The so-called World hockey Championships are underway. This tournament is poorly named. How can you have the world championships of anything when several of the top players are engaged in another tournament? In this case several top hockey players are in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The 2016 tournament is taking place in Russia with games in both Moscow and St Petersburg. Sixteen teams are in the tournament and are divided into two eight team groups that play round robins. The top four teams in each groups move onto the quarterfinals.
One group (Group A) plays their games in Moscow and the other group (Group B) plays in St Petersburg. Here are the results of the preliminary round that concluded yesterday:
The second round of the AHL Calder Cup playoffs ended yesterday. I am looking back at the results in this post. My first round summary is here. The second round is a best of seven series and its results are below:
Hershey Bears defeat Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins four games to three. Hershey is the Washington Capitals affiliate and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton belongs to Pittsburgh. Thus this series occurred as their NHL parents played each other as well. Unlike in the NHL Hershey won in a hard fought seven game series. Carter Camper and Jakub Vrana led the Hershey offence. Aaron Ness was their top defenceman and Justin Peters has had a strong playoff so far posting a .935 saves percentage. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's offence was led by Jake Guentzel and Tom Kostopoulos. Barry Goers led their defence and Casey DeSmith was their goaltender.
At the end of the first round I picked my last playoff MVP in Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals. He posted a .942 saves percentage and a 1.72 goals against average through the playoffs. As good as those numbers are, it wasn't enough to keep the Washington Capitals from playoff elimination. With the Capitals out it is time to pick a new playoff MVP.
Although Brian Ellliott and Matt Murray have been strong in goal, at this point they have been outplayed by Holtby so they are not the current MVP. At forward, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Phil Kessel, Vladimir Tarasenko, Nikita Kucherov and Tyler Johnson have all played well and any could wind up as Conn Smythe Trophy winner depending on their results from here on out. It is hard to pick out a leader from that bunch right now. On defence Victor Hedman and Alex Pietrangelo have done very well but the standout is Brent Burns. Burns has played solid defence and is also the second highest scorer in the playoffs. Burns has 16 points at this point in the playoffs.
Burns has taken a big step forward this season. He is a Norris Trophy nominee. Likely he will finish a distant third in the voting behind Erik Karlsson and Drew Doughty but third is impressive. I don't think anyone predicted that before the season began. He is continuing his breakout season as playoff MVP at this point. Whether or not that can last until the Stanley Cup is won is doubtful. San Jose is behind in their series with St Louis and may not make the finals at all. Right now Brent Burns is the playoff MVP.
Tampa Bay defeated Pittsburgh 3-1 in game one of the East Conference final. Perhaps the most important result from the game is that Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop left on a stretcher with a lower body injury. Since it is playoff time Bishop is listed as "day-to-day" and very little further information is given. Anyone watching the game would be surprised if Bishop came back anytime soon.
Bishop is the best goalie who remains in the playoffs. He is a Vezina Trophy nominee. Of the three nominees he posted the best saves percentage of .926 and the best goals against average of 2.06. He has done even better in the playoffs posting a .939 saves percentage and a 1.85 GAA so far. His loss is significant to Tampa Bay. When added to other Tampa injuries including Steve Stamkos and Anton Stralman it is hard to see Tampa's pathway toward the Stanley Cup. It will be tough to hold onto their lead in this series against Pittsburgh.
The 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs are testing the narrative that puck possession as measured by Corsi is important for success in hockey. The top three Corsi teams so far in the playoffs have been Dallas, Florida and Washington. Every one of those teams has been eliminated from the playoffs. Florida fell in the first round. In fact the team with the best playoff Corsi that remains in the semi-finals is Tampa Bay. They are tied for 8th in the playoffs with a +9 Corsi. They are the only team with more shot attempts at five on five than their opponents who remain in the playoffs. Pittsburgh is next in 12th place with a -40 Corsi. San Jose is 13th with a -55 Corsi. St Louis is the second worst team in the playoffs (New York Islanders are worst) with a -68 Corsi. The four remaining playoff teams have a total -154 Corsi.
This is a result that doesn't fit the narrative that Corsi is important. There are other factors involved in playing winning hockey. Special team success is not captured in a Corsi since it is only 5 on 5. Every one of the final four teams has had special team success. Adding their power play and penalty kill success gives a number better than the league average of 100% for all of the teams with Pittsburgh best at 114.9%. Goaltending and shooting success are also not measured in Corsi analysis.
The second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs completed last night and the third round begins tonight. My second round predictions came out pretty well. I picked three series correctly and one incorrectly. I picked Washington to defeat Pittsburgh. My first round predictions were not as strong. I went 4-4 in the first round. This gives me a 7-5 record overall. I am marching into the third round today. Here are my semi-final predictions:
St Louis Blues defeat San Jose Sharks. I think St Louis has a significant advantage in goal. Brian Elliott posted the best saves percentage in the regular season in St Louis. Martin Jones in San Jose is unproven at this level. Both teams have solid offensive players like Vladimir Tarsenko, Robby Fabbri, Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. Both teams have solid defencemen in Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk. I think goaltending is where the advantage should be found in this series.
It is always interesting to watch rookies in the playoffs and see how they perform when the stakes get higher in the games that they play. The best rookie so far in the playoffs has been Robby Fabbri of the St Louis Blues. That is a bit of a surprise because Fabri had a solid rookie year but was not a Calder Trophy candidate.
Fabbri was chosen by the St Louis Blues 21st overall in the first round in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. He remained in the OHL with the Guelph Storm in the 2014/15 year and made the NHL this season. He played 72 games in the regular season scoring 18 goals and 19 assists for 37 points. In the playoffs he has climbed to another level. He is the top scorer on the Blues in the playoffs with 13 points in 14 playoff games. It is a relatively small sample size but it is a remarkable achievement. He looks like he is a young star who will develop into a top player in St Louis. He is young enough that he could have spent another year with Guelph in the OHL but instead he is starring in the NHL. He has likely made a late claim to make Team North America in the World Cup.
Marc-Andre Fleury hasn't played a game in the playoffs yet this season. While he recovered from a concussion Matt Murray has taken over the Penguins goaltending and done a very good job. Murray has a .935 saves percentage and a 2.05 goals against average so far in the playoffs and he has played his part in getting the Pens to the seni-finals.
2013 is the last time the Penguins made it to the semi-finals and when they got there they were swept by the Boston Bruins. With one more win this will be Pittsburgh's best playoff run since they won the 2009 Stanley Cup.
One of the constants in the Pittsburgh playoffs over the past few years was Marc-Andre Fleury in goal. Sure Fleury was in goal when Pittsburgh won their Stanley Cup but he has had more playoff failures than successes. Even when he succeeded he didn't steal any games. He was behind a strong enough Pittsburgh team that they could win without exceptional goaltending. Now that they are having playoff success again they are getting that exceptional goaltending but from Matt Murray instead.
I haven't had a chance to write about the Minnesota Wild and Ottawa Senators filling their coaching vacancies, so I am going to do that today. Both announced new coaches on Sunday. Minnesota hired the top available coach in Bruce Boudreau. Later on that day Ottawa hired Guy Boucher as their coach. Ottawa later announced they had hired Marc Crawford a an associate coach. This takes three of the top potential coaches off the market for teams that remain without coaches including Anaheim and Calgary.
Bruce Boudreau has been a very successful coach in Washington and in Anaheim. He is a former coach of the year and will receive some votes for this year's award although he was not announced as a finalist. He should help to improve a Minnesota team. Given that many of the Wild key players are aging (Suter, Parise, Koivu, Pominville, Vanek) there isn't likely a long window available for them to compete. Do the Wild have a sufficient group of young players to take over? If not, this will be a tough job for Boudreau.
Dale Tallon has been a pretty successful general manager in Florida. He brought the team into their first playoff berth since 2012. His team seems likely to stay in the playoffs for the next few years. Tallon is 65 years old and wants to transition into retirement. He will be the president of hockey operations in Florida. Promoted to GM is Tom Rowe.
Tom Rowe was not on any shortlist of people likely to become a GM. He appears to be a placeholder GM who will keep the seat warm and follow through with Tallon's plans. He is a surrogate for Tallon to keep power while slowing down to transition into retirement. Officially he is the team's associate GM and they have no official GM.
Rowe has an extensive history as a coach. He has coached the Lowell Loch Monsters, Albany River Rats, San Antonio Rampage and Portland Pirates in the AHL. He was an AHL head coach before taking over as associate GM. He has an NHL assistant coaching history with the Carolina Hurricanes. He coached the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in the KHL. None of this history is in the management side of hockey. It is all coaching and there is no head coaching experience at the NHL level.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
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