One of the easiest questions for most hockey people – aside from the least objective Washington Capitals fans, perhaps – was “which division is the weakest in the NHL?” Any puckhead worth his or her salt would swiftly choose the Southeast Division as the league’s worst.
The fact of the matter is that the SE might still be the weakest in the NHL, but the once-middling lightweights are building up resources to knock off Ted Leonsis’s heavyweight gorilla in DC.
The Atlanta Thrashers are bulking up with former Chicago Blackhawks including Dustin Byfulgien, the Tampa Bay Lightning are experiencing a shrewd makeover thanks to new GM Steve Yzerman and the Florida Panthers are trading a little success today for potential payoffs tomorrow with multiple draft picks and younger players. Despite those moves, you’d have to be quite the Kool-Aid drinker to handicap anyone as the division winner over Ovechkin & Co. and GM George McPhee can probably point to the natural internal improvements that come with having a young team to explain his lack of splashy moves.
For years, the Capitals would run away with the division while one other team was lucky to even make the playoffs (if there even was a second team; one year the Atlantic sent four teams, the Northeast sent three and only the Capitals represented the Southeast). If there was one team that gave the Caps at least a token effort, it was former Stanley Cup winner Carolina. With a talented goalie in Cam Ward and a great young forward named Eric Staal, the team would experience some of the most dramatic peaks and valleys of any in the NHL.
But what now? The team lost Ray Whitney (via free agency) and the rapidly declining Rod Brind’amour (retirement) while doing very little to improve their team outside of signing the strange “in one year and out the other” defenseman Anton Babchuk and another retread in Joe Corvo. Even in a top heavy league like the NHL, it cannot make Hurricanes fans too comfortable to realize that Staal, Ward and defenseman Joni Pitkanen account for one third of the team’s meager $44 million salary structure.
You can’t completely blame GM Jim Rutherford since owner Peter Karmanos wants to make the team cheaper and therefore easier to buy, but who can the Hurricanes even hope to step up this season? Aside from Brandon Sutter, I don’t know many go-to guys once you get past Staal and Ward. Considering that injuries and inconsistent play doomed a more credible Canes roster last season, it would require quite the coaching job by Paul Maurice for this team to make an impact, even in a decidedly soft Eastern Conference.
While all four of their divisional cousins can point to an improving short-term and an even better long-term future, the Hurricanes must see nothing but clouds and uncertainty on the horizon.
The breaks and breakaways frequently went the Edmonton Oilers’ way as they eliminated the San Jose Sharks in Game 6 of their first-round series. Those results have been more of a mixed bag for Edmonton against the Anaheim Ducks in Game 1 tonight, though.
Anton Slepyshev is a great example of those ups and downs.
In Game 6 against the Sharks, Slepyshev used his speed to score a breakaway tally that ended up being the game-winner. (See here for those friendly breakaways.)
Slepyshev’s been burning the Ducks with his speed on Wednesday, but the Oilers have been burned in the process. For one thing, John Gibson turned aside this big chance shortly after Ryan Getzlaf gave Anaheim a 1-0 lead:
Later on in that same second period, Slepyshev got a step on the Ducks defense again. This time, he didn’t just fail to score; he took a goalie interference penalty for bumping Gibson.
With Ryan Nugent-Hopkins being among those hitting posts, it might feel like it’s all against the Oilers this time around, but crossbars/posts – another theme from Edmonton’s Game 6 win vs. San Jose – have more or less balanced out.
And, one break really went Edmonton’s way: a Ducks defender broke his stick on the Oilers’ 5-on-3 opportunity, opening the door for a crucial Mark Letestu goal:
The end result is a 1-1 tie, but give the Oilers credit for not getting rattled. If Slepyshev can keep up his efforts, his speed could be a factor in a series that looks like it could be a real tug-o-war.
Let’s be honest: the St. Louis Blues owe a lot to Jake Allen‘s work against the Minnesota Wild in that first-round series.
He probably bought himself a significant amount of goodwill for that outstanding work, but Allen isn’t resting on his laurels. He admitted that “a little mistake by me cost” the Blues the 4-3 decision against the Predators, leaving St. Louis down 1-0 to Nashville.
The goal in question was Vernon Fiddler‘s unlikely 4-3 tally, which came after an unsuccessful poke check attempt by Allen:
Now, to be fair, that wasn’t even the only failed poke check that turned into a goal, as Pekka Rinne also got beat after making such an attempt:
Then again, Allen is wise to score points with teammates for taking the blame. As far as his team, head coach Mike Yeo believes that it was the second period that really made the difference.
Regardless, Allen and the Blues hope to carry over the momentum from their third-period dominance in Game 1 to Game 2 to tie the series 1-1.
That contest airs on NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET on Friday. (You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App; here’s the livestream link.)
The Nashville Predators’ 4-3 Game 1 win against the St. Louis Blues makes it difficult to use “perfect.”
You could get away with using that word, mind you, as the Predators followed up their surprising sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks by going up 1-0 against the Blues in St. Louis. Still, the ride was so bumpy in the third period, it’s probably wiser to focus on the fact that Nashville is unbeaten.
Because, yikes, that third period was a roller coaster for Nashville.
via Natural Stat Trick
P.K. Subban scored a goal and two assists in the first 40 minutes to help the Predators bring a 3-1 lead into the final frame. The Blues absolutely dominated play in the third, however, briefly tying the game as they put immense pressure on Pekka Rinne & Co.
Ultimately, the Predators received a game-winner from an unlikely source in Vernon Fiddler, gaining a 1-0 series edge.
Even so, few will talk about “mystique” after that shaky finish.
For one thing, both Rinne and Jake Allen allowed goals that they’d like to forget. Also, both squads experienced lopsided periods; Nashville dominated shots in the second (15-8) while the Blues almost doubled-up the Preds in the third (11-6).
Nashville also seems likely to play without rising rookie Kevin Fiala, who was hospitalized after an absolutely horrifying crash into the boards.
It was a weird and often wild – sometimes nasty – contest, with the Predators ultimately coming out on top. There’s plenty of intrigue heading into Game 2, which airs on NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET on Friday. (You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App; here’s the livestream link.)
Update: With both games likely to run simultaneously, note that Ducks fans can watch on NBCSN in the Anaheim market while the game is also available via streaming links below.
In addition to that, Ducks – Oilers is slated to begin on NHL Network.
This tweet explains it in additional detail.
The second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs is set to begin on Wednesday, and the NBC Sports Group has you covered with wall-to-wall coverage.
We start with a battle of the hottest goalies in the postseason so far as Jake Allen and the Blues host Pekka Rinne and the Predators. The duo of Game 1’s wraps up when Connor McDavid and the Oilers take on Ryan Getzlaf and the Ducks.
Here’s what you need to know:
Nashville Predators vs. St. Louis Blues
Time: 8 p.m. ET
Network: NBCSN (Stream online here)
Edmonton Oilers vs. Anaheim Ducks
Time: 10:30 p.m. ET
Network: NBCSN (Stream online)