Both the Lightning and Bruins have a lot to work on going into Game 3

10 Comments

A chronic optimist can find reasons for positivity for the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning after Boston’s 6-5 win in Game 2. The Bruins’ perspective is fairly obvious: they tied the series up and witnessed a possible breakthrough night for their talented but struggling rookie Tyler Seguin. It doesn’t take much to find a silver lining for Tampa Bay, either. Ultimately, they earned one win on the road and ended Game 2 with some momentum.

Yet a realist will point out that each team has plenty to work on. Let’s take a look at some of the issues plaguing both teams as the series shifts to Tampa Bay.

Bruins won, but shouldn’t get fat and happy.

Yes, Boston tied things up and looked dominant at times, but there was a lot to worry about. If you ask me, the Lightning’s advantage in foot speed has been painfully apparent at times. Tampa Bay produced a disturbing array of semi-breakaways and full-fledged ones, but Tim Thomas was able to bail his team out on most (if not all) of them. Just watch this montage to see how different this game could have been.

This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

Making big saves like that is what separates the unorthodox Thomas from mere mortals. Still, how many times can Zdeno Chara and lesser Bruins defensemen find themselves flat-footed without dire results? I’m a fan of Dennis “Pain Sponge” Seidenberg, but not enough to justify the 31 minutes of ice time he received in Game 2.

Overall, leaky defense is the biggest concern for the Bruins. They barely managed to hold onto a 6-3 lead in the third period, requiring a desperate Thomas save on a Marc-Andre Bergeron rebound shot to seal things up. After dominating the first, Boston allowed Tampa Bay to out-shoot them 30-17 in the last two periods. They can’t expect Thomas to save them over the long haul, not with Tampa Bay’s talent at the forward position.

Thomas was a big reason why the Bruins won, but he allowed a goal or two he regretted in this game. Perhaps the most stoppable one came when Vincent Lecavalier beat him five-hole to score Tampa Bay’s third goal. In a tighter game, a regrettable goal would be a lot more damaging for Thomas and the Bruins.

Still, the Bruins feel a lot better about life tonight than they did on Saturday night.

Tampa Bay should be concerned, too.

Like I mentioned previously, the Lightning can take some positives into Game 3. They “earned home ice advantage” by winning on of the two games in Boston and put a lot of heat on the Bruins in the third period. They also received goals from star players after winning Game 1 thanks to support players.

That being said, it’s easy to wonder if the Lightning are running out of luck. As I pointed out in PHT’s preview post, the Lightning have been severely out-shot through the first two rounds.

That trend was tolerable when Dwayne Roloson was standing on his head, but he allowed six goals in two periods before getting the hook for Mike Smith in the third period. Many of those tallies weren’t really his fault, but one must wonder if Roloson’s improbable run hit a wall of reality. The Lightning might not need superlative goaltending from Roloson every night, but if he regresses to the point of being average, Tampa Bay could be in trouble.

***

Every NHL team sports some warts, even one that manages to make the final four in the playoffs. Still, the Bruins and Lightning have some major concerns, especially in their own end. Whichever team adjusts and improves will likely find their way to the Stanley Cup finals.

Considering their competition in the West, they better work out the kinks by then.

Plenty of opportunity on revamped Blackhawks defense

Getty
Leave a comment

For almost a decade, Niklas Hjalmarsson was a mainstay on the Blackhawks’ back end, quietly providing some of the most effective defense in the league.

But with Hjalmarsson in Arizona now, traded to the Coyotes for the younger-though-less-proven Connor Murphy, it remains to be seen how Chicago’s blue line will roll out next season.

In addition to Hjalmarsson, the ‘Hawks also bid adieu to Brian Campbell, Johnny Oduya, and Trevor van Riemsdyk this offseason.

Add up all the good-byes, and that’s a lot of minutes to replace.

“We’re going to see when we’re putting the pairs together, whether we’re going to reunite [Duncan Keith] and [Brent Seabrook] or look for some balance,” head coach Joel Quenneville said, per CSN Chicago. “There are a lot of options. We’ll look forward to that and sorting it out.”

The way it looks right now, the top four will be comprised of Keith, Seabrook, Murphy, and Michal Kempny. That’s two left shots — Keith and Kempny — and two righties — Seabrook and Murphy.

Read more: After major changes, Bowman thinks Blackhawks are in ‘good spot’

The bottom pairing, though, is anyone’s guess. Newly signed Czech defenseman Jan Rutta is in the mix. But so too are Jordan Oesterle, Gustav Forsling, Ville Pokka, Erik Gustafsson, Viktor Svedberg, and possibly even Luc Snuggerud.

Once training camp starts, it’ll be up to those young players to prove themselves.

“Just the amount of opportunity that is in front of me just drives me even more,” said Oesterle, whom the ‘Hawks signed July 1. “I want to be here and force their hand to keep me here.”

Veteran Michal Rozsival is also under contract for next season. However, he turns 39 in September, and with all that youth champing at the bit, the Blackhawks will be hoping they won’t need him much, if at all.

Chicago’s defense in 2016-17, ranked by total time on ice

Sheary’s agent — who’s also Dumoulin’s agent — hoping to avoid arbitration

Getty
1 Comment

Conor Sheary‘s agent is hopeful that an arbitration hearing won’t be needed with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And that same agent has reason to be optimistic, since he’s also the agent for Brian Dumoulin, who settled at the last minute today.

“Each (case) is so different,” Andrew Gross told the Post-Gazette this morning. “Ultimately, though, team and player would like to avoid going in that room. It’s not a pleasant experience.”

Sheary’s hearing isn’t scheduled until Aug. 4. The 25-year-old forward is coming off a 53-point regular season. In his young NHL career, he’s already won two Stanley Cups.

That said, the Penguins can’t afford to break the bank on an extension. After all, a big reason for their success has been having players like Sheary on affordable deals — a necessity with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Kris Letang taking up so much cap space.

Sheary wasn’t all that productive in the 2017 playoffs either, scoring just two goals with five assists in 22 games, while finishing a team-worst minus-5 for the postseason.

“We’re prepared to go to arbitration,” Pens GM Jim Rutherford said last week.

Of course, Rutherford was also speaking about Dumoulin, and the two sides were able to reach an agreement on him.

You can probably expect a similar outcome with Sheary.

Just don’t bet the house on it.

Preds avoid arbitration with Austin Watson

Getty
Leave a comment

Another narrowly avoided arbitration to pass along.

The Nashville Predators have signed forward Austin Watson to a three-year, $3.3 million contract that will pay him $1 million next season, $1.1 million in 2018-19 and $1.2 million in 2019-20.

Watson’s hearing was scheduled for today.

From the press release:

Watson, 25 (1/13/92), set career highs in goals (5), assists (7), points (12), penalty minutes (99) and games played (77) during the 2016-17 season as he established himself as an integral member of the Nashville roster. The 6-foot-4, 204-pound winger then added four goals and nine points in 22 postseason contests as the Predators advanced to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Watson also appeared in 57 games for the Predators during the 2015-16 season, recording three goals and 10 points.

The Pittsburgh Penguins also avoided an arbitration hearing today by signing defenseman Brian Dumoulin to a six-year contract.

Spooner seeking $3.85 million in arbitration

Getty
2 Comments

Ryan Spooner‘s arbitration hearing with the Boston Bruins is scheduled for Wednesday. And if it goes ahead, it could be a rather contentious one.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Spooner is seeking $3.85 million on a one-year deal, while the B’s are thinking almost half that at $2 million.

Spooner, a 25-year-old forward, will certainly be able to sell his offensive statistics. He had 49 points in 2015-16, then 39 points last season.

“Ryan’s a talented player,” said GM Don Sweeney, per CSNNE.com. “He’s had a lot of success. Our power play is better when he plays as well as he’s capable of playing, and he can really be a good complement to our group.”

But the knock on Spooner has always been his defensive play. The past two seasons, he’s a combined minus-17. Back in May, it was reported that the B’s were entertaining trade offers for him.

Spooner’s last contract paid him $1.9 million over two years.