Bulletin-board material: Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup

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Consider this a motivational tool for all 16 of the NHL’s playoff teams. Prove us wrong, teams. Prove…us…wrong.

New York Islanders. We’ve got a small, but loyal band of Isles fans who comment regularly on PHT. All year they’ve been talking a big game, saying how nobody should be surprised that this team is in playoff contention. Newsflash: the New York Islanders have missed the playoffs every year since 2007. They haven’t been past the first round since 1993. They’re run on a shoe-string because they play in a dump. They trade for guys who aren’t even playing to get the cap hit. They pick up every third scrub who’s put on waivers. Yes, how outrageous for anyone to doubt the mighty Islanders. John Tavares is pretty good, so they might win a game against the Penguins.

Minnesota Wild. Came oh-so-close to a choke for the ages, but pulled it out of the fire by barely beating a dysfunctional Colorado team that’s probably in the buffet line at the Luxor as you read this. Congratulations! The Wild were terrible down the stretch. They went 5-8-2 in April, with four of their victories coming over non-playoff teams. It’s actually sort of impressive that the Wild can ring up such a huge payroll and you still look at their defense and shake your head. Poor Ryan Suter was forced to play 32:54 against the Avs. These guys have no shot against the Blackhawks. None.

Toronto Maple Leafs. The worst team to make the playoffs. And in a related story, quite possibly the luckiest. The Leafs won two games this season with just 13 shots. On average, they were outshot by six shots per game, by far the worst differential of any of the other 15 playoff teams. If it weren’t for James Reimer, they’d be saved the embarrassment of getting blown away by the Bruins. The other day, Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle said his team is at its best when it gets over 50 hits in a game. Because actually possessing the puck isn’t important, apparently.

Ottawa Senators. Credit where credit’s due. The Sens did extremely well to make the playoffs given the injuries they had to contend with. And now that Erik Karlsson is back…well, actually, they’re still screwed. You cannot win the Stanley Cup with an offense that ranks 27th out of 30 teams. And remember, the Sens couldn’t score last year either, so you can’t just chalk up this year to injuries. One more thing: since Craig Anderson returned, he’s been nowhere near as good as he was early this season. Mostly because no goalie alive could sustain that level of play.

Detroit Red Wings. It’s kind of cruel the way Mike Babcock has Wings fans feeling good about the defense again, because it’s only going to lead to disappointment. Remember the way Flyers fans convinced themselves everything would be OK without Chris Pronger? “We’ve got Nicklas Grossmann now!” Yeah, how’d that work out? You do not lose Nicklas Lidstrom, bring in a bunch of youngsters and remain a Stanley Cup contender. There’s nothing wrong with what the Wings are doing. It’s their only option. They just have no shot at winning right now, that’s all.

New York Rangers. Did any team do less with more in the regular season? On paper, the Rangers have a pretty good team. On the ice, they have a pretty average team. Or maybe it’s just a team that’s absolutely terrified to make any mistakes because of its coach. To be fair, New York has been decent down the stretch, but everyone knows what’s coming: John Tortorella will play his best players to the point of exhaustion because he doesn’t trust his lesser guys. And then, when the Rangers are eliminated, he’ll say fatigue was never a factor, as Dan Girardi falls apart like the Bluesmobile.

The blues brothers car collapse - Created at yt2gif.com

San Jose Sharks. This will be their ninth straight postseason appearance. Not once have they made it past the conference finals. Why should it be any different in 2013? Tear down this team, Mr. Gorbachev.

Washington Capitals. Did you hear? The old Caps are back! Running and gunning, racking up pretty goals on the power play, and rolling through the regular season. That Alex Ovechkin sure loves to score. What a treat to watch. Um, everyone remembers the old Caps always choked in the playoffs, right? Not to mention, the old/new Caps got 15 of their 27 wins against Southeast Division opponents, none of which made the playoffs. Can’t wait for the “we’ve just got to learn to play the right way” comments in a couple of weeks.

Vancouver Canucks. It was so cute when they beat the Blackhawks last week and everyone in the city thought it meant something. Sorry, but this team is still broken from 2011. Whatever mojo it ever had, the Boston Bruins stole. Fast forward two years and the Canucks finished the regular season with the 19th-ranked offense. Recently, they even had the audacity to suggest they don’t try to score as much anymore. Nope, no more “blowing the zone” for these defensively responsible guys. Do people buy these excuses? God help them if Roberto “Hey coach, I’m kinda getting torched out here” Luongo has to start. At this point, Cory Schneider – he of the “body” injury and four career playoff starts – is their only hope.

St. Louis Blues. That some fans were scared of their team facing the Blues is absolutely hilarious. Fun fact: St. Louis scored 22 goals in its last 12 games of the season. Six of them came against the Avs, four on the Flames, and three on the Rockford IceHogs. What a terrifying team, indeed. The Blues are also going into the playoffs with Brian Elliott as their starting goalie. Which, on second thought, may explain why they play so conservatively. Elliott’s career save percentage in the playoffs is .887.

Boston Bruins. Take it away Shawn Thornton: “I’m a little sick of talking about two years ago. That was a long time ago. It’s a new team. It’s a new chapter. Just because we accomplished something two years ago doesn’t mean it’s going to be automatic.” No, it doesn’t. Especially considering the B’s enter the playoffs with just two wins in their last eight games. They look either tired or indifferent; probably, it’s both. And oh yeah, they don’t have Tim Thomas anymore. It’s almost like some people have forgotten how good he was in 2011. Yeah, yeah, his politics aren’t for everyone, but without Thomas, Boston doesn’t even get out of the first round that year. (Also, the power play still stinks.)

Montreal Canadiens. In case you missed it, Carey Price had kind of a bad April. On one occasion, he was pulled after surrendering three goals on four shots against Toronto. On another, he let in six goals against the Flyers. There were other bad games, too. When the regular season came mercifully to an end, Price had registered an .876 save percentage for the month and Habs fans were in a complete and totally justified panic. “Quite honestly, I like the way Carey Price has been playing this week,” Habs coach Michel Therrien said Saturday, just to lighten the mood and give everyone a good chuckle. Price’s play wouldn’t be such a concern if goaltending was the Canadiens’ only issue. Except it’s not. The forwards are still too small, the team is shorthanded all the time, and defenseman Andrei Markov looks 54, not 34.

Anaheim Ducks. The fact this team started the season 22-3-4 is testament to the role that luck plays in hockey. The fact it finished 8-9-2 in its last 19 is proof that luck eventually runs out. Bottom line: the Ducks are an average team. Early on, they scored a lot of goals and won a lot of games, but it wasn’t because they were dominating their opposition – the pucks were just going in. Seven goals on 26 shots against Vancouver. Seven goals on 25 shots against Los Angeles. Five goals on 23 shots against St. Louis. It wasn’t sustainable. And neither are the Ducks in the playoffs.

Los Angeles Kings. Speaking of luck, let’s talk about quite possibly the luckiest Stanley Cup champion ever. Because this isn’t talked about enough. Here’s what the Kings had to do last year: Finish eighth in the Western Conference. Beat a basket-case Canucks team without Daniel Sedin. Beat an inexperienced Blues side with no Jaroslav Halak and a banged-up Alex Pietrangelo. Beat Phoenix…which was Phoenix. And beat New Jersey…which was New Jersey. In case you missed it, the Coyotes and Devils didn’t even make the playoffs this year. No, it wasn’t the Kings’ fault they got such an easy draw. But they probably shouldn’t expect the sea to part like that again. And even if it does, Jonathan Quick has been downright mediocre.

source: Getty Images

Pittsburgh Penguins. The forwards are good; we’ll give them that. The defense and goaltending? Still highly suspect. As well as the Pens have played defensively at times this season (and we stress the phrase “at times”), you simply cannot ignore last year’s loss to the Flyers when the Pens surrendered 30 goals in six games. That’s not just bad – that’s horrendous. Kris Letang leads Pittsburgh on the back end, and his stat line (5 G, 33 A) is impressive. But what percentage of his production is a product of the forwards he gets to pass the puck to? Would anyone put him in the elite shutdown category? Then there’s Marc-Andre Fleury and his .904 playoff save percentage. In fact, Fleury has had a sub-.900 save percentage in each of his last three postseasons, bottoming out last year at a shocking .834 versus the Flyers. Oh, and has anyone noticed the Penguins are always getting hurt.

Chicago Blackhawks. It’s not easy thinking up bulletin-board material for a team that went 36-7-5 and won the Presidents’ Trophy by five points in a shortened season. But there’s a reason the regular season’s best team usually doesn’t win the Stanley Cup, and the reason is this: there are 15 other teams trying to win it, too. Obviously, you need the right players. But you also need a few breaks along the way. Let’s put it another way: Suppose we were to give the Blackhawks a 90 percent chance to beat the Wild, an 80 percent chance to win the second round, a 70 percent chance to win the conference finals  and a 60 percent chance to win the finals. That’s actually pretty generous, given the specter of injuries and the fact Michal Handzus is their second-line center. Multiply those four percentages and the ‘Hawks have a 30 percent chance of winning the Cup, meaning there’s a 70 percent chance one of the 15 other teams somehow flukes their way to a title like the Kings did.

The Buzzer: Big nights for McDavid, Vasilevskiy

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Three Stars

1. Andrei Vasilevskiy

On paper, Thursday seemed like a rough draw for Vasilevskiy.

A foot injury sidelined him since Nov. 10, so you’d expect some rust. This was also a much-hyped game against a high-powered opponent in the Maple Leafs, and Toronto didn’t ease Vasi in, firing 49 shots on goal.

Only one of those attempts beat Vasilevskiy, however, as he returned to action to make 48 saves, a new career-high. The Lightning have now won eight in a row, and while seven came without Vasilevskiy, he absolutely earned this one.

Click here for more on that game, and Vasi’s big night.

2. Nino Niederreiter

Niederreiter ranked among three players who scored three points on Thursday, with Wild teammate Ryan Suter (three assists) also included.

The winger enjoyed the best all-around statistical night of the three, scoring two goals and one assist, generating a +4 rating, getting the game-winner, and firing four SOG.

Minnesota just seems to find ways to win under Bruce Boudreau, and maybe a hot streak from Niederreiter will power the latest surge. This strong night extended his goal streak to three games (four goals), giving him five points during that span. As is often the case with the underrated forward, Niederreiter stood out from a possession standpoint, too.

3. Mark Scheifele

Rounding out that trio of three-point nights, Scheifele scored one goal and two assists as the Jets narrowly edged the Oilers in overtime.

Scheifele logged quite a bit of ice time (23:55), enjoying a +2 rating and generating two SOG. He’s even hotter than Niederreiter lately, as Scheifele is now on a three-game multi-point streak, giving him two goals and six assists for a batty eight points in the past three contests.

While Niederreiter’s been up-and-down this season, Scheifele remains an elite point producer. He now has 40 points in just 31 games. tying Scheifele with his wingman Blake Wheeler for eighth in NHL scoring.

Highlights of the Night

This Vasilevskiy save is great enough to be worth another look (it originally appeared in this post):

This face is highlight-reel-material.

Speaking of other posts, Andrei Svechnikov‘s nice goal is probably worth your time. He might not have the best power-move-type goal in that game, judging by this Artturi Lehkonen tally:

Put your paws together for Barclay:

Ouch

Basically, James Reimer suffered through the opposite of that amazing Vasilevskiy stop.

Factoids

Connor McDavid hit 300+ career points before reaching age 22. Click here for a lot more perspective on his first 240 regular-season games.

Speaking of history, more astounding Patrik Laine fun:

Patrick Marleau‘s a machine.

Scores

BUF 3 – ARI 1
CBJ 4 – LAK 1
MTL 6 – CAR 4
TBL 4 – TOR 1
NSH 4 – VAN 3 (OT)
MIN 5 – FLA 1
WIN 5 – EDM 4 (OT)
SJS 3 – DAL 2

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Where Connor McDavid ranks after racing past 300 points

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The Edmonton Oilers saw their four-game winning streak end 5-4 in overtime against the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday, but they should feel some satisfaction in hanging with such a great team, and getting a standings point for their troubles.

Sometimes thoughts like those can soothe the irritation of a close loss. If that doesn’t work, the Oilers should find perspective in remembering how special superstar Connor McDavid truly is. Reaching a big milestone can do that.

With two assists in that 5-4 OT loss, McDavid crossed the 300-point barrier, finishing the night at 301 points in just 240 career regular-season games. As you might guess, the 21-year-old ranks among the best in league history in that regard:

If you’re like me, you muttered “imagine what McDavid could have done if his rookie season didn’t end with that unlucky shoulder injury?”

Interesting to see how closely McDavid’s work is paralleling that of Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, and Evgeni Malkin, eh?

Let’s consider a few other enticing and impressive things about what McDavid has accomplished, and what might still come.

  • McDavid could probably argue that he’s been the best scorer since the moment he entered the league.

Using Hockey Reference’s fancy season tools, you can see that Patrick Kane (308 points) is the only player with more points since McDavid entered the NHL in 2015-16. That shoulder injury muttering comes into place here, though, as Kane hit 308 in 278 games, versus 240 for McDavid.

McDavid’s 1.254 points-per-game average easily ranks as the best in the NHL during that span.

  • If healthy, McDavid should compile three consecutive 100-point seasons. He scored 100 in 2016-17, while setting a career-high with 108 last year. With 45 points in 31 games this season, with one contest missed, McDavid could play 50 more games this season. He’d easily hit 100 at this pace, as he’d hit about 117-118 at this rate.
  • McDavid remains a premiere playmaker (Alex Chiasson‘s accountant is nodding so hard right now), as you can see most clearly with 28 assists in 31 games. But he’s becoming a more dangerous goal-scorer, too.

Sometimes that comes down to being more assertive as you spend more time in the NHL, and become more confident in your abilities. Sidney Crosby seemed to enjoy a similar growth in making defenses and goalies respect both his shot and his passing more or less equally.

With 111 SOG in 31 GP so far in 2017-18, McDavid’s averaging 3.58 SOG per contest. That’s a significant jump from last season’s 3.34 SOG per game, and he’s fired the puck more frequently in every season of his NHL career. It wouldn’t be one bit surprising to see him enjoy closer to a 1:1 ratio in goals to assists after collecting 104 goals and 197 assists for his first 301 points.

That’s not the most pleasant thought in the world for opposing goalies and defensemen.

  • It probably wouldn’t hurt if the Oilers get it together.

The Ken Hitchcock Era is off to a booming start, but that should inspire Edmonton to continue to make shrewd decisions, rather than rest on its laurels. At minimum, it can’t hurt McDavid’s spirits – and numbers – if he’s playing competitive hockey deep into the season, and ideally into the playoffs. Still, things could be even merrier if there was more help around number 97.

Imagine what McDavid can do with higher-quality teammates beyond Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins?

Other NHL Teams: “We’d rather not.”

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Did Svechnikov make big gains in Hurricanes’ loss?

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The Carolina Hurricanes are justified in their search for a top-six forward/sniper, but whenever a team goes shopping for a trade, they should also ask if they’re taking advantage of the ingredients at hand.

That’s a long way of saying that the Hurricanes possess at least one player who could score more goals for them: Andrei Svechnikov.

Looking at certain underlying numbers (as PHT did earlier in December), it seems fair to wonder if Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour should take the training wheels off of Svechnikov, and just let him fly. Yes, there are risks when it comes to really unleashing rookies – particularly in Svechnikov, who’s made an immediate jump after being the second pick of the 2018 NHL Draft – but the rewards can often be worth it.

After all, this is a young man’s game. Besides, Svechnikov frequently looks fully-grown on the ice, even this early in his NHL career.

Sometimes advanced stats don’t slap you in the face like highlight-reel work, though. Svechnikov scored two goals in Carolina’s 6-4 loss to the Montreal Canadiens, and his first one was absolutely gorgeous:

Might that demand Brind’Amour’s attention? There’s some reason to hope for even more.

“We did have a coming out party, for me, out of Svechnikov,” Brind’Amour said, via Sara Civian of The Athletic.

It’s not like Svechnikov is getting totally buried in the Hurricanes’ lineup, yet here’s a pushy request: just keep ramping up his minutes and opportunities, seeing how much he can handle. Carolina needs goals, and maybe they’d get more with more Svechnikov, risks and all. Brind’Amour could even do so selectively, by handing him more reps on the power play, preferably on a top unit that hasn’t exactly been lightning the world on fire, based on full-season stats.

As of Thursday night, the Canadiens are where the Hurricanes want to be (comfortably in a playoff spot), while Carolina’s sitting in Montreal’s expected position (searching for answers, seven points out of the wild card). You can chalk that up to a lot of things – Carey Price has now won four games in a row – but it’s worth noting that the Canadiens are embracing speedy and/or skilled young players like Jonathan Drouin and Max Domi, while shrugging their shoulders and just letting Jesperi Kotkaniemi play. There are quite a few stories of immediate successes this season, with Elias Pettersson and top 2018 pick Rasmus Dahlin also coming to mind.

So why not see what Svechnikov can do? For all we know, rolling the dice might just help the Hurricanes break out of this frustrating funk.

Here’s Svechnikov’s other, nice goal from Thursday:

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Lightning ride Vasilevskiy’s spectacular return to beat Maple Leafs

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The Tampa Bay Lightning remained one of the best teams in the NHL even with Andrei Vasilevskiy missing 15 games, taking a seven-game winning streak into Thursday’s best-versus-best clash against Toronto. All due respect to Louis Domingue, but the Lightning wouldn’t have won their eighth game in a row without a vastly impressive Vasilevskiy.

Honestly, you could make a sane argument that no other goalie in the world could author such a masterpiece, but that’s a debate for your local, hockey-friendly bar.

Speaking of debates, NHL fans were treated to what could potentially be an epic, too-good-for-the-second-round series, with the Lightning beating the Maple Leafs 4-1.

Prediction: a lot of people will look at that 4-1 score and believe that the Lightning absolutely dominated the Maple Leafs. That wasn’t the case, at all, as Vasilevskiy showed the opposite of rustiness in stopping 48 shots.

Vasilevskiy set a new Lightning franchise record for saves in a home game, and tied the overall mark. To review: Vasilevskiy set a new career-high for saves against one of the most explosive offenses in the NHL, and he did it in his first game back since Nov. 10. Tremendous.

Many of those saves were jaw-droppers, rather than run-of-the-mill, with this making a late push for Save of the Year contention:

You can’t really put the Leafs’ lone goal on Vasilevskiy, either, as Kasperi Kapanen stole an ill-advised pass, getting a ton of time and room to score:

After an evenly-matched, exciting 1-1 first period, the Lightning pulled away by scoring three times during the middle frame. All of those tallies were painful for Toronto. Tampa Bay made it 2-1 when Nikita Kucherov scored a barely-goal that Frederik Andersen seemingly gloved, and then the game really got away from the Maple Leafs when the Lightning scored two more times in the final minute of the second period.

Overall, the Maple Leafs generated a gaudy 49-21 shots on goal advantage. While you could accuse the Bolts of sitting on their lead late (they were outshot 16-2 in the third, and endured at least a 13-minute SOG drought), Toronto generated an edge during each period. It didn’t matter, because Vasilevskiy was a human highlight reel in net.

It’s foolish to read too much into a single night during an 82-game season, but perhaps a night like this might give the Maple Leafs that extra push to add that missing piece or two? If nothing else, the Lightning only strengthened their stranglehold on the Atlantic Division crown, not to mention the top spot in the East, and the Presidents’ Trophy.

Sure, the score was lopsided, yet this game made a best-of-seven series that much more tantalizing to imagine, even if getting there would be easier said than done. You know, kind of like getting pucks past Vasi.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.