley Cup finals.

I know that we focus a lot on what happens in the finals, but the
Conn Smyth is an award given to the MVP of the entire playoffs. Of
course, a player can’t go super cold in the Cup finals and be expected
to win, so I guess all of this is dependent on what happens in the
Stanley Cup
finals anyway.

Here’s the top three MVP candidates for both
teams:

Philadelphia Flyers

Mike
Richards; 6 goals, 15 assists, plus-6 

The captain of the
Flyers is leading his team in points and assists and early in the
postseason his leadership helped to give this team the confidence needed
to take out the Devils and the Bruins. He set the tone early for the
Flyers and the path they would take in the playoffs, and his leadership
has continued to be invaluable.

Yet he has just four points in
the past five games, and only scored once in the series win against
Montreal. He had a monster game in Game 5, but was far from the
offensive powerhouse he looked like he might become to start the
postseason.

Danny Briere; 9 goals, 9 assists, plus-4

Briere
leads his team in playoff goals and in game-winning goals (4) and is
the leading goal-scorer among all remaining players in the playoffs.
Something just seemed to click with Briere in the playoffs, despite
being what many considered perhaps the most frustrating player on the
Flyers in the regular season.

Like Richards, Briere went a bit
cold against Montreal and that could be held against him. Despite going
cold, that he’s still the leading scorer between these two teams (and is
tied for the lead in game-winning goals) just goes to show exactly how
good he was in the first two rounds.

Claude Giroux; 8 goals,
9 assists, plus-10

Giroux has been instrumental in the
Flyers’ success and has quietly racked up some great numbers. Leads all
remaining players in plus/minus, leads the Flyers in shot percentage and
has just four penalty minutes in 17 games.

Four.

He’s a
smart, yet physical and defensive player on a team known for it’s
physicality and dumbness from time to time. That’s what is most
important on a long playoff run like this one, a player to keep the team
grounded. That’s what Giroux has been for the Flyers.

Just missed: Chris Pronger, Brian Boucher, Michael Leighton

Chicago
Blackhawks

Jonathan Toews, 7 goals, 19 assists,
plus-4

The player that was denied a Selke this past season
is leading all players in the playoffs with 19 asists and 26 points,
with just four penalty minutes in 16 games. He has a point in 13
straight playoff games, including one monster performance against
Vancouver with a hat trick and five points.

While he doesn’t have a
ton of goals, he’s been instrumental in nearly every major goal scored
by the Hawks this postseason. Forget the stats, just watching Toews on
the ice you can easily see just how well he’s playing. He dominates
nearly every shift, and has been able to not only be a defensive
shutdown specialist but also become the best playmaking center in the
playoffs. Better than Henrik Sedin, Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and
every other star that’s no longer in the playoffs.

Dustin
Byfuglien; 8 goals, 2 assists, minus-3

Big Buff leads the
Hawks in goals and game-winning goals, but has just two assists and
doesn’t have the best plus/minus you’d want from an MVP candidate. Yet
there’s no doubting just how much he’s done for the Hawks, not just in
scoring some tremendous goals but with his attitude and approach as
well.

Byfuglien has used his combination of size and skill to
frustrate the opposition all postseason, getting Roberto Luongo and then
Evgeni Nabokov off their game, crashing the net and wreaking havoc at
every turn. The Blackhawks were talented last season but were
disappointed against the Red Wings. This is generally the same team as
last year, but Byfuglien’s is the the performance that has put the Hawks
over the top this season.

Antti Niemi; 12-4-0, 2.33 GAA,
.921 save %, 2 shutouts

He’s been incredible. He’s playing
the best he ever has for the Chicago Blackhawks, and while it’s tough
to say “they wouldn’t be here without him” he certainly gave the Hawks
the confidence they would need he can be relied upon to steal some wins
in the postseason.

The Blackhawks’ normally solid defense fell
apart a bit against the Sharks, allowing 91 shots in two games; Niemi
allowed just three goals in those two games and lead his team to two
closely played one-goal games. He’s been the difference in net that the
Hawks were hoping they’d have for a long postseason run.

Just missed: Patrick Kane, Dave Bolland, Brent Seabrook

The favorite:

Unfortunately for the Flyers, right now this award comes down to two of the Blackhawks players. The Flyers have been able to win with incredible team efforts and big performances up and down the roster, but the Blackhawks have two players that have outperformed not just their own teammates, but the rest of the playoff field as well.

Of course, the decision won’t be made until after the Stanley Cup finals. Projecting Jonathan Toews and Antti Niemi forward, you have to think that right now this is Toews’ award to lose. There is no doubt just how dominant he has been at times, as he’s perfectly balanced his game between penalty killing specialist and other-worldly playmaking center. He’s riding a 13-game point streak and it doesn’t seem like there’s going to be anything to slow him down anytime soon.

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    It doesn’t sound promising for Matt Murray

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    Matt Murray wasn’t available for the Pittsburgh Penguins against the Columbus Blue Jackets. If he ends up being an option vs. the Washington Capitals, it might not be for a while.

    The Penguins provided a less-than-promising update on Monday: he hasn’t yet resumed skating.

    Now, there is some time for him to even get ready by Game 1, as their second-round series doesn’t begin until Thursday.

    Considering Washington’s firepower, it would be nice for the Penguins to have two championship goalies to choose from in case things get ugly, but at the moment it seems like it’s Marc-Andre Fleury or bust.

    “MAF” has his critics, but his overall work was strong vs. Columbus.

    He won four of five games, generating a fantastic .933 save percentage. That’s a promising start to the playoffs, providing some hope despite a shaky .907 career playoff save percentage and a middling regular season (18-10-7, .909 save percentage and 3.02 GAA).

    The less-than-positive aspects of Fleury’s numbers make Murray’s continued injury issues more unsettling, but Pittsburgh will just need to hope for improvements.

    Or for Fleury to remain at the top of his game.

    Kings want to increase scoring, but can Stevens make it happen?

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    If sheer exposure to a team translates to make that team better, then no candidate can lift the Los Angeles Kings quite like John Stevens.

    The hockey world tends to lose track of assistant (or “associate”) coaches far more easily than the main guys, and that is the case with Stevens. Seriously, Stevens has been with the Kings since 2010-11. How many Kings fans occasionally forgot he was there?

    (Be honest.)

    Anyway, Stevens has been able to keep an eye on the Kings for some time, so does he really have a chance to make them better? That remains to be seen, but give Stevens and new GM Rob Blake credit; they at least seem to offer some specifics about improving Los Angeles’ offense beyond “score more goals.”

    The presser starts around the 8:00 mark:

    Stevens provides a fun line about wanting to “lead the league” in goalie interference challenges which …

    *gets interrupted by Bruce Boudreau GIF*

    No, but really, LA Kings Insider transcribed some of the more interesting bits about how management believes that they’ll approach zone entries and attempting to score from the center of the ice. Here are some choice bits via Rosen’s transcription:

    Blake: “We were at the bottom of controlled entry, goals off of controlled entry … We were near the bottom at getting the puck to the slot whether we were skating it or passing it so there were a lot of things that, the way goals are being scored now, that we weren’t having success in.”

    Stevens: ” … Analytics tells you we don’t get enough scoring opportunities from the middle of the ice and that’s clearly an area where, whether it’s quickly off a transition forecheck and you’re going to try to get to those areas, you’re going to have people there more, and spend more time around the net. But it’s clearly an area we’re going to focus on.”

    ***

    OK, so there’s a blueprint. But roster construction matters as much as system – let’s not forget that the Kings remained a possession mammoth until the end and that Darryl Sutter remains a respected coach – and that’s where the real questions come in.

    Simply put, there are some reasons to wonder if things might actually get worse.

    The Kings will find out if Anze Kopitar merely experienced a down year or if this is the new reality as he turns 30 in August. Jeff Carter could hit the wall some expected him to already hit. Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson are two rare Kings scorers who are in their primes … but they’re not going to be nearly as cheap after getting new deals this summer.

    Ultimately, Stevens can only do so much. Blake will need to be creative to help this team … be more creative.

    But hey, at least they have a plan that seems a bit more concrete than only spewing out buzzwords like “being tough to play against.”

    Blues think they’re ‘as sound as ever’ on defense without Shattenkirk

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    Knowing Kevin Shattenkirk wasn’t in their long-term plans, the St. Louis Blues traded the talented defenseman and braced for the immediate blow to their playoff hopes.

    That never happened. The Blues actually got better without him.

    When the Blues dealt the pending free agent at the trade deadline, they seemed to be creating a giant void on their blue line and gift-wrapping the NHL-best Washington Capitals with their deepest defense in a decade. Yet St. Louis has thrived thanks to the elevated play of captain Alex Pietrangelo and second-year defenseman Colton Parayko while Shattenkirk plays a limited, specialized role for Washington.

    With Pietrangelo taking over top power-play duties, Parayko pitching in and 6-foot-4, 221-pound Robert Bortuzzo providing some bulk on the back end, the new-look Blues cruised into the second round with a 4-1 series win over Minnesota and haven’t missed a beat without Shattenkirk.

    “We’re bigger, all six guys are big men, and now we have two players that play with a little more nasty than we had when we had five guys that played one way and sort of Joel Edmundson doing the majority of the physical work,” general manager Doug Armstrong said. “Now we have two players that are bringing some of that physical play.”

    Armstrong won’t mince words: He didn’t trade Shattenkirk to shake things up. He dealt the 28-year-old for picks and young forward Zach Sanford because there was no chance of re-signing him this summer.

    On the flip side, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan only got involved in the bidding when it became clear Shattenkirk was a rental and not long-term commitment.

    After being a top-four defenseman in St. Louis, Shattenkirk is a third-pairing player and power-play specialist for Washington. He was among the team leaders in overall minutes in Games 1 and 2 before having his ice time slashed to a career playoff low 12:54 in Game 4 and ranking fifth or six on the Capitals’ blue line the remainder of their first round series against Toronto.

    Shattenkirk said he’s fine with that and doesn’t need an explanation from coach Barry Trotz, who called ice time “irrelevant” to players this time of year. He’s still on the top power-play unit, is counted on to feed Alex Ovechkin the puck from the point in crucial situations and leads Capitals defensemen with three points.

    But he’s not in St. Louis anymore.

    “I do think that we roll our D pairings a little bit more here, and everyone gets to play a regular shift for the most part,” Shattenkirk said. “St. Louis, we were a little more reliant on our top two guys of playing the big-time minutes, and then power plays and penalty kills kind of determined where the rest of us played more or played less.”

    Saying so long to Shattenkirk shifted the big-time minutes on the right side to Pietrangelo and Parayko. Ranked 26th among NHL defensemen in points and 11th in ice time before the Shattenkirk trade, Pietrangelo was second with 18 points and fourth at 26:35 a game after it.

    Thrown into tougher situations than his first playoffs last season, Parayko has grown up fast without Shattenkirk around.

    “It’s good for me,” the 23-year-old said as the Blues prepared to face the Nashville Predators. “I think that’s the best way to do it, get in there and learn from experience.”

    Even the experienced Blues defensemen like Jay Bouwmeester and Carl Gunnarsson have thrived since the trade. Part of it is the structure of Mike Yeo, who replaced Ken Hitchcock as coach in early February, but the defensive improvements have made up for the loss of Shattenkirk’s offensive talent that will earn him a big contract somewhere July 1.

    “Defensively I think we’re sound as ever,” Gunnarsson said. “Without Shatty I think we were lacking, especially the first couple games (of the playoffs), some offense. He was huge on the power play for us and that poise with the puck. Some guys stepped up.”

    Yeo said his team being in must-win mode from the deadline on helped spur a late-season run that allowed them to also eliminate the Wild in five games. And if the Blues need an offensive spark from a right-handed-shooting first-round pick, they can plug 23-year-old Jordan Schmaltz into their lineup.

    In Washington, Shattenkirk is glad to be on a Stanley Cup contender readying for a second-round matchup against the defending-champion Pittsburgh Penguins. He doesn’t mind St. Louis enjoying success without him.

    “When I was there this year, we knew we had that capability. For whatever reason we just couldn’t get to our full potential,” Shattenkirk said. “They were a group that believed that they could play this way all year, and they’re doing it at the right time.”

    AP freelance writer Nate Latsch in St. Louis contributed.

    More AP NHL: https://www.apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

    Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno

    MORE:Jake Allen gives Blues “a sense of calm.”

    Anderson, Cogliano, Ryan named 2017 Masterton nominees

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    The PHWA announced the three finalists for the NHL’s 2017 Bill Masterton Trophy: Craig Anderson, Andrew Cogliano and Derek Ryan.

    As a reminder, the award is for “the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.”

    Ryan distinguished himself as a 29-year-old who battled his way to time in the NHL, managing a goal in his debut game with the Carolina Hurricanes.

    For what it’s worth, some believe that Bryan Bickell should have represented the Hurricanes.

    Cogliano stands out as one of the “iron men” of the NHL for the Anaheim Ducks. The PHWA notes that he’s never missed a game in his career, managing a streak of 779 games.

    Finally, there’s Anderson, who managed an impressive season in net for the Ottawa Senators while his wife Nicholle battles a rare form of throat cancer. That emotional story continued after Anderson backstopped the Senators in beating the Boston Bruins in the first round.