The New York Islanders have gotten some encouraging news on the injury front, but the Florida Panthers haven’t been as fortunate heading into the two squads’ first round series.
Defenseman Steven Kampfer and forward Vincent Trocheck will both probably miss at least the first four games of the playoffs, per the Sun Sentinel’s Harvey Fialkov. Both are still wearing walking boots.
Losing Kampfer means that the Panthers will be operating with less defensive depth, but obviously the bigger setback is the absence of Trocheck. The 22-year-old forward enjoyed a breakout season where he scored 25 goals and 53 points in 76 contests.
Or to put it in Jaromir Jagr‘s terms after Trocheck was hurt on March 29, “He was our best player for a long time. … Not only we lost this game, we lost our best player.”
Florida won the Atlantic Division this season, but the Panthers have plenty to prove given that this is just their second trip to the postseason in their last 15 campaigns. On top of that, the last time the Panthers won a playoff series was in 1996.
Related: More injury information about playoff teams.
Cam Ward‘s time with the Carolina Hurricanes might be over with the expiration of his six-year, $37.8 million contract, but he hopes that’s not the case.
Despite missing the playoffs for seven straight seasons now, Ward would like to stick with the only NHL franchise he’s ever played for. That’s partially because he’s comfortable and that he has an appreciation for the fact that he’s thus far managed to avoid having to uproot his family from one city to another. But it’s also because he’s bought into Carolina’s long-term plan.
He saw the contributions of rookie defenemen Noah Hanifin, Jaccob Slavin, and Brett Pesce among others and that’s made him optimistic.
“There’s been a lot of ups and downs, but I see the direction that the organization is going,” Ward told the press Tuesday, courtesy of NHL.com. “… Until I’m told otherwise, I’ll do everything to prepare as if I’m coming back.”
When asked, Ward also suggested that he would be flexible financially.
“It’s not about that,” Ward said, referring to the money. “It’s about being where I’d like to be and hopefully I get that option.”
Ward posted a 2.41 GAA and .909 save percentage in 52 games this season. The original plan going into the 2015-16 campaign was to have him compete with Eddie Lack for the starts and then potentially have Lack serve as his successor when Ward’s contract expired. However, Lack had a rough season and the Hurricanes will probably be reluctant to enter a situation where Lack is the undisputed starter for 2016-17.
The Washington Capitals have a reputation for coming up short in the playoffs, but enough has changed in recent years to make it unfair to judge the franchise based on its past.
There are a lot of different and major examples of that transformation, but among the more interesting is the addition of Justin Williams and Mike Richards. Williams was a solid contributor this season while Richards played more of a depth role, but both of them have enjoyed a lot of success in past postseasons and, among other things, are 7-0 in Game 7s.
So while they aren’t the key reasons why Washington won the Presidents’ Trophy, they might prove to be valuable assets in the weeks and, if the Capitals are successful, months to come.
To be sure, the question of “will he step up” is bigger with Richards, who had a much smaller role in 2015-16 than Williams in the first place. That said, Richards will at the very least get the opportunity to do more as he’s been moved from the fourth to third line, based on Tuesday’s practice.
“It gives us some flexibility, especially when we go into Philadelphia, to get away from some matchups, maybe,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz told CSN Mid-Atlnatic. “Maybe the top lines nullify each other and you’re depth has to get it done for you. If we’re going to be successful in any series you’re going to need production from all four of your lines.”
Certainly if Richards can step up in the playoffs, then Philadelphia will have a hard time containing the type of balanced attack that the Capitals will be capable of rolling out. That being said, while Richards is only 31-years-old, his decline has been well documented. So while he has traditionally done better in the playoffs than regular season, maybe that won’t be enough this time around.
As much as teams lean on their top defensemen in the regular season, they become even more dependent on them in the playoffs, so how will the Islanders hold up going forward if they don’t have their minutes leader? Based on last year’s results, the answer is not good.
The Islanders were missing defenseman Travis Hamonic for the entire opening round of the 2015 playoffs and they ultimately lost that series to Washington in seven games. Once again Hamonic is hurt, but this time around he might be back in time to make a difference.
Hamonic (knee) seemed upbeat after practicing on Tuesday and while nothing has been decided yet, it’s possible that he might even be able to play in Game 1 of the Islanders’ series against Florida.
“You don’t want to rush guys back,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano told NHL.com. “I want him to go through some agility drills and see how he feels. But he practiced today, so [Wednesday] if he has a good day, it’s something we’ll think about for Thursday.
Hamonic led the Islanders in terms of minutes per game in 2014-15 with 21:47 and that’s gone up to 23:49 minutes per contest this season. What makes that 2015-16 statistic more impressive is the fact that the Islanders use him rather sparingly with the man advantage. In fact, if you just look at even strength minutes per game, Hamonic finished fifth in the NHL. So losing him puts considerable strain of the remainder of the Islanders’ defensive core.
If you’re interested in getting a sense of the many injuries playoff teams are dealing with, click here.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have been dealt another significant blow.
Already battered by injuries, they scratched Sidney Crosby (bumps and bruises) and Kris Letang (healthy) Saturday afternoon in what was likely an effort to protect two of their key players. Matt Murray made the start though and left the game following a collision with Philadelphia Flyers forward Brayden Schenn.
The Pittsburgh Penguins haven’t been able to use Marc-Andre Fleury since March 31 due to a concussion, but Murray has made his absence far easier for the Penguins to cope with. The 21-year-old rookie has posted a 2.05 GAA and .927 save percentage in 12 starts this season, not including Saturday’s contest.
If Murray isn’t available for the beginning of the playoffs then that further complicates the Penguins’ goaltending situation. Obviously the ideal is that Fleury will start in Game 1, but it’s not clear if that will happen.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan was asked on Friday about the possibility of Fleury playing in today’s season finale and had this to say to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, “It is a possibility? Yes. It is a probability? Probably not. In a perfect world, would we like to get him in a game? Sure we would. But that’s not always possible. We know Marc is making progress, and that’s a positive sign. That’s encouraging from our standpoint.”
In other words, it sounds like Fleury probably isn’t ready yet, but might be by the time the first round starts.
Meanwhile, Jeff Zatkoff replaced Murray this afternoon.
Update: Sullivan report that, “For precautionary reasons, it makes sense for us to keep (Murray) out,” per the team’s Twitter feed.