Washington Capitals v Tampa Bay Lightning - Game Four

The Sore Thumb: Tampa Bay Lightning

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With the conference finals primed to kick off on Saturday night (8 p.m. ET on Versus, to be exact), we have a little more time to explore the two matchups. The NHL’s final four teams have plenty of strengths, but even these squads have a weakness or two. With that notion in mind, we asked: what flaw sticks out like a sore thumb?

To best answer that question, we provided our own hypothesis and also polled a blogger from each team.

Let’s take a look at the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Click here for the Boston Bruins’ version.)

Our choice: Tampa Bay’s defense.

Much credit should be given to Guy Boucher’s 1-3-1 trap. It bottles up offensive attacks and allows the Lightning to camouflage a pedestrian group of defensemen.

I’m sorry, but when Eric Brewer is most indispensable blueliner, you might not have the most talented D corps. That’s not to say that Brewer is outright awful, but the Lightning allowed 35.5 shots per game in the playoffs so far. Only the Buffalo Sabres (35.6) and Los Angeles Kings (38.9) gave up more shots per game in the postseason. You cannot say that the Lightning are just engaging in shot-happy games that throw off the numbers, either. They’re averaging just 26.7 shots per game, the lowest rate in the 2011 playoffs.

Then again, the Boston Bruins allowed 34.4 shots per game in their two series*, so perhaps both sides should worry about their defenses a bit (and thank their goalies Dwayne Roloson and Tim Thomas). It seems like Roloson saved their defense and bolstered Boucher’s system, but we’ll see if the 41-year-old goalie can do it again.

Speaking of Roloson, Cassie McClellan of the SBN blog Raw Charge imagines a Lightning world without the veteran goalie in her own “sore thumb” piece.

Who is Tampa Bay’s sore thumb? Two words: Mike Smith.

While no one was thrilled with the 10-day layoff between series for the Lightning, it did give 41-year-old goalie Dwayne Roloson some time to rest. And that one fact put a lot of fans’ minds at ease. The chances of Roloson getting injured are about the same as any goaltender left in the playoffs, so that’s not really the issue. However, the harrowing couple of minutes when Roloson went down during the Washington Capitals series after Alex Ovechkin grazed his windpipe with the blade of his stick was a wakeup call. It made everyone realize that, well, what would happen if Dwayne had to sit for a while? And the answer to that question horrified a lot of people.

Roloson is everything Lightning fans could’ve asked for in a starting goaltender. But at this point, if the worst-case scenario were to happen and he were to go down, I think fans would rather take their chances with fourth-stringer Dustin Tokarski (third-stringer Cedrick Desjardins is out with a shoulder injury) than with backup Mike Smith. That’s how little faith the fanbase puts in him – despite becoming a lot more consistent this past regular season.

***

So it looks like Cassie and I are worried about the Lightning in their own end. The biggest difference, obviously, is that she worries about Roloson going down with an injury while I worry more about his defense exposing him to another heavy barrage of shots. I’m unsure if Roloson can bail that shaky defense out for another playoff round, but Cassie is most concerned about any other goalie attempting to do the same.

*- The Bruins didn’t deal with the same glaring shot disparity, though, since they also fired 33.8 shots per game through 11 contests.

Five backup goalies that aren’t getting it done

St. Louis Blues goalie Carter Hutton reacts as Winnipeg Jets' Bryan Little (18) celebrates with teammates Patrik Laine, (29) of Finland, and Dustin Byfuglien (33) after scoring the winning goal of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Billy Hurst)
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We did this same list about a year ago, when the likes of Alex Stalock and Anders Lindback were called out.

Stalock and Lindback are no longer in the league, and with today’s news that Jhonas Enroth has been waived by the Maple Leafs, here are five more backups that need to pull their games together:

Carter Hutton — Hutton is the Blues’ backup to Jake Allen, and it hasn’t been going well with his new team. The 30-year-old is 2-4-1 with an .888 save percentage, putting all the more pressure on Allen to win games, now that Brian Elliott isn’t there anymore. The Blues’ goaltending rarely fails to be interesting, and that’s the case again this season. Allen hasn’t been great either (.907), but at least he’s been winning (12-3-3).

James Reimer — He was supposed to be a reliable No. 2 behind Roberto Luongo, and perhaps even take over the No. 1 duties down the road. But Reimer has struggled since signing a five-year, $17 million contract with the Panthers on July 1. The 28-year-old is 3-4-1 with an .896 save percentage, which does not compare well to Luongo, the oldest goalie in the NHL, who’s 9-7-1 with a .929 save rate.

Darcy Kuemper — Typically, a bubble team like the Minnesota Wild can’t afford to have below-average backup goaltending. But that’s exactly what Kuemper has provided, going 2-2-1 with an .897 save percentage. His last start, he gave up five goals to the offensively challenged Vancouver Canucks in a 5-4 loss. Kuemper has only had one solid start this season, a 35-save victory over the Senators. Fortunately for the Wild, Devan Dubnyk (10-6-3, .946) has been beyond good, and that’s why they’re in a playoff spot for now.

Michael Hutchinson — Yes, goaltending remains a vulnerability in Winnipeg, even after Ondrej Pavelec was removed from the equation. Hutchinson is 3-4-2 with an .898 save percentage — not great numbers behind Connor Hellebuyck, who hasn’t been a whole lot better (10-9-0, .911). Hutchinson did play well Saturday in St. Louis, stopping 20 shots in a 3-2 overtime win. He’ll need a few more of those efforts the rest of the way if the Jets are going to make the playoffs.

Anton Khudobin — Right off the bat, we must mention that Khudobin’s last start for the Boston Bruins was a very encouraging one. But his overall numbers, 1-3-0 with a .902 save percentage, put him on the list. Khudobin recently spent time in the AHL on a conditioning stint. He’s been good since his return from Providence, and he’ll need to keep being good behind Tuukka Rask, because the Bruins don’t want to miss the playoffs for a third straight year.

Another kid gets the call in Arizona, as Perlini will make NHL debut

Brendan Perlini
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Brendan Perlini, the forward Arizona took 12th overall at the 2014 draft, will make his NHL debut tonight when the Coyotes take on the Blue Jackets in Columbus.

Perlini, 20, has been solid this year in AHL Tucson — his first full American League campaign — with 11 goals and 16 points through 16 games. He’s tied atop the league’s goalscoring leaderboard with three other players (including Toronto prospect Kasperi Kapanen), but Perlini has done it in the fewest amount of contests.

A former OHL standout with Niagara, Perlini is the latest example of the youth movement that’s taken over Arizona this season.

Some of the kids that have suited up include:

Jakob Chychrun, the 18-year-old defenseman taken 16th overall in June.

— 19-year-old Dylan Strome, who has since been returned to his junior club in OHL Erie.

Lawson Crouse, the 19-year-old power forward acquired from Florida this offseason.

— 20-year-old Christian Dvorak, the 58th overall pick in ’14.

Anthony DeAngelo, the 21-year-old d-man acquired from Tampa Bay at this year’s draft.

In addition to those guys, the club has also had “veterans” in the mix, like 21-year-old forwards Max Domi, Anthony Duclair and Laurent Dauphin.

As you might expect from such a young team, the Coyotes have struggled this season. They’re 8-11-4 heading into tonight’s action, but have done a decent job of getting points recently — they’re 3-2-2 over the last seven games, though they needed a career-high 58 saves from Mike Smith on Saturday to steal a point against the Jackets.

Flyers’ Mason named NHL’s first star of the week

Philadelphia Flyers left wing Michael Raffl (12), of Austria, congratulates goalie Steve Mason (35) following the team's win against the Nashville Predators in an NHL hockey game Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. The Flyers won 4-2. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
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Steve Mason is the NHL’s first star of the week, and his save percentage is still just .904.

That number tells you how poorly he started the season. Because the Flyers’ goalie has been brilliant of late, going 4-0-0 with a .945 save percentage in his last four outings.

Mason’s strong run of play started not long after Michal Neuvirth went on the injured list.

“This is the situation I want to be in,” Mason told philly.com. “It’s a workload that all summer long you prepare for.”

The Flyers’ five straight wins (Anthony Stolarz was in goal for the first one) have propelled them into the first wild-card spot in the East, two points up on the Washington Capitals, who are suddenly feeling some urgency in the playoff race.

Vladimir Tarasenko and Martin Jones were the second and third stars of the week, respectively.

After disappointing start, Enroth waived by Toronto

CALGARY, AB - NOVEMBER 30: Kris Versteeg #10 of the Calgary Flames shoots the puck past Jhonas Enroth #35 of the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on November 30, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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Last week, Brough wrote about the struggles Jhonas Enroth’s had in his brief time as a Maple Leaf.

Today, the Leafs responded to those struggles.

Enroth has been placed on waivers, just four days after a 3-0 loss to the Calgary Flames, in which he was beaten twice in the first minute of the game.

“The first goal I didn’t get to my position and that’s on me,” Enroth said afterwards. “Maybe I was a little bit slow on the pass out. On the second goal it was just a bang-bang play. Not much to do there I think.”

The loss dropped him to 0-3-1 on the year, with a 3.94 GAA and .872 save percentage.

“Obviously, wasn’t going good enough,” head coach Mike Babcock said, per TSN. “We’re just in a situation where we’re making a change.”

It’s a stark contract to last season, when Enroth performed very well — albeit in a limited capacity — as Jonathan Quick‘s backup in Los Angeles. The diminutive Swede went 7-5-1 with a .922 save percentage, and was disappointed he didn’t get more opportunities to play.

“Just being a bigger part of the team is what I would like to do in the summer,” Enroth told the Los Angeles Times back in April. “I really thought they were going to play me more.

“If you sign a guy for $1.2 million, you’re not going to play him 13 games, in my opinion.”

Toronto signed Enroth in late August to serve as Frederik Andersen‘s backup. It’s worth noting that Enroth only received four starts for Toronto before getting waived, so hardly a huge body of work.

As for the Leafs’ plan moving forward, it’s possible they could sign veteran Finn Karri Ramo. Ramo suffered a season-ending ACL tear with Calgary in February, and has been practicing with the Leafs for the last month.

If Ramo’s not the option, the club does have Garret Sparks, Jeff Glass and Antoine Bibeau in the system, and available for recall.