The Pittsburgh Penguins are defending Stanley Cup finalists. Despite that they had a slow start this season that had them out of the playoff race. The slow start even led to them firing their coach. These problems occurred despite having Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby in their line-up. Malkin was leading the NHL in points and Crosby was not too far behind him. The problems were largely tied to a lack of an elite defenceman and poor goal prevention. They were solved when Sergei Gonchar returned from a shoulder injury.
Gonchar only played 25 games for the Penguins this season, but it was in those games that Pittsburgh climbed back up to serious contention. Gonchar continued his top play into the playoffs scoring five points in six games. He scored the series winning goal against the Philadelphia Flyers,
The leader in ice time (per game) so far in the playoffs is Paul Martin of the New Jersey Devils. He has played over 27 minutes per game. He is an underrated player who gets little written about him, so I thought I would write something. Martin has quietly developed into the best defenceman on the Devils team.
Martin consistently scores thirty or more points a season and puts up one of the better +/- ratings on his club, while playing against some of the top offensive players in the league. He has the best defenceman on the team with the fourth best defence in the league this year. He is the Devils go to guy in all situations - even in the playoffs. Paul Martin is one of the most unsung players around in the NHL today.
One of the stories of the first round of the playoffs has been the struggles of the President’s Trophy winning San Jose Sharks. They are currently losing to the Anaheim Ducks three games to one. The main reason for this is that the San Jose offence has not succeeded in the playoffs this year. The Sharks have only six goals in four playoff games and have been shut out twice. The Sharks only have three goals from their forwards in four games. Ryane Clowe, Jonathan Cheechoo and Patrick Marleau have each scored one goal each. No other forwards have goals. Obviously that isn’t good enough.
A lot of the blame for this is being placed upon the shoulders of Joe Thornton. Thornton is the team’s regular season top scorer and while he has two assists, he has no goals in these playoffs. He has no history of successful playoff runs in his past. In his career he has never made it beyond the second round.
The Detroit Red Wings have been a very successful team in the past several years. They have won four Stanley Cups in the past twelve years. Because of their success many of their individual role players have achieved legacies above the level that their talent level might have predicted. There are no players who fit in this camp more than Chris Osgood.
Osgood is a good goaltender who has had a pretty long career. He has been able to win a lot of games (a team statistic). He has 389 career regular season wins. This ties him for tenth place overall with Dominik Hasek. That coupled with his team’s Stanley Cup success is often used as an argument for Osgood one day making the Hall of Fame.
It is a popular story in sports when an improbable team makes a run and wins it all. It is also a story that rarely ever happens. This season the team that best fit the Cinderella role was the St Louis Blues. At mid-season it looked like they were in the race for a lottery pick in the draft and they wound up finishing strong and placing sixth in the West Conference. That got them a lot of believers including high profile bloggers such as Puck Daddy (Greg Wyshynski). The St Louis playoff run ended the way a lot of Cinderella playoff runs end. It ended in failure. There is a reason why the team is so improbable to be such an underdog and those reasons almost always win out. Cinderella is left in a field with a pumpkin and a few mice wondering what happened.
In general it is a bad thing for plan A to fail and to be forced to change to plan B during a best of seven playoff series. An example of this is when a team has to change goalies in mid-series in the playoffs. Despite this, the last three teams to win the Stanley Cup have all done this. The 2006 Carolina Hurricanes changed from Martin Gerber to Cam Ward, the 2007 Anaheim Ducks changed from Ilya Bryzgalov to Jean-Sebastien Giguere and the 2008 Detroit Red Wings from Dominik Hasek to Chris Osgood. The first team to do this is 2009 is the Washington Capitals who have changed from Jose Theodore to Simeon Varlamov.
Theodore may be a former Hart Trophy winner in 2002, but his career has not gone particularly well since. In the first game of the series against the New York Rangers, Theodore played badly allowing four goals on only 21 shots. He was the main reason Washington lost. In the next two games the Capitals turned to rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov. Varlamov has only six regular season NHL games played. He has succeeded so far in the playoffs. He has stopped 56 of the 57 shots he has faced and sports a playoff leading 0.50 GAA and .982 saves percentage.
Teams have played either two or three games each at this point in the playoffs. I think it is the earliest meaningful point to try to pick an early playoff MVP. I think the clear choice at this point is Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Malkin leads the playoffs in both goals and points with four and seven respectively.
Malkin is carrying on his dominance from a regular season where he won the Art Ross Trophy. His offensive totals have made large jumps every season in his young NHL career (from 85 to 106 to 113 points). If he has another jump like that next season, I think many people will begin to call him the best player in hockey (and some people are already making arguments of that nature).
Malkin is off to a great start in the playoffs so far. Will he keep it up and help the Penguins have a deep run?
Last season as the Pittsburgh Penguins went to the Stanley Cup finals, there was a big screen set up outside Mellon Arena where thousands of fans watched the games. It was a successful promotion which likely paid off as the fans present at these viewing parties were more likely to buy Penguins memorabilia and to attend Penguins games in the future. However in yesterday’s game three of their series with the Philadelphia Flyers there was no viewing party. NBC vetoed it.
NBC had the television rights to the game. They obtained them by paying the NHL nothing in advance and sharing revenues after the fact. This agreement gives NBC the right to dictate some NHL policy. This is policy which is against the NHL’s best interests.
An obvious follow-up to yesterday’s post on Daniel Carcillo’s suspension is to look at a similar situation where Mike Cammalleri of the Calgary Flames was not suspended. Early in the third period of Calgary’s game one vs. the Chicago Blackhawks, with the game tied 1-1, Cammalleri sucker punched Chicago’s Martin Havlat right off the faceoff. For his efforts, Cammalleri was given a two minute penalty. The main differences that the NHL has played up in explaining the lack of a suspension in this case is that it was a close game (so the resulting penalty mattered) and Cammalleri is a skilled player as Calgary’s top goal scorer this season. Cammalleri is not a goon. At 5’ 9” and 185 pounds he is on the small side for an NHL player. Thus Cammalleri is not a repeat offender and he was not “sending a message” at the end of a game.
With seven seconds left in game one of the Philadelphia Flyers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins playoff series, a game Pittsburgh was winning (and won) 4-1, Daniel Carcillo of the Flyers took a faceoff against Maxime Talbot of the Penguins. The game was getting out of referee control at the time. There had been 26 minutes in penalties handed out in three separate incidents in less than the last twenty seconds of the game. Philadelphia was killing a penalty. This seemed like an unusual move for the Flyers. Carcillo is not a penalty killer. He averaged two seconds per game (!) on the penalty kill this season. He only took twenty faceoffs all season. Carcillo is the man who led the NHL in penalty minutes both this season and last season (his NHL career has only been two seasons long). It was a suspicious enough move that the linesman even warned Carcillo not to do anything stupid. When the puck was dropped, Carcillo hit Talbot in the head with the butt-end of his stick and/or punched him. Talbot was not hurt in the play and Carcillo was not penalized. The NHL reviewed the situation and decided to suspend Daniel Carcillo for game two and fine Flyers coach John Stevens $10,000 for setting up the situation so that his team could “send a message” for the rest of the series.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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