(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.)
So we’re at the point in the season where the standings are starting to look worrisome for some teams and hope springs for those clubs that are on the outside looking in. The odds that you make up a point or two in the standings might not be great, but hell if they don’t feel great, and isn’t that the important thing?
The majority of the playoff spots are more or less sewn up. Clubs don’t have a lot of mobility whether they’re locked in or not, but the eighth and ninth spots in both conferences remain very much up for grabs. Calgary has a rather narrow lead over Los Angeles and you can’t exactly feel good about that game in hand if you’re the Flames. For all the talk about how easy the Flames’ schedule is down the stretch, it features a lot of road games and some pretty tough opponents, including what’s likely to be a pair of make-or-break games at the end of the season with those same Kings and at Winnipeg. Worrisome to say the least, but clock-watching with cross charts in hand at least gives you some amount of certainty as to the outcome.
Out East, though, what happens on the playoff bubble is just about anyone’s guess. Boston seems to have no ability to control which Bruins team shows up on any given night; some games they look like juggernauts, and others they go down meekly in a shootout against Florida.
Does there seem to be any rhyme or reason to it? Sure doesn’t. Tuukka Rask can be either great or, umm, less so (though this month it’s been the former far more often), and the offense can be a buzzsaw or a pop-gun. Which makes for a nervy final nine games here.
Especially because Andrew Hammond and the Ottawa Senators seem dead-set on never losing again. They’ve dropped one game in regulation since Feb. 18, which doesn’t seem like it should be possible but here we are. They’ve taken the long hard road out of hell based on an incredible run of unsustainable goaltending, yes, but if people think the Senators haven’t turned a major corner here under Dave Cameron, they are very much fooling themselves.
Since Feb. 1, the Senators have become a pretty good possession team; that 52 percent of theirs and plus-13 goal differential at even strength alone tells quite the story. It’s certainly a step up from the 49.5 percent seen in the first four months of the season, and the farther away they get from Paul MacLean’s influence, the better off they appear. And that portends some pretty good things not only for this final stretch run but how tough of an out they’d be if they actually make the playoffs (which by the way is starting to look more likely by the day).
In that same stretch, the Bruins’ possession numbers — and that includes that run where they looked nigh unbeatable again, going 8-1-1 from Feb. 21 to March 14 — are a little bit worse at 51.5 percent, but what really stands out is the goals-against number: 34 at evens in just 22 games.
And the possession, too, has hit the skids of late. They started the season well enough, as you’d expect, then cratered, then rebounded, then cratered, then rebounded, and now they’ve cratered again. A lot of that can be linked to injury, specifically those to Zdeno Chara and David Krejci.
All of this points to a significant point of concern for Boston. They’re clearly still a very good team going through a season of odd rough patches — thanks to a number of extenuating circumstances including injuries at various points, though the current one seems at least somewhat based on their brains being broken and not any physical malady — but this is not the time to be playing this poorly, especially given how Ottawa has gotten it together.
It’s likely to be little consolation that Hammond isn’t actually this good, nor that their personnel aren’t likely to play this poorly for much longer. The playoffs seem to be slipping away with each passing day, and whatever cushion they built from October to February has all but vanished (especially considering Ottawa’s two games in hand).
And all that ignores the remaining schedules. Boston has, among other teams, the Lightning, Wings, Ducks, Rangers, and the Panthers who can’t seem to stop giving them fits. A softie against the Leafs in there too, but four of the last five are on the road. Meanwhile, Ottawa has the Leafs twice plus the Flyers, as well as more difficult tilts with the Rangers twice, Sharks, Lightning, Penguins, and so on. On the balance, you’d have to give the strength of schedule edge to the Sens.
The Bruins’ problem, as you might expect, has been the fact that they are no longer suppressing shots as it did when things went well at various points this year. It’s hard to say why that is, especially considering that everyone of consequence was healthy except Krejci.
(The recent news about Dougie Hamilton, the team’s clear No. 2 defenseman, cannot be encouraging in this same vein.)
So the question for Boston is a simple one: Does David Krejci do as much to keep the wolves at bay as these recent numbers suggest?
When he’s been in the lineup this season, Boston’s corsi against per 60 minutes is 51.3 (eighth-best in the league). Now, his personal shot suppression numbers aren’t really anything to write home about, but the good thing you can say about him is that he plays moderately difficult competition — obviously not to Bergeron’s level, but that’s rare on a league-wide basis — and prevents Claude Julien from having to run out Chris Kelly and Carl Soderbergh in those situations instead.
Without him, the corsi against per 60 worsens to 55.2, which drops them to a tie for 19th in the league over that time. And here’s the splits in shot attempts per 60 for all Boston centers with and without Krejci in the lineup:
Bruins centers CA/60
As you can see, everyone but Bergeron (who is clearly magic) gets substantially worse. And it’s not revelatory to say “Team loses No. 2 center and gets worse,” but the extent to which that damage is being felt is clear. The drop-off from Krejci to Kelly is substantial.
Krejci has been testing out his bum knee of late, but how close he is to actually getting back into the lineup and a contributing player (rather than just a stopgap to keep Kelly from getting mauled every shift) is up for debate. He was reportedly a 50-50 chance to play yesterday but didn’t. You saw how that turned out.
If he doesn’t come back soon — like, “sometime this week” soon — and play at a high level, it may not matter when he draws in again. Might as well be next October.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks are pretty sure they’re good, but they’ve been fairly convinced of that kind of thing before and it hasn’t worked out for them. So the name of the game now seems to be “cautious optimism.”
Arizona Coyotes: Mike Smith would like this one back, and by “this one” I mean the entire season and probably last year too.
Boston Bruins: Reilly Smith was a healthy scratch like a week and a half after his big extension. Great job by everyone involved here.
Buffalo Sabres: Sabres fans openly cheering for opponent goals is some kind of hilarious. This newfound acceptance of tanking, by the way, comes from a combination of two things: 1) The unstoppable prospect hype machine that’s been built over the last several years, and 2) The NHL continuing to incentivize losing via this insipid draft system. Don’t want people cheering for their team to lose in hopes of drafting the next Sidney Crosby? Don’t act like the top kids in the draft every year are mega-huge difference-makers in waiting, and don’t give teams that lose intentionally — which Buffalo has all year — the ability to draft these mega-hyped, super-talented kids. If Connor McDavid is the savior we’ve all heard about for three years and your team is dead in the water anyway, why wouldn’t you root as hard as possible for your team to get shelled?
Calgary Flames: There go the Calder hopes, Johnny Badreau.
Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes recently made a deal with a “contract management” company, presumably one that gives advice like, “You might want to manage your contract negotiations with Cam Ward so that they’re not happening.” What do you mean, “No it’s not?”
Chicago Blackhawks: No real progress with Patrick Kane. Same goes for the team itself. The two seem related.
Colorado Avalanche: After all this time it seems like Jarome Iginla could still get to 25 goals this season. What a player.
Columbus Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets’ win on Saturday in Calgary was their sixth straight on the road, and seventh in their last nine overall. Too little too late, but this team has a decent chance to turn things around next season.
Dallas Stars: The Stars are very much not “alive” any more, except mathematically, but this too is a decent team that didn’t get a break all season. If they had decent goaltending from Kari Lehtonen, there’s probably not any kind of race for the last playoff spot in the West.
Detroit Red Wings: This isn’t a precise encapsulation of Chris Butler’s career, but it’s not far off either.
Edmonton Oilers: Wait but I thought Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was a bust that Edmonton never should have drafted. What do you mean he’s actually good?
Florida Panthers: Shawn Thornton played his 600th game on Saturday and did it against the Bruins. There wasn’t a dry eye in the Boston end of the press box.
Los Angeles Kings: You have to say Mike Richards really earned that call-up. Three goals in 16 AHL games. Damn.
Minnesota Wild: Now the Wild are beating the Blues like they’re not even there, and they’re doing it regularly. No one wants to play these guys in the postseason.
Montreal Canadiens: Is Carey Price having one of the best seasons ever by a goaltender? It might not surprise to learn the answer is, “Obviously.”
Nashville Predators, America's Favorite Hockey Team: This is definitely what this club needed given the recent struggles: An almost impossible schedule in the final dozen.
New Jersey Devils: Who will be the Devils’ next captain? Given the way this team has been run the last few years, let’s just say his acceptance speech will begun with, “Err uhh…”
New York Islanders: The Islanders snapped a four-game losing streak on the day that Jaroslav Halak returned from a week-long injury. What a coincidence.
New York Rangers: If the Rangers can keep winning like this — without Henrik Lundqvist, and indeed without playing all that well on a lot of nights — then you gotta think they’re a tough out for anyone once the playoffs roll around. Man, looks like a lot of teams fit that category. The postseason should be a bloodbath this year.
Ottawa Senators: In about 20 years we’re going to see a lot of diagnosed cases of heart disease in the greater Ottawa area.
Philadelphia Flyers: Yeah, the RNH flu.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Sidney Crosby has the NHL scoring lead again with three weeks to go? And this is a down year for him? What a bum. We’re not blessed to watch him play hockey all the time at all.
San Jose Sharks: RIPD. The Sharks have the same number of points as the Avalanche. Enjoy your offseason.
St. Louis Blues: The fact that Minnesota is looking like a probable playoff opponent does not bode well for the Blues’ first-round hopes.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Andrei Vasilievsky’s most prized piece of sports memorabilia is a signed photo of Vinny Lecavalier.
Toronto Maple Leafs: The Leafs signed Penn State center Casey Bailey to a two-year deal on Saturday. He had 22 goals this season and he’s 6-foot-3, 205 pounds. He also shot 10.6 percent at evens as a 23-year-old, which certainly helps to explain all the goals. But he also led the NCAA in shot attempts this season, so that’s something.
Vancouver Canucks: Big W by the Canucks to beat Los Angeles on Saturday, and I bet they don’t even mind that they helped out the Flames very much.
Washington Capitals: Alex Ovechkin is closing in on 50 goals again, and Steven Stamkos is the only other guy north of 40. This seems like it really ought to be a bigger deal.
Winnipeg Jets: The Jets are looking pretty likely to hold onto a playoff spot. Wouldn’t that be something?
Play of the Weekend
Denver is an awesome team and Austin Czarnik made them look quite silly here.
Gold Star Award
Jack Eichel capped a five-point, four-goal weekend with a Hockey East title (he had 11 points in four playoff games overall). None of his tallies were nicer than this one.
Minus of the Weekend
Mega-hit by Jordie Benn. Next time maybe don’t let the guy you demolished be the first one to the loose puck you just created, though.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User “mymerlincat” is feelin’ fine.
Emerson Etem/Pat Maroon
I am not joking. I am not Ruth Buzzi standing here.
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