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PHT Second Round Preview: 10 things to know about Bruins vs. Lightning

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The second-round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs has some absolutely massive matchups.

The top two-teams regular season teams in the NHL — the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets — are meeting in the Western Conference.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals, with their superstars Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, are meeting in the Eastern Conference.

Then there is also the other Eastern Conference matchup that will feature the third-and fourth-best regular season teams when the Boston Bruins meet the Tampa Bay Lightning, starting Saturday at 3 p.m. ET.

This series will have five of the top-30 point per game players in the league from the regular season. It will have top-line defensemen in veterans Victor Hedman and Zdeno Chara, and young stars in Charlie McAvoy and Mikhail Sergachev. It will have a Vezina Trophy finalist in Andrei Vasilveskiy and a former Vezina Trophy winner in Tuukka Rask.

The Bruins ended up winning the season series by taking three out of the four games and needed to get through a seven-game series against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first-round to get here.

The Lightning won the Atlantic Division and earned the top-spot in the Eastern Conference then easily dispatched the New Jersey Devils in five games.

It should be a great series that has the potential to go the distance. Here are the 10 key things you need to know about it.

Schedule

Surging Players

Bruins: When you look at the young talent on the Bruins’ roster it’s kind of crazy to think back to the 2015 draft when they had three consecutive picks in the middle of the first-round and look at the players they didn’t take with those picks and who went right after them. Kyle Connor. Mathew Barzal. Broek Boeser. At the time, the Bruins’ selections were criticized and left a lot of draft observers a little underwhelmed. The jury is still out on two of their selections, but nobody should be questioning the Jake DeBrusk (No. 14 overall) given what he has done this season. After scoring 16 goals and adding 27 assists in his debut season with the Bruins, he has been sensational for them in the playoffs with five goals and two assists in their first-round win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, including two goals in their Game 7 win.

Lightning:  How could it be anybody other than Nikita Kucherov? After finishing as the second-leading scorer in the NHL during the regular season he had an absolutely monster first-round performance against the New Jersey Devils, finishing with five goals and five assists in the five-game series. He recorded at least one point in each game and had three games with multiple points. He has been one of the best playoff performers in the NHL during his career to this point.

Struggling Players

Bruins: It would not be the playoffs if it did not feature Rick Nash doing a lot of things except actually scoring goals and recording points. He is the king of being so close in these situations. He had one goal and one assist in the first-round against Toronto and probably should have had more. He might need more in the second round if the Bruins are going to keep winning. As always, it is not that he is a total non-factor in these games. He is getting shots, chances … he just can not score. At all. We go through this every postseason like clockwork. It is truly remarkable.

Lightning: A surprising stat from the first-round from the Lightning side of things is that they scored 18 goals in their five games against the New Jersey Devils and Victor Hedman did not factor into one of them. Zero goals. Zero assists. Only once this season did he go more than four games without recording a point (he had a seven-game pointless streak very early in the season). He still played shutdown defense, but it is his offensive production to go along with that shutdown play defensively that makes him one of the league’s elite player. He probably will not be held off the scoreboard much longer.

Goaltending

Bruins: It seems that no matter what he does Tuukka Rask is always going to be under an intense microscope in Boston. Overall his career postseason numbers are outstanding. He has taken the team to the Stanley Cup Final once before. But he has also had some objectively bad games in big situations. Game 7 against Toronto gave everybody something to argue about because he did enough to get the win but also finished with ugly individual numbers. He managed only an .891 save percentage in the series. That sort of performance may not get the job done against Tampa Bay. He needs to be better, and he has a rather lengthy track record in his career to suggest that he can be.

Lightning: Andrei Vasilveskiy earned himself a top-three spot in the Vezina Trophy voting this season for leading the league in wins, shutouts, and finishing with a .920 save percentage. He seemed to cool down the stretch a bit — perhaps a little fatigue setting in due to a heavy workload and his first year as a full-time starter? — but he really came back strong in the first-round of the playoffs, posting a .941 save percentage against the Devils. The competition gets a little tougher in the second round against a Bruins team that has more than one real threat to score.

Special Teams

Bruins: The Bruins had some of the best special teams in the NHL during the regular season, finishing in the top-five in both power play and penalty kill. The power play was dominant in the first-round against Toronto, converting on eight of its 23 chances. The penalty kill struggled a bit going 11-for-15 against the Maple Leafs, though that is probably too small of a sampling to get overly concerned.

Lightning: Like the Bruins, the Lightning had a dominant power play during the regular season, finishing with the third-best unit in the league. Also like the Bruins that unit was great in the first round, and it wasn’t just the usual suspects finding the back of the net. Alex Killorn and Yanni Gourde combined to score four of their five power play goals against the Devils. The key matchup in this series will be the Lightning’s penalty kill — one of the worst in the league during the regular season — against Boston’s power play.

Fancy Stats

Bruins: The Bruins were a dominant 5-on-5 team during the season when it came to possession and shot metrics, finishing the regular season as a 53.2 percent Corsi team (second best in the league) and then came back in the first-round and just absolutely crushed the Maple Leafs in those categories. Goaltending made the series the close. Little better play from Tuukka Rask or a little worse play from Frederick Andersen in his wins turns that series into a laugher.

Lightning: Similar story for the Lightning when it comes to their ability to control the puck and the shot shares. Their Corsi mark was seventh best in the league during the regular season and they were all over the Devils in that area in the first-round. With Vasilevskiy playing great for the Lightning and neither Devils goalie able to consistently withstand the Lightning attack the series was over quickly.

Injuries

Bruins: The big one here for the Bruins is the same one that it has been for a while. Defenseman Brandon Carlos, a 20-minute per night player, has been sidelined since the end of the regular season with an ankle injury that is going to cost him the rest of the season. Patrice Bergeron may not be entirely 100 percent after missing Game 4 in the opening round with an upper-body injury but he did return for the rest of it and had three points (one goal, two assists) in the Game 7 win.

Lightning: The Lightning are entering this series pretty healthy, at least when it comes to injuries that could potentially keep someone out of the lineup.

X-Factor For Bruins

Charlie McAvoy had a magnificent rookie season for the Bruins, stepping right into the lineup and immediately becoming a top-pairing, impact defenseman when he was healthy. For as good as his regular season, he had some struggles in the opening round, recording just a single assist in the seven games. He wasn’t necessarily *bad* in the first round against Toronto, but he also wasn’t the same player he was during the regular season. In other words, he has shown that he has another level he can get to. If he gets back there in the second round, look out.

X-Factor For Lightning

Ryan McDonagh was the headliner in their latest big trade with the New York Rangers, but when it is all said and done we might be remembering that deal as the J.T. Miller trade. Miller was kind of the forgotten player in that deal but he has been incredible since coming over to the Lightning, scoring 10 goals and adding eight assists in 19 regular season games then contributing four points in the five-game series against the Devils. He is a pretty consistent 20-25 goal, 50-55 point forward. Just another offensive weapon up front for a team that is already loaded with them.

Prediction

Bruins in 6. This obviously has the makings of a six-or seven-game series. They are two of the best teams in the league, they have loads of talent — both veteran and young — all over their lineups, they both have goalies that are capable of stealing games, and they are just evenly matched from top-to-bottom. The Bruins took the season series winning three out of the four games and I think that continues in this series. Have liked the Bruins team all season and they have been my pick to come out of the East for a while now. Sticking with them.

More:
NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second round schedule, TV info
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
10 things to know about Golden Knights vs. Sharks
• 10 things to know about Penguins vs. Capitals
• 10 things to know about Predators vs. Jets

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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.

WATCH LIVE: Penguins meet Rangers on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Penguins are coming off a 3-2 (SO) win on Saturday – a game they trailed 2-0 midway through the second period. It was their third straight game rallying from a multi-goal deficit. Despite earning the win against Chicago, Sidney Crosby left in the third period with a lower-body injury. He has been ruled out for this game, and his status beyond that is unknown.

Pittsburgh enters this game on a massive power play drought. They have not scored a power play goal in their previous 11 games, going 0-for-25 in that span. The total drought actually extends to the game prior to that, when they failed on their final attempt, so the Pens are 0-for-their-last-26 overall.

Rangers No. 1 center Mika Zibanejad has missed the last six games with an upper-body injury, suffered on Oct. 27 on a hit from Patrice Bergeron. Zibanejad will reportedly not travel with the team to Florida, meaning he is out for at least the next three games. He was leading the team with 11 points in nine games prior to his departure from the lineup.

After alternating starts at the beginning of the season, the Rangers have spent the past few weeks giving chunks of consecutive starts to each of their netminders. Alex Georgiev will get the start in this game – his seventh of the season – after Henrik Lundqvist started the previous three.

[COVERAGE OF PENGUINS-RANGERS BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

WHAT: Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Rangers
WHERE: Madison Square Garden
WHEN: Tuesday, Nov. 12, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Penguins-Rangers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

PENGUINS
Alex GalchenyukJared McCannJake Guentzel
Dominik SimonEvgeni MalkinBryan Rust
Dominik KahunNick BjugstadSam Lafferty
Zach Aston-ReeseTeddy BluegerBrandon Tanev

Brian DumoulinJohn Marino
Marcus PetterssonJustin Schultz
Jack JohnsonJuuso Riikola

Starting goalie: Matt Murray

RANGERS
Artemi PanarinRyan StromeJesper Fast
Chris Kreider – Filip Chytil – Pavel Buchnevich
Brendan LemieuxBrett HowdenKaapo Kakko
Greg McKeggLias AnderssonBrendan Smith

Libor HajekJacob Trouba
Brady SkjeiTony DeAngelo
Ryan Lindgren – Adam Fox

Starting goalie: Alexandar Georgiev

MORE: Crosby out vs. Rangers, injury still being evaluated

Brendan Burke and Joe Micheletti will call the Penguins-Rangers showdown from Madison Square Garden in New York, N.Y. Paul Burmeister will anchor studio coverage with analysts Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp.

Stars coach apologizes to Seguin, Benn for post-game comments

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After the Dallas Stars were on the losing end of a 3-2 overtime decision against the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday, coach Jim Montgomery expressed some frustration with the current lack of production of his top players, and even though he never mentioned Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn by name it was pretty obvious which players he was talking about.

It was the second year in a row (around the same point in the season) the Stars’ top-two forwards were the focal points of internal criticism, facing even more scathing criticism from team CEO Jim Lites this past December.

On Tuesday, Montgomery said he apologized to the team and the individual players for what he described as an emotional mistake, while also adding, “We win as a team and we lose as a team.”

That comes via Mike Heika of the Stars’ website.

Following the game on Sunday Montgomery said he was “disappointed” in the production of the team’s top players, and was dismissive when asked if he had seen any signs of progress.

He later added, “They’ve got to decide that they want to be a difference maker.”

Seguin and Benn did not seem bothered by the criticism and acknowledged on Tuesday that they need to produce more. They have combined for just four goals so far this season, though Seguin is still producing some assists and is tied for the team lead in scoring.

Even so, it is always noteworthy when a coach singles out individual players following a loss, especially when it is the team’s best players. Even with the lack of goal-scoring from the Stars’ big-two, they have still won seven of their past nine games and collected 15 out of a possible 18 points in those games to start building some momentum following a disappointing start. A lot of the improvement has been due to their goaltending and some depth players stepping up and producing.

Related: Seguin, Benn facing more internal criticism

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.

Why Flyers fans have reason for optimism

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I’ve been on the fence about what to think of this Philadelphia Flyers team going all the way back to the offseason. There is reason to be encouraged by their roster, and there is at the same time every reason to have serious concerns about their roster.

Even now, with the team rapidly climbing the standings with eight wins in the past 11 games (including five in a row, and points in six in a row) those same feelings of confusion still exist. They are winning and collecting points — against very good teams! — but they are doing it while being completely dependent on overtime and shootouts.

Just as is the case with the St. Louis Blues and their recent hot streak (read about that here), there is an element of good fortune and luck to that sort of winning. You can’t keep relying on overtime and shootouts over an 82-game season if you want to be a playoff team and become a contender. But here’s the positive sign for the Flyers — from a big picture standpoint this season they are still exhibiting some signs that they might have some staying power. They might be a little lucky right now when it comes to their OT and shootout success, but there is also still reason to believe they have been a little unlucky to this point in pretty much every other area. At 5-on-5 play the Flyers have been one of the top-10 teams in a lot of key areas.

• Shot attempt share: 6th in NHL
• Expected goals share: 10th in NHL
• Scoring chance share: 5th in NHL
• High-danger scoring chance share: 9th in NHL

To be in the top-10 in all of those categories nearly a quarter of the way through the season is a pretty good sign and something a team can definitely build on. If a team is able to stay there, it is probably going to be a team one is a serious contender, especially if it gets even somewhat competent goaltending on top of it.

What should be encouraging for Flyers fans is they have played well this season, they have already collected a lot of points (they have the sixth best points percentage in the NHL), and you can make the argument that their four most important players — Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, and goalie Carter Hart — have probably underperformed to this point, at least relative to their expectations and previous track records.

The three forwards (Giroux, Voracek, and Couturier) are the most intriguing because all three have excellent underlying numbers and shot rates (especially Giroux and Couturier) but have not yet had it translate to the point totals we usually see from them. Giroux and Couturier have been especially dominant when it comes to driving possession, while both have seen increases in their individual shot rates. There is every reason to believe they have more to offer and that their production can — and should — increase.

Hart remains the key to this team, and he always has been. He is the latest goalie in a long line of goalies that was supposed to offer a real long-term solution to a consistently cursed position, and after an outstanding rookie season expectations were sky-high for him entering this year. But he did not get off to a great start (an .864 save percentage in October), and that more than anything contributed to the Flyers’ early losing. Since the calendar has rolled over to November, however, he has started to play like the goalie the Flyers hoped he could be. He has a chance to be a franchise-shifting player simply because of the position he plays and the importance it carries.

No one would blame you if you are still skeptical of this team.

The offseason moves were, in a word, strange, and the organization as a whole has settled into a state of consistent mediocrity over the better part of the past decade. They have also been burned by a revolving door of goalies that were supposed to solidify the position only to fail spectacularly in their own special ways.

But there is at least some kind of hope that this team might be able to be something decent this season based on what we have seen from them so far. If they can keep controlling play the way have over the first month-and-a-half, combined with Hart getting himself comfortable in net, there might be something to actually build on here.

Coverage of the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Flyers and Capitals begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app.

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.

How Blues have kept winning without Tarasenko

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When we last checked in with the St. Louis Blues a few weeks ago the defending champs were off to a sluggishly inconsistent start and then got the one piece of news they absolutely did not need — Vladimir Tarasenko, their most impactful player and biggest star, was going to be sidelined for the next five months. It was a disappointing start to their title defense, and it seemed like it could have at least had the potential to put them in another early hole in the Western Conference they would have to dig out of.

Instead, the opposite has happened. They enter Tuesday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes riding a seven-game winning streak and have climbed back to the top of the West standings, owning what is by far the best points percentage (.750) in the conference.

Considering the injury situation it is an impressive run and quick turnaround. How have they managed to stay so hot, and can they keep it rolling? It is a nice run of success, but there are definitely some red flags that come along with it.

The power play and overtime domination has carried the offense

Two things stand out about the Blues’ current winning streak. The first is that five of those wins have come in overtime, with two of those overtime goals being scored on power play opportunities.

Somewhat related to that is the fact the power play itself is clicking at a 29.6% rate over the past eight games, the second best success rate in the NHL during that stretch. All of that is making up for the fact that the Blues have scored just 12 goals during 5-on-5 play and have one of the worst scoring rates in the league at even-strength (more on this below).

This should be a concern because you can only rely on your power play to carry you for so long, and you’re not always going to get that sort of opportunity in overtime. Overtime itself can be a huge coin flip due to the unpredictable nature of the 3-on-3 situation. Sometimes you will get the bear, and sometimes the bear will get you (this five-game OT winning streak came after losing three OT/SO games in a row earlier in the year).

Jordan Binnington has gone on a roll

This is probably the biggest part of the Blues’ recent run. Binnington has won each of his past five starts and has a .930 save percentage in the six games since Tarasenko went out of the lineup. He was one of the players off to a slow start at the beginning of the year and his recent turnaround has resulted in him putting the team on his back and carrying it.

(We should also acknowledge that Jake Allen has also contributed, winning two games during the winning streak with a very respectable .914 save percentage).

Binnington’s play has been so important because the Blues are not controlling shot attempts and scoring chances like they did a year ago. Even during this recent winning streak (since Oct. 25) the Blues are among the worst teams in total shot attempt differential (28th), scoring chance differential (28th), high-danger scoring chance differential (30th), and expected goal differential (30th). It is a small sampling, yes, but it is also a dramatic fall from where they were a year ago after the coaching change when they were one of the best teams in all of those categories. (All via Natural Stat Trick)

Something to keep in mind: Even though their defensive play isn’t quite as good as it was in the second half and in the playoffs, a lot of their struggles in these differentials have to do with what they are not creating offensively as opposed to what they are giving up. Across the board they have been the worst 5-on-5 team in the league when it comes to generating shots, chances, high-danger chances, and yes, even goals. This is an example of where they are really missing an impact player like Tarasenko, and it really puts a ton of pressure on the goalies to have no margin for error because one or two goals could be too much to overcome.

The results are good, the process is concerning

This is really what it comes down to.

The Blues are winning games right now, yes, but the process behind those wins is concerning when it comes to their long-term outlook. These points they have collected over the past two weeks are important, and they have definitely built themselves a nice cushion in the playoff race, but if they keep playing this way the wins may not be as frequent as they currently are.

At times last year the Blues looked like a team that was doing everything right with the way it played and just needed to fix its goaltending  to get on the right track. They do not have that same feel right now.

If they want to keep getting the same results this year something is going to have to change in their process to generate more offense at even-strength, and that might require a trade to help replace what they are missing with Tarasenko.

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.