2010 Stanley Cup finals: Should Chicago consider breaking up Kane and Toews?

11 Comments

topline.jpgWinning tends to conceal blemishes like a crafty woman’s makeup. You forget the defensive breakdowns because your goalie made some key stops. Perhaps the struggles of crucial players can be glazed over thanks to an unexpected contribution or two.

Up 2-0 after holding strong with two one-goal victories at home, the Chicago Blackhawks may be able to absolve Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane for being unproductive so far in the first two games of the series. That doesn’t change the fact that they have been more or less invisible to begin the Cup finals, though. Patrick Kane has 0 points, 5 shots on goal, 2 PIM and a -3 rating while Jonathan Toews also has no points, 3 shots on goal, and a -2 rating. The only common member of the team’s best line to have a point is Dustin Byfuglien, who managed to collect an assist in Game 2.

I took a look at the most common line combinations during the playoffs for Jonathan Toews, and Toews-Kane-Byfuglien is by far the most frequent even strength trio. (source: Dobber Hockey) That’s been the even strength combo for 40% of the time. My thought is: could the team benefit from splitting up the two faces of its franchise?

In the regular season, the most common top line was Troy Brouwer-Toews-Kane. If Chicago wanted to revert back to that group, they’d still get some brute force in the form of Brouwer while having that one-two offensive punch. Another interesting possibility would be switching Marian Hossa for Kane. A Byfuglien-Toews-Hossa line would be about as strong on the puck as you could get.

Of course, there’s also another strong possibility as to why the line is suffering: Chris Pronger. Just look at the last time the menacing behemoth was in the Stanley Cup finals; the red-hot line of Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson could barely muster a fight against Pronger and the brutal Anaheim Ducks. A truly elite defenseman is one thing this Chicago team faced little of in the playoffs. While the Nashville Predators sport a true gem in Shea Weber, the Vancouver Canucks defense core was riddled with injuries (including to their big shutdown blueliner Willie Mitchell) and the San Jose Sharks best defensemen were offense-minded (Dan Boyle), aged beyond their prime (Rob Blake) or more position-conscious than intimidating (Marc-Edouard Vlasic). Pronger is on a whole other level than everyone except Weber, maybe.

So, ultimately, the biggest perk of splitting up Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews may just be that Pronger can’t be on the ice to harass them all the time. Maybe I’m giving Pronger too much credit, but even if the Blackhawks are overwhelming the Flyers with their superior depth and goaltending, one has to wonder if they can do much damage against a team so strong at home (Philadelphia is 7-1 at the Wachovia Center).

Why wait until you lose to make adjustments in order to improve your chances of winning?

Trotz wants fix for Caps’ ailing power play

New York Islanders at Washington. Game One, first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Leave a comment

WASHINGTON (AP) The Capitals are winners of three in a row and sitting pretty atop the NHL, so not much seems to be going wrong for Washington. They do however have one glaring problem – power-play goals – and it is something coach Barry Trotz hopes to fix sooner rather than later.

Washington is 0 for their last 17 and haven’t scored a power-play goal since Jan. 19 after consistently being the league’s top power-play team the past several seasons.

The five-game drought hasn’t cost them in the standings, but after a similar stretch haunted them in last year’s playoffs, so it’s worth significant attention in the coming days and weeks.

“Sometimes we can be very stubborn and say, `Our power play will work against everybody,’ but we do make lots of adjustments,” Trotz said after the Capitals beat the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday. “If there’s a trend, then we better fix it before the playoffs because to me if we don’t fix it before the playoffs, you’re almost in a situation where it’s too late.”

The Capitals went 0 for 13 in Games 2 through 7 of their second-round playoff series against the New York Rangers last spring.

A lack of power-play goals wasn’t the only reason for blowing a 3-1 series lead, and this five-game drought isn’t cause for alarm just yet. The Capitals still (barely) have the league’s top unit with a 24.2 percent success rate, but more importantly they have a four-point lead over the Chicago Blackhawks in the Presidents’ Trophy race and have played five fewer games.

But as Washington goes on the road to face the Nashville Predators, Minnesota Wild and Dallas Stars this week, getting the power play back on track is a major focus. It’s not necessarily about getting rid of the goose egg in the goal column as much as fixing what’s contributing to the problem.

“We believe as long as we are getting zone time, we’re getting shots, we have some of the key elements of our power play, that results are going to come,” power-play point man Matt Niskanen said. “Some of those areas have been lacking lately, so that’s what we’ll try to fix. I don’t think you get too caught up in the results. You focus on the process and things like your breakout, your zone entries, your recoveries, net presence, execution – all those things. If we concentrate on those things, the results will come.”

Trotz blamed poor puck retrievals and execution for the power-play struggles. It doesn’t help that forward Marcus Johansson has missed four games with an upper-body injury, but with offensively-potent Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson in the lineup that shouldn’t be such a debilitating loss.

“We have some good people, so that’s not really an excuse,” Trotz said. “Marcus is very good on the power play, but so is Kuznetsov and Burakovsky and (Jason Chimera) does a good job in Marcus’ sort of spot. I don’t think that’s as big a deal.”

Not having Ovechkin when he was suspended against the Florida Panthers took away the power. Ovechkin’s one-timer from the left faceoff circle is one of the most unstoppable shots in hockey, even though defenders and goaltenders know it’s coming.

Ovechkin has been back for the past three games, and Washington hasn’t been able to get into much of a rhythm. Sunday against Philadelphia, one power play was rife with turnovers and even an icing.

Without a power-play goal once again, it was up to the Capitals’ penalty kill to get the job done. That unit is 8 for its past 9, and the pressure is higher on the penalty kill when the power play isn’t clicking.

“The power play has been (ranked) 1, 2 or 3 in the league for a ton of years in a row now and the PK hasn’t, so we always feel like we’re catching up to the power play,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “We want to pull our own weight, and so when things aren’t going, you have to win the special teams war in a different way, and PK is the way it needs to be done.”

Eaves to stick with Benn, Seguin on Dallas’ top line

Patrick Eaves, Jonas Hiller
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Patrick Eaves‘ cameo alongside the dynamic duo of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin looks like it’ll continue at least one more game.

Eaves, who along with Benn assisted on Seguin’s goal in Saturday’s loss to Chicago, practiced on Dallas’ top line today and should be there tomorrow when the Stars take on the Wild.

“Seguin, Benn and Eaves were in on 11 chances [Saturday against Chicago],” head coach Lindy Ruff explained, per the Stars’ website. They could have three or four [goals]. They should have had three or four. We missed too many good opportunities.”

This latest development is a positive in what’s been a tough year for Eaves. He was hurt early in the season after an awkward fall against the Oilers — a game in which he opened on the club’s top line, next to Benn and Seguin.

All told, he has just three goals and six points in 33 games.

Last year, Eaves was plagued with concussion issues but still managed to produce well, scoring 14 goals and 27 points in just 47 games.

After re-upping in Winnipeg, Byfuglien says leaving ‘never really crossed my mind’

Winnipeg Jets v Anaheim Ducks - Game Two
1 Comment

There was some speculation Dustin Byfuglien would be out of Winnipeg by the Feb. 29 trade deadline or, failing that, when free agency hit on July 1.

But according to him, leaving was never really an option.

“I’ve been here five years and from where we’ve started and where we’re at now, I don’t feel as an organization or a group that we’re far off,” Byfuglien told TSN 1290 on Monday, after inking a big five-year, $38 million extension with the Jets. “My family and I have found Winnipeg nice, and we’re very happy to stay here.

“It never really crossed my mind of going anywhere, and I’m excited to be a Jet.”

Prior to this extension, though, some thought leaving had definitely crossed Byfuglien’s mind.

Back in mid-December, the Free Press reported his initial ask was a whopping eight-year, $55 million deal. Some viewed that as his first potential step out the door.

It would’ve been big money and a lot of term for the Jets to commit, especially given 1) Byfuglien is 30, 2) the team still hasn’t signed captain Andrew Ladd, and 3) the club has some prized youngsters that need new deals this summer, specifically Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba. (In that same Free Press report, Trouba’s ask was $56 million over eight years.)

Then, there was Byfuglien at All-Star weekend.

When asked about his future — sign, trade or head to free agency? — Byfuglien said he had “no problem” with Winnipeg, adding “I just want to put on a jersey, to be honest with you.”

Some, like TSN’s Frank Seravalli, who was in attendance for the Byfuglien media scrum, noted the response “did not exactly sound like a ringing endorsement.”

Of course, Byfuglien later clarified his remarks following the All-Star Game.

“Yeah, I’d love to,” he told reporters when asked about re-signing in Winnipeg. “I’ve met a lot of good people and now some really good friends. I’ve been here for a long time. You never want to leave home. I’ve been here long enough; my family has been here and I’ve had two kids here.

“It’s somewhere you don’t want to leave.”

And now — well, for the next five years anyway — Byfuglien won’t have to.

Video: Jets’ Stafford suspended one game for ‘forceful, reckless’ high-stick

stafford
2 Comments

The NHL has dinged Winnipeg forward Drew Stafford one game for his ugly high stick on Colorado’s Nick Holden over the weekend.

“While we accept Stafford’s assertion that he did not intentionally strike Holden in the face, he is responsible for the consequences of swinging his stick in such a forceful and reckless fashion,” the Department of Player Safety explained.

Stafford, who wasn’t penalized on the play, will now miss Winnipeg’s next game — tonight, in St. Louis — and will be eligible to return on Thursday when the Jets host the Bruins.

Stafford will also forfeit $23,387.10 in salary to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.