Tag: Pekka Rinne

Pressing Playoff Question: Can the Blackhawks flip the switch?


Chicago is headed to the postseason, but it hasn’t played like a Stanley Cup favorite in a while. After a 25-10-2 start to the regular season, the Blackhawks went just 23-18-4 in their final 45 contests. If you expanded that point-per-game pace over an 82-game stretch, then you would be left with a team that finished between the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche. In other words, out of the playoffs.

A big reason for that has been Chicago’s dreadful offense. The Blackhawks ranked 26th in the league with just 2.23 goals per game since the All-Star break and scored just five goals in their final four games — all losses.

Is that cause for concern given what this team is capable of? Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews doesn’t seem to think so.

“We wanted to win the last couple of games; we just didn’t quite get the job done,” Toews said, per ESPN.com. “We’re not going to panic or overreact by any means. I think we’re doing a lot of good things, and the energy and motivation is going to be there at the right time.”

The Blackhawks haven’t absolutely needed that “energy and motivation” Toews is referring to for a while now, but perhaps that will cost them. While Chicago had the luxury of just meandering into the dance, other teams have had to dig and claw their way in. Clubs like Minnesota, Winnipeg, and Calgary have been in playoff mode for a while now, while others like the Ducks and Blues finished the regular season on high notes that they can carry into the playoffs. (Unlike last year for the Blues, when they lost their final six of the regular season then were eliminated in the first round.)

At least it’s starting to look like Patrick Kane might be ready for Game 1. Getting him back will obviously help with their recent offensive woes, although it is worth noting that he last played on Feb. 24 and their struggles date back further than that. He may also not be the Kane of old right away.

Perhaps the best counter-argument to the notion that Chicago has a momentum problem is its opponent: Nashville. If Chicago had to play against the likes of Minnesota, then there would be a direct contrast between a club that limped towards the finish line and one that excelled in the second half of the campaign. The Predators finished the season with a 6-12-3 run though and are on a six-game losing streak. The lifeblood of their team, goalie Pekka Rinne, has posted a pedestrian 2.48 GAA and .911 save percentage since the All-Star break, while none of the Predators’ forwards recorded 25 or more points in their final 37 games.

In that sense, perhaps Nashville is the ideal opponent for Chicago as it aims to switch into playoff mode.

Related: Is everything OK with the Blackhawks?

Pressing Playoff Question: Which teams should be most worried about their goaltending?

Nashville Predators v St. Louis Blues

Short answer?

Several of them.

The long answer is, well, longer — just consider what’s about to transpire. Goalies in Ottawa (Andrew Hammond), Detroit (Petr Mrazek), Vancouver (Eddie Lack), Winnipeg (Ondrej Pavelec), Minnesota (Devan Dubnyk) and Tampa Bay (Ben Bishop) will all be making their postseason debuts, and we still don’t know who’ll start in St. Louis (Brian Elliott or Jake Allen) or Anaheim (John Gibson or Frederik Andersen). Nashville’s Pekka Rinne ended the year mired in a slump, and Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury’s postseason struggles are well documented.

So yeah, just a few goaltending concerns out there.

Let’s start with the unresolved situations in St. Louis and Anaheim. Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock hinted Elliott may be the guy based on his body of work against Minnesota this year, but refused to confirm anything — possibly because Allen was the better goalie down the stretch. Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau was even more coy, opting not to elaborate on Gibson’s health (he’s dealing with an injury) or how it could impact the starting goalie gig.

Clear as mud. Moving along…

In Vancouver, head coach Willie Desjardins won’t confirm the obvious — it’ll be Lack, not Ryan Miller, who’ll open against Calgary. Lack took over for the injured Miller in mid-February and impressively backstopped the Canucks to the postseason, with Miller getting just one start over the final two months of the season, a shaky 6-5 OT win over Edmonton in the season finale.

The real question with Lack is the length of his leash. As mentioned above, he’s never made a postseason appearance — a far cry from Miller, who has over 50 on his resume, and was Vancouver’s starter for the majority of the season.

The Vancouver situation is not unlike Ottawa’s. There, Andrew “the Hamburglar” Hammond will roll into the playoffs as the club’s white-hot No. 1, on the heels of a remarkable regular season in which he lost just once — yeah, once — in regulation. But like with Lack, one has to wonder what happens if Hammond falters; sitting behind him is veteran Craig Anderson, who had himself a fine year (2.49 GAA, .923 save percentage) and, lest we forget, won a playoff round for Ottawa in 2013.

Detroit’s in a similar boat to the Canucks and Sens. Jimmy Howard, the No. 1 for most of this year, has been parked in favor of rookie Petr Mrazek. It’s a roll of the dice from Wings head coach Mike Babcock, who’ll be relying on Mrazek — he of the 40 career NHL games — over Howard, who has 45 career playoff games.

Once place with no playoff veteran is Winnipeg, where both Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson are headed to the postseason for the first time. Pavelec’s the No. 1 based on his clutch work down the stretch — the Czech netminder posted three consecutive shutouts to close out his year — but it’s important to note that, for long periods this season, Hutchinson was the Jets’ go-to guy and only had 10 fewer starts than Pavelec did.

Then there’s Tampa Bay and Minnesota.

There’s no question about who’s No. 1 — Bishop and Dubnyk are locked in — but certain unknowns remain. Bishop should’ve gained some much-needed playoff experience a year ago, only to miss the Lightning’s entire opening-round playoff loss to Montreal with a dislocated elbow. How will he respond to the pressure this year? The same question can be asked of Dubnyk who, with his 29th birthday just weeks away, is the oldest of the goalies making their playoff debuts (and the most improbable.)

Finally, there’s Rinne and Fleury. The former hasn’t been very sharp since the All-Star break, going 12-11-4 with a 2.48 GAA and .911 save percentage — a far cry from the Vezina-worthy numbers he posted in the first half. Fleury’s hardly been Pittsburgh’s problem, but he now finds himself in unfamiliar territory; with a defense wrecked by injury and an offense that’s struggling to score, the Pens almost need Fleury to go out and win them some games (as opposed to past years, when all they needed for was him not to lose ’em.)

Scrolling back, that’s 10 of 16 playoff teams mentioned in this article.

Think goaltending might be a hot topic this spring?

Price isn’t focused on individual success

When the season ends, it will be interesting to see how much hardware Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price comes away with.

He’s a favorite to win the Hart Trophy, and the Vezina, too. He leads all NHL goalies in wins with 43 — Pekka Rinne has 41 — and his save percentage of .934 is absolutely stellar for a Habs team that has 108 points and is looking to claim the Atlantic Division before the playoffs.

In a recent poll of 20 NHL coaches, all 20 picked Price for the Hart. The Professional Hockey Writers’ Association, in the end, selects the Hart Trophy winner. But it says something when 100 per cent of coaches from that recent poll go with Price.

“He deserves the Hart,” Habs head coach Michel Therrien told NHL.com. “As far as I’m concerned he’s the best player in the League right now, he’s the player that’s got the most impact on games. There’s a lot of good players in this League that had some good seasons, but Carey Price deserves that trophy.”

The Habs made it to the Eastern Conference final last spring, but their playoff journey ended there.

They also haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1993. Individual accomplishments are nice, but winning a championship would be the biggest reward for Price in what has been a remarkable season for him.

“You want to reflect on it, but you don’t want to get too caught up in looking back,” Price told NHL.com. “It’s been working all season long, the goal-setting looking forward. I don’t want to start resting on a good season yet.”