The Off Wing

Opinion and Fact…From the Off Wing

Archive for the tag “New York Islanders”

Power Play Possibilities

So it is the morning of the aftermath of what was, for all intents ans purposes, the death knell for Dan Bylsma with the Pittsburgh Penguins.  The Pens had a great run, with a power play that was all but unstoppable, humming along through the first two rounds at a 28.3% clip.  The problem is the buzz saw they ran into in the Eastern Conference Finals known as the Boston Bruins…or more specifically…the Boston Bruins Penalty Kill.

The Bruins had the number one power play for 90 percent of the season.  In the last week or two (of the season), the penalty kill dropped to fourth in the league, where it finished.  The first round brought with it the Toronto Maple Leafs (again, why isn’t it Leaves?) with a power play that made Boston look, well, mortal.  Boston’s penalty killers allowed 5 goals on 21 attempts, good for a 76 percent clip.  The speed of the Maple Leaf forwards turned out to be the Achilles heel for the kill.  During the regular season the Leafs had a power play percentage just under 19% (good for 14th in the NHL), but raised that to 24 percent in that first round.

In the second round they faced the New York Rangers.  Now the Rangers anemic power play finished the regular season at just under 16%, still better than the 14.8 percent of the Boston Bruins.  The Rangers managed just two goals of the power play variety in the second round, but none during the regular season.

In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Pens managed to score…no power play goals.  That’s right, none.  This after scoring 2 in 11 chances during the strike shortened regular season.  I mentioned the buzz saw earlier.  The Pens not only completed 18% against the Bruins, but 42 in 170 chances…good for 24.7% during the season!

So why re-hash all this information that anyone can look up with a little initiative?  Well, the possible Stanley Cup opponents for the Boston Bruins have the 10th (Kings) and 19th (Blackhawks) best power plays in the NHL this season.  Combined in the post season these two teams are 15 for 98, a 15.3% rate.  The Bruins managed to shut down a team that scored on 1/3rd of their opportunities in the first round…One Third.  And just for kicks, the Pens still scored on one quarter of their power plays in the second round against the Senators.  Just to put the bow on this package, the Islanders were almost woeful against the man advantage, but Ottawa, who allowed 24 percent against the Pens, were the best against the power play, allowing only 12% of the opportunities result in goals.

The moral of this story…if the Kings or the Blackhawks expect to beat the Bruins in the finals, they will most likely have to do it at even strength, because if the best power play in the game couldn’t get it done, well, there doesn’t appear to be much hope for the next opponent on the board.  Right now the Bruins have the hottest goaltender in the playoffs and have shown that they don’t have to out hit their opponent to win a hockey game.  They have been rolling four strong lines, and even with the misfiring on the third line, the fourth line, the Merlot line, as it is known, has picked up the slack.

So this writer wishes good luck to all those teams left in the playoffs, but for whoever comes out of the West, if you expect to beat the Bruins, you may need as much as you can get.


But They’re Contenders Now

Here in the second round of the stage that is the NHL playoffs, we have seen some decent teams make an early exit that most likely was predictable for just about everyone except maybe the teams’ most devout followers.  Two of those teams, however, showed that they not only belonged, but came ever so close to advancing to the next round.  The Toronto Maple Leafs (why isn’t it Leaves?) and the New York Islanders gave their opponents all they could handle on the ice.  Both teams losing in overtime, both teams showing that, with a little more playoff experience, they might have won their respective tilts.  There are some similarities between the two teams, besides being eliminated in the first round and a lack of playoff experience.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are the fifth youngest team in the NHL this season.  And while the Islanders were fourth oldest in the league, they were inexperienced with regard to the playoffs as well.  The lsland’s entry into this year’s playoffs included Brad Boyes, who had 11 playoff games with the Blues and Sabres, Mark Streit and his 12 playoff games with the Canadiens, Lubomir Visnovsky’s 18 games between the Kings and Ducks, Keith Aucoin (who didn’t see his first playoff action until last season with Washington) and his 14 games, Marty Reasoner and his 23 games previous, only played 1 game this post season.  Brian Strait is the only player on the roster under 30 with playoff experience…that being 3 games with Pittsburgh last season.  Radek Martinek was the only player on the team who was around the last time the Islanders reached the post season.  His experience…a whopping 9 games.  The goaltender has the most playoff experience…62 games.  And granted you want your goalie to show that he can perform under pressure, but at 37 years of age, could it be that the years have caught up with him.  Matt Carkner has 10 playoff games under his belt, and Eric Boulton has 4 playoff games…with the Atlanta Thrashers!  The common thread, with the exception of Strait all of these guys are over 30 (and in some cases way over).

The Islanders needed this, even though they lost.  The playoff time on ice for Tavares and Moulson as well as Grabner is priceless.  The team can’t afford to have all of its experience in players with one foot heading toward the exit.  Having a couple around is useful and a great learning tool for the young ones, but when four of those players are defensemen (and a goaltender), it’s time to get younger.  The blue line for the Islanders is starting to look a little geriatric.  Drafting strong, young defensemen should be the priority.  The goal scoring is there.  Tavares and Moulson can find the back of the net, but keeping the opponent from scoring is just as important.  Extend a sheet to some of the top talent such as Shattenkirk or Pietrangelo.  The Isles should also look to at least extending an offer sheet to Sergei in Columbus.  The Blue Jackets will never let him go, but it shows the hungry Islander fans that the team is making a concerted effort after the one the team left on the ice in the Nassau Center.  The front end is in good shape, but the Isles need to get younger on the back end.

The Maple Leafs need goal-tending help as well.  Reimer gave it all he could against the Bruins, and even stole one for his team.  The biggest issue with Reimer is his inability to control rebounds.  Against other bottom tier teams he is strong, but against the perennial playoff teams his weakness is exposed.  And when the Bruins decided to actually crash the net or put bodies in front of Reimer, he struggled with those rebounds finding twine behind him.

Toronto is loaded with youth, most of it under their control thanks to Brian Burke, who has the privilege of watching from afar.  Like the Islanders, the Leafs have plenty of goal scoring, with the likes of Kessel, Van Riemsdyk and my favorite player of the squad, Mikhail Grabovski.  Not sure how much work needs to be done on defense.  The core is young, with J.M. Liles being the elder statesman at 30.  But with Cody Franson, Carl Gunnarson, and Jake Gardiner to compliment Dion, they have some talent.

While the Penguins are busy trying to prove that you don’t need a number one goaltender to win a Stanley Cup, the safe bet would be for these two teams to get themselves one, a tender that can be relied on night in and night out to make the saves that need making.  And to get hot in the playoffs and carry them out of the first round.  Sure they could continue to eek their way into the playoffs but for how long would their respective fans put up with that…They’re Contenders Now.



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