Every NHL team’s biggest question at the quarter mark

The first quarter of the 2019-20 NHL season is in the books, and we are starting to get an idea of where every team stands, what they need to improve on and what they might be capable of. Here we take a look at every NHL team’s biggest question through the first quarter of the season.  1 of 31

Anaheim Ducks: finding some offense

This is not a playoff team, and it was probably never supposed to be a playoff team this season. But the Ducks still have some major issues when it comes to scoring goals. They were 31st in the league in goals scored a year ago and are only marginally better this season. The core that once made them a contender is older or has moved on, and they need some young players and new faces to step forward.  2 of 31

Arizona Coyotes: Do they have enough scoring?

The Coyotes are off to a great start and have put themselves in a position to get back in the playoffs for the first time since the 2011-12 season when they went on a surprise run to the Western Conference final. They have a solid defense and two outstanding goalies who are helping to drive them there. The big question is whether they can score enough to maintain it. They have a pretty balanced lineup with a lot of different people who can contribute, but they are still lacking a true impact, go-to player up front. Phil Kessel was supposed to be that player, but he has not yet produced at that level.  3 of 31

Boston Bruins: Will David Pastrnak win the goal scoring crown?

Honestly, this team is as solid as it can get, and there really is not a huge weakness to worry about. The top line is amazing, the depth is better than it was at the start of last season, the defense is great and the goaltending duo is as good as it gets in the NHL. Pastrnak is trying to put an end to Alex Ovechkin’s reign at the top of the goal scoring leaderboard and with 25 goals in his first 27 games, it looks like he has a great chance to do it. His current pace of more than 70 goals seems unsustainable, but 50 is absolutely within striking distance and maybe even 60 goals if everything goes right for him. 

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Buffalo Sabres: Can they avoid another late season fall?

They have already cooled off after their hot start, and for the second year in a row the Sabres look to be in danger of crushing their fans by wasting an amazing start. Jack Eichel is a legitimate superstar, but the rest of the roster around him is filled with question marks. This team is hanging around but still needs a lot of improvement to end this playoff drought that is closing in on a decade.  5 of 31

Calgary Flames: Can they get Johnny Gaudreau going?

Gaudreau is the foundation of the organization and the most impactful player, but so far this season he has been relatively quiet. Some regression had to be expected for this team, and maybe even some of the individual players, but Gaudreau seemed to be a safe bet to maintain his scoring pace from a year ago. So far it has not happened, and if the Flames are going to make any noise this year he needs to return to that level.  6 of 31

Carolina Hurricanes: Nino Niederreiter

The presence of Niederreiter for a full season was supposed to be one of the big game-changers for the Hurricanes this season. The team itself is fine overall and right on track to be a contender in the Eastern Conference again, but Niederreiter has just three goals and 10 points in his first 28 games this season. If he gets going offensively the way he did at the end of last season, it would make a massive impact for the Hurricanes. 

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Chicago Blackhawks: still the defense

The Blackhawks’ attempts to fix their blue line over the summer have failed, and they remain one of the worst defensive teams in the league. Add in the fact they have an aging roster, a coach who might not be the answer and a terrible salary cap situation, and this is one big mess for general manager Stan Bowman — assuming he is the one who gets to try and fix it.  8 of 31

Colorado Avalanche: Is Philipp Grubauer a Stanley Cup goalie?

There are not many questions on this team. When healthy, it might be one of the five best rosters in the NHL with an elite top-line, improved scoring depth and an outstanding young defense. The biggest question might be whether Grubauer is the goalie to take them to a championship. He has not been bad, but if you were looking for a weak link right now it might be here.  9 of 31

Columbus Blue Jackets: goaltending

The free agency exodus has definitely caught up to them, and while they miss the offense of Artemi Panarin, they still have no real long-term solution in goal. Both Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins seem like backup options instead of starters, and there does not seem to be much immediate help coming through the organizational pipeline. 

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Dallas Stars: Will Jamie Benn get going?

The scoring depth is still a concern, but the thing that makes the Stars a contender is the play of their top players. Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn may face criticism (often times internally), but they have been the best players on the team for years. So far this season their numbers are down a bit, and it is especially true for Benn. Is it just an early slump, or a sign that his career is finally starting to slow down? 11 of 31

Detroit Red Wings: When does Steve Yzerman start making changes?

He had to know this was going to be a huge job when he took it, but it might be even more daunting than Yzerman first realized. So far he has not made many roster moves as Red Wings general manager, but he has some big decisions to make, including the future of head coach Jeff Blashill. The record is not his fault, but at some point you might need a new voice. This team is on track to be historically bad this season.  12 of 31

Edmonton Oilers: Can they sustain this start?

If we are being honest, it still seems unlikely. The offense is completely dependent on Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, which is the same story as in the past three years. The only change so far this year is that the goaltending of Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen has masked all of the other many flaws this team still has. 

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Florida Panthers: Did they make a mistake signing Sergei Bobrovsky?

It was always going to be a long-term question, but the assumption was that they would at least get a few solid years and some playoff appearances out of Bobrovsky before his career declined. So far, the Panthers have not even been able to get one good year out of him. He has performed poorly, been benched and is owed $10 million per year over the next six seasons.  14 of 31

It was always going to be a long-term question, but the assumption was that they would at least get a few solid years and some playoff appearances out of Bobrovsky before his career declined. So far, the Panthers have not even been able to get one good year out of him. He has performed poorly, been benched and is owed $10 million per year over the next six seasons.  14 of 31

Los Angeles Kings: Do they start the rebuild?

What to do with Ilya Kovalchuk is a big question, but it seems his time with the team is already done. The concern is when the Kings actually start rebuilding this organization. Seriously, it is time. To be blunt, they are not good and even with a strong farm system, their short-term outlook looks rough. The team is going nowhere as currently constructed and is long overdue for a real rebuild that involves the team trading significant pieces to look toward the future. They have been dragging their feet on this for years, and the longer they wait the harder the rebuild will be once they actually start it.  15 of 31

Minnesota Wild: Bruce Boudreau’s status

At this point it seems to be a matter of when, and not if, a coaching change is made. The Wild are headed toward a second straight non-playoff season, they are one of the worst teams in the Western Conference, and first-year general manager Bill Guerin is almost certainly going to want his own coach. Boudreau would get another job quickly if the Wild decide to make a change, which seems inevitable at this point. 

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By: Adam Gretz

Biggest surprises of the NHL playoffs so far

With the second round of the NHL playoffs underway, the chances of a perfect bracket are slim to none. According to NHL.com, there are only five perfect brackets remaining.

Because of the chaos, there have been many surprises since the first game of the 2019 NHL playoffs. We look at the biggest shockers of the first round.

Lightning sent home thanks to Blue Jackets

  • Led by head coach John Tortorella , the Columbus Blue Jackets swept the President’s Trophy winners, even after Tampa’s historical regular season.
  • The Lightning were one of the best offensive teams in the league this season but were outscored, 19-8, in the series and had scarce offensive output from their best players.
  • With 128 points during the regular season, Tampa’s Nikita Kucherov registered only two assists in four games for the Bolts.
  • This is the first time in NHL history that a No. 1 overall seed has been swept in the first round of the playoffs.

The Jets were grounded after six games

  • After making it to the Western Conference finals last season, the Winnipeg Jets were the most favored Canadian squad to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals.
  • The Jets lost in six games to the St. Louis Blues, who have won 12 of their past 16 games dating back to March 16.
  • All of Winnipeg’s losses came by one goal, as well as both their victories.
  • Even in their own arena during Game 5, the Jets allowed three goals in the third period and lost, 3-2.

Some of the league’s top players were shut down

  • Arguably the best player of the past decade, Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby registered one assist in the playoffs — the lowest postseason point total of his career. He finished with a minus-4 in four games, the worst mark of his postseason career.
  • Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau also finished with one assist in five games with a minus-2 rating after scoring 99 points in the regular season.
  • Ryan Johansen had a goal and an assist for the Predators and was not much of a factor, and the Dallas Stars took advantage, taking the series in six games.
  • Steven Stamkos also had a goal and an assist, with a plus/minus of minus-8. You could say he was a defensive liability for the Lightning.

Golden Knights get robbed in Game 7

  • Up 3-0 in Game 7, Vegas’ Cody Eakin cross-checked San Jose’s Joe Pavelski to the ice. Eakin was given a 5-minute major and a game misconduct.
  • San Jose had an unreal comeback, netting four goals on the 5-minute power play to take the lead, with two goals coming from Logan Couture.
  • The Sharks won with two minutes left in overtime thanks to a goal from Barclay Goodrow, who only played two shifts the entire period.
  • On Thursday, the NHL apologized to the Golden Knights and admitted the referees were incorrect on Eakin’s penalty. That does not change anything for the Golden Knights.

A “Bunch of Jerks” beat the defending champs on the road in Game 7

  • One of the biggest underdogs in the playoffs, the Carolina Hurricanes took the Washington Capitals to double overtime and advanced on a goal from Brock McGinn.
  • The Caps’ Alex Ovechkin had seven goals in the series but finished with a minus-2. He was a force in the offensive end but not so much on defense.
  • Warren Foegele led the Canes with four goals. In 77 regular- season games, Foegele had 10 total goals. The third liner has been great in his first playoff series.
  • The Hurricanes advance to the second round for the first time since 2009, when they made it to the Eastern Conference finals.

By: Trevor Drake

Original Article

NHL playoff primer: 5 intriguing matchups to watch in the 1st round

It’s playoff season once again.

Before you fill out your postseason bracket, we break down one key matchup across five first-round series that could make or break a team in their pursuit of the Stanley Cup.

Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

Top-line takeover

It’s no secret – for the Leafs to trump the Bruins, they need to find an answer for the three-headed monster of David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand.

The Leafs were tormented by the Bruins’ top line in their seven-game series last postseason. Bergeron and Co. controlled possession, posting a Corsi rating of 64.90, and dominated Toronto in high-danger scoring chances at five-on-five, 49-26. An encouraging note for the Leafs is that the Corsi number dropped to 54.84 when matched with Auston Matthews and shot up to 75 when going against Tomas Plekanec – suggesting the trio dominated much of the play against a veteran player who is no longer in the league.

Looking at the regular season, both Matthews and Bergeron were out of the lineup for two of the teams’ meetings this season, so we’ll have to see how the coaches choose to deploy their top talent with the pair back in the mix.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New York Islanders

Goaltending vs. star power

The Islanders claiming home-ice advantage was key, but perhaps their biggest edge sits between the pipes. Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss combined to capture the William M. Jennings Trophy this season, and their dominant play must continue for the team to be successful against the Penguins’ offensive arsenal.

Though neither netminder has a ton of playoff experience, the job will likely be Lehner’s to lose. Since returning from injury on March 19, the 27-year-old has posted a 5-2 record with a .942 save percentage.

Barry Trotz’s club allowed a league-low 191 goals on the campaign and posted a record of 38-2-2 when scoring at least three times in a game. Led by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins boasted the fifth-best offense this year and rostered four players with 70-plus points.

Pittsburgh mustered 13 goals in four games against the Islanders during the regular season, with Crosby and Malkin combining for eight points.

Calgary Flames vs. Colorado Avalanche

Can ‘Johnny Hockey’ outperform MacKinnon?

Calgary’s Gaudreau and Colorado’s MacKinnon each notched a career-high 99 points this season. Though they play different positions up front, the two will be a joy to watch compete as they best embody the speed and skill that will be on display in this series.

The All-Stars have no problem facing the pressure of playoff hockey, either, as MacKinnon has tallied 16 points in 13 career contests, with Gaudreau posting 11 points in 15.

Both men know how to deliver when it matters most, too. “Johnny Hockey” racked up 39 points and 17 goals in the third period or overtime this season, while MacKinnon contributed 37 points and 15 goals in those clutch moments. When the game is on the line, look for one of these two studs to follow through.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

Stingy penalty kill vs. Electric man advantage

Special teams will heavily influence this matchup between one of the greatest regular-season teams ever and a franchise looking for its first playoff series victory.

The Lightning’s power play was lethal this season, clicking at a league-leading rate of 28.2 percent. The Blue Jackets, on the other hand, deploy the NHL’s top penalty kill.

The Lightning and Blue Jackets posted similar possession numbers with Corsi ratings of 51.59 and 50.21, respectively. The more even-strength hockey Columbus can play, the better its chances of pulling out the upset – in the regular season, the Lightning erupted for six power-play goals on 11 attempts in their three victories over the Jackets this year.

St. Louis Blues vs. Winnipeg Jets

Battle in the crease

This Central Division clash is about as even as any playoff series on the slate. The Jets won 47 regular-season games and sported a goal differential of plus-28, while the Blues won 45 contests and were plus-24. Both teams finished with 99 points, but what may ultimately separate the two in this series is the play in the crease.

The Blues netminder was one of the best stories of the season. In 32 appearances, Binnington posted a .927 save percentage and an unbelievable 1.89 goals-against average en route to setting a franchise record for wins by a rookie goaltender with 24. The 25-year-old has yet to face the Jets this season, perhaps to the Blues’ advantage.

Hellebuyck was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy last season but will need to regain his form in a hurry after taking a step backward this year. The 25-year-old won 10 fewer games and saw his goals against average spike from 2.36 to 2.90.

With two netminders trending in opposite directions, goaltending will be the deciding factor in this series.

By: Matt Teague

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