Derek Stepan

In case you haven’t noticed, the NHL is a young man’s game

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Just for the sake of the discussion — and since everyone’s talking about Tyler Johnson today — here are all the players who have scored at least five goals in these playoffs:

Johnson (11), Corey Perry (7), Patrick Kane (7), Nikita Kucherov (6), Chris Kreider (6), Vladimir Tarasenko (6), Alex Killorn (6), Derek Stepan (5), Alex Ovechkin (5), Derick Brassard (5), Evgeny Kuznetsov (5), Max Pacioretty (5), Matt Beleskey (5), and Colin Wilson (5).

That’s 14 players. Can you pick out the oldest?

The answer is Anaheim’s Perry, who turned 30 on Saturday. Only slightly younger than Perry, Ovechkin will turn 30 in September.

Otherwise, it’s all players who are comfortably in their 20s, their legs still full of burst, their bodies not yet worn down by the grind of taking hundreds of pucks hard to the net, and all the punishment that goes with scoring goals in today’s NHL.

This isn’t to say that once a goal-scorer turns 30 he should be put out to pasture, like the theory about running backs in the NFL. Marian Gaborik, Justin Williams, and Martin St. Louis all had productive postseasons last year. This year is perhaps an extreme case.

But it does show the importance of youth, and how quickly a player — especially a forward — can go from getting drafted to making a significant impact.

True, patience is required when developing prospects. You don’t want to rush them. There’s nothing wrong with learning the game in the AHL. But at the same time, there has to be a sense of urgency in getting prospects ready for the NHL so they can enjoy as many productive seasons as possible, before their peak years (at a relatively low cap hit) are over.

Hence, all the talk surrounding 20-year-old Jonathan Drouin. While it’s not like the Lightning should be hitting the panic button that he hasn’t yet gained the trust of his coach, it’s not unfair to wonder if he’s fallen a bit behind in his development.

In a related story, Capitals GM Brian MacLellan knows “the next three or four years is the window” in Washington. Because, where will Ovechkin’s game be after that? Where will Nicklas Backstrom’s? The Caps have an opportunity over the next few years to get production from both their veterans and their youth. That’s the sweet spot every GM aims for. And those sweet spots don’t last long.

Can the Rangers win the Cup like this?

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A great defense creates offense, right? Not always, not if you’re the Rangers right now at least. They’re winning games thanks to their solid defense and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist’s superb play, but at the same time, they’re averaging just two goals per game in the playoffs.

Which is fine because defense is what wins championships, doesn’t it? It’s an important part, certainly, but they’re pushing that philosophy to its limit and it will be interesting to see if it snaps likes an overstretched elastic band.

If the Rangers win the Stanley Cup while maintaining their current scoring pace, they’ll be setting themselves apart from the previous 16 Stanley Cup winners dating back to 1998. Over that stretch, the worst offensive team was the 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning and even they averaged 2.56 goals per game during their postseason run. They had Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis averaging over a point per game, while the modern Rangers are led by Derick Brassard and Derek Stepan, who each have nine points in 13 contests.

The 2003 New Jersey Devils were a close second last among the list of Stanley Cup winners with their 2.58 goals per game pace in the playoffs. That Devils team lacked the offensive star power of the 2004 Lightning, but it had more offensive depth than Tampa Bay. New Jersey featured 17 different players that scored at least a goal and 11 that recorded two or more markers. The modern Rangers haven’t played in nearly as many contests yet, so it’s not a fair comparison, but so far 10 players have found the back of the net while eight have recorded at least two goals. Only two players have reached the five-goal mark (Chris Kreider and Brassard) while the Devils finished with six players that reached or surpassed that milestone.

Breaking new ground isn’t necessarily a recipe for disaster though and in line with that, the Rangers deserve credit for what they’ve already accomplished. They’ve been in 13 straight one-goal games in the 2015 playoffs and the fact they’ve gotten this far by coming through in clutch situations is amazing. Still, one has to wonder if any team can keep this up.

Related:

Five team stats you may find interesting

Video: Bishop shuts down Rangers in first period

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Ben Bishop was outstanding for the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round. It’s early in Game 1, but he also looks sharp against the New York Rangers.

The pace has been pretty quick even if the chances haven’t been all that frequent. Bishop had to be very sharp on this chance, however, as a nice (and maybe slightly fortunate) bounce set up Derek Stepan for this partial breakaway:

Will Bishop be able to match Henrik Lundqvist all series long? That’s easier said than done, but Bishop’s off to a good start.

Update: The Rangers were spurned by Bishop, the posts and even Nikita Kucherov in the first period, which ended 0-0.

As you can see, it’s been one-sided so far:

Again, some luck has been involved for Tampa Bay:

Five team stats you may find interesting

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2.00 — Goals per game for the Rangers in these playoffs. The reason they’re in the conference finals is they’ve only given up 1.67 per game, thanks in large part to Henrik Lundqvist (.944 save percentage). Remarkably, six of the Rangers’ eight wins have been by a score of 2-1. Derick Brassard and Chris Kreider lead the Blueshirts with five goals each, followed by Derek Stepan with three, while Rick Nash, Carl Hagelin, Kevin Hayes, Ryan McDonagh and Dan Boyle have two each.

55.4 — Anaheim’s faceoff percentage, the highest of the four remaining teams. The Ducks struggled in this area last postseason, but the addition of Ryan Kesler (63.7% this year), who replaced Nick Bonino (45.8% last year), has really helped them. Should be interesting to see how Kesler does against Jonathan Toews, one of the best faceoff men in the game.

10-1 — The combined overtime record of the four remaining teams, led by the Rangers (4-0). The only team that’s suffered an overtime loss is Anaheim (Game 3 versus Calgary).

48.31 — Tampa Bay’s Corsi close percentage, the lowest of the four remaining teams. Which lends credence to the notion that the Lightning haven’t really played up to their potential in the postseason. In a related story, Ben Bishop was excellent versus Montreal, registering a save percentage of .940 in six games, while outplaying Hart Trophy favorite Carey Price. Let’s see how Bishop does versus Lundqvist.

9 — Power-play goals allowed by Chicago. Six to Nashville, then three more to Minnesota. Poor penalty killing is not something that’s normally associated with successful playoff teams, so the Blackhawks will want to tighten that area up versus the Ducks, who’ve scored nine power-play goals in nine games.

Rangers’ praise for Stepan extends beyond OT winner

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New York Rangers forward Derek Stepan had his, erm, “Stepan Matteau” moment when he scored the 2-1 OT winner against the Washington Capitals in Game 7.

Still, if you ask his Rangers teammates, he’s done more than score a memorable goal. The praise goes high for his larger body of work in that tight series.

“I thought Stepan was the best player all series,” Kevin Hayes said, according to WFAN’s Sean Harnett.

Hartnett reports that Chris Kreider backed that up, pointing out that Stepan was making “little plays” before this huge one drew all that attention.

It’s no surprise that Stepan received “The Broadway Hat,” although one wonders if some of the logic follows that the Rangers probably get tired of handing it over to Henrik Lundqvist so often:

Here’s Stepan’s take on Wednesday’s big Game 7 win.