Matt Martin

Lehner, Mrazek put on Game 1 show as single bounce is the difference

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BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Game 1 between the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders quickly developed into a night where a single shot was going to make all the difference. Fortunately for the Hurricanes, their goaltender kept all the shots he faced from going into his net.

Robin Lehner and Petr Mrazek put on a show Friday night at Barclays Center during the Hurricanes’ 1-0 overtime victory. Each goaltender finished with 31 saves and showed early on it was going to be a very tight, low-scoring affair.

Mrzaek got everything started off when Josh Bailey broke in on a breakaway. Bailey, the overtime hero in Game 1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Round 1, couldn’t beat Mrazek with a backhand attempt:

“[Mrazek’] been great,” said Hurricanes defenseman Calvin de Haan. “The grade A’s that we are giving up, he’s usually making the first stop and that’s all you can ask of your goalie, and we’ve just got to try to clear rebounds.”

Lehner put himself on the highlight-reel with a big pad stop to deny Gregg McKegg a golden opportunity:

Much like their teams, no one expected Lehner and Mrazek to do what they did during the regular season and be the focal points of why they’re still playing into Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Lehner and Mrazek both entered the 2018-19 NHL season at important points in their careers and separately grabbed control the No. 1 jobs on their respective teams. Mrazek finished top 10 in even strength save percentage (.931), three spots below Lehner (.935), who’s season was impressive enough to make him a Vezina Trophy finalist. 

They will be richly rewarded for their play this summer as both are eligible for unrestricted free agency.

“Robin’s consistently our best player,” said Islanders forward Matt Martin. “He’s solid in there, he’s composed, he makes big saves when we need them. … Robin’s the backbone of our team, there’s no question about that. He’s outstanding every time he’s in there.”

“He’s been great all year and now in the playoffs he’s coming up huge,” said Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour of his goaltender.

Lehner and Mrazek entered Friday’s Game 1 coming off quite different amounts of rest. Lehner had just experienced 10 days of rest after sweeping the Penguins in Round 1. Mrazek had to quickly shift from an emotional seven-game series that ended in double overtime Wednesday night to the opening game of Round 2, which was Carolina’s third game of the postseason requiring more than 60 minutes to determine a winner.

Time and time again Mrazek, who can now boast that five of his career playoff wins have come via shutout, was there to make a big stop as the Islanders kept managing to get to the dangerous areas in front of his net for opportunities. The one goal the Hurricanes did allow was quickly waved off for goaltender interference. By traditional scoring methods, the 27-year-old Czech native answered the call every time when needed, frustrating the Islanders and showing that this could be a very long, very tight series.

“That’s what your goaltender is for,” said Hurricanes forward Jordan Staal, who netted the overtime winner. “[Mrazek’s] a gamer. He can find ways to make those big saves at the right time and that’s what you want in your goaltender.”

Game 2 of Hurricanes-Islanders is Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on NBC (Live stream).

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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.

Islanders vs. Hurricanes: PHT 2019 Stanley Cup Playoff preview

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The Carolina Hurricanes ended a marathon of a series to upend the Washington Capitals, the defending champions. Meanwhile, the New York Islanders have been chilling after sweeping the Pittsburgh Penguins, aka the team that won the two Stanley Cups before Washington grabbed theirs.

So, yes, you can call this a war of the underdogs, although in the upset-happy 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Islanders – Hurricanes has plenty of competition. (And some would argue the Hurricanes weren’t underdogs, but that’s a whole other thing.)

There are some other fun storylines, too. This could be the quintessential rest vs. rust test case, as the Hurricanes were pushed to the limit on Wednesday, while the Islanders haven’t played since April 16.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

In true Carolina fashion, there’s another analytics experiment going on. The Islanders have defied the odds and possession metrics to keep winning games, while the Hurricanes finally seem to be benefiting from hogging the puck for years now. Winning this series won’t end the (often obnoxious) debates one way or another, yet you can bet that someone will claim as much on Twitter once the dust settles.

And, if you were tired of the same old teams in Round 2, you won’t get a much fresher matchup than Hurricanes vs. Islanders.

Schedule

Surging players

Islanders: With goalies getting their own section, there’s no reason to hesitate to mention Jordan Eberle first. He scored four goals in as many games against the Penguins, finishing that sweep with six points and a +6 rating, riding a red-hot 26.7 shooting percentage. Mathew Barzal was right there with him, generating five assists.

Brock Nelson scored three goals with a 25 shooting percentage, with two of his tallies being game-winners. Josh Bailey‘s three goals and one assist impress, and his luck was strong too (33.3 shooting percentage). Valtteri Filppula carried over his surprising work from the regular season, generating four assists. Anders Lee weighed in, too, with three points.

Hurricanes: Jaccob Slavin‘s gaining much-deserved mainstream attention, tying Erik Karlsson for the playoff lead in points for defensemen with nine (both with nine assists). Overtime work inflates things, but Slavin’s 26:59 TOI average remains robust.

Jordan Staal finished the series on a roll, scoring the goal that sent Game 7 to OT, while nabbing the game-winner in Game 6. Warren Foegele‘s four goals (along with two assists) came on just 12 SOG (33.3 shooting percentage), while Dougie Hamilton‘s six points flew under the radar because of that overblown talk about allegedly wincing at contact with Alex Ovechkin on a memorable goal. Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen don’t tower over others production-wise, but they really took over during key parts of the series, and remain the Hurricanes’ two aces.

Oh yeah, and Justin Williams continues to be Mr. Game 7, whether he likes it or not.

Struggling players

Islanders: Not many, what with this team riding a hot streak and managing a sweep.

After scoring easily a career-high with 20 goals (on an 18 shooting percentage) during the regular season, Casey Cizikas didn’t generate a point during that sweep. Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin didn’t score any, either, and Martin only averaged 12:42 TOI. Nothing too troubling, as the Isles generally count on those guys as physical presences, with any goals being a bonus. You can apply similar logic to modest-scoring defensemen, as they were pretty happy to limit the Penguins’ big guns in Round 1.

Hurricanes: Nino Niederreiter only managed an assist during that seven-game series against the Capitals, and it’s possible he might be banged-up (although that assist was gorgeous). Trevor van Riemsdyk didn’t generate a point during that series, and found himself planted on the bench a bit in key moments … which isn’t as big of an insult as it might seem, since Carolina has such outstanding defensemen to lean on when they want to shorten their bench. It’s tough to tell how much injuries factor into struggles of players like Micheal Ferland, who failed to score while being limited to three games.

Goaltending

Islanders: After a tremendous, redemptive regular season where he generated a fantastic .930 save percentage, Robin Lehner … somehow played even better? For all the hand-wringing about the Penguins, a near-impenetrable brick wall in net can really magnify your warts, and Lehner did that, producing an even-better .956 save percentage during that sweep. There’s a chicken-and-the-egg argument regarding how much Lehner’s numbers boil down to his own great play versus Barry Trotz’s defensive structure, but the results are so great, the debate feels moot (at least until it comes time for Lehner to get paid, as he’s in a contract year). Thomas Greiss‘ regular season numbers were nearly identical to Lehner’s, so few teams have a better option in case something happens with their starter.

(Unless Greiss reverted back to his 2017-18 form, in which case it would be a double-whammy.)

Hurricanes: Petr Mrazek‘s full season stats were just solid (.914 save percentage), but he really went on a tear down the stretch, generating a .938 save percentage in 17 games following the All-Star break. Mrazek’s .899 save percentage against the Capitals wasn’t so great, but Alex Ovechkin & Co. tend to generate high-danger chances, so he graded out reasonably well overall — just not dominant, like Lehner. Mrazek got bumped a bit late in that series, including a hard collision with teammate Justin Williams. He seems OK, yet it could be something to monitor. Like with Lehner and Greiss, Mrazek has a backup who produced similar results in the regular season in veteran Curtis McElhinney.

On paper, judging by this season alone, the advantage is the Islanders’, but we’ll see how it actually plays out.

Special teams

Islanders: The Islanders scored two power-play goals on 13 opportunities (15.4 percent), with both goals scored at home. Such a small sample size only tells you so much, so consider that, during the regular season, the Isles only converted on 14.5 percent of their chances, the third-worst total in the NHL. They were middle-of-the-pack on the PK in the regular season (79.9 percent), but only allowed the powerful Penguins’ power play a single PPG during that sweep. On paper, special teams is either neutral or a weakness for this team.

Hurricanes: The Hurricanes only killed 75 percent of their penalties against the Capitals, but is that really so bad against a singular man advantage menace like Alex Ovechkin, who scored three power-play goals during that series? Carolina ranked eighth in PK efficiency during the regular season, which isn’t shocking considering their strong defensive personnel. Carolina’s power play has been middling at best, and they will forever befuddle me by not putting Dougie Hamilton on their top unit. Hamilton scored two PPG against the Capitals despite that questionable deployment, so maybe the Hurricanes will finally change that up and reap some rewards?

As it stands, these two teams generally grade out as pretty strong on the PK, and mediocre on the PP. This seems to be a push overall, although maybe strong coaching/video work might swing this area during the actual series?

X-Factor for Islanders

Normally, in hockey, home-ice advantage is overblown.

The Islanders are an especially interesting case study, though. This is anecdotal, of course, but it’s really hard to believe that the Isles didn’t at least get a slight boost from an absolutely raucous crowd at Nassau Coliseum for Round 1. Now, with the scene changing to the less-fan-and-hockey-friendly Barclays for Round 2, will things be more tepid? A more muted crowd may only play into the “rust” factor, as maybe Nassau’s sheer volume might have been like a bucket of ice water to the head.

X-Factor for Hurricanes

Are the Hurricanes anywhere near 100 percent?

As much as rest is a worry (they just finished a double-OT game and multiple series/in-game comebacks that finished on Wednesday), my biggest concern is injuries. Andrei Svechnikov is still feeling the effects of losing that fight to Alex Ovechkin. Ferland’s hurt, and Jordan Martinook‘s injuries seem to be piling up. And that says nothing about players who are fighting through unreported ailments, stuff that piles up when you play three more games than your opponents, and get basically the bare minimum of rest.

(Again, I wonder at least a bit about Mrazek.)

I’m sure the Islanders have their own bumps and bruises, but they likely pale in comparison to the Hurricanes, who probably lived in ice baths for the last week.

Prediction

Islanders in 6. If everything was equal – rest, injuries, etc. – I’d probably go with the Hurricanes. Even if players like Svechnikov suit up in Round 2, I’m not so sure they’ll be full effective. It wouldn’t be surprising if Trotz gets at least a minor edge on Rod Brind’Amour, what with Trotz being one of the most experienced defensive-minded coaches in the game, and Brind’Amour being in his rookie coaching season. It’s a tough call, and I’d wager that the Islanders will start to see their luck cool off, but here’s saying the Isles’ unlikely run extends to at least Round 3.

(But, yeah, the Hurricanes have a lot going for them.)

PHT’s Round 2 previews
Round 2 schedule, TV info
Questions for the final eight teams
PHT Roundtable
Conn Smythe favorites after Round 1
Blues – Stars
Bruins – Blue Jackets
Sharks – Avalanche

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.

The Wraparound: Islanders, Hurricanes set to battle in the series of the unlikely

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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.

Prior to the opening of Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, no teams had bigger odds of hoisting the trophy than a contingent of Metropolitan Division teams.

No one believed in the Columbus Blue Jackets against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Ditto for the Carolina Hurricanes at the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. And despite their second place finish in the division, not many were sold on the New York Islanders against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

All three of those teams were handed 30/1 tags. All three made it to Round 2. And at least one of those teams will progress to the Eastern Conference Final.

The Islanders (100/1 at the beginning of the season) will host the Hurricanes (who were 60/1 in October) in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Second Round series tonight (6:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN; Live stream), the first game in 10 days for the Isles, who move to Barclays Center in Brooklyn for the season after playing in Nassau Coliseum in Round 1.

“I don’t think anyone gave either of these teams a whole lot of credit, and they deserve a lot of credit,” Islanders forward Matt Martin said. “The way they battled the second half of the year to kind of get in [the playoffs], I think resiliency is a good word for them. I think it’s going to be a great series. They’ve got some speed, they’ve got some talent, they work really hard. We need to be ready and at our best.”

The Hurricanes enter the series with far less rest after a seven-game series with the Capitals wrapped up less than 48 hours ago. It had been 10 years since the Hurricanes even sniffed the playoffs and now have a chance to reach the conference final as they did back in 2009.

“I know they’re sitting there, probably licking their chops,” Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’amour said. “I think we all would be the way this series went, seven games, overtimes, the grind that this series was, injuries that were racked up, and they’re just sitting there for 10 days, or I don’t know how long. I know they’re a great team, and that’s why they had a pretty easy [first] round. They know how to win, and they do it right.”

No one fired more shots on goal per game during the regular season than the Hurricanes while no one allowed fewer goals per game than the Islanders. The Isles, particularly, kept true to their regular-season form, allowing just six goals in the series against the Pens, including just one goal in each of the final three games.

Friday’s game, and the series in general pits one team that’s looking to remain on the high they experienced a couple nights ago against another than handily dispatched a team that had won two of the previous three Stanley Cups.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

TODAY’S SCHEDULE

Game 1: Colorado Avalanche at San Jose Sharks, 10 p.m. ET. Speaking of teams no one gave much of a chance… The Avs come into this one having knocked off the Western Conference’s best Calgary Flames in five games while the San Jose Sharks overcame a 3-1 series deficit to win in dramatic (and controversial) fashion in Game 7 to advance. San Jose owned the Avs in the regular season, winning all three games they played. Not that any of that seems to matter this year. The Sharks have to contend with Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, something the Flames couldn’t do as the top-line duo combined for eight goals and 17 points in the series. This means Martin Jones will need to be in Game 5 to 7 mode and not Game 2 to 4 mode where he was pulled twice and allowed six in the game he was allowed to remain in. (NBCSN; Live stream)

PHT’s Round 2 previews
Round 2 schedule, TV info

Questions for the final eight teams
PHT Roundtable
Blue Jackets vs. Bruins
Hurricanes vs. Islanders
Blues vs. Stars
Avalanche vs. Sharks


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

Fight involving Bruins’ Chara plays out exactly as one might expect

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Ever try to punch a giraffe in the face? Me neither, but New York Islanders forward Matt Martin has a story to tell.

Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara is a man few want to fight. He towers over everyone in the NHL and his reach is close enough to double that of his nearest opponent that the best you can often hope for is a good shadow boxing practice because the odds of connecting are so terribly low.

Martin got exactly that when he and Chara dropped the glove just four seconds into the second period off the opening faceoff.

The two exchanged rights before Chara threw a nasty, downward-directed bomb that caught Martin flush, knocking him to the ground. To Martin’s credit, he bounced back up and tried in vain to hit Chara. He had no such luck.

Chara ended the scrap by basically stiff-arming Martin to the ground followed by the congratulatory pat on the back from the 6-foot-9 man.

It’s respectable that Martin wanted to try and give his team a boost, although they were only down 1-0 at that point of the game. Ambitious, but respectable.

Chara, meanwhile, just turned 42 on Monday.


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

PHT Morning Skate: Top NHL-affiliated prospects; rookie dinner stories

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.

• TSN hockey analyst Craig Button released his list of top 50 NHL-affiliated prospects. A couple of Russians are at the top of this list. (TSN.ca)

• Find out how Devils defenseman Damon Serverson became a fan of rodeo and bull-riding. (NJ.com)

• The Islanders have received some solid contributions from their fourth line, which is made up of Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin, and Cal Clutterbuck. (Newsday)

• Sports Illustrated’s Alex Prewitt did a little digging to find out what some players’ rookie dinner looked like. (Sports Illustrated)

• Coming into this season, Rasmus Dahlin was expected to be the top rookie defenseman in the NHL. Let’s just say that Miro Heiskanen is giving him a run for his money. (The Score)

• Where do the Minnesota Wild go from here? (The Hockey News)

• NHL.com had a sit down with Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois. (NHL.com)

• The Nashville Predators should look into trading for Panthers forward Mike Hoffman. (Predlines)

Patrick Maroon going home to St. Louis was a nice story, but it hasn’t worked out for either side. (St. Louis Game-Time)

• Over the course of the 1,000 games Brooks Orpik has played in his career, he’s had to adjust his game. (NBC Washington)

Jake Gardiner and Larry Murphy have a few things in common. First of all, they’ve both been booed by their home crowd in Toronto. (Canadian Press)

Matt Duchene plays “What’s in the Box” with Paul Bissonnette:

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.