Five Q’s: Kings-Blues series preview

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1. Can Jonathan Quick rediscover his Conn Smythe Trophy form?

If April was any indication, yes.

While Quick’s overall numbers on the year weren’t stellar — 18-13-4, .902 save percentage, 2.45 GAA — his stats in the final month suggest he’s rounding into form.

The 27-year-old went 6-3-1 in April, posting a 2.25 GAA and, perhaps most importantly, a .917 save percentage.

The bigger question, though, will be if Quick can put together a string of consecutive efforts, something he accomplished last postseason but has had problems doing this year (Quick’s longest winning streak was three games, and he only did it once.)

2. Can the Blues score enough goals?

St. Louis finished 17th in the NHL in goals per game (2.58), but struggled to score in April. That included a stretch where the Blues notched just seven regulation goals in seven games…but they went 5-2-0 over that same stretch, alleviating some concern.

The playoffs, though, are a different beast.

Teams don’t have success if they’re not producing offensively — something St. Louis learned the hard way against the Kings last year, scoring just six times during a four-game sweep out of the second round.

This year, the offensive x-factor is TJ Oshie, who underwent stress fracture surgery (ankle) two weeks ago.

Head coach Ken Hitchcock says Oshie will be ready to go, and that’s key for St. Louis’ offensive outlook. The 26-year-old had 20 points in 30 games this year and led the Blues in power-play assists, with eight.

3. Elliott or Halak?

It’s the same question Hitchcock faced a year ago before naming Jaroslav Halak the starter for the opening playoff round.

This year, Brian Elliott’s the No. 1.

And with good reason. The 28-year-old was the league’s hottest netminder in April, capturing second star of the month on the strength of an 11-2-0 record, 1.28 GAA and .948 save percentage.

Of course, things can change quickly in the playoffs. Don’t be surprised if Halak makes an appearance at some point, especially since he’s the more experienced postseason netminder, having backstopped Montreal to the Eastern Conference finals in 2010.

4. Who wins the physical battle?

The term “meat grinder” has been used to describe this series.

The Blues have two players in the NHL’s top-20 in hits (David Backes, Ryan Reaves) while the Kings counter with two of their own (Dustin Brown, Kyle Clifford).

Both teams love to get in on the forecheck and punish opposing defensemen, so the battle could be decided by which blueliners are able to withstand the punishment.

Last year, LA made a conscious effort to take the body on Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk, a strategy that paid off as Pietrangelo was banged up and nearly forced out of the lineup.

5. How much will the Kings miss Willie Mitchell?

Mitchell was an underrated piece of Los Angeles’ 2011-12 success. He scored a career-high 24 points during the regular season and shouldered a huge workload in the playoffs, averaging 25:19 TOI per game through 20 contests.

Only Drew Doughty played more minutes.

Mitchell’s loss will especially be felt most in two important playoff departments: penalty killing (he averaged a team-high 3:41 shorthanded TOI per game) and shot-blocking (led the Kings with 55).

LA will hope the void can be filled by trade deadline acquisition Robyn Regehr, but that might be asking a lot from a guy that hasn’t participated in the postseason since 2008.

For all the first-round playoff previews, click here.

Predators’ Kevin Fiala taken off on stretcher, hospitalized after scary fall

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The crowd in St. Louis was sent to stunned silence at the scary sight of Nashville Predators rookie Kevin Fiala crashing feet-first into boards during the first period of Game 1.

Fiala was taken off the ice on a stretcher after he awkwardly hit the boards following a hit by Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo. An arena announcement indicated that Fiala will be taken to a nearby hospital.

It’s a cruel twist for the 20-year-old forward, whose high-end speed stands out most when you first see him. A bit longer than a week ago, he scored the biggest goal of his career as he ended Game 3 against the Chicago Blackhawks with the overtime-clincher. Now one has to wonder about his health.

Video will be added soon. Until then, here’s a GIF of that frightening moment:

Members of the Blues and Predators both escorted Fiala off the ice during a stunning moment for all involved.

Colin Wilson: still far more productive in playoffs (Video)

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When you put together a list of “clutch” players, do you put Colin Wilson on it?

Before you laugh that question off – which, really, that’s kind of mean – consider how productive the under-the-radar Nashville Predators forward is during the postseason.

In 33 career playoff games, Wilson had 11 goals and nine assists for 20 points. He’s now at 12 goals and 21 points in 34 games after the first period of Game 1, and there is time to add to those totals.

That’s already pretty solid, but consider his regular season: 12 goals and 35 points in 70 games. He’s only scored 20 goals once in his career.

Yet … for whatever reason, when the games get bigger, the 27-year-old has developed a knack for scoring at a much higher clip. In the case of Game 1 against the Blues – his first game of this postseason thanks to injuries – he deflected P.K. Subban‘s booming shot for the 1-0 goal. Watch it above.

And wonder: is it hasty to consider him clutch?

Video: Erik Karlsson gets Jeremy Roenick’s seal of approval

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Jeremy Roenick is so impressed by Erik Karlsson, he almost likes him as much as Ottawa Senators GM Pierre Dorion does.

As a reminder, Dorion … didn’t exactly go the humble route in his praise of the all-world defenseman. When speaking of Karlsson’s play through ridiculous injuries, he provided quite the quote, as the Ottawa Citizen reports.

“Was I surprised? A bit,” Dorion said. “What do you say? I’ll probably get in trouble for saying this but, you believe in whatever you believe in, and they always say God rested on the seventh day, I think on the eighth day he created Erik Karlsson.”

Surely Karlsson’s critics will love this.

Anyway, Roenick and Keith Jones had some fun with such comments, as you can see in the video above.

For more genius Swedish fun, enjoy the Henrik Lundqvist video above. That’s a bonus, folks.

Babcock, McLellan and Tortorella are 2017’s Jack Adams finalists

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The NHL Broadcasters’ Association named the three finalists for the 2017 Jack Adams Award on Wednesday: Mike Babcock, John Tortorella and Todd McLellan.

The Jack Adams is given to the head coach who “contributed the most to his team’s success.”

It might tickle some to realize that Babcock and McLellan once coached together on the Detroit Red Wings’ staff. All three coaches share the distinction of bringing teams to the playoffs who failed to make the postseason in (at least) the previous season.

The Maple Leafs missed from 2013-14 to 2015-16. Columbus failed in its previous two seasons. And, of course, the Oilers hadn’t seen the playoffs since falling in Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final.

One could make an argument for each coach in a number of ways.

Babcock molded a Maple Leafs team topped by young players, showing a refreshing willingness to take the good with the bad (especially for a guy who’s known for his scowl). McLellan broke that Oilers slump, gradually finding a lineup that could be “more than just Connor McDavid.” The Blue Jackets were expected to be one of the worst teams in the NHL to the point that they’d get Torts fired; instead, they boasted a power play that baffled opponents for much of the season and Tortorella enacted some (gasp) progressive ideas to help Columbus compete.

Now, you could critique all three in different ways – barely making the playoffs, riding hot goaltending, deploying Connor McDavid – but that’s part of the fun, right? There are certainly some cases to be made for snubs (Bruce Boudreau, perhaps even Joel Quenneville?), yet this trio of finalists is strong nonetheless.

The NHL has a more traditional rundown of each coach’s credentials, by the way.