Risk Factors: New York Islanders edition

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From the same bunch of pessimists who brought you“Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup,” PHT presents a new series called “Risk Factors,” i.e. three reasons to be worried about each NHL team in 2014-15.

New York Islanders

1. Defense – Even when they made the Pittsburgh Penguins sweat bullets in a thrilling 2013 postseason playoff series, the Isles weren’t exactly setting Jacques Lemaire’s heart aflutter with their ability to suffocate opposing offenses. On the bright side, the Islanders are far alone in seemingly being stuck with an “outscoring their problems” plan, as a porous defense corps seems to be the defining characteristic of most of the Eastern Conference’s bubble teams (example: the Philadelphia Flyers … assuming they don’t blow up altogether).

Still, when the unique trait of your team is allowing opponents to casually stroll into your zone and more than a few teams are expected to emphasize puck possession this season, having such a permeable defense can be a frightening proposition.

That’s especially true if John Tavares and the Islanders’ offense isn’t as explosive as it looks like on paper or Jaroslav Halak is plagued by injuries (which has unfortunately been the case for him quite often in his otherwise underrated career).While there’s a bright spot (Travis Hamonic) here and there, the Isles might find themselves on the wrong end of score-fests more often than they’d like in 2014-15.

Hate to say it, but it’s not as if this group was a Dan Boyle away from being elite, either.

Hey, at least they finally have goalies who could conceivably clean up a lot of these messes though, right? That’s pretty refreshing.

2. Coaching – Jack Capuano has been the Islanders’ head coach since going behind the bench for 65 of 82 games back in the 2010-11 season. In four campaigns with the Islanders, he helped them make the playoffs once and while they pushed the Pittsburgh Penguins in a thrilling series, he’s never advanced to the second round.

Is anyone outside of the Islanders organization fully confident in arguing that Capuano is a difference-making coach?

Granted, the talent base hasn’t exactly been that stellar for much of Capuano’s stay in Long Island, yet it’s difficult to make a passionate argument that this team merely goes as far as Tavares can take it under Capuano’s watch. At some point, Capuano needs to distinguish himself as a difference-maker.

Honestly, it’s easy to imagine the Islanders pondering the possibility of a midseason replacement if things don’t work out. Perhaps the organization was jealously taking notes while would-be rivals like the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers made leaps from up-an-comers to contenders once they finally pulled the trigger and brought in a new voice behind their benches?

(Yes, those coaches are no longer employed in those places, but the Isles would probably be OK with that proposition if it means finally enjoying a deep playoff run again.)

This truly seems like a make-or-break season for Capuano with the Islanders.

3. John Tavares’ health and line – Medical science has come a long way in the last few years, so it’s tempting to assume that the Islanders’ best player in ages will be that same rapidly rising star. Tavares hasn’t exactly looked out of place so far, either, but can we be certain that he’ll be a dominant force off the bat?

The bright side is that Tavares suffered an MCL sprain instead of a more serious ACL sprain, so it’s not outrageous to assume that he could be “the same guy” who’s been tearing up the NHL. Even ACL injuries aren’t quite the same killers they once were, so perhaps this is just a case of excessive worrying.

Still, there’s a difference between playing and thriving, and the Islanders are clearly resting a lot of their hopes on a healthy Tavares despite some nice offseason depth additions such as Mikhail Grabovski. Obviously Erik Karlsson’s injury is related to a different and even more vulnerable area, it’s telling that his recovery isn’t really complete after all this time. It’s true that Tavares doesn’t rely on his speed and skating to the same degree as a player like Karlsson, but it’s reasonable to wonder if he might be hindered a bit (especially early on).

Interestingly, the Islanders’ top line faces questions beyond Tavares’ health.

For one thing, Kyle Okposo is coming off a significant jump in production last season. While there are some substantial reasons to believe that he’s going to remain a difference-maker, it could be difficult to avoid at least a slight dip in production.

Maybe most importantly, Tavares and Okposo might see a rotation of running mates. After a season of enjoying great complimentary work from Matt Moulson and then Thomas Vanek, Tavares and Okposo may find themselves carrying an inferior winger.

How Hurricanes can surge to Round 2

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The first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs has already seen two of the NHL’s powerhouse teams — the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning — bow out, while the top two teams in the Western Conference — the Calgary Flames and San Jose Sharks — have already been pushed to the brink of elimination and are facing 3-1 series deficits.

The Carolina Hurricanes, who drew the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals in their Round 1 matchup, are the other team that is trying to play the role of giant slayers.

Despite the 2-1 series deficit they are facing heading into Thursday’s Game 4 (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN; Live stream), they should have plenty of reason to feel good about their chances at successfully coming from behind and pulling off the upset.

Let’s start with this: The Hurricanes have been the better team during 5-on-5 play from pretty much the start of the series, and there really isn’t much room to debate that fact.

The Hurricanes’ Game 3 win was about as one-sided as a Stanley Cup playoff game can be, while they also carried the play for most of Game 1. There were a lot of encouraging signs to come out of that game if you’re the Hurricanes, despite the loss.

Overall Carolina has owned a 7-5 edge in goals during 5-on-5 play and, in true Hurricanes fashion, have completely dominated the shot attempt and scoring chance numbers for the series, and they really are not very close.

They are controlling the pace, they are dominating the scoring chances, and they have the all-important edge in goals.

The difference in the series at this point has come on special teams, particularly the performance of the Capitals’ power play unit in Game 1.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

It was there that the Capitals power play completely picked apart the Hurricanes and changed the game, not only scoring a pair of goals, but by also doing pretty much anything they wanted when it came to generating shots and chances. In only six minutes of power play time they had 15 shot attempts, generated nine scoring chances, and scored two goals to completely swing the game. If the Hurricanes were going to have a chance in the series that sort of dominance by the Capitals’ power play was not something that was going to be allowed to continue.

And it hasn’t.

In the two games since, the Hurricanes’ penalty kill has done a complete 180 on the Capitals’ power play and shown some pretty dramatic improvement, drastically cutting the number of shot attempts and scoring chances they have allowed. They have also not allowed a single goal, and that has to be the best sign of all for the Hurricanes.

It’s obviously only a three-game sampling, but the Hurricanes have demonstrated so far that they are perfectly capable of carrying the play at even-strength and getting the better of the Capitals when all things are even. It’s when the game turns to a special teams battle that the Capitals seem to be at their most dangerous, and if the Hurricanes can eliminate that advantage their chances of coming back in this series will significantly increase.

Not enough is made about just how good the Hurricanes’ blue line is and just how much they can frustrate opposing forwards in any situation. There is a perception about the Hurricanes that their dominant shot attempt and Corsi numbers are the result of them having a “shoot from anywhere” mentality. But it’s not necessarily about what they do with the puck that drives those numbers, it’s also about what they do when they don’t have the puck. And for several years now the Hurricanes have been one of the NHL’s best teams at limiting shots and shot attempts.

They are doing it to the Capitals at 5-on-5 in this series.

And now their penalty kill is starting to do it.

If all of that continues, this series could get really interesting, really fast on Thursday night.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Wraparound: Sharks sticking with Jones as they face elimination

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The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down each day’s matchups with the all-important television and live streaming information included.

Eleven goals on 54 shots. An .847 even strength save percentage. Two consecutive games allowing a goal on the first shot. Martin Jones couldn’t be found to speak to reporters after Game 3, which matches his on-ice performance during this series.

On Wednesday, he did speak, and he wasn’t there to talk about the past.

“What’s done is done,” Jones said. “It doesn’t matter at this point. We’re down 3-1. We’ve just got to win a game [Thursday].”

Peter DeBoer said he’s sticking with Jones as the San Jose Sharks face elimination tonight (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN; Live stream) against the Vegas Golden Knights down 3-1 in the series. Related to their goaltending problem, the Sharks have been playing catch up far too often, something you don’t want to happen with this Golden Knights team.

Since their Game 1 victory, the Sharks have not led at all and have allowed the opening goal after 58, 16, and 71 seconds, respectively, in the last three games. In their three losses they also allowed the second goal of the game to fall behind 2-0. That can quickly change your gameplan, and as they’ve tried to play more aggressively — sometimes succeeding when it’s far too late — Marc-Andre Fleury has been in their way.

“You’ve got to give him some credit, he’s made some good saves,” said Sharks captain Joe Pavelski. “[There has been] some posts, some pucks popping out the other side. But next game that can’t happen. Bottom line.”

The Sharks are 0-6 in franchise history when staring down a 3-1 deficit. Overcoming history is a big enough mountain to climb.

And when it comes to goaltending, DeBoer’s hands are tied. Aaron Dell wasn’t any better during the regular season, so it’s Jones, who has five years left on a deal carrying an annual cap hit of $5.75M, who will have to be the one to help bail them out of this situation that he played a role in creating.

“We’ve just got to make sure we take care of our home games here,” Jones said. “If we can push it to a Game 6, we know we can win a game in that building. And you never know what can happen.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

TODAY’S SCHEDULE

Game 4: Capitals at Hurricanes, 7 p.m. ET (Capitals lead 2-1): A forgettable Game 3 performance is in the rear-view mirror for the Capitals, who won’t let a tough game derail them. “As this group maybe proved last year, we kept calm,” said Nicklas Backstrom. “If anything happens — you score a goal or you let in a goal — you’ve got to keep calm, I think, and make sure you stick to the game plan.” PNC Arena will be lively again in hopes that the Hurricanes can even the series. (NBCSN; Live stream)

Game 5: Blues at Jets, 8:30 p.m. ET (Series tied 2-2): Mission accomplished for the Jets. They went to St. Louis down 2-0 in the series and head back home with things even following their 2-1 overtime win Tuesday night. “It’s going to look like this quite possibly for the next three games,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. “It’s going to be very, very tight. The whole team is going to have to play well, but you’re going to need one guy to put you over the top.” (USA Network; Live stream)

PHT’s 2019 Stanley Cup playoff previews
Capitals vs Hurricanes
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs

Predators vs. Stars
Blues vs. Jets
Flames vs. Avalanche
Sharks vs. Golden Knights

Power Rankings: Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup
NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: Round 1 schedule, TV info

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Jets hoping home ice is finally an advantage in Game 5 vs. Blues

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Home ice, much like games in-hand, is only good unless you take advantage of it.

For the St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets, neither team has benefited from the “advantage” part of “home-ice advantage.” Through four games, with the series knotted a two, the road team has been the victor as we shift back to Winnipeg for Game 5 Thursday night (8:30 p.m. ET; USA Network; Live stream). According to the NHL, only three best-of-seven series in Stanley Cup Playoffs history have the featured the road team winning each of the first five games.

Home ice hasn’t helped either team, but one team’s top line as completely dominated offensively.

The Blues need to get more from their No. 1 line of Vladimir Tarasenko, Ryan O’Reilly and Brayden Schenn. The trio have combined for only three goals in the series, compared to Winnipeg’s threesome of Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler, who have six goals and 15 points combined.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

“We’re a good line of good players and we’ll figure it out. It gets back to one shift at a time and making an impact,” said Blues forward Ryan O'Reilly. “If it’s something defensively or offensively… we know how to play the game, we know what our success looks like. It’s working for it.”

The Jets stars all hooked up for Connor’s overtime goal in Game 4.

“They drive for our team — all three of those guys and Mark in particular took his game to another level,” said Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey after Game 4 via the Winnipeg Sun. “Looking at last year’s playoffs, that’s what we see. We definitely like to see that out of him.”

The Blues and Jets each had similar road records during the regular season, with St. Louis picking up 21 away victories ands Winnipeg earning 22. But the Jets’ issues away from MTS Place date back to March when they dropped their final three home games before the Stanley Cup Playoffs began.

“I think it just goes to show that each game is a new challenge for both teams,” said Morrissey. “Coming here down 2-0 we had to be playing desperate hockey. We did a lot of good things in those first two games, but I thought we elevated our game in the last couple and that’s playoff hockey. I think for us, we love playing at home. Our fans really give us a lot of energy.”

The winner of Game 5 in a best-of-seven playoff series tied 2-2 is 205-55 all-time. The Jets will need the desperation they had in Games 3 and 4 to continue into Thursday night.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT Morning Skate: Kings introduce McLellan; another level for Zuccarello

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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.

•  Here’s today’s NBC Sports Stanley Cup Playoff update for April 18

• The Todd McLellan hire is an important one for Rob Blake, as the Los Angeles Kings GM knows he needs to get this right. [LA Times]

• Here are all 31 nominees for the 2019 King Clancy Trophy, awarded to “to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community.” [NHL]

Justin Williams is putting a lot of friendships on hold as his Carolina Hurricanes look to top his old pals with the Washington Capitals. [NHL.com]

• The Winnipeg Jets are looking like the 2017-18 version just in time. [Sportsnet]

• Another level for Mats Zuccarello to reach? Dallas Stars head coach Jim Montgomery thinks so. [Dallas Morning News]

• A better Calgary Flames performance in Game 4 still wasn’t enough. [Calgary Sun]

• Columbus Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen on how he felt the morning after sweeping the Tampa Bay Lightning: “A little relief. “Tired. Happy. All those things.” [Toronto Sun]

David Savard has been a pleasant surprise for the Blue Jackets. [1st Ohio Battery]

• “Lightning becomes the disappointment all others will be measured against” [Tampa Bay Times]

• On Brad Marchand and turning a new leaf on the ice. [ESPN]

• Depth and resilience helped the New York Islanders eliminate the Pittsburgh Penguins. [SNY]

Phil Kessel on his future in Pittsburgh: “That’s a tough question to start. I don’t know at this point. We’ll see how it goes this summer.” [Post-Gazette]

• What’s next for the Penguins in regards to roster turnover this off-season? [Pensburgh]

• Ralph Krueger on his future now that he’s no longer chairman of Premier League club Southampton: “At the moment, it’s rather difficult to imagine getting back into day-to-day business immediately and taking over a team.” [Swiss Hockey News]

• Former NHLer Brent Sopel talks about his battle with dyslexia and his travels with the Stanley Cup. [Grandstand Central]

• Some names to ponder as the Buffalo Sabres seek a replacement for Phil Housley. [Buffalo Hockey Beat]

• Fun look at some very weird hockey cards from the 1990s. [Puck Junk]

• Finally, in the latest episode of “Off the Ice with Kathryn Tappen,” Blue Jackets star Cam Atkinson reflects on his upbringing, and later reminisces with one of his brothers over a game of pool:

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.