[Author's note: Power rankings are usually three things: Bad, wrong, and boring. You typically know just as well as the authors which teams won what games against who and what it all means, so our moving the Red Wings up four spots or whatever really doesn't tell you anything you didn't know. Who's hot, who's not, who cares? For this reason, we're doing a power ranking of things that are usually not teams. You'll see what I mean.]
6. The Leafs
How do you respond when a team doesn't perform to the level expected by management and coaches, but which logic dictates were always unreasonable levels to begin with?
You extend the coach who many observers say has “lost the room” for two more years, and you start shopping (sorry, “willing to listen”) your captain, who just a few months back re-signed for seven seasons and $49 million. It was on "HBO 24/7" and everything.
The Leafs' solution to the problem is not only to stay the course, but to actively pursue (sorry again, “listen to offers”) a trade that would make the team worse. If you want to scapegoat Dion Phaneuf for the Maple Leafs' problems, that's fine, and hell, if you want to trade him before that contract you literally just gave him six months ago so you don't have to pay him anything, that's fine too. Even if you want to eat a little bit of money.
But if you're trading Phaneuf, you really have to understand that you're not getting an equivalent defenseman back in terms of quality. You'll get picks and prospects, sure, but this is a team that's about as good as it's going to get on paper any time soon, and you're not going to sign someone of Dion Phaneuf's quality on Day 1 of unrestricted free agency even if you save a bunch of money; the playing field has been leveled not only by the salary cap, but on the term restrictions of the new CBA. Unless the Leafs really blow Matt Niskanen out of the water on money — and they're not looking too great against the cap with $48.7 million invested in just 12 players, so don't hold your breath —they don't really have a distinct advantage; why would anyone choose to go to Toronto otherwise?
Is the Leafs' defense bad? Of course it is. Everyone knows that, including the coaches. Is Dion Phaneuf the reason why? Of course he isn't. To trade him would be to significantly downgrade the team's position of greatest need, and court further disaster.
The good news for Leafs fans is it would almost certainly get Carlyle fired. So there's that.
5. Jonathan Quick
It's been a little tough to watch this Kings/Ducks series if only because of how much Jonathan Quick seems to range wildly from being spectacular (Games 1 and 2) to being absolutely horrendous (all other games). The end result is that the Kings have lost three straight, and Quick has allowed nine goals in three games, on just 57 shots. That's an .842 save percentage.
So what could possibly be the reason for this? Part of it is that the Ducks are piling up power play goals. Following the series with San Jose, Quick's save percentage with his team shorthanded was .938 (61 of 65). That number has dropped to just .688 (11 of 16). So that's five goals of the 12 against in this series accounted for, and more than enough to swing things in the Ducks' favor, bad even-strength possession numbers or not. Again, for the record, the Kings have taken 57.6 percent of all shot attempts at even strength, which is a lot.
However, in Games 4 and 5, Quick has been abject. One goal on seven shots at 5-on-5 before getting pulled in the 2-0 loss, and then three on 20 Monday night.
So if you're looking for people to blame, you might want to start with the guy whose even-strength save percentage for these playoffs is just .910.
4. The Bruins' top line
A lot has also been made about the Bruins' inability to put away the Canadiens (and vice versa, I suppose), and the reasons for it. In the Canadiens' case, it was the insistence on trying to play a Boston-style game that prevented them from closing out the series already. In the Bruins' case, it's an inability to score.
Specifically, it's an inability of their top line to score, as David Krejci, Jarome Iginla, and Milan Lucic have combined for three goals, only one of them at even strength (by Iginla) and the other two either on the power play (also Iginla) or into an empty net (Lucic). You can chalk a lack of actual goalscoring up to a lot of problems, including luck. (And Carey Price, too. That should go without saying.)
But the fact of the matter is that they're really not having that much of an influence on the game as a whole. Krejci and Iginla are both averaging 2.2 shots per game against the Habs, and Lucic is at an even 2.
There's also the fact that the Bruins have been pretty unlucky overall; the official stats say they've gotten nine pucks past Price (seven posts, two crossbars) that didn't go in, compared to just one post for Montreal in the series. A number of those unfortunate bounces were from Lucic and Iginla's sticks. Any of those go in, and this series is likely very different.
That's how hockey goes sometimes, though. And for all those people who have bemoaned Krejci's lack of production (a single assist) after he led the team in playoff scoring in their runs to the Cup Final in 2011 and 2013, well, you're learning that the hard way.
Krejci's corsi share in the playoffs last year was 47.4 percent, but he put up 26 points in 22 games because he had an 5-on-5 on-ice shooting percentage of 10.7, which is really quite high. This year, it's actually improved a little bit to 48.4. That's not a huge step forward, but his on-ice shooting percentage has plummeted to 1.5 percent. If those posts Lucic and Iginla hit are goals instead, it's four goals on 81 shots, rather than one. Shooting four on 81 is still low (4.9 percent), but it's also quadruple the current number.
Maybe he gets some of that luck back in Game 7. But if he doesn't, all the blame that lands on his shoulders won't really be all that fair.
3. John Gibson
It really is great to see John Gibson crush it at the NHL level, and it's very likely he's going to be The Guy not only for Anaheim, but the United States and maybe even the entire position of goaltending for another decade and a half at least.
This breakdown of his career against top competition from Chris Peters shows he didn't so much evolve as arrive on the scene a more or less fully formed puck-stopping machine, and he's been an absolute pleasure to watch any time he's been on national television.
It's a very funny coincidence that in this series he might just steal everything from the guy whose job as the Best Goalie In America he will one day steal? You can start writing your “Passing of the torch” features now. That's my gift to you.
2. Return of the spear
After briefly going out of style, the last several days have provided us with a short burst of additional spearing incidents once again grabbed headlines.
Part of the reason for that is Sidney Crosby himself getting in on the action, though perhaps a little too long after it was so clearly in fashion around the league. Like the guy wearing last year's designer shoes to the fancy dress party, Crosby made a good effort in spearing Dominic Moore in the Lucic-Emelin area and wound up not even facing a fine for the incident. Perhaps the NHL was just a little embarrassed that he bothered with it so late in the season. You don't taunt the guy who wears white after labor day, after all.
(Though, as an aside on Crosby, how did the cumulative effect of the spear, the slewfoot/trip, and so on in Game 6 not add up to at least a call from NHL Player Safety? I mean, we know the actual answer, of course, but man that was some kind of period.)
Then when the Bruins got all upset because they were in the process of getting creamed at Bell Center, things got chippy. And in this series, when things get chippy, someone gets speared in the nuts. On Monday night, it was Zdeno Chara catching hell from Andrei Markov. As you might expect, this seemed to phase Chara not at all, which is like when you try to shoot Godzilla with conventional weapons.
Welcome back, spearing. We missed you.
Unfortunately, the hot new trend of the spring is not spearing, but rather something far more playful and innocuous: Squirting (don't be gross). Who hasn't had a good ol' fashioned squirt gun fight with their old friends when things heat up a little, huh?
It all started when Corey Perry, incorrigible scamp he is, took the chance during a break in the action to squirt a little water into Jeff Carter's glove. Carter put the glove on again and got that old same look Mr. Wilson did when Dennis the Menace would get up to no good. But that's just boys being boys, and it wasn't during play, so everyone just had a nice chuckle about it and that was that.
But then Shawn Thornton, as he so often does, had to take it too far. The Bruins were cruising comfortably in Game 5, at home, when PK Subban skated by the Boston bench in pursuit of a loose puck. Thornton, thinking himself quite the mischievous jokester, squirted Subban from the bench. Which, during play, is a no-no. It might have all been within the bounds of good clean fun had it not been for that fact. But it was, and for that Thornton was dinged for a fine in excess of $2,800, the maximum he could be fined given the size of his salary.
Finally, on Sunday, Henrik Lundqvist took it a step too far, as people so often do in squirt gun wars. At the end of the big scrum caused by Crosby's aforementioned spear of Dominic Moore, Lundqvist skated by Crosby and emptied his water bottle on the Pittsburgh captain's head. No fun there, Hank! Despite the fact that this was not during play, the fact that it was Crosby was probably what necessitated the $5,000 fine. Gee whiz.
Put another way, the NHL has collected almost 21 percent more in fines for players squirting water on opponents ($7,820.52) than for spearing them in the balls ($6,474.36).
(Not ranked this week: Trading Evgeni Malkin.
Apparently one of Pittsburgh's big problem this season, in their view, was that Sidney Crosby is growing frustrated with the current core of talent around him, and specifically the quality of his wingers. But with the team so tight against the cap, they're now thinking that it might be time to make something happen in the trade market. According to Darren Dreger, it's specifically this:
“It might be time to move Malkin out.”
It must be said, unequivocally, that it is 100 percent not time to move Evgeni Malkin out. The Penguins have a lot of problematic money locked up in the core, but is one of the three or four best players on earth really the one you want to move? You can't upgrade Crosby's wing and improve the depth of the team, for example, if you keeping paying Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz and James Neal big money, or for that matter Kris Letang — whose cap hit goes up to $7.25 million next season — and Marc-Andre Fleury.
Speaking of Neal, there's also the concern that trading Malkin (and boy can I not believe we're discussing this) renders him useless. His WOWYs without Malkin for his entire career go in the toilet. About 50 percent fewer goals per 20 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey, 7.5 percent more goals against, 22 percent fewer shot attempts for, about 8 percent more shot attempts against. The point being: Move Malkin and you risk Neal no longer being worth anywhere near $5 million annually.
And also you lose a top-four player in the world. That too.)
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