Five Q’s: Canadiens-Senators preview

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1. Can Carey Price pull it together?

Price got off to a fantastic start this season, but has been on the decline ever since. Among goaltenders that got at least eight starts in April, only two finished with worse GAA’s than Price’s 3.49. No team can get particularly far in the playoffs without good goaltending — just ask the 2012 Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers — and Montreal isn’t above that. On the plus side, no playoff team scored fewer goals in the regular season than the Sens, and Price was strong against them in the regular season. Perhaps this series is just what he needs to bounce back.

2. What should we expect from Erik Karlsson?

Karlsson playing just two months after cutting his Achilles tendon was surprising, but the fact that he logged over 27 minutes in all three of his games since his return was miraculous. The Sens’ defenseman had four assists over that span. It’s worth noting that New Jersey Devils center Travis Zajac, who suffered a similar injury, urged Karlsson not to return so soon while another player that’s been through the same thing, Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Sami Salo, predicted that Karlsson would come back stronger than ever. Either way, the Senators aren’t putting any meaningful limits on his playing time and they’re a far more dangerous team now that he’s back.

3. Will Ottawa need Craig Anderson to be brilliant?

Even with the return of Karlsson, the Senators aren’t a team that can win a lot of high-scoring affairs. The Senators were an anemic 27th in the NHL when it came to goals scored per game. Still, if Anderson plays anything like he did in the regular season, that might not be an issue. He missed 18 games in the middle of the season due to a sprained ankle, but stayed strong in his return, finishing first among netminders with a 1.69 GAA and .941 save percentage. The wild card in all of this is goaltender Robin Lehner. The ideal for the Senators would be for the 21-year-old rookie to just observe this series from the bench, but Lehner has been great this season and if Anderson falters, he should be seen as a viable Plan B.

4. Montreal PP or Ottawa PK?

The Ottawa Senators are one of the most undisciplined teams in the NHL, but they could get away with that in the regular season because they also killed penalties better than any other team. When they play Montreal though, they might pay for those mistakes. The Canadiens have gone from one of the worst power-play teams in 2011-12 to the fifth best this season. Getting defenseman Andrei Markov back for a full season after battling knee problems was a huge boost. Markov and fellow Canadiens blueliner P.K. Subban have been two of the league’s most successful players with the man advantage.

5. Will the Sens actually get an advantage at home?

When the Senators hosted the Toronto Maple Leafs on April 20, Senators coach Paul MacLean joked that his goal was to “take the crowd out of it” early, according to The Globe and Mail. The Senators have long struggled to keep fans of opposing loyalties out of their stadium for home games. Given the relative proximity of Montreal, you can bet there will be plenty of Habs fans invading Scotiabank Place to cheer passionately for the visitors.

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

Under Pressure: Kevin Hayes

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This post is part of Rangers Day on PHT…

It was not that long ago — less than two years, in fact — that Kevin Hayes received a scathing critique from his head coach, Alain Vigneault.

“In Kevin’s case, I think we made it clear our expectations about him and what we felt he could do were very high,” Vigneault said in December of 2015, per the New York Post. “Obviously, he hasn’t lived up to that. Did we overestimate his possibilities? I don’t know, time will tell. But I do know that what I’m seeing now, and what we’re seeing now, is not good enough.”

It has been quite a turnaround for Hayes ever since. Now 25 years old, he’s coming off a career-high 49 points in 2016-17. And after the trading of Derek Stepan to Arizona, he’s considered the top candidate to center the Rangers’ second line next season.

Oh, and did we mention this is a contract year for Hayes? He can become a restricted free agent next summer, and he’s already seen Mika Zibanejad get paid.

Now, it goes without saying that second-line center is a tough job in the NHL. Often, it’s used against the opposition’s top players, and it still comes with the responsibility to produce some offense.

So, is Hayes up to the challenge?

That’s a tough question to answer, because Hayes was already given a tougher defensive role last season, starting many of his shifts in the defensive zone while also facing quality competition.

But his possession numbers were worrisome, as you can see below:

After crunching the numbers, here’s what GothamSN writer Brandon Fitzpatrick concluded:

Basically, Hayes got tough minutes from Vigneault last season, and despite registering career-highs in assists and points, the underlying numbers weren’t favorable to him. Much of Hayes’ point totals can be attributed to Michael Grabner’s extraordinary 27 goal season where he shot a career-high 16.7%, well above his 12.7% career average.

There’s no doubt the Rangers want to see if Hayes can be a top-six center before committing to him long-term next summer, but if he’s not ready, the Rangers are going to suffer big time.

In addition to trading Stepan, the Rangers also lost Oscar Lindberg to Vegas in the expansion draft. And while they did sign veteran David Desharnais, the center position is going to be under a big microscope next season.

If Hayes is up for the job, it should go a long way towards making the Rangers a competitive team, while also helping him financially.

If not, all bets are off.

Related: Lias Andersson to get ‘every opportunity’ to make Rangers

Looking to make the leap: Anthony DeAngelo

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This post is part of Rangers Day on PHT…

He’s only 21 and already Anthony DeAngelo has been traded twice.

First he went from Tampa Bay, which drafted him 19th overall in 2014, to Arizona. That trade went down last summer. Then, just a year later, the Coyotes sent the talented defenseman to the Rangers as part of the Derek Stepan blockbuster.

Upon joining the Blueshirts, it looked like DeAngelo may get a great chance to prove his worth. But then Kevin Shattenkirk signed and it wasn’t quite as clear where DeAngelo, whose game has similarities to Shattenkirk’s, might fit.

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault is excited nonetheless to see what the youngster can do.

“I only saw him once last year but everything that I’m hearing … everybody seems to think this guy is legit and he’s ready to take the next step,” Vigneault said, per NHL.com. “I have not talked to anyone who has told me differently. Everybody I speak to says the same thing, that he’s going to help us as far as our quick north/south transition game, and that he’s going to help on the power play.”

DeAngelo appeared in 39 games for the Coyotes last season and finished with a respectable five goals and nine assists. The catch is that eight of his 14 points came on the power play, and with Shattenkirk in New York now, it remains to be seen how much quality PP time will be left for DeAngelo.

Barring injuries, there is plenty of competition that DeAngelo will need to beat out in order to play in the NHL next season. Assuming the Rangers’ top four is set with Ryan McDonagh, Shattenkirk, Brendan Smith and Brady Skjei, that leaves Marc Staal, Nick Holden, Alexei Bereglazov, Neal Pionk, and DeAngelo to battle for the two spots on the bottom pairing.

From the New York Post:

Clouding the issue is a believed contractual out-clause that would allow the 23-year-old Bereglazov to return to the KHL rather than accept an assignment to the AHL. The Rangers are unlikely to allow that to happen.

The Rangers likely acquired the 21-year-old DeAngelo from the Coyotes in the Derek Stepan deal in order to play him on the right side rather than have him sit around as a spare.

But the Blueshirts also believe that Pionk, the righty signed in May out of the University of Minnesota Duluth who will turn 22 next week, is NHL-ready.

Thus, Pionk and DeAngelo presumably will be in direct competition for a spot, with the saving grace being that both are exempt from having to go through waivers.

So it should be an interesting training camp from that perspective. While it won’t be the end of the world if DeAngelo starts out in the AHL, he should be desperate to make a good impression nonetheless.

“He knows this is his third team in a real quick span,” said Vigneault, “so he’s got to make a name for himself.”

Poll: Is Henrik Lundqvist still an elite goalie?

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This post is part of Rangers Day on PHT…

The 2016-17 season was an interesting one for New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. There were moments when he looked brilliant and other moments where he was clearly fighting the puck.

The 35-year-old opened the season with victories in seven of his first 10 games which is actually pretty good. He allowed two goals or less in six of those contests, and everything seemed to be fine.

In November and early December, he hit a significant rough patch. After dropping five of eight games between Nov. 18 and Dec. 6, the Rangers goalie sat for four consecutive games, as Antti Raanta took over between the pipes.

When he got back in goal, Lundqvist responded by winning three consecutive starts over Dallas, Nashville and New Jersey (he gave up just three goals in those three games). But the inconsistency was far from over at that point. A couple of weeks later, he dropped three straight decisions to Toronto (four goals allowed), Montreal (five goals allowed) and Dallas (seven goals allowed).

He then followed that poor stretch up with another three-game winning streak (I think you guys get the point).

He finished the season with a 31-20-4 record, a 2.74 goals-against-average and a .910 save percentage. Those are a far cry from the numbers we’re used to seeing him put up.

The Rangers finished the season in the first Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. They ended up getting a first-round date with the Montreal Canadiens, who seemed to have Lundqvist’s number (especially at the Bell Center).

No one knew what to expect from Lundqvist going into the series, but he ended up being fantastic. He picked up a shut out on the road in Game 1. In Game 2, his team was leading 3-2 with less than a minute remaining when Montreal scored late and won in overtime.

The Habs took Game 3 at MSG by a score of 3-1, but that’s when Lundqivst got back into a groove. He allowed one goal in Game 4, two goals in Game 5 and one more goal in Game 6. The Rangers won all three games, and they were off to the second round to face Ottawa.

Despite losing to the Senators in six games, the Rangers netminder turned in another solid effort during the series. There were some blips on the radar (six goals allowed in Game 2 and five goals in Game 5), but he was still one of New York’s best players in the series.

He finished the playoffs with a 6-6 record, a 2.25 goals-against-average and a .927 save percentage.

So, he had a very inconsistent regular season. Whenever he struggled, Raanta was there to step in and hold the fort while Lundqvist got back on track. This season, with Raanta off to Arizona, the Rangers signed Ondrej Pavelec to be their backup goalie. Anyone who’s followed his career knows that he’s as inconsistent as they come. If the starter falters this year, will the Rangers be able to count on Pavelec to bailed them out for a few games?

Of course, they won’t need him to bail them out if Lundqvist stays healthy and plays like he did during the playoffs. Is he still capable of playing at a high level over an 82-game season? Is he still up there with Carey Price, Braden Holtby, Sergei Bobrovsky and others as an elite goalie in the NHL?

Alright, it’s your turn to vote in our Rangers poll question. Feel free to also leave your opinion in the comments section below.

It’s New York Rangers day at PHT

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After plodding their way to a frustrating series loss against the Penguins in 2015-16, Alain Vigneault changed the New York Rangers’ style, and it worked in 2016-17.

Sort of.

The Rangers’ experience ranks up there as maybe the most indicative of just how ridiculously stacked the Metropolitan Division was.

The Rangers were one of nine teams in the NHL to generate at least 100 standings poitns (in their case, 102), finishing just one behind the Montreal Canadiens, who won the Atlantic Division. Even so, they faced said Canadiens in the first round as a wild card.

After dispatching the Habs, the Rangers fell to the Senators, and now they prepare for what’s likely to be an even bigger set of changes in 2017-18.

The Rangers traded away Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta for Anthony DeAngelo and the seventh pick of the 2017 NHL Draft. The Dan Girardi era ended with a buyout. Ondrej Pavelec now serves as Henrik Lundqvist‘s backup, while the Rangers landed the biggest fish of free agency in Kevin Shattenkirk.

Mika Zibanejad got a new deal as he takes over the No. 1 center spot, while David Desharnais was added to try to limit some of the losses down the middle.

So, the Rangers continued their move toward a more modern system, as their transition game should be much stronger. On the other hand, last season’s deep offense looks quite a bit thinner.

The Rangers are quite the puzzle heading into next season, so enjoy as PHT tries to put the pieces together today.