Stanley Cup Final Roundtable: Secondary scoring, underrated contributors

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.

Which team is in bigger trouble if they fail to get secondary scoring?

SEAN: Tuukka Rask is going to make life difficult for any Blues player to score, and if the top line of Schwartz, O’Reilly and Tarasenko are slowed on any given night, the secondary scoring is essential. It’s been a huge part of their success. The same can be said for the Bruins, but their top line has been unstoppable and will give the Blues’ defense fits. Boston’s secondary scorers drying up won’t be as big of a death knell as it would be for St. Louis, who have stepped up in their own way this postseason.

JAMES: The Blues’ highest-end scorers are nothing to sneeze at … but unfortunately, the bar goes higher in the postseason, particularly when you’re facing arguably the best top line in the NHL in Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak. Those three could carry Boston to a series win if need be, and they also boast the two-way acumen to win a strength vs. strength battle if St. Louis goes top-heavy.

ADAM: It’s the Blues, simply because I think Boston’s top-end players are a little better and they have more of them. Tarasenko and O’Reilly can definitely make an impact on their own, but the Bruins’ trio of Bergeron, Marchand, and Pastrnak has carried them quite often over the past two years and I see no reason why they couldn’t do it again if needed.

JOEY: I’m going to go with the Blues. The Bruins have had 19 different goal scorers in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, so as important as Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak are, the rest of the team can still find a way to contribute offensively. St. Louis has made it this far without their top scorers contributing all that much, but the good news for them is that their high-end guys have started chipping in more. They’ll need Tarasenko and company to keep rolling if they’re going to win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.

SCOTT: There were stretches against Toronto and against Columbus where Boston’s otherwise dominant top line wasn’t as trigger happy. And it was then that the Bruins’ depth really showed. They’ve seen goal scoring come from 19 different players in this playoffs, from the top line right down to the guys on the fourth. The Bruins have a chance if those guys aren’t producing, is what I’m saying. I’m not sure the same can be said of the Blues if Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz aren’t lighting the lamp. There’s depth on the Blues roster, certainly, but this is the Cup Final against the hottest goalie in the playoffs and one of the best defensive teams in front of him. St. Louis can’t afford not to have their top guys running on all cylinders.

RYAN: The Blues. Boston’s top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak can carry the Bruins if needed. If this series turns into a battle of the top lines, then I don’t see St. Louis coming out on top. The Blues have gotten significant contributions from Ryan O'Reilly, David Perron, and Tyler Bozak in particular in the postseason and that needs to continue.

Who has been the most underrated contributor for each team?

SEAN: Do you know who has recorded the sixth-most playoff points since 2011? It’s David Krejci, who has 29 goals and 80 points in 98 games since the Bruins Cup run eight years ago. He’s been a reliable contributor in the shadows of Bergeron and Marchand, who typically lead the way and nab the headlines. This postseason he’s third on the team with 14 points and has gone consecutive games without recording a point only once since the end of January.

Another year, another Cup Final for David Perron. In his third stint with the Blues, Perron has already set a career high in postseason points with 13 in 19 games this spring. He scored a goal and added eight assists last season for the Vegas Golden Knights during their run to the Cup Final. This season he’s played a huge role as part of the team’s secondary scoring after netting 23 goals and 46 points.

JAMES: Defensemen for each side: Torey Krug for the Bruins; Colton Parayko for the Blues. Krug is a vital cog in the best power play of this postseason, and brings value beyond offense, too. Parayko, meanwhile, opens up Alex Pietrangelo to more scoring opportunities by being so stout defensively, and Parayko can also chip in on offense with a rifle of a shot.

ADAM: On the Boston side it is definitely David Krejci. He is like the forgotten man on that team but he has been around forever it seems and always has a knack for producing on these big stages. He has done it again in the playoffs and doesn’t really seem to be slowing down all that much even as he gets into his 30s. He’s been a workhorse for that team for years. For St. Louis, I think Alex Pietrangelo. He is their No. 1 defender but we really don’t talk enough about how good the Blues’ defense (and him especially) actually is. He has been great this postseason.

JOEY: No one seems to talk about David Krejci. The big three in Boston get all the headlines, but Krejci always seem to elevate his game at the right time. The 33-year-old has quietly put up 14 points in the first 17 games of this year’s playoffs and he’s chipped in 101 points in 125 career postseason games.

SCOTT: For Boston, I believe it’s become Marcus Johansson. I think people will finally begin to notice his contributions with just one series left. He’s been stout offensively and contributed on a few key moments for the Bruins over the past two rounds. He’s become a key trade-deadline acquisition for Boston. For St. Louis, I still think Oskar Sundqvist has been a quietly good contributor on the fourth line. He ended the San Jose series with a goal and an assist over the final two games, including the game-winner in Game 5.

RYAN: I don’t think Jay Bouwmeester has gotten enough attention for his key role in getting the Blues this far. He doesn’t do much offensively anymore, but even at the age of 35 he’s been a workhorse for the Blues in the playoffs. He’s averaging 23:02 minutes per game and has blocked 36 shots in the playoffs. The Blues would be in a very tough spot without him playing such a big role on the blueline.

On the Bruins side, while Boston’s top line has understandably gotten a lot of attention, the third unit has been a significant part of their success, led in part by trade acquisitions Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson. I’ll single out Coyle as the most effective of that group with his six goals and 12 points.

Will the 11-day layoff help or hurt the Bruins early in the series?

SEAN: The Bruins have tried to keep the intensity up in practices during their break, including holding a full scrimmage last week in front of a sold out crowd. There’s no way to simulate an NHL playoff game, but there’s enough experience on that roster that such a break won’t have a long affect on the team, if at all. The first game of a Cup Final always features a feeling out process, so that could allow the Bruins to shake off their rust and get back to the style that saw them blow through the Eastern Conference to reach this point.

JAMES: The Blues have had a pretty ample breather in their own right, so the Bruins’ rest advantage isn’t as extreme as, say, the 1986 Canadiens, who had a week off versus the 1986 Flames only getting a day off. I tend to roll my eyes at certain rust talk, as I’d wager that most struggles (beyond maybe the first 20-40 minutes of Game 1) are probably more to do to getting fewer bounces or facing tougher opponents. Still, 11 days is pushing it, and I worry the most about Tuukka Rask, who was red-hot. Will he be less sharp? I still say take the rest when you can, but this feels like the hockey equivalent of an NCAA football team getting a month off before a big bowl game. So I’d say hurt, but just a paper cut.

ADAM: I honestly don’t think it is going to matter simply because the Blues have been off for a long time, too. I don’t think the Bruins are going to complain too much about having an extended rest at this time of year. Their first two matchups were really difficult and the break has probably done them some good. They might be a little rusty in the first 10 minutes, but the first period of the first game of the Stanley Cup Final tends to be a little choppy anyway because both teams are still getting a sense of what the other is all about.

JOEY: As much as their intra-squad game will help them, I think they’ll be rusty early on in Game 1. But I don’t think it’ll hamper them for an entire game. The Bruins found a way to overcome a quick turnaround and they’re good enough to figure things out after a long layoff. I don’t think the layoff will be a big factor either way.

SCOTT: Meh. I’m not a huge believer in the whole rest-equals-rust debate. The Bruins needed it to tend to some bumps and bruises. If anything, it’s probably a bigger issue for Tuukka Rask given the run he was on prior to it. I just don’t see how rest is a bad thing is something as grueling as the Stanley Cup Playoffs. And let’s not forget, St. Louis is coming off an extended rest of their own here. If anything, they’ll need to survive the first period to get their groove back.

RYAN: Hurt. A moderate sized rest, like the one the St. Louis Blues are getting, would have probably done Boston some good. This rest is far too long though, especially for a team that was red hot. If any team can overcome it, it’s the Boston Bruins, but the long layover is nevertheless something to be overcome rather than something to be thankful for.

STANLEY CUP FINAL PREVIEW
Who has the better forwards?
Who has the better defensemen?
Who has the better goaltending?
Who has the better special teams?

X-factors
PHT Power Rankings: Conn Smythe favorites
How the Blues were built
How the Bruins were built
Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

McKenzie on Penguins injuries, Avs contracts … spider bites?

Leave a comment

When Alex Galchenyuk was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins, he likely breathed deep as he readied for a new coach, team, city, and system for the second straight season. Maybe there’s some fear about looking like a pale imitation of Phil Kessel, the other major part of that trade.

But did he factor in arachnophobia?

During a Wednesday appearance on NBCSN during the Penguins’ eventual 3-2 overtime win against the Colorado Avalanche, Bob McKenzie reported that Galchenyuk has been dealing with what could be a groin injury (or otherwise a soft tissue issue), which many surmised. What people didn’t realize is that Galchenyuk took a detour on his road to recovery because of a spider bite.

McKenzie reports that Galchenyuk had a significant allergic reaction to the bite, which seems a lot less fun than being able to climb on walls, swing on webs, and sense danger before it’s coming. (Theory: Brad Marchand may have “spider sense.” Although we’d probably need to brand it differently. “Pest-pathy?”)

Anyway, McKenzie reports that Galchenyuk is back on that road to recovery, although his precise window of recovery is unclear.

Via McKenzie, Galchenyuk, Nick Bjugstad, and Bryan Rust are essentially week-to-week still, as their windows seem to be two or three weeks. McKenzie reports that Evgeni Malkin‘s injury remains fuzzier.

Speaking of fuzziness, it sounds like the Colorado Avalanche are keeping things opaque when it comes to players on expiring contracts. So, we might need to wait-and-see with Andre Burakovsky and Nikita Zadorov.

That’s … understandable, especially with Burakovsky, who’s still making early impressions. Colorado might be wise to pick and choose with this stuff in the future, though. Could the Avalanche have signed Mikko Rantanen for less than a $9.25M AAV if they were more proactive? We can only speculate …

But hey, at least no one got bit by a spider.

*shudders*

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 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.

Penguins remain hot with win vs. Avalanche

Leave a comment

Brandon Tanev notched a shorthanded goal in overtime to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 3-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche.

Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel also scored as Pittsburgh recorded its fourth straight victory. Matt Murray added 26 saves.

Matt Calvert and Nathan MacKinnon found the back of the net for the Avalanche but their six-game point streak to open the season came to an end.

Crosby continues to dazzle

The Penguins captain has clearly moved on from a disappointing playoff run last year, which ended in a first-round sweep at the hands of the Islanders. Instead, Crosby is off to a tremendous start, recording points in each of Pittsburgh’s seven games and leading the club on the ice to a 5-2-0 record.

Crosby netted a highlight-reel backhander to tie the game late in the first period and then assisted on a Jake Guentzel tally in the second.

The superstar center craftily tipped the puck around Erik Johnson, played the puck with his glove, and then somehow had the wherewithal to outlast goaltender Philipp Grubauer until an opening appeared for him to slide a backhander into the net.

Early in the second period, Crosby intercepted a pass at the blueline, then set up Guentzel to help the Penguins grab a 2-1 lead.

While several notable players remain sidelined, Crosby will be expected to lead the Penguins on the ice, and continue to improve the players around him. Pittsburgh will need Crosby to play at the top of his game until reinforcements return over the next few weeks.

Avalanche upcoming free agents

After the Mikko Rantanen contract issue this past summer, the Avalanche have several pending RFA’s for next summer.

Colorado is expected to be a legit Stanley Cup Contender with a great mix of dynamic playmakers, infusion of youth and seasoned veterans capable of leading the way during turbulent stretches.

However, Bob McKenzie offered that general manager Joe Sakic wants to see how the first part of the season plays out before engaging in contract talks.

Andre Burakovsky, Tyson Jost and Nikita Zadorov headline the pending RFA class and all presumably have a role to fill moving forward.

Is Lafferty here to stay?

The Penguins have been bitten by the injury bug early and have been forced to rely on their organizational depth to stay afloat during a challenging stretch.

During their Stanley Cup-winning years, the Penguins have always been able to call up a role player to fill a specific need. Is Sam Lafferty the next player to seamlessly fit in?

Lafferty was close to making the team out of training camp according to Bob McKenzie, but fell victim to the numbers game of a roster. However, injuries to five impact forwards — Evgeni Malkin, Nick Bjugstad, Alex Galchenyuk, Bryan Rust and Jared McCann — created a roster spot for him to slide in.

“We always felt like Sam was close coming into this training camp this year. But I think he has a whole lot more confidence in himself that he belongs here,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “And that’s great for him, and that’s great for us.”

The 24-year-old originally from Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, about two hours outside of Pittsburgh, Lafferty has taken advantage of the opportunity recording five points over the previous three games.

“He’s earned his playing time. He’s just playing terrific hockey,” Sullivan said. “He made a difference every game he’s been in. As a result, he’s getting more ice time. He’s a very good penalty-killer. I think he really understands his role and is taking pride in it. You can see it every shift. He’s gaining more confidence.”

The Penguins have done an excellent job in sliding players into appropriate roles, and Lafferty is just the latest example. Does the kid have what it takes to stick around for a full season and continue to make a difference? We will find out as the season goes on.

MORE: Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV Schedule

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Blue Jackets’ Milano scores ridiculous between-the-legs goal vs. Stars

Leave a comment

Sidney Crosby scored a wonderful highlight reel goal despite hard-working defense, yet he has some competition for Wednesday’s best one-man effort.

Sonny Milano hasn’t always been able to justify being selected 16th overall in 2014 by the Columbus Blue Jackets, but there have been flashes of brilliance when he’s avoided landed in John Tortorella’s doghouse. The 23-year-old authored his best NHL effort so far against the Dallas Stars on Wednesday, beating Esa Lindell, Roope Hintz, and Ben Bishop, making a great move and then finishing his chance with the sort of between-the-legs move you’d see in a shootout.

You’re just not supposed to be able to that at full speed in NHL action, particularly against quality players and Bishop, who finished second in Vezina voting in 2018-19.

That goal ended up standing as the game-winner as Columbus beat Dallas 3-2 on Wednesday, too.

So, which goal do you prefer: Milano’s (above this post’s headline) or Crosby’s from the Penguins’ eventual 3-2 OT win against the Colorado Avalanche?

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 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.

WATCH LIVE: Flyers visit Oilers on NBCSN

Getty Images
Leave a comment

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Wednesday’s matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and Edmonton Oilers. Coverage begins at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Oilers have missed the playoffs 12 of the last 13 seasons, but this year has started successfully under new GM Ken Holland and new head coach Dave Tippett. Edmonton won their first five games of the season before losing on Monday in Chicago, 3-1. Still, with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl carrying the load as usual, boosted by a torrid scoring pace from James Neal, the Oilers have shown promise early on.

The Oilers’ two superstars both have four goals and eight assists and are tied for the league lead with 12 points. They are tied with Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine, who have played two more games.

During the Oilers season-opening five-game winning streak, they became the first team in NHL history to win their first five games despite trailing at some point in each of those games.

Tonight, Carter Hart will play his first NHL game in his hometown; Hart was born in Sherwood Park, Alberta, which is just east of Edmonton. Hart did play the Oilers last season, but only in Philly; he was called up to the NHL three days after the Flyers played at Edmonton.

Hart’s mother Shauna will be in attendance, but his father John is in Regina on business and will not be at the game. In addition to Shauna, Hart’s longtime sports psychologist John Stevenson (who also works with Braden Holtby) will be there – the first time Stevenson will see Hart play an NHL game in person.

Prior to the game in Calgary yesterday, the Flyers signed Chris Stewart to a one-year contract after he joined the team on a PTO in the offseason. Stewart had three hits in 9:12 of ice time – his first NHL game since March of 2018.

[COVERAGE OF FLYERS-OILERS BEGINS AT 9:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

WHAT: Philadelphia Flyers at Edmonton Oilers
WHERE: Rogers Place
WHEN: Wednesday, Oct. 16, 9:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Flyers-Oilers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

FLYERS
Claude GirouxKevin Hayes – James van Riemsdsyk
Oskar LindblomSean CouturierTravis Konecny
Tyler PitlickScott LaughtonJakub Voracek
Chris Stewart – Michael Raffl – Carsen Twarnyski

Ivan ProvorovJustin Braun
Travis SanheimMatt Niskanen
Robert HaggShayne Gostisbehere

Starting goalie: Carter Hart

OILERS
Leon Draisaitl – Connor McDavid – Zack Kassian
Alex ChiassonRyan Nugent-Hopkins – James Neal
Jujhar KhairaRiley Sheahan – Patrick Russell
Tomas Jurco – Markus GranlundJosh Archibald

Darnell Nurse – Ethan Bear
Oscar KlefbomJoel Persson
Kris RussellMatthew Benning

Starting goalie: Mikko Koskinen

MORE: Oilers’ Neal comfortable again in bounce-back season

Kathryn Tappen will host NHL Live on Wednesday with analysts Patrick Sharp, Roenick and NHL insider Bob McKenzie. Chris Cuthbert and Ray Ferraro will have the call of Flyers-Oilers from Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta.