Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.
Sometimes it's easy to blame a player, or even a group of them, for a team's playoff success or failure. But this year's crop of what appears to be looming playoff disasters by favored teams is due almost entirely to the problems caused by regrettable coaching.
Case in point: Washington. Bruce Boudreau had his boys buzzing along for pretty much the entire season. The teams with which it struggled, oddly, were non-playoff teams; and the Caps went 24-10-4 against teams in the playoffs this year, including 20-6-5 against Eastern Conference playoff teams. In the regular season, they beat the absolute hell out of the Rangers, going 3-0-1 and scoring 3.5 goals per game.
But now look at them: Down 0-2 and not even looking all that good doing it, despite a pair of one-goal losses. The Caps look absolutely lost and it all comes down to Boudreau. Clearly, what he did in the first game wasn't working. So he figures why change things in the second game, outside of the puzzling if semi-understandable decision to start Simeon Varlamov instead of Jose Theodore(notes)?
The game plan, too, seems simple enough: Get the puck to Alexander Ovechkin(notes). But it didn't work in Game 1 when Ovie attempted 28 shots (10 of which were blocked and five went wide). In all, Ovechkin has attempted 44 shots in two games, and none of them have found their way past Henrik Lundqvist(notes). But by all means, keep funneling the offense through No. 8.
Columbus is having a similar problem with the offense.
(Coming Up: The Hurricanes' goat; pressuring Chris Osgood(notes); the Penguins' big mistake; love for the Sedins; play of the weekend; panic in San Jose; and Josh Gorges(notes) gets beat up by a concussion on skates.)
Unlike much of his team, Ken Hitchcock is not exactly unfamiliar with postseason play. And yet the Blue Jackets have struck me as hideously unprepared for a team like Detroit against which they seemed to do okay during the regular season.
It can't all come down to simply goaltending, since Steve Mason(notes) is certainly a better goalie at this point than Chris Osgood, and it certainly can't just be that Rick Nash(notes) has been held without a point this series. The entire team just looks terrified to be there, and the only person to blame for that is Hitchcock.
And though his team isn't technically the favorite, Andy Murray hasn't done too well with the Blues either. The power play looks terrible and, well, so does the PK. Now they're in a situation where they have to be a 2004 Red Sox-type team of destiny to even get out of the first round. They don't have the horses to get it done. It falls to Murray to make sure the special teams (which are a combined 13 for 30 so far!) are something resembling NHL-quality. And they're not.
It's just appalling that these types of coaching mistakes are being made at this point in the season.
What We Learned
(Something a little different: WWL will, for the remainder of the postseason, only cover the teams still playing hockey. Any news of note involving the other teams will be dealt with below in Loserwatch '09.)
Anaheim Ducks: Remind me again which team is the President's Trophy winner and which is the one that barely beat out Minnesota and Nashville for the final playoff spot? Because, unlike their opponents, the Ducks have simply brought it for their first round series. Course, the goaltending doesn't hurt either.
Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller(notes) didn't pitch a shutout against the San Jose Sharks but he made more saves in this game than he did in his 35-stop performance in the first games of the series. Hiller saves 42 of 44 shots on Sunday night, helping the Ducks preserve their 3-2 victory.
Taking two in a row in regulation from the Sharks in San Jose? That's crazy. First time they've done that all year. And it's mostly because the Ducks are making the Sharks pay for every mistake and not vice versa.
"I wanted to prove to people that the player they saw last year wasn't the player I wanted to be," Ryder said. "I wanted to come here and work hard."
Well, since he almost doubled his goal total from the 2007-08 season in Montreal this year, I'd say that he did that. And scoring that nasty goal against his former team, the one that benched him for several games in the playoffs last year, had to feel fantastic.
Calgary Flames: Speaking of coaches that are actively screwing their teams' chances of winning (and the only reason I didn't include him in the above thoughts was that his team should be getting killed), is Mike Keenan doesn't know when to pull back on the reins.
What the coaching club needs to do to keep this team afloat is focus on pacing. If the boys in red are going to come out with a grade-A effort in the first 20 minutes, only to phone in the rest of the game for the last 40, they might as well start polishing the golf clubs already, because these Tortoise-and-Hare shenanigans just won't fly in the playoffs.
No kidding. Calgary had 21 hits in the first period on Saturday and just 16 in the final 40. They did more or less the same thing on Thursday, coming out of the dressing room with their hair on fire and falling flat on their faces as the game progressed because they just couldn't maintain their level of intensity. If the Flames keep playing like this, they might just have a first period so successful that they actually can't lose regardless of the results of the last two periods. But that's awful unlikely.
Carolina Hurricanes: I'll tell you what really killed Carolina yesterday: Joe Corvo's(notes) bonehead giveaway with 10 seconds to go in the first period and his team tied 1-all despite a mountain of reasons why they shouldn't be.
Tim Gleason(notes) left the puck for Corvo behind the net, who was immediately pressured by Brendan Shanahan(notes). Instead of putting the puck in the corner or some other safe location, Corvo sent it right out in front, onto Gionta's stick.
In the next paragraph, actually, Rod Brind'amour(notes) says it wasn't the difference-maker (exactly the opposite of what I just said) but that's captain-talk. Mistakes like that turn series and that was easily the most egregious in these playoffs so far.
Chicago Blackhawks: Sure it happened against my Flames, but it was nice to see a likeable guy and fun player like Jonathan Toews(notes) take over the game on Saturday. Just as Martin Havlat(notes) did in the dying minutes on Thursday, Toews simply allowed the 'Hawks to pile on his back and off they skipped with another victory and a 2-0 series lead.
It wasn't just that he scored two of his team's three unanswered goals in the second period en route to an electrifying 3-2 win in Game 2 of the best-of-seven series. It was that the Hawks' young captain stepped up when nobody else would. That's what leaders do. How do we know? Because Jarome Iginla(notes), Calgary's Mark Messier, did the same minutes before.
Comparing Toews to Iginla is, I think, fitting. The ‘Hawks were getting their faces smashed in the first period largely behind the tone set by Iginla, and the Blackhawks, like Toews himself, kept an even keel. When Calgary's effort flagged later in the game, it was Toews who sparked the comeback and Toews who finished it off. The Blackhawks' future is in great hands with this kid.
Columbus Blue Jackets: The problem for the Blue Jackets thus far hasn't been that they're being outcompeted (at least not five-on-five), but they're certainly not making Detroit work hard enough for scoring opportunities and they're not pressuring Chris Osgood who, despite giving up just one goal in two games, hasn't looked especially good.
Jason Williams(notes) said, if nothing, else they needed to keep firing pucks on Chris Osgood. "Sometimes when you are playing a team like Detroit and you fall down a couple goals, you might think 'It's over,' but it's not. Throughout the season they gave up some late goals. We just have to stick with it. When you starting showing them too much respect that's when they pour it on . . . We got to keep putting pucks on Ossy, he's going to start letting them in . . . We are not testing him enough. Eight shots in (the last two periods). I could play in goal."
Columbus sits at 12 third-period shots in two games. This strategy will win you roughly no hockey games.
Detroit Red Wings: I understand that at this point it's a little cliché to talk about how good Pavel Datsyuk(notes) is in his own zone. But if you were watching the game on Saturday when Chris Osgood lost his stick in the second period, you'd have seen why Datsyuk is probably the best all-around player in hockey.
First, he steamrolled Kristian Huselius(notes) at the goal line, took the puck, wheeled behind the net, carried it out of the zone and turned the whole play into a 3-on-2 scoring chance. I'm not sure how he did it. It was a pivotal moment in the game because Columbus was only down 2-0 at that point and was pressuring a stickless goalie pretty well for the better part of 30 seconds before Datsyuk cleaned up the whole mess in about three strides.
(I also wish someone had posted it on YouTube, but here we are.)
What happend to the penalty kill that was pretty good? It collapsed on it's feet and fanned on clearing pucks out, though did manage to neutralize Chara...but by doing so forgot about everyone else. Kovalev was playing. But like Price, was one man against a team.
It is interesting to note that the only Hab that does seem to care is Kovalev, who now has two goals in two games. It's a shocking change of pace for Kovy, who, y'know, has trouble staying focused a lot of the time. It usually goes quite the other way, with him skating around listlessly and the rest of the team sighing resignedly when he gives up another attacking-zone turnover. You'd almost rather he keep playing like that and maybe the other 17 skaters pick it up instead.
It also doesn't help that Bob Gainey's getting schooled by Claude Julien as far as the whole coaching thing goes. The Bruins are playing almost mistake-free hockey.
Look at New Jersey's first goal. It was created entirely by Rolston pounding Joni Pitkanen(notes) along the boards, which forced the turnover to Paul Martin(notes), whose shot was tipped by Parise to put the Devs up 1-0 and take the crowd out of the game for a bit. Not bad for a guy that never touched the puck.
New York Rangers: I think we can all admit to ourselves (if we're being honest) that the Rangers are simply not as good a hockey team as the Capitals. But they do have the one thing that Washington doesn't: goaltending.
That is not to take away anything from Henrik Lundqvist who was incredible. He made 35 saves against the offensively gifted Capitals, and completed his second shutout of his playoff career. The biggest, and maybe only, knock against Lundqvist has been that he steals games all the time in the regular season, but not in the playoffs. Well why don't all of you who feel that way ask the Washington Capitals whether or not they agree with that sentiment. Lundqvist has now stolen both games the Rangers have taken part in this spring.
King Henrik has made 67 saves on 70 shots in two games despite often being hung out to dry by the Rangers' weak defense. But that makes all the difference. Drop Lundqvist on the Capitals and they might be Stanley Cup champions. Drop Theodore or Varlamov on the Rangers and they struggle to stay out of the draft lottery. The kind of calming affect a guy like Lundqvist can have on a sub-mediocre team is unbelievable. The opposite is true of the Caps' goalies.
Philadelphia Flyers: For everyone's talk about how good the Flyers' top six forwards are, how they had a million guys that scored 30 goals this year and how tough those top two lines would be to defend, it seems like the Pens aren't having too much trouble with them: Jeff Carter(notes), Scott Hartnell(notes) and Mike Richards(notes) have a combined three goals so far: but the sandpaper guys... not so much.
A year ago, Claude Giroux(notes) led the Gatineau Olympiques to the Quebec League title with an eye-popping 51 points in 19 playoff games. Maybe that's why Flyers coach John Stevens called his 21-year-old center the club's "secret weapon" in the playoffs. ...
The Flyers' biggest matchup advantage came on the third line, where Giroux's plus-2 rating measured favorably against Jordan Staal(notes), who along with defenseman Sergei Gonchar(notes) was a minus-3.
Giroux was huge, obviously, but I thought the best Flyer on the ice was Darroll Powe(notes), who just made such a mess of things for the Penguins at every turn that it's almost a shame that he only pulled down a secondary assist on Giroux's goal. He made that line go yesterday.
Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins made a mistake yesterday afternoon in attempting to play the Flyers' game. A big one, in fact. (Granted, it worked once or twice) In attempting to out-nasty probably the nastiest team still playing, they took far too many penalties and let the game get away from them in much the same way Calgary did on Saturday.
Good for The Penguins Experience, by the way, for calling the NHL on its woefully anti-Penguins officiating. It's about time someone brought this important issue to light.
San Jose Sharks: It must be terribly frustrating being a Sharks fan. The team has poured 79 shots on Jonas Hiller in 120 minutes and have two goals to show for it. Todd McLellan's not totally to blame (no one is playing anything like their best hockey and they really should be scoring more), but he seems ill at ease with how things have gone, and perhaps too eager to be Mr. Fixit.
Coach Todd McLellan had left open the possibility of lineup changes after Thursday night's 2-0 loss. There was only one new face in the lineup: veteran Claude Lemieux(notes) in, enforcer Jody Shelley(notes) out: but he threw a whole series of new line combinations at the Ducks.
McLellan broke up his top line, for example, putting Joe Thornton(notes) out there with Jonathan Cheechoo(notes) and Jeremy Roenick(notes) at times, while starting Patrick Marleau(notes) with Devin Setoguchi(notes) and Travis Moen(notes). The San Jose coach kept shuffling his forwards around throughout the game.
At times, it looked more like he was rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, but you might have to give him a little leeway given the success his team had in the regular season.
Doesn't help that they're 0-for-12 on the power play either. Problem is, he doesn't have a lot of time or opportunity to attempt to square things before the Sharks are bounced.
St. Louis Blues: Talk about a team that just didn't show up for the playoffs. Last night was the first game of three that the Blues' offensive performance was better than "mildly embarrassing" (really, it was only one line that got anything done), and they still lost.
"We just haven't played yet," Murray said. "We haven't played the way we're capable of playing. We're not getting the job done. We look tight and nervous on the power play."
And then some. They're tighter than Tony La Russa's jaw whenever Chris Carpenter pitches, and more nervous than Alex Barron when he's trying to remember a snap count.
"We need to shoot more," Murray said.
Consider, too, that the Sedins have for the most part been rolled out against other teams' top lines (with a varied group of linemates) and that puts them in a class with some of the best players in the NHL.
Meaning that, yes, they're probably worth those $6.5-million deals we've heard so much about this season: provided they show up this postseason.
So far, so good.
Yeah, between them and Roberto Luongo(notes), that's all any team needs to win a series as evenly-matched (on paper) as this one was. I say was, of course, because there's no way the Blues win four straight. Not even a little.
Washington Capitals: The goaltending situation being what it is ("iffy" is one word for it), isn't it a little disconcerting that no one is talking about how bad the Capitals' forwards have been playing against such a poor defensive unit?
"We're trying as hard as we can to get to the front of the net," Coach Bruce Boudreau said after a very optional skate. "We've had 70 shots in two games to their . We're doing what we can. But we've got to do better. Maybe we need 45 shots, I don't know."
"We have to find a way," he added. "They're a good hockey club, but they've allowed goals in the past, so we've got to find a way to [score on them] in the future."
OO! OOOOO! Pick ME Bruce! Is it because you've done almost nothing but play on the perimeter for 120 minutes and aren't getting anyone anywhere near the crease to actually set up screens or do the things it takes to, y'know, win hockey games? It's not a mystery. It's actually terribly obvious. This is why Washington is going to lose this series. If I can come up with the answers from here at my desk, a good coach like Boudreau needs to be able to approximate them from the bench.
(News and notes from some of the teams that couldn't be bothered to make the playoffs.)
Garth Snow is disinclined to move the No. 1 pick for anyone, least of all Brian Burke. ... Some guy from Florida really goes out on a limb regarding how to fix the NHL. ... I still need someone to explain why the Sabres finished out of the playoffs again, and everybody keeps their jobs. ... If Oren Koules would like to give me his phone number, I will be more than happy to chat with him about how awful his franchise is. ... John Glennon makes a fair point in his Preds season review: Name a better player for $500,000 than Joel Ward(notes). ...Is probable future Av Matt Duchene(notes) the perfect hockey player? ... Apparently the Oil is waiting to see if Brent Sutter gets fired to make a coaching decision. ... The Wild failed to properly diagnose Brent Burns'(notes) concussion. For SIX WEEKS. ... Dallas is losing a lot of players to free agency at the end of the year. That'd count as a good thing.
Play of the Weekend
Wanna know what a perfect transition looks like? This is it, right here.