Tag: The Sore Thumb

Dan Boyle, Brian Rafalski, Jimmy Howard

The Sore Thumb: San Jose Sharks

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With the Western Conference finals primed to kick off on Sunday night (8 p.m. ET on Versus, to be exact), we have a little more time to explore the two matchups. The NHL’s final four teams have plenty of strengths, but even these squads have a weakness or two. With that notion in mind, we asked: what flaw sticks out like a sore thumb?

To best answer that question, we provided our own hypothesis and also polled a blogger from each team.

Let’s take a look at the San Jose Sharks. (Click here to read the Vancouver Canucks version.)

Our choice: The Sharks’ defensive depth.

From a pure talent standpoint, Dan Boyle is the best defenseman on either the Sharks or Canucks roster. He’s not the world’s best player in his own end (though he’s more than adequate), but he’s one of the NHL’s most dangerous scorers from the blueline. Boyle is accompanied by a solid positional defenseman in Marc-Edouard Vlasic and a hard-hitting Swede in Douglas Murray.

Unfortunately, the rest of the defense isn’t so great. Jason Demers has some tantalizing offensive skill, but he’s not necessarily adept at shutting down an opposing offense. Ian White’s been better than expected, but he’s not an elite blueliner by any means. Niclas Wallin is a limited player as well.

I’m not saying the Sharks defense is downright awful, but against a team as good as Vancouver, that group could get exposed.

For a second opinion, we polled Mr. Plank from SBNation’s Fear the Fin.

The San Jose Sharks blueline has long been a concern for many following the team. It’s a unit that doesn’t have a premier shutdown player, relying instead on a strong team defense mentality to keep pucks out of their own net. With the Sedins and Alex Burrows going up against Keith-Seabrook and Weber-Suter in their wins over Chicago and Nashville respectively, I don’t think there’s any real surprise they’ve struggled as much as they have– those are world-class shutdown pairings. The Sharks just don’t have that type of firepower. Although I’ve argued for years that Marc-Edouard Vlasic is one of the most under-appreciated defensive defenseman in the game today, his partner Jason Demers hasn’t gotten there yet– Dan Boyle and Douglas Murray are also two excellent defenseman but both lack polish in their own zone at times.

That being said, where San Jose really flourishes and makes up for those shortcomings is with their forward group. Captain Joe Thornton has really set an example for the team this year with his attention to defensive play, and just about every forward under the California sun has followed suit. With the Sedins cycling the puck as much as they do you have to be sure that everyone is engaged in the play (especially your centerman), collapsing to the front of the net and helping out along the boards. If you don’t do that, the blueliners are going to be running around all night long and changing constantly after a prolonged stint in the defensive zone.

Vancouver’s forward depth isn’t as good as San Jose’s, but those top two lines are something special. No surprise there considering both Henrik and Daniel were nominated for the Hart Trophy in separate consecutive years. If the Sharks can hold the Sedins off the scoresheet I don’t think Vancouver has the offensive horses to run (swim?) with the Sharks depth. It’s just a matter of shutting them down consistently. That’s something that’s going to take a lot of work (and a little luck) to pull off.

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So there you go, Mr. Plank and I agree: defense might be the Sharks’ biggest question. I’m more concerned with San Jose’s lower ranks while he has concerns about the group as a whole. San Jose has been tested already, but the Canucks present the deepest team they’ll face in the playoffs. We will see how their defense responds.

The Sore Thumb: Vancouver Canucks

Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin
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With the Western Conference finals primed to kick off on Sunday night (8 p.m. ET on Versus, to be exact), we have a little more time to explore the two matchups. The NHL’s final four teams have plenty of strengths, but even these squads have a weakness or two. With that notion in mind, we asked: what flaw sticks out like a sore thumb?

To best answer that question, we provided our own hypothesis and also polled a blogger from each team.

Let’s take a look at the Vancouver Canucks.

Our choice: The Sedin twins’ health and productivity.

For a team that finds itself in the Western Conference finals, Canucks players have faced their fair share of criticism during the last month. In the first round, most of the critiques were lobbed at Roberto Luongo. The team’s goalie took a backseat to the Sedin twins against the Nashville Predators, however, as Ryan Kesler was forced to save the day.

While the typical sportswriter instinct would be to question their toughness or ability to handle playoff pressure, the bigger concern is about the Sedin twins’ health. Henrik Sedin, in particular, seems like he might be dealing with some kind of injury.

The team was able to survive against the Predators despite the Sedins’ struggles, but the San Jose Sharks present a bigger challenge. San Jose’s high-powered offense will likely force Vancouver to light up the scoreboard at least a couple times, so the Sedin twins will need to be their typically productive selves.

A near-week of rest might not heal up injuries that might require surgery, but at least Henrik and Daniel received some time to nurse their wounds. If you ask me, though, those two sore siblings might just be Vancouver’s sore thumb.

Now that you’ve read the PHT hypothesis, here’s Yankee Canuck from the SBN blog Nucks Misconduct.

The lone concern is goal scoring (having been outscored 33-30 so far) and that means the blame falls to the Sedins twins and, more specifically, Henrik. His struggles haven’t eluded anyone as he’s not been as strong on the puck as we’re accustomed to, which limits the opportunities for Daniel and Alex Burrows to fire some high percentage shots on net. With a beast like Murray potentially hounding him, it could get a lot worse and increase the pressure on Kesler’s line to carry the offensive burden.

A few days off to heal the wounds might do wonders for Henrik and the twins will remain huge threats on the PP, but even strength goal production has to be better. The same can be said for offensive support from the defense, which chipped in some crucial goals against Nashville.

All in if Vancouver can collectively flex their scoring muscle on pace with their regular season results, they’ll get their four wins.

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So Yankee Canuck and I focused on the Sedin twins, particularly Henrik. It’s not a revolutionary observation to make, but their outputs will likely make or break Vancouver’s series against San Jose. This is their chance to show that they are genuine stars in the NHL. It’ll be fascinating to find out if they can pull it off.

The Sore Thumb: Tampa Bay Lightning

Washington Capitals v Tampa Bay Lightning - Game Four
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With the conference finals primed to kick off on Saturday night (8 p.m. ET on Versus, to be exact), we have a little more time to explore the two matchups. The NHL’s final four teams have plenty of strengths, but even these squads have a weakness or two. With that notion in mind, we asked: what flaw sticks out like a sore thumb?

To best answer that question, we provided our own hypothesis and also polled a blogger from each team.

Let’s take a look at the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Click here for the Boston Bruins’ version.)

Our choice: Tampa Bay’s defense.

Much credit should be given to Guy Boucher’s 1-3-1 trap. It bottles up offensive attacks and allows the Lightning to camouflage a pedestrian group of defensemen.

I’m sorry, but when Eric Brewer is most indispensable blueliner, you might not have the most talented D corps. That’s not to say that Brewer is outright awful, but the Lightning allowed 35.5 shots per game in the playoffs so far. Only the Buffalo Sabres (35.6) and Los Angeles Kings (38.9) gave up more shots per game in the postseason. You cannot say that the Lightning are just engaging in shot-happy games that throw off the numbers, either. They’re averaging just 26.7 shots per game, the lowest rate in the 2011 playoffs.

Then again, the Boston Bruins allowed 34.4 shots per game in their two series*, so perhaps both sides should worry about their defenses a bit (and thank their goalies Dwayne Roloson and Tim Thomas). It seems like Roloson saved their defense and bolstered Boucher’s system, but we’ll see if the 41-year-old goalie can do it again.

Speaking of Roloson, Cassie McClellan of the SBN blog Raw Charge imagines a Lightning world without the veteran goalie in her own “sore thumb” piece.

Who is Tampa Bay’s sore thumb? Two words: Mike Smith.

While no one was thrilled with the 10-day layoff between series for the Lightning, it did give 41-year-old goalie Dwayne Roloson some time to rest. And that one fact put a lot of fans’ minds at ease. The chances of Roloson getting injured are about the same as any goaltender left in the playoffs, so that’s not really the issue. However, the harrowing couple of minutes when Roloson went down during the Washington Capitals series after Alex Ovechkin grazed his windpipe with the blade of his stick was a wakeup call. It made everyone realize that, well, what would happen if Dwayne had to sit for a while? And the answer to that question horrified a lot of people.

Roloson is everything Lightning fans could’ve asked for in a starting goaltender. But at this point, if the worst-case scenario were to happen and he were to go down, I think fans would rather take their chances with fourth-stringer Dustin Tokarski (third-stringer Cedrick Desjardins is out with a shoulder injury) than with backup Mike Smith. That’s how little faith the fanbase puts in him – despite becoming a lot more consistent this past regular season.

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So it looks like Cassie and I are worried about the Lightning in their own end. The biggest difference, obviously, is that she worries about Roloson going down with an injury while I worry more about his defense exposing him to another heavy barrage of shots. I’m unsure if Roloson can bail that shaky defense out for another playoff round, but Cassie is most concerned about any other goalie attempting to do the same.

*- The Bruins didn’t deal with the same glaring shot disparity, though, since they also fired 33.8 shots per game through 11 contests.

The Sore Thumb: Boston Bruins

hortonmooregetty

With the conference finals primed to kick off on Saturday night (8 p.m. ET on Versus, to be exact), we have a little more time to explore the two matchups. The NHL’s final four teams have plenty of strengths, but even these squads have a weakness or two. With that notion in mind, we asked: what flaw sticks out like a sore thumb?

To best answer that question, we provided our own hypothesis and also polled a blogger from each team.

We’ll start things off with Boston Bruins.

Our choice: the Bruins’ power play

The Bruins play a disciplined defensive system, employ one of the best goalies in the game and sport an underrated group of forwards. The problem, for me, is that they’ll have a lot of trouble scoring “easy” goals.

Sure, they filled the net with little trouble against the Philadelphia Flyers, but let’s face it. That team was in tailspin mode.

Instead, Tampa Bay Lightning smell an awful lot like the Montreal Canadiens, a group that gave Boston some serious headaches in the first round of the playoffs. The Bruins dropped a goose egg on the power play in that series and still managed to survive, becoming the first team in NHL history to win a seven-game series without a single PP goal. The Lightning have a fairly potent power play, so if they can camouflage some of their mistakes by being efficient with the man advantage, this could be a laborious series for Boston.

Then again, the team’s real sore thumb might be Patrice Bergeron’s sore head.

Here is another view on the team’s most glaring flaw from Evan Coburn of the SB Nation Bruins Blog Stanley Cup of Chowder.

Special teams play will play a key role in this series and could prove to be the Bruins’ “Sore Thumb” against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The more time that the Bruins can spend 5-on-5, the better. The Bruins enter the Eastern Conference finals with a downright dominant 2.38 5-on-5 ratio, but also own the worst power play (5.4 percent) and penalty kill (80.5 percent) of any of the four teams still alive. The Lightning, on the other hand, have the best power play percentage (25.7 percent) and penalty kill (94.4 percent) of any of the teams that advanced to the conference finals.

To make matters worse, the Bruins will be without one of their best special teams players and face-off men in Patrice Bergeron, who is fourth among Bruins’ forwards in shorthanded ice time per game in the playoffs. The Bruins center and alternate captain – who is expected to miss at least the start of the series (if not all of the Eastern Conference finals) with a concussion – also sees some shifts on the power play for Claude Julien’s team. If the Bruins’ special team units don’t turn things around, it could cost them the series and their first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in 21 years.

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As you can see, Evan and I are in agreement: special teams – particularly the power play – could be the Bruins’ undoing. It should be interesting to see how this series pans out. Stay tuned for the Tampa Bay Lightning’s “sore thumb” later tonight.