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

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We did this last year and went a whopping 15-1, with only the Chicago Blackhawks ruining our perfect game. Pretty impressive, right? Let’s see if we can do even better this year…

Columbus Blue Jackets: The worst team to make the playoffs. Which, hey, is better than the best team to miss the playoffs, but still doesn’t bode well for their Cup chances. The fact is, the Jackets are the picture of mediocrity. They don’t score a ton of goals, they aren’t great defensively, and their special teams are merely average. We suppose it’s nice they’re in the playoffs for the second time in franchise history. Maybe this time they can actually win a game.

Dallas Stars: Cue all the stats nerds crowing about the Stars’ Corsi. Here’s what people who actually watch the games see: a team that’s way too reliant on Jamie Benn, a 24-year-old with zero playoff experience, and Tyler Seguin, a 22-year-old the Bruins deemed too soft and too unprofessional to trust. Even if the Stars can get past the Ducks (we’ll get to those paper tigers shortly), their second-round opponents will be either the Kings or Sharks. At which point Dallas won’t even have Corsi on its side.

Minnesota Wild: Ilya Bryzgalov is their goalie. Shall we move on? OK, fine – here’s something else about the Wild: they can’t score. Minnesota’s offense ranked 24th in the NHL, right below the Calgary freakin’ Flames. For all the money this team has spent in the last few years, you’d think they could put a few more pucks in the net. Of course, first you have to get shots if you want to score, and only the Buffalo Sabres finished with fewer of those this season.

Tampa Bay Lightning: No más! No más! Apologies for the dated boxing reference, but how much can one team take before it throws in the towel? The Lightning cannot overcome an injured Ben Bishop. To suggest they can beat Montreal without him would be to ignore how well he played during the season. Frankly, it would be an insult. And please, don’t be fooled by Anders Lindback and the three decent games he managed to string together. His overall numbers are beyond atrocious, and he’s got next to no playoff experience.

Philadelphia Flyers: To win a Stanley Cup, a team typically needs a great goalie, a great defenseman, and a great two-way center. The Flyers have not one of those three things, and it shows in their statistics. Defensively, Philly ranks 20th in the NHL, allowing 2.77 goals per game. Last year, Chicago finished first in that category. The year before, Los Angeles finished second. The year before that, Boston was second. Are you sensing a pattern?

New York Rangers: It’s always entertaining, in a head-shaking kind of way, to hear Alain Vigneault portrayed as some sort of coaching genius who was brought in to rescue the Rangers from the medieval methods of John Tortorella. In reality, it’s Torts who’s got a ring and Vigneault who was behind the bench for one of the great choke jobs in Stanley Cup history. Vancouver lost 10 of its last 11 playoff games under AV. He wasn’t fired there for nothing. When the pressure’s on, his teams melt down. Oh, and by the way, the Rangers last season under Torts: 2.62 goals per game. This season under AV: 2.61 goals per game.

Montreal Canadiens: Canada’s only hope has, well, very little hope. The Habs were one of the worst possession teams in the NHL this season, ranking 26th in five-on-five, score-close Corsi. The only four worse than that? Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, and Buffalo. Not good company to keep. Having said that, Montreal does have Carey Price, and he might be enough to get the Habs past Team No Mas. But sorry, just because he was able to stand around and watch a stacked Team Canada win gold in Sochi doesn’t mean he’s impervious to pressure and can carry the Canadiens on a deep playoff run. Certainly, his career .905 save percentage in the postseason leaves a lot to be desired. As does a team that finished the season with the 21st-ranked offense.

Detroit Red Wings: What a nice story it was: an injury-riddled team pulls together to make the playoffs, extending its postseason streak to 23 while playing the “Red Wing way.” Too bad it’s a bunch of nonsense. The only reason the Wings made the playoffs is because the teams below them were a bunch of pathetic disasters. Consider: no playoff side finished with a worse goal differential than Detroit (minus-8), and no team finished with fewer regulation/overtime wins (34). Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk weren’t hurt the whole season. Everyone realizes that, right?

Colorado Avalanche: Too much has already been written about the Avs and their poor underlying stats. By now, everyone knows how much they rely on Semyon Varlamov, so there’s no need to keep repeating how lucky they’ve been. All it does is encourage their fans to float more and more ridiculous theories about why the Avs are the exception that will prove the numbers wrong, like a pack of deranged gamblers who go on a nice little run at the tables and believe it’s their divine right to get rich playing blackjack. So instead of focusing on that angle, let’s focus on the Avs’ injuries. Because this is not a healthy team.

Los Angeles Kings: Speaking of lucky, say hello to the luckiest Stanley Cup champions in modern NHL history. In case you forgot (and we wouldn’t blame you if you did, given how boring this team is to watch), the Kings won their first championship ever in 2012, beating the basket-case Canucks, the banged-up Blues, and then – simply amazingly – the Coyotes and Devils, two teams that had no business advancing that far, and haven’t been back to the playoffs since. Last spring, the Kings were given the unenviable task of playing a legitimately good team in the playoffs, and lost in five to Chicago.

San Jose Sharks: Everyone’s favorite choke artists are back for another kick at the can. The Sharks got into playoff form early this year, dropping four of their last eight in regulation, thus blowing any chance they had at winning the Pacific Division and getting the cupcake Stars in the first round. Did we mention two of those four losses were at home to the Jets and Predators? Honestly, if the Sharks couldn’t take care of business against the likes of Winnipeg and Nashville, why would anyone think this group of career underachievers has developed the killer instinct it takes to win the Cup? Let’s just move on.

Anaheim Ducks: Not sure if anyone outside of Orange County has noticed, but the top seed in the Western Conference has a serious question mark in goal, which just so happens to be the most important position in all of hockey. Apparently, all signs point to rookie Frederik Andersen, a kid with 24 career NHL starts to his name, getting the nod in Game 1 versus the Stars. This was not how it was supposed to play out. It was supposed to be Jonas Hiller, and you’re crazy if you think Bruce Boudreau isn’t worried about it. And if he’s not worried, he’s the one that’s crazy.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Finished the regular season with just seven wins in their last 17, and didn’t have a single regulation victory in their last five. Injuries were a factor, sure, but one has to wonder about a team that openly admits it wasn’t motivated to win down the stretch. Truly great teams want to win all the time, regardless if the games are “meaningless” or not. The way the Pens have been eliminated their last two tries (read: melting down against the Flyers and going embarrassingly dry against the Bruins), one would think they’d be a touch more fired up. Heck, the only guy who seems to be rounding into playoff form is Marc-Andre Fleury, and that’s never a good thing.

St. Louis Blues: It’s sad, really. Expectations were so high for this team that’s been around since 1967 and, to this day, remains best known for getting posterized by Bobby Orr. The Blues lost their last six games by a combined score of 22 to 5. As punishment, they received a first-round matchup with the defending champs. Should we really be surprised though? This is a franchise with a long history of getting its fans’ hopes up, only to fall short when it counts. In hindsight, maybe the Blues shouldn’t have hitched their wagon to a goalie whose teams, from college to the pros, haven’t won a darn thing.

Boston Bruins: This won’t be easy to hear, B’s fans, so we’ll just come right out and say it – Zdeno Chara is old. Not old for the earth; but definitely for the NHL. In fact, only 12 defensemen league-wide are older than Chara, not one of them more important to his team’s success. Yes, Chara’s an extremely fit 37-year-old, but it’s no secret he got worn down last year. He was a combined minus-6 in the last three games against Chicago, and hasn’t gotten any younger since. Plus, he had to play in the Olympics. Throw in Dennis Seidenberg’s injury and the Bruins’ blue line is looking downright vulnerable. Look, put it this way: you know a team’s thin on the back end when it trades for a guy who was a regular healthy scratch in Philly.

Chicago Blackhawks: The last time they were the defending champs, they lost in the first round. There hasn’t been a back-to-back Cup winner in the age of the salary cap. The only champion that made it back to the final, the 2009 Red Wings, lost to Pittsburgh. Which is to say, history does not give the ‘Hawks a very good chance of repeating. Nor does common sense. It takes a massive commitment, physically and emotionally, to win 16 playoff games. Doing it back-to-back, in a league where parity rules, is just too much to ask. And that’s not even mentioning that the ‘Hawks two superstar forwards, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, have been out with injuries. PS – Is Michal Handzus still the second-line center? But…but…’Hawks fans told us Brandon Pirri was so amazing.

Stanley Cup Final Preview: X-factors for Bruins, Blues

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Leading up to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final (Monday, 8 p.m. ET, NBC), Pro Hockey Talk will be looking at every aspect of the matchup between the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues.

With all of this time off until Round 4 begins, PHT’s covering all the skirmishes of Bruins – Blues.

Of course, the danger in drilling deep into the numbers and potential matchups is that you might obsess over “on paper” and forget certain human factors that might swing thing as much as a hot power play or a shutdown defensive performance.

Let’s consider some of the X-Factors of this series, and no, mutant superheroes are not involved … although Patrice Bergeron might have Wolverine’s healing powers.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The inevitable rest vs. rust question

Most of the time, I’d roll my eyes and make other dismissive gestures about rest vs. rust.

In many cases, rust is merely used as an easy way to explain a defeat that has more complex, existential explanations. After all, it’s easier to cope with thinking “Ah, if only we were on the top of our game” rather than considering the possibility that the other team just mopped the floor with your team.

The Bruins’ 11-day rest does kind of push the envelope, though.

Chiefly, will Tuukka Rask cool off after not tracking pucks in a playoff situation for almost two weeks? He was absolutely on fire, and all the scrimmages in the world can only do so much to prepare you for a Blues team that’s looked like a buzzsaw at times during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

All that tape

Maybe rest vs. rust should morph into three r’s, as you can add another factor: research.

While the Bruins didn’t know if they’d face the Blues or Sharks until Tuesday, May 21, Bruce Cassidy and his crew have had all that extra time to scout for weaknesses and tendencies regarding their opponents. If their video staff is really on point, you’d think that Boston may enjoy some subtle schematic advantage from getting extra opportunities to break down tape.

Interestingly, while rust might be a challenge for Bruins goalie Rask, that additional research could present a hurdle for rookie Blues netminder Jordan Binnington.

Rookies face challenges in adapting to the NHL, yet the reverse is worth noting: opponents haven’t had as many reps to expose weaknesses. That’s especially true in the exhausting grind of the postseason. If Binnington has some flaws to his game, the Bruins have had the rare luxury of gaining more opportunities to find those issues. For all we know, a few quirks could equal a tide-turning goal or two; maybe the Bruins can score on a wraparound where Jamie Benn and Roope Hintz barely didn’t in Game 7 of Round 2?

Health

All things considered, the Bruins and Blue seem as healthy as anyone can reasonably expect after three rugged rounds of playoff hockey.

Still, the best reasonable expectation for playing at this level into June is that you’re basically wearing so many ice packs it looks like you’re in a full suit of armor.

Frankly, teams aren’t particularly eager to divulge injury information, so we can only speculate about how healthy Zdeno Chara really will be if he can play in Game 1, and so on. So, yes, it’s interesting to see a sparse list of injuries beyond, say, Vince Dunn, but we really don’t know who’s playing at a level far below full-strength.

And, yes, 11 days provides a lot of time to heal — relatively speaking. Plenty of injuries suffered this time of year require longer than that, however, if they don’t demand surgery altogether. For two physical teams, the behind the scenes work of training staffs could be pivotal, even if they do everything they can to keep the rest of us oblivious about such ups and downs.

Bruins’ power play

Click here for a full breakdown of special teams, but it needed to be said: Boston’s power play is so powerful, it could swing the entire series.

Shenanigans

One thing that could bleed into the special teams discussion is if/when the teams get under each others’ skin.

Will Brad Marchand bait the Blues into taking foolish penalties, or might he shoot himself in the foot in trying to do just that? Does David Backes have some zingers regarding the team he once captained?

It seems like the Blues’ power play has gotten back on track, with at least one power-play goal in three straight games, and four during that span. So while Boston’s man advantage is the most dangerous, St. Louis could also make the Bruins pay if Marchand’s antics become a double-edged sword.

***

Ultimately, the 2019 Stanley Cup Final will come down to which players deliver, and if the coaches can put those players in the right situations to succeed. Rask and Binnington both have the capability to turn the series on its head with great play, too.

Don’t be surprised if the above X-factors make an impact, too, though. I mean, what’s really even the point if there are no shenanigans?

STANLEY CUP FINAL PREVIEW
Who has the better special teams?
Who has the better forwards?
Who has the better defensemen?
PHT Power Rankings: Conn Smythe favorites
Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

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.

Stanley Cup Final Preview: Who has the better defense?

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Leading up to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final (Monday, 8 p.m. ET, NBC), Pro Hockey Talk will be looking at every aspect of the matchup between the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues.

Part of the reason the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues are the last two teams standing is because they’re deep at every single position. Both squads are dealing with key injuries on defense, but they also have quality difference-makers on the back end that can help lead their team to victory.

So let’s see who has the advantage on the blue line:

Boston Bruins:

The Bruins have been without one of their regulars, Kevan Miller. The 31-year-old is a solid penalty killer and he brings a level of physicality to Boston’s defense. But without him, the Bruins haven’t missed a beat.

Their top pairing is made up of 42-year-old Zdeno Chara and the best defenseman on their roster, Charlie McAvoy. Chara missed Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final against Carolina with an undisclosed injury, but he’s expected to be ready for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. The Bruins captain has clearly slowed down as he’s gotten older, but he’s also capable of turning in strong shifts in his own end and on the penalty kill. He’s also averaged almost 23 minutes of ice time per game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

As for McAvoy, he missed Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final due to a suspension but he’s arguably been the most important defender on the team. The 21-year-old averages over 24 minutes per game and he’s picked up seven points in 16 games this postseason.

The second pairing has also been solid for Boston this spring as Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo have meshed well together. Krug is smaller and he’s the puck-mover that accumulates points and contributes on the power play, while Carlo is a bigger body that plays a sound defensive game.

These two have played together for just over 219 minutes during the playoffs. When skating on the same pairing, they have a CF% of 53.72 percent. When Carlo isn’t on the ice with Krug, his CF% drops to 45.93 percent. They’ve shown an ability to work well together and they’ll be an important part of shutting the Blues down in this series.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Matt Grzelcyk has been the one constant on the third pairing, and he’s played relatively well. He has seven points in 17 games including a two-goal effort in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final. Connor Clifton, John Moore and Steven Kampfer have also contributed this postseason. Not many teams can say that they have a player like Moore sitting in the press box on most nights, so the Bruins clearly have some depth at the position.

St. Louis Blues: 

The Blues have been without Vince Dunn over the last three games. The 22-year-old had accumulated two goals and five assists in 16 games before being hit in the jaw with a puck. It’s unclear if he’ll be available for Game 1 on Monday night, but getting him back would be a boost.

Captain Alex Pietrangelo has been skating with Joel Edmundson, who’s been a solid partner for him. With Edmundson, Pietrangelo’s CF% is 52.61 percent. Without him, his CF% drops to 47.25 while Edmundson’s increases to 57.63 percent. That’s not to say that Pietrangelo’s been bad this postseason. He’s accumulated two goals and 13 points in 19 postseason contests this spring. The 29-year-old is also averaging 25:34 of ice time in the playoffs this year.

The second pairing is made up of Colton Parayko and Jay Bouwmeester, who have played over 316 minutes together during the playoffs. Together, they have a CF% of 48 percent. In their 83 minutes apart (small sample size), Parayko’s CF% leaps to 60 percent while Bouwmeester’s falls to 36.97 percent.

Bouwmeester, 35, is like the Blues’ version of Chara. He’s older and not as effective as he once was but he’s still trusted to play significant minutes for his team.

If Dunn can’t play, St. Louis will roll with Robert Bortuzzo, who scored the game-winning goal in Game 2 of the Western Conference Final, and Carl Gunnarsson, who is a pretty good depth player to have on the roster.

Advantage: St. Louis Blues

As good and as deep as the Bruins are on defense, I still think the Blues have a slight edge in this category. Pietrangelo and Parayko are both valuable parts while Edmundson, Bouwmeester, Bortuzzo and Gunnarsson are nice complementary pieces of the puzzle. We also can’t forget a young puck-mover like Dunn, who can easily push one of these players out of the lineup whenever he returns from injury. The Blues have an advantage, but it’s not by much.

Who do you think has the better group of defensemen?

STANLEY CUP FINAL PREVIEW
Who has the better special teams?
Who has the better forwards?
PHT Power Rankings: Conn Smythe favorites
Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Morning Skate: Players with most at stake in Cup Final; Bergeron’s postseason

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Rotoworld’s Gus Katsaros breaks down Patrice Bergeron‘s performance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. (Rotoworld)

• Travis Yost explains why getting an early lead in hockey is a good thing, and it’s not for the reason you might think. (TSN)

• Which team should you root for in the Stanley Cup Final? (ESPN)

• Which players have the most at stake in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final? (NBC Sports Boston)

Mats Zuccarello could be an intriguing addition for the New Jersey Devils. (All About the Jersey)

Nolan Patrick will have to take a big step forward next season. (Broad Street Hockey)

• As good as Morgan Rielly was for the Leafs this season, there’s a chance he might continue to get better. (Leafs Nation)

• There have been rumblings about Phil Kessel being traded to Minnesota, but is that a wise move for the Pens? (Pensburgh)

• D.J. Smith has had to pay his dues on his way to becoming an NHL head coach. (Ottawa Sun)

• Chicago Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson has an interesting strategy when it comes to pulling his goaltender. (Sinbin.Vegas)

• The Winnipeg Jets have to find a way to stop taking so many penalties. (Arctic Ice Hockey)

• The Stars will benefit from the increase in the salary cap this off-season. (Blackout Dallas)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Marchand appears to avert injury scare in Bruins Cup tuneup

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BOSTON (AP) — Boston Bruins scoring leader Brad Marchand returned without missing a shift after appearing to hurt his left hand Thursday night when the team held an intrasquad scrimmage to tune up for the Stanley Cup Final.

Marchand bumped into Connor Clifton in front of the net ”and jammed his … I don’t know what he jammed,” coach Bruce Cassidy said.

”Injury risk was our biggest concern tonight. It will be Saturday when we practice at the regular time, and Sunday,” Cassidy said. ”He’s fine.”

With 10 days off between their sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference finals and Monday night’s opener of the best-of-seven Cup final against the St. Louis Blues, the Bruins scheduled the scrimmage to stay sharp.

”It was good to get out there, and we appreciate the support,” forward David Pastrnak said. ”It’s starting to feel real.”

Tickets were $20 and the 17,565-seat TD Garden was sold out, with the proceeds going to the Boston Bruins Foundation. Fans chanted ”We Want the Cup!” and ”Let’s Go Bruins!” and gave the team a standing ovation after Patrice Bergeron tipped a puck between his legs during a six-on-five, pulled goalie simulation before the buzzer.

Captain Zdeno Chara and Bergeron, the alternate captain, thanked the crowd after the scrimmage.

Marchand skated off flexing his hand near the end of the first 25-minute half. He appeared to be in discomfort on the bench, but was back for his next shift.

Cassidy left it up to the players to decide how much work they needed.

Goaltender Tuukka Rask played just one half. Chara, who missed the clincher of the East finals for undisclosed reasons, played the entire game. David Krejci showed up at the arena with an illness and was sent home, but he should be fine for Monday’s game, Cassidy said.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports